Posted in Musings and Mutterings

An Ode to Travel Professionals

So far I’m not a big fan of Priceline.

And after being on my most recent travels, I’m not sure I like Viator either.

I’ve worked with many travel professionals over the years. And while convenient, Priceline and Viator are making life a little more difficult for travel professionals to earn a living while not always providing the same level of service.

Case in point, I just got back from a multi-city, multi -transportation, multi-excursion trip. I was in Venice Florence, Rome, Mykonos, Santorini, Kusadasi, Montecatini, Stresa and Crete. Within 2 weeks I traveled by plane, train, automobile, bus boat and ship. Everything worked perfectly. My connecting flight through international terminals was seamless, my excursions were perfectly timed, my bus rides and high speed train rides were all well coordinated and I owe that all to very dedicated travel professionals.

So when I come home and venturedl off to go see my granddaughter in Texas. I felt confident that the plans that I had made via Priceline, and followed up with the properties and the car rental after making the original reservations, would go equally as smoothly. Not so much.

I flew Southwest Airlines, which has been having some issues lately but had never let me down in the past. My plane was an hour and a half late getting into Baltimore, but the flight was fine and we got into Houston by 1:30 a.m. We headed to the baggage carousel, and watched and waited as most of the plane collected their baggage. We stood there. Waiting for another 10 minutes until finally our bags came out on a different carousel. Okay, we have our bags and we’re in Houston so time to find my son.

The pickup area at Hobby airport was very busy, so my son had parked his car and after finding one another we headed off towards my hotel. The hotel I’d booked through Priceline. The hotel I had called to let them know that my flight was coming in after midnight and that I would be arriving late. The hotel that told me that would be fine and that they’d make a note in my folio.

When I arrived, hubby and I got out our goods and went into the foyer where we made a huge mistake. We said bye to our son with the thought that of course our room would be waiting for us. When we walked in there was a young couple with two small children who were pacing the foyer peering behind the registration counter where everything was ominously dark. They told us that the registration desk was closed and the woman had just left telling them that all rooms were booked and that their reservations that they had made through Priceline as well, had been canceled. Now I don’t know if this young couple had called the Wyndham Gardens, Houston, to let them know they were going to be late, but I felt I was safe because I had done so.

We waited for 30 minutes and no employee showed up anywhere. Even if they didn’t have any rooms, how can a hotel leave its front doors open and the lobby accessible without a key card and just have their front desk personnel up and disappear? So I called the property and the phone rang and rang and rang and rang and no one ever answered. Next I called Wyndham itself, where I got the main registration personnel. I explained that I was sitting in the lobby and that I had called the hotel and that I was stranded. The reservation offices had seen my reservation and they told me that it had been canceled as a no-show. Considering I had taken steps specifically to avoid this situation, I was frustrated.

The Wyndham reservation desk looked around and found a property within walking distance. Called and made sure that there was a room available for us and set up a reservation. We gathered our belongings, walked across parking lots and fields and got to the super 8 motel. There the gentleman checked me in, charged the wrong person’s card and then charged mine and gave me my keys to my room at 4:30 a.m. I had to pay an entire night’s fee for what will end up being a seven hour rental.

Currently, my husband is waiting at the airport to pick up our rental car, whose reservation expires at 10:00 a.m., and he’s been there for over an hour. We had to pay for this rental car starting yesterday at 10:00 a.m., but the car agency is closed at night so we couldn’t get our car until this morning.

One thing I will say, I did call Priceline and explain about the hotel, and thankfully my non-refundable hotel was refunded to me. The car reservation was still valid so I’m confident we’ll get the car, and then spend our morning moving to another hotel facility where I made reservations for the remainder of my trip directly with the hotel.

This is not how I wanted to spend one of my few days with my brand new granddaughter that I haven’t met yet.

Oh and why am I not happy with Viator? Because at multiple turns while I was on my grand adventure last week, I heard tales from travelers about the tours and cars and transfers they had reserved through Viator which had either not shown up or were subpar. And just like Priceline, Viator is essentially a clearinghouse of providers. I’m not saying that Priceline and Viator are not providing a service of sorts, but they don’t really follow up or follow through with the people they partner with. So you never quite know whether you ‘ve gotten a provider that is a professional, or someone who doesn’t really care if they leave you stranded in the middle of the night. That’s my ultimate issue with these clearing house travel providers. A travel professional cares, and will go to great lengths, to make sure you, their customer, are well taken care of. Because that’s the industry they’re in; hospitality. Not a clearinghouse for booking.

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

Venice

Definitely a place that makes you want to return.

Yesterday started off with a rainy gray bleak morning that was beautiful on the lake. My guide Carlotta and I were driven in our sleek Mercedes-Benz into Milan, where we took a high speed train to Venice. From there we were met by another swoopy Mercedes and our driver Fabian who was definitely a polite, helpful and kind Italian driver. I never felt unsafe, but I did raise an eyebrow here and there.

We drove out to see the shadow tour hotel which was lovely and had an exceptional staff, but was out in the countryside and didn’t quite fit what I felt the parents expectations would be. So we pushed on to Padua and looked at a hotel there along with a church for a possible performance, the name of which is currently escaping my memory.

From there we drove to Este to the duomo of Saint Tecla. Carlotta was talking to me about Italian painters and different styles and it made me realize that I would really like to take an art appreciation class as I know so very little about fine artwork.

The duomo is beautiful and I think would make a wonderful performance space. The town of Este is quintessentially, a walkable Italian town. I wish there was a way my families could stay there, but I think the budget allows for them to be in Padua and Padua is a walking city that will allow them to do some additional things if they choose to.

After leaving the town of Este, we drove back to Venice and caught our vaporetto over to the island. During my ride I got numerous beautiful photos because the sun was just setting and dusk lit the canals in a wonderful way. We checked into our hotel, Fenice de la Artistes, which is historically significant to the Fenise teatro and was the place that performers and audiences would gather for drinks as is just around the corner from the theater.

We had a lovely glass of wine and comfy chairs while we waited for our table to be ready and then had a leisurely dinner with wonderful conversations about growing up.

This morning we will meet for breakfast and head off to San Rocco to see the performance space there. I’ve been told that it is quite an honor to perform at San Rocco, so I’m excited to see it.

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

Stresa, May 2-3

Yesterday was a very long day.

On Monday the 2nd I woke up, completed my packing paste, stressed and finally left for the airport at 12:45 p.m. for a 5:25 flight.

Because I don’t like large roads, my navigation system had me avoid all tolls, which meant our journey was probably a little longer than it needed to be, but we made it on time and everything was fine.

I boarded my plane, got my window seat (thank goodness I paid for that in advance) and settled in for a seven and a half hour flight with my noise-canceling headphones and music. Upon reflection, this doesn’t really present a person who would be willing to chat on a flight, and I’m not sure if I’m always that person. Be that as it may. I know I’m comfortable with my headphones, music and occasional dozing.

The first leg of my journey was to Frankfurt, Germany where I needed to change planes during my 2-hour layover. I disembarked the plane and looked for the pier that I would be transferring to. The gate I was in was z and I wanted to be at b. Through a very long maze of hallways, elevators and steps I finally came to immigration which while it moved fairly well did take up a bit of time. Once cleared I again tracked through stairs, elevators and hallways to get to the b gate. I did make it with about 15 minutes to spare before boarding, but considering we’re leading a hundred students through that maze in a month, I have a small reason for concern. Anyway, this was one of the first tarmac boardings I’ve had in quite a few years. When we began the boarding process. We all went through the gate down. More steps out to an articulated bus around many curves and across a large distance of tarmac to get to our plane. Once the bus door opened, we all spilled out onto the tarmac (because we were packed like sardines) and had the option of either boarding the plane on the front or the back by ascending the stairs. I couldn’t help thinking about famous political dignitaries on similar steps, either entering or exiting planes and had an urge to turn around and wave to the masses, but that just would have annoyed the guy behind me. I found my seat and immediately fell back to sleep for my second take off. About an hour later I landed in Milan. There I collected my luggage with no hassle and met my tour guide Carlotta.

We got into a swanky Mercedes and we’re off through the countryside to Lake Maggiore and the town of Stresa. On the way the region became a bit more mountainous and at one point the trees cleared so that I could get a glimpse of Lake Maggiore. The car began a series of switchback turns through an adorable and idyllic Italian town. With each turn, the quaint charm was more and more palpable and the view of the lake became more expensive, it was gorgeous.

We checked into my hotel which is the Regina Palace hotel and dropped my luggage off in my room. Then began the whirlwind tour. Carlotta and I rented a private transfer over to Isola Bella, where we discussed the plans for the chorus tour and the options for what we could do on the island. We wandered a bit and then returned to the shores so that we could do a tour of hotel Dino, hotel Bristol, hotel Solima, the church of St. Ambrosia and Theodore and then hotel Regina Palace. Afterwards we sat at a small cafe and had some water and a few snacks while adorable little birds hopped up onto our table, begging us for a small chip. Quite a few dogs and their owners were wandering around the lakeside Cafe and it was beautiful to hear the church bells. We finally decided it was time to walk around the town a bit and then find a restaurant where I had steak and vegetables. Who isn’t surprised?

Isola Bella

I really wanted to start exploring the town and shops but I was on my 25th hour since I had left and needed to go to sleep.

We returned to the hotel but The view was so lovely I immediately left to go walk along the lakeside and take a few photographs.

I woke up early and began packing my things but took some time to stand at my window and look out at the lake. It’s a little gray and misty here today, but I noticed a small boat on the lake with birds swarming around looking for some tidbit to nibble. I got out the big camera and took a couple shots with the fantastic zoom before sitting down to write this. I can’t share those with you because I don’t have the mechanism to download the photographs until I get home, so I’ll probably come back and insert some photos into this post.

Today, I’m to meet Carlotta at 8:30 in the lobby where we will get another wonderfully sleek Mercedes, or similar, and head off to Milan to catch a high speed train to the Venice region. From there we will catch a motorboat to Venice downtown, check into our hotel and begin investigating hotels and venues for the chorus. Ciao!

Posted in Musings and Mutterings

Italy and Odyssey

So! I’m off on a grand adventure. Today I leave for Italy and a whirlwind itinerary to help confirm preparations for the Chorus tour that happens in July (which I’m going on as well). I’m headed off to Milan this evening where I’ll be picked up and taken to Stresa, which is a city on Lake Maggiore, to take a gander at possible hotels there. Then we travel to Venice and surrounding area to check out hotels and performance venues in that area and then off to Florence/Lucca for more of the same, and finally end up in Rome.

After I look at many beautiful spaces in Italy, I’m travelling to the port of Civitavecchia to board the Odyssey of the Seas. My itinerary for this cruise is Naples (I’m going to Pompeii and Herculaneum), Santorini, Turkey, Mykonos, Rhodes and Crete and then back to port in Civitavecchia and home from Rome.

Hoping to update my blog while I’m gone. Let’s see how that goal goes, shall we? In the meantime, arrivederci!