The trip was touted as the "vacation of a lifetime," but hundreds of travelers who paid top dollar for a Caribbean yacht cruise now say they endured a horrible journey rife with incompetence and bad food.
They blame Reggie Cummings, owner of Black Travel Movement, a North Carolina company that sells excursions around the world to African American tourists.
Some 250 people paid upward of $3,000 for "Black Yacht Week," a trip that boasted fine wine, exotic meals, luxury yachts and sightseeing in the British Virgin Islands, according to advertisements.
But in reality, the June trip was plagued by a lack of food and malfunctioning boats, the travelers claimed in a series of complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the North Carolina Attorney General's Office. Cummings was also hit with a federal lawsuit in August, claiming he failed to pay a $550,000 bill from the yacht company that provided 26 vessels for "Black Yacht Week."
The company, Dream Yacht America, denies any wrongdoing and said it tried to provide service to the vacationers but was handicapped by a lack of communication from Cummings and provisions that didn't arrive, in some cases, until two days into the trip.
The travelers' complaints, which are not part of the lawsuit, included being served hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of the promised gourmet meals, as well as being housed on boats that had no air conditioning, and in some instances, no electricity.
Vacationer Jewel Pearson told InsideEdition.com she became suspicious early on when it took weeks to resolve billing issues before she set sail with a group of friends. "Normally, I would have pulled the plug then, because that is not professional," she said. "But I had already gotten other friends to go on this trip."
The women made monthly payments for the $3,350 trip, she said. "It took [Cummings] months to do the things he said he would do, like sending boat assignments," she said. But she and her friends decided to remain optimistic, she said. "We will make the best of it," Pearson said of their outlook.
Then they arrived at the launch site, "and it went downhill from there," she said. Their yacht was supposed to have Wi-Fi and television service, she said, but the boat they boarded had neither. The crew said none of the deliveries they were promised had shown up, and the food on board consisted mostly of pork and beef, which was not the meals her group had ordered, she said.
"Our cook tried to do basic housekeeping, but most of us ended up wiping down tables and covering and storing food," Pearson said. "We were lucky," she said. "We actually had food, and some of the other boats didn't and they were eating things like peanut butter and jelly."
Many of the tourists purchased their own groceries when the boats were in port, she said.
Once the travelers were back home, they began asking for refunds. Pearson established a Facebook page for cruise patrons to post their experiences and to document the status of their refund requests. Thus far, she said, "nobody has gotten refunds."
She sent emails to Cummings, she said, to which he responded, saying he accepted full responsibility, she said. He blamed the charter company, saying it failed to deliver the proper services, Pearson recounted. "He said he would be providing refunds in a timely fashion. That's all we got," she said.
"I have no idea where our money went," she said. "Reggie is the only one who knows where it is."
Cummings acknowledges his "Black Yacht Week" customers did not get what they paid for. "I'm in crisis-management mode," he told InsideEdition.com. He has countersued the yacht company, he said. He withheld its payment "because they breached my contract" by failing to deliver the cruise's promised services, he said. "There needs to be a settlement discussion," he said.
Cummings also said he is reviewing requests for refunds from his customers and expects to "get everything resolved" within 30 to 60 days, he said.
Responding to complaints that he has failed to communicate with unhappy clients from "Black Yacht Week," Cummings said "answering 200 phone calls can be a challenge."