Any hope of saving a “vacation from hell” to Cuba?

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By Christopher Elliott

If you were less than impressed with your last vacation, you’re in good company. Say “hello” to Colette Blanchette, who recently traveled to Cuba for what was supposed to be a relaxing tropical getaway.

It was February, and she and her husband were looking forward to escaping the cold Toronto winter. They’d booked a week at the Husa Cayo Santa Maria through Transat Canada. The trip was booked through her sister-in-law, who is a travel agent.

“We are not inexperienced travelers to Cuba, and know that you don’t go for the food but for the beaches,” she says. “But what we experienced has so soured our outlook on Cuba that we have decided to never travel there again.”

Blanchette calls it a “vacation from hell.”

How did the Husa Cayo, which describes itself as a “five-star” property, let them down? Let us count the ways.

No water

That’s right, they had no water in their room when they checked in. “The water did not come back on until Sunday night,” she says. “The water went off again on Tuesday all day and did not come back on until the evening for the entire resort.” It went out for two more days while they were at the hotel. The situation was so bad, she says, that the resort was directing guests to get water from the pool in order to flush the toilets. Water was not delivered to the rooms, guests had to go to the front desk in order to get bottled water and were limited to one bottle per person.

Food shortages

On top of the water outages, the couple reported frequent food shortages. When they tried to use the buffet on Sunday, they were met with a long line. A few days later, they decided to wait in a long line, only to find that there was no food left at the hot tables. “The line for the pasta and grill stations was one hour long,” says Blanchette. “By Wednesday there was a full-out brawl in the buffet due to the lack of food. People were frustrated and hungry.” (Riots at a tropical resort? That’s something you don’t hear about every day.)

Indifferent management

The couple contacted both the hotel’s management and their tour operator to complain. “Neither were willing to do anything to remedy the situation for the food or the water issues,” she says. “We spoke to other people at other resorts in the region and they assured us that they had water as we were being told that the whole island was out for water, which was a blatant lie. No compensation was offered or any alternative to the situation.”

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After she returned to Toronto, Blanchette contacted Transat in writing. It didn’t respond to her, but sent a letter to her travel agent with the following explanation.

We are truly sorry to hear of your disappointment with the services and facilities of the Husa Cayo Santa Maria.

While every property may experience the occasional technical or operational problem, we do expect our guest to be provided with quality service and speedy resolution to any problem reported.

Transat strives to provide memorable holidays and we regret that it was not as expected. It is through this type of feedback that we can confirm the direction and quality of our services and that of our providers. The inconveniences you experienced during your stay are not to the standards of service Transat expects and we convey our sincerest apologies.

A constant and rigorous follow-up is performed to make sure our clients receive all the inclusions they are entitled to.

Regretfully, in some countries there is sometimes an unforeseen lack of supplies or a sudden shortage of hotel staff which prevent the hotel to deliver all the services in accordance with our contract.

This being said, we were assured by management of the resort that any problem reported is promptly attended to. One must keep in mind that conditions in other countries, both natural and man-made, may be significantly different from those we are accustomed to. As such, please know that your comments have been duly noted and a copy of the correspondence was forwarded to hotel management and our product department for their review.

Mrs. Maria Teresa Pont, General Manager of the Husa Cayo Santa Maria has responded and asked that we convey her sincerest apologies for any displeasure you may have experienced during your stay.

She has informed us that due to a major technical problem on the Island of Cayo Santa Maria, the Husa resort experienced a lack of water from time to time. Regarding the food and the lack of condiments, they are redesigning many procedures in the kitchen with new staff in order to offer more quality and variety of food.

Transat offered her a $200 voucher for a future Transat purchase. She wants a full refund. The company didn’t deliver the vacation it promised, plain and simple, she says.

I think a $200 voucher is a nice gesture, but Blanchette will need to book another Transat vacation, which I doubt she wants to do. If hers were a petty laundry list of complaints, I wouldn’t even be writing about this case.

They should have received proper food and water.

Update (June 30): I contacted the tour operator. Here’s its response.

We were sorry to note that the last response letter and offers from our office did not meet with Mrs. Blanchette’s expectations.

With regards to problems affecting lack of water at the Husa Cayo Santa Maria, we were informed by Mrs. Marisa
Pont, General Manager that it was a problem with the main waterline pipe that supplies water to several hotels in the area affecting intermittently the water at the hotel.

As explained in our previous correspondence, this situation was out of the control of Transat, as we cannot predict a water problem or lack of condiment. (Here’s my ultimate guide to travel food.)

While we can understand the concerns raised by Mrs. Blanchette we respectfully consider that she and Mr. Durocher
received and benefited from the components of their package in accordance with our representation. Our offer of
$200.00CAD total was accepted and check cashed by Mrs. Blanchette as a goodwill gesture.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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