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Freedom Of The Seas Is A Wonderful Vacation!

Posted by thetraveldoctor on April 21, 2013


ImageMy wife and I sailed recently on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom Of The Seas on a 7 night Eastern Caribbean Cruise. This was the first of the Freedom Class Ships that Royal Caribbean built. This class of ship is a Voyager style layout only longer. So the fact that the ship is longer gives it more room to add more “Stuff”. On this ship Royal Caribbean added the Flow Rider on the rear of the ship. The flow Rider is a water ride that lets you surf in place as water shoots up an incline. This proves to be very challenging but lots of fun! The also added a boxing ring. Why they added a boxing ring is beyond me, but I guess there are some people that will use it. During our cruise, I did not see anyone in the Boxing Ring.

The food in the main dining room was very good. They now have regular 1st and 2nd set seating plus “Anytime Dining”. With the regular dining, you are assigned a table and a time to eat. With Anytime Dining, you can eat anytime between 630PM to 9PM but, you have to make reservations for a time and you do not have the same people at your table for the week. I really like to have a large table with the same people all week as that’s what cruising is all about. I have met many good life long friends on cruise ships over the years and most of them were out table mates at dinner.

Royal Caribbean has also put a Large Video Screen out by the pool area. It was a nice addition and added to the fun of the pool area. There is a lot to like about this ship. They have a great crew and a wonderful attitude.

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United Airlines Fails in Customer Service……

Posted by thetraveldoctor on June 10, 2012


A United Airlines 737 At The Gate

United Airlines new 737 at Gate

I flew on United Airlines on June 8, 2012 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and then on to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Needless to say it was the trip that would make anyone scream!!! The letter below is to the CEO of United Airlines Jeff Smisek. I have mailed this letter to him and I will let you know what his response is.

Enjoy, as you just can’t make up a story like this one……

June 8, 2012

Mr. Jeff Smisek
CEO United Airlines, Inc.
77 West Wacker Dr.
Chicago, IL 60601

Dear Mr. Smisek,

I am a very frustrated customer. I am currently sitting in the Los Angeles airport waiting for the next flight to Chicago because I missed my connection due to no fault of my own. I have started this letter in Los Angeles at LAX airport and will finish it at home in Chicago.

Here is my story. I was booked on United 968 from Las Vegas to Chicago at 11:35PM. My reservation number is MY7XMZ. I was in Las Vegas on business and I finished very early, so I decided to catch an earlier flight home so I could sleep in my own bed instead of sleeping on the plane. So I used the United app on my iPhone and I paid $75 to change my current later flight 968 to flight 197 at 4:10PM to LAX connecting to flight 704 at 6:01PM in LA to Chicago. This would get me home just before midnight and I could have a good nights sleep in my own bed.

This is where the nightmare begins. I arrive at the Las Vegas Airport at 2PM. This is plenty of time to get through security and get to the gate area. I arrived at the gate area at about 2:25PM and I sat down in the gate area to wait for the flight. At 3:30PM I noticed that the aircraft had not arrived, so I started to become concerned. The aircraft arrived about 10 minutes later and we began to board at 4PM. I walked up the gate agent and said to her, “I have a VERY tight connection, do you think I should get on the Plane?” She looked up the connecting flight and told me, Oh, you will make it. I asked if my connecting flight was in the same terminal as my arriving flight from Las Vegas. She said, “Yes it is, don’t worry you will make it!” So I proceeded to board.

I entered the aircraft and I told the flight attendant that I had a VERY, VERY TIGHT CONNECTION, and asked if she could help me out getting off the plane when we landed? She said to me, and I quote “Oh it doesn’t work that way, when we land everybody stands up in the Aisle.” That was not what I expected to hear, in fact I was taken back by her statement. What happened to a little customer service? All I wanted was to be able to be the first one off the plane so I could maybe have a chance, slim as it was, of making my connection. I was taken back by the flight attendant, I said to here “OK” and I proceeded to  find my seat in the rear of the aircraft.  We sat at the gate. And sat, and sat and when it got to be 4:35PM and we were still at the gate I pushed the call button. A flight attendant came to my row and asked what the problem was. I told her that I had a very tight connection and now I know I will miss my flight. I asked if I could get off the plane and have an agent rebook me on another flight out of Las Vegas. The look I received from this flight attendant was that of “How dare you ask to get off the plane.” What the flight attendant proceeded to do was scold me for getting on the plane in the first place and that if I wanted to get off the plane that I would inconvenience this full airplane of people as they would have to match every bag to every passenger. Now I did not have any checked luggage. I had my small carry-on and my computer. So I was about to say forget it to the attendant when she says to me, I will just have to talk to the Captain  and she walked to the front of the aircraft.

It is now 4:40PM and we start to push back. The flight attend comes back to me after we have pushed back and stopped and announces to me. “The Captain has stopped the plane for you.” I looked at her and I said, “FORGET IT! I AM NOT MAKING THIS PLANE GO BACK TO THE GATE.” I felt two feet tall after she scolded me. She went back up the front of the plane and we proceeded to taxi to the runway. The passengers around me consoled me and said, that was not very nice of that fight attendant to do that to you.

We were in the air at about 5:05PM. The captain came over the speaker system and said our flight time was about 45 minutes. So I looked at my watch and figured that if I could get off the flight and run I could make the flight with about 2 minutes to spare. We landed and taxied to the gate area and stopped short of the gate waiting for an aircraft to clear the taxi way. So now I am really concerned. We get to the gate area and I can see that my connecting flight is still at the gate and they were loading the last of the bags. I say to myself, well that flight is not in the same terminal, it was in the next terminal and I don’t know if I could make a mad dash for the plane once I got off. Well, we stopped at the gate and everyone popped up and left me in the rear of the aircraft. Did the flight attendant say “We have a passenger that needs to make a tight connection, please let him out first.” NO, I stood in the Aisle for 14 minutes as everyone took their time to get off the plane. When I did eventually get off the plane, I looked out the terminal window across to the other terminal and saw the jetway was pulled away from the plane. I asked the gate agent to call over to Gate 83. She did and told me the plane is ready to push back. I was furious! I just paid $75 to miss my plane. And no one at United seemed to give a dam. The gate agent said, “Walk over to the customer service desk and get rebooked.” No, “I am really sorry you missed your connection.” Just go get your flight rebooked across the hallway.

This is the worst customer service I have seen in a long time. And I watched you on the in flight TV screen saying “I wish I could greet each and everyone of you and personally shake your hand and thank you for flying United.” Well your company failed me big time. Here is what I would have done if I worked for United. I would have never let me board the plane in the first place and I would have rebooked me on another flight from Las Vegas or let me off the plane first and have one of the golf carts at LAX waiting for me to take me over to gate 83 and call over to flight 704 and tell them I was on the way. I guess what really upset me was that no one cared, no one gave a dam. The only one that had any sympathy for me was the really nice agent at the customer service desk that rebooked my flight. She was the only one that cared, but after what I went through, it was little consolation.

I was rebooked on United Flight 1451 at 7:30PM. I returned to Gate 70 to wait for my new flight to Chicago. I boarded Flight 1451 at 705PM. I was thinking of telling the flight attendant on this new flight when I boarded, “Can You please be nice to me because the last crew didn’t treat me very well.” Well, that went out the window when I saw the flight attendant crew on this Chicago flight was the exact same crew that was on the Las Vegas – LA flight that treated me like dirt. I have to tell you that when I saw the same crew again, the anxiety I experienced on my first flight returned. So I decided to just go to my seat and avoid all contact with the flight attendants during this flight.

Some people want to just complain and not tell you what they want you to do. Well, that’s not me. Here is what I want you to do. I want my $75 refunded to me by way of a credit to my credit card for $75. I had not flown United in a while because I have been flying Southwest. Why do I fly Southwest? Because they know how to treat their customers and they really do give a dam about all of there customers and the “Get It!” I decided to try United again and thought that the merger with Continental would change the airline for the better as I have always liked flying Continental. Boy was I wrong! You have a long road to travel before your service is back to just good. If you want to know what knock you socks off customer service is, look at Zappos. They also have it all right. They know how to treat their customers.

I hope to hear from you soon. And I really hope that you, Mr. Smisek will read and respond to this letter. I hope that you do, it would prove to me that you really meant what you said in your pre-flight announcement. And you really care about everyone of your passengers.

In closing, you have a lot of work to do to bring your airline back. Just remember, ”It’s all about the CUSTOMER!” If you give your customers great customer service then even when things go wrong, your customer will tell you that you went that extra mile for them to make it right! And they will be your customers for life. Let’s see if you can make that happen. For your sake, I hope you can.

 

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Is the Allure of The Seas A Clone of Oasis of The Seas?

Posted by thetraveldoctor on June 19, 2010


Central Park on Allure Of The Seas

Central Park on Allure Of The Seas from the interior Staterooms

The Allure of The Seas is due to set sail on its maiden voyage on December 1, 2010. This inaugural cruise is billed as a “4 Night Labadee Extravaganza” cruise. This cruise will include 2 days at sea and a day at Labadee Haiti, Royal Caribbean’s beach port.

The Allure of The Seas will make Fort Lauderdale Florida at Port Everglades its home. But the question on everyones mind is this. Is the Allure a carbon copy of the Oasis Of The Seas? Well, looking at the two ships brochures, you find that the layout of both ships are identical. But the Allure will be different in its Boardwalk neighborhood. Instead of the Seafood Shack, the Allure’s Boardwalk will have a Mexican restaurant, Rita’s Cantina. A specialty hot dog counter called the Boardwalk Dog House, will be located where the doughnut shop is on the Oasis. So where is the popular doughnut shop on the Allure going to be? Well, it is next to the premium ice cream shop. I have no idea where the ice cream shop is, but that’s ok. I am getting confused now.

There is going to be a first in shopping on the Allure as “Guess” clothing opens up it’s first Clothing Store at Sea! Guess will be located on the Royal Promenade, where the Focus photo store is on the Oasis and the Focus Photo Store will move to the new photo gallery area on the Allure. Are you throughly confused now? Don’t be. If you have sailed on the Oasis then you will be able to navigate your way around the Allure without much trouble.

So is the Allure Of The Seas a Clone of the Oasis Of The Seas? I will leave that up to you, the passengers to tell me.

Posted in Allure Of The Seas, art, Art Auctions at Sea, Brilliance of The Seas, cancun, caribbean, cruise line, cruises, economy, Europe, first class, food, free, Haiti, Hotels, islands, luggage, Mexico, Oasis of the Seas, Panama Canal, restaurant, royal caribbean, sailing, seniors, ships, tickets, tours, Transportation, Travel, travel agents, Uncategorized, Vacations, Voyager of The Seas, Wifi | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

My Voyager of The Seas Cruise – Not the Oasis of The Seas but still Great!

Posted by thetraveldoctor on May 1, 2010


Voyager of The Seas in Cozumel

Voyager of The Seas in Cozumel

This is the Journal of my 7 night cruise aboard the Voyager of The Seas of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. We departed from the Port of Galveston TX on January 24, 2010. This was a family cruise which included my wife and I and my Daughter and Son-in-Law and my Son and his girl friend. We arrived in Galveston on January 23 and stayed at the Hilton Galveston Resort for the evening. The Hilton is an upscale hotel situated right on the water in Galveston next to the Convention Center.

Day 1 – Embarkation Galveston TX: January 24, 2010. We arrived on the Hilton Shuttle at the Port of Galveston at 1130AM. Getting a porter to take our luggage was a little challenging but we were able to find one and he took all of our luggage and we continued to the Checking area.

Upon entering the checkin area, we were given a form that asked if you have been sick in the past 7 days. The cruise line wants to cut down of the chance of a flu outbreak on the ship and that is why they have you fill out the form. I don’t know what they would do to you if you answered yes to any of the questions, and I did not want to find out!

We continued through the security check point, which was just like the airport security with xray machines for your bags and the walk through metal detectors for the passengers. Since we were Diamond Plus Members (24 or more cruises with Royal Caribbean) We were able to use the special express check in line. We were able to check in immediately and we then began to wander around the terminal. No one told us that Diamond Members and Suite passengers could board immediately. We found this out after I stopped a Royal Caribbean staff member after we wandered around for a while and found some chairs to sit down. The staff member said to me “didn’t the person checking you in tell you that you could just board the ship now? I said “No” and he showed me where to go to board. So we gathered up our carry ons and proceeded to board the ship. Once on board, we found that the cabins would be available until 1PM. So we all headed to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch.

Shops on Voyager

Shops on Voyager

The Windjammer is a buffet style restaurant located on deck 12, aft. They have a large selection of food for just about every taste. Since we are a party of 6 on this cruise, we were able to find a large table near the window and settled down for a very nice lunch. We finished lunch at 1:15PM and proceeded to our staterooms. We are on deck 9 midship. Our staterooms had queen size beds with a private balcony, which is very nice on sea days to be able to just sit there and enjoy the sun and surf. Since the Voyager is now 11 years old, it has undergone a major refurbishment in 2009. So the ship looks very good for it’s age. I remember the inaugural cruise which I was on 11 years ago. This ship, at that time was the worlds largest cruise ship. Today Voyager is considered a large ship but nowhere near the largest ship anymore.

We are on Second Seating on the traditional dinning track, so we eat dinner at 8PM. Royal Caribbean now has what they call “Any Time Dinning” which let’s you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner any time you like. Dinner for anytime dinning begins at 545PM and ends at 830PM on this ship. I personally like the traditional dinning where you sit at the same table every night and have the same wait staff the entire cruise. I must say that I was not impressed with the dinning room service this first night. Our waiter just did not have his act together and it took forever to get our food. And to make things even worse, they forgot to bring my daughter her soup and our waiter did not introduce himself to us until we were ready to leave the dinning room after the meal. The dinner itself was very good and the presentation was very nice.

After dinner we went to the “Welcome Aboard Show.” Since there was only one show tonight, we had a very hard time finding seats. But we finally found seat and settled down to enjoy the show. Our cruise director, Mike Szwajkowski introduced the weeks events and played a very old cruise game that I have not seen done at sea for a very long time. It was the “Hat Game” where 7 men are chosen from the audience. They are given 6 hats and when the music stops, anyone now wearing a hat is out! Well, it is extremely funny and every one had a great laugh. Next they had two acts that will be preforming in two of the lounges on the ship during the week. Both acts were very good and I will be sure to stop by the lounges they will be playing in this week. Mike then introduced the comedy of Hal Spear. Hal is the producer of “Who’s Line is it Anyways” and has appeared on Comedy Central and The Tonight Show. He was extremely funny. He will be doing an adult late show on Tuesday night at 11:30PM and I will be there!

After the show, I spent about an hour making my donation to the Royal Caribbean Casino and then headed to bed.

Day 2 – At Sea: Monday January 25, 2010. The sun is out and not a cloud in the sky! I woke up at 8AM to get ready for our Diamond Member special event. The special event was our personal bridge tour of the Voyager. We met the crew members that would escort us to the bridge at 8:50AM on Deck 10 at the forward elevators. We were escorted to the bridge where we had a wonderful tour of the High Tech Bridge. This tour is very special and we really appreciate the fact that Royal Caribbean gives Diamond Plus members the chance to take this tour.

After the Bridge tour I was off to breakfast in the Windjammer Cafe where I had a wonderful breakfast as I watched the ships pass us by in the distance. After breakfast it was off to the Cleopatra’s Needle lounge for Cruise Director Mike’s Madness Trivia hour. The first part of the trivia game was TV theme show songs, which I am an expert at. Yes, I know, I have to get a life! But the second half was just way out there really off the wall trivia questions. So my team won the TV theme show half, but we lost the second half. But I did keep my record as the only person in the room that knew two of the TV themes.

After Trivia, it was time to explore the ship and find out what has changed on this ship since my last time onboard. I always enjoy exploring the ship and finding great hiding places to just get away from it all. Royal Caribbean did take out all the chairs along the windows on the pool deck and replaced them with round tables with 4 chairs per table. I personally think they should have kept some chairs along the windows and alternated with two tables and then 6 chairs. I feel this would be a better use of the space as the tables are only used during meal time and even then they are not fully utilized.

At 1PM it was time for lunch. My daughter and Son in Law joined my wife and I for a very leisurely lunch in the Windjammer Cafe. I had the Pasta in red sauce with some veggies and a small salad. It was a very relaxing lunch and I enjoyed it throughly! After lunch I relaxed at the pool for a little while and then proceeded to the Schooner Bar for 50’s & 60’s Name that Tune game. My Daughter, Son in Law and I were a team to take on about 20 other teams. We did pretty well, with 19 points we came in 5 overall. Not to bad for 3 people who did really not know what they were doing!

Life Raft Rescue

Life Raft Rescue

Later in the after noon, we felt the ship make a sharp turn and head back north. The turn was so sharp that the pool emptied out onto the deck. The Captain came on the loud speaker and told us that he had to turn the ship around because the crew had spotted a life raft in the water. So we were on a rescue mission to retrieve the life raft in the water. We pull up along side of the raft and we launched a rescue boat to go and get  the life raft. The entire ship was along the rails on the Port Side to watch the rescue effort. When the rescue boat got to the raft, it found no passenger aboard. They then towed the life raft back to our ship and brought it on board. We don’t know if there were any people that were in the raft at one time but we do know the the raft and a smaller life raft that was attached to the big round one had flipped over. It was were interesting to watch a real rescue effort at sea.

Tonight is formal night and it’s time to down the Tux and get those special pictures taken!

We did get our pictures taken and Lil always blinks! We all really looked good tonight. There was a not so nice incident that happened in the Concierge Club. Lil and I are Diamond Plus members (24 or more Cruises) and we have access to the Concierge Club. My Daughter and Son in Law wanted to relax in the Club before dinner. I gave them my entrance card and they went in. The Concierge in charge then proceeded to tell them they were not welcome and threw them out! Wow, how rude! I take my family on this cruise, spend all this money and the Concierge has the nerve to throw them out of the Club. My kids are 26 and 30 years old! I just don’t get it. Nice way to piss off your best customers.

We did have a very nice dinner. The food was very good but the wait staff still does not have their act together. Our waiter gives everyone a menu except me and then when I finally track him down and ask for a menu, he looks at me and says “Didn’t I just give you one?” Well, I don’t have one so I guess not. It is still taking them over two hours to serve us our meal. Maybe by the end of the cruise they will get it right! We did celebrate my Son and Son-in-Laws 30th birthdays this evening. The wait staff did get the Birthday Cake correct! Thank goodness for that.

The entertainment for the evening was a very good production show in the main show lounge. Music in Motion was the name of the show and it followed music from the movies over the years. Good dancing and singing and a fun evening.

After the show I spent some time with the family in the Cleopatra’s Needle lounge listening to Karaoke, which my Son was one of the participants.  I then headed back to the cabin to turn in for the evening.

Day 3 – At Sea: Tuesday January 26, 2010. Well, it is getting warmer the farther we get into the Caribbean. I got up at 8AM and had a great breakfast in the Windjammer Cafe. After breakfast, I did some shopping in the shops on board. Then it was on to the La Scala Theater for a very interesting hour with our cruise director Mike about living and working on a cruise ship. It was a real learning experience and a glimpse behind the scenes of the day to day operations of a large cruise ship. After Mikes talk, I decided to hang out around the sports deck and ended up shooting some baskets on the basketball court.

Lunch in the Windjammer Cafe is always a pleasant experience. The nice part about it is the selection of food. Since it is buffet style, you have a large choice of items that fit just about everyones tastes. I love the pasta and there is pasta every day. So after a nice leisurely lunch I decided to spend some time just exploring the ship. I love the water slide on the kids deck in the aft of the ship. It starts out on deck 13 and winds its way down to deck 12. It’s great for kids of all ages.

Royal Caribbean has decided to offer WiFi on their ships. Now you have to pay for the privilege of using it, but thats ok, if it worked. Dozens of people are trying to get on the internet and they just keep timing out. It is the slowest service I have ever seen from a satellite internet provider. And to make things even worse, everyone is getting charged $0.55 per minute, even when you are not getting a signal and are still connected. It took me 8 minutes to download my email into my Mac mail client. This was for only 15 messages with no attachments. The total download was less then 50K. That is just highway robbery!  After about 15 minutes of trying to get on line and the signal going up and down, 6 of us that were in the internet cafe on board went down to the front desk to complain. The young lady at the front desk listened to our complaint and issued each of us a $10 credit. It did not make the internet any faster, but it did take some of the bite out of the cost. It todays always connected world, cruise ships should be able to offer decent satellite internet connect speeds. I don’t expect cable broadband, but I do expect better then a dial up modem speeds.

Later in the day I was talking to my Son-in-Law about a future cruise. So we decided to go over to the future cruise booking area to see if we could get a brochure. I saw that there was a cabinet that was open with cruise brochures in it. I started looking for a Caribbean and a Europe brochure. All of a sudden I was pushed aside and scolded by Mr. Peter Enns the Loyalty Ambassador no less! I was told that  I was looking at a private cabinet and that he did not have ANY brochures (which I knew was not true as I was just about to pick one out of that cabinet.) Some Loyalty Ambassador, he made me feel like an ass in front of my son and all the other people that were in the room. Really a great way to make friends and influence people. It really made me very angry. I will guarantee I will NOT be booking our next cruise with Mr. Enns.

It was then back to the cabin for a quick rest before the show and dinner time.

Day 4: Roatan Honduras: Wednesday January 27, 2010, The temperature is in the Low 80’s and the sun is out with not a cloud in the sky! We are off on our tour of the island this morning. Our guide was Spencer and there were 10 people on our tour. I liked the fact that we had the smallest group, as we were able to get into and out of places very quickly. We first went to the Exotic Bird and Butterfly garden. This was a rather small but very interesting stop. They had lots a very talkative parrots and a number of toucans. The butterfly garden was outstanding. I have never seen so many butterflies in one area in my life. We even watch 2 climb out of their cocoons. After about an hour at the Garden we were off to the West End of the island to watch a performance of the “Important Dance!” After the performance we had a chance to walk on the beach and I took some great pictures! It was then off to the Botanical Gardens where we received an education of all the native plants on the island. We were also give the ability to taste some of the fruit that is grown on the island. All in All I give this tour an A+, it was much more then I expected which was a pleasant surprise! Then it was back to the ship for a late lunch and a short rest.

The evening entertainment was very good. It was Ice Show night. The name of the show was Ice Odyssey. It is really something to watch an Ice Show on a cruise ship. The Ice Rink is not the biggest you have ever seen, but the cast members were able to do things that you would think that they could only do on a large rink. I really enjoyed the show and would recommend it to everyone. After the Ice Show it was time for the Love and Marriage Game Show. This is always a very funny part of the cruise. This game is basically the old Newlywed game with a twist. They take a newlywed couple, a couple that has been married for approximately 33 years and then a couple that has been married for over 50 years.  Well as you can expect, things get very funny! It was a good time for all. After the show, we sat in on the Karaoke night in the Cleopatra’s Needle lounge and then off to bed.

Day 5 – Costa Maya, Mexico –  Thursday January 28, 2010, Today is our first port in Mexico. Costa Maya is a fairly new port. This port was built approximately 9 years ago and a town has grown up around it. It is a very quaint port and very easy to get in and out of. We went on a shore tour to Chacchoben, which is a Mayan archaeological ruins dig site. This is a wonderful area, it is about an hour drive inland from the port. Royal Caribbean uses a tour company that has brand new motor coaches with all the comforts of home. From a restroom to video screens, this was the most comfortable bus I have been on in years. If you have never been to a Mayan Ruins site before, this is a great place to start. It is one of the best tours available in Costa Maya. I highly recommend it.

Day 6 – Cozumel Mexico , Friday January 29, 2010 – Today was a day to relax and explore around the port area. It was HOT today! I walked halfway from the port to the downtown area, but it was so hot that I stopped and sat in the beach for about 15 minutes and then headed back to the ship.

The rest of the trip was uneventful and I really enjoyed being with my family for the week. I have said it many times that cruises are the best vacation for the money. I really hope that Royal Caribbean takes a look at their current operation and maybe return to the kind of customer service that my wife and family remember.

Posted in airlines, airplane, airports, Art Auctions at Sea, Brilliance of The Seas, caribbean, cruise line, cruises, food, Hotels, luggage, Mexico, Oasis of the Seas, pillows, restaurant, royal caribbean, ships, tours, Transportation, Travel, Uncategorized, Vacations, Voyager of The Seas, Wifi | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Southwest Vacations Hassle

Posted by thetraveldoctor on March 9, 2010


Al and Lil at Universal Studios New Years Day 2010

Al and Lil at Universal Studios New Years Day 2010

Just returned from a very cold trip to Orlando Florida. My wife and I took a Southwest Vacations package to Orlando at the Doubletree Universal. I love to fly Southwest Airlines as their crew, planes and gate areas are the best in the business.

I decided to use Southwest Vacations because the package of Hotel, Car and Flight were much less expensive then booking each component separately. I knew that something was not right when I tried to lookup my flight to put my rapid reward number in the record and the Southwest website told me it could not find my reservation. Now to be fair to Southwest Airlines, Southwest Vacations is run by the Mark Travel Corp, which owns Funjet Vacations and a number of other airline tour companies. The big problem is that Southwest Vacations issues paper tickets. I cannot tell you the last time I used a paper ticket on a domestic flight. Paper tickets are a hassle and they can be lost or stolen. Well, what Southwest Vacations does not tell you is that you cannot check in on line ahead of time, you can only get a “Security Document” that will get you through the security checkpoint, but you still have to stand in line to get a boarding pass. Plus, you cannot get this Security Document on the Southwest Airlines website, you have to go to the Southwest Vacations website, which is a completely different website. So once I figured this out, I tried to check in, as the website said, “Check in Online” which is really not correct. After jumping through a number of hoops, I was able to print out the “Security Documents”. It was a real hassle at Midway Airport in Chicago, but we got to the gate and I was able to stand in line and get a real boarding pass. The disaster was on the return trip.

It’s January 3, 2010 at 500AM. My wife and I had a 735AM Southwest flight from Orlando to Chicago Midway. I could not check in on line at my Orlando hotel because as you read earlier in this store, you can’t do that with paper tickets. We walk into the front door of the Orlando airport and look over at the Southwest Check In. To our surprise, there is a line that looks to be at least an hour and a half. Now we had only carry on luggage, so I asked the Southwest agent if we had to stand in line, she told me “know, just go to the self serve kiosk and check in. Well, you guessed it, it would not let me check in. So I ask the Southwest agent for help. She came over to the kiosk and tried 3 times to check us in. It just would not work. She said to me, “Why don’t you go out to the skycap and let him check you in.” I said “That is a great idea, thank you!” So I went outside to the skycap station. Well, there was a line there too, albeit a much shorter line (15 min instead of 1.5 hours) and the skycap then checked me in and we were on our way to the gate. Getting to the gate was a whole other story, as Orlando shut down the screening area for about 45 minutes but I will not bore you with the details. We did get home on our scheduled flight. I still love Southwest, but the vacation division has to allow the issue of etickets so passengers don’t run into the kind of problems we had.

Thinking of a cruise? Read my blog post on the new Oasis of The Seas at http://thetraveldoctor.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/oasis-of-the-seas-makes-some-last-minute-changes/

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A Tale of Two American Airline’s Cities

Posted by thetraveldoctor on November 17, 2008


 

New American Terminal at Miami Airport

New American Terminal at Miami Airport

I am writing this on my way home from a conference in Miami FL. I am sitting in seat 28C on an American Airlines 757. I don’t know why, but American can’t seem to give me two problem free flights in a row. 

Let’s start on Saturday morning at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I had a 9AM flight to Miami. I arrived at O’Hare at 7:20AM. I walked up to the self-service kiosk, checked my bag (for $15 –Ouch!) and was on my way to the gate. The American employees we very helpful and very pleasant.

I made it through security. Let me tell you, that is always an experience. I was behind a family of 3. They had 3 suitcases, 3 carry-on bags, a stroller and various stuff in their pockets. Well, it took them 10 minutes to get every thing on the belt and get it into the scanner. Then of course they could not get through the metal detector. They must have gone through that detector 10 times until they stopped beeping. It was a comedy of errors. I had to laugh or I would have started to cry. They need to bring the “Family Lane” to O’Hare so that people that travel a lot and know how to go through security can avoid these situations.

So I made it through security, finally! I proceed to the gate and waited to board. The boarding process went smooth, even with a full plane and we were off to Miami on time! Wow, what a great flight. I really enjoyed it, all the on board entertainment worked very well, and the seat reclined too, as little as it reclines, it’s still nice when it works. We arrived at Miami 10 minutes early and I was a happy customer. Now remember, I check my bag. I guess that was a mistake. I waited almost 40 minutes for my bag and my bag was one of the first ones to come around the belt. I guess this should have been my first clue that American at the Miami Airport has some major operational problems. I took my bag and I was off to the Hyatt Regency Miami in a cab. I actually got a cab driver that knew where he was going and got me to the hotel in record time.

It was a great weekend conference. I had hundreds of people at my workshop and panel. It was a really wonderful experience.

So it is now 5:30AM on Monday and I am on my way to the Miami Airport for my return flight home. I arrive at the American Airlines terminal and proceed to the self-service check-in. As easy as it was at O’Hare on Saturday, it was that very difficult in Miami. I had already checked in on my computer at the hotel and I had my boarding pass. So I followed the directions on the self check-in machine and I touched “Bag Check Only.” I am good at following directions. It then told me to scan my boarding pass or put in my record locator number. Well, my boarding pass would not scan, so I entered my record locator number. It took it a while but it found me. It asked me how many bags I wanted to check and I pressed 1. It then asked me for my credit card. I inserted my Amex, it didn’t like that one, it said, “Enter another Credit Card” so I entered my Visa. I guess it liked that magnetic strip, and it charged my credit card. It then told me to go to the “Checked Baggage Only” line. And then it printed another boarding pass for me. Why I don’t know. So there are signs all over that state “Look For The Baggage Only Check-in Line.” That’s great, I am looking all over the place for this Baggage line and I can’t find it. I ask one of the AA employees, where is this Baggage Only line for self-serve? She informs me that I should just get in any line, we don’t have a Baggage Only line. Now mind you, I am standing in front of this sign that is telling people to look for this Baggage Only line and this employee is telling me they don’t have a Baggage Only line. So I get in line and I wait 20 minutes to hand my bag to an agent and it is 6AM! Once I get to the agent, she could not print out my luggage tracking tag that I had already put in all the info in the check-in kiosk. Unlike the Chicago Check-in kiosk where your luggage tags are printed out at the front of the bank of kiosks. So it took 30 minutes for me to check in at a very disorganized Miami Check-in area for American. Then you have to lug your bag over to this area where another employee takes your bag. And this is out of the way. They really have to figure this baggage thing out in Miami.

Now it’s off to the security. I figured, 630AM on a Monday morning, how bad could it be. I came around the corner and noticed that the line was not that long. So that was a good sign. Little did I know that the TSA agent that was checking ID’s thought he was Columbo and was interrogating every passenger that had to pass through his post. This short line that should have been no more than 5 minutes turned into another 20-minute ordeal.

Once I got through security, and yes I was behind another family that had at least 120 pieces of stuff to put thought the belt. How do I get so lucky! All I want to do is check in, go through security and get on my airplane. Is that too much to ask?

I now hike to the new gate area at the Miami Airport. American has opened part of their new terminal. It is really very nice, but the hike to the last gate, well, it’s a REAL hike. And there are no moving sidewalks like some other new airports with long walks have. But I make it to the gate with about 35 minutes to spare. I find a nice spot to settle in to wait for boarding. Now I understand how AA wants to board. You have a group and you are to board by group. Well, it kind of didn’t happen, as the agents lost control of the entire boarding process, which in turn backed everything up. It was like watching a keystone cop movie. Instead of having each group board, they boarded the early boards and then they called group 1, then 2 minutes later they called group 1, 2 and 3. And this is on a FULL 757! On the plane, there was not enough space for the deluge of carryon bags that the $15 bag charge has caused. People standing in the aisles shoving these bags that should have never gotten past the gate agent, trying to cram them into the overhead bins. Well, we did leave 8 minutes late, because no one that was in the aisle would sit down. What a nut house!

So we finally get settled and the plane gets pushed back, taxied and we took off.  The crew was friendly and efficient, but the audio system had this terrible buzz that it was very hard to watch the video. After about 15 minutes of the buzz, it started to fade, so I was able to watch the “CBS eye on American” video entertainment on the video screen. They showed 3 sitcoms. “How I Met Your Mother” “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and “The Big Band Theory.” Now these are prime time family sitcoms right? Well, I guess American doesn’t think so. Get this, they were bleeping out 25% of the dialog. It ruined the video. I was able to read lips at times and the words they were bleeping out were, sex, screwed and full sentences. Folks, these are not programs that are on pay per view, these are prime time network sitcoms. I just don’t get it. Why would they censor these programs? It really ticked me off. I think that American needs to chill out or stop airing video on its aircraft.

 The flight itself was comfortable and the plane was clean. But if you have to fly out of Miami on American, beware! They don’t have their act together like they do at Chicago O’Hare and it could be very frustrating.

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Travel Agents, Worth their weight in GOLD!

Posted by thetraveldoctor on October 6, 2008


 

Alan On Tour In The Pacific Northwest.

Alan On Tour In The Pacific Northwest.

Have you tried to make any travel plans lately? If you have, you probably have searched and searched the web till your head was spinning. What you need to do is find a good professional consultant. A good travel consultant can find you deals that are not available on the web and can save you hundreds of dollars on cruises and tours. They can also give you great advice for your trip, such as little known places to visit at your destination. 

There has been lots of talk as of late that Travel Agents are a dying breed. Not so, they are not only alive and kicking, but more and more travelers are turing to them for help in booking their vacation travel. So a tip to the savvy traveler or the novice traveler, use a travel agent and save lots of time and money!

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United TED, A Good Idea Gone Bad

Posted by thetraveldoctor on September 28, 2008


 

The end of A Good Idea - TED by United

The end of A Good Idea - TED by United

TED, was a great idea. Create an airline built on the Southwest model. One type of aircraft, one class of service. All crews can fly any flights as there is only one type of aircraft to be checked out on. Great Idea right! Wrong! United decided not to differentiate Ted and United and the public was confused. The passengers wanted to know what the difference was between the two airlines? Why should they fly TED? Unlike the Cruise industry, United did not keep the two brands separated, so there was no reason to fly TED instead of United. If United did their homework they would have made TED a separate airline and market it that way. But they didn’t and they drove it into the ground. I liked TED. It was a great idea, with friendly crews, clean late model planes and great fares. But just like the rest of the Higher UP’s in the executive offices at United, they just don’t understand how to run an airline let alone two airlines. I really hope that someday, someone with some business and customer service sense becomes the president of United. Until then, I guess we will just watch this once great airline implode piece by piece.

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Delta to Add First Class to Shuttle Flights

Posted by thetraveldoctor on September 27, 2008


Delta will begin adding first class seating on their MD88 Shuttle fleet starting December 1, 2008. The Delta Shuttle flies between Boston, New York LaGuardia and Washington DC. The new two class of service will seat 14 passengers in First Class and 128 in coach. Delta will continue the “Open Seating” policy in both classes on all Shuttle flights. If you decide to buy a First Class ticket, it will cost you $679 as opposed to $164 for coach. Currently The Delta Shuttle offers 30 daily between the three airports. Well, at least Delta still does not charge for your first checked bag.

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Southwest New Boarding System Works Well

Posted by thetraveldoctor on September 26, 2008


 

Southwest gate at Louisville Airport

Southwest gate at Louisville Airport

I just returned from a business trip to Louisville Ky on Southwest. I have to say that Southwest has their act together. I love the new boarding process they have instituted. When you check in at home on the web, or at the airport you receive a boarding pass with a letter and a number. The letter is the boarding group and the number is the boarding position within that group. So if you are in group A and position 15, you will board with the first group and you will be the 15th person on the plane. It worked so well and everyone was happy. We boarded quickly and we were closed up and out of the gate and in the air in no time. The plane was full and we were on time!

 

Southwest also does not charge you to check your first or second bag. They do not have any hidden fees. What you see is what you get. I love that. Clean, efficient transportation. I wish the other airlines got it. They should all take a lesson from Southwest. Thank you Herb! You know how to run a great airline!

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