I'll start off by saying we had a great trip!! That said, the months leading up to the trip were nerve racking and not great. To start, when we were in the booking process, the agent was great. He had some good tips, ideas, and seemed to listen to what we wanted to do. He was very responsive and answered many questions. Then we paid! Once this occurred, questions went unanswered and emails stopped. There were multiple occasions where I would send an email, wait two full weeks, send another email asking what is up, and then finally he would respond (as if nothing was wrong with waiting two full weeks to respond to a client). This started happening more frequently and a few times, he said he didn't get my email (when I would follow-up asking what was up after two weeks of no response), which seems highly unlikely considering he got all my other emails (plus, myself and husband were CC'ed on them and received them just fine!!).
I was so worried with this agent being a solo agent and then started thinking that our trip may not really be booked. So, I took it upon myself to confirm our cars and some hotel stays. One of our car bookings was wrong (wrong name. Hertz couldn't find and once they did, they asked if an amateur booked it!), which he finally corrected, and luckily our hotel stays were there. However, I shouldn't have felt the need to have to do this, but felt it was necessary to be sure our trip was actually booked. The agent seemed very scattered after we booked too, saying he would do things and never did, and me having to follow-up multiple times.
If the agent had maintained the level of customer service he provided prior to our payment, I would be able to recommend him. However, that was not the case for us, at all. We did check into one hotel where we got stuck with a handicapped room and were really displeased with the accommodation because of it (shower was a wet mess, slippery floor, felt springs in bed, etc.). I emailed the agent and he actually got back to me by the next day. The hotel was fully booked so he couldn't really do anything (other than switch our room for the last night, which seemed dumb), but I was glad that he responded while we were away.
I had planned on leaving less stars, but because of the pre-booking service and the responses while traveling, I bumped it up. I'm sure many people are not as involved in planning their trip as we were and that's why they use a travel agent. We wanted say though and could have booked this trip ourselves, but thought it would be easier to use an agent because of the various places we were staying and the numerous flights involved. It turns out that I think I did just as much work having an agent as if I had done it myself. I do think he provided some good tips and made our routing make a bit more sense, but the stress leading up to departure didn't seem worth it. I would have been more comfortable having all my confirmations in my own email than relying on one person for a month long trip.
Kayaking at Abel Tasman National Park, geothermal attractions around Rotorua, walking around the great city of Wellington, hiking at Mt. Field National Park in Tasmania, and petting a kangaroo and koala at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania.
I would really look into a camper van. I thought our agent told us they were super expensive, but I saw tons of young people with them and can't imagine they cost more than what our trip cost. It was nice having hotel rooms, but many were really average so it would have been great to be able to keep everything in the van and not transport suitcases in/out of hotels every few days. I wouldn't use shuttle services to/from the airport either. The shuttle in Sydney was an hour ordeal and they didn't even help with our luggage. A cab would have been much easier/faster, and I doubt that much more money.
Skipping Australia would have avoided the short flights, but it was nice to get a taste of it since we were already so close. I wasn't a fan of Hobart or Launceston in Tasmania, but having those areas as our home base worked well for what we were doing during the day.
I would have stayed in Auckland and checked out an island in the North. Our agent talked us out of that, but I feel like I missed a big part of the North island by getting right in the rental and heading South. I'm sure he was right in that we wouldn't want to drive in Auckland, but we could have taken a shuttle and hung out in the city two days. We also skipped Mt. Cook for the glaciers, which the agent recommended, but they were less than impressive because there is hardly anything left to them!
It rained for our big Tongariro and Walls of Jerusalem hikes so it would have been great if we had another day or two in those areas for more chances. However, time was an issue for us, so that wasn't a possibility. Plus, I wouldn't have really wanted to stay IN Tongariro more than two nights. It could have rained the whole trip and luckily didn't, so at least we still did part of the hike, but were disappointed we couldn't finish cause of the weather.
[Travel Company's Comments]
I am so glad that your trip went well, other than the awful weather that you experienced in a few of the places. This was the worst summer Down Under weather wise in anyone’s memory with unseasonal wind and rain in the temperate areas and several near misses from cyclones (hurricanes) in the north that nonetheless wreaked havoc with scheduled tours.
I am sorry that you feel that I wasn’t as responsive in the months leading up to your departure as I was initially in the trip planning stage and near to your departure and during the trip itself. It’s my goal that every client feels as though they are my ONLY client, but of course that cannot be the case and from time to time I have to prioritize my time. My first priority is to clients who are in destination should they need help with anything. My second priority is getting my clients prepared for their trip, which typically takes hours on the phone and via WebEx, which is a service that I provided to you as well. The fact is most of the additional emails that you sent me were for things that we were already going to cover in the departure review and most came at a time when I had many clients near departure that needed a lot of hand holding. When the time came for your departure I was just as focused on you.
It’s easy but unfair to second guess advice that I provide that lead to decisions a Traveler makes in regards to what could have been done during a trip, but didn’t. My advice is predicated on many things that include my experience with the destination, the season of travel, allocated time one has, budget requirements, and the stated objectives and requests of the Traveler. From that emerges a complex itinerary (or trip plan) that must account for these multitude of variables. A Traveler sets many of these trip parameters up front and from there I assist in connecting the dots in the best way possible. A Traveler could make any changes to the itinerary, but then must evaluate what options to cut out to make room for these changes, as well as to factor the available transportation options and costs. It’s awfully complicated and more than I can hope to address in a few paragraphs.
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