A Strange Deneaument and Joyous Homecoming


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Oceans and Seas
June 27th 2011
Published: June 27th 2011
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After the fabulous Fowl Cay and boating in the Exumas, and the odd Eleuthera but still very nice Sky Beach Club, our final hotel for the last two days in Nassau had a lot to live up too...and didn't.

So here's the story of the activity filled last two days of our Bahamas trip:

Breezes wasn't terrible, but it was still the worst all-inclusive we've stayed at (others were Dreams in Puerto Vallarta, Riu in Cancun, and Contadora Inn in the Pearl Islands...Breezes would have out-ranked the funky Contadora, except that Breezes is 4 times as expensive, while Contadora is charming in it's run down funkiness.)

But first, we had to get there. Instead of the 9 seater plane that Flamingo air gave us from Nassau to Staniel Cay, and which our ticket indicated for the return, a little 5 seater putted up. Along with the sudden thunder and rain and sea surges from just an hour earlier, this wasn't a welcome site to Janel, who is still evolving as a flier on small aircraft. The plane was incredibly hot inside, but relatively stable, and we arrived alive...a huge relief to Janel!

Arriving at Breezes, all the cool "breezes" of the Exumas are gone. Out of the taxi, you flood in to a chaotic, non-air conditioned lobby, stand in line, wonder where are the welcome drinks seen in some of the hands of the seething mass of humanity...and wait. After sweating out the check in, finally getting our welcome drinks by asking (which turned out to be like hummingbird feeder liquid with no alcohol), we went through the humid, party-colored bar, getting glimpses of the sweltering pools so packed with people you could hardly see the water, and went out to our room...which was about the best they had. It was on the second floor, right on the beach....whereas 90% of their rooms faced the pool and wouldn't see the ocean.

We began looking for the internet connection, which was missing. We tried to make a reservation for one of the 2 restaurants (compared to the usual 5 of the other places..except Contadora). But they said we couldn't have a reservation, that it had to be booked between 9-11am...and confusingly, also 24 hours in advance. We went to the front desk to sort these issues out.

There we learned there is no internet in the hotel, except paid terminals, which you can sweat away at in the non-air conditioned lobby. You can't connect your lap top, even in the lobby. "We have no wiffy," said the concierge. For me, this was mind boggling in this day and age. "We like to emphasize the vacation, not the internet," said the receptionist. I haven't been in a place that doesn't have any way to connect a lap top in 10 years or so. At $450/nt that seemed crazy. It would take one day and a few hours to install this, and they could even profit from it, by charging. They suggested we could walk down the blazing street with our lap tops and sit in the lobby of the Wyndham. As for dinner, they said we could go to the restaurant, and ask if there was cancellations ("beg" as Janel put it.)

We considered checking out, but then figured, we're just here two nights, and moving hotels would probably be a big waste of time. So we decided to make the best of it. We suited up and went out to the beach. They didn't have the rule against people tying up the beach chairs by sticking their stuff on them and leaving it there for hours. Looking around for towels, a passing lady pointed out where they hand them out, but warned, "if you don't turn them back in by 7pm, they charge you $15 per towel."

The guests: this was a "no children" hotel. At first that sounds like it might be nice...kinda sexy, sophisticated and quiet. Nope. The guests were of two general types: hoards of spring break style kids, sometimes sexy but almost invariably drunk and loud, and dumpy older people, in some cases laying on lounge chairs in the pool like beached whales. It was an entertaining pass time to try to understand how or why these types of people would or even could afford this place. I thought the kids might gang up 4 to a room, but I'm not sure reservations would allow that. In general, it's a short hop from the east coast, so getting here would be really cheap. For the young people, it's a spring break like atmosphere, so I guess they might like that. For the dumpy people, I guess if they can eat and drink enough, at some point, the scale tips towards this being a good deal. But since places like the British Colonial or Wyndham are $280 cheaper, that's a lot of eating and drinking.

Anyway, we did weasel our way in to the restaurant that night, the Italian one. We looked at the buffet first, but it didn't look too good. Janel was happy with the restaurant, particularly the anti-pasta self-serve items. However, I wasn't feeling so good...probably since from the first moment we'd arrived at 4 PM, we'd been visiting the bar, with nothing much else to do. They didn't know how to make much, so I ended up drinking a bunch of Bahama Mamas, which is like Hawaiian Punch with Rum. I do give kudos to the wait staff. Our waiter, like many people working at the hotel, was effusively nice. When we went back to our room, the next door had a sign that said "the party is here!" with girls streaming in and out. That gave me trepidation, but luckily I guess they moved the party, and we were able to sleep.

In the morning I usually check the news and email. But unable to do that, I looked out the window. At 8 AM, most of the lounge chairs had stuff on them, although no people. So I went out there and staked our claim. It was already very sticky and hot. I sat for a while finishing my book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks."

It's interesting how there is often this parallel mental trip usually happening on physical trips. I often pick up a book at the airport on the way out that I'd never heard of or considered until that moment. In this case, while beaching it in the Bahamas, I was learning (total news to me) about the amazing story of how the first cell cultures came from the cervical cancer sample of a black woman who soon after died of the cancer. These were not only the first cells to ever live in cultures, they were so virulent that they were pretty much the only cells to live for decades. Soon every lab in the world had HeLa cells. And years after 18 other cultures had been developed, it turned out that HeLa was so vigorous, that it had managed to contaminate all the other cultures, and convert them all to HeLa...so that even 25 years later, in the 1970s, there were still only HeLa cells. The book is a good read, both for great science history, and a detailed story about the life of Henrietta Lacks, and all her children and grandchildren, who were all previously unknown, even though her cells were the foundation for pretty much all world-wide cellular science, treatments for polio, cancer, etc.

I went back in at 9AM to call for reservations for dinner that night. But Janel had already called. And been informed that we couldn't make reservations for that night, since, reservations have to fulfill two requirements. 1. They have to be made between 9-11AM. 2. They have to be made 24 hours in advance. But since dinner doesn't happen between 9-11AM, they might as well say the reservations need to be made at least 31 hours in advance. So people staying two days cannot eat in the restaurants at all...except by begging. And no one can eat in them the first two days of their stay. Besides, Janel had been informed when she called, the restaurants are completely booked by 9 AM on the same day.

That was about the final straw. We figured we really didn't have much to do, so we'd walk down the the Wyndham and see if they had rooms. The lobby of the Wyndham was elegant, cool and uncrowded. They did have rooms, $140 for island view, $160 for ocean view. So we decided to go back and try to check out. Back at the Breezes, through the broiling lobby and waits in line, we presented our proposition at the front desk. We were asked to wait for the manager. So we waited...and waited. Check out time was 11AM. By now it was passing 10:40. So after 15 minutes, we asked again, if we could try to resolve this before check out hour. Janel showed admirable restraint, and neither of us betrayed much irritation.

Finally, the manager came out, and ushered us out of public, through a door, to her office...not a good sign. We said we'd like to check out, get a refund for one day, now that we'd discovered there was a room at the Wyndham. We explained calmly our reasons (no internet, inability to book the restaurants our entire stay.) The manager said bluntly, "there will be no refund." But she did offer to make us a dinner reservation. "Which restaurant do you want?" she asked. "Eden" we said. "Which hour, 6, 6:30, 8:30 or 8:45." Well, apparently the restaurants weren't all booked. Again, we didn't get very flustered. We decided to make the best of it, and went back to get our swimming suits on.

We'd hung out on the beach for an hour, when we heard the entertainment guy calling for people to go up on stage and bat each other with pillow sticks. A few minutes later, Janel suddenly cocked her head, and said, "Did I hear right? Did he say they were taking volunteers to transfer to the Wyndham tonight?" I said, "No, that can't be." I only hesitated a minute, then jumped up and ran over there. They were lining up people, and the first 8 were to be given 3 free nights vouchers at Breezes, if they'd take the transfer to Wyndham tonight. Weird. I guess they were overbooked. I butted my way in to line, and got on the list at #6. We were told to go pack our stuff, and check out, and wait for the 3 o'clock shuttle. The front desk would give us our vouchers.

We followed instructions (careful to turn in our little old fashioned key style safe lock, to avoid the $100 fee), and were told at the front desk our voucher would be ready at 3PM along with the shuttle. We thought maybe we could sell it on eBay. So we had a few hours to kill, and went to lunch in the buffet. Again, we had an effusively sweet waitress (drinks are brought by waitress.) After we'd wiled away a couple hours, I thought maybe I could go up and get the voucher at 2:30, and we could take a taxi over to the Wyndham, and wait there for the 3PM check in, in their air conditioned lobby, where we could use our computers. Nope. The vouchers will be ready at 3PM. I went back and had another drink. The hour finally came, and we piled in to the shuttle with the other lucky winners. All the way over, they told stories of their Breezes experience.

I wasn't sure they'd transferred, like us, to get out of the Breezes, or if they liked the idea of 3 more free days there. The voucher, btw, can only be used by us, so we can't sell it or give it away. But they did regale each other with stories of people running up and down the halls screaming drunk smashing in to walls through the entire night. Apparently, we'd gotten lucky the party was moved from next door to us. They told stories of people making bungee cords of their bed sheets, tying them to the palm trees, and jumping from their windows. Throwing hotel property in to the ocean, being recorded by hotel cameras and charged $1500. Someone said they were there on a return trip because they'd gotten the 3 free days last time the Breezes over booked. I guess they might keep coming to Breezes for free for ever..."you can check out, but you can never leave!"

Well, finally, at Wyndham, we were happy, even if our final day had been just screwing around with a hotel transfer. It was better than baking like sea lions by the pool at Breezes all day. We paid for the upgrade from Island view to Ocean view, and went to our room. Nice. Great view. The pool has a water slide. We still had an hour or two of pool time left, so we went down and played on the water slide. Then, having finished learning about Henrietta Lacks, I dove in to a book from the Nassau airport, about the strange mystery of the murder of Harry Oakes in Nassau, the richest man in England in 1943...and the never proven, but probable, involvement of The Duke of Windsor, acting governor of Nassau in those days...and, bizarrely, HG Christie, whose real estate company of 1943 is still today the biggest one in the Bahamas. It was called the "murder of the century," so it still makes good reading if you're interested. There are a lot of books about it, the one I got was called "Blood and Fire."

But, we still couldn't completely escape the gravity of the Breezes event horizon. We got sucked in one last time to go back for our scheduled dinner. We'd paid for it after all! And it would probably be good. Um...

That was probably the longest dinner we ever had. In between each, none-too-good, course, we were left to molder for 20-30 minutes. Finally it was over, and we walked back to the Wyndham, bidding Breezes good riddance.

(I did eagerly look at Tripadvisor, to see how the place was rated. There were 2840 reviews, averaging 3.5 stars...so my 1 star wouldn't change the average much. Reviews were sharply divided. Many people just LOVED that place. On the other hand, a few people HATED it...said it was just disgusting, filthy, cock-roaches and what-not. Now, come on, it wasn't that bad, and didn't need to be to earn it's 1 star. But how the people that loved it could give it 5 stars is just another one of those mysteries of the universe. I guess they hadn't gotten out much before. Meanwhile, just as many people or more hated the Wyndham...so although Trip Advisor had been helpful in many cases to me, in this case it wouldn't have given me any insight in to how we'd react to these places.)

We were definitely ready to leave, and sailed through customs in the Bahamas airport, bought some of the amazingly inexpensive airport tourist trinkets, and had no glitches on our connection or flights home...until we hit the San Francisco airport, and our Early Bird guy was no where to be seen. Usually, Early Bird has been good to us. While I got our luggage, Janel was calling them, and found out the guy was almost there. He said there had been an accident on hwy 17. We were tired by this point, and so Janel didn't have the energy to look forgiving, although she didn't say anything. He said, "I can see you're unhappy. But what could I do? Fly over the cars?" Well, he wasn't the most graceful guy. But worse yet, he wasn't a very good driver. Maybe he was going too fast, to try to make up time for us. But he was swerving all over the lanes, often hitting those fried egg things, making the little non-relaxing machine-gun noise with the wheels. So when we got home, we thought maybe it was time to give one of the competitors a try. Lesson in customer service: this is a drag for a company like Early Bird, since we're repeat customers who used it probably 10 times a year.

We walked in to our house, to be greeted by crazily enthusiastic dogs! They ran in circles, hopped up and down...and Noel, being the size of a small horse, rammed in to Janel and knocked her down. She lay there for a minute groaning, and I thought, Oh no, are we going to end our great trip with a hospital visit? But she climbed up, and resumed our cheerful greeting with the dogs. She did have a nasty bruise in the morning (and Phoenix felt so embarrassed after witnessing Noel's clumsiness, that she peed on the floor.) But we were all too happy to be together again to cry over spilled milk.


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