"That's standard Travel Industry Policy. There's nothing I can do about it." The lady didn't seem to care that I had a problem. As far as she was concerned, I was just another minor bother. A dissatisfied fool who had been stupid enough to book a vacation with them.
"It's Standard Travel Industry Policy to change a destination without offering any options?" I asked. "I've been in the hospitality industry for seven years! I've never heard of ANY company reassigning a guest like that!"
"Well, it's in the contract. We don't even have any obligation to send you to the resort you chose. Besides, you wouldn't have wanted us to send you into that nasty old hurricane, would you?" Now she was being patronizing, too. "You sent me to another island, didn't offer to reschedule, or get a refund and all you can say is 'Tough. Deal with it.'?" "I've got other things to do. Hope you can travel with us again some time. Bye." She hung up.
That's how it end up. I was hijack. I had paid to be hijacked, ripped off, insulted, and inconvenienced. And who did this to me? Who laughed while they stole my money and my vacation? Were my tormenter's some fly-by-night outfit? Some new travel industry rug merchant? No. My vacation was ruined by an established, "reputable" company. Club Med. Vacations in Paradise. Life as it should be. Everything is taken care of, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the sunshine.
That's what they sold me, anyway. When I arrived in Miami, a lovely young lady told me that Buccaneer's Creek on the beautiful and historic island of Martinique was closed. Hurricane Iris, the first serious storm to threaten the island in 25 years had shut down the airport. "We are rerouting you to the Turkoise resort in the Turk/Caicos islands," she said. "You'll be very happy at Turkoise. It's a similar and more expensive resort." "What if I don't want to go there?" I asked. "What if I want to go to Martinique! Can I go later? Can I get a refund?" "I'm sorry, we can't reschedule you. It's in the contract," she smiled pleasantly. "We can credit you 20% of the land portion of this trip and your air fare would be forfeited."
Lovely. I didn't have any choice. I had to go to the Turk/Caicos islands. I couldn't go to Martinique. I couldn't go to Jamaica. I couldn't put the trip off. I couldn't even go to Mexico. I had to go where I was told or pay anyway. Those Club Med people sure know hospitality. I had to go, so I might as well be optimistic. The resort is going to be similar to Martinique. Turkoise will have a volcano, or at least a mountain. It'll have a rain forest, and an old city and fort. This will be just fine. After all, it is a similar resort.
I got to the waiting area with my new friend, and fellow prisoner, Mary (We met at the check in desk). We were surrounded by amateur bartenders, describing all the drinks they would order. "Sex on the Beach" seemed to be a favorite. "It'll be okay," I tried to reassure her. "Once we got to the island we won't have to be around these weenies. There are probably lots of other real people on the flight. This is just the noisy crew." "I hope you're right," she said.
We got to the island. Island is a bit of an exaggeration. Turkoise was located on a desolate rock out at the ass end of the Bahamas. This place was nothing like Martinique. We deplaned and strolled across the five thousand degree tarmac to the un-air conditioned comfort of the terminal. After waiting in line for a half an hour, our passports were examined by a grunting clerk.
I got our bags from baggage claim, a huge pile of rumpled overnight bags dumped in the shade just outside the terminal. We headed for "Customs." Customs consisted of another surly bureaucrat snarling at our luggage and passing us through. For some reason, he only needed to examine the women's luggage. All the men got through without much comment.
We walked out and our luggage was taken from us by an interesting pair. A large man with a rough Rastafarian accent grabbed my carry-on. At the same time an enormous Fabio look-alike grabbed Mary's bag. "We put these in truck for you!" cried the French Faux Fabio, throwing all our possessions into the back of a Ryder rental truck. "But we wanted to keep them!" Mary cried. "This is Club Med, we take care of everything!" Fabio replied, confirming our worst fears.
The limo ride was interesting. In fact, it was the most interesting limo ride I've had since high school. We traveled the same long, un-air-conditioned, seats-80, yellow limo that used to chauffeur me to school before I got a car. In high school, the bus was driven by stoned hillbilly who couldn't get any other job. At Club Med, the bus was driven by Biff, the cheerleader from beyond the Grave. Muffy, the happy-go-lucky hostess, was riding shotgun. We passed many interesting sites. There was a NAPA auto parts store. And a filling station. And a Kentucky Fried Chicken advertising 10 pieces for $22.50. There was also a strip mall and what seemed to be a palm tree farm.
We arrived at the compound and were greeted with happy-happy, cheerful, world-beat disco music. In order to get into the Turkoise happy farm, we had to pass through a gauntlet of smiling, cheerful Club Med drones. Club Med employees are called G.O.'s. I'm not certain why. I think it is because they are Generally Obnoxious. The G.O.s frog-marched us into the unventilated reception area of the beautiful Turkoise resort. In the sweltering heat we were treated with all the hospitality that earned Club Med it's wonderful reputation. We were given festive champagne glasses that held four ounce glasses of guava juice. We were told to stand in a quarter mile long line to get our room assignments.
I hadn't had so much fun since Marine Corps Boot Camp. The registration process was the picture of modern efficiency. They had a little book with the rooms and matched the little book with a pink or blue scrap of paper with the guest's name on it. After they matched the person and the paperwork, they gave out a room number. The guest then stepped down from the stage and claimed key from the Club Med Clone handing out keys.
I was ushered to my room where I met my roommate. I went back to the Registration Pen. It took a few moments to straighten out this little miscommunication. Obviously, they had me confused with someone who hadn't already paid for a single room. "No," they said. "We just don't have room for any singles." "Obviously, this is your problem." I was beginning to blow steam out of my ears. "I paid for a single. I wouldn't have gone on vacation without a single. You will give me a single." "We'll do what we can." I insisted, sighting my reservation. "Look, if you can't send me to the right damn island, the least you can do is give me the room you promised me." They gave me a single. That was the first smart thing they did and it gave me a ray of hope.
Mary and I tried to make the best of the situation. On the third day, Mary's sentence was over, and just in time, too. She was about to break. She couldn't take it anymore. The world beat disco music blared into her room until one in the morning. She had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch the dive boats. Mary was gone and I was alone. I had to find a way to relax and have fun. I had to enjoy my hijacked vacation.
I went snokeling, but that was pretty dull. There were a few neon fans and a couple of fish floating around a dead reef. The drone in charge of the snorkeling called us in with a warning about a group of sharks headed our way. Actually, he was just anxious to get to lunch. Sailing seemed rather pointless. There was nothing for a destination. There was no way I could get to the mainland. Or even to get to someplace civilized. Like Cuba. So, what was I going to do? Nothing. I read a book and got a tan. At night, I knew the stars would be great.
To make stargazing interesting, Club Med added an element of danger. Packs of feral dogs. Loud obnoxious wild dogs had the run of the resort after about 10pm. The only other entertainment was drinking. You don't spend money on drinks, though. You buy coupon books and spend the coupons. That way you don't realize that you just spent $5 on a Miller Lite, $3 on a Coke, and $7 on a maragarita.
The staff put on a show every evening. At times the show was okay. Frequently it was horrible. Occasionally the acts were offensive, racist, and even homophobic. Mostly the show was a way to spend time. At the end of the evening's "entertainment" we were herded into a little group and a sing-and-dance-along would start. The Club Med song is very appropriate. It's the first words every robber says when he sticks a gun in your face. The song is called..."Hands Up."
Blackbeard has nothing on these Pirates of the Caribbean.
Copyright, 1996 Jon Pherigo