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I Survived a Dream Trip....And Learned A Few Travel Tips
Spring Break, Here We Come
For months, we had been looking forward to our Spring Break trip to Tampa with our daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids. We originally had planned on going to Disney World but quickly changed plans when we learned that the wait time for rides is always unbearably long (up to three hours) during the week prior to Easter. Our son-in-law offered to help us find an alternative destination, and after e-mailing us several possibilites, we felt the golf resort he had discovered in the Tampa area would provide a perfect base of operations for our trip. (The fact that the resort was within driving distance of the newly-opened Legoland held particular appeal for our Lego- driven grandson and his older sister, who had been duly indoctrinated into the new Lego Friends (i.e., girls ) line.
Spring Break week finally arrived after the most bizarre winter in memory, and we found ourselves on a flight bound for Tampa. Let me amend that: we found ourselves on the flight only after I had been put through a somewhat disconcerting search at Airport Security. Our daughter, son-in-law and grandkids, far more seasoned air travelers than my husband and I, Iiterally whizzed through the checkpoint, as did my husband. (Since he has a defibrillator, he was sent to a different area than I.) That left me with my husband’s and my carry-on luggage, which--- horror of horrors-- contained more than one ziploc bag. I had forgotten that each piece of luggage may contain only one plastic bag filled with lotions, creams, and aerosols. Although the number of those itemes in my carry-on would have (almost) fit into one ziplock, I had made of the mistake of “mixing” my lotions, creams, and aerosols with medications, lipsticks, and other non- ‘contraband’ substances in three plastic bags. My husband had kept all of his unbagged in his grooming kit. As soon as one of the security people noticed my three plastic bags- two in my carry-on and one in my purse- I was a Marked Traveler. Everything had to be taken out of the bags and put through the scanner again, leaving me a humilated, shoeless Senior Citizen responsible for holding up the line while my family waited on the other side of the check point. (In all fairness to the airport, I must note that it was on high security that day due to two “incidents” that had occurred the day before: one potential passenger had turned out to have bottles full of explosive materials in his bag, and another had a firearm.) This experience taught me Dream Trip Tip #1: Be (properly) prepared . (The Boy Scouts have known this one for ages!)
The Perfect Place....
....But You Can't Judge A Book....
My Airport Experience should have been our first clue.... though we had decided not to let it ruin our trip. After all it was my own fault; if I had done my homerwork, we would have had our lotions, creams, and aerosols correctly packaged . (We eventually decided to throw away most of those items before boarding the flight home to assure us that a deja vu’ experience would not occur.) So after a smooth flight, a stress-free pickup of the rental van, and a long ride to the resort, we were more than ready to get into our bathing suits, have lunch, and spend some time relaxing at the pool.... not necessarily in that order. It looked like our dreams were about to come true has we drove into resort, which looked like a lush and lavish Garden of Eden sculpted within three championshp golf courses.
We approached the reception desk at with that feeling of giddy anticipation which seems to engulf you at the beginning of a vacation. My son-in-law was given the keys to their unit and was asked to give his cell phone number so that they could notify him when our room was ready. (Both units had been registered in his name, since he had taken care of the reservations.) My husband and I were told that our room wasn’t ready yet, due to the fact that the previous guests had not checked out in a timely manner. (!!!) I noted that we had been under the impression that check-in was at 3:00 (the current time), to which the registration agent answered, “Check-in begins at 3:00.” Ah, what a difference a verb can make! We soon learned that there is indeed a big diffeence between a linking verb (in this case, was) and an action verb, particularly an ambiguous one like begins. Dream Trip Tip #2: Be armed with a copy of the hotel's policies. (print them off the Internet before you leave for your trip.)
....Until You've Opened the Cover.
So our luggage was sent over to our daughter and son-in-law’s unit to await future transport to our room. In lieu of nonexistent “other options,” we decided to eat lunch right there at the clubhouse (there seemed to be more than one clubhouse at this large resort). The rest of the family had already retrieved their swim gear and were headed for the pool. At this point, we continued to be relatively optimistic. After all, we figured, this was not an economy-priced resort. Certainly they would not allow their clients to remain roomless for too long. (After all these yours, you’d think I would have learned the flaws inherent in Logical Assumptions.)
When we had finished our lunch, which turned out to be a tasty diversion, we’d had no word from our son-in-law on the status of our room, so we went to the front desk, gave them our cell number, and headed for the pool, where the rest of the family was ensconced. My husband and I, the only fully-clothed people other than resort employees, began to broil not only from the sun’s rays but also from our increasing annoyance at the non-availability of our room. Finally, when the hands of the clock approaced 5:00, we decided to head over to the building in which we were to be housed and check out the location of our room in reference to that of the rest of the family. Our daugther gave us their room key in case we wanted to hang out until our room was ready, so we located their quarters and were astounded to discover a palatial three-bedroom, four-TV condo. (When our son-in-law had made the reservations, he was told that the largest resort units had only two bedrooms, so he made a reservation for one two-bedroom suite and one executive suite. It turned out that our daughter and her family somehow had drawn the only three-bedroom unit in the spacious resort... more than enough room to house the six of us, except that we had committed to an executive suite which, ironically, was not currently habitable.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “at least we’ll be close by.” (From the outset, our son-in-law had requested that the two units be easily accessible to one another.) After all, their condo was 2563, and ours was 2574. This turned out to be another flawed logical assumption. After I had traversed the entire, long length of their hallway and found no sign of 2574, my eagerness began to flag. I climbed the double staircase to the next level. Same result. Puzzled, I returned to 2563 and told my husband that I was baffled. I concluded that 2574 must be located somewhere in The Twiight Zone. My husband joined in the search and finally located the elusive 2574 on level 2 1/4.... yes, on a nebuous level that was four stairs beyond the second level. In other words, our room was almost all the way on the other end of the building. During our search, neither of us had seen any sign of a cleaning crew. That could mean only one of two things: either our room was read for habitation, or no one had any intention of making it habitable. We headed back to the front desk.
When we asked the registration person with whom we had dealt earlier if our room was ready yet, she pushed a few buttons on her phone and replied in the negative but assured us that she’d “leave the cleaning people a message.” We noted that there had been absolutely no sign of a cleaning crew when we were searching for our room just a few minutes before. We asked if we could have a unit that was ready in the same building . (After all, this was a large resort.) She answered in the negative. Barely containing our displeasure (ok.... we were downright angry), we asked to see the manager, whereupon she said that she was the manager. We continued to voice our displeasure with a 4-star resort that so far had shown no interest in being customer-friendly and assured her that we would seriously consider never returning. As we turned and began walking away in frustration, she quickly called after us to offer complimentary drinks and appetizers at the hotel bar. We replied that at this point our only interest lay in secruing a room. . She quickly made another call and said that we coud move in to 2574 if we didn’t mind that a few amenities were lacking. Totally drained and thoroughly convinced that if we didn’t snap up this opportunity we might still be withut a room at midnight, we assured her that all we wanted was a room. With two room keys safely in our hands, we turned to head for room 2574, and the “manager” called out , “Tonight’s lodging will be free, and that food credit I mentioned will be on your account.” Somehow, it just seemed like the proverbial too little, too late. It also seemed a bit strange that at no time during our dialogue at the front desk were we offered the opportunity simply to move into the huge three-bedroom condo with the rest of the family.
We headed for 2574 (with a pit stop at 2563 to retrieve our luggage) and slid the key card in the lock prepared to (finally) relax a bit and then unpack. One look at the Executive Suite that would be our home for the next week totally unhinged me. (My husband was too exhausted to react.) The “suite” consisted of a large room with a king size bed at one end, a sofa at the other, and a dining room table (!) smack in the middle plus a tiny kitchen and an even tinier bathroom. (There was also a folding room divider in case we chose to pretend that we had two rooms.) And where, I wondered, was the dresser into which we could unload the suitcases? We soon learned that the suite contained not a dresser but a closet with makeshift shelves. Classy it was not. My husband unpacked immediately and literally fell into bed. I , on the other hand ,had the classic Frustrated Female meltdown (I’m not sexist.... merely realistic.) After an hour in Meltdown Mode, I roused myself and unpacked from suitcase to closet. (Upon reflection, I realize that my reaction to the Execituve Suite might have been a tad overdramatic. It probably would have looked much better to us had we not seen the lavish quarters... with the four TVs, two bathrooms, a large kitchen, dining room, living room and bureaus, no less.... that had been assigned to the rest of the family.) Dream Trip Rule #3: Remember the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference, plus this codicil: and knowledge of how to effect the change.
A Place To Relax...And Dry Off?
We did manage to have a great time, in spite of the resort’s Service Idiosyncracies, not the least of which was the apparent lack of a schedule for cleaning the rooms. One day, for example, our daughter returned to the room (after many hours at the pool) around 5 PM, and the room had yet to be cleaned. (This wasn’t an isolated incident, either.) Another day, I ordered a short stack of pancakes for breakfast, since I am a light eater, and the waitress returned with three Superman-sized pancakes, explaining that the resort doesn’t offer short stacks.(I certainly don't mind paying for a full stack; I just don't like to waste food.) The next morning, when we decided to visit another of the resort’s clubhouses for breakfast, we requested seating on the patio (which we knew was open, since we coud see several patio tables occupied by diners), and the host, clearly annoyed, said, “You’ll have to wait until I wipe off the chairs. They’re wet.” The Service Idiosyncrasy of the Week, however, occurred at the pool, when announcements such as this were made throughout the afternoon: “The Snyder, Jones, and Smith families can now pick up your towels.” It seems that the resort did not have enough towels, and people had to wait until some had been returned and washed (they didn’t always show evidence of having been introduced to a dryer) before staking a claim. Dream Trip Tip #3: Choose one or try all three: a. Complain loudly b. Talk to someone who just might be able to effect a positive change. c. Chill.
The Final Analysis
In all fairness, the resort was beautifully landscaped and offered activities and dining choices to please many interests, appetites, and age groups. In addition to the three beautifully manicured golf courses complete with driving ranges and putting greens, there were six (!) pools (we never managed to locate four of them); volleyball, shuffleboard, and tennis courts; a nature walk; several restaurants and bars; bicycle rentals; a health club; and a luxurious spa. (I definitely can vouch for the fact that there were no Service Idiosyncracies there. My daughter and I spent the last afternoon of our trip indulging in various spa services topped off by a delicious lunch on the patio.)
The problem that we encountered while attempting to check in to a room that had been reserved months in advance, however, was inexcusable. It also was not an isolated incident, for as were were attempting to get through to the front desk clerk (manager?), a man stood a short distance away engaged in a similar discussion with another clerk. This should not happen anywhere, and particularly not at a 4-star resort. Travel Tip #4: (sage advice from my husband) It's probably not a good idea to stay at a golf resort if you're not a golfer.