Whacking Welk: Et tu theatre, time shares

Controversy reigns at Welk Resorts, Escondido theater, time shares/courtesy

The year of no Welk Resort Theatre

For nearly four decades, Welk Resort Theatre has showcased all manner of live stage shows at a 309-seat showcase. That tradition comes to an end with the final performance of “A Christmas Carol” on Dec. 31.

Following the Dickens of a show, the string of live dinner shows at the north Escondido resort dating to 1981 comes to an abrupt end.

Dark shall the stage be making 2018 the year of no live theater at the local institution of last resort.

It’s part and parcel of a lobby remodeling project, according to Resort general manager Sean Coogan with September 2018 the target date for a rejuvenated theater to begin operations again with a twist. The new regimen will consist of live musical theater, which Welk management believes will prove more financially lucrative.

Joshua Carr, Welk producer and theater manager since 2008, said he was shocked by the decision although he wasn’t shocked by the challenges, which included a considerable distance up Interstate 15 from San Diego and the gradual departing of the ways for Welk’s core constituency of aging fans.

(After all, resort founder Lawrence Welk, the North Dakota-born TV bandleader and accordionist, popular on TV and radio, died in 1992 at the age of 89.)

Honoring the resort’s history, while appealing to its increasingly youthful time-share owners and guests, has been a difficult balancing act, according to Pam Kragen of the Union Tribune.

In an interview with Carr this week before the shutdown was announced, he said he’d worked very hard in recent years to attract a younger audience without offending the older crowd, Kragen said.

“There’s that stigma that it’s an old folks place, not a place that presents contemporary shows,” Carr said.

The theater had already announced plans for its now-canceled 2018 season, which was to include a guest production of “Gypsy,” presented by Vista-based Broadway Theatre co-producers Randall Hickman and Douglas Davis, Kragen said The duo has produced one or two shows a year at the Welk since 2012.

Hickman said he was stunned by the news.

“When a theater institution like the Welk closes its doors,” Hickman said, “every corner of our San Diego theater world feels it. This is going to leave a huge hole in the San Diego theater community.”

Lawrence Welk statue at the Escondido resort-theater he built that bears his name/Courtesy

Meanwhile, those Welk Resort time shares are a bit of a con

(Editor’s Note: The Unknown Eater spent some time exploring the wonderful world of Welk Resort time shares and came away from the experience older, and wiser. Here is the account of the time share recruiting process which may be filed under the “If it seems to be too good to be true” Department.)

It began at the Stagecoach country music festival, where a pitchman for Lawrence Welk Resorts lured me to his booth like a Siren in Homer’s “Odyssey.”

Against my better judgement, I let a salesman serenade me about the rewards I could earn from attending a timeshare presentation, even though I had no desire to buy a part ownership in a vacation rental.

I still firmly believe, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” But, more than a year after that first pitch, I must report I just had a nice little vacation in Catalina Island after enduring a timeshare presentation in Escondido.

Frankly, I never would have approached that booth if I hadn’t already had a positive impression of the Lawrence Welk Resorts. My wife and I held our wedding reception at what is now the Welk Resort in Cathedral City. My best golf lesson was at the Welk Resort in Escondido. I even saw a good production of “The Will Rogers Follies,” starring Keith Carradine, at a theater at Escondido’s Welk Resort.

Besides that, our younger son had invited us to visit him at his office in Vista, which is 10 minutes from Escondido.

So, I listened to this set-up guy promise me almost anything in his loose-leaf notebook for an hour of my time in Escondido. “Do you like to golf? We’ll give you two rounds at either Lawrence Welk Resort. Enjoy basketball? We’ll give you two tickets to a Lakers game. Want a vacation? We’ll give you a free hotel and boat ride to Catalina!”

I figured, if nothing else, this could be a good story. So, I committed to visiting the Welk Resort in Escondido the next month – knowing full well I could cancel if my wife decided she did not want to accompany me to this timeshare presentation.

And, sure enough, Mrs. Unknown Eater did not want to accompany me to this timeshare presentation.

But she did want to see her son and the office in which he worked. He wanted us to bring his dog, so we cooked up a plan to drive to a PetSmart halfway between Vista and Escondido to drop off our dog for a furmination. Then we’d attend the timeshare presentation, collect our gifts, pick up our dog and see our son in Vista. Perfect!

But, like I said, if it sounds too good to be true…

We drove to the Welk Resort and checked into the reception area of the StoneRidge Preview Center. Poster-sized images of Catalina and Kobe Bryant on a wall reminded us of the wonderful gifts in store. A Riverside man, who commuted more than an hour to work for his job, took us on a tour of two condominiums. Then a savvy saleswoman delivered a power-point presentation in a room full of people.

The woman asked how many people were there just for the gifts and virtually everyone raised their hands. Then she recited some facts and figures showing how much vacation money we could save by owning a timeshare and gaining access to condos in virtually every part of the world.

All we had to do to receive these savings, she said, was commit to taking two vacations a year. Would you like to reduce your stress and become more productive at work by taking two vacations a year, she asked?

Not a lot of people said no.

This is where they do it at Welk Resort/courtesy

The woman then came around to each table for more personal pitches. She asked the misses and me where we were from and, when we said the Palm Springs area, she told us her daughter worked at a halfway house there. I knew that halfway house. I had been there. I asked her daughter’s name and the conversation suddenly turned dark. They weren’t getting along. Didn’t speak much. She wanted to get back to talking timeshares.

We politely said we didn’t think we wanted to buy a timeshare. So, could we collect our gifts? She directed us to another part of the preview center and a guy there said they’d assemble the paperwork. Meanwhile, there was just one more guy we had to see.

He was the closer, the take-over guy, and he quickly tried to impress us by telling us he drove yellow Corvette. He sold harder than any car salesman I had encountered. When we told him we couldn’t afford a timeshare, he dropped the prices and asked what we could afford. Then he played the humiliation card.

I was perspiring and the thought crossed my mind that this guy was probably impervious to body odor. I started to bend and the misses looked at me like, “Are you crazy?” That snapped me back to reality. I rejected him with the urgency with which I once shook off a childhood neighbor who dragged me out of a pew in a fundamental Christian church to accept Jesus in front of a congregation speaking in tongues. The stakes seemed just as high.

The guy finally gave up and directed us to a long line in the preview center where someone else would give us a credit voucher for the $40 we invested for the right to have this experience. That’s when reality hit. We were told they were out of Lakers tickets, but they’d give us four tickets to a San Diego Padres game instead.

That’s like a restaurant saying they’re out of porterhouse, but they’ll give you twice as much ground round. Only, the way the Padres were playing, it was more like Hamburger Helper.

They also said and they didn’t know where I got the impression that free golf was part of the package. They didn’t have any. But they said we would get a one-night, standard midweek accommodation on Catalina, plus two round-trip ferry tickets from Long Beach to Avalon.

We’d have to wait three months before the offer went into effect, but then we’d also get an opportunity to extend our stay. I filled out a form saying my first choice for travel was Oct. 19 and my second choice was Sept. 20.

They said a travel service would soon contact us soon. My wife scoffed at the promise, but we took the Padres tickets. They were for nosebleed seats. So I paid $20 per ticket for upgrades and we watched the Cincinnati Reds beat the Padres in a game of absolutely no importance. At least I got to hang out with my son and two friends.

On July 7, a woman from FTP Vacations sent me an e-mail. She said I’d be contacted by a travel specialist 21 days before my first request date, which was now going to interfere with the Desert Trip festival that had been announced for October.

Fortunately, that didn’t matter. I was called three weeks later by a woman who said both my September and October dates were unavailable. But, she seemed to really want to help me find alternative dates.

I told her I couldn’t take off two weekdays in our tourist season and she said she could get us reservations for June 8. She said she’d contact us later about getting a second night and it would probably cost less than $150.

Well, later came and went and, a couple months after that, I called that woman. She now said I’d be contacted a month before my next request date.

Another e-mail explained that FTP Travel is an incentive marketing company. They don’t directly book hotel or airline reservations. Instead, “We have contracted suppliers with whom we purchase our travel packages. Your certificate is always based on space availability and first come is first served.”

It added, “You have to be patient and flexible. Sometimes it does take time and changing dates might be necessary.”

Sure enough, I was informed that my date at the Catalina Island Inn on the conveniently located Metropole Avenue was confirmed. But it was up to me to extend my stay there.

I called the hotel and was told the second night would cost $225 – and I died a little more. Not only was that more than $75 above what I was told it was going to cost, it was $75 more than the list price on their website. I wrote a couple e-mails requesting a better rate and got no reply.

Then I called the front desk again and was told the hotel had a mid-week special for $123.50 a night. The front desk clerk said she could give me a second night for that price no problem. No problem!

We made reservations for June 8-9 and planned to take Lyft from my mother’s house in Whittier to Long Beach to avoid the $17-a-day parking fee. A guy had given me a $50 Lyft coupon and Lyft’s website estimated the ride from Whittier to the Long Beach dock was $23. But, when I punched in the code on my coupon, it said the discount was $5 and the ride would cost $31.

I began to wonder when I was going to learn that lesson about, “If it seems to good to be true…”

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