As poet Ogden Nash said about the central Virginia Massanutten Resoert:
“If for punishment, you’re a glutton,
Spend a week at Massanutten”.
Well, OK, he never said that. But that is only because he never had the opportunity to visit Massanutten.
We did. Did W.C. Fields really say something like: First prize is a week in Philadelphia. Second prize is two weeks? I’m not sure. But it certainly would apply to Massanutten, a large “four-season” resort, located about 2 1/2 hours southwest of Washington DC for which my wife obtained an offer: if we allowed ourselves to be the subject of a 90 minute sell session at Massanutten, we could have two free nights there, four free nights at a sister resort in Orlando, FL and, best of all, would get a $125 Visa gift card, which we could use anywhere and for anything. Yesterday, a cloudy, foggy, rainy day, we drove 150 miles each way for 90 minute session, thinking we would return later for our free weekend.
I don’t think we will.
Massanutten is located about 20 minutes east of I-81, near the bustling community of Harrisonburg, VA, home of James Madison University. It stretches over 8000 acres, an enormous area. It contains ski and snow tubing runs, water parks, golf courses and other recreational facilities. It has, I believe, 6 hotels (two of which are currently under renovation), and hundreds of condominium units, as well as single family houses (many not owned by the resort) that are scattered about.
Admittedly, our timing was terrible. The fog and rain erased many of the views, and early March meant that the trees are still bare, while the winter facilities (such as the ski run) have clearly seen better days. In gauging Massanutten, I tried to take this into account. I think (but cannot know for sure) that I succeeded.
Think the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. Now think strip mining, and what one of those beautiful mountains displays after its top has been stripped off the mine surface coal.
Now think the beautiful, if less rugged, mountains down the spine of Virginia. Don’t strip mine that mountain, but develop the valleys which surround it with cheap, ugly and badly located buildings. Make sure you put large gray parking lots around each of the buildings, and go out of your way to clear-cut all of the areas where the buildings are placed, so that landscaping is virtually non-existent. You are on your way to imagining Massanutten.
Two two mile entry road is pleasant enough. We were told to report to the Woodstone building for our tour. If you think you are going to visit an elegant, rustic resort, with relaxing accommodations and attractive surroundings, you are immediately disabused. The Woodstone building, glass and stone, is garish and oversized. You register for your tour in a relatively quiet room, where your tour guide meets you and starts you off. You walk through a doorway into a much bigger area, filled with round tables where (you later learn) you will sit to receive the high power pitch at the end of your tour. You are showed the new business center, which in fact seems to be just a room with some easy chairs, with no computers (you are told to bring your own laptop), and no staffing, just a room. You are bombarded with loud music (is it rock? is it hip hop? is it anything?) and are told that it is there not to totally put you in a condition of nervous shock (as it did for us) but rather both to make you feel at home (aha! this place is not for us) and to drown out the sound of the people at the next table. We are shown the “state of the art” health club, which looked all right, although its setting in the middle of a sales facility, seemed a bit weird; we see the child care center (all it needed was children); the 1980’s pinball machines (unused); and a room overcrowded with undersized ping pong, air hockey and billiards tables.
We then got into the car of our guide and drove to see first a condominium unit, where timeshares are available. In fact, what we saw was one of the more attractive of the many residential developments. This does not mean it was attractive at all. It simply means that, if you passed this development in your home town, you would not notice it, rather than saying “yuck”, as you would if you passed most of the developments at Massanutten.
We went into a first floor two bedroom unit, and then into the two bedroom unit on the second floor, above the first unit. Now read carefully. These units were identical (which means that they had a very ordinary layout, and in fact rather spacious rooms, but no sense of design or personality). There was a difference between the two units, however. The second floor unit does not have a stove! Read that again. The second floor unit does not have a stove. Each second unit throughout Massanutten has a hot plate, a microwave, and a patio or balcony gas grill, but no stove. This is so Massanutten can scam the system, and pretend that the two units are in fact one unit for property tax purposes. That’s is what they say, with no small degree of pride.
So, if you buy a one week time-share and choose to use it at Massanutten, rather than on an exchange basis, you will one year get a unit with no stove and one year get a unit with a stove. Truth is stranger than fiction.
In addition to Woodstone, we visited the other recreation center, equally depressing, but lacking the sales office. We saw the bottom of the ski run, where you ski down with a great look over the parking facility. From afar we saw the tubing run. We visited the stables. We went into the water park, which may be state of the art (I am not sure), but has many pools, and places with falling water, and water tubes and slides and things – the building also contains a couple of restaurants. We are told that this is a child-friendly building, and that an adult water park will be built next to it. The water park (which is indoor and outdoor) is modern in design, perhaps the best designed facility at the resort. We saw the spa building (where you can get all sorts of treatments), one of the two least inspiring buildings at Massanutten, the other being in market.
The market brings up another important point. There are no other shops at Massanutten (they may be building a mall on the highway near the resort’s entrance), and there are very few restaurants (and remember that half the units have no stoves). Everything is very spread out. There is no shuttle system, activities are much too far to reach on foot (as if there were sidewalks), so everything happens by automobile, even on the resort itself (which explains why so much of the development is dedicated to parking facilities, none of which are covered by the way). Finally, Massanutten is the opposite of an all-inclusive resort. Whatever you want to, you can. But you have to pay extra.
I am not even going to go into the hard sell techniques: we started out with a two bedroom $26,000 1/52 share of a unit. I pointed out that the unit would be selling therefore for well over $1 million, probably four to five times its worth, and ended up being pressured to acquire a $9900 one bedroom unit that would give us two weeks, not one.
Are you still interested? Go to http://www.tripadvisor.com and look at the reviews given by over 200 visitors to the resort, who stayed either at one of the hotels or in a time share unit.
There ought to be a crime…….