Cook Islands...travel...logistics...travel agents?

Old Nov 6th, 2006, 06:31 AM
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Cook Islands...travel...logistics...travel agents?

After months (literally) of researching where DH and I should go on our next vacation (March 2007), we are strongly leaning towards the Cook Islands – even having determined which hotels our on our short list. I enjoy the research and planning stage. I dislike the trying to coordinate it all and booking it stage.

I am contemplating using a travel agent to pull it all together, but I am not sure if it is worthwhile – usually I do all the booking myself, but this trip seems a bit more complicated than other trips (probably because of the distance and coordinating between Aittutaki and Rarotonga). Does anyone have any thoughts on this? And any ideas on how to locate a good travel agent that knows the Cook Islands. So far, I have only found travel agents that no very little (I know more based on my research). I did find one travel agent that specialized in the Cook Islands, but he required a $6,000 minimum for the trip. Since I hope to use frequent flier miles (I have a ton!), I didn’t think (or at least I am strongly hoping!) that our total cost is nowhere near $6,000!

I had talked to someone at United Vacations (who really knew nothing about the Cook Islands except for the vacation packages, which they offered. I tried to use the United sample itinerary as a starting point, but wasn’t sure it made sense and would like an expert’s opinion… The United trip starts out with two nights in Rarotonga, two nights in Aitutaki, and three more nights back in Rarotonga. Seems a bit nuts to me to be going back and forth – any thoughts? My initial reaction was to stay 4-5 nights in Raro and then 2-3 nights in Aitutaki and then head home…is it a bad idea to not plan an extra day back in Raro before heading home (that is…do you need a buffer day just in case there are problems getting from Aitutaki to Rarotonga)? I haven’t started to research flights between the islands – I am guessing that they aren’t daily or are they?

Thanks…I am sure I will be posting many, many more questions, but that’s it for now.
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 10:26 AM
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I never found a travel agent that was willing to do anything for me in the Cooks except book a United- or Air New Zeland-branded tour package. They will drop you like a hot potato as soon as you start talking about quaint out-of-the-way locations.

I don't think that this is too complicated to do yourself. All you need to do is book a flight to/from Raro, and RT Raro-Aitutaki. You can book accommodations online or via phone/post.

We have done this 2x, including more out-of-the-way islands (Atiu), without an agent, and it has worked out great.
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 01:24 PM
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I agree with ALF that you don't really NEED a travel agent for a trip to the Cooks provided you've done enough research on your own. There is however a certain level of comfort derived from having a knowledgable agent to take care of the details for you. this is particularly true when it comes to the issue of travel insurance.

On our first trip we booked with Jetsve on Rarotonga (over the web). My thinking was that if there was a problem, they were actually there in the Cook Islands with us rather than back here in the US.

On our second trip I booked the accomodations (we rented a private home) over the web, and our airfare to Raro & back from LAX over the web on the Air New Zealand website, and again used Jetsave to book our interisland flights between Raro and Aitutaki as well as our accomodation on Aitutaki. I would have actually booked it all myself but could not find an independent website for the accomodation we wanted.

If you do decide to book through a travel agent, you may want to consider a Cook Islands based outfit, like we did such as Island Hopper or Jetsave - or if you want a US based agent, you might want to contact Shully over on the Cook Islands Tripadvisor message board. I've not used her, but she is extremely knowledgable about the Cooks and has been there many, many times.

Not sure where you are located, but if you are US or Canadian based, note that the LAX-RAR flight schedule is changing, with only 2 flights/week instead of 3 and that they will be non-stop again instead of with a stop in Papeete Tahiti.

Ken

PS - Air Rarotonga flight between Raro and Aitutaki. Here is there schedule:

http://www.ck/edairaro.htm

Other sites you might find useful:

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum...k_Islands.html

http://www.jetsave.co.ck/

http://www.islandhoppervacations.com/

http://community.webshots.com/user/lordbalfor
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 01:50 PM
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PS - Forgot to address part of your question. As you can see from the link I provided to the Air Rarotonga flight schedule, there are 5 flights/day between the islands (except on Sunday). These flights are generally pretty reliable, so I would recommend your " stay 4-5 nights in Raro and then 2-3 nights in Aitutaki and then head home" schedule, leaving Aitutaki on either the 1st or 2nd morning flights. Upon arrival on Raro, I would check your bags into either one of the lockers (there are apparently a few) or with Air Rarotonga, then catch the bus down to Muri Beach for the day. The last day DOES tend to be a bit awkward because of the night-time flight schedule back to LAX (I'm assuming you are US-based here).

Keep in mind that pretty much everyting closes up at noon on Saturdays.

Feel free to ask questions as you wish. There are several extremely knowledgable folks in regards to the Cooks both here and on Tripadvisor.

Ken
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 01:59 PM
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Oh one last thing -

Which hotels did you settle on (if I may ask)?

Ken
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 02:54 PM
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Thank you for all the advice. I am going to try to book this on my own. Today, I have spent HOURS on the United and Air New Zealand websites - can I complain for a minute here? - despite the airlines both being part of the Star Alliance - the airlines show different flights and different prices. Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal - I would just book on the website that is least expensive. However, I am trying to use miles to upgrade and need to book on UAL's website. UGH! I don't know why I am loyal to one airline when it is nearly impossible to book anything - okay I'm done ranting...

Assuming that I can get the flight booked...we would like to stay at Crown Beach in Raro and Pacific Resort in Aitutaki. These are the front runners (at least today!).

I am coming from Chicago. Do you know when the LAX non-stops begin and what days? United's website is worthless in identifying schedules and I have only figured out how to look at a single day on the Air New Zealand website (I am not as helpless as I probably appear! Honest).

Thanks again. I'll keep you posted on my progress.
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 03:16 PM
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Laura,

Here's a post about the new Ari New Zealand schedule on the Tripadvsor board from Shully (who, remember, is an expert on travel to the region):

http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic...k_Islands.html

Your hotel choices are pretty good. Crown Beach has just been rebuilt and the units are very nice. Beach there is OK, but the west side beaches in general are not my favorite since the lagoon there is relatively small and a bit shallow. Still, overall, it's a pretty good choice. If you look at the website (Webshots) link I posted and take a look at my 2006 albums, you'll find some shots of the property.

On Aitutaki the Pacific Resort is the premier (and most expensive) resort. The grounds are very, very nice and much lusher than any of the others on Aitutaki (which tends to be a bit dryer island than Rarotonga). It IS pricey though.

Ken
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 03:30 PM
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LauraT: May I suggest (catch your breath) Costco Travel. Yes they have a travel agency. I used them for the Cooks and also the Tuamotos in French Polynesia. They do not give much advice, but if you know exactly where you want to stay and when to go, they will give you great service at a very good price.
You can find them on http://www.costco.com/Common/Categor...2-_-Top_travel.
Click on the island section. If one of the Cook itineraries is not what you want, go ahead and call them anyway with what you want. They will work up a deal for you. The number is at the bottom of each itinerary. Their office is in the Seattle area. In both cases, they were extremely friendly and helpful, but again, they don't represent themselves as able to recommend hotels, locations, etc. I would only recommend using them if you know exactly where you want to stay. Good Luck!
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 04:24 PM
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Hi Laura

I had a look at those deals that were offerred on the Costco site. Very good packages. One problem though. There are close outs for March which is when you want to go. Pity as their two island deal looks pretty good.

April is better though as the weather is dryer and slightly more comfortable heat wise.

It has been a wee while since we were last in the Cooks (hoping to get back next year) but we did find it easier to use a travel agent.

As far as your problem with the United/Air NZ compatibility. They should be the same flight details (though not price) as United code shares to the Cooks on Air NZ metal.
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Old Nov 6th, 2006, 04:39 PM
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Costco close out? call em anyway. That's what I'd do.
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Old Nov 7th, 2006, 06:04 AM
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Thanks to all - wonderful suggestions.

Bill, I actually just picked up a Costco Travel brochure on Sunday - was surprised to see so much on the Cook Islands. Thanks for directing me to the website, too.

Today, I am going to spend the day on the phone with United trying to figure out the whole airline thing - why some Air New Zealand flights are there and not others. My plan? To keep calling until I get someone knowledgeable that can help (yesterday, I kept getting told to go online).

I am also looking at April (I originallly selected March because the hotels were less expensive, but this trip is going to cost a few pennies regardless, so maybe April makes more sense.

Again thanks to all. If you ever go to St. John in the USVI, I'll give you all any advice you need - this has been our vacation spot for the last several years...
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Old Nov 7th, 2006, 06:54 AM
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All good advice here. Bill is right, Costco is a cost-effective option for the Cooks - provided that you do your own research. Additionally, there are some places that Costco does not offer bookings for (though that list is getting smaller all the time).

Ken
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Old Nov 7th, 2006, 11:28 AM
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Okay...I am doing this on my own. Costco was very friendly, accomodating, but actually doesn't save me any $$ - (in fact Costco was a bit higher I think that part of the reason the Costco price was higher had something to do with the airfare and the representative adding the ORD-LAX on at the end versus from the start, but I couldn't convince her to try again!). I priced everything out in excrutiating details, taxes, etc - or if it does save me a couple of dollars, I think I lose some flexibility regarding where to stay, etc.

Ken...so...you mentioned that Crown Beach doesn't have the best beach. We are looking for a great beach with good snorkeling. Any suggestions as a a fairly comparable hotel from a quality perspective with a nicer beach. Even if it is a few more dollars (I think we may free up some $$$ by staying at the Etu Moana instead of the Pacific Resort)

Kindest Regards - Laura
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Old Nov 7th, 2006, 12:29 PM
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Laura,

Well, I'm a big fan of the south shore. The reef there is about 1/4 mile from shore and the lagoon usually calm, clear and gorgeous. The west side has nice sunsets and far more options in regards to accomodations and dining, but the water conditions are better on the southern coast. Whereas the west side lagoon is often about waist-deep or so, the south side gets deeper because you can wade/swim out further. My personal favorite stretch of beach is at the Palm Grove, but in general anywhere along the south shore is quite good. Palm Grove is not nearly as upscale as the Crown Beach though.

There are of course the super-nice places such as Reflections, Rumours of Romance (top place on Raro in regards to luxury) and Sea Change. These are all very pricy though. These all have pretty good beaches - with Reflections being the best. Rumours beach is good, but there is some coral sheets right near shore that you need to get past first. Sea Change is (I think) rather shallow right near shore, but once you wade out a bit it should be good.

Maybe the best overal combination of accomodation quality and beach is the Rarotonga Beach Bungalows. Not as large or quite as fancy as Crown Beach, but on a much better beach (excellent). Folks love this place.

If you've not done so yet take a look at the webshots photos on the link I posted above as there are lots of photos (including interior shots) of many resorts.

Ken
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Old Nov 7th, 2006, 12:32 PM
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PS - a combination of Rarotonga Beach Bungalows and Etu Moana is an EXCELLENT choice at a reasonable price. Book as early as you can though as both places are rather small and both are VERY popular.

Ken
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Old Nov 7th, 2006, 12:42 PM
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Ken - That is the exact combination I am now looking at (thanks to Costco!) I'll keep you posted with my final decision...
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Old Dec 12th, 2006, 02:52 PM
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Laura,

Not sure if you've chosen your hotel for Aitutaki but we spent 7nights at Etu Moana in March. We simply can't recommend it enough. Everything from the great sandy beach location, to the friendly yet unintrusive staff and of course, the owners, Jim and Joanne -- they are really some of the nicest people we have met. They have great taste and must have traveled quite a bit b/c the villas contain everything you could need. The property itself is beautiful. The honesty bar is a great concept. And the snorkeling was amazing (after I got used to the little creatures at the bottom, sea cukes I think??) We're not ones to revisit the same hotel/location so soon, but we're thinkng about returning next year if ANZ flights are reasonable.

Oh btw, we booked everything ourselves and it really was very easy.
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Old Dec 13th, 2006, 08:04 AM
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Hi Laura,

well, I suppose I'm a bit late responding to your post!

Just some clarification here: a really good, experienced travel agent will save you time and money. It's too bad that you weren't able to find one!

I was just in the Cooks in April, and Cook Island Tourism really wants to promote tourism - they were encouraging agents to apply for a Specialist course and promote Cooks. However, because they do not have any sort of listing to recommend an agent, I don't think it went over too well. That doesn't mean there aren't agents who are knowledgeable, it just means they are hard to find!

Your best bet probably would have been to go to the NZ tourism site, as I'll bet there are agents who specialize in Cooks as well. As I said, I was there in April, but would not consider myself a "specialist" -- but I think you'd get great advice from Lord Balfor!

By now, after dealing with UA Vacations, Costco, you see the difference between a Reservation Agent and a Travel Agent! The people who work @ Costco and UA Vacation are order takers who have been trained to know their packages, but cannot think outside the box, do not design a custom itinerary, and 99% of the time have never visited the destination.

I'm sure I could find you an agent who specializes in Cooks (without requiring a $6,000 minimum), but it sounds as if you've made your reservations.

Hope you have a wonderful time after all your hard work - let us know!

Regards,

Melodie
Certified Aussie & Kiwi Specialist
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