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Betty Stone: Caveat emptor


Betty Stone



Remember Walter Mitty? He was James Thurber''s comic and poignant daydreamer who frequently drifted into reveries in which he became a superhero. Ordinary sounds like a knocking engine -- "poketa, poketa, poketa" -- were enough to trigger his flights of fancy.  


Well, meet the flip side of Walter Mitty. Sometimes I drift into thoughts of distress. Whereas Mitty''s daydreams never turned out to be true, my nightmares sometimes come close. For example, "poketa, poketa, poketa" ... 


I have always believed firmly that, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." So how did I get blindsided by a "windfall"? After ordering something by phone, I was told that I had "won" a three-day Caribbean cruise for four. I demurred, "No, thanks." 


"But, Mrs. Stone, it''s free! It''s just to thank you for your patronage. May I connect you to someone to explain it to you?" 


I bit. After being assured that I would pay only transportation to the ship, port taxes, and whatever incidentals I chose, I signed up. When I asked, I was told that I was not agreeing to any conditions. 


I figured I could take a daughter and two grandchildren and that, whatever happened, we could be good sports about it. I invited them to an "adventure."  




Second thoughts? 


"Poketa, poketa, poketa ... " What had I done? Would we be captives on a cattle boat? Would we be presented with exorbitant surcharges? Would we be quartered in steerage?  


The first unpleasant truth to surface was that our accommodations for four put us in one inside cabin. Naturally, I had to pay for an upgrade to at least two staterooms with windows. In doing that, I later found that I had forfeited the on-shore meal vouchers for two of us and had to get an extra bedroom at the hotel before and after the cruise. So much for the cruise for "four." 


"Poketa, poketa, poketa ... "  


I worried that my arthritis would make boarding the ship difficult for me, but I determined that I would arrange the logistics to be as simple and efficient as possible. 


In reality it turned out that when we landed at our Ft. Lauderdale destination, we would have to go to one hotel to get our room assignment and vouchers for a different hotel, and also to arrange transportation to the Palm Beach dock a couple of hours north of there! The first hotel turned out to be a so-called Florida Welcome Center, where a simpering director and a self-important, sashaying hostess treated us about as rudely as I have ever been treated. 


Finally escaping their "welcome," we set out in our rental car (which we would have to leave in a parking garage for three days) to find our "resort hotel." We passed it. 


"I think that''s it," I said to Diana, who was driving. 


"Ugh! It couldn''t be," said her daughter, Elisabeth. 


It was. The "resort" had seen better days. Much better. However, our rooms seemed clean, and there was a swimming pool. Dinner was an institutional-style buffet. Not a five-star rating. 


The next day the ship proved to be a little better, not exactly the cattle boat I had feared, but not five-star either. Or four. Or three. As the comedian of the on-board show later said, "When you take a shower, to lather up, you soap the walls and turn around!" 






Our three-day itinerary went like this: Board ship in the afternoon, embark at 5 p.m., dock at Grand Bahama Island early in the a.m.; second day on shore, embark for return trip at 6 p.m.; disembark at Palm Beach about 10 a.m. on third day. Is something missing here, like time? 


We were rushed and crowded, but our day at Lahaya Beach was delightful. The waterfront had everything you could hope for, surf, sand, Calypso music, infinity pool, lap pool, water trampoline, games, contests, croquet, food, "banana" boat riding, jet-skiing, parasailing. Grandchildren Elisabeth and John had a blast parasailing and jet-skiing on the ocean. 


The temperature was in the 90s, but the sea breeze was so great, we never got hot. Even a beach mummy like me could sit in a chaise lounge in partial shade comfortably. Neither were the concrete sidewalks hot to my bare feet, as they are here. Although we did not have time to enjoy everything there, when we had to leave, we had about 30 minutes to shop at the little market. I was amazed at how quickly 12-year-old John learned how to haggle. I still can''t do it. 




The big catch 


Back in Palm Beach we encountered the stinger. We were told we had committed to sit through a two-hour sales pitch for time share apartments. Not true; I had never agreed to anything like that. But they held us captive on a tour for a 4 1/2-hour marathon. I thought I was going to have to get a writ of habeas corpus to escape. 


One funny observation: A young man, Brian, gave a little pep talk extolling family values and the importance of building wholesome memories like vacation time with your children. Then he polled his audience, asking who was married. None of the couples was! Poor Brian was selling family fun to the wrong crowd. 


I''m not sorry I went, and I think the children really had a good time; but I am more convinced than ever that: "You get what you pay for," "There''s no free lunch," and "Buyer, beware!" Back to land ... "poketa, poketa, poketa ... "  



Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.


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