Archive for January, 2012

The Disney Difference

Over the last week, many of you have followed along with me on my journey to Peru with Adventures by Disney®.  I was offered this opportunity by Disney to learn more about what Adventures by Disney is and offers its clients.

On the first day we were asked what we were most excited about on the adventure.  My answer was to find out more about the Disney difference.  Let’s be honest, an Adventures by Disney trip is not a cheap vacation.  Many of my clients have asked why they should pay so much for a trip. I have learned about Adventures by Disney and the Disney difference in online workshops and brochures, but experiencing it makes all the difference.

Over the week, some of the travel agents attending discussed the difference in prices between Disney and some of their competitors.  We found that you cannot simply look at a tour of the same number of days/nights and even maybe the hotel choices to decide which is better.  You need to look at all aspects of the tour.  While some will offer the same quality hotels, same touring options, it’s the extras that really make up the difference.

Some will also say “I can do this for less on my own”.  Again, I will say look at everything to see if it really does save you.  My guess is that you won’t save much, if anything, on your own and the hassle you will experience will not be worth the savings.

Every day we had a bus, driver and tour guide for our group.  Since we had 38 people on our tour, we had three vehicles except when in Lima.  We always rode in the same vehicle so we got to know our guides, driver and other participants very well.  It made us all feel comfortable and we had a great time.  One morning we were touring and the vans got very muddy.  By our afternoon tour, less than two hours after getting dropped off for lunch, the vans were clean again, inside and out!

Each time we got in the van, we were offered bottled water. The first day it was raining, we were each offered a poncho.  We got to know our guides as well as our other adventurers.  At the end of the trip, we all shed a few tears, remembering everything we experienced – the joys, the triumphs, the pain and some sorrow.  We all felt like we made some new friends.  At the end of the tour, we exchanged business cards and email addresses.  We’ll be sharing a Shutterfly site with all of our pictures.

There were little extras that we noticed everyday.  When we went to Ollantaytambo, there was no one at the ruins when we got there.  We climbed to the top without fighting the crowds.  We found out later that this was because the ruins were not open when we arrived but Disney is allowed to enter the park early.  When we left there were hundreds of people there.  When we went to Moray, there was only one other bus there.  Many times we were the only ones at places or there were very few others.  It certainly gave us the feeling of being exclusive!

Other Disney differences included our visit to Seminario.  We had the opportunity to meet Pablo Seminario.  While this is never guaranteed that he will be there for every ABD tour, Pablo will not meet with other group tours, only Disney.

Every day there was an example of how Disney does it better.  I was thoroughly impressed.  Please ask me about your favorite destination with Adventures by Disney and I will be happy to talk about the Disney difference for you too.

Over the next week, I will be doing more photo summaries of this trip and we will be offering some special discounts on select trips to Europe and Costa Rica, plus some special incentives for booking with your favorite agent at Travel On A Dream.

In the interest of full disclosure, nearly all expenses associated with this trip were paid by Disney. 

Saqsayhuaman

Yesterday we would visit the last ruins for the trip.  These ruins were different than some of the others that we have seen as they weren’t as high up.  One of the most interesting parts of this ruin was the lightning bolt shape of the edge of the ruin.  The boulders used were massive.  Our local guide Harvey told us different theories of how the ruin came to be and we could imagine how the Incans did it.  We climbed to the top of Saqsayhuaman and were offered an amazing view of the city of Cusco with the surrounding Andean Mountain range.

Our tour then took us over to a labyrinth where we saw some carvings in the rock and some caves as well.  Some of our group then chose to walk back to town, only about a 25 minute walk, but very steep.  Others, including myself choose to just go back to the hotel.  Not long after we got back, the rest of the group arrived.  Driving around Cusco takes nearly as much time as it does to walk.

The rest of the afternoon would be on our own so a few of us headed over to an Italian restaurant for pizza.  Some also toured the city a bit more and others did some shopping.  It was nice to have some free time just to relax for a bit.

The travel agents had an optional meeting before dinner to give some feedback.  After that, we joined everyone in the restaurant for our last dinner in Cusco.  We had a great time and said goodbye to our local guide.  He stayed on an extra day because one of the Adventure Guides was still not 100%.  We played a game, which I will save for a surprise to those who will do this Adventures by Disney tour in the future.

Today we awoke to a rain shower in Cusco.  Looking back over the trip, we really did not experience that much rain and have had some gorgeous days.  We will fly back to Lima this morning, have lunch in a mansion and then get ready for our flight home late tonight.

More summaries and photos of this amazing adventure to come once I get home.

Leaving the Sacred Valley

After four nights in the Sacred Valley, this morning we packed up and left for the city of Cusco.  We had a few stops on the way however.

This time we were heading out of the Sacred Valley a different way than where we have been traveling all week.  Our first stop was the town of Pisaq and the Pisac Market.  This was an open air market set up in town.  There are some things I won’t tell you about our trip and one of the specifics of the market will remain a mystery until you go on this adventure yourself!  We had about 1 ½ hours to shop.  Many of the goods were the same from one vendor to the next so you really had to just find the exact one you wanted.  There were scarves, sweaters and throws made from alpaca wool, some musical instruments, and other knick knacks.

I have a difficult time at these kinds of markets because I don’t negotiate on these things well.  I was able to pick up a few gifts for friends and my husband while here.  I found a mandolin like instrument to get for my husband.  The vendors would prefer cash, but they also will work with some of the shops around to take credit cards.  Be prepared though when using a credit card, there will be some sort of “service fee” from the shop.  Even with the service fee, I felt like I got a good price so it was all good.

We left Pisac Market and went up into the hills.  We reached 11,000 feet and stopped at a farm with llamas, alpacas and vicunas.  We found out the difference between the llama and alpacas.  Basically, if they have a face like a camel’s, it is a llama. If their face looks more like a sheep, they are alpacas.  I was warned by a friend to watch out because they spit.  I made sure I got a picture of myself with an alpaca just for him.  One of the guys in our group though did experience the spitting!  Though the alpaca did miss him, it was funny!.

We were given some time to shop here.  There were some beautiful sweaters, hats and other various goods in the shop.  I wasn’t in the market for alpaca wool though so I just sat out in the beautiful weather while we waited for others.

After this, we drove over the mountain range and then down into the city of Cusco.  We drove by the ruins we would tour tomorrow and then into the center of town.  The town square was beautiful!  We made our way over to a restaurant for a buffet lunch with some local dishes.  This was another very good meal.

From here we did a walking tour of the town square and some areas adjacent.  We ended the tour at our home for the next two nights.  We had a little time to rest then had a site tour of another hotel in the area that Disney has used before.  We then walked to another restaurant for dinner.

While this day seemed much more relaxed and less active than other days this week, it really was quite busy looking back!  We have a couple days left of our adventure.  Tomorrow will have much more free time than we have had all week.  We will tour ruins in the morning with an optional walk back to town.  The afternoon is ours then we will meet for our final dinner in the mountains.

Machu Picchu was IncaRedible

Today started very, very early.  The alarm was set for 4:45 am, giving us 1 1/2 hours until the buses left for the train station.  We got ready and went for breakfast.  Everyone looked so tired, but all were ready to experience one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.  The train station was about 30 minutes away and we were scheduled for the 7:05 train to Machu Picchu.

The train ride was very comfortable.  Not quite as nice as the Amtrak train we rode on between Vancouver and Seattle, but not as basic as the White Pass Rail in Skagway.  We did see that they had different kinds of accommodations on the train and presumably these were all priced accordingly.  Once onboard, we were told that it was a 1 1/2 hour train ride to the train station just below Machu Picchu.  We got a snack for the train ride and then watched the scenery go by.

One of the train personnel saw I was trying desperately to get photos from the right side of the train and he took my camera and took a few pictures of the river for me.  A few minutes later, when we passed the start of the Incan Trail, he suggested I get up and stand where he was standing to take pictures.  I had a partially open window and was able to get a few hundred photos after that.  The views were incredible.

We took the train along the river to the station at Machu Picchu.  It was misty and drizzly but not too bad.  We walked through the market and over the river to a waiting shuttle bus.  Shuttle buses regularly make the trip up to Machu Picchu, but we were lucky enough to have our own buses.  The trip is about 25 minutes of switchbacks.  At times we could see some of the ruins in the distance, but not enough to snap a good photo.  It was almost as if we were glued to the side of the mountain at times.

We arrived at Machu Picchu and were given our park passes.  Passports are required to enter the park.  I unfortunately, missed where we were supposed to go to get our passport stamped.  I saw the stamp someone else got and it was really cool.

It was still a bit drizzly, but keep in mind we were at the cloud level so it was bound to happen.  We were just hoping we wouldn’t have a full rain.  We made our way into the ruins and were in awe of what we saw.  We spent the next couple hours touring, taking photos, more touring and more photos.  Our guides told us the history of the ruins, the discovery of the ruins in 1910 and history of the Incans while we walked through this amazing site.

Just before lunch we had a couple choices – to go up to the top point or to head back down.  Some did each.  These last few days have been kicking my butt so I did choose to go back down.  We had lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel right outside of the park.  This was a nice buffet meal.  We then could take a guided tour up the Incan Trail, another guided tour to the other side of the ruins or go on our own.  We had about three hours.  I chose to go own my own and explored areas we hadn’t been to before after snapping a few photos with my wide angle lens.


At the end of the day, the skies opened up and it was pouring out.  Those on the Incan Trail didn’t have spectacular views because of the clouds and rain and we all were back a the meeting location a bit early.  Once our group was together, we went to the shuttle pick up location.  All those in line were asked to wait while the shuttles loaded up with our group.  We were on our way back to town. Here we had some time to shop in the market and get ready for our 5:30 train ride home.

Once again, I have to say some of the Disney differences we have experienced came through today.  We were given priority with the shuttle buses each time we needed one, even though our return was early.  We also had some issues with illness on this trip.  Two people got ill, one a guest and one a guide.  Disney is the only company that has two guides for each Adventure by Disney trip, plus local guides in the area.  We had just under 40 people in our group.  We were able to split into two groups with the local guide and one of our Adventure guides when the other one got ill.  If you only had one guide like with other touring companies, what would happen to you if your guide came ill?

I spoke to the guest who was ill. She had her children with her and sent them to the room next door for help.  The agents traveling with us called the front desk and they immediately called our guides.  One was there in 30 seconds.  They called in a doctor and got her treated right away.  She needed to rest though so the other guide took the children and brought them to dinner for the evening.  She got some much needed rest and the children had a great time making pizzas with the other kids. These extras are priceless in my opinion.

Tomorrow we head up to Cusco and the Pisco Market!  Three more days left of our adventure and we can’t wait to see more!

Disney Cruise Line Opens New Options for 2013

On Tuesday, Disney Cruise Line® announced several new itineraries for the Disney Magic® and Disney Wonder®.  Bookings begin online today.

As we have previously suggested, the Disney Magic will return from her home port in Galveston to Barcelona, Spain for a summer of Mediterranean cruises.  This time though we are seeing some new itineraries including ports of call in the Eastern Mediterranean, a very desired option for many Mediterranean cruisers.  The Disney Magic will call on Venice and Dubrovnik on two 12 night itineraries and will call on Turkey and two Greek Isles (Athens & Mykonos) on two additional 12 night itineraries.  She will also offer two 4 night cruises from Barcelona to Villefranche, France and Palma de Malcora, Spain.  The summer will be filled with 7 night Western Mediterranean sailings from Barcelona.

The Disney Wonder will return through the Panama Canal in December 2012 and call Miami, Florida home for the Spring, offering a 6 night and 7 night sailing to complete the year followed by 4 and 5 night sailings to the Western Caribbean and Bahamas.  She will then return through the Panama Canal once again and reposition to Vancouver, British Columbia for 7 night Alaskan Cruises.

So which 2013 itinerary are you most looking forward to?  Have you or will you book one of these sailings?

Moray and Salt Pans

Today we started at 8:30 am after having breakfast with our incredible view of the Andes Mountains again. We would be heading to Moray and then off to see the salt pans.  Unfortunately, this morning started off with rain, which made it a bit unpleasant.  Many of our group walked down to the bottom of the Moray circles, but I opted not to do so.  After yesterday’s activities, I was feeling it.  We then made our way down to the salt pans.

The drive certainly tested our patience!  We had some interesting switchbacks where I swear we were right on the edge of the cliffs!  We finally got down to the salt pans.  The steps were very muddy from the rain and it was a bit treacherous.  When we got down to the level of the salt pans and got to see where the spring came in to feed the pans.  We also got a chance to taste the water coming out of the mountain spring.  Oh my was it very salty!  We gathered for a photo between two of the pans and then started our journey back up to the van.  If it hadn’t rained, we would have had an option of hiking much of the way back to the resort.  Instead we started up the mountain on basically a one lane road.

All of a sudden there was a car coming right towards us!  They had to back up until there was space to pass us and even then it was just by inches!  After breathing a sigh of relief, we got to the top of the mountain and made our way across to head back to the resort.  Another car was coming towards us so we slowed and moved over for them.  Only problem was it was very, very muddy!  As a result, we got stuck.  Luckily there were two vans with us and then put vegetation and rocks under our tires and we were finally on our way.

Once back at the resort we had another fabulous meal on the patio with entertainment again from the Peruvian dancers and horses this time.  We then had an optional trip to a pottery place in Urabamba where we met a famous potter.  More on this in future blogs when we get back.

We finished off the evening with a cooking demonstration and pizza making party, complete with some dancing.  This was a fabulous night again, but we needed to get to bed early as our buses will pick us up at 6:14 am for our trip to Machu Picchu!

 

Oh My Guide, We Survived!

We were told early on by our guides that instead of saying “Oh My God” we should say “Oh My Guide” so that’s what it is today.  This morning, we went to breakfast with an amazing view of the Andes Mountains.  We had our buffet breakfast then got ready for today’s adventures.  We were going river rafting and to one of the area’s Incan ruins.

Today was very sunny and pleasant.  We had been expecting rain nearly every day so this was  a pleasant change.   Because this tour is during the rainy season, Disney typically does not offer this and we had to make slight modifications.  The Urubamba River is very high so the normal 2-3 class rapids are much higher.  We therefore were going a different route than normal.  This would be 1 class rapids which was quite alright for us.  We didn’t need to wear wetsuits which was also a bonus.  The sites on the river were amazing!  This was spectacular and absolutely magnificent.  We went down the river for about 1 ½ hours which was about 10 miles.

Afterward, we had a few snacks before getting in our bus to go to Ollantaytambo.  Here we had a fabulous buffet lunch with many chicken dishes, trout sushi, quinoa and cured alpaca meat.  It was much cooler up here than in the river.  After our fabulous lunch we went to the ruins at Ollantaytambo.  I am amazed at the heights we climbed and the things we experienced here.  Pictures will follow when I return from this trip but it was incredible!  My heart was racing, my thighs were burning and I really thought I would die but I made it to the top!  What was amazing about this trip is the few people that were at the ruins when we were.  As we were leaving, we looked up and saw 3-4 times more people at the site.  Disney certainly has planned this day well so we aren’t in a crowded place!

The hardest part of this day though was coming down the mountain side.  The steps were very uneven and at times very steep which made footing extremely critical.  Once we made it back we were told that tonight we would be on our own while the Junior Adventures had a movie night.  We started off the night with a couple cocktails in the bar.  This is something you have to be mindful of as alcohol affects you more when you are at higher altitudes!!

We got together with some new friends and had a fantastic dinner.  We were able to dine in the wine cellar!  The food was great and the conversations were equally as enjoyable.

Tonight we need to sleep well because tomorrow we will be visiting Moray and the salt mines!  This has truly been an incredible adventure so far.  I highly recommend visiting Peru and doing it with Adventures by Disney.

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