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I have always liked the look of Kuoni. I have picked up their brochures many times and browsed their shops and formed the impression that they are at the upper end of high street travel agents. I generally prefer to travel fairly independently though and so until the trip I shall now describe, I had never actually booked a holiday with them. The reason I decided to book with them on this occasion, was because we decided to get married overseas and a Kuoni wedding package seemed like the most convenient and easiest way of ensuring that all the legalities and arrangements were taken care of professionally and I would have less to think about myself.
Booking, cost and pre-wedding
We wanted a city not a beach wedding and had decided upon San Francisco, a city I loved when I went their many years ago, before looking through the Kuoni brochure. We were pleased to see that they featured this location and the wedding package included: ceremony, licence, champagne, cake, 36 printed photographs, transfers, bouquet, buttonhole, Alcatraz tickets, wedding gift and cd of all photographs. The cost for this was £878, which is probably more expensive than if we pulled it together ourselves but much more convenient so we decided to go ahead and book.
Kuoni does offer weddings in a few other cities around the world but most are island / beach weddings. They generally include similar to our San Francisco package and price of course depends upon location. We made our booking in person in the Kuoni travel shop in London city centre. I found the staff knowledgeable, helpful and they seemed genuinely interested in us and pleased to be involved in a wedding. As well as booking the wedding package with Kuoni we also booked flights, San Francisco hotel, car hire, Yosemite hotel and Las Vegas hotels with them. We made a couple of trips into the shop as we did not initially know exactly what we wanted to include in our trip and the staff were helpful in coming up with practical suggestions for us.
A less than ideal aspect of the booking was that a separate department deals with weddings, so whilst the people in the shop could book flights and hotels they were less knowledgeable about the wedding package itself. Indeed we found ourselves in the situation where we had to put a deposit down for flights and hotels but then had to wait for two weeks before they could actually confirm the wedding booking which was really the whole point of us being there. I still have absolutely no idea why it took two weeks to confirm the date and venue of our choice, in fact I have even less idea now than I did at the time as there is one wedding co-ordinator in San Francisco who conducts the ceremony herself in a public place so surely all it would have took was a phone call to ask if she was free that day! Anyway this delay was slightly frustrating at the time as we were not booking that far in advance and we were keen to order stationery with the date on and let our families know what the date was so they could start to make their own travel plans.
Kuoni were pretty good with paperwork, confirming details
in writing, reminding us when the final payment became due and sending a final itinerary folder a few weeks before travel. On the other hand, when we wanted to get in touch with them for queries or to add to our itinerary it was a complete nightmare getting through on the phone, on two occasions I found myself in a queue for over half an hour and in the end we decided that the only option was to go into the shop in person each time.
Wedding Co-ordination and the day itself
After our date was confirmed we were contacted by our wedding co-ordinator in San Francisco and she was in regular contact with us for the next few months. We had chosen the Japanese Tea Gardens, believing these to be in the Golden Gate Park and one of the first things she told us was that in fact the gardens they use are in San Mateo 30 minutes outside the city and we were a bit disappointed about this and felt misled as we were already booked but decided they would be fine. She worked with us on the wording of the ceremony, in fact she did most of this herself as neither of us are very good at creative writing. She also asked us about what flowers and cake we wanted, put me in touch with somebody to help with hair and make up for the day, organised a trip to Alcatraz for us and generally I felt that she would assist in whatever way we asked her to.
When we arrived in San Francisco we had five days before the wedding itself (legally only one working day is required) and our co-ordinator contacted us most days to check we were ok and whether we needed anything. On the morning of the wedding the groom made himself scarce and the Kuoni recommended hair and make up person arrived at the hotel to help me get ready. Thirty minutes later and I looked like something out of the Rocky Horror Show, I could literally feel the make up caked to my face despite having been very clear that I do not normally wear much make up and did not want today to be much different. I also do not recall a time when somebody I am paying has made such a dreadful job of drying my hair, I looked like I had been through a hurricane and after telling him so he used my GHDs (thank goodness I had them!) and then hair sprayed me to within an inch of my life. My hair was literally solid and again did not reconcile with the "natural" look I had specified. He told me that American brides usually tell him that they do not want one single hair to move all day and presumably he had imagined I said the same. I very much resented paying him his $170 but was glad to do so to get him out of there so I could make myself look presentable and thankfully had enough time to do so before we were collected by our co-ordinator who was driving us to the ceremony and administering it herself as well.
The Japanese Gardens at San Mateo were pretty but much smaller than the ones in Golden Gate Park which we had looked at on-line before booking believing that would be our venue. We arrived about 15 minutes before the 1pm start we were aiming for and then had to wait around for the photographer who arrived at 1pm on the dot. I was surprised to find that an ideal spot had for the ceremony had not been worked out in advance by the co-ordinator and photographer and instead we were expected to tramp around in our wedding gear on a hot day to choose a spot that was agreeable to us and the photographer who wanted to take pictures through the ceremony, despite us saying we would rather they were afterwards. I think the guests were wondering what on earth was going on as they tramped around after us and whilst some couples may have liked to have chosen the spot themselves I would have preferred this to have been done for me.
I was happy with where we ended up, a shady corner overlooking a small lake and bridge. I was pleased with the ceremony and afterwards we had photographs taken in a variety of spots and I felt that the photographer was very professional and took pride in her work.
At around this point though, our co-ordinator let herself down. She seemed impatient with us and now the ceremony was over just wanted to get home. She went to book taxis for our guests without checking a time with us and were it not for her own error, had allowed only 20 minutes for all our photographs. In fact because she made an error it was an hour and 20 minutes but when she realised she wanted to call back but I firmly told her I did not want my photographs to be rushed and received a sly thumbs up from the photographer leading me to think she is generally rushing couples. During photographs she sat there pulling faces, sighing, crossing her arms and generally being very sulky all of which I chose to ignore.
After the photographs it only got worse, she actually asked me if I would mind getting a taxi back to our hotel despite transfers being part of the wedding package. To set this scene, we were not in San Francisco we were in a suburb on the outskirts, it was a Monday afternoon, pretty quiet and there were very few taxis around, I had visions of being abandoned on a street corner in a full length wedding dress (with train), carrying my cake and a bottle of champagne under my arm (which she had in her car for us) trying to flag a cab down in 80 degrees! I sweetly replied that I would very much prefer it if she could drive us back to the hotel as per the plan and she did so.
Rest of the holiday
We had no problems with any of the flight and hotel bookings that had been made for us in advance. The costs of our tailor made package were pretty much the sum of the parts had we booked our flights, hotels, car hire ourselves so obviously the costs will depend upon what standards you opt for. After San Francisco we had planned to collect a hire car and drive to Yosemite but a few days before we heard that a landslide had closed the road and it would be closed until the summer. This turned out to be incorrect but we nevertheless decided we would rather change our plans and fly directly to Las Vegas which was our planned stop after Yosemite.
Unfortunately this meant calling Kuoni as we had already paid for the car and Yosemite hotels and did not want to just not show as obviously that would mean losing money. Our documentation included two numbers to call when overseas, an emergency number and a normal number. I called the normal number first and after listening to long recorded messages and working my way through dozens of options I was told the office was closed on one occasion and found myself in a long queue the next day. I also tried the emergency number, this has a short recorded message inviting you to leave a message explaining the problem and advising that you would be called back. I called for two days leaving three messages before I was called back. The calls I made, in which I did not even manage to speak to anybody, cost over $200. Yes partly due to expensive hotel phone charges but having to call repeatedly, wait in queues and listen to long recorded messages on the line people are supposed to use when they are already on holiday and therefore only have access to mobile or hotel phones did not help. Kuoni are truly dreadful at answering the phone.
When I finally managed to speak to somebody they did agree to cancel our car hire and Yosemite Hotel and book us additional nights in Las Vegas and we agreed to organise our flight there. We were told that car hire and any differential in hotel costs would be refunded to us and so far have received just the car hire refund. I pursued a further hotel related refund as the extra nights in Las Vegas were in a far lower standard hotel than what we had booked and paid for elsewhere. I did not get this refunded and nor was I ever reimbursed for those expensive phone calls.
I think Kuoni has very good brochures and I like the choice of destinations and hotels they offer. The assistants in the shop were very good and many aspects of our wedding and holiday plans worked like clockwork, no problems with tickets, hotels, wedding licences and so on but there are some areas for improvement.
One such is the difficulty communicating by telephone. Before travelling, we had to make a few trips into the shop with relatively simple queries that we really should have been able to do on the phone but were not in a position to wait on hold for such lengths of time. The support provided whilst overseas, even on the so-called emergency number was just not good enough either and as I mentioned cost us a lot of money. It was very annoying because if we had been travelling independently it would have been easy for us to rearrange things ourselves but we were obliged to go through Kuoni in this case, a good reason not to use an agent in future I think.
The other area for improvement would be around the wedding package itself, I would have liked the staff in the shop to have more knowledge of the wedding packages so that we did not have to wait two weeks for proper information and so we could have made a more informed decision about the specific venue. I also was very disappointed with the co-ordinators impatient attitude towards us after the ceremony, she had been very good until that point so I am making a conscious effort to forget that so it won't cast a shadow over the day.
A few days after we got back, we received a bouquet of flowers from Kuoni. Actually I say we but they were just addressed to my husband who is allergic and this hardly makes up for the shortcomings which were never addressed by Kuoni despite my letters.
Fab review, well worth an E. Shame about that horrid 'co-ordinator' and your make up guy (why do so many americans still go for the big hair look). A friend of mine had wanted to get married in San Francisco but was told you have to be a resident for 30 days first. Maybe that's why you had to go outside of the town itself. Rachael.
gemax2 31.12.2008 16:27
Thats awful i hate having to rely on others for everything to be ok, if it was my wedding day i would have probably got that streesed & slapped the co ordinator!