I’m sitting on the beach in Punta Cana with my wife as I notice several tourists parasailing over the blue waters off the Dominican Republic coast. I remind my wife that I’ve never sailed quite that way, and she smiles and encourages me to “go for it” and reminds me of the lost opportunity I had in Florida several years ago. Needless to say, my interest is piqued.
On this beautiful tropical beach, with a constant breeze off the ocean, there appears to be two camps of vendors: the first group are not affiliated with the resort and walk up and down the beach approaching people with their special price. Everything is negotiable. Regulations state these vendors are only allowed to pitch their sale to first row of beach goers in lounge chairs closest to the beach. His “special price” includes a 12-minute ride for $80 for three riders. It’s not much time in the air but that might suffice as my first experience.
Daniel represents Scuba Quatic which is associated with our resort, The Reserve at Paradisus Punta Cana. His offer is $100 for three riders for about 10 minutes. Over the past few days, I have casually talked with him about various water sports so some rapport has been established.
I was short on cash so I offer to pay Daniel by credit card and he states the price would be $110. I thought to myself, that’s a 10% service fee for using a credit card — we’re not in Kansas anymore. I’m not paying that amount as I walk back to my comfy beach chair. After slow deliberation, I scrounge up $90 in cash and walked back to him saying, “That’s all the cash I have.” He doesn’t seem fazed that I’m all out of cash, shakes his head in disappointment, and just stares at me. I shrug my shoulders and observe his demeanor as someone who wants to deal. He states he has to get this approved by his manager so he makes a call on his mobile device as I wait for the deal to close. Surprise, surprise, he’s willing to accept the $90 (which I knew he’d take all along) and he says, “I’m getting a great deal.” I thought to myself, “Time will tell.”
After closing the deal, I walk back to our beach location and wait. Minutes later, Daniel yells to us to get on the transport boat. I’m now a client but suddenly don’t feel like one. As we arrive at the boat, I see the man helping us into the transport boat was the other vendor negotiating against Daniel. Basic economics comes to mind, if these two vendors are in cahoots, why are they negotiating against each other and driving down the price? Besides thinking basic economics, I feel used and hoodwinked, as it’s all seems like a charade.
Will the fun now begin? Our boat operator, who’s missing several front teeth departs and motors west for about 10 minutes to drop off a couple who had just finished. We leave that area and travel a bit more, where our boat operator needs to collect money — using two Russian tourists (currently body surfing) as a liaison to transfer cash from one shore operator to our boat operator. It’s in about 3 feet of water. Once the money exchange is complete, we travel another good 10 minutes in the opposite direction to pick up a Chilean family that will parasail with us. We dock along the shore near a small mix of retail signs in Russian and Spanish. After picking up this family from Chile, we wait another five minutes, unaware why we’re still waiting. When I ask the boat operator what we’re waiting for, he just smiles. During the wait, the operator counts his wad of U.S. dollars and Dominican Republic pesos in front of us. Talk about a lack of civility!
As we eventually move out and thankfully at a slow speed, he crashes into another boat coming onshore. They both laugh as I notice the other boat looks like Paul Bunyan took an ax to the front of the vessel.
As we motor on, we pass by our beach location, where we originally boarded. I wonder why we needed to spend those 30 minutes on the choppy sea just waiting to parasail when he could have waited another 30 minutes before picking us up. Our group of three feel a little like cargo and that good service is lacking. Surprise, we need to make one more stop before the actual fun begins, at this point I’m not sure why. I quickly see he’s also a meal runner for the parasailing crew — taking lunches from onshore to the parasailing crew. For much of the sea travel, he’s only casually paying attention to steering the boat as it appears the main focus is talking on his mobile device.
I’ll be the first to say my Spanish is not good so I need to confront him in English. I ask him why the back and forth as he could have waited to pick us up — he gives me a blank stare, like I have any say in the matter at this point. I continue to emphasize that we just want to parasail, but his focus at this point is not on our comfort or convenience. Nothing personal, it’s just business. Although I think he later mentions something to the parasailing boat — is that why we were in the air for such a short period? I see the tip jar on the parasailing boat; I laugh quietly and wished I had a pen and paper to provide a different type of tip: Too expensive for the service received, too long on transport boat, and not treated special. No, I would not recommend parasailing through Scuba Quatic.
Once onshore, I’m asked by Daniel, “How did it go?” I smile and slowly devise a response. Do you want the unvarnished truth or just the standard response of “good?” Sometimes, you need to be careful what to ask for.
I’m about to ask Daniel if Scuba Aquatic is similar to Costco’s return policy. You know, you can return an item if not satisfied but quickly realize it would be wasting time, like all the time wasted at sea just waiting to parasail for 9 minutes.
Look, this experience wasn’t a fiasco or a complete failure but it wasn’t much fun. I don’t mind spending $90 to parasail for 3 but not when the service is poor — my gut tells me I was scammed.
Fortunately, I have a story to tell years from now. Unfortunately, it will be a negative one.