Monday, December 24, 2012

A Walt Disney World Christmas

Have you ever wondered, "what makes Walt Disney World so special during the Holidays?" If you consider yourself a Disney fan then you have to make this a must-do at some point in the future. For those of you who have visited Walt Disney World between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you know exactly what I am talking about.

I hope this video helps you see that the Disney magic is even that much more "magical" during the Holidays.  

A Walt Disney World Christmas 2012 from Oeshpdog2 on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Universal Orlando...I'm Sold!

Well...back in September of this year, my wife and I visited the Universal theme parks for the very first time. I came away from that visit with the opinion that Universal is a great thing to do at least once, but it just did not leave an impression with me that would make it a "must-do" when planning future trips to the Orlando area.

I wrote my most recent post related to that visit and listed a few of my top things to do when visiting the 2 parks that make up Universal Orlando. I stated at the end of that post that my opinion may change since I was being given a chance to come back down to Orlando and visit their parks again as well as the 3 resorts that reside on Universal property. It's opinion has changed. I am now a fan. I now have seen what Universal Orlando has to offer, in & outside the theme parks.

I was given the opportunity to stay in one of the 3 Universal hotels; The Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. The hotel is impressive! Naturally I was comparing Universal's onsite properties to that of Walt Disney World's the whole time I was there which was for a total of 3 nights. The Portofino would be in the same class as one of Disney's Deluxe properties such as the Yacht and Beach Club, the Contemporary, the Polynesian etc. When comparing room sizes and decor, the Portofino comes out on top. The room was quite spacious and the bathroom was gigantic. The only negative about the room layout or size would be the tiny stand-up shower in the bathroom. The bathrooms are designed similar to those you see down in some of Cancun's all-inclusive resorts; double vanities, large bathtub and a separate shower. But the shower could use some expansion and heaven knows there is room for it in the bathroom's existing space.

The hotel offers an abundance of dining/lounge/bar options. They offer a gelato venue, a seafood restaurant, a pizza and more of a grab-and-go option and some higher end venues such as Bice and Mama Della's Ristorante which offers excellent Italian food and a fantastic atmosphere and is now on my "must-do" list. Shopping was plentiful and centrally located near the food choices. I liked the layout of the resort. The grounds and architecture made you really feel like you had been whisked away on an vacation to a quaint seaside village in Italy. They even have opera singers come out to the outdoor piazza area each evening and serenade the crowd with some beautiful Italian music.

The staff...A+. The front desk remembered my name after a couple of visits to inquire about some different things. That sort of attention to detail is important to me when I am considering higher-end properties for my clients. Everyone I came in contact with greeted me with a smile and was courteous. I do hope I get a chance in the future to enjoy another stay at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.

During this trip, I also had the chance to tour the other two Universal Orlando hotels; the Loews Royal Pacific Hotel and the Hard Rock Hotel. All 3 of Universal's hotels offer a unique experience and ambience. The Royal Pacific hotel is a little lower in price point which makes it great for families. It also appeals to the convention crowd so it can be a little "busier" than the Portofino Bay Hotel. The Hard Rock's the Hard Rock. When "Hard Rock" is in the name, that should give you a clue as to the clientele that it appeals to. It should also give you a clue that it is not the place for some quiet R&R. It is perfect for the young or the younger at heart who want a fun and exciting vacation with a hip crowd. Who knows, you may even run into one of your favorite rock stars while you are there like we did when we saw Vince Neil saunter through the lobby.

Each Universal Hotel offers a wide variety or eateries from the casual to the more upscale.  I am attaching a link to my pictures so you can see more of the theming and public spaces of each hotel.  Click HERE!

Now...let's get to the benefits of staying onsite at Universal.   First, each guest gets "Universal Express Unlimited" ride access in both Universal Orlando theme parks as a part of their stay.  That is a huge benefit if you happen to be visiting Orlando during peak times of the year.  Each guest also gets early admission into Islands of Adventure and into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  

You also get room charging privileges when inside the parks or anywhere else on Universal property.  No need to carry a lot of cash or credit cards around with you during your stay.  Each hotel is on the free water taxi route so park your car and enjoy the free transportation from your hotel to the Universal City Walk and theme park area.  You also get priority seating at any of the Universal Orlando restaurants where reservations may be needed.  And here is one that sometimes gets also have the ability to have purchases sent back directly to your room.  If you are like me, you hate to have to carry around your souvenirs after you purchase them.  If you are an onsite guest, simply have your package delivered back to your room at no extra charge. 

Those are some of the great benefits of choosing to stay in 1 of the 3 Universal Orlando hotels.

Now let me get to some things that I think need to be addressed by Universal and their hotel partners.  These would not sway me from wanting to go back and stay, but they are differences that some big Disney fans are going to notice if they choose to do a split stay.  And they are differences that may cause some to decide to stay elsewhere.  First...there is no free wifi in your room.  When you pay as much as you do per night to stay in one of their hotels, it is becoming a common expectation to have free wifi.  Now I will say that they do offer free wifi in their lobby areas and it does work fine.  But for some of us who need to do a little work occasionally during our trips, free wifi in your room is becoming a must.  Parking is also not free.  That was a bit of a shocker at first to me.  Again, you are paying somewhat of a premium for staying onsite and you expect some of these things to be added benefits, but they are not.  And last but not least, no mini-fridge.  There is a mini-bar stocked to the hilt with snacks and drinks.  And if you want to pay a small fortune for a bottle of water or a bag of chips, that may be a good amenity for you.  But vacationing families these days want some sort of mini-fridge area so they can keep some milk on hand for their kids and not have to pay a small fortune for those items since they are already spending so much for their vacations as a whole.  

Now you should know that some of these things are out of Universal's hands.  Unlike Disney, which owns their own onsite properties, Universal is a partnership with Loews and also Hard Rock.  That simply means that the hotels are looking for areas of profit just like the airlines do.  They know some will pay for wifi and some will use the mini-bars and those are areas of profit for the hotel chains.  Universal Orlando knows that these differences are not in line with their large competitor down the street, but their hands are a bit tied right now so it is what it is.

And again...those areas of difference would not deter me from wanting to stay onsite at Universal in the future.  So with all of that said...I hope you see that I am a fan now.  I have not even got into some things I learned about their 2 theme parks.  But this post is long enough and probably even too long, but hopefully you can see that I can fully recommend a stay at any one of the Universal Orlando onsite hotels.  You will have a great time and become a fan if you are not one already.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Universal Orlando...The Must Do's long overdue post related to my visit to Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.  I confess that it was my very first visit.  We have always found it hard to pull ourselves away from Walt Disney World anytime that we have previously visited the Orlando area.  But this visit was really a pre-cruise visit so we decided to spend the day at Universal Orlando and see what we might have been missing.

For those of you who are Disney's fans, you have to go into Universal Orlando with a different mindset.  It is not going to immerse you in an overall "magical theme."  The sounds and colors of Islands of Adventure are generally loud.  That is really the best way I can describe it.  When you enter the Marvel Comic area, you are greeted with oversized pictures of Wolverine and Spiderman etc and the music is more of an adrenaline-pumping theme which is probably geared towards getting you pumped to ride The Incredible Hulk roller coaster.  Which is the first one of my "must-do's."  The loops and twists combined with the awesome launch right out of the gate makes this a must-do for any coaster enthusiast.

Another must-do is the Dragon Challenge inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter area of Islands of Adventure.  Even if you are not a huge fan of Harry Potter, this coaster again is a must.  You are suspended below the track which adds to the thrills of the loops and corkscrews that you will encounter throughout the ride.

And speaking of Harry Potter, if you are a fan, you will almost tear up when you enter Hogsmeade. This is the one area of Islands of Adventure where you are truly immersed in a theme and you will truly feel that you have taken a magical journey into the world of Harry Potter.  Just walking around in Hogsmeade is one of my must-do's.  Go into the shops, enjoy a meal at The Three Broomsticks and grab you a Butterbeer.  If you do, I promise that you will have an enjoyable day, even if the lines getting into any of the attractions are horrendously long.

But my next must-do is probably numero-uno on my list of things to do.  If there is only one ride that you could ride in all of Islands of Adventure, I would choose to ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  For those of you who have been to Epcot, but have yet to visit Universal Orlando, the best way I can describe this ride is by saying that it is Soarin on steroids.  You exercise all of your senses on this ride and it has actually become maybe my most favorite attraction, even more than some of my favorites at Walt Disney World.

My last two must-do's come from the other park that makes up Universal Orlando...Universal Studios.  The first one is the Revenge of the Mummy.  I like it because it is not just a roller coaster and it is not just a simulator.  It combines several different directions and speeds and offers some visual effects as well.  It was just fun.  And my last must-do is the new attraction Despicable Me Minion Mayhem.  It is a great attraction for the whole family.  I do wish that they had made more of the queue line indoors.  The line was fairly long and you spend a fair amount of time out in the heat even though it is covered, very similar to lines for Peter Pan's Flight and other attractions in Fantasyland inside the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

I know I brushed over the last 2 must-do's and I know some of you are wondering why The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman did not make my list.  First...I brushed over the last 2 because all of Universal Studios is a "take it or leave it" for me.   The layout and ambience was not something that made me want to just hang around in the park for very long.  So if I had to choose what I would do if we went back, I would spend a day or two inside of Island's of Adventure and spend the majority of that time inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  I know some of you diehard Universal fans will disagree with me, but Universal Orlando, to me, is just something to add on to your Walt Disney World trip, if you can afford the time and extra expense.

Second...I did not include The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman because it broke down while we were on it.  And I overheard others saying that it breaks down a lot.  The lines can get long and it would not be a ride I would want to spend 40+ minutes in line for and then have it break down.

So with all of that said...let me tell you that my opinions may change very soon.  I am actually scheduled to visit Universal Orlando again within 5 days of writing this article.  I have been invited to tour the 3 resorts on Universal property as well as get a special tour of the parks and restaurants.  Will the additional info and experiences change my current views?  Stay tuned and see...

Meanwhile...check out a short video I put together showing some of the sites and sounds of Universal Orlando. Also let me know what you opinion is.  What are your favorite Universal Orlando attractions or what are your must-do's?

Universal Orlando 2012 from Oeshpdog2 on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Freedom of the Seas...Here We Come

Been awhile between posts.  So much going on lately, personally and professionally.

Personally...we have bought a new home and, naturally, that has taken up a lot of time and energy.  Professionally, Disney's Free Dining Offer and honeymoon planning season has kept me hopping which is a really good thing.  The only negative is that all of the busyness has kept me from blogging.

So here I am...blogging only so that all of you will know what will again keep me from blogging over the next 2 weeks or so.  Another piece of professional and personal exciting news is that we are heading out this weekend (9/21/12) on a much needed vacation aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas.  Uber-excited does not encapsulate how giddy I am about this trip.  The itinerary is a repeat for us (Eastern Caribbean) and so is the ship.  That just means I will spend less time trying to take a bunch of pictures and more time getting some much-needed rest and relaxation.

So stay tuned for my review again of the ship and the ports of call when we return.  But in the meantime, if you are an avid cruise enthusiast like us, you might be interested in checking out this cool webcam that is strategically placed along the bank (atop Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grill) in Port Canaveral.  On cruise line arrival and departure days, it monitors the the various cruise ships in port very closely.  They will zoom in on each ship as it is pushing away from the dock and as it starts heading out to sea.  The camera is so clear and the sound so good, that you can see the faces of the passengers and even hear some of the sail away party going on onboard.  So...if you happen to be checking it out this coming Sunday (Sept 23rd), look for the guy waving and smiling really big...that will be me.
Port Canaveral Webcam

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Vacationing During Hurricane Season

Would you vacation in the Caribbean during hurricane season?  I get that question all the time.  So let me answer that question with a resounding YES.  I am about to embark on a 7 day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean during the peak of the hurricane season.  I have traveled to Florida during the peak of the hurricane season.  And I will most likely book another trip in the future to those same areas during hurricane season.

Here is a fact about hurricanes that make them different from ice storms, tornadoes, earthquakes and other forms natural disasters; you know they are coming with at least several days of advance notice.  That, to me, makes it easier to plan a vacation during hurricane season, as long as I go into my planning knowing that things may have to be altered.

Cruise ships, for example, will reserve the right to change an itinerary if weather threatens their current path.  That does not mean that they will necessarily cancel the entire cruise, but you may end up going to a port that was not planned originally.  Resorts, in a lot of cases, will issue credits to their guests if their resort is in the path of a hurricane and evacuations are necessary.  And there is always the opportunity to buy travel insurance when planning a trip during hurricane season just to give you the added comfort of knowing your investment is protected.

Traveling during hurricane season has two large advantages which make it a great time to vacation, in my opinion.  First, the prices are generally lower for cruises, all-inclusives, hotels etc.  Travel companies/Cruise Lines know that consumers are skittish when it comes to traveling during the months of August to October and they tend to offer lower pricing to entice consumers.  Second, naturally crowds tend to be lower during that time of year.

Lower pricing and smaller crowds are a great combination.  Agree?

So don't overlook the opportunities that present themselves during hurricane season.  I know there are some of you that travel during the other times of year and your vacations have been effected by blizzards, floods, and other weather-related issues that occurred during other times of year.  So the key to any travel these days, including travel during hurricane season, is to remain flexible and realize things happen that are out of your control.  If you can do that, and if you add travel insurance to your budget, then you can still have a great vacation even if your original plans had to be altered.

What are your opinions and/or experiences?  Do you have issues with traveling during hurricane season?  I would love to get your feedback.

Friday, August 17, 2012

"The Corridor" of Mexico

I have so many superlatives that I could use to describe my trip to the Los Cabos area of Mexico, otherwise known as "the corridor."  Let's start with incredible, beautiful, enchanting, awe-inspiring and SAFE!.   Do you get the idea that I love this part of Mexico?

Let's first start with a geographic lesson.  So many people use Los Cabos in a general sense to identify the area or town known as Cabo San Lucas.  When in reality there are 3 distinct areas that make up the tip of the Baja Peninsula; San Jose del Cabo, Los Cabos and Cabo San Lucas.  When you fly into the will fly into San Jose del Cabo which is a wonderful, quiet little fishing village on the banks of the Sea of Cortez.  From there, most vacationers will travel along a gorgeous stretch of highway that will take them to the town of Cabo San Lucas.  The area connecting the two towns is called Los Cabos or "The Corridor."

We based our stay out of the beautiful Secrets Marquis Los Cabos Resort and Spa.  The resort is surrounded by the Sierra de la Laguna mountain range on one side and the azure blue Sea of Cortez on the other.  The contrast of the cactus-covered mountains with the sounds of the sea are striking which to me makes this area very special.

We had the privilege of visiting 12 resorts during this visit and I want to simply recap 3 of them to show  you the range of accommodation possibilities that this area has to offer.

First...let's start with the resort we stayed at.  Secrets Marquis is a luxury all-inclusive resort and is adults only, which simply means you have to be 17 years of age or older to stay there, situated in the "Corridor."  The resort offers all ranges of room categories, from standard, well-appointed rooms up to their luxury private casitas.  Each room comes with an amazing view.  The resort is situated on a smaller footprint than some of its sister resorts on the Caribbean side of Mexico.  But that also means there are less choices when it comes to food and beverage.  But if you are looking for a quiet, luxury escape with some of the best vistas in the world, then this resort is perfect for you.  The infinity pool overlooking the Sea of Cortez is incredible and makes this resort one of my top choices.

The second resort I want to mention is Me Cabo by Melia.  This is the opposite of Secrets Marquis.  It is located in Cabo San Lucas, centrally located near all of the night life that Cabo has to offer.  This means that this resort is not for those seeking an escape and R&R.  This resort is perfect for the younger and young at heart who want activities, a cool vibe combined with luxury surroundings.  The resort is also ideally located on one of the best stretches of swimmable beach in all of Cabo.  You want Miami South Beach Chic combined with incredible views of the Sea of Cortez and its amazing landscape?  This is your resort.  I am a Me Cabo fan!

The last resort I want to touch on in this review is Pueblo Bonito Pacifica.  You want some R&R, some wellness and spiritual healing, but also want to stay in close proximity to some night time hot spots?  This resort is right up your alley.  This was one of 2 resorts that I was able to visit that is located on the Pacific Ocean side of Cabo San Lucas.  Let's see what words I can use to describe it...gorgeous, peaceful, tranquil, stunning...get the idea?  This luxury all-inclusive getaway is again not your typical all-inclusive that you may be used to in the Caribbean.  It does not come with your typical French, Italian, Asian, Buffet and Mexican choices like is becoming the standard in so many all-inclusives.  The restaurants are focussed on serving what is fresh and local and is simply more international than focussed on a specific style.  Pueblo Bonito Pacifica is centered around wellness which means it has one of the best spas in the world.  The rooms are modern, yet comfortable and stylish.  The beach and pools invite you to take a deep breath and say....ahhhh.

You can see that this beautiful area of Mexico has everything a vacationer would want.  I have seldom seen an area that can appeal to literally everyone; the adventurer, the spa-goer, the bar-hopper, the history buff, the work-escaper, the golfer, the nature-watcher and so on.  You can see a part of history that shaped the western part of Mexico's culture by visiting the Mission de San Jose del Cabo.  You can book a room that overlooks the Sea of Cortez in January and watch grey whales breach the water.  You can take a camel ride along the shore of the Pacific Ocean and and have an authentic meal of chicken mole, rice and hand-made tortillas through Cabo Adventures.  You can try your hand at sword fishing from one of the many talented guides that base themselves out of the scenic Cabo San Lucas marina. You want championship golf courses?  Cabo has those too.

Are you getting the picture?  I hope so because this part of Mexico deserves your consideration the next time you are planning a vacation.  Like I said at the beginning...I love this part of Mexico.  You can see pictures of the resorts I mentioned as well as the other wonderful resorts we visited during this trip by clicking on this link to my page on Facebook.

Please let me know if you have any questions related to this review or my trip to Cabo.  Have you been before?  How would you describe the area to someone who has never been?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Upcoming Adventures

Just want to update you all on the trips that I have coming up which means trip reviews will also follow.

1)  Cabo San Lucas.  I will have the pleasure of visiting Secrets Marquis Los Cabos for a 4 night stay starting July 24th.  One of the things travelers should be aware of when visiting the Pacific Ocean side of Mexico is that the water and beaches are NOT like those on the Caribbean side of Mexico.  Currents are much stronger in the Pacific and swimming can be tricky and is, in some cases, not recommended.  But one of the advantages that Cabo offers is some of the most amazing scenery and sunsets.  Unlike the Cancun area, the terrain around Cabo offers mountains and hills, large swaying palms and a drier climate.  I will be taking LOTS of pictures so stay tuned.

2) Eastern Caribbean Cruise.  Looking forward to our 7 night cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas.  This will be our second sailing aboard the Freedom and our 3rd to the Eastern Caribbean with stops at Royal Caribbean's Coco Cay, St Thomas and St Maarten. Our cruise departs Port Canaveral on September 23rd.  We have chosen to stay in a PR category stateroom which is an inside stateroom overlooking the Royal Promenade (i.e. mall-type area down the center of the ship).  So specific excursions planned.  A first though for this trip will be our visit to Royal Caribbean's private island.  I look forward to comparing it to NCL's, Princess Cruise Line's and also Disney's.

3) Walt Disney World.  This will be our second visit within this calendar year.  We arrive on December  8th and will be staying 7 nights at Disney's Boardwalk Inn.  Resorts previously stayed at include Disney's Polynesian Resort, The Swan (of the Swan and Dolphin), Disney's Beach Club Resort, Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, and Disney's Pop Century Resort.  The only advance dining reservation that we have planned is breakfast at Akershus in Epcot's World Showcase (Norway).  Looking forward again to being able to see Disney during the holidays.  Again...LOTS of pictures will be taken.

This is going to make for an exciting second half of 2012.  If you have questions related to a cruise, or traveling to Mexico, or Walt Disney World, please post them here and I will glad to offer advice, opinion or tips etc.  Interested in my reviews?  Follow (like) my page on Facebook where all of my articles are posted.  Thanks!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Should I Get a Passport?

A while back I answered the question of "do I need a passport?" That was specifically addressing the questions related to cruises vs land based vacations outside the United States.

But now, I simply want to answer the question of "should I purchase a passport?" This is a general question that I receive from time to time and not necessarily tied to any particular non-US destination.

The short answer is YES! If you are a US citizen and are even remotely pondering the idea of traveling someday, now would be a great time to get your passport. Here are some reasons why I say that:

1) They are good for 10 years (if you are 16 yrs of age or older)
2) Pay now so you don't pay more later. Passport prices have kept steadily increasing over the past several years. Invest in one now at today's price and don't worry about the increase in costs for the next 10 years
3) Be ready to go! Having a passport in hand will allow you to take advantage of last minute travel deals for destinations outside the US
4) Alternate form of identification. Lose your driver's license? Having a passport can come in handy when your other form of identification is either lost of stolen
5) Avoid paying last minute expediting fees. This is tied to the last minute travel advantage. Sometimes a passport can still be obtained in time for the trip, but expediting fees may have to be paid which can add significant costs to the process

There are my top 5 reasons why you should just go ahead and get your passport now, even if you do not have an international trip planned in the near future. Agree with them? Disagree?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Walt Disney World 101 Recap

I figured it would be a good idea to go back and post all of the videos in the series called "Walt Disney World 101." This gives you a chance to watch them in sequence so you can see that about every aspect of a Walt Disney World vacation was covered.

As you will see, they are posted in chronological order.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

 Comments? Questions? Is there a part of a Disney acation that you would like to see covered that I did not talk about?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Walt Disney World: Dining Cost Budgeting

A short video addressing the very popular question of, "how much should I budget for food during our Walt Disney World trip?"  This assumes again that you are staying onsite in a Disney resort.  Do you agree with my numbers?  Have any additional questions?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Walt Disney World 101 Part 5

For those of you who may not have seen parts 1-4, please follow this link to my Youtube account where you can find the first 4 videos in the series.  I hope you find these helpful, especially if you are a first time visitor to "the happiest place on earth."

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vacationing to Better Mental Health

Are you or someone you know seeing a therapist on a regular basis?  Wondering why everyone seems so stressed out and agitated these days?  Let me give you some statistics to ponder:

  • A study done in 2006 showed that the average male US worker worked an average of 42.5 hours per week, not including commute time.  Australian men average 36 hours per week and France enacted a 35 hour work week by law (source info: US Workers and French Workers)
  • A 2009 CNN Poll showed that the Countries most stressed about money were the US, Malaysia, Singapore and China.  The least stressed were France, Italy and Russia
  • A 2004 WHO study showed that the USA ranked the highest in mental health disorders with 25% suffering from some form of mental illness. (source info: MSNBC article  
  • France is ranked as the best Country for quality of life.  The USA is ranked 7th out of the world’s industrialized nations

Now, as you are processing those stats, consider the fact that the US is near the bottom when it comes to the average number of days of vacation that the American worker takes per year.  Italy leads the pack with 42 days of paid vacation.  France comes in second with 37 and Germany rounds out the top 3 with 35.  Here in the good old USA, we average 13 days of paid vacation (source info: Vacation Stats).

Hmm...are you seeing any correlation here between mental health and the time we American’s take to wind down and “vacate?”

And to prove that we continue to be among the worst when it comes to taking time for ourselves and our families, a recent article in the USA Today explained that we now are leaving some of our earned vacation time on the table and taking less time off than in previous years.

This is not rocket science.  We work more hours and take less time off.  Some will argue that we are being more productive.  Possibly true, but that comes at the cost of our quality of life.  And what are we gaining by being more productive?  Job security? Ha!  I think not.  Larger bank accounts?  Our nation’s debt statistics would beg to differ.  Maybe we all should stop, take a look around, and realize that maybe there is more to life than our work and take some time for ourselves.  Maybe we should learn from other nations and see that life is not defined by where we work, but is truly defined by who we are away from work.

Maybe a little vacation time is just what the mental health doctor ordered.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If Coffee Could Fly

If coffee could fly, we would all be flying first class.  This will be a brief look into the psyche of the American traveler. Proceed with caution, I may be talking about you.

We live in an age where everyone wants Ritz Carlton accommodations at Motel 6 prices.  Americans will spend hours searching high and low for the absolute cheapest price on every aspect of their vacation.  Travelers will opt for flights that leave at 5:00am with connections in 3 different airports and that does not arrive at their actual destination until 11:00pm that night to save $100 on airfare and then complain about not getting a bag of pretzels for free.  That same traveler will book a room at a hotel that they found on and then spend 45 minutes with the motel’s manager complaining about the fact that the room is located near the hotel’s trash compactor.

But get this; that same traveler, the one who just nickeled and dimed every part of their “dream vacation,” will then march down to their favorite coffee venue and order a double-shot, no foam, non-fat, latte with a hint of cinnamon sprinkled on top and pay over $3.00 for a Venti and never complain a bit about not getting a free muffin.  Oh…and they do that 5 days a week or more.  You do the math.

Go figure…

Friday, May 18, 2012

Travel Safety: Why Mexico Gets a Bad Rap

This article is being contributed by guest blogger Matt Smith.  Matt owns and operates Detour Travel and you can visit his blog by clicking on this link.

Many people hear that Detour's tour destinations include Mexico, and they seem surprised. They think the whole country must be like the ugly stories that make the news.

Meanwhile, I've never heard anyone say they wouldn't visit Philadelphia, New Orleans, or Washington, DC... even though they're all in the top ten "Most Murderous Cities" in the U.S.

I had this conversation with my grandfather. He was freaked out by the word Mexico. Once I explained that it's a great place, he still wanted me to cover Detour's website with assurances that you'll survive our trips in one piece.

This is the same guy who took my family on a trip to DC last year in honor of his 90th birthday. We went to museums and restaurants, rode the subway and walked the streets - without once fearing for our lives. Simply being within the city limits doesn't get you shot. There are other factors involved.

Mexico is similar. Setting foot in Mexico doesn't automatically put you in the middle of the drug wars. Our tours, to Guadalajara and a few nearby communities, stay far from the border areas and major drug corridors. We pay attention to the U.S. State Department's recommendations on what areas are safe, and we ask our friends in Guadalajara. (They all feel it's a safe place to be unless you're personally involved in the drug trade.)

We recommend the U.S. State Dept as a resource on travel safety no matter where you're going. They offer country-specific information as well as general tips on traveling safely.

Common sense disclaimer: Safe is a relative term. Nothing is certain. We could go to the safest place and still encounter random violence... just like we could bundle up, wash our hands, pop vitamin C pills, and still catch a cold.

What is your impression of traveling to Mexico?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Disney's Beach Club Resort

I am long overdue for this review.  We traveled again to Walt Disney World back in January of this year (2012) and we had the privilege this time of staying at the Beach Club Resort.

The Beach Club is in the deluxe category per Disney’s own classification system.  The resort is located adjacent to Epcot and is also extremely close to Holly Studios.  It offers amenities for all age groups.  It has 1 table service restaurant (Cape May), 2 quick service food locations, 2 pools (1 awesome water slide), 2 lounges, 1 pool bar, spa, fitness center and much more.

The decor will remind you of turn of the century resorts that dotted the eastern seaboard landscape; elegant, but casual and relaxing.  Lots of soft blues and yellows and rich wood accents. 

The grounds are chalked full of beautiful flower beds everywhere you turn to look. It is well worth the time to just simply walk the grounds with your camera and take advantage of all of the photo ops that it offers.

So you can probably tell already that this is going to be a positive review overall.  But as I always try to do, I will mention the good and also point out areas that may need improvement or at least something you should be aware of before you go.

So let’s get the negatives out of the way first. 

There are 3 areas that I want to quickly address.  First, the shopping at the Beach Club is not the greatest.  We found the selection of merchandise to be quite a bit smaller that some of the other deluxe category resorts such as the Contemporary, the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian etc. 

Second, the quick service venues offered far fewer choices than again some of the other resorts within the deluxe category.  This can be a bigger disappointment for those guests who are using one of Disney’s dining plans.  I again am comparing the one marketplace area inside the Beach Club to such places like Captain Cook’s inside the Polynesian or the Contempo Cafe inside the Contemporary.

The third and final negative would be the layout of the hotel itself.  There are a lot of lefts and rights that you will most likely make before ever getting to your room once you leave the main lobby.  My advice, blaze a trail on the way to your room and pack a few snacks to eat along the way.

Those are really the only negatives that I feel are worth noting.  Now I have read other reviews where some like to point out the age of the resort and claim it is looking worn and tattered.  But what most of those naysayers fail to mention is that Disney does dispatch personnel to fix major issues outside of their normal maintenance and sprucing up schedules.  In fact, I observed one guest getting a close up of a broken door hinge on one of the doors leading from the rooms out into one of the courtyard areas.  I am sure that person was making sure everyone saw how old and broken things are.  But what they probably will not tell you is that the door was fixed during our stay as well.  Every resort has times of the year that are more advantageous for routine fixing of things and that usually corresponds with off-seasons.  We were there during the off-season and I witnessed major repairs going on every day from painting to replacing door handles and locks on every room. 

I say all of that to say...please take the negative reviews with a grain of salt.

So now let’s move on to the positives.  There is a big one for this resort that, to me, trumps, some if not all of the negatives...LOCATION!  If you are a fan of Epcot and Hollywood Studios, then you cannot beat the location of this resort.  Our room was located in such a way that we would walk out the door downstairs, hang a left and be in Epcot within 5 mins.  Or...if we were feeling a tad more adventurous, we would take the bridge over to the Boardwalk Resort and walk the trail from it over to Hollywood Studios and be in the park in about 20 mins. 

Now this benefit also applies to the Yacht Club, Swan and Dolphin and also the Boardwalk resort which are all deluxe resorts in the same area, but only the Beach Club is that close to one of the parks (5 mins or less).  That makes this area of resorts my first choice when looking at staying a one of Disney’s deluxe resorts.

That means that you only need to take a bus to the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom.  And that means you will be maximizing your time in the parks and not spending as much in transit.

The resort was beautiful.  The staff was gracious. The grounds were immaculately manicured.  The standard rooms are clean, offer double vanity sinks in the bathroom, have decent sized balconies and have very comfortable bedding.  The pool and water-slide were a blast, but all of those were just nice add-ons to me.  The location alone would make us choose this resort again in a heartbeat.

So you are probably sitting there that it?  Is that the full review?  Yes it is.  We were so pleased with the location that it really did make our trip one of the best so far.  It helped us relax more knowing we could simply walk back to our resort if we got a little tired (the days we were in Epcot and HS naturally).  We were able to do everything we wanted to do and feel fairly refreshed after our trip.  What more can you ask for after a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth??

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Do You Charge Me a Fee?

That is a standard question that travel agents get asked by prospective clients.  I am finding that the majority of today’s travelers do not understand how travel agents get compensated.  So I wanted to write and answer the question, “how doe a travel agent get paid?”

In 99% of the cases where I am working with a client on a particular trip, my services are free to the client (I will explain the 1% in a moment).  The travel “system” as I will call it, has a travel agent’s compensation built in and is invisible to the client.  For example, major hotel chains, cruise lines and even resort destinations such as Disneyland and Walt Disney World offer commission to travel agents as a way of saying “thank you” for bringing clients their way.  The price the consumer pays would be the same whether they used a travel agent or not.  Naturally there are benefits for using a travel agent, but that has already been addressed in previous posts.

So please understand that our compensation is being paid by the suppliers to us (the travel agents) there are no additional fees being tacked on to the consumer’s cost.  

But here is where the exception comes in, the 1% that I mentioned; airlines quit paying commissions to travel agents several years back due to their own economic issues.  So if a client is only interested in booking airfare through a travel agent, the travel agent has to charge a service fee in order to make any income.  Those service fees are discussed ahead of time so there are no surprises.  I personally charge a small fee unless the client has booked other commissionable items such as a hotel, rental car, cruise etc, in which case I waive my fee.

But please understand this one last point.  Almost every professional travel agent out there works off of commission only.  We do not get paid salaries.  So if you go to a travel agent for help with learning about a destination or a cruise and so on, and then choose to take that information and book it yourself, that professional just worked for nothing.  Travel agents have bills to pay and families to feed just like every other working person so please consider that before taking their professional advice and info and then rushing out to book something on your own because you think you can get a better deal.

I hope this answers the question.  Please feel free to ask other questions or offer a comment or opinion.