Are you looking for your next winter getaway that’s not Mexico & the Caribbean? Look no further than Southeast Asia! Take in the warm weather, sandy beaches, amazing cuisine and cultural experiences in Thailand and Cambodia. Whether you are in a group, backpacking or looking for luxury travel, Thailand and Cambodia offer experiences for everyone. Five years ago, I went backpacking with a group through Northern & Southern Thailand and fell in love with the country and its’ people so much, that I decided to go back this past year with a friend. Although quite a few aspects have changed over the past five years to accommodate the Western traveler, the overall essence and culture that I fell in love with is still very much intact.
By Kiera Roberson
Disney. What do you think of when you hear that name? Do you automatically end up on a magic carpet and start singing “A Whole New World” or dramatically start quoting your favorite lines from The Little Mermaid? Maybe you visualize fireworks, castles, princes and princesses. Long lines? Perhaps you think of a creative and passionate man named Walt, who invested his entire life to building a kingdom. Maybe you think dollar signs and Hollywood, characters and over-priced food. Whatever it may be, I can almost guarantee we all have something to associate with the word “Disney”.
I recently spent 4 days in the lovely Southern California sun at the Disneyland Resort. As a new travel consultant, my managers were so kind to let me go for a Disney travel agent training. I had never experienced Disneyland as a kid and had no idea what to expect. What came to my mind when I thought “Disney” was nothing special. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up loving the films and music. They will always be some of my favorites of all time and mark most of my childhood. However, I just thought it was all overrated. Disneyland was simply a place for kids- over the top attractions, too many people, possibly some bad smells and weird characters. Not exactly a magical perspective. All that to say, I was very interested in seeing what it was all about. Now I get to share a little of my experience with all of you!
To start off, my arrival was so smooth. The flights from Kalispell to John Wayne Airport were quick and uneventful. I highly suggest choosing that airport over LAX, especially if you are traveling with children. It is small and easy. I quickly grabbed a Starbucks coffee from the nicest Barista’s I have ever been served by. The transportation on the Disneyland Resort Express bus was fast, the schedule was easy to understand, and the driver was jolly. Checking into the Disneyland Hotel was a breeze. I made it to my room in the “Frontier Tower” to find a spacious area, beautiful décor and the most comfortable bed I have ever experienced. After being up since the glorious hour of 3am, I decided to have a nap by the tropical themed pool area until our first training session began. While at the pool, there was a surprise visit from Goofy and Pluto. They were meandering around waving and taking pictures with the guests. I then realized I was in their home.
Over the next few days, I spent many fun hours with 27 other travel agents learning about what makes Disneyland unique, their events, special occasions, Good Neighbor hotels (all 48 of them!), some history, vacation planning and what’s coming soon to Disney. I was able to meet some truly great people and make a lasting friendship with a delightful lady from Alabama.
After our daytime trainings, we had the evenings to spend in the parks. That was when the magic happened. My first experience in the park was at Carthay Circle Restaurant- a signature dining experience. We were served a 3-course meal and dined liked we were in 1938. We then experienced “Paint the Night” which displayed all familiar Pixar and Disney friends in a beautiful parade of light and music.
Anytime I was in the parks, I used my handy Disneyland app and mobile FastPass ticket to skip many of the lines to the attractions. The longest I waited was 45 minutes! The intense nostalgia that came from the park surprised me. I didn’t expect to become the imagination-filled 8-year-old girl I once was.
It is such an immersive experience, especially if you are staying on-site at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels. Basically, you never leave magic. Everything is within walking distance- no public transport needed- can I get an “amen”! Instrumental music from your favorite films is all around you, cast members are so kind and helpful and there are so many special little touches you get from staying at an on-site hotel (see if you can find all the hidden Mickey’s around your hotel next time!).
In the end, most of my favorite experiences were those times when I didn’t have anything planned. The little surprises are what make it special. Such as stumbling across Goofy and Pluto at the pool, rounding the corner to a live performance of “You’ve got a Friend in Me”, dancing with characters from Guardians of the Galaxy. If you let yourself go and give in to the fun, you’ll have a great time. You could say that I went in a cynic and came out a believer.
By Pamela Fairbank
What can I say? The color of the water was more beautiful than I even expected! Combined with the mountains and the lush greenery-This was my favorite Island! We took a beautiful boat ride over to the Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Beach Resort and Sofitel Resort Private Island. The movie Hurricane was filmed at the Marara.
I recommend bringing your own converter kit- the voltage is 220v (some hotels may offer, but don’t rely on it).
A valid passport with six months validity is required.
Tipping is contrary to their customs, although I did tip here and there; it is not expected.
I used my credit card and US dollars with no problem.
Wi-Fi was available in most rooms, lobby and bars, but very slow! Who needs it there anyway?
I flew Air Tahiti Nui from Los Angeles to Papeete- this is about an 8 ½ hour flight. Service and meals were good.
By Pamela Fairbank
Here I swam in the ocean off of the deck of my over water bungalow at the intercontinental Moorea Resort and Spa, watching a black tip shark sail by me and sting rays. This property is large with quite a bit of walking necessary, but lots of bungalow options. They also had a very good Polynesian show-food was great with lots of variety. Throughout the islands the fresh fish is amazing!
Our next site inspection was at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa. This is where the beautiful over water bungalows with glass floor bottoms. Beach bungalows had claw-foot tubs. Some of the garden bungalows connected to other bungalows to make one large bungalow for families, and all had private dipping pools. They offer free snorkel equipment and kayaks. My favorite part was the Toatea Crepe Bar and restaurant in the middle of the over water bungalows. The crepes are cooked right in front of you, reasonable prices $20-$25 per person. This restaurant is very romantic and you could watch them feed sharks. The other thing I loved about this hotel is the proximity from the bungalows to the lobby and restaurant. It was so easy to get around this resort.
The next day we took a boat to the Pearl Moorea. This property is very near the one and only town for shopping and restaurants. It is a smaller European feel resort –over water bungalows with glass bottoms. The restaurant food was fabulous- I recommend the sashimi! Then we did an exciting 4x4 Jeep Safari Tour of the island. Pierre, our fun and engaging driver, knew the Island inside and out. Pierre took us up to the top of “Magic Mountain” and the “Belvedere Lookout.” Hang on tight during the drive, but it is well worth the end result.
We made our way back to Papeete airport for flight to Bora Bora. Check in was easy, you can take up to 43 kilos of luggage.
By Pamela Fairbank
I have been a travel agent for thirty-six years and finally was able to take my dream trip to the French Polynesian Islands- TAHITI!
After sending several honeymooners to this fabulous romantic destination it was amazing to be able to see Tahiti firsthand. This idyllic paradise is not only perfect for honeymooners, but is a romantic escape for two or a family vacation of a lifetime.
Upon arrival and at every hotel, I was greeted by customary singing Tahitians playing the Ukulele, and presented with a wonderful flower lei, cold beverage and cool towel. The Polynesian people are all so friendly and welcoming.
I stayed at Le Meridian Tahiti which is a great property for a one or two night stay, before exploring other islands or taking a Tahitian cruise. I recommend the deluxe panoramic view room and check out the sand bottom pool.
Next, I visited the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort and Spa. They have large nice rooms and over water bungalows. This property is minutes from airport and downtown Papeete. The Intercontinental has the best Tahitian dinner show on Wednesdays and Fridays!
Looking for a black sand beach? I found it at the Tahiti Pearl. What I love about this property were the ocean views, the sound of the waves, and how you could see Moorea off in the distance. We took a tour of Papeete, including the marketplace before boarding our Catamaran to the Island of Moorea and to the Intercontinental Moorea Resort and Spa.
By Nancy Grenager
Club Med Ixtapa, Mexico is a great all-inclusive with a quieter feel.
We really enjoyed Club Med Ixtapa. This property is a wonderful all-inclusive resort for families, couples, groups, or anyone wanting an all-inclusive resort with a quieter feel. It is located on a very nice sandy beach.
We stayed in an ocean-view family room with a balcony. This room was very spacious and wonderful for families with a great floorplan. It has a separate sleeping area for kids. The resort itself is very nice, with a large swimming pool, garden area, iguanas pond area, and mega children play area with programs for all ages.
What stands out at this property is the genuine personalized service from the G.Os (Gentil Organisateur). The G.Os role is to uphold the Club Med Spirit, create a bond with customers, and spread the joy through the resort. They come and sit with you at dinner, the bar, or get involved with you or your family, and socialize with every-one. Some of the G.Os will party into the night with you if you want.
The price for Club Med at this resort is very reasonable. This property has a star rating of 3.5 - 4+ for the beach-front rooms with private check-in. It includes all non-motorized water sports (kayaks, paddle boards, sail catamarans). They also have basketball, soccer, and beach volleyball. This Club Med has a huge new tennis court, archery, trapeze, exercise classes and sailing- these are included with free lessons!
I would suggest the deluxe rooms ocean-view balcony over the club rooms which are garden view with no balcony. The nicest is the ocean-front rooms and suites with concierge and private check-in! This would be a lovely choice for people that want something new that is relaxing, but adventurous and quieter than other Mexican crowded resort areas.
Ixtapa and Zihuantanejo is a pristine location with lush green hills and mountains with beautiful beaches. It is very nice alternative to the resort filled areas like Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta and Cabo.
Please call or email anytime for more information.
By Laura Begley Bloom
1. Consider the timing. Airlines routinely overbook flights with the assumption that a certain percentage of passengers will cancel. Flights during busy travel seasons (hello spring break!) and the last flight of the day are more likely to be overbooked. In that case, the airline will ask for volunteers to give up their seats or bump passengers to another flight.
2. Know your rights. The U.S. Department of Transportation requires airlines to compensate you by law if you are bumped off a plane, even if you’re bumped involuntarily. Insist on being paid. If your delay doesn't exceed an hour and the airline puts you on another flight, you're not entitled to compensation. Be aware that the rules go out the window with weather-related delays or delays for safety reasons; rules also vary outside the U.S. Whatever you do, don't arrive at your gate late. The airlines can use this as a way to avoid compensating you. I saw this happen to a family of four who lingered at the restaurant too long and lost their seats when they weren't at the gate 15 minutes before departure time. The airline gave away their seats to people on the standby list. No gift cards for them. (And probably no vacation, either.)
3. Do your research. If your flight still has available seats, it probably won’t get overbooked. If the flight is close to full or sold out, there are increased odds that the airline will bump passengers.
4. Ask! When you get to the gate, head straight to the agent and see if the airline is looking for volunteers. Tell them you only want to give up your seat for a good offer.
5. Don't stray too far from the podium. You don’t want to miss the call for volunteers and you want to be the first person to volunteer when the gate agent offers a good figure.
6. Be careful. A guy on one of our flights said he might be interested in volunteering when he wasn’t really sure. The gate agent took that at face value and gave his seat away. He changed his mind and regretted it, but it was too late. If the airline doesn’t end up needing as many seats, it can also break up families. Once you volunteer, the airline can take away your seat — and make your partner or child fly without you.
7. Don’t get too greedy. Some airlines (as we encountered with Delta) conduct auctions. The airline will give preference to people who volunteer for less.
8. Consider the form of compensation. Some airlines offer travel vouchers; some offer cash or gift cards. Think about what makes the most sense. Some flight vouchers expire within a year; some gift cards expire even sooner. Cash is the best bet if you can get it.
9. Don’t check luggage. My suitcase went to Fort Lauderdale without me. Same thing happened to another family, whose luggage was filled with frozen Passover dishes (they said that their $5,000+ in compensation was sufficient to let the food spoil). The airline says I will get my suitcase back, and I am hopeful. Lesson learned: Fly with carryon bags. It makes it easier if you get rerouted or cancel the flight.
10. Above all, be nice! After hanging out at the counter for hours and hours over the course of two days, I began to notice some trends. Screaming doesn’t work. Crying doesn’t work. Being nice? Now, that works. My husband bought lunch for a couple of gate agents who mentioned that they had worked through their break. I brought water to another agent who said he had come to work at 3 a.m. to help out and was dehydrated. These airline employees went above and beyond to help us out.
Spring Break is coming!
Traveling during spring break can be utter chaos for some; where as others seem to travel without a glitch. Here are some easy spring break travel trips that can save you time, money, and help you make the best of your spring vacation, because we all know it is a much-needed break!
Stretch your dollar.
- Book a hotel with complimentary breakfast. I can’t think of a better way to start your vacation than with a free breakfast each morning. Now you only have to budget for lunch and dinner. Another great way to save money is to find a hotel room that has a fridge or microwave. This is a great way to save money on snacks, drinks etc., so you are not constantly dishing out cash every time you need to curb your appetite or quench your thirst! If you have little ones, you can stock up on juice boxes, bottled water, yogurts and even milk for cereal. You can even stock up and keep your favorite adult beverages chilled.
- Another great budget tip is to participate in free activities. Call the local Chamber of Commerce and ask about events that are free and child-friendly or specific to what you are interested in. Sometimes there are free community concerts or events happening while you are visiting.
Some basics that are worth reminding.
- Check-in early at the airport. It will be busy.
- Drink lots of water; especially for those of us who are not used to tropical climates. Many people can get heat exhaustion if they don’t.
- Try to travel and stay in groups. Don’t forget to look out for each other.
- Always keep an eye on your drink, and know your limits.
- Wear Sunscreen! Sunburns can easily turn a tropical vacation into something miserable. Don’t let it happen to you.
Make the most of your time.
- VIP theme park passes can be pricey but can be essential if you are going to a theme park this Spring Break. These passes can give you back-door access to all of the rides without the hour long lines and congestion of the park.
- Get travel insurance. Take the stress and worry away when those traveling nuances happen to you. Were your flights delayed? Did they lose your luggage? It helps to know that you are covered and most plans come with a 24/7 helpline so you are able to enjoy your vacation.
- Don’t forget your camera or video camera so that you can re-live your vacation anytime you want!
For the best worry-free vacation, Call Flathead Travel Service 406-752-8700. We’ve been there!
February… usually a great time of year to check in and see how your New Year resolutions are going?
If we are being honest…I could be more diligent about hitting the gym.
If you are like me and millions of others that have set goals for 2015 and are feeling guilty about not being able to keep with it, I may have found a solution!
Do something for yourself and plan a trip to Hawaii where you can tackle all of your New Year resolutions at once!
Get Movin’: Relish in the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands and the numerous outdoor activities for any age and lifestyle! Enjoy a hike on one of the many trails through the lush rainforest of Iao Valley State Park located in central Maui. Or, if you are feeling adventurous you must try Zip-lining above Akaka Falls right outside of Hilo, Hawaii. If you are wanting to venture out into the ocean, try the sunset cruise that leaves from Kona, Hawaii where you can actually swim with the manta rays at night. It is incredible!
De-Stress: Sometimes we just need to take a moment, pause and breathe. There is not a better place to relax and unwind than some of the remote areas in Hawaii. Disconnect from technology for a few hours and listen to the sounds of the brilliant crashing waves on the North Shore of Oahu, or recharge your spirit at the Fairmont Kea Lani spa. If you want to stay at a property that is secluded try the Hana Hotel on Maui.
Expand your mind: There are several historical sites and cultural museums for you to learn something new while on your vacation. Journey to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific –Waimea Canyon is a geological wonder on Kauai. If you love history, you will not want to miss the Polynesian Cultural Center to learn more about the Polynesian history and influence on the Hawaiian Islands. Or, tour the famous Pearl Harbor Historical site on Oahu and remember those who fought and died that day.
Refresh and rejuvenate your life by vacationing in Hawaii. Your physical and mental health depend on it!
In an age where everyone can turn to the internet to book their flights or hotels some might question, “Why use a Travel Agent?” Our specialists at Flathead Travel Service can offer expert advice on the best cruises, tour packages to remote locales, and how to receive our exclusive perks that are only offered by travel agents.
Through my blog’s posts and other contributing agents, I aim to share our personal opinions about the finest travel destinations, how to receive hidden discount prices and unique travel opportunities for all ages and types of travelers. My hope is that our posts inspire you to begin your own travels and adventures. We are here for you to plan that dream vacation that fits your desires and budget. More importantly, when you use a travel agent you will have a travel adviser who advocates for you in the event of a travel inconvenience or disaster.