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Monday, February 13, 2017

Getting Around Ireland

The Ring Of Kerry

You’ve decided you want to take a trip to Ireland, awesome it’s going to be amazing! Now what? Tour bus? Rent a Car? Public Transportation? There are pros and cons to each option, let’s go over them.

Tour Group –
Sheen Falls
PROS – If you take a tour, once you choose an itinerary and pay, everything is planned for you. Your hotels are chosen and booked for you, most of your meals will be prearranged, your admission to the various sites is organized and your transportation taken care of. You will also have a guide who will have information that you wouldn’t get from touring on your own and you will also have a chance to see more and cover a lot more ground than if you tried to get around on your own. Your costs are presented ahead of time and this is generally the cheapest way to take a trip to Ireland outside of backpacking and hostels.

CONS – Taking a tour means you will be following a tight schedule and you won’t have much time to do your own thing. Most tour schedules start early in the morning and stay in a new town every night or two so you will be packing and unpacking a lot. Additionally, while you don’t have to plan anything, you also can’t choose your hotels or most of your restaurants. During the summer, there are tour groups everywhere and the main tourist spot parking lots are packed with large buses and huge groups of people heading into the sites at one time. Keep in mind that you will be on the bus with a big group of people for several days in a row (and that there is a chance at least one of those people may be annoying…).

Small Group Tours– There are some smaller tour groups where you would be in a smaller vehicle and a group of fewer than 20 people, these lessen some of the big tour issues and create a more intimate setting but you still must follow the strict schedule and the cost would be higher than the large tour groups.

Self-Drive –
PROS – Renting a car and driving though Ireland gives you the most freedom to spend your time as you please. Sleep in one day or get out and about early – spend some extra time in a place you love and choose a special hotel you were dying to stay in. You can decide to splurge on one hotel and skimp on another to stay on budget. This is how we did our family trip through Ireland and how we would do it on a return trip, we prefer to follow our own schedule!

Driving in Ireland
CONS – You have to drive on the left side of the road and on the right side of the car! I’m not going to sugar coat it, the driving can be stressful. To be honest my husband did 99.9% of the driving but he said that once you got used to it, the highway driving wasn’t too bad. The country roads were tough and the toughest was driving The Ring of Kerry (We did survive though!).  Another challenge with renting cars in Ireland is that you must pay for the additional insurance. Credit card companies DO NOT cover rental car insurance in Ireland and if you do not get the Super Collision Damage Waiver you will be facing a deductible that is equal to the cost of the REPLACING THE CAR. The cost of the insurance can sometimes be equal to the rental itself, so you are paying double – but still much better than paying to replace a car!

Public Transportation –
I am not all that familiar with Public transportation since it is not a very convenient choice for a family of 6. That being said, I understand that that Ireland has great public transportation options in and connecting the larger cities, but that if you hope to visit the countryside the options are slim or nonexistent.

If you are seriously considering a trip to Ireland consider what is most important to you – cost and budgeting, flexibility and choice and if you are willing to drive or be part of a group trip. Give me a call and I can help walk you through the options!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Destination: Quebec City

Have you ever taken a trip that you reminisce about so fondly, a trip so perfect that just the thought of it makes you ache to return? Maybe there were even some mishaps during the trip (like your flight home was cancelled and you ended up having to drive home in the worst rental car ever) but the whole of the trip was so wonderful that you skirt those memories aside.

I'm lucky enough to have had a couple of those but one that sticks with me, even years later is Quebec City just after Christmas. I have a bit of a thing for Europe, Paris especially, and Quebec City is the perfect escape to give you a taste of Europe without the transatlantic trip. Taking a trip to Quebec around Christmas will definitely be chilly but it is a picture perfect winter village that the whole family can enjoy.

Where to Stay

Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

A historic hotel inside the walls of Old Quebec in Upper Town, the Frontenac is at the center of everything, including the city skyline. This hotel is perfect for families, offering a Family Studio room that can sleep up to 6 as well an indoor pool, spa, fitness center, restaurants and bars. Be sure to stop in the 1608 Wine & Cheese Bar after and afternoon in the cold for a drink to warm you up and unbelievable views of the St. Lawrence River.

Auberge Saint-Antoine

The Auberge Saint-Antoine is a beautiful blend of old and new Quebec. A contemporary boutique hotel surrounded by the cobblestone streets of Lower Town highlights the past with beautifully displayed artifacts from an archeological dig done on the site of the hotel. The room sizes are best for a romantic weekend or small family and the hotel has an onsite spa, gym, business center and private cinema. The restaurant Panache is not to be missed.

Things to Do

Take a tour and see the changing of the guard at Citadelle of Quebec, an active military installation and official residence of both the Canadian monarch and the Governor General of Canada.

Visit Musée de la civilisation à Québec, an interactive museum of Quebec's culture and history or The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the national art museum.

Walk around town and visit some of the historic sights of Old Quebec - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During December the town will be decorated as a true Christmas village of times past.

 Be sure to ride the Funicular from Lower Town to Upper Town, stop in the Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec, visit the Christmas Market in Old Port or The German Christmas Market in Old Quebec and of course peek in the shops of the cobblestone lined streets of Lower Town for some souvenirs to bring home.

Try some ice skating on the outdoor rink at Place D’Youville and then follow it up with some hot chocolat or cafe au lait in a nearby cafe.

Getting There

Quebec is about an 8 1/2 hour drive from the New Jersey area and an 1 1/2 Hour flight. Once you are there you don't need a car if you plan to stay within Quebec City.

"Canadian law requires that all persons entering Canada carry both proof of citizenship and proof of identity. A valid U.S. passport, passport card, or NEXUS card satisfies these requirements for U.S. citizens. Children under 16 need only present proof of U.S. citizenship." according to the US State Department Website. (Disclaimer: Always check and verify passport and document requirements on your own prior to taking a trip) 

Its not too late to plan a Christmas Getaway to Quebec City or for The Quebec Winter Carnival which takes place January 27th - February 12th. 
Give me a call or send me an email for more information or to talk about a trip to Quebec!
(877) 344-0799 Ext 705

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Surviving Overseas Flights with Kids

In my last post I wrote about the pros and cons of traveling abroad with your kids. One of the cons was dealing with your kids on long flights and the jet lag. If you are thinking about going on a long flight with your family, how will the kids handle it? Here is my advice on when its the right time to take your kids on that first big trip and some ways to make it easier. 

 Everyone has their own situation and there is no hard and fast rule to help you decide when your kids are ready for a long overseas flight. I should rephrase - when YOU are ready to deal with your kids on a long overseas flight! Are you ready to deal with your kids in these potentially stressful situations - will it still be a vacation (perhaps you’ve seen this essay about taking a trip vs a vacation)? So before you start making gift bags to apologize to your fellow travelers, consider how your children will behave and how you will deal with it (and for the record I am against “I’m sorry gifts” on flights). 

Here are some things to consider before planning your first big trip: 

  •  How many kids are you bringing? Just one? You can probably make that work, especially if you have 2 adults you can tag team to get through the rough patches. 

  • What happens when you skip nap time? Is your entire day ruined? Many kids need to stick to their schedule or it’s chaos - you may want to consider waiting - jet lag with a cranky toddler will not be fun! 

  •  Have you taken flights before with your kids? How did that work out? I’ve had kids throw up in the aisle on the way to the bathroom, a child who would scream unless I let her sit on the floor until the seat belt light went off. Those were all trips under 3 hours, we were not ready for a long trip back then! 

  • Along the same lines, but will your child sleep on an evening flight or be content watching shows, coloring etc.? Everyone has their breaking point but knowing your kids tolerance for staying in a seat for a long period of time can help you decide. Maybe you’ve been on a long car ride or stuck waiting a long time for an appointment, how your kids handle these issues are all good indicators.

  • Now, this is up to you but it is my preference to leave behind bottles, diapers, strollers and car seats. This means waiting until your kids are 4-5 years old. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken many a strollers and diapers on domestic trips (and often rented car seats or booster seats from the car rental company to avoid the extra baggage), but we waited until our youngest was starting kindergarten to go abroad so we didn’t have any of that “stuff” to deal with. 

Let's say you have decided to go for it and bring the kids, what are some ways to prepare yourself and your kids to make the process as easy as possible? 

  • Have movies and shows downloaded onto a device. First off, sometimes things go wrong with inflight entertainment, on a flight this summer my audio jack was broken and I couldn’t listen to the movies. You will also most likely have to pay for wifi and you are better off already having your go to entertainment downloaded and ready to go. Also, tv is Europe is a lot different from the US (and Netflix doesn’t always work on your US device!) 

  •  Prepare your kids for sleeping on the plane, get them excited for it, make a “schedule” for the flight (ex: we will take off, get our dinner/snack served to us and watch a show then read a story and close our eyes). Small kids can curl up and be pretty comfortable. Have them wear clothes that are comfy - even pjs if they want to. Your airline will give you pillows and blankets, they might provide you with eye covers. For my younger kids we bring our own small blankets (that fit into a backpack) and neck pillows. 

  • Consider booking a hotel room or renting your apartment for the night of your flight. I have not done this but its something that I wish I had done. Even if you/your kids get some sleep on the plane, its going to be 2:00/3:00 AM to your body when you arrive. Depending on your flight you will be arriving anytime from 7:00/11:00 AM local time - that's a long stretch of time before the usual hotel check in time, trust me when I say your kids may not be up for sightseeing for a few hours before you can get into a bed. 

  • Being in your hotel or rental shortly after your arrival means being able to take a nap and shower. There is lots of advice about getting over jet lag and adjusting to a new time zone, this is what has worked for us. We all try to take a nap, I will set my alarm so I don’t sleep for too long. Once we have all had a chance to rest we get up and shower, freshen up. Then we go walk around, find someplace for an early dinner, maybe take a long walk back to our place, explore a little bit, find an ice cream place and try to go to bed as late as we can. The next morning we wake up and are “on schedule.” 

Do you have any tips for surviving an overseas flight with kids or dealing with jet lag?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Family Travel Abroad

Have you ventured on a trip out of the country with your kids? According to the 2012 Profile of US Travelers Visiting Overseas Destinations, only 8% of US Travelers abroad were accompanied by children. That number includes the Caribbean so I can imagine the number visiting Europe, Asia and beyond is much smaller. Is taking a European trip something you’ve wanted to do or does it not interest you? There are always two sides to every story, lets start with the reasons people don’t want to travel overseas with their kids.
  • Cost is the number one reason, right? The costly plane tickets, not to mention getting passports for your children and paying for lodging large enough to fit your family.
  • When you get married people tell you to “make sure you travel before you have kids” and perhaps traveling through Europe with kids in tow isn’t what you’ve always imagined, even if you didn’t get to travel before you had them.
  • It’s a long plane ride and there will be jet lag. There will also be looks of annoyance and concern from your fellow travelers.
  • Will the kids be interested? You will be in a foreign land where you don’t speak the language and if the kids are bored it’s even more stressful!

Traveling outside of the country with kids can be a big deal and its not for everyone. Many families prefer to travel within the US with their kids, there are a million places to see and lots of fun things for kids to experience. Families have different priorities and a jaunt over to Europe may not one you yours! 

But Wait! There’s another side of the story!
Maybe you’ve always dreamed of a trip across the pond and have been thinking about traveling abroad with your family, there are many reasons to go!

Yes, it’s going to be pricy to travel abroad with kids. It’s also pricy to spend a week at Disney World, spring break at Atlantis or to go on a cruise, it all depends on your family and their interests. The main cost will be plane tickets. Keeping an eye out (or asking your Travel Agent!) for good times to travel is key. We went to France a few years ago and flew home on a flight that arrived 36 hours before the kids had to get on the bus for the first day of school. That was not ideal timing, but it was $400 cheaper a ticket – a savings of $2,400 versus traveling earlier in the summer. Since the kids were still on Paris time they were up at 5 AM for the first day of school, so it all worked out!

Maybe you didn’t have the chance to travel before you got married and you don’t feel like waiting to be an empty nester before you do. It may not be the same as a honeymoon but If you have the opportunity you may want to travel with your kids before they get too old to want to hang out with you!

Yup, it’s a long plane ride and there will be a big time change. You are the best judge of your kid(s) and if they can handle it. I’ll have another post coming up soon about deciding if you are up for an overseas flight with kids and ways to make it more manageable.

Every kid is not going to love a trip to Europe, you will tell them how lucky they are, ask them “do you know how many kids get to do this?” They may not give a darn or they may absolutely love it! I’ve had people ask me “But what did you do there with your kids? Weren’t they bored?” There are lots of amazing things for kids to see and do on a trip abroad that will give them a chance to experience history and culture unlike ever before, and yes have FUN  (not to mention lots of yummy food!). I’ll have some posts coming up soon that will give you a better idea of ways to make your trip fun for you and the kids.

If traveling to Europe or elsewhere abroad is something you really want to do, you are prepared and know what to expect, you can have an amazing trip, even with kids in tow.

Let me know if you’d like to chat about taking your family on a trip abroad or if you are looking for fun vacation ideas right here in the USA… 

I’d love to help you plan the best trip for your family!

877-344-0799 x705

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Disney's Polynesian Bungalows: Are they worth the price?

I was a bit shocked the first time I priced out a Polynesian Bungalow for myself. It was only for a 4 night stay, but it came out to something in the neighborhood of $8000. How is that possible, it's just a hotel room and I only sleep there right?
Clearly. I did not book that room and instead went with a standard theme park view room that was significantly cheaper, I did take the opportunity to tour one of the bungalows though and here are my thoughts on why it might be worth it:

If you have questions about booking one of these bungalows, or about renting DVC points to book one, contact us today!

1. It's two bedrooms and two baths: For larger families this room is going to be much more comfortable than your standard room. Besides having 2 bedrooms, it also has 2 bathrooms, a full kitchen, and a washer/dryer. The bed setup is even better, 1 bedroom has a king, the other a queen and a bunk-sized pull down, and the living room has a double sleeper sofa and a bunk-sized pull down. You add all that up and you're talking sleeping space for up to 8 people. 

2. A room with a view: The bungalows are all located along the beach of the seven seas lagoon with a fabulous unobstructed view of Magic Kingdom. So much so that those jerks obstructed my view a bit in my cheaper theme park view room. This pic below is pretty much what my view was, so imagine what the view from the back deck of one of those is like!

What's better than a fabulous view of Magic Kingdom? How about a view with a plunge pool? That's right, I said a plunge pool. Each bungalow has a rear deck overlooking the seven seas lagoon. The deck is furnished with a small table and two hanging basket chairs, two lounge chairs, and a small 2-4 person plunge pool. Now, I do not recommend the plunge pool for very long. After all, it's like sitting in bath water, but I really enjoyed having a drink and sitting in one while I watched the electric water parade and the Wishes Fireworks. It felt like I was on my own little island.

3. Location! Location! Location! The Polynesian is conveniently located on the Magic Kingdom resorts monorail line. I cannot stress enough how awesome this convenience is. From the bungalows, you have about an equal walk to the front of the resort as you do the the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). This means that you can actually walk to the TTC for the monorail to Epcot as well. The monorail is not perfect, it does occasionally stall or have to stop and wait for one on the track ahead, but it is sooooooo much better than sitting on a bus. Soooooo much better, and 9 times out of 10, it's faster too.

I like what I am hearing, but what kind of savings tips can you offer? 
Okay, so clearly there is not much you can do about the price. It is what it is and if you want to stay there, you need to prepare yourself for the price tag. However, here are a few strategies for saving:

Go during the "off" season: Pricing on all resorts when they are the slowest is the lowest; Disney calls this "Adventure" or "Value" season and there is almost always some promotion running to entice you to the more expensive rooms. The added bonus of traveling during these times is that the parks are much, much slower. I took a picture in Epcot one time in the last few days of August and you would have thought that the park was closed.

Yea, this was 2 in the afternoon....
Share and share alike: 8 people to a room is a lot. So if you have another family member or friend who is itching to stay in one of these, consider splitting the cost. It's still going to be expensive, but if you can get a promotional rate and split it with someone as crazy as you are, it just might work out!

Start a Disney Savings Account: The Disney Savings account has a promotional element to it that gets you a $20 gift card for every $1000 spent on a Disney vacation. Now, there are some requirements as far as how long the account is open and what you can use it for, but free money is free money. You combine that with the added flexibility of being able to "fund" the account with a credit card and a savvy rewards card user could really compound some dollars out of the process. Nothing better than money earning money!

Rent DVC points: This one is a bit trickier. When you rent DVC points, you are essentially renting someone's timeshare that they are not going to use. You would have to rent enough points for the dates that you want and you would want to make sure that those dates are available (you may need to book 7-11 months in advance). As a result, I highly recommend talking to someone who has done it before and who is well versed in how it works. Since I am a DVC owner, and have rented and rented out points many times, I would be happy to explain it. Email me today!

Get a travel agent: I know, I know, this one is self serving since I am an agent and own an agency, but I cannot stress enough how much having a travel agent in your corner can help. Between snagging a promotional rate before it runs out, helping with dining, and explaining the whole fastpass system, a travel agent can easily be the best vacation decision you make. For most destinations (like Disney) our services are totally free, so it's a win-win. By having a solid strategy for my clients, I have saved them anywhere from $500 to $1000 per night on the bungalows specifically.

Contact us today to help you plan your next adventure!
Here is a peak at a short Disney commercial about the resort!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Top Tips: Planning a Last Minute Getaway

Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, so why is it so stressful to plan one? Well, most of the time we put that stress on ourselves because we worry if we're truly going to get the best deal, pick the right hotel, get gouged on flights, and so on and so on. It's no wonder so many folks put off planning a vacation for as long as they can.

How can you minimize that unnecessary anxiety? Here are a few ideas from a professional:

1. Stay away from review sites! (You know which one I mean): 
This one is probably the toughest. It's so tempting to see what other people say about your destination, but consider the types of reviewers that those sites attract. You either get the best (people who are just happy to get away), the worst (people who would complain about anything and everything), the professional reviewer (someone who is paid by the destination or their competitors to leave either a positive or negative review), or a fair and balanced review. As I am sure you can imagine, that last one is pretty rare... one kissed my forehead and tucked me in, 1 star!

2. Follow the flights:
If you are looking to save a few dollars, flight flexibility is the key. There are always consumer reports and travel magazines that publish the cheapest flight purchasing days based on their findings from applying complicated algorithms, but if you are planning a last minute getaway, you may not have the luxury of purchasing on day 76. If this is the case, and you are not locked into a particular destination, do a "Google Flights" search to the area and then click on "Explore Destinations". This will show you a google map with lots of pricing for flights that originate from your selected airport. This is has been enormously helpful for me when I am searching for flights to the Caribbean! Also, google flights lets you see the pricing snapshot on the Calendar drop down, so perhaps switching one day could also save you on the price! 

Book a trip with me today!

3. Scrimp on flights and/or excursions not the resort!
This one is tough. As a travel agent, you do not know how many times I have heard, "Well, we're just sleeping there". Yes, you are just sleeping there, sleeping where you spend at least 1/3 of your resort time. It's a good bet that a bad resort will have bad beds. Plus, if weather confines you to a yucky room or a yucky resort, you will start regretting your choice very quickly. 

The other bonus about selecting a great resort is that you don't necessarily have to leave property if everything you need it right there. This has always been comforting to travelers who have concerns about traveling to areas that have a reputation for safety issues.

4. Know what is important to you:

Are you a foodie? A sports nut? A beach bum? It's so important to know what you want when you are looking at resort and destination options. It's not realistic to think that a resort can be everything to every guest (although many of them do make an honest effort). So, if you know that the quality of the beach is very important to you, keep that in mind when you are conducting your research. Also, be realistic about your expectations when you are there. If you are getting bad service, that is one thing, but keep in mind that these resorts want you to be happy. So, if something isn't right, speak up!

5. Get a Travel Agent!

I know I say this one a lot and it's a controversial opinion for folks who like to plan out the details themselves. Remember, however, having a travel agent doesn't mean that you have to turn over the reigns to someone else, it just means that you have someone to bounce stuff off of. Someone who may have intimate knowledge of your destination, resort, or the deals that are out there sometimes. There are so many benefits to using an industry expert, to name a few: they have access to lots of deals without having to do a ton of searching, they may have important knowledge about your destination or resort, you would be contributing to the bottom line of a small business, most planning will come with little or no cost to you, and you never know how much they can save you!

Contact me today to find out how I can help you plan a fabulous last minute getaway!