The complaint and the Caribbean


To those who are perfectly content to allow hotels, airlines and rental car companies to abuse them with shoddy services, I say, please, just bend over and repeat incessantly, “Thank you sir! May I have another?” Meanwhile, the rest of us, who know how to complain effectively, will continue to vacation at a major discount.

Case in point. I spent my 10th wedding anniversary with the missus in St. Martin, at a lovely resort on the French side of the island in the village of Grand Case. The hotel staff couldn’t have been more accommodating and professional. The honeymoon suite was every bit as advertised and more. The complimentary bottle of champagne was vastly appreciated and enjoyed. (I even let the missus have a sip before I chugged it down during a “Monday Night Football” commercial break. Now, you may scold me: “Football? On a 10th anniversary? For shame!” But hey, it was the Colts vs. the Steelers!)

So, anyway, what was to complain about? Well, for two of the four days we spent there, I wasn’t able to … ummm … take a shower. At beaches, I tend to take an afternoon shower, instead of a morning shower, since I’m going to get hot, sweaty and sandy as the day goes on. But by the afternoon, the local water department had turned off the water supply and the hotel had to use its own backup resources. The hotel had water, but it didn’t have enough pressure to get a shower going in our second-floor bathroom.

Now, you may reason: “Well, what’s the big deal? It’s not like it was their fault. These things happen in the Caribbean. Otherwise, it was a lovely stay. Let it go.” Right?

No way.

It comes down to this: If I spend nearly $400 a night for a first-class accommodation, I will (call me crazy) expect to be able to take a shower – whenever I feel like it — while on my second honeymoon.

So, I very politely but pointedly explained this to the property owner. I indicated that I hadn’t had a shower for half of my stay and had been taking sponge baths in the sink instead. I asked what kind of rebate I was going to get. (Notice that I didn’t ask “if” I was getting one.)

The entire discussion was nonconfrontational. I got one day’s stay comped, thanked the management for being reasonable and enjoyed the rest of my day. That five-minute phone call got me $400. Nice.

Other observations from the Caribbean:

* Watch out for what’s now being passed off as an “exit tax” at the airport. That’s right: For the great service of allowing you to leave the island, St. Martin charged $30. The airport staff indicated this was becoming quite common in the islands. Sounds like a great way to alienate vacationers who — oh, yeah — pretty much fuel the entire local economy.

* Believe it or not, but your humble, traveling scribe here got through the air travel experience without ever taking off his loafers in the airport screening area. So, please, to move things along through security faster, read this very carefully: You do not have to take your shoes off all the time! Read the signs. Take a look at what you’re wearing on your feet, and use some common sense. And please, if you must take off your shoes, wear clean socks.

* Rent a car? Why would you want to do that when the bus system in St. Martin is made for cheap and easy access? For starters, nobody in his right mind should consider driving in St. Martin. Not when the two-way streets are about as wide as a suburban bike path here in the United States. My wife and I made our way easily to shopping and gambling on the Dutch side of the island aboard the ubiquitous buses, which can be hailed, cab-style, from pretty much any point in the street. It cost all of $3 (U.S.) to go from Grand Case on the French side all the way to the opposite end of the island.

All in all, a great trip. Kudos to the resort for resolving a problem professionally. Raspberries to the extortionists at the airport. Love and kisses to the missus.

May all your anniversaries be so delightful.

— Den Bart

Den Bart is an occasional contributor to Tripso.