Thursday, June 11, 2020

Our First Hotel Stay & Restaurant Outing during Covid-19!



No doubt 2020 has been a challenging year for all of us.  Between stay at home orders, places being closed up for months and months, mixed messages from the media &; Scientists, I think that we all feel as though we've been put through the spin cycle in the washing machine at least 100 times.

I am grateful that Bill's job is considered essential & that I have been able to collect unemployment.  A bit humbling as I've never applied for any Government program for assistance my entire life & have always been gainfully employed since the age of 15.  Even though I am still working in the Travel Business, most of the work that I'm doing is not bringing in any income.    I think a lot of people don't understand how Travel Agents get paid.  If we don't charge fees of our own (which many agents do, I never have but am considering putting some changes in place going forward), we don't get paid until clients travel and take the trip.   So though I've been spending plenty of time the last three months canceling trips & rescheduling trips, I am essentially doing all of this work for free.   It can be downright depressing to be honest & I am not a person prone to depression.

Add to this, we are travelers!  We love to travel.  We have been home since January 4th.  This is just not normal for us.  We've had 2 cruises cancel on us & I had my conference get canceled.  We are hopeful that our cruise in September will happen as planned, but we wait and see for now.   I have made frequent trips to "El Patio" & am getting a noticeable tan that looks like I've been on vacation.  I call it my "Quaran-TAN".

Bill & I always do something special for our Anniversary.  We both agree that it is the most important day on the calendar for both of us.   We have been successful in always doing something & most cases it involved at least an overnight stay somewhere.   Initially, I would have been flying home from my conference in Orlando the morning of June 10th, we figured we would go to dinner that night and then the next day head away someplace for a long weekend.  I never got around to planning this because of Covid-19 & the uncertainty that brought to our lives.

Imagine my excitement when San Mateo County announced last Friday that restaurants could begin to open up for outdoor dining.  A quick check on my weather app determined that the weather would be favorable, I checked my Open Table app to see which restaurants were ready to be open & secured a dinner reservation for our Anniversary.   Then over the weekend, I caught a Facebook post for the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay announcing that their Ocean Terrace Patio was open for sit-down service.  The traveling wheels in my head began to spin around a bit.  I asked Bill, "Do you think you can take off Wednesday?"   I then explained that if he could, we would drive over to Half Moon Bay Tuesday evening, check-in to the hotel for 1 night and then we'd have the entire Anniversary day to spend together before dinner that night.  He texted his boss, day off was approved, so I began to put the plans in motion.

I was actually surprised to see that the rates at the Ritz Carlton did not reflect any sign of our current economic times, it was either going to be $500+ for the night or 60K Marriott Reward points.  I have a hard time parting with that much cash or points for one night under normal circumstances.  No TA rates to be found, so I decided  to pull the trigger and use my 60K Reward points to book a room, just a standard room.  I REALLY wanted a fire pit room though, but that was going to either be another 60K points or $325 additional to the points.   I am really good at asking for favors and perks on behalf of my clients, but I usually SUCK at asking for favors for myself.  Another colleague of mine encouraged me to reach out to the sales department at the hotel.   Through another colleague, I was able to get email addresses for the sales people, I emailed & asked if they might be able to upgrade us to the fire pit room.  Sure enough, it was not a problem.  Not only did the hotel upgrade us, they gave us a free glass of wine at the Ocean Terrace.

We really enjoyed getting OUT.  We really enjoyed having conversations with the staff and even some of the other guests who were also dining at the patio.   We had a nice long conversation with Erin who works in the Accounting department.   She was walking around to see if anyone needed help & ended up clearing our dirty dishes from our table, which started the conversation.  The Ritz never closed, but of course scaled back on staff, so most on board had to wear multiple hats during the last three months.  She said it's really hard for them because "rules" make it very difficult for them to deliver the Ritz Carlton expected experience, but they are doing the best that they can to make guests feel welcome & taken care of.

We had dinner Tuesday night at the Ocean Terrace and food & service was great.  We enjoyed sitting there watching the sunset and we could not have had a better evening with regard to weather.  We spent the rest of our evening outside by our fire pit enjoying the bottle of wine that we brought from home & we had thought ahead to order a cheese platter "to go" from the Ocean Terrace for the late night munchies- it was perfect.  With the current restrictions, there is no room service and the restaurant closes at sundown.

We woke up on our Anniversary late, sleeping in was needed & the bed was so comfortable.  We got ready leisurely & then visited the Ocean Terrace for lunch before leaving the resort.   Again, excellent service & when the waiter learned that it was our Anniversary he comped our drinks.  Those are the things that they can do to bring that Ritz experience right now.  They made us feel special.

On our way home, we stopped at the Filoli Gardens to visit.  Neither of us had ever been & we thought it was a nice outdoor activity for our Anniversary.  The place is beautiful.  I was not thrilled that a mask is required during your entire visit.  We were definitely more than 6 feet away from anyone else during our visit, so I think that policy should be relaxed.  The county policy says "face coverings are required if you can't maintain the 6 ft. social distance", so I think Filoli takes it a bit to the extreme.  We did take our masks off when we were far away from others.  In 80 degree heat, they are not comfortable at all.






We then had dinner in downtown Redwood City at Arya Steakhouse.  Again, they bent over backwards to serve us & make sure everything was perfect.  We asked my brother to be our "Uber" driver to/from dinner so we could enjoy our cocktails and not worry about driving home, he was more than happy to do that for us.  I'm not comfortable yet getting into a stranger's vehicle during the Covid-19 health crisis.

It felt amazing to "travel" even if only for 1 night.   It was nice to be at a restaurant, 3 times in 2 days!   As for Covid-19 protocols that I witnessed:  

At the hotel:
  • you can only valet park your car but the valets are using hand sanitizer in between handling cars.  When we left, we still used a wipe to clean all surfaces in the car.
  • I had checked-in via the mobile app, so the front desk clerk only had to verify information. I did not need to present an ID or credit card.  There was plexi-glass to divide us & she was wearing a mask.  There was also a barrier to prevent you from leaning against the front desk, keeping social distance.
  • Signs all around the hotel advise to wear a mask in all public spaces.
  • Signs at the elevators ask you to wait for the next empty elevator car so that you do not ride with people outside of your group.
  • Masks are not required once you're sitting at the outdoor dining/patio area & they are not required as you walk around outside as long as you can maintain social distancing.
  • Hand sanitizer stations are located around the resort.  
  • Most doors have handicap buttons at hand & foot level, so you can easily tap with your elbow or foot to open the door without touching.
  • In the room, there were no glasses. 
  • Currently, there are no bellboy services but they will provide you with a cart so that you can bring everything to your room.
  • Currently, there  is no room service or indoor dining.  We were told that the Conservatory was open for breakfast.  You have to call in the order & then pick it up to either eat outside or in your room. 


    At the Ocean Terrace Patio at the Ritz:
    • All staff were wearing masks and gloves.
    • They sanitize each table once guests leave & then change gloves afterwards
    • All tables were easily 6 feet apart, so social distancing was easy.


    At Filoli Gardens:
    • masks were required for the entire visit both indoors and outdoors.  
    • the paths were all marked with one way arrows dictating which direction you visit the gardens
    • limited bathroom facilities available & signs that require only one party in the bathroom at a time, there were about 8 stalls in the woman's bathroom, it was not a busy day so this was easy to follow



    I'm looking forward to more adventures, but will be proceeding with caution of course.  We can't afford to let our guard down when it comes to Covid-19, so wash your hands,  don't touch your face (I touch mine so often it's hard not to!!), make good use of your knuckles/elbows when touching public surfaces & wear a mask when you are unable to maintain social distancing!  Be Safe!





    Wednesday, May 6, 2020

    National Travel Agent Day


    It's my day!!   National Travel Agent Day is celebrated the first Wednesday of May each year, typically smack dab in the middle of National Travel & Tourism Week.  It's been a difficult year for travel.   2020 started out promising to be a banner year for myself & so many of my colleagues.  Then COVID-19 happened.  Never has my industry experienced a catastrophic event of this magnitude. Ever.  

    I put my heart & soul into planning each & every trip for my clients, so to spend the last few months dismantling trips that took hours, days, weeks or sometimes months to plan is heartbreaking.   Thankfully, most of my clients have simply moved their trips to later this year or to 2021.  I know that travel will return.  In fact, to my surprise today I received a trip request for 3 corporate travelers planning a trip for June 1st.  I know that my Corporate "road warriors" are eager to get back out to doing what they do best, meeting their clients, training their clients, making sales calls etc.  Though platforms like Zoom & GoToMeeting have been life-saving tools for all us during this isolation period, I truly believe it does not replace that face to face contact that we crave, even if it must be from 6 feet apart for now.  

    My vacation clients are eager to plan their next trip, they are just waiting it out right now to see when destinations will be welcoming tourists once again.  I anticipate the USA, Canada, Mexico & the Caribbean to be the "hot" destinations for awhile.  Personally, I plan to travel as soon as we can & hopefully before our planned Disney Cruise in September!   

    In the meantime,  I'm  so honored to fill the role of helping my customers dream for now; I'm so looking forward to turning those dreams into reality soon. Thank you for being my customers and friends!

    One of my colleagues posted  this meme, which made me smile.  


    Saturday, February 22, 2020

    Plan for the Unexpected!!

    Though we'd all love to believe that our vacation will go exactly as how we dreamed it would.  Sometimes "stuff" happens.    Here are some tips of things that you should do so that you are prepared "just in case"



    Pack 14 days of extra medication — In the event of unexpected travel delays and emergencies,  bring additional prescription medication for at least two weeks beyond the length of the cruise. Also  bring a list of the names, strengths and dosages of all medications in case refills are required. 


    Provide Emergency Contact — It is critical that you provide an emergency contact & phone number with your Cruise Line/Tour Company and/or Travel Advisor. The emergency contact should not be traveling with you. 


    Mobile phone instructions — You should enable an international travel plan inclusive of voice and data. Cell phones will not work the same in all countries without an international plan and Wi-Fi is not as available in many countries. An international plan will enable you stay connected at a reasonable rate and ensure you can be contacted. 


    Purchase travel protection — It's always a good idea to  purchase Vacation Protection, or some other form of travel protection, not only to protect them from any losses stemming from unforeseeable circumstances during their vacation, but to give them confidence to make new plans with the "cancel for any reason" coverage.  (CFAR insurance is usually an upgraded policy) 


    Practice healthy travel habits — According to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the simplest and most effective way to prevent illness, is to take extra care to practice basic health habits, including:

    • Washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds
    • Taking advantage of hand sanitizer wherever it's available
    • Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing using a tissue or your bent elbow. And always dispose of the used tissue and wash your hands afterwards
    • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands
    • Avoiding close contact with sick people 
    Be aware of latest health advisories and new travel restrictions

    Monday, February 17, 2020

    Travel Insurance - Not All Plans are Created Equally




    Travel Insurance is a topic that I am very passionate about & do encourage my clients to always insure their trip because you never know what might happen that would force you to cancel your trip.  Or worse, you get sick while traveling and end up needing medical care which can be expensive.  Travel Insurance is there to help you navigate foreign medical care systems & assist with payment of any claims while traveling should the need arise.  People assume that they will have coverage from their credit card or from their own personal medical insurance carrier, but you have to do your due diligence by looking into the details of those coverages.

    As detailed by one of our trusted Travel Insurance providers:

    Did you know…
    Medical   evacuation costs can be on average $25,000 within North America, as   much as $100,000 from Europe, and $250,000 globally, depending   on location.* Schengen   Area Visa requirements include a minimum $50,000 USD emergency   medical coverage, including urgent health, emergency hospital treatment and   repatriation.
    A nurse   escort costs on average about $11,000 within North America and about $25,000   from Europe.*
    Medicare/Medicaid   and health insurance carriers may stop or decrease coverage once a person   leaves the U.S. or their coverage area.
    Hospitals   outside the U.S. may ask for payment prior to treatment and may not   let you leave the country unless treatment is paid in full. (Having a  the correct travel insurance plan means our travel assistance provider can guarantee payment up  to the coverage amount shown in the Policy.)
    If you clients have a medical emergency while traveling, the insurance company's travel assistance   provider will assist with foreign and domestic medical arrangements, so you can focus on recovery.
    There are so many options with Trip Insurance & my job is to help guide you to the plan that is going to fit your needs the best. Emergencies are expensive, don't you want the peace of mind when you're traveling to know that you have insurance, to know that you have a 24/7 assistance line that you can contact for help & guidance? What's the plan if you don't have travel insurance?




    Wednesday, February 12, 2020

    CRUISES THAT I'VE TAKEN


    Cruises that I've Taken
    At one point, I decided that I better document all of the cruises that I've taken so that I know how many I've taken.  It's a fun list to refer back to and to reflect on the memories!!   #livelovecruise  #livelovetravel
    1. May 1990 - 1st cruise: Holland America Line "old" Rotterdam, 3 day coastal SF-YVR
    2. December 1993: Holland America Line "old" Westerdam, 7 day Eastern Caribbean
    3. May 1995: Norwegian Cruise Line - Southward (I think) - 7 day Southern Caribbean
    4. January 1997: Celebrity Cruise Line - Century - 7 day Western Caribbean
    5. June 1997: Carnival - Holiday - 4 day Catalina/Ensenada
    6. May 1998: Carnival Elation - cruise to nowhere out of SF
    7. September 1998: Norwegian Cruise Line- Star - 7day "texaribbean"
    8. April 2000: RCCL - Voyager of the Seas - 7 day Western Caribbean
    9. 2000/2001: Carnival Fascination - 7 day Caribbean (western I think)
    10. May 2001: RCCL- Radiance of the Seas - 4 Day Pacific Northwest
    11. January 2002: RCCL - Viking Serenade - 3 day Ensenada
    12. May 2005: Carnival Victory - 7 day Eastern Caribbean (Bill's first cruise ever)
    13. April 2006: RCCL- Vision of the Seas- 7 day Mexican Riviera
    14. September 2006: Princess- Dawn Princess - 2 day Coastal YVR-SF
    15. June 2007: Princess- Dawn Princess- 10 day Alaska
    16. April 2008: Celebrity Mercury - 7 day Pacific Northwest
    17. July 2008: Disney Magic - 7 day Mexican Riviera
    18. August 2008: Carnival Elation - 4 day Cabo
    19. March 2009: Carnival Splendor - 2 day Cruise to Nowhere out of SF
    20. July 2009: Celebrity Infinity - 7 day Alaska round-trip from Seattle 
    21. February 2010- MSC Poesia - 7 day Eastern Caribbean Country Dance Cruise
    22. September 2010- Mariner of the Seas - 7 day Mexican Riviera
    23. September 2010- Zuiderdam (Holland America) - 3 day Pacific Coastal.
    24. November 2010 - Allure of the Seas - 2 day cruise to nowhere out of Ft. Lauderdale.
    25. February 2011 - Norwegian EPIC - 7 day cruise to Western Caribbean: Cozumel, Costa Maya & Roatan
    26. June 2011 - Carnival Paradise- 3 day Baja Cruise to Ensenada "5th year anniversary Cruise"- BILL'S 15TH CRUISE IN 6 YEARS!!
    27. May 2012 - RCCL  Oasis of the Seas - 7 days Eastern Caribbean (V.com conference)
    28. May 2013 - Celebrity Solstice - 2 day cruise to nowhere
    29. October 27 2013 - Royal Princess- 2 day TA cruise to nowhere 
    30. October 29, 2013 - Royal Princess - 5 day Caribbean Inaugural Cruise
    31. December 28, 2013 - Adventure of the Seas- 7 day Southern Caribbean New Years Eve Cruise
    32. February 23, 2014- Norwegian Jewel- 7 day Western Caribbean from New Orleans (Mandi's Line Dance Cruise)
    33. July 3, 2014 - Carnival Imagination - 3 day Baja Cruise to Ensenada "Bill's 50th birthday cruise" 
    34. March 26, 2015 - Carnival Imagination - 3 day Baja Cruise to Ensenada "Janet's 50th birthday cruise"
    35. April 24, 2015 - RCCL Quantum of the Seas- 8 day Bahamas- Vacation.com Conference at Sea
    36. September 24, 2015 - RCCL Liberty of the Seas - 9 day Canada/New England- Line Dancers at Sea
    37. April 4, 2016 - Norwegian Pearl - 10 day Partial Panama Canal Cruise from Florida (2016 Line Dancers at Sea)
    38. November 8, 2016 - RCCL Harmony of the Seas- 2 day Inaugural
    39. December 31, 2016 -  Celebrity Reflection - 7 day Western Caribbean from Miami
    40. April 22, 2017 - Disney Fantasy- 7 Day Eastern Caribbean from Port Canaveral

    41. June 27, 2017 - Grand Princess- 10 day Alaska from SF (2017 Line Dancers at Sea) 
    42. September 23, 2017- Coral Princess- 4 day Coastal Vancouver to LA "Suzy & Charles Vow Renewal"
    43. December 30, 2017-Harmony of the Seas- New Years Eastern Caribbean
    44. January 12, 2018- Carnival Inspiration-Country Booze Cruise Line Dance-Ensenada
    45. May 4, 2018- Celebrity Equinox- 10 day Southern Caribbean (5th Annual Line Dancers at Sea Cruise)
    46. May 25, 2018- Norwegian BLISS- 2 day Agent Inaugural Cruise to Nowhere
    47. August 12, 2018- RCCL Oasis of the Seas- 7 night Eastern Caribbean "Suzy's 50th Birthday Cruise"
    48. December 1, 2018- Celebrity EDGE - 3 day Preview Cruise
    49. December 4, 2018- Celebrity EDGE - 2 day Agent pre-inaugural Cruise
    50. December 29, 2018-Norwegian BLISS- 7 night Caribbean- New Years Eve (Bill's 37th cruise)
    51. April 3, 2019 - Disney Wonder - 5 night Mexico- "Mandi's 60th Birthday Cruise"
    52. April 27, 2019- Royal Princess  - 7 night Mexico- "TNC Dance Cruise"
    53. Oct 27, 2019- Celebrity Solstice - 12 night NZ trip- 6th annual Line Dancers at Sea Cruise (at the age of 53!! & Bill's 40th lifetime cruise!) 
    54. December 28, 2019 -CARNIVAL PANORAMA - 7 night Mexico- New Years Eve Cruise! 

    Dawn Princess in Alaska
    Liberty of the Seas







    Disney Fantasy
    Carnival Elation

    Harmony of the Seas
    CELEBRITY REFLECTION                                                                         

    Disney Magic


    Norwegian Bliss

    (Royal Princess in background)
    Quantum of the Seas

                     


    Tuesday, November 19, 2019

    Should You Book a place through VRBO or AirBnB?

    As a Travel Advisor, I am often hearing from clients, "Oh I'll just book an AirBnB"  or "Can you help me find a place on VRBO?"  or "Do you book VRBO or AirBnB?"   My reply to them is usually along the lines of "Sorry, I cannot help you with that.  The reason being, if I recommend one of them, I take on the liability and there is absolutely no vetting process, no back up plan should something go wrong & I'm not willing to take on that responsibility on behalf of my clients."

    I know that there are plenty of successful private home rentals that have been secured by these two Vacation Rental Booking sources,  but there have been bad ones as well.  I can speak from personal experience on both.  I take an annual girls trip with my lifelong friends.  We've stayed at hotels in New York, rented an AirBnB in Palm Springs, rented again in Scottsdale & have returned to resort hotels in Cabo for the last two years.

    My first experience with an AirBnB rental was for Palm Springs.  We got lucky.  We had a wonderful "compound" of 3 apartments that were enclosed behind a shared front yard with pool, BBQ kitchen,  Firepit, lawn area, hot tub.  It was our own "Melrose Place" atmosphere and we rented all 3 apartments, which afforded us to each have our own bedroom and bathroom.  It really was perfect and checked all of the boxes of things that were important to all of us.  We weren't too sure of the neighborhood, the person who met us with the codes said it was a safe neighborhood but it looked a little run down.  We're smart women, we weren't going to walk outside after dark and we were two blocks away from a busy street, close to shopping and not far from the downtown area or the airport. We really had nothing to complain about, we had a wonderful long weekend together.  I was pleasantly surprised at the experience, so the next year when we decided upon Scottsdale and the majority wanted to rent a house again, I was a bit easier to convince.   (Though full disclosure, I still prefer a hotel and going out to eat, etc. because I don't cook or clean at home, why do I want to pay to stay someplace where I have to cook and clean?  Seriously!)

    So we headed to Scottsdale for a long weekend in our House Rental.  We found the house on both VRBO and AirBnB, the prices were quite different so as we begun asking both "property managers" questions, somewhere along the line they started to reply to us directly via email.  They appeared to still be affiliated with VRBO, but we asked about the name difference and they said that they were the local property management company who lists on both VRBO and AirBnB, they offered us a slightly lower rate than what we had already seen.  After group consultation, we decided to book with them.  Red Flag #1:  DO NOT communicate outside the channels provided through VRBO or AirBnB, you lose all consumer protections that they provide if you do not actually book through them.   Red Flag #2:  our contract was 20+ pages long,  this is not rocket science.  Any company who needs a contract that long is trying to get away with something.  We were green at this and did not know and of course, we didn't read the entire 20 page contract word for word.  We looked at the important parts: payment, refunds, keys, cancellation penalties, etc.

    Once we arrived in Scottsdale, we were instructed to call a number after 3pm to get our key code and the address to the house.  We did this, everything was cool.  We went grocery shopping on our way to the house and as we were leaving the store with two filled to the rim cars (people, luggage, groceries) the property manager, Bruce calls to tell us that he has a great house that just became available and he'd love to offer it to us, no additional charge, it's a mansion, it's gorgeous, etc.  We were a little stumped,  we asked questions:  how many bedrooms, how many beds, how many bathrooms, etc.- these were all important things for us.  He couldn't answer us right away, but sent us a link.  We reviewed and all agreed to just stick to what we know, to what we had already researched, etc.  We arrived to the house, unloaded all of our stuff, put the groceries away & began our vacation.

    First, we notice that the sink in one of the bathrooms is clogged.  We called & they said they would have a plumber come by the next day.  That never happened.  We noticed M&M's on the floor in one of the bedrooms, which had the place been properly cleaned that would have been picked up.  They didn't leave enough towels (per contract) for the number of people we said we'd be, they had 2 dish towels for the entire kitchen, they were missing several kitchen utensils that were on the "house list" of items to be provided.  We could not figure out how to get lights on in the backyard, we're still not sure if there were lights in the area, we ended up bringing a house lamp outside to help see over the BBQ area.  Regarding the BBQ, they had instructions on how to turn the propane tank on, we didn't have a tank.  We called & they said it's hooked up directly to the gas.  I said to them, "don't you think your instructions should be updated to say that?"  It was just one thing after another and we composed our list and emailed them everything that was wrong by the Friday evening. (We had checked in Thursday evening).

    Saturday morning, we come to find out we don't have any power or any water.  We call them about it and they tell us that we're being evicted.  They couldn't give us a reason, except to say, "you're not happy with the house, so you can find another.  We tried to give you a mansion, etc."  It was absolutely UNREAL!!  We called the police, they couldn't do anything unless we were being physically threatened.  We really had no choice but to pack up and leave.  In all honesty, we were all creeped out at that point and even though we wanted to fight this, we were not comfortable, we did not feel safe to stay.  We were lucky to have some inside connections and spent our last two nights at the Fairmont Scottsdale and a very low reduced rate.   We really thought it was strange though that when we were packing up to leave, the cleaning crew was pulling up to clean the house.  We asked them when they were asked to come clean the house & they were told it was on their schedule to clean the house that morning.   I asked a local friend later that day to drive by and see if she saw any cars in the driveway and sure enough, they had new people staying in the house.

    Sunday morning, a few of our early risers drove over to the house again and rang the doorbell.  A very nice woman answered the door & they all began to talk.  We told her that we were supposed to be staying at that house through Monday & she said that she and her friends were supposed to be in a different house for a week, but they were given this one instead.  Just more evidence that this company runs a very shady business.  They found many things wrong with the house as did we, we kept in touch for months following because they weren't sure if they would get their security deposit back & of course, we were wanting much more than that.  They did eventually get their security deposit back, but it took about 5 months before it was received.

    When we returned home, I started to make phone calls. I spoke to the Better Business Bureau, I called an Attorney who gave a 30 minute free consult, I spoke to the Arizona District Attorney's office, you name it & we tried it.  Two days after we returned, I receive an email from VRBO, "Tell us about your stay", at that point I figured they were related and I wrote quite the review!  You can only imagine.  Well two days later, I get an email from someone who said they are the attorney representing the rental company & I was in breach of contract by posting a review.  Per contract, they have charged my credit card $500.  Yep, they sure had and that breach of contract was on page 19!  They prohibit you from posting any sort of review.  I took down the review, I disputed the charge and reported my card lost to get a new number.

    After months and months of working with the D.A. & he was working with their attorney, we had almost come to a settlement of what was due back to us for the two unused nights & then their attorney said his client was not returning calls and was not paying his bill.  We were able to be made whole again by the credit card company because we disputed the charges through them with all of the documentation of the other avenues we had pursued to obtain our justly due refund.  It was all a huge waste of time and energy to have to chase down our money.  So I can honestly say at this point, I have ZERO desire to stay in a Vacation Rental booked through VRBO or Airbnb again unless I know the homeowner or know someone who knows the homeowner.

    As I write this blog, I am working with a client who booked a house on VRBO for a 4 night stay in Hawaii over Christmas.  He just received word that his reservation has been canceled by the homeowner.  He was totally shocked by this and enlisted my help to find him something else.  The same house that he had confirmed is up for rent on VRBO right now, but for almost twice the price.  Turns out there is a new bill that was just passed on the Island of Oahu that homeowners can only have one booking per month until October 2020.  They are trying to regulate the rentals and have homeowners apply for permits, something that has not happened in decades.   So homeowners are canceling reservations that they have already confirmed in the hopes of being able to rent out for higher prices or longer stays for that "one booking" per month.  I'm not even sure how they can get away with it when it's been confirmed & I don't understand why VRBO isn't helping the customer, but they basically told him to find another place & they will see if they can help match the price he was paying.  That's crappy customer service if you ask me!

    You can google "VRBO problems"  "AirBnB problems" or complaints or news and you'll find an infinite number of stories where consumers have had issues with both companies.  You'll even find that homeowners have had issues receiving their payment for completed rentals from VRBO.

    At the end of the day, it's your decision to make.  How valuable are your vacation dollars?  What sort of vacation guarantee do you want?  What sort of peace of mind do you want knowing there is a "Plan B" should something go wrong?   I'm not saying the world of hotels is perfect, hotels oversell, hotels can get plumbing leaks that displace guests- but at the end of the day a hotel will help you with alternate arrangements, they will put you up in another hotel, they will upgrade you if possible, etc. Not to mention, when you're booking hotels through your trusted Travel Advisor, we always have your back.  Should something not be quite right at the hotel, we can get involved, we can help find solutions so that you're not spending your valuable vacation time working to solve the problem.

    Monday, November 11, 2019

    HOW TO TAKE BETTER SMART PHONE PICTURES.

    Want to increase those likes, shares and comments on your vacation photos this year? Instead of spending a ton on an expensive camera, grab your smartphone and follow these easy tips and tricks from the pros.



    Brighter is better – Natural light is your friend. To get a great photo, put yourself in a position to get the best shot. If you’re indoors, set up your shot next to a large window. However, if you’re outside in the midafternoon, direct sunlight can be too harsh on your subject. Look for creative ways to shade your subject to keep your photo balanced. You can also aim to shoot outside during the fabled “golden hour”- during sunrise and sunset.



    Avoid too much zoom – Drastic zooming on any subject can create an unwanted grain to any photo. If you need to zoom, wait until you already have the image you want and then zoom and crop in the editing phase.



    Focus is key – Your camera’s autofocus could be doing your photos more harm than good. Luckily, most smartphones allow you to pinpoint your photo’s focus directly from your palm. Set up your shot, and then touch and hold the main focal point on your screen until you see the yellow Auto Exposure/Auto Focus Lock appear. Take your photo as normal, and the final image should clearly be clearer.



    Polish polish polish – Once you’ve selected your favorites, it’s time to make them shine. There are dozens of options and free apps for your phone that will give your photos a professional edge, with VSCO and Snapseed being our personal favorites. Download a few, play around with their options and see which ones you like best. Most times, all your photos need is a little cropping and lightening to make them pop.