So the Wife and I had a Perry White-Lois Lane moment here at the ranch, trying to decide what to publish on this here blog and what to leave alone. Believe it or not, I opted for discretion (cuz THAT’s my MO, right?). She pushed for
shaming these bastards the public’s right to know.
What I didn’t know was that my wife wanted to be Woodward & Bernstein as a kid. This woman got sources, screenshots, connections, images and fileboxes, blood samples and bulletin boards–the search for the Zodiac Killer was not this thorough. So you can imagine who won in this little journalistic struggle. The caveat, the Wife gets her own post. So here, for the first time, is a Crooked Letterz exposé:
I’ve been pretty quiet until now. I’ve been busy these last 9 months recovering from surgery, getting healthy, enjoying my family and of course, travel sales – Disney and more now. I’ve been very blessed to have my husband as my rock and voice during all of this.
I sat quiet through being called a pill popping alcoholic; I sat by when John called me a thief and a bitch, and while being threatened with slander suits. Until my Facebook, emails and phone started blowing up in June.
First, it was small things – “Have you see that BSJ got shut down?” or “ This is such-and-such from XYZ Company. We’re on the Earmark Committee. I’m just checking on you – we were referred to your husband’s blog by such-and-such or our DM [District Manager–it’s a Disney thing]. We’re hearing all these rumors running around about Disney shutting down Blue Sky Journeys. We’re so sorry to hear what happened to you.”
Then the emails and Facebook messages with links came. “Have you seen they started a new company?” To which I would say, “Well maybe it’s an entirely different company?” Right? I mean why would planners stay where there are issues? You can’t access your reservations; you’re worried about your clients; you’re getting fed bullshit via email about trying to get the company back up and running during a holiday weekend; and prior to a huge free dining special offer coming out. Why would you believe what is being told to you. Right???
I was astonished to learn after some easy internet research and a few phone calls that less than 48 hours after being served a SHUT THE HELL DOWN by Disney they START A NEW COMPANY! Even the youngest detective could figure this out. I start with the Blue Sky Journeys website. While I see that while the front-page of BSJ is under maintenance, their agent page is still accessible. OOPS! Go ahead go look. I’ll wait. http://www.blueskyjourneys.com/agents#!__agents Oh, and if they happen to take it down after this blog post – I have screen shots.
Now lets take a look at another site that was linked to me in Facebook. This came from one of my concerned associates and was sent to my Facebook messages: http://www.fantasyanddreams.com/#c20z
If you look at the drop down list, you can see some similarities. I am not here to make judgment on the new company nor the agents that are there. I am only here to point one main person.
That person currently is under indictment and has been arrested on theft charges in the State of Tennessee. You can figure out who that person is, right?
So then I take to Facebook and, even though BSJ can’t sell Disney anymore, they are still doing business selling other travel. Here is an example from the same week they had to stop selling Disney:
Finally, I searched CLIA (Cruise Line Industry Association) by name. This first screen shot is an Agency Look Up as a CLIA member (which I am). The second is one you can get yourself if you’re looking for an agent in your area by Zip code. Now, I’m not sure WHY when you search it shows Franklin, IN – typo maybe?? Here you can look for yourself by searching Fantasy & Dreams Luxury, LLC in the zip code box: http://cruising.org/vacation/agencyfinder
In my mind I think: Why would Melanie if she is not the owner of the new agency, file for a new CLIA number (needed to sell Disney) under her maiden name? There are even Facebook screen shots showing that she is currently the manager and vacation planner at Fantasy & Dreams Luxury Travel, LLC and the Owner at Blue Sky Journeys.
Why should a person who is currently out ON BOND and indicted for theft of over $60K – a Class B felony in Tennessee be allowed to continue to work as any type of Travel Agent? Let alone, sell Disney?
The arrest happened on Friday, August 16, 2013. As I was boarding a plane to Disneyland, I got phone calls and texts, back to back while I was sitting on the runway for takeoff, telling me all about it. I can’t say I didn’t smile and was giddy with justice being served. I was. It was the best Disneyland trip this year.
Then on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 I got an email from the current Manager of the new Travel Agency – Fantasy & Dreams Luxury Travel, LLC. The email, as my husband pointed out yesterday in his blog, requested we remove their name from the blog:
Though some of the BSJ agents have come to work for me, we are a separate company from Blue Sky Journeys. I am formally requesting that you remove any references to Fantasy & Dreams (negative or positive) from your blog. We are a new agency, just trying to gain our footing in the travel world and I’m sure you aren’t looking to damage my reputation or the reputations of my company or planners.
So we discussed with our legal representation what we should do. We were advised we could remove the link but leave the name because it’s public record. How is it public record, you ask? We have screen shots of that below. Yesterday, Chris decided to remove it completely because he thought the person who sent the email and helped start that company was an unwitting participant. They had believed everything told to them by the Swoaps. They were swindled just as much a victim as the dance group and parents.
Then yesterday evening, Chris and I discussed what the end game was for us. In the end, it is about protecting the clients who were unaware of what happened and the agents who have drunk the Kool Aid and believe everything they are being told. We wanted the public to see the truth. Apparently, so does Fox 17 in Nashville. And WKRN ABC 2.
As a Disney vacation planner and travel agent this has disappointed me and emotionally upset me for a few reasons. First, because it opened up old wounds from December and the way I was treated when all I wanted to do was resign from Blue Sky Journeys. You can see the posts my husband did on that here. Second, because those of us, who eat, sleep and dream magically have a reputation and standard to uphold. Disney is about making dreams come true. When you enter the gates at either park – California or Orlando – the goal is to feel like there is no outside world. The Imagineers have done such a fantastic job of immersing you into the magical world of everything Disney, that you just want to feel that way forever. For me, it’s the only place that my family can shut off their phones, work or school life and we bond together to make the memories that will last a lifetime. I love getting up daily and making magic for my clients.
The Disney travel agent community is a small one: this stuff gets around quickly. Negative things get around even quicker once they are out. Things like what happened with BSJ and the current indictment make us all look HORRIBLE. They are not the first agency to rip off someone–you can Google many rip off reports of small agencies that prey on work at home moms, bring them in as agents with no training, no idea about the industry, give them a login and then, once they begin booking clients, never pay them or shut down and file bankruptcy. NOT ALL AGENCIES OR AGENTS ARE LIKE THIS.
There are many things you can do to ensure you get a great reputable agent / agency to book your travel with:
- Make sure to check they are registered with the BBB.
- Ask if they are certified or have travel accreditations. For example, are they with a Disney Earmarked agency, do they have their cruise ACC from CLIA and Certification from Travel Institute. Those that are have the certificates and credentials when you search for them.
- Ask if they have Errors & Omissions Insurance this protects the agent and client incase of errors on the reservations.
- Check with the State to ensure they are a registered business.
- Ask how payments are taken. Do they pay the vacation supplier directly or take the money in house. While many agencies are set up to take payments in house, they must be regulated by the State they are in for how to hold clients funds in escrow before paying the vacation supplier.
- The best way to protect yourself is to avoid payments by cash or check. Purchase your vacation on a credit card so that if something goes wrong, you can get it back through the Card Company and dispute.
- Ask for references: Check their Facebook fan page for recommendations or ask for previous client testimonials.
- Always as for confirmation the same a day you are booked or credit card charged.
In the end, my entire goal for this post today is so the public is informed. I don’t have anything against the other Manager of the new agency that emailed me, or the planners who chose to go there. I think they are victims of the situation. I’m sorry that they have to be affected by these stories and posts. This post is no different than any other news story that comes out about this horrendous situation and stealing money from families who just wanted to dance and enjoy Disney. I pray that the agents that have current clients still traveling will get paid what is owed to them. As for the families and children involved, in all sincerity I pray that they are all taken care of and can get repayment. I hope they don’t view the reset of us great agents and agencies out there in the same light as their experience with BSJ.
I appreciate you all reading and supporting my husband’s blog. But for me, this is the end. I’ve told my story to those who have asked. I’ve said my peace and am moving on back to my magical place and vacation planning. Thanks for listening and coming to your own conclusions. If you need a new agent that is certified and reputable, I’m sure I can find you a good one.
The Karma bus strikes again…beep beep. The way they talked down to the ones that made them their money always amazed me. These people did NOT represent the Disney community, and I knew it was just time till they would both fall.
Thank you both, Chris and Amanda for sharing the story of what happened with everyone.
Wow… just wow. That’s insane! BUT I’m glad you’re doing better Amanda! And that you got out of this mess while you could. I mean really!!!
And yeah, Scott hit the nail on the head… karma bus!
Also, are you planning to get your blog going again? I’d love to follow you there!
Hi Nova – Thank you for being an avid follower. I am going to work on Love, Life Seattle but in the meantime you can find me daily here for the business side http://www.amandabellestarr.com or http://www.facebook.com/DisneyTravelSpecials
I do think it’s time to make Chris do another round of Disney Villains for us 🙂
Scott I really think its the karma mac truck caravan at this point. 😉
I’ll be honest. I hope this whole mess makes Disney group bookings change how they handle payments for groups booked through TA’s..
That’s the thing Autumn – Disney setting a policy would make no difference, since bookings were never made!
You can do a web search for TA’s ripping off clients, and in almost all cases, it’s done when the clients give the agents cash or checks – and the agents never make the bookings and just take the money and run.
Johnny is correct. Let’s break it down: Group Sales works like this (Autumn you know you’re currently doing one and I just did one) you have to put down a deposit on the entire group within a certain amount of time 30 days or less once they send you the quoted contract. Then balance is due upon check in since it’s considered room only. As a matter of fact let me quote my last email from a group sales inquiry:
“If you would like to confirm space, please let me know and I will provide you with a contract for this group. Once the contract is set up, the first nights deposit, for each room, must be received 60 days prior to scheduled arrival. Any remaining balance must be received 30 days prior to arrival along with a typed rooming list. One form of payment must be provided for the entire group. The entire group may cancel 30 days prior to arrival without penalty. Cancellation within the 30 days prior to arrival will result in a penalty of 1 night room charge plus tax per room. Individual rooms may cancel up to 3 days prior to scheduled arrival without penalty, subject to a 10-room minimum.” – Liz Rodriguez Disney Group Getaways.
Now since one payment is required, in the State of CA where my current company is out of if we took check payments or Credit Card payments from our clients – NEVER CASH – then we would have to put them all in the business account escrow along with the paper trail. It’s a State mandate. I’m not sure what TN policies are, however, in the end there was NO money at check in! Bank wires can happen INSTANTLY from bank to bank no matter who you bank with. If you were getting more via Paypal and knew the date of arrival that you would need to pay then why wouldn’t you have that money moved a week prior to be secure when arriving. Oh that’s right! Look above Disney Group Sales said BALANCE 30 DAYS PRIOR TO ARRIVAL.
Even if they were never made at Group Sales, and booked as individual rooms, the initial deposit would have to be made in order to secure those rooms until check in. They wouldn’t magically disappear.
Wonderfully told Amanda!! Great job!! ❤