Friday, August 23, 2013

Travel Time Agent Trena....Tells all about the Disney Magic bands!

Magic Bands!

My family and I stayed at Pop Century August 4-10.  We were asked if we would like to participate in testing the new Magic Bands. Please note that my experiences were during a testing phase.  Somethings may change when they are made available to the general public.  

A quick Summary:

Magic Band Pros
preselecting FP+ saves you from running across the park to obtain FPs
you have more control over the timing of your FP+ 
you can’t accidentally leave it in the traditional fast pass machine 
so easy to open hotel room door
easy to pay for items without fumbling for a card 

Magic Band Cons--
Currently limited to 3 FP+ per day
really, that's all!  

I signed up on line and was able to pick the colors of the bands for each person in my group.  The color choices are blue, red, green, orange, pink, yellow, and gray. Each person’s name is also printed on the underside of the band.  You have until 10 days prior to your arrival to customize your bands, so they can be shipped to your home.  If you wait until 9 to 5 days prior to arrival your bands will be sent to your resort.  When our bands arrived they were boxed up according to our room reservation.  For example, my daughter and my mother were sharing a room together so their bands were shipped together in the same box.    

You will want to install the My Disney Experience Mobile App on your smart phone and become familiar with it before your trip.  This app allows you to manage your FastPass+ schedule, keep track of your dining reservations, and a ton of other magical things.  (see photo of my phone’s screen shot)

I was able to go online and connect our bands with our annual passes.  My mother had a 5 day ticket and it was just as easy to connect her ticket to her band.  I set up our FastPass+ while we are still at home.  This was easier to do on the computer, but can be done on your smart phone with the My Disney Experience Mobile App.  It was easy to select them, and modify them.  I was able to select a roller coaster FP+ for the big kids, and at the same time, select a kiddie ride for Grandma and Logan, my timid 7 year old.  That made everyone happy!  I was only allowed to reserve three FP+ a day.  This did not make me happy. If we visited more than one park per day we did not get any more FP+ for the second park.  This did not make me happy. I was given a “Bonus FP+” for Pirates of the Caribbean for both of my Magic Kingdom days.  I was able to change it to an attraction of my choice.  So, I had 4 FP+ selections for Magic Kingdom and 3 for the other parks.  

Don’t pack your bands in your luggage.  You need them at check in. At the front desk, our bands were scanned to make sure they were working properly.  We also picked a four digit  PIN--personal identification number--just like an ATM PIN.  When ever we made charges to our account on the band, we had to tap it on the sensor, and then enter the four digit PIN.  We never had a problem charging. We encountered “bugs”, but not when it came to taking my money...that process was firmly in place.  I gave everyone but  Logan (my 7 year old) charging privileges.  

We were able to use our bands to unlock our hotel room door!  This is was SO HELPFUL!  It was quick and easy to unlock the door.  Worked every time without fail.  The bands are waterproof so you can swim in the bands.  All we had to take to the pool was a towel.  

The band was light weight and didn’t bother me at all in the heat.  It is adjustable.  We had to remove the outer edges to make the band smaller for Logan. (see photo of red band) The outer edge can not be put back on.  The band was fairly secure.  However, my oldest son lost his.  I’m pretty sure he was putting on our back pack and knocked it off with the tight straps which are  adjusted to my size and not his big “Gaston”  type broad shoulders.  

Upon entering the parks we taped our bands and then placed a finger on a separate scanner.  The sensors light up blue as an indication they are working, and then turns green when your admission is verified.  Quick and easy.  

Twice (out of a week long trip) my mother and daughter (remember they are in the same room) had trouble entering the parks.  The cast member signaled to another cast member who had an iPad with a sensor on the back of it.  The bands were scanned on the iPad, and the issue was resolved in 2 minutes or less, right there, where we were.  No need to go to guest relations and wait in a line.  

I mostly chose attractions that have just recently added a FastPass+ option (and do not have traditional FPs available).  Some were very helpful and some were a total waste.  I didn’t not find them helpful at all for The Festival of the Lion King show.  We arrived at the time indicated, waited in a separate area, which was not shaded and had no fans, like the regular que.  We were allowed to enter the theater at the same time as everyone else, and there was no space reserved for us.   We also used FP+ for the Finding Nemo show.  We showed up at the time listed for our FP+ and were sent right inside.  The theater was 90% full and there was no reserved place for us to sit.  We had to spilt up in sit a few rows apart. It worked against us.  We also used FP+ for Expedition Everest.  It worked great, just like a traditional FP only we didn’t have to run across the park when it opened to obtain it!  

For our first day in the Magic Kingdom, I chose FP+ for Big Thunder,  the meet and greet with Ariel, and Enchanted Tales with Belle.  The FP+ worked as expected for Big Thunder.  The FP+ to meet Ariel was wonderful as the regular line was very long. The sensor was surrounded by a shell. (see photo)  I was impressed that they incorporated into the theming of the area.  We waited  for 2-3 minutes before meeting her.  The FP+ option is new for Enchanted Tales with Belle.  We had not experienced this attraction before because the line was always too long, and my 7 year old son wouldn’t wait that long just to see a princess!  This FP+ was great.  There was a separate que with a tiny bit of shade.  We only waited 5-10 minutes for the next “show” before we were sent inside.  We did get quite a few stares from the guests waiting in that long line.  Several people asked where they could get a FP and were disappointed when we, or the CM (cast member), explained it wasn’t available to everyone yet.    

For our second day at the Magic Kingdom we chose FP+ for Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain for the big kids and  Tommorowland Speedway for Grandma and Logan.   The speedway is another ride we don’t do often because the line is too long and hot.  Logan and Grandma decided they didn't want to drive on the speedway. If they had told me before I went to Space Mountain, I could have used my iPhone app and changed it to another ride. Grandma has an iPhone, but isn’t very tech savvy. When it was time to ride Buzz, we were on the opposite side of the park, we were hot and tired and no one wanted to walk that far.  I got on my phone and changed our FP+ to Pirates of the Caribbean, because we were near it.   I was able to select a time frame that started in a matter of minutes.  It was a nice short line.  We walked right on.  

The best  FP+ reservations were the reserved seating area for the Electrical Parade and then another area reserved for Wishes (fireworks). When I reserved the FP+ for the parade it said viewing area near the castle.  That day when I checked my iPhone App, it listed the parade viewing area in Frontierland! (see photo)  I asked a CM in Frontierland if there was a viewing area nearby.  He said no, it was in front of the castle and didn’t know why my phone would show any other location. It was a crowded day in the park, so people were sitting along the sidewalks for the parade very early.  I didn’t want to have a repeat of the Lion King or Nemo show, so we arrived earlier than the time indicated.  To my surprise, a large area facing the castle was roped off for us. There was a sign to indicate where we should enter.  The CMs were stationed all around it, but not admitting us until the indicated time. It was getting dark by the time we were allowed to enter.  The CMs did have a little trouble scanning our bands with their portable devices.  It took longer than expected but we were seated (on the ground no chairs or benched provided) well before the parade started. Once the announcement  was made and the lights were dimmed, the rope in front of us was removed.  Several people (WITHOUT  bands) tried to come into the reserved area.  The CMs were very quick to ask them to leave.  The area reserved was very large and could have accommodated at least another 25 people.  I felt selfish to have all that prime space around me EMPTY when people were packed like sardine just a few feet away.  The CM said that in the future they would allow more FP+ people in that area and it would be full.  As soon as the parade had passed, the street lights came on and the ropes were removed.  The crow RUSHED in.  I expected this and had my family up and ready to move.  People wanted to sit there to see fireworks.  (By the way, its not a good view area...its just too close.  I know, I’ve tried it.)  The road and sidewalks were PACKED, shoulder to shoulder and stroller wheel to ankle.  It was very hard to get to the Rose Garden Lawn, our reserved area for viewing the fireworks.  

By the time we squirmed through the crowd and arrived at the garden, the street lights were dimming.  The CMs were having trouble seeing and scanning our bands with their portable devices.  A CM (wish I could remember his name) told us they were working hard to get us in quickly  and asked us please be patient.   The CM talked with us and was very entertaining and pleasant.  He really kept us from getting cranky.  Our fellow “band members” were very kind to one another. We were seated on the perfectly manicured grass a mere second before the fireworks started. This area was full, but not packed. There was enough room for me to stretch out and lay down flat directly under TinkerBelle’s flight path.  How often do you get to lay on the grass in the Magic Kingdom?  (Never unless you want to be escorted out!!)  I loved it!  The location was great for viewing the fireworks. There had been a light rain that evening but thankfully ground wasn’t wet.  I would recommend bringing something to sit on just in case.  It rains a lot in Florida.   Overall, I loved the reserved areas, but traveling between the 2 areas was very difficult due to the crowds. I’m not sure what could be done about that.  

We did visit Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and had no trouble using our bands with the FP+ system in either park.  We used them for Space Ship Earth, Test Track and Soarin.  In Hollywood Studios we used them for Toy Story Mania (See photo--the sensor was shaped like a tinker toy), Star Tours, and Rockin Rollercoaster for the big kids and Disney Junior Show for Grandma and Logan. 

Overall it was a wonderful experience.  I recommend using the Magic Bands (when they become available to the general public), if you are comfortable with computers and smart phones.  

Contact me today!
1-855-468-8896 ext 109

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Travel Agents…The How & Why

In this world of internet-everything, the question of “why use a travel agent” may come up.  This blog will deal with why travelers should consider using a travel agent, how to interview prospective travel agents, and how travel agents are compensated.

“How are travel agents compensated, and won’t it cost me more to use a travel agent?”

Most travel agents are free to their clients!  While there are some exceptions (there may be service fees for things like air only assistance), as a general rule you pay nothing to use a travel agent.  Travel agents are compensated by the travel companies they use.  In addition, most travel agents can meet or beat any price.  What that means for you is that you may pay LESS than  you see advertised, but at minimum the same, plus you get an expert on your side for free!

“How do I choose a travel agent?”

You need to be choosy when you pick a travel agent.  Find a good one, and you have the benefit of an expert on your side for life!  Find a bad one, and that trip you spent your hard earned money on may be at risk.  Things to look for:
1.      Experience.  Nothing beats hands on experience. 
Want to take a cruise?  Ask these questions:
·       Ask about embarkation and debarkation processes
·       Ask their opinions on dining times and cabin location

Want to go to Disney?  Ask:
·       How many times have they stayed onsite?
·       How does Fast Pass work, and how much does it cost? (and yes, that is a trick question)
·       What is their favorite restaurant?

Want to go somewhere exotic, like Italy or Egypt?  It is VITAL you find someone that knows the destination.

If the travel agent hesitates, or has to look it up and get back to you, find another agent.  You want to choose someone comfortable with the type of trip you are planning.  

2.      Credentials.  Ask what certifications an agent may hold, and/or what accreditation's their agency holds.  IATAN is an important accreditation because it is difficult to obtain.  

3.      Find someone you like. Make it a policy to work with people you like!  It makes planning trips much more enjoyable, and it can enhance a client experience.

“Why use a travel agent?”

First, let me start by defining people that may be happier without a travel agent:
·       Do you micromanage your trips?
·       Do you do exhaustive research?
·       Do you re-price things often and change reservations accordingly?

If you answered yes to most of those, a travel agent might not be for you, unless they are a perfect fit with your personality.However helping a fellow Mom or Dad who works from home doing this might be a great help and a chance for you to sit back and relax.

Benefits of using a travel agent:
·       Matched pricing or better pricing
·       Knowledge of destinations, and contacts such as hotel managers and tour guides
·       No need to search dozens of sites, a good travel agent knows exactly where to go!
·       Special perks like itinerary planning, restaurant assistance, gifts or upgrades
·       Even if you enjoy planning, having a travel agent on your team can make sure your trip is as magical as possible!
·       Help if you experience a problem during your vacation

Don’t pick a travel agent based on onboard credit only, or rebates.  Many suppliers don’t allow those things or they limit them, and if a travel agent is offering a “too good to be true” offer, that smacks of desperation…they are willing to undercut prices even if that is against supplier policy to get business.  They key is SERVICE…don’t sacrifice that for a few dollars.  You are spending a lot on your vacation, but you get what you pay you really want to sacrifice your hard earned trip by nickel and diming everything? There is spending your money wisely, and there is cheap.  There is a huge difference between the two.

Finally, don’t contact a travel agent, use them to price out dozens of vacations, and then book on your own.  Travel agents are compensated only when you book through them.  If it is a matter of price, ask them to match.  If it is a “just because” matter and you decide to book on your own, that is the equivalent of you getting paid zero at your job.  Do you enjoy going to work, doing your job and doing it well, and then being told "we decided you aren't going to get paid even though you did the work".  Most travel agents do not charge fees for their time, and earn their living only when people actually go through them to book their trips.  No one likes to work for free!

A good travel agent/client relationship can be extremely beneficial.  Vacations are an investment…protect them!

Reimagineering the Disney Magic: Animator's Palate