Jenny Cox Holman, Lifestyle | Travel Editor for Mississippi Matters, visited with Mary Boothe Ball, Travel Advisor with Magnolia Travel Group, to learn great travel tips and vacation planning advice for unforgettable family vacations and couple’s getaways.
Mary, can you tell us about your journey into the role as a travel advisor with Magnolia Travel Group?
My family loves to travel, and I have used travel advisors in the past to help find great deals and put all the details in one place for one price. Jennifer Wooten planned our 2016 Columbus Day Weekend trip to Universal and Disney World. When Hurricane Matthew closed the entire Orlando area just in time for our trip, Jennifer went above and beyond for us! Before the storm hit, there were many unknowns, and she was on top of the changes and the cancellations. With her aid, we were refunded and rescheduled. The later trip was wonderful, and I am thrilled to join Jennifer and Kim Sims as they start this agency so that I can help plan great trips and be available to help my clients when needed!
As a mother and wife, what have been the most valuable tips you have learned over the years for vacation planning?
Begin by engaging your family with the planning. Decide as a group where you want to go, what you might want to see while you are there, where to eat, and other details that you can plan beforehand.
Keep the lists you make – many of the things your family needs for a train trip are the same ones you need for a beach trip.
When flying with children, give yourself extra time and be prepared for layovers by packing a thin blanket for playtime and movie time on the floor, get a few new disposable toys from the dollar store to make the time go by more smoothly.
Most of all: prepare to be flexible!
What are some of the best vacation spots for family vacations in the United States?
Of course the national parks – especially Yellowstone! Amtrak has many national park vacation packages with 4-15 night train-plus-sightseeing tours to various parks including one from Salt Lake City to Yellowstone and back. And if you have a fourth grader, your family can have free access to hundreds of parks for an entire year – visit this site:
https://www.everykidinapark.gov to apply for your pass.
Theme parks are wonderful—especially with kids or adults who have special needs and may not have the mobility for a hiking trip. Disney World, Disney Land, and Universal Orlando are all fun choices for families.
Also, NYC for the theatre and art loving families, Washington D.C. for older kids, and Williamsburg and Jamestown is a new favorite area of ours (there’s a Great Wolf Lodge near the historical towns – fun and educational!). Consider day trips to Hershey, PA, for a chocolate factory tour and to nearby Easton, PA, for a tour of the Crayola Experience. Check out their sites:
When planning an anniversary, honeymoon or couple’s getaway, what are your favorite places for relaxing retreats?
Our top sellers for couple getaways are Sandals (check out the Antigua and St. Lucia locations), Secrets, and Breathless resorts. These cater to couples and are all-inclusive so all you have to do is enjoy one another. Also Costa Rica has special properties for couples as well.
Many couples are adventure seekers and foodie lovers, what hotspots would you recommend for their next vacation and why?
Both of these categories could be stand alone articles!!
For adventure seekers, we see many people headed to Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Belize for jungle tours, zip lining, and cave exploration. Growing in popularity is Iceland with its proximity to the Northern Lights, glaciers, volcanic activity, and the Blue Lagoon. Hurtigruten Cruise takes travelers on small ships around the shoreline of Iceland, and another company escorts travelers on ice hikes and snowmobiles. The world is so big, and Magnolia Travel Group offers adventure tours and independent exploration – rafting, biking, hiking, ice walking, etc., through every continent – including Antarctica.
For foodies, cruises are a great option – chef demonstrations and wine pairings are common on Princess and Holland America. The Karisma Resort brand is known for its gourmet food, and at the El Dorado Maroma Resort you can stay in an over-the-water bungalow and participate in wine and food pairings each day of the week with professional chefs and the Jackson family of wines. Another good choice is Italy. Visit the more well-known stops as well as the hidden treasures in the countryside—small, tucked away, and delightful towns with fabulous food!
If you love food and adventure, consider O’ahu. Lanai Tabura, winner of season four of Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” offers Aloha Plates, a Jeep tour of eateries in the melting pot of beautiful O’ahu.
https://jeeptourshawaii.com/tours/aloha-plate-hawaii-food-tour/. Also there is a wonderful chocolate restaurant that has alcohol pairings with the chocolate and actually makes all of its chocolate on-site from cocoa beans. And don’t forget O’ahu’s incredible beaches and scenery—Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, the North Shore, whale watching, and so much more.
With the arrival of the holiday season and spring break right around the corner, what are your tips for less stressful air travel and booking hotels?
Book early! Especially this year, half of the Caribbean is shut down from hurricane damage, so availability is limited. Let me or one of my colleagues know where you want to go, how much you would like to spend, and the dates of your intended travel; good deals are released daily. Additionally, travel insurance is important for your peace of mind as weather and life events happen. If you are unable to use your vacation, sometimes having the cash back is more desired than a credit for future travel.
What is the advantage of using a travel advisor as opposed to planning a vacation online?
When you book online, you are using a travel agent! It’s the person on the other side of the computer who is arranging some of the details of your trip. Why not use a travel agent you know and have their number in case you need it on the journey? Also, for future trip planning, we have your information ready to plug into the next reservation to save you the hassle of reentering it for each trip. Another colleague, Kim Sims, told me that most travelers spent between five and seven hours on the phone canceling and rescheduling reservations when the 2017 hurricanes hit the Caribbean and Florida. Let us help take that from you! Lastly, many people enjoy and have time to research vacation locales, and that’s great! But still book the trip through an agent for the peace of mind that you have someone representing you when something goes wrong.
With safety always being at the forefront of a parent’s mind, what safety precautions should parents take before traveling with children abroad?
Download a translator app for each person’s phone if you do not speak the language of your destination. Make sure you and your children have updated photos and information about each other. Know what they are wearing. Count heads often while you are out. Show children the proper persons to ask for help if needed.
Also taking a cruise through Europe is not only one of the most economical ways for a family to see a number of cities and countries, but it is also very safe. Each port is well-protected, and travelers have the confidence that they can leave belongings and documents in one place during the entire trip – no chance to forget a bag as you wait for a train!
Do you have an thoughts on how to teach young children or teens an appreciation of historic or cultural sites on vacations?
Our unofficial travel motto is “Travel. Travel often. Travel outside your box.” The more exposure our kids have to the world outside of their community, the more well-rounded and understanding they become. One way to build on this is to do research before travel begins. Most historic locations have online lesson plans for teachers and families to educate children (and themselves!) on what they are about to see. If you can, take a guided tour or attend during a special time of year when actors portray characters from the time period. The more children are invested beforehand, the more they will take out of it. If there are several museums to visit – like the Smithsonians, let them choose which one to visit or to assign an order in which to visit the ones on your list. And even when you are at home, cultivate their love for learning by taking day trips to historical and beautiful areas close to home.
Walt Disney World and Disneyland vacations are magical and memorable times for families and couples alike! What are your tips for a families first vacation to Walt Disney World or Disneyland? What is your favorite time of the year to plan a first time vacation to Disney?
Make a plan before you go. Even a slow day at these parks sees thousands of people, and many of them have no plan. A Disney vacation should be enjoyable, but don’t sleep in!! Plan to be at the park an hour BEFORE rope drop. Then take a break in the middle of the day to rest, so you can return ready to tackle the remainder of the day.
Kim Sims has planned hundreds of trips to Disney and has some great advice:
- Use an agent for your trip; most in our agency are very savvy Disney planners. We can help you along the way with all the details of fast passes, dining, and itinerary choices.
- If your children are young enough, miss school and go when crowds are low.
- If you are going in the summer, go early (between Memorial Day and early June).
- If you have a baseball lover, Spring Break is great with professional baseball teams playing each other at the Wide World of Sports.
- Times to avoid for your first visit: EASTER, Fourth of July, Christmas Day, and Thanksgiving Day. If you MUST visit during these holidays, we will tailor your trip to make it as fun as possible.
My family loves to visit in late May because the weather is nice and the crowds haven’t reached summer peak.
What are the honeymoon hotspots for adventure lovers? For sightseeing? For art & music enthusiasts?
Consider China or another Asian country for an adventurous honeymoon. We can arrange a tour guide who makes sure guests arrive at each location safely and on time but doesn’t hover! From the Great Wall of China to a river cruise down the Yangtze, China offers unique romance.
Sightseeing in Alaska can’t be beat! Combinations of cruise and land tours are a great way to have some glacier and helicopter adventures. Belize is a laid-back country with beautiful Mayan ruins, rain forest flora and fauna, and a living barrier reef right off of the beautiful Cayes. The barrier reef provides scuba divers and snorkelers alike plenty of beauty to observe.
Our country has a plethora of cities where arts and music are flourishing. Aficionados are probably quite familiar with Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC, and they are worth experiencing again to search out the unique museums and smaller venues as well as revisiting favorites. Also try San Francisco and Austin, Texas for unique experiences.
Additionally, a spot that hits all three categories is Denver, Colorado. Enjoy a concert at Red Rocks, hike a nearby “fourteener” mountain, and take a train to the top of Pike’s Peak for amazing scenery!
Do you recommend clients to schedule a time to visit with you to find their travel goals? How can those interested in using your travel services reach out to you?
Of course! I am a home-based advisor, so please email or call me to schedule a meeting. Not only should a person meet with an agent when ready to book a trip, but sharing long-term travel goals with an agent helps us look for money-saving options that may make a client’s dream into a reality. It’s a wonderful idea to plan ahead in order to prioritize travel goals and understand the potential cost of certain trips as well as the requirements like passports and visas.
My email is email@example.com, and our web site is magnoliatravelgroup.com. Each agent I work with is listed there as well as many of our services. We are paid by our suppliers, so there is no cost for you to use our planning services.
Being a generation that is constantly connected through social media use, do you have any thoughts why it is important for families to have time to virtually disconnect (parents included) during their vacation?
When you ask people what they did over the break, the first answer is usually where they went and what they did there. Memories are made on trips, so capitalize on those memory-making opportunities! Many destinations lend themselves to disconnecting: it’s too expensive to plug in on a cruise ship, and national parks are vast, broad, beautiful, and missing cell towers! Once you are disconnected from the virtual world, the family connections are easier to make.
What do you believe creates the most special vacations memories?
Go anywhere, but take someone special with you, if possible! Family travel, especially multi-generational, is a booming niche right now because we all want to have time together that isn’t overshadowed by extra activities, homework, catching up with e-mail, etc. Talking about what you have seen, looking back at pictures later, and laughing about all the silly things you did is best done with your closest people. On your trip, get outside of your comfort zone—try the new food, the zip line, or the dancing lesson. Remember: Travel. Travel often. Travel outside your box.