Mystery Traveler Q&A: Cindy, Kevin, Carol, and Clinton

Ever wondered if mystery travel is for you? Read on to hear about the couples mystery trip Cindy and her husband, Kevin, took with another couple, Carol and Clinton. You can also check out the other installments in our Mystery Traveler Q&A series:

shot of all of us during jeep tourCindy and Kevin were looking for a quick domestic getaway with new friends they met on a nonmystery trip that Stephanie, MMT executive director and travel consultant, had arranged for them. They were hoping for beautiful scenery, delicious food and wine, and some fun adventure.

When they headed to the airport in September 2016, they found out they were headed to…Colorado Springs! Their trip included a Jeep tour through the mountains, a sunset helicopter tour, and a fabulous dinner at the legendary luxury resort, The Broadmoor.

MMT: So you are a repeat customer for MMT—thank you for choosing us! What was your first experience with mystery travel like?
Cindy and Kevin: We were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, and I thought the whole concept behind Magical Mystery Tours was perfect for this type of celebration. The romance and mystery of the concept seemed perfect in celebrating both the romance and mystery in a great marriage. We went to Newport, Rhode Island, and we both had a wonderful time.

Have you been completely surprised both times with your mystery trip destinations?
We have been surprised both times, but this last trip, my friend and I thought we were going to Napa.

Your most recent trip was a couples trip. Can you share the story of how you met the couple you traveled with and how you all decided to take a mystery trip?
We met the couple we traveled with on an Oceania cruise in January 2016 that Stephanie arranged for us. It wasn’t a mystery tour, but she did a wonderful job with the arrangements. On the cruise, I told my friend—who also likes to travel—about Magical Mystery Tours, and she thought it sounded like a fun idea. Since we all live in separate areas, we were trying to arrange another trip together, and we decided to try MMT for the trip.

What have you liked best about mystery travel with MMT?
The things I like best are the surprise, the fact that Stephanie often sends us places that I enjoy but would not necessarily have chosen, that Stephanie comes up with some great resorts/hotels, and that Stephanie listens to feedback and tries to incorporate it in the next trip. For instance, the only negative of the Rhode Island trip involved complex travel for only five days of vacation, so on our next trip, she made the travel shorter and less involved, which gave us more vacation time.

What would you say to someone who isn’t sure if mystery travel is for them?

royal gorge bridgeI would advise them to try a trip, perhaps a long weekend trip, and see how they feel. I would also say this is the perfect trip for non-planners. Stephanie takes care of everything, plus the surprise and anticipation are so much fun.

What’s your best tip for new mystery travelers?
I would say be very detailed in the initial survey about likes/dislikes. If you like making reservations early, you might want to look at the destination a few days ahead of time so that you can set up the most important dining spots or plan other events. (For the less obsessive people, this won’t be a problem.) Also, see it as the adventure it is: Perhaps you won’t love everything, but you are on vacation with people you like or love, you don’t have to go to work or cook/clean/look after kids, so I think wherever I am sent will be pretty fantastic (and it is)!!

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Mystery Traveler Q&A: Special MMT President Edition!

Ever wondered if mystery travel is for you? Read on to hear about the mystery honeymoon our very own president and cofounder Denise took with her husband, Joe. You can also check out the other installments in our Mystery Traveler Q&A series:

Denise and Jo 1-1v

MMT cofounders Denise and Stephanie on Denise’s wedding day!

This is a particularly special Q&A in our traveler series because the travelers in question are Denise, our president and cofounder, and her husband, Joe! Denise and Joe are well-traveled and experienced with the ins and outs of mystery trips, but had never actually taken one themselves and decided their honeymoon was the perfect opportunity. And fellow travel consultant Alicia knew just the place to send them…the French Riviera!@ JFK

Why did you decide to take a mystery honeymoon instead of planning it yourself?
A mystery honeymoon was one of the quickest and easiest wedding decisions we made! How could I recommend mystery honeymoons to other travelers if we didn’t do one?! And Joe hates planning, so he was more than happy to go along with something that didn’t involve more planning on his part.


beach in CannesWhat would you say to people who think a honeymoon is too big of a life event to risk with a mystery trip?
Anyone who’s been through planning a wedding knows how completely overwhelming it can be! We tried to keep our wedding planning under control, but it was still stressful. I actually would have loved digging into planning a big trip, but it was the absolute perfect time in our lives to take something off of our plates. We left for our honeymoon two days after getting married, and the emotions of getting married, having people from so many parts of your life all together in one place, and then packing up to fly to a mystery destination is the most wonderful and crazy set of emotions!

Where did you end up going? Was it a good choice for you?Monte Carlo in Monaco
We ended up in the French Riviera, and split our time between Nice and Cannes. Our criteria that we filled out in our mystery questionnaire was that we didn’t want to fly more than about eight hours, that we wanted to experience a new place, but we wanted to be able to relax some. (I knew we wouldn’t be up for doing a huge new city or whirlwind tour of a new country right after a wedding!) We made it all the way through security at JFK before we finally opened our envelope. We were beyond excited, but then actually had to take a minute to read the description to find out that we had options like a day trip to Monaco and could easily visit St. Tropez. Both cities were great for strolling, finding little cafes, checking out the beach, and experience a part of France that we knew nothing about. It was the perfect relaxing pace where we didn’t feel pressured to check out tons of new museums or do anything too overwhelming.

IMG_3735What was it like, as an MMT founder, experiencing a mystery trip yourself?
I was absolutely beside myself with excitement! In the five years we’ve been planning mystery trips, I can’t think of one trip that I wouldn’t have been thrilled to go on, so I knew I’d love it. Though once we had everything booked, the suspense of guessing where we might be going was even more fun than I had imagined. It’s so much fun to know that a good surprise is coming! We did have to change up a few procedures to make sure I didn’t find out, and we actually had a staff call where Alicia started talking about a trip she was planning to Portugal, and I freaked out thinking she had accidentally mentioned my trip, though obviously she’s an expert secret-keeper and it was a non-issue.on the way to Monaco

Did you have any guesses about where you were going? If so, where?
Everyone had ideas—it was one of the hot topics at our wedding. I have an aunt and uncle who lived in Paris for a few years and know Europe well who did guess the French Riviera. I had a cousin who did a mystery trip to the Azores, so that was a top guess, too.

IMG_3856What’s your favorite thing about mystery travel?
It’s the best kind of surprise! Once you’re past the kid-on-Christmas-morning stage, there’s not that many controlled surprises where you know something good is coming! There’s no bad surprise with a mystery trip when you love to travel and are open to new experiences, and for those of us who travel a lot, you tend to try to recreate the same experiences. Mystery travel tends to pair people up with locations that might be just off their radar, but that’s much more fun and exciting because you’re learning about somewhere new and beyond what you might have expected.view in Cannes

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Want to be our Brand Ambassador?

We need to get the word out about Magical Mystery Tours!  Do you find yourself constantly discussing travel?  Are you eager to help connect people with the vacations of their dreams?  Then this might be the role for you!

Brand Ambassador is responsible for establishing customer relationships,  increasing sales volumes, and working effectively with other team members to build the Magical Mystery Tours brand.

Essential Skills and Responsibilities:

  • A love of travel and eagerness to discuss travel.
  • Focus on connecting customers with Magical Mystery Tours.
  • A delightful person with good social skills, and comfort in a sales position.
  • A person who can proactively and independently generate customer leads and follow-up with potential clients.
  • Someone eager to learn about Magical Mystery Tours, and can accurately represent Magical Mystery Tours’ products and be a good representative of the brand.

Note, this is a part-time contract position.  Pay will be based on performance.

To be considered for this role, please email denise@magical-mystery-tours.com with your resume and an email explaining why you’re interested and why you’d be great for this role.  Also please tell us about your favorite trip and the destination you’d most love to visit.

**Minimal travel planning will be involved in this role.  While Magical Mystery Tours is eager to grow and hire additional travel coordinators, we do not currently have openings in this area.

Oprah Magazine, Again!

What’s even more exciting than being in O, The Oprah Magazine?  Being Oprah Magazine twice!

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Thanks to Rob and Deirdre, who gave us the pleasure of sending them on a mystery trip for their 25th anniversary, for writing the kind letter (and trusting us with their special trip)!

Here’s what their letter said:

My wife and I had been debating what to do for our 25th wedding anniversary before she read a small piece in the July issue of about Magical Mystery Tours, an agency that plans surprise getaways for vacationers.  We have different travel preferences, so we decided the service was perfect for us.  Right before the trip (having no idea where you’re headed makes you feel like a kid on Christmas Eve!), we learned we were going to Italy; it was the most fun and romantic vacation of our lives.  In this photo we’re on the shore of the Ligurian Sea.  Thank you for helping make our anniversary even more special.
Rob Dixon
Atlanta

In honor of our appearance, we’re giving away two $100 MMT gift cards over the next month. Post a picture of yourself on your Facebook wall with January’s Oprah Magazine before January 15 and mention Magical Mystery Tours in the caption to enter.  Looking forward to seeing some fun pictures!

Impromptu Mystery Trips from Heineken?

Check out this new Heineken promotion in the video below.  Basically, you push a button at the airport to find a mystery destination…and you leave immediately.

This is definitely crazier than our mystery trips!  At least we give you a weather report so you know what to pack, and you give us some details on your travel preferences.

So…would you do it?

Sam, Germany, August 2012

Sam is an easy going guy who wanted to take a spontaneous trip to… somewhere. He didn’t have anyone to go with on this particular adventure, so he wanted to go somewhere he could easily meet other travelers. So, we chose to send him on an adventure to Munich and Berlin in Germany. Sam didn’t ask for us to schedule any activities for him; however, he took us up on our suggestions to visit some of the historic sites, such as the Residenz (a castle that served as the official residence of the rulers of Bavaria from 1385-1918), Neuschwanstein (the castle originally built by Ludwig II when he wanted to retire from public life), and Dachau (the concentration camp memorial site). After his trip ended, he took the time to write us, saying, “I had an absolute blast, made a few friends, had some great food, had some even better beer, saw a few sights, and learned a little too.”

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What to eat in New Orleans (much more than Beignets!)

Here at Magical Mystery Tours, we recently got to plan a mystery trip where the main criteria was that travellers wanted a long-weekend in the US where was sure to be lots of good food.

When we asked on Facebook and Twitter what the best foodie cities were, you all suggested Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, San Francisco, Portland (both Maine and Oregon), Houston, Charleston, and Dallas, but ultimately we went with New Orleans!

I’ve only spent a long weekend in New Orleans, but knew my foodie friend Daniel would be happy to help.  He went to Tulane, regularly goes back to New Orleans, and even named his dog Tchoupitoulas (a main street in NOLA), and will happily discuss his New Orleans food preferences with anyone considering a trip. Here’s what he had to say:

My favorite restaurant in the world is Jacques Imo’s on Oak Street uptown.  The paneed duck breast with sweet potato shrimp cream sauce is to die for.  Served with buttery cornbread muffins and a spinach salad with a fried oyster. Abita beer or a good cocktail to drink. Mouth. Watering.

Also uptown (though not as far “up”) is a fantastic restaurant called Dick & Jenny’s. Took a crew there during a conference last year and everyone LOVED their food.  Neither will disappoint.  Casual but top-notch food.  MMMMM.

A wonderful and famous diner uptown is Camellia Grill.  There’s often a line out the door.  Get the pecan waffles or cheeseburger and cheese fries with the chocolate cherry freeze.  Save room for pecan pie.  Be ready to fist bump the cooks/waiters who have worked there forever.  It’s all served at the counter and there are limited seats.

Higher end price range (and fancier dress) is Commander’s Palace, also uptown.  On Canal Street you can also eat at Palace Café, which is also owned by the Brennan family (who own Commander’s) and it’s excellent.  The pecan-crusted catfish is amazing.  Also John Besh’s Restaurant August belongs on any list of excellent restaurants in New Orleans.  Lüke (also by John Besh) is really good – casual, small and low key.  Bayona on Dauphine is a unique experience and fantastic food.

Antoine’s is a 5-star restaurant in the Quarter.  French food.  Originator of Oysters Rockefeller.  You pay for the 5-stars though for sure.

I’ve not been, but I’ve been told Cochon in the warehouse district is also amazing.

Brunch at Brennan’s on Royal Street in the Quarter is a quintessential NOLA experience.  It’s not cheap, but a mimosa with one of their variety of “plays” on Eggs Benedict is a truly great experience.  Another option uptown for brunch is Café Atchafalaya – slightly cheaper, lesser known and in a neighborhood.  They do other meals too. Yummo.

Arnaud’s in the Quarter is also good.  Acme Oyster House or Deanie’s for good and fun seafood.

The Gumbo Shop in the Quarter, right off Jackson Square, has great Gumbo (duh!) and also really good po boys.

Creole Creamery in uptown has amazing and unique ice cream (not a restaurant, but thought I’d throw it out there).  Gotta do Café Du Monde in Jackson Square for beignets and café au laits.  Central Grocery there by the French Market in the Quarter is famous for inventing the Muffuletta sandwich.  Yum.

Finally, for a life-changing hamburger with boat drinks, Port of Call on the edge of the quarter is amazing.

Thanks Daniel for all the tips!

 What do you think?  Any other suggestions?  Anyone else want to go to New Orleans now?

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I went on a cruise, the Weezer cruise!

I gave you a warning a few months ago that I was about to embark on the Weezer Cruise.  I’m a little late with the review, but the cruise was way too much fun to not tell you about it.

It was also my first cruise!  Thankfully, Stephanie is more of a cruising expert than I am, but I felt like I was missing out on a big area of travel.  I’m still far from an expert, but also wanted to share my initial thoughts on cruises.

My vacation buddy Allison gave a great day-by-day breakdown of the cruise on her blog (see here, here, here, and here), so I won’t get into too many details, but wanted to give you my general impressions of going on a cruise, and, more specifically, going on a music cruise.

Here are my highlights of going on a music cruise:

  • Definitely one of the most memorable musical experiences I’ve had.  I’ve loved Weezer since the mid-90’s and seen them numerous times, but on the cruise we saw them play all their biggest hits and a lot of their rare B-sides in two different venues (once on the deck and once in the ship’s theater).  Everyone there was a huge fan, which made it that much more fun.
Why not perform from the water slide?
  • The other bands there were amazing, too.  Apparently the cruise organizers asked Weezer to suggest other bands that might be a good fit to join them on a cruise, and then chose from that list.  This meant that another one of my all time favorite bands Ozma was playing.  We also saw the band Sleeper Agent for the first time, which I’m absolutely loving right now!  In short, it was what I’d imagine it’s like going to a huge music festival without all the dirt, camping out, and other inconveniences.

    Ozma show on the deck.

  • Access to the bands was great!  We had our picture taken with Weezer, and got to chat with a few members of Weezer while in line for food or just wandering around the ship.  During the first few days we’d recognize band members and sort of whisper among ourselves, but we got used to saying hi to them, chatting, and generally getting to hear that they were having as much fun as we were.  I missed out on this, but Allison even ended up on a snorkeling tour with Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of Weezer!

Meeting Pat Wilson from Weezer during shuffleboard.

 

Meeting Jose Galvez from Ozma!

  • Activities.  The cruise was on a Carnival ship, but the bands and activities were run by Sixthman, a whole company dedicated to music cruises.  They did a great job catering the activities toward a Weezer loving audience.  We had ugly sweater night, mustache night, Weezer trivia, an 80’s Prom Night, a cocktail making contest, and shuffleboard (which Allison and I were atrocious at…any shuffleboard aficionados please leave tips in the comments!)  We also both got picked to be part of a Q&A session with Weezer.  I never really understood cruise activities and the notion of packing a fancy dress to do formal night on a boat, but these activities were all fun and definitely designed for this cruising audience.

 

Rocking the ugly sweater.

 

Practicing shuffleboard (not that it helped...)

 

The Weezer Q&A.

Weezer trivia with Daniel from Ozma.

So now that we’ve covered why the Weezer cruise was great, what about cruising in general?

Let’s do the pros first:

  • It was easy.  Anyone who’s planned a vacation with friends knows how tricky planning can get.  With this, we just decided that we both wanted to go, picked what sort of room we wanted (note: we went with a pretty basic room and were pleasantly surprised by its size), and off we went.  Once we were there, we could easily split up and meet up later.  I usually love picking through the options and finding the best of everything there is to see and do in a place, but for once it was really nice not to think about those things!
  • It was relaxing.  I’m awful at relaxing on vacations.  It seems wrong to sleep in or nap when there are new things to see and do.   This was by far the most relaxing vacation I’ve had.
  • All-Inclusive.  It was really nice to have everything included.  It was a little weird in the beginning to comprehend that there were pizzas and chicken fingers available 24/7 and we never had to pay for them, but not having to think about how much you were spending on each meal was a nice change.  (Note: we did have to pay for sodas and alcohol.  People complained about the prices, but honestly, they were no worse than what I regularly pay in DC for drinks.)
  • Being on a boat!  I worried about being sea-sick, but it wasn’t an issue at all.  There’s just something fun and different about being on a huge, floating resort!
     

Ok, so to round out the cruise review, I think there’s some notable cons, too:

  • Docking locations.  We stopped in Cozumel.  Maybe Cozumel’s great, but where we stopped was just a very touristy port area with souvenir shops and Mexican food.  Granted, I did have the best mango margarita ever, but the stop didn’t add much to the trip.  Maybe doing an Alaskan or European cruise would offer more in terms of ports, but I wasn’t impressed.
  • Food.  Everyone talks about gaining weight on cruises, so I was a little worried.  The food was adequate, there was some notable chocolate cake, but overeating wasn’t a worry.  Everything was very “meat and potatoes” and not too exciting.  Maybe other cruise lines are different, but this was pretty blah.
  • Not “going somewhere.” To me, most vacations are about seeing somewhere new.  On this trip, it was fun to check out a cruise boat, but there wasn’t new local cuisine to try, sites to see, or people to learn from.  I was actually really curious about the people who worked on the boat—where do they live, how long are they on the boat, how did they get into this?  Yet that still isn’t the same as going somewhere.

I love Weezer more than ever, and am certainly glad I got to check out a cruise, though probably need to stick to some dry land vacations before signing up for another one!

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Travel Links

Some interesting things we’ve been reading lately:

1.  The 45 Places to go in 2012

2.  Autism friendly hotels

3.  A credit card with no foreign transaction fees (and it earns you lots of miles)?  Yes, please!

4.  It’s never too early to start thinking about Christmas decorations for next year: Holiday decorations made out of globes

 

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A weekend in Austin

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive Austin guide, but just a list of some of the fun things I saw and did there this past weekend.

1.  SXSW – I was already in Fort Worth last week, so why not go visit Austin during South by SouthWest?  As a gal who’s mostly just been to political conferences, I was impressed.  Really impressed!  Sure, there were organizers, but it just seemed like a delightful spontaneous order of hipsters, tech-geek-types, and corporate sponsors. I didn’t have a pass to attend the actual sessions ($750 for the 1.5 days I was there?  no thanks), but just being there and seeing the atmosphere was pretty great.  Everyone was so friendly and low-key and it was socially acceptable to have your iPhone and laptop out at all times.

2.  Food – some highlights of this trip were: the Hey Cupcake truck (how can you not love a mobile cupcake-mobile with a huge rotating cupcake on top?), excellent cocktails at Haddington’s, and my personal favorite, Austin’s famous Amy’s Ice Cream.  Unfortunately, I was so full of ice cream and cupcakes, that I didn’t have an opportunity to visit Guero’s taco bar.  Having amazing cupcakes, tacos, and ice cream all on the same street is almost too much of a good thing.

3.  Weirdness – Sure, the motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” but I don’t even know where to begin explaining the weirdness.  When you think Texas, you think cowboys, Mexican food, maybe even a George Bush or two, but Austin is just different.  I’m sure SXSW brought lots of it’s own weirdness, but my biggest surprise came during an evening out on 6th Street.  I thought I saw a guy  wearing sequin briefs and nothing else.  Given the other outfits, it was a little surprising, but no major shock.  But upon getting closer, I realized that no, it wasn’t a guy, but a woman.  And she wasn’t the only one I saw.  Apparently, it’s legal to to be topless in Austin.

4.  Cowboy boots – as a Pennsylvanian, I feel like a total poser in cowboy boots, but Allen’s Boots on South Congress is enough to make anyone feel like cowboy boots are a total necessity.  They have everything from boots that are a little over $100 to boots that cost more than any furniture I own (or even ever expect to own).

5.  State Capitol – Call me a dork, but I love visiting state capitols, and the Texas Capitol is a great one!  It’s taller than the national capitol (by about 7 feet), and made of pink granite.  I didn’t think it seemed particularly pink, but it was a great place to hang out on the lawn, watch people taking engagement pictures, and just enjoy the lovely weather.

In conclusion, Austin’s a fantastic, welcoming, interesting city that I’d happily recommend to anyone!