Thursday, October 18, 2012

Disney announces weekly park surprises for 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — Social media will be a big component of a new program announced by Disney Wednesday in which the company's parks in California and Florida will feature weekly surprise themes and events.
The "Limited Time Magic" program announced Wednesday will include impromptu concerts, dance parties, colored lighting, character meet-and-greets, new menu and merchandise items and other events at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., near Orlando.
Disney will use Twitter, blogs, websites and other online activity to let park visitors know what's happening. Guests might also be asked to vote on which characters they'd like to see or be sent on scavenger hunts with hints to figure out what's new or different.
"It's a fun, lighthearted, new way to get people engaged," Leslie Ferraro, executive vice president of global marketing and sales forWalt Disney Parks and Resorts, said at a news conference in Manhattan announcing the program.
Disney erected a 25-foot-tall castle made of ice in Times Square to symbolize the fleeting nature of the weekly surprises, and water ran down the turrets as the ice melted Wednesday morning. Blase New Yorkers hurried past without giving it a second glance but some fans and tourists donned mouse ears and took pictures.
Each "Limited Time Magic" theme will last a week. Plans include celebrations of July Fourth, "Pirate Week," 3-D chalk art, "Long Lost Friends Week" featuring lesser-known Disney characters. A Valentine's Day celebration will feature pink and red lighting on Disney castles and romantic candlelit dinners in park restaurants.
Other Disney park news this year includes the June opening of Cars Land at California Adventure at Disneyland, and the continuing expansion of Fantasyland at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. The Fantasyland project, which is the largest expansion in the park's 41-year history, began in March with the first of two Dumbo rides taking flight and is expected to be completed in 2014.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Congrats to Debby, winner of Excellence Award!!

For Immediate Release
Round Rock based travel agent honored with Nexion
Circle of Excellence Award
Debby Stevens of 3D Cruise and Travel, LLC Achieves Top Industry Award for
Cruise and Tour Sales in 2012

Texas (October 5, 2012 ) –Round Rock-based travel agent Debby Stevens has been recognized as one of the travel industry’s top home-based travel agents based on her cruise and tour sales by premier travel host agency, Nexion. Stevens was honored with Nexion’s “Circle of Excellence” award during the organization’s annual CoNexion national conference, which was held at the Hyatt Regency – Dallas at Reunion Tower from October 4-6, 2012. The Circle of Excellence is one of two major national sales recognition awards that Nexion announces each fall.

Nexion sets lofty goals for its independent home-based travel professionals Debby Stevens has exceeded those ambitious goals,” said Nexion President Jackie Friedman. “We are proud to honor her for striving to achieve success in cruise and tour components of a traveler’s vacation. Debby truly deserves recognition among our elite agents. Nexion would not be able to succeed without our agents achieving this level of success.

Stevens is one of just 42 independent home-based agents – out of Nexion’s network of more than 3,200 agents throughout the United States – to be honored with the prestigious Circle of Excellence award. The award is given to those agencies achieving the highest total of cruise and tour sales among Nexion’s supplier partners booked from September 1, 2011, to August 31, 2012.

I am very pleased to be honored as one of Nexion’s top agents,” said Stevens of 3D Cruise and Travel. “To be recognized with the Circle of Excellence award is very gratifying. The resources and training Nexion makes available to me as a part of my membership helps me achieve this level of success and, more importantly, allows me to provide each of my clients with the best possible vacation options to suit their style of travel and budget.”
Each Circle of Excellence inductee, including Stevens will also be treated to an exclusive trip reserved for the award winners. This year’s retreat, courtesy of Funjet Vacations and Azul Fives by Karisma, will allow winners the opportunity to enjoy Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, from November 30 – December 3, 2012.

To tap into Steven’s travel expertise, contact her at 512-218-0291, online at or via email at

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[Debby Stevens is the owner of 3D Cruise and Travel and has been in the industry since 1989, operating in Central Texas since 1992. Debby has many destination specialist certifications and specializes in Celebration Vacations, including, but not limited to: Honeymoons, Destination Weddings, Romantic Vacations and Family Reunions.

Airlines eye subway-style self-boarding

Courtesy JetBlue
Pictured here is an example of JetBlue's self-boarding gates in the Las Vegas airport.
Self-service is king when it comes to flying these days, with travelers checking in online, downloading their own boarding passes and tagging their bags.
But passengers outside the U.S. often perform one more task on their own at the airport: self-boarding.
Scan your boarding pass at a gate equipped with a subway-like turnstile, and voilĂ , you’re on your way to the plane—no gate agent required.
It’s an option travelers seem to love: Almost 90 percent said self-boarding is their favorite self-service technology in a survey of more than 2,500 passengers from 70-plus countries released on Tuesday. The poll was conducted by SITA, a company that specializes in air transport communications.
Gate agents are still there, watching over the process to make sure travelers don’t encounter any snags, Young said.
Those snags are one of the reasons airlines have been proceeding carefully, industry observers said.
“If you've seen people using self-check-out at supermarkets, they aren't generally as adept at scanning bar codes as the actual check out personnel,” said Robert W. Mann Jr., an airline industry analyst.
“When you narrow it down to the pointy end of the funnel, when everybody is trying to get on the airplane through one door, the person who struggles with the scanning is holding up 150 people and they’re all (upset).”
Still, self-boarding seems to be an attractive option for both airlines and travelers.
Some 17 international carriers now use the technology and there are 113 automated gates at airports around the world, according to recent figures collected by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The group, which represents some of the world’s biggest airlines, supports self-boarding as part of its "Fast Travel" initiative.
Airlines that pioneered the process include SAS and Lufthansa in Europe, and All Nippon Airways in Asia, said IATA spokesman Perry Flint.
Passengers may like the service because it’s somewhat empowering, Mann said. Travel requires people to give up a lot of control over their environment, so this is a small instance where they can take charge.
But the cost of installing the gates may be an obstacle for carriers in the U.S., where airlines usually own or rent the check-in space in airports where they operate and can’t spread the expense among several different users, Flint said.
“It may not make economic sense for the airline to make that investment if they’re the only ones who are going to be using it and if they are already operating at a very high level of efficiency,” Flint said.
Bottom line: Don’t look for automated self-boarding gates dominating U.S. airports any time soon, but be ready for subway-like boarding in other parts of the world.
And don’t forget your smartphone when you travel.
The SITA survey also found that the number of passengers with the gadgets has “risen dramatically” over the past year, from 54 percent to 70 percent.
“We’re now at the tipping point of explosive growth in mobile services offered to passengers, which will give them more control over their journey and reduce stress,” said Francesco Violante, the CEO of SITA.

Monday, October 1, 2012

New show goes behind the scenes at Miami airport

By DAVID FISCHER | Associated Press –
MIAMI (AP) — The Travel Channel has spent years telling stories about where people go, but now they're doing a show on
how people get there. "Airport 24/7: Miami" offers viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to move more than 100,000 travelers each
day through Miami International Airport.
"We host a Super Bowl every day at MIA," security director Lauren Stover said, comparing the number of travelers to
attendance at the championship football game.
With thousands of employees running what can easily be compared to a small city, the show follows workers as they deal with terrorist threats, intercept drug smugglers, attend to medical emergencies, repair aircraft and secure an Air Force One landing, all the while trying to get the passengers to their flights and the planes in the sky on time.
"This is one of many ways in which Travel Channel is trying to give viewers a different look at all aspects of travel," network general manager Andy Singer said. "And we think the Miami International Airport is a fascinating way to do that."
The first two episodes of the show premier back-to-back at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
The idea for the show started with 2C Media owner Chris Sloan, who said he's had a passion for commercial aviation since
he was a child. His longtime hobby has been collecting photos and memorabilia from airports around the world. He's even been maintaining a website about airports and airlines — — for nearly a decade.
"I travel a lot," Sloan said. "And I felt that this was a world that was much maligned."
Sloan said it was challenging to convince airport officials he wasn't trying to do some kind of expose or smear job. And once MIA agreed to the show, they still had to convince multiple airlines and government agencies to give them access, Sloan said. But their patience and perseverance appeared to pay off.
"Whenever you go to an airport, there are always signs that say, 'Staff Only,' 'Do Not Enter,' 'Prohibited Area,' 'Alarm Will Go Off,'" Sloan said. "But we actually go to all those places, and that's unique."
Ken Pyatt, MIA's deputy director of operations, said he was surprised by how dramatic the show turned out to be. He said he thought the show would be more matter-of-fact in its presentation of different areas of the airport. Instead, camera crews spent several months earlier this year following employees around, showing rather than telling the types of challenges workers face on a regular basis.
"I think the editing of the show is amazing," Pyatt said. "How they were able to put these little vignettes together each show and actually tell four or five stories."

Pyatt said he particularly enjoyed a later episode that deals with Air Force One landing in Miami the same day that the budget airline Interjet is scheduled to hold an event celebrating its inaugural flight between Miami and Mexico City. The Interjet event, with celebrities and local officials set to attend, had been scheduled at least month in advance, Pyatt said. But when the president comes to town, everything else becomes secondary to that.
"The best laid plans have to often be abandoned or shrunk by something that has more precedence, and we deal in that operational mode 24/7," Pyatt said. "You can only prepare so much for what goes on, but to give the public a seamless experience, it really requires people to go above and beyond."
Improving that seamless experience for travelers has been major priority at MIA over the past few years. The airport had developed a reputation for bad customer service, and a major push was made to turn that around. Part of that push was bringing trainers from the Disney Institute to Miami to teach around 400 front-line staff, including executives, the Disney way of doing things.
"That was the beginning of a lot of energy and change," said Dickie Davis, who oversees customer service at MIA.
Between the Disney training and other changes, Davis said she's proud of the progress she's seen at the airport. And while not directly related, Davis acknowledged that improvements at MIA likely helped the show's producers gain access to the airport.
"It's easier to let people come into your house when you've just redecorated," Davis said. "And we've never looked better."
If there's one thing that's still more important than customer service at MIA, it would be security. With about 40 million passengers moving through the airport every year, Stover — MIA's security director — said Miami is a "Category X" airport, meaning it's a prime target for a terrorist attack.
Airport security is far more than the baggage screeners and officers that passengers see, Stover said. The key to effective security is having multiple layers so that if someone gets by one layer, they'll be caught by the next, she said.
Six years ago, MIA began making its 40,000 civilian employees part of the security program. Starting with a group of about 70 janitors, MIA has given its civilian employees behavioral recognition training, which helps identify suspicious behavior. Since then, civilian employees have made about 3,000 reports, dozens of which have been turned over to the FBI and immigration officials.
"If you're going to get an airport ID, then I expect you to have your eyes all around and be vigilant in what you're doing," Stover said.
Working with a film crew was challenging, Stover said, because security workers still had to do their jobs and couldn't necessarily wait for the cameras.
"They had to get it," Stover said. "Because if they didn't capture it, I certainly wasn't going to tell the knucklehead that came to the checkpoint with a loaded firearm to turn around, walk out and come back in again so we could film them. So they had to get it right the first time."
Despite any temporary inconvenience, Stover said she hopes the show will let travelers know how much work goes into getting them safely to wear they need to go.
"Miami has had its fair share of criticism," Stover said, "and we felt it was important to show the real side of MIA."