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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How to Not Take a Free Cruise

The other day we were at a home show, and because Other Bill has never been, but always wanted to go on a cruise, he signed us up to sit through a two-hour (which turned into a three-hour) timeshare presentation which would reward us with a 3 evening cruise. A 3 evening cruise.  (Lightning bolt, thunder crash, ship tossing up and down). We were promised that if we gave them 120 minutes of our time, whether we bought into the timeshare or not, we would get a 100% absolutely free 4 day, three night Carnival cruise. Because I am a relatively agreeable partner, I was willing to contract a retrovirus just so he could experience the wonder of the lowest of the low cruises that would hopefully put an end to his desire to ever go on a cruise again. I have been on one cruise of the Greek islands, and it was one of the worst travel experiences of my life. You could get no rest at all, because every fifteen minutes in four languages, through loudspeakers bolted to the ship every five feet, came blasting broadcasts as to where we were and interesting sites to see that we would soon be approaching. I was the only one on the ship not to get food poisoning, and the whole ship was covered in and smelled like vomit. I swore I would never again go on another cruise. That was 31 years ago, I and have so far stuck to my guns.

Let me explain the difference between Other Bill’s idea of a free cruise and my idea of a free cruise. Other Bill’s idea of a free cruise is an enormous, well-lit double-balconied state room with accommodations for pets and rugs made from animal hides, and a home theater with room for a dozen guests. The room smells like citrus, fresh cut grass and the sidewalk just after it starts to rain. You ring a bell and a tan, shirtless Abercrombie and Fitch model comes and gives you a full body massage with release and refuses a tip. He tells you what time he gets off and asks if he can come by later just to cuddle.

My idea of a free cruise is a windowless box the size of a piano crate. It is big enough for a full size cot and a prison-designed stainless steel toilet/sink/shower combination. There is no shower curtain; just a drain in the middle of the room to trap all the spilled non-potable water. The room smells like a urine and mildew smoothie. It is lit with a flickering nightlight plugged into the ceiling. Given the choice of a cell or in interior ship cabin, inmates will choose their cells 100% of the time.

So, by sitting through this timeshare presentation, not only did we receive our interpretations of a free cruise, but also included before the presentation was one of the most repugnant, inedible breakfasts I have ever touched teeth to.  The only thing I could get down were cold, rubbery English muffins spread with margarine from the Paleozoic era and some kind of brown water claiming to be instant iced tea.

The presentation started, and the dynamic speaker and her wonderful touch board and whiteboard showed how much the average person spends on a week’s vacation without the flight and other transportation costs. She said the average hotel is about $150 a night. Food is about $100, shows, entertainment., also a c-note a day, so $350 times 7, is $2450. Actually, it turned out to be a thousand dollars a week more than that, but I was nodding off and didn’t take good notes so it was $3450 a week, and you spent that week in a crummy box of a motel with two beds, a nightstand, a bathroom and a closet.

So why not, she said, for the same price or less, enjoy the same thing, and stay in a 2 to 4 bedroom luxury condominium and enjoy all the benefits of ownership as well? 

“What do you feel about owning your home over renting?” she asked the group.

Without batting an eye, I said, “Trapped.” And I think that got the biggest laugh of the morning.

Throughout the disgusting breakfast and the annoying presentation, each couple was required to sit at a table with a sales person. Ours was a pushy wiseguy from the Bronx.  The sales price that day for the pride of ownership was $7300, reduced from $10,000. Our sole mission in attending this gig, besides the free cruise, was to find out if enjoying the pride of ownership of a timeshare in San Francisco on Union Square, which turned out to be walking distance to Union Square, which turned out to be in the Tenderloin, which is the ghetto we always stay in when we stay in San Francisco for $71 a night, would be cheaper than $71 a night.

This particular timeshare company, every year, for a few hundred dollars a year gives you 84,000 points to use for accommodations. Some units cost more points than others. Places near Disney cost you relatively few points a night. We finally nailed them down to find out how many points their one timeshare unit in the same ZIP code as Union Square was. Monday through Thursday: 32,000 points. Friday through Sunday: 80,000 points. That’s per day. Game over.

You also pay a $50 a month maintenance fee for the rest of your life, and that fee gets passed on to your beneficiary after you die. That $600 is the roundtrip airfare for two to San Francisco right there.

After we initialed the “Decline” box, we had to take the survey and then go stand in line to get our coupon for the free cruise, and 3 hours after setting foot into this resort, where we were supposed to be shown a luxury suite, but weren’t, because it was Memorial Day weekend, and all rooms were occupied, we got back into the car, and I began to read the fine print of the free cruise.

Port fees, taxes, and all sorts of government fees came to $158 per person. The cruise left from Miami, which meant traveling to the port of Miami and parking there for 4 days, which probably would have been another $100. Neither of us has a valid passport, so that’s another $320.  To get off the boat and actually go into Cozumel would have been another $100. We probably would stay on the boat instead of going into Key West, because Key West these days is nothing more than Duvall Mall, so why bother? We can always shop at the Gap at home. Plus the cruise does not include drinks, soft or otherwise. So without having anything to drink, this free cruise would have cost us $836.

And then there would be the physician and medication co-pays once we got off the boat when we got back. So to Other Bill, it may be a free cruise. To me it’s more of a lesson. I’m more than willing to go along with it if it means I don’t have to go on a cruise for another 31 years.

For other Bill, I happen to be pretty convinced that the big attraction of a cruise is the 24 hour all you can eat buffet. If such a place existed on Hollywood beach, I can pretty much guarantee you he would prefer that to a four day, three night adventure at sea.  We’d wake up, drive to the beach, sit by the window of the restaurant and have a nice ocean view, eat a big breakfast, go home, take a nap, maybe take a dip in the pool, go back for a nice brunch, return home and watch a movie until it was time for a midafternoon snack, go back and have some chips and guacamole, and maybe just stay for dinner and baked Alaska and do the same thing the following 2 days. No port taxes, no sea sickness, no security checkpoints, no passports, no little windowless shoebox sized rooms; just eating at will.

Now that is my idea of a free cruise. Without all the inconveniences of a boat.



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