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Aug 09 2008

Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor, Michigan – Our Vacation and Resort Review

Posted by Fred Dirkse

Our family recently vacationed at the Homestead Resort, dubbed “America's Freshwater Resort”. The Homestead is located on the west coast of Lake Michigan, a couple miles from a little town called Glen Arbor, about 25 miles from Traverse City. We stayed for 4 nights – Wednesday, July 30th through Sunday, August 3rd 2008. While there were some highlights of the resort and our stay and we had a great time vacationing with family, overall I found the resort to be lacking and did not live up to my expectations.

All totaled, 15 of us vacationed together, coming from California, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan. Some of my family lives in my hometown of Holland, Michigan, about a 4.5 hr. drive from where I live in Peoria, Illinois. The drive from Holland to the resort is about 4 hrs., with ½ the drive on your mostly standard highway, with the remaining half on the fairly scenic M22. Two screaming children aside, the last ½ of the drive was very enjoyable, winding around a variety of inland lakes and through dense Michigan woods allowing occasional scenic glimpses of Lake Michigan, beach and dunes. There is an especially nice scenic turnout located around Frankfort which is directly off M22 atop a very high dune. The view is absolutely amazing and the turnout offers a nice multi-level deck

View of Lake Michigan from scenic turnout on route M22 in Michigan

for taking in the view, along with built in telescopes, which for a quarter you can zoom in on the surrounding area. The water in the northern part of Lake Michigan is almost Caribbean like as far as color and clearness and is truly a site to behold.

We arrived at the resort and checked in. Check-in time is a late 5PM, however if you arrive early the resort will allow you to utilize the facilities such as the Beach Club until your room is ready. My first general irritation of the resort was the fact they do not take American Express. While this is a minor inconvenience, it is both surprising and aggravating. While we were on a family vacation, they advertise “Meetings” and have a Group Sales department so I can certainly see many corporate outings and executive visits taking place at this resort and it's astounding they do not accept Amex in that regard.

 View of Lake Michigan from our Hawks Nest condo at the Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor Michigan

The resort is spread across 350 acres, with a mix of hotel, lodge, condominium, cottage, and housing accommodations. The rest of my family stayed at the resorts “Fiddler's Pond”, which is a setup similar to a hotel. We have a pretty large crew with myself, my wife, three children, as well as my mother, so we opted for a condo. We chose the Hawks Nest condo group, #62 specifically –  Our first impression of the condo was positive, although it was a good bit smaller than I was anticipating and the general layout was absolutely horrible. The saving grace was the screened in porch on the top level, which allowed for a very nice socializing space with a very nice view of Lake Michigan and the two islands directly off the coast.

We unpacked quickly and got settled in. The condo was very well stocked in all ways with plenty of extras and amenities. The kitchen was impressively outfitted, with a huge assortment of quality cookware, utensils and appliances including a toaster over, blender, and even a fondue pot. Although small, the kitchen worked out well for us during the trip, as my extended family gathered for meals and libations quite a few times at our place during our stay. There were two lights each above the dining room area and the kitchen, of which each had a light burned out when we arrived. There was one fresh light bulb in the closet, which we used to change one burned out bulb, and lived with the other being out for our stay.

The condo was not as clean as it should have been and was a bit “buggy”. Since we are nestled in the woods on the coast of Lake Michigan, bugs and insects are to be expected. We all did feel they could have done a better job at spraying for bugs, as we killed a good many creepy crawlies over our stay and there were quite a few cobwebs in our condo. The bathrooms were clean and well stocked, however there was some mold on the shower curtain in the downstairs bathroom and the toilet in the same bathroom did not work well. We found this out the hard way unfortunately, but there was a plunger available and we made note to not use the downstairs bathroom for anything other than light duties. The downstairs also had a prominent musty smell that could of and should have been corrected.

The resort has a handful of shops, stores, and restaurants in what they call the “Village”, which is centrally located on the property. The Village itself was attractive and well laid out. Although we did not get a chance to visit the majority of the shops and stores, they did look very nice.

The first shop we did visit was the on-site deli and grocery store called Cavanaugh's. We ran up to grab a few groceries for a late snack and breakfast in the morning. Cavanaugh's officially closed at 10PM, and we walked in the door at 9:40PM. While I understand wanting to get a jump on closing duties to get out of work quickly, it appeared as though the staff at Cavanaugh's were ready to close up shop well before we even got there and made us feel very much like we were not welcome. Upon walking in, I was happy to see a little coffee area right inside the door, however there was no airpot setting out. My mother lives on coffee and likes a cup in the evening, so I asked if there was any coffee left. I was met with a fairly standoffish, mumbling, inconclusive answer by the girl behind the counter. She had apparently already emptied and cleaned the station and did not want to be bothered with my inquiry, much less having to make coffee. I had to clarify her answer by asking “Was that a yes or no?” in response to her reply, of which I received a stern “No”. No apology, and no pleasant offer to make some (even though I would not have made her do so at that point in the evening). I moved on...

My wife and daughter grabbed a few items like milk, butter, chips and soda and I went to the meat counter to grab some deli meat and cheese for some sandwiches. The young man behind the counter was the most pleasant and helpful of the bunch, however it was fairly obvious he wasn't overjoyed to be helping me either. They had already cleaned the slicer and work station and made it somewhat obvious they didn't want to mess it up for me, but again he was accommodating and pleasant enough and even ended up offering to slice me two different kinds of turkey.

The checkout girl (who was also the coffee girl) approached my wife and offered to get a start on ringing up our purchase before we finished shopping. While this was a nice gesture on one hand, it was apparent the underlying goal was to move us along as quickly as possible as she rung up what we had selected and then stood at the counter watching us shop with an obviously annoyed scowl on her face.

We finished up our shopping and headed back to our condo for a late snack and some family time, and headed off to bed. We slept well, although our bed could quite possibly have been the hardest mattress we've ever slept on.

The following morning was very nice, as we enjoyed coffee and breakfast on our patio overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan on an almost perfect sunny day. We prepared for a trip to the beach and pool, and inquired with the front desk on housekeeping before we left. We never did get a straight answer on exactly how it works. We received clean towels in both bathrooms on the first day and they made one of our three beds that day. The following day we ended up having to call and ask for clean towels, however they were just left in a pile on the first floor and our beds were not made. The following day we had to call again for clean towels, which arrived very late in the day and they also made our beds. The last day we received clean towels in our bathrooms, however our beds were not made. We are not sure if we received clean sheets or if they just made the beds on the days they did. Regardless, housekeeping was inconsistent and not very thorough throughout our stay.

Beach Club pool, and Cafe Manitou at Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor Michigan

We headed off to the Beach Club, which is physically located about two blocks from our condo, however there is no direct access through the woods or to the beach from our condo. We had to either catch the property shuttle, which circulates the property every 30 minutes, or drive. Since we had the kids and a variety of accessories to bring, we opted to drive. It's a short drive through the complex of about a mile, where I dropped off the family at the Beach Club and went to park the vehicle. Parking for the Beach Club is about 1/3 of a mile up the street and requires use of a keycard, which all guests are given upon checking in. Not realizing I needed my keycard and also not realizing I had put my keycard in the beach bag my wife took into the Beach Club with her, I had to turn around and backtrack to the retrieve it.

I parked quickly in front of the Beach Club and told the attendant my situation, assuming this would be an easy thing to remedy. I was greeted by the staff member at the entrance counter with no smile and a conveyed attitude that she wasn't happy to be inconvenienced by my problem. I felt a bit like I was in 3rd grade, I forgot my pencil and my teacher wasn't happy to have to provide me one. She wasn't entirely sure what to do and then asked what my family looked like. I wasn't quite expecting that question, but told her what my wife looked like. The girl walked about 20 feet into the pool area and looked around for about 15 seconds and started walking back toward me. A male staff member approached her while walking and she told him my situation. The male staff member than approached me and asked the same question – what does my wife look like. I started telling him and finally just suggested the obvious - “if you won't let me in without my keycard, how about you just walk WITH me to find my wife?” Seems like the obvious and most helpful choice, but apparently not to the teenage staff at the resort. He did find this agreeable, however, he quite sternly told me that I couldn't leave my vehicle parked where it was for the one more minute it would take to find my wife. Now if I was truly parked somewhere that interfered with the flow of traffic, this would make sense. I'm 35 and pretty cognizant of things like this and chose to park in a very unobstrusive place that did not interfere with the flow of traffic. The staff member however thought it would be better if I parked directly where the shuttle stops to drop off and pick up people. Ok dude, whatever. So I moved my vehicle. We entered the Beach Club, found my wife in about 20 seconds, and I got my keycard.

Off again to park the vehicle. I pulled up to the parking gate, inserted my keycard, and....nothing. I tried again....nothing. And again, and again, and again. Nothing. Ok, this is getting aggravating. So I drive up to the reception area to see what the deal is. I park, go inside and stand behind two other people waiting in line, one of whom is inquiring about some extra charges on her room (which I will also find out aobut when I checkout). My turn comes and I explain my problem. The receptionist says that they're having trouble with the keycard access system and she needs to re-key my card, which she does. She was very nice, and genuinely pleasant, however she never said “I'm sorry for your inconvenience” or any other such nicety. Maybe I'm too picky, but for the price we're paying to stay there, I could use a little butt kissing when things are screwing up.

Back to park, which went smoothly this time. They have a little golf cart shuttle running back and forth to the parking area and the Beach Club, which is a very nice convenience. The shuttle drivers name was Rick, who was one of the nicest and most informative staff members at the resort. We also had a shuttle driver named Joe several times, who was again very pleasant and knowledgeable.

Kaiah Dirkse playing in the fountain pool at the Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor Michigan

The Beach Club itself was very nice overall, with a beautiful pool that worked wonderfully for our 2.5 yr. old little girl, Kaiah. There was a little fountain wading pool at the shallow end of the main pool, which she loved, and the main pool's shallow end had a graduated ramp to enter the pool, which worked out fantastic. She kept herself very entertained going back and forth between the fountain pool and the shallow end of the main pool, which allowed us to actually enjoy ourselves also without having to keep her from running off or getting hurt.

Small beach at the Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor Michigan

The beach itself however was lacking as far as Michigan beaches go. The Homestead's website states specifically about the beaches: “'ll find that they are wide and sandy and that the water is clean and sparkling. ...”. The water was indeed absolutely beautiful – clear, clean, and very comfortable temperature. The beach however was not wide and sandy, but rather extremely narrow and rocky....painfully rocky. There were only a handful of deck chairs on the pier area and on the beach directly, of which were occupied all but one time we looked, so we ended up not spending much time on the beach during our stay.

The Beach Club has a restaurant that sits next to the pool and right on the beach called Café Manitou. It was easily accessible from the pool area and has a nice glassed in area overlooking the water on the inside, along with a very nice 'Adults Only' table area overlooking the tennis courts and beach. The prices were “reasonable”, at least as can be expected at a pool side cafe restaurant. The sandwiches were between $7-$9, and drinks were between $5-$10. We became rather fond of the Golden Margarita, which was $9.54 w/ tax, however they are very good, very large, and very effective :) Cafe Manitou hit two extremes food wise. For lunch our first full day, we ordered sandwiches – two Kobe Burgers and two Whitefish Sandwiches. Being on the coast of northern Lake Michigan, my wife and I decided to go for the Whitefish Sandwiches, expecting the typical delicious whitefish often found on restaurants in Michigan. To our great disappointment, there were the worst sandwiches we've had in a long time. The fillets were small, dry, and what little flavor they had was extremely fishy. Just not good at all. However, our oldest daughter and my mother got the Kobe Burgers. I was skeptical about the Kobe part, being that it's about the best quality beef you can get and I'd be surprised to see it REALLY served in a burger. Regardless, the burgers were one of the all time hamburgers we've ever had. Large, juicy and absolutely delicious. We had a couple more during the remainder of our trip and each time they were equally as tasty. The fries were very good as well. The staff at the counter as well as the waitresses were all very pleasant during all our visits to the Beach Club and Cafe Manitou.

After we ate, I wanted to call my brother in his room, so I looked around for a house phone. I saw a phone on the wall of the Beach Club, however it had no sign specifying its use, so I asked the young attendant behind the counter. He informed me that it was for public use even though it didn't have a sign of any kind. I asked him how to dial a room. His reply: “I don't know”. Unacceptable if you ask me, as I believe every staff member should know how to use the resort phone system. I blew that off though and asked him the number to the front desk so I could just have them patch my call through. His reply again: “I don't know.” Ok, seriously – you don't even know the MAIN NUMBER to the front desk!? It's 4 digits dude and this is your JOB! Ridiculous that he just doesn't know, and ridiculous that the resort doesn't train their staff on even the most basic bits of information. I found the number from another (older) staff member and made my call.

The remainder of the day went well. We rendezvoused with family for a nice late afternoon/evening of eating, drinking, and socializing. We attempted to book a spot for all of us at the Smores Cookout which takes place at the top of the ski mountain on the resort, but it was unfortunately booked up. They only do it on Mondays and Thursday's, which was disappointing. It's very popular apparently, so you would think they would do it on Friday and Saturday nights also so all guests could enjoy it. You have to pay for each person, so it seems like a potential revenue boosting opportunity as well, but que sera. Regardless, we enjoyed a gorgeous Lake Michigan sunset and retired in the wee hours of the morning after eating, drinking, laughing and talking on our patio.

The following day (Friday) was beautiful and started with breakfast, a trip to the pool, lunch, and then our River tubing expedition. For $8, you rent a tube and get driven about 20 minutes upstream, dumped into the river and float back to the resort. It was a beautiful day and my wife and I took along very large bottles full of margarita, so we made it fun. The river was extremely shallow and the tubes were very small, so I hit bottom more times than not, so it ended up being a workout for me moreso than a relaxing drunken float. I'm 6' 3”, 250lbs, so as my brother so kindly put it: “it looked like I was floating on a whoopee cushion”. The river flows into Lake Michigan, so we spent another couple hours drinking margaritas on the beach and swimming in Lake Michigan. This was the one time we found the chairs unoccupied on the beach, so we took advantage of well as the close supply of yummy Golden Margaritas at Cafe Manitou :)

I can not personally comment on the other restaurants at the resort, but some of my family did eat breakfast at Nonna's and found it lacking. They said the service fell short, following suit with the majority of the staff at the resort. One of my family members ordered the oatmeal, which came with “brown sugar and cream”. Sounds yummy. When they got the meal, it was served with milk instead. Milk isn't the same as cream folks. They inquired with the waitress on getting cream with the oatmeal as the menu stated and was told “milk is all we have”. Again, it's the details that count here, especially when you're paying a premium price for a bowl of oatmeal...gimme my cream damn it!

Lousie Dirkse, Rena Schuchat, Dax Dirkse Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor Michigan

The remainder of our time at the resort was spent doing much of the same – swimming at the Beach Club and eating and drinking at our condo. I attempted to go hiking on the “trail”, which is clearly marked by a large sign stating “Trail”. However, when I asked for map of the trails at the front desk, I was told that the resort actually had no trails for hiking. I was given a map of trails at the nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National park, however I was looking for a simple couple mile hike that I could do within the general resort and did not travel to the neighboring park.

Checking out was mostly painless. We were running a little behind, as checkout is at 11AM and it took us until 12 to get everything packed up and out the door. It was not a problem, however I was disappointed to see a fairly substantial 5% “Community Tariff” added to my bill, which already included a steep 8% tax! That's 13% over and above the already pricey accommodations in just taxes. Not only that – we got charged TAX ON THE TARIFF! I'm not sure how they calculated it, but it's approximately 6%. We had two nights at $392.00, with $31.36 tax, $19.60 “Community Tariff”, and then another $1.18 tax on the Tariff itself. Two more nights at $435.00, with $34.80 tax, $21.75 Tariff, and $1.31 tax on the Tariff. That's $220.00 in strictly taxes and tariffs. Not much wonder why the Michigan economy is doing so poorly. Michigan is my home state, I love it, it's clean and beautiful with an abundance of nature and outdoor activities, but we'll be spending our money elsewhere at this point.

Fred and Dax Dirkse, Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor Michigan

Overall the Homestead is a beautiful resort, located on an even more beautiful piece of property right on the coast of pristine Lake Michigan waters. The resort boasts some pleasant amenities and activities such as a spa, the beach club, a 9 hole par 3 golf course, a ski mountain, tennis courts, and a pleasant assortment of shops. We found our accommodations lacking, at least for the price, and the overall experience less than we had hoped for. The price was premium to begin with, so the extra 13%+ of taxes and tariffs really put it over the top. The biggest disappointment was the staff in general. Overall we all felt the resort was run by high school age kids who really didn't care much about much. Other than a handful of genuinely pleasant and helpful staff members, we were made to feel a bit unwelcome – almost as if the staff was trying to tell us we were “lucky to be there”, and anything that caused them to think or do anything more than they felt like doing (which wasn't much), was an extreme inconvenience. With so many wonderful places to visit and so many places to spend our hard earned money, I doubt we will return to the Homestead in Michigan anytime in the near future.

Fred and Bekah Dirkse, Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor MichiganFred and Kaiah Dirkse, Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor Michigan

Fred Dirkse, Dax Dirkse, Taylor Johnson, Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor Michigan

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