Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Trial of the Tusker - Part 3 - The Timeshare Nightmares

See Part 1 here
See Part 2 here

This post should have been the second part in the series and if you are a stickler for "logical sequences" I've placed a link on the top of the post!

What is it with timeshare holidays that I always come back with some unpleasant memories? I have been a timeshare member since 1998 but I've taken only 5 holidays at my resorts in the last 14 years. It is because I always have had some unpleasant experiences during these holidays. My last holiday was in Ooty and I thought after nearly a decade things would have changed but I guess timeshares and I are destined to rub each other the wrong way always. Read on.....

14th July, 2012. We had stopped in Gudalur, some 12 kilometers from Kumily, to fill up the fuel tank. The petroleum dealers in Kerala were supposed to be on a two day strike from the next day and I didn't want to be stranded in some lonely place. It was around 2.00 PM and I thought lunch at the resort would be a good option rather than stopping in some wayside eaterie. So I called.....

The voice at the other end told me that she'd been trying to call me "desperately". I was surprised. There were no "missed calls" on my phone and I had not been driving through any area where there was a network problem. So I was wondering if they really called so desperately. Anyway, I asked her what was the desperate situation that they were so desperately trying to get me. At the back of my head I knew what was coming but I wanted it from this lady.

"Sir, your booking is for a 1 bedroom apartment but there is none vacant. We have four 1BRs in the resort but they are occupied. Can we.....". I cut her short before she could complete what she was going to say.

"No", I said, "I will not stay in anything smaller than the 1BR I booked. I know you might have some VIPs or non-member guests (who pay exorbitant amounts) who have been alloted the apartment but you better clear them out before I reach there". I'm not recording a few other things I said since my aim here is to just highlight how timeshare companies take advantage of gullible members.

If you try booking through their executive, their stock reply is "Not available on those days, in that resort (which is usually their best). You can have a confirmed booking in so-and-so resort instead (usually one of the unpopular destinations)".  Mercifully I did my booking online a month before and had a confirnation voucher for it. If they really had a problem they could have called me much in advance.

For those who don't have experience with timeshare holidays here are a few hard facts that you should consider before sinking your money in this " investment".

  • You pay a hefty amount in EMIs to "own" an apartment for 1 week in a year. 
  • Depending on the company you can utilize this 7 days of holiday in a particular resort or in a specific week of the year. In that case you can "deposit" your week so you can exchange it with someone else that wants to take a holiday in another resort or week. Some companies, like the one I'm a member of, gives you an option on the resorts but the weeks are classified according to holiday seasons. The cost of membership during peak holiday seasons is the highest. 
  • You have to pay an annual fee, the ASF, for 'maintainance' irrespective of whether you utilize your holiday or not, and it is not refundable. This has an inbuilt escalation factor so the amount goes up every year.
  • Food is not free. You pay for what you eat and dearly. 
  • Earlier you could accumulate your weeks but now it is restricted to three weeks, the current year and the weeks of the year before & after.
  • This is most likely because these companies have sold more timeshares than they have rooms or apartments!
  • Timeshares companies prefer to rent out the rooms & apartments to regular tourists who pay at the counter, rather than members. Regular tourist will pay for both accommodation & food but members might only pay for food. Even that might not happen because the apartments have fully equipped  kitchenettes which regular members use to cook their food rather than pay  and eat in the restaurant.
In my case, it was most likely the last factor that came into play because I saw a couple of disgruntled tourists arguing with the receptionist. In any case, when I walked in at 2.20PM my apartment wasn't ready. Apparently they were doing some routine maintenance which was why I was told that there was no 1BR apartment available. It beats me, why anyone would select a weekend for maintenance work and that too when they have a confirmed guest arriving!

Anyway, we were promptly escorted for lunch till they readied our rooms. I was offered the option of picking up food coupons, which were euphemistically called "Fun Dining", and what fun I had. This must be the only place where they expect you to drink your soup with a table spoon! There was no soup spoons at the table or near the soup bowls. 

As I went around inspecting the fare the tomatoes on the salad counter begged for my attention. I walked towards them with the intention of sinking my teeth into those inviting juicy orange slices. When I reached for one, I saw something black descend on the slice I had targeted. Fruit flies; they were feasting on the tomatoes! I backed off quietly, my appetite ruined. The rest of the lunch was a series of tasteless mouthfuls. You see, I did not know what I'd be sinking my teeth into!

It was well past 3 PM by the time we finished lunch. The boat trip at Thekkady had to be shelved because you had to be at the ticket counter an hour earlier. (More about that in the next post). We finally got our "under maintenance" apartment a little after half past three.

There was this little safe in the corner of the wardrobe with an electronic locking mechanism, in which, our escort told us we could keep our valuables. My son promptly decided to set the code and he succeeded in it. He then kept his valuables; a camera, my card holder, his phone and some other things; inside and locked it. 

With nothing better to do I decided to catch up on my sleep. The phone rang around 5 PM. It was someone from the reception asking us if we'd be interested in watching Kalari Payattu, the traditional martial art of Kerala. Since there seemed no other form of entertainment for the evening we said we'd go. The tickets were delivered to our room and we went to get our valuables from our locker. My son pressed the right buttons and tugged the door handle. Nothing happened. The door refused to budge! The lock was well and truly stuck with my purse, crdit cards and a camera inside it. Someone from housekeeping came to our aid, with a master key to the locker and effortlessly opened the stubborn lock. It left me wondering how safe the safe was! Besides, even his expertise would not make the locker work properly again. We decided to give up because we barely had time to reach the Kalari Payattu show.

The lady at the reception told us it was a 10 minute walk so with nothing else to do we decided to go, on foot. Needless to say, we found ourselves on the wrong track and in no position to reach the venue by 6 PM. Fortunately for us, Satish the auto driver appeared as our rescuer. Three minutes and 30 rupees later we were outside the Kalari. 

It was an absorbing one hour, in the middle of which heavy rain set up a crescendo on the roof. Since there was no let up of the rain after the show our plan for window shopping had to be shelved. We waved down the first auto that passed us and decided to return to the resort. The only difference was that this gentleman auto driver dropped us back for 20 rupees! 

Dinner was good. There is no denying that the resort had a good chef. He even made the veggies taste like chicken that my son ate it without protest. No mean feat, considering that there were more that a few different vegetables in that dish! 

We slept well that night. After all, good food is the best sedative!

The next day began slowly since we planned to take the 9.30 AM boat trip. We had to reach the ticket counter only by 8.30 AM. I was up at my usual time and 'brewed' an instant coffee. There were sachets  of dairy whiteners, sugar, coffee and tea in the nice little kitchentte but where was the dustbin?

I found it sitting near the bathroom door and I picked it up to place it under the kitchen sink. Under the dustbin, this is what I found. 

It certainly wasn't from my bald head or my son's, and my wife has short hair. So much for maintenance and housekeeping. 

 Scheduled breakfast time in the resort is 7.30 AM onward but when we reached at 8.00 AM half the menu was still not on the table! I suppose the cook got up a little later than usual on a cold Sunday morning! I'm not going into the details but I discovered how dumb I can be. I picked up banana pancakes thinking they were oothappams. It was the crisp vadas next to them that tricked me. Of course, the oothappams did come; after I finished my breakfast! I'm not complaining. Honest.

After the boat trip (about which I'll post shortly) we went spice shopping. I must confess, the spices on the shelves in Kumily are the best I've seen anywhere. Worth every paisa you pay. It was almost 1.30 PM and our tummies were reminding us that they were being ignored. Back at the resort lunch was excellent, enough to make up for all the unpleasant experiences so far. 

With a heavy lunch inside us, a siesta was in order so, we waddled our way to the apartment feeling like well fed hippos. At the apartment door my son inserted the key card into its slot and waited for the green light to come on. Nothing happened. I tried to do it thinking he had inserted it wrong. Still no green light. I walked back to the reception because I had no access to the intercom. The friendly receptionist told me I might have kept it with  my cell phone or some such device and the card would have discharged itself! This was new information to me. I've stayed in many hotels and have kept the key card in my pocket, with & without a cell phone. None of them have "discharged" themselves till today. Strange stuff they had here?!

Anyway, I got it "recharged" and we got into the apartment for our much delayed siesta. Since we missed window shopping the previous day we thought we'd step out early. After a drive to Chellarkoil view point we were back in town before dark. Kumily has the usual "Kashmiri handicraft" shops besides the spice shops. Then you have the many hotels and resorts that offer open-jeep rides, elephant safaris in the plantations (though I fail to see why it is called a safari), Ayurvedic massage & Kalari payttu demonstration.

Back at the resort, a little early for dinner I left the family playing shuttle badmintion and went to the apartment to keep the stuff I was carrying. I inserted the key card and waited for the green light. A feeble red light came on and the door refused to open. I felt the blood rushing up to my head but I took a few deep breaths, comforted myself that I would still have had to walk back for dinner anyway. I had ensured  that the key card was kept as far away from our cell phones so the issue was something else. I returned, kept the stuff back inside my car and marched up to the reception. 

The person the other side of the counter was different! I explained me problem and asked him to "recharge" my key again. Then I asked him why it happened twice in half a day. He had a more bizzare explanation. He said that housekeeping would have cleaned the room and they'd have used a different key so mine would have to be "updated". My head swam. I knew housekeeping had come in the morning but they had not been near the room in the afternoon or evening. I decided that arguing with him would only affect my health so I told him "politely" to inform all guests on arrival that the key cards in this particular resort would need regular "recharge & updating" so whenever they passed the reception they should check in for it! After all it's not fun walking on slippery concrete in wet weather, especially when you are fuming. You are liable to have an accident!

The dinner that day was the best meal we ate but then trust our guys to goof it up again. I had ordered a couple of rotis as I walked in because it was crowded. We took our table and my son and wife ran through their entire meal but my rotis were still nowhere to be seen. People who came after us finished eating and retired for the night and my family was in the second round of dessert when my rotis finally appeared. I had lost my appetite. 

I walked for my customary curd rice that I like to round of a good meal with. The card that said "curd rice" was there but there was no bowl! I crocked a finger at a passing waiter and raised my eyebrow at the card. "Sir", he said. "It must have gone for a refill". I pointed at the very clean serving spoon below the card and raised my other eyebrow. After all if someone had polished off the curd rice, the evidence would have been on the spoon! The poor chap scurried off and appeared a few minutes later with my curd rice. If he was blushing, I did not see it. It was too dark anyway!

This was getting too much now. I went to the man at the counter and asked him if I could have breakfast packed the next morning since we had that long drive ahead of us. (See the second link on top). I did not want to eat another banana pancake again. He assured us that he'd have our idli, vada, dosa on order ready for us at 7.30 AM. I believed him. He knew that if one more thing went wrong he'd have a nightmare to handle!

7.30 AM on 16th July 2012.

Hot idlis and vadas were ready. My son's ghee dosa came on time and then he sees this.......

We decided our fingers were cleaner. Who'd want to eat last night's dinner again in the morning!

Now you know why I hate timeshare vacations.

 If you still want to buy a timeshare? Look no further. Mine is up for sale!!

Sometimes I wonder if I should follow in my friend Anjaly's footsteps

Backpacking might come with inbuilt terrors. You learn to take them in your stride because that is what backpacking is all about. 

It's only when you go to these "high end" places that expectations run high!!


cappuccino said...


ron said...

MORAL;For a glass of milk u don't buy a cow.

Anonymous said...

An impressive share! I've just forwarded this onto a co-worker who had been conducting a little research on this. And he in fact ordered me lunch because I stumbled upon it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this subject here on your web page.
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