No fancy pictures, no eye-popping graphics, just pure truth!
I just spent the past couple of hours visiting some newer websites that are listed as being owned by Professional Travel Advisors, only to find that they were misleading at best. Now, I am not going to call these sites out by name, nor am I going to give you any indication or hints as to how to find them but they are out there, and, as we real Professional Travel Advisors have watched over the months that we were in the COVID crisis, there has been a rise in the new agents ranks, but don't be fooled.
Every one of the sites that I ended up visiting included a place where you could run a search for any cruise criteria that interested you and then click the button to get all of the offers. Every one of them returned pricing and "special private" offers that are either an exact match to what you would find on the cruise line websites or, the "special private" offers were nothing more than an enticement to get you to book; they don't really offer anything that you would not already be eligible for anyway.
The worst part of this is, that each one of these searches gives you a listing of "special deals" that are all exactly the same, and, if selected, takes you to yet another site where you would book the vacation yourself. Again, you would be booking your trip through an online booking site that does not employ any real travel agents or qualified advisors and you would be booking with a company that DOES NOT provide support or assistance to their customers when something goes wrong or you need additional help. This also means that the so-called "travel agent" that owns the original site you visited is not actually a travel agent, but is instead just another person who purchased a domain name and set themselves up with the basic elements that drag travelers into the world of being upset from their vacation experiences and has no help when they need it.
As a Professional Travel Advisor I want you to know that the past months since we entered this COVID world has been full of challenges for us all, and I, and people like me, have had the added burden of trying to assist those travelers who ignored all of the warning signs of booking with online sites or "agency" sites that include a booking engine on their pages. We have spent more time helping those very people than we have our own travel clients but that is because when we book for our travel family, we do it right and we make sure that everything is taken care of BEFORE it becomes an issue. This is how a real professional conducts business and takes care of those who they are responsible for. In the meantime, we will continue to be saddled with the cries of those who continue to want to be a victim of their own design by ignoring the warnings that have been shared time and time again. In fact, there isn't a day that goes by that I do not receive at least five new updates or stories of travelers who are now in a bind and can't get any support from an online booking site or "agency" when something happens.
We may charge for our services but we deserve to be compensated for the time that we invest in ensuring that your travel program matches your wants, needs, and desires, and that your experience is what you expect. We are also there for you throughout the entire process, including while you are traveling, for the assistance and guidance that you may need if something comes up. We invest over 20 hours per booking/reservation and the more complex it is, the more time we invest; that is what a Professional Travel Advisor does. When you work on your own and book it online, you are just another number that has paid for what was presented to you on a computer screen.
The choice is yours, but remember, you get what you pay for, and no matter where you find your pricing, they are all the same because the suppliers no longer provide discounted prices and programs to the online booking companies. They do however provide us Professional Travel Advisors with special pricing, offers, promotions, amenities, and other value added options that you will not find anywhere else, so, we save you money, add extensive value, and take care of you all the way to the end, and beyond.
One of the hardest things I have had to consider as a travel advisor is the one I had to make right now, and that is the decision to give a full review of my recent Walt Disney World experience. What made this decision so difficult was the fact I would be giving a review that is not glowing or supportive of what was once an experience beyond belief. Before I get into the details, I must give the Disney Cast-member's (the on the front lines employees) high praise because they go way outside the traditional limits of what we receive for customer service and they do it with pride and enjoyment for you. They are true professionals in what they do and the company should be very proud of them. However, as a result of recent company decisions, these proud professionals find themselves dealing with a multitude of upset, and in some cases very angry, guests that are not feeling the magic of what the Disney brand was founded on and has grown from.
For my recent trip I was not traveling alone. My wife and I were traveling with some friends of ours who have been to Walt Disney World four previous times and they were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary right in the middle of our vacation. In order to commemorate their achievement, they had made reservations for one of their favorite experiences - a character dinner experience at the Beauty and the Beast Castle. In order to make this reservation, they were on hold for over two and half hours before they could confirm their reservation and apply the payment. Little did they know, there were some changes to the program that they would not learn until arriving at our Resort. A couple of days into our stay they received confirmation of their reservation for their special dinner and this is when they learned that there would be no character experience at all, and that the dinner menu would be substantially scaled back. This information is something that should have been shared with them at the time of making the reservation but there was no hint at it all. Furthermore, one would think that if you are going to charge a guest the full price for an experience, as it is advertised, then you would provide the experience paid for; this was not the case here at all and they were charged full price for half of the experience. Fortunately, they were able to get the reservation cancelled, but it cost them $40 to do it because it was within 24 hours of when their reservation was for. The guest services assistant who helped them was very helpful and very apologetic, but this situation should not have existed in the first place if the company truly had the guest experience as top of mind. But this was not the only issue that our friends had experienced, they also had to cancel their character experience at Hollywood & Vine with the Fab Five because it too had been downgraded in quality of dining and the character experience would not be the Fab Five but "maybe" another character may walk through during the meal.
My experience started at the Resort with my room having still not been assigned by the time arrived to the property. I was able to get a great front desk associate to work out what was going on and she ultimately was able to get me assigned to the category of room that I had purchased. However, again an issue that should not have existed required an associate to work ten times harder than they should have just to meet a routine obligation by the company. My room was not assigned because there were some major issues with the room that were associated with the previous occupants. The breakdown started with the property maintenance team not notifying the reservations desk of the issue so when I arrived to check on my room assignment, the front desk associate didn't know why my room had not yet been cleared for assignment. It required her to contact multiple departments before she finally had an answer and she went to the upper management over the issue to get a new room assignment. I could not be more appreciative of the service that I was provided by the staff of the resort but the supporting roles and processes leave much to be desired if they are going to create issues such as mine.
The experiences within the parks varied and were primarily acceptable but one of the most important elements of what Disney has been built off was missing everywhere you went - there were NO characters anywhere to be seen, not even from a distance (which Disney has been promoting the return of character interactions from a distance and in controlled environments). The only time we saw any characters was during the stage shows (which are not as frequent as normal) and during the parades at night (which are also very different in their design than normal), and we did have one time that we saw Mickey Mouse and it was from about 12 feet, and that experience was scheduled for a 30 minute presence for that day so we happened to get lucky.
Recently Disney has made some changes to how their park passes and how the attractions (their term for the rides) work and these changes have led to many guests being extremely frustrated with the process. The days of the FastPass and FastPass+ are gone and they have been replaced with the new Genie+ program. The couple that had traveled with us had purchased this new Genie+ service (and yes, you have to pay for it) because it is promoted as being an improvement upon the FastPass and FastPass+ programs. Well, that is not how it really turned out. Now to access rides in a priority style fashion you get into what is called the Lightning Lane (LL) que, and, for the most part, your Genie+ service subscription gives you this access with no additional charge, as long as you are not trying to get into one of the popular rides. In order to get your place in the que for one of the popular rides you need to purchase your access window for an additional charge over the daily service charge for the Genie+ service. And, in order to start getting your place in the que, you need to login to your My Disney Experience app at 7:00am to start your selections. Problem is that by the time you get into it and get through the process you are already finding yourself reserving an access window that is late afternoon to early evening, or even later for the really popular rides. For out first experience with setting up our access time for Flight of the Avatar, my wife and I were able to reserve our window for 6:30pm to 7:15pm for a total extra cost of $15 each. Our travel companions were able to schedule their time for 6:00pm to 6:45pm, but their extra charge was for $14 each. So, my friends paid for the Genie+ service to give them that added advantage of being able to select que access times for the more popular attractions for the price of $15 per person per day, plus they had to pay an additional $14 per person to get their que window, total cost of $29 per person just for that one attraction when I only paid $15 per person without the Genie+ services. Needless to say they cancelled their Genie+ service and got a full refund on it.
Throughout the entire visit to the parks this was a common thread of conversations among the guests visiting and I witnessed many couples and families talking about cutting their reservations short as result of the issues they had been experiencing. Our travel companions even admitted that they have never had a bad experience at Walt Disney World before but that this one was bad enough to lead to them considering no longer making the journey as they have so much previously enjoyed. This type of comment is one that gets your attention and really gives you insight into how much the company changes have negatively impacted the final product and the overall experience of the Disney guest. It is sad to say that the Magic of Disney is missing right now and may just disappear if they don't get back to what they were founded upon. It is fair to admit that some of the things, such as character experiences, could be impacted by the ongoing COVID issue but it should also result in keeping the guest informed of what experiences may not include right now and charging an adjusted rate for the modified experience. But you can not blame the failure of your new programs on COVID as these are not temporary in nature and replacing previous business models and that is a total failure of proper management and implementation which falls squarely on the heads of those who run the show.
Walt Disney World is currently experiencing higher than normal visitation across the spectrum of seasons so they are not losing any money at all. In fact, they are making record revenue but they are not providing the full experience to their paying guests and that just smacks of greed right now.
As an Authorized Disney Travel Planner, I can not recommend visiting any of their properties at this time because of what I witnessed during my trip, what I experienced during my trip, and the results of conversations with other guests throughout my visit; things are not what they are promoted to be right now and I can not honestly recommend to a client, especially with kids, that a Disney vacation experience would be good for them at this time. We can all hope that the magic will return to the Disney experience but it needs to come from the top for it to even be noticed.
What you see isn't always what you get...
I know, the image here is not what you would associate with travel but it does capture the tone of what is going to be talked about in this and some following Blog posts. The tone here is quite simple: you don't always get the experience or benefit of a product that has been promised (and purchased) and there are some travel options right now that are guilty of misleading the consumer into buying upgrades or having to commit to exorbitant charges that were not openly posted or even explained. Even worse is that there are some new services from some suppliers of travel products and experiences that actually charge you twice to experience the benefit. All of this will be targeted today and in the coming days as I document my recent experience with some of this.
As you may read this I will be visiting one of the most popular destinations on the planet - Walt Disney World. My visit will cover 7 days and all 4 parks (Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot). On one of the open days I will be visiting Sea World and will also spend some quality time at Disney Springs. I will provide a brutally honest evaluation of my experiences over the course of the week and it is safe to say that some of the most devout Disney fans may take offense to this information but we all know the saying, "sometimes the truth hurts." I will start this series off with my initial experience of travel to Orlando and my initial check-in experience. Every post will include the low points, high points, and everything in between with the sole intent of bringing clear reality to the forefront before you decide to commit your hard earned money towards a Disney vacation experience.
Departure day started just like any other day of travel where you have to stand in endless lines in an airport to get through baggage check-in, TSA screening, and the boarding gate chaos that we all love so much. I can honestly say that the Airline in my case was not the issue and the TSA did the best they could. The main reason that this chaos exists is due to your fellow travelers and their personal belief that they are more important than anyone else and that they are entitled to be the first to board every single time. If you are one of those people and you are reading this right now here is some advice from a Professional Travel Advisor: you are no more important than anyone else standing around you and you are not entitled to ANYTHING aside from being able to get onto the plane and sit in the seat that you have on your boarding pass. Your next entitlement is to be able to get off that plane at the next destination and continue on down the road. You are NOT entitled to be demanding, demeaning, or any other rude, abusive, negative, or aggressive action. We have all purchased the same thing that you have and we can't all be the top dog here. Get over yourself and act like a responsible human being and adult.
My issues began as I arrived in Orlando and everything was preventable. As so many travelers do, I used the latest technological advancements that Disney has put together for their visitors to do their check-in online and to make everything as smooth as possible. Well, they failed! My room was not ready, at 7:00PM mind you, which meant that I had to visit the main desk upon arrival at my Resort to find out what the issue was. The front desk cast member that I worked with went out of her way to find out what was going wrong because she couldn't understand why this was happening. The end result was that a previous guest in the room that had been assigned to me had apparently been a total sub-human organism and the room could no longer be used by any guests for awhile (again, here we go with the trending issue of people not acting properly in society and making things terrible for everyone else around them). I was assigned to a new room and we moved on. However, I had reserved and paid for a Preferred Room with a King bed and was moved to a Preferred Room with 2 Queen beds with no adjustments made to the rate that I paid. Although this initial hiccup was somewhat corrected it should have never happened and this is the direct result of the housekeeping and maintenance department not communicating with the front desk when there needs to be a change in room assignments. The front desk associate was great and she should be commended for her loyalty to providing the guests with the services and experiences that are the Disney mantra.
I will leave you on this note for now and will return with my next post about my experience while visiting the Animal Kingdom park. See you then.
Welcome to the first post and welcome aboard to a better way to experience your travel dreams.
I know, you hear it all the time how a travel agent/agency or online travel booking site can make your vacations easier or how they may have the lowest prices but I can tell you from my own experiences that this is not the case. I actually made the career change to becoming a Professional Travel Advisor because of one of these so-called professionals who could make things easier and bring more value to the overall experience. Needless to say, nothing was easier because it took the first 3 days of the vacation to get it all straightened out and the only value that was provided was in knowing that you would never use that agent again because of the mess that they created. What really put it over the edge though was the fact that neither the agent or the agency for whom they were associated with did anything to help resolve the issues, it was all handled directly with the supplier and it was a great learning experience to see what putting together a quality vacation really requires.
I don't focus on perks or amenities as the driving force behind the way I work. My approach is benefits driven for my travel family members and the benefits are:
I am not a travel agent, I am a Professional Travel Consultant and Advisor with certification from Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) as a Certified Cruise Counsellor (CCC); certification from the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) as a Verified Travel Advisor (VTA); Certified Alaska Expert accredited by the State of Alaska Department of Tourism; and the top level certifications from the suppliers with whom I have partnered: Cunard Line - Commodore, Princess Cruises - Commodore & Princess Alaska Expert, Virgin Voyages - Scarlet Tier (currently highest level available), Celebrity Cruise Line - Certified Advisor, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line - Master's, Norwegian Cruise Line - Master's, Holland America Line - Platinum, American Cruise Line - Certified Advisor, American Queen Steamboat Company - Certified Advisor, and many more.
My specific areas of expertise are:
And, most important of all, as a member of my travel family you will have the support of your advisor throughout the entire travel process, even while you are traveling, just in case you need some help with something. Of course, you can also just contact me to tell me how much you don't want your trip to end too.
I look forward to working with you when you are ready to take your travel dreams and turn them into travel memories.
Richard Hardie - CCC, VTA
Professional Travel Consultant & Advisor
R. P. Hardie Cruise & Travel LLC
An Independent Travel Associate of Incentive Connection Travel Inc
A Proud Member of the Ensemble Travel Group
Hello, my name is Richard and I am your Certified Travel Professional. I have had the fortune of being able to see a very large part of the world over the years and I know the feeling of joy when you experience a vacation that is stress free. The topics posted here will focus on those little things or bits of information that can help you enjoy travel the same way that I do.