Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dear TSA...

Dear TSA in the Kansas City International Airport,
Your job is to simply inspect bags.
Your job is not to scowl at every passenger that gets within your presence.
Your job is to make sure everyone gets through the detectors that determine if you have anything metal on you
Your job is not to yell at someone who may be new to the process
Your job is to have the procedures clearly defined on signage before someone steps up to the baggage inspection conveyor
Your job is not to treat someone like they are an idiot or criminal because things were not adequately explained beforehand
Your job is simply one of inspection
Your job does not make you someone of supreme authority
So here is my simple advice...just stick to doing an effective job and be human about it and try less to be a posterior orifice to everyone you meet
Someone who simply wants to get from point A to point B without much hassle

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

If I Ran an Airline...

If you are a fairly frequent traveler, one of the things that probably frustrates you the most is flying.  Most airlines have done a successful job of making it a huge hassle from start to finish.  Now granted some of the aggravation has nothing to do with the airlines and more with the security process we all most go through now.  But you would think that at least one airline would grab a clue and see that airline passengers are becoming increasingly hacked off well before they ever step through the door of an airport.

From the time you click on an airline’s website, you immediately feel tension because nothing is simple anymore.  Do you want to pay for “coach-flexible?”  Or how about the “super-triple-saver-web-only” fare?  If you have a bank account in the Caymans with a few million in it, you may even want to buy the “business class-flexible-early fare.”  That is just the beginning.  Now that you have selected the time you want with the fare that is going to require a new mortgage on the home, it is now the time to decide if you want to actually select your own seat.  Most likely there will be a charge for that so don’t tally up the final cost quite yet.  Or how about wifi or luggage?  Do you plan on actually changing clothes on your trip?  That’s gonna cost ya.  Ugh!  I am getting frustrated just typing this.

To top it all off, we still have to listen to airlines whine when their quarterly reports come out showing that they are still losing money.  So here it is, here is what I would do, if I ran an airline.

First...I would do away with different fares across all flights and all times.  Each valued guest would pay only one fare of $250 for a roundtrip ticket.  How many times have you boarded a plane and sat down and wondered what the person next to you paid for the same exact flight in the same exact row of seats etc?  If you are like me, you are afraid to ask.  You don’t want to know that you maybe paid double of what that person paid.  So away with varying fares. Away I say!  One fare only.  And if you want to sit in first class (I would do away with business class), you all pay one fare of $500 for a roundtrip flight.  No more upgrades.  No more using mileage to get bumped up.  Just pay the fare and the seat is yours.

Second, you would only be able to book a flight via the internet. You could still go through a travel agent or tour company, but they too would have to book via the internet.  That would significantly reduce the number of employees needed and would allow me to properly staff and train the customer service department which would still be accessible by phone. My customer service staff would be the best of the best to handle any form of issues that might come up during travel and they would be able to handle existing reservations etc.

Third and finally, No more nickel and dime’ing the passengers.  There would be no charge for 2 checked bags per person.  Each flight would offer free wifi.  Each flight would offer complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages.  Each flight would also offer fresh baked cookies and satellite radio for free.  

Think about that now...each flight, no matter of where it flies and at what time, would all be the same flat fare of $250.  That would fill up the flights with the most desirable times and connections quicker.  If someone knew what they were going to pay, they would want to book further ahead of time to ensure they get the best times etc.  No more last minute sales to fill seats.  

So the question is, would you fly with my airline if it was structured that way?  Would you be willing to pay the $250 knowing that you were going to get great service and no more “extra fee” surprises?  Would you be more willing to buy in advance when planning a vacation?  Would the extra $250 be worth it to upgrade to first class?

Now I just need to come up with a catchy name...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Making Lasting Memories

Disney’s latest theme at their parks is “Let the Memories Begin.”  That is what vacations are all about isn’t it?  Making precious and lasting memories with the ones you love?  Well...that is exactly what we did during my family’s Walt Disney World vacation this past September.  In fact, there were so many memories, I am not even sure where to begin.  
I guess I could begin with the memory of us climbing through the storm clouds as we left the Branson airport and having my arteries shocked into overdrive due to a direct hit by a lightning bolt.  Thank goodness I took along some extra personal items in my carry-on bag.  What a memory!  
Or maybe I should reflect on the memory of my wife trying to step into a van we had rented on Disney property and hearing her blurt “OUCH” as she sprained her ankle.  I certainly have the memory of her searing my brain with her eyes as she declared it was my fault that she was distracted while trying to enter the vehicle.  

Better yet, one of the greatest memories was when my dear sweet mother was given a full-body massage by several of the TSA therapists at Orlando’s International Airport.   One man who witnessed the event declared, “wow, she is a pistol packing mama!” Come on people...does she really look that threatening?
But probably the most lasting, unforgettable memories took place on day 2 of our trip.  I had already received the wrath of Kahn for my involvement in the ankle sprain incident and was further encouraged to improve later that day when I was slow at going to get ice for dear wife in order to apply to the injured area.  The lesson was so learned that I was ready to jump at the next opportunity to be at my wife’s beck and call and do what I can to make her trip more enjoyable.  I was punchy at the same time, fearful I may have a relapse and fall short in the area of superior customer service.  I was so punchy that the next morning’s most memorable event was inevitable.  My wife had graciously offered to go get her own ice while I hurried into the shower.  We were very eager to get this day (day 2) off to a better start and get to one of the parks.  Remember the lightning and the ankle sprain?  That was all on the first day and a half of our trip.  So as she left to get the ice, I jumped in the shower.  A few minutes passed and I thought I had heard a banging on our resort room door.  Blood pressure rose and so did my level of fear because I was picturing my wife standing outside our room in her PJ’s, standing on a sprained ankle and not having her room key with a similar look on her face that she had the day before.  I was not going to let her down this time so I lunged out of the shower, leaped out into our room and there she was; she was sitting quietly on the bed with her ankle propped up, ice pack applied, looking at me in pure wonderment.  And there I stood, sopping wet, butt-naked with my heart racing and eyes wide open only to hear her ask...”what on earth is wrong with you?”  That was then followed by uncontrollable laughter.  Now that is a great memory!
There they are...the most memorable moments from our big family Disney grand gathering.
What are some of your great memories from some of your past vacations?

(Seriously...we did have some other great memories not associated with pain or fear of death etc, but these just stick out for some reason)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Airline Tickets: When Should I Buy?

This is a very common and frequently asked question and one with a variety of answers.  As airline costs have risen, more and more travelers are trying to find ways of lessening their impact on their travel budget.

There used to be a general rule that certain days of the week may offer cheaper fares, but that is not really the case at the present time.  A quick glance at some different airlines and travel scenarios will show you that the cost to fly out on a Saturday and return on a Sunday with a 5-6 month advance purchase will most likely cost you the same as if you were to fly out on a Tuesday and return on a Monday.

So how does someone find the cheapest airfare possible if the days of travel don’t really make a difference?  Well, how flexible are you with your travel plans?  Is it possible for you to leave very early in the morning or fly on what they used to call a “red-eye flight?”  Are you willing to make multiple connections between your home airport and your final destination?  Both the time and number of connections effect the price a traveler will pay. For example...a flight with Delta airlines that departs at 6:00am may cost you over $100 less than a flight that leaves at 9:30am. 

Are your plans solid?  Are you comfortable with buying your airline tickets 6 months or more in advance? I have purchased airfare at the 6 month mark of my trips and have saved as much as $50 per person for the same flights that I have gone back and looked at 3 months later. 

So you see that your answer to those questions will determine the price you pay and the possible amount that you may save.  There is no hard and fast rule.  Some think discount airline sites are the way to go, but again you will find that most airlines guarantee the lowest price if you go direct through them to buy your airfare.  And please know that waiting until the last minute will most likely not save you any money and you run the risk of losing out on the best flight schedules.

And as I just mentioned, here is something to consider that might get you some sense of comfort after you hit the purchase button with any of the major airlines; most of our major domestic airlines offer some form of “price guarantee” (see each airline’s policy for exact details).  The guarantee, in essence, is designed to make travelers feel better about going ahead with their airline purchase at any given time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Vacation Countdown

Are you one of those people that, as soon as you have your vacation plans and details all laid out and finalized, you begin the exciting process of counting down the days until you leave? If you are, then you are in the company of so many others that do the very same thing including my wife and I.

The vacation countdown is as much of the whole process as is actually booking flights, hotels etc. In fact, the countdown is really when things get fun around our house. It really becomes an extension of our vacation if you want to look at it that way.

Sometimes vacation plans are booked months before the actual vacation date and the time between booking the trip and actually going on the trip seems to drag on and on. If you find that to be the case, let me share with you some ideas of how to make that time before the trip more enjoyable and make it a part of the whole vacation process.

With my wife and I, it does not matter what type of trip it is; whether it is a cruise, a trip to Mexico, a Walt Disney World vacation, we find ways of counting down the days so that time seems to go by faster. In today’s smart phone world, Apple and Android have several apps available to add to your phone so you can see the days counting down no matter where you are. One of my favorites is an app for Walt Disney World vacations simply called “WDW Countdown” by PLR Concepts. It is an App found in Apple’s app store (not sure if it is available for Android phones as of yet, but I know they offer some as well).

Another way we have fun with the countdown process, especially before our Disney trips is by making a paper chain like we did in school way back in the day (and I mean way back). About 2-3 months out from our trip, we have a “chain making party” where we will sit down to make the chain and maybe throw in a Disney movie to watch as well. Then every day that passes from then until the day of the vacation includes a removing of a link to show that the time is indeed passing and the trip will soon be here.

Another idea is to start having themed dinners on the weekends relating to the type of trip you are about to go on. Maybe you booked a Caribbean cruise. If so, then you could have a “Caribbean-themed” meal and pop in some Reggae music to further set the mood of the tropics and invite some friends over to help celebrate your excitement.

Again, for those who have booked Disney trips, you can schedule a movie weekend where you pick one Disney movie to watch every Friday, Saturday or Sunday before your vacation. You can buy some Disney popcorn bowls and add more Disney magic to the evening.

Try to come up with things that get everyone in the family involved. Memories can actually be made well before the actual vacation if you and your family stop and savor every moment, even the moments leading up to the trip. I hope these ideas help and maybe make you think of some of your own. Or maybe you have some ideas you would like to share. Feel free to comment and share your countdown stories and memories.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mexico...My Little "Secret" (Part 2)

Well I am finally back to finish my review of our latest trip to Cancun and the Riviera Maya. As promised in the previous installment, this review will cover our stay at AMResort’s first Riviera Maya property, Secrets Capri Resort and Spa.

I must admit that for the first time in all of my travels, I went into this trip with very high expectations based on reviews I had read prior to our trip. That is in violation of my own rules about travel. I usually try to down play the overly positive and take the extreme negative with several grains of salt. But this time, I had listened too much to all of the VERY positive remarks as they related to the service at Capri. So many reviewers had mentioned that they were always greeted by name after the first day of being at the resort. So I was very excited to be able to experience what I call “Ritz Carlton service” at a non-Ritz Carlton resort. That was my mistake because I basically set the resort up for failure in that regard by possibly having unreasonable expectations based on some other’s supposed experience.

The service was good so let me get that out there right now. You will not be disappointed in the service once you arrive. The staff is very friendly and courteous. They will do what they can to help if you need assistance of any kind. You will receive a plethora of “hola’s” during your stay from every staff member that you pass along the way. So again...the service was good. But it was not near the level of great that I had read about before arriving. No one ever remembered our name after the first day. Some servers were less than good, but that does not take away from my overall opinion. Some pool bar servers were actually not good at all, but some other fantastic servers made up for their incompetence and lack of attention. You will find that variety at most resorts so I will not give Capri a bad review based on just a few bad server apples.

The same goes for some of the restaurant staff. Some servers were awesome while some others were non-existent after the first greeting, especially during breakfast in La Riviera.

Moving on...the food was good as well. The breakfast buffet was probably one of the best I have ever experienced as far as food and selection goes. One of the best omelet makers in the world works at Secrets Capri and her name is Rita. Make sure you try one of her very fluffy omelets during your stay. She is also a very warm and friendly person so say “hola” to her as you wait. We tried basically every restaurant during our stay and we enjoyed every one. There are 5 restaurants including their outside grill. All have nice ambience and some come with an awesome view of the Caribbean which always makes a meal taste better in my opinion. Some meals were better than others, but no complaints as far as overall taste and quantity. And don’t hesitate to order room service. It was always prompt and they have a nice variety offered on their room service menu.

The resort is smaller than some of the other all-inclusive resorts up and down the Riviera Maya.  It has a more intimate feel which I like.  The grounds and common areas are beautiful and the beach was fantastic.  They have added some new pool chairs which are very comfortable and we never had any issues when trying to a find nice spot by the pool or out on the beach.

The room was smaller than my previous stay at Secrets Silversands, but it was adequate and well appointed.  The bed was comfortable and the bathroom was huge and came with dual sinks, nice large shower and also a whirlpool tub.  We had an ocean view room with a balcony and the view was something that kept making me stroll out to the balcony to take it all in realizing it was not going to be my view anymore after 6 days.  The only complaint I have about the room was the furniture on the balcony.  It was very uncomfortable.  We had to stack towels on top of the chairs just to be able to sit for any length of time.  I hope management addresses that at some point.

Hastening on.  I have to mention the spa.  Probably one of the nicest spa experiences we have had.  Their facilities are beautiful and you cannot help but feel relaxed as soon as you step through the doors.  Yes the prices are high for any of their treatments, but you are on vacation for crying out loud so plan on splurging a little.  It is well worth it if you take the time to enjoy all that their spa has to offer.  Make sure you get to the spa about an hour before your appointment so you can relax in the saunas and pools. 

The one thing that I wish AMResorts would address is the tipping or gratuity policy.  They (and a lot of other resort chains do as well) advertise that their pricing also includes gratuities.  This should mean that employees at the resorts should decline gratuities when offered since their superior service is supposed to reflect the idea they have already been tipped.   But it appears that sometimes bar service is somehow on par with how much you have have tipped a particular server or bartender throughout your trip.  The resorts need to go one way or the other.  Either train their staff to refuse tips because they are already included or lower the room rates and then make it clear that your rate does NOT include gratuities.

Before I close I also want to give a shout out to AMSTAR tours.  They are on-site at Capri and they (and their drivers and tour guide) do a great job with excursions so look for them on the main level once you arrive. 

In summary, Secrets Capri Resort and Spa is a very nice resort and we had a great trip while staying with them.  Just go into your trip with reasonable expectations and you will not be disappointed.  You can view photos of the resort by clicking on this link...Secrets Capri Resort and Spa

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mexico...My Little “Secret” (Part 1)

I find it interesting that a major all-inclusive resort chain would choose to name one of their products “Secrets.”  No business anywhere of any kind wants to be a secret.  Maybe their goal was to aim for a name that would conjure up an image of exclusivity. That might well be the case with AMResorts when they decided they would build their first Secrets Resort and Spa in Mexico’s Riviera Maya back in 2003.  You get a sense that they almost like to keep their resorts a “secret” when you compare even the size of their gated entrances to those of some of the other big name resort players throughout the Cancun/Playa del Carmen area.   

But before I get into my review related to the resort itself and share my little “secret” with you, let me start by offering some tips on how best to navigate your way through customs and beyond once you arrive in Cancun.  First...have your customs and declaration forms filled out BEFORE you get off the plane in Cancun.  Sometimes this is unavoidable since Mexico does not always equip incoming planes with the proper number of forms needed.  But that was not the case on our latest American Airlines flight and, to much surprise, several passengers were huddled in a cramped gate area immediately off the plane because they did not have their forms pre-filled out before they landed.  The Mexican officials will not let you head on down towards the customs area unless you have your forms filled out.  So try really hard to get your hands on those forms before landing in Cancun.

Then, once you have navigated the customs and immigration area with luggage in tow, head straight through the sliding doors and outside to the transfer and transportation area with purpose.  If you are traveling to Mexico for the first time, do NOT wait until you arrive in Cancun before you start considering how you will get from the airport to your hotel or resort.  This will sound like an understatement to those who have been to Mexico before, but vendors in Mexico are pushy!  If you don’t know where you are going or what you are doing, they will sense that like a lion smells food on the Serengeti.  Make sure you have your transfers pre-arranged before arriving in Cancun and then follow your transfer company’s instructions to a T.  Vendors inside the airport (after you leave the customs area) will act as if they need to see your reservation or confirmation to “help you make sure you know where you are going” which they don’t so keep your eyes looking forward and walk with purpose past their nonsense and out to the area where you were told to go. 

We chose USA Transfers again for this trip and they were wonderful.  They greet you by name and offer clean and well-maintained vans for their shuttle service whether private or shared.  Their prices are reasonable as well. Various other suppliers that I use such as GOGO and Pleasant Holidays all use reputable transfer companies and have clear instructions to follow so, again, make sure you have your transfers pre-arranged before heading off on your vacation.

Second tip to consider.  Take along about $100 to $200 in US dollars and try to take along small bills such as $1’s and $5’s.  Even though most resorts will advertise that “tips are included,”  most every employee still expects some form of small gratuity when fetching you a beverage or calling a taxi etc.  If you go down with larger bills and then try to buy something to get change, you will most likely be given pesos in return.  So try as best as you can to set aside some money just for tipping.

Third patient for crying out loud.  Remember that you are the visitor.  You are the tourist.  Your ways are not their ways.  Your customs are not their customs.  Mexico has its own speed.  Schedules can sometimes have a plus or minus of 15-30 minutes (usually a plus).  Be patient with that and with the drivers and guides that you come across.  Remember that English is NOT their national language and the fact that many of them speak both Spanish and English means they are probably more intelligent than you and I.  So when your bus makes it 4th or 5th stop, take a deep breath and remember that you are in Mexico where life is harder for most of its citizens and they have the same goals as you and I which is to provide for ourselves and our family and try to live as comfortably as we can and at peace. 

Fourth and final tip...spend a day away from your resort.  The local economy is better supported when tourists remove themselves from the confines of the resort.  Taxi drivers, tour guides, local vendors and artisans reap the benefits of your visit when you buy their wares or use their services.  These service providers and vendors are mostly those who have called Cancun and Playa del Carmen their home for most of their lives versus some of the employees at the resorts who may have been transplanted in because of their education and their ability to speak English fluently. So get out and experience more of what Mexico has to offer.  While their sales techniques can be a bit much compared to what we are used to in the United States, you will still meet some of the nicest, most hospitable people found anywhere on the planet.  So get out there and see what they have to offer.

So now please stay tuned for my review and observations of AMResort’s first resort of the Riviera Maya...Secrets Capri Resort and Spa.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Walt Disney World 101...Part 3

I hear so many first-time visitors question the need to visit every park at Walt Disney World. Some have heard that certain parks are not as "kid-friendly" etc and that is simply false information which is why I felt the need to briefly describe each of the 4 MAIN parks that make up Walt Disney World. I hope this short video helps clarify what each park can offer guests of all ages.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Walt Disney World 101...Part 2

This segment discusses the various ticket options that someone will need to consider when planning a Walt Disney World vacation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Walt Disney World 101--Part 1

A very long-overdue series related to booking a Walt Disney World vacation. This the first part in a series that I have planned which are directed more towards the 1st time Disney vacationer. Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments. And as always...thanks for watching and reading.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The "American Vacation"

Just a short survey to get an idea of where vacation time fits in the lives of the American family. Please take a moment and answer 4 very short questions. I plan on writing about the results in a future post and/or book.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Travel Myths Debunked...

So much is written online and shared online when it comes to travel, vacations, the booking of vacations etc, and so much of that information is portrayed as fact when it reality it is simply one person's opinion.  As you know from some of my previous posts, I often feel compelled to respond to some of those "opinions" and offer more of the facts instead.  Such is the case with this post/video.  I want to debunk the myth that it is "always cheaper to book online through an online travel site." 

I welcome your comments, questions etc.  Thanks for reading and watching.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February/March Quiz: North American Landscape

Purcell, Bighorn and Medicine Bow are all a part of which North American mountain range?

A) Catskills
B) Sierra Nevadas
C) Appalachians
D) Rockies

Send me the correct answer and you will be entered into a drawing to have a chance to win a $20 Target Gift Card.  You can send in an answer by commenting on this post, or via Twitter or visit my page on Facebook: All entries must be received no later than March 31st.  The Drawing will be held on April 1, 2011.

As always...thanks for reading and participating.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Disney Question: How Much Money Do I Really Save Staying Off-Site?

If you have ever planned a trip to Walt Disney World or if you have ever even mentioned that you are starting to plan or think about a trip to the “House of Mouse,” then inevitably you have had people parachute in and try to convince you why you should do x, y or z.  And I guarantee that you have had some try to tell you how staying off-site will save you mucho amounts of moolah. 

Well...let’s put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard and really look at some numbers to really see if that is true.  The hardest thing to do with any price comparison is to make sure you are comparing tangerines to tangerines versus making a claim and in reality you have compared spuds to cantaloupes.  So I am here to help clear the muddy waters of Disney resort versus off-site pricing.

Here are some assumptions I have made for this comparison:

6 night stay
6 day Magic Your Way base ticket
2 adults and 2 children (ages 9 & 7)
Value level accommodations
Driving to Walt Disney World
Dates during Disney’s non-peak period (September 18-24)

So let’s start with staying off-site.  As I said, in order to make a statement that you think it is cheaper to stay off-site, you have to do your best to make sure your off-site hotel/motel is at the same level as the one on Disney property.  So I looked at different options and determined that the Clarion Hotel Maingate would be similar to one of Disney’s value resorts (I even went lower just to be safe).  Their base rate was $47+tax for 6 nights in late September.  So the total for 6 nights including tax was $321.68.  And to be fair to those who like to use discount ticket sites, I priced a 6 day base ticket through one of the more popular sites and the total for 2 adults and 2 children came to $937.81.  Then, if you are driving and staying off-site, I added in parking for the day at any of the Disney parks.  Parking costs non-Disney resort guests $14 per day, per vehicle so the total for parking would be $84.00.  The last cost figure that I felt needed to be added in is that of breakfast.  Even if you are a non-Disney resort guest, you will still most likely eat at least 2 meals in the parks so those would be the same for resort and non-resort guests. So in my opinion, the only meal where pricing could be different is that of breakfast.  The Clarion does not offer free breakfast so I used fast-food pricing just because it would be the cheaper option.  I may be off a tad, but I estimated that a family of 4 would spend about $6 per person for breakfast at a fast-food venue.  So $6 per person for 6 days would come to a total of $144 for breakfast for non-Disney resort guests. 

So if you now total up the figures above for staying off Disney property, you would come to a total of $1487.49 for the family of 4

Now...on to the Disney resort option.  I priced my favorite value resort, the Pop Century, and I added in the 6 day Magic Your Way base ticket as a part of the Disney package.  The total for the package for 6 nights, 6 days comes to $1574.10.  Parking for Disney resort guests is free so no added cost there.  But I assumed that the resort guests would at least eat breakfast at the resort.  Using an average, a quick service breakfast would cost about $10 per person so the total cost would be $240 for the family of 4 for the 6 days.  So again...adding it all up, you come to a total cost of $1814.10.

Now subtracting the cost of the non-Disney resort option from the Disney resort option, you see a savings of $326.61

Now some will say...we could pack our own breakfast food and not have to eat the fast-food breakfast.  That is correct and would also apply to staying at a Disney resort.  Some might argue...we could probably stay cheaper than the Clarion.  Yep, you would be right, but power to ya if you want to make your family stay in something that costs less than $49 per night in Orlando.  And the on-site guests could argue back that staying at a Disney resort offers more amenities than the Clarion such as a the very large food court at the Value resorts with more than just fast-food options and also the Disney gift shop at each resort.  Nevertheless, I have chosen what I think offers a fair comparison and I really think I was generous by choosing the Clarion.

But (you knew there was a but coming), there are things that have value that do not necessarily show up on a spreadsheet.  For much is your time worth?  Off-site guests do not get access to Disney’s “Extra Magic Hours” where they keep a park open late or open one hour early only for Disney resort guests.  Is it worth the extra $326 for you to be able to access the parks during much less crowded times where you can ride some of the more popular rides and have much shorter wait times?  How much more time are you willing to spend driving to and from the parks when you stay off-site?  More time in transit means less time in the parks which is the largest part of the total cost of your trip.

When you book a an off-site hotel/ticket deal, you will not be in a position to take advantage of any Disney deals that could possibly save you a lot more money.  Disney usually offers deals throughout the year for such things as free dining, room-only discounts, or “kids stay and play free” which would save the family of 4 in my scenario potentially more than the $326 they would save by staying off-site or at least be the same cost.  Those package deals are only available for those who stay on Disney property.  Even if you book a package that does not have a special attached to it, your travel agent (shameless travel agent plug) can watch for those deals and get them applied (when applicable) to your existing Disney vacation package.  If you book an off-site deal, your deal is what it is.

I know I am not touching on every aspect of staying on or off-site, but I hope you see that sometimes the savings is not as large as people try to get you to believe and sometimes the savings is not a real savings at all when other factors are taken into consideration.

Questions?  Comments?  Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Feel free to chime in and give me your opinion.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Through the Eyes of a Tourist

Well here I sit...enjoying a cup of coffee from one of my most favorite Nashville hangout spots, Bongo Java.  But now I am here as a tourist, a visitor, and I am seeing my old stomping grounds through a completely different set of eyes.

My wife and I called the Nashville area (Franklin to be exact) home for over 11 years.  And, as many do when they live somewhere, we did not really appreciate the fact that many actually make plans to vacation here.  Travelers from all over the country and even the world view this area as a tourist destination.  For many...they want to come see the birthplace of country music.  Others come here to visit so many of the places that played such a significant role in our Country's history, i.e. the Civil War.

See...when you live here, you tend to become desensitized to the fact that this area is a huge draw for thousands of people from all walks of life and each has their own reason for wanting to vacation here.  What I am again seeing through my "touristy" eyes is that Nashville has its own energy, its own vibe.  If you think this area is simply a place for country music lovers, you are sorely mistaken.  Nashville has become one of more eclectic parts of the Country.  I know some native Tennesseans are not going to like this, but one of the things that makes Nashville so vibrant and fun is the fact that it is no longer made up of mostly native Tennesseans.  Folks from the east to the west coasts have now moved here and call this area home and I love that about Nashville. Sorry natives.

This area exploded a few years ago when people, like myself, discovered that it is a place that offers a good climate, decent employment opportunities, affordable housing, and a quality entertainment of all types.  It should go without saying that this is a music-lover's paradise.  But again...don't think it is simply for those who appreciate a little "twang" in their music.  Nashville oozes music from all genres including hip-hop, jazz, alternative, classical and of course blue grass and country.  What makes Nashville special is that someone can come here and visit a different local venue every night and enjoy some of the best music around with little to no cover charge.

But again...there is more here than just music.  If you love history and art, the Frist Center is a top-notch art museum located in the heart of downtown.  Or someone might appreciate the fact that they can visit an exact replica of the Parthenon and see ancient Greek artifacts and then understand why Nashville is called the "Athens of the South."

But some of the most interesting history that can be explored in this area is that related to the great Civil War.  You can tour some of the old plantations such as the Hermitage, the Carnton or the Belle Meade Plantation and battle sites such as the Battle of Franklin and get a real sense of what life was like during that turning point in our American History.

And let's not overlook the opportunities that abound here when it comes to professional sports.  It is home to SEC football, the NHL's Nashville Predators, the NFL's Tennessee Titans and a fun AAA baseball team which means you can see some form of professional sports no matter what time of the year you choose to visit.

And I have yet to even mention the beauty that is Tennessee.  This great area is surrounded by rolling hills and lots and lots of trees which again I took for granted when this was my permanent residence.

So with all of that is a list of some of my favorite eateries and areas that I have visited on this trip and I encourage you to consider these when you start planning your next visit to "Music City" or "Nashvegas" as many of us affectionately call it:

1) The Country Boy Restaurant.  This small, quaint cafe is located in historic Leiper's Fork which is about 35 minutes south of downtown Nashville.   I had visited this restaurant "back in the day" when it was just your local "greasy spoon" option with little to no character or ambience.  But it has gone through a revamping of sorts and is now a wonderful place to stop for food and even potentially for some "star gazing" since this small town is home to some very well-known country music stars (I won't mention any names...Judds *coughing with my hand to my mouth*).  Anyone can visit an IHOP or Cracker Barrell when on vacation, so forget those and give this true local establishment a try instead.

2) Chuy's of Nashville.  Ok, so it is not a Nashville original, but it has a great atmosphere that has become very popular with the locals.  Their version of Tex-Mex is fresh and flavorful and is located in the affluent area called Cool Springs (20 minutes south of dowtown Nashville).

3) Noshville.  No I did not misspell "Nashville."  Noshville is a local "New York Style" deli.  It is one of the iconic Nashville eateries that has been here forever and continues to bring the locals in everyday.  I recommend the location closest to Music Row so you can get a good feel of the original versus visiting one of their other, newer locations around the area.

4) Bongo Java.  Anyone can visit a Starbucks when they travel, but it takes some research into a destination to be able to find this Nashville gem.  It is located in "the village" close to Vanderbilt University.  If you want to see where creative people go to find some inspiration, make sure you visit this coffee house on your next visit.

5)  Sweet CeCe's.  No better way to end an evening than with a stop at this wonderful frozen yogurt shop in downtown Franklin.  Franklin should be one of the places you decide to visit when traveling to Nashville so a stop here is a no-brainer.  I love to find places that are local and not mega-franchises that someone can find in almost any city across the U.S. and this is one of those finds.

There you have it...5 places that hopefully will make it onto your travel agenda the next time you make plans to visit Nashville and the surrounding area.  I hope this article also helps you see that there are vacation spots right here in the U.S. that are more than just "drive-through" or "bathroom stop" spots on the road.  If you have never vacationed in Nashville before, I hope you will consider it soon, you will not be disappointed.

So until next time Nashville...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011: A Look Ahead

First of all...thanks to all of you who made my 2010 the best year I have had the travel business thus far.  I made a commitment when I started in this business to grow only through providing the best service possible which in turn will make me referable.  I can now say that over 90% of my business comes from the referrals that my friends, family and past clients send my way.  I may not grow as fast and get as big as some of the more aggressive travel companies, but I am also not willing turn to my attention away from my clients in order to spend more time in the realm of mass advertisement and marketing schemes.

I set out in 2010 to make it the year I really become an expert in certain areas related to travel.  I decided to continue my focus into cruise vacations and Caribbean destinations.  I targeted courses and programs that helped me do just that.  I was also able to travel myself throughout 2010 which gave me that all-important first hand knowledge of most major cruise lines.  Book smarts are one thing, actual experience is another in my humble opinion.  While I may not quite be an "expert" yet, I am for sure on the track of becoming someone who you can turn to for help and guidance in those areas along with my continued knowledge of Disney.

Now, looking ahead to 2011, it is my continued goal to further my education in the area of Caribbean destinations including both the Eastern and Western Caribbean (including Mexico on the Pacific side as well).  I already have courses I am looking to take along with 1 personal trip already booked for May.  My trip will take me once again to Cancun and the Riviera Maya.  I will be staying at the Secrets Capri Riviera Cancun Resort and Spa (more details on that as the time gets closer).

I also have a very important and exciting trip planned for Walt Disney World later in the year to celebrate my parent's 50th wedding anniversary.

Somewhere between May and September, I might just have to plan another trip to a new destination in the Caribbean, but we will have to wait and see.

In addition...I hope to further develop my skill in the area of travel writing.  This blog has seen continued support by readers from all areas of social media; Facebook, Twitter, Youtube etc.  I hope to be able to better understand what readers are interested in and provide honest and sometimes thought-provoking content.  Some who have come in contact with me are not completely open to the idea of me being candid with my reviews and honest even if that means criticizing places or companies that they might hold near and dear to their heart.  But I have refused and will continue to refuse to write some middle-of-the-road article or gloss over glaringly negative aspects of any destination or travel provider.  I figure...if you didn't want my opinion, then why did you read my review?

So that is what is on the agenda this year.

I have some growth goals I am excited about which again means I will maintain my current course and put clients and their referrals first.  Thanks to all of you who support me through encouragement as well as your patronage.

So sit back and stay tuned...2011 is going to be a great year.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January Quiz: Caribbean Geography

Here is your chance 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 February 10th. You can send in your answer via the comment section of this blog (along with a way for me to contact you in case you win) or you can also visit my page on Facebook: Operation Destination

Which of the following is farthest to the east?
a) Cuba
b) Jamaica
c) Hispanola
d) Puerto Rico