Thursday, March 2, 2017

Travel is 'perfect' for marketing with virtual reality

By Jamie Biesiada / Travel Weekly

Virtuoso invited agents and employees to demonstrate travel videos on an Oculus Rift headset during Virtuoso Travel Week last August. Photo Credit: Virtuoso
Gordon Meyer, director of virtual reality (VR) company YouVisit, will tell you that travel is the ideal space for the technology to make an impact because it provides a visual medium to showcase destinations and experiences that is far more vivid and experiential than flat, two-dimensional media.
"The pairing of travel and VR just makes so much sense," he said. "It's a perfect-use case for VR."
The industry is taking note and beginning to test VR programs. For example, Meyer's company has worked with several destinations to create VR content, and Ascape, another VR company, is also working with travel brands, providing virtual tours of destinations for companies like JetBlue.
VR is in the early stages of making its way into the agency space, as well. Ascape recently partnered with Thomas Cook, curating a collection of VR tours for the agency, and Virtuoso has begun a limited beta test, placing high-end headsets in some member agencies.
Tony Corneto
Tony Corneto
"It's an evolution of marketing platforms," said Tony Corneto, Virtuoso's director of user experience. "You started with books, and then you moved to photographs, and then you moved to video, and then you're now moving to VR. It has the potential, depending on who you talk to about this, to have quite a sea change in terms of engaging people in all different ways, whether it's in-agency or with the motion picture industry or whatever the case may be. I think there's a lot of opportunities to inspire people."
VR was one of the topics Sabre Labs, the GDS's travel and technology innovation lab, covered in its 2017 Emerging Technology in Travel report.
Sabre Labs found three uses for VR specifically relating to travel agencies: An inspirational shopping tool for clients, a product training tool for agents and an opportunity to advertise alongside VR content that is either directly or indirectly related to travel.
"This idea for brick-and-mortar agencies to provide an inspirational experience, we see a lot of content in that realm right now," said Mark McSpadden, head of Sabre Labs. As an example, McSpadden said, a good deal of content from YouVisit is for travel inspiration. Overall, however, he admitted that VR content is "spotty right now."
"What you couldn't do is say, 'Yeah, we've got VR content that covers our top 50 destinations.' I don't think that you could do that at this point," he said. "What you could do is say, 'We've got VR content on these destinations.'"
McSpadden said most VR content focuses on more obscure locations and is professionally produced. But lower-cost cameras that enable users to generate their own VR videos are becoming more common and affordable (many are in the $300 range), which could make it feasible for users to create their own VR content in the future.
Even so, McSpadden said, professionally produced content is better quality. He likened user-generated VR to the "home video realm right now."
VR is becoming more prevalent in the consumer space. A Google VR short film recently became the first virtual reality production to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Headsets are also coming down in price, with some that use a mobile phone to power VR experiences retailing for less than $100, including the Samsung Gear VR. In fact, Digi-Capital, a technology consulting firm, predicts that mobile VR will be the primary driver in the VR and augmented reality market.
But some travel groups, including Virtuoso, are banking on agencies using higher-end headsets like the Oculus Rift ($600) and HTC Vive ($799) to differentiate their VR offerings and draw in clients.
When purchased with accessories like handsets, those higher-end systems retail for nearly $1,000. They also require higher-powered computers to operate.
Virtual reality company YouVisit has created content for several travel companies and destinations, such as this view of Machu Picchu in Peru. Photo Credit: YouVisit
Virtual reality company YouVisit has created content for several travel companies and destinations, such as this view of Machu Picchu in Peru. Photo Credit: YouVisit
However, McSpadden said there is a quality difference between the lower-end headsets, most of which use smartphones as their visual platforms, and the higher-end headsets, which are tethered to game machines or other computers.
"The mobile headsets are good," McSpadden said. "They don't feel perfect, but they feel good. The tethered headsets feel real. While the mobile ones may be more convenient for an agency setup and provide that right level of 'I'm going to give you a glimpse of this place,' if you want to really create an immersive experience, the tethered ones provide a significant benefit over the mobile headsets."
Using a better VR system is a differentiating factor for Virtuoso, Corneto said.
"You have one opportunity with someone trying it for the first time, and if they have a poor experience, whether it makes them dizzy or nauseous or whether the content is blurry, you've lost them," he said. "We want to make sure that the experiences that Virtuoso provides are as good as they can be."
Virtuoso's pilot program involves placing the Oculus Rift in some member agencies as a platform for inspirational shopping. Corneto said the company is also considering using VR for agent training. Content will be curated from preferred suppliers, tourism boards and even potential partnerships between Virtuoso and VR studios.
"Our idea -- initially, at least -- is sort of a mixed model of internal and external production," Corneto said.
A test of VR video and equipment at Virtuoso Travel Week generated good feedback from agents, he said, and they were enthusiastic about using VR with their own clients and as an agent-training tool.
Scott Largay, director of marketing at Virtuoso member Largay Travel, said the agency has been working to develop an app filled with VR content that its agents can share with clients around the country, particularly at events like bridal shows. Largay is also working on developing VR as a training tool for agents.
Largay Travel and Virtuoso are collaborating on their VR initiatives. While the agency is currently using only the Oculus Rift headset, Largay said he is considering other platforms, including less-expensive ones that might be more accessible.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Local travel firm Largay takes flight

Local travel firm Largay takes flight

If you are among the believers that the internet killed the local travel agency you’re about to be proven wrong.
Well, at least that’s the case for Largay Travel Inc. in Waterbury, started in 1969 by Roland Largay at a time before the infancy of the web and ability to instantly purchase airline tickets and book hotel rooms from your iPhone.
Paul Largay, Roland Largay’s nephew, joined the business in 1982, also a time when the business model was different. “What is really unique and kind of neat about it is I grew in the Waterbury area and I have always been a very large part of the Waterbury community and this business has really blossomed because of the community,” said Paul Largay, chief executive officer. “Like every industry there are some challenging times we have gone through in 48 years, but the business has never been stronger.”
Largay said the business started with just two people and a dream. Now nearly a half-century later they employ 100 and have a network and cadre of clients all over the world. On Friday the Waterbury Regional Chamber will honor Largay Travel as its 2017 Small Business of the Year at the 20th annual Harold Webster Smith Awards breakfast.
The company is a branch of the Tzell Travel Group and Virtuoso network of trusted travel specialists. The company’s expertise is in soft-adventure leisure programs, including hiking, biking, ballooning, family travel, worldwide deluxe cruising and African safaris, the chamber stated.
Lynn Ward, president and chief executive officer of the Waterbury Regional Chamber, said the chamber’s Small Business Council chose Largay Travel to receive the recognition for their ingenuity in their business.
“They are very active in the community and they are a business that was started many years ago that has continued within the Largay family and they have had very successful growth over the years with the changes in industry,” she said. “I think a lot of people are misinformed of the travel industry, about the benefits of working with an agent who is educated and experienced in the business of travel.”
Largay said being selected as Small Business of the Year is “absolutely humbling and incredibly exciting.”
“I knew Harold Smith from a very young age and I always admired his professional and civic engagement in the community,” Largay said
Largay said their business model changed greatly since he started in the business. Back then their value was a monopoly on travel information, airline tickets and peoples access to it.
“If you wanted to go away, or even buy an airline ticket, you had to go to Largay Travel, or a ticket office,” he said. Those functions have been replaced with the likes of and other online ticket companies, but the core of the business hasn’t changed.
“People say ‘didn’t the internet put you out of business?,” he said. “Because of the internet, people have access to empirical information about destinations, but they don’t have the ability or filter to take general information and distill it down to recommendations that are relevant to them. That is where we have harnessed this opportunity.”
Largay acts as a “mother ship” to agents in all 50 states. They provide resources, connections, relationships and back office functions, like accounting in Waterbury that allows the agents to focus on tailoring a trip for the client.
“We are focused on creating a community,” he said. “Before the internet if you wanted to expand your market you had to either acquire another agency or put up another brick-and-mortar facility because at that time you had a 20 mile radius around your base of information. Now the thing that was supposed to put us out of business is the source of new business. 90 percent of our clients, we have never met.”
That includes clients in Africa, Australia and the Middle East. “What has happened is the internet has now provided ostensibly a conduit through which these people seek us out. They don’t care what ZIP code you are in so long as they can access you through the internet or a phone call,” he said.
Largay said his uncle was focused on establishing and maintaining relationships rather than looking at people as transactions, and that has paid off.
“When people recognize you don’t just look at them as a transaction … but as individuals first and clients second they beat a path to your door,” he said. “We focused on creating a community.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

An epic journey to celebrate life together

An epic journey to celebrate life together
by Silvanna Frappier

 Our unique adventure with Windstar cruises through Athens, the Greek islands of Monemvasia and Gythion, the Italian treasures of Lipari, Sicily, Amalfi, and Rome. Here we tell all of it’s history and culture, through pictures and paragraphs. So here I invite you to travel together with me on this amazing itinerary with the luxury small cruise Windstar through Enchanting of Greece and the Amalfi Coast! The land of Goddess Athena, the Spartans and Gladiators. If you haven’t been yet, it should be on your bucket list!

What better way to remember each of your years together than to take a trip together? Travel can be a rewarding experience. A vacation is a much deserved treat, and weathering any unexpected challenges together will provide you anecdotes and memories for your lifetime as a couple.
Anniversary should fill you with happy memories of the time you have spent together and joyful thoughts of years still to come.
Visiting places, people and experience the best the world has to offer, was exactly what my husband Marc and I choose to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
It also lead us into the decision of how we want to write the next chapter of our story together while staying closer to our love.

 Our first stop was beautiful Athens, a vibrant city full of life and history. The trip to Greece was particularly special because, the memories came flooding back from the childhood (when I was in school)..specially the history classes and all the names of famous Greek people like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and off course not to forget ‘Troy’, the famous ‘Trojan War’, Achilles, Paris and all the other characters the jumped right from the history book.

 During our stay in Athen we choose the fabulous Hotel Grande Bretagne. I know that boutique hotels are all the rage and I have been known to stay at many of them, but there is something so special about stepping into a historic European hotel. Walking inside the Hotel Grande Bretagne is like walking back into the Athens of yesteryear in all the right ways. Opened in 1874, it lies in Syntagma Square – the true historical heart of Athens. How can you not love a hotel room that greets you with a bottle of Ouzo, olives and sesame breadsticks! It is practically inviting you to party! They had upgraded us from a standard double to a deluxe, which I found out meant there were french doors leading out to a balcony overlooking the square and the Pathernon. The view my friends, THE VIEW! Also I can’t forget that all that VIP treatment came with a private check area that waited for us with a glass of the most cool champagne; Heaven!
From here we move to our next stop: Meet Monemvasia, a hidden ‘Fortress Town’ nest on an island in Greece.

We’ve seen a few hidden towns throughout our travels, but never one quite as beautiful as the town of Monemvasia. Monemvasia’s name means “single entrance” in Greek. The “hidden” spot boasts a massive Byzantine fortress (hence the nickname “fortress town”).
The island was initially settled on the top of the plateau, which is now referred to as the “Upper Town”. Gradually the settlement spread down the hill, and thanks to its uniquely well-defended position, developed into a powerful town.  By the 18th century, Monemvasia went into decline until it was re-discovered by tourists in the 1970’s.

Next stop: Mystras a driving distance from Gythion, One of my favorite places in Greece, in the southern Peloponessos. Mystras, the ‘wonder of the Morea’, was built as an amphitheater around the fortress erected in 1249 by the prince of Achaia, William of Villehardouin. Reconquered by the Byzantines, then occupied by the Turks and the Venetians, the city was abandoned in 1832, leaving only the breathtaking medieval ruins, standing in a beautiful landscape.

After having so much in Mystars is time to move on to one of my favorites of all times, Taormina, Sicily!

Taormina is Sicily’s most sophisticated summer destination. From boutique hotels to chic stays, the town is extremely touristy, yet preserving its charm. We loved the medieval churches and the small streets where you can have Insolia wine at Arts Cafes, shop for antiques and handcrafted souvenirs. The vast choice of restaurants is overwhelming. You cannot miss the Teatro Greco, as close to perfect for an ampipheatre, it is Roman in origin going back to the 1st Century AD. The colonnaded backdrop will give you a view which will leave your speechless. At lunchtime we head into Mt Etna for a visit at the Gambino winery. Nestled in Linguaglossa on the slopes of Mt. Etna, this is one of the most beautiful wineries we have ever visited.

Lipari was also very interesting place and so worth the visit. Hiking Volcano was definitely the highlight of the stop here. Lipari is the largest and main island of the group. Salina is known as the green island while Panarea is the party island and Stromboli is famous for it’s active volcano. As the name suggests, Vulcano was once an active volcano. All are different but all have the same black beaches and rocky coastlines.

We are getting to the end of your voyage and arriving in Rome.  During our stay in Rome we choose nothing less then the Regina Hotel Baglioni. Espectacular! The Regina Hotel Baglioni, which takes its name from the previous royal resident, was once home to Queen Margaret of Savoy and is now part of the family owned Baglioni Hotel Group. The luxury Italian hotel is perfectly located in the heart of the city on Via Veneto, one of Rome’s most famous streets made notorious by the iconic film La Dolce Vita, the Regina Hotel Baglioni is the ideal place to stay during your Italy vacation in Rome. The Hotel encapsulates the essence of ‘La Dolce Vita’… beautifully as it is designed with a fusion of traditional Italian style with an Art Deco twist, evoking an air of Italian elegance and class.

I absolutely love Rome, there is so much to see and do and without having to walk or travel too far. I love the surprises that are hidden around corners and the sheer beauty and awesomeness of the buildings and architecture. It is a great city to visit, anytime of the year, especially for a milestone celebration, after all Rome is the perfect plave to sa “Te Amo”
Ciao a Tutti!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Emotions Enhance Memory

Emotions Enhance Memory
by Damien Martin

Close your eyes and think of your most vivid memory. Got it? Good. What did you feel in that moment? Joy? Heartache? Odds are, you can recall almost exactly how you felt because you were experiencing powerful emotions.

It’s no secret that people remember emotional events well, but a study by New York University recently published in Nature Neuroscience has found that these events have a “hangover” effect. This means that right after an intense experience, we remember little things better too.

That explains why I could tell you all about the friendly bartender who let us take our bottle of wine outside to celebrate along the Seine the night I proposed to my wife in Paris. It’s also why I remember the smell by the river causing us to cut the evening short. The point is, I remember everything about that trip, not just the big moment.

That’s what makes entrusting your memories to the Virtuoso travel advisors at Largay such a wise investment. Paris is Paris. The view
from atop the Eiffel Tower will be breathtaking no matter how you get up there. But what else will you remember? Will you remember waiting in a seemingly endless line, or will you remember breezing right past that line and going straight to the top? Will you remember wondering what buildings you’re looking at, or will you remember your guide telling you in detail the history of each? Will you remember wandering around afterward looking for a decent cafĂ©, or will you remember the delicious meal at a restaurant your advisor recommended? After all, they’re your memories for the rest of your life. Create them wisely.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What's Up with the Pig in 4B?

This morning I watched a great segment on the Today Show's Rossen Reports called "Pets on planes: Are passengers lying to get animals on flights?" and it got me thinking.  My first thought was, they're right, people are scamming the system to take their pets on planes and it's just plain wrong.  How sad that people who genuinely need an emotional support pet are going to be penalized and possibly kept from having the support they need to fly.  But then I gave it a bit more thought.  Why would someone go to the trouble to bring a pet on an aircraft when they could just check them with their luggage?  Are they cheap and trying to save money?  Are they so attached to their beloved cat or dog or pig or ferret that they can't bare to be apart from them for even a few hours?  Are they selfish and don't care about the other passengers that could be inconvenienced or possibly allergic to their pet?

After much consideration, and a few cups of java, the answer I came up with, in most cases, is NO!  In fact, the answer I came up with is FEAR.  That awful feeling of being out of control over what is happening to your cherished friend.  Fear that the baggage handler doesn't like animals and may taunt and mistreat your best friend.  Fear that the compartment on the plane isn't heated and my dog will end up a canine Popsicle.  Fear that it's dark and loud and that the cute and energetic bundle of joy that I drop off in Cincinnati will be traumatized by the time we reach LA.

I don't know about you but I often take better care of my rescue mutt, Rascal, then myself, carefully selecting his food, interviewing kennels and endlessly researching the vet hospital I take him too.  If we really want to be honest, I like Rascal better than most people I know, since he rarely keeps the car out past midnight and only occasionally ruins my day a mess.  So the thought of turning him over to a stranger to trust that they will care for him as I do is challenging to say the least.

I mean, let's be real, the only new stories I have ever seen about flying with pets was about the baggage compartment that was 150 degrees and roasted the family dog.  The cat that was missing for days because the owner went to Boston and Fluffy went to Orlando and so on.  It hasn't been pretty and seems to be a mystery to even those of us who work in the travel industry.  So why doesn't the airline talk about the flying experience for pets?  Your guess is as good as mine.

So what if...........there was an airline that was different.  An airline that offered a pet concierge service, for a cost of course.  Wouldn't you pay a little more to guarantee the care and safe return of "man's best friend".  I know I would.  What if you could walk your pet down the jet way and hand him over to this person who personally put them on the plane, in a compartment that was well lit, temperature controlled and sound proofed.  I don't know about you, but that would certainly work for me.

I'm not saying that "Big R", as he is affectionately known by our family, needs to be in first class.  Heck, he doesn't even need to be in coach.  The truth is, I don't WANT to bring him in the cabin.  I don't want to worry that he may decide the aisle is a grass area and relieve himself or decide that the gentleman in 4C looks like my local mail carrier and bark like a crazy man.  I just want him to be cared for with the love and the respect that he so deserves as one of the true loves of my life.

(My daughter Courtney with Rascal)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Seoul Airport is Great for Connections

Long layovers are a common occurance when traveling internationally, so I am always on the hunt for the best airports to connect.  In my opinion, Seoul, Korea just so happens to be a great choice.

With five hours to kill on my way from JFK to Hong Kong, I wasn't sure what to expect, but this little gem didn't disappoint.  The Asiana Business Class Lounge is roomy and stylish and has lots of little bells and whistles.  With massage chairs, showers and a nice food and drink presentation you can't help but be comfortable during your stay.  Not to mention the WiFi and baby grand piano, but the fun doesn't stop there.

The airport itself has a cultural center, live music and a great spa, in addition to all the shops you could ask for - Gucci, Prada and Burberry, to name a few.  

But the best feature, in my opinion, are the Free Korea Transit Tours. These tours range from one to five hours and take you by bus to local attractions.  The one hour tour brings you to Yonggungsa Temple.  The two hour tour visits the Incheon Temple.  Three hours gives you a Culture Tour or a City Tour and five hours offers a Seoul City Tour or Shopping Tour.  All for free and departing right from the airport terminal.  

The Asiana flight service is great and the business class seats are lie-flat beds.  The food was exceptional and the movie selection expansive.  My only critisism would be the cheap head phones they give you to use onboard.  I know I sound like a princess but it's such an easy fix and would give it that finishing touch.  Next month Asiana will introduce the A-380, so this is a great option for travelers heading to Asia.  Two thumbs up and a snap in my book.  :-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lindblad Expedition’s Galapagos: Expert and easy By: Ellen Goldman

Lindblad Expedition’s Galapagos:  Expert and easy

For many travelers, a trip to the Galapagos tops their bucket list.  However, concerns about accessibility and ease of travel sometime bring all consideration of actually going to a grinding halt. My husband and I had the privilege of taking a Lindblad Expeditions trip to the Galapagos on board the Endeavour.  Wow!  Easiest trip we have ever taken.  And, the animals blew me away.  (And that is coming from a non-pet person whose usual response to animals is “three kids and a husband are bad enough.”)

Let’s start with logistics.  We flew non-stop from JFK to Guayaquil.  We arrived early in the morning and were met at the airport by Lindblad representatives who shepherded us to the Hilton where our beds eagerly awaited us.  After a short snooze, we were briefed about departure time and pickup for the actual departure to the ship.  We were guided at every step of the trip, from airport to hotel to airport to ship, etc.   We had none of the usual trip concerns…who will pick us up, at what time, do we have to re-confirm, what if……..

Life on board the Endeavor was stress free.  Our staterooms were cleaned at least 3 times a day.  Nightly briefings and printed schedules ensured that guests were aware of all options and opportunities.  No need to dress at night; therefore, no need to pack dressy clothes. How fabulous was that!!!  Passengers were eager to engage with one another over drinks and meals.  We still correspond with one another.

But, when all is said and done, it is all about the animals.  Expert guides and zodiac operators made certain that we shared the maximal number of encounters with the most minimal amount of fuss.  I cannot overstate how thrilling it was to stand so close to sea lions, blue footed boobies and giant tortoises as if they were our best friends.  Our presence was irrelevant to the animals.  It puts us humans in our place…..



To plan your own Galapagos vacation contact Ellen Goldman at or (203)757-9481. Ellen has been a dedicated travel advisor for over ten years.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Passport Validity is No Joke but Amazing Service Can Make All The Difference

As a travel advisor, it is my job to travel the world and learn about the places we recommend.  First hand experience is everything in our business, however, sometimes, the familiarization trips we take teach us what to do and what NOT to do as well.  Therefore, I am writing this blog a bit humbled and hoping to save others from what could have been, the trip that didn't take off.

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a meticulous travel advisor.  Details are my life, but somehow, when it comes to my own personal travel, I just don't always pay attention.  So, when I planned our girls trip to Barcelona, Spain, I made sure that everyone's information was in order.......except of course my own daughter, Courtney.  It wasn't until the night before we left that we discovered that her passport was going to expire in 2 months. Spain requires that your passport must be valid at least 3 months past the departure date.  I called my office in a panic and on the advice of my colleague, Nancy Borzino, I printed the passport renewal applications and had it signed and notarized by Courtney's father, on the way to the airport.....just in case.  

Hoping and praying that they would not notice or make an exception, and with no other options, we went to the airport and tried to check-in.  The American Airlines ticket agent, Judith Riso, was incredibly sympathetic but advised me that Courtney was NOT going to Spain.   We begged, pleaded and even cried a little but Judith explained, in the nicest way possible, that they could be fined if she let us board the plane.  Judith suggested that we go immediately to the US passport office in NYC, about an hour from JFK airport and see if they could issue a new passport on the spot.  She said she would work on getting us moved to a later flight while we were gone.

It was 1215pm and the passport office closed at 3pm, but we had to try.  There were five of us traveling, so the three girls who had valid passports waited with Judith at the airport, while Courtney and I took our journey into the city.  The stress level was at an all time high but we were lucky, and they were able to give us an appointment to reissue the passport that same day.  

As Courtney and I waited for the passport to be issued, Judith worked diligently to get our flight for later that evening confirmed and kept our friends apprised of the situation.  She called us on our cell phone and calmed us down when we were ready to break but by 4pm, we were back in a taxi, on our way back to JFK with a brand new passport and an 8:30pm flight to Barcelona.  

Judith stayed at the counter well after her shift to make sure our tickets were reissued correctly and we were on our way and we thanked her profusely and hugged her as we headed for security.

This was BY FAR the most stressful time I have ever had with a trip and this could have been completely avoided had I done what I tell ALL my client to do......check your passport when you make the initial plans for your trip and MAKE SURE there is 6 months validity.

I guess with all my travels, I have become a bit complacent with my own travel, however, thank goodness for a great travel advisor's advice and the absolutely amazing women at American Airlines our trip was saved.

The trip has been great and this first hand experience of "what NOT to do" will stick with me forever.  I'm just glad that this information was learned by my own experience and not one of my clients.  Thanks Nancy and Judith for being amazing at your jobs and truly making a are both truly wonderful.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Aulani :  "Distinctively Disney, Authentically Hawaiian"

A Disney hotel in Hawaii?  Sounds kind of crazy, but it's true!  A true Polynesian-style resort on the island of Oahu that keeps Hawaiian traditions alive & guests happy!

Disney's Aulani Resort & Spa carefully blends the Polynesian culture and imaginative Disney style to form a terrific experience for adults & kids!  This 360-room, 480 villa property sits on the Leeward coast of Oahu, on the Ko'Olina shore, and in my opinion has the best beach area on the entire island.  It's about a half hour ride from the Honolulu Airport (of course, depending on if you catch the traffic during rush hour from 3:30pm to 6:00pm).

Of course, not being in the Honolulu/Waikiki area of Oahu has it's pros & it's cons.  I loved the fact that you get a true sense of relaxation here and you  can enjoy an uncrowded beach experience, as well as have a very authentic Hawaiian experience.  But, you are away from the area where you can quickly take tours to the points of interest on the island.  Although you can certainly visit Pearl Harbor, or the Dole Plantation, or various other areas but you have to plan it ahead of time.  Aulani does offer a 'shopping shuttle' three times a week that brings guests to one of 3 locations for the day. (Aulani sits right next door to Paradise Cove Luau - about a 5 minute walk, as well as across the street from Ko' Olina Marketfor shopping & dining options.)

So Disney is all about story-telling, and of course Aulani is no exception!  With a wonderful 'cultural advisor' with a soft-spoken way of teaching guests about the history & traditions of Hawaii, and firepit story-telling nightly, family movie nights, Disney's 'Starlit Hui' show featuring local artisans, hula, live music & a dance party two times a week, guests can certainly find enough entertainment to keep their families busy.   On those rainy days that you might catch, the Pau Hana Community Hall offers arts & crafts, board games, and DVD rentals too!

Of course, one of the most fantastic areas of Aulani is the outdoor pools!  As if the beautiful beach wasn't enough to keep water-lovers happy, there are 3 amazing pools in which guests can find a comfortable spot just for themselves!  There's the zero-entry Waikolohe Pool, Ka Maka Grotto, and the adult's only Wailana Pool.  In addition, kids have a great interactive water play area, and the Waikolohe Stream Lazy River, two waterslides & 4 hot tubs!

And it wouldn't be 'Disney' if it didn't have a 'kids only' area as well!  Aunty's Beach House is reason enough for kids to never to want to leave Aulani!  This great 'cottage' is designed for the little ones, as well as the teens, and is complimentary to guests!   Disney's youth counselors entertain kids ages 3 to 12 with hula lessons, lei making, crafting, and anything else to keep them busy!
And of course, costumes for dress-up time included every princess & pirate outfit imaginable!
 The guest rooms are creatively and thoughtfully designed so that families can be comfortable and kids are taken care of during their visit.  Guest rooms have Pack'n Play playards, a fridge, iron & ironing board, all have balconies, great size closet & storage space, and free Wifi (as with all Disney hotels).

A great variety of dining venues are offered, from the family-friendly 'quick service' locations that Disney always has available (Lava Shack, Mama's Snack Stop, and Ulu Cafe (grab & go breakfast or lunch; i.e. $7 yogurt & granola, $11 croissant sandwich) to full dining service like the terrific Ama Ama, or Makahiki offering the great character breakfast, where Aunty has a beachside celebration with guests (about $40 per person)!  Get your cameras ready!
I loved the fact that each night there was music playing outside of the Olelo Room, where 'Sunset Happy Hour' gets guests together in a really festive environment.   And the property would not be complete without a poolside bar - Off the Hook!  Mixed drinks ranged from $9.75 to $12, not too bad!
Food & beverage service is also available beachside & poolside!  And with a 'master mixologist' in house, the bar staff is kept busy all day long!

Laniwai Spa has to be one of the most fantasic spas in all of the Hawaiian islands, and in North America!  Water, light & color was used in the design of the spa to create a nature-filled environment.  Guests that reserve a spa appointment will have a full-day's use of the outdoor hydrotherapy garden area (Kula Wai) the only one in all of Hawaii.   Disney never forgets about kids, so of course there is a fantastic 'teen spa' called 'Painted Sky' .... great way to introduce your teen to the 'spa world'.  The fitness center is complimentary to guests.  Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Hawaiian-style' is available for your little princesses!  And the spa offers a mom/dad/baby experience too!

What I love about this resort is the fact that there are suttle 'touches' of Disney infused with traditional Hawaiian culture, and their phrase 'Distinctively Disney, Authentically Hawaiian' really sums it all up.  I cannot imagine planning a vacation to Hawaii with a family and NOT making Aulani one of the stops on the itinerary!
Suttle 'touch' of the 'Magic of Disney
Visited property October 21 - 26, 2014
For more information contact Vira Mastroianni at or

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Four Seasons at WDW

Fours Seasons at WDW - No Need To Leave! (Nov. 2014) 

What a great addition to Walt Disney World hotel properties!!  This fabulous resort gives new dimension to luxury hotels in Orlando that are available onsite at Walt Disney World in Florida! Having opened just a few months before I visited, it still is going through some 'growing pains' but it's understandable!  The Four Seasons at WDW is terrific for the guest that is looking for balance between a fun-filled vacation for their family, along with a luxurious resort to kick back and forget about all the hustle-bustle of the 'most magical place on Earth'!

The ride from the airport was about 25 minutes, exactly what was expected since it's inside the gates of Disney.  The cost for a luxurious sedan (MEARS) with tax & tip was $85 one way;  Four Seasons partners with Mears for all transportation between the resort & everywhere that guests need to be. The drivers can be quickly & easily arranged at a moment's notice.  The cost of the vehicle will be added to guest's room account.  The driver will meet guests at the baggage claim area, and quickly bring guests to the resort.  (Guests cannot utilize the Magical Express Transportation service).

Great colors!
The guest rooms at the Four Seasons are all the same;  the view is what will vary.  The rooms are beautifully designed;  honestly, it's not a big deal to have a 'Park View' room, in my opinion.  The park is SO FAR away, that viewing the fireworks going off at the Magic Kingdom is not a big deal.  The rooms are FANTASTIC - beautiful furniture, very soft & inviting colors, VERY technologically advanced (all come with tablets to arrange your stay, and to control room functions), bathrooms that are the size of a small hotel room (GREAT water pressure), the TV is set up to work as an information center, water is stocked daily in the room as well as refills on Nespresso coffee pods, Bose sound  system, plush bathrobes.  The hallways are great in that there is a little 'cubby' area that leads into 2 guest rooms (makes it great for maid service with their carts, to keep them out of sight & out of the way).  Very smart design!

The most fantastic area of the hotel is the outdoors!  There really is no reason to want to leave the Four Seasons!  With an 'adults only' pool area & sanctuary (called "Oasis Pool"), a kids area with a 'splash zone' and an activity center which has pool tables, kids & teens club, and beautifully landscaped grounds, it makes for a location that will please adults & kids alike.
The use of the kids areas, the splash zone, and the activity center is offered without charge.  There are cabanas for rental at the adults only pool area.  (As of November 2014 there was no charge; the charges will be $200 to $400 for the day, based on the time of year.)  The cabanas have meal & beverage service, there is a fridge & storage for personal items, has 2 sun beds in front of the cabana, and a nice, cozy sofa area under the shade.  Very, very attentive service!
 There are endless areas to escape, and to take a stroll, and to cool off from the beautiful sunshine of Central Florida!  Four Seasons is so smart to have added throughout the pool areas refreshment stands that have ice cold lemon water, aloe, body lotion & sun screen (for those of us that always forget those items).  It's a nice touch, and took me by surprise!  Another nice touch for the sun-lovers taking advantage of the outdoors - nice refreshing healthy treats through the day from the pool attendants!

The kids 'splash zone' has been designed to make it uber-friendly for parents watching their kids while they're playing!  With sun beds (and shade) all around, very comfortable seating, even for nap-time!  Kids will not be disappointed!  The design of this area is extremely focused on making everyone happy, not just the kids!

As far as the food is concerned, there are many, many options throughout the day.  Four Seasons offers a fantastic breakfast buffet, with indoor & outdoor seating ( a Virtuoso amenity valued at $40 per person).  The breakfast has the typical fresh fruits, parfaits, meats, breads, all types of jellies, jams, Nutella, peanut butter, etc., omelettes, eggs, sausage & bacon, waffles, pancakes, French toast, etc.  No lack of food for breakfast!

There is a coffee shop that sits off the hallway leading from guest elevators to the lobby, serving fresh espresso and gelato, and some quick lunch options.   PB&G offers lunch & dinner service, drink service for the pool area.  Cocktails were around $12, beer $7 or $8, appetizers $8 to $12 and burgers & sandwiches around $20.  Not too bad for a Four Seasons.....

The one thing I would caution about is in regards to getting to & from the parks.  Even though FS is on WDW grounds, for the guest that is looking for complete convenience TO/FROM the parks, it's not the place to be.  Although the location is in good proximity to the parks, it is still a bit of an effort.  The Disney buses do not operate to & from the Four Seasons; Four Seasons has a shuttle service that is offered every 1/2 hour to the Magic Kingdom, and every hour to the other 3 parks (not to Downtown Disney, or the Water parks).  If a guest is going to the Magic Kingdom, the bus will drop off at the Transportation Center, and then they either take a ferry over to the bus lots and then walk into the park, or they take the monorail that will bring them to the park.  If the guests are going to Epcot it drops off at the Monorail, and then they walk into the park; and if they are going to Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom, it will drop off at the entrance to those parks.  The other option is to rent a car, which may make it a bit easier.  Of course, guests can also rely on the taxi service that Four Seasons can arrange with Mears.

Visually, this hotel is magnificent!  The lobby, the ballroom, the staircases, the hallways - everything is super-clean, super-fresh, extremely beautiful.
The Four Season Orlando at Walt Disney World will not disappoint!

Visited November 15 - 17, 2014
For more information contact Vira Mastroianni at or 888-632-2660.