Saturday, January 31, 2009

Birds enjoying Breakfast at the Nassau Sheraton

Sitting here Friday afternoon in the departures lounge at Nassau International Airport in the 46th hour of our trip home, feeling a combination of deja vu, frustration, resignation and hope. We left Harbour Island for Nassau on the Bahamas Fast Ferry on Wednesday at 4 p.m.. I thought this would be easier on my mom than taking a 7 a.m. flight on a very small plane, resulting in a 5 hour layover at this lackluster airport. After a 3 hour very scenic and relaxing ferry ride, we arrived at the Nassau dock, where we caught a cab to the Nassau Sheraton Beach Resort. This is when things started to come off the rails. At first blush, a seemingly lovely front desk manager, Ms. Major, was all smiles and charm until she realized that I had booked my room on Priceline. She then had the unfortunate task of having to tell me that there would be an additional $55 in fees, on top of the rate my good friend Bill Shatner had negotiated for me. She told me that this was normal practice in the Bahamas. This seemed quite unusual to me as Priceline states that their rate includes all taxes and service charges. After debating this point for 25 minutes with Ms. Major, she agreed to waive the extra charges. Feeling exhausted by the check-in ordeal, we went to our room to plan our evening. In the end the Sheraton. got their pound of flesh out of me as I used their casino and food concessions. Not to be outdone, my friends at the front desk slid a bill under the door in the wee hours of the night. Not only was I invoiced for the service charges that Ms. Major had agreed to waive, the hotel was also trying to charge me for the room even though I had already paid for it on Priceline. Off to the front desk I went, only to be told that I would have to wait for Ms. Major to come to work, as she was the only one who had the authority to make a decision on my case. She was due in at 9 a.m. By this time I was starting to get the distinct impression that I had a special code next to my name indicating that I was a troublesome guest. When Ms. Major finally arrived at 10:30, gone was the smile and charm. She curtly informed me that the error would be corrected in due time. Breakfast was another low point in customer service. Although the birds appeared to benefit from the lack of capable wait staff in the run down and poorly organized outdoor dining patio, trying to get an explanation as to the breakfast choices was like a scene out of faulty towers, but by this point I was starting to lose my sense of humour. I made a note to avoid this hotel in the future. In an effort to wash this whole experience off of us, we indulged in one last swim in the beautiful turquoise ocean, before setting out for the airport to catch our 2 p.m. flight. The flight was called for boarding on schedule, only to be halted after about half the passengers had left the departure lounge for the gate. About an hour later, the Captain appeared to deliver the news; an unresolvable mechanical failure had grounded our plane. Once Air Canada has decided what to do, we would be informed. Eventually, around 4 p.m. an announcement was made telling us that we would be issued food and hotel vouchers for the night to give Air Canada time to fly in parts and a qualified mechanic. I prayed that we wouldn't be sent back to the Sheraton. As it turned out, we were put up at the Wyndam, a hotel adjoining the Sheraton, connected underground by the casino. Despite an initial mix up our room, the difference between the Wyndam and the Sheraton was night and day, and it was entirely due to the people. Despite having about 200 unexpected guests arrive, the staff were calm, cool, collected, friendly and accommodating. The dining experience was also extraordinary. Now to be fair, I suppose some of what made this Wyndam experience so nice was the fact that Air Canada was picking up the $40,000 tab as a result of their mechanical oversight, and I did win back most of my casino losses from the night before. Now it is 2:30 on Friday, and Air Canada has just made the preliminary boarding call for our return flight, 24 1/2 hours late, the last hour a result of the crew showing up late, with no explanation offered from the ground crew. Around me tired babies are screaming, as fellow travellers regale each other with tales of misadventure on Air Canada, great travel bliss on WestJet. I only pray that the mechanic who made the repairs to our airplane is more thorough and competent than the waitress responsible for clearing the table pictured above.

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