PALM BEACH, Fla. - Who doesn’t love a good deal?
NBC Charlotte did the leg work and we know exactly what the $59 cruise offer is going to cost you. And, beware, sometimes, these offers come with catch. So how free is free?
Our story started with a text message we received, offering us a complementary cruise.
So we called the number to make sure this text was legitimate and got the hard sell to sign up now from a woman at a company called Caribbean Cruise Lines.
The woman told me that I was selected for this promotion and would only have to pay the mandatory port charges of $59plus a small fuel surcharge.
That sounds cheap for a two night Bahamas cruise, so while we questioned the cruise line salesperson, we pulled up Better Business Bureau complaints of this cruise that number above 1400, some were mad about refund issues, and others are complaining about long tiresome high pressure time share pitches.
We even questioned the booking agent and her supervisor about the number of complaints when he got on the line.
The supervisor told us “first, the BBB, we don’t really care about that, why should we? We are a multi-billion dollar company; the BBB is for small companies.”
A Caribbean Cruise lines sales rep told me they don’t push time shares, and that our cruise offer was to simply generate positive word of mouth advertising.
So after thinking it over, the I-Team decided to take a chance and booked a cruise anyway, just to see if it would be as bad as some of these reviews say it is.
Remember, this cruise offer was sent to me by text saying it was complementary, but we quickly learned, complementary doesn’t mean free.
For two of us, the cost was $237 for mandatory port charges which they disclosed, but it wasn’t $59 like we were told, it was double that, at $118.00 each.
We weren’t sure what to expect based on some of the reviews, but I have to tell you, our first impression of the ship called the Bahamas Celebration which leaves out of Palm Beach, Florida was pretty good.
Our stateroom was clean and comfortable on the Celebration, no complaints there, and the view of the sunset as we steamed east to Freeport on Grand Bahama wasn’t too shabby either.
However, within hours of boarding, we did hear complaints, lots of them from other passengers who booked through a variety of different companies other than the Caribbean Cruise Line to get a cheap cruise, some knowing they’d have to endure a short vacation presentation.
What they say they got was a high pressure time share sales pitch back in Florida after checking in at the welcome center in Ft. Lauderdale where we all had to pick up our boarding passes.
One cruise passenger told us “we were there for four hours, four and a half actually”. “They said no pressure, very low pressure sales, well it was really high pressure,” she told us at the pool.
The worst story we heard by far came from Tim and Angie. We heard their rant over the roast beef dinner on the second night and they were still fuming.
“We were supposed to be on vacation, they didn’t tell us when we signed up for this cruise that they were going to take 7 hrs to try to tell us a timeshare.” “Did you buy one?” we asked. “No”, they said.”
We asked them if they were aggressive?
“Yes, overly," they said.
Angie said “they even fed us (while we were driving around), guess they wanted to fatten us up for the kill."
Tim and Angie say they were pressured by a resort in Florida to buy now, even though they said they told the agents, they couldn’t afford it. Angie said “they went through all kind of drastic measures to sell me that timeshare; they even wanted to take me to the bank to get a check!”
Lisa Schreier is appalled to hear that story. Lisa is head of the National Time Share Owners Association and says an intense sale pitch like that is ruining the industry.
"That’s basically unconscionable, that’s probably one of the worst practices I ever heard, in fact that is the first time I ever heard of a time share sales rep offering to take a couple to the bank, that’s really, really, bad.”
Now back to the cost of this free trip.
These free offers aren’t totally free. There are plenty of upgrades offered, for both room and food and of course you pay for beverages.
There are several places to eat on board, but if you want better quality, you have to buy the upgraded food package. Alcohol and soda packages are also offered saying that if you buy them, you’ll save money.
We boarded the ship (we didn’t have to sit for a time share presentation) at around 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon.
The ship set sale at around 6:30 p.m and we woke up in the Bahamas Tuesday morning. What you do there is up to you, as with any cruise, there are a variety of different excursions to do for the day. The ship leaves the Bahamas at around 6:30 and we woke up back in Palm Beach, Florida on Wednesday morning. The ship was clean and the staff was very accommodating on the “Celebration”.
In the end, our complementary $59 cruise actually cost us $1,023.00 when you factor in all the costs, including airfare to Florida and then parking.
Tom Bartholomy, President of the Better Business Bureau of Charlotte, warns consumers about these types of offers saying “free with an asterisk means it’s not free and there are asterisks all over these types of promotions, so don’t get sucked in.”
As always, investigate these offers that seem to appear out of nowhere carefully. Don’t ever feel pressured to accept the “good deal” on the spot, especially if someone on the phone is pressuring you to give up your credit or debit number.
We placed four calls to Caribbean Cruise lines after our trip to ask them why so many passengers on the ship are complaining about aggressive time share pushes that seem to be a bit over the top. So far, no one from the Cruise line has returned our call.