Marriott’s Ocean Watch Villas review

I grew up in the Northeast and during my college years, my friends and I would sometimes drive from our school in Rhode Island down interstate 95 to visit Disney World and other Spring Break locales. We would normally stop about halfway down at a town called South of the Border which presented itself as a mix of a Mexican border town blended with a simulacrum of International Drive in Orlando with all it’s tourist traps. Heralded by neverending billboards advertising cheap tourist shops and Mexican cafes with a neon glow. For us, it was just a place to stop, eat and take some pics decked out in our store-bought sombreros and accompanying panchos.

A little over an hour away from this Carolina cut-rate Tijuana lie the beach town of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Having grown up frequenting the New Jersey Shore, I was somewhat inured to flashy neon signs, mini golf and tourist traps of Mid Atlantic states beach towns. However, the Shore had nothing on Myrtle Beach. Mini golf galore, huge tacky billboards, neon signs and cheesy stores and shops for miles and miles. In my mind and I am sure in the minds of many, Myrtle Beach and South of the Border were both examples of a burgeoning tourist economy that had began in the 50s and 60s with some clever promotional ideas which had festered and bloated with tacky consumerism coupled with the popularity of drive to destination and motel tourism.

It’s was with these images in mind that I drove up with my family from Florida having completed a circuit of timeshare stays during our spring break. We had traveled over 3000 miles from our beginning in Michigan and had spent a night or two at a number of vacation clubs in Florida. I was driving north again having stopped in Hilton Head for a whirlwind tour of the resorts I represent on the island. We were all exhausted from the trip and were ready to go home. I reminded everyone that we had booked a short stay at Marriott’s Oceanwatch Villas resort, our last stop on our vacation club pilgrimage.

As we entered the southern limits of Myrtle Beach, we were greeted by roadside shops scattered here and there that then progressed to larger strip malls, with giant pink dolphin billboards and mini golf courses on steroids. My wife, who had had enough of this station wagon-are-we-there-yet family trek blew an exasperated raspberry as she took in the sites.

It’s had been close to 25 years since I last visited the area and like many areas of commerce the economy had been good to Myrtle beach. Same mini golf, surf shops, and seafood restaurants albeit with much nicer veneers then I had remembered. This was Myrtle Beach 2.0 or 3.0. According to the locals I spoke with the real estate market was ascendant and acreage was being bought and sold at a dizzying pace.

We finally found our turn and began to wind our way through a thick copse of trees and vegetations into the serenely named, Grande Dunes Plantation. A green bubble surrounding Marriott’s Oceanwatch Villas and the adjacent Marriott hotel. I stepped out of the car into the porte-cochere and surveyed the scene. I began to laugh and asked my wife what the resort area reminded her of. She looked puzzled and after a moment smiled and responded that if felt like Hilton Head. I smiled and we took our family into the lobby and then up to our high floor ocean view accommodation.

After settling in and taking in some incredible views from our 14th story balcony we went back down and explored both the Marriott’s OceanWatch Villas and the adjacent Marriott Resort & Spa @ Grande Dunes.

We were informed by the front desk that guests at the Marriott’s Ocean Watch Villas shared property privileges with the hotel so we tried out the different pool areas at both and finally settled on the Woodsy pool area, located behind the Marriott’s Ocean Watch Villas horseshoe-shaped Oceanfront towers. The pool area was fronted by the Pine and Maple back buildings which also housed an indoor pool.

I won’t go into a great deal regarding the stay itself. It was a typical vacation club experience which means it was a great time had by all enjoying the assortment of pools, activities, beach and dining options at the resort and adjacent hotel.

I would sum up the experience as one of mild surprise. I had come with preconceptions regarding Myrtle Beach and found a green bubble of Hilton Head verdancy on the beach accessible to and insulated from the sounds and sights of Myrtle Beach.

Here’s my list of Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  • Located in a pool of relative tranquility (Grande Dunes Plantation) with easy access to all that Myrtle Beach has to offer
  • The amenities offered by a dual hotel/Marriott vacation club combination. There are about thirteen such hotel/vacation club resorts in the entire Marriott Vacation Club system (by my count) and Marriott’s OceanWatch Villas packs more amenity punch than the typical standalone Vacation Club Resort
  • Incredible views: even some of the back building garden views offered some ocean views and the views from Oceanfront and Oceanside were expansive.

Cons:

  • This is a matter of taste, however, I am not a golfer and I wasn’t in love with the town of Myrtle Beach. Too developed for my taste, but I am coming from having worked in Maui where there are no billboards and building restrictions.
  • I would have like to have a second balcony off the master bedroom (typical floor plan for Marriott vacation club 2BR villas)
  • The resort is located about 6 miles from the Myrtle Beach boardwalk, if you have teenagers, you might be driving them down to spend time on it. There were plenty of kids on the property when I went and my teenagers had a great time.

 

Marriott’s Ocean Pointe review

Marriott’s Ocean Pointe Pool

 

I had the good fortune to have worked for the Marriott Vacation Club for over a decade, in that time and to the present, I have been able to work for, visit and stay at dozens of vacation clubs (Marriott and others). I took some notes during my stays and have decided to add these observations and insights on the website. I will enlarge upon these notes from my vacation club travels and I hope you find some nice nuggets when considering your next trip using your ownership.

I recently visited Marriott’s Ocean Pointe with my family and I can present the following review for the property.

Before I get started, I would like to disclose that I spent the very early part of my career working in Orlando for the Marriott Vacation Club where we had access to and could sell Marriott’s Ocean Pointe (located about 2.5 hours Southeast of Orlando) inventory from off-site (Orlando sales center).

At that time (the late 90s) Marriott’s Ocean Pointe had been open just about a year and was in its preconstruction sales phase.  Our sales team in Orlando viewed the resort as the Shangri La of the Florida properties. We spoke with hushed reverence to the beautifully appointed accommodations and beachfront location and would eye any sales person with jealousy lucky enough to travel down to Singer Island to wrap up a sale with their clients. This was all prior to my transfer to Maui and the subsequent ten years of working at that Marriott’s Uber resort – The Maui Ocean Club. In retrospect, Marriott’s Ocean Pointe, which had at once been the prettiest girl at the dance had been relegated to also-ran (in my mind) after moving to Maui, falling in love with the full moon rising over the West Maui mountains along with everything else Maui entailed.

Returning to Marriott’s Ocean Pointe many years later, I was able to take in the property with a new perspective. Having spent more than a decade working for Marriott Vacation club out in Hawaii, I had been fortunate in that time to have visited and stayed at all the Hawaii properties and dozens more throughout the system.

Although I had the chance to stay at such majesties as the Phuket Beach Club, the Ritz Carlton Club in Vail and the Frenchman’s Cove in St Thomas I was still thoroughly impressed by Marriott’s Ocean Pointe and I as I walked the beach and the grounds one early morning I felt again the tug of emotions I had experienced as a neophyte sales rep for Marriott back in my early years.

The resort’s buildings were situated in a way that allowed for large view corridors which opened the views from balconies down to the very lowest level rooms.  The size of the campus makes it probably the largest piece of Oceanfront real estate in the entire Marriott vacation club and the level of activities, pools, and amenities and other guests make it place where a lonely person can seek refuge from their solitude for a week or so.

The room I was staying in had been recently updated and showed no signs of having been slept in by countless families over the almost 20 years of its existence.  The 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom featured a full kitchen and smaller kitchenette in the guest bedroom, complete with a couple of balconies off the bedrooms. The view from my Oceanside third floor was very nice, I could see the pool areas and ocean off in the distance, and although close to the action, once I shut the slider doors to the balcony, the rooms themselves were quiet minus a creak from above every once in a while.

My kids absolutely loved the property and made friends with other teens the first night they arrived and had a gang of friends they roamed the property with throughout their stay.

Although the resort featured a pool bar and marketplace, we did want to have more food options and frequented the two Whole Food Markets close by.  My wife and I visited West Palm Beach a few nights for dinner (pricey but delicious) and we had the chance to visit the famous Breakers Hotel during our stay, lodging to a Who’s Who of historical figures during last 150 year since it opened.

I will give some pros and cons, while fully disclosing my bias as not only a former employee of Marriott Vacation club but also as a business owner of a company that primarily markets vacation rentals to brand name vacation clubs.

I will start with some negatives:

Cons:

  • Pool chair hawkers – you know the type – guy gets up at the crack of dawn and “reserves” a number of chairs close to the pool – basically marking their territory. A common issue at many of the vacation clubs (the front desk claims they have been cracking down on this)
  • Lack of dining options on the property – limited to marketplace and pool bar
  • A non-Marriott building breaks up the continuity of the campus – there are four main buildings and a 5th located at the southern tip of Singer Island. It would have been nice if all five buildings were adjacent

Now the positives (…remember, I am a fanboy)

Pros:

  • Incredible Oceanfront location – great beach with waves (my family grew up in Hawaii and we love to play and swim in the waves)
  • Super friendly staff
  • So many activities…  Alas, I had the Marriott’s Ocean Pointe Ping- Pong championship in my grasp… and choked it away to a kid half my age 🙁
  • Great beds – really slept well
  • Wonderful grounds –  I loved walking the resort and find a nice chair to sit with my coffee and newspaper
  • Easy to meet and interact with other guests – my kids didn’t want to leave by end of the week having made friends

Having started my career in Orlando, that crazy tourist mecca, I was blessed with the opportunity to transfer to Maui with Marriott and work for ten years at one of the greatest resorts on the planet. Prior to my transfer I had also considered a move down to Singer Island and having experienced the resort and the area with my family as guests of the property, I can safely say that if I had chosen Singer Island instead of Maui, I would have still been a very happy camper.

 

Marriott’s Crystal Shores review

Marriott’s Crystal Shores

My old friend Steve texted me and he asked me if he could Facetime me via our phones. “Sure, what’s up?” I asked. The image of aqua blue pools running left from left to right from an office window flashed on to my screen. “Huh?” But I had already accessed my memory banks. Are you at Marriott’s Crystal Shores? …

He replied affirmatively and explained that he had transferred from Marriott in Orlando down to Marco Island. Steve and I had worked for various Marriott Vacation clubs since meeting over 20 years ago and enjoyed the friendship and commonality of a shared career.

“Get me some pics from the Poolside balcony – please.” I excitedly pleaded. My family and I had been to Marriott’s Crystal Shores back in March 2013 and had not been back since. During that time Marriott’s Crystal Shores had tripled its inventory with two new buildings added to the original L-shaped oceanfront building which had been constructed during the financial market meltdown in the decade prior.

“Wow” “Wow”… was all I could murmur as he took me on a tour of the property via Facetime. More pools, more buildings, however, it seemed more open then I had remembered. Something about the layout of the building and it’s architecture opened the resort up even more rather than making it feel cramped and claustrophobic.

Steve dropped our connection while he made his way up to higher floors. Connected again, I took in the incredible ocean views from one of the resort’s balconies. I could almost feel the warm breezes undulating over me as in reality I sat cold in my poorly insulated home office up in frigid Pennsylvania. “Come on dude, come back to Marriott and work with me here” – Steve urged. I hadn’t sold timeshare for nearly ten years and had been operating my own company for the last seven. But sitting at home looking out the gloomy Pennsylvania January landscape, contrasting that with the cloudless azure Marco Island skis, gray vs. bright blue, I was tempted. I shook my head and laughed – “I would go back and work if you promise I don’t have to sell anything. I just want to hang out with you and the sales reps, talk story and enjoy living in Marco Island”. That was the only scenario in which I would consider leaving the company I had built. I laughed an imagined myself the old sales dog they’d bring in to drink coffee and reminisce about the good ole days – laughing and giving advice to the team.

Ridiculous work scenarios aside, I am heading back this spring and will probably toy with the idea of returning to sales – but as the late comedian Joey Adams says “ Don’t worry about avoiding temptation, as you grow older it will avoid you.”

So, what can I tell you about Marriott’s Crystal Shores and Marco Island? Well, to begin with, I believe the Naples/Marco Island area is the Boardwalk space on the Florida Monopoly game.

Marco Island is about 100 miles west of Miami, and both are firmly ensconced in the bottom regions of the Sunshine state close to the same latitude. However, that’s where many of the similarities end. Miami is an urban jungle, Marco Island, a warm verdant island crisscrossed with canals, small islands, mangroves, and greenery everywhere you look. Wide white beaches, bathwater ocean water, and beautiful shells – Marco island mixes the hideaway feel of the keys while avoiding its isolation and lack of convenience with access to culture and infrastructure.

As for the resort itself, Marriott International purchased the former Radisson Suite Beach Resort in 2006 and began reworking the property, replacing the existing hotel with its first oceanfront tower, which opened in March of 2009.

I remember working in Maui (for Marriott) at the time of Marriott’s Crystal Shores opening and being surprised by the price of their inventory, comparable to that of our own. Although I had lived in Florida prior to Maui I hadn’t a chance to visit Marco and was not aware of just how special that area of Florida is. Years later during my stay at Marriott’s Crystal Shores, I was struck by the similarities and difference of both properties. Both shared amazing weather, with ocean breezes cooling the warm subtropical air, both oceanfront with great pool areas and amazing accommodations. I preferred Maui’s topography with its soaring verdant mountains to Florida’s pan bottom flatness; Collier beach was worlds better than Kaanapali beach: no rocky sharp reefs to contend with, wide powder sugar beaches to warm ocean water in comparison to Maui’s relatively cooler ocean temps.

It would not be hyperbole to say that in terms or purchase price, rental rates and its’ incredible prime gulf front location in Marco Island, Marriott’s Crystal Shores challenges the Hawaii vacation clubs in terms of preeminence in Marriott Vacation club system.

Here is my list of pros and cons for Marriott’s Crystal Shores

PROS:

  • Incredible beach. A white band that separates the resort from the turquoise gulf. In most oceanfront properties I have visited, the pool area is generally the center of bathing activity, not so here at Marriott’s Crystal Shores. The sublime beauty of the beach is the centerpiece for all types of beach activities – seriously just go and Google or Youtube some of the images and videos of this gorgeous shore.
  • Great open pool areas, lots of activities, food and drink service at the pool. Fitness centers, marketplace, and restaurant on property.
  • Lovely accommodations. The guest bedroom features two queen beds which I prefer to the typical king bed and queen sleeper sofa arrangement found at most vacation clubs.

CONS:

  • The site has tripled in inventory size in the last couple of years, this may be minus for those who prefer a smaller resort with fewer amenities and people.
  • Size of units are limited to 2BR and 3BR which makes it cost prohibitive for smaller families or couples to enjoy the property.

 

Marriott’s Mountainside Villas review

Marriott’s Mountainside Villas Night View

No exaggeration, I have probably declared this vacation club resort to be my very favorite at least a hundred times to various friends and clients.  It’s one of the main reasons I moved my family from Hawaii to Colorado and lived in the Vail Valley for about a year. I was presented with the opportunity to work in a ski town and after a dozen trips with my family and friends to Park City over the years I decided if there was anything better than living by the beach and surfing (I had been living in Maui), it would be by the mountains and skiing.I am a self-confessed fanboy, I really don’t think I can do a review of the property justice in terms of being unbiased or even critical of Park City or the resort itself.

Of course, if I really wanted to find fault, I could, just as I could find fault in anything created by the mind and hands of man (natural setting aside).  So, if you are expecting the inevitable “I loved this… but” trope – not going to happen…

What enamored me with Park City and Marriott’s Mountainside Villas?

Let me count the ways:

 

1: Slap on your skis on the path next to the resort’s outdoor heated pool area, and glide down to the Payday lift for a ride up to the summit.  Truly ski and ski out.

2: Park City has some of the best snow on the planet.  I was once told by a local that in order for snow to form, it must bond with atmospheric particles and that due to Utah’s geography and it’s the huge Salt Lake, the snow bonds with salt particles in the air and thus creates the lightest, fluffiest of ice crystals.  Not sure if this scientifically proven or can even explain Utah’s Champagne powder – but I am buying it.

3:  Incredible ski school with ski instructors who seem to love what they do. I had my kids in ski school soon after they were walking and some of my favorite times on the mountain were with instructors exploring hidden stashes of powder and working on my technique.

4: Food – something about skiing and it’s huge caloric burn makes everything taste great, but the food, across the board – from the upscale restaurants on Main Street to the chili served at the various cafeterias located on the mountain is consistently hearty and flavourful.

5: Access to the resort from Airport.  Take 1-80 E up through the canyons and to the resort between 45 minutes to an hour.  Compare that to the somewhat harrowing 2+ hour climb from Denver to Vail Valley.

6: Friendly people.  If you have visited Utah, you will know that Minnesotans have nothing on Utahns. Maybe it’s easy to be nice when you get to live up in the beautiful mountains of Utah, but coming from the East Coast, I sometimes thought people were yanking my chain with their genuineness. I rarely perceived any pretense or irony and consistently enjoyed interacting with them.  Also, there is a very large influx of young people from South America who spend their summers manning the lifts, serving food in the cafeteria and on mountain instructing. A really great mix of people manning the resort, mountain, shops and restaurants.

7: Vibrant downtown.  Main street is where you will find so many enjoying a·près-ski, shopping and dining.  Every January, the famous Sundance Film Festival takes over the town for ten nights, downtown filled with famous celebrities and slopes emptied of skiers.

8: Skiing:  Did I neglect to mention how incredible the skiing is in Utah?  Do you prefer groomed runs free from reckless snowboarders? Head up to Deer Valley. How about some really macho skiing in the rugged natural setting of Alta or Snowbird?  Or want a mix of challenging bowls and beautifully groomed corduroy runs – Park City Mountain is perfect.

9: Marriott’s Mountainside Villas amenities. Great activity center with games, movies, model building, fitness center to get the legs warmed up for a day on the slopes and outdoor heated pools and hot tubs to relax in after your done.

10: I just scratched the surface on what Park City, Marriott’s Mountainside Villas and Utah have to offer and what makes it such a special place for me. You can go bobsledding at the Olympic Park, scuba dive in a hot spring, heli-ski, check out the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, shop, dine and snowshoe through pristine Mountain valleys.

While I worked for Marriott in Maui, I constantly kept my eye open for opportunities to work for Marriott’s Mountainside Villas.  Maybe it’s a good thing that I never had a chance to live and work in Park City, perhaps some of the magic would have been lost due to the grind of everyday living? Who knows, but right now I am imagining myself gliding and pumping down Jupiter Bowl, champagne powder flying in my face,  a smile on my face, hooting with exhilaration. Maybe I can return this winter? I just need to find the time and cajole my aging knees to comply 🙂

Marriott’s Mountainside Villas Lift

Marriott’s BeachPlace Towers review

Here’s another in my series of Vacation Club reviews:

The Marriott’s BeachPlace Towers vacation club is located six floors above ground level, sandwiched between the intercoastal waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.

The resort’s lobby level and sun-kissed veranda sit atop the Gallery of Beachplace shopping center situated directly across the street from the Ft Lauderdale’s white sand beach.

The GPS announces that I have arrived and after doing a few dizzying circles up the parking tower I find a spot and proceed to take the elevator up one more floor level.  My eyes adjust to the lobby area which looks out on the to the veranda, bar and pool area – white light reflecting from the tiles and pool water momentarily blind me and after a couple of blinks I make my way over to the front desk.  After checking in I make my way slowly up the elevator to my room on the 14th floor (will talk about these elevators later). I opened the door to my 2BR villa and am hit by the feeling of familiarity, of returning home, of how much to come to identify with this, due to my nearly 20 years in this industry.  I smiled as I ran my finger over the tabletop and inspected the condo, the clean open kitchen that flowed from a dining table to living area which opened on to a balcony shared by the master bedroom. I walked out onto the balcony and took in the sights of the intercostal view with its series of canals and small yacht harbored from the Atlantic.  A silent tableau of white boats on blue water, red tile tops, and green vegetation. I stood there silent, no rush to do anything – my family would be joining me at the resort the next day.

I changed into my bathing suit and headed down to the pool area.  Walking out barefoot on the veranda with the sun dropping from its zenith behind the tower, the warm heat rising from the baked hardtop,  I decided to soak my travel weary body into one of the hot tubs. I closed my eyes and focused on the waves breaking in the surf, the hum of activity rising from the shopping and dining area and the self-defeated strains of Margaritaville sung by the guitarist playing at the pool bar.  It was all very nice in a calm and frenetic way.

And this probably best describes Marriott’s BeachPlace Towers resort’s setting:  the dichotomy of a beach resort located in an urban setting, a mixed cocktail of calm relaxation surrounded by a vibrant city famous for being the seminal spring break capital of the country. Later I reflected on this mood as I took to the streets passing beachgoers in sun hats and wrapped towels mixed with people in business suits and expensive Tommy Bahama apparel.

This was a resort that I felt confused about. I remember visiting Marriott’s BeachPlace Towers years ago with my wife and another couple and absolutely loving the place.  Was that what was clouding my feeling for the resort, or was it complacency and desire for quiet and tranquility that has seeped into me as I have aged? Either way, I said the heck with it, had a libation at one of the bars on the street below and proceeded to walk down Las Olas Blvd.  I passed over the intercostal bridge and stopped for dinner at a wonderful Brazilian buffet. Returning to my room later that night I was blown away by the view of Ft Lauderdale at night – it’s up to a beautiful maze of canals, lights, and illuminated luxury yachts.

Over the next couple of days, I jotted down my reflections of Marriott’s BeachPlace Towers.

Pros:

  • Wonderful views – intercostal views are amazing, and the owner’s lounge on the 19th floor offers a beautiful Atlantic view from the top floor
  • Friendly staff
  • Great location – you can go with the beach and pool vibe, or the dining and shopping, or the nightlife – or everything.  Probably the most diverse vacation club in terms of setting.

Cons:

  • Slooooowwwww elevators.  The front desk mentioned that the elevator system has been overhauled twice in since the resort was built.  It didn’t bother me really, I wasn’t in a rush going anywhere.
  • Parking is relegated to the parking garage below and took time going up and down 5 levels.
  • Some people complained about the pool being too small, but this is a resort basically set upon huge balcony elevated above the white sand beach far above the hustle and bustle of Ft. Lauderdale.

After the original ambiguity of my feelings towards the resort and location, I settled into my stay, spent quality time with my family and found myself enjoying the whole relaxation/excitement vibe of the Marriott’s BeachPlace Towers.