When I arrived at the on-site hotel, my temperature was immediately checked. If I failed, I would be placed in an air-conditioned room and tested 2 more times. If I failed all three, I would be advised to seek “medical attention” and would not be allowed on site. Thankfully, I passed! I was given a bracelet to wear for the day that exempted me from all other temp checks including at the theme parks. There were signs and hand sanitizer everywhere. For example, the elevator bay had a sign that stated only one family or travel party in the elevator at a time. Since the hotel was only about 1/3 full, it was never a long wait.
As I made my way to the parks, all transportation options were available including the buses and boat shuttles. Seats and rows were marked off to maintain social distancing, but since there was a limited number of guests at the hotel, it was never an issue catching the next bus. The buses and boats bypassed the temp check station and took you directly to the park entrance.
I was immediately greeting with a recording asking people to wear masks and maintain 6 ft between you and the group in front of you. This repeated about every 30 minutes over the loudspeaker. Just in case you forget, there are floor markers all over the place. They are marked about 12 feet apart due to several parties being 4-5 people. However, I was amazed at how empty the park felt. I visited last October and felt overwhelmed with the crowds in Harry Potter world. There were lines all over the place. That was not the case this time. Several times I was able to take a photo with very few people in the way.
To answer the line question, most rides were only a 10 to 20-minute wait compared to the normal 30 to 40-minute wait. Another big upgrade was the use of Virtual lines for more popular rides. Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure, which was drawing crowds when it opened last fall, was only about a 20-minute wait if you were lucky to secure a virtual line return time. The wait time in October was between 3-4 hours! I secured one each morning and was able to ride it 3 times each with only a 20-minute wait. Since all the waits were so short, I rode 19 rides the first full day. This is roughly 1 ride every 30 minutes and included breaks for food and drinks. If you are an avid theme park goer, 1 ride every 30 minutes is impressive! Before every ride, a staff member would give each guest some hand sanitizer. This got a little annoying after a while as your hands started to feel gritty, (19 rides will do this to anyone) but honestly it was a small price to pay for a short line.
Overall, I was willing to trade the mask wearing for what felt like an empty park. For Universal, I do not think their nighttime shows, parades, or characters meet and greets are that disappointing to miss out on. I went with two recent high school graduates and they are more about the rides that anything else.
This past week Disney opened and similar experiences with wait times and park traffic was reported. However, I would argue that almost half of the fun at Disney are the fireworks, meet and greets, and parades. It all depends on who you are and what you are looking for in the parks. If you want to do all the rides, then this might be the perfect time for you!
PICK THE RIGHT MASK
My Current Bucket List
With all these new regulations, a lot of vacations have been cancelled or postponed. For me, this meant my Disney cruise would be cancelled. It was sad moment when I received the email and I am sure a lot of you felt the same way as flights, hotels, and theme parks started shutting down. Even though we cannot travel at this moment, it cannot stop us from dreaming right?! Here are the top 5 places I want to travel to next!
2. Greece (Especially the islands)
4. Family Disney Trip
5. Grand Canyon
What are your top destinations? Hopefully when all the smoke clears, we can help you book that perfect vacation. One of the best parts about Lakeland Travel and Cruises is that the three of us have been to a LOT of different places. This helps give you that firsthand knowledge to make your vacation even more special.
The Sandals Difference
This was my first time at a Sandals property and to be honest, I was pleasantly surprised with the service and quality. I visited Sandals Royal Caribbean for 4 days and spent an afternoon at the Montego Bay property as well. They are neighboring properties with a shuttle service between the two. Extremely different properties that will probably be for another blog, but for now, lets just discuss the differences between Sandals and other all-inclusive options.
The food was one area where I was pleasantly surprised. Each resort has a wide variety of different sit-down restaurants. These ranged from Indian to steakhouse to Sushi. I am not a huge foodie, but Sandals was the best resort food I had in a while. Some Sandals properties have buffet options while others are sit-down only for lunch and dinner. This makes a quick evening snack or late lunch a little more difficult. Sandals believes in a personal touch at every moment. This means that sometimes you can’t sneak up to the buffet just to grab a plate of French fries or desserts. Overall the quality is definitely higher, but sometimes it might not be as convenient.
Everything is Included
Staff and Tipping
What I consider to be the Sandals Difference
The first thing I learned quickly is how obsessed people are with Sandals properties. There are a lot of people devoted to the brand and their resorts. There are even some arguments among Sandals aficionados about which resort is the best as each resort is different (we will save this topic for a later blog). I’m a huge Disney fan and I kind of describe Sandals as if Disney created an all-inclusive resort for adults. They include everything you need and pay attention to each finite detail. The food presentation, the cleanliness of the pools, room design, etc. Every square inch of the property was thought about and well maintained. However, the combination of no tipping, watersports being included, and the friendly staff made the difference for this resort.
The big question for anyone, is the price worth these benefits. We work directly with the resorts and management to find discounts for you, but honestly, it all depends on the traveler and what they are looking for! Give us a call and we can help you see the differences and find the perfect resort for you!
Traveling: Friends and Family Edition
Growing up, one of the biggest things I looked forward to was our family vacation. It was something my parents saved for year-round. A family of 5 could not fly on the current budget we had, so we drove to almost every destination within a 15 hr radius. This includes NYC, Washington DC, Mount Rushmore, St. Louis, Boston, Louisville…. You name it, we have probably been there. Most times, we stayed outside the city and took public transportation in each day. This was a little time consuming, but when on a budget, you have to make certain sacrifices.
This tradition that started at a young age still continues as the family regularly takes a vacation together with spouses, children, etc. From a basic vacation rentals to a trip to Disney, family and group travel have become something very common for my wife and I. We really enjoy the company and with a little space, it turns out to be a very exciting and even relaxing vacation!
Here are a few great options and tips for a Friends and Family Vacation
Cruises can a be a great option to explore new locations as a family or group. They provide a little structure but enough flexibility to do your own thing. Caribbean is the most popular option because it’s the most budget friendly. On a cruise, everyone can reunite in the evening to have dinner and enjoy the nightly entertainment. It’s a good balance of personal time and group participation. Cruising can be a little complicated with cabins scattered around the ship, deciding on shore excursion possibilities, and communication difficulties as phones do not work well on the ship and Wi-Fi is an extra cost. You will still see white boards attached to the front of cabin doors saying “At the pool on deck 15” as a way to communicate. However, with some additional planning, this can be a great family or group vacation option!
This is probably the easiest, most flexible, and most relaxing option. Everything is included and this makes it easy to take a family or group. Everyone knows the cost and besides a trip to the spa or an off-site excursion, everything is included. The kids can enjoy the beach or pools, groups can just relax together or participate in evening party activities. Having your own room is nice again as you can always retreat away from the group. The ease of planning this vacation and the “known price point” can make this a popular option for both family and friends. The issue is that it can get boring for families if you do not enjoy the beach and sun every day. Some resorts have more to offer than others, which is why its best to check with a travel agent to make sure it will fit everyone’s needs.
3. Disney World
When talking family vacation, Disney will always come up. I have known several grandparents who take their extended families down to enjoy the magic. Nothing is more special than seeing all the kids light-up as they meet their favorite princess or Disney character. It’s a memory your kids will remember for a lifetime. Being a Disney fan myself, it’s easy to put this on the list with all the different rides and attractions available. However, it's not the cheapest option for families as Disney charges for children 3 yrs old and above. Food can also add an additional cost onto of the resorts, plane tickets, and park tickets.
The biggest thing I can suggest if you go with a group, TAKE BREAKS! This is really hard for me to suggest, but a rested kid is WAAAYYY better than an exhausted kid. This could be as simple as stroller ride to get them to sleep around Epcot or a quick trip back to the hotel. Nothing is worse than experiencing a meltdown at the most magical place on earth. Another thing that is essential is to not be afraid of splitting up. Not every kid can ride each ride or wants to meet the princesses. In a large group, take time to break away and enjoy the parts that not everyone can enjoy. It might be as simple as having one group stand in line to meet Mickey, while the others go and ride Space Mountain. Balance is key!
This is a little more difficult but can be very rewarding. River cruises are a great option for adults who want to see multiple cities without the hassle of driving or using the trains. If you are looking for destination options like Italy, having a tour guide might be the best idea to keep everyone organized. I did a group tour through Israel and really enjoyed it because you end up seeing so much. However, you do go at the pace of the slowest person in the group, so keep this in mind depending on the type of traveler you are. You also are confined to a set schedule which means you don’t have the opportunity to stay longer in a museum or leave early. Everyone does everything together! The price can be the most expensive which is why this is normally an adult option, but I know several people that take entire families overseas and they love it. It just depends on the family or group.
5. US Destinations
Our last option that I have a lot of experience in is traveling around the US. Whether its California or a family trip to Washington DC, each one can be a little different. This might be tougher to get away from the group as everyone is sightseeing on the same schedule. Depending on the number of vehicles, you might be stuck doing things others want to do and see. You also might have to go at the pace of the most outspoken person in the group (We all have been here! The person that tells everyone its time to go without checking in and making sure everyone is finished). It can be convenient since it’s within the US, but it usually adds up to a lot of time with the group which can be exhausting. Staying within walking distance to attractions is a must in my opinion to give each person different options to enjoy. Price wise, this can be a very affordable option, but it comes with its limitations as well.
As always, utilize a travel agent to make sure you are doing the best option for your family or group. Each person is a little different, and the ages, personalities, and interests can play a key part in deciding where to go next!
Christmas in NYC
With stores playing Christmas music and the snow falling, I figured I'll jump on board and do a holiday blog!
A lot of people think a holiday vacation is somewhere warm with a beach. However, my favorite place to go during Christmastime is New York City. Don’t get me wrong, this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea or hot cocoa…. but who can say no to ice skating at Rockefeller Center under the 70+ ft Christmas tree or a carriage ride through Central Park! With some of the best light and window displays in the USA, its easy to find holiday magic. However, New York is not the Northwoods of Wisconsin. A popular holiday destination comes with its pros and cons as crowds swarm to each attraction. Here are some of my favorite holiday attractions and a few extra pointers!
2. Sax 5th Ave Light Show and Window Displays
This is free and a lot of fun. However, if you do not like crowds, this might not be for you. Sax 5th Ave is right across from Rockefeller center which makes this the busiest area in NYC. You might have to push your way through the crowd. (seriously!) However, they do a cool light display to music and the window displays are really well done.
Why not add a classic to this list! Macy’s in NYC has been featured in many movies and has some amazing window displays. The store is decorated beautifully in holiday cheer. You can also visit the “Real Santa” here. However, the line to visit Santa can get really long and the store can feel crammed depending on the time of day.
A Few More Thoughts...
One thing I learned quickly was that the crowds are at an all time high. Certain locations are almost impassible. Macy’s can get extremely busy and walking around Rockefeller Center can feel like herding cattle. If you are looking for your space, this is not the trip for you. However, if you can deal with the crowds, the Christmas decorations are worth it!
2. It’s cold… and snow...
If you are looking to get away from the cold weather, this is not the trip for you. We can send you to an all-inclusive or on a cruise. However, if you are okay with the snow and bundle up, an amazing Christmas displays await you!
3. See the "non-Christmas" sights!
The standard NYC sightseeing locations are not as busy as you might think! Since everyone is so focused on the decorations, people forget about other attractions like the 9/11 museum, One World Observatory, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, etc. We did a bus tour during the day which I highly recommend and stopped at all these locations. At night, I walked right up to the Empire State Building viewing area. A wait of 2 hours is not uncommon during the summer.
Looking to travel to NYC? Let us know and I can help arrange that perfect trip and give you some more tips on how to enjoy it all OR did this article make you cold and you want to go sit on a beach in the sun?? We can handle that too!
Cruising: Your Questions Answered!
As the weather gets colder, the travel industry starts ramping up. One of the top options for winter travel is a cruise. It’s a great option for a family vacation, group get together, or just a couple’s getaway. However, cruising has a lot of different pieces that can make it very confusing for first time travelers. Don’t worry! That’s why we are here as travel agents to help put your mind at ease. Here’s some helpful tips to make you feel more comfortable with the cruising process.
1. The Right Room for You
"What room should I pick?" This is probably the most popular question because there are two factors that dramatically change the price of the cruise. First factor is “Room Category.” This ranges from an interior cabin with no windows to fancy 2-bedroom suites. Most cruisers will decide between a standard balcony room or an interior room based on pricing and space. The balcony is a nice retreat away from the crowds. However, if you plan to be out of your room most of the time, an interior might be the most economical.
The Second Factor is “Room Location.” On a cruise, the closer to the middle of the ship, the more expensive it will be. This is also true for higher floors. The higher the room, the closer you are to the entertainment options. The closer to the middle of the ship, the less you will feel the ship rock back and forth on the seas. Sometimes you can feel it on the ends, other times you can’t feel it anywhere on the ship. It just depends on the weather and location. We work with our clients to find that happy medium between price and location.
3. Excursion Options
4. Food Options
On board, there will be multiple options available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Most are included in your cruise package and a few are going to be an additional cost. The included options will be a buffet, some individual options like a pizzeria, burger joint, or taco stand. At night, there is a sit-down dinner available at no additional cost in the main dining room. Here you will order off a menu and the food will be brought to your table. Everything is free (unless it specifies an additional cost) so it’s okay to order a few extra plates to try and share! The additional cost restaurants are considered “specialty dining” and usually consist of at least a steakhouse, teppanyaki option, and probably a fancy Italian or French option.
5. Drink Options
Usually when booking a cruise, we recommend a pre-night at the departure port location. With crazy winter weather, we want to make sure you're down there a night early. If for some reason your flight gets cancelled, we can find another flight or option to get you to the port. If you fly out the day of, you could easily miss the ship if your flight gets delayed. Its just a good precaution that gives travelers a peace of mind.
7. Best Travel Locations
I know, I know there are a lot of blogs about different tips and tricks. So what makes this one different from the rest? Honestly, probably not a whole lot. I am sure if you read all the other blogs, these tips would eventually show up. However, my hope is to bring a little different perspective on each tip and trick to help you maximize both your time and money without losing any of that amazing Disney Magic!
As a 28 year old male in the travel industry, I am definitely in the minority (less than 20% of travel agents are male). Add in the fact that I am a Disney Fanatic and you might have found that needle in a haystack. Ever since I was a child, I loved every aspect of the parks, characters, hotels, and even the transportation options. Each aspect of it has some sentimental value that makes a trip to Disney feel magical. However, after my third trip in the last 2 ½ years, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to help you enjoy each moment there. Here are a few ideas to help you save money while still maximizing your vacation!
2. Bring your own food into the park
Disney does not care what food or drinks you bring into the parks as long as it is non-alcoholic and not in a glass container. My brother and sister-in-law have 2 kids under the age of 6, and they brought a bunch of sandwiches, snacks, and fruit. It’s a great option compared to a $13 cheeseburger or hot dog. However, don’t completely ignore all Disney food as it adds to experience! Grab a dole whip or a one of the many Disney shaped treats. They are still a fun option to enjoy on a hot Florida day!
Maximizing Your Vacation
2. Use the Disney Experience App
Okay, I know it is not the easiest app or the most user friendly. However, it gives you some really impressive information and options to maximize your trip. (Ask me and ill help you navigate through it!) I never waited more than 20 minutes for any ride the whole week. Yes, we did get fast passes for Avatar Flight of Passage, 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, and Slinky Dog Dash, but it was still an incredible feat to pull off. I figured we saved at least 2-3 hours a day and I credit this completely to using the app to its fullest. So how do you “use the app to its fullest?”
4. Participate in the Disney Accessories
This can really help your kids enjoy the trip and gives them a souvenir to bring home from the trip. Each item below definitely adds to the trip excitement and experience.
6. Lastly, utilize a travel agent like me!
These are just a few of the many tips and tricks I have learned over the years. I have stayed at multiple properties, rode every ride, and seen most shows. I can help you prioritize and make the most of your Disney vacation. The best part is that we do not charge you anything for booking with us! Since we are an approved Disney Travel Agency, we get the same pricing that you see directly through Disney! Each person and family is different so no two trips will be the same. I can help you see the differences and find those perfect pieces to help make your Disney trip feel magical!
One of my favorite locations to travel to in the United States is Las Vegas, and it’s not for the reasons you would think. I just returned from Las Vegas and had a great time exploring all the different hotels, casinos, and food options. A lot of people get excited about all the casinos, a bachelor\bachelorette party, or even a nightclub. All of these are great reasons to visit Vegas as it is a top destination for all three, but there is so much more to enjoy and explore. Here are my top 7 favorites!
6. Enjoy a Free Show!
You might not be able to score a free ticket to a Cirque du Soleil, but there are several other options available.
There are some other side options worth mentioning as well. Fremont street has regular street performs along the main Blvd. in old downtown Vegas. There is also a free acrobat show available at Circus Circus, and an extremely mini water fountain show constantly going outside of the Wynn Casino. Even Caesars Palace provides some free entertainment with an electronic “Atlantis Show.” Just keep your eyes open and you will probably find several others out there!
3. Earn Money for Watching a Future TV Show!
This is the most guaranteed way to win some money while in Vegas. There are a few places that will pay you $15-20 to watch a tv show and give your opinion! I went to the CBS location in MGM and they gave me $20 for watching a 42-minute TV show that has not been released yet. I was then selected for a focus group discussion where I received another $50 for an hour discussion! Check it out, its pretty fun and you get paid.
2. So MANY Food Options
This might be my top reason to go along with the last one on this list. I love the food options in Vegas. From massive sandwiches to elegant dining, there is an option for everyone. They also have a lot of popular chefs and restaurants from around the United States. For example, one of my wife’s favorite places in Chicago is the Grand Lux Café, this is located in the Venetian. I personally love Shake Shack(A burger chain in major cities). This is located in New York New York. Looking for a great night out, enjoy an amazing steak at Gordan Ramsey Steak in Paris or check out his famous Fish and Chips in Caesars Palace. So many options!!!
This list could go on forever as I did not mention the High Roller Ferris Wheel, the Bellagio Conservatory, and much more. As always, not everything is for everyone! Let us help decide the best hotel, activities, and flights for your next Vegas getaway!
Ever since I began my new career as a travel agent, I have debated writing this article. I did not want it to come off biased with it being my new profession. However, I see it being extremely beneficial to people trying to decide if there are true benefits to a travel agent. I want to be honest and transparent for our clients. Before working in the market, I saw travel agents as a waste of money and that there had to be a catch. Would it cost more to use a travel agent? Would it even be helpful? Let me answer those questions and tell you why my previous thoughts about travel agents were wrong.
One of the first things I learned after starting as a travel agent was that as a client, I can still have control of my trip. There are some travel agents out there just pushing deals to make a quick buck; that’s not the case here. Don’t get me wrong, we still look for great deals, but the goal is to provide the best travel experience possible (More on this later). The authenticity is real, and we are here to provide as much assistance as needed. When planning our Italy trip, I spent several nights on the phone talking to hotels and searching the web for questions. It would have been so much nicer to just contact my travel agent who had been there before! It would have made it a whole lot easier, and I could still plan all the “fun” activities I wanted to do.
3. I was missing out on firsthand experiences!
When being interviewed for a travel agent job, the first question is always “where have you been?” Thankfully my list was pretty long and filled in a lot of gaps that the other travel agents were missing. The nice part about Lakeland Travel & Cruises is that we work as a team, not individual travel agents. This is a rarity in the world of travel, but it gives you access to more firsthand experiences. If one of us is not familiar with a location, chances are someone else has been there. On my trips, I did things that I liked and others that I did not enjoy. However, I never would have known until I did it in person. We utilize each other to help plan that perfect vacation. Whether it is the best gelato place in Rome or the perfect all-inclusive beach in Mexico, we share that with each other to find the perfect vacation!
6. I always thought travel agents would cost too much!
“What is the cost, where is the catch?” As an independent traveler, I was convinced there has to be a fee; how will they make money? This is the main reason I never talked to a travel agent. I was nervous about getting nickel and dimed for everything. Once I started working at the travel agency, I realized my worries about this expense was completely false. We do charge a “processing fee” for booking individual flights as airlines no longer pay us a commission. However, travel companies like cruise lines, all-inclusives, Disney, hotel chains, etc. will pay us a “standard fee” called commission so we do not have to charge any type of fee. Commission is a standard percentage so “biases” do not change what we sell. A great example would be my two favorites: Cruise and Disney. I can get the exact same price (and possibly a lower price) than what you see on the website! That's right, the Disney Vacation or Alaska Cruise that you are overwhelmed with, we can help plan and purchase it for the exact same price as booking on your own. That means I can assist with dining reservations, room locations, excursions, etc. I know that seems crazy, but it’s true! This is as transparent as it gets, and our knowledge/expertise is available to you!
7. I know what I want, I don’t need a travel agent
So many people are shocked that after so many years of planning my own vacations, I decided to become a travel agent. The real reason is that I did not understand the industry or the people. We are sincerely here to assist you and guide you in the right direction. Even if you know exactly what you want, let us check it out. We can make sure it is the right trip for you, and save you the time of working with the resorts, international suppliers, Disney, cruise lines etc. No need to call a 1-800 number and wait on hold just to answer a million unneeded questions or make a payment. I have done this a lot, and it’s no fun. As travel agents, we have a direct line so just call our number and tell us what you need. Let us do the busy work to book it for you!
If I had a nickel for every time I got asked about the DR’s safety in the last few months, I could have paid off my house. If I coupled that with the phrase “Come back alive” when I told friends I was headed down there, I would be a millionaire. With so many different stories and major news events, it is easy to get caught up and be scared about travel. However, we decided to test it out ourselves to get a firsthand look at what is really going on and how resorts are responding to this security threat. We wanted to make sure it was safe for our clients to travel (That's our job as travel agents!). We checked out the resort security, alcohol, and off-site security at popular excursion locations.
The other major news item was the security of the mini-bars and alcohol. I stayed at and toured AM Resort hotels and was very impressed. Everything was bottled and sealed. No open spickets in the rooms and the bars had name brand imported liquor available. I felt very comfortable drinking both the local bottled rum and imported liquor. I talked to several other people on our excursions about their all-inclusive resorts and their observations were identical to mine. Everything was sealed and was either bottled or canned.
A trip to any all-inclusive would never be complete without an excursion or two. We booked two popular excursions to Marinarium and Coco Bongo. At both locations, you felt very comfortable with the staff and your surroundings. Marinarium did not serve alcohol until the snorkeling was completed which is the standard protocol. They had filtered water and ice on the boat along with bottled liquor which all seemed safe and protected behind the bar. Transportation to and from was very secure with door to door drop-off and pickup. I was really impressed with the staff when they noticed one person drank a little too much. Immediately, they cut him off from the alcohol and when back on shore, they brought him to his transportation van.
With my personal experience, it looks like the resorts and off-site locations are taking this threat seriously and have worked hard to make sure everyone feels safe and secure on their vacation. I talked with one of the property managers about it. He said the last thing they want people to worry about is their safety on vacation. People should be relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. I couldn’t agree more and felt very safe throughout my entire trip.