Monday, June 17, 2013

Our vacation -- the ugly side

We spent a week with my family at Topsail Beach, NC, from Saturday the 8th to Saturday the 15th.  As some of you may have heard, this vacation story, while overall a positive one,  has an ugly side.  I'm going to go ahead and dispense with that first.  I wanted to make a slide show of pictures and set it to Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)", but I am technologically a big dummy and I couldn't figure out how.  So I'll just share the review that I want to post online, and add my photos throughout.

This is where we stayed, and the place that is the star of this particular post.

I am still so glad we all went, and grateful to have had this time with my parents and most of my siblings whom I haven't seen since last February.  As my mom was saying, it's a miracle any time we can even get a majority of us together in one place anymore.  Everybody's lives are changing so fast.  Anna and Robert couldn't make it.  They just had a new baby and are getting ready to move.  Tim couldn't make it, of course.  We practically have to move heaven and earth to get everyone to agree to a time and a place and to be able to take a week off work.  We anticipate it and dream about it for months and then, poof!  It's there and gone before we know it.  Everything that you read about next was only a part of the whole experience, and a part that we can already laugh about.  All the misadventures we shared were infinitely more bearable just because we could share them.  We've stayed in a lot of different places over the years, and have never experienced anything as appalling as this.  But I can't remember a time when laughed so hard either.  A sense of humor was a must-have on this trip.

The following is a review I wrote, that I would like to post somewhere where it could make a difference.  So far I haven't had any luck.  The vacation rental websites seem geared toward protecting the owners of the properties rather than allowing dissatisfied travelers a place to vent and warn other people away.

We stayed in Luna Escape from June 8, 2013 to June 10, 2013.  It was two nights that we will be talking about for years to come.

My parents arrived first on check-in day, after a 12-hour drive from Ohio.  My hardworking parents who travel once a year if they’re lucky, had taken a week off from work and rented a vehicle to come here with my sisters and baby nephew.  They arrived at Island Realty to get the keys to the house and this is what they were told by the lady who worked there as she handed them the key:  “The carpets are bad.  We tried to get a company in to clean them, but the tenants who were here last week wouldn’t let them in.  If you have a problem with the carpets just give us a call and we will send someone to clean them.”  That should have been a red flag.  What realty company hands over the keys to a house they know has a dirty carpet?

As soon as they arrived at the house, they were greeted by heat and a musty smell when they opened the door.  They discovered that the air-conditioning did not work on the lower floor, the one where all the bedrooms are.  They called maintenance and after a few hours that was fixed.  Meanwhile we sweated as we tried to unpack and settle in.

My mom had ordered linens for us, and they appeared in the hallway in a basket, each set of sheets and towels wrapped in plastic.  So yet another task was to make our own beds. 

There was no room in the car for my sister to bring a Pack 'n Play, and she had to rent one for $50 from Island Realty.  That crib should not have been $50 to rent.  If I had known they were charging her $50 for that, I would have bought her a used Pack ‘n Play for less than $20 that WASN’T wobbly and didn’t have a ripped mattress.
The upper deck was very unsafe for children, especially for my toddler who could easily climb to a part that jutted out (meant to be a seat, perhaps?) and from there, the top of the railing would have barely come up to his waist.  My parents stopped him from starting to climb it.  On the lower part of the house there was a stair landing on one side of the house that was completely open on one side, with nothing to stop a kid from falling through.
At least it's not a long fall.  They'd just roll down the dune under the house.
Soon after their arrival, my parents saw that the top portion of the stairs that lead down from the house to the beach was completely covered in sand.  It’s one thing if it’s the bottom part of the stairs that are buried in sand, and a person is in no danger of falling and getting hurt.  But the sand was all over the top, and there were still plenty of stairs below that were not covered.  They were obligated to clear that sand away themselves so that nobody would fall.  It took them at least an hour.  But what else did they have to do besides unpack and make their beds?  Maybe sit down in the living room with a glass of water?  Think again.

The upstairs, which was the living area, looked like a frat party had taken place and then it had been abandoned.  It was evident that it had not been cleaned before we came, and my parents called Island Realty and told them so.  The representative at Island Realty told them they would try to get housekeeping to the house, but that never happened.  There were huge stains all over the carpets and couches.  The upholstery on the couches was ripped in places.We later covered one of the couches with a sheet and called it the “safety couch”.  We had to have a sense of humor about it or we might have cried.  The TV in the living room did not work.
What the hell happened on this couch?
"S-s-s-s-A-a-a-a-F-f-f-f-e-e-e-e-T-t-t-t-Y-y-y-y-y, Safety Couch"
The carpeting in the bathroom had dark stains around the toilet.  The carpet was damp next to the sliding glass doors leading outside, and the whole room smelled like a basement.    The light fixture over the dining room table was broken, and only two of the four lights would go on.  The barstools at the kitchen counter were filthy, and we could see even without lifting the cushions that they were full of old food particles underneath.  If I could include photos with this review I would [Haha, I CAN do it here on my blog where it will help nobody!).  My parents’ room had no dresser.  The only furniture besides the bed was a dilapidated old chair with patches of dingy  upholstery hanging from it.  Seriously?!  I have a picture of that too.
That's a good place to leave your water bottle.
A game of flipcup gone wrong?  Or do youngsters still play that game anymore?
Chair in my parents' bedroom -- I bet you thought I was exaggerating!
Even the décor was old and outdated and falling apart.  It was clear that no one had shown this house any love in a long time.
The room that my daughters slept in had a ceiling fan with droopy blades.  Needless to say, we never turned it on.
The advertised outside shower was nothing more than a hose hanging down from a pole.  It had no hot water.  Neither the lights on the upper or lower deck worked.
I guess there was nothing wrong with this door besides being rusty and ugly as sin.
No chairs or umbrellas or kids’ toys were provided. 

There was a washer in a downstairs utility room, but to get to the dryer, we had to go outside and under the house into a dark and dirty room.

My dad put his finger through the wood siding on the exterior, and said it was rotted through.

Even one or two of the things I described to you would be enough to make a lot of people walk away.  We should have called Island Realty after that first afternoon and told them that these accommodations were unacceptable.  $2200 for the week for us to stay in this place?  But instead we tried to tell ourselves and each other we would make the most of it.  After all, we had our beachfront view, and we’d be spending most of our time outside anyway.

We had no idea what that first night held for us.

What does everyone look forward to after a day at the beach?  Being able to relax in a nice living room, having a drink, catch up with loved ones, especially if you haven’t seen them in over a year..  That was what we all hoped for.   We had just put the kids to bed downstairs and were trying to make ourselves as comfortable as possible, perching awkwardly on the dirty furniture.  Then a big old American cockroach, aka water bug depending on where you live, crawled out from underneath one of the couches.  I live in North Carolina myself so this wasn’t a shock.  I’ve seen them from time to time in my own home and they’re awfully hard to avoid as anyone who lives here knows.  My Orkin man tells me that this kind of cockroach does not infest houses.  My dad grabbed it with a paper towel and we thought the night would continue as normal.  But one after another, water bugs crawled out from underneath the same couch, sometimes two at a time.  They darted across the floor and up the walls and windows.  With the lights on.  While we sat right there.  They were not shy at all and it was obvious that they had had the run of the place for a long time.  My dad must have chased down between 10 and 15 of them over the next hour or two.  They crawled out of the trash can.  My mom chided my dad for not actually killing them before he put them in there.  He conceded that one or two may have limped back out of there, but he insisted he saw some of them climbing between the trash can liner and trash can, as if they’d been there all along.

We took turns inspecting the bedrooms downstairs to make sure there were no cockroaches down there.  If we’d seen roaches climbing all over the rooms where our babies slept, that would have been it.  We’d have gotten them out of bed and gone to stay with my brother and his family in the house they were renting down the road.  We had to use the flashlight app on my dad’s phone because, not surprisingly, none of the several flashlights that he found in a kitchen cupboard worked.  This house had every appearance of being abandoned, and it was hard to believe there had been a tenant here the week before us.  Who would have put up with broken air conditioning, for starters?  But amazingly we did not find any live cockroaches in any of the bedrooms.  We found a dead one under a bed and at the bottom of the stairs and that was all.  We stayed and tried our best to sleep.
There was a can of Raid on the counter (maybe that should have been another clue of how bad this place is?)  My dad sprayed it along the edge of the couch where most of the roaches were coming from, but he didn’t want to spray it everywhere.  My sister’s 9-month-old son would be crawling around these floors the next morning.

The next day was Sunday.  My parents went to the realty office after Mass at 9, intending to demand that this be made right.  It was closed.  My mom called the office and left a voicemail message.  She also called Cathy’s home and paged her as instructed in the message, but no calls or pages were answered or returned.

I caught my baby nephew a split second away from putting a dead cockroach in his mouth – one that had been poisoned by Raid.  My sister is a good mother who does everything she can to make sure his environment is clean and is food is safe.  Understandably, she was in hysterics.  We spent another day and night in the “house of horrors” as we had dubbed it. 

On Monday morning, opening of business, my parents went into the Island Realty office.  As soon as my mom said was the name of the place we were staying, the person working there said right away, “Oh, I’m sorry about that.”  Already sorry, before she’d told her anything else.  She also told my parents that the reason that no one had gotten back with them the day before was that the “system was down.”  She told them that Cathy was coming in at 11, and then they would find us a new place to stay.  At around 11:30, my mom called to ask if there had been any progress on finding us a place to stay.  We would need to move soon if we were going to be able to get the babies down for naps.  My mom was told they had two properties available, and to come to the office to get the keys to look at them and pick one.  My parents made their choice and we spent the next several hours of a beautiful sunny day packing up our cars and then unpacking them at the new place.  And yes, we made our beds again.  Monday was a lost day of vacation.

I really can’t put into words how outraged I am by our experience with Island Realty and Luna Escape.  The pictures on the website must be old.  They have to be because in the picture of my parents’ room, there is no ugly chair next to the bed.  Instead there’s a nice bedside table with lamp.  It its current condition Luna Escape should not be rented to anyone.  But when I click on it I see that it is booked for the first week of July.  Under the reviews tab, it says “Sorry there are no reviews”, and there is no option to add one on the site.  I still have to write a review about the problems we had at the place they moved us to.  We would never rent from them again, and we would definitely not recommend them.  Customer satisfaction is their very last priority.

Stay tuned for the happy portion of our vacation story!

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