These creative and rewarding holiday-time trips have been some of our readers’ favorites…with a little help from our WOW List of top travel specialists. Read on for inspiration for your next holiday getaway, because we all need a little joy, right?
Malta: “The island itself was gorgeous, with dramatic views, romantic vistas and stunning architecture.”
“My girlfriend and I travelled to Malta for eight days from after Christmas 2022 through the New Year. Quite simply the trip was extraordinary, and we cannot recommend Malta, and Damon and his team, more highly. Malta is an extraordinary place, with magnificent history, art, culture, food, scenery and people. To start with, Damon spent a significant amount of time prior to the trip working iteratively with us to plan the itinerary based on various ideas he proposed and what we wanted to do. He really distinguished himself with his ability to figure out from our conversations exactly the kind of experiences and touring we wanted to do. He gave equal time, thought and care to the choice of lodging and restaurants. Our guide executed the plan wonderfully, making it even better as we got to know one another. Her knowledge of the history and culture of Malta gave us a real window into the lives of the Maltese people past and present. We had a number of truly extraordinary experiences, such as making a local delicacy and having lunch at an olive grove, a private tour of St. John’s Cathedral including viewing the stunning Caravaggio by ourselves, meeting a restorer of 18th-century organs and 16th-century art and seeing their work, dinner with some of the current Knights of Malta, touring a private home in the magical walled city of Mdina and an ATV tour followed by a private seaside picnic in Gozo. The highlight of the trip for me was exploring World War II in Malta, including a private visit with a remarkable local collector of World War II artifacts, a private tour of the Lascaris War Rooms and seeing the tunnels and chambers in which the Maltese sheltered during the Axis bombings. Our guide also spent time showing us and providing us with valuable perspective on other Maltese sights such as the Hypogeum and megalithic temples, which are older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. The island itself was gorgeous, with dramatic views, romantic vistas and stunning architecture. We were particularly glad to be there during the bustling holiday season where many Maltese were celebrating and even saw the local Eurovision winner perform on New Year’s Eve.”—Larry Neubauer
Australia & New Zealand: “A helicopter tour, kayaking, a day at a 36,000-hectare sheep station (including an elegant lunch with the owners)…”
“Our family of four, parents and two daughters in their 20s, traveled to Australia and New Zealand for 3+ weeks. Quite frankly, it would have been impossible to put together such a wonderful trip without the guidance, counseling, and bookings of our travel consultants. Everything went without a hitch, which is saying a lot for an almost-four-week itinerary.
We had initially thought we would only visit Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, but Stuart and Jackie persuaded us to tour Queensland and the rain forests, snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, fly to Uluru to ride camels and experience the deep Outback, and take tours out of the cities to spots we know most tourists miss. The same held true in New Zealand, where Sarah and Sara staged a helicopter tour, kayaking, a day at a 36,000-hectare sheep station (including an elegant lunch with the owners at their home on the station), and a three-night stay at a beautiful two-bedroom cottage on a private estate winery on the North Island. We are most appreciative.” —Nancy Brooks
Portugal & Spain: “A Christmas to remember forever and ever!”
“Our family just returned from the most magical and well-planned trip to Portugal and Spain for Christmas and New Year’s! We were thrilled to have traveled at this time of year, and especially in Europe where the Christmas lights, trees and markets made it even better. We took our four children and their spouses and four grandchildren, so fourteen all together. Wendy lined us up with the perfect people to help us plan and then succeed on a 14-day excursion with 14 people, big and small, in Portugal and Spain. Gonçalo and Patrícia were phenomenal with their hotel accommodations, food and restaurant recommendations, tour guides that fit our needs of grandchildren ages 6, 3, 1 1/2 and 3 months, and activities that enriched our trip. The itinerary was just what we wanted! It truly was perfect in every way. There was even flexibility, so if we needed to cancel a restaurant because we were going on a food tour and would not be hungry, we could. The amount of scheduled activities and free time to explore more was perfect. Gonçalo and Patricia are experts in what they do, and I would trust them again to plan the most satisfying travel experience for my family! They both took the precautions necessary to help us feel safe with Covid and continued to help us along our journey with lost luggage and further restaurant recommendations. We could not have done this trip without our trip planners, Gonçalo and Patricia. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for planning a Christmas to remember forever and ever!” —Michelle Bodine
Chile: “We had a private stargazing evening, hosted by French astronomer Alain Maury…”
“Tom designed a Christmas/New Year’s trip to Chile for our family of six. He rose to the challenge of transporting us down and back up half the length of the continent. He organized visits to both Patagonia and the Atacama Desert, securing rooms at Hotel Las Torres in Patagonia and Explora Atacama. Both were excellent choices for their top-notch adventure staff and boutique experience.
He pretty much had to plan three trips because we originated in San Francisco, New York, and New England, and we had three different time frames. He and his staff handled the transportation logistics smoothly. And I’m not just saying this because I’m writing a review for Wendy’s WOW List, but the best part of the trip was the Wendy WOW Moment. We had a private stargazing evening, hosted by French astronomer Alain Maury, at his observatory called SPACE (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations). Above is the photo he took of us in front of one of his telescopes. Plus we have a video he recorded on my son’s cell phone where he described what we were seeing on the Sea of Tranquility on the moon—particularly the smudge where the US Apollo 11 landed.” —Barbara Schoenfeld
London: “Alex was great with the kids and his scavenger hunt in The British Museum was a real blast!”
“We recently returned from a trip to London, with our family of 10, that we had planned with Jonathan. We traveled over the Christmas holidays with our children and four grandchildren, aged 10-13. Jonathan and Katie’s attention to detail was superb! We stayed at the One Aldywich Hotel in Covent Garden. The hotel was amazing in every way! Our kids each had a two-bedroom suite to accommodate their families of four.
We arrived the day after Christmas, and the kids had gifts waiting for them in each room with their names on them. The adults all had Christmas stockings filled with treats. All of the rooms were beautiful, and it was a perfect choice for people traveling with families. Our guide, Alex, was with us for four days. He and Olivia, our driver, exceeded all of our expectations. Alex was great with the kids and his scavenger hunt in The British Museum was a real blast! A highlight of the trip was traveling to Hampton Court to learn all about Henry VIII and his six wives. Later that same evening, we went to the theater to see Six, which is about all of the wives. The kids also loved their visit to the Chelsea Stadium. Everything went like clockwork, from our arrival in London to the time we left for home.” —Ellen and Jeffrey Weiner
Panama: “We were picked up in a Panama school bus—Diablo Rojo—with all the neon lights flashing and the salsa music playing!”
“Even though our trip was short notice and over the New Year holidays, Pierre put together a really wonderful and memorable trip for us to Panama. We started out in Panama City, where we were given our WOW Moment—and what a Moment it was! We were picked up in a Panama school bus—Diablo Rojo—with all the neon lights flashing and the salsa music playing! It took us from the hotel to the Historic Old City where we had a great typical Panamanian dinner at a local restaurant, then enjoyed the view from a rooftop bar with a glass of wine. Finally, back to the hotel on Diablo Rojo! What a fun outing!!
On Christmas Day we toured an agro-organic farm called Hacienda Mamecillo, where the family produces all their food organically, as well as a special coffee. It was so interesting and impressive. The meal they served was, honestly, one of the best meals we have ever had—worthy of any fine dining anywhere.
Our last destination was the Mount Totumas Ecolodge. Jeff, the owner, and his staff could not have been nicer. Panoramic views of the cloud forest from the main lodge deck were amazing and variety of birds spectacular, all at arms reach.The local expert birding guide, Reinaldo, is highly skilled with sharp eyes. During our nature walks, we were rewarded with many sightings added to our “life list.” Each day Alma, the head chef, prepared tasty meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was fine dining in a remote cloud forest retreat.” —Sally Boland
Paris: “We had a front-row seat to the Eiffel Tower and the fireworks over the Arc de Triomphe.”
“We had a wonderful trip planned by Jennifer. She and her team planned some really great activities that our kids would enjoy, including the Retro Sidecar tour and the macaron-making class. I loved how her team texted our itinerary with addresses, phone numbers, and any museum/attraction tickets each day, so that we had everything handy. The dinners that were suggested were yummy. And our suite and adjoining room at the Hotel Grand Powers were absolutely perfect for celebrating New Year’s in Paris. We had a front-row seat to the Eiffel Tower and the fireworks over the Arc de Triomphe. It was an incredibly smooth experience in Paris, which is what we needed for such a short trip.” —Elizabeth Golden
Argentina: “We saw such varied things, from the sun-kissed vineyards of Mendoza to the grand colonial architecture in Salta…”
“Maita and Florencia gave us a truly memorable week in Argentina that began 4 hours after the World Cup-winning soccer team arrived home at EZE airport! I had many concerns about traveling over the Christmas holiday: the crowds, extra expense and pent-up travel demand from Covid. Despite all these obstacles, we had 4 great internal flights that Florencia booked and checked us in for all along the way, 5 terrific hotels and our guides were superlative. We saw such varied things, from the sun-kissed vineyards of Mendoza to the grand colonial architecture in Salta to the whole area around Purmamarca, a real discovery area for us. Ending at Iguassu falls was just perfect. We had to throw Maita and team some curve balls at the last minute: such as securing my husband and his 80-year-old mother last-minute back-up plane reservations and transfers from Ushuaia to meet me in BA on 12/20. They were able to help them on the run. We just loved our trip and we can’t wait to go back and discover more of remarkable Argentina! Next time: Lake district, glaciers and Patagonia! And maybe even more Purmamarca!
Travelers really should book all the internal air through Maita. The Aerolineas site does not work from the USA. Also, the private driver for crossing over to the Brazil side of Iguassu Falls is a must, the crowds were crazy there and we could not wait to get back to the relative calm of the Argentina side. Our driver Alex did a great job in tough conditions. Staying at the Melia right there is worth the extra money times 10!”—Mary Laronge
London: “A dinner river cruise on the Thames to ring in the New Year with Big Ben and the London Eye as the backdrop for the most spectacular fireworks display!”
“We are just back from a 2-week stay in London over the most magical time of year! Zara helped my family of four (2 adult children) plan an amazingly festive and fun time in London! She assisted with everything from show tickets, tea and dinner reservations. Her team was always prompt in responding to any inquiry I had and was very professional from start to finish. Our “wow moment” was a dinner river cruise on the Thames to ring in the New Year with Big Ben and the London Eye as the backdrop for the most spectacular fireworks display! This is my second time using someone from Wendy’s WOW List and I can’t wait to plan another trip with her recommendations!” —Lillian Chung
Turkey: “It was chilly but the sun was shining. In addition, there weren’t large crowds even at the most frequently visited sites.”
“Karen and her team did an excellent job planning our trip to Turkey. Every transfer and tour pick-up was prompt. The drivers and guides were excellent. We loved the hotels—The Four Seasons on the Bosporus was elegant and comfortable and the view spectacular.
Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey. It was chilly (although luckily for us, it was a few degrees above normal, at least in Istanbul) but the sun was shining. In addition, there weren’t large crowds even at the most frequently visited sites.
We enjoyed the restaurants that Karen recommended, and appreciate that she switched restaurants between two evenings to avoid a traffic jam due to a soccer game being played along the route from our hotel to one restaurant. The tour plan was perfect and we maximized our time sightseeing. I would definitely recommend Karen to anyone going to Turkey.” —Susan Sullivan
Australia: “On Christmas Day we drove the Great Ocean Road and were completely surprised with a WOW Moment…”
“We just returned from an Australian holiday trip with our two teenage daughters. Stuart and Jacki put together a phenomenal itinerary with something for everyone! We began our trip in Melbourne. On Christmas Day we drove the Great Ocean Road and were completely surprised with a WOW Moment of a helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles. It was breathtaking! The next day we drove through the wine country of the Yarra Valley—with tastings, lots of animal sightings, and delicious food—followed by a two-night stay at the Jackalope Hotel in the Mornington Peninsula area, about an hour-and-a-half from Melbourne. The Mornington Peninsula was also filled with award-winning wine and food, along with charming little beachside towns.
After a few days of the relaxed area and beautiful hotel, we flew up north to Cairns and stayed in the coastal town of Port Douglas. This is an ideal location to anchor a trip to both the Great Barrier Reef and with the Daintree Rainforest. We had a magical first day snorkeling around the reef, followed by a day in the rainforest with our guide, Guy. Both days were incredibly special, where we created memories that will never be forgotten. Our last stop was Sydney and the incredible new Crown Sydney Hotel. The three full days in Sydney were action-packed with sightseeing, a behind-the-scenes private tour of the famous fish market, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, shopping, and a private Opera House tour, along with a show. After our 12-day trip, we are exhausted but definitely feel like this was a trip of a lifetime!” —Jennifer Mann
Chile: “Our pilot, Benjamin, was great fun and anxious to show us private spots, tucked away in the mountains, that had phenomenal views and absolutely no other foot traffic.”
“Tom planned a fantastic two-week holiday hiking trip to a part of Chile that I had never been to, the Lake District south of Santiago—an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Of the many activities offered —hiking, floating, white water rafting, cultural visits, among others—I would say that the heli-hiking in Pucon with my guide, Patricio Garrido, who is also a professional photographer, was a standout. Our pilot, Benjamin, was great fun and anxious to show us private spots, tucked away in the mountains, that had phenomenal views and absolutely no other foot traffic. What a phenomenal experience. It’s like we had the world to ourselves for the day. This was the third time that I have used Tom for trip planning in South America. He chose terrific properties that offered impeccable service and every possible amenity. Vira Vira, an AndBeyond property, was exquisite.” —Jeannie Mullen
Mexico: “What a gorgeous resort with a beautiful beach just 45 minutes south of the Cancun airport.”
“We have just returned from a trip to Playa del Carmen and enjoyed a fabulous week at the Palmaia, House of Aia. What a gorgeous resort with a beautiful beach just 45 minutes to an hour south of the Cancun airport. Our trip was planned by Zach’s team. They arranged private transportation to/from the airport and our hotel accommodations. We had two beautiful rooms for our family of five and enjoyed the ocean views from the 3rd and 4th floors. This was a trip for just relaxing, so we didn’t plan any excursions. We enjoyed the beach and pools—a perfect vacation. The staff all wore masks and we spent most of our time outside, which made it feel more comfortable. The hotel is an all-inclusive serving top-shelf drinks, and the food was mostly vegan (though you could get seafood and meat at a few restaurants). The most delicious food we have eaten on vacation. We plan to return!” —Michele and Ken Krisko
Belize: “Our family of five, with our three active teenagers, spent four nights in the jungle, then seven nights at the beach.”
“We almost never return to the same country. As we confronted the possibility of trying to travel between Christmas and New Year’s in 2021, we decided to make an exception to our ordinary rule and return to Belize. The wisdom of that choice was completely validated by our experience the second time around. First, Patricia planned an excellent itinerary, matched by superior management of all logistics. Our family of five, with our three active teenagers, spent four nights in the jungle, then seven nights at the beach. While based in the jungle, we kept our three teenagers busy with horseback riding, cave tubing and visiting the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich. We enjoyed fantastic gourmet meals and even squeezed in some time at the spa and the pool. Then, at the beach, we enjoyed leisurely days at the pool and also snorkeling, fishing, and barbequing on the beach.
The highlight of the itinerary was the unexpected WOW Moment. Knowing that we have a strong interest in learning about local culture, Patricia arranged with the Black&White Garifuna Restaurant to come to our hotel for a private, immersive evening focused on the Garifuna Afro-Caribbean culture. We were treated to a magical singing and dancing performance, and then got dancing lessons and drumming lessons. We also received short, digestible lessons on Garifuna history, language, holidays, and cuisine. After we wore ourselves out dancing, we were guided to a beautifully laid table on the beach and served an extraordinary 6-course private dinner prepared by O Restaurant at Las Terrazas resort. While we dined, the singing and dancing continued. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
All in all, the trip was an A+. We had quality time as a family, and interesting, memorable experiences in a beautiful, diverse country. Thanks to Patricia for making it all so easy. We are very grateful.” —Robyn Smyers
Mexico: “We were upgraded to their Tower Suite, which not only came with an enormous amount of space on two levels, but its own private elevator…”
“When we decided on a family vacation in Mexico for three generations, plus a pre-vacation vacation for my husband and me, we wanted to make sure we navigated all the ins and outs while feeling safe and still having fun. Zach and his colleagues came through on both counts.
The first stop for my husband and me was San Miguel de Allende. While we had initially hesitated to stay at the Rosewood because it was not in the center of town, Zach convinced us this hotel would be excellent, and he was correct. Thanks to him we were upgraded to their Tower Suite, which not only came with an enormous amount of space on two levels, but its own private elevator, three outdoor patios, and two butlers! Everything about this hotel was magical, and we cannot wait to return. The tours Zach arranged in San Miguel were excellent and included a market tour and cooking class with a chef, and an in-depth tour of San Miguel and Guanajuato. (Zach had difficulty convincing us to spend the time on the day tour of Guanajuato, but we are so glad he did; it is a lovely, interesting city, and we were sorry we had not allocated an extra day or two to explore there.)
The remainder of our trip was spent in Puerto Vallarta with the entire family. We had mentioned to Zach that we wanted a private villa. We also had very specific requirements for the villa: directly on the water, large enough so we would all have our own space, fully staffed (and the staff vaccinated), close to activities, and located an easy distance from the center of Puerto Vallarta. Our villa, Casa Demae II, is in a gated complex, and was exquisite and outstanding in every way: spacious bedrooms (all ensuite, and most with balconies) with views of the pool and Banderas Bay, incredible common areas, infinity pool with a swim-up bar, jacuzzi, outdoor dining areas (from where we saw whales most days), streaming services—you name it, it was there! The staff were excellent and always helpful; what a treat to always have, without asking, coffee ready in the morning and (for the adults), margaritas ready in the evening! Our chef was fantastic—we actually cancelled two dinner reservations because the food at the villa was so wonderful. Another very nice touch was simply putting the dirty clothes in the closet basket, and having clean ones reappear that afternoon. This was like having our own private hotel…but better.
As in San Miguel, the activities planned were second to none. Everyone is still talking about the whale watching tour and the day on the private catamaran around Banderas Bay with complete crew and a chef. Also, because we had the benefit of entry to the Beach Club, the staff arranged for us to jet ski, paddleboard, and snorkel only a short distance away. There is no way we could have put together this trip on our own. From the moment my husband and I landed in Guanajuato until the entire family boarded our flight home, absolutely everything was handled efficiently and worked smoothly.” —Vanessa Hulme
Costa Rica: “The highlights for us were rappelling down multiple waterfalls, a wave runner/snorkeling experience, and a zipline…”
“We had been to Costa Rica before but with Covid we decided it would be better to have the assistance of a travel specialist, even though we were knowledgeable about the country. Having a resource that was up-to-date on all of the Covid requirements, and that helped us with testing and ensured we had a safe and fun trip, was invaluable. Pierre was extremely mindful of our concerns and confirmed that all of our arrangements met with our requirements. Our flights completely changed as a result of Covid, and Pierre and his team immediately set to work changing literally all of our hotels and activities. The trip was with our two college-age children, and the highlights for us were rappelling down multiple waterfalls, a wave runner/snorkeling experience, and a zipline tour next to the Arenal volcano. All of the hotels we stayed at had amazing staff that not only were very focused on Covid protocols but were so kind and engaging, it just added to the trip. Pierre coordinated all of our transportation, which alleviated any potential stress with getting to our various locations. Thank you for making our trip spectacular!” —Julie Kelly
Florence and Rome: “The highlight of our tour was a truffle hunt, followed by lunch (made with our truffles) and wine tasting at a Tuscan vineyard…”
“We had a great experience with Jennifer and her staff. We planned a trip to Italy over Christmas and New Year’s 2021-2022. We were afraid Christmas and New Year’s day would be ‘dead days’ with nothing open and nothing to do, but Jennifer was able to find us really interesting activities. On Christmas day we had a cooking class with a local chef and then sat down to Christmas lunch with her family, just outside of Florence. On New Year’s Day, we had a golf cart tour of Rome. She booked us walking tours in both Florence and Siena and our guides were outstanding. Finally, the highlight of our tour was a truffle hunt, followed by lunch (made with our truffles) and wine tasting at a Tuscan vineyard. We had one tour that went awry, but within minutes of contacting Jennifer’s staff, they had gotten us a full refund. Overall, great experience.” —Jennifer Rosenberg
Galapagos: “When you added the almost unbelievable geology and wildlife of the Galapagos to the outstanding ship and crew, it was magic…”
“What are the can’t-miss parts of our trip?
1) The Galapagos cruise with Ecoventura (we were on the Theory)! Indescribable experience. Small ship—only 14 people on a 20-person ship. Our crew struck the perfect tone between high-level service and a more casual, friendly attitude, to match the young people on the boat. This was worth the price tag!! Trust me!! Our naturalists were top-notch. As a bunch of science nerds, we were impressed! Really! Perhaps most notable was that absolutely everyone, from Captain Peter on down to our panga drivers, was equally excited by the wildlife sightings. You could see the excitement on the staff’s faces as they ran to grab cameras and Go-Pros when a pod of pilot whales followed us or when penguins were sighted diving in front of us while snorkeling. Our captain took the ship two hours out of its way so that we could get a good view of the volcano that started erupting on Isabella, necessitating a longer nighttime navigation for him and his first mate. When you added the almost unbelievable geology and wildlife of the Galapagos Islands to the outstanding ship and crew, it was magic!
2) Otavalo and the Hacienda Cusín outside of Quito. The Hacienda is such a special place. Highlights include the buildings dating back to 1605, the horseback riding, and the private cooking class that they designed for us on their expansive back lawn. The surrounding area is beautiful, with San Pablo Lake and the Parque Condor, which houses injured birds of prey including the condor! We visited traditional indigenous weavers and Andean instrument musicians and craftsmen, as well as the lively and well-known Otavalo market. The experiences were unforgettable.” —Kristen MacLeod
Istanbul: “A perfect multigenerational trip…”
“In January 2022 Karen and her team planned a perfect multigenerational trip to Istanbul for our family! We were met off the plane and moved swiftly through the airport with VIP service, then transferred to our vehicle. We were greeted with a welcome bag that included perfectly curated mini-guidebooks with information you would not be able to find on your own, Covid-related items like extra masks and sanitizers, and little gifts which were so appreciated, especially by our ten-year-old. All of our activities were private and felt safe—from a cooking class to a river cruise on the Bosphorus (which I definitely recommend, to get an overview of the city when you arrive). We had the same driver each day in an immaculate vehicle equipped with wifi and always bottles of water. Our guide, Cenk, was fabulous, so knowledgeable and he knew all the hidden gems to take us to—even diverting from our planned itinerary once he got to know us and had a better idea of things we would enjoy. In our short trip we were able to hit most of the highlights of the city without feeling rushed, thanks to Cenk. A couple of months before the trip we weren’t sure if we felt safe traveling to Istanbul at this stage in the pandemic, so I reached out to Wendy. Wendy suggested I speak with Karen, and I’m so glad I did!” —Lauren Schor
Norway: “We saw the Northern Lights three of the four nights, and the experience was illuminating!”
“We contacted Jan almost too late to put a trip together that would include the Northern Lights over the Christmas / New Year’s holiday, but he put it all together seamlessly! Everything was like clockwork. All flowed together to visit three locations — Oslo, Alta in the Arctic Circle, and Stockholm. All hotels, restaurants, guides and drivers in the cities were spot on. Our experience in Alta was way beyond what we expected. Jan told us that in 30 years if his clients stayed in the Arctic Circle four nights, 100% of them saw the Lights. We saw the Lights 3 f the 4 nights, and the experience was illuminating! But we also had wonderful experiences during the day. Dog mushing was a highlight, as was snowshoeing and ice fishing and snowmobiling. Every person we dealt with was kind, warm, and made us feel relaxed and refreshed as we experienced these new to us activities. They all knew Jan and praised him highly. Jan is terrific.” —Lois Chess
Colombia: “A big highlight was our last day, when we took a private boat trip out to the Rosario Islands…”
“My family of two adults and three teens, ages 12 to 18, traveled to Colombia over New Year’s, spending seven days in Bogotá, Quindío (the coffee region), and Cartagena. Boris made great choices about which regions we should visit and for how long, what activities we should do, and where we should stay. He even got us into a wonderful boutique hacienda in the coffee region at a very busy time of year. All our tours and activities were fabulous. Juliana, an artist in Bogotá, shared her perspective on museums and the graffiti district. Camilo, a biologist and ornithologist, took us on a hike in the countryside and helped my husband with his birdwatching. Tavo is a musician who gave us a great perspective on Cartagena. A big highlight was our last day, when we took a private boat trip out to the Rosario Islands and spent time at a beach club. The kids got so much out of every day of the trip and continue to rave about it to everyone—a real accomplishment with teens. Thank you for suggesting Colombia as a destination in the first place and for setting us up with Boris. We all plan to return to Colombia and are evangelizing it as a destination for other Americans.” —Jarvis Weld
Mexico: “We were always learning, exploring, and connecting with knowledgeable and fascinating local people.”
“There was no shortage of challenges to planning a last-minute Christmas trip to Mexico for me, my husband, and our 18-year-old daughter and 16-year-old twin boys. The beaches were expensive and jam-packed. So Zach’s team suggested an itinerary to Mexico City and two truly magical colonial cities—Puebla and San Miguel de Allende—and the result was fantastic! They handled all the logistical details, so we didn’t have to worry about a thing. We are a very active family and always want to be doing and learning. They understood this and designed a wonderful itinerary that opened our eyes to this complex, beautiful, sophisticated, culturally rich country. From our private cooking class with a renowned chef in Puebla to our historical and cultural bike tour down Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma and through the Bosque de Chapultepec to our private tour through the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City—they opened the Museum just for us!—we were always learning, exploring, and connecting with knowledgeable and fascinating local people. The result was a trip that left us with great respect and affection for our southern neighbor and helped us see the history of our continent from a completely different perspective. This is truly the best of travel. We will be WOW Listers for life!” —Kristen MacLeod
Portugal: “It was very important to us to be able to experience Portugal’s wine regions, as it’s our favorite wine to drink at home…”
“Gonçalo and his team crafted the trip of a lifetime for my new husband and I. We worked with Gonçalo while deep in wedding planning, and he was extremely patient and responsive with us throughout the entire process, making our 19-day December 26–January 13 Portugal honeymoon the light at the end of the tunnel. Goncalo was super kind and honest, letting us know what would be closed or perhaps unsafe to reach during the winter, but providing comparable options in other regions. We received the most well thought out and organized itinerary from him. It was the perfect balance of must-sees, off-the-beaten-path suggestions, and open days to relax and explore.
Over the course of the trip, we stayed at four properties, three of which were booked through Gonçalo (one was through my job as I work at a hotel company), and boy were we treated like royalty. The properties were not only extremely gorgeous and in prime locations, but we were upgraded to suites at each of them because they knew it was our honeymoon. We were also left various treats in our room on multiple occasions at each of the properties. To this day, we’re still talking about it!
It was very important to us to be able to experience Portugal’s wine regions as it’s our favorite wine to drink at home. Gonçalo arranged for three private tastings and tours for us, including a very special morning at Taylors in Porto. We slept in that morning and had 5 glasses of Port wine for breakfast. Can’t complain! :) To explore Lisbon and Porto, Gonçalo arranged for private tour guides to show us around in style. Ana and Tiago were quite possibly two of the nicest people we’ve met and they knew their stuff. By the end of our tours we felt like old friends. We experienced a sampling of the country, from Vidago all the way in the north, to most of the Algarve region in the south and Lisbon, Porto, Fatima, Sintra, and Coimbra in between. We will absolutely be consulting Gonçalo and his team again for years to come. —Danielle Berman
London: “There was even a small Christmas tree in our room…”
“It has become our practice to consult Wendy Perrin’s WOW List whenever we plan a trip. This time our goal was to spend Christmas in London. Although we had been to London several times, we know that the holidays can be a challenge due to closures on the holiday. We spoke with Jonathan about our previous visits to London and our desire to see and do something new. We had a hotel in mind that we had stayed in before, but Jonathan strongly advised us to select another hotel, The Stafford, and we are so happy we took his advice. It is a much smaller hotel than the one we were thinking of, and that proved to be a big factor in feeling like we were ‘going home’ at the end of each day of touring London. The hotel staff treated us royally, and the hotel was decorated beautifully for the holidays; there was even a small Christmas tree in our room. As we had already seen most of the highlights of London on previous visits, Jonathan suggested other tours we would not have thought of. One was a Charles Dickens walking tour; our guide was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining, and we now understand how London during Dickens’ time influenced his writing. Another highlight was a private “Behind the Glass” after-hours tour of the Churchill War Rooms. We had seen the War Rooms before, but nothing can compare with going there in the evening when it’s closed and actually going into the rooms that are not accessible to the public. These are experiences we would not have discovered on our own. Jonathan also executed a surprise ‘Wendy WOW Moment for us during our stay. It was a private tour and tasting in The Stafford’s amazing wine cellar, which was built in the 17th century and used as an air raid shelter during WWII! The master sommelier, Gino, gave us the tour and made the experience very special! Jonathan certainly added value to our holiday, and, given the short time frame of the trip, planned the perfect amount of activity while also allowing us plenty of time to explore London on our own and walk about enjoying the beauty of the lights and the amazing window displays and decorations everywhere.” —Susan Ketchum Philbrick
Antarctica: “It was the best trip we ever had…”
“Ashton planned the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica for us! It was my last continent, and I cried when I arrived and cried when it was over. I had thought I wanted to fly over the Drake Passage because I was terrified of getting seasick, but I’m really happy I listened to Ashton. He said that flying over the Drake can mean delays on either side because of weather, and unless you have flexibility in your schedule, it’s not advisable. He highly recommended a ship that has the best stabilizers to handle the Drake, has excellent naturalist guides, and would work for my 17-year-old. Also, my husband wasn’t as excited about Antarctica as I was and preferred more luxurious accommodations than the fly trips offer. So we kind of had to agree on the trade-off to make the trip happen: my bucket list vs. Marty’s desire to be more comfortable on a nicer boat. Ashton was perfect in assessing what everyone wanted. Marty now agrees it was the best trip we ever had, and we all want to come back on the longer trip, which would include South Georgia Island, where the king penguins are. I will also use Ashton again for the North Pole, hopefully soon.” —Tina Sarafa
African safari: “We learned so much about nature and the wild from all our guides…”
“We did an absolutely incredible three-week trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana from late December through mid-January. Julian listened to what we wanted and curated a wonderful itinerary with beautiful lodges, stunning game drives, very knowledgeable guides, impeccable service, and delicious food and drinks. And of course the stars of the trip were all the amazing animals.
We started in South Africa at Makweti Lodge, which is stunning and has just five suites. The staff couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming, always making sure we were having a great time. We also spent a few days in Cape Town and the neighboring wine region—gorgeous, with so much history and beauty! Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe was so majestic even at a fraction of its full flow. We visited three camps in Botswana, each unique and amazing. Seeing elephants, hippos and all kinds of antelope right next to the lodges was super cool. The Okavango Delta is not to be missed, even during the rainy season. Camp Shinde was another one of our favorite camps, with top-notch service and gem viewing. The Desert and Delta Safari went above and beyond, flying us from one camp to another via helicopter twice because the bush planes couldn’t reach some locations because of the heavy rains. It was an unexpected and very special treat—twice!” —Tina Hunt
Italy: “In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal…”
“Italy can be overwhelming because there is so much to do, see, and eat, but Maria planned a spectacular trip to Florence, Bologna, and Rome for me, my teenagers, and my fiancé over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal (and learned how to make tortelloni) with the family chef, had a tour of the wine cellar, and joined one of the family members for lunch. We learned of the family’s wing of art at the Uffizi, which we visited the next day. Meeting people who have a direct hand in the life and culture of Italy was special. In Rome, our food lovers’ adventure on Vespas with Toni was a complete standout. My 6′ 4″ son was mortified to ride on the Vespa—and got over that fear in one minute. We were a team of five Vespas! Don’t mess with us! As for Bologna, I am a dental surgeon and am really glad Maria recommended visiting the Teatro Medica at the University of Bologna with my kids. I am sure there is no way I could’ve arranged such a trip.” —Wendy Halpern
The Galapagos Islands: “If you like to snorkel, this trip will top anything you have done…”
“Ashton did an incredible job helping us plan our vacation of a lifetime to the Galapagos to celebrate our Dad’s 75th Birthday (and my 50th!). We can’t believe that all fifteen of us made it and were so grateful to Ashton for setting up all of our Covid testing (the rules of which changed 23 days before our departure!). We spent eight days aboard a sturdy and very comfortable catamaran that sleeps 16 passengers across eight passenger cabins. The ship has a crew of ten that provided amazing service. It was incredible to have the entire boat to ourselves. With no internet onboard, we spent real quality time relaxing together. My dad claims he spent more time with his grandkids on this trip than over the past 15 years combined!
We walked on young lava around volcanoes, hiked up mountains, kayaked in caves, saw tons and tons and tons of all sorts of iguanas, swam on deserted white-sand beaches, watched octopus in tide pools, walked next to giant land tortoises, and saw lots and lots of blue-footed boobies. Several of us are certified SCUBA divers and were a little upset before we got there that we wouldn’t be diving on this trip but, I have to say, the snorkels we did on this trip were more spectacular that any dives I have ever done, anywhere. We had penguins nibbling our fins, watched sea turtles noshing underwater and sea lions performing acrobatics in front of us—every single day. We saw rays and whales and sharks and eels and tons of colorful fish and starfish the size of hubcaps. If you like to snorkel, this trip will top anything you have done, I guarantee it!” —Colleen Grazioso
Mexico: “Three nights in Oaxaca for its colonial and prehistoric attractions, then three nights at the beach in Huatulco…”
“Just before giving up my Mexico trip planning as impossible, I turned to Zachary to see if he could help with the logistics. Our family of four wanted to spend three nights in Oaxaca at Christmas for its colonial and prehistoric attractions, then three nights at the beach in Huatulco. Minimum-stay requirements of five or seven nights during the holidays presented obstacles. Plus, traveling from Oaxaca to Huatulco by mountain road would be long and treacherous. We could fly, but we would have to go through Mexico City, wasting a day. Zach drew on his relationships, avoided minimum stays, and secured well-located rooms for us in outstanding hotels: Quinta Real Oaxaca, an exquisite former convent, and Camino Real Huatulco, a beautifully designed seaside resort. To make it all work, he identified non-stop flights that were not readily accessible to us online. Best of all, he provided Gabriel, an outstanding guide in Oaxaca who is the alpha educator of choice for universities and Smithsonian visitors. We benefited from the depth of Gabriel’s knowledge of history, nature, art and architecture. Zach’s resources and persistence made it possible for our family to enjoy a wonderful holiday trip.” —Barbara Schoenfeld
Argentina: “It wasn’t something you can plan on your own—which is what made it so special.”
“Our family of five had an amazing trip to Argentina organized by Maita. We hiked on a glacier, got soaked on a boat that we rode into one of the Iguassu waterfalls, went bird watching in Iguassu with an ornithologist and nature photographer, and had a wonderful private boat experience on a quiet arm of one of the lakes in Bariloche. Maita’s team suggested great hotels and was able to obtain rates at some that were lower than those available online. They also booked a fantastic New Year’s Eve Party in Buenos Aires that we will long remember. And we had a fantastic surprise WOW Moment. I prefer not to specify what we did for our WOW Moment, since I wouldn’t want to spoil a possible future WOW Moment for someone else, but suffice it to say it was our favorite meal in Argentina. It wasn’t something you can plan on your own—which is what made it so special.” —Rita Solomon
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