EASTBAYTIMES.COM: MARCH 27, 2021
If there’s a silver lining to COVID-19 restrictions, it’s that the hospitality industry has found new ways to enjoy the outdoors. From electric bike rides in the country to virtual-reality goggles in the pool, resorts are reinventing what guests can do outside.
An industry leader in outdoor adventures is a group of properties started by famed bandleader Lawrence Welk. It turns out the folksy entertainer best known for champagne music was pretty perceptive about customer service.
“My grandfather was very much somebody who cared about whether consumers were getting value for whatever product was being offered,” says Jon Fredricks, Welk Resorts’ president and CEO. The flagship property, Lawrence Welk’s first purchase, blends a community of red-roofed villas beautifully into 450 acres of lush canyon surrounded by mountains outside the city of Escondido in northern San Diego County.
Over the course of two days, I tested several of Welk Resort San Diego’s amenities, including archery and ax throwing, electric bike riding on the undulating cart paths along two 18-hole championship golf courses and a wild virtual-reality experience that turned a pool into the underwater city of Atlantis. Each outdoor activity has been a huge hit and the brainchild of the company’s CFO (“Chief Fun Officer”).
“About 10 or 12 years ago,” says Fredricks, “we hired a Chief Fun Officer … the thought being that we could really create a massive amount of innovation and just test different ideas and activities.”
The Chief Fun Officer goes to amusement-park and attraction-industry expos and brings back innovations such as the goggles that had me swimming with sea creatures through coral reefs and sunken ships. Lawrence Welk, it turns out, was an avid swimmer and a very good golfer. When he bought the Welk Resort San Diego property in 1964, (then a small mobile home resort) he transformed it into a mecca for fans of the Lawrence Welk show. Today you can still see live theater and musical acts in the property’s Welk Theater and take a photo with Welk’s statue near the resort’s downtown village of restaurants and shops.
While Welk’s vision was for a respite for fans, Welk Resort San Diego these days also caters to a diverse group of multigenerational vacationers. Families swim at five recreation centers, zip down waterslides and through splash-pads; work as teams to solve puzzles that lead them out of escape rooms; roast s’mores by the fire-pits and hike the trails that traverse a canyon framed by impressive boulder formations. Just a few minutes to the north of Welk Resort San Diego is the emerging wine region of Temecula. An equal distance to the south is San Diego, and to the west — the North County coast.
Welk Resorts takes full advantage of the vast, unspoiled property that first attracted the bandleader through an ad in the Wall Street Journal. Welk was looking for an orange grove to buy and ended up building a legacy with seven resorts, including two in Tahoe’s North Star village, enjoyed by families from around the world. You can almost see the champagne bubbles as fun drives every acre of this surprising San Diego County resort.
The Welk Hospitality Group has resorts in California, Colorado, Missouri, New Mexico and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. They’re in the process of being acquired by Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp. and will be rebranded later this year as Hyatt Residence Club properties. For more information on Welk Resorts, visit welkresorts.com online.Ginny Prior can be followed on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and at ginnyprior.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.