8 Things Your Travel Agent Should Be Doing For You

Planning a trip can be a very exciting time.  Still, there can be a lot of stress to go along with it. Sometimes it’s OK to plan things yourself.  This applies if it’s a simple trip or if you have made arrangements before.  But, if you’re taking a trip that involves going somewhere new and/or has a lot of detailed planning, you might find value in using the services of a travel agent.

We’ve used a travel agent twice in planning trips.  Both of them fit the criteria above, as the first was for our honeymoon trip to Hawaii back in 2007, and the second was for our family trip to Disney World last fall.

How Our Travel Agents Earned Money

In both cases, our travel agents worked for us and we got the same pricing for the services or goods that we purchased as we would have had we gotten them on our own.  (Trust me, I checked!)

How they work is to establish relationships with a variety of providers and will often guarantee a certain number of sales, so the agent collects the full rate from you, but will pay the vendor (e.g. a hotel) a ‘discounted’ rate, and pocket the difference.

I know there are other models that come into play, but since both of ours were very high volume areas, there are an abundance of agents who have established these relationships on the back end.  Point being, if you travel to a lightly traveled area, you might not be able to take advantage of this, and might have to pay full price plus pay a fee on top to the agent.

What A Travel Agent Should Provide

Having worked with a travel agent twice, I now have a certain list of things that I believe a travel agent should provide, and will expect any future agent to provide should we use a travel agent in the future.

Specialty knowledge tailored to your needs.

One might think that with the Internet, you can find out everything that you need to know.  This is absolutely true. The problem with this when you’re setting up travel plans is that you’re going to find all that and a million times more, and weeding out what’s applicable to you can be daunting if not impossible.  You should expect a travel agenmb-oars201308t to ask you questions, and provide planning based on your specific needs.  Let them be your Google.

Provide options specific to your needs.

A well seasoned travel agent will have knowledge and relationships available with a variety of vendors, and should be able to provide you multiple options that meet your needs.  For example, when we booked our Hawaiian vacation, our agent provided us a few different hotel options.  I’m sure that he had relationships that were to his benefit, but we never felt like we were being steered in a direction we weren’t comfortable with.

Be timely and responsive.

We’ve found that when in both of the trips we planned using an agent, we had a lot of questions.  A lot of the answers would generate follow-up questions, so we found that timely and thorough answers were very important.  You can’t expect an agent to respond within 15 minutes of every e-mail.  Still, you should establish a reasonable expectation up front and expect most responses in this time.  I think one day is more than reasonable.

Tell you what to do.

Our agent for the Hawaii trip was great because he sat down and listened to the list of things that we had created for our to-do list, and took it one step further.  He basically said “Since you like these things, here’s some other things I think you might enjoy”.  In some cases, we declined, and in other cases, we changed things around, and for the most part, he was right!

Tell you what not to do.

In going along with the item above, we had some items that we thought would be fun, and he steered us away from them.  Now, again, you don’t have to take their recommendation if you don’t want to, but the point is that they should be working to provide you the best time you can have, as that will reflect solidly and favorably on them.

Provide an itinerary.

Your agent should provide you an itinerary of your trip, definitely including all services for which you used the agent, and they should also be open to adding in items that you might book yourself.

Discuss the stuff that might not be fun.

Things can always go wrong on a trip.  Hopefully they won’t, but sometimes they do.  Your agent should give you a run-down of what you should do if your flight is delayed or your room is not up to par or your rental car isn’t working.  Should you call the agent or escalate with the actual company?  The answer in many cases is probably “It depends” but your agent should run through that, at least on a high level.

Follow up (a.k.a. say thank you).

This one seems like a no-brainer but in fact, it may not.  Our agent for our Hawaii trip contacted us after the trip to make sure that everything had gone well.  He even sent us a Christmas gift later that year!  Would we have used him again had we wanted to go back to Hawaii anytime over the next few years?  Absolutely!  (He’s since retired)  A lot of that has to do with the fact that he followed up.  I’m sure that he learned that doing so is a good way to set up ‘the next sale’.  Our Disney agent never followed up.  This left a poor taste in our mouth.  As a result, she will not be getting any future business from us.

Those are some of the things that we found are important.  Little things can separate an average travel agent from an exceptional one.

Readers, do you use a travel agent to plan your trips?  What are the must have attributes you’ve found, if they’re not on the list above?  Please share in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Disney World Problems: Unplanned And Unavoidable Issues

As I’ve outlined with my series of posts, our Disney World trip last November was an incredible experience.  It was made more so this way because of all the plans that my wife put into the trip. She spent hours and hours and it definitely paid off.  However, on a week long trip, it’s inevitable that you’ll have issues that no amount of planning could have avoided.  As much as they try to prevent them, Disney World problems exist.

Here are a couple of things that threw us for a loop and how we responded to them.

The Late Snack Delivery

I’m a frugal guy.  I know how expensive Disney World is for just about everything.  That said, we looked at various ways to save money while we were there.  One money saver was trying to get a good deal on all the snacks I knew that we’d need.

We had just recently joined Amazon Prime.  I looked into what they could offer.  It urns out that as Prime members, we have access to the Amazon Pantry.  This is a service  where you can order lots of things like snacks and water.  You do pay a nominal shipping fee, but it’s charged by the box, not by the item.  You also don’t get 2-day shipping, but it is normally pretty quick nonetheless.

We decided to use this. We even called Disney to find out the specifics about whether our hotel would handle this.  It turns out it’s a pretty common thing.  Theygave us the details we needed.  We also got a tip that we can have the shipment show up before we arrived.

Our arrival was on a Saturday, and when we placed the order, it was set for a Thursday delivery.  Perfect, right?

When Wednesday morning rolled around, I figured it was a bit odd that it was still preparing for shipment.  Since it was our first time with Prime, I assumed it was OK.  After all, it’s Amazon, right?

Amazon Isn’t Immune To Problems

Well, it turns out that Amazon had problems too!

Our shipment went out but with a new arrival date of the following Tuesday.  Yikes

We were shocked and very disappointed.  After all, the stuff arriving that late meant that we would have several days without the snacks and water, and we’d have way too much of it given that we’d have a few days less than planned to use it.  Since it’d already shipped, we couldn’t even cancel the order.

We ended up dealing with the issue with a two step approach:

  • My wife spoke to someone at Amazon and explained the situation. They explained that there had been a glitch in the Pantry system, and the problem that we had experienced was pretty widespread.  Basically anybody that used the system over the day or two period that we had was going to see delays.  There was no way they could re-ship the items to arrive sooner, and of course they couldn’t cancel it.  But, they did refund the full order amount, provide an additional $5 credit, and they had no problem with us keeping the order.  So, essentially we got the entire order for free.  Plus $5!
  • We doubled up. My wife was part of a number of Facebook groups where people talked about the trip and shared ideas.  One thing that she’d found was a local grocer that would deliver to your hotel.  We had looked into them prior to Amazon but they were more expensive, so we went with Amazon instead.  After we realized we’d be a few days with no snacks, we revisited them.  We ended up placing an order, and even had a code for free delivery, which was normally around $10 or so on top of the higher price.

In the end we ended up with a ton of snacks and water.  We ended up taking a lot of the snacks home (we still have a few pouches of Goldfish crackers, some applesauce pouches, and some other odds and ends), and left the remaining bottled water in the hallway before checkout.

About That Free Backpack

When we were packing for the trip, we realized that we would need something to carry stuff around to the parks for snacks, things to wipe off with, autograph books, and other various stuff.  We found a backpack that my wife had received for free, and I was assigned the task of wearing it around the parks.

For the first couple of days, all went well and there were no issues.  On the third day, after we got back to the room, I was changing my shirt, and my wife pointed out that I had some weird marks.  I looked in the mirror and saw that it looked like a rash on my right shoulder and under my armpit, in the area where the backpack was.

Strange.  But it didn’t hurt or bother me in any way so I kind of forgot about it.

The following day I went about my business and wore the backpack again.

HUGE MISTAKE!

This time when I got back to the hotel room and changed my shirt, I knew there was trouble.  The two or three small areas had turned into five or six big areas.  And now they were rubbed raw.

Then they started to hurt.mb-2016-01-bandage

Then the blisters started to form.

And that’s when it got really painful.

Many Days Left And I Was Hurting

The big problem wasn’t that we still had a few days left.  For that, it was no big deal not to wear the backpack.  I could just start carrying it around.  I also started thinking that maybe taking a free backpack wasn’t the best idea, especially when, after that, I noticed lots of other people wearing backpacks, but with better straps and additional straps to better spread out the weight, which presumably I didn’t have.

No, the big problem was that I had already inflicted the damage and because of the position of where all the wounds were, there was no possible way I could bandage them  or cover them up.  See, anywhere near your arm moves around a lot, and any type of band aid, gauze tape, or otherwise peels off right away after you start moving your arm around.

So the last couple of days of the trip were very uncomfortable.   Because some of the wounds were under my armpit, I was walking around with one arm a few inches away from my body.  I brought antibiotic cream and petroleum jelly to try to keep it from rubbing the shirt fabric anymore than it had to.

I had my Fitbit with me and we were walking between 15,000 and 18,000 steps per day, just about every day.  That’s a whole lot of rubbing.  By time time we left, I was raw, and the blisters were popping, and it was…ugly.

It was really only after I got back and was able to get back to work and minimize my movement that it was able to start healing.  Even then it took about two weeks before I could even go back to the gym (think about running and all the back and forth that each step takes…yikes).

I found it very strange that it only happened on one arm.  I figure I must carry more weight or handle things differently.  It also, I think, was the strap that I put on last and took off first anytime it went off or on.  Maybe that has something to do with.

It didn’t put too much of a damper on my vacation, but it definitely made things a bit more uncomfortable, that’s for sure!

Readers, what unexpected circumstances have thrown you for a loop on vacation, and how did you end up dealing with them?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Our Disney World Experience: Animal Kingdom Lodge

This is part 3 of what I think will be around a 6 part series on our Disney World trip.  We took our trip in November 2015.  The first two posts talked about the park experiences, and since this was the centerpiece of the trip, that was split into two posts.

This is a review of our hotel, and we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Disney’s Options

Disney breaks their on site lodging options into three different options: Budget, Moderate, and Deluxe.

  • Budget – With these rooms, you get the basics.  When my wife and I did a quick trip to Disney World in 2008, we stayed at a budget resort.  That lived up to its name.  It was no frills, small, and really is a place to sleep.  It was not somewhere where you’d plan on spending a lot of time otherwise.
  • Moderate – Never having stayed at a moderate resort, I can only go by the description that they are for the value minded who want more amenities and some additional room, and would have to be the most ideal choice when you have more than two people to a room if you don’t want to be too cramped.
  • Deluxe – These are the higher end properties where Disney tries to go beyond giving you a place to stay, and making it a true ‘experience’.  Bigger rooms, more perks, and great attention to detail are the themes throughout.

Choosing And Re-Choosing Our Options

We initially had planned on staying at a moderate resort.  I believe we were going to stay at the Port Orleans Riverside resort.  It’s a huge resort that people like and had some amenities that I know my wife liked, one of which I think was a fold out bed or some other option that would let the kids sleep apart and my wife and I to sleep together.

After we booked, Disney offered a free dining plan with a stay at some resorts.  This basically means that they would pay for you to eat if you stayed at certain parks.  Our moderate resort was not included, but the Animal Kingdom Lodge was included.  Now, without a meal plan the Animal Kingdom Lodge never would have been within our price range, but even though we ended up paying more out of pocket, we decided to make the leap.

So, we contacted our travel agent and made the change.

Choosing Room Type

Not only did we upgrade the hotel but we decided to splurge on the hotel room.  My wife had saved for the trip for over two years, and we really wanted to make this a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip.  We decided to pay a bit extra for a Savannah View room.  Essentially, Disney built the hotel with rooms that are adjacent to a controlled savannah area, and you have the opportunity to see all kinds of different animals.

My kids are huge into animals right now.  They love trips to the zoo and so we knew that this would be a big hit.

The Rooms

The room was definitely a huge improvement over our previous on-site experience at a budget resort.  It was probably twice as big.  It had two big beds (Queen size, I think), that were very comfortable.  The room was decorated with a wilderness theme and was not at all gaudy but very tasteful.  The room was clean, as were all of the common areas.  The lobby area was magnificent with a huge lodge themed common area, an indoor fire pit, and comfortable seating throughout.

mb-2015-12-aklodgeThe bathroom sink area was nice.  The room with the toilet and shower was cramped, and the lighting was a little lacking, but that was our only minor complaint, and something we learned to live with.

The room was equipped with a flat screen TV, 32″ I believe, a desk, two chairs, and a balcony.  Finding drawer space for four of us to unpack was challenging, they could have used a bit more.

The Savannah

I really didn’t know what to expect but I was really impressed once I saw the Savannah area.  I’m not exactly sure how it works, but we saw a huge variety of animals.  This included zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, a variety of birds, and quite a few others that I’m sure my son could name off.  On top if that, they were often very close, probably 30′ away. It was very relaxing to get up in the morning or come back and have a little down time and watch the animals.  With the days being short, we missed out on some evening time, and by the end of the trip, the novelty had worn off a bit for the kids, but it was definitely a really cool experience.

The Pool

One thing we looked forward to was relaxing by the pool, either on days off or after spending time at the park.  It was a very nice pool and the kids really enjoyed the pool and water slide. Most days it was sunnier while we were at the parks, and cloudier in the evenings.  This meant that the pool time wasn’t as warm as we’d have liked.  But, that’s not why we were there, so really that was a minor complaint.

Service

The people that worked there and that helped us were very nice and accommodating.  Our room was always cleaned to our satisfaction, with the only minor issue being that we had put our bathmat into the dirty towel pile, and found that they had put it back over the tub instead of giving us a new one, but we called down and specifically asked for a new one.  I won’t go into the why’s but we have two young kids, and well, sometimes things happen 🙂

Quick Serve Restaurant

Every resort has a quick serve restaurant where you can get meals and snacks throughout the day.  We were not impressed with the experience we had in 2008 at the value resort, and were hoping that the experience would be better here.  While it was slightly better, unfortunately, it was still a disappointment to us.

It’s pretty obvious that Disney knows that if you’re eating at the quick serve, you’re doing so out of convenience and not for a ‘magical’ experience, and it shows.  The options were rather limited, the lines to order were huge (most of the time between 5-8pm it was about a 20 minute wait), and another wait to get your food.  It was telling that the checkouts never, ever had a line, simply because everybody was jammed up waiting for their food.  The food itself, well it was OK but with the limited options, by mid-week when we had a dinner without plans, we looked at any other options except the quick serve place, as we just couldn’t take it anymore.

Overall Experience

Even though the quick serve was not up to par, it is what it is and it’s definitely not what we’ll remember about our stay.  We really enjoyed our stay here.  The upgrade to deluxe certainly provided our family with extra comfort, experiences, and satisfaction for our trip.

We have talked about another trip in the future.  This would likely be around 2 years from now.  Our thought is that we’d probably try out a moderate resort.  If we do this, we would  complete the trifecta for staying at each of the resort types!

Stay tuned for the remaining posts about our Disney World trip, with the next to publish in early 2016!

Readers, have you stayed on property at a Disney resort?  What were your highlights and thoughts?  Please share your experiences.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Our Disney World Experience: Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom

Here’s my second post about our recent Disney World trip.  Our first post talked about two of the four parks, Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and since there was so much to talk about there, I decided to write another post about the other two parks, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom

I’ve got a few more posts coming about many of the other elements of the trip, with thoughts on our hotel, dining, transportation, and a few more.

Hollywood Studios

This was the third park to open at Disney World, I think in the late 1980’s.  It doesn’t seem very big in comparison to the other parks, so it was pretty easy for us to complete most everything in under a day.  We spent a morning and afternoon here, and got back to the hotel for some pool time, and didn’t feel like we missed anything.  My wife and I did go back just by ourselves for one ride.

Tower Of Terror

This is the signature thrill ride for Hollywood Studios, or at least it’s usually the image that adorns any branding with it.  As it’s a very tall ride, this makes sense.  There’s one thing, I refuse to ride it!  I’ve written in the past about how I have been more and more affected by thrill rides giving me nausea as I’ve gotten older, and while I ventured on every other thrill ride, this was one that I steadfastly refused to go on.  I did go on once in 1999, when I was down for a work seminar, and stopped at a couple of the parks, and absolutely hated it.  My wife and kids did go on.

Both of the kids initially said that they didn’t like it, not because of the drops, but they didn’t like how scary it was (it’s Twilight Zone thememed).  My 4-year old daughter later changed her mind and wanted to ride it again, but we never got a chance to go back.  My son doesn’t like ‘creepy’ things, so he had no interest in riding it again.

Hollywood Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster

This has always been a ride I’ve thought fondly of, and I was excited to ride it again.  This was one ride that we wouldn’t consider our kids for (our daughter is too little, anyway), because it goes upside down a few times, and I think might be a little too much.  However, I absolutely loved it.

My wife and I went on a date night and actually stopped at this park specifically so we could ride it, so imagine how bummed we were when we went up and found that it was closed for ‘technical issues’.  (I have a theory that someone got sick on the ride, but nobody would confirm it).  Luckily, it opened up about 45 minutes later and we were able to make it with a minimal wait.  They assigned us the front car, and it was awesome.  I would have gone again had we had time!  This is the smoothest thrill ride I’ve ever experienced.  Not once did I feel thrown around, which is what leads me to my typical nausea.

Toy Story Mania

This is the ride with the longest wait time at the moment, at least when we were there (the Jedi Training hadn’t opened yet, but I expect that will hold the title once fully ramped up).  It’s a shooting game, where your car rides around and stops at various points and you have to shoot at targets to rack up points.  It’s very similar to the Buzz Lightyear game at Epcot.  The game is fun but I would never wait the 90 minute lines if you don’t have Fast Pass.  With our Fast Pass, we waited about 10 minutes, which was about perfect.

Star Tours

This is a pretty fun ride where you board a Star Wars spaceship, and you go on an unexpected mission with CP30 and R2D2 at the helm.  You make a bunch of twists and turns through ‘space’, all of which is on a big screen in front of you (Spoiler alert: You don’t actually go anywhere, but it’s a simulation).  I thought it was a lot of fun, as did my wife and son.  My daughter said she didn’t like it, and come to find out, she thought it was real.  She actually thought we were flying through outer space, and was a little freaked out!

Great Movie Ride

This is a ride where you go through and see a lot of history about movies as they’ve unfolded over time.  It sounds pretty relaxing and fun.  While it is both of those things, they added some thrill parts to it.  We made sure to warn our kids that it was just make-believe.  There is a very ‘bad person’ who come and hijacks your car, taking over the tour guide responsibilities.  It was a fun ride though younger kids should probably sit in the middle.

Frozen Sing Along

My daughter loves Frozen, so this was a huge hit for her, and honestly was fun for all of us. They narrate the show with jokes and such that both adults and kids can get a kick out of, and the singing is of course a huge hit.

Animal Kingdom

This is a great park for anybody that loves animals, and definitely fits the bill for my son.  He loves animals, fish, and dinosaurs, so this park had everything for him.  We all had a great time!

Expedition Everest

This is their major thrill ride, and it’s a lot of fun, as you spend time going backwards.  We actually knew this and warned my son about this (my daughter was too small), and as such he loved it.  Some friends of ours that were down there didn’t know about this element, and her daughter was taken so much by surprise that she cried the rest of the ride.  So, it was good that we warned our son, because he ended up going on it three times!  It’s a lot of fun, with a few scares but nothing too wild if you’re prepared.

Kilimanjaro Safaris

The safari ride to go through and see actual animals like you would see in the safari is pretty cool.  Our kids jaws dropped being so close to zebras, giraffes, elephants and other animals.  This is a definite must-mb-2015-12-animalride, and they try to make it entertaining as well.  The guide makes a big difference, as we had one really good and fun guide and one that was sort of meh.

Dinosaur

This is another thrill ride, where you go on a ‘time travel’ adventure to go bring back a dinosaur.  Of course, you happen to be going moments before ‘the big’ asteroid crashes into Earth.  You know, the one wipes dinosaurs right off the planet!  It’s a lot of fun, though very much in the dark.  This made it a little bit scary for my son.  He doesn’t like ‘creepy’ things.  While we had fun, this made it a little edgy for him.

Primeval Whirl

This is a run little thrill ride that spins you around in circles as you go through the various hills and twists and turns.  I was surprised that it has the same height requirement as the much bigger Everest and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster.  This ride seems tame by comparison to those, but I guess there are reasons.  One thing to note is that the spinning around varies with each ride experience. Our first ride spun us 2-3 times.  But our second experience featured many more spins, probably over ten!

Festival of the Lion King

This is a 30-minute live show where they do circus type performances all centered around the Lion King, and of course all of the popular songs are well in play.  This was a great way to sit down, relax, catch some air conditioning, and enjoy a very fun show.  It’s a great show for all ages, and being that Lion King is my favorite Disney movie, this was one I was not about to miss!

Kali River Rapids

This is a water ride and it comes through as advertised.  Out of the eight people in our boat, six got fully soaked.  My son sat next to me, and he got the worst of it.  I barely got wet.  It feels good on a nice hot day.  Beware, they do not let you take your shoes off.  This is likely to keep things moving quickly in terms of getting off the boats.  This means that if you plan on riding, you might want to bring along some flip flops.  Plan on changing in line.

Both parks were great and between the four parks, we had no problem filling 7-8 days worth of time.

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