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!
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!
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 change a “processing fee” for booking individual flights as airlines no longer pay us a commission. However, travel companies like cruise lines, all-inclusives, Disney, etc. will pay us a “standard fee” called commission. The nice part is that these fees have a standard percentage so “biases” do not change what we sell. A great example would be my two favorites: Disney Vacations and Cruises. I can get the exact same price (and possibly a lower price) than what you see on the website! That right, that 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, those crazy things called fast passes, and much more. 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 its 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.
First, I want to start by saying I do not endorse everyone to leave the airport during a layover. It can be nerve racking and scary thinking you might miss your connecting flight. However, with the right amount of planning and preparation, it is possible.
In June, my wife and I had a 7-hour layover in Paris before our final destination. After an 8-hour flight from the states, the last thing you want to do is sit in an airport. After a lot of research, we decided to try and attempt our first trip to downtown Paris. Once our plane landed, we sprinted through customs and followed the signs to the subway station to buy our tickets. We hopped on RER B Express train, made a change to the C Line and 45 minutes later walked out staring at the Eiffel Tower.
We walked a little over 3 miles from the Eiffel tower to Notre Dame Cathedral taking pictures along the way. We walked along the Seine River and enjoyed seeing the different river boats, houses, and landmarks along the way. The Louvre has some beautiful gardens to walk through along with views of the Arc De Triomphe. Our speed was brisk, and we did the whole walk in about 2 hours. We took a few minutes to enjoy a local croissant and crepe before hopping back on the subway.
We did not know how long customs and security would take, so we buffered 2.5 hours to get through everything. This was more than enough time. We actually walked right through both and made the round trip in just under 5 hours. Enough time to relax before hopping back on the plane.
Everything went as well as it could. Here are a few things I learned from our experience with a 7-hour layover.
3.Take the Train\Subway and know your exact route. Don’t forget about getting tickets!
This will be the biggest time saver of them all. This also might be the break point of completing your trip or not. Even though a taxi might seem easy, they can be very unreliable with Paris traffic. A quick car accident and you might miss your flight which is way more common than a subway breakdown. The subway is also quicker to get downtown.
I worked really hard to know what subway routes we needed and what our options were if we had to quit and leave earlier. We also had to know what tickets to purchase as Paris has multiple different prices and routes. The RER is unique and requires a different level ticket than the normal subway within the city. We purchased a round trip at the airport, so we did not have to deal with a machine in the city. Also, make sure your credit card works in Europe. There are some cards that do not work in the machines and would require you to visit the subway desk. This would slow you down dramatically.
4.Don’t travel in a Group. Keep it Small
This might sound obvious, but keep it to a small number of people with the same physical capabilities. If you plan the trip out for yourself, but someone else cannot make a 3-mile walk, this will dramatically change your plans and cause it to fall short.
5.Don’t Book Tours or Museum Tickets
I cannot repeat this enough. Do not try to go up in the Eiffel Tower, do not buy tickets to see the Louvre, etc. You will not have time. The lines to get into these places can easily be an hour long and the tours usually last at least a couple hours. The Louvre itself takes a day to go through. Some cathedrals let you walk in without a wait which is nice, but be careful of long wait times at major attractions.
Traveling on a religious Israel tour was always on my bucket list. I found this trip to be fascinating and filled with more information than my brain could handle. For an 8 day trip, we covered a lot of ground from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee. Here are the top 5 things I learned about Israel culture and religious backgrounds.
4. Israeli/Palestine Border is not as simple as it seems
One of the most fascinating things about our trip was learning what group controlled each city. I always assumed that there were large sections set aside for Palestine. This is not true at all. Find a map and look. The “West Bank” is now just scattered dots with different cities except for the Gaza strip. Two major cities currently held by Palestine are Jericho and Bethlehem. As the bus drove through different towns, we had to do checkpoints and stop for inspections.