If I ever say to you that I am going to go away again for two weeks of conferences, please punch me in the face. Hard.
Having said that, I learned a lot – but two weeks of sitting still is about a week and a half too long for me. Here we go…
First stop – Dallas, Texas. Uneventful travels, including awesome luck where the flight from Montreal to Dallas wasn’t full, resulting in an empty seat beside me… did some work, watched some movies, all good. Arrived in Dallas ahead of schedule, it’s very hot out and I’m still dressed for Canada (ish) and have a giant backpack… taxi to the Hyatt Regency (including 30 mins of chatting with my taxi driver about what to do and see in Dallas), and scored early check in at the hotel (thank you for that Hyatt Regency, neener neener to the people being jerks to the check-in agent beside me who’s room magically was not ready).
I was meeting some colleagues for the first time in Dallas, and while I had the best intentions of going out and exploring before they got in, it was hot and I was tired, so it was salad and iced coffee in the room with a Harry Potter movie marathon. They arrived around supper and we headed out to explore the area of Dallas around the hotel. It’s not very interesting, but we found some tasty tex-mex and checked out the JFK memorial.
We had a mostly free day in Dallas before the conference started and the shuttle buses to various parts of the city the conference was providing weren’t that appealing. So breakfast at Ellen’s, a quick free tour of their Holocaust Museum (more interesting than I expected), and then off to the Texas State Fair for the day. We don’t have fairs of this size where I live, so it was interesting to see, and exactly what I expected. Found some craft beer, wandered around, checked out the live entertainment (including the Charlie Daniels band), and ate some deep-fried stuff (avocado fries and funnel cake, not together).
Conference started Monday morning and it was pretty much all conference, all day for Monday to Thursday. This was a great conference and I’d definitely go again – really well organized, so many opportunities to chat one-on-one with suppliers, and interesting presenters across all areas of travel. The food situation was a bit iffy, especially the first day where my lunch was raw tofu with 2 pieces of broccoli and 2 carrots (thank you thank you Sarah and Chris for rescuing me that night… I was starving and it was great to get a chance to see you!!). Tuesday night, a supplier took a big group of us to an escape room. Wednesday night there was an awards gala (a very long awards gala) where it was nice to see a lot of money raised for the Children’s Wish Foundation and hurricane relief in the Caribbean.
Thursday night was our final night and they took us to dinner at AT&T Stadium… home of the Dallas Cowboys. That was pretty cool! They set up an open bar, dinner, games, photo booths, caricature artists, and tours. A nice and interesting way to end things off, for sure.
Next stop, NYC. Morning flight to NY, where I was not so lucky as to get a free seat beside me… or a working entertainment system. I wedged a magazine in there to make the headphone jack work and got through 3/4 of a movie before the whole system died on my side of the plane with half the the flight left to go. Boo! Then we spent a super exciting hour at LGA waiting for another colleague to meet us from another terminal, then another hour in the taxi line, and then another hour into Manhattan… so it was supper time when we arrived at our hotel finally. Not ideal for anyone wanting to site-see, but it’s how things go. I pretty much headed directly to the Pennsy for some Cinnamon Snail (hooray!!!!) and then we walked a bit. Colleagues grabbed a tour bus near Times Square, I went back to the hotel and then met up with Melissa for the rest of the night. Thai food, a cake stop, and hours of hanging out like we actually live near each other for the win!
Next stop, New Jersey! Headed out in the morning to meet up with our next conference on the Anthem of the Seas. Cape Liberty is a breeze. We were there early so there was some waiting around, but nothing major. Onto the ship and checked in for the conference by 11am. We had to be there early for a speaker the first day (ironically a speaker I had just seen on Thursday, doing much exactly the same speech). RCCL was doing things differently on this cruise, in that our key cards were waiting in our cabin mailboxes when we got on and we had to wait until they opened the doors to the cabins (around 1:00) to get them. We could charge stuff with our boarding pass, but not ideal when you want to dump off some bags.
The Anthem is a nice ship – there’s lots to do and there always seemed to be plenty of available loungers and that kind of thing. There’s the normal lines (waiting for dinner the first night and that kind of thing) and tendering for one of the ports was quite a long processes. The Seaplex (with bumper cars, video games, ping pong, acrobat school, open sports, and roller skating) is a nice touch. I totally forgot to try the iFly (simulated sky diving) though.
Cruising for a conference is weird. I’m used to cruising with my amazing husband and with a big group of cool kids. Cruising where there was huge chunks of time where I was stuck in a dark room in an uncomfortable wooden chair for long periods of time surrounded by people I didn’t know, less fun. It was lovely to finally meet some more of my colleagues, but we definitely weren’t all on the same page on things to do on the ship (and I would totally rather that than people spending time doing things they hate), so I spent a lot of time wandering around by myself. I’m a social butterfly, so that wasn’t my favourite… but I was too tired by a few days into the cruise to care. Hooray for fast Internet and American NetFlix.
So, the play-by-play. Sunday – sessions from morning until late afternoon, a few hours break (which I spent exploring the ship a bit and going to see a show called The Gift – it wasn’t too bad, RCCL does a better job than many at cruise ship entertainment), and then dinner (with suppliers, as part of the conference). Monday, went for a run and breakfast, session in the morning, and then the great people at Universal Orlando Resort treated us to some fun – complimentary park-hopper and fast passes for the day (well, about 5 hours by the time we got people off the ship, to the buses, and to Orlando from Port Canaveral).
I’ve never been to Universal, and even though I’ve done all their travel agent training, it was nice to wander around and get a feel for the parks… tried a couple of rides (definitely didn’t have enough time for many rides, even with the fast-passes), explored the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and tried some butter beer) and some other spots, and had a quick bite to eat. Had some adventures getting back to the port (bus driver seemed to not know how to actually get to our ship and spent 30 mins or so circling around the port trying to find the right entrance… and by the level of panic on our bus, being a travel agent does not necessarily make you a good traveler). We checked out the Name That Tune game show later that evening.
Tuesday – almost entirely a free day! We had to meet up in the morning for a group picture and then it was off to RCCL’s Coco Cay. I love the private islands… they are generally nice and relaxing and I love beach days! This one is nice and I’d go back again, but it’s not the nicest (Carnival’s HMC is still winning for me)… it’s a tender port and that takes a long time to get that many people off a big ship… but it was nice to be outside and in the ocean. Calling it a win!
So in case you’ve never been to Coco Cay, it essentially works as an extension of the ship. You can use your key card to pay for items there the same as you would on the ship. There’s some vendors set up where you can do a bit of shopping, there’s kayaks and inflatables, facilities, etc. Some items are fee-based. You don’t have to go back to the ship for lunch – there’s snack stations set up around the island and they set up a full lunch buffet. Bars are set up around the island as well, including a swim-up one. Loungers are free.
We checked out another show this evening – Spectre’s Cabaret or something along those lines. It was weird AF.
We arrived in Nassau Tuesday night instead of Wednesday morning because of a medical emergency, but we didn’t bother getting off the ship that night. We hung out around the ship and had a dance party instead. I didn’t get off the ship in Nassau at all actually – I’ve been a few times and I just wanted a real day off. Explored the ship, played some trivia, went to the gym, read on my balcony, had some drinks, chatted with strangers, and went up in the North Star (lifts you up about 300 feet above sea level). In the evening, we had dinner at Jamie’s Italian. I liked it, but I think I may have been in the minority.
Thursday – back to all sessions, all the time. This was a very long day where many of the suppliers went over their time and through our breaks. And if they didn’t, someone from Royal took it upon herself to find more people from the ship to talk to us. Our conference was in a room at the back of the ship that was too hot, allowed only the people in the front two rows to see anything on the presentation screens, and had a pole and a wall in the way, which made it so a lot of the time you couldn’t actually see the presenter. Definitely not an ideal set up for a group as big as ours. And there’s a lot of motion that high up, so not perfect for anyone that gets bothered by it. Don’t get me wrong though – all of the suppliers were great… just the location was shitty. Dinner and RCCL’s We Will Rock You (really good) to close out the day.
Friday – last day of sessions! Hooray! I was well past my ability to sit still at this point, especially in that terrible room. So I was happy when these ones ended. Some of the presenters were even getting repetitive (repeating RCCL info from day one!). We did an Amazing Race game to close it off – fun concept. More ship wandering, quickly packed, tried the bumper cars, and had some beer in the pub (decent selection). Closing session where they gave away a handful of excellent sounding cruise vacations (I did not win, but since I’m about to leave on a cruise I did win in a week, I’m good) and dinner to finish out the evening.
Saturday – time to go home. Self debark was a breeze – off the ship, through customs, and out the door in 15 mins, tops. Melissa and Dionne met me at the port and we had breakfast since I had some hours to kill before flying home. We went to the Urban Griddle and it was aawweeessooommeeee. Melissa and I had some coffee and a chat before it was time to hit the airport. I was in the crappy section of EWR (boo!), and security took forever, but it left me not having to kill much more time after that. Uneventful flight (with a busted entertainment system again, but I wanted to sleep, so no big deal). Customs in Toronto was the fastest ever… it took 2 minutes. Chilled out with some beer and eats at Mill St, found a coffee, walked around, and then it was time to fly home.
All in all, there was much learning involved and there was a lot of really great speakers across both conferences. I have lots more handy, dandy tools in my arsenal to assist with helping people have amazing vacations… and I’ve invested in my success. I just likely won’t invest in it two back to back weeks next time 🙂