My body clock awoke me at around 6am this morning. I don’t know why. I certainly need more sleep. Sandy was already up, but the kids were still asleep. I decided to try to get some more sleep. The next thing I knew, it’s 10am. Job done.
No homemade cooked breakfast for us this morning, as we had resolved to eat either a late breakfast or an early lunch in the park. This was a decision made in confidence on account of how impressed we have been with the food options the park has to offer.
Before we set off for our second day at Europapark, I went over to the hotel front desk to finally put to rest the issue of the lack of furniture in the bungalow. The offers of recompense for this have been steadily increasing each day. First it was an apology. Next it was free breakfast. They normally charge €19 per person for access to the hotel breakfast restaurant, so that’s €76, but for just €5 I can pick up some provisions in the nearby supermarket and get just the same right here in the bungalow, so no deal. Then they offered a free breakfast for the entire remainder of our stay, again no deal. After they realised they couldn’t buy me off with this, they went to a 20% refund. The 6 nights have cost me around €1200, so that would be a refund of €240. I’ve been holding out for more, but this was as far as the local staff were authorised to go. My good friend Suzanna, the duty shift manager who I’ve gotten to know well over the past few days, has told me a couple of times now that she must defer to someone further up the food chain. My hope was that this had now finally happened. Unfortunately, she wasn’t there this morning, but I made sure to let them inform her I had passed through.
Back at the bungalow, I went online to purchase a car park ticket for the day. Still throwing financial caution to the wind, I resolved to again opt for the more expensive €22 ticket that avoided the long walk to and from the car. Unfortunately, they were all sold out for the next couple of days, so I had to make do with the €8 version for the mere mortals.
It was clear from the get-go this morning that the full-on nature of our holiday is steadily taking its toll. We were all starting to get grumpy and impatient with each other. The smallest of triggers would release disproportioned amounts of pent-up tension. By the time we hit the park, I think we were also all hungry and irritable.
As if it wasn’t bad enough we were in the regular car park today, we arrived just at the wrong moment and were ushered into a slot right at the far end of our row, meaning the maximum conceivable walking distance to the front gate. I called over one of the young parking attendants and explained we had a passenger that is using a walking cane and asked (pleaded?) if we could possibly slip into the following row instead, where we’d at least be a lot closer. Fortunately, she was very nice and accommodating. She directed us accordingly. Notwithstanding that minor win, it still seemed like my legs were going to give up on me before we reached the turnstiles. I think Sandy was in the same boat. Fortunately, I remembered to down a few painkillers before leaving the bungalow this morning.
We staggered to the guest services pavilion at the base of the observation tower and the friendly staff member there re-stamped our documents to renew our priority access passes. Sandy and Jae wandered into the park, but I remained with Joey, who by now had found a spot to sit and was playing a game on his iPad. It was one of those tower defence type games with a mini session that you had to play to completion. We had several of these ‘pause and wait until he finishes’ moments throughout the day today. It can sometimes be frustrating when this happens, especially if there’s somewhere we need/want to be, but there’s no point in forcing it with him, as that just creates stress and triggers non-cooperation, or, worse still, a meltdown. So I patiently sat and waited the 5-10 minutes for him to finish. While I did, the hubbub in the customer services room died down, leaving just me, Joey and one female staff member. I took the opportunity to pose a question to her. We had noticed that the staff often speak French to each other. I mentioned this in the blog from a couple of days ago. I asked the lady why this was. Was it because the French are naturally more multi-lingual than the Germans? Oh no! Quite the opposite, as it turns out. The woman was quite candid about this. The French are apparently linguistically egotistical and difficult customers, refusing to speak anything other than French. The reason there are so many French staff is because only the French can tolerate dealing with the French. I damned near soiled myself trying to supress my inner laughter when she explained this – especially the involuntary wince on her face when she referred to ‘the French’ in a distained manner.
While Sandy and Jae went off to do something somewhere, I took Joey to get some pancakes at the little Dutch pancake house again, as he likes these so much and it’s a quiet environment for him to chill out and decompress in. Sandy and Jae eventually met up with us there and we contemplated our options. Either we would go to do Arthur, the ride we all enjoyed so much a couple of days ago, or we would go to lunch before the rush kicked in. We banded about various ideas of where to eat. It seems everyone had different recollections about what the decision ended up being, with almost everyone having a different understanding of what the plan was at the point we all got up to leave. If ever there were a stress-inducing situation fuelled my misunderstandings and holiday fatigue, this was it.
We set off, but not entirely sure where we were going. To make matters worse, we kept having to backtrack because we had no idea how to navigate the maze that Europapark is unless you have a good mental map of the place. There are signs in various places but nowhere near enough and the whole rabbit warren can get quite disorienting for the uninitiated. The net result was a lot more unnecessary walking and energy expenditure – the very last thing any of us wanted or needed.
Tensions between us all eventually peaked and the predictable automatic coping mechanism kicked in. We each stormed off in different directions in a huff. Jae followed me, as I had proclaimed I was now so hungry that I decided it was time for at least me to eat something – regardless of what everyone else was going to do. The tension evidently had taken its toll on Joey also, who was by now in melt-down territory with poor Sandy feeling the full brunt of it. I hadn’t been aware of this until I was at the restaurant in France having just sat down with my meal when Sandy and Joey came in – some distance between them. Sandy had just about reached her limits, because Joey wasn’t cooperating. He found a seat on his own a few tables over. Jae hadn’t gotten a meal for herself, as she had designs on eating elsewhere. I suggested to Sandy that she grab a meal and get some food into her. She would at least then feel better. Joey was at least safe and secure where he was. We handed him a plate of food and a drink, and he was eventually tucking into it, so hopefully that would resolve the issue with him as well. With a little luck, with food in our tummies, tensions would revert to normal levels and we could continue to salvage the rest of the day.
Once I finished eating, Jae and I set off to another nearby restaurant, where Jae would have something to eat. Jae is a fan of Italian fare, and there are some nice options for people with such palates here at the park. Jae was quite pleased with her pasta meal.
The remainder of the day in the park was a lot less eventful and reasonably stress-free. We were still all somewhat tired and lethargic, but functional and no longer at each other’s throats all the time. We meandered around the park, sometimes as a group of four, sometimes in various combinations of pairs, knocking off all the attractions we each wanted to. Jae and I picked off more of the thrilling coasters and we all, of course, went back and re-did Arthur again. Both kids scored some more souvenirs. Jae was quite taken with a plush bear, duly and aptly named Bear Bear. There was a slight hiccup as we were boarding the Arthur ride, as Jae was reluctant to part with Bear Bear, even though the staff member was standing in front of her miming for her to release the damned thing.
By around 4pm, we all agreed to converge at the main entrance and to call it a day. Joey and I went into the Voletarium attraction near the front of the park. This is exactly like Soarin’ in Disney’s EPCOT, where you sit on a contraption in front of a huge screen and ‘fly over’ landscapes. Between the full peripheral view screen, wind, tilt, and rain effects, it gives you the a very real sensation of flying. It’s an impressive ride and I’m glad we caught it in time.
Finally, we all trundled lethargically back to the sanctity of the car, and I drove us all back to the bungalow – a brief 5-minute ride. I dropped off the rest of the family and made my way to the hotel front desk to have it out with Suzanna.
My discussion with Suzanna this afternoon did not go well…for her. There’s a time for calm and there’s a time for raised voices. I hadn’t yet gotten that far, but the process of me slowly ramping up the pressure was now fully engaged. The trick with these situations is to know when and how to press which buttons and in which order. Screaming at someone that cannot help me serves no purpose, and there’s no honour in leaving a trail of collateral damage to people that are otherwise trying to help. Suzanna insisted she had to speak with her boss in customer services if her 20% refund offer wasn’t ging to cut it, so I suggested (perhaps forcefully insisted is more accurate) she get that person on the phone right now. I gave Suzanna a taste of what was to come from me with a little elevation of my volume and tone.
Moments later, I was passed the phone and in conversation with someone from the head office. Curiously, the woman claimed to only have been brought up to speed on ‘the situation with Mr. Morgan in bungalow 31’ today. This irritated me, as it suggested either she was lying to me, or Suzanna hadn’t been escalating as she had indicated for the past couple of days. She repeated the offer of a 20% refund, but I explained to her that the hotel was misbehaving by falsely representing what they are selling. After all, their own website has photos clearly depicting sofas and chairs in the [what currently for us is an empty] lounge in the bungalow. The woman even had the nerve to claim that the description doesn’t state anything about furniture in the property, as if that was some sort of get-out-of-jail-free card that gave them permission to misrepresent. I pointed out how asinine this was. I even suggested that they might have trouble trying to justify themselves to the relevant advertising standards ombudsman and that there’s a tacit expectation that if you are renting a bungalow, there is a reasonable expectation that it’s appropriately furnished – especially given the photos depicting those furnishings.
The next tactic the woman attempted was a well-know one I’ve seen many a time before (particularly in the USA), called ‘diffusion of responsibility’. This is where nobody seems to have any authority to do anything, and you end up being passed around from department to department until you simply give up. Evidently the person who was authorised to improve the refund offer wasn’t available, as he was ‘in a meeting’. I suggested she call him or go and knock on the door to demand their attention. She insisted she couldn’t disturb him until the meeting had concluded but would call me back in 20 minutes. I didn’t fancy this idea, as it was another attempt to get me to go away, and who knows if anyone would ever call me back. Pretty soon, the holiday will be over anyway, and my bargaining position would be seriously degraded as a result. She and I battled on this front for a couple of minutes before I played my final card.
I told her we’d been at this now for several days and the matter still wasn’t resolved. Enough was enough. Further delays simply weren’t acceptable. At this point, my steadily escalating tone and volume had reached the point that anyone in or around the reception area would definitely be fully aware of the dispute that was playing out. The three staff members were practically cringing behind the front desk as I was now in a full-blown argument with one of the higher-ups on the phone. I told – loudly – the woman on the phone that if I didn’t receive confirmation of a more significant resolution in the next 10 minutes, I would contact my credit card company and have them cancel the entire bill, and they could fight it out with them. I would then hand the entire issue over to the relevant advertising standards authorities, and I would also contact the other dozen or so bungalow residents to organise a class action. On that final note, I handed the phone back to Suzanna, apologised politely and calmly about the staff having to be subjected to that display, smiled, and took my leave.
My one final chore for the day was to make good on a promise to Joey to revisit the Smyths toy shop where he would collect the remaining Lego set that he previously had set his mind on (but didn’t tell anyone about at the time). I resolved to treat him one last time, as this would be the very last opportunity for him to spend his remaining holiday allowance.
Just as we pulled into the Smyths toy shop car park, a short 15-20 drive from the bungalow, the phone rang. My 10-minute ultimatum for the hotel was now overdue, but it was the hotel customer service manager from head office I had earlier sparred with. They finally buckled. I was offered a 30% refund, which amounts to around €385 back onto my credit card. I accepted the offer this time. I probably could have argued for a bit more but I my reading of the situation was that I had reached a point of diminishing returns. I’ll pocket the €385 and thank you very much.
Joey was treated to another couple of sets of Lego to use up his remaining reserves. With a little extra spending money (now courtesy of the hotel), I treated him to a bit more than his allowance covered. I will do likewise with Jae tomorrow to even out the equities.
Back at home base, Joey was content to remain in the bungalow playing with his new Lego, while me, Sandy and Jae booked ourselves into the same restaurant in Rust as last night. It was a lovely dinner and we finished off the evening with a quick jaunt to the nearby Maccas to bring something in for Joey.
I polished off the evening in front of the computer sorting out the day’s photographic takings and writing up this blog. It’s almost midnight now, so I’ll do the proof-reading and uploading in the morning. Time for some much-needed shut-eye.