This review is about a trip that my daughter (10 years old) and I took to Australia. Spanned just under 3 weeks, included international travel from Eastern US and domestic travel in Australia among Melbourne, Cairns and Sydney. Our Australia tour operator handled all air travel, shuttles, car rentals, hotels and tours.
REVIEW:Impeccable. I worked with our Australia travel agent who sooooooo far outperformed any of the other companies that submitted bids. She asked questions that I wouldn't have thought about and listened to everything I said. We went back and forth more than 20 times as I kept asking for more details or started to dream up something else I wanted to add to the vacation. She got back to me immediately every time with the perfect options.
Let me say that I have never worked with a travel agent before and was wary. I feared being "ripped off" and just sold whatever accommodations and tours they have contracts with. Instead, I got the customized vacation that I hoped for at an insanely great price! Three examples:
1. I planned to fly Qantas and contacted them directly for the travel agency services. I spoke with the individual there (who is very nice) for over an hour and then heard nothing. After I prompted him twice via email and phone, he responded with an itinerary that didn't resemble anything we discussed. So, Qantas services was done. I really wanted to fly Qantas but our travel agent found better fares and flight times with Virgin. What a great decision! I fly frequently for business and Virgin was *excellent*.
2. I typically stay at 4-5 star hotels that are well known to avoid the disappointment that can come when accommodations aren't up to snuff. I kept telling our agent that I don't mind spending extra for great hotels and I was a little worried when she suggested hotels that weren't part of known "brands." Thank goodness I decided to trust her. The hotels were fantastic! In Palm Cove (by the Great Barrier Reef) we stayed at a little hotel that is right on the beach in the middle of the esplanade. Not fancy in any way but absolutely perfect! The couple that manages the hotel were like old fashioned inn keepers who made sure you had everything you needed but didn't invade your space. And the location! Epic. We arrived and on the inn keeper's advice dropped our luggage in the room and took a quick dip in the ocean which was only meters from the hotel.
3. We took day tours in Melbourne, Cairns and Sydney, all selected by our travel agent based on discussions about what my daughter and I enjoy. Two choices she made would *never* have been discovered without her. She found the absolute best tour guide in all of Queensland! He was a great driver (important for traversing those roads), hilarious, kind and insanely intelligent about the rainforest and surrounding areas. I've written a review of the tour on TripAdvisor if you want more details. The other choice she made was for us to attend the Cairns Night Zoo. If you drove past the entrance, you wouldn't think much of this zoo (my daughter and I visit zoos everywhere we go and are kind of zoo snobs). Holy smokes was this experience amazing! For three hours, we got to encounter koalas, kangaroos, crocodiles and so many other animals. The zookeepers put on a show of sorts (pretending to be bushmen, etc.) that would be really dorky but they are just too nice and smart for it to turn out that way. Highly highly recommend this experience!
In short, I consider our travel agent a fulfiller of dreams. Amazing.
The Daintree Rainforest was by far my daughter's favorite and it would be mine too except that I fulfilled a dream of snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, which exceeded all expectations. The big surprise for us was how wonderful Melbourne was. The reason for including Melbourne was because I was attending a conference there and now I realize how lucky we were to have that "requirement" or we would have missed this glorious city. Our travel agent arranged for us to travel on the Great Ocean Road for three days (west of Melbourne), which was mind blowing. The landscape is like something out of a fantasy book. On one side, you have the incredible coastline with plunging cliffs and the "12 Apostles" and on the other side is farmland that looks like The Shire from Lord of the Rings. Wow.
I wouldn't do anything differently. I just now have a list of many other destinations in Australia that we want to visit, including Darwin, Brisbane, Perth and the interior. The country lives up to its reputation as a supreme vacation destination!
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