During the summer, the Montecito Sequoia runs a number of 6 night family camps - which include a number of activities. The family camp guests leave on a Saturday, and the next group doesn't arrive until Sunday, so they take people for just one night on Saturday evening. The website advertises all meals included and activities.
We stayed on such a Saturday night in early August. Luckily, we understood what we were getting into, and I had already warned my young son that not all of the "camp" activities would be available. My mother called to see what time we could arrive, and was told that check-in was 4:00 pm, but we could arrive earlier and use the facilities, and if a room was ready we could be checked in.
We arrived just after 1:00 pm. The place from the outside is funky - cabins scattered around every which way, but funky in a way that could be fun- that part didn't really bother me. The check-in area is right in the main dining hall, folks were eating at what look like folding round tables. I asked if a room was ready and was quite rudely told "check-in is at 4:00 pm." I said I understood this but asked if any rooms would be available earlier. Again I was told "check-in is at 4:00 pm."
Well, my 6 year old was thrilled just to play at the lake and canoe, catch guppies with the nets, and then move to the pool. My mom, who had spoken to someone on the phone about check-in, went in and when she told them who she had spoken to and said she had been told rooms could be available earlier - they agreed to let us check -in earlier if something opened up.
At 3:15, I was given my room. It was in the main lodge, and was accessed by walking through the dining/check-in area and up a set of stairs. It contained a set of bunk beds and a queen bed. When we took our stuff up the staff was hurriedly cleaning all the rooms, we just got lucky that we had one that got cleaned first (and the one we had had the best view out over the Kaweah Range). The room was clean at first glance, the sheets had been changed and the bathroom looked wiped down, but deep down it was filthy. The rug looked like it had not been vaccumed (and indeed one of the staff members told my mother later that all the vacuums were broken ), the bathtub was dirty, the blinds in the room looked like they hadn't been dusted in ages. All together, pretty disgusting. I will say that the Queen bed was very comfortable. One odd thing was that the upper bunk didn't have a decent bedrail - the was a thin metal one that slid under the mattress of the bunk, I was not 100% comfortable with my 6 year old up there - and actually got a second rail to use.
The rest of the resort was even worse. The hallway carpet was so filthy I could not believe it (and I am a mom with 2 kids, I don't think I have high standards). Half of the dishes (especially the coffee cups) were still dirty after coming out of the dishwasher - and were still set out to be used at the buffet. I went into the kitchen area early in the morning and it had not been cleaned well after dinner the night before - lots of food and junk on the floor and gunk still on the stainless prep table. In one of the children's play areas there were tons of spider webs and a dead mouse (hopefully it hadn't been there all summer). One of the communal bathrooms I used was filthy and 3 of the 4 stalls were out of toilet paper.
While we were able to check in early, a huge number of the rooms were not cleaned by 4:00 pm, and some people were unable to check into their rooms until 7:30 pm (after dinner). My mom's room, right next to ours, wasn't clean until well after 5:00 pm.
The food was tolerable. If you are more into quantity then quality, you will like it - although there are enough basic choices and they had an very good tofu dish. My son was happy he could eat 6 pieces of bacon and go back and get as much fruit as he could eat. I found that much of the hot food was not kept hot on the buffet line, so unless you lingered and jumped on a tray just after it came from the kitchen, your chicken or eggs were likely to be lukewarm. I drink decaf coffee and it was obvious in the morning that it was the same coffee from the night before still in the coffee maker (large industrial ones) - it was cold and there was a note on the coffee maker saying you were welcome to microwave your coffee if it wasn't hot. If the dishes and rest of the property were clean, I probably would not have had any huge issues with the food - well the coffee thing is pretty bad.
Probably one of the hardest things was that our two kids saw all these activities (such as the trampoline) but they were not able to do them. We had prepared our kids in advance, but seeing all the stuff was still a bit hard. Canoeing and kayaking were available, as was the pool and whirlpool. On Sunday morning from 10-12 they did run 2 activities - archery and arts and crafts. The archery guy was quite good, my 6 year old son really enjoyed it. The woman in crafts was nice but clueless, and offered basically no help - still my 3 year old was happy to paint picture frames for half an hour with her dad. The timing was a bit odd, however, because check-out is at 11:00 am.
So, why do I give it 2 stars instead of 1? Simply because my kids had a blast regardless of the issues. They loved playing in the lake and canoeing. However we definitely would not go back unless there were some major changes, which I think is doubtful. We had come for 1 night to check it out and possibly come back for the family camp next year - there is no way we would do this now.
I do not know exactly why cleaning was such an issue, but I suspect that many of the staff (who are often students from other countries) are given Saturday off (well deserved no doubt) and a skeleton staff is expected to clean the entire place for the Saturday night guests (remember, the entire place turns over on Saturday and then again on Sunday, but then won't turn again until Saturday). There was clearly way too much work for the number of people working (and they were working hard - but they were obviously cutting a large number of corners to get the work done). Much of the staff had a resigned look to them and I am guessing that they just dread Saturday and Sunday turnovers - I would if I worked there. I can't imagine telling someone who arrives at 4:00 pm that the room isn't ready, and then not being able to get them into their room until well over 3 hours later.
I don't blame the staff, they were working hard, but I do blame the management - they clearly are not staffing this place adequately. I have stayed at another of their properties -- the John Muir Lodge in Grant Grove and had no issues there. Clearly they have not got a handle on running the Montecito Sequoia, which is a shame, as it has tremendous potential and is in an absolutely lovely spot.
The final insult was that on Sunday we were told lunch would cost 9 dollars a person. We thought it was included, but were told that lunch on Sunday was not included, but that lunch on Saturday was included - and we could have eaten then. Huh? Check in isn't until 4:00. We were, of course, on site at lunch-time, but no one told us we could eat and ithat lunch at that time was included in the room cost. There is definitely a bit of a truth in advertising problem with the website.