Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel
11:29 AM EST, December 7, 2011
There's a new cruise line in the business and they're visiting places other cruise lines aren't. And they don't have a boat.
The company is called Mauiva, pronounced "Mo-ee-va," and they're in the business of air cruises, taking private airplanes on 6- and 7-day itineraries just like a cruise or bus tour, with high-end accommodations, meals and visits to major attractions, but at an affordable price.
"Everything is a 4-star experience," said Mauiva marketing manager Brad Conner. "Remember, everything's paid for -- gratuities, taxes, tips. It's completely hassle free -- all you have to do is show up"
The company, based out of Altamonte Springs, Florida, currently runs two itineraries. There's an East Coast trip that leaves from New York, visits Niagara Falls, Hershey and Lancaster, Penn. and finally the nation's capital. The West Coast trip leaves from Los Angeles and visits San Francisco, Monterey, Yosemite National Park, Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.
The East Coast price is $1,499 while the West Coast runs $1,799, based on double occupancy. Right now, the company has a sale on flights through the end of January, $1,149 for the East Coast and $1,399 for the West Coast trips.
A third itinerary in the works based out of Orlando was just announced as well. That will be a six-day trip that visits the Bahamas and Cancun, Mexico. The target date to begin that trip is no more concrete than the first half of 2012. The five-year plan of the company is to expand to Europe, Asia, South America and Australia as well, and add more U.S. tours including possibly a Southern U.S. itinerary.
Details can be found on mauivaaircruise.com.
The company just celebrated their 5,000th booking, and has been running flights since June. They depart daily on their two itineraries using private planes that hold up to 30 passengers.
The way it works is you leave from private airports, are picked up at your destinations and taken to your hotel. The full price includes guided VIP tours with a travel host of these destinations. It also includes breakfast and dinner. There's a cheaper version of the trips that's roughly $500 less called "fly stay and drive" that provides you with a full-size rental car and lets you choose your own activities when visiting the stops.
The idea was born out of one of the company's founders, Uri Argov, who a few years ago was on a road trip to North Carolina, and one of his daughters needed to come back home to study for a college exam. He ended up driving her back home. The hours of driving and its inherent frustration led to the basis for the company's existence.
"The world is full of amazing places and destinations to experience. The thing is that sometimes the process of getting to those places becoming such a nightmare," Argov said. "Our goal was to minimize travel time so vacationers can maximize experience time."
The company likes to point out the drawbacks of the alternatives.
"Imagine how your travel experience would change if an agonizing eight-hour bus ride to reach your destination was replaced with a no hassle 45-minute plane ride without the body searching, without the long lines to the check-in counter, without the hassle of the luggage and the extra weight and the extra payment for the extra weight," Argov said.
So the pitch is you save the hassle and pain from the drive, but keep it at a low price point. Conner says there are intangible costs to the alternatives as well.
"Eating fast food, being sore and being tired. Afterward, you need a vacation from the vacation. You get home feeling fun and adventurous. And you don't have to take two more days off," he said. "If you add up the amount of time you are asleep, add up the amount of time you are traveling ... how much is the value of that?"
The price point is kept low by using hotel, attraction and transportation options supplied by a partner company Tourico Holidays, a Travel Holding, Inc. company. Travel Holding has been negotiating travel contracts for nearly 18 years. Tourico and other companies owned by the parent group have their hand in all sorts of the travel experience including the following websites:
"Using our companies unique posturing...we have created an innovative experience that is a first in my opinion in the industry," Argov said.
Lauren Volcheff, vice president of marketing for Travel Holdings, Inc. added there are some benefits to the air cruise over regular cruise itineraries.
"The best thing about our pricing is it is flat," Volcheff said. "So if you want to plan a Christmas trip or a New Year's Eve trip, those dates are the same price as if you were to leave in the middle of October"
And while a cruise ship is thousands competing for space and attention, Volcheff points out the air cruise with no more than 30 passengers on board is a more personal experience.
"We really want to maintain the intimate feel of this trip so that it's still a really great vacation and every guest can get equal attention from the travel host," she said.
While the first two Mauiva itineraries have been a more adventurous pace, Volcheff said the Caribbean plans, which Mauiva is calling the "Sun and Sea Experience," will be different.
"This one's going to have a much different feel where it's going to be -- really relaxed," she said. "It's going to be more full-day experiences than multiple attractions in each destination."
It's worth mentioning that the Caribbean plans will be all-inclusive whereas the East Coast and West Coast trips don't include lunch. Alcohol is not included in any of the itineraries.
In the three nights in Cancun, the company plans to include a visit the nearby Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza and opportunities for day-long outdoor adventures for snorkeling, ziplining and kayaking. The company is also looking at staying at an all-inclusive resort so that people can actually enjoy a full day at the resort with all the amenities, Volcheff said.
In the two nights in the Bahamas, Volcheff said they are looking to do a day pass to the Atlantis resort on the first day followed by a city tour of the Bahamas before returning to Orlando.
The flights will leave from Orlando Executive Airport and details will be rolled out in early January. Those interested in booking can sign up now on mauivaaircruise.com to be among the first to book the trips when they get nailed down.
The price point is pretty vague at the moment. Volcheff said it could run between the $1,200 to $1,800 per person based on double occupancy, although for Florida residents, she said there may be some special pricing for this itinerary.
"We really believe this is the future of vacationing," she said. "It's an amazing way to see so many destinations at a really affordable price and within a relatively short amount of time so you are really maximizing your vacation experience."
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