Sunday, December 30, 2012

Check out the Top 10 Videos for Disney in 2012!

The year 2012 has been a very entertaining year in YouTube videos,please take a moment to look at what made our top 10!

Our #1~Dark Vador
 Our # 2 ~ Aulani
Our # 3 ~ Star Tours

Our #4 ~ Marriage proposal
Our #5 ~ The Disney Magic New York City
Our #6 ~The Art of Vacationing
Our # 7~ Our Disney Cruise
Our #8 ~A Day at Magic Kingdom
Our # 9 ~ Power wheels to Carsland
Our # 10 ~ Ursula

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vegas, Baby! But wait, isn’t it supposed to be CHEAP?

Who doesn’t love Las Vegas? 
 Even those that don’t are aware of Vegas…the city that never sleeps.  As someone who lived there for several years, I can attest to the never sleep part, although that could also be due to the fact that we had twins when we lived there and didn’t sleep in general.  I always found it amusing that upon getting gas, I could see people playing video poker in the convenience store…and what is a better way to end a trip to the grocery store than playing a little poker?  Gambling was everywhere, in every place.  Yet Vegas is a very friendly place, not mean, or intimidating.
  The problem that I run into with being in the travel planning business in regards to Vegas is that Vegas, despite the history of being inexpensive, is far from a cheap place to visit.  Traditionally, Las Vegas was a city you could visit for low cost and have a blast.  The blast is still there, but at a much higher cost, and it is hard for visitors to wrap their minds around spending so much to visit a city that essentially is a huge party.
$5 Lobster?  $15 per night rooms?  $100 round trip flights?  GONE.  In its place?  $350 per night rooms, $400 flights, and $65 lobster accompanied by a fancy $13 martini.  I have clients constantly asking for a “great deal” in Vegas, wanting to spend $500 for flights and a stay at the Bellagio.  I’m here to say, 99% of the time that is not going to happen.

There are some less expensive choices.  You can choose a resort like the old school Riviera Casino, with inexpensive rooms and an old Vegas feel.  Some of the newer casinos, while magnificent in architecture and appearance are too SHINY for the “real” Vegas.  The real Vegas is walking into one of the older casinos, seeing the advertisements for the topless revue shows, watching people walk around with buckets of real coins and not slips of paper, and drinking free drinks.
Of course, people don’t want to stay there…they want to stay at the glitzy Mandalay Bay, or Venetian, or the Wynn.  But they don’t want to pay for it…they want to pay Circus Circus prices for a water view at the Bellagio.  They want that cheap buffet, but they want champagne and lobster included.  I have found that in recent years, most people are not realistic when it comes to vacationing in Vegas.

Fact is, there are many ways to experience Vegas, and on a budget, you can still have a lot of fun.  There are still a handful of shows that are under $50 per ticket.  You can find decent hotel deals at hotels such as Luxor, where I’ve had clients for as low as $75 per night.  There ARE cheap buffets, but lobster will most likely not be involved.  And you can gamble cheaply…one of the times I’ve had most enjoyment gambling is at a little hole on the strip called Slots of Fun.  It didn’t smell like roses, but it has $0.25 roulette that can keep you entertained on $40 for a couple of hours.
Expectations need to be more realistic though.  You cannot stay at The Paris, fly round trip from St. Louis, and see Cirque’s LOVE for $500 each.  NOT HAPPENING.  And no, that helicopter flight that goes from Vegas to the Grand Canyon and then over the Luxor light?  Nope, not included either.

So, what can you really expect to pay when you visit Vegas?  I’ve included a few trip examples of “good” prices in four different ranges, and that might help people to have more realistic expectations.

These prices are based on departing from St. Louis, for two people for four nights.

  1.  The “We don’t care where we stay, we only want to be in Vegas,  REALLY Tight budget” Budget

Stay at Circus Circus, round trip flights (not nonstop), 2 Day Vegas Power Pass which includes admission to many places of interest including the Dolphin Habitat at Mirage, and round trip airport transfers, all for $1015.89.
  1. The “Vegas was cheap, let’s keep it cheap!”   Tight Budget Trip

Stay at Luxor, round trip nonstop flights, 2 Day Vegas Power Pass, airport transfers, and free tickets to a show, choices which include three different Cirque du Soleil shows and Disney’s Lion King.  $1250.07
  1. The “We don’t want to spend a lot, but want something nice”  Moderate Budget Trip

Stay at Mandalay Bay, round trip nonstop flights, 2 Day Vegas Power Pass, free tickets to a show, and round trip airport transfers: $1383.40

  1. The “Time to splurge…Vegas is the city of excess, after all”  Big Budget Trip

Stay at the Bellagio, with a 3 Day Power Pass, Richard Petty Driving Experience, Limo airport transfers and tickets to Cirque’s “O”: $2594.19.

                   Bellagio                                                    CirqueO

Bottom line…is Vegas as cheap as it used to be?  Not really.  Can you stay Champagne on a Beer Budget?  Maybe, with a lot of luck (and luck is handy in Las Vegas).  Just be realistic when planning a trip to Vegas, and that way, you’ll have a blast without being disappointed.  Vegas is different now, and travelers need to recognize that so they can get the most out of what Vegas offers without breaking the bank!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Gratuity…Tipping While Traveling

To tip or not to tip?

Well, that is silly. Of course you tip.  But how much?  How often?  Who?  It is easy enough to know what to tip servers at restaurants, but when you travel, you meet all kinds of people that work to make your vacation be the best it can be, and tipping rewards them for good service.

It begins at the airport.  If you check your bags outside, you should tip your porter about $1 per bag.  If the porter is especially nice and helpful, and whisks you through quickly with a smile, perhaps give him/her a little more for their cheer.  If the service costs (some airlines charge to curbside check) that money does NOT go to the porters, it goes to the airline, so tip them anyway.

Tip flight attendants?  No.

When you arrive at your destination, porters will be waiting by the baggage carousels, hoping to help you.  Again, figure an average of $1 per bag, but if they are willing to take it to your rental car for you, give them a bit extra.
Land vacations
·        If you have a car service picking you up, you should tip the driver 20% unless they made you wait or were cranky...then reduce accordingly.

·        If you take a courtesy shuttle, give the driver a couple of dollars, or more if they help with your bags.
·        Once you arrive at your hotel, more porters wait to help you!  Definitely tip them as they handle your bags from the car and then eventually deliver to your room.

·        Tip hotel employees checking you in?  No.

·        Other hotel employees that get tipped...porters hailing cabs for you get $1-$2.  Valet parkers when you are dropping off and picking up your vehicle, $2 or $3. 

·        Servers in restaurants get 18-20% if they provided good service, but please tourist destinations, it is customary to add gratuity to a bill, even if you don't have a large party, so make sure you aren't double tipping.

·        Spa and salon employees get 20%.

·        Housekeepers should receive about $1 per day, per person, although if there are only two of you I suggest giving at least $3 or $4.  It should be left so it is obviously meant as a tip, or they will not take it; the bed is usually a good spot, perhaps on a pillow so it is clear you left it for them.

·        Room Service staff: almost always gratuity in addition to a service charge is already added onto the bill, but when in doubt, ask.

·        Concierge:  Normally, no, unless they get you a great reservation, then a $5 bill is much appreciated.  If you are on a concierge floor and someone was extra helpful, you might slip them a little tip.  If they don’t accept cash, you might consider giving them a nice box of candy, or writing them a thank you letter upon your return.

·        Tour guides: if it is a group tour, a few dollars per person for a job well done is a good idea.  For a private tour, it depends on the length…on a full day tour, $10-$15 per person would be appropriate.

Cruise tipping
Usually, you can prepay gratuities, or they are added to your room bill.  Those tips cover room stewards and the dining room staff.  When you buy alcohol or items of food that cost, gratuity is usually automatically added, even if it is just a can of soda.  Be aware of that before you tip, to make sure you aren't double tipping.  I usually, however, give the room stewards extra if they did a good job (and they usually do!)
Standard suggestions for cruise tipping per day (to be done on the last night, per person in your party):
·        Dining room server: $3-4
·        Assistant server: $1-$3
·        Maitre D or Head Server: $1
·        Room Steward: $3-4
·        For excursions, usually they are run by staff not employed by the cruise line.  Definitely tip…for example, on the boat we recently took in Nassau for a three stop snorkel, we gave the two employees on the boat $20 to share.  It is very subjective, based on what you did and how nice and knowledgeable your guides were.
·        For daycare staff onboard, gifts are nice.  They especially appreciate prepaid International phone cards, as many staff members come from different parts of the world.  That is a great thank you for entertaining your children during your vacation!
International tipping
Tipping customs in each country vary, and there are too many traditions in regards to gratuity to cover.  When you are traveling to another country, poorer countries especially, expect to be asked for tips for everything from handing you toilet paper for the bathroom to waving to you.  Just remember, a good rule of thumb for tipping is when someone provides you something helpful, you tip.  If they just want a tip because they are standing there, smile and act like you don't understand what they are asking for. 
ALWAYS get a good guide book or a very experienced travel agent before going to another country on a land tour.  For example, when I went to Egypt, tipping was requested by almost everyone I saw…sometimes for just being there.  If I hadn’t been prepared, I wouldn’t have known how to handle it.

Lastly, travel agents.  When you have a good travel agent, you may be inspired to tip them…but don’t.  If you want to thank them, a wonderful thank you letter, or a gift is more appropriate than cash.  Almost always, they are compensated from the travel companies when they book your trip…and you get their knowledge and service for free.  But a thank you is always appreciated!