Nov 26

2020: The Year of Thanksgiving and Hope

2020.  The year that the use of the word “unprecedented,” became unprecedented.  The year where just about anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.  The year when the simple joys of life were suddenly taken away or forbidden.  The year when technology became our primary means of maintaining human contact.  So how could this possibly be the year of hope and giving “Thanks?” Granted, 2020 did not turn out to be the great beginning to a new decade we thought it would be – – but it brought more than what we dreamed was possible. 

Most of us would get up in the morning, get ready for work, get the kids off to school, and proceed with our day.  The greatest issue that plagued us was what to have for dinner, getting an assignment done, or meeting that work deadline.  As life passed, so did birthdays, holidays, and yet another year, leaving us wondering where the time had gone and how did our children grow up so fast.  Often times, we were left with the regret of not spending more time with loved ones, or paying closer attention to them.  This all changed when we had to work from home and really take part in our children’s education.  Yes, I know many of us spent the evenings just banging our heads on the wall in frustration, but we did develop a greater appreciation for our teachers.  More importantly, we managed to actually become involved in our children’s learning while learning more about our children.  We have been given an opportunity to become more involved in shaping the hope of our future.  As for loved ones, especially our elderly . . . I don’t think we will ever take them for granted again. 

We managed to get creative with our businesses and work environments.  We got pushed out of our comfort zones in order to accommodate the new lifestyle that was imposed upon us – – all driven by the hope that we could sustain what we had while hoping for growth and prosperity in the future.  Perhaps home offices and zoom meetings may have made us a little more comfortable than we should have been (i.e., pajama bottoms while on a call), but this was actually a dream come true for many.  After all, we eliminated the commute and took back some of our time! 

As for small entrepreneurs, I know that in my own little town, we formed community groups that actively promoted and shopped at our small businesses in hopes that we could keep those families alive and thriving.  I’m happy (and thankful) to say that we and they have so far, been successful.  I think we have also learned to never underestimate the work ethic of an entrepreneur and their small business – – they are the ones who have the will to transform themselves, no matter the circumstances, and accept failure as a challenge.  We also discovered that they are the ones who actually care, and give back to the community with gratitude.

Technology was forced upon us to keep up with the growing demand of distanced communication, learning and work.  The necessity of it never became more prominent than it did this year.  However, with the growing dependency upon it came the realization that we need to disconnect to regain our humanity.  The need to reconnect with ourselves, each other, and our surroundings made it blatantly clear that we have forgotten how to live.  In a sense, the demands for technology and its frequent failures has shown us that we need each other more – – that science was correct after all, and we need human contact for our physical and mental well being.

This leads us to the subject of vacation.  Having a vacation planned was the highlight of one’s year, and the opportunity to “disconnect.”  However, 2020 brought the shutdowns of our beloved theme parks, cruise lines, and other destinations.  Many of us were left to find more creative means to spend time with our loved ones and have that much needed break from not only work, technology, and the daily grind of life.  We celebrated the reopening of our theme parks which gave us the hope that the escape from the mundane, would eventually return again.  What we can really be thankful for is that we live in a country that has every type of climate (tropical, arid, temperate, cold and polar) and wonderful seasons all in one place that we can still explore.  Even though those beautiful cruise ships are not sailing yet, they are preparing to soon.  We are now left with the hope that we can still travel to amazing places across the landscape of our own great country. 

This year, we have actually learned to be grateful for things we once took for granted.  In a way, we have reset our perspectives and values.  We were forced to look at what was truly important, and reorder our lives.  We became more accommodating, learned to adapt, and perhaps, even to survive.  All of this is because of the hope that we will return to “normal.”  The question is, do we really want to?  Maybe, just maybe, we have rediscovered what it takes to truly live, and we will do so with a thankful heart for what we had all along.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Bensons and the entire Dreams by Design Travel Team!

Jul 31

Disney….A Beacon of Hope

Not too long ago, we humans around the world began to hear of a virus that seemed like something out of a science fiction movie.  Soon after, we began to realize that we were actually living in it.  As we made our preparations to stay closer to home, we found that our basic necessities were becoming scarce and suddenly, we were scrambling to find toilet paper.  The next round of reality checks came when we closed our schools and had to find creative ways to teach our children from home.  Then, going to work became an issue, and we had to get creative to find ways of still being able to work.  I think we can all agree that in spite of all of these challenges, it truly hit us when our beloved Disney Parks shut down.  Oh yes.  I watched it live when the President of Walt Disney World, Josh D’Amaro, Mickey and the Gang stood up on the platform of the train station at the Magic Kingdom, waving to all of the guests on the last night before Walt Disney World closed.  Yes, I cried.  Like many of you, whether you are a casual fan, die hard Disney aficionado, or somewhere in between, we all realized at that moment that the situation, “just got real.”  After putting on the brave mom face and channeling my inner warrior to get through these obstacles, telling my kids everything was going to be just fine, I found myself in despair – – Disney is the last bastion of hope. . . our Happy Place . . . and now it was gone.

We all settled into our new-found seclusion as words like “quarantine,” and “lockdown,” became our new normal.  Watching the nightly news didn’t seem to help much either.  It’s during that time that I found myself looking for inspiration and hope.  What was supposed to be a couple of weeks, turned into months.   The magical trips I had so diligently helped my clients plan were being cancelled, rescheduled, cancelled again, and rescheduled.  I felt their pain with each announcement and each change, spending hours just talking with them until our conversations turned into more personal ones.  Each and every one of them had a unique story as to why they wanted to take their trips, and why they loved Disney.  It was through their stories that I rediscovered some of that much needed hope.  Going to the Magic Kingdom was exciting, but it was the idea of Walt Disney, himself, that gave it all meaning and what made everything feel familiar – – like being “home,” and being welcomed by a comforting parent with open arms and a warm embrace.

If it’s one thing we all immediately recognized, it was the lack of physically being with one another.  Yet, we found ways to stay in touch via video conferencing.  We checked up on one another to ensure everything was still o.k., and we became more charitable with our time and resources to help each other out.  As Walt said, “There is great comfort and inspiration in the feeling of close human relationships and its bearing on our mutual fortunes – – a powerful force, to overcome the ‘tough breaks’ which are certain to come to most of us from time to time.”  We discovered that in spite of being isolated in our homes, we could still reach out and bond with our fellow humans in far deeper and meaningful ways that we didn’t realize were possible.  Instead of being pushed apart, we became bonded in the face of a common, unseen enemy, and we began to appreciate each other a little more.

Perhaps one of Walt’s greatest quotes about life is when he said, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”   Now, I hardly think Walt had a pandemic in mind when he said this, but he certainly experienced some great hardships in his life which shaped the man he became.   Walt took those hardships and looked at them as an opportunity and a reason to move forward and onto new adventures.  After all, if he hadn’t lost his treasured Oswald to Charles Mintz, he would never have created our beloved Mickey.  Walt described this defining low point of his life when he said, “He popped out of my mind onto a drawing pad 20 years ago on a train ride from Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner.”  

If we take the time to look at our circumstances differently, we begin to see the opportunity to make something new.  For example, when schools closed, so many of us found ourselves struggling to keep up with helping our kids with assignments and various subjects.  We found a new appreciation for our teachers, but we also started to identify where our children really needed help, and perhaps, even what our children were missing from us.  We have been given insight and the opportunity to teach our children about behavior, respect, expectations, science through cooking, problem solving through play, or compassion and responsibility by helping around the house.  If we really think about it, how many times have we wished we could just roll out of bed and work from home in our pajamas?   That was a projection of our future as technology developed, and we just got to experience it in our present!   Perhaps we have created a new way of balancing work and home life because of it!   We’ve certainly been, “kicked in the teeth,” but we are becoming more creative in our problem solving, and more resilient in the face of adversity.

Many people think of Walt Disney as a great man with a big imagination.  Although this is true, he was also a realist.  He once said, “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.”  Walt was no stranger to the hardships of life on a national and international level.  In fact, Walt lived through two global pandemics – – the Spanish Flu in 1918 which claimed the lives of 50 million people worldwide, and the Asian Flu in 1957 which claimed about 1.1 million souls.   He lived through two World Wars, the Korean War, and saw the beginning of the Vietnam War.  Yet, he also witnessed the first long distance phone call, Charles Lindberg’s first non-stop transatlantic flight, the first American satellite (Explorer I) launch, and color television.  Out of all of his experiences, he chose to focus on the hopes and dreams of the future, and to create something new and innovative.  Walt had a passion and a knack for trying to solve contemporary problems, which was his original plan for the building of EPCOT.   In the 1950’s, Walt collaborated with NASA’s Werner von Braun to create films that educated people on the basics of space flight, spurning the imaginations of every American as we moved towards the dream of landing men on the moon.   The realities of life gave him the impetus to solve complex issues, creatively, and he showed us that ideas and dreams are worth working for.

 The creation of Disneyland and Walt Disney World came from what has, and continues to be, the greatest problem with our world today – – the lack of quality family time, which has plagued our society for over a century, and is no more an issue today than it was when Walt sat on that park bench in Griffith Park.  When interviewed about it, Walt said, “Disneyland really began when my two daughters were very young.  Saturday was always Daddy’s Day, and I would take them to the merry-go-round and sit on a bench eating peanuts while they rode.  And sitting there alone, I felt there should be something built, some kind of family park where parents and children could have fun together.”  Hence came the creation of Disneyland – – a place where families could actually play, explore, learn, dream and solve problems together, regardless of what else is going on in the world around us.

Therein lies our hope . . . the evidence that castles can be built, stories do come to life, and the manifestation of one man’s dream becomes the beacon of light in dark times.  The reopening of Walt Disney World carries so much more meaning than a vacation spot returning to, “business as usual.” Many of us call this place “home” for a reason.  When we see that Castle at the end of Main Street, the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, or read the dedication plaque in front of Disneyland, we are welcomed to a safe place that is void of politics and negativity.  Instead, we are transported to a place where we can let our inner child take over once again, and imagine a future where problems are solved, but solved together as the human race. 

“To all who come to this happy place; welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”

  • Walt Disney, Disneyland Dedication Speech, 1955

Jun 19

Disney Releases New Park Pass Reservation System!

As you may have heard, Disney is taking a measured approach to reopen their Theme Parks. In order to do this, they will be managing attendance through their new Disney Park Pass Reservation system. This new Theme Park reservation system will be accessed through the drop down in your My Disney Experience account. This new Theme Park Reservation system will require that all Guests make advance reservations for theme park entry.

In order to make your reservations, you will need a My Disney Experience account, which you may already have. Be sure that your reservation is properly linked to your account. Because there are new terms and conditions regarding Covid-19, you must sign off on, Disney is requiring the guest to choose the parks days, with advise and guidance of your travel agent, of course.  This new reservation system will require all guests to make advance reservations for Theme Park entry. You must make a separate park reservation for each date you plan to visit, even with a multi-day ticket.

If you are an existing ticket holder with a Disney Resort hotel reservation, you can access the Disney Parks Pass system beginning on Monday, June 22, at 7 am eastern standard time. Simply log into your My Disney Experience account and check for the date and Theme Park you wish to visit. You will need to do this for each day of your vacation. To enter a theme park, both a reservation and valid admission ticket to the same park on the same date will be required. Keep in mind park hopping will not be allowed until further notice and this portion of your reservation will be refunded if you currently have it. You will, however, have the ability to come and go to the same park during the day. Keep in mind that due to extremely limited capacity, these theme park reservations are subject to availability and are not guaranteed until confirmed*.  *Please remember to check the Disney Park Pass system (once available) from time to time as Theme Park reservation availability can change. ‌

We know your next visit will be different. But together, we can find new ways to enjoy magical moments and create memories to last a lifetime. Before you arrive, please check out some things to Know Before You Go and as always, please contact Dreams by Design Travel for the latest information. It is being released just about every day!!!

Mar 04

Traveling and the Coronavirus: It Truly is a Small World After All!

Walt was certainly a visionary when he brought us “It’s a Small World” to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.  His sense of wanderlust and appreciation for world cultures demonstrated how close we all truly are in spite of oceans and land masses.  As our ability to travel farther, quicker, and easier evolved, so too, did our interconnectedness, and our ability to bring back foreign souvenirs from the exciting places we have visited.  However, lately, there seems to be an unwanted souvenir returning home with world travelers – – the Coronavirus or COVID-19.

The Coronavirus has obviously become the biggest concern for both international and domestic travelers lately.  As Travel Professionals, my fellow Travel Advisors and I have been spending a lot of time in webinars, viewing reports and official statements regarding this issue on a daily basis.  Although information is constantly being updated, this is what is known at the time of writing this article. 

What is the Coronavirus?

The Coronavirus is a broad term that encompasses both the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) viruses.  The current virus is a variant of the SARS virus, and has been renamed COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2.  This virus has been around for a while, but as viruses do, they will mutate and wreak havoc, just like flu viruses.  However, the Coronaviruses really focus on the respiratory system, making those persons with already compromised respiratory systems more vulnerable to the disease than others.  According to Dr. Geoff Tothill, Chief Medical Officer of the International Medical Group, and the World Health Organization (WHO), “The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and breathlessness.  Most patients have mild disease, with some 20% of patients progressing to severe disease.  Incubation period is 2 – 14 days, and most infectivity occurs when one is symptomatic.”

The news of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, was reported to the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019.  Since then, the virus has been exported via travelers arriving from affected areas to 56 countries, including the United States. 

How does it spread, and how to protect/prevent?

Again, according to the World Health Organization, “Cases are seen in higher numbers in specific geographic areas, usually as a result of close person to person spread.”  This would also mean travel destinations where tourism is high and congested, thus, practical measures must be taken.  We all know the drill regarding cold and flu season, and this is no different.

  1. Washing hands well, thoroughly, and often.
  2. Using an alcohol based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. (Yes, even hand sanitizer has expiration dates, so check those!)
  3. Avoid proximity to symptomatic people.
  4. Use cough etiquette!  Maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands.
  5. Avoid areas where people congregate when travelling and seek local help if you become unwell.
  6. Carry sanitizing wipes to wipe down trays and armrests on flights.

If you are concerned about picking something up from public places, then there is great news – – so is everyone else!  During cold and flu season, we all tend to get a bit lax about our sneezing, coughing, hand washing and general consideration of others when symptoms arise.  Children are one of the most vulnerable, yet they are perhaps the worst to keep reminding of these measures!  Sometimes, it takes something like the warnings of this current virus to keep us mindful of others and diligent in our own personal care.  Cold and flu season is not over yet, and it presents a bigger risk to us than the COVID-19.

Do I cancel my travel plans because of COVID-19?

Unless you are prevented from traveling to, or from, a particular area of the world where travel is restricted anyways, the answer would be, NO.  This includes places like Disney Parks.  Yes, all of the Disney Parks in Asia have been closed for a period of three weeks starting February 28th, but the Disney Parks in the United States and Europe have not.  Spokespersons from Universal and Disney in the U.S. are working closely with the Center for Disease Control to ensure the safety of guests and employees on a daily basis.  As of now, the Parks are running on a normal schedule.  Just use common sense, and the above preventative methods, especially washing those hands! 

Furthermore, if you are looking to cancel your trip in fear of the COVID-19, you probably won’t be getting that full refund of your travel money.  Speak to your Travel Advisor regarding your Travel Protection Plans.  Unless you cancel for very specific reasons as specified in your policy, even a “Cancel for Any Reason” policy will not fully refund you simply because you fear the virus.  Cruise Lines and other tour operators are implementing the same policy for domestic and international travel.   Cruise lines are also implementing strict pre-screening procedures to ensure the health and safety of all passengers and crew members.

Overcoming the fear…

Whenever an outbreak such as this occurs, it should always be taken very seriously.  However, we must understand what it is, and what it is not.  What is most important is that it is going to run its course whether we like it or not – – as have all the other viruses and diseases that have been spread throughout the years.  COVID-19 is more difficult to contract than the flu.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, out of all those who have been infected with COVID-19 globally, approximately 2,463 have died from it.  The flu, however, has claimed more than 4,800 lives so far this year.  The preventative measures to take in avoiding each virus is the same, especially WASHING THOSE HANDS!  

Any public place of transportation is on alert and taking great measures to ensure that surfaces are disinfected, air filters are functioning properly (though there has been no indication that this is airborne), hand sanitizing stations are plentiful and accessible, and medical staff is readily available should any person present a symptom.  Hospitals are being prepared and the CDC is issuing directives as to what should be done at home to prepare in the event someone should fall ill.( CDC Household Preparedness ) Even more so, the CDC is encouraging people to keep in contact with and watch over, those who may not have someone to notify or care for them in the event the become ill for any reason.  Oddly, we seem to be at a point where we want to keep our distance, yet it is bringing us closer together as a community out of concern for our fellow human beings.

People have, and will continue to travel.  Business will still be conducted.  Cruise ships will still sail.  Planes will still fly.  Fear can be used to keep us more alert and serve as a reminder of what we should and should not be doing, but it should never stop us from living.  We have all learned that lesson over the past century, time and time again.  More importantly, Walt, Mickey, Main St. U.S.A,  and the vision of that glorious Castle will still be there to greet us, giving us comfort that it is indeed a small world after all, and it is still ours to explore – – just with hand sanitizer. After all, don’t we need the magic now more than EVER?

Feb 03

When & Why to Use a Travel Advisor!

If you are contemplating on taking that trip, then you probably fall into one of three categories:  1.  The Self-Planner who just loves every aspect of working through the details; 2.  The Bargain Hunter who feels you can get that “deal,” and beat the odds; and 3.  The Overwhelmed who have anxiety over all of the complexities, that you just don’t even know where to begin, and need help – – fast!  In any of these cases, here is where you may want to use a Travel Advisor.

  1. The Self-Planner. For you overzealous, excited, detail-oriented planners out there (and I count myself among you!), you may want to take in the full picture.  Self-planning is an entirely different thing than when you plan for others since you have the tendency to unduly obsess over every little thing.   Prior to becoming a Travel Advisor, I too, took on the daunting task of planning out every aspect of my family’s trips, as well as those for friends and other family members.   However, I encountered an unforeseen “bump in the road,” on our last one.  You see, I didn’t expect that when it came time for Dining Reservations, FastPasses , flights, and special experiences, that I would be bombarded with sick children, doctors appointments, and other daily tasks to accomplish on my ever growing, “To Do List.”  In spite of getting excited over our vacation, I found myself seeing it more as one more thing I HAD to do, rather than taking pleasure in it.  Towards the end of the planning, I felt more stressed and that I may have forgotten things during our trip.  I put my own planning on hold while taking care of others, including helping a friend with their trip.  Needless to say, during that vacation, I had been preoccupied with worry about whether I missed something or whether I planned out enough exciting and different things so that my family would be having a memorable time.

Lesson:  IF I had used a Travel Advisor, I wouldn’t have had to worry about making deadlines.  I would have had a steady lead time of reminders from my TA, given her/him my preferences, and had them do all this for me.  I could have also given my TA all my ideas for what I envisioned our family vacation to be like, and allowed them to come up with suggestions, pricing, etc.  They would have worked within the reality of my budget and time.  I could have saved myself a lot of stress, and simply have gone on vacation to really enjoy it!

  • The Bargain Hunter.  For you bargain hunters – – the reality is that we are all looking to save money on a trip. I’ve been there, I’ve done it, and the key to this is recognizing what is, and is not, a real bargain.  Time is money, and money is time and convenience.  If you think that not using a TA saves you money by not paying them a commission because you booked direct, then stop there.

Lesson:   If a Travel Advisor can see what you are looking at and book it, you have already paid for their services but are not getting them.  Nor are you getting their commission as a savings – – suppliers don’t work that way.  A Travel Advisor is not a sales person, but is more likened to a Financial Advisor.  We use years of experience, training, research and cultivated relationships with suppliers to offer the maximum return on your vacation investment.  We also know what pitfalls to avoid, monitor for offers that can save you money, and continue to be on call for you while you travel.  So many times I have been asked about a hotel or resort that someone has found, only to dig deeper to find that there are so many other costs associated with the initial “deal.”  So many times, we have found that deal to not be a deal at all, and moreover, a time consuming, and costly venture just to get to the destination.  More times than I care to count, I have also discovered some major issues that were conveniently omitted about the hotel, resort or room someone wanted to book at that “great rate.” Example:   the pool may be closed, construction is going on and you’ll never sleep, the rooms haven’t been updated since the 1970’s, or it’s located 30 min. away but actually 45min. because you are going during spring break.  Furthermore, Travel Advisors are not resources for free information, as they only get paid by a supplier if you book through them. 

  • The Overwhelmed.  For those of you not knowing what to do first or how to go about it . . . breathe!  In most cases, a Travel Advisor isn’t going to cost you anything, but will instead save you stress, money and time.  We do this as our job, as our passion, and are committed to helping each and every family have a wonderful vacation full of memories.  You may feel that this statement is a bit self-serving, but it comes from a lot of experience on both sides of the planning process. 

Lesson:  Some people like to be really “hands on” in the planning process, while others like to have it done for them.  Either is possible when using a Travel Advisor!  The important thing to keep in mind is that a good Travel Advisor will be there when you need them to help, guide, or even complete some of those daunting tasks. 

Is this you? It does not have to be!

Like with anything, if you want a truly great experience, then talk to someone with that experience.  Using a Travel Advisor is not uncommon!  In fact, people are using Travel Advisors more so now than ever before with the convenience of the internet.  The abundance of data, supposed deals, and advertising put in front of the average human being is a lot to digest!  However, what it all comes down to is knowing fact from fiction, and building a relationship with a real person who will guide you.  After all, it’s YOUR vacation and you want to make it as great as you’ve always dreamed about!