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The timeshare experience: a “free” Bahamas holiday

Last fall my husband won a free vacation to the Bahamas. My first response was, “are you sure they aren’t going to try and sell us a time share?” I know, I am a kill-joy skeptic. I asked the nice man named Steven on the phone about the time share sales pitch. He insisted adamantly that there would be no attempts to sell us a time share. We had won an over-night cruise to the Bahamas and would stay on the island for 4 nights and 5 days, then enjoy an over-night cruise back to the USA. We would have a choice of three resorts. Steven insisted it was a completely free vacation not counting some port fees and booking fees. My husband agreed to pay the fees and I left it in his hands.

My husband wanted to drive to Florida instead of paying to fly. Now my husband is known to get into what I call driving mode, where he gets so focused on the destination that he doesn’t want to stop for anything. I told him only if we stop for a few hundred marshmallows. He gave me a quizzical look and I told him, “If we drive there is high probability that long about Louisiana I am going to kill you and I will need to use the marshmallows to lure the alligators into eating you.” He agreed to fly to Florida.

It was late spring of this year when I found out he had not booked the trip, the flight or confirmed the resort. He had paid the fees, and thought the rest was set up. Steven insisted we had not chosen the resort and still needed to do a phone consultation. We ended up paying an upgrade fee to the all-inclusive resort that was one of the three options. We booked the Viva Wyndam Fortuna, my thinking was fine, if it makes it a better trip, then let’s do the upgrade. By the middle of June everything was in place and all we had to do was one more confirmation call in July and then be on our way.

Bahamas pic

The day to leave finally came, we flew out. After two lay overs, we eventually landed in Palm Beach Florida at about midnight. We spent the rest of the night in a hotel. In the morning we took a cab to the port where we filled out forms and began to wait. We were invited to a special presentation that included free beverages and would get us a VIP pass. Given we had a few more hours to wait, we accepted. Hey, that room had air conditioning and I wanted to know what the hook was. In the presentation we were offered a one-time only offer for a vacation club membership. We declined the offer but were given an Orlando Get Away package and because it was our anniversary we were given a reservation for one of the ship restaurants.
The VIP pass was a laminated tag and lanyard that had us among the first to board the ship. The Grand Celebration is part of the Bahama Paradise Company and it is a lovely older ship. The ship is kept in good condition and the staff is always cleaning something. Our room was a small inside suite with a faux window. We sat through the Muster drill for safety. The buffet was free and the food was good. Nothing fancy or elaborate, with plenty of food. Drink packages for sodas and alcohol were for sale. We declined the drink package and I found out the hard way that a non-alcoholic drink was $14.00 but you got a souvenir plastic glass.

On a first cruise, there is always concern that someone will be sea sick, thankfully neither of us were. We both enjoyed the feel of the sea air and the expanse of the ocean. The ship had very little rocking, just a gentle slight sway.

Bahamas cruise ships

The reservation for dinner was set for 6:30pm and the restaurant was nice. We sat at a table with another couple and a pair of sisters. My husband ordered the steak and I ordered the salmon. Both were well prepared and delicious. Probably one of the best salmon filets I have had in a long time. My husband excused himself to use the restroom which sent the staff into a panic. Those of us at the table were confused because he had only gone to the restroom. It turned out the steak was not included as part of the cruise meal and had an additional charge. They thought he was running out on the bill and my presence did not seem to register with the staff. My table mates and I had a good laugh about this situation. When he returned we signed the bill and went for a stroll on the ship.

When we boarded the ship we were given ship cards that were tied to our personal charge card. The ship likes to push a lot of up-sale. Pictures, activities and the bottles of water in the room all cost extra. In talking with other passengers, who had paid to be there, they were getting hit up to buy, buy, and buy. In the morning we found a bill for all kinds of things. Between fuels charges, wait staff and housekeeping charges, shore excursion fees it is a nonstop fee-athon. We wish we had known that asking for two extra pillows and a blanket would increase the housekeeping charge on the bill. We tried to keep a sense of humor about the sales pitches but it wore thin quickly. It felt like death by a thousand nibbles. All total the cruise over came to $109.00 and that was with a $50.00 credit from sitting through the sales pitch. In fairness we did buy $40.00 in T-shirts for friends and family back home.

In the morning we had breakfast at the buffet, then began the process to disembark and go through customs to be on the Grand Bahama Island. The people were all friendly and helpful. We took a shuttle to the resort where we checked in but could not get into our room until 3:00pm. Take a bag with your swim suits in it so you can change in one of the restrooms and hit the beach. Otherwise it is a long wait to get in the room. Thankfully we could store our luggage and not have to cart it around the resort.

Bahamas beach

The location of the resort is beautiful. The soft white sandy beaches are stunning. The water is deep blue with streaks of turquoise. There a several types of palm trees that are watered regularly. The grounds are well kept with many varieties of flowering plants. The beaches are groomed regularly. I found the staff to be friendly, helpful and charming. The whole island has amazing people. Everything without a motor at the resort is included. They have quite a bit to keep you busy at the resort. Plus, they have excursions you can pay extra to do, like boat tours, deep sea fishing, diving, and nature reserves. The best features of the resort were the ones provided by nature.

We eventually got into our room. Remember we paid to upgrade to this resort to the tune of $943.90. Our room was in the Cays building at the back of the resort. Now the placement of the room didn’t bother us but the room was not as high of a quality as we had hoped for and the bed was brutal. The television was small and the furnishings were of a lesser quality. In 2014 my car had been side swiped and I have neck, shoulder, back and hip problems. My husband has an old injury in his back and another one in his right arm. Quality of bed can ruin a vacation.

We were invited to another presentation that was less of an invitation and more of an expectation. Again we were hit up for a vacation club membership that was resort specific. This is where the husband and I had a miss-communication and ended up signed up for the membership. On the upside it did get us a better room with a more comfortable bed. We were moved to an upper floor room in the Bimini building where we could see the beach from the balcony. The room furnishings and the quality of the room were an improvement.

Bahamas beach bar

Not a bar you’ll find in resort

The resort has three specialty restaurants, a snack bar, a buffet and a bar. After a few days the menu in the buffet can wear on you. There is only so many ways to serve cream chicken. I get that the Bahamas does not have enough land mass to support larger food production like cattle or that importing gets to be expensive but seriously spices and herbs are easily transported or grown. Chefs can be untethered and allowed to create some amazing dishes. In short the food was institutional. One of the beverages I drink a lot of is iced black tea. I could not get it in the buffet, the bar or the snack bar. I could get it in one of the specialty restaurants, the pizzeria but only while dining in that restaurant. I found that confusing and frustrating.

We took the glass bottom tour of the reef and my husband went deep sea fishing. We also planned on treating ourselves to some nice trinkets and picked up some things to take back to friends and family. Keep in mind that ten months back the Bahama Islands were hit by a hurricane and they are still rebuilding. The scars can be seen on the island. Still the island and the surrounding reefs are incredibly beautiful. I am in love with the ocean. It is so beautiful. I will admit I have a fantasy about living out on the ocean and visiting everywhere.

I want to stress that I love the Bahamas and the people of the Bahamas. I would encourage you to go any chance you get. I don’t regret spending my wedding anniversary there, I just wish some things had been a little better.

Now leaving the resort is more waiting. We checked out in the morning and then the shuttle did not come to take us to the ship until 2:30pm. We were back to being displaced persons with our luggage stored for a few hours. We got on the shuttle, then cleared customs, then boarded the boat and began the cruise back to the USA. We took the evening to watch the sun set from the deck. The down side to being back aboard the ship was the continued sales pitch. By this time my husband and I had a chance to talk to more passengers and many felt tired of the sales pitch. While we were on a “free” vacation, they had paid full price for the experience and all of us where subject to the same buy, buy, and buy sales pitch. It just gets old and tiresome. It would seem there should be another way of promoting the ships non-inclusive services without annoying the customers.

Bahamas Beach

In the morning we got another bill for the cruise ship. Exiting the ship was not a simple task and we were told it was the customs on the US side that was slowing the process. In this instance having passports helped us by pass much of the line. If you don’t have a passport, get one. It is worth it. Neither of us have regretted getting a passport.

Once we were back state side we had a meeting of our minds and realized neither of us wanted a vacation club membership. It is important to read the contract. Ours gave us seven (7) days not business days to cancel and get our money back minus an administration fee of $975.00. We sent off the certified cancelation, signed by both of us within a few hours of realizing neither of us wanted it. In fact we sent one certified by US mail and one by FedEx. Once we got back home, the resort called my husband about the cancelation. The sales man wanted to talk to me and I was at work. He called my husband’s phone four times. I never did talk to them and within about a week the money was returned electronically.

Vacations are always a mixture of good and bad. I would return to the Bahamas in a heartbeat. I love the climate, the island and people. The ship and the resort would not be high on my list of returns, unless there are some changes. As with much of life it was a learning experience.

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