'Nightmare' Sunwing holiday with no running water leaves people urinating in bushes

Ben Nanton in Cuba with his daughter, Gracie, and his girlfriend, Jill Hudson. (Ben Nanton)

A Nova Scotia man says he's not giving up his battle for a full refund of his all-inclusive Sunwing Vacations holiday to Cuba after spending almost a week without running water at the Starfish Cayo Santa Maria resort earlier this year.

It got so bad for vacationers at the resort, where toilets couldn't be flushed, "A lot of people would just find a bush [to urinate]," said Ben Nanton.

The water issue created all sorts of problems, he told CBC News. Drink glasses had a white film as though they hadn't been cleaned properly, he said, and food remnants weren't washed from plates and were left lodged in forks.

People bathed and shaved in the swimming pool, he said.

"It was a whole onslaught of things that were happening," said Nanton, who lives in Timberlea, N.S.

Nanton, his girlfriend and his six-year-old daughter took the trip from February 28 to March 7. They paid a total of $2,700.

No water

He said when they first arrived they noticed all the resort's public washrooms were locked. He said they asked a Sunwing representative about the lack of water and were told it would be fixed by the end of the day.

He said he filled his room's garbage cans with pool water so he could flush the toilet in his room. Nanton even saw one man urinate in front of a locked washroom door because he was upset it was closed.

Nanton said the resort did provide his family with 1½ litres of drinking water each day.

"This was my daughter's first time ever going anywhere — first time on a plane, first time leaving the country — so it meant a lot to us," he said.

Nanton said they were looking forward to building memories, but "it just turned into a nightmare for us really quick."

Sunwing asks for confidentiality

He booked through a small travel agency, which forwarded his complaint to Sunwing. He was initially offered two $385 travel vouchers, which Sunwing said equalled the cost of the room.

The vouchers were conditional on Nanton and his girlfriend signing a release agreeing to take no further action against the company. It also said they "shall not directly or indirectly disclose the incident or any other perceived negative experience relating to the incident to anyone in any way, including, but not limited to, video, audio, verbal or written terms."

The release went on to say, "It is the intention of the parties to avoid and prevent publicity regarding the settlement and the terms of the settlement."

Nanton declined and asked for a full refund either in cash or a travel voucher covering $2,700. Sunwing responded by offering the $385 amounts in cash, which he also declined.

"They just don't get it," Nanton said. "I want my money back."

Sunwing assured 'no safety risks'

He is especially offended that the settlement offer was a "generic" letter with names inserted.

He said he has not been contacted directly by anyone from Sunwing. He called it "a real eye-opener for the consumer," especially since Sunwing Vacations continued to send people to the resort despite the lack of water.

Sunwing spokesperson Rachel Goldrick confirms "there were interruptions in water supply" during the time Nanton and his family were there, adding it affected all hotels on the island of Cayo Santa Maria.

She said once the full water supply was restored, water pressure issues continued for "a number of days" and "a number of customers were relocated to another hotel at their request."

"We did not rearrange clients' future travel arrangements during this period as we were informed by the hotel owners, the hotel management group, the local authorities and our own representatives that water levels were completely adequate to maintain daily operations, that there were no safety risks and that the situation would be swiftly resolved," Goldrick said.

'I'm a booking number to them'

Despite those assurances, Goldrick said there was a new outage on March 9 so Sunwing offered to relocate all vacationers. She said the water supply was fully re-established on March 11 and there have been no problems since.​

Nanton said "not once" did anyone offer to relocate him during the week he spent there. He also disputes the fact that the water interruptions were island-wide. Nanton said he's vacationed with Sunwing for the past four years and always had a great experience.

"Now, the very time I have a problem, I'm a booking number to them," he said. "They didn't have to go through what we dealt with ... the stench and the dirt and worrying whether you're going to get sick."