Grandparents delight in doing something nice for their grandchildren and then sitting back and watching little faces light up with excitement. Craig Tillotson did that nearly 25 years ago in what some folks might characterize as to infinity and beyond.
But this is no “Toy Story.” No Peter Pan tale. “Treasure Island”? Oh yeah, it definitely has a touch of that.
Tillotson’s journey into the world of “imaginary,” as his son, Derek, describes it began when his father bought a quaint stucco home in a secluded Boulder City community adjacent to a mountain overlooking Lake Mead National Recreational Area. The Salt Lake City resident wanted a vacation home where his family could spend time at the lake and explore hiking and bicycle trails throughout the rustic desert area.
Originally, the elder Tillotson incorporated a Southwest theme for furniture and artwork throughout his one-story, three-bedroom home. Then he started renovating, adding a second floor and a wing on one side. A freestanding garage not far from the main house inspired Tillotson to create a casita for visiting guests.
Tillotson, who has an eclectic taste for vintage automobiles and motorcycles from the 1950s and 1960s, began scouring antique shops for stuff to fill his vacation home and casita, figuring it all fit together with the Southwest theme.
During one antique shop excursion, Tillotson was smitten by two pirate statues, which he snatched up to post on his property. Family members and guests loved the life-size figures and encouraged him to pursue more pirate paraphernalia.
About this time, “Pirates of the Caribbean” was hitting cinemas worldwide and many kids fantasized about being Johnny Depp’s infamous pirate character Jack Sparrow. Tillotson’s grandkids were no exception.
And then, as if the heavens had opened and plunked a chest of gold in Tillotson’s lap, Treasure Island on the Strip was changing its brand and dumping much of its pirate booty.
Tillotson hightailed it to the auction and began buying pirate-themed exhibits comparable to what you’d see at Disneyland or some Hollywood movie lot. A few of the cast members from the original Treasure Island show even helped braid ropes for handrails and bridges Tillotson said he needed for authenticity.
“My dad is such an amazing creator,” Derek Tillotson said. “His imagination just started going wild. We went to Disneyland and the Cayman Islands and took pictures for inspiration. This is the funnest place on earth. If you call it an amusement park, you miss that it has kitchens and bedrooms … It’s like having your own private Disneyland.”
Tillotson purchased two adjacent lots, dubbing the space Pirate’s Cove, and built two additional pirate-themed properties and named them Port Royal and Tortuga Bay. The original home he calls Swashbuckler Bay. All three residences have fully operational kitchens, as does the property named The Casita. Each room within each building also has its own pirate name such as the Davy Jones Suite, the Pillage Room, Plunder Room, Egyptian Treasure Suite and a haunting motel-sized room and bath combination dubbed The Voodoo Room with baubles, bangles and skull-type stuff hanging everywhere.
“The Voodoo Room is my Dad’s imagination to a T,” Derek said. “He loves to create experiences for people. He put many hours into creating the Voodoo Room and bought things from all over the world to put in this room.”
Derek’s sister, Trina Sheranian, an interior designer, helped her father with some of the furnishing concepts as did his mother-in-law, Ann Daniels, a skilled faux-mural painter.
Besides the four residences, another building houses a weight room and basketball court. Derek said the entire compound of five buildings, 18 bedrooms and 22 baths occupies a footprint of 20,000-plus square feet. Also, there are three swimming pools, two hot tubs and two waterslides. One waterslide snakes through the replica of a pirate ship with cannons and dumps riders into a 15-foot deep, 50,000-gallon swimming pool. Towering above this same pool is a tall-ship’s mast with crow’s nest diving platforms at the 40-foot, 30-foot and 20-foot marks. Less courageous swimmers also can dive off the cliff structure’s base.
“People come here and say, ‘Holy cow,’ ” Pirate’s Cove property manager Brad Voshell said. “It’s hard to wrap your head around this place.”
Voshell, a professional landscaper, has been property manager for 10 years. He has two assistants who help him keep Pirate’s Cove operating properly. A nearby mountain on property, for example, has cascading waterfalls that require care along with two gazebos perched at challenging levels for those inclined to do a little hiking. Strewn throughout the mountain are numerous sinister-looking pirate statues staring down at you, and bleached-white erect skeleton figures brandishing cutlasses and wearing spooky smiles.
Voshell said the waterfalls, waterslides, fire pits and mist systems are operated by state-of-the-art automated timer systems. There are 12 different pumps that operate the waterslides and waterfalls, he added. Swimming pools are heated to 90 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the winter.
“It’s like being in your own private amusement park,” Voshell said. “If you can’t find something to do here, it’s time to go.”
Voshell said between 500 and 600 people stay at Pirate’s Cove annually. After people leave, a crew of nine clean and prepare the compound for the next guests.
“We are never ahead of the game. There is always something to do,” Voshell said of the maintenance upkeep. “We take care of all the pools and landscaping in-house. It takes a few days for people who come here to get orientated to the place. But it all flows nicely together.”
Derek said Pirate’s Cove is not open to the public; guests are Tillotson family members or special guests of the family.
“Pirate’s Cove was built as a family retreat and not open to the public,” Derek said. “It’s not a bed and breakfast. It’s not a hotel. Dad built this property for his grandkids. It’s a creation of his imagination. He is in his element when he shows Pirate’s Cove to the grandchildren.”
Derek said his family stays at Pirate’s Cove at various periods throughout the year. His father is an avid bicyclist and hiker and enjoys exploring trails around Lake Mead. They also have used the compound to host charitable events for Boulder City and the local hospital.
The Tillotsons also established a world hunger program, Nourish the Children, to distribute nutritional food packets to children in starving countries. Derek Tillotson said more than 350 million meals have been distributed worldwide.
Nourish the Children, as stated in company literature, is an initiative of Nu Skin, a for-profit distributor of nutritional and skin-care products. Craig Tillotson has been associated with Nu Skin since its beginnings, as stated in a company profile.
“Anyone who is into construction is pretty impressed with Pirate’s Cove,” Derek said. “So is anyone who’s into landscaping and interior design.”
When asked the value of Pirate’s Cove, Derek said it’s impossible to calculate with all the thousands of dollars of antiques on property and the time and expense spent getting it to where it’s at today. It’s hard to comprehend the massiveness and all the attractions from outside the walls of the compound, which is exactly the type of privacy the Tillotson family wants.
“When the neighbors want to check it out, we show them,” Derek said. “Otherwise, all the craziness and fun at Pirate’s Cove is contained. It was built for our grandchildren. Pirate’s Cove will be in our family forever.”
About Pirate’s Cove
— Location: Boulder City. Private residence not open to the public.
— Amenities: Five buildings, 18 bedrooms and 22 baths. Complete gym, indoor racquetball/basketball/volleyball court. Gourmet kitchens, three swimming pools and two hot tubs. Approximately 20,000 square feet.
— Theme Park Features: Two waterslides with one winding through the replica of a pirate ship and a 40-foot tall-ship diving platform. Life-size pirate statues and skeletons throughout the property. Authentic rope bridges and platforms to explore, waterfalls, antique automobiles and motorcycles, 1950s and 1960s memorabilia blended with Southwest and pirate décor.
— Inspiration: A grandfather’s gift for his grandchildren.