Taking Control of Our Family Vacation with a Travel Agent

We recently finished our summer family vacation, the Castles, Cowboys, and Caverns: Upstate New York BRAVE Adventure.  Detailed posts are forthcoming regarding each of our stops.  However, this trip, we did something different I wanted to share.  Nothing exotic, but it was new for our family.  We worked with a travel agent, Tracy Whipple of Travel on a Dream specifically, and I wanted to share our experience.

Full disclosure: Travel on a Dream is a paid sponsor of Adventures by Daddy, and owned by Tracy Whipple.  She suggested I use the agency to plan our summer vacation.  However, all opinions expressed in this post are my own.  OK, with that out of the way, let me say, I’m a bona fide control freak, and was leery to give up my trip-planning autonomy to someone else.  I mean, my wife and girls are suitably brainwashed into thinking I’m the trip-planning expert in the family.  If a travel agent helped, where would that leave me?  To quote, that sage on the stage Janet Jackson:

I’m in control, never gonna stop
Control, to get what I want
Control, I got to have a lot
Control, now I’m all grown up

As much as I wanted to be master of my domain, it was June, the kids were out of school, and we had NO summer vacation plans.  Sure, I had lots of ideas, but no firm reservations in hand.  It was time to admit I couldn’t do everything, and took Tracy Whipple up on her offer – let’s see what Travel on a Dream could do for us.

First, I received a welcoming e-mail from Tracy.  It was a like a message from an old friend, wanting to catch up, get to know our family, and asked what we wanted to do on vacation.  Her query contained questions like:

  • What are some of our favorite family vacations?
  • What destinations would we like to visit, any we would like to avoid?
  • What else should I know about your family?

Tracy’s questions triggered a conversation around our dinner table with everyone throwing out ideas and opinions.

“I want a vacation where I don’t have to plan anything,” chimed in Dana (my wife), “no meal planning, cooking, deciding where we’re going to eat, cleaning, etc.”  Dana’s dream vacation was to go someplace quiet and relaxing, not crowded, with gorgeous nature, and a nice place for dinner.

“That sounds BORING!” yelled the kids, “we want to DO something!”  It’s true, the girls (and myself) like to be a little more active.  Sure, we enjoy relaxing on the beach, but we also wanted a vacation with activities – and some new experiences.

We answered Tracy’s questions, and waited to see her reply – good luck!

Within 24 hours, we received a list of options that included:

  • A 5 night Disney Cruise out of New York City to Canada and the New England Coast
  • A 5 night Carnival Cruise out of New York City to Canada and the New England Coast
  • A 4 night Carnival Cruise out of Miami to the Western Caribbean
  • And a week-long stay at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean.

Oooh, the options sounded heavenly, cruising was great because Dana could lounge poolside reading a book, the kids and I could do some excursions, and then we could all rendezvous back for a nice dinner.  Unfortunately, with the downturn in the economy, we also had some major budgetary constraints.

The Disney cruise priced out over $5000 – this cruise was tooooo high!  The Carnival cruise was half the cost, but reviews suggested you get what you pay for – this cruise was tooooo low!  The all-inclusive Caribbean resort cruise had an attractive price and destination, this was jussssst right – but factor in airfare for our family of four, D’oh!  Budget buster!  Back to the drawing board.

We came back to an idea I had turned over in my head for a while – a circle tour of our home state of New York that included areas we’ve never visited.  Tracy went to work.  She quickly replied with a 10 day tour heading from Rochester to the Adirondacks to Howe Caverns to Montauk, Long Island to an all-inclusive horseback riding ranch near Poughkeepsie, and then back home to Rochester.  Whew!

Unfortunately, the all-inclusive resort cost over $2,000 for TWO days, and we’d be spending many long days in the car driving point to point.  Uugh, didn’t sound very relaxing or picturesque.  Frankly, we were getting discouraged, and started to wonder whether we could really afford a summer vacation this year.  It was time to look at the “stay-cation” option.  Hey kids, quick! no line out back for the sprinkler!!  Knock yourselves out!

I put aside vacation planning for the weekend, and turned attention toward other things.  However, Tracy didn’t stop working.  By Monday morning she discovered three other all-inclusive horseback riding ranch resorts in the Adirondacks.  We checked some reviews and ultimately booked a vacation at the 1000 Acres Ranch near the Lake George area of the Adirondacks.  It was just our style, laid back, relaxed, affordable price, and the girls loved the idea of horseback riding on a dude ranch.

Over the course of a weekend, we went from despondent that we would a.) not afford a vacation this year or b.) settle for something we weren’t excited about – to genuinely excited about a destination that met all our needs.  It was within our budget, offered serenity for Mom, and plenty of activities for Dad and the kids.  Yahoo!  [or should I say Yeeehhaawww!]

In the weeks leading up to our vacation, Tracy continued to check to see if we needed anything or had any questions.  In addition, I had the assurance that if something unexpected happened, I could rely on Tracy and Travel on a Dream to handle the details of our vacation if we needed to attend to other matters.  So returning to our muse, Janet Jackson, yes, I may be in control and all grown up, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a little help from our friends.  It was wonderful to have an assistant in the trip-planning process, especially as life keeps getting busier and busier.  Would I recommend working with a travel agent?  Absolutely!  In fact, I’m currently working with Tracy and Travel on a Dream to plan our next trip.

Stay tuned as we have more specific details regarding our stay at the 1000 Acres Ranch and the rest of our Castles, Cowboys, and Caverns: Upstate New York BRAVE Adventure.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.