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.

Monday, October 21, 2019

INCREDIBLE WATERFALLS NOT NAMED NIAGARA


Nature provides dramatic scenes everywhere, but few more breathtaking than an epic waterfall. In North America, our default idea of an epic waterfall is Niagara. For decades, these three falls – Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil Falls – have attracted millions of sightseers to the US-Canadian border, and for good reason. Horseshoe Falls alone drops water from a height of 173 feet, spilling 600,000 gallons of its famed green waters per second. But Niagara is not the only waterfalling game in town. Here are four other cascades that put the “awe” in awesome.



Iguazu Falls – The falls at Iguazu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are larger than anything in Niagara, with a height of some 240 feet. Iguazu is interesting as it’s made up of a number of cascades thanks to the rock formations shaping the falls direction, and vast sprays are thrown up as the water collides with them. It’s surrounded by lush, subtropical rainforest populated by tapirs, ocelots and jaguars, along with 2,000 plant species and around 400 types of bird. There are a couple of differences in the experiences you can have in each country it borders. The Argentine side of the falls offers a better chance to get close up to the action, while the Brazilian side is better for looking out over the panorama from a distance.



Victoria Falls – There are two names in common usage, the Victoria Falls given by UK explorer David Livingstone to honor his queen, and the indigenous name Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning ‘the smoke that thunders.’ The falls, another UNESCO site, are classified as the world’s largest at 354 feet high; its spray rising to a height of 2,000 feet and can be seen from up to 30 miles away. There have been railways and hotels in the area since the early 20th century, allowing tourism to flourish. The two small national parks on either side welcome thousands of travelers a year in search of the local wildlife such as hippos and rhinos. One of the famous features on the Zambian side is The Armchair, a pool very close to the edge of the falls formed by a rock barrier where brave souls can swim in relative safety.



Havasu Falls, Arizona – The striking aspect of the falls, which plunge from around 100 feet, are the vivid colors that can be seen, the bright blue of the water contrasting with the deep red of the surrounding rock face. The color of the water is due to unusually high levels of calcium carbonate and magnesium, and since they originate from an underground spring, their temperature rarely dips below 70F. There are plenty of spots from which to enjoy the views here, including a wide sandy beach, or picnic tables under the shade of the local cottonwood trees. Guided tours are especially popular, leading groups on adventures that usually include camping out near the base of the falls.



Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – The falls here are relatively small compared to Niagara and Iguazu, with its two main ones just 225 and 75 feet tall respectively. However, what they lack in height they make up for in beauty, and together with the layered lakes that stack up along the topography, they form one of Europe’s most striking landscapes. Some 16 lakes of varying sizes have formed, and guided tours in English take place every day to help you make the most of your time here. The surrounding national park contains some of Europe’s rarest wildlife, with wolves, brown bears, lynx and wildcats. Again, local guides can help improve your chances of spotting them. You may even be lucky enough to spot a majestic Golden Eagle.

Friday, October 18, 2019

World's Best Wildlife Destinations



Nothing compares to the once-in-a-lifetime moments you get to experience on a safari, wildlife cruise or national park hike. These moments, like watching a gaggle of penguins swimming in Antarctica, used to be nearly impossible (and expensive), since the areas were widely unchartered and remote. However, now, with more cruises and tours exploring these hidden wonders worldwide, there are more chances than ever to watch wildlife dwell in their natural habitats. For the best viewing, visit one of these breathtaking destinations.



Churchill, Manitoba, Canada – Located on the rugged shores of Hudson Bay in Northern Manitoba, Churchill is one of the few human settlements in the world that is also home to polar bears. Since they spend most of their summer hunting for food, the best time to view them is during the fall. The optimal way to experience the beauty of these bears is with a custom tundra buggy, which offers once in a lifetime chances to get up close.



Chobe National Park, Botswana, Africa – Chobe National Park in Botswana offers truly unspoiled views of Africa’s famed wildlife. On a game drive here, you won’t be met with other jeeps, but instead with views of warthogs, bushbucks, monkeys, lions, leopards and hyenas. A cruise along the breathtaking Chobe river offers a chance to see marine mammals like hippos and crocodiles.



Antarctica Peninsula – Although it may be void of any human life, Antarctica is home to one of the largest populations of penguins, with over 40 million spread across the continent. Once unchartered, Antarctica is growing in popularity, and more cruise lines are adding the snow-capped glacial peaks and emperor penguin colonies to their itineraries.



Galapagos Islands, Ecuador – This tiny archipelago off the coast of Ecuador has been an iconic destination for wildlife viewing for over 200 years. Thanks to more cruise lines charting the South American Coast, it’s much easier for anyone to view its many inhabitants, like the island iguanas, blue-footed boobies, giant green sea turtles and sea lions.



Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, United States – Aside from spewing geysers, gradient canyons and rushing waterfalls, Wyoming’s crowned jewel is also home to some of the country’s most spectacular wildlife. From black bears to bald eagles to bison and coyotes, this area is rich with a vast array of animals.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

PERFECT PLACES TO RELAX



Science has shown that one’s environment has a direct impact on well-being, a fact that anyone who’s spent significant time in the mountains or by the sea can attest to. There’s just something about being by the ocean, hearing the crashing waves and feeling the sea breeze against your face; or being in the desert, hearing nothing but the chirp of an odd bird and seeing nothing but an endless landscape of majestic rock that makes you leave all your worries at home and let yourself breathe. The following locations will make even the most stressed-out individuals find their bliss.



Caribbean Island
A big part of resetting your mind is learning how to slow down, and the laid-back vibe of the Caribbean may be just the place for those needing a break from the fast-paced frenzy of their lives. Once you step off the plane and breathe in the ocean air, look out at the turquoise sea and walk barefoot through the smooth white sand with a cool daiquiri in hand, the bothers of daily life are all but forgotten. Choose from a multitude of swimming pools to wade in or sit under palm trees with a book in hand and ocean in view. Play a few rounds at a pro-level golf course, and wander to a conch shack for fresh delicacies prepared on the spot. And if shopping relieves stress for you, pop into the high-end boutiques for a little retail therapy.



Coastal Town
It’s no surprise that some of the wealthiest people in the world, who could live anywhere they want, choose to settle down in towns like Santa Monica, California, or Palm Beach, Florida. These locales provide easy access to major cities in the U.S., so traveling to and from is not an issue. And once you’re there, the towns are bursting with modern luxuries and convenience, while remaining pristine in appearance. Manicured lawns rest in front of mammoth mansions, and five-star resorts with seaside spas and fine cuisine are plentiful. Walk straight from your oceanfront hotel to a secluded beach below for sunrise yoga, experience in-suite spa treatments, indulge in healthy Michelin-star meals and cycle to town on complimentary bicycles at the impressive resorts that make up America’s chic coastal getaways.



Desert Oasis
The beauty of the desert is endless, creating the perfect setting for days of quiet contemplation. What better way to treat yourself in this day and age of constant noise and endless obligation? In the desert, nobody cares if your inbox is packed with unopened emails. And in the desert, the mountains call for you to climb them, bringing an organic opportunity to focus on physical as well as mental health. Take a hike and feel the full-body relaxation and restful sleep that follows a day of exercise. Soothe your muscles in a private outdoor soaking tub at a desert resort, align your body at a top-ranked spa and dine on fresh seasonal cuisine while sitting on an outdoor dining deck facing the expansive mountains.



Tropical Getaway
Spirituality seekers have been known to visit Hawaii for the healing properties that only a tropical paradise can bring. Whether or not you believe that the islands’ volcanic energies are operating at higher chakra frequencies, it can’t be denied that the unique beauty of its verdant jungles and rolling hills existing in the same space as the bluest ocean waters and clear skies possess a special soul-soothing quality. Make time to try a Lomi Lomi massage, take sail on the waters of the Pacific, enter an infinity pool that looks out on the ocean and commune with nature in a protected wildlife reserve, and you’ll return home invigorated.

WHY YOUR TEEN WILL LOVE CRUISING!



In a teenager’s mind, there’s nothing worse than spending a vacation with the family. To them, a trip with the ‘lame’ parents and ‘bratty’ little brother is filled with confined spaces, no personal freedom and limited interaction with other teens. Cruising just might change their minds.



Cruise lines have been working overtime to please teens, creating “cool” areas, shore excursions, spa programs and more geared especially for the teen set. Why go to such great lengths? Because one disgruntled teen can ruin the entire trip. And parents can’t relax unless they know everyone in their brood is in a good mood, which makes cruises the ideal choice.



Below you’ll find a list of cruise lines and what they offer for teens. Armed with this information, you’ll have the upper hand in convincing your teen that a week with the fam island-hopping in the Caribbean or cruising past glaciers in Alaska won’t be so bad. One word of warning: some of these cruise lines offer so many options for your kids, you may barely see them for the entire vacation. Sounds blissful, doesn’t it?



Royal Caribbean International
When you cruise with Royal Caribbean, you’re not just going on a vacation, you’re embarking on an adventure! Onboard the most innovative ships at sea, your entire family will love racing up the rock-climbing wall, catching a wave on the FlowRider® surf simulator or learn how to sky-dive on the RipCord® by iFLY®. Adventure Ocean groups give teens the freedom to come and go as they please for sports, themed parties, movie nights and more. Teens can also meet and relax in the laid-back lounges and dance late into the night at teen-only nightclubs.



Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity’s Camp at Sea is designed to make sure children of all ages enjoy the cruise as much as you do. The program is powered by partnerships with cool companies like Lonely Planet™, The Frost Science Museum and Xbox, resulting in hundreds of programs divided into four categories: Art, Recreation, Culinary and S.T.E.M. The cruise line also offers special teen-focused spa services, such as peroxide-free laser teeth whitening, mani-pedis and deep-cleansing facials and hair treatments.



Norwegian Cruise Line
Norwegian’s Freestyle Cruising is all about flexibility and freedom. Your teens can eat where they want (with 13+ restaurants to choose from), when they want, and with whom they want (hopefully that includes you). Other highlights for teens include Entourage, a special space for teens filled with video games, movies and music; and wild themed parties like College Night, White Hot Party and Glow. Some of the newer ships have race cars & laser tag!



Princess Cruises
From special onboard guests with cruise partner Animal Planet™—such as Puppies in the Piazza on Alaska cruises, and Parrots in the Piazza in the Caribbean—to being in the audience, or even on stage, during The Voice of the Ocean music competition, teens will find numerous Instagrammable moments on board. Plus, at the teens-only Beach House, they’ll enjoy late-night movies, hip hop dance classes and video game tournaments.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

How to enjoy PARIS with KIDS!

Paris is one of the most romantic cities in the world. But amid all the love-struck couples, Paris also
happens to be an idyllic destination for families. Filled with lush green parks and kid-friendly museums, glittering palaces and a seemingly endless supply of pastries, Paris offers families a fairytale-like magic all their own.



To give you an idea of how you can enjoy the City of Light with your little ones, here’s a sample three-day itinerary that hits all the right notes for families. Of course, you can contact our agency to plan this trip or personalize your Paris journey to fit your family best.



DAY ONE
Treat the kids with breakfast at iconic Café de Flore, where they can revel in fresh-baked croissants and bowl-like cups of steaming chocolat chaud. Afterward, walk to Luxembourg Gardens and spend the morning sailing wooden sailboats in the famous Grand Bassin, taking in a marionette show and riding on the city’s oldest carousel. Then take a short ride to the banks of the Seine to board one of the glass-domed boats that depart every 30 minutes. Next stop: the Eiffel Tower, preferably in the early evening when the wait is shorter.



DAY TWO
For the second day of you trip, embark on a private tour. The first could be a tour of the city in a classic Citroen, listening to your driver and guide entertain you with stories about the city during a 90-minute Paris Highlights itinerary. For art lovers, head to the Louvre for a private tour designed especially for families. The tour caters to the kids’ short attention span and allows you to skip the museum’s long admission line—a win-win for everyone.



DAY THREE
On your last day in Paris, begin with a walk along the Champs Elysees. Starting at the Arc de Triomphe, where you can ride the elevator to the top to take in the panoramic views, head toward the famous patisserie Ladurée for pastel-colored macarons. Then jump on the Metro and travel to the picturesque Montmartre neighborhood. Lunch in the garden at Le Moulin de la Galette, a restaurant housed in one of the last remaining windmills in the neighborhood, before taking on the 300 steps of the Sacré-Coeur (the view at the top is totally worth it). Afterward, stop by Trocadéro Square and enjoy watching the street acrobats and skateboarders who take over the monumental plaza.