I'm one of the few Americans who has never thought much about timeshares, cruises and travel around the world - although my husband's wedding day promise 10 years ago to take me to "Paris in the Spring" has not been forgotten!
Enjoying a timeshare such as Westgate Resorts was always for other people. But, surprise! Jim and Linda are suddenly timeshare "owners" and enjoying every minute of this new experience!
My life has always been all work and no play. The kids went to ball games and on ski trips with their dad, and I usually stayed home to work. My book, "Dusty Angels and Old Diaries" reflects those 28-hour days juggling several work schedules, photography shoots or newspaper assignments. Friends and family assumed I didn't want to have fun or didn't like to travel. That is not so. I always believed that 'someone had to stay home and work so we could afford for the kids to have some fun. And, honestly, it wasn't always that much fun to "have fun' with my first husband. (There, I said it!)
This Westgate Resort timeshare experience was a totally unexpected move for us, and was one of the most difficult decisions Jim and I ever made. He's like I used to be (save money), and I'm wishing I'd taken the long way around the world when I was younger! He thought we couldn't afford it , and I thought we couldn't afford not to! Westgate Resort staff are trained to deal with folks just like us, I'm sure. They kept offereing us a sweeter and sweeter deal!
The 'get away' idea all started last year (2007) when one of us wanted to do something nice for the other on our 10th wedding anniversary. We decided to take a long weekend relaxing at Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
I came up with the idea for that place because my sister who lives in Tampa is too far away to drive there and back in a long weekend; and the kids live in opposite directions. Jim said he'd never been to the Smoky Mountains. My memories of the Smoky Mountain/Gatlinburg area include a Laurelbrook Senior Camping Trip (in 1969) and getting into trouble for having a picture taken with "Bryan". (That 5x7 picture is still tucked away in one of my many diaries.)
Well, I digress...
So last fall, I got on the Internet to search motels in Gatlinburg and found one for $39 a night if we attended one of those timeshare meetings where you don't have to purchase anything, of course, but just listen to some information...
We reserved the $39.00 motel room with a hot tub and agreed that no one could talk us into something we didn't want. ...
It took six hours, but they did...!!!
I think we hold the record for holding out the longest at a Westgate Timeshare Meeting! Our host kept bringing the price down until I was convinced that I wanted this more than anything in the world, and Jim couldn't leave without me because I had the car keys in my purse. We suddenly found ourselves as new timeshare owners of the international Westgate Resorts on our 10th wedding anniversary!
So, last month when hubby said we should "go someplace and get away" for a few days before he started a long-awaited state job, I dialed up the Westgate phone number, and told them our ID number and asked if we could reserve three nights at "our cabin".
"Sure" they said very pleasantly. "Welcome Home".
Arriving there last Thursday, we felt like travelers from out of space. What will they expect from us when we get there? Do we check in like a motel? Will it have hidden costs no one told us about? Will they give us a room with a hot tub like I asked? (I told them we didn't care about a new flat screen TV, but we had to have that hot tub!)
Hubby forgot, but I remembered where the check-in lobby was located, so I went in and stood in the middle of the room wondering which desk to walk up to. From that moment on, we were welcome with open arms and, except for the "new pet policy" there were no surprises.
The "new" pet policy said the cost for a pet is $80 if you take them into the cabin. At first I thought we could actually keep two large active dogs in the van for four days. Then, I figured there was no way they would know if we had paid or not. Then, my honesty got the best of me and I called down to the office and said, "They're coming in. Put it on our tab."
We had a few 'hic-cups' to start. First, the taillights wouldn't turn off on the van after I turned the motor off. It wasn't the simple, "Oh I forgot to turn off the lights" as I thought. While the nice gentleman who was showing us to our cabin waited, I hit the brakes, turned the engine on and off, slammed the door 10 times and reset the security system several times!
Well, lets get inside and hubby can work on it later, I said to myself.
After that, our biggest dog got sick. Without grossing anyone out, I'll just say that she HAD to stay in the van with sheets covering everything and me wondering why we ever thought having a dog would be so nice. (By the way, she's still sick and hasn't eaten in 6 days.) But, that's another story.
So now we have one dog inside the cabin, and one in the van, and brake lights that won't turn off. We called Jim's son, John, who knows everything about everything about fixing cars. After his shock of hearing that we were not at home in Ohio, but traveling in Tennessee, he told his dad how to remove something from the brake and disconnecting a wire to get the brake lights off. A great idea, but Jim couldn't find the something to remove from the brake.
Later, I would suggest that we could just disconnect the battery, but by then Jim had got the brake lights out (at least until the next time we hit the brakes) by tapping on the fuse box.
By now, it's almost bedtime. First things first. Fill that hot tub! Here I come ready or not!
We finally got settled in. Our cabin was the nicest place we've ever stayed where we had to pay for lodging. The floors were cool smoky limestone. The kitchen was sweet and very large. It was stocked with dishes, pots and pans, microwave, oven - and wine glasses for Jim!
I never did figure out how to set the temperature on the oven and was not going to call the office to ask. I just cooked my pot roast at 365 for two hours and it came out great!
Later, while Jim was napping, I took a little walk to the water park included with the Westgate Resort. After all that cooking, I was dismayed to discover a snack bar at the water park where we could get pizza, French fries, pop and all kinds of unhealthy food. But at least I wouldn't have to slave over a hot stove on my holiday.
The water park is a story in itself. Because I've also never been to a water park, this one kept me mesmerized with all the different water activities and waterfalls and slides and pools within pools - all enclosed!
Notice that large bucket hanging from the center of the enclosure? It fills with water and dumps it down into a shallow pool about every two minutes!
There was even a river of water that went all around and throughout the giant play area. We didn't go in the water (this time), but we sat in the mezzanine and watched the kids at play. I took some pictures on my cell phone but haven't figured out how to transmit them to anyone who would like to see the splashing buckets of water dumping on the kids below.
The next day, we shopped at a few Outlet stores in Pidgin Forge. Jim found a nice sweater and two ties on sale for $10 each at his favorite Van Husen store. Actually, I sat in the van with the dogs because my joints hurt and it was cold. The long drive and cold weather flared up my tired old joints. I felt better after a few nice warm hot tub soaks!
One afternoon we took the 50-cent trolley into Gatlinburg just for the fun of it. We were thinking of touring the Aquarium but it cost $19.99 each and it looked like it might be in a big tunnel and bother my claustrophobia. Instead we walked around for a couple blocks (with me resting on park benches a lot because I still hurt). It is a beautiful scenic area with the mountains all around and the clear but cold tumbling river running beside you all the time. Neither of us are big money-spending tourists. We got a little bag of dark chocolate and Jim found his favorite chocolate salt-water taffy. The most fun was riding the 50-cent trolley to and from our resort.
My sister, Sandy and I are planning a family reunion there in 2009. We have to check with our kids to see when they can leave their jobs, but I'm sure it will be the best times of our lives! We can't wait!
In the meantime, Jim and I plan for another week there in May. We already have our list of things to remember like movies for the DVD player and favorite CD's for the quite times we enjoy together.
Maybe you could join us there sometime! There's an extra queen-size bed in front of the fireplace.
Take Care on the Journey,