Friday, December 17, 2010

Theme Park Wars

The war wages on in Orlando...Disney and Universal continue to try lure guests from their competitor's parks and into their own.  I have to hand it to Universal and their marketing team.  Now no one staying on Disney property can say..."I don't want to have to pay for the transportation to get from our resort to one of the Universal parks."  Universal has cleverly offered "free transportation" from any of the Disney resorts to one of their parks when someone purchases a 1 day pass to Universal Orlando (advance purchase required).  The opening of the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" has been a big success and has started to draw some would-be Disney visitor dollars over to Universal.  So it is time to see where allegiance stands...who gets your hard earned dollars when you visit Orlando?  Which theme park wins out?  Cast your vote today...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December Quiz...The Cayman Islands

Here is another chance for my readers to win a $20 Target Gift Card.  All you have to do is answer the question below correctly and you will be automatically entered into a drawing which will be held on January 2nd.  You can send in your answer via the comment section of this blog or you can also visit my page on Facebook: Operation Destination Vacations is the question:

The Cayman Islands is known for its beautiful water and pristine beaches.  What is the name of the beach most visited by tourists?

A. 8 Mile Beach
B. Governor's Cove
C. Seven Mile Beach
D. Stingray Cay

Thanks to all of my readers and followers.  Please send me your feedback about my blog or send in any travel-related question and I will try to answer it in a future post.  Stop by my Facebook page and become a follower as well.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Carnival Conquest Review Part 4--The Summary

If you had read all of the review up to this point, hopefully you see that I am trying to be objective and fair along with offering my opinion about certain things.  I hope you keep that in mind as you read this section of the review.

In summary, let me just say that we did indeed have a great time on this cruise.  It would take a lot for my wife and I to say that we thought a cruise was horrible and this cruise was no where near something like that.  We enjoyed the peace and quiet that our stateroom afforded us.  We enjoyed the time spent together up on deck enjoying the sunshine and the WATER-SLIDE!  We found the majority of the staff to be pleasant and helpful and again our dining and stateroom staff were superb.  We loved our dinner table mates.

But I do want to mention some things again that we noted as different than our previous experiences.  It seems that Carnival is doing everything possible to get more money out of you while onboard (I know other cruise lines do that too)  and they have kept their cruise prices lower than others in the industry which has created the need to nickel and dime you for everything that seems to be included with other cruise lines.  For example...we always purchase the soda packages.  With Royal Caribbean, NCL and Princess, you get the souvenir, refillable mug as a bonus for purchasing the program.  With Carnival...the price is about the same for the program, but then they make you pay an additional $6.00 for the mug.

I already mentioned the cookies and sweets found at the coffee bar and how they charge for any of their better-made desserts.   If you wanted some quality treats, you had to pay for it.

I had also mentioned the photography in an earlier post.  I have never seen such an abundance of photo ops in all of my previous cruises as I did here on Carnival.  The promenade is laden with one photographer after another waving you over trying to get you to pose in front of such cruise-appropriate backdrops as a rose garden or a flowery trestle or a grand piano.  And to my shock...hoards of guests were having their pictures taken with these.  Normally you will want to have your picture taken with something like oh...the cruise ship in the background which will help others see when and where you had your picture taken.  But for the life of me I could not understand why so many were lined up to have pictures taken with backdrops that you would find back home at your local Glamour Shots.  These photo ops were available EVERY night of the cruise and were EVERYWHERE!  This issue brings me back to the congested photo area where you could go check out your pictures and purchase any that you liked.  They were taking SOOO many pictures, that they ran out of room on the walls and had some of the older ones stuffed in plastic containers where you had to wait to rifle through them in hopes that you actually found the one with you in it.

It is obvious that it is a money-maker for Carnival which is why you felt like they were pushing you to stop and have your picture made at every turn.

We again found it surprising that the cruise director was not that visible.  We also found it a bit shocking that the dining room Maitre’d never ever came by our table to ask if there was any special food requests or to make sure we were all satisfied.  It seemed that he was more interested in putting on their dinner shows than he was making sure guests were actually satisfied with their dining.  If you do a little research about the employees of Carnival and the shows they are made to put on, you will find that most look at it as humiliating and degrading.  Not sure why anyone in a nice dining room needs to see service staff get up on tables and dance to the song “Apple Bottom Jeans.”  Is that an appropriate song for a family dinner or nice dining experience?

This was also the first cruise in which there was a need for the Maitre’d to make an announcement that ball caps are never acceptable in the main dining room.  I was thankful for his willingness to announce such a thing, but I was also noticing a large contingent of guests who completely ignored the dining room dress code completely.  This may have something to do with where this cruise embarks out of.  This was the first cruise I had been on where the majority of the guests were all from one State...Texas.  We saw a large amount of camouflage all throughout the ship.  I actually saw one gentleman wearing a camouflage baseball cap with a fish hook in it to dinner.  This was also the first cruise out of 6 where you could hear an abundance of country music.  The last thing I want to hear while cruising the Caribbean is honky tonk music, but if you like that sort of thing, then this was the cruise for you. 

Cruises that embark out of ports like Miami or Ft Lauderdale etc seem to be a bit more diverse and have guests from all over the Country and world.  Due to this port only offering a limited amount of cruise choices and being so far south in the big State of Texas, it seemed to mainly appeal to those from the region and to a large amount of first time cruisers.  Again...if you are from Texas and you were a first time cruiser on this cruise, I am not intending to offend, but simply point out what I observed from my perspective.  I personally like to be around a more diverse crowd which to me is one of fun things about cruising...meeting all types of people from all types of places. 

Some of the clientele also found it appropriate to have balcony-to-balcony conversations with one another.  I am not talking about connecting balconies...I am talking balconies far removed from one another which required a bit of yelling which again tends to take away from the peace and quiet of your own balcony.

I know some are not going to like what I am saying when it comes to the demographics onboard, but I would rather someone go into their cruise prepared than being surprised. 

I say all of that to say...this is not a cruise for everyone.  We found what made us happy and stuck to it for the duration of the cruise.  We enjoyed the cruise but I doubt we will ever sail again on the Conquest out of Galveston again.  This is not a reflection on Carnival as a whole, but only my opinion about this specific ship out of this specific port.

I hope this helps you when pondering your next cruise option.  Everyone has an opinion and this review reflects mine.

I am already looking forward to my next cruise which may either be on Holland America or Celebrity...I am still trying to decide.  Or I may head back to Royal Caribbean and give the new Allure of the Seas a try.  Thanks again for reading and feel free to comment or ask any sort of cruise related question.

Carnival Conquest Review Part 3

This edition of my review will cover the entertainment and ports of call.

The Entertainment:

Boo!  That should pretty much sum it up.  There were 4 comedians onboard during this cruise.  One was very funny (Mutzie), one was ok and 2 were simply awful.  This was also the first cruise out of 6 where there was not some form of show every night in the main theater.  They opted for “adult laser tag” instead on some nights.  But after watching a couple of the shows...I see why.  They tried to make up for the lack of dancing and singing talent by wearing practically nothing (at least for the ladies in the production).  These were not family shows.  These were Vegas showgirl style shows.  I am sure the costumes cost a lot of money, but maybe they should try to pay for better performers instead and go with cheaper costumes.  We always try to see the shows, but we missed at least 2 of them on this cruise and we wish we would have missed at least 2 of the comedians and one more of the shows.  We have seen a lot of shows at sea and these were the worst by far.

The cruise director was heard but not necessarily seen.  All of my previous cruises had a cruise director that would come out before each show and talk to the crowd and joke and sort of get things started.  Not on this cruise.  Chris Jefferson would be heard over the speaker as an intro voice, but rarely made an actual appearance.  The same was true for the comedy shows.  You would hear an announcement by him before the show, but it was always one of the assistants doing the actual introduction.  They played Bingo in the main theater every night right up until it was showtime. 

The musicians were good.  The calypso band (duo) that played out by the pool were excellent and kept things “groovy” as they liked to say.  The best entertainment we found on board was us actually going down the water-slide which was a real hoot for us.

But the overall entertainment onboard gets a C- grade and that is me being nice.

Ports of Call:

Jamaica.  We have been to Jamaica before so our intent with this port was to hop off the ship, buy some goodies in the cruise ship center, and hop back on to take advantage of a practically empty ship.  We stuck to our plan and did just that.  Jamaica is not a port that I feel visitors should get out and explore on their own.  Safety is a concern and I only recommend doing “planned and organized” excursions through reputable companies.  We heard a few comments from folks who did planned excursions and some were not thrilled with how far most excursions are from where the ship docks in Montego Bay.  Jamaica is not our favorite port which is why we opted to take advantage of the quiet ship

Grand Cayman.  In contrast to Jamaica, this is a port that is easy to get out in and explore on your own.  We opted for a nice leisurely day of shopping so we waited until about 9:30am to try to tender into shore.  Carnival’s tendering process went very smoothly.  We were actually “anchored” very close to shore compared to some of the other ships in port that day.  We were onshore in about 10 minutes.  We took in some of the scenery, shopped and then found “Breezes” for lunch.  You get good food and a GREAT view from Breezes so I recommend checking them out the next time you visit Grand Cayman.  The cruise lines need to skip Jamaica and offer an overnight stay in Grand Cayman my opinion.

Cozumel.  I love the Puerto Maya area where our ship docked.  Good places to eat right there by the pier and lots of shopping.  We chose to do an excursion that we booked through  We took a short 5-10 minute taxi ride ($10 each way) to the Fiesta Americana where we had full access to their pools and beach.  Lunch and open bar was also included.  The staff at the resort were great.  The food was good and it was a great day.  It was a bit windy, but still warm and enjoyable.  Give a try when looking into excursions.

Stay tuned for part 4 in which I will summarize the experience and give my overall grade. :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Carnival Conquest Review Part 2

This part of the review will cover my overall impression of the ship as well as the food and dining venues.

The Ship:

The Conquest was the first one built in the “Conquest Class” of ships back in 2002 and therefore shows some of its age.  The Degas Lounge had some fairly outdated light fixtures.  The bathroom fixtures in our bathtub/shower were very outdated compared to what is being installed in newer ships today. There were a few stains in some carpeted areas which the staff was trying to get out during our cruise.  The one quirky area that I found was where the internet cafe was located.  You had to go down to deck 4 and then walk around and through one of the lounges just to find it.  Most internet cafes on other ships are located more centrally with some of the other public areas such as the library, coffee cafe etc.

The promenade on deck 5 is the main entertainment area on the ship.  The disco, the casino, the wine bar, one of the teen lounges, the sushi and coffee venues, the gift shops are all found along the promenade or forward on this deck.  If you wanted loud music and dancing, this was the deck for you.  There was either recorded music blaring or a live band playing each day and night.  It was also the area where so many of the photographers were perched trying to get you to take a picture with one of the hundreds of backdrops that we saw.  I will also come back to that also in a later post.

The pool and deck areas seemed to have an abundance of deck chairs and space.  We mainly found deck chairs early on in the day near the main pool area on the Lido deck.  This was also the area that featured the large TV screen and waterslide and 3 hot tubs (although I heard that only one of the hot tubs was actually heated).  On sea days, you needed to get out on the Lido deck no later than 10am if you wanted to get deck chairs near some of the action, which we did.

Overall, the ship is very nice and the public areas (not including the dining) seemed designed well for traffic flow with the photo area being the exception to that.  The photo area where you could go view some of the pictures you had taken was very congested at certain times and made it almost impossible to get around.  The ship’s staff was always out and about cleaning and sprucing which is always something nice to see.

The ship itself gets a B grade.

The Dining: we are getting to the important stuff.  This is where my perspective comes into play a lot.  I am going to compare the dining areas and the staff to what I have experienced on 5 previous cruises with 4 other cruise lines. 

First, the buffet areas were not designed well for the size of the ship.  Unlike Royal Caribbean’s Windjammer Cafe which has “food islands” or stations, the Cezanne Restaurant was designed more “cafeteria style.”  You get in line to get a plate and tray and then you wait with everyone else and you SLOWLY make your way through the food options, even if what you really want is more at the end of the buffet line.  Lines, during the busier parts of the morning and afternoon, were very long.  Seating on the other hand was actually better than I had seen on some previous cruises.  There was a lower and upper seating area along with more seating out by the pool areas.  You should not have a problem getting a seat once you actually have a plate of food.

The food in Cezanne was just ok.  After a few cruises, I have lowered my buffet expectations and the food on this buffet was similar to what I have seen on the last two.  It is what it is.  Everything that was supposed to be warm or hot was warm or hot and the staff was doing their best to keep things in stock.  Along with the normal buffet choices, you could also opt to visit a wok station, a fish and chips station or a deli sandwich station.  But again, depending on when you got there, the lines could be VERY long.  The fish and chips were good and so were the made-to-order deli sandwiches.  We never got a chance to try the wok station due to the crowd, but some friends of our did and said it was excellent.

2 things Carnival should simply eliminate; the "late night Mexican buffet" which now replaces the full midnight buffet and the midday "chocolate buffet." These were supposed to have been special occasions, but were pretty uneventful and lackluster. The "Mexican buffet" consisted of a few nicely carved fruit items on the 2 dessert stations and one ice sculpture. The food was no different than what you would have found during lunch or dinner in Cezanne. We walked down to see it and chuckled and walked away. The same goes for the chocolate buffet. It was a waste of money and resources.

The thing I wish Carnival and even some other cruise lines like NCL would think about changing is their beverage service in the buffet areas.  Royal Caribbean has staff that roams around asking if they can get you juice, milk, tea or coffee once you get your food and find a seat.  Carnival does not. You have to find a seat and then go to one of the drink stations to get tea, juice or coffee.  That can be an additional hassle after you have stood forever in the food line.  Just a little difference in service that I have noticed as I get more cruises under my belt.

You could also opt for the traditional hotdog, pizza or hamburger from those areas out by the pools.  Again...the food there was ok and edible. No complaints.

Now on to the dining room and specialty restaurant.  We ate dinner almost every night in the Monet dining room which is the “assigned time and seat” dining option.  The anytime dining can be found in the Renoir dining room.  The service was stellar.  Kate and her team were very attentive and the food always showed up quickly and at the right temperature.  This was the 1st time that we had at least 3 servers attending to our table (actually 4 when you consider we even had a “specialty beverage server” as I will call him).  The food was good overall.  Some dishes were better than others, but they were all good.  The one difference again that I will note is that it seemed that Carnival offers less in the way of dessert choices at dinner.  You were given 2 different options every night along with their standard offerings that are on the menu every night.

I was waiting for that “wow” dining experience when it came to the food with Carnival and I just never got it.  I had heard so much about the lobster tail that you get with Carnival and I was a bit disappointed when I saw the portion that you were given.

We did decide one night to try the Conquest’s specialty dining venue, the Point.  You pay $30 per person extra to eat at the Point, but I do recommend giving it a try.  The food was great and so was the very attentive service.  I had the best dessert of the cruise while dining here.  The only con to this venue was its location.  You were seated with a view of one of the outside decks on deck 10.  Other specialty restaurants on other ships are usually placed in a quiet area with a nice view of the ocean which adds to the ambience and experience.

We did order room service a few times.  They were very prompt.  We ordered lunch one day during a sea day and it only took 10 minutes from the time we place the order until the food showed up at our door.  We also opted to have breakfast in our room one morning and it showed up precisely at the time we had asked for.  The only negatives were that our breakfast showed up without a spoon which made eating cereal a bit of a challenge with a fork and I do wish they offered a better room service selection.  For example...we asked if we could get fries with our sandwich instead of potato chips and were simply told no.  I know enough about cruise ships to know that the food pretty much comes from the same galley and I am not sure why they would not try to accommodate what seemed like a simple request.

Before I end the discussion about the food, I need to touch on the sushi venue and the specialty coffee area.  I was excited about the sushi since I LOVE sushi.  But I was disappointed to see that you only had 3 choices each day.  Basically you had a tuna choice, a crab choice and a non-fish choice each day.  The good news is that it was included in the price of your cruise.  Not so though with any of the sweets from the specialty coffee area.  Unlike Princess, NCL, Disney and Royal Caribbean, you had to pay extra with Carnival for a decent cookie, piece of cake or any of the other food choices found here.  The prices ranged from $1.50 up to $3.00.  And after trying some of the dessert choices on the buffet, it really made you crave something decent as far as treats are concerned which must be Carnival’s plan.  Cookies on the buffet were very small and hard so if you wanted a decent, freshly baked cookie, you had to pay for it.  Again...same galley, but different levels of food quality.  I am not a fan of that practice at all.

The food and service in the dining room and and specialty restaurant gets an A- grade while the other food options get a C grade.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I will be discussing the entertainment, and the ports of call.

Carnival Conquest Review Part 1

I hope everyone has had a chance to watch the short video in the previous post so that you will understand the perspective from which I am writing this review from.  This part of the review will cover our most recent 7 night cruise aboard the Carnival Conquest and will discuss our pre-cruise hotel, the port of embarkation, and our stateroom. 

Pre-cruise Hotel:

We drove to the pier from our home in Missouri and spent the night in Galveston at the Four Points by Sheraton on Seawall Boulevard overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  This hotel is brand new.  The rooms were comfortable and very clean.  The hotel is conveniently located within about 5-10 minutes of the pier.  I have read some reviews where someone was complaining of the price of sodas and snacks at the hotel.  For Pete’s is a hotel!  Since when is anything like that ever cheap at a hotel?  The hotel itself is close to fast food venues if someone is looking for cheaper food options so  I say that the cost issue is not really an issue at all.

The only thing that I hope they consider is some form of pre-cruise package including transfers to the pier.  It was not an issue for us since we drove down, but for others, they will have to call a cab to get from the hotel to the pier.

Port of Embarkation:

This cruise left out of the Port of Galveston.  We arrived at the pier at approximately 11:40am and dropped off our bags with one of the porters and then proceeded to park the car in the open air parking lot (lot B) which is about a quarter mile from the pier itself.  A shuttle bus runs every few minutes between the pier and the parking areas and we were back at the pier within 10 minutes or so.  The lines to get through security were getting quite long.  They only had 2 security areas open for general boarding which was creating quite a bottle neck.  Luckily we were considered VIP guests since we were staying in one of Carnival’s suite categories and we were escorted to a much shorter security line.  Once through security, we were then led to a nice quiet room where a Carnival employee was waiting to officially check us in.  This  again was due to the fact that we had VIP priority check in status.  Checking in was a breeze and we were quickly led up the gangway to the ship.  It took less than an hour from the time we dropped off the luggage, parked the car, checked in and were finally walking onboard the ship.  You could choose to park closer in one of the valet parking lots, but be prepared to pay for that convenience and service.  I can’t say enough about the benefit of having the VIP status.  I estimate that it saved us at least 30 minutes or more by not having to stand and wait in the security line for general boarding.  I am not sure why the only had 2 security scanners open with the amount of people trying to get through.  Out of 6 cruises, that was the longest security line I had seen to date.

The Port of Galveston, in general, is an easy port to get to and is close to several hotel and eating venues.  The only other issue or warning I will make about the port is concerning flying into Houston versus driving to the pier.  Both of Houston’s major airports are at least 45 minutes from the pier (assuming no traffic issues) and transfers can be quite costly so just be aware and plan/budget accordingly.  Driving to the pier was a breeze.  I give the port a “B” grade. 

Our Stateroom:
As I mentioned, we were staying in one of the suite categories.  We were in an OS category on deck 7 (Empress) and our stateroom number was 7273.  We were a little more forward than what we had been on previous cruises, but conveniently located to main lobby stairs and elevator.  The stateroom was GREAT!  It had a nice little entry way with hardwood flooring and a cozy seating area with a couch, small table and chair.   It had granite counter tops and crown molding throughout.  There was an abundance of storage and I mean an abundance.  Lots of room to hang clothes and tons of drawers to  keep everything else out of sight and neatly organized.  The bathroom had 2 sinks and an actual whirlpool bathtub/shower combo and a separate vanity area.  The balcony was large and came with 3 reclining chairs and a small table.

Tip:  when choosing a stateroom, make sure you know what is below or above you.  Deck 7 is sandwiched in between 2 other decks filled with nothing but staterooms which makes it a very quiet deck.  We never heard any of our neighbors next to us nor above or below us.  The only time we heard anyone was if they were out on their balcony where noise seemed to travel much further. 

We spent a lot more of our time in our stateroom than we did on any of our prior cruises.  It was a nice retreat away from some of the noise and people onboard (I will get to that in another post).  One of our sea days was very windy up on deck and we found out that our balcony was big enough for 2 adults to recline our chairs and enjoy the sunshine out of the wind.  If you ever have a chance to upgrade to a OS or GS suite category, do it.  Don’t listen to those who try to say that there is not much difference between a regular balcony stateroom and one of the suites.  That is simply not true. I give our stateroom an A+ grade.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I will be discussing the ship itself and the various food venues.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Accidents Do Happen

You know the old adage “we are all human”? is amazing how quickly we chuck that idea aside anytime someone makes a mistake or when things don’t go exactly as we planned. 

The latest cruise crisis aboard the Carnival Splendor will go to prove that it does not matter what someone does or tries to do to right a wrong, it will never ever be enough for some people.  Some people will decide that this is the end of their cruise vacations forever based on what has transpired over the past week.  That is a knee-jerk reaction to what is accident.  Angry travelers will lose site of those crew members who worked tirelessly and fearlessly to put out the fire.  They will lose site of those crew members who had to work without any sleep at all so that necessities such as plumbing could come back online.  Others will never comprehend the massive coordination that it took to get the navy involved so that certain items could be airlifted aboard.

Nope...some will just blame an accident on the company and the crew and spew all sorts of venom towards those who did everything in their power to get them back into a port safely.

I am not here to simply be a fan of Carnival. In fact, as I type this, we are getting ready to embark on our very first Carnival cruise in less than 3 days.  I am simply a fan of those who do their job when a crisis or accident strikes and I applaud the Carnival organization and the crew of the Splendor for getting everyone back into a port safe and sound.  I know some will discount what Carnival has offered them and say it is simply not enough, but trust me, they are doing what they can do in light if what has happened. 

Do any of us claim that we will never take a vacation that involves driving across country when we are delayed or involved in a large traffic accident?  Do any of us claim we will never ever fly again when we hear of an aircraft that had to be diverted due to mechanical failure? Think about that if you are one who is looking at this accident as a reason why you will never consider a cruise vacation or consider sailing with a certain cruise line.

Those are just some thoughts I wanted to share.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Travel Reviews: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By the title, you probably are assuming I am going to list some hotels, cruises or some of my other travels as my good, bad or ugly experiences.  But I am not.  This article is strictly for the purpose of addressing reviews themselves....again.

The more popular travel forums and review sites become, the more critical it is for readers to take them with a grain of salt.  Here is why I say that.  Below is an example of how the same cruise experience can be shared on some of these forums by 2 different travelers:

Traveler 1--”This cruise was the absolute worst I have ever been on.  The service was something near what you would get at K-Mart the day after Christmas.  The staff were all ogres.  The food was rancid and sent 95% of the passengers to the infirmary to have their stomachs pumped.  Our stateroom smelled of musty gym socks mixed with a hint of septic system.  The shows were at the pre-school talent level. NEVER take this cruise.  RUN RUN!!”

Traveler 2--”We just got back from our cruise aboard XYZ ship and we had the best time of our lives.  The service was 5 star.  The food was something we would expect to get while visiting the Queen of England.  Our stateroom was superb and even had the faint scent of lilac which added to the ambiance. The entertainment was straight off of Broadway.  Can’t wait to get back on this ship again.”

Now think about those 2 reviews for a moment.  How is it possible for the same ship to get 2 different reviews at such extreme opposite ends of the spectrum?  Well...the truth of how the cruise actually was and actually will be is probably somewhere near the middle as most are.  All trips, hotels, cruises etc have their good and not so good points or maybe I should call them “areas of improvement.”  But what bothers me about reviews is that so many of them are extremes and some take them as the gospel truth and make decisions based on them. 

I recently was reading on a travel forum and someone had posted some negative news and I was shocked to see how many believing that one post and acting as if it were enough for them to make a decision.  NOOO!!  Don’t do that.  Those that write VERY negative reviews are most likely in one of the following categories:

1) An extreme fan of a competing cruise line or company
2) A spoiled traveler who has a very unrealistic view of reality
3) A very unhappy person in general and nothing will make them happy
4) Someone who had a very unfortunate experience that was not typical and resolution was not to their satisfaction

Even if the negative review came from the someone who had a very unfortunate experience, other travelers should give more weight to the overall rating and not base a decision on one person’s skewed perspective.  And trust me...if you see someone who says, ”the food was hideous” on their cruise, they are not someone grounded in reality.  If someone says, “the food was always cold,”  maybe they were eating only on the fruit buffet or maybe they were coming to breakfast at a time when the buffet was about to be changed from breakfast to lunch.  Those are the details that most negative reviewers leave out of their synopsis.

So in reviews with a grain of salt if you read them at all.  Understand that every traveler has their own viewpoint of the level of service they receive and they may not be giving ALL of the story.  The "Good" reviews, in my opinion, are those who offer more than just the good side or the bad side; they will usually give detail about the good and also about why they may view something as not so good.  They are balanced and you can tell that the writer was trying to be objective.  Look for those if you want to get a true picture of how a place or a cruise might be. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Travel Trivia

First of all...congratulations to last month's quiz winner, Angela W from Ohio. She submitted the winning answer and correctly guessed "Thailand."

This month's quiz has to do again with geography. So here it is:

Travelers are about to embark on a cruise. They have 3 excursions planned for their cruise. One of the things they always wanted to do is send a postcard to someone from Hell and their fist stop will give them that chance. Then on their second stop, they plan on hearing a haunting tale from the great Rose Hall. And finally on their third stop, they will take a dune buggy tour of the island which has a name that means "Island of the Swallows."

Name the 3 islands/Countries that these travelers will visit during their cruise. If you submit the correct answer, you will be entered into a drawing to win a $20 Target Gift Card. Your answer must be submitted no later than November 21st, to be considered for the drawing.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Your Most FAVORITE Cruise Line

This is just a quick, non-scientific poll to see which cruise line you would most likely choose for your next cruise vacation. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Carnival Cruise 2010-a Preview

We are excited to be just a little over 30 days away from taking our first cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines.   This cruise will make a total of 6 cruises for me.  I will also be able to say that I have sailed at least once with Royal Caribbean, NCL, Princess, Disney and Carnival.  I had a goal early on where I wanted to personally sail with these cruise lines because, in my opinion, they have the broadest appeal among mainstream cruisers from all age groups.  I have always taken pride in my knowledge of certain travel products and it is hard to beat personal experience when it comes to speaking to others about their cruise options.

So with that said, I will be blogging about our cruise as usual once we return and will be giving my personal opinion of the ship’s staff, food, accommodations, ports of call etc.  But for now...I want to give you all a preview of the ship we will be sailing on and our personal trip plans.

Cruise Date and Length:
We sail away on November 14th for 7 nights.

The Ship:
I am thrilled that my first cruise with Carnival will be aboard the Carnival Conquest.  I have studied the Conquest class of ships and they appear to offer a something for everyone.  The ship weighs in at a modest 110,000 gross tons and first entered into service on November 15, 2002.  It can carry up to over 3700 passengers and normally sails with just over 2900 happy cruisers. It measures in at just over 950 feet in length and has 13 passenger decks.  Over 32% of its 1487 staterooms have balconies. 

I am even more thrilled to say that we have chosen an OS Category stateroom which is one of 3 suite categories aboard the Conquest.  Our suite has an entry area, a separate dressing area, a bathroom with 2 sinks and a whirlpool tub/shower combo and an extra large balcony where I plan on spending a lot of time each morning enjoying my cup of coffee.  It also has an abundance of closet space, a couch, table and chair and nice king sized bed.  The OS Category was once called a category 11 for those who may still not be accustomed to some of Carnival’s re-categorization of their staterooms. The OS stands for “Ocean Suite” and the only categories above ours would be the GS or “Grand Suite” and the “Captains Suite.”  We are on the Empress Deck in stateroom 7273. 

We are also excited to test out Carnival’s VIP embarkation and disembarkation process which I have heard or have read some mixed reviews about.  I will explain more about it in my review upon our return.

Port of Embarkation
We start our 7 day cruise out of the Port of Galveston.  This will be our first cruise as well out of this port.  So far, without question, my favorite port of embarkation is Port Everglades (Ft Lauderdale).  I like how close the airport is to the port along with the abundance of hotels that are within view of the port itself.  So I will be curious to see how things go on this cruise.  We will be spending the night before our cruise in the brand new Four Points by Sheraton which is very close to the port.  The hotel offers free shuttle to and from the pier and my goal is to wake up early the morning of the 14th to see if I can catch a glimpse of the Conquest returning to port from its previous 7 day cruise.

Ports of Call:
This cruise will make stops at 3 different Western Caribbean ports of call; Jamaica (Montego Bay), Grand Cayman and Cozumel.  In addition, we will have 3 full days at sea...we LOVE sea days!

Our Plan:
Here is what we have arranged for this trip.  For the first time we will be driving from our home in Missouri to the Port of Galveston.  It is about an 11 hour trip so we will get on the road Friday afternoon and head for Dallas TX where we plan on spending the night at a La Quinta Inn.  The next morning we have a special breakfast planned before heading the rest of the way down to Galveston.  For the first time in 42 years, my wife is about to meet her birth mother who did the most courageous thing in the world over 42 years ago which is give her daughter up for adoption.  After our much-anticipated breakfast, we will head to Galveston where we will be spending the night at the hotel I mentioned earlier, the new Four Points by Sheraton.

Once aboard the Conquest, our goal is to relax and take full advantage of the full sea days before we arrive in Montego Bay.  We have been to Montego Bay back a few years ago when we sailed with Royal Caribbean on the Radiance of the Seas and our plan is for me to hop off the ship, buy some Blue Mountain Coffee, snap some pictures of the ship and hop back on to take advantage of a ship that is practically empty.

We will then sail to Grand Cayman where we have our only excursion booked.  I again have booked our excursion through and I highly recommend that you check them out when thinking about excursions for your next cruise.  They are reasonably priced (cheaper than the cruise line in most cases) and very reliable.  We have a beach day planned which also includes a nice lunch at a local restaurant down on a stretch of Seven Mile Beach that is less populated. 

Our last port will be Cozumel where our only plan is to disembark and take a stroll through some of the shopping areas at our leisure and potentially find a nice local restaurant for lunch before again getting back on the ship to take advantage of more available poolside seating and possibly an “in port spa special.” 

I think you can see by our plans that they are skewed heavily towards R&R and less towards scheduled activities.  My other goal is to see as much as the ship as I can and eat in as many of the ship’s dining venues as I can so I can adequately discuss its pros and cons upon our return. 

So please stay tuned...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Travel Question: Do I Need A Passport? (U.S. Citizens)

This is by far the most frequent question I receive from clients and potential travelers. So here is my answer...YES! Please, if you do not have a passport already, make plans to get one soon. Look at it as a travel necessity as you would luggage or a camera or anything else that would always be on your packing list.

Now before you go off and cite the U.S. State Department's official answer to the question and claim I am off-base, hear me out. If you plan on visiting Canada or Mexico from the United States by car, you need a passport (or the passport card). If you plan on flying to ANY Country outside of the U.S. including Canada and Mexico, you need a passport.

But...if you are going on a cruise and the cruise leaves from a U.S. port and returns to a U.S. port, then your cruise is considered to be a "closed loop" cruise. In this case, you are not required to have a passport or the passport card even if your cruise visits foreign ports during the cruise. The key is that it has to leave from a U.S. port and return to a U.S. port. As of the time of this article, you only need a State issued driver's license AND a copy of your State-issued birth certificate.

So again, before you go off and decide now that you do not need a passport because you only plan on taking a cruise, let me throw you some curves that might make you reconsider. First, the U.S. does not control other Country's requirements when it comes to entry documentation. You may go on your cruise and get to a port only to find out you cannot enter that Country because they require you to carry a passport. But here is the one scenario that I hope will make you rethink and hopefully go ahead with getting your passport; Assume you go on a cruise and go to a port such as Jamaica. While you are in port, you go on an excursion and, during that excursion, you break a bone and are transported to the nearest hospital. Now imagine sitting there and looking at your watch and realizing that your ship left port an hour ago. So you start thinking about flying home from Jamaica, but soon also realize you will need a passport to fly back into the U.S., but you had decided to save the money and NOT get your passport. Now what ya gonna do?  Now we all hope that this would never ever happen, but the question is...what if it does?

The above scenario is not far fetched and I wish more travelers understood the pros of getting their passports instead of only looking at the one negative which is always the cost. Look at it as an investment (I know that is bit of a stretch). The passport for an adult is good for 10 years and the sooner you buy it, the cheaper it will be since passport prices are constantly going up, not down.

I HIGHLY recommend for you to visit this LINK where you can get the latest and greatest passport info and costs for adults and children. If you are pondering a vacation of a lifetime that will take you outside the U.S. borders, don't put the passport decision process off, make it a part of your advance planning and get it checked off your to-do list and let the real fun part of the planning process begin.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Criteria for Selecting a Hotel

A short video discussing some of the things you should consider before you select the hotel you will be staying at during your vacation. I would love to get your thoughts or comments.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Point of Diminishing Returns for Disney?

The USA Today recently published an article (read it here) announcing the latest winners of the “Golden Ticket Award.” This award is handed out by Amusement Park Today. This trade publication surveys “experienced” travelers and amusement park fans across the country and then hands out the awards for the “best overall amusement park” as well as a variety of other categories; categories such as the best water park or the best new ride/attraction etc.

The Golden Ticket for the best overall amusement park was Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio. Cedar Point is known for having some of the tallest and most thrilling roller coasters in all the world.

But what I want to ask is, “where is Disney?” If you look at the 18+ categories listed in the article, only one Disney park appears as a winner. Illuminations, the pyrotechnic and fireworks extravaganza in Epcot is the only Disney-related event to win and it was in the category of “Best outdoor night show.”

Categories such as the “friendliest staff” or the “cleanest park” or the “best dark ride” all went to other US theme/amusement parks. Even Disney’s nemesis, Universal Orlando, came away with more Golden Tickets.

This prompted me to do some pondering and reflect upon something learned back during the good old college days. Has Disney reached the point of diminishing returns? Has their increases in ticket prices started to outweigh the perceived value and benefits of the American consumer? The cost of a one day ticket to Walt Disney World has eclipsed the $80 (plus tax) mark compared to Cedar Point which has a one day ticket cost of $45.99 (at the time of this writing).

If last minute dining availability is an indicator, I will venture to say that turnstiles are clicking less at the 4 WDW parks compared to the same time in previous years. At some point, the continual increase in ticket costs will negatively effect the overall attendance if it has not already, in my opinion.

So what are your thoughts or experiences? Have you noticed a difference in crowds during recent visits? Have you considered vacationing to one of the many other amusement parks simply due to budgeting and things being tight due to the economy? Have you felt that the value is not as high as it once was during a recent WDW or Disneyland visit?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Where in the World Am I?

Ok travel is your chance to show your knowledge. Watch the video and tell me where I am at. What Country am I in? You can submit your answer in the comment section. Everyone who submits the right answer will be entered into a drawing on October 15, 2010 and will have a chance to win a $25 iTunes Gift Card.

Good luck and thanks for visiting my blog.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cruise Stateroom Selection, Which Do You Usually Choose?

So much is said and written in regards to cruise staterooms. If you have spent any time at all on various cruise-related blogs and forums, you will see some pretty strong opinions when it comes to answering the question, "which stateroom category is the best?" You will hear (read) people saying that they always choose an inside stateroom because "ocean view or balcony staterooms are a waste of money. Who ever goes and sits on their balcony anyways?" Then you will get the natural rebuttal from those who will always choose a balcony stateroom and hear them justify their upgrade by arguing that they enjoy the "quiet moments sipping coffee on their balcony as they pull into each port of call," etc.

But I will tell you that most of my clients usually make their choice based simply on their budget. If their budget only allows a cruise with an inside stateroom, then they will choose an inside stateroom versus forgoing the cruise because they can't afford a balcony and so on.

So here is my "non-scientific poll" related to the subject; which is it for you? Chime in and share an opinion as well.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hawaii Part 3: Which Island(s) Should I Visit?

This really is the #1 question I get asked by travelers who are looking into taking a Hawaiian vacation. It also is the hardest question to answer. Each of the Hawaiian Islands offers a completely different experience so the answer again depends on the type of vacation you are seeking.

If you are a first time visitor, it would be hard for me not to recommend a visit to Oahu. While Oahu is tourist-laden, it has some of the most popular Hawaiian experiences such as a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center, or a trip up to famous Diamond Head. And Oahu has one of the most emotion-evoking, historical monuments that anyone can plan on visiting…The USS Arizona Memorial. So if you are a first-timer, you probably should plan on spending at least a couple of days on Oahu.

If you are seeking a quiet and relaxing Hawaiian getaway, then Oahu and Waikiki may not be the right choice for you. As I stated in my previous post, Waikiki is crowded with LOTS of traffic and visitors, which sometimes is not conducive to relaxation. You may be more interested in visiting Maui, Kauai or the big island of Hawaii where things are a tad more serene and where scenery is the #1 attraction.

If you are on a tight budget, you may want to limit your visit to only one island during your trip so you can avoid the inner-island flights and extra transfer costs. If you are limited by time, then again you probably will want to pick one island and focus your vacation there. Remember, if you are traveling to Hawaii from states in the central or eastern part of the US, then you will be losing at least 2 full days of your vacation in transit to and from Hawaii. So you need to factor in the additional time you will spend in the airport and at the car rental desk when you plan a multiple island vacation.

I just wanted to give you some things to think about when you start planning your Hawaiian vacation. Simply determine the type of vacation you want and then put together a plan that accomplishes that goal. If you love seeing a bunch of sites and experiences, then you may want to mix it up a bit and do a 2-island trip. But if you enjoy the beautiful scenery and seek some quiet beach time, then you will want to choose an island that meets that goal so you have the best vacation possible.

Let me know your thoughts or questions. And as always…thanks for reading.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Walt Disney World Myth: Off-site is Always Cheaper

We are living in a day and time where everyone is looking to save as much money as possible in everything that we do. Let’s face it, budgets are tight. Even the magical Walt Disney World has not been immune to the economy’s downturn. A recent report showed that Disney’s park attendance was down as much as 8% compared to the same period a year ago. Because of that, Disney continues to offer discounts and vacation package specials to try to encourage the budget-conscious family to book a Disney getaway, whether on land or at sea.

So with all of these discounts that continue to be offered, I have to ponder why so many potential Disney visitors still think that it is cheaper to plan an “offsite” vacation? I think it is because so many “Disney experts” that permeate blogs and discussion boards have continued to preach, “if you want to save a lot of money, stay offsite.” Well I am here to tell you that this is a myth, plain and simple.

Sure, if you compare a budget motel 30 minutes from the parks to a non-discounted Disney package, you will probably see a “savings” if you choose the “Motel $29.95.” But do not simply assume you will save money by staying offsite until you have done your homework and compared ALL the costs of the trip and other parts of the vacation.

For example...if you choose to stay offsite and Disney is offering a free dining vacation package for its on-site guests, do you know how much money you would save in food if you stayed onsite? Free dining can equate to a $500-600+ savings for a family of 4 during a 6 night stay. Did you sit down and actually establish a realistic budget for what you will be spending in food during your offsite stay? You have to get to that level of detail in your comparison of prices before anyone can claim they are saving “X” amount of dollars by staying offsite.

Another area that many forget to adequately compare is in the area of parking and transportation. If you are driving to the parks and are planning on staying offsite, did you add in the cost of parking at the parks? It costs $14 per day to park at any of the 4 parks at Walt Disney World (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon being the exception). So your 6 day offsite visit needs to include an extra $84. Did you factor in the extra gas that you will spend by driving yourself to the parks versus staying onsite and being able to take advantage of Disney transportation? You need to before you can claim you saved any money by staying offsite.

If you are flying down to Orlando...does your offsite hotel offer free shuttle from the airport and then a free shuttle to the parks each day? If much more is your rental car going to cost you or the shuttle bus? And if you do happen to choose a hotel with free shuttle, do you know how often it runs between your hotel and the parks? How much is your time worth? If your offsite stay means you will have to spend less time in the parks, is it really a better deal when you factor in that the park tickets make up a large proportion of your overall Disney vacation cost?

I hope this is making you see that staying offsite is not always the best deal. You can’t claim that you have “saved” money if you did not do your homework ahead of time to determine the true costs of staying off Disney property. I hope this helps with your future Walt Disney World vacation planning.

Questions? Comments? I would love to get your feedback.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hawaii: What You Need To Know (Part 2)

In my previous post, I started a short series devoted to traveling to the State of Hawaii. Hawaii is still one of the most popular destinations for tourists worldwide. As I stated in my previous post, Hawaii can seem like a foreign destination due to its distance from the US mainland as well as the diversity of scenery and culture that it offers.

In part 1, we started discussing some things you need to know as you start the vacation planning process such as the length of the flight and the overall time it takes to get from most major airport hubs (minus those located on the West coast).

In this installment, I want to discuss some of the logistics of getting around once you arrive you on any of the Hawaiian islands. I get this question a lot, “will I need a car in Hawaii?” Well the answer depends entirely on which island(s) you will be visiting. If you plan on visiting Oahu and plan on staying mainly in Honolulu and the Waikiki area, the resounding answer is will not need a car. The traffic in and around Honolulu is horrid to put it mildly. Driving can be a nightmare and that is not what we are seeking when we are on vacation. You also need to be aware that parking at most of the hotels in Honolulu can get very pricey (over $20 per day). The easiest and least expensive way to get around Honolulu is by public transportation such as shuttle buses or taxis. Most major tourist sites can be accessed by hoping on a shuttle bus near your hotel. So again, if you plan on visiting Honolulu and Waikiki, I would not recommend renting a car.

But if you plan on visiting one of the other islands such as Maui or Kauai, then you will want to consider renting a car. Driving and getting around is much easier and there are a lot of things to see and do that can be quite a distance from the resort and hotel areas. Having a car will give you more freedom to drive around and see some of the sites that are easier seen by yourself than in some form of shuttled tour group. But do keep in mind the cost of parking your vehicle at whatever hotel you decide on and make sure you budget accordingly.

So in conclusion, your decision to rent a car or not should depend solely on which area you will be visiting and staying in. A good travel agent will be able to guide you in the right direction and help you understand the cost differences of the various transportation options. Sometimes the option that seems the cheapest is not always the best.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Travel Tip: Hawaii (and Quiz)

Stay tuned to the end of this video for a chance to win a $25.00 Visa Gift Card.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Understanding Airline Costs

As I have searched for client's airfare over the past few days, I am being made aware again that the general public still does not completely understand the "real cost" of a particular flight. I will have clients that say they have found a flight for "X dollars" which appeared to be the cheapest option on the surface. That one flight may have come in $50 less than another option on another airline, but was it really $50 cheaper?

You won't know the answer to that question unless you are clearly aware of each airlines fee policy.

Southwest Airlines is always a good one to use when talking about fees due to their resistance to charge for certain items or services (such as baggage fees) above and beyond the actual airfare. So let's say you have found a flight on Southwest for $250 round trip. And for the sake of the argument, let's assume you do not want to check in early (earlier than 24 hours before your flight) just to keep it simple. You then go and search some more options and find a similar flight time on Frontier Airlines and their base fare is $199 round trip and you get all excited thinking you are about to save over $50. But let's also say that you will check in at least one piece of luggage for your trip. Southwest allows up to 2 free checked in bags per person. Frontier will charge you $20 for the first check piece of luggage each way. So now...the true cost of the Frontier Flight (round trip) is $239.

See? All of the sudden, most of the cost savings that you thought you were going to get with Frontier was just wiped away when you forgot to consider baggage fees.

We can get wrapped up in all of the other fees such as fees for pillows, blankets, advance seat selection etc, but the major cost difference between airlines (anything above the base fare) will be baggage fees. So please make sure you understand each airlines rules when it comes to checked in luggage before making your final decision, especially if you are basing your decision on cost more so than schedule.

So ask yourself these questions when you start looking into airfare:

1) Will I need to check in 1 or 2 pieces of luggage for this trip?
2) Will I care if I don't get to select my actual seat on the plane?

3) Will I care if the airline tells me that there will be a charge for any type beverage or food service?

4) Will I care if I am made to pay for a blanket or pillow on the flight?

Those are areas that airlines are finding ways of getting into your pocket book. If you answer no to all of those questions, then you will be in a better position to compare one airline's base fare to another and get a true apples to apples comparison. But if those 4 items do matter to you, then you better make sure which airline is charging what and how much before hitting the "purchase" button.

I hope this helps.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Travel Ambassadors

I had “tweeted” the other day that each of us needs to remember that when we are visiting a foreign Country, we are representing our own Country. In essence, we are ambassadors as we travel. My tweet went on to say that we should not be jerks when we travel abroad because some see us and then judge others Americans based on our actions. That is human nature. We may see a tourist here in America being rude or insensitive towards someone or something. Then the tourist speaks and we realize that he or she may be from Germany so we immediately judge all German tourists the same.

American tourists frankly do not have the greatest reputation abroad and I think I am correct in saying it is because of a few bad apples. So here are some rules we all should live by when we travel:

1. Be respectful of other human beings. Just because they work at a hotel or on a plane or cruise ship or drive a bus does not mean they are less of a person. Treat them and talk to them as you would have them treat and talk to you.
2. Be calm. If something is not going according to plan, remain calm and be nice! Being nice will give you a great chance of getting your issue resolved to your liking much quicker than being mean-spirited and rude.
3. Remember that you are the tourist. You are the one talking funny when you travel abroad. Expecting others to speak your language and then getting mad when they don’t is honestly just a trait of selfishness and arrogance.
4. Obey the rules. Just because you think a rule such as “do not touch or photograph” may be stupid for whatever it is you are seeing or visiting does not give you the right to violate that rule. The item or place may be sacred to those in that Country and it is not up to you to judge its worthiness.
5. Study their culture before traveling. Sometimes it can be the littlest of things such as knowing how to bow in Asia or which hand to eat with in the Middle East. But your willingness to learn those things ahead of time will not go unnoticed by the locals. \

We all have the ability to represent our Country in the best way possible which will go a long way in shaping international opinion of the American tourist.

You may have thought of some other rules to live by when traveling overseas. I would love to hear some of them or get your thoughts on anything I have written.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Travel Question: What are "transfers?"

A very common question keeps coming up so I felt I should do my best to explain what is meant when I or any travel agent includes “transfers” in their vacation package quote.

Whether it is a cruise vacation or a trip to South America or Europe, unless you plan on renting a car while at your destination or driving to the cruise port, you will need a transfer. A transfer is the round trip transportation from your hotel to the port or the airport to your hotel etc. They are a part of the true costs of any trip that has to be factored in and can vary widely in cost.

For example...if you were to be spending the night in Miami the night before your cruise, you could arrange what they call a “shared van transfer” which could cost as little as $10 per person each way. The cost is low due to you sharing that shuttle van with several other people. The benefit is really just the cost. Some shared vans make multiple stops and you may be the first stop out of 4 on its way to the port which means that you may be on the van a while and it can get quite crowded. Shared vans or shuttles also dictate to you when you need to be ready to be picked up at your hotel so you are less in control of your schedule.

Or you could choose to take a “private transfer” which can run as high as $40 or more per person each way depending on the distance. The benefits are that you are more in control of when you want to be picked up and the vehicles tend to be nicer and more comfortable.

Those same classifications of transfers are the same no matter if you are leaving your hotel for your cruise or flying into Mexico or Honolulu or any other land-based destination. You will be able to choose between shared or private transfers. When taking a land-based vacation, something you should consider is whether the shared transfers will make several stops at various resorts along the way to yours. For Cancun, if you are staying down in the Riviera Maya area, your shared shuttle may stop again at 5 resorts and yours may be the very last stop. When that happens, your transfer time can be as long as 45 minutes to an hour once you are in the van. But if you opt for a private transfer, your shuttle time could be as short as 20-30 minutes and much more comfortable. If you are like me, when you arrive at your destination, you are just ready to get there and get your vacation started so you might consider a private transfer the next time you book a vacation.

I hope this short answer helps you better understand what is meant when your travel agent discusses the various “transfer options” that might be available to you. As always, please feel free to ask any question or leave a comment. Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Disney's "Give a Day, Get a Day" Promo

Several months ago I had conducted a short survey to see what travelers thought about Disney's latest promotion, "Give a Day, Get a Day." Disney had announced that you could receive 1 free day in one of their parks if you were able to volunteer at one of their sanctioned events held around the Country.

I was curious to see how many actually would take advantage of that promotion. My initial reaction, personally, was that it was a great customer relations promo for Disney, but that the average traveler would not be able to take advantage of getting their "one day free" due to their distance from a park or the cost in getting to the park just to get one day free.

The results were as I thought. Over 69% said that the promo would not increase their chances of visiting a Disney park in 2010. 85% of the responders said that they would not travel to Walt Disney World just for one day free in a park.

So now that we are half way into 2010...I am still curious to see how many might have participated in the "Give a Day, Get a Day" promo. I am curious to see if the numbers might have been better than expected and you were able to volunteer and go to one of the parks to take advantage of a day free. Please take the short poll aimed at gathering that information.

What are your thoughts now concerning this promo? Great for Disney and their guests? Or maybe great for Disney, but not as great as you thought it might be for guests? Let me know your opinion..

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Following the Dream (Conclusion)

So there I sat in the office of my local travel agent hearing options for various vacation ideas before finally settling on the idea of taking our first Caribbean cruise. We were excited. We had never been on a cruise before and the more I researched the ship and its itinerary, the more I watched the clock hoping time would go by quicker and quicker.

But something else was happening as we planned for this trip. The light bulb of destiny started to shine a little brighter. It was becoming clear again that I was doing most of the research. I may not have mentioned this, but one of the reasons I also chose to get into real estate was that we had a bad experience when we bought our first home and we were not informed or educated about the process of home buying by our Realtor. The Realtor we used back so many years ago was more interested in getting her commission than she was helping us through the process. I sensed that and I knew that I could be different and make sure clients never had to feel the way we felt. Well...the same sort of thing was happening with our first experience with a travel agent. She got the booking and we were left feeling somewhat on our own. I had to initiate all contact even though she knew quite well that we had never taken a cruise before in our life. I knew things could be different.

Then an event happened that I will never forget as long as I live. One sunny summer day, a friend and myself were enjoying a visit. He and I were discussing our jobs versus our career dreams. We both had good jobs, myself still in real estate and he was an insurance claims processor. We were making good livings but we both realized that they were simply jobs to us now. They were not what we dreamed of doing. So he simply asked me the question..."what is your dream career?" Without hesitation I said..."travel agent." I had never said that out loud before. But then I said what I had always felt..."but I don't think I could make a living at it." make a long story short, he questioned me on why I felt that way and talked about my travels and where I was raised and my experiences helping others with their trip plans and he could tell that there was some passion in my voice. I also listened to myself and how I was answering. I never said nor would I say today that I got into the travel business because I like to go on vacation just like I never said that I got into real estate because "I like looking at new homes" which some new real estate agents unfortunately had vocalized.

Traveling and the desire to learn about people and cultures and the desire to help people achieve their vacation goals all combined in my answer to why I had always wanted to get into the travel field. So that day, that afternoon even, I went home and started a search into what it would take to get involved in the travel industry. I researched...I studied...I trained...and here I am today. Now I am at the point that clients trust my experiences and knowledge which in turn makes me referable to their friends and family. I continue to achieve the necessary certifications that distinguish me from those who simply like to go on vacation and then tell others that they are "travel professionals." I am following the dream that I had so many years ago. I now feel that I am on my path and my career is no longer just another job. I feel it was what I was meant to do all these years, but had been afraid to try. I am now on my path and my wife and I travel as frequently as we can so I can continue to gain first hand knowledge of various destinations and experiences which better equips me to serve my clients.

So I am thankful for that friend who challenged my thinking and encouraged me to follow my dream and I encourage all of you to do the same.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Following the Dream (Part 4)

As I stated in my previous post...sometimes life throws you a curve ball just to see if you are paying attention. My wife and I have learned that tomorrow really is not a given. Her battle with cancer was a wake up call. Here we were and here I was on a path that I thought I would be on for years to come. But only during those difficult months did we realize that we had not been truly living. We were in “career mode.” We were becoming successful at our careers, but losing sight of what made life truly enjoyable. Up until that point, I had only thought of travel as a business necessity. My wife had tried and tried to get me to agree to go on a true vacation, but I had always balked and used work as an excuse. I decided we would finally take a trip, but even that trip was built around a real estate training event which meant that it really was not a vacation.

Well...after her chemo was completed...I broke down and agreed that we needed a getaway. Life had been pummeling us for a while and you can feel when you are nearing some form of breaking point so we made it official and I booked us a trip out west to the sleepy seaside town of La Jolla. My real estate career took a very positive turn a few months before this trip and I had made it a point that no career was more important than quality time with someone you love so I agreed to not check voice mail and I would not be checking e-mails during this getaway.

It was as if a HUGE lightbulb finally went off in my head. Here I was living in the moment or in the “present” as Spencer Johnson so eloquently wrote about. I was seeing everything more clearly. We were truly vacating during that trip. Everything slowed down and things were perfect. So there I now sat on the plane coming home skimming magazines and trying to find our next vacation destination. It was now in my blood, but in a different way. I was hooked on real travel, the kind where you are open to experiences and places that are different from your normal way of life. The kind of travel that you are excited about months before the trip actually gets here.

So one of the first things I did when I got home was go to see a local travel agent for help with a much more exotic location and little did I know that I would be taking my first step upon my new path... (to be continued)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Following the Dream (Part 3)

So if you have read parts 1 and 2, you are probably trying to now make the connection between going into real estate and following my destiny into the realm of travel. Life is like a big puzzle and the full picture never really appears until more and more pieces are connected. So follow along now as I reveal more of my puzzle.

I decided on real estate because I felt I was a good fit. I had a marketing and sales background coming out of college. I studied buyer behavior as well as developed skills in customer service throughout my corporate career. I also knew real estate would provide a great chance for me to learn the ropes of entrepreneurship and self-employment. I knew that, to succeed as a business owner, you had to commit 100% of your time which is why I knew I needed to quit my full-time corporate job and jump all the way into the to speak.

So fast forward again with me...I am now in real estate. I have a good client base being built up. I am focusing on service which is also making me referable. Things are going well, so well that my wife and I start to plan a future as a mom and dad. Without going into a long history...we were childless due to medical complications associated with a brain tumor that my wife had survived right before we got married. We always knew that someday we may consider adoption so my new career was also going to be a good fit with being an adoptive parent since I could be home each day. So we started the process that one must go through to adopt through private agencies. Life was just moving along down the path that we thought we were going to be staying on for a while.

But then it happens. Life throws you a curve just to see how you can handle change and adversity. No one can really prepare you to hear those words spoken to the one you love. But there my wife and I were in the Dr’s office as he was letting my wife know in the most gentle way he knew how...she had cancer. (to be continued)