It’s all about the fun

adobestock_172983654The last few days in our office I realized why I am enjoying the travel business so much more this year than last year. This year it’s more fun. We have been doing this for a year and people know where we are and are coming in regularly. Comparing the last couple of days to the same time period last year reminded me that last year was all about training and learning and just getting started. Most days last year I felt I was in over my head. This year has been all about meeting new people and arranging their travel…and having fun!

Today for instance I got to meet another member of a bunch of wonderful women who range in age from 66 to 89 (I can mention their ages because I would NEVER mention their names)  who came in late last week to book a cruise for next October. I have now met five of them and loved every minute of helping them plan their cruise and the air arrangements to get there. Between their three visits to the office so far, I have made five new friends.

Then yesterday, another client (who is becoming a friend) called to ask if she could bring in her new Mac and have me help her find some info on Cruise Critic. Had a great time doing that. In the meantime, I booked cruises for the ladies, talked with the Royal Caribbean Business Development Manager (who is a GREAT guy) who came in to see our fearless leader. Found out some facts I needed to know for still another client about things for them to do that are…you guessed it—fun!

Then I finished up today by meeting two other client friends at Starbucks to talk about their South America cruise that they just returned from. They shared some great recommendations for any other traveler that comes in who is going in that direction.

And lastly, earlier this morning, when I was talking to our fearless leader we were discussing why we do this job. I told him that I know there are many reasons our travel consultants do this job but for me, it’s because every day…it’s fun. I have spent the last 37 years working in the publishing industry where the most common contact I had with customers/clients was when they had problems. When they were facing deadlines. It’s altogether different in travel. In travel, people are calling us because they want to go on vacation. They want to have fun. It’s one of the best jobs I have ever had…helping people have fun.

Even though you’re growing up, you should never stop having fun. –Nina Dobrev

Dealing with schedule changes

AdobeStock_84068264.jpgOne of the things that I have always had a huge problem with is schedule changes. Today I had an appointment with four wonderful women who want to take a cruise to Mexico next fall. Was really looking forward to meeting with them. But yesterday the leader of the ladies (so to speak) called to say she couldn’t meet due to a personal appointment she had forgotten. She asked if we could move the meeting to tomorrow (Tuesday) at the same time.

Only problem is that Tuesday is my regular work day. By that I mean that on Tuesdays, I work on my real job. Of course I work on my “real job” other times during the week, but I set aside Tuesdays for big project work. This week (the last week of the month) is when I schedule creating my monthly newsletter, my biggest product. Now I know that it would seem it would be an easy thing to just do that on Monday instead of Tuesday. But as I told my wonderful bride this morning, it’s tough to just turn creativity on and off. Plus, I had information and graphics I was waiting for from other sources. But still, I had to make it work and I did. But it was a pain.

All of this will be moot tomorrow if these really cool women come in and put a deposit down on their cruise. I just have to get used to rolling with the punches.

I don’t think that scheduling is uncreative. I think that structure is required for creativity.—Twyla Tharp

It’s not all cruising

 

londonSince I started writing on these pages last month I have had a few people ask me if we are all about cruising. They want to know if we just help clients plan cruises. Nothing could be further from the truth. We at Expedia are a full-service travel agency. On our door is the slogan, “We plan, you pack.” We do have cruise ship in our name and Kathleen and I do take a lot of cruises but we have traveled on land in Europe and all over the USA. Plus, with most of our cruises we usually spend quite a few days either before or after the cruise exploring the city or region we are leaving from on the cruise we are taking.

florence1For instance, we are doing an 11-day cruise from Dublin, Ireland to other ports in Ireland and spending four days in Iceland. But before we get on Celebrity’s Reflection, we will spend four days in Edinburgh, almost a week in Leeds, England visiting good friends and three days in Dublin before we embark. So when a client comes in and doesn’t want a cruise but does want a land trip, we can do it all. We can book you with a tour company who will take you everywhere in the country or region you have in mind. Or I can plan an entire trip just for you.

edinburgh 1Last year I had two clients who came in during the spring asking me to help them plan a European trip for their families last summer. One wanted a four country tour with a cruise to the Greek Isles right in the middle of the land visits. The other asked for an eight city, 34-day tour by train, plane, rail and automobile. We arranged flights, rail tickets, hotels, dinner reservations, day trips and guided tours all over Europe. If you would like to see the entire tour, you can click here. It even has pictures and lots of great places you can visit if you are in any of these cities.

barcelona-spainIf this is the kind of vacation you are looking for, we’re the people to talk to. I love planning stuff like this. BTW: This is not the kind of plan you are going to get from an online or big box travel agency where you talk to a different person every time you call. And believe me, this planning took about two months and countless e-mails, phone calls and texts getting things reserved and set up. For me, it was just fun. For the clients it was a great time…at least that’s what they told me when they got back.

Traveling expands the mind rarely. —Hans Christian Andersen

 

Yikes—another place we want to go

One of the problems with working in a travel agency is that we see so many great travel destinations, that we want to go to all of them. Well, maybe not all of them. There are a few places I don’t care to go to but I never dwell on those. So our destination goal list grows with every presentation we see.

By the way, you may have noticed I don’t use the term “bucket list.” Not a big fan of trying to do things before I die. Always sounded kind of negative to me. Would rather set goals that keep me wanting to go on until I visit all of them. I am going to call them my destination goals. Bucket list is too negative. 

So back on the new place we want to go. Last night Marilee Syme from Celebrity Cruises came by. Now we have been on quite a few Celebrity Cruises but we have never been to the one place that they kind of rule the world of ships—the Galapagos. To be honest, I have always wanted to go there. The animals, the flora, so many amazing things to see. So many things to photograph. And Marilee had just been there in September and she had first hand experiences to share and incredible photos she and her traveling partner had taken when they were there. No word fits but amazing.

Did I mention that the ships they have down there are not really ships. They are yachts. Celebrity’s “yachts” that sail the Galapagos hold no more than 100 people. The newest, the Flora, will be launched in just a few days. If this amazing new “yacht” interests you at all, check it out by clicking here: The Flora.

Of course that means we now have another destination to add to our list. But as I posted a few days ago, we plan far, far ahead. But right now, we are planned out about as far as we can go. Maybe 2022. But don’t let that stop you from going right now. If you are interested, let me know and I will set it up for you. You can send us pictures.

I love traveling and seeing new things, learning the histories of different cultures. But I’ve always wanted to go to the Galapagos to see the giant turtles.—Mikaela Shiffrin

Planning early…really early

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A tiny bit of a European Christmas market taken by my good friend Bob. Read more about his Christmas Market River cruise a few years ago by going here: https://bob221b1.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/european-christmas-markets/

Do you plan your vacations in advance? I mean way in advance? Like two years or more? We do. And for a couple of reasons we recommend that others do too. It’s especially important when you want to go someplace that there are few openings for. Or if you cruise and you want a particular cabin. Let me give you some examples.

Over the weekend we (along with my brother and his bride) booked a Christmas Market cruise on Viking River Cruises for December of 2020. Why so early? Because we really want to do a Christmas Market cruise and we can’t go in 2019 because…Viking is pretty much sold out. That’s right. Most Christmas Market cruises in Europe are sold out for 2019 or there is very little left in the way of space. And the space that is left now, is pretty expensive. By booking for 2020, we got the stateroom we want, we got the dates and the route we want as well. Not only that but because we booked within this month (following  our Viking Cruise night at the agency last week) we were awarded additional onboard credit. It was a great deal.

Another example. Last week I had a very nice woman come into the agency to ask about booking an Alaskan cruise for this July or August. It was her, her husband and her two boys in the same stateroom. But the real problem is that there are very few staterooms that will hold four people left on any of the most kid-friendly ships. Category after category are sold out. My suggestion…let’s look at summer 2020. Great deals and the best stateroom selection. Of course there are staterooms like that left, but they aren’t a bargain at this point.

Or…Tonight we had a great friend send us a referral for her brother and sister-in-law who want to sail to the Caribbean next Christmas. This is a GREAT time to book that cruise—during WAVE season (which is going on right now) when all the cruise lines have major specials. There should still be plenty staterooms in all categories available. But if they ask me in August or September, not as many.

Lastly, we got two of our best friends the exact stateroom they wanted for a February 2020 cruise that will stop in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It was the last of this particular kind of very desirable stateroom. And the best part was that this weekend, that cruise line had a sale with a reduced deposit as well as some other great perks (because it’s WAVE season). If they waited even three more weeks, their deposit would have been 19 times higher. Seriously.

So the message here is, if you know your dates, or know that you can get certain time off, or you are retired and can go whenever you want, then book early! If the price goes down, you can always rebook for the new price. So…if you have any desire to join us on a Christmas Market cruise in December 2020, let me know and I will set it up. Or go anyplace else next year.

Plans are nothing; planning is everything. —Dwight D. Eisenhower

Standing Room Only!

IMG_1554.jpegJust a short post tonight. From time to time at the agency we have a Cruise Night. The means that a representative from one of the cruise lines comes in with all kinds of cool info about their line. We had our first one about a year ago (our buddies Bob and Judy came all the down from BC for that one)  and we had about 15-20 people attend. It was pretty cool. We have had about one a month for the last year. The attendance goes up and down but last night was a first. We were standing room only.

Viking Cruise rep, John Jerkovich did an outstanding job telling us all about Viking river cruises and Viking ocean cruises. Viking is known as THE river cruise company (well known from their sponsorship of Downton Abbey on PBS) and now they are totally into ocean cruising with six ships currently sailing and more than 10 planned in the next five years.

If you live locally, you should stop by our next Cruise Night next Tuesday night at 6:30. The topic is The Galapagos. Marilee Syme from Celebrity Cruises will join us to talk about their brand new (it launches in May) Galapagos-only yacht (really—a yacht) that you can sail on. If you are interested in coming, you can RSVP by clicking here. It’s always a lot of fun and there’s wine, goodies, door prizes and more.

Free isn’t always free–another reason you need a travel agent

Angry young male in blue t-shirt shouting, crabbed with shock content, holding eyeglasses with one hand
A cruise should NOT have surprises!

Maybe instead of writing about reasons you should use a travel agent when you book your travel, I will just keep writing about what happens in the agency day in and day out. Today is another great example. Here’s the story of why free isn’t always free.

I have a client who came in last week after working out at the gym next door to the agency. She has never cruised before but thought it would be a great idea to take her family (her, husband and two boys) to Alaska on a cruise ship this summer. I got her some pricing and literature and we discussed different options. She had tons of questions. We finally settled on two possible cruise lines that sail out of Seattle that would work for her and her family. Let’s call them Cruise Line A and Cruise Line B. She took the literature home with her and promised to come back this week, which she did this morning.

And when she came in she had a lot of great questions. Her biggest was about the “free” internet package on Cruise Line A. She (unlike many people) had actually read the fine print on the brochures and it indicated that even though they were offering “free” internet, what that meant was 250 minutes on a seven night cruise and can only be used on one device at a time. That meant that her husband, who works for a software company and needs to stay in touch while on vacation, would only have 250 minutes of internet time out of the 10,080 minutes they would be on board on their seven day cruise to Alaska. And it meant that if either of her boys were logged in, dad would not be able to log in. Neither would Mom or the other son. This was a deal breaker for her family. They are connected at home and they want and need to be connected on vacation.

So I went out and did some research and found exactly what the cost is for full time internet connectivity for her party of four and I found out that buying complete internet coverage on Cruise Line B would cost less than adding on to the “free” internet offered by Cruise Line A.

Another example of a good travel agent (I said modestly 😜) knowing what to look for. If this client had taken her family onboard expecting “free” internet access they would have been in for a very rude surprise in either additional internet charges or sad Dad and teenagers. Either way, it would have really put a damper on their well-earned vacation.

Most things in life come as a surprise.—Lykke Li

We work for free

Free Word On TagsThis afternoon I was working in the agency when I got a call from a very nice lady who asked a question we get all the time. The first words out of her mouth were, “How much does it cost to have you book our vacation?” I was thrilled to tell her exactly what I tell everyone else—absolutely nothing. Not a proverbial red cent, not a single penny, not a dollar, not a hundred dollars—NOTHING! It costs you no more to book a cruise, a hotel, a rental car or in some cases a flight  with us than it does for you to call the cruise line and book it yourself. In fact it may cost you more to book it directly. More about that below.

But first I want to explain why we work for free. The cruise lines and the hotels and the car rental companies and in some cases the airlines pay us commission. If you book directly with a cruise line, hotel or rental car company, you will pay exactly the same price, they just keep the commission they would pay us. As well they should. Because if you deal directly with a travel provider they have to pay someone to answer all your questions. The only problem is, once you get the answer to your questions, if you want to call that same person back to get another questioned answered—good luck. Those folks (who do a great job) sit in a big room someplace in the middle of the USA (or in some cases they sit in other countries) and answer phones. They take those calls, first-come, first-served so your chances of talking to the same person when you call back are pretty small.

So, since we (travel agents) don’t cost you anything (and in many cases can save you money) why aren’t you booking your vacations with us?

Here’s an example of what I am talking about. Today the caller who wanted to know if it cost more to work with us, told me she had called a cruise line the night before. She said all she wanted to do was ask some questions about cruising because she had never cruised before. The person wouldn’t even talk to her until she gave them her name and phone number. I explained I would want those too, but first, ask me the questions. She did. Before I ever knew who she was, I answered all her questions. She then told me that the cruise line had quoted her a particular price for a particular stateroom on a particular cruise. I told I could match that and I would take care of booking her airfare as well. She said, “WOW! That’s super!” And I told her not to forget she would need transfers from the airport to the ship and back again. She had not thought of that.

I then spent about 25 minutes on the phone with the cruise line, got the stateroom for less than she had been quoted (because she had never been on a cruise and I knew what to ask for) and got her a great flight and transfers as well. I emailed her the pricing and she replied with a few more questions and said she would call in the morning to book. I have already told her what I need to know when she calls and the call should take no more than five minutes of her valuable time (unless she has more questions), then I will be the one dealing with the cruise line and getting everything set for her. If there is a problem later on with any of it, the cruise line will contact me and I will deal with it. That’s the way a real travel agent should work.

Then at the end of the day, we heard this from another Expedia office: “Woot! Just obtained a new customer from (A Particular Cruise Line). They told us that (A Particular Cruise Line) is getting too expensive to book with now that they charge research / booking fees.” Not sure this is 100% accurate at this point but to be honest, I totally understand why they would do that. Since I can spend hours talking travel and getting info from a new client, I can see why they might feel the need to do that. Especially when it comes to new cruisers or inexperienced travelers who would have to have a lot of things explained to them. That’s our job and where you are concerned…we do it for free.

“Smile, it’s free therapy.” –Douglas Horton

A typical day for a great team

2018060509454467-ios-upload-file-49085540What’s a typical day for a Expedia Cruise Ship Center Travel Consultant like? Isn’t that something you have always wanted to know? Today was a typical day. Did a bunch of paperwork at home this morning and then we went into the agency. Our agency is about a 20 minute drive from the house and the best part is that it’s opposite the flow of traffic so we get there with a minimum of effort.

No sooner had we arrived at the agency and got settled than my first appointment of the day walked through the door. The couple I had booked the Mediterranean cruise for (that I wrote about yesterday—the strange non-balcony) were coming in to go over travel insurance (a topic for another day), their airline seating, shore excursions, pre-cruise hotel and all the other parts of the (as we call it in the travel biz) “the complete vacation.”

The “complete vacation” starts when you leave your house and head to the airport and it ends when you walk back in your front door after your trip. I like to run an Excel file that lists every possible thing that could cost them money (other than souvenirs and lunch) during their vacation. This is also a great way to remember all the places you are going and things you are doing. And I really appreciate clients like these who are looking for that “complete vacation.” I promise much more on this topic in a coming post.

After our discussion with this wonderful couple (we spent about half the time just talking about all the amazing ports they will get to see on their 22-night cruise) they were off and I started on my to-do list for them getting all those things done that they now don’t have to deal with themselves. I still have a few more things I have to do to complete the list and it seems to keep growing all the time. About halfway through the list, a friend of a good friend gave me a call to see if he could arrange a birthday cruise for his wife and eight or nine friends. So I quickly got him some numbers and dates so he could start organizing the celebration.

 

While I was dealing with the to-do lists for our Med travelers and checking on the birthday celebration, Kathleen was doing all the paperwork for the Med travelers and checking up on some others we needed to update. There is quite a lot of paperwork involved in our business (with Expedia) and most agents have to do their paperwork themselves but Kathleen and I have a wonderful set up where I deal with the clients and do most of the research while she takes care of the invoicing, receipts, etc. It’s a perfect situation as we both get to work to our strengths and makes us a truly great team. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do this job without her.

Here’s a small reason you should use a travel agent when you travel

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This photo (courtesy of an awesome website called CruiseDeckPlans.com) show what the “balcony” cabin on this ship is all about. That area outside the door is a PUBLIC deck.

There are a BUNCH of reasons that you should consider using a travel agent and I have an entire list but this one came up this weekend and I wanted to pass it on. As it was happening, I said to myself, now this is the exact reason I started writing these posts.

Last week a really nice gentleman came into the agency and wanted to take a cruise someplace with his bride. He wasn’t sure where, but he was looking for something 14-30 days long, that was within his budget and he wanted to go soon—soon being in the next few months. If you don’t cruise you should know that many people who cruise book more than two years in advance. For instance, Kathleen and I have cruises booked through December 2020. So this is really soon in the cruising world.

He mentioned South America was someplace he really wanted to go—up the Amazon. Or maybe Southeast Asia. He wanted someplace warm. No cruises to Iceland for him. He also mentioned that although he and his bride had been to Europe and cruised in the Mediterranean they had never been to the Greek Isles and that’s where she wanted to go. Guess where they are going? The Greek Isles of course.

Now they could have booked this cruise and the airfare themselves but here’s where my little bit of expertise comes in to play (there were others, but this one stood out). They were interested in a balcony (verandah) stateroom. And that should have been easy. There were plenty listed. But when I did some deeper research I found that this particular ship did not have any typical balcony staterooms. All of those listed as “balcony” staterooms were actually on the promenade deck which means that while they did have a sliding glass door that opened from their stateroom to the outdoors, it opened onto a public deck where anyone on the ship could be walking by. (You can see an example at the top of this post.) That also means that if you wanted any privacy in your stateroom, you had to keep your drapes closed the entire time. To me, that’s worse than an oceanview stateroom that just has a window. At least in an oceanview you have light all the time and can see outside.

Once I explained the situation, these fine folks agreed with me and booked an oceanview stateroom for their 24 night cruise. If they had been in that “balcony” stateroom that opened onto the Promenade deck, they would have been VERY unhappy. It would have been a very dark  vacation. I don’t know about you but if I am cruising to the Greek Isles and Croatia, I want to be able to see the beauty out my window. There are lots of other things a good travel agent will do for you when choosing a stateroom, like checking above and below that stateroom and making sure that you won’t be bothered by the noise of a disco below your cabin or a dance floor above.

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” Alan Lakein