A Wonderful Travel Experience

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination Specialist and Europe River Cruise Expert

May 3, 2017 was Travel Agent Appreciation Day.  But for me, this is the wrong approach—it should be Travel Clients Appreciation Day.  While it is nice to be appreciated, it misses the whole point—we are in business to make your travel better, hassle free and provide ideas you never knew existed—in short, provide a wonderful travel experience

I could tell the reasons to use us—experience (20+ years), certified (we are well trained), we know the industry (often we have vendor contacts that allow us to get you the best value for your travel dollars), first-hand knowledge (we have most likely been where you want to go), and we are members of professional travel organizations (we must maintain high standards to remain members).  But for me, there is one overriding reason—TRUST–We are honest, hard-working with one goal—to serve you—we will do what is best for you, not us.  We try to remember this in every aspect of our dealings with you.  In almost every email or phone conversation, we always try to end with these words—Thanks for your trust in us!  It’s not just a slogan—it is our sincere way of reminding both you and us that our whole relationship is built on trust.

To honor your great travel experiences, we have created the Dream Destinations Travelers Hall of Fame.  To get in, all you have to do is allow us to plan your travel and send us a picture we can post on our website.

So, let’s take a look at some of your trips—for us, there is nothing better than celebrating you, who have trusted us to become your travel advisors!

Some Wonderful Travel Experiences

For 2018, we have already planned a Regent Seven Seas cruise, a group on an AmaWaterways river cruise and an Africa river cruise on AmaWaterways.  All are repeat guests—thanks for your continued trust in us!

In April 2017, we planned a cruise and marriage proposal for Ragan and Megan.  Ragan wanted to surprise his bride-to-be by proposing at the Mayan ruins of Tulum.  We arranged a special tour, complete with a photographer, and completely surprised her—she never suspected a thing and said yes.  When you look at these photos they just shared with us, we were proud to be part of this—Thanks Ragan and Megan for trusting us!

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In January 2016, we arranged a special trip in Asia for my West Point classmate Jack and his wife Mary.  As part of their trip, they visited the ancient temples of Angor Wat.  Thanks Jack and Mary for trusting us!

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In 2015 we were honored to lead my West Point Classmates and other West Point Graduates on 2 Different river Cruises.  Almost 45 years ago, after 47 months of training and studies, 729 of my classmates graduated from West Point.  Prior to beginning my training as an Army Officer, I took my first trip to Europe.  43 years later I took several of my classmates on 2 different river cruises.  What an experience—Anne and I helped introduce these wonderful guys and their wives and some of their family members and friends to the joys of river cruising.  We laughed, shared stories of West Point and had so much fun that many decided to take a river cruise in 2016, 2017 and 2018.  Thanks folks for your trust in us!

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71 River Cruise

 

In April 2015, we helped 2 wonderful couples go on the Enchanting Rhine River Cruise on AmaWaterways.  The photo shows Jerry, Mary Kay, Bill and Becky at dinner on their 7 night Enchanting Rhine AmaWaterways River Cruise from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands in April 2015.  We also arranged a pre-cruise stay in Paris and a post cruise stay in Brugge, Belgium.  Thanks Jerry, Mary Kay, Bill and Becky for trusting us!

Jerry, Mary Kay, Bill Becky Enchanting Rhine River Cruise

In June 2014, we planned and led a group tour for the week long D Day 70th Anniversary.  Here is our group prior to the visit of the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms in London, England. 

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D Day 70th Anniversary Trip we led in 2014
We also visited Portsmouth, England, and took an overnight ferry to France.  We toured the key D Day sites.  The tour highlight was a chance for the male members to march in the parade honoring D Day participants and veterans of the military on 6 June 2014.  Here are 2 photos just prior to marching in the parade.  Thanks Ann, Wendy, Sandy, Clare, Irene, Trish, Jim. Tom, Allan, Bill, Mark and Joe, for trusting us!

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D Day Men

In November 2013, we planned a 7 night Blue Danube Discovery river cruise on AMAWaterways for 3 great couples.  Here are some photos of their adventure.  Thanks Bob, Dena, Brenda, Ray, Joy, and Vic for trusting us!

Doyno River Cruise

Doyno Ladies PJ

In June 2012, we planned an Alaska cruise for a great group from the Houston area on the Celebrity Millennium.  As one member of the group said “The shipboard experience was spectacular. The recommended ship offered a truly uniquely Alaskan experience of cruising into Yakutat Bay and spending the morning enjoying the sight of the Hubbard Glacier.”  Here is a picture of this wonderful group—Thanks for trusting us!

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Thanks for your trust in us!

Looking back on these trips, we are humbled and proud to help all of these folks.  We look forward to helping you in the future to take your next trip.  When you are ready, why not give us a call (Hank at 713-397-0188) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you plan a wonderful travel experience. We want you to: Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

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How Can We Make Your Day Better?–Our Goal for 2017!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We just returned from our 12th Europe River cruise on AmaWaterways and had a wonderful time.  A large part of why we had such an enjoyable cruise was the crew and how they took every opportunity to make each day better.  After working 20 years as a military officer, graduating from West Point in 1971, and coaching high school football for 16 years, I really think I understand what makes an organization great.  The simple answer is teamwork with the right chemistrySo, our goal for 2017 is to try to help all by making their day better—even more than past years.  To help you understand our emphasis, I liked to tell you about 2 organizations that have the right chemistry—AmaWaterways and my 2001 Bellevue Wolverines Washington State High School Championship Football team and how both have made us better travel advisors. 

And, I’d like to thank my wife Anne, who reminds me every day that I need to deal with our clients with the “How can I make your day better” spirit.

AmaWaterways

From top to bottom, AmaWaterways just does it right.  There is a real emphasis on working together and it shows in all they do.  I will tell you about the crew shortly, but the total organization, that works so hard to deliver good travel experiences, deserves recognition.  Yesterday was a great example of how good companies work with us to help our clients have better vacations. 

I called them 3 times to help our clients.  First , for an already booked river cruise client, was a simple check of an air quote for our good friend—answered by friendly person who quickly supplied the info so I could help my client.  Second was a call to my group coordinator, Kristie, for a client to find a cruise that would work for a family celebration.  Not only did she find a great deal for me and the clients (saving my clients $1000 per person on the cruise we selected), she saved me considerable time by volunteering to email the group sales manager and set up my new group.  About 20 minutes later, I got a call from Christine, the group manager, who put together the contract for my group and within an hour all was ready for me to sign the contract.  About an hour later, I got an email from our Business Development Manager, Shelia, who congratulated me on the new group and offered any help she could.  I called to thank her and to catch up on her travels.  Not only did they help me, all treated me like a friend not a business partner, ask personal questions about our travel with Ama on our Christmas cruise.  Wow—three folks made my day better—do you think there is a lesson here for all of us?

Our recent experiences with the crew of the AmaCerto on our Christmas Markets cruise on the Enchanting Rhine route from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands was made special by how efficiently the crew took great care of us and how they did it with the “how can I make your day better” spirit.  While in the military, I went to work one day and came home 3 months later—a no-notice deployment.  Why do I tell you that?—the crew is on an 8 or 9 month deployment and they work 7 days a week often for 12-18 hours a day.  Yet every day, they greet you with the spirit—how can I make your day better.  Smiles, efficient service, real interest on who you are.  Everyone pulls together—great teamwork and good chemistry. 

Although they are all good, I’d like to provide a little insight to 2 folks who make our cruise better.  The first is Tania, from Croatia, who worked as a waiter in the dining room.  We have sailed with her on previous cruises but the pride and professionalism and cheerful manner just made every day better.  We got to meet her boyfriend (he is one of the chefs in the galley) late one night as they were taking a break after all their duties for the day were done for a quick visit onshore—they were just going out and we were returning.  Thanks, Tania—you made 7 days better for us. 

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Tania & Anne on our 2016 Christmas Markets Cruise

The second was the hotel manager, Martina, also from Croatia.  The hotel manager basically takes care of everything on board except sailing the riverboat.  Imagine managing the bar, dining and housekeeping every day for up to 164 guests and keeping all happy.  The hotel managers do not have a closed office to concentrate on their job—they sit at an open desk and are constantly interacting with crew and guests—constant interruptions.  Always smiling, helpful and never annoyed by the constant interruptions.  She helped us surprise the crew with pizza for all (I would be remiss to not mention our traveling companions, the Thomases, who once the learned of the plan, joyfully chipped in and paid half to honor the crew—class act folks!  Mark is a retired Master Chief who served his country for 33 years in the Coast Guard and Denise is Doctor of Nursing, great wine lovers, and even better traveling companions).  Good leaders earn the trust of their folks and it was very clear to us she had developed quite a team and all bought in—great job Martina!

Some pretty good lessons here—difficult conditions, handled with poise, can result in exceptional results–Thanks for making our 7 days better!  Anne and I need to deal with all with the same spirit—how can we make your day better?

The Bellevue Wolverines

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I was the defensive coordinator of the Wolverines for 2 years.  In my last year we won it all—the best 3A (second highest classification in Washington) high school team in the state of Washington.  We were 13-0.  But the real story is the teamwork and chemistry of all.  Football is a sport that no one ever does everything right every play.  It is a hard game and easy to get discouraged.  Working as a teacher and coach, I have heard just about every excuse you can imagine about why someone couldn’t get the task done.  Yet this group of 55 young men decided they were going to be champions and nothing was going to stand in their way.  No one pointed fingers, all accepted responsibility, all worked for the common goal, not individual glory.  There was respect for all.  We all worked for success by trying to be better every day.  The made each day coaching a joy—they made my day better by giving all they had and never anything I asked them to do was too much.  While they were a great team, the even better story is that all 55 graduated from college and have gone on to be successful in life—too cool for words!

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2001 Bellevue Wolverines–Washington State 3A Champions

The travel lesson here is that partnerships with our clients, where we work to get them just the right trip together, will result in experiences that will last a lifetime.  Just like when I was coaching, and I asked myself every day, how can I do this better, we must ask ourselves every day, how can we make our client’s trip better?  We also must work hard every day to become better at our jobs, so we can make our client’s trips the best they can be.  The more we can be involved in the total planning of the trip, offering wise suggestions to enhance the trip, making arrangements for all phases of their travel, and listening to their thoughts, will make their day better.

My Wife Anne

Every day, in our business, Anne reminds me to take care of our clients before I do any other task for our business and asks me about our clients and what they need for their upcoming trips.  She always is going the extra mile, worries about the smallest details, and has great ideas to deliver exceptional trips to all we help.  What she is really saying is “How did you make their day better?”  It is the guiding principle of our company. 

Thanks, Anne, for reminding me what is really important!

The Bottom Line

There is a lot to be learned from these two really good organizations.  Do our job well, do it cheerfully, work well in partnership with our vendors and clients, and try every day to improve.  Big challenge, but we thrive on getting it right.  I think our goal of “How can We make your day better” is a great way to welcome in 2017!  We hope you agree with us and will let us help in any way we can.

Happy 2017—May all your travel Dreams come true!

We hope this will inspire you to give us a call (Hank 713-397-0188) or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so we can help you have a better day, plan a great trip for you, or visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

My Opinion—the Best River Cruise Service is on AmaWaterways

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination and River Cruise Exper

River cruise travel is a matter of taste.  There is no right, universal answer as to the best travel experience.  The things we see and do on our vacations depend on our perception of value, our personal tastes and moods, the weather conditions, the crowds at the destination, and, perhaps, most often, our expectations.  Most river cruise companies basically sail the same routes and generally provide similar trips but how they deliver the vacation experience is quite different.  Cuisine, ship layout, excursions are among some of the differentiation factors between the competing river cruise companies.  There is, however, one factor that makes a huge difference—it is the service on board your river cruise ship.  How you are treated by the staff almost always enhances or detracts from your travel experience.

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You will be greeted with a champagne toast on the first day of your AmaWaterways cruise–our the captain, hotel director and cruise manager on the Tulip Time cruise  2013

Service Excellence

Service seems easy but it is hard to consistently deliver outstanding service all the time.  Anne constantly reminds me about what good service is—her buzz word is consistency—you should expect the same experience no matter how many times you go on a trip or visit a restaurant or a hotel or sail on a rivership.  It is about exceeding expectations, an intuitive service that anticipates guest needs.  So, let’s talk about our 11 sailing experiences on AmaWaterways, to learn about what they consider is service excellence and see how they consistently have provided us great service.

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Your cabin will always look great–this from our Danube River cruise 2013

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Baked Alaska paraded around the main restaurant

Berlitz River Cruising in Europe 2016—2017 Ratings on Service

Douglas Ward, the author of the Berlitz guide, rates AmaWaterways the best “in terms of customer care”.  Here is the rest of what he has to say AmaWaterways spends considerably more on hotel crew service training than other river cruise company.  The company is also known to offer the highest levels of customer care and friendliness in the river cruise industry.”  Many see Douglas Ward as an unbiased, leading authority on river cruising. 

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 Cruise director Kris, dressed up as Snow White for Halloween, greeting guests as they return from an excursion–she has become a great friend!  AmaLyra 2015

It is Difficult to Find Unbiased River Cruise Ratings Information

It is hard to find unbiased information on river cruise companies due the marketing efforts of individual river cruise companies and the confusion created by the large number of travel awards that a river cruise line could win—it seems to me that every river cruise line has won at least one or more award.  I have a very hard time distinguishing who is best and how reliable the “best” award to an individual river cruise might be.  I study and read all I can about river cruising and we are river cruise specialists for most river cruise companies (between Anne & I we are specialists for 6 of the 8 river cruise lines and 2 do not currently have specialist courses)—I just don’t see how an average consumer could distinguish between lines objectively.  We find Douglas Ward’s reviews to be quite accurate and unbiased, based on our experiences.  I am sure a lot of this confusion also is a result of how good river cruising is—all river cruise lines provide good trips, but some provide better experiences than others.  We have tried to provide an unbiased overall ratings of the eight major river cruise lines that market to US consumers—CLICK HERE TO READ OUR COMPARISONS

The AmaWaterways Family Concept of Service

The first thing that has always be clearly evident to me is that the crew considers each guest as part of the Ama family.  All the crew is well trained and friendly—despite their busy days, they always greet you with a smile and ask if there is anything they can do to make your trip better.  I’m not sure how many folks realize how hard the task is for the crew—it is at least 12 hours a day or more, they all have multiple responsibilities, and these ships run with military precision (I should know—I was an career Army officer serving for 20 years, so I know a thing or two about what it takes to mold effective teams).  The crew’s contracts cause them to be away from family and friends for long periods of time and to be honest, at times the work could become quite monotonous, so it could be easy to provide just good service.  Our experience with the crew is just the opposite—they just seem willing to go the extra mile and handle any problems that arise with dignity and professionalism.  It is luxury service that is friendly, not stuffy, and it always enhances our trip.

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Wine Service during the Evening Meal Rivers & Castles Rhine cruise 2009

Some of our unique service stories

Here are two great examples of the crew going the extra mile.  On our Rhone River cruise in 2014, we had the same cabin attendant as on a previous sailing.  As we boarded, she greeted us, and then ask Anne if she still wanted ice in the afternoon for her scotch—it was over a year from our last cruise and she remembered—we were stunned to say the least!

On a recent trip, while in the hotel in Budapest, the day before our cruise, I heard this loud “Hank, Hank!”  I turned to see one of our bar servers from a previous cruise—Tomas.  We hugged and then he explained he was working in Budapest now—he left Ama because he girlfriend just didn’t want him gone so long.  He told us where he was working and said he hoped to see us soon at his new waiter job.  Now for the great part, without us knowing, he texted the crew of our ship, told all about us and on boarding the next day, crew members greeted us and told us Tomas told them about how great we were and to take special care of us—he didn’t even work for Ama anymore and he reached out to make our trip special!

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Miro, Frank and Tomas (far right) from our Provence Cruise 2014.  Tomas is the former crew member who help make our 2015 cruise special by texting the crew.

Seeing crew members on different cruises and watching them progress in their careers.  We always seem to run into past crew, and often seek them out when more than 2 AmaWaterways ships are docked together.  They always remember us, are smiling and fun.  But the best part is to come back and learn they have been promoted to more responsible positions.  We have even met some of their families—what a treat!

Our Salute to the Crew

Starting with the captain and his group of sailors, the wonderful cruise managers, the hotel staff with food service and room staff and all other members of the crew—all have added in some way to our great cruise experience.  They have truly made us part of the Ama family and our clients feel the same way and they often tell us so.  Thanks for caring so much—we can’t wait to sailing with you in the future!  We look forward to the personal touches, the consistency, and the intuitive service we know we will receive on all our future AmaWaterways cruises.  Here are some photos of these special people

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Captain Danny with us on the Provence Cruise 2014

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Lazlo with Anne on German Buffet at Lunch Blue Danube discovery 2013

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The crew of our 2015 Christmas market cruise getting ready to sing Christmas Carols

Perhaps someday we can help you go on a river cruise.  Please reach out to Hank at 713-397-0188 or e-mail him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com—we would love to help you–Savor Life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Towel Animals—Critters who have Shared Our Cruise Cabins!

by Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

Anyone who has been on a cruise knows what this blog is about!  There is no better surprise than to find a new towel critter in your room after the cabin stewards’ visit.  These creative towel folds delight and add whimsy to your cruise trip.  Anne likes most of them so much, she wants them left in our cabin until the end of our cruise.

Some cruise lines emphasize towel animals more than others—we have actually been on a cruise where they proudly display animals on the deck chairs, our Carnival Breeze sailing in 2014.  The designs are creative and fun.  There is no doubt they add true enjoyment to your cruise.  Towel animals are found on almost every ocean cruise line and often on river cruise lines.  We like them so much we even inducted one towel animal into our Traveler Hall of Fame—Eddie Elephant represents all towel animals who have traveled with us.  To see more of the wonderful folks who have traveled with us and are members of the Dream Destinations Traveler Hall of Fame, PLEASE CLICK HERE (we would love to add you!)

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Eddie Elephant, Inducted to the Dream Destination Traveler Hall of Fame

There are even classes on some lines and books that will teach you how to make these when you return home.  It is a great way to add to the memories of a good vacation.  What an awesome  idea—a new traveling companion who adds joy, costs nothing, and reminds us all not to take life so seriously!

Here are some of our favorites from River Cruises:

Here are some critters who have shared our Ocean going cruises:

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Here is the outside display on the Carnival Breeze in 2014

We hope this has helped understand how even small touches make a vacation great on ocean and river cruise lines.  With these great friends to come along with you, it is easy to see why cruising is a great way to explore the wonderful ports of the world or to take river cruise to explore Europe!  We also hope this will inspire you to try cruising–we will be glad to help.  Please give Hank a call at 713-397-0188 or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you Savor life . . .make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

 

Why I know there will be Wonder & Magic on our Disney Wonder Cruise!

By Hank Schrader, European Destination Specialist & Ocean & River Cruise Expert

My first ocean cruise was on the Disney Magic in 1999.  To say the least, I was wowed and an instant convert to cruising.  Disney is always special, just as when I was growing up, their movies and TV shows were so unique and classical, that everyone knows who they are.  To me, it was no surprise, when Forbes Magazine in February 2016, named Disney as the most valuable brand in the world.

This November, Anne & I and our daughter’s family are going to sail on the Disney Wonder.  I think it will be my 26th ocean cruise.  I already know it will be Wonder & Magic!  We will get to see Disney Cruises through our granddaughter’s eyes.  So, let’s learn about this wonderful cruise line by recounting our experiences on the Magic that we sailed on the 17 or so years ago.

The Disney Magic 1999

To me, there were many unique features of a Disney cruise—these have remained with me since 1999.  First, the very nice bathrooms were split, so two could get ready at the same time.  Second, there were Disney characters everywhere—it was awesome!  Third, as expected, the shows were great.  Fourth, the dining was unique—it rotated between 3 different restaurants with your same wait staff.  Really cool!

As with all things Disney, the brand is always consistent.  Besides the Disney characters, there are hidden Mickeys throughout the ship.  Disney even got a waiver from international maritime rules so the lifeboats could be painted yellow.  Why, you ask?  Because Mickey Mouse’s colors are red, white, black and yellow.

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Our cruise was out of Port Canaveral.  We had only two ports.  They were Nassau, Bahamas and Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay.  Today, several cruise lines have private islands or are developing them, but in 1999 this was truly unique and Disney had really found a special way extend its brand by creating a Disney Island.  They also leveraged a visit to Disney World by allowing folks to visit both the theme park and take a cruise—you didn’t even have to get a new room key as it would work on your Disney World hotel room and your stateroom cabin.  It is the attention to detail that Disney is famous for and will no doubt continue on our upcoming cruise.

The rotational dining was also a Disney first in 1999 and is still unique in the cruise industry.  The rotational night dining system uses 3 main dining rooms and you and your wait staff rotate together between these 3 dining rooms.  The dining rooms were: Animator’s Palate; the French-inspired dining of Lumieres and the tropical themed, Parrot Cay.

Animator’s Palate deserves special mention.  At the start of meal all paintings on the walls are black & white Disney characters; as meal progresses they turn to color—unbelievably Cool!  The waiters even wear vests of black and white and by the end of the meal, they are in color also.

The Disney Wonder 2016

The Wonder will sail out of Galveston for the winter season of 2016-2017.  It is the sister ship of the Magic, so we already know a lot about her—it will have many of the good features we first experienced in 1999.  In September, 2016, the ship is scheduled for a refurbishing, with updates to the ship’s cabins, lounges, restaurants and spa area.  The biggest changes will be to the pool area with the addition of a water slide.  These upgrades are designed to make the ship similar to the Magic, who received its upgrade in 2013.  During the Magic’s upgrade, some announced upgrades changed, so by the time we sail, some upgrades may change.  On our 7 day cruise, we will visit Key West, Castaway Cay and Nassau.

Castaway Cay will be different from our first visit, but it will not have changed significantly.  It has had some hurricane damage and there have been some changes, but the same theme of the island remains—it is built to look like a ship wreck area built from whatever is left over from the wreckage.  To be honest, I really liked the place, especially since you are docked and can walk on & off the ship.  The island has three beach areas—adults only zone, teens area and the large family area beaches.  Here are some 1999 photos of Castaway Cay:

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On the Wonder, there are 3 main dining areas.  They are (presently): Triton’s, Parrot Cay and Animator’s Palate.  As described above, each night, the guests rotate to another restaurant, sitting at the same table number, with the same wait staff.  Each of the restaurants’ decor and menus are themed.  Triton’s has an art deco dining room that serves French cuisine.  Parrot Cay has a Caribbean grill house theme.   Parrot Cay is scheduled to become Tiana’s Palace Restaurant during the upgrade process.  It will be designed to replicate a New Orleans French Quarter supper club atmosphere.  Animator’s Palate serves contemporary cuisine.  Just as I described before, the restaurant changes color as the meal progresses—again, too cool for words!

Some More on Disney Ocean & River Cruises

Disney operates 4 cruise ships.  They are the Magic, Wonder, Dream & the Fantasy.  They sail in Europe, Alaska, and the Caribbean.  Although they do not have a river cruise line, they have partnered with AmaWaterways (our favorite river cruise line) to offer some special family cruising opportunities (recommended age is at least 8+).  They sail during the summer months on the Rhine River and the Danube River.  The Adventures by Disney River Cruises are well designed for families.  The itineraries offer a variety of experiences that all in the family can enjoy.  Some examples are active excursions, castle and museum tours and unique on-board activities.  There are Disney movie nights for Junior Adventurers and wine tasting for adults—leave it to Disney to make all happy!  AmaWaterways also has upped their game—they have the first connecting river cruise cabins and have trained their staff to work with younger guests.

Sometimes folks tell me a Disney Cruise is only for families.  We disagree!  While it is true there is no casino (sorry Anne), on our cruise in 1999, we found many of the night time venues really uncrowded—the families were exhausted and in bed and the ship just changed character into an almost different vibe.  Combined with the adults only pool area and an exclusive Italian Specialty Restaurant Palo (18 or over only), there are places to escape families and kids if desired.  Also, there is an adult district on the ship and it is scheduled for some nice upgrades, including adding Cheers (an English Pub).

Disney just does things right.  I know there will be Magic & Wonder in our cruise!  We hope this will inspire you to consider a Disney cruise for your next vacation and let our expertise help you find the right one for you.  Please give Hank a call at 713-397-0188 or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Buying Travel from us– What Is In It For You?

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We sell travel to many satisfied clients.  Our mission is: Anne & Hank Schrader, of Visit Dream Destinations LLC, are certified travel professionals who will provide you with the highest quality, expertly planned domestic and foreign leisure travel with a focus on cruises, European river cruises and European vacations for discriminating travelers.

So, let’s talk a little about our sales process and answer the question—what is in it for you?

3 Questions Most Folks Ask Themselves When Presented a Travel Offer

We are all overwhelmed with ads and offers daily.  We also meet many folks who are selling to us.  I’ll bet that most of us are thinking about 3 questions when they met a salesperson and are listening to their pitch.  They are 1) Can I trust this person? 2) Do they know what they are talking about? 3) Do they care about me and what I need?  So, we want to enter the conversation you already having with yourself about these 3 questions.  These 3 topics deserve a more detailed approach so you can decide if we should be your travel professional.

Can I trust this Person?

Trust and integrity are valuable traits and, in my judgement, in short supply in our country.  Too many make promises they can’t or won’t keep.  My whole life has been devoted to service after graduating from West Point—20 years as a US Army Officer, 20 years as a coach and teacher and 20 years helping others travel to the right location.  Anne is equally dedicated to trust and integrity—she always thinks about what is best for our clients, every single time.  We think trust is the cornerstone of our relationship with you.  We try to under promise and over deliver a great travel experience for you.  We strive to make your travel experience better by helping you make wise choices, eliminate hassles, and help you get the best value for your money.  In short, while working with us, we want to provide a trip that will exceed your expectations.  I guess the best thing we can provide you is some comments by several of our clients.   To read A Few Words From Our Clients, Please click here

Do they know what they are talking about?

With over 20 years of experience selling travel to many satisfied clients, we know both what you need to make your travel experience better and the knowledge of what is available to match you with just the right vacation.  We have extensive first-hand knowledge and do comprehensive research on trips.  We have planned hundreds of successful trips to delighted clients and we are eager to plan yours.  Like a little proof?  Ask for one of our 49 Europe City travel guides (email Hank at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com), or click on one of our many (80 or more) PowerPoint presentations on our web site) or visit our About Section of our website to get travel tips (www.dreamdestinations.com )or visit our Pinterest page—over 4,500 pictures (www.pinterest.com/visitdd)There is one common thread herealmost 98% is our own pictures or written by us—in truth, it would be hard to find many travel professionals who have been to so many of the places we sell.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know we know our stuff.  As I used to say as a coach, when evaluating good football players, “he is the real deal!”  Well folks, we are the real deal!

Do they care about me and what I need?

We treat each of our clients as friends, because we don’t sell travel to clients—we sell travel to friends.  There is a big difference—how your trip goes makes a world of difference to us.  We like to say we are small enough to deliver personalize serve but big and experience enough to get you just the right trip.  We try to match you to just the right experience and make it logical, realistic and affordable in your price range.  Don’t get us wrong—we do not sell on price—we sell on value.  We try to demonstrate how valuable you are to us in many ways (many love our handwritten thank you and welcome back notes) but how many other travel professional have a Traveler Hall of Fame?  We are proud we could help you and want to share with others your joy and satisfaction.  To see some of the folks who we have added to our Hall of Fame, Please click here.

Some of our Awesome Friends in the Traveler Hall of Fame

What we do not do

Our goal is to provide you with information but not bombard you with offers you do not want.  We really try to get to know you and match your desires to opportunities when they arise.  We are low-key and strive to provide the right info in a relaxed, no pressure situation.  In my opinion, there is a big difference about being eager to be your travel professional and being an obnoxious salesperson.  We are eager to help, but know the boundariesthe truth is we want to form a partnership with you—not sell you something.  It is as simple as this—we inform, you decide.  We also realize you are busy and we respect your time by trying to contact you in the form (phone, email or written) that works the best for you at the time that is the best for you.  In short, we respect you!

We hope these words inspire you to become or continue our travel relationship.  We want to help you achieve your travel dreams—remember if you want to Visit Dream Destinationsplease contact Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com to get started or just tell us about your travel dreams.  We are here to help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Our Ideal Customer—It’s Probably YOU!

 

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

This might seem like a strange topic for our blog, but in reality, it may be the most important—who is our ideal customer?  In my lifetime I have been a career Army Officer, a teacher and a travel advisor.  These 3 careers have one item in common-it’s all about relationships with people.  We think our best asset, while advising you about travel, is our relationship with you—we are your trusted travel advisors. We will do the best for you and match you with the right trip so you can experience the joy of being in a wonderful place and learn all about it and share these experiences with family and friends.  So I would like to boldly tell you who you are, what you want from travel and how we can help you achieve your travel goals.

Who You Are

First and foremost you are active folks.  You have succeeded professionally, physically and socially in your lifetime.  You are a college graduate and you are married.  You may still be working or just recently retired but you have been in the workforce for over 40 years.  You are reasonably affluent and willing to spend $10,000 or more on a trip that matches a travel experience you want.  You are well traveled—you probably have visited Alaska, Hawaii or Europe, or all three.  You might have even lived for a while in a foreign country.  You probably have been on a 7 day ocean or river cruise.  You have realistic expectations—you know great trips are expensive.  You seek great value in your trip—the best experiences for your money.  You know geography and world events—chances are you read a lot.  You like art and history.  You like both big cities and small villages and historic sites.  You really like good food and wine.  You want to be pampered—you want to have a temporary lifestyle that exceeds your daily lifestyle.  You want to mark milestone celebrations with unique travel experiences.  You have worked very hard in your lifetime and you want to reward yourself for your past and future achievements.

Some of the Great Folks We Have Helped Achieve Their Travel Dreams

What You Are Seeking From Your Travels

You want travel to enrich your life with experiences.  You want to travel with friends and family to share these experiences.  You have done your research before you seek us out and you want to turn your dreams into reality (according to Google, 62% of all leisure travelers use the internet to research their trip and the average traveler visits 20 different websites prior to making a purchase—you may be one who has done such extensive research).  Sometimes it is a new experience.  Sometimes it is a familiar place.  Sometimes it is an escape.  Sometimes it is pure luxury—the best the world has to offer.  Sometimes it is active and full of adventure.  I’ll bet if you close your eyes and start thinking about where you would like to go and what you would like to experience, you can quickly think of 3 or more places—your own personal bucket list.  You want a vacation that is fun, safe, hassle free and a good value for your money.

How We can Help You Achieve Your Travel Goals

According to Google, there are 5 distinct stages of travel. They are 1) Dreaming; 2) Planning; 3) Booking; 4) Experiencing; and 5) Sharing.  We help you in all of the 5 phases of travel by turning ordinary trips into extra-ordinary experiences.  How do we do this?—we really know who you are!  We know what you like and do not like.  We do not want your trip to be okay or good—we want it to be the best vacation you ever take!  We are not Hank.com or Anne.com—we do not work for a cruise line or a resort or a travel company—we work for YOU!  There is no booking engine on our website—we need to talk with you, really know you and then plan and book your trip.  We have been in business for 20 years.  We know what a great value is in travel and will find it for you.  Ask yourselves—who do you know that has been on 27 ocean cruises, 12 river cruises, visited over 80 countries and written 49 city guides for European destinations?  We really know our stuff about travel and we use our experiences to enhance your trip.  Maybe, most importantly, we don’t want to be one and done with your travel—we want to be your trusted travel advisors for life.  You aren’t our customer—you are our friend and we treat all our friends with respect and will do the right thing to help you achieve your travel goals.  Almost every time we plan a trip for someone, we ask ourselves why would anyone try to do it themselves, especially since it cost nothing extra to use us and you will pay the same regardless if you use us or not.  The bottom line is we know what you are seeking from your travels and we can help you achieve your travel goals so we can get you the right experiences on all of your trips. 

Did we get it right—are you our ideal customer?  We are pretty sure you are!  The next time you are thinking about traveling, why not contact us to help you achieve your travel expectations?  Let us make you member of the Dream Destinations Traveler Hall of Fame.  We hope this will inspire you to give me a call at 713-397-0188 or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com ) so I can help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

10 Top Reasons to Cruise

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination and Europe River Cruise Expert

Cruising is our favorite vacation.  We usually take 2 Ocean Cruises and 2-3 River Cruises a year.  We are experts in all aspects of the cruise vacation.  We have sailed on 9 different ocean cruise lines (Disney, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, NCL, MSC, Celebrity, Azamara and Silver Seas and next month will add Holland America to the list) and 2 river cruise lines (AmaWaterways & Scenic).  While there are many differences between cruises and cruise lines (we know most of the differences first hand), there are many common reasons to take a cruise for your vacation.  Here are our 10 Top Reasons to Cruise:

  1. Choose a cruise for VALUE.  One price buys your stateroom, dining, and most entertainment and sports activities.  Many times it is less costly than trying to buy all that is included at a land resort.
  2. Choose a cruise for ROMANCE. Secluded beaches in port, ocean view dining, spas, it’s a great place to reconnect or celebrate a wedding, a honeymoon an anniversary or a vow renewal.  When it comes to settings and special locations, cruising makes it easy to create the right mood.
  3. Choose a cruise for CUISINE. Gourmet food (often menus are designed by celebrity chefs) served in style or if you desire simple standbys like hamburgers, pizza or even healthy spa-food offerings—variety abounds on many larger ships.  Food on board is always a big draw.  There are even cruises that are specially themed for foodies—some have even have cooking classes!
  4. Choose a cruise for VARIETYThere are many distinctive ships, world-wide ports of call, so many great places to see and things to do—there is a cruise just right for anyone.  From adventure cruising of exotic locations, visiting the natural beauty of Alaska, the warm inviting beaches of the Caribbean or the great ports of Europe or Asia, the opportunities to experience a different vacation is almost endless.
  5. Choose a cruise for ACTIVITIES. There is sightseeing, sports, beaches, cultural lectures, and educational tours, arts & crafts, new skills to learn, or just relax at the pools or in a hot tub.  At night there are shows, comedy clubs, casinos, discos, piano bars or just gaze at the stars.  You can do as much or little as you desire.  The current trend is to provide many new experiences on the newer ships and update the older ones—they are constantly improving.  Some of the newer additions are ropes courses, rock climbing walls, surf riders, ice skating rinks, bumper cars, free-fall parachute simulators and even a rotating “eye in the sky” ride. 
  6. Choose a cruise for SIMPLICITY. It is a hassle free vacation—you won’t have to search for a place to eat, or stay for the entire length of the cruise.  Once you are on board, it’s all there on your floating resort.  And at each location, you are do not have to pack and unpack—just once when you arrive and when the cruise is over.  Best of all, you can choose to have most of your expenses are pre-paid.
  7. Choose a cruise for NEW HORIZONS. You often fall asleep in one place and wake up in another port.  One reason we have been to so many countries in the world is that the cruise lines made it possible with minimal effort to get to new places. 
  8. Choose a cruise for FAMILIES.  There are cool things to do with the kids—children programs, kid friendly food, sports, swimming and other activities.  Perhaps the best part is that all members of the family, the kids, the parents and the grandparents, all can have different activities or time together—each can do what they want without taking away from other family members.  Many spend time away during the day and get together during dinner to share their exciting experiences.  Parents also don’t have to worry about where the kids are—they are on the ship.
  9. Choose a cruise for PAMPERING. There is first class service to take care of your every need.  Trust us, you will want to take your waiters and cabin stewards home!  Best of all, regardless of the fare you pay, you all get the same excellent service.  The Spas are also an excellent way to pamper yourself.
  10. Choose a cruise for SATISFACTION. Cruising has a very high percentages of satisfied customers when compared to other vacation experiences.  In a 2014 survey of past cruisers prepared by Sharak & Associates, commissioned  for the  Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), found 89 percent of cruisers where satisfied with their cruise vacation and 86 percent planned to take another cruise.  Since cruises provide value; romance; great cuisine; variety; cool activities; simplicity; new horizons; is family friendly and pampers you, it is easy to see why cruising has so many satisfied customers.  It is also a safe vacation.  For more detailed information on safety and health issues and regulations of the cruise industry, we invite you to visit www.cruising.org This is the website for CLIA, the world’s largest cruise lines industry trade association. 

We hope these thoughts will encourage you to take a cruise vacation.  Please call Hank at 713-397-0188 or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you on your next cruise vacation or any other travels.  As always, we stand by to assist you to:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations! . . . Your journey begins here!

Why Are You Visiting 20 Different Websites before You book Your Trip?

 

by Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & River Cruise Expert
That’s right, according to Google, 85% of travelers search the worldwide web for travel information when planning a trip and 62% visit 20 or more different sites prior to making a booking.
Trip planning does require a lot of work to get it right, and it is a hassle. Wouldn’t it be better to let us solve the trip research for you? Here are 7 Benefits to you if you let us plan your trip:

Problem # 1: Will I get the best value for my money?  Benefit to You: Spend your money wisely  Our solution:  We match the right vendor(s) to provide a trip that will exceed your expectations
Problem # 2: Will I get the right trip?   Benefit to You:  A better vacation  Our Solution:  We learn your dreams and turn them into a reality
Problem #3:  Will I make wise choices?   Benefit to You A better vacation and no fear of missing out on great experiences Our Solution:  Our 20 years of experience in the travel industry coupled with our first-hand knowledge and numerous professional certifications will help us provide you with the best options available
Problem #4:  Will I remember all the details?  Benefit to You:  No unforgotten trip details Our Solution:  We check all the details so you do not have any missteps or forgotten arrangements
Problem #5:  Will I spend too much time researching my trip?   Benefit to You:  Saves you time & eliminates hassles  Our Solution:  Once we know what you want, we do research to get you the highest quality, expertly planned trip
Problem #6 How can I best protect my vacation?  Benefit to You:  Peace of Mind Our Solution:  We can help lead you to the right people to answer your questions about insurance options
Problem # 7: How do I know I can trust my adviser to do the best for me?  Benefit to You: Someone thinking of your best interests   Our Solution:  We are members of several professional organizations and we have earned the trust of hundreds of clients. We encourage you to read their comments about our service
LEARN MORE

Google has determined there are 5 Stages of Travel. They are 1) Dreaming; 2) Planning; 3) Booking; 4) Experiencing; and 5) Sharing. We can help inspire you to dream and really help in the remaining 4 stages of travel. LEARN MORE HOW WE CAN HELP YOU
You can plan your own trip and take your chances or we can help you have a better trip.
Our Goal—Customer Bliss—Unforgettable experiences—We are not selling travel, we are helping you make memories to last a lifetime.
Why not call Hank now at 713-397-0188 and let’s get started getting you to your personal Dream Destination!
Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations! . . . Your journey begins here!

Client Satisfaction and Service–The Dream Destinations Way

Client Satisfaction and Service
We always tell everyone that chooses to travel with us that they are not clients—they are friends and you always treat your friends the right way. We use that guiding principle in all our dealings with our clients. Service and satisfaction are the keys to maintaining great clients. There are many client satisfaction evaluation methods. I’m not really sure who developed the following hierarchy but when I looked at its five levels, it really made sense to me—we have to get all our clients to level 4 or 5 if we want to be great travel professionals. So, let’s examine client satisfaction by using the following scale:
Hierarchy of Client Satisfaction Scale
Level 1 Response & Accuracy
Level 2 Credibility
Level 3 Partnership
Level 4 Trust
Level 5 Discovery
A quick summary would look like this:
Level 1 is the basics—if we are not responsive & accurate you soon will lose this client for life—the dissatisfied client will not be a repeat traveler
Levels 2, 3 & 4 are where we prove our worth by creating a business relationship built on matching the right trip to the right person.
Level 5 is where we work together to expand our clients travel experiences & they will be repeat clients
So how does Dream Destinations transform a potential client into a level 4 or 5 satisfied traveler? It is really very simple–we add Value to the trip! I think most travel professionals believe what sets them apart is their level of service but while service is important, we believe the single most important factor is matching the right trip to the right person—it is all about a partnership and trust.
Here is what we try to do with each client. First, we try to respond to any communication within 24 hours. Second, we ask a lot of questions and LISTEN—not only what is said but not said. Travel is an exciting, emotional business with great life changing experiences and many benefits but when there is a lot of money on the line, we have to get it right so our clients get the best possible value for their money. Part of getting right is our experience and credibility (20 years in business; numerous professional certifications and specialty designations; first-hand knowledge of the desired trip; and great industry vendor contacts) but it is really about building trust and a partnership. Partners add value so both win. Thinking back to my high school coaching career, my focus was on developing players to be their best by being demanding yet caring so we could win games. It was about the relationship and trust. Travel experiences are no different—there are a lot of options but finding the best fit is like coaching—it is both an art and a science. The science of travel is the trip offered by the vendor. The art is matching the right client to the right trip. First, we start with the goal of the trip—what does the client want to experience? Never forgetting the goal, the second part is to obtain the goal trip, given the constraints of real life (time available, cost, a trip offered at the desired time of travel by the desired vendor).
Value does not come easy in travel. It seldom is found by an online search of a destination or a vendor. We believe it comes from a partnership between us, the client and the vendor with the underlying principle of what is the goal of this trip and have we properly matched the expectations of the client to the right trip. Have we been reliable and trustworthy, did we put the client’s best interest first? If we can achieve these items when we provide a trip experience that is right, we are on our way to Discovery– where we work together to expand our clients travel experiences.
If these ideas sound good to you, we invite you to come travel with our assistance—let’s develop a great partnership together! Our tag line says it all:
Savor life…make memories…visit dream destinations! Your journey begins here!
Please visit http://www.dreamdestinations.com to learn more about us.