Family Fun in a Complete, Affordable Package… With a Few Little Challenges
I hate schmooze. It’s the main reason I hate shopping for cars and avoid those “win a free trip with a visit to Too-Good-To-Be-True Overblown Resorts. I was, therefore, highly reluctant and totally skeptical about the phone call I got and the Silverleaf letter that came in the mail one day a year or so ago. “Free cruise,” it said. “Free vacation in Hawaii or other exotic locations.” Right, I get it.
I’ve been there before. Drive half a day to hear some fast talking salesman in a suit with a sweaty brow throw as much crap about the wonders of a particular place/scheme/offer as he can. Overwhelm you with sweet words and an overblown courtesy that turns the stomach. No thanks.
So what was it that led me to take the family to Silverleaf? We went for nothing more than a reason to get out of the house. I had no illusions about free trips or ridiculous offers. We’d go, we’d smile, we’d say no thank you and then do something the kids enjoyed for the rest of the day. Who would have thought we’d wind up leaving as members?
The hardest part to take with Silverleaf is, still, the schmooze. Salesmen drip happy. Ours bragged about his wonderful and exciting background, making lots of money and working for a major restaurant. I think he was Mafioso out to pasture for something. He was certainly Italian. Even so he was nice enough and what he showed us and said about Silverleaf started to make sense in spite of my skeptical attitude-which I made clear up front.
“Buy a condo,” he said, “and you have access to all this, all the resorts, at any time of the year for day use. You then get a week without charge for a condo in addition to bonus weekends and the option to pay at other times.” Hmm. It was a really nice resort. We got our pitch at The Villages, one of the largest of their resorts. It is spread out over a couple of square miles of property next to Lake Palestine, a reservoir a dozen miles south of Tyler, Texas. The Villages offers more than most resorts including The Waterpark, a massive indoor water recreation facility exclusive to this resort. There are several open pools too and an assortment of outdoor recreation offerings from shuffleboard to playgrounds. I started to like what I saw. The kids were, of course, sold right away.
By the time we made it to the last stage of the pitch, where all the schmoozees and schmoozers gather in a big room with a Let’s Make a Deal atmosphere, I had decided maybe we would see what we could do. The big difference with Silverleaf is that members actually purchase a condo rather than a mere bit of space a few times a year. The deed transfers to children or could be sold. Moreover, ownership meant not only a condo during a particular period (depending upon the purchase) but access to the facilities for day use any time, as I said already. RV spots at resorts that have them, including electric and water, can be used for no additional charge. Finally, owners could exchange a week’s stay at Silverleaf for some other resort most anywhere in the world because of a partnership Silverleaf has with an international resort company.
Having three children, we thought the day use availability was the most attractive part of the deal. There are three resorts within a couple hours of our home. Weekend trips to one or the other could be fun summer alternatives that cost a lot less over all. I liked the RV and camping options, too. So, we let them schooze us.
I noted the type of people at tables nearby. Dress and demeanor definitely spoke of middle class. Though these resorts are billed as exclusive and fancy the company clearly targets people with our income or even lower. Our salesman began to throw figures at us. He told us of the price, the down payment, on and on. It looked good, really, but in the end the offer simply would not fit our budget. We were close to taking our useless vacation papers and leaving-disappointed I might add-when supervisors came to our table to do a bit of gentle arm-twisting. I wasn’t too happy about that. Even so, they scribbled around on paper until at last they offered us an introductory membership. It was not a condo and it was not cheap but it was not too bad of a deal. When we understood the cost of a temporary membership could be applied to a purchase later on, I gave in (and talked my wife into it).
Once we got past the sales pitches and goofy grins and actually showed up as a member at a resort we began to appreciate what our costly membership was worth. We visited The Villages and another resort on Lake Palestine, Lake O’ the Woods (from where I sit writing in an RV slot), two very different places. The Villages is wall to wall people, lots of stuff, and that waterpark (an attraction that members still have to pay a pretty penny for) which draws folks from all over. Lake O’ the Woods is much smaller, much quieter, but much more my style. Like most other resorts it has a playground, pool, mini-golf, and makes board games and other fun stuff available to check out-all included with membership.
We decided to make the day use option pay by traveling around and dropping in during the day but staying in motels at night. This way we get to travel, have fun, and optimize our usage. We took the family to San Antonio, visited the Alamo, then spent the next day at Hill Country Resort on Canyon Lake near New Braunfels. From there we traveled to Houston, stayed in a motel, then spent the next day at Piney Shores on Lake Conroe. The kids had as much fun as they would have had at expensive theme park alternatives in San Antonio and Houston.
Silverleaf has resorts in seven states. Besides six locations in Texas there’s three in Missouri and one each in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois and Maine. Our membership provides us with a week’s stay and bonus weekends besides the day use at the resort we choose. We’re planning on making a trip north to check out Missouri or maybe Illinois resorts. We have already spent a long weekend at Seaside Resort in Galveston. We will be going back there.
Seaside Resort is a very nice place, well kept, with a prominent and very challenging mini-golf course. Mini-golf is not the popular pastime it once was but Silverleaf’s effort to build them is a nice touch. The course at Seaside is pretty amazing. Other than the mini-golf, Seaside was typical of the other resorts. There’s a game room, gift shop with tourist trinkets, shirts and cups, a video arcade, pool, etc.. We checked out some board games and played in the member center. Seaside offers one thing few resorts can: a beach across the street. The resort itself is not beach-side but Silverleaf has a little piece of Galveston beach fixed up for guests with a boardwalk over the dunes and deck recliners scattered about in the sand. The weather was too cold for much water fun, pool or beach, but still we enjoyed our stay.
I haven’t mentioned the condos themselves yet. This is because the condos are not exactly what make the purchase worth it. Even though they are very nice I would feel over-charged if it wasn’t for everything else Silverleaf does to make their resorts family destinations. Still, the condos are extremely nice. All of them are two bedrooms, completely furnished, ready for occupancy. Fully furnished means fully, right down to the dishes in the kitchen. Our stay in Galveston was far less than it would have been if we’d paid for a place near the beach in town. Galveston is, in my opinion, an over-blown and over-priced destination. With Silverleaf, however, a few bags of groceries and sunscreen is about all one has to buy to have several days of fun and sun. We fixed our own meals wanting for nothing in the kitchen and we stayed at the resort. It was one of the best times we’ve ever had in Galveston.
The big difference we noticed with Silverleaf and exclusive hotels we’ve stayed in is that everything is wonderfully provided but not wonderfully plush. Beds were not four-star quality and disposables were also of the same type and quality one might find in a one or two star motel. Those are, of course, minor details. I note them only to emphasize, again, that Silverleaf is focused on middle class comfort, not high-end plush. No doubt their exclusive Ambassador and Chairman offerings are more upscale. Those come with HDTV’s and more expensive furnishings. I rather doubt we’ll be buying into one of them any time soon, however.
From the rustic to the fancy, Silverleaf covers a pretty wide swath of resort offerings. For families like us who love getting out of the house a membership and ownership is worth the cost. This is more true in Central or East Texas than it might be elsewhere unless someone lives right near one of the other resorts. With the cost of gas these days even a trip of a few hundred miles can break a budget, limiting the number of times a resort can be visited and diminishing its value. Still, for those who have kids and like to play, and who are near enough to take regular advantage of a resort, there’s probably a deal to be had.
A few other things about Silverleaf Resorts re worth noting. The folks who work there have always been very courteous. We get quick and helpful responses when we call. The resorts are well maintained, mostly, though some of the recreation facilities could use a bit of work. Every resort has Wi-Fi for free in the lodge or member center. Some of the resorts are remote, however, and cell phones might not work.
I am not a salesman for Silverleaf. In fact, not everything about them is all that grand. One very annoying thing they did was try repeatedly to get us to refer other people to them. Silverleaf offers a cash incentive for getting other people to buy into the resort. I do not, however, believe friends and family should be used for profit. We did not give them a list of people for them to call. They made several calls to the one relative we gave as a reference-whom we said would NOT be interested-before I was able to convince them to knock it off. I understand some people go out as unofficial ambassadors for the resorts and make some nice cash by sending people there. We have not done that. (But hey, if you want a referral I’ll give it, send me an email! Help a fellow out!)
Another thing with the resorts is that lots of people visit them. This will sound somewhat condescending but I must say that some of the folks who buy into the resort or are guests of members are not quite the kind one would want as neighbors. We were hassled on the mini-course by some kids who were there merely to annoy others, or at least that’s what it seemed like. Also, while in Galveston our condo was on the first floor of a three-story building. The family above us had children. The children jumped and stomped, uncontrolled by adults, forcing us to endure their thundering noise. I was forthright enough to complain but they still banged around-though less so than before our call. These are, of course, problems not exclusive to Silverleaf but the high numbers of people at the resorts sometimes and the economic strata Silverleaf targets will lead to such inconveniences on occasion.
Silverleaf Resorts are not very handicap accessible. Some have lots of steps or stairs that are difficult for folks with bum legs or who are in wheel chairs. I would have loved a top floor at Seaside but four flights of stairs was out of the question. My favorite haunt, Lake O’ the Woods, has lots of steps to navigate.
We’ve paid off our membership and intend to use it a great deal this year. I put the RV and camping options to good use as places I escape to and write without the noise and distractions of being at home. There’s fishing opportunities, too, which I enjoy. Lake O’ the Woods has a nice fishing dock. Our four nights in Galveston has paid for a large percentage of our membership since an equivalent stay would have cost near a thousand dollars at anything close to comparable on the island. With any luck we’ll get a deal and buy into a condo when our introductory membership runs out. Whether or not we do, depending on what’s available and our budget, we’ll still be say that Silverleaf is one of the best vacation and recreational options money can buy.
Oh, by the way, the “free cruise” and “free vacation” were just exactly what we’d expected. The cruise was for two and we have five in our family. Nobody could tell us what adding three kids would cost. It required payment of fees we could not squeeze from our budget in time to make the offer work. The “vacation” was a few nights at a resort (of course) in exotic places but travel to them was at our expense. Even though Silverleaf turned out to be a nice surprise after all my summation of their sales pitch and “wonderful offers” was right on! I really did have my gloating cake and get to eat at the resort, too!
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