Our package claimed to include a free rental car, two 1-night stays at the Ramada Plaza Fort Lauderdale before and after the cruise, free meals, and the 3-night cruise.
So after choosing a date and booking our airline tickets, we waited for the information package to come in. We had booked it in January but it didn't show up until about 2 weeks before we were supposed to leave. Not a big deal. All of the information was there.
The only problem was that we were also notified that the cruise ship was no longer leaving from Fort Lauderdale. It had been moved to the Port of Palm Beach, while we were still supposed to stay at the hotel in Fort Lauderdale.
NIGHTMARE PART 1: THE FREE RENTAL CAR
So the day comes, we get on our flight and fly all the way from Idaho to Florida. Using the information in our package, we grabbed a free shuttle to the Alamo Rental terminal to get our "free" rental car. It turns out that the "free" car rental did not include gas, fees, insurance, etc. In total, it cost us over $400. It really cut into our spending budget because it wasn't really expected.
NIGHTMARE PART 2: THE FREE MEALS
We took our "free" rental car and drove to the welcome center which was conveniently located at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in the middle of nowhere. Upon arrival, we checked in with the welcome center to get the rest of our vouchers and whatnot. But it turns out the "free meals" aren't included. Instead, they will try to sell you meal vouchers for $100. It's not worth it. You can get cheaper and properly cooked food elsewhere.
NIGHTMARE PART 3: THE HOTEL
Now I did my homework before going on the trip. Instead of staying at the Ramada Plaza, my wife and I decided to stay at a nice cheap hotel in Palm Beach instead. Someplace closer to the port we would be leaving from. So, the following information comes from all the people we talked to who did stay there.
From what we were told, there was a big problem with mold on the walls in some of the rooms. Some people told us that their sheets weren't clean. They all told us that the elevator did not work at all. A few people told us that the buffet offered by the hotel was the worst thing they had ever tasted. In addition, they were charged a "resort fee" for their stay.
I strongly suggest that you don't stay there. Ever. Bite the bullet and spend some money on a cheap hotel elsewhere.
NIGHTMARE PART 4: THE "MANDATORY" TIMESHARE MEETING
As a part of the package, it says that you need to attend a short 40-minute meeting in order to get your voucher for the cruise. Turns out, this is all one big lie.
My wife and I went to the meeting. When we got there, the first thing we were told was that the timeshare company was in no way affiliated with the cruise ship company. And that this meeting was entirely voluntary. But whatever "free gift" we were promised would be given to us at the end of the meeting. In this case, the free gift was the cruise voucher.
So we sat through the meeting and were taken through a tour of one of the timeshare units. No matter how many times we said we weren't interested, they kept going. Kept lowering the price and offering better timeshares. Eventually, after almost 4 FREAKING HOURS, they finally stopped trying to sell us a timeshare and let us go. We were given our voucher and sent on our way.
The real kicker is that we did not need this voucher at all. In fact, I've still got it. It turns out when we went to check in to the cruise, that they had no idea what that voucher was for. It is a ruse to get you to go to the timeshare meeting.
The bottom line is that you don't have to go. It is a lie to try and sell you a poorly located, poorly constructed and overpriced timeshare unit. Don't go. Skip the meeting. A lot of people did, but still went on the cruise, we found out.
NIGHTMARE PART 5: THE CRUISE
Overall, the cruise wasn't too bad. Mainly because there had been a problem with the original dates we selected and whoever sold my mom the package gave us a free room upgrade to an oceanview with a queen size bed.
Almost everyone else we went through the timeshare meeting with did not have such luck. The rooms they will give you if you don't upgrade are tiny closets with fold-down single beds. I remember very vividly these 4 black ladies who had a room just down the hall from us. They had a lot of luggage and were not exactly petit. They opened that door and the first thing out of their mouths was "This is some bullsh!t!" and "They can't put us all in here!". They literally could not easily fit into the room and navigate around their luggage. I felt very sorry for them.
Prior to boarding, every passenger is given a room key with their picture on it. Since this card is also used for shipboard purchases, we were also required to put $200 on them. Not a big deal. We had been warned about that before leaving to take the cruise. However, you have to be aware of how much you are spending. If you go over that limit, you won't get a warning. You are just going to get a bill that has to be paid before you can depart the ship.
From there, the cruise was ok. It was the first one my wife and I had ever been on. The elevators were pretty small and the "unlimited soda" package we bought was a bit of a hassle. But the food was alright. I kind of liked some of the meals. And we did meet some interesting people since we would be seated at shared tables during every meal.
But they were constantly trying to get us to buy these overpriced alcoholic beverages even though my wife and I don't drink. It was a little annoying.
There wasn't much to do onboard the ship if you didn't want to spend all of your time at the bar or tiny pool on the 9th deck or the sports bar or casino. Even the television in our room did not work right. There was one channel that came in clearly. And that just gave us the same information about the ship over and over again.
NIGHTMARE PART 6: FREEPORT BAHAMAS
Before you reach the island, the cruise line is going to constantly push you to purchase a $60 or more per person package to go spend time at the Our Lucaya Resort. They claim that the cabs are very expensive and would cost you more. This isn't true.
If you wait and just walk off the ship after they dock, you can get a shared cab for about $10 per person. They take you down to the Our Lucaya Resort, Casino, and small shopping district. It's almost the only thing to do on the island.
My wife and I spent the day on the beach. It was the best part of the trip. The ocean is beautiful and warm. We did some swimming, laid on the beach for a while, browsed the marketplace, and then grabbed a shared cab back to the boat by late afternoon.
If you buy one of the packages from the ship, you have a set time in which you have to leave and have to return. Keep that in mind.
NIGHTMARE ALMOST OVER
So that was the end of our trip. We got back on the boat, spent the night at sea, and departed the next day back at Palm Beach. The debarking procedure is very slow. We ended up standing in line for about 2 hours in order to clear customs and get our rental car back from the parking service at the port. A lot of people who were in line with us ended up throwing away a variety of plants and fruits that they had purchased as souvenirs which weren't allowed through customs.
We got our car, booked a pretty good hotel not far from the Fort Lauderdale airport, and spent the night. Upon returning the car, we did get a portion of the $400 back. That was a plus.
So after this adventure, what did we learn?
THE BOTTOM LINE
The cruise package is obviously a scam. They will nickel and dime you and try to sell you a crappy timeshare. But it is somewhat avoidable. These are the steps to take:
1. Check in with the welcome center. Smile and nod. Then go stay at a good hotel that will not charge you hidden fees. Do not check in to the Ramada Plaza, whatever you do.
2. Plan on paying for all of your meals. The meals, aside from those on the cruise ship, aren't free.
3. Do not go to the "mandatory" timeshare meeting. It is a lie and you don't need to waste 4 hours of your life. Go to the zoo instead. They have a koala AND an albino alligator.
4. Be sure to upgrade your room on the cruise ship BEFORE you get there. Otherwise, you are going to be stuck in a tiny, unpleasant closet.
5. When you arrive at Freeport, do NOT buy one of the shore excursion packages. Just walk through the customs building and get a cab. It will save you a fortune and you won't have to wait for the bus.
THE PORT OF PALM BEACH
Overall, the port terminal is not bad. It is located in a rundown part of town, but I mean, it's an industrial area. What are expecting?
The terminal building seemed well kept and was thankfully air conditioned. Our transition through the terminal to the ship was pretty smooth, without any problems to speak of.
They also had a parking service which took care of our rental car in a secure lot while we were gone.
Overall, I would probably rate the port at a 3. It was decent but also very bare bone. There isn't anything to do or look at while you are there. Just sit on a bench and wait.