So a lot of people were wondering how me and Zoe’s trip went to the Virgin Islands. We have filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Consumerist.com, a sweet website that takes consumer complaints and violations and makes them public, so you know we had a pretty rough go of it. Here’s the story:
In Spring of 2010 myself and my girlfriend began planning a trip to the Virgin Islands, specifically the island of St. John, for September 2010. After deciding on the hostel Botanical Villas, owned and maintained by Elsa Hall (www.botanicalvillas.com), we wished to purchase a 4 week stay for $575 through her paypal.com account as advertised on her website. Prior to the purchase we emailed Elsa Hall to confirm that their were openings, that there was running water, a communal kitchen, wifi internet, and if we could possibly volunteer (as offered on her website to lower the cost of staying). She acknowledged the site had running water, working internet, working bathroom, and a communal kitchen but informed us there were no openings to volunteer, seeing that all her volunteer positions had been filled. We confirmed in emails that there would be either herself or a volunteer waiting for us upon arrival ( in September) to check us in as well, which Elsa confirmed. Based on these conversations we felt it was going to be a good place to stay and purchased the 4 week stay in June which has been credited to my credit card.
On September 5th we arrived at the site around 6pm and found that it was abandoned and uninhabitable. Half of the cabins were locked, the toilet was broken, dead leaves littered everything, there was no running water, the main building was locked, the kitchen was locked, and no one was there (Elsa or volunteers) to check us in. The paths between the cabins were overgrown and bees stung both myself and my girlfriend numerous times while searching for Elsa. The entire facility was abandoned and in serious disrepair and neglect. To confirm this my girlfriend snapped a series of photographs of the buildings and bathroom. We didn’t know what to believe; we had nowhere to sleep on the property and attempted to contact Elsa by email through our laptop computer. We had to venture next door to a nearby building to get a good internet wifi signal (Botanical Villas had no internet, as promised by Elsa). We immediately sent Elsa an email and proceeded to figure out where to stay for the night as the Botanical Villas was abandoned, locked, and uninhabitable and instead were forced to sleep on nearby Cinnamon Bay beach (with our bedsheets draped over a tree) and barely got to sleep.
The following morning, after contacting our parents back home in Michigan for advice, we caught a taxi to the only hotel on the island we knew of which was the St. John Westin ($200 plus resort fees of $40 for the night). We stayed there one night and continued to try and contact Elsa and research other cheaper hotels we could stay in. The following day we caught a taxi to the ferry between St. John and St. Thomas and stayed at the St. Thomas Best Western ($119 for the night). At that time Elsa contacted us by email and said there had been problems with her mother on the island and that we could stay in her mother’s basement apartment instead of the hostel near the beach we had ordered for 4 weeks. We declined this offer, citing that we did not pay for that experience and informed Elsa we wished to go home and work out a refund for the 4 week stay we had previously payed for. Elsa contacted us by phone and agreed she would refund us for the days we did not stay at the hostel, which she later retracted in an email to us. Rather then suggesting she did not supply an adequate hostel she tried to steer us in the direction that we decided it wasn’t for us and chose to go home.
“As i said I could have accommodated you – that is why I am giving a week discount. You booked for 4 weeks and after 2 days in st. thomas decided to return home”.
All in all we paid for a hostel ($575) which included running water, wifi internet, bathroom, communal kitchen, and volunteer staff and we ended up losing $1600 in paying for taxi’s, hotel bills, multiple ferry rides, dining out expenses, and early plane tickets home. I don’t think that is an example of “general business practices”.
The final email we received from Elsa on 20-9-10 stated the following:
“I will reimburse you for one week of stay at the rate that you paid. You paid $575.00 for a 4 week stay, discounted rate. I will reimburse you for $143.75”
Please, we would love to let other hostel goers know that the Botanical Villas is not a respectable business and they should steer clear, unless they enjoy bees stings, sleeping in the dirt, and disappointment.