Getting cheated on Caribbean vacation packages. It used to be that you could count on the quality of a nice vacation in the sun and on a beach for the family. But these days, the resorts have come up with new gimmicks to increase their cash while misleading the public into thinking they are getting a deal. And the biggest victims are families with school age children. The travel industry loves to hammer them the most
By Ray Hanania
Punta Cana started it and now Mexico is following suit. At one time, Mexico was the primary affordable vacation destination for Americans, preferred over Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and other Caribbean destinations. But Mexico has forced the Mexican traveler industry to do something as fears of growing violence south of the border, and worsening corruption by government and airport officials, has caused many travelers to look elsewhere.
What’s the scam? It’s called dividing up a resort and creating separate resort areas. Punta Cana was notorious for doing this. They would lure you in to purchasing the vacation package with pictures of the beautiful beach and large selections of ala carte restaurant options as a part of the All-Inclusive package claims.
But when you get there, you discover that the resort is a bowling alley from 5 to 8 blocks in length. Your “ocean view” room may face the ocean — for an extra up-charge of course — but that view has now become distant as it turns out the resort has two or three other “resorts” on the same property, with different names.
The further from the beach, the cheaper the package. The closer to the beach, the more dramatic the cost increases. This was a common problem when booking vacations in Punta Cana, which after the turn of the century rose in popularity as violence in Mexico increased.
Now, the resorts in Mexico, to help shore up their sagging sales, are starting to do the same thing, dividing up existing resorts into different areas and expanding in areas away from the beachfront to add more rooms that can be sold at a cheaper cost to travelers.
Some resorts are so large that they literally have shuttles consisting of connected golf-cart trains that take travelers from one end of the resort to the other. It sounds nice in principle, but the travel time is often extremely long with many stops. The seats can all be occupied, too, meaning you have to wait for the next one to come by. That is NOT a fun vacation.
You have to be very careful when you book a reservation at a hotel you have not stayed at.
All this is in addition to the other misleading things resorts do to exaggerate their offerings. Some resorts have terrible beaches. Why would you go to a Caribbean resort if the beach is so small? So they angle the photos to make the beach look bigger than it really is. Oftentimes, they add photos of nearby beaches where the sand is glistening white and expansive when in fact, it is not at the resort.
Here are a few things you need to do:
1 - Look up the resort on Oyster.com. Oyster.com has the best rating and description service about properties. They do a very comprehensive job of helping you to evaluate a property. Also, check the resort out on TripAdviser.com and read the posts from past guests.
2 - Use Google Earth to actually physically look up the property. Check out the layout and location and also the water. This is one way to determine how big the beach really is and oftentimes you can see the coral rock under the water near the beach to give you a real sense of how clear the water is and isn’t. Coral is fun if you are snorkeling but it is not fun if you plan to float around in the water. The coral tends to bring sea urchins with the sharp and painful black spines. (And seriously, the only immediate response to sooth the pain of being speared by the sea urchin is to urinate on the wound.)
3 - Look up the map of the resort so you can see where your resort is in comparison to the beach and where the villas or hotel rooms will be located. Villas and rooms are grouped by color. These layouts and maps of resorts are now easily obtainable online. Many tourists photograph the map and post them online to share with others. That is very helpful. Try to do that yourself after visiting and staying at a resort to help others who follow.
4 - Make sure to compare the map of the resort to the Google Earth layout. Many times, the maps are distorted and different from the reality.
5 - Check out the pools. How many are there. Google Earth is great for that. You’ll get a real of sense of what you will be getting that often puts the exaggerated resort photos into true perspective.
6 - Also, make sure to check out where the beach chairs are, what kind the resort uses and how many there are. Everyone knows you have to get up early each morning to grab good lounge chair locations at the beach under shady palm trees or thatched umbrellas. You can see these easily on Google Earth. Do you really want to travel four blocks from your hotel room to the beach to reserve a chair, leave some junk there and towels and hope no one takes them? The closer you are to the beach, the better the security and convenience to enjoy your stay. (I often bring old paperback books to put on the chairs with the towels.)
7 - Check out all options for flights. Direct flights are the best. Having to stop in Atlanta will destroy your nerves and ruin both the first day arrival and the last day departure. On a seven day trip, you only really have five full days to have fun on the beach. When flying out of Chicago, Frontier Airlines from O’Hare Airport is often the best option for direct flights. Check out the airline’s online website for flight information. Ironically, Midway Airport is often the worst option for direct flights and many flights out of Midway will require at least one stop. The more stops, the more you will save in money and lose in vacation time and fun.
8 - Do other people a favor and write a review of the hotel where you stayed. Share the good and the bad. Add some pictures. This helps people get a sense of what to expect when they hear what you have to say. The best place to post is at Trip Advisor. Be fair. Don’t let your anger drive your review. The more fair you are the more your comments will carry weight with the readers. It also helps the hotel to address issues that may exist. Sometimes, they will correct them. You can check out all my reviews that I have written for TripAdvisor.com by clicking here.
The bottom line on price is that the closer to the beach you are the more expensive. The difference between a Junior Suite and a Luxury Junior Suite is more than just a better bathtub and shower. Sometimes there is little difference, except for the location of the upgraded room. You pay extra $50 to $250 per person to upgrade for a reason.
I wrote a story about the disappointing trip I took to Jamaica to the Grand Palladium/Lady Hamilton resort. The pools are beautiful. The resort itself is very nice. But the beaches are disappointing, very small. And one is so dirty you wouldn’t want to walk on the sand. Click here to read that story. Her eis the review I wrote for TripAdvisor.com.
Another problem with travel these days is how the tourism industry punishes families who have children in school. The costs for a resort can vary widely. A resort might only cost $900 for a 7 day all-inclusive stay in early December, but it will jump to $2,000 when the kids are off for the official school holidays around Christmas and New Years.
They know most parents will not take their kids out of school to go on a vacation and will wait for the school vacations to book their travel stay. And most schools share consistent holiday schedules so it’s easy to artificially jack up prices and lower them in response to the demands of families.
If you don’t have kids, don’t travel during the holidays. Carve out time on non-holiday weeks during the year. You will literally save half the cost of a holiday scheduled vacation.
Cruises are the same when it comes to costs.
Don’t be fooled by the promise of a great vacation. Even a modest cost of $2,800 for three people is a lot of money for many families. You don’t have to pay $6,000 or $7,000 just to enjoy a few days in the sun.
And of course, be ready to encounter the corruption at the airport in Mexico. It’s very common and the Mexican government will do nothing about it.
It usually involves those Immigration Forms they have you fill out when you enter the country. When you leave, you are required to turn one in. The Mexican Immigration authorities there will often pull parents with children out of line and claim that the forms are filled out improperly and not everyone in the family will be able to board.
The immigration rep will take you into a private room where he will tell you how serious this is and very difficult to resolve as the clock ticks away and your flight prepares to board. It will take time, they will assert, to correct.
Unless, of course, if you are willing to give them $100.
That’s happened to me twice in Cancun and in Cozumel.
You don’t have a choice. You’re stuck in a foreign country. They know that if you pay, you won’t have time to complain to anyone because your flight is boarding and you will feel lucky to get on board.
If Mexico’s government cared, they would crack down on this common kind of corruption.
Also, check the TripAdvisor comments from tourists who have stayed at the resort you are reviewing. Oftentimes, they will tell you if they have been ripped off by the cleaning staff. Hotels certainly don’t like it when their guests discover that money has been taken out of their luggage by the cleaning staff. I’m sure most cleaning staff are honest. But it doesn’t take more than one to ruin a good vacation.
Keep your money and valuables in a safe place.
In the end, all I want is to know exactly where I am going to stay and what I can expect in terms of a beach. If that is too much to ask and receive, then the resort is not doing you any favors.
Hanania covered Chicago political beats including Chicago City Hall while at the Daily Southtown Newspapers (1976-1985) and later for the Chicago Sun-Times (1985-1992). He published The Villager Community Newspapers covering 12 Southwest suburban regions (1993-1997). Hanania also hosted live political news radio talkshows on WLS AM (1980 - 1991), and also on WBBM FM, WLUP FM, WSBC AM in Chicago, and WNZK AM in Detroit.
The recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, Hanania was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. Hananiaalso received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania writes columns for the Southwest Community Newspaper Group including the Des Plaines Valley News, the Southwest News-Herald, the Regional News and the Reporter Newspapers.
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