We recently returned from a Christmas stay at the Montecito Sequoia Lodge. It was such a pleasure to spend the holidays there, among families and the generous staff. We stayed for 4 days and three nights and were blessed with perfect winter weather.
I first learned of the resort through an ad in OC Family magazine. We were thinking of getting away for Christmas, and their offer sounded just right. Our positive experience started from the first moment I called to make our reservation. The booking representative taking my call was friendly and patient and answered all of my questions (and I asked A LOT of them).
Fortunately, the roads were open when we arrived, however the lodge does have a vehicle escort service that will accompany you through the closed roads to the lodge. Snow chains are a MUST at this time of year.
Our first impression was of the gorgeous scenery around the Montecito resort. The snow scene was like a postcard. When we stepped into the Main Lodge to check in, we found the guests milling around the two huge fireplaces and seated at tables having a snack or playing games.
One drawback was that there was no help carrying our bags up to the second-floor rooms, a fact that should have been pointed out to me during one of my many calls. However, we managed and quickly settled into our room. Although not luxurious, I found it very clean and cozy. We learned from other guests who have visited before the new owners took over that the rooms and bathrooms have been renovated considerably. There were new mattresses, carpeting and towels. Also, despite the cold outside, we never once turned on the room heater, even at night while we slept! The rooms were extremely well insulated. Our view was not fantastic, however we spent very little time in the room so we hardly noticed.
Something that stood out to me was the warm family atmosphere. Most of the guests were there with children, ranging in age from 1 to 15, and they all seemed to be having a blast. My own 4-year-old made friends instantly. Kids played freely in the game room where there was a ping-pong table, foosball as well as a cupboard filled with games for people of all ages. The environment felt very safe. Many children played while parents read by the fire.
The resort also schedules various activities for children and adults throughout the day. I dropped my son off for two hours in the morning of snow play, sledding, skiing or tubing. Meanwhile, I was able to rent snowshoes or skis (a cheap $5 a day for guests of the lodge), and enjoy some "me" time, knowing my child was in good hands. The staff was amazing. They were always busy helping guests, cleaning or leading activities. Most of them were young (about in their 20s), and overseeing most details, was "Mama".
The ever-abundant food is served buffet style. There are set meal times when all the guests converge in the downstairs area. There is plenty to choose from, though my big complaint is that there are not enough healthy options at meal times, such as hard-boiled eggs, grilled meats and steamed or sautéed vegetables. Most everything had a sauce that was usually cream or cheese based. But it was all very yummy. I was impressed with the 24-hour snack bar, consisting of beverages of all kinds, cereals, soups and sandwich fixings.
I loved the all-inclusive aspect of the lodge. Only alcoholic drinks and ice-cream bars had an additional cost. It made my stay headache-free. I do think, however that the price was a bit steep. During special holidays, the price goes up, although the offerings seem to be the same (I questioned the staff and found out that everything they offer is pretty much the same all year). We paid $330 per night for a family room (king-size bed and bunk bed) plus 13% tax. During off-season, the same will only cost around $70 per night. So basically, you're paying for the holiday.
We were fortunate that during our visit the owner attended with a group of musician friends. They entertained us almost every night of our stay with performances of Christmas music and sing-alongs. And on Christmas eve even Santa made a special visit! They offered a special Christmas dinner and decorated the dining halls with balloons and streamers. The evening activity was a night of dancing with a DJ.
The overall experience was so good that we are seriously considering returning for the Family Summer Camp or perhaps in the spring.
It's an A+++ for families with young children who don't want a place packed with snowboarders and skiers!! Be prepared to interact with other families. You'll end up with a lot of email addresses to share photos!