Down Under Answers / Travel Agency
There were numerous highlights of our trip that can be attributed to the two agencies involved: Down Under Answers did a good job of following our directions regarding our interests and our desired destinations. Many of the accommodations were well-selected. The Southern Cross hotel in Dunedin was comfortable and well-located. The Stewart Island Lodge was quiet, remote and “just right.” Ulva’s Guided Walk was excellent and memorable. In Te Anau, the bed and breakfast was excellent. Nice hosts, clean & contemporary, and the location was the best because the tour bus to Milford Sound picked us up at our doorstep and headed directly to the sound. Upon arrival in Milford Sound, we immediately got on the boat. No wasted time!
The Super Shuttle and Tahiti Nui Travel van transportation was always on-time and efficient. They both get kudos for being well-organized and efficient transfer services.
Also, please note that my decision to upgrade to premium economy on ANZ was well-worth it. The seating accommodations and service made the long flight quite comfortable.
The highlight was undoubtedly the Windstar cruise. We enjoyed the intimacy of a 150-passenger yacht. The service was impeccable.
Unfortunately, there were more than a few incidents that made the trip less enjoyable than it could have been.
Our flight to NZ The time allocated to transfer from our international flight to our domestic connection in Auckland was clearly insufficient . . . and we even inquired about this beforehand! We were told we’d have plenty of time. Wrong! In spite of the fact that the flight arrived about 30 minutes early, we still had to deplane, walk to have our photos taken, walk to baggage claim where one of my bags was one of the last off, walk to customs where they searched our bags because we declared our hiking boots! They then x-rayed our bags. Then we had to walk outside in the 7 a.m. heat and humidity approximately 12-15 minutes to the domestic terminal. (We were not willing to risk a trip on the shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes.) Upon arrival at the domestic terminal, we went to check our bags only to find out that they stop accepting bags 30 minutes before each flight. Geez . . ! We did, finally, get a helpful agent to help us re-book, but we had to take two flights to get to Dunedin instead of one! THE TRAVEL AGENCY SHOULD KNOW THAT 1.5 HOURS IS NOT ENOUGH TIME TO TRANSFER FROM AN INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT.
Rental Car I called the day before we picked it up to confirm. Everything seemed set. We arrived the next day at the downtown pick-up location at 11:30 a.m. (Timed so that we would have max time to turn-in the car in Greymouth) They found the reservation, but the car was at the airport! We waited an hour for the car to be delivered. Because we didn’t pick it up at the airport, we could not get a GPS. This was simply inattention to detail. A TRAVEL AGENCY THAT SPECIALIZES IN NZ TRAVEL SHOULD HAVE MADE BETTER ARRANGEMENTS.
Queenstown St. Moritz While we appreciate the agency’s help in getting us another room (at a daily up-charge of $60 and a noisy hostel below), the arrangements were totally unsatisfactory. Our original room looked out on a concrete wall that captured the noise of cars, taxis and busses arriving at the hotel. People could walk by and look into our room. Even more important was the fact that this upscale hotel DOES NOT have air-conditioning. The first night, in spite of a “cooler” and a fan brought to our room, the temperature in our room was 82 degrees at 10 p.m.! The next day, we departed at 9 a.m. and returned to our room at 4:45 p.m. to find that it had not been made-up yet! That was far-beyond our expectations of the St. Moritz!
We checked at the nearby Crowne Plaza and were told that ALL DECENT PROPERTIES IN QUEENSTOWN HAVE AIR CONDITIONING!
Departing Christchurch. We spent one day in Christchurch. We discovered our scheduled Super Shuttle pick-up was 4:30 p.m. for a 12-minute ride to the airport for a 8:35 departure! Seems like a long time to kill in an airport. We changed that. Then, we discovered that we’d been booked on the LAST flight out of Christchurch. There are many daily flights from Christchurch to Auckland. We didn’t need to take the last flight of the day. And, we didn’t need to arrive at our hotel at almost midnight. There was even an 8 p.m. departure that night (and another after we arrived at the airport). Instead, DUA booked us on the last flight of the day! That left no room for error. What if our flight had been cancelled? We’d have had little chance to get on an international flight departing Auckland at 10:10 a.m. the following morning. THIS WAS SIMPLY BAD PLANNING.
Arrival in Auckland. It is not the agency’s fault that ANZ misplaced Pam’s luggage (even though all four of our bags were put on the baggage belt at the very same time more than two hours before the flight!)
It was the transfer to the Holiday Inn Hotel that was the issue. There was nothing in the itinerary about transfer to the hotel in advance. So . . . I assumed I could make arrangements with the hotel for pick-up. I did. They said their bus would pick-up every 15 minutes. We were delayed at least 30, and maybe 45 minutes due to Pam’s lost luggage. In the meantime, we were given misleading information at the airport and by the hotel as to where to pick-up their bus. Around 11:30 p.m. we finally figured the hotel’s bus was a “city bus” that they shared with five other hotels. NO ONE TOLD US THAT. No one told us to be looking for a city bus with a small Holiday Inn logo on it (along with other hotels). When we boarded, we were told we had to have a ticket. Two tickets cost $12.
When we finally got to the hotel, the manager, realizing Pam’s Holiday Inn membership, went beyond what was necessary to make it up to us with free drinks and a bottle of champagne. Again, EXPECTATIONS. There were no instructions in the itinerary about how to get to the hotel! The boilerplate paragraph about all the wonderful things to do at the Holiday Inn was insulting when we were going to be at the hotel from late at night to early the next morning.
Because of Pam’s HI membership, the manager of the hotel paid for a cab to take us to the airport the next morning.
Departing NZ After having flown ANZ on one international flight and three domestic flights, we were shocked to be charged over $150 each ($300+ total) for two extra small bags. I find that outrageous. Once home, I checked with ANZ and discovered that the charge was based on the fare type that the agency had booked us under. There was nothing about that in the itinerary. Surely, DUA knew that we were going to be unexpectedly charged like that. A TRAVEL AGENCY SHOULD HAVE NOTIFIED US OF THAT IN ADVANCE . . . or made other arrangements.
In fact, on the itinerary, there are notations for luggage restrictions for Super Shuttle (two suitcases per person). There is a notation regarding luggage for the ferry to Stewart Island. There is a notation for the KiwiRail Scenic Journeys of a baggage limitation of two items per person plus handbag / personal item. There is NO SUCH STATEMENT OF A ONE BAG LIMITATION ON THE ANZ FLIGHT FROM AUCKLAND TO PAPETTE.
Arrival Moorea We had experienced excellent service with Super Shuttle and Tahiti Nui Travel for our transfers. Because the boilerplate “description of service” on our itinerary read the same as other transfers, we had expectations of the same. However, this was much different. Arriving in a crowded, third-world airport, there was no identifiable Tahiti Nui agent or van. Instead, we found someone who represented herself as such and directed us to put our luggage in a van and to board an old bus. Just before departing, we recovered our own baggage (thank goodness) and put it on the bus ourselves. The experience was hectic and disorganized. Then, we headed out on a one-hour bus trip around the island, stopping for a group of Chinese to de-board and take pictures. After stopping at four resorts, we finally arrived at the end-of-the-line Intercontinental.
The issue here is EXPECTATIONS. The itinerary description for transfer was the same “boilerplate” as all previous entries. Therefore, we expected our experience to be the same. Far from it! We expected a van to take us directly to the Intercontinental. If we’d have known this is the only way to get to the Intercontinental, then we’d have been prepared. EXPECTATIONS!
Departing the intercontinental Moorea. Check-out at the Intercontinental was 11 a.m. Our pre-arranged transfer was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. What were we going to do in all that time? Because Pam is a premier member of their frequent guest program, we were given a 2 p.m. checkout. Now, why didn’t DUA ever ask about our frequent flyer / hotel participations? We could have arranged upgrades and extras in advance. Thank goodness we had Pam’s IHG membership.
Departing Intercontinental Papeete. As you know, because of our midnight Air Tahiti Nui departure, we had to book an additional half-day. In retrospect, had DUA asked, we could have arranged a late check-out via Pam’s IHG membership. That would have met our needs and saved us significant additional expense. But again, NO ONE ASKED!
Seat Assignments. I had to ask more than once; and, as a result, we had satisfactory seat assignments in advance on our outbound flight to New Zealand. For all the other flights, we had no seat assignments. Pam went online herself and arranged seat assignments . . . with the exception, of course, of Air Tahiti Nui. Their systems are antiquated (as observed at the Papeete airport) and would not allow for online seat assignments. Their recorded phone message (all we could ever get) was only in French.
This is the first time I have ever used a travel agency. My experience has shown me that I am perfectly capable of continuing to arrange my own domestic and international travel and will do so in the future.