EDMONTON – Two Edmonton families are speaking out after experiencing what they describe as “disgusting” stays at the same resort in Cuba.
Ben Giourmetakis, Cassandra Csizmadia, their 16-month-old son and three other family members stayed at the Memories Varadero resort in Cuba between Jan. 9 and 16, 2016. They booked the holiday through Sunwing Vacations.
The couple has travelled through Europe and stayed at other all-inclusive resorts. This was their first time to Cuba and Memories Varadero is billed as a 4.5 star resort, but they say they weren’t prepared for what they saw.
“The fixtures in the bathroom were not really attached,” Giourmetakis said. “The toilet didn’t flush. The shower didn’t give any hot water at all. It was 100 per cent cold water.”
Csizmadia said she had envisioned a beautiful resort but said the pictures on the website did not match reality.
“It was not beautiful. It was filthy in my eyes,” she said.
“My first instinct was to check the beds for bedbugs. Luckily no bed bugs but blood spots.”
The couple said the experience did not get any better when they moved to the buffet area.
“If there were cold cut meats or cheese, there was zero ice around them at all. They sat out there all day. The cheese was so warm, it was sweating. Sometimes when you open up chicken, it would still be pink on the inside. You couldn’t tell if some of the stuff was fully cooked,” Giourmetakis said.
Then, five out of the six people in their party got sick, including their 16-month-old son, Matthew, who developed a fever and a rash, according to Csizmadia.
“It started the third day we got there. I noticed that he was getting an extremely high fever. It skyrocketed. When I measured it, it was 40.2C,” Csizmadia said.
“After that, he started getting these red spots everywhere. It looked like sores. It covered him from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, in between his toes, and it would blister. Then it was just extremely itchy.”
Csizmadia said a doctor at the resort told the family Matthew had contracted hand, foot and mouth disease. She said she then got sick the last day of the trip when she developed a high fever, shivering and diarrhea.
“My father and my brother who stayed in their room, they also too got sick. My brother, the third day in, stayed in his room the rest of his time because he had to stay close to the washroom,” Giourmetakis said.
The couple said their stay at the resort was nothing like the peaceful vacation they had hoped for.
“I was a worrywart the whole time. I was stressed out all the time. It was not a laid-back vacation for me. It was more work than if we just stayed at home,” Csizmadia said.
The couple said they contacted Sunwing multiple times to relay their experience and hope to receive some type of compensation. They said they have not received a response from the company.
It is a similar story for Lorna Grimes and her partner, Phil Hehn, who vacationed at the same resort between Nov. 15 and 25, 2015.
Grimes said her negative experience at the resort started as soon as they walked into their room.
“The stench, the mould smells from it. We’ve been to the Dominican before and we’ve never [incurred] a problem like that at all,” she said.
“The bathroom especially was all rusted. The night we crawled into our bed, it was blood-stained. Therefore we slept on top of the blankets with our clothes on.”
Grimes said she was also disgusted by the resort’s 24-hour snack bar.
“We were eating our hamburger. I’m like, this is quite chewy, and I looked at it. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, it’s raw,’” she said.
Grimes added that birds were often flying around the buffet, pecking at the pastries and taking fries out of the fry bin.
“One took off with a dinner roll. There were feces all over the chairs there. I noticed workers there at both buffet areas were just taking clean dinnerware, what they think is clean, off the table and putting them back in the self-serve line – plates, glasses, cutlery. They were feeling the food, touching the food or something, with their fingers to see if it was still hot enough.”
Grimes and Hehn were eventually moved to a different room but said it was still far from perfect, adding the bathroom often flooded when they were out of the room.
The couple, who said they felt nauseous during their stay, said they complained to Sunwing about their experience upon their return but never received a response. They gave a firm “No” when asked if they would go back to the resort.
“They’re not doing anything to help us out. They’re not showing any compassion either. It doesn’t seem like they’re trying to resolve the problem because if they were, they would have gotten a hold of us,” Grimes said.
Sunwing Vacations said it is “concerned to hear about the negative experience that our customers have reported to you” and investigates concerns brought to them.
A statement sent to Global News reads, in part:
“The comfort and enjoyment of our customers on vacation is of paramount importance to us. We would ask for our customers understanding while we address their concerns with hotel management, our destination team, and the international medical clinic.”
Ron Mycholuk, public relations manager for the Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Alberta, said research is of utmost importance when planning a trip down south.
“Two things you can do: You’re going to want to look at the front-end and the second thing you’re going to want to do is look at the back-end,” he said.
Mycholuk said the front-end is who you book with, such as Air Canada, Westjet, Sunwing or Selloffvacations.com. He suggests looking at how they have handled complaints in the past and what their policy is on refunds, credits and bad trip experiences.
He said the back-end involves the specific resort, and vacationers should research what previous travellers have experienced, whether the resort was responsive to complaints and fixed problems, and whether the resort offered any refunds or credits.
Mycholuk suggests using sites such as Tripadvisor, the Better Business Bureau, Yelp and Google reviews. He also recommends speaking with friends and family who have travelled to the resorts in the past.
“We always say more information is better. The more referrals you can get before you make a decision, the more idea about a resort and its service, its food and its beaches, the better off you’ll be.”
Sunwing said it only received a complaint from the family of three and has no record of a complaint from Grimes. Global News has copies of both complaints. In a statement, Sunwing Vacations said it is committed to providing quality vacations.
© 2016 Shaw Media