Shelley at this Australia tour operator did a great job coordinating a trip that was complicated by our personal situation. We were picking up my daughter after her semester abroad at Griffith University in Gold Coast, and had already made our flights to and from Australia and booked time off work. Unfortunately my daughters final exam schedule changed and we were unable to commit to our tour locations and schedules until 2 weeks before the trip, when her final schedule was announced. Shelley got us booked on 2 weeks’ notice, flying my daughter back to Gold Coast for her finals in the middle of the trip.
As our time in country was firm, and we had to work around my daughters schedule Shelley had to be creative in organizing the tour. To add further complexity my husband arrived in country 3 days after the rest of the group, and we had 6 members in our group—me, husband, 2 daughters and 2 boyfriends. But Shelley came through and we had a great trip.
All of the arrangements went through as planned—hotels, flights, tours and transfers. We did not have any problems. Everything was documented in detail before the trip. I had some reservations about using Zicasso and an unknown travel agent, as I had always planned my own trips. But as my trip approached, and I realized that I didn’t really know where to go, where to stay and the reality of the time commitment it would take for me to make arrangements for 6 people, I researched options and found Zicasso. Based on good reviews in WSJ and Travel&Leisure, I decided to give it a shot. I am glad I did. I was very happy with the service, and feel that my cost for the trip was actually less than if I had booked it myself. I would use Zicasso and this tour operator again.
Our favorite was the Sounds of Silence dinner at Uluru. The food was outstanding, and when they extinguish the torches, the pitch black night sky with a fabulous array of stars, uncontaminated by light or environmental pollution for thousands of miles was unbelievable. We just stared in wonder. We loved hiking around Uluru as well so Uluru was our favorite destination. It is a long way to get there, but well worth it for us.
Also the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane was great. We got to interact with kangaroos and koalas. The coral in the Great Barrier Reef was spectacular. We enjoyed the reef, and also a day trip to Whitehaven Beach on Hamilton Island, but wished the weather had cooperated a little more. We took the city water ferry in Brisbane, which was cheap and a great way to get to know this neat city.
The things that I would do differently were all based on our personal situation, and decisions I made.
I would not book a trip like this on 2 weeks’ notice or one which required us to break it up in the middle for final exams.
I would research the weather at the time of year more before committing to a trip. We went June 9-26 and I thought that the beaches would be warmer. Hamilton Island was beautiful, but we happened to arrive on their coldest day in 20 years! The same with the Great Barrier Reef and Port Douglas which were cooler than I would prefer. If going at that time of year again, I would reduce the beach time and go to Sydney. Which Shelley suggested, but I resisted.
I would budget more for hotels. As I was paying for 6 people we had to economize somewhat. I noticed it most at Uluru, where we stayed at Emu Walk. The quarters were a little cramped, and the 2 younger couples shared a room with one couple on a fold out couch in the common living area, and other in a bedroom. The only bathroom was in the bedroom, which caused some privacy issues, and a rat jumped out of the sleeper sofa and grabbed some food. But at the time we booked that was the only space available. Our 3 bedroom apartment at The Cayman Villas in Port Douglas was very nice.
I would have a better technology plan. I needed to run my business even though I was on vacation and planned to do so with my laptop and internet. Unfortunately, Qantas’s electrical system fried my laptop on the flight over, and I foolishly had neglected to load my essential files and a boot disc on a flash drive before the trip. Internet access was spotty and expensive, as it was not one charge per day, but by MB with low limits. Without a laptop I ran up quite a bill on my iPhone. We ended up buying 3 local phones at the Brisbane airport, and one was a mobile broadband which we used for internet access. It was much cheaper than any phone plan from the US, and much cheaper than internet access at the hotels.
I would not book early morning tours for a group of people in which 5 out of 6 are night owls. We missed 2 tours because we were too tired to get up.
I would have more free unscheduled days. I underestimated jet lag, and overestimated my stamina. Shelley had scheduled us for more free days, but we wanted to pack everything in due to time constraints.
So all in all, as always, I would have a bigger budget, a longer trip, a little less rushing around and less luggage. And listened a little more to my travel agent.