Drama at the St. Augustine La Quinta — @LQ

In my 2+ years of perpetual travel around the world, it’s not surprising that I’ve had a few less-than-awesome experiences. Sitting on a snake on the toilet comes immediately to mind, and also that time my plane crashed in Kenya. My Budget Rent-a-Car incident in Hawaii was awful from a customer service perspective, and now I have another service-related travel tale to share. It’s a long story, but it’s a good one, and I bet you’ll be as steaming mad as I was after you read it. I’ve never, ever in my life been treated so poorly by hotel management and I just had to share it with you readers in case you’re ever looking for an inexpensive hotel option in St. Augustine, Fl. I now know where you shouldn’t stay, that’s for sure!

***

Background: my grandparents are involved in a local organization and every year some hodge-podge of cousins and siblings assembles to assist them with parking and hospitality for their annual weekend event in St. Augustine. For purposes of this story, let’s call the organization “The Club.” Each year, the Club reserves a block of hotel rooms at the La Quinta on Highway 16 in St. Augustine to house the helpers. Each year, they provide a list of names of the participants to the hotel, sometimes complete and sometimes not. It never seemed to matter in the past.

This year, my brother, his girlfriend Kristina, his roommate Rick, my sister and I joined our grandpa at the hotel on Saturday night. We had two rooms with 4 beds, which could’ve easily held up to 8 people. Keep that in mind later in the story.

We went to the St. Augustine Rhythm & Ribs Festival but found we were all just too worn out to enjoy it, so we returned to the hotel around 9:30 p.m. We checked the pool hours and decided since there were none posted, we would pop down to the hot tub before bed. We were the only ones there, the 5 of us, so we stayed outside chatting for about an hour before drying off and heading up to the room. Room 218.

It was about 10:45 p.m.  On the way up to our room, I stopped at the front desk to inquire if we could get a rollaway bed, since our grandpa was likely already sleeping down the hall and we’d all rather stay together and watch a movie anyhow. The Manager curtly said no, and I said, “No worries.” We could either squeeze onto one big bed or someone could have the floor. No big deal with this crew.

Apparently, that was the wrong question to ask.

We’d been in the room about 10 minutes and were changing into our PJs when the phone rang. Assuming it was grandpa calling to check on us, my sister answered. The look on her face told us it wasn’t grandpa. After a few minutes, she hung up and said, “It was the front desk. They’re towing your cars and calling the police.”

What?! Why?! We looked at each other incredulously and determined that since they didn’t know which cars were ours anyhow & didn’t provide decals to visitors, there would be no towing.

But what in the world would they call the police for?

The phone rang again minutes later, and this time my brother answered. I could tell from his tone that someone was speaking to him in the wrong way on the other end. Once he hung up and informed us that we were being kicked off the property immediately, Rick & I decided to go to the desk to straighten things out.

I knew it must all just be a big misunderstanding. Surely the management would see reason once I went down to the desk and explained the situation.

“What seems to be the problem,” I said brightly, putting 10 years of dealing with irate & irrational journalists in PR to use.

Immediately, the Manager’s voice was raised and accusing. First, he said we weren’t supposed to be there with 5 people in one room. And I countered, “We actually have two rooms. Our grandfather is down the hall in 207. There is plenty of space for everyone.” Problem solved, right?

He continued shouting that we were taking all the parking spaces and he was going to tow all our cars. I explained that we had two rooms, enough for 8 people, and thus we could’ve had 8 cars and still been within our rights as guests. And once Rick & I explained to him that we were only taking up two spots, the story changed again.

“Well, four of you aren’t supposed to be here. Your names aren’t on the list.” He waved the list provided by the Club in my face.

“I’m sorry the Club didn’t provide all the names, but it’s just a misunderstanding,” I said.  He didn’t believe a word I said, and he wouldn’t budge on his stance. He was convinced we were teenagers there to trash his hotel, apparently. Funny the only teenager in the group – my sister – was the one actually on the list.

I tried to assuage his fears. “I assure you we’re all meant to be here, working for the Club. We’re just trying to go to sleep so we can get up at 5 a.m. to go back to the event.”

“No you’re not! And you’re roughhousing! You’re disturbing everyone! You can’t do that in my hotel!” He waved his finger in my face.

WHAT?!

“First of all, you need to get your hand out of my face. I thought we were being removed from the property because we were taking up too many parking spaces? Or because our names aren’t on the list? Now we’re being too noisy? Which is it? Seems like you’ve got a whole list of ever-changing issues here,” I said, now not being my usually demure PR self. I could tell Rick was about to lose it, too. And he’s like the Hulk. You don’t want to see him angry.

The Owner stood there indignantly as I called him out, while his sniveling henchman Manager stood next to him.

“Were we loud or unruly in the hot tub? Have you received complaints about any noise from us? Have we done anything to disturb your guests?”

The Owner shook his head.

“Then I really fail to see what the issue is, and we are not leaving this hotel.” 

As Owner shook his finger about 3 inches from my face, he said, “Well I already called 911!”

I probably shouldn’t have laughed out loud. But I did. “You called 911? For what? So they’re going to come here and arrest us for trying to go to sleep before 11 p.m. on a Saturday night? For paying for two rooms and then filling them with less than the allotted amount of people? They’re going to laugh in your face.”

“You don’t know how the world works,” the Manager yelled at me, again assuming I was some naïve kid he could push around.

Oh, don’t I? I guess I’ll have to settle for my measly knowledge of TripAdvisor, Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere. Darn.

“Fine,” the Owner shouted in his thick accent. “You go to your room right now and do not come out the rest of the night!”

Am I 7-years-old? “That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do for the past 45 minutes!”

***

After being treated like a child and not as a guest, disrespected and accused of all manner of things that weren’t actually happening, Rick and I went back upstairs to relay our sentence of being locked in our room to the other three. Rachel was already in bed reading her daily Bible study and Alex & Kristina were preparing to watch Happy Feet. Finally, after we told them about the absurdity of the whole situation with the Manager and the Owner, we were ready for bed. It was 11:40 p.m.

And then there was a forceful pounding at the door. It was the police. Of course it was the police.

I answered the door with a frustrated, “What now?”

Of course, Mr. Cop naturally sided with the management and assumed we were partying it up and tearing the hotel room to bits. He demanded to speak with Rachel since she was on the list, and poor RaeRae, the only teenager in the group, in her pajamas, was summoned to the door for a lecture on good behavior. (May I point out that the lecture we received in the hallway must’ve been much more disturbing to guests than anything we actually did the entire night. Great job, La Quinta.)

“I bet you wouldn’t be too happy if I went down there and woke up your grandpa and told him about all this, would you?” Cop threatened.

“Um, I bet YOU wouldn’t be too happy if you woke him up,” I whispered, knowing my grandpa would be far less diplomatic and we probably would all end up in jail. “We are not here to have fun. We are not here to party. If we wanted to party, we wouldn’t come to the La Quinta Inn next to the Outlet Mall, now would we? We’re just trying to go to bed, and if the management would stop harassing us, we would already be asleep.”

“Oh, I’m sure with all these girls here, you’re not going to party,” Cop said to my brother.

“Dude, THEY’RE MY SISTERS!”

“That’s ok. I’m from Palatka.” Gross, Cop. Just gross.

“Sir, I’m sure on a Saturday night you have actual crimes to deal with and real fun parties to break up,” I said. Cop peeked around the room, saw that our only offenses were eating Girl Scout cookies too late at night, and left with a warning that if he had to come back, we’d all be in serious trouble. 

We stood in the room whispering, again left incredulous that we’d been harassed a 4th time in less than 45 minutes, when all the while we were just trying to GO TO SLEEP. We were shaken and upset, and I for one didn’t sleep a wink because of the stress. I just knew Owner & Manager were glued to their security cams, hoping we’d pop out for a soda from the vending machine so they could tackle us to the ground and accuse us of more made-up nonsense. The whole ordeal was so unsettling.

***

The next day, we had to explain to our grandparents why the cops were called because you know Owner & Manager were going to tattle to the Club… and grandparents tend to automatically side with authority and presume *the kids* were up to no good. But we asked many of the folks staying on the same floor in the Club’s room block if they heard anything at the times we were in the hallway, and no one heard a peep.

Pretty interesting, isn’t it, Owner & Manager?  The only disturbances caused that night were the ones YOU caused to US. So thanks for that.

***

There are dozens of inexpensive chain hotels to choose for your travels, and while I’m not suggesting you skip all La Quinta Inns altogether, I’d wholeheartedly recommend (and practically insist) on skipping the one in St. Augustine unless you want to be screamed at, accused and threatened at all hours of the night, presumably for appearing young and fun. I stay in 4-and-5 star hotels 250 nights a year, and have never been treated with so little respect. And as I told my grandparents, I’ve certainly stayed up later and made more noise in hotels before and never, ever had an issue.

I sure won’t be giving La Quinta another chance. It’s just not worth it to feel so threatened.

***

What’s your worst hotel nightmare story? Have you ever had a run-in like this with management? Do you get treated with less respect because you look younger than you are?

***

An update/recap:

MANAGER ACCUSATION 1: There are too many people staying in one room.

ANSWER: We have two rooms, eight beds and six people. No funny business, no extra people.

MANAGER ACCUSATION 2: There are too many cars for the amount of people and you’re taking up all the parking places.

ANSWER: We only have two cars for the two rooms. The reason there are no parking spaces is because large vans and trucks are taking up multiple spaces.

MANAGER ACCUSATION 3: Your names aren’t on the list provided by the club.

ANSWER: That was an oversight on the club’s part. You could have called the club manager who was staying about 10 doors down the hall from the front desk to remedy the situation, but you wouldn’t. She would’ve confirmed we were meant to be there, but you wouldn’t do it because you didn’t want to be proven wrong, and you’d already called the police.

MANAGER ACCUSATION 4: You were roughhousing in the hallway.

ANSWER: We’ve seen the video, at 10:45 p.m., of the alleged roughhousing. It’s a joke that you’d even have the nerve to send that. The door that Alex knocked into happened to belong to a friend who was in the room at the time, and she heard nothing.

MANAGER ACCUSATION 5: You were in the hot tub after pool hours.

ANSWER: We asked at the desk what the hours were AND your staff gave us pool towels. When we asked if you’d received any complaints about noise in the hot tub, you said no.

MANAGER ACCUSATION 6: Only three people are allowed in the hot tub at one time.

ANSWER: Then why did you give us 5 towels? And why didn’t your staff come out and alert us of the rule, if it was in fact a rule?

MANAGER ACCUSATION 7: We received noise complaints from hotel guests about people beating on their doors after midnight.

ANSWER: We were in bed by 11:45 p.m. once the cop left our room, which I’m sure there is proof of on your security tapes. I would love to see the footage from 11:30 – 12:30 p.m. unless you’re afraid to share it.

MANAGER ACCUSATION 8: We patiently await your next false allegation.

 ***

OUR FINAL STATEMENT: You thought you could alleviate your parking problem by kicking out a group you thought were “unruly children” (verbiage taken from your fake review on TripAdvisor) who’d be unable to defend themselves. When we were able to refute each and every accusation you threw at us, you became irrational and escalated the the non-issue by calling the police, who subsequently laughed that you’d called them at all.

After realizing, upon reading this post, that you weren’t dealing with children at all, you demanded I stop trashing your hotel and cease blogging. While we appreciate the profuse apologies from La Quinta corporate, unfortunately it doesn’t appear the on-site owner shares the remorseful sentiment. I can only infer then that the criticism I’ve levied here is warranted and I would feel uncomfortable as a woman recommending anyone patronize this establishment. Stay at your own risk.

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About Angie Away

Angie Orth is Angie Away, a globe-trekking communications specialist and entrepreneur. In 2010, she left a successful career as a travel publicist in NYC for the unpredictable life of a freelancing digital nomad. She’s passionate about travel, the Florida Gators, Shark Week, trying everything at least once and storytelling here at http://www.angieaway.com.