News Local

Local woman stranded in paradise returns home

By Nicki Cruickshank, Barrie Examiner

A week in paradise comes at a cost, and Katie Rickward ended up paying more than expected.

The Shanty Bay resident's five-star vacation in Cancun, Mexico ended as the holiday from hell on Thursday because her resort had her shelling out cash when travel company Conquest Vacations declared bankruptcy.

"It was a very long day and quite intense," said the 23-year-old, whose plane landed in Toronto after 1 a.m. Friday. "The resort didn't get paid by Conquest, so they were going to charge us $2,028 to get off the resort and go home. We'd already paid $800 each for our trip and we didn't have that kind of money."

She ended up with a bill just over $400 in the end, and though she was angry, Rickward didn't fight the payment.

"We just paid our bill and left, because I was more afraid of going to jail if I didn't," she said.

Rickward was staying at the Golden Parnassus, a five-star resort that saw a lot of clashing between Canadians and hotel security guards Thursday. Rickward's group of 28 people staying there disputed their bills, and verbal and physical fights ensued.

The problems started Wednesday, when Conquest Vacations suddenly announced it was shutting its doors, blaming fierce competition and a faltering economy.

"We had a note slipped under our door on Wednesday night saying Conquest went under and they were charging us now," Rickward said. "We sat in the lobby all day (Thursday), guarding our luggage because hotel staff were trying to seize them and hold them until we paid up.

"There were a lot of people crying, and a few screaming matches between staff and guests," she added. "People tried to leave the resort in cabs, and the police were called and were actually pushing people out of the cabs and back into the resort. They were getting in guests' faces a lot and threatening to jail them."

Glen Rickward began receiving calls from his daughter that day, and he began fearing for her safety.

"They weren't going to be allowed to leave the hotel, and she kept calling me from the lobby, updating us," Glen said. "It was a long day and night for us but worse for her and her friend.

"Her credit card stopped working at one point, and I had to give her my number to use."

Rickward said one saving grace was a pair of Toronto corporate lawyers were among the vacationers affected.

"They were fighting with hotel staff and negotiated the price down to $400 a person," she said. "They were great. They were calling the Canadian Consulate, and all the Toronto newspapers telling them the story. They told us if we needed to go to court over this, they'd defend us."

Amazingly, Rickward managed to keep her cool though the ordeal, and says all in all, she still enjoyed her vacation.

"This happened on our last day, so it didn't ruin my trip," she said. "I still got to vacation in beautiful Cancun, laze on the beach and I have a great tan to show for it.

"The main thing is I'm home safe and sound now," she added.

Though she still plans to travel in the future, the incident has Rickward rethinking one particular destination.

"I'll never go to Mexico, ever again," she said. "This was only my second time going all-inclusive, and I'll never stay in one of those again, either."

- with files from CP

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