Friday, May 18, 2012

Going to Vegas . . . The Take a Look at This

Lobby of Palazzo
Emeril's Table 10
I just returned from attending a Travel Conference in Las Vegas where I spent a few days at the Palazzo Hotel. The Palazzo is a part of a large resort complex that includes not only the Palazzo but also the Venetian hotels and the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

As a guest of either property you have seamless access to everything included in all the properties. There is not a bad room in the place. Every room is a suite and the smallest is some 600 square feet in size and has all the customary amenities.  

This property has dozens of restaurants featuring such master chefs as Emril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck. These eateries include just about every kind of cuisine you can imagine but with a heavy accent on Italian. The facility has coffee shops and specialty (chocolate, pastry, etc) shops and bars throughout the complex.

Not only is there fine dining there are multiple venues dedicated to your entertainment. Live entertainment is everywhere. You have your choice of everything from The Blue Men and The Phantom of the Opera, wandering minstrels, the gondola rides on the canal, and artisans of all sort scattered about.
St Mark's Square

However, for me what really got my attention was how happy the staff appeared to be. I don't mean that they were just professional and courteous. They were happy in their work. Jason and Gretchen who worked at the front desk were not only efficient and knowledgeable they appeared to be genuinely happy. Even George, the security guard at to suite tower elevators always had a smile and a warm greeting.

I have stayed at some properties where the staff always looked as though someone was on their case and they'd just like to hit someone. You can be professional; you can be courteous and helpful; you can even be nice without really meaning it; but, you cannot be happy without it showing and believe me it showed at the Venetian/Palazzo property. This happiness was contagious and that made it really hard not to enjoy the place and its people.

Saint Mark's Square (see above) is the heart of the resort. It is a recreated Italian plaza. Early morning before the crowds arrive it is a delightfully relaxing place. Speaking of relaxing, don't forget to visit the Canyon Lake Spa while at the hotel.
Sports Gaming Area
By the way, when your there be sure and eat at least one meal at the Taqueria Canonita. I recommend the Vaquero Beef Rib. This Negra Modelo Simmered Short Rib with Chorizo Potatoes, Pasilla Oaxaca Sauce is fabulous.  Here as everywhere we went the staff was just terrific.

The Palazzo and the Venetian are in Las Vegas and that means gambling. Both of these hotels have large casinos which features just about every type of gaming you can imagine. It's all there. However, I mention it last because it constitutes less than 25% of the facility's revenue. The other 75% comes from Hotel and Conference business.

I highly recommend this hotel and resort complex whether your going to Vegas on a honeymoon, to celebrate an anniversary, or just have a family vacation.  Don't forget the staff at Texas Cruise and Travel can help you experience this fabulous resort property.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Shore Excursions: Where to Buy?

There are so many things we can do on a cruise that can only be provided by the cruise line. Among these are the on board shows, the deck activities, specialty restaurants etc. In fact, even when your a part of a large group that has it's own on board activities the cruise line plays a large role vis a vis rooms, equipment, food and drinks. However, there are a few things you can do that the cruise line has absolutely nothing to do with unless you choose to allow them. One is, where to shop when ashore and the other is shore Trips.

In both cases the cruise line will make every effort to convince you that if you shop with merchants not on their lists or go on a shore excursion provided by someone else you are putting yourself at risk of either being "ripped-off" by the merchant or missing the ship sailing with the shore excursion.

You need to keep in mind that that both of these are financial arrangements made by the cruise lines and that there is a financial incentive to the cruise line to promote "their" recommended shops and "their" shore excursions.

I know that on my wife's first cruise she attended the on board meeting where the Cruise Director spelled out in detail all the shops on their approved list. He told her how to get there, what to buy there, even how to get a free gift just for having that guide he gave out with her when she actually got there. I am here to tell you she bought it hook, line and sinker. We made every store and got every free trinket and literally missed the town, its people and culture. We came away with a guided shopping tour and missed a travel experience.

Following the "shop" talk she was treated to the Shore trip Desk's presentation on why she should only purchase our shore excursions from the cruise line. She learned how much walking was required, how long the tour would take, what to wear on the tour and whether or not food was provided. But most importantly she learned that if she used some other shore excursion company we would miss the ship and be left standing on the pier. Well, they really didn't actually say we WOULD miss the ship they just stressed that if we were late getting back the ship would not wait for us. However, cruise lines DO try to put the fear of God in people that they WILL miss the ship if they use anyone else.

Truth is, the chances of getting back to the ship from a shore excursion late are slim to none. Now, understand that I am not recommending that you wait until you get ashore to purchase a shore excursion from one of the vendors at the pier. I have done that and I have never had any problem getting back to the ship on time and I did save some money.  However, because I like to have my shore tours planned in advance I do recommend booking them ahead of your sail date.

There are a number of company's that provided shore tours and excursions to cruise ship passengers that are often better quality and frequently a better value than those offered by the cruise line.  A couple of reputable shore tour companies are Shore Excursions and Shore Trips.  One of the owners of Shore Excursions when asked about this said that while he worked for a major cruise line, "Not once in fifteen years or so did a guest that used third party miss the ship because of shore excursion operator issues."

Have your Travel Agent check out the third party tour operators and see if they don't offer something a little more to your liking. If they don't there is always the cruise line tours.

However, just because I do not know personally of anyone ever missing a ship sailing because of a late return from a shore excursion that does not mean I don't know of people missing the boat.  I've seen plenty of folks I miss the ship's sailing did so while sitting at a place like Carlos and Charlies'. But that's another story for another time.