Mexico – Sandos Playacar

Meant to post this a couple of weeks back, then forgot about it! We had a great week in Mexico staying at Sandos Playacar – and a these are a few things that we couldn’t find the answers to before we went. Just in case there are others wondering, I figured I’d stick the info up on here :-)

We flew Thomas Cook (package deal – was *much* cheaper than anything else we could find – most flights were around the price we paid for the entire holiday!). Flight out wasn’t great. Up over the top – Greenland, Canada and then all down the US through the gulf stream so an hour or so of fairly grim turbulance. Total flight time around 12 hours.

Entertainment on the plane was a bit hit and miss – the A330-200s that Thomas Cook have are showing their age a bit and could really do with a refurb. Still, they were cheap. I was suprised with the leg room though – in economy I found it fine (not masses, but I’ve flown with much less!).

Arrival at Cancun was easy enough but make sure you’ve filled out the immigration card on the plane. If you haven’t then it’s back to the end of the queue with a new one…

All fairly efficient, through immigration and then onto customs. Here you have the normal “anything to declare” type questions, and then one person from each family has to press a button. Green light and you walk through, red light and you get your bags searched. We had two families, one got green, the other red. Search was all very efficient and only delayed us a minute or two.

Once out of there you are in timeshare hell – just ignore them, walk straight down the middle and a “no thanks!” and they largely leave you alone without problem. Show an interest however and you have them attached to you… There are hire car company desks here if that’s what you want, and also Santander ATMs if you want some local cash.

Finding the correct bus (transfers were included) was easy enough although the drivers didn’t seem too sure there were plenty of TC reps around who check you off on their list.

Transfer to Sandos Playacar was around an hour or so – not too bad but check-in was a bit chaotic and took ages.

When we’d booked, we had been told by Thomas Cook that we would be in the large area at the rear of the hotel, with the large pool overlooking the forest. When we checked in we were told this was now adult only and that we were in the middle bit (I’ve a map somewhere that I’ll try to find and upload and this will make more sense!). Anyway, this means that the large pool at the rear of the complex is out of bounds if you have kids…not a massive problem, but not what TC advertise so beware.

We were in the Riviera section, in a suite overlooking the forrest. Room was fine (although the sheer number of light switches is bewildering – one we never found what it did!). Balcony looking into the rain forest was lovely.

We thought we’d spend much of our time in the main pool (given we couldn’t use the rear pool as we expected) but actually, we ended up never going in it once! The Riviera pool is bigger than it looks on the map, and was nearly empty all the time we were there. We never failed to find 6 sun loungers all together, and frequently we were the only poeple actually in the pool! The large pool nearer the beach is much busier, and also hosts most of the “pool games”. As I say, we didn’t bother.

The walk to the main part of the resort was fine – well under 10 mins and we weren’t in a hurry. That’s one thing that tripadvisor reviews often have as a negative but it seems to be an American thing to not want to walk anywhere. We found the walk quite pleasant and usually got to see some wildlife along the way. Plenty of Agoutis and iguanas (two foot long ones that don’t like moving out of your way!). Also a fair few Coatis although they tended to keep out of the way of people a bit more! Still, if the walk really is too much then there are frequent golf buggies that dash around the place giving you a lift around the site. We never used them but there seemed to be loads.

There are two reception areas to the resort – one in the newer riviera part (and where we were dropped off) and the second down in the older part of the site. This one has been rebranded as “The Meeting Place” and is a pleasant place to sit and people watch but there isn’t much else there. It’s also where you’ll find the various reps and where you can book excursions etc.

We only did one excursion (to Talum and Xelha – will post something about that separately), and oddly the price appeared to be the same wherever it was booked. Unusual…

The riviera reception also has a bar that was always nice and quiet. A pleasant place to sit with a cocktail as it was airconditioned unlike most of the bars which are openair!

Food was ok, several buffet restaurants all normal all inclusive type stuff. The largest (the Festival Buffet) had a different theme each night which made things a bit more interesting. Some authentic mexican food available, the normal burgers and chips but also plenty of other food. Despite a couple of fussy eaters we always found plenty of stuff. If you want anything other than their house wine with you meal you need to pay extra – one of the few things that wasn’t included. We didn’t bother so can’t report what the prices were like!

The All inclusive includes everything including the Minibar in your room and the room service – things that are often extras in other places.

They have a standard cocktail menu throughout the resort, but the best fruit cocktails were down at the beach from the little hut. This was the only place that was all fresh fruit. Most of the other bars had some fruit, but it was mixed with syrups. If you are drinking tequila then the measures are *very* generous!

No one in the resort seems to expect a tip (unlike the bus drivers who do!) but the Americans seem to constantly leave dollar bills on the bar where the staff leave them. At some points there were many dollars sticking out from under the bar mats! We took a load of dollar bills and tipped at times but it was nice not to feel that you had to.

Beach was fantastic, but windy (not unusual apparently). We swam in the sea pretty much every day but it was no where near as calm as the Red Sea when we were in Sharm. Also, nothing much to snorkel for – the reefs are a bit further south. There is an artificial reef a couple of hundred yards south of the resort but we didn’t go out to it. From what people were saying it’s still a few years off being properly established so I don’t think we missed much. I did wander up there and got a fair few bites from the sandflies (or noseeums as they are called locally it seems!). Kinda like bigger more irritating mozzie bites. Didn’t notice any mosquitos while we were there. Plenty of bats flying around in the evening, but no biting insects :-)

On the Monday night they have a Mexican themed evening. A “street market” is set up around the resort with all sorts of local souvenirs for sale. Some nice stuff, but the prices are sky high to start with and you need to barter heavily. For example, little animal models made from seed pods were 2 for $20 – the exact same things were 5 for $10 at the airport (hardly the cheapest place!).

Just up the road from the hotel (out of the entrance, turn right and it’s a few mins walk) is a little shopping arcade. Plenty of local souviners here at rather better prices. Even cheaper if you head into Playa Del Carmen town (get a cab from the meeting place, only 70-80 pesos).

Despite reading before we left that there had been a crack down on places accepting US dollars and that you should take Mexican Pesos we didn’t find that at all. In fact, most tourist places/shops were all priced in dollars and they had to convert to pesos with a calculator! One thing that can be confusing is they use the $ sign for Pesos as well as Dollars. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if something is surprisingly cheap or surprisingly expensive – we found both! If you wanted to get cash out of ATMs the hotel machines only give out Dollars (reception will change them, and appeared to be offering good exchange rates strangely). The little shopping arcade I mentioned also has a cash machine – one that dispenses pesos, and one for dollars.

On leaving we had premium seats (where scheduled airlines would have first class :-) ) which gave a bit more room. One big plus of this was at check in where were had a separate queue (*much shorter*) and also we could pay our exit fee at the counter. The normal queue you had to pay your fee to a woman sat at a card table with a cardboard box containing literally thousands of pounds worth of currency. Weird. The exit fee is one thing that can’t be paid in dollars – Mexican Pesos or UK pounds (at a pretty poor exchange rate). When we flew out (Apr 2013) the exit fee was 780 pesos or 45 quid each. Cash only…

Flight home much quicker (9 hours?). Straight out over Cuba and home to a drizzly gatwick :-(

Right, that’s enough for now – hopefully this will be useful to answer a few peoples questions

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Jessops go bye bye?

Yes yes, a blog post. Got a bill to renew my hosting and it reminded me :-) Over a year since the last rant post it seems – that’s pretty poor even by my blogshy history… anyway…

Seems that Jessops have gone pop. No great surprise, but a little sad. Reminded me of a post I made (urk, 7.5 years ago!) about Jessops killing off the small shops. Didn’t expect back then for 7dayshop to outlive Jessops, but given the news that play.com is closing down I do wonder if they will survive.

As someone said on a forum I read, it’s a bad day for photographers, where are we going to go now to try things before ordering them on the internet.

Saying that, a few weeks before Christmas I did actually visit a couple of Jessop stores as I’m looking to buy a new Camera. I’ve pretty much decided on an EOS 650D – nothing too exotic, not bottom of the range but far from top end. Just the sort of thing Jessops would have in stock? No, they didn’t have any – not even a display model. I also wanted to have a look at the new STM 18-135 lens – again, none in stock in any of the stores in Kent. One London store had the camera, but not the lens. The 60D (the other body I was interested in) was even worse. Maidstone store did have a 5D in stock (I think it was a 5D, certainly a single digit model) but they admitted that was only due to a customer order that had been cancelled. Maybe the lack of stock was a sign of their impending doom – suppliers will be the first to run away when the fan starts spinning.

Ought to say, the staff in the maidstone branch were really helpful (well, as helpful as they could be with little stock) and it’s sad for them, but am I sad to see Jessops go? Certainly more sad than I was when Comet went pop (no loss there, horrible horrible shop with hard sell warranties and constant “we need your address for your warranty” lies) but it does seem only fair that after killing the independents, they now get killed by the online superstores. Just a shame the WEX showroom is so far away :-(

I guess I’ll probably end up ordering from Amazon or WEX like usual – just like everyone else. And that’s exactly Jessops problem.

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Barclaycard fraud fail

I get in this evening to find an answerphone message on my mobile:

barclaycard voicemail

Hmmm. That’s not great. My card has been compromised? Hang on, maybe this is a scam and it’s not barclaycard at all.

Lets google the number they want me to ring, if it’s legit then barclaycard will be right up there in the results:

08453512259

Hmmm… suspicious. So maybe it is a scam? Still, at least they tell me to check their website before ringing it. That’ll confirm it’s not a scam. So, lets look at that url they tell me to check:

http://www.barclaycard.co.uk/fraud

Ahha, that’s a broken link now and just redirects me to their homepage – google digging suggests it did work in 2009, but now some dumb scammer is quoting it to make the phone message sound legit without even realising barclaycard have changed their website. Ha! stupids! Can’t fool me, you aren’t barclaycard!

Except it is. If you actually ring that number, it recognises your phone number and tells you the last 4 transactions that it thinks are suspicious… How bloody stupid. It’s not as if barclaycard are a massive creditcard company who should know better. Idiots…

So, I listen to an interesting list of transactions I’ve made all over the US this evening and then press 2 for “WTF? That wasn’t me!”. Very quickly I get put through to the barclaycard fraud department. Someone who sounds like she is on the end of a very long line. I ponder asking if she knows how to connect to an imaps server (it’s been a long week) but figure I’d rather just get my card sorted. Ah, unfortunately, she can’t help as I need to talk to the fraud department. Suddenly I feel like I’ve gone a bit recursive… *sigh*.

I’m put on hold listening to some music that sounds so bad I can’t tell what it is. 10 mins later I get a message saying they are too busy to take my call, and that they will ring me back. Excellent. That’ll be at 3am or something helpful I assume. grrrrr. Thanks to the unique way virginmedia charge for phonecalls, I’m currently £3.50 down on the deal (ignoring the 2 grands worth of dodgy jewelery I’ve apparantly ordered) and now I’ve booked a middle of the night wakeup call. Excellent.

I know, I’ll ring the number on the card. I do. They aren’t all that helpful. More confused tbh. In the end they put me through to the barclaycard fraud dept (just how many do they have?) who after 10 mins tell me they are too busy and that I might want to call back later. They then hang up. I notice this is a an 08444 number. Over 30p a min. Excellent, phone reports 18 mins. *sigh*

I log into my online account management, nothing odd there. No mention of a problem. I poke around the site a bit and stumble across http://www.barclaycard.co.uk/personal/credit-guidance/suspect-fraud

Ahha! A way of ringing their fraud dept (well, one of them anyway) that will cost them! I reckon I’m 7 quid down on the deal so settle down with the phone and a mug of tea and look forward to the hold music again this time on their bill.

Except they answer immediately. Very efficient (although I fail a security check by failing to know how old I’ll be next birthday). Loads of transactions today for O2 and Voda topups, and a load of online shopping.

All declined, card blocked. New card issued, simples.

4 mins and it’s all sorted. Odd how they don’t stick you on hold when it’s *their* bill. Gits…

grrrrrrrrr.

So, all in all, a piss poor showing by barclaycard and their multitude of fraud teams.

If you’ve been left a message telling you to ring 0845 351 2259 I recommend you ignore it, and ring the 0800 number instead. You know, the one that’s not on the website they tell to check on, but is listed here:

http://www.barclaycard.co.uk/personal/credit-guidance/suspect-fraud

Gits!

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Zavvi.com fail?

Jake has been saving up for the new release of Dirt 3 for the Xbox. I’d forgotten all about it till today when I suddenly realised it was out tomorrow. No problem, Amazon have it and with prime it’ll be here on release day.

A quick dig around and it turns out amazon are doing it for 37 quid, but Zavvi are offering it at only £32.85. Bargain. They also have the bold claim that

Availability: Pre-order now for delivery on 24 May 2011

In fact, it still says that now live site(as is was at 19:26 on 23/05/2011)

Guess they must be dispatching late in the day – fair enough. Worth it to save a fiver, so we order.

Come 5pm, and the order still hasn’t dispatched. Meanwhile, I’ve found various threads on forums with people complaining about Zavvi.com and preordering games. Seems they have a bit of a reputation for not delivering on time and orders getting stuck in “Awaiting dispatch” status… I check mine and not only is it in “Awaiting dispatch” status, but it’s now saying “Dispatch date – Est: 24/05/2011″ Errrr…. that’s the date they promised delivery? I click the cancel button, not expecting much.

30 mins or so later, the cancelling order status vanishes, and it goes back to “Awaiting dispatch”.

I try again… same thing. This time I get an email response:
zavvi email

How many?? I’ve only ordered one… why does the failed to cancel email say 2??

I’ve given up and ordered from Amazon who I trust to deliver when they say they will. I guess the one (or maybe two!) will turn up from Zavvi at some point and I’ll have to return them at my expense. Great. I’ll not be using Zavvi.com again.

I’ve prodded them on twitter given the excellent support I got from Vodafone, and I’ve had via virginmedia on twitter. Not holding out much hope but we shall see…

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spoke too soon :-)

Just got my bill from vodafone, and seems I was a little premature in my earlier post where I suggested it was all sorted.

Seems I’ve been charge 75p a call and still have passport on my account. Don’t really care about the money, it’s only a few quid. Rather frustrated by the endless stream of misinformation though. If the original answer had been “no, passport isn’t optional” I’d have not really cared. Seems to have been an endless trail of misinformation :-(

Oh well… here we go again

(Must say though – along with VirginMedia vodafone get bonus points for being so responsive on twitter. If we can get the accuracy up as well they might be onto a winner :-))

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Disneyland Paris iPhone app data usage

Since posting about the Disneyland App I’ve had a couple of emails asking what the data usage was, and also how good the app is.

Well, it works – and the queue times appear “live”. We were standing at the queue line for Nemo at the start of the day and the queue line sign went from 20 mins (yeah right) to 80 mins. The app updated immediately.

In terms of data usage, I’d got 25MB a day to play with using Vodafone data traveller and that was more than enough for everything I wanted to do. If you just wanted to use the app then a couple of MB a day should be plenty – it really doesn’t seem to use much at all (as I hoped!).

I was reading email (I’d disabled push email), using twitter, looking a few things up on the web and occasionally looking at facebook as well as using the Disney app and the most I used was 10MB in one day. If you turned off all push related apps (disable all the notifications) then I don’t think it’ll be a problem.

More of an issue was the signal. Vodafone appears to roam onto SFR whenever it can – SFR signal within the parks is pretty crappy. It seems the best network within the parks is Orange. They appeared to have pretty decent signal in most places – but they don’t have a roaming deal with Vodafone. Another phone we had (on Tesco mobile IIRC) did roam onto OrangeFR and had pretty decent data connectivity.

In the village wasn’t as bad, and in our hotel room we had consistently 4 bars of 3G goodness on SFR.

One other thing – the app tells you that the queue times are only available when you are in the park. They aren’t joking – you really have to be in the park. Even in the area in front of the parks (the bit after the search tent) it wouldn’t work.

So, in all, yes, the app works and if you can connectivity, it works fairly well.

On the downside, voda roaming within the parks is a bit crappy, and the app itself is a bit dodgy with the multitasking on the iphone4 (couple of times I had to kill it as it stuck on the title page). Worth using though IMO.

Of course, if you use it and rack up a gazzilion pound roaming bill don’t come crying to me – YMMV :-) If you do use it I’d be interested in hearing views though.

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Disneyland Paris hurrah!

Well, we are back – a fantastic few days at Disney.

After Disney’s cockup with our booking, we didn’t know if we would be able to complete the check in process at ashford or not. Turns out we could, although the tickets in our envelope caused the guy on the desk a little confusion :-) He couldn’t quite fathom how we had VIP fast passes, how we had a meal voucher (normally you have to commit to one a day – you can’t buy just one) and also why we were checking in using Disney express yet we had tickets to Paris :-) Still, all worked fine.
Fastpass goodness

Train to paris was ok (although I always forget just how hot it is on Eurostar :-( ) but the RER from paris to disney was rather grim. Not helped by all the ticket offices in Paris shutting at 1pm for lunch. Handy. Still, the kids enjoyed travelling upstairs on a train – even if we couldn’t really see out of the filthy windows and the seats appeared to be made of damp cardboard. Still we ended up getting to Disney about 30 mins later than the direct train. Not too bad at all.

VIP fast passes are fantastic :-) For some reason ours don’t have expiry dates on which caused a few raised eyebrows and confusion. Still, I guess that means we can use them next time as well :-) Not sure I’d be brave enough to try but…

Ate in Plaza Gardens on the first day as we had a 20% off voucher and it was convenient. Only after we had left did we remember the voucher… grrrr. Food was “ok” – nowt special, but then it’s an eat as much as you like for 23 EU – pretty cheap by Disney standards.

Got to the hotel around 9:45pm – no queue to check in, and our rooms had been upgraded \o/. Ended up with linked Lake view rooms which meant we got the full turn down service, chocolates on the pillows etc etc. Also we had gifts left in the room for us – some fairly large mickey mouse soft toys, mugs, and complimentary drinks. Also, we got fresh roses in the bathrooms. Nothing all that special but a nice upgrade :-)

Second day (Monday) and it was overcast but appart from a little drizzle for 30 mins or so, it was dry. Did space mountain for the first time in the hotel extra magic hours – it’s ok. Nice special effects, but it’s a bit rough and throws your head around a bit. Certainly not as smoth as R’n’R. Obviously, with VIP passes we had to try it again later in the day as well :-)

As Disney had given us a free meal (a half board plus voucher per person) we could have eaten in Walts or our Hotel but we figured we would push the boat out and eat in Inventions. We had looked before when staying in the Disneyland hotel but decided it was too pricey. Even with our meal vouchers it still cost us 132 EU to eat there (with a bottle of wine). Conveniently, our Quidco cashback paid out 120 quid just before we left so that covered the difference \o/. Inventions food was good – but I wouldn’t have said it was worth the cash. However, if you like the character meals then it’s pretty impressive – we had an endless stream of characters coming to the table. Not really our thing, but if you like that then I’m not sure there is any better place to meet so many characters.

Tuesday was lovely and bright – and cold. Day in the studios for us. Didn’t bother with the Stunt show so don’t know if the jumps are back in yet. Toy story land was heaving (no surprise, it’s still rather new and shiny). Nemo had a huge queue all day – and no fast pass so we did that first. Still surprisingly extreme for a kids ride :-) Stitch show was clever – not seen that before. The interactive computer gfx work well. Tower of Terror was good – fastpass straight to the front. This was the only place our non-expiring VIP passes were questioned – but after 30 seconds of confusion we were allowed straight on. I’d not ridden it before – pretty impressive!

Of course, had to finish the day with a few rides on Aerosmith Rock’n’roller coaster. Still my fave (although close thing with Nemesis). We got soundtracker 5 on one ride (yay!) only to find the sound not working (booo!). Still seems amazingly smooth compared to Space mountain or Rita. Plenty of smoke this time as well which was good. Headed to Annettes for dinner just before the hoards emptied out of the park post parade. Service in Annettes was abismal – multiple cockups on the order including forgetting drinks and bringing extra kids meal (11 meals despite there only being 10 of us). They then billed us for all the stuff we had had, and and extra 35 euros for the mysterious meals that we hadn’t had as well as all the missing drinks. Thankfully one of the waiters appeared to have more brain and could see the bill was rubbish and sorted it all efficiently. Not great though. Finished there at 7pm so time to dash back to the park for a quick BTM in the dark, and then another ride on pirates \o/.

Wednesday – backing into main park for 8am for a couple of hours, then studios for 10am start. Did the parachute drop (much better than it looked – but long queues). Another drop on the tower of terror, then some more R’n’R goodness before back to main park again for a few more rides on the faves (BTM, phantom manor and obviously It’s a Small World) before some late lunch in Au Chalet de la Marionnette (half chicken and chips for about 6 quid with the 20% voucher – probably the best value “fast” food in the park IMO).

Then the direct eurostar home thanks to Monsieur Gas :-) Hassle free trip back arriving in Ashford at 8:40pm. Excellent.

All in all, a great few days. VIP fast passes were excellent… already pondering Newport Bay suite for next trip as you get them as standard then :-) It’s only money…

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end of UK TiVo, launch of UK TiVo

Getting on for 10 years ago, I bought a TiVo. Never really pushed in the UK (but now massive in the US) it was pretty much the first PVR available – and remains one of the best for several reasons.

It was rather ahead of it’s time. It was expensive (around £500 IIRC, + a tenner a month or £200 for a “lifetime” sub). TiVo contracted Sky to provide support and it was advertised by Sky – it even had a “Recommended by Sky” banner in the corner of the screen.

Sky never enabled the serial port on the sky boxes, so TiVo had to live with an IR link to change the channel. Despite working with Sky, terrestrial, freeview (ITV digital as it was) and cable Sky managed the customer support, and also the advertising. The adverts were pretty crap, Sky never really seemed to push it.

Then Sky announced the Sky+ box. I’m sure that’s nothing at all to do with the way they seemed reluctant to push TiVo…

Sky+ was crap in most comparisons to TiVo, but had a few benefits. It recorded the stream directly – TiVo had to re-encode the already decoded picture before saving the stream. Quality suffered as a result which as TVs have got bigger, has become a real issue. TiVo only had one encoding chip so could only record one show. Sky+ could record two. Of course, Sky+ had the massive advantage of being marketed by Sky who seemed to rapidly lose interest in the TiVo. Funny that :-(

No one else stepped up to license the TiVo software in the UK – and Thomson stopped making the boxes. The last remaining stock was flogged off for 50 quid a go in Comet and Scottish Power stores. A few false starts (Humax seemed close to lauching but it just never happened) and then TiVo effectively withdrew back to the US and abandoned the UK market. Sky+ became massive, HD arrived and even the most committed TiVo owners started to jump.

Early 2009 rumours started to appear on the TiVo forums that TiVo were back in the UK. Seemed unlikely they were working with Sky. Freeview was a possibility but had no single backer. Then Virginmedia announced they were looking at TiVo software for a potential upgrade to their V+ box. Ahha, the news I wanted… I cancelled my Sky sub (yay!), cancelled my TiVo sub (sad :-( ) and got a V+ box.

Being able to record 2 shows while watching a 3rd was great. Having HD was great. The video on demand services are fantastic, but wow, the user interface sucks. It’s certainly no TiVo. Virginmedia have now started to roll out their TiVo and initial reports are good. It’s a bit limited at the moment but it’s definately a TiVo (it even has a peanut – *best* remote I’ve ever used). I’m still waiting for my call back to arrange an install date but I can’t wait.

Then just as TiVo is getting some good press in the UK for once, they announce that they are stopping the S1 support. :-( Doesn’t cause me problems as I’ve cancelled mine anyway, and I can get the new VM model but it sucks for TiVo users who aren’t in a cabled area (around 50% of the population). Bascially, TiVo are removing the guide data (EPG – but with loads of metadata that makes it *so* powerful) – without the guide data TiVo is crippled :-(

It’s not clear why they are doing this. It’s been expected by many for a while as subscriber numbers dropped it must have become less viable financially. It’s pretty impressive it lasted this long really. Have VirginMedia put pressure on them to kill it to preserve their exclusive deal? Do TiVo see it as a convenient time to duck out quietly (seems that’s not working – people are fairly vocal on the blog).

Whatever the reason, if they hoped to disappear quietly it’s not working – not helped by an apparent (deliberate?) misunderstanding of the market. Saying things like “Our goal is to provide customers enough time to upgrade” isn’t helpful to the users who can’t have Cable even if they wanted to. Time for a Freeview/FreeSat TiVo? Sounds ideal – but the subscription doesn’t really fit the “free” part and trying to explain to someone why they should pay a tenner a month for something that is “just an EPG that’s normally free” is pretty difficult. Also, if the suggestion that VM have a exclusive contract it wouldn’t be possible anyway :-(

A sad end to the Series1 in the UK – be interesting to see how the VM one takes off. Maybe VM will announce a freeview version (can’t see that somehow as much as I’d love it to happen).

I’m sure a third party free source of guide data will appear (as it has in Aus AIUI) but that’s not use to users who haven’t hacked their machine and added a network card. Plenty of very unhappy punters on the forums.

Sad :-( I’m still going to get a VirginMedia one though ;-) (when the get around to ringing me – hurry up!)

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Vodafone – beware their online support chat

Off to Disney Paris for a few days next week, and Disney have a new App that lets you see queue times (and other less useful propaganda) while you wander around the park. Could be handy if it works, but I can’t tell as it uses GPS and won’t let you see the times unless you are in the park grrrrr. It’s almost as if they don’t want you seeing the massive queues till they have your cash. Anyway…

Given there isn’t any wireless in the park, you need a data connection. At a quid a MB (and no clue as to how much the app uses) I figured I’d look into the options. Also, I have a look at call charges while roaming.

I’ve got an iPhone on Voda and as part of their iPhone contracts they give you Vodafone Passport for free. This sounds quite good – a 75p charge for any call (incoming or outgoing) and then it comes out of your normal allowance. Sounds great if you are using the phone a lot – but the most I’ll do is a couple of “I’m off the Rock’n’Roll coaster, and I’m going back on as it’s frikking awesome” type calls. 20 seconds most. With passport these will cost 75p. Without it it would be 19p. Passport less impressive now, so I ask if I can turn it off via twitter.

@VodafoneUK going to france, making short calls – can I get passport removed from my iphone accnt? 75p per call works out more expensive!

I get the reply

@dmchapman You can, email us here http://goo.gl/LqgN with WRT135 as the subject line and we’ll remove it ^ HP

Sounds good. I promptly forget all about it.

This weekend I’m thinking about what I need to sort this week, and remember the Vodafone Passport. I have a look at their website, and while I’m poking around an invite to use their online support chat pops up. Handy, I click accept and wait.

After a couple of mins I get connected to Mckenly.

info: You are now connected with Mckenly.
Mckenly: Hello, you’re chatting with Mckenly, one of Vodafone’s online customer service specialists. May I take your name please?
You: Darren
Mckenly: Hi Darren
Mckenly: How are you doing
You: hi, can I turn off voda passport online? Or do I need to phone you to do that? I think it’s enabled by default on my iphone contract
Mckenly: No need to turn off
Mckenly: as this work automatically once you are abroad
You: I don’t want to use it – I’m going to be making short calls so it doesn’t make sense
Mckenly: passport is to reduce call rates while abroad
You: it’s a lot more expensive for a 30 second call though
Mckenly: Okay
Mckenly: I will remove it for you
Mckenly: Your mobile no. & date of birth please?
You: 077blahblahblah
You: $DOB
Mckenly: Thanks
Mckenly: Done
You: excellent, thanks
Mckenly: also
Mckenly: I’ll be pleased to get your valuable comments for this chat
Mckenly: Once you end this chat you will get a feedback form….Thanks in advance..
Mckenly: have a nice weekend

Not entirely sure they were on the same continent as me, but hey ho, seemed efficient and easy. Too easy in fact… Call me paranoid, but I don’t trust computers, or mobile phone companies, or offshore call centres. An online support chat to an offshore customer service guy for a mobile phone company sets my “they’ll have buggered it up somehow” alarm in my head ringing. (apologies is Mckenly isn’t offshore, and apologies to offshore support bods – I’m sure some of you are brilliant but I base most of my opinion on Virginmedia… a pretty low base).

I log into my online account. hmmm. I’m sure that used to say 1GB data. Now it just says “Internet”. It’s probably fine – but I log an online ticket just in case. I get an email back from them:

Hi Darren,

I have checked your account and can see that you are on price plan with 300 minutes + unlimited text + Vodafone Mobile Internet (1GB) + 1GB BT Openzone Wi-Fi with line rental £25.54 excl VAT.

I trust this helps.

I’ve also attached a short customer feedback questionnaire and would really appreciate your thoughts to help us improve our service and I can assure you, this will be treated in confidence. Just click here to start.

Kind regards,
Neeraj Marlecha
Vodafone Customer Services

Excellent – 1GB data still clearly there. While thinking about data, I discover the Vodafone Data Traveller opt-in. Sounds perfect, 2 quid a day (only if you use it) and it gives you 25MB of data while roaming in Europe. Perfect, I’ll have one thanks except the phone number they tell you to ring is “experiencing technical problems, please use the website”. The website tells you to ring the number. I pop into the Voda store in town and ask. After much prodding at a computer they claim to have turned it on in a not-very-convincing way. I’m not convinced. I get home and prod them again via twitter

@VodafoneUK how can I confirm I have data traveller and *no* passport on my account? Folkestone store not sure! Website not showing it…

I quickly get a reply offering to look if I email them some details. I do this and get confirmation that I do have data traveller, I don’t have passport and I have 300 mins, unlimited texts and 512MB data. errrrrr….what? Where has my 1GB gone?

After a few emails I get a phone call from them (actually, I get two – the first one was just as I was putting dinner in the over – sods law) and speak to Holly who was very helpful and pointed out that when the online support bod took passport off of my account he/she moved me to a different tariff as that’s the only way it can be removed. Given Voda no longer offer 1GB data I got the standard 512MB. Not impressed. I ask to be moved back. Not possible it seems. I point out that in neither the orignal tweet or the online chat (handy that they email you a transcript :-)) no one had mentioned this. I’m just about to point out that earlier the same day they have emailed me confirming I did have 1GB allowance but before I get a chance, she spots the email in my account. Excellent.

Given the email (incorrect) and my chat transcript she decides I’ve been rather short changed and attempts to find a contract that actually has the old allowance. Only one is a sim only deal, but that’s got 900 mins a month instead of the 300 and is actually a few pence cheaper (exactly 25 quid, instead of 25 quid + the 2.5% VAT increase). Other than that, it’s the same (and is without passport, perfect) so after a bit of faffing, she agrees to put me on that.

Excellent. We got there in the end. I now have

900 minutes, unlimited texts, 1GB internet and Openzone WiFi. This is £25.00 before VAT and £30 with VAT included.

Your extras are:

Data Traveller – This is free until you use data abroad when you’ll get charged £2 for every day to get either a 25MB or 5MB allowance. In France it is 25MB.

I also got her to send me confirmation that I’d not just been signed up to a new contract term

Hi Darren,

The priceplan changes I have made today (detailed below) will not affect your commitment or monthly cost in anyway, this was not an upgrade, it was just a case of me changing your allowances to what they should have been before you had passport removed.

Enjoy Disneyland! :)

Thank You
Holly
Customer Service Advisor
Web Relations Team
Shared Services
Vodafone UK

It’s not that I don’t trust them, but, well, I don’t trust them… (but Holly was really helpful, so thanks to her :-))

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Disneyland Paris… yay (and grrrrrr)

We are off to Disneyland Paris again next week, and this time we are taking my parents (mum has always fancied it).

We booked in Sept 2010, and my parents also booked separately and then I phoned Disney to get the two bookings linked (as they recommend). This should make sure we end up with hotel rooms near each other etc etc. All was good. We paid a bit over the odds to go for the New York hotel with the direct Eurostar etc. Yeah, could have got it a bit cheaper if we booked all the bits individually but pffft, effort. At least this way it would be stress free and easy. Or maybe not…

3 weeks before we were meant to leave, we get an urgent message from Disney left on our answerphone.. uh oh… Ring them back (in the queue for 30 mins (or as I like to think, in a queue for £3.80) before speaking to someone who passed us to Guest Care.

“Sorry, we don’t have the seats you paid for on the Eurostar, but it’s ok, we have booked you on the Paris train”

Errrr….no, that’s not really ok. Paris train means we have to find our own way from Gare du Nord to Disney (not rocket science, but not what we paid for) arriving later than planned. Worse, it means we have to leave several hours earlier on the last day, arriving in Ashford not long after the time we were meant to be leaving the park! Add on the fact that we need to travel into Paris via two extra trains in the rush hour with luggage and two tired kids this basically meant we were being diddled out of half a day in the park. Not good. Obviously, they didn’t actually tell us we would need 2 trains, or that we would have to leave so much earlier. Or that their own site recommends against the Gare du Nord route and suggests via Lille is much better.

Still, it’s Disney, I’m sure they have some compensation they offer, something to make things suck a bit less.

“We can’t offer any money back I’m afraid, but we will reimburse you the cost of your metro tickets if you fax them to us after you get home”

Errr…. what? That’s it? No real apology? No “heres a couple of hundred quid off”. More a “tough shit” attitude. Also, Fax? WTF? I can’t email it, I have to fax an international number. I feel a jibblermoment coming on.

Having had a sleep and a think, I ponder my attack vector. Guest care appeared to be more “Guest don’t-care” so I rang their enquiry line. First stab, try to book another holiday for the same dates.

Hotel fine, but no direct train. Also nothing via Lille. They offer a flight instead (but interestingly, not a train via Paris). Eurostar site agrees nothing direct or via Lille, but shows plenty of seats on the Paris train. Interesting… I ask to be transferred to guest care. After 90 mins (£10 quid to normal people) I’ve finally got escalated to someone who admits that a) my request to link the booking appears to have been missed (probably for the best, at least this way they haven’t offloaded my parents who are still on the direct train) and that b) it’s a bit shit (I maybe paraphrasing this a little).

Eventually, they manage to offer us something. A hotel room upgrade. Hmmm… so we get a view of the Lake. It’s a start, but we don’t really go to Disney to sit in the room looking at the view. Also, they appear to have forgotten the whole linked booking thing again, so can only upgrade our room and not my parents. I ask if they could offer us some fastpasses for the last day, they claim that’s not possible, as it’s down to the hotel to provide fastpasses (but not room upgrades?? WTF?).

I suggest they can do better than this and as by this point I’ve been on the phone all afternoon (at least I’ve got them ringing me now) I decide to send in a complaint via email. They agree this is probably best, and that they aim to reply within 48 hours so to give them until Thursday. It’s Sunday. Oh dear…

I email, and wait. Late Wednesday I get a new “improved” offer. A free meal for all of us in Cafe Mickey. Getting more valuable, but still not really addressing the whole losing time in the park issue. Quite the opposite in fact as it turns out the Cafe isn’t in the park. So either we eat late at night (Sprog2 will become Satan) or we lose even more time. Doesn’t sound like a great deal…

Annoyed at the way they appear to be completely ignoring the main thing I’m unhappy with I decide to go for broke and do some digging. Turns out the CEO doesn’t really obfuscate his email address very well, and a bit of googlefu and some guessing appears to offer a way forward. I email Monsieur Gas and pray he has a SheilaPA.

Next day I’m at an Oracle/Sun event and bingo, they phone me (48 hours? Ha! First call was 3 working hours ;-) ). They phone me 3 times infact, and in the end leave a message suggesting that I email them a time that would be convenient and that they will ring me then to discuss my “letter”. Late that night I email them suggesting 10:45 would be good.

10:46 my phone rings (I’ll let them off that :-)). Finally someone who sounds useful (and someone who wasn’t in the US – most of Guest Care appear to be in Florida going by accents and the calling numbers).

Sarah is very helpful, and appears to be in a position to actually do stuff. This is good. Within 15 mins we’ve been offered

  • VIP fast passes for all six of us (unlimited for the entire stay – w00t!)
  • a free meal (yay!)
  • 4 seats on the full direct train home avoiding the leaving early issue
  • a taxi from Gare Du Nord if we would prefer not to use the train

No idea how they found the seats. Don’t care, that’s a great result. They can’t do anything to help with the route out but agree to pay a taxi for us (€150 apparently!)

Not sure how the meal thing will work (if at all, I did thank her but say we weren’t bothered about the meals) but I got an email Friday saying VIP fastpasses will be available for us to collect at the station \o/

Result! Now to see if it actually happens… The direct tickets have no arrived, and I’ve posted back the ones from Paris so that’s a start :-)

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