Planning a New Zealand Trip

Planning a trip to New Zealand has been overwhelming.  It is supposed to be the trip of a lifetime so I want to be sure to see all the important sights.  It was a lot of pressure so I contacted a New Zealand travel agent.  My mistake.  While I think using a travel agent has its place, it is certainly not for me.  I like doing my own planning, I like doing my own research.

The travel industry in New Zealand is very tech savvy and any time you do any web search for New Zealand many ads will appear and follow you so you almost feel pressured to contact someone thinking that travel there is out this world.  My experience though was not to my liking.  While the agent was very polite and professional I did not like how she wanted to sell me into every activity.  The trip was going to cost over $9,000 USD for the three of us.

I was scared by the price tag.  My free tickets to New Zealand were going to be an extremely expensive vacation.  But I decided to do my own research.  I used the Lonely Planet New Zealand guide and travel forums on Tripadvisor.com.  These resources and the friendly people who answered me gave me the confidence that I needed to plan my own vacation.

Hotels

I quickly learned that hotels in New Zealand are very different than in the US.  There are more types of hotels.  You can even camp very easily with the freedom camping.

In Auckland there aren’t as many hotels as you think that can accommodate 3 people in a room.  But there are several apart hotels.  Much more than anywhere else.  With the favorable exchange rate you can stay in nice properties for a good deal.  There are also several backpacker hotels for those who want to save.  I am still undecided on where we’ll stay.  I have a reservation with an apart hotel but I’m still not 100% sure on it.

One thing I did want to do is to try New Zealand’s different types of accommodations.   We are staying a in a quirky hotel in Hahei.  It is called The Church Accomodation.  The main building is an 1916 Methodist Church where they run a restaurant.  Then there are several guest cottages in  the gardens.  This seemed to be a fun place to stay and during my search I found several quirky places where we could stay.  I wish we had the time to sleep in a yurt or gypsy caravan, maybe next time.

Motels seem to be really big in New Zealand.  Not the chain motels like we have in the US but independent motels.  It has been fun seeing how each motel owner takes an old property and refurbishes it for the 21st century.  Some make the rooms very stylish, others make them very practical.  It seems that most motels offer kitchenettes making it family friendly and budget conscious.

Even though I use Expedia many times to book my hotels because of their flexible cancellation policy, this time I found that many times it was significantly cheaper to book directly with the accommodation.  Once again searching the  websites that rate hotels gives you the names and reviews for the hotels.  It makes it easier for you to search for what you want.  I am excited about our variety of hotels.  We will be staying in an apartment in Auckland, a “quirky” accomodation in Hahei, independent motels in Hamilton, Rotorua and Mt Cook, a chain hotel in Christchurch and a luxury hotel in Queenstown.

Flights

Because we are going to New Zealand during the beginning of their winter, we had to cut out some of the fun things to do such as taking the ferry between the North Island and the South Island.  The activities there are better suited for summer time.  Instead we will fly between the islands.  Air New Zealand is the biggest airline but there is a discount airline called Jet Star.  Jet Star only flies from certain airports

In addition Air New Zealand has a website called grabaseat.co.nz.  You can purchase the same flights at a significant discount.  We were able to buy our tickets at about 30% off.  In this website you have to pay extra fees for seat assignments and bags but it is still a big savings.

Activities

This is the part that scared me the most.  There are so many things to do and I want to make sure I don’t miss anything.  It can get pretty expensive to do all the things the travel agent suggested.  With a lot of research I was able to narrow down what I wanted to do and how to get it cheaper.

There is a website called called bookme.co.nz which sells discounted activities.  You can pre-book and pre-pay at big savings.  I also learned that you should be visiting all the i centers for each town you visit.  They can direct you to the worthwhile activities and give you discount vouchers.  I also learned that several activities have free equivalents.   So no need to spend unnecessary money.  I also don’t have to fly everywhere.  I can take a bus for many of the excursions and fly back at a cheaper price with limited availability.

I do want to do some things and I really hope I have the chance.  My must do list includes:

  • Sea kayaking
  • Glowworm caves
  • Star gazing at Mt. Cook
  • Milford Sound cruise
  • Maori  cultural experience

Car Rentals

The travel agent wanted us to rent a 4WD in both islands with GPS.  It appears that you don’t need GPS  when travelling from city to city and on the North Island unless you are going off roading a regular car is sufficient.  On the South Island depending on the time of the year and where you are going you can get by with a car with snow chains.  There are a few NZ car companies that rent a little older cars for cheaper prices such as Apex.  Jucy also is a local company and they rent cars and campers.

I am looking forward to my trip and will share with you how it goes.  In the meanwhile I need to look for more ways to save.

 

 

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Has Disney lost its magic?

Before you start attacking me, know that I grew up going to Disney.  I have brought my children there many times.  However as I sit in my room at the Disney Yacht Club Resort I wonder why it is not magical anymore.

This was my first time staying at a Disney resort.  I have to say I am not impressed.  I stayed at this hotel because that was where my conference was being held but it is not acceptable as a business hotel.  I understand it will be refurbished next month but that does not excuse it faults.  We had a horrible room that should have been out of service and they don’t offer laptop safes.  The manager offered to give us a complimentary downgrade and we weren’t able to get a decent room until after 4 pm.  Then the next morning no hot water.  How did they handle this?  They gave me some macaroons. Not magical.  I was expecting excellent customer service.  But I bet Disney is also having a hard time hiring qualified staff.  Twice people at the front desk barely spoke any English.   Don’t get me wrong, I have always enjoyed meeting people from all over the world here.  But they always spoke impeccable English.

Second, the hotel doesn’t have nice of amenities.  I have stayed at much nicer hotels in the Orlando area.  They also offer bus service to the parks and they are cheaper.  They have nicer rooms, expansive pools, activities for the kids, a variety of restaurants.  I did like being able to walk to some of the other resorts and to Epcot but I still had to take a lengthy bus ride to the Magic Kingdom.

I have to admit that being here right before Christmas makes it special.  There are lovely decorations everywhere.  Cinderella’s castle is all light up.  There are some lovely holiday concerts.  But there are tons of people.

I have never seen so many people in scooters.  And they seem to be in a hurry so you have to watch out or you might get run over.  Plus it seems that whole extended families come together in matching shirts.  Really, why?  You should know who you are without a shirt that tells your relationship.

If you have children you don’t need to bring several strollers.  I saw 2 parents with 2 huge strollers.  How old should the children be forced to walk?  Or better yet you should fake that you need a wheelchair so that you can push two children on it.  What is wrong with people?  Disney is exhausting.  You shouldn’t bring children who are old enough to walk but can’t.  If your kid can’t walk enough then you  should take them on walks at home so they get used to it.  Or better yet, don’t try doing everything in one day.  And don’t bring great grandma.  Family time is precious but if she can’t walk, then she probably would enjoy spending time with you and your kids in a slower paced place like at a beach house or at a cabin by a lake.

I thought Fast Pass was meant to make it that you could enjoy more rides.  No!!! It means that you have guaranteed access to only 3 rides all day.  Don’t get  me wrong, it is cool to be able to walk to the front of the line.  But you get to stand in huge lines for the rest of your day.  Some lines were 2 hours long!!!  Plus it doesn’t help that some rides shut down quite frequently.  Really for as much as the tickets are, Disney should be investing on the rides and make sure they are not breaking down often.

Now let’s talk about food.  Disney food was always expensive but now it seems even more expensive.  I know some people go there for some of the fancier restaurants.  But if you just want to get something to eat you have to pay $8 for a hot dog.

I think it will be many years before I head back to Disney.  I hope the rides don’t have gigantic lines, I hope the people who are there are nice and don’t run you over and I hope I can afford it.  I think it is more magical if you don’t go there 5 times a year.

For the Disney lovers out there, just try making it magical for everyone.