Last weekend, Goose and I took the 3 E’s on a family vacation. Niagara Falls appeared to fit the bill perfectly. We had planned and schemed for weeks, months even. Collecting coupons, printing out school-issued discounts, scanning tourist information sites. We found what looked like the perfect motel room set-up for us at the Courtside Inn. It was a 2-bedroom family suite. One room with two queen beds, the adjoining room with a queen bed and pull out sofa. Outdoor pool. Cribs and fridges available upon request. And the best part? It was one of those TeamBuy deals. It would be $49 a night, plus $25 extra a night for the upgrade to the family suite. It was newly renovated. New owners. Fantastic!
So, having made arrangements for Sir Winston to stay over at Uncle Adam and Aunt Becca’s and for one of our little neighbour girls to feed the cats, off we set on our family adventure. Check-in time was 3 pm. We thought it might be a good idea to unload our luggage in our room and then head off sightseeing in Niagara Falls. Jason and the kids stayed in the truck while I popped into the office to sign in and get our room key. This is where we hit our first snag. The motel’s laundry had broken down and they were behind getting the rooms cleaned. No problem, we said. We’ll just do a little sightseeing, come back around supper time, and head back out again.
A quick moving storm cut our sightseeing a little short. We got the kids into the truck and were standing under the tailgate, folding the stroller up, when the rains came down. Again, not a big deal. We’re on vacation, right? It’s August, it’s warm, and while we have a general road map of when and where we’d like to go, we don’t really have any deadlines. So, we head back to the motel to unload, dry ourselves off, and definitely change E3’s diaper. This is when the real trouble begins.
Vito, the not so friendly desk attendant, is pretty much slower than molasses, up hill, in January. I am in line behind two other men, both attempting to check in. The first man, a senior gentleman, is complaining that the stated value of the TeamBuy deal is extremely misleading, since a regular room is only $59 a night to begin with, and it was advertised as a $129 value. Vito goes into a long explanation of the benefits and extra coupons that come with this deal. Next in line is a young man from Windsor, who has purchased his room through Expedia. Geesh, I think, doesn’t anybody come to this hotel without a deal?
Finally, it is my turn. Yes, my room is now ready (and it should be, it’s 6 o’clock). I inquire about the refrigerator I had requested when I booked the room. No, nobody marked anything down about that. He has no idea if there is one in the room waiting for us. Oh, and if there is, it’s an extra $15 a night. Pardon? Nobody mentioned an upcharge for the fridge. He shrugs. Too bad for you. I take a quick look at the coupon booklet he hands me. They are mostly for things we will never use. You know the type – spend $100 to receive $10 off somewhere.
As there is no parking directly in front of our room, Goose and I herd the kids and some of our belongings across the parking lot to our room. The smell when we open the door hits us like a ton of bricks. Ever been to a cottage that doesn’t get used often? Or the first time you open up an old box of clothing or fabric that’s been poorly stored? Yah, that. But the troubles didn’t stop there.
The first room had no carpet. Just some dingy, scary tile with scarier looking dark grout. The kids had begun to take their shoes off, E3 even sitting on the floor to wait for some help with his sandals. The bed looked remarkably clean, so I scooped him up and plopped him there and quickly got the others’ shoes back on. To keep them occupied (and from touching anything, like the box window air conditioner) we brought out some trail mix bags and turned on the TV.
It became a toss up as to where to put the bags down. The dingy floor or the student-housing reject sofas? It looked like something my old residence would have discarded. Originally, it was probably a sectional, separated and put on two different sides of the room. It had collapsed on itself to a height of roughly my shins. And we were supposed to pull one of those out as a sofabed? Who knows what (or who) we would have found in there. I think not.
I desperately had to use the facilities. In the bathroom (if you can call it that) I had to shimmy around the door to close it past the toilet. In the end, I decided just to leave the door open. Where was the toilet paper? Sitting on the back of the tank – EW! I took a deep breath and pulled back the shower curtain. What was that in the yellow and tile tub? The shower head? What the devil… Now, where to wash my hands? Oh, did I forget to mention the bathroom was so small that the sink was out in the bedroom? Next to the pull down breaker boxes? Holy cow.
The back bedroom was definitely not an improvement. Two queen beds were crammed into a cinder block room with a tiny window that housed a broken screen and several dead bug carcasses. The second television, as advertised on the website and elsewhere, was nowhere to be seen. Dread and disgust were quickly setting in. We had intentionally purchased only basic accommodations, to allow ourselves more financial leeway for visiting attractions and perhaps purchasing a few souvenirs. But this? This was more than even this basic necessities traveler could handle.
It was considerably more than Goose could handle as well. He has stayed in rustic cottages a plenty in his lifetime, but the idea of any of us even touching things inside the rooms turned his stomach. I offered to use my Blackberry to start searching hotel sites for reasonable rates or that we could just pack up and head down the hotel strip and find something else. This would take longer than he had patience for at that moment. A Motel 6 practically shared a wall with this little gem, and he walked over there. He was back in half a cartoon show and re-loading the truck so fast one might have thought our pants were on fire.
The exceptionally kind and gracious young lady at the front desk of the Motel 6 informed Goose that they get 1-2 customers a week from the Courtside Inn. Some of the women, she confessed, are nearly in tears, because Vito is so nasty to them. Because we were staying two nights, there was a special rate – a rate that amounted to only $5 more than the original room cost at Courtside. And the same coupon book, plus a few more. When we went into our room, it looked like the Taj Mahal compared to the space we had just left. There was carpet on the floor. The sink was in the bathroom. The toilet paper was hanging up on the wall. The place was clean. It came with a fridge. The window was big enough to actually see out of. We took a moment, Goose and I, to be extremely thankful.
The Lord’s provision for us didn’t stop there. Goose headed back to the Courtside Inn, determined to do battle with Vito, if necessary, to get our money back. We were going to be out $50 from our non-stay. Not a mountain of money to most, but not something we wanted to spend if we didn’t have to. The kids and I busied ourselves cleaning up, using the toilet, and pulling ourselves together to head to supper when Goose returned. He didn’t just return, he returned entirely triumphant. Vito was more than happy to have us give up our room. He was booked to capacity that night and would really prefer to sell that room at full price to some other unsuspecting traveler.
It was 7 pm and, with three tired and hungry children in tow, we headed out to find sustenance. When we had checked in at our new haven, we were handed the exact same coupon book that had been part of the ‘amazing’ deal from the Courtside. In it was a coupon for $10 at a restaurant called Trapper Joe’s. Free kids’ meals with each adult meal purchased. Family friendly. $10 off. A free appetizer coupon. We were in. And we were so pleasantly surprise I think we almost cried. We are not huge television fans here and absolutely no TV at mealtimes. But this blessed place had a small LCD TV at each table. And crayons. And papers to colour. And a waitress who clearly understood that, at 7 pm, worn out parents with three small people need to eat – quickly.
We collapsed into our beds that night. E3 in his clean, portable playpen. The older two in their shared bed with their favourite stuffed animals. Goose and I in a bed, not in another room, but next to them in our bed, incredibly thankful for a clean, safe place to stay.
The next morning, hoping against hope, I sent off a detailed e-mail to TeamBuy Niagara Falls. Now, to be fair, TeamBuy cannot be responsible for the conditions of something like a hotel room, or be expected to inspect every product or service it promotes. And they do have a no refund policy. But, I sent the e-mail anyways and headed off to shower and get everybody ready for the day ahead. When I got back to my phone, about an hour later, there was a message from my friends at TeamBuy waiting for me. They apologized profusely and FULLY REFUNDED OUR MONEY TO OUR CREDIT CARD. I had, at best, hoped for a TeamBuy credit for future purchases.
In short, the episode became only a blip on our vacation radar. We weren’t out anything but a few minutes of our time and some frustration. Our kids thought it was all part of the vacation adventure. Overall, the trip was fantastic. We have gained a new appreciation for TeamBuy and their customer service policies. In the coming days, I will share some of our highlights with you. As for Vito and the Courtside Inn? Never again.
Disclaimer: Clearly, this was not a paid advertisement by Courtside Inn or Lincoln Motor Inn. TeamBuy knows me, but hasn’t given me anything (except my money back).