In this day and age, almost everyone on this planet knows that timeshares are scams. With the abundance of accommodation options between traditional hotels, AirBnB, and internet-enabled couch-surfing, it is completely unnecessary to pay for a travel accommodation option year-round that is only available for one or two weeks a year in a specific location. I wish someone had told my parents about this brave new world 15 years ago when they got talked into buying a Westgate Resorts timeshare in exchange for free Disney park tickets. Even as a 13-year-old, I knew this was a bad idea.
One of the things that sold them was this big book of Westgate Resorts which includes non-Westgate Resorts that owners can book for an additional fee (i.e. another hotel that they could book through Westgate for no reason). Even though I travel all the time, every time my parents ever offered to give me one of their travel weeks, it always cost more to stay in one of their “approved” resorts than it would to stay at a regular hotel. This is, of course, despite the fact that my parents are still paying a mini-mortgage for their timeshare.
Recently, I got an opportunity to go and use a couple of days of their “free” week in Orlando. Since it was going to be free and free is better than $80 a night, I decided to finally take them up on the offer. Since I was only staying the weekend, and there is a 3 night minimum, my parents were left with 4 weekdays of their week. When my plans changed, I called and tried to cancel – something that any hotel worth its salt will do for free. They told me that because it was less than 60 days from the first night, they would have to assess a $150 cancellation fee. That free hotel was already not worth the free. I barely even book hotels 3 months in advance, much less realize I need to cancel within that timeframe.
So I made my way to Orlando anyway, to take advantage of my annual pass to Universal Studios and to avoid paying to cancel a vacation I no longer wanted to take. I got there at 11 at night after a long day of work and driving and I was already annoyed that the check in process involves talking to 3 different people, 2 of whom want to sell you something. It was like walking into a living pyramid scheme. To their credit, they do also give you a box of cookies. The welcome package includes a schedule of events that are all designed to entice you into buying your own timeshare: resort tours, “free” continental breakfasts. The “concierge” tried to convince me to take a 45 minute tour of the resort, as if that’s what I drove all the way to another city to do.
When I finished checking in, I had to drive for 10 minutes through the giant complex to find my room in a mostly empty building on the edge of the property. The room is like a poorly made apartment. It all looks great but the materials are shoddy; like a Bluth family model home. You can hear through the walls, so hopefully you’re not sleeping next to a loud family. The bathroom, undoubtedly the most important part of any hotel room is a mess. There is no tub, which is not very resort-like at all. There isn’t even a ledge to keep the water off the bathroom floor, just a nasty yellowed plastic curtain. My shower also had a giant white plastic chair that had a sign on it that said “THIS IS NOT A CHAIR.” It was one of the most uncomfortable hotel bathrooms I’ve ever used.
But I was tired and I needed rest, and to their credit, the bed was very comfortable. The following morning, I tried to go to their breakfast. It was basically a business meeting. You can’t go unless you’re accompanied by a representative who is going to fight tooth and nail to scam you into buying a timeshare like someone once scammed my parents. As an owner-by-proxy, I was pretty put off by the fact that a simple amenity provided at the dirtiest and cheapest of hotels was only provided here with an hour-long spiel. I went downstairs for breakfast to the Starbucks where there was a sizable line.
The process of checking out was equally laborious, mostly because every single person in that giant complex has to drive to the main building to do so. All at the same time. The parking lot becomes a congested mess when rude people in minivans block the road when they can’t find parking. The line inside is not much better. By the time I left, I vowed never to go back to that place, no matter how much my parents want to take advantage of their timeshare scam. I rather stay at a Motel 6.