Have you ever received one of those timeshare “vacation offer” phone calls or e-mails? You know, the ones that promise lodging and park admission for a fraction of the regular cost if you attend a timeshare presentation. If so, you may have wondered about them and if they’re worth pursuing. Well, I’m not embarrassed to stand up and say, “I did it!” My mother and I went on a vacation together, and for the first three days we took advantage of one of those too-good-to-be-true timeshare vacation offers. Here are my experiences:
Last spring, my grandma received an unsolicited phone call from an outfit offering cheap Orlando hotel rooms and Disney park tickets. My grandma had always wanted to go, so she phoned my mother and asked her to look into it. My mom learned that this company (Vacation Showroom, Inc.) was offering a $99/person “vacation package” for stays in any or all of several cities (Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Williamsburg, and Las Vegas). The Orlando stay promised 3 nights in a hotel only 5 minutes from the Disney parks plus one one-day park pass per person. She was also informed that she’d have to pay a $30 booking fee, that the Orlando location would cost an extra $29/person, and that she was required to attend a timeshare sales presentation breakfast. Thinking that this would be an affordable way to take my grandma on a vacation, she bought it. It cost her $228 to purchase the package. Alas, my grandmother passed away before this trip, and I went in her place.
The package promised “quality” lodging within 10 minutes of attractions, such as the AmeriHost, Ramada Plaza 1000, or the Radisson Barcelo. We could not specify one of these hotels — one would be selected for us based on availability at the time of reservation. As it turned out, we were booked into the Amerihost, which of the three hotels was the closest to Walt Disney World. I did some research before the trip and confirmed that the Amerihost did offer free shuttles to Walt Disney World. The reservation agent mentioned we’d need to confirm our late (8:00 p.m.) arrival on the morning of check-in day. Dutifully, my mother called before we left for the airport to confirm our arrival. So far, so good.
Our flight arrived in the early evening and we got a taxi to the Amerihost — we did not rent a car, as the hotel had a shuttle to Walt Disney World. Upon arriving at the hotel, we wandered around a bit trying to find the vacation package check-in desk, which turned out to be WAY in the back of the hotel. We wasted a good half hour on this. Finally, my mother checked-in with the Vacation Showroom timeshare folks and received a hotel voucher. Voucher in hand, we went to the hotel’s check-in desk to get our room and crash. Alas, this was not to be. When it came our turn to check-in, we were informed that even though we’d confirmed our stay just that morning, the hotel had overbooked and that we could stay at the Ramada Plaza 1000 instead. We both said, in unison, “We don’t have transportation!” But the hotel staff wouldn’t budge. After a lot of complaining and haggling, they finally agreed to give us transportation over to and back from the Ramada. We were instructed to go back to the Vacation Showroom office to book our timeshare presentation meeting (required to get the park tickets) and then go to the Ramada.
So we hauled our luggage back to the office, signed up for the timeshare presentation ($20 deposit required), and got a lift in a van from one of the employees ($5 tip). It was a good 20-25 minute drive over to the Ramada. When we checked in, we learned that not only was there no shuttle to Disney, but that the restaurant had just closed and there wasn’t even an eatery within walking distance. So we trudged up to our room, ordered subs from a delivery place, and fell into exhausted sleep. Not an auspicious beginning to our trip.
The next morning we presented ourselves at the Vacation Showroom office at opening time (8:00 am) to inquire about the return transportation we were promised. My mother got deflected, so I tried. After insisting strongly, the rep said she was getting us transportation. It turned out that she’d called a town car company, and upon depositing us back at the Amerihost, the driver insisted on $40 for the trip. No way! I marched in and spoke to an employee at the check-in desk and they paid the driver. We did give the driver a $5 tip, however.
Finally, we get to check-in to the Amerihost. A “smoking” oom was the only room available, but we took it so we could get on with our day. Unfortunately, by the time we’d hauled our luggage up to the room, the last morning shuttle had left. We asked at the concierge desk about transportation to Animal Kingdom, and we were told that their driver could take us both for $20. Eager to get going, we agreed. The trip was fine, and we tipped another $5.
The timeshare presentation was the following day. While we were both dreading this, we knew it had to be done to get the park tickets. So we showed up in the hotel lobby at the appointed time and got a ride over to the Silver Lake Resort. There we waited for the timeshare presentation. As it turned out, individual sales reps came out and called out individual names — one sales rep for each party. Yikes! We thought we’d be in a safe, group setting.
Our timeshare sales rep led us into a large meeting room where 40 small tables and chairs were arranged. A very meager “breakfast buffet” was set up along the side — it was the usual continental breakfast fare, and not very appetizing. After chit-chatting about his family, and accidentally spilling his coffee on my Mom, he began talking in general about how valuable vacations are and the value of saving money on them. All of this we knew, but hey, whatever. After about an hour of this, he gave us a tour of the two- and three-bedroom condos at the Silver Lake Resort. They looked okay — nothing to compare to the Disney Vacation Club resorts, but still okay. Then it was time for the hard sell. He got out his calculator and told my Mom what her monthly payments would be when she bought the timeshare. My mother very politely asked questions and expressed genuine interest, but very firmly said she could not make a decision immediately. He pushed more, and more, and more. When my mother didn’t budge, he got frustrated (he actually put his head in his hands and heave a huge sigh!). Eventually, after another hour, he got angry — no kidding. He made it clear that we’d wasted his time. Ha! He’d kept us an hour longer than we’d been told the timeshare presentation would take. When he finally gave up and let us go, I smiled and thanked him for his time. He turned away gruffly. And because he’d run over his allotted time, we got back to the Amerihost late and missed the shuttle. We spent another $25 to get to Epcot.
The good news? We did get the two one-day park tickets after the presentation. Well, they were actually vouchers, but we had no problem exchanging them for actual tickets at Guest Relations at the parks.
All in all, the experience cost us $346 when you add in the transportation costs. At regular rates, it would have cost $69/night to stay at the Amerihost, plus $53 x 2 for the tickets, for a total of $313. Plus, we wouldn’t have had the overbooking hassle (regular customers were given rooms), the transportation mess, nor the wasted half-day and aggravation of the timeshare presentation.
Was it worth it? If we’d taken advantage of the lodging in the other cities (two nights each in Ft. Lauderdale, Williamsburg, and Las Vegas at no additional charge, if you don’t count the timeshare presentation that comes with each visit) and had our own transportation, maybe — but that’s a big maybe. Otherwise? NO WAY! We hated the hassle, we hated the lack of control, and we hated the high-pressure timeshare sales presentation. This was no deal. And while I wouldn’t call it a scam, I don’t think “over-priced hype” is too far off the mark.
My advice? Stay clear of timeshare presentations unless you’ve got time and money to waste.
Copyright © Jennifer Marx, PassPorter Travel Press. All Rights Reserved.