How to maximize your experience of a destination? Know the right fixer. What will the right fixer do for you? Read on.
Here is a sampling of the reviews that your fellow readers have posted after returning from trips that were arranged by my Trusted Travel Experts and monitored by me. These reviews illustrate how the right fixer transforms a trip from average to extraordinary.
Sri Lanka, planned by Miguel Cunat
TAFFY AND DAVE LOCK | FEBRUARY 16, 2017
Miguel and Rozanne planned an extraordinary trip for us from beginning to end. The itinerary was a busy one and that is just what we wanted – it is a long way to come from North America and we wanted to experience all we could culturally and get to know this beautiful island paradise. We saw so much beautiful scenery, had wonderful hikes, beach time, ate the most delicious exotic food and travelled from Jaffna in the north- everything in between and down to the south coast.
Sri Lanka offers so much in so many ways but it takes a skilled travel planner to present an itinerary that will take full advantage of this diversity and give an extraordinary experience. We were the lucky recipients. The communication from the start, during and end was of the highest standard – we even met Rozanne at the beginning of the trip when we arrived at Colombo airport and Miguel Cunat arranged to have contact with us at the Gallery Cafe in Columbo at the end of our trip which was impressive given these people are tremendously busy but we greatly appreciated their efforts.
We had National guide Ananda and driver Sampa with us for the entire 29 days and their services were professional at all times – in fact their service to us was nothing short of amazing. There were so many details and logistics that were handled daily by Ananda which kept us travelling in style all the way to the end of our trip. We had many very long days travelling all together and it was always apparent that our pleasure and enjoyment was top of mind for them.
There were many special touches along the way and I know these things don’t just happen – they are crafted by a travel planner who really goes the extra mile and we would not hesitate to recommend Miguel Cunat and his team. We have returned home to Canada with wonderful memories!
St. Lucia, planned by Lindsey Epperly
JOANN HOFHEIMER | FEBRUARY 16, 2017
Dealing with Lindsey was a pleasure from beginning to end. She began with a thorough discussion about what we were looking for, with thoughtful questions about our tastes and experiences. Within 48 hours, Lindsey offered four possibilities, with enough details to facilitate a decision, including air schedules and costs. This alone made her services shine. But the place we selected, Anse Chastanet in St. Lucia, exceeded our expectations in every way. We would definitely seek her help again!
Tahiti, planned by Kleon Howe
MARYLOU STEVENS | FEBRUARY 14, 2017
Kleon Howe took our thoughts and ideas about traveling to Tahiti and made it a reality…and he didn’t have much notice considering we wanted to travel over Christmas and New Years! We are a family group of 5 who travel frequently together but rarely use the services and support of a Travel Agent/Planner so the ease we all experienced on this trip made it all that more enjoyable. Kleon listened to what we were looking for, considered our style of travel and budget then worked his magic with the destination, flights, room configurations and availability. We so appreciated his creativity and willingness to rework and revise the details until we were satisfied. We all were especially grateful for the extra effort Kleon took to ensure that my oldest nephew who has autism, would have certain needs met. Rangiroa and Le Sauvage hold some very special memories for all of us. Thank You Kleon!
Southeast Asia, planned by Andrea Ross
ROBIN AND CHARLES WILKINS | FEBRUARY 3, 2017
The trip duration was 25 days. Not only did Andrea spend an appropriate amount of time with us on the telephone learning our desires, likes, dislikes and preferences, but we had a face to face meeting with her to finalize all of our preferences and to go over our itinerary. She was an awesome trip planner and, having lived in the area to which we were traveling, was able to give us insider information about each leg of our itinerary. She listened to our desires and she planned the perfect trip to accommodate everything we wanted in the trip. This trip met or exceeded all of our expectations.
Philippine Islands, planned by Lorenzo Urra
PAT HEIM | JANUARY 30, 2017
Lorenzo Urro and his staff provided us with a near perfect vacation to the Philippine Islands!! At first I was somewhat skeptical about the itinerary since we are not usually “beach” people. But I am so glad we relied on his expertise in planning this trip. We loved everything about it and the VIP service that we received. The hotels selected were top notch!
We had a slight hitch in our trip when we were on the island of Bohol—a cyclone warning! As a result, we learned that we could not fly back to Manila on time to catch our flight home. However, within a few hours, Lorenzo and company rerouted us by ferry boat to another island-Cebu- and got us to Manila in time to visit a private island beach resort in Palawan. We missed our first night there, but because of their connections, we were given a generous credit for the night we missed toward food, drinks, the spa and even the boutique!
We also made an unusual request which they came through on. There were four of us traveling and we ran out of vodka—we always have a drink in the room before dinner—this was in Bohol. Within a few hours, our driver stopped at a store and out came the vodka!
I would definitely recommend Lorenzo and his staff to anyone visiting the Philippines. We visited the Philippine Islands including Manila, Bohol and Palawan.
Florence, planned by Andrea Grisdale
KEVIN HANEY | JANUARY 27, 2017
We spent a fabulous week in Florence right after New Years. This was the second time we used Andrea and and her team and they once again did a great job.
The planning stage with Andrea, Creta and Stefano was fun. We were offered some interesting things to do while on vacation and after some back and forth, we arrived at our itinerary. From that point, they finalized everything and got us set to travel by sending additional information on the food and culture of Italy.
Once in Florence, we met Tanya, our tour guide, Tanya was a great tour guide who we had the pleasure of being with for 4 days. She not only took us to the various sites, but she was extremely knowledgeable about what we were seeing. We loved our time with Tanya as she was able to impart her vast knowledge to us in a conversational manner so that we could ask questions and offer our observations. Tanya also shared some cultural knowledge with us on such things as where to shop and what to look for when searching for restaurants in which to eat. In addition, Tanya was always checking with us to make sure we had everything we needed.
Another highlight of the trip was Andrea’s team arranging for us to take a cooking lesson with Stefania. Stefania was very friendly and took us through a local market to shop for the food with which we were going to cook. Stefania was a gracious host at her house and she made us fell very welcome We learned a lot from Stefania and are looking forward to entertaining our friends with some of the dishes we learned to make that day.
Another great thing that Andrea’s team does is they have Grazia and Nicole on duty to call 24 hours a day if we needed anything plus they checked in at various times during the trip to make sure that everything was going well.
A great service offered by Andrea’s team is their VIP airport experience. They have a person meet you when you arrive and meet you at the airport before you depart. This made everything easy, especially with our luggage and the VAT refund process.
In conclusion, we had a great time and want to thank Andrea and all her staff at IC Bellagio. We appreciated all of their efforts in making sure we had a great vacation. There is no doubt that we will engage Andrea and her team for a third time when we return to Italy.
Sicily, planned by Marcello Baglioni
MARY MUNN LARONGE | JANUARY 25.2017
I used Marcello for a special private journey that I planned for a group of lifelong friends ranging in ages from 34 to 87. Marcello helped me plan a once in a lifetime experience in Sicily for my group of 8 in October, an ideal time to visit Sicily. I had been to Sicily many times over 30 years as a student, and later on cruise ship day trips and pre and post cruise short stays. I knew what to see but I needed help in crafting truly memorable experiences for my group, with someone who had up to the minute connections and furthermore, ideas. Marcello is the man to pull off your dream trip to amazing Sicily!!! Marcello succeeded in getting us through sites with no crowds, into lovely restaurants and the best rooms at the best hotels.
His guides were absolutely top notch in every respect, and some of our highlights were the outdoor food market in Ortigia followed by a cooking class with chef Lele Torrisi. Our olive farm experience luncheon was a highlight, too, as well as the mount Etna Winery. Marcello’s personal contacts add so much to the experiences he crafts for his travelers.
When we had a service issue one night Marcello was right there to fix the issue specially arranging a dinner out in Trapani where tourists rarely go. While in Siracusa he personally checked in on us so our travelers could meet him and thank him for all he had done!!
Marcello is a Sicilian gem, use his expertise to craft your amazing journey to one of my favorite islands. I can’t say enough good things about Marcello!
Arctic cruise, planned by Ashton Palmer
JODY KREIMAN | JANUARY 23, 2017
Any travel agent can book hotels and plane tickets. The good ones send you to wonderful places and suggest unique experiences. The really, really great ones come through when something goes seriously wrong and produce a trip that is still perfect. Ashton Palmer is in this last category.
We were already half-way through one of the greatest trips in a life of traveling (Atacama, Patagonia) when our Antarctic cruise was cancelled (mechanical problem) the day before we were to embark. We were stranded in Ushuaia, no hotels, no plans, no plane reservations, between Christmas and New Year’s so everything was booked up. We had no idea what to do or where to go and were having trouble even finding out what was happening. Ashton and his team got to work immediately, reassured us, clarified the situation, found us flights to Buenos Aires, a perfect hotel, new flights home, and negotiated a wonderful settlement from the cruise line. They have handled the refund process for us as well. This was not a small amount of work, and due to the time difference it involved them starting work as early as 5 am.
I have had trips go askew before, and have been stuck in more than one remote place; but I have never had a travel agent step up the way Ashton did. I would recommend him enthusiastically based just on the quality of the trip that was planned and the wonderful arrangements that were made; but I cannot say enough about the flawless service when we really needed it. By far the finest travel professional I have ever worked with.
India, planned by Bertie and Victoria Dyer
ELLEN CASSIDY | JANUARY 17, 2017
I have been nonstop recommending Bertie and Victoria Dyer with India Beat since I got back to America. They have converted me to never traveling without help again. Knowing what I know now, I would never travel in India without a travel specialist, even if I were traveling with friends from India. I feel like I’ve wasted so much of my previous travel budget by not knowing how to most valuably spend my time. I cannot thank India Beat enough for this trip and all the efforts that were put in to make it a success.
Hong Kong, planned by Mei Zhang
CORI PACKER | JANUARY 17, 2017
My family and I, travelled with ” Wild China” over the Christmas ( 12/22/16)/ New Years holiday (1/17).
We began in Hong Kong, which is a very fun, festive place to start, they love Christmas! City is decorated beautifully. Our guide David was wonderful, we saw all the sites, including the bird, and goldfish markets which were fun and a tour of the harbor on a sampan. We then travelled to Guilin, and met Helen, who was lots of fun, we had an beautiful ride down the Li River, hike, tour of market, light show, hike. Next, up to Beijing, where Abraham, toured us to Tiananmen Square, Forbidden Palace, local cooking class in a Hutong neighborhood and a hike on the Great Wall, Mutianyu section, truly incredible!!! Much more, but these are a few highlights. All our accommodations were wonderful, dinner rec. perfect. Working through the planning stage, with Alice perfect! Alice also kept tabs on us during our journey. would highly rec. “wild China” wish we had more time!
Buenos Aires, planned by Maita Barrenechea
SANDRA QUINN, STEPHEN THOMAS AND BRIAN QUINN | JANUARY 16, 2017
We have planned trips with multiple WOW list agents and as always, our trip with Maita met our expectations for thoughtful planning, great guides, and an overall wonderful trip. I talked with Maita, Santaigo and other staff early in the process to discuss our interests and then we worked well on email to nail down the specifics. One of the things I appreciated was receiving the pre-trip packet of information on traveling to Buenos Aires; that was very helpful. When we arrived, our driver met us and handed us a full packet of other materials to help us enjoy the city. As professors, we like having a real depth of information and resources to read.
One highlight for us was our evening with Fabrizio at a milonga. He was a thorough teacher in explaining tango and how milongas operate in the city. That was a fascinating look at tango and the culture that surrounds it. He is very well known in the tango world so we met other people who came to greet him and were clearly excited to see him. We decided once we were in the city to have a private tango lesson and Santaigo responded quickly and set it up. We really enjoyed that experience. I had worked with Maita to identify several museums to give us a breadth of experience in the city; we found MALBA very thought-provoking, the Evita museum a must see, and the El Zanjon de Granados colonial houses fascinating for its look into the citys development. Other highlights included excellent restaurants and lovely guides who were knowledgable, engaging and fun to be with. Maria took us to her favorite empanada restaurant so that we could try empanadas as they are made in the region of the country in which she grew up.
Finally, Santiago checked in with us via the phone on several occasions, and on Christmas Eve, there was a staff person on call who responded in a timely way to a question. We felt we were well cared for throughout the trip by Maita and her team. The experience really whetted our appetite for another trip to Argentina at some future date and without question, I would work with Maita again.
Northern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia (Siem Reap), Bangkok, planned by Sandy Ferguson
LIZ AND MARC SCHNITZER | JANUARY 16, 2017
When you have traveled a lot, to say that a trip may be the most remarkable you have ever taken is a pretty big statement. That four seasoned travelers, who have worked with many guides and specialists, agree wholeheartedly says even more. Wondrous aptly describes the countries we visited, but it was the high caliber planning and quality of the local hosts (guides), led by Sandy Ferguson and executed by the Asia Desk team, that resulted in 16 spectacular days. We highly endorse working with them.
Here are some reasons why:
Sandy grew up in and has lived all over the region. It is in his blood. He is not just sitting back and rolling out tried and true itineraries. He wants to open up this part of the world to you in the most fulfilling way possible. This is clear from the outset. We had numerous phone and email exchanges from which Sandy well synthesized the specific trip goals of four adults. Several draft itineraries were crafted from these conversations to get to our final one. This was not just a schedule of stops; it yielded many “wow” experiences.
The level of detail of the itinerary is exemplary and includes information about not only where you are going, but also photographs of each of the guides with their cell phone numbers and bios. There is a definite willingness and flexibility to change the itinerary at a moments notice depending on your desires or energy level on a particular day.
This is feasible in large part because of the quality of the local hosts who are part of the Asia Desk extended family and not random subcontractors. They are enthusiastic, responsive, warm, unique, and special. They welcomed us into their homes and spotted many reasons to stop spontaneously for a must-see experience. They love what they do.
We are so pleased with Sandy and Asia Desk that we already recommended them to friends and family for recent trips to Thailand and Vietnam. All returned raving about this team.
The Galapagos Islands and Northern Ecuador, planned by Allie Almario
JON SHANSER | JANUARY 10, 2017
We dealt with Allie Almario and her staff of experts for planning our trip to the Galapagos & northern Ecuador.
The hotel they picked in Guayaquil prior to our departure to the Galapagos was excellent and allowed us not only to see Guayaquil prior to our departure for the islands, but also eliminated the necessity of flying from Quito to the Galapagos which would have necessitated a VERY early wake up call that morning to get from Quito city to its airport(a 45-60 min trip). All the transfers were handled excellently (its always nice to see ones name on a placard when one arrives in a foreign city!). Our time in the Galapagos was superb, albeit on a larger ship (the M/V Legend holds around 100 passengers), and the organization of the guides/naturalists getting people on & off the zodiacs was incredible as were most aspects of life aboard the ship (food, service, etc.). The rooms were simple but fine each with private bath. We left the Galapagos and stayed one night in a nice hotel in Quito and had a great guide who toured us thru the Old City prior to our van ride north to Hacienda Zuleta near Otovalo, EC. He stayed with us for three nights and four days there and took us to wonderful towns in the surrounding area as well as on a hike to a Condor Preserve and on a terrific horseback ride through the trails & valleys around the Hacienda. The beautiful Hacienda was fantastic and had plenty to keep us busy for 5 days & nights. The food, the rooms and the place were spectacular and the owners, Margarita & her nephew Fernando were wonderful gracious hosts. We were driven back to Quito on our final evening in a nice van with an English speaking driver after a full final day at the “ranch”.
Cuba, planned by David Lee
DAVID ABROMOWITZ | JANUARY 8, 2017
Our family of 5 (3 children in their 20’s with us) had a remarkable time in Cuba almost all the time thanks to the planning of David Lee and his team, including our wonderful guide. We were cared for morning to night. During the planning stage we had a good deal of back and forth about the types of things we would like to see, and the itinerary generally reflected that. We never felt rushed or given a pro forma drive by of some place. Each stop was well chosen and the guide gave plenty of info. We liked the various “off the beaten path” stops, such as with Havana Compas dance troupe. We appreciated being able to get into the Cuban Art Factory by skipping the very, very long New Years Eve line. The hour spent with Cuban architect and planner Miguel Cuyola was fantastic, I wish we could have toured with him. We spent most of our 4 1/2 days in Havana, but the side trips to Las Terrazas and the Hemingway Finca were worth it. In terms of things to improve, we might have made benefited from more of a briefing that would have enabled us to understand the night life culture — budgeting time after dinner for some of the famed Cuban music venues. We were in Cuba December 28, 2016 to January 2, 2017, with a night in Miami at either end.
Rome, planned by Maria Landers and Brian Dore
JENNIFER WEBB | JANUARY 5, 2017
We had an excellent week long visit to Rome (2 adults, elderly mother, 20 and 17 yr old). Maria and her team made all the arrangements for our hotel, transportation, tours and guides while we were there. She took time to speak with us about what we wanted from our trip and recommended a number of options for tours and experiences to choose from. Every expectation was met, the guides were excellent, the drivers were on time and friendly, and the tours we selected were fabulous. We highly recommend the Food Tour with Gina as something different. We would hire Maria and her team again for future travel to Italy.
Morocco, planned by Michael Diamond
HEATHER PATTON | JANUARY 3, 2017
Michael Diamond at Heritage Tours planned our family trip to Morocco (2 adults and 2 boys ages 9 and 12). Michael was fantastic. He created an itinerary that included many of the highlights of Marrakech, and when one of our travelers had a ghastly broken leg six months prior to our trip, Michael reworked our itinerary to better suit our lower activity level. We felt truly at home at the Riad Joya, where we spent four nights. We had two amazing day trips – one to the desert and another to the High Atlas Mountains. But the clear highlight of our entire trip was our guide, Driss. He was patient, intelligent, professional, and great with our boys. We can’t wait to go back to Morocco, and we wouldn’t dream of booking another trip without Michael’s help or Driss as our guide.
Israel, planned by Joe Yudin
ALAN OEHRIG | DECEMBER 12, 2016
Joe Yudin was excellent. He and his team “tailor made” our itinerary going back and forth to meet our specific needs (e.g., dive in Red Sea and side trips to Bethlehem and Petra). The ten days we spent with our primary private guide, Bena, were very interesting. He was extremely knowledgeable in both Old and New Testaments as well as archaeology, having studied the latter in depth. Our guide on the last day, Adam, was also very knowledgeable, and both were very personable too—very important especially if you are spending all that time together. We had a problem with a gift shop in Jordan (overcharged) and although it was not the responsibility of Joe Yudin Tours, they got back about 95% of our money (balance was wire transfer fee and bank charge on our end, which we will look into with the bank). We couldn’t take care of this ourselves because we were flying out the next day and would have had to go back to Jordan, etc. They really went out of their way to return the items and worked hard on our behalf, which we really appreciated. Overall a first-rate travel company.
Date of Israel trip was Nov 8-Nov 24, 2016
London, planned by Jane McCrum
KATHRYN BARDMAN | DECEMBER 6, 2016
Jane McCrum and her team (Julie!) did an excellent job helping my daughter and I plan an extended weekend in London. They were patient with us as we kept changing our itinerary, were very prompt in their email exchanges and gave excellent advice. Their recommendation of the Ham Yard hotel was spot on. It is a fabulous boutique hotel with an amazing design aesthetic and wonderful service. The concierges were incredible kind and resourceful (locating sold-out soccer tickets and arranging an impromptu dinner for our group in the library when everywhere else was booked). Also, the private tour of the Harry Potter studios that Jane and Julie arranged thrilled my 16 year old Potter fan.
I would not hesitate to call on them again.
Nicaragua, planned by Pierre Gédéon
LARRY BALLONOFF | DECEMBER 4, 2016
Pierre listened to our requests and matched it perfectly. We had lots of activity as desired and a chance to see a good sampling of the country very efficiently. The guides were excellent and were flexible to our needs. We traveled to Nicaragua in late Nov. 2016- a great time since end of rainy season and few tourists. This is a country of proud, friendly people still early in development of the tourist trade so it is a chance to see it as it is before the changes take place.
Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, planned by Tom Damon
CINDY REEVES | DECEMBER 1, 2016
When I first contacted Tom, I was considering a trip to Patagonia. We had only a week, (thanksgiving week), and after our conversation he thoughtfully suggested Ecuador and the Galapagos islands. I did not realize just how far Patagonia was, and we would be spending quite a bit of time traveling to and fro with little time just enjoying the country. Patagonia just requires a longer trip… So once I came to that realization, I asked Tom what he would suggest for our family, and he suggested Ecuador. It turned out to be a great suggestion… flights are no longer than Europe, and for us, the time change was 3 hours, which is much better than 9, so no jet lag. We ended up taking the Eclipse on a week long tour of the Galapagos. We had so many pinch me moments from the ship, to the sunsets, and most importantly, the wildlife!! I would definitely recommend Tom for South America trip planning. In fact, we are thinking about Peru for this summer.
Hawaii and California, planned by Jay Johnson
JAMIE MANVILLE | DECEMBER 1, 2016
Dani Johnson went above and beyond in planning and executing a special birthday trip to Hawaii and Pebble Beach. In the planning stage I specifically recall a 45-minute conversation with her on a Sunday afternoon. From that point, I knew we were in the right hands! Her recommendations (flight, hotel, excursion, restaurant) were impeccable. Communication continued throughout and, when there was an unforeseeable issue with one of our room locations, Dani stepped in and resolved beyond our satisfaction. I enthusiastically recommend her for travel to Hawaii and California and will certainly be calling on her for our future travel needs.
Southern Africa, planned by Cherri Briggs
ADNAN RUKIEH | NOVEMBER 23, 2016
Cherri Briggs was fantastic. We have traveled a lot, but this was our first time to Africa–specifically Southern Africa. Cherri and Elizabeth on her team, provided expert guidance as the trip was in the planning stages, answered our naive queries, gave us multiple options and ensured they understood our desires every step of the way. Once were on the ground, everything ran smoothly but most impressive is that everyone we spoke to at our camps/hotels know of Explore and the team and thought highly of them. The accommodations were great, the guides highly knowledgeable and friendly. Our trip was to Zimbabwe and Botswana (safari in both locales) ending with a few days of an urban fix in Cape Town. We would use them again in a heartbeat and highly recommend them to anyone (and we have to our friends) considering such a trip.
Australia, planned by Stuart Rigg
RENDA MOTT | NOVEMBER 12, 2016
We highly recommend Stuart Rigg and his team for an Australia tour. We had a great planning experience prior to being in country for 2 weeks and good contact once we were there. We had requested boutique hotels or 4-5 star city hotels and were very pleased with the selections and treatment. Everything was planned thoroughly and every guide and driver was on time and organized.
Because of illness, we had to dial back a bit on a couple of the scheduled activities. Stuart and his assistant Debbie were great. They arranged to modify one tour to add on what we had missed a prior day. They touched base along the way. Each guide and driver said Stuart and his team were great to work with, very detailed and very thorough from their perspective, too. The private guides were exceptional. We had requested tours that omitted forts and churches and museums, preferring to get a feel for neighborhoods and culture, and aboriginal sites, and were very satisfied. We also used the Stuart’s office in Auckland to organize our week in New Zealand, also with excellent results.
Western England, planned by Jonathan & Preston Epstein
RINA PERTUSI | NOVEMBER 3, 2016
Jonathan Epstein and his team at Celebrated Experiences are tops in the field. It is almost hard to believe the company is a big as it is because they make you feel you are their only client. They quickly come up to speed and learn exactly who you are and what you want and work to customize your trip around these preferences. There seems to be no part of the United Kingdom that they are not experts in. They keep very current and are very on their game. Jonathan is sharp and witty and smart – and is someone I will work with again. I wished to travel to a remote and obscure forest in Western England in October and Jonathan planned everything around just that, combining luxurious restaurants and inns with woodsy hikes and chauffeured tours. Marvelous and memorable.
Fiji, planned by Lynette Wilson
JEN GREEN | OCTOBER 25, 2016
Lynette is amazing! There are so many different resorts in Fiji on different islands in different price ranges. I tried finding the right fit for our interests and budget, but it was really daunting. After a quick phone call with Lynette, she suggested the perfect place for us, Savasi Island just outside Savusavu. Our friends and family thought we were crazy for working with a travel agent outside the NYC area, but Lynette actually lives in Fiji and really knows her stuff. She really listened to us and then used her connections in-country to put together the exact experience we were seeking.
Alaska cruise, planned by Tom Baker
BONNIE FISCHER | OCTOBER 20, 2016
Tom was outstanding in helping us plan our Alaska trip. He responded immediately to our requests and obtained numerous special benefits along the way. We were thrilled with the trip overall and credit Tom with making it so seamless and care free. In fact, we have just booked another cruise for our granddaughters spring break in March and are considering a May cruise to the Baltic sea area. Thank you, Wendy. And Tom!
Austria, planned by Gwen Kozlowski
LYNNE BARNARD | OCTOBER 20, 2016
We had very specific requests about our trip and one of them included an “insider” visit to the Wachau and Kremstal wine region in Austria. Our guide, Martin was a gem. He was flexible to move around our original tour dates to accommodate visits with specific vintners and winery owners. With a wealth of information about the wine region and his personal friendships with vintners, he was a delight to tour with. Gwen was also able to arrange first rate seats at the ballet in Vienna and all of her hotel and dining recommendations were excellent. Cant wait to go back…
Spain, planned by Virginia Irurita
CHERYL CROWDIS | OCTOBER 19, 2016
My husband and I traveled the first 2 weeks of October to Spain. We enjoyed Malaga, Arcos de la Frontera, Seville and Granada. We also enjoyed a day/night in Gibraltar. At each of these locations the guides provided to us were informative, fun and provided extra information as to additional activities we might enjoy while there along with dining recommendations. They listened when we needed to take breaks – as these were 3 – 4 hour walking tours. The drivers provided were also quite attentive and extremely prompt and tidy! Our driver at one point even stopped at a rest stop in order to buy cough drops for my nagging cough, then once at our destination found a pharmacy and helped convey my symptoms to obtain the correct medicine. I would absolutely recommend Virginia and have nothing but positive things to say about this wonderful organization..
Turkey, planned by Earl Starkey
SUZANNE ILGUN | OCTOBER 18, 2016
This is the 2nd time I have used Earl Starkey and his team to plan our vacation in Turkey with my Turkish husband and in-laws. Earl and his team exceeded our expectations in planning and executing our itinerary. Earl is gracious, quick to respond when contacted, knowledgeable, and well connected. We switched some of the itinerary around at the last minute which Earl and his team handled seamlessly.
The hotel we stayed at was a perfect match for our likes. We had the best room location in the hotel.
The driver, Ali, did small extra touches for us without us asking. The guide, Burju, was excellent. She is well versed in ancient history, modern history, as well as open and willing to talk about any question we asked. She shared with us local cultural highlights. When we went to a restaurant that did not have the menu items we were looking for, Burju and Ali were able to quickly take us to another that was exactly what we were looking for. In addition, I asked Burju to simultaneously translate for me stories being told by a native Turk at one of the sights we were visiting which she did flawlessly. This enabled me to participate in the conversation as if I was a native speaker and part of the group. I felt like a local. This was a priceless experience that can only be done with a top-tier guide.
Traveling in Turkey with native Turks provides an extra challenge for any travel expert as Turks are very discerning clients. As they are native speakers as well as familiar with the country and culture, a travel expert, driver, guide, or hotelier will be quickly spotted if anything less than top-notch service is provided. My Turkish family raved about all facets of our trip. We will be contacting Earl again for our next family vacation in Turkey.
If you want to have a wonderful trip to Turkey, feel well cared for with all your desires met, then without a moments hesitation contact Earl Starkey to plan your trip.
Utah, planned by Caroline Wood
LINDA JOHNSEY |OCTOBER 13, 2016
Wow! We experienced an extraordinary trip to the National Parks and Monuments of Utah thanks to Caroline. It was such an exceptional trip that I made contact with her when we got back to let her know that I would hire her again for other trips that we are planning. I remember the trip packet delivered to the house and wondered why she would include a paper map of Utah since most navigation these days is accomplished with our cell phones. It certainly came in handy in the remote areas of the state where we had no cell service often. Everything was so well detailed and planned out. We experienced moments in time that were transformative: The native Navajo guide that sang to us in his native language while we were sitting within a grotto at Monument Valley. The slot canyon tour that resulted in absolutely amazing photos thanks to another native Navajo guide that helped us with our Nikon camera settings thus maximizing the cameras capacity to capture vivid colors within the stunningly colorful canyons. The sunset at the rim of Bryce Canyon displaying blazing shades of yellow, orange & pink. The drive at the base of the canyons at Capitol Reef that could have so easily been missed had she not pointed this out to us. Lastly, the hot air balloon ride at the Amangiri. I still cannot believe we experienced all that we did. I could not have planned a better trip. All of the accommodations were superlative! All of the restaurant recommendations were a hit! Quesadilla Mobilla, Moab was delectable! Caroline is worth every single penny you pay her to organize your trip. If you truly want to experience a “Wow” moment, hire her. Our two-week vacation in September was a breathtaking adventure!
Barge cruise, planned by Ellen Sack
JERRY HULLER | OCTOBER 7, 2016
My wife and I were quite pleased with our interactions with Ellen Sack and her team. Because we were new to barge cruising (having only done ocean and river cruising before), Ellen helped us narrow down options and select what we consider an ideal barge cruise for us. We selected the Savoir Vivre. It carries 8 passengers. What we especially liked is that we got to dine at a different place, in a new town, each night.
The cruise surpassed our expectations. The ship captain Richard, the hostess Marie, and the guide Laura (“the crew”) were awesome. We felt pampered. We were impressed with Marie fixing a delicious breakfast and lunch for us, while still tidying up our cabins. We wanted to take her home with us. Laura was vivacious and engaging, and made history come alive for us on our tours. Richard was friendly, helpful, and low-key. He served as our driver to and from the train station and the restaurants at night. On our trips off the barge, we drove around in a spacious minivan. Richard and Laura arranged to have the van at the location where the barge docked each night, so that it was close by when needed.
We liked the casual atmosphere of barge cruising. It was more low-key than river cruising. We did one excursion a day for only a few hours. That gave us time to relax on the barge, chat with our new friends, walk along the Burgundy canals, or bike along the canal and into the towns. We also got to help open and close the gates at the numerous locks along the canal. Before or after an excursion, we would hang out in the common area at the front of the ship.
Before the cruise, I worried a little about the bikes. They are fold-up bikes, and I was concerned that they would be uncomfortable. I am 6 feet, 2 inches tall with long legs. My worries were misplaced. I didn’t have a problem. I could comfortably pedal for the several miles we traveled.
We would consider doing another barge cruise in a different area. Barge cruising is a great way to chill out—and make new friends—after doing lots of (hectic) sightseeing in another part of the country. We were a little sad to depart our new little family at the end of the cruise.
Contact Ellen and her staff if you’re interested in trying out a barge cruise. They will help you find something that fits your needs and travel style.
Southern Burgundy, Escommes to Fleurey-sur-Ouche
British Columbia, planned by Marc Telio
JANETTE GILL | OCTOBER 2, 2016
Marc Telio and his friendly/knowledgeable staff planned and executed a very memorable trip to beautiful British Columbia for my family of four this summer. Since we have two very active teenage children, like Marc, he understood our need to balance adventure with a little relaxation. Several of our favorite activities that Marc and his team orchestrated included a family cooking lesson with a pastry chef, a private foodie tour of Granville Island Market with a personal chef, and a very memorable trip to Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort.
Marc recommended for us to experience a private heli-fishing tour during our stay at Nimmo Bay, a very remote luxury resort in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. We were first a little hesitant due to the cost, but now we can honestly say that this was by far the highlight of our trip to BC! Our heli-adventure with our pilot/guide, Trevor, began with a very scenic ride out to an isolated stream where we fished for pink salmon under the watchful eyes of bald eagles that were nesting in the trees above. The looks on our daughter’s faces were priceless as a mama black bear and her cub ventured to the other side of the stream for a drink. Next we flew past majestic waterfalls to a glacier where we ate a delicious, gourmet picnic lunch followed by a short hike around the fields of flowers and streams. Our adventure continued as the helicopter landed on a very small sandbar on the side of a rushing river to fish for coho salmon followed by another scenic ride back to the resort. Thanks, Marc, for helping to give us memories that will last a lifetime!
It’s these little touches from Marc and his relationships with his service providers that made our vacation to Canada go from good to GREAT…hotel room upgrades, restaurant recommendations and reservations, a personalized foodie tour of Granville Island Market with a personal chef, a candy bar and birthday celebrations for our girls, and a delicious cheese/fruit tray for my husband and I.
In the past, I have typically researched, planned, and executed our own trips, but for the last five vacations we have taken, I have utilized the services of the travel experts recommended by Wendy Perrin’s WOW List (which have included Judith Root, Michael Kaye, Andrea Grisdale, Pierre Gedeon, and most recently Marc). I HIGHLY recommend the personalized services of Marc Telio and these other travel experts to anyone looking for a unique, customized travel experience. I’m looking forward to working with another expert from Wendy’s WOW List to begin planning my daughter’s high school graduation trip along the California coast this summer! Safe travels.
Africa, planned by Julian Harrison
ALISON OLIVIERA | OCTOBER 2, 2016
Julian Harrison and his team made our African dreams come true in September 2016. In fact, the trip was more than we had hoped for — our first visit to this ancient, majestic and thrilling land. At Julian’s recommendation, we traveled to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana; the advance logistics worked perfectly, eliminating fatigue and stress. Our first lodging, the Welgelen Guest House in Cape Town was a heavenly way to begin. The city tours, including Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope, wine and chocolate tastings in the Stellenbosch area were all of the highest quality. My husband and I have slightly differing interests as he is an artist and I’m a nature fanatic but Julian understood this so well! He made sure our trip was pefectly balanced between city experiences and wildlife adventures par excellence. After Cape Town we went to the luxurious Tintswalo Lodge in the Manyeleti Game Reserve bordering Kruger National Park. Our guide and tracker were fabulous, funny guys who showed us everything one could hope to see in the African bush and more. Our travels worked flawlessly as we moved on to Johannesburg for the painful and moving history of SA. Again, our city stay at the Peech Hotel was a welcome respite with the additional bonus of a good restaurant. Then on to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for unforgettable adventures including a sunset cruise and an elephant-backed safari plus the outstanding Safari Lodge with excellent food, a dinner chorus and waterhole viewing. Finally, we went to two tented camps in Botswana where every birder needs to go: the Okavango Delta. Both camps, Kazidora and Machaba, were beautifully sited with amazing staff and delicious food. The game drives were immensely satisfying. Mokoro trips on the Delta waterways brought up feelings of ancient connections to the people and the past. We took Bush Walks and boat rides as basically were as happy as two people could be. For all of this, we have Julian Harrison to thank for giving us the magic of Africa and we hope to return for another trip with him.
Newfoundland, planned by Jill Curran
TAFFY AND DAVE LOCK | SEPTEMBER 15, 2016
Truly Truly WOW!!
We have just returned from a 3 week driving tour of Newfoundland (August-September 2016) which was arranged by Jill Curran and her team at Maxxim Vacations. Jill was intuitive to our needs right from the start and through phone calls and emails we fine tuned the itinerary to encompass the places we wanted to see and Jill added her magic to create a vacation full of lasting memories and amazing experiences. We were very fortunate to actually meet Jill at Ferryland lighthouse picnics where we enjoyed a stunningly beautiful day while relaxing on a picnic blanket with a gourmet feast. Jill knew and understood how much we valued our accommodation and that it was an integral part to the enjoyment of the trip – she hit the nail on the head here as well! We had a lovely mix of higher end Inns and bed and breakfasts where we got to interact with local Newfoundlanders who went out of their way to provide exceptional hospitality. Our tour took in lots of hiking and 4 different boat trips with each providing something different and added so much value for us – never could have arranged such an awesome trip without Jill. We became so engaged in the history of the province and fell in love with all the outports and harbours and came away feeling we had touched the heart and soul of Newfoundland. I really believe what Wendy says about a TTE making a trip extraordinary and Jill Curran certainly did that for us! It was very special.
Alaska, planned by Judith Root
DEIRDRE MAHLAN | AUGUST 24, 2016
My family of four including my husband and myself and two adult children travelled to Alaska on a trip planned by Judith Root. Judith listened carefully to what we were looking for in an Alaskan vacation and put together an excellent itinerary that exceeded our expectations. All details of the trip were handled by Judith and her team and we had a fantastic vacation that we would rank among the best-ever holidays we have had. I would not hesitate to recommend Judith to plan a memorable and enjoyable Alaskan holiday.
Egypt, planned by Jim Berkeley
LAURA MANTELL | JULY 31, 2016
Jim was a pleasure to work with and he put together an incredible trip. My husband and I often tell others that our trip to Egypt was the trip of a lifetime (we are well traveled). One of the Egyptologists who guided us (he had also worked with the BBC and National Geographic) was encyclopedic about ancient Egypt. Because the ancient Egyptians documented everything, their culture becomes palpable – I remember being read (hieroglyphs) an IOU written on a stone from one neighbor who had borrowed wheat from another promising to pay it back!
I don’t know what it’s like to be in Egypt now, but I trust Jim not only to deliver a unique adventure in one of the world’s most fascinating places but also a safe one.
The Maldives, planned by Lindsey Wallace
LINDA FONTAINE | JULY 26, 2016
We are a family of 4 with 2 pre teen boys that travel out of the USA about 3-4 times a year. Lindsey Wallace was the first agent we have ever worked with that we felt heard what we wanted out of a trip and made it happen. Not a single email felt prewritten or part of a form letter. The accommodations were over the top and the service was stellar. Lindsey arranged for us to charter a private Dhoni which we loved and then we followed up at a resort. The combination of the 2 experiences made for a great trip to fully experience the Maldives. Lindsey’s connections in the area allowed us to stay in accommodations of a better class than what we would have been able to secure ourselves and the staff at the resort could not have been more welcoming knowing we were guests of Lindsey’s. We cannot wait to come back!
Mongolia, planned by Jalsa Urubshurow
SALLY LEE | JULY 25, 2016
I traveled with a friend to Mongolia for 8 days in June 2016 and used Jalsa and his team to help plan my trip. I highly recommend both Mongolia as a destination and Nomadic Expeditions as an excellent travel company. We spent most of our time in the Gobi Desert, although everyone should spend at least a day in the capital, Ulaan Bataar, as well. UB as it’s known, has great museums, the Choijin Lama Temple, the Gandan monastery complex, shopping, as well as some nice restaurants. It can also be used as a base for the nearby national parks. The Gobi Desert is spectacular, with varied landscapes and national parks, and provides an opportunity to learn about the nomadic lifestyle. We also attended the Nadaam Festival in the Gobi and it was a special experience. The trip was WONDERFUL!!! So much fun and it exceeded my expectations.
After deciding to travel to Mongolia and, more specifically, the Gobi Desert, I spoke w/ Jalsa about what to see and do. He had wonderful ideas and suggestions – his enthusiasm is contagious! After learning more about what our interests were, he created an itinerary for us. It was perfect – felt like we saw so many things, each different. Highlights included camping at the foot of the Hongoryn Els, the massive and beautiful sand dune range at the base of the Altai Mountains, the local Nadaam Festival, and stopping in to visit w/ nomadic families we saw along the way. All of the logistics went off flawlessly – we were very well taken care of. Our guide, Amraa, was excellent. I learned a lot from him and appreciated his kindness, thoughtfulness, patience, and even gently pushing us from time to time to make sure we got the most out of each experience.
Our home away from home in the Gobi, the Three Camel Lodge, is – amazing. So beautiful, so unique, so comfortable. The level of service we received was very high – and the staff were so kind and interesting and interested in us as well. The dinner at sunset at the Flaming Cliffs, musical and dance performances by local children, and watching night fall/stargazing while sitting in the swings on the front porch of the lodge in the evenings, all were so appreciated.
The logistics were executed flawlessly. We traveled with a guide and also had a driver in each location. All were excellent. In particular, our guide was very thoughtful, altering our itinerary to add the Fine Arts Museum in UB after noticing how much we enjoyed the historic Choijin Lama Temple (also a museum). Or inviting the on-site biologist in Hustai National Park to join us and help us track the reclusive Takhi horses. The biologist knew where to look for the horses and also taught us much about them and how they differ from other horses. We actually saw multiple herds with both adults and foals grazing or racing across the landscape. At the Nadaam festival, the guests of the Three Camel Lodge had a special tent w/ water reserved for them so one could take a break and escape the sun when needed. One of the Nomadic Expedition guides who was with a family from Houston, made sure that their teenage son had his picture taken with the winning wrestler, quite the photo op! I dont know if he would have done that on his own, and you could tell he was having a great time.
Call Jalsa – go to Mongolia!
Hawaii, planned by Meg Austin
VIRGINIA MCKENNA | JULY 21, 2016
Wendy, thank you for recommending we use Meg Austin to put together our 2-week vacation to Hawaii. We used Meg for our trip to Mexico after Christmas, and she did a bang-up job on that. When I contacted you about whom you recommended for Hawaii, you suggested I use Meg again. That was outstanding advice. She put together a trip for us that ran perfectly. She got us a third free breakfast each day for our daughter who was sharing our room at the Fairmont Kea Lani. Each activity she booked for us was well run and professional. The rooms she got for us were superb.
I have used your recommendations for travel specialists worldwide and have to count Meg as one of the best. No one could respond more quickly on email.
Thanks, Wendy, for being such a wonderful resource for travel specialists worldwide. I recommend your site to all of my friends.
France Villa Vacation, planned by Annie Flogaus
SUZANNE PATYK | JULY 20, 2016
Our trip and accommodations were fantastic. I give full credit to Annie and the Just France team for helping us select the perfect location, house and recommended excursions. I am also very grateful to them for working with me on such short notice. Thank you to Wendy as well who responded to my late night frenetic email! Tres bien!
Peru, planned by Marisol Mosquera
JON PAUL BUCHMEYER | JULY 17, 2016
Marisol and her Aracari team were terrific from beginning to end. Marisol immediately replied to my inquiry—within hours, if I remember correctly. We then set up a Skype call, which was phenomenally helpful. She asked me tons of questions about my preferences, the group I was traveling with, and gave me incredibly helpful and honest feedback about what was doable—and pushed me to do things I hadn’t considered. For example, this was a special trip for my niece just graduating from high school—about to study marine biology in college—so Marisol steered me toward the right Amazon basin area I hadn’t even considered. Truthfully, I was a little worried about her passing off her notes to a colleague, but it turned out flawless, seamless, and Mark Green was tremendous. He answered all of my questions, made adjustments so quickly as needed, kept me advised the entire way. The materials they delivered were superior—and then waiting for us on arrival.
My husband, niece, and I just returned yesterday from Peru and wanted to send a HUGE GRACIAS to Aracari for making this trip one of a lifetime! Everything ran so smoothly from beginning to end—and there’s no way I ever could have constructed such a wonderful journey. For sure, it was packed, but we came back feeling we’d seen such a diversity in Peru and, truthfully, we look forward to coming back and exploring more. The entire Aracari team deserves our appreciation. They knew just how to counsel us and talk us through what would work for us, given our interests and time constraints. It ended up being a perfect balance of wildlife, culture, adventure and a bit of relaxation. And although the weather was terrible during our one-day Inka Trail hike, with rain & clouds obscuring Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate, we still wouldn’t change a thing. What a true adventure. I can’t thank them enough. And I will of course recommend and tell everyone I know to use them—and to once again trust a Wendy Perrin specialist.
Over the years, I have used and vetted many of Wendy’s travel specialists— and, no doubt, Marisol and Aracari are absolutely top of the list.
Cabo, planned by Julie Byrd
MICHELLE SULLIVAN | JULY 6, 2016
If you are going to Cabo, you need Julie! I cannot say enough great things about Julie and her staff, and the quality of the business she runs. They are responsive, intuitive, understanding and great at what they do. They put together an amazing Senior Trip for my son and his friends. As parents, we were very concerned about our children’s transportation to and from the airport, as well as from the hotel to the clubs downtown. Julie secured transportation for the whole trip with the same driver, Cesar, for all 6 days, and the kids loved him! He not only drove them, but kept an eye on them when they were out at night and made sure everyone got home safely. Cesar was accommodating, informative, and supportive. Julie ensured our peace of mind and made the trip a great experience for the kids and the parents.
Uzbekistan, planned by Zulya Rajabova
RON KLAUSNER | JUNE 29, 2016
Zulya arranged for us to have lunch with her family in Bukhara. It was amazing. Her mother taught my son how to make Palov. The lunch was a true feast with about 20 family members. After lunch we all got up and danced together. It was an experience my wife, son, daughter in law and I will cherish forever.
Zulya also arranged for a wonderful guide to accompany us throughout Uzbekistan. She stayed with us day and night, shared meals and her culture and helped us navigate a very foreign language. Needless to say, Zulya also followed us during our entire stay, keeping in touch with both us and our local guide. Any problems (very minor) were immediately addressed. I would not only highly recommend Zulya to anyone planning a trip to Uzbekistan I would also recommend Uzbekistan as a travel destination.
Italy villa vacation, planned by Mara Solomon
ELAINE GOLIN | JUNE 27, 2016
We had a family villa vacation in the Sorrento Peninsula in June 2016 that was booked through Mara and her fabulous team. One of the rare vacations that exceeds expectations – the property was even nicer than expected, and the completely personalized attention from Mara and her team through every step of the planning process ensured a seamless vacation. Everything – restaurant reservations, transportation, etc. worked exactly as it should, and the villa itself was beautiful comfortable and impeccably maintained. I’ve traveled all over Italy, and lived there for several years, and usually plan my Italy travel independently but using Mara and her team enabled me to put together a relaxing and delightful vacation that met the needs of my extended family (including folks from 7 to 77 (really)). Highly recommended for Italy newbies and aficionados alike.
Seattle and Pacific Northwest, planned by Sheri Doyle
RENEE GAUDET | JUNE 17, 2016
We reached out to Sheri Doyle for help planning a family trip to Canada and Seattle. I’ve planned many trips on my own by researching and planning. I had never considered using a travel planner until this trip. It was a little last minute and I was really busy – I needed the help.
My parents were trying to plan a trip for themselves and my daughter (a college student) with a few different goals: my parents have always wanted to take a long, scenic train trip and my daughter wants to move from Florida to Seattle when she graduates and wanted to check out Seattle in person first. They ran into some snags and had considered giving up the idea. I didn’t have time to do all the research and planning on my own due to a particularly busy work schedule, so I reached out to Sheri.
Sheri planned a wonderful trip! She was meticulous and planned everything from start to finish, which is exactly what we wanted. Over half way through the planning process, I had a change of plans and decided to join my parents and daughter on this vacation. Sheri didn’t skip a beat and managed to make the necessary changes to unexpectedly add a 4th person. This involved buying additional tickets and investigating hotel alternatives to accommodate a larger group. She did it cheerfully and excellently!
Based on my first experience using a travel planner, I will try trip planning this way again. I only hope other specialists will be as knowledgeable and hard-working as Sheri.
One other note: we definitely saved money on our hotels by going through Sheri. I double checked on my own and couldn’t come close to the same rate. There is a planning fee, but the savings made up for it. On top of that, we got the benefit of Sheri’s time and experience, making our trip a top-notch experience.
Japan, planned by Scott Gilman
BETTY CHANG | JUNE 14, 2016
Upon returning from a wonderful Japan trip, I offer a heartfelt, enthusiastic recommendation of Scott Gilman. My goals in planning a family trip were to have memorable experiences with our teenagers highlighting Japanese hyper-modern culture and architecture, classic gardens, daily markets and traditional crafts. We often do all our own trip planning and limit the use of guides. However, as non-Japanese speakers who wanted more than a superficial exposure to Japanese culture, we decided to work with a professional to make the most of our limited time.
Scott provided wise counsel every step of the way. From the initial consultation where he listened so carefully through the subsequent detailed planning of the activities and itinerary, Scott not only addressed our requests, but he offered excellent ideas and gently guided us when we didn’t even know what to ask for or had pre-conceptions.
Not having been to Japan, I started out surprised by the high travel costs. After talking with Scott, understanding what was included in the costs, and getting over the sticker shock, I came to think it was well worth it. This is why I thought the charges were fair and a good value:
1. Japan is not an intuitive place to traverse if you don’t speak Japanese. The street numbering is not orderly. Many signs are not legible to English-only readers. And while the subways and trains are extensive and on-time and immaculately clean, they are not always the fastest way to get around. We could have done the navigating ourselves, but using Scott’s guides and drivers, I estimate we saw 30-50% more each day than we could have managed on our own using public transportation/walking/car rental/taxis (i.e. the less expensive option). This was what created the value for me. We had only a limited time for vacation and had travelled such a long distance and didn’t know if we’d ever be back, so to be able to see and do so much more each day was priceless.
2. Once he knew what we were interested in, Scott suggested activities we would not have thought of or read about or been able to access on our own. We had extraordinary access to special experiences through Scott and his business partner Phil’s relationships – a lacquerware workshop visit, a kimono fabric dye-ing workshop, and a wonderful day with a Japanese pottery expert who took us to a famous pottery village to see kilns, a workshop, and a museum. These would not have been possible through a hotel concierge or trying to go on our own. They were educational in focus and there was zero pressure to buy anything.
3. The restaurant recommendations were excellent and not what you could find easily on Yelp or TripAdvisor. They were places your in-the-know local foodie friend would take you to. Sure beats wandering around and guessing.
4. All of the guides were carefully selected and excellent – well-informed, good English skills, knowing how to read us for pacing and type of information to convey, and not rigid in the least. Every van was late-model, clean, and operated by a very professional driver with basic English skills.
5. Every transfer was handled by an English-speaking guide even on days when we were in transit. When we were early to the train station, the guides were able to exchange tickets and get us on earlier trains to the next destination so we didn’t waste time waiting at the station. The greeter at the other end was flexible enough to be able to come meet us early. There was a fair amount of on-the-ground support that we either saw in person or we knew was there to help. Doing the transfers and logistics on our own would have been possible, but stressful.
6. I received a comparable cost estimate from a reputable independent Japan expert for the desired level of service (separate room with real beds for the kids, 5-star hotels where possible, private guides and drivers, first-class trains).
If we had wanted to economize, Scott was willing to work with us on options. Scott’s business partner, Phil Rosenfeld, lives in Tokyo and runs operations in Japan. There was always someone to get back to us immediately whether we were in NYC in Eastern Standard Time or in Japan on Japanese time.
A crucial thing I really appreciated was that my contact was Scott, and he stayed my contact. He never handed me off to a junior person (which is what usually happens). So every question answered, every recommendation came from Scott and that made all the difference in our experiences. Scott and his team were a pleasure to work with and flawless in their execution. We were able to relax, enjoy, and make many happy memories.
Panama, planned by Eric Sheets
VICKY PENDELL | JUNE 11, 2016
I lived in the Canal Zone in Panama when I was a teenager and grew up in that area. I wanted to return to the country and re-visit my old home/schools and more, and share it all with my husband. After using one of Wendy Perrin’s WOW consultants for our Spain trip last year, I knew that I would call upon Wendy’s WOW list again to get the most out of our trip, and we were not disappointed. Wendy’s Panama contact Eric Sheets immediately referred me to the group in Panama City who arranged our trip; they were nothing but high quality experts who helped us plan the activities we wanted to enjoy while visiting Panama. We will only go through WendyPerrin.com when we plan future trips —her experts are highly knowledgeable, experienced, and responsive. Well worth the extra you pay vs. fighting the public crowds!!
Russia, planned by Greg Tepper
ELAINE PATTERSON | JUNE 6, 2016
We recently took our 2nd custom trip to Eastern Europe with Greg Tepper – a 2 week trip to St Petersburg, Moscow, and Volgograd Russia. Like our first trip 2 years ago to Poland, everything was handled beautifully, from planning to visas, travel insurance, internal Russia flights, ballet and opera tickets, restaurant recommendations and hotels. But of course, most important, were the guides. And just as we experienced in Poland, our guides in Russia were outstanding. All 3 were terrific matches for us – about the same age (so that we could talk about the same events of our lifetimes), perfect English, energetic, willing to talk openly about any topics, full of recommendations, willing to modify our itinerary for highlights we hadn’t considered, and sensitive to our needs and interests. Everything worked smoothly – every time we were to be met, they were there; everyone was always on time; cars and drivers were polite and helpful. Custom trips with Greg are expensive, but he delivers – we look at them as “travel investments” because we learn so much during these trips and every moment is memorable (with no time wasted and no mistakes that I’d make if I planned them myself). We’re already thinking about our next trip to Eastern Europe with Greg and his team.
France, planned by Jack Dancy
JEFF ELGIN | MAY 21, 2016
Jack Dancy with Trufflepig was great to work with. He had a total knowledge of each market we visited, from Normandy to Loire to Bordeaux and arranged everything to our complete delight. I was especially pleased with the hotels he picked – fantastic roomy rooms so we never felt cramped while traveling. The guides he selected for us at our stops were top notch and spoke excellent English. Overall, this trip was a 10!!!
River Rafting Trips, planned by Mindy Gleason
CLARE BRADSHAW | MAY 11, 2016
We’ve been on four OARS trips now, and Mindy has done an incredible job organizing all of them. When I book an OARS trip, I know that I don’t have to worry about a thing, and that my family (our two girls are now 11 and 13 , city slickers who can pitch tents and deal with groovers with the best of them) will have an amazing, best-in-a lifetime experience. Mindy answers questions about weather, insurance, flight info, hotel accommodation. She is incredibly knowledgeable, patient, never pushy, and always has time for us. We are trying to figure out a Galapagos trip now, and she is showing the patience of a saint. I’d never do a rafting trip with anyone else. She’s the best.
Bhutan, planned by Antonia Neubauer
CHRISTINE ZUFELT | MAY 8, 2016
Our trip to Bhutan, organized by Toni and her team, was wonderful. The pre-trip planning was thorough, and they were able to expedite our visas. Our Bhutanese guide, a long-time Myths and Mountains guide, was extremely knowledgeable and professional, and jumped on the opportunity to take in a spontaneous festival, which we appreciated. The itinerary was comprehensive, and the hotels excellent (Toni even upgraded us for 2 nights). I would recommend Toni with Myths and Mountains to anyone planning a trip to Bhutan.
Costa Rica, planned by Irene Edwards
DEANNE CASPERS-MOON | JANUARY 4, 2016
All of the lodging recommendations made by Irene were excellent; food, service, staff, and cleanliness were the best in the area. Transportation was always on time and the guides provided much information about the area. When he discovered I became easily motion-sick, our guide even brought me homemade ginger tea from his garden. When Irene was verifying our itinerary, she went above and beyond by verifying our reservation with a hotel I had booked directly. Thank goodness she did, as they had no record of my reservation! Irene already had a solution in place before bringing this concern to my attention. Without hesitation I would recommend Irene and Greenspot.
Bali, planned by Diane Embree
PETER WARDHANA | SEPTEMBER 20, 2015
Before connecting with Diane I had already previously vacationed in Bali four times. I also speak the Indonesian language fluently. So I already knew a lot about Bali. However, as much as I know, I know that there are others who know much more about Bali than I do. That is why I hired Diane to help me and my wife plan our dream vacation in Bali.
My wife and I are very picky and with all that we had done previously in Bali, it was not a simple task. But Diane was a tremendous resource who helped us put together our best vacation ever.
She recommended and helped us get a suite at Komaneka Bisma. The room was in the exact location in the hotel that I had wanted. It had the wonderful view that I was seeking. She had also highly recommended getting the Pool Villa but we chose the suite instead. Once there, we had a chance to see one of the Pool Villas, and yes, Diane’s recommendation was perfect and we wished we had followed her recommendation (it was much better than any of the photos online). Nevertheless, the suite we got was wonderful. It was the amazing service that the Komaneka staff provided that blew us away. It was the friendliest, warmest and most proactive service that we had ever experienced. We truly felt like VIPs. They catered to our every need and kept asking us what else they could do for us.
The service by everyone, from top to bottom, from the gardener, room service, house cleaning, front desk, restaurant, spa, store, etc. was perfect. They really treated us like an important family member.
The last part of our trip was at Amankila. The most beautiful place that I had ever stayed at. The service here was also truly exceptional. I loved it so much there that I did not want to leave and wished that I had booked more nights there. The price is quite high, but after my experience there, I believe that it is worth it. Thanks to Diane, she was able to get us a complimentary upgrade to a villa with a fabulous ocean view. I did not realize how much I would enjoy having this view from my villa.
Thanks to Diane’s services we were able to have the best vacation ever. Diane not only knows Bali inside and out, but she also provides first-class personalized service, is very prompt to respond to all emails, has great interpersonal skills, and is a true pleasure to work with. She deserves her reputation as one of the Top Bali travel experts in the world. Very well done Diane.
Rome walking tour, planned by Paul Bennett
ISA ENGLEBERG | AUGUST 12, 2015
On our way to Sicily, we did a stopover in Rome to return to the Vatican museum and see several sites we had never visited. We booked several tours with Paul’s team at Context Travel. Two were outstanding, in large part, because the guide was outstanding. We have nothing but praise for the personable, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic Dony.
The Appian Way tour proved more interesting than we thought it would be. After all, the Appian way is just a road. But it’s a real road of great significance, parts of which are in wonderful condition. Dony helped us imagine what it would have been like during the peak of its use. Even more enchanting was the tour of the Baths of Caracalla. We’d read about them, but were amazed by the scope of the complex, its ingenious heating systems and salons, and the preserved mosaics.
The absolute BEST tour was the first-of-its-kind, customized Tosca tour in Rome. We had told Context Travel that we love opera, but nothing was playing during our few days in Rome. They asked Dony to design a tour in which we would visit the actual sites depicted in each act of the opera, Tosca. Dony had done his homework, brought along an iPad filled with music, and began telling the story as we visited the glorious Church of Sant’ Andrea of Act I. Here is where Angelotti hid, where Tosca and Cavaradossi sing their love duets, and where the Te Deum is sung. We then went to the front of the Palazzo Farnese (Act II) where the diabolical Scarpia met his end at Tosca’s hands. Finally, we walked through a maze of fascinating streets to the Act III prison at the Castel Sant’ Angelo where Tosca’s lover Cavaradossi awaited execution. Dony played the final arias as we walked the steps and hallways that led to the top of the castle. The statute of the archangel Michael loomed above us—as itdoes in the final act of the opera. And we could look across Rome as Tosca did when she jumped off the parapet to her doom. Bravo Puccini. Bravo Dony! If you love opera, you’ll love this tour. And you’ll love Dony too. Bravo again.
Disney, planned by Susan Kelly
JEFFREY BERNFIELD | JULY 17, 2015
We have used Travel Magic for two separate vacations and they are currently planning a third trip for us now. As a family, we have been to Disney over 25 times over the years but decided to use Susan and Travel Magic for the last three trips. No one knows Disney as well as Travel Magic. Everything is seamless from the planning to check-in and checkout. They spend hours finding out your personal tastes and preferences and they schedule your FastPasses, dining reservations and activities. They seem to have access to dining times that we could not get ourselves. Travel Magic is relentless in making sure that your experience is “magical” in every way. As seasoned Disney travelers, our experiences have only been enhanced by using Travel Magic and we will continue to do so. We have used many, many of Wendy’s travel experts and Susan and her other experts at Travel Magic rank near the top of all the different agencies we have used over the years.
Costa Rica, planned by Michael Kaye & Natalie Ewing
GERI KRAUSS | JUNE 20, 2015
WOW truly sums up our experience with Michael Kaye and Natalie Ewing of Costa Rica Expeditions in planning and enjoying our recent two-week trip to Costa Rica. They not only met the very high standards required to get a spot on Wendy’s list (and we know how high those standards are having planned wonderful trips with several of her experts)—they managed to exceed them. (As they may well attest, I am not an easy client, so this is really very high praise!) At the planning stage, Natalie did a masterful job in putting together an itinerary in which my husband and I were able to see the vast variety of wildlife and nature Costa Rica offers and experience the very special lodges she suggested—all specifically tailored to our interests and requests. Two things were particularly noteworthy about the planning process. First, I asked about an accommodation I had read about that CRE had not used before. Before booking us into it, Natalie travelled there herself to check it out and make sure it was a place that CRE could stand behind. I have never had a travel agent do that before! Second, Natalie took the time to have detailed discussions with me and was able to communicate to me exactly what the nature of the accommodations and the activities were in each place so I could make knowledgeable choices. All expectations were perfectly managed.
Once we arrived, the trip was flawless. CRE’s special touches and relationships were apparent everywhere we went—from insuring that we were assigned to rooms with wonderful views, to surprising us with meals planned especially for us in beautiful locations, to stocking our room with food and wine. In fact, every lodge knew our food preferences before we even arrived! The guides and drivers CRE provided were superb and truly taught us to see and appreciate nature and wildlife in new ways. One thing that was very special was the opportunity to participate in a program sponsored by CRE in a local village assisting the children there with English language skills. The kids were incredible! From the beginning to the end, CRE was instantly available to answer any questions, provide for any needs, or just check in to make sure everything was OK. By the end of the trip, we viewed Michael and Natalie as friends and we have continued to keep in touch. We recommend them highly.
New Zealand, planned by Donna Thomas
DENNIS CASEY | MAY 7, 2015
Donna Thomas and her staff are truly amazing! My wife and I were completely delighted and impressed with their understanding of our wishes, flexibility, thoroughness and attention to detail. Donna visits NZ often and has met face-to-face with her recommended tour agents and accommodations’ staffs. She KNOWS New Zealand. She provides maps, offers suggestions to enhance traveling from place to place, makes travel, event and restaurant reservations and has an insider expertise that’s invaluable. Just one example: on our multiple trips on NZ rail service, she knew and reserved for us (on each leg) the best seats on the best side of the carriage in the best row for sightseeing, noise reduction, and carry-on storage. That’s knowing your product.
India, planned by Sanjay Saxena
TAFFY & DAVE LOCK | APRIL 2, 2015
We were on a magic carpet ride! We have just returned from a 5-week trip to India, professionally executed in flawless detail by Sanjay Saxena and his team at Destination Himalaya. Our experience using their services was nothing short of amazing—from the pre-departure document to the final bulletin, everything was laid out and quality advice given so we could get the most out of our trip. We had the best guides and the best drivers—all orchestrated behind the scenes to share their passion for incredible India and give us wonderful spontaneous experiences which can be one of the greatest joys of travel. The accommodations were outstanding and became our oasis at the end of very busy days. If you want a meaningful, unique and memorable travel experience contact Sanjay at Destination Himalaya for his expert planning and in-depth knowledge of India.
St. Barts, planned by Peg Walsh
JEANNE GIBBONS | MARCH 4, 2015
I have rented from Peg many times and have never been disappointed. Our last trip was this past year during the Christmas/New Year holidays. Her staff, both in the U.S. and in Gustavia, answered all of my questions and were very helpful. I especially like that St. Barts is the only island where they rent villas. They know the owners and all of the areas of the island. They constantly update their helpful hints. I have recommended St Barth Properties to friends with no qualms. I will continue to rent a villa from them in the future.
Kenya, planned by Linda Friedman
CHARLES RUSSELL | JANUARY 9, 2015
We toured Kenya this summer on a tour arranged by Linda Friedman of Custom Safaris. I have to say that Linda is one of the most patient people I’ve worked with, as I kept changing the criteria and she rolled with the punches very well.
We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do, other than to see animals in Africa in a particular timeframe. Linda gave us suggestions, we gave her feedback, she fine tuned things and made suggestions.
I have to say that our trip was THE BEST EVER, far exceeding our expectations. Linda’s company has staff in Nairobi that were tremendous, helping us navigate the craziness of the airport and city. Fantastic people.
Her company provided private guides for our visits to Amboseli and Samburu. My wife and I have science backgrounds and are very interested in the details of the animals and plants that we saw, our guides were perfect matches for us.
The third camp was Rekero, which Linda recommended highly. We used the guides from the camp. This was one of the most wonderful experiences we have ever had.
We had thought that this was going to be our one trip to Africa, probably not to return, as there are other places we want to visit. After this trip, we are thinking that in another year or so we want to go back. New places to see – but we will include Rekero (Masai Mara) on the repeat trip as it was so fantastic. And we absolutely will work with Linda and the Custom Safaris crew. The best customer service, both before the trip and during, that I’ve ever experienced.
Mexico, planned by Zach Rabinor
SANDRA AND ART COLLINS | DECEMBER 30, 2014
We just got back from a fabulous week in Puerto Vallarta that was arranged by Journey Mexico. Zach had upgraded our room at the Garza Blanca and it is a stunning property. The list of to do’s and restaurants off the property were fantastic ! We did not realize that PV is a foodie’s destination. If we go back to PV we will take Zach’s first recommendation on the property of Hacienda San Angel. The boutique hotel was quiet, beautiful, in the heart of PV overlooking the city and the food is gourmet. Next time we will listen to Zach when he suggests where to stay, rather than thinking we know better! We are planning our next winter getaway on the east coast of Mexico on the Caribbean and we cannot wait to see what hideaways they will find for us!
East Africa, planned by Nina Wennersten and Dan Saperstein
JANICE RYAN | DECEMBER 27, 2014
I contacted Hippo Creek Safaris based on Wendy’s recommendation. Nina called me back within an hour of my email and from our first phone call, she felt like an old friend.
I had not done any research prior to calling and simply knew that I wanted to go on safari to Kenya and Tanzania. Nina gave me all kinds of great ideas based on my interests and immediately put together a few possible itineraries, complete with beautiful pictures. She is infinitely patient and will talk through all of your decisions. Any time I called, she picked up the phone and always had time for me. Such personal service!
The trip was beyond my wildest dreams. Nina and Dan took care of everything, from a detailed list of everything we needed to bring, to instructions and form letters to submit to the embassies to get our visas. Once we arrived in Africa, our every need was met by people on the ground with Nina and Dan’s partner agencies in Kenya and Tanzania. We even had people meet us in the airport to give us lunch boxes, find our luggage, get us checked in to the local flights to get from camp to camp. The lodges they use are intimate and mostly on private conservancies which allow you to go off road in Kenya. Our safari vehicles never had more than two couples (in Tanzania, we had our own driver and vehicle for five days) and our guides were the warmest, most knowledgeable people I have ever met.
Everything I read about a safari planned by Nina and Dan was true—absolutely stress-free (even for novices) yet filled with surprises such as private dinner on the porch of our tent cabin in Kenya or a suite in a hotel upon arrival in Nairobi complete with wine, cheese and fruit after a long flight. I thought that our trip to Africa would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but after working with Nina and having such a fabulous trip, we immediately began thinking about when we could go again. Look no further than Hippo Creek Safaris—they are the best.
New Zealand, planned by Jean-Michel Jefferson
C & S, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA | DECEMBER 10, 2014
We are fully back to reality and our daily lives, but our trip to New Zealand was truly an incredible and memorable experience. We couldn’t have asked for more… except another week or two or three!
I’m a big proponent of honest feedback in order to help improve businesses and services. It is rare that I don’t have something to provide in the way of constructive criticism. In this case, I honestly can’t think of anything that I could complain about or even suggest for improvement. All aspects of our experience with Ahipara were top-notch and all the providers of lodging, guides, and activities that Ahipara partners with were outstanding. I usually can point to pricing or cost as some sort of issue, but I truly felt all prices and costs were reasonable and now after our vacation I feel we truly got our money’s worth and more!
When we were first considering a vacation to New Zealand and being practically on the other side of the globe, I knew we’d need local help. However, we’ve never been the type of people that go with average and never go with generic or crowded “tourist” tours. Finding Ahipara was a stroke of luck and research and gut feeling.
The entire cycle of vacation and trip planning to execution and logistics to providing unique experiences with professional and personal touches was fantastic and high caliber.
I know Ahipara is a team effort and I want to thank Jean-Michel for the initial vacation ideas and overall owning and operating a great firm. Much more though I want to thank Zuzana for all her help and hand-holding, outstanding planning and service, and great personal touches, sense of humor, and attention to detail.
All the activities we jointly planned were awesome, and we loved (yes.. Loved!) The Dairy and Paul and Matt, and Silverpine (Mike and Sue were great, but Roy the dog stole the show!). We didn’t miss a beat in the planning of the trip and a close to last minute adjustments of the itinerary turned out even better than original plans (the Middle Earth helo-hike with Mark and Alpine helo was unbelievable!). Once we landed and began our vacation, it was really nice to be checked in on and when weather impacted you were well ahead of things and coordinated adjustments without missing a beat. Ahipara’s “partnership” and skills and welcoming personality really made our vacation unforgettable and the experiences and memories we now have are priceless.
We hope to someday return to New Zealand and hope to stay for a bit longer! I have no qualms in recommending Ahipara highly and enthusiastically.
China, planned by David Allardice
JOHN WOLDRICH | OCTOBER 16, 2014
We were in China from Sept. 9-30, 2014 and covered a lot of ground in three weeks. We (a group of 4) saw all of the major tourist sights. But we also got out of the cities and walked the Wild Wall with William Lindsey, went to little towns and villages like Pingyao (small old walled city), Tongli (water town), Pi’An village (“Dragon’s Backbone” rice patties), and the Li River cruise. We had just a fabulous time.
The trip’s success was due in no small part to David’s team of professional guides and central staff in Hong Kong. Along the way a landslide and several flight delays caused our itinerary to change. This was done almost seamlessly, so that we continued on without really noticing that there was a problem, although the Hong Kong staff kept us informed of these changes.
As an example, a three-hour flight delay and a landslide threatened to thwart our plan to see the Dragon’s Backbone area, which we wanted to hike. Eastern Journeys anticipated our situation and gave us some options when we arrived in Guilin. We chose to hike for an hour and a half into Pi’An village in the dark with flashlights (!) to get around the landslide. The guide was really flexible and got us the necessary flashlights, called ahead so that the single restaurant would remain open, and even helped out in the kitchen because they were short staffed at that late hour. This was certainly going the extra mile for us. Our decision was rewarded with seeing the rice paddies at sunrise the next morning—one of the highlights of our trip. In short, I would recommend David Allardice and his team without reservation.
Cruises, planned by Mary Jean Tully
ANNABEL PREFONTAINE | SEPTEMBER 15, 2014
Even though we live in Brisbane, Australia, we only ever use Mary Jean and her team to book our cruises. Lore makes it so easy to do everything by email and I always get a timely response to questions, regardless of time differences! They certainly do an excellent job of pricing and getting the best deal and are always happy to offer suggestions for individual port exploring. We wouldn’t use anyone else! Thanks Mary Jean, Lore, Salpy and the rest of the experienced and informed team. :-)