Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

International School-Break Trips During Covid: Safe, Easy, and Fun

by Wendy Perrin | January 10, 2021

This sampling of trip reviews from families with kids in school or college shows how you can get safe, easy, delightful, international school-break trips, as my own family did too, even during Covid.  How?  Via my WOW system. To get a trip like one below, click on the black button, submit the questionnaire, and you’ll hear back from us shortly. Here’s what you’ll get.

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Christmas/New Year’s

Thanksgiving

Spring Break

Summer Vacation


family posing on a private yacht on the ocean in Belize

A private yacht in Belize is just one of many smart covid-era family trips.

Christmas/New Year’s

Private yacht and scuba diving in the Caribbean

2020–21 holidays

“Choosing to travel internationally as a family during the pandemic was not an easy decision, but after hearing Rachael discuss the health and safety measures they were taking with their sailing vacations during one of Wendy Perrin’s Zoom sessions, we decided to explore the possibility further.

The attraction to us was being socially distanced by miles versus feet. The yacht would serve as our accommodation, dining venue and entertainment for our 10-day vacation. Another reassuring factor is that the country of Belize requires a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours to enter. American Airlines offers PCR Covid testing through a partnership with Let’s Get Checked. Passengers booked on AA flights are “guaranteed” results within 72 hours. We were pleased with the Let’s Get Checked process and liked that they require you to take the sample while on a video chat with a health care professional.

Traveling during the pandemic does take additional planning. There were no last-minute trips to the store to pick up items as we self-quarantined for 2 weeks prior to our trip. In addition to the Let’s Get Checked test, we took several local PCR Covid tests in the weeks prior to our travels. To minimize transportation exposure, we drove ourselves to the airport and parked in the short-term parking lot. My husband parked the car and walked across the street to enter the airport – well worth the additional cost. We choose flight times early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the crowds at the airport. Wendy’s seat selection recommendations were greatly appreciated. In our opinion, American Airlines did a wonderful job ensuring everyone was wearing their face mask properly.

If for some reason we would have been unable to travel, Rachael gave us the option to reschedule the vacation within a year. A very generous offer that put our minds at ease when booking. Rachael, Cliff and Patricia, were very prompt in replying to our e-mails and providing additional information. They even tracked down poker chips at the last minute to add to our yacht – remember, I couldn’t go to the store.

Joining us in our yacht bubble, were 2 wonderful crew members, Eric, the captain and Andrea 1st mate/chef. Whether it was playing silly reindeer games on a rainy Christmas day, spending extra time fishing for the prize catch or cooking up the prized catch, their dedication and attention really made the trip special. They covertly decorated the yacht for our 25th wedding anniversary while we were out kayaking. Andrea even found time to stealthy make a cake from scratch.

We are a SCUBA diving family and diving in Belize has been on our wish list for a while. Rachael and Patricia worked closely with us to arrange private dives and diving equipment that we could procure at the beginning of the trip and keep for the duration. The Amigos Del Mar dive shop in San Pedro were top notch!! We had 7 wonderful SCUBA dives with Carlos and Alex. Having private SCUBA diving excursions limited our exposure to others and ensured we were typically the only boat at the location. Also, it afforded us the opportunity to feel comfortable taking our 12-year-old son to the Great Blue Hole! An amazing experience and bucket list worthy location that not many young divers can say they have accomplished. The juvenile nurse sharks were quite playful and joined us on several of our dives. They showed us around their swim throughs ensuring we all stayed together. In our many years of SCUBA diving, we have never had the wildlife engage with us so much – I think they were feeling neglected with the lack of tourist.

In addition to SCUBA diving, we enjoyed the yacht activities of paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, exploring deserted islands, spotting the rare red-footed boobie bird, star gazing and quality family time. My 12-year-old and I had an engaging conversation for 2 hours one evening while we gazed at the galaxies – a moment in time that I will treasure.
We will be talking about this vacation for years to come! Thank you to Rachael and her team for helping us feel safe while traveling during the Covid pandemic and making family memories that we will forever cherish.” Shelby Willets

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A family cruise in the Galapagos Islands

2021–22 holidays

Allie was fantastically responsive and made sure we had all the information we need. She steered us to a great cruise ship and we had a fantastic time. She saved our bacon twice on the trip: once when the airline abruptly moved our flight two hours earlier at the last minute (she had a man at the airport hold the flight and usher us through) and again when our COVID test didn’t come back on time (she made some calls and miraculously the lab sent the results immediately). Very glad to have had her in our corner!” —Michelle Mello

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A beach getaway for a family of five

2021–22 holidays

“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

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO MEXICO

 

An “epic family trip” to Egypt

2021-22 holidays

“We had an epic family trip to Egypt over Christmas and NYEve break! Arlene & Jim set up this trip perfectly—and with very little input since we were too busy. We entrusted them to prioritize and plan our limited time in Egypt, and they did it quickly and brilliantly. The tool they use to share itinerary drafts and the final documents and suggestions were fantastic! When we faced some issues or had changes, they were quick to support us. When we had to cancel one of our group due to Covid, they tried to get as much $ back as possible. Scuba diving the Red Sea was a bucket list item for me and we pulled that off as well (even though it was a little cold). Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome—helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized. St Regis in Cairo, Sonesta Star Nile cruise, and Savoy Sharm el Sheikh were all great choices too – especially NYEve party!” —Bernardine Wu

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Outdoor adventure in Belize’s jungle and beach with three active teenagers

2021–22 holidays

“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.

Importantly, Covid safety protocols received the attention they deserve. We stayed only at hotels with the strictest Covid policies and appreciated the ease of getting rapid antigen tests on the day before departure. Patricia promptly answered all of our questions about Covid requirements and safety conditions. We definitely felt safer in Belize than we did at home. 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

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Immersive, off-the-beaten-path Argentina with two adult children

2021–22 holidays

“I took my husband and two adult children to Argentina for the 2021 holidays (13-day trip). I planned this trip with Maita only six weeks beforehand due to the uncertainty surrounding Covid. I wanted to be off the beaten path and stay in interesting places that offered active enjoyment of the natural beauty of Argentina. Maita helped me narrow down the locations to BA, Mendoza, Salta and Iguazu (we recently had been to the lake region and Patagonia in Chile). I also wanted to stay in family-run estancias—and, though my husband and son aren’t huge fans of horseback riding, I convinced them that this is an important part of the Argentine experience. I wanted to experience the vastness of the landscape on horseback and get to know the people, history, and culture of Argentina. The trip exceeded all expectations and I can’t wait to return—with Maita’s expert guidance. We stayed at three estancias which were amazing, and even my husband and son enjoyed the excellent horses and gorgeous trail rides. One of these estancias had never taken paying guests before— it turned out to be one of the most unique and enjoyable travel experiences of our lives. In addition, we stayed at several small hotels when we were not at the estancias which felt very authentic (mostly Argentine travelers) and had interesting locations/architecture. Maita was able to quickly respond to all of our requests: last-minute flight changes due to Covid issues, securing and changing restaurant reservations at the most popular places, arranging a last-minute bike ride through the vineyards, and gave us many ideas about art galleries, sites, stores, etc., that are special. She provided us with two superb guides who made our trip enjoyable, more meaningful and active (we requested frequent walks to break up the driving). The customer service was extraordinary. I highly recommend Maita and her team.” —Carol Johnson

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Mexico’s Riviera Maya with three girls under 10

2020–21 holidays

“We went to the Fairmont Mayakoba Dec 28-Jan 3rd. We saw Tulum and swam in a cenote and enjoyed the resort. It was the perfect family friendly resort. The service was great. My 2 year old is particularly difficult and she loved seeing the turtles at the grand cenote and my older girls loved swimming and seeing the bats above our heads. In Tulum they loved running around exploring. Franc was so helpful and kind he picked a delicious restaurant for us to eat at for lunch and helped us skip the wait. He totally didn’t mind having kids around. The resort was the perfect way to relax but escaping to see some of the beauty and history of Mexico was great. Traveling with 3 kids is always tricky but we use Wendy Perrin’s list to make it easy.” —Mary Ko

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Thanksgiving

Italy and Switzerland with four kids, ages 5 to 11

Thanksgiving 2021

“My family of six—including four daughters, ages 5 through 11—traveled to Italy and Switzerland in November/December 2021. Maria pulled it all together on relatively short notice; I think we had only four weeks of lead time. She arranged for great hotels, fun excursions, and private guides in Florence and Zurich who were fantastic with the girls. It was really nice to have the same driver the whole time we were in a city, and each driver was excellent and very accommodating. We had a fantastic time making pizza in Florence, and another major highlight was our WOW Moment. Thank you so much, Wendy, we really enjoyed it! We walked across the river in Florence to a more residential neighborhood and visited an artist’s studio, where she welcomed us and helped us make our own mosaics in her found-object style. While they dried, we enjoyed sandwiches and cake in the cafe. The artist and Elvira (our guide) were so friendly and welcoming it was a real treat to spend the afternoon with them. As for Covid, we felt pretty safe: Things felt mostly normal (but with masks…and a QR code app in Switzerland). The Italians and Swiss seemed comfortable and ready to move on, which put us at ease as well. Maria arranged for Covid tests for us prior to our return flight. Everything went smoothly, and it was nice not to have to worry about anything. I will definitely call Maria again when we return to Italy or Switzerland.” —Rebecca Bartlett

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO ITALY AND SWITZERLAND

 

 

photo of Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island

The Galapagos Islands are filled with fascinating wildlife. Photo: Shutterstock

Spring Break

The Galapagos Islands with two teen boys 

March–April 2021

“We planned our trip with Allie to Ecuador pre-pandemic, in 2019, for March 2020. We actually took our trip post-pandemic, late March through mid-April 2021. Back in those halcyon pre-pandemic days of 2019/20 when we planned the trip, Allie was fantastic at accommodating our complicated schedules (kids and I flying in from West Coast, my husband joining us later in the trip from the East Coast). It’s rueful to look back on those days when our busy lives meant we “had” to leave on a certain day and could “only” make certain sailings. How naive we were! Nevertheless, Allie was able to put together an amazing trip on limited notice even with our (now laughable) schedule demands – demands we now know were so artificial and that we will probably never see again for a long time (“we have to be back for school”; “I have to attend this industry conference with five thousand other people and will join you later”).

The pandemic hit two weeks before our departure. We thought we had lost everything as we had already paid for the entire trip. Amazingly, Allie was able to retain ALL of our bookings. Honestly, I don’t know how she did that. And it’s not something I could have ever navigated. This is exactly why you use a talented and experienced agent. The only thing we lost was our international airfare — which I had handled. (Note to others — use only legacy carriers for the foreseeable future. I often used small, budget carriers pre-pandemic. For the next few years, I will only use legacy carriers. It was impossible to recover my $7K of international airfare with the low-cost carrier. By contrast, I was able to secure a $12K credit of international airfare with a legacy carrier for my cancelled summer 2020 Europe trip.)

In March 2021, we actually took the trip. Allie was even more amazing in this post-Covid world. A week before our departure, Ecuador changed the rules, allowing vaccinated people to skip Covid testing. Allie informed us within the hour of this happening — although it was still news to the airline desk agent when we checked in! Travel in the post-Covid era is challenging. Flight schedules seem to change daily, even during our trip! Allie was always there to make the necessary adjustments. Our international arrival and departure changed, our domestic flights changed repeatedly (with one even being cancelled), our ship changed. Allie handled it all. We never could have done any of this on our own. And most importantly, we never had to worry or fret about it, because we knew Allie was taking care of it all.

It was incredibly reassuring to know that we had Allie watching our back during the trip, to troubleshoot for us. During our trip, one of my sons was ill, which, to put it mildly, is distressing during pandemic travel — Allie knew via the lodge and texted us immediately. (He was fine.) The details on one of the PCR tests for our US return was incorrect — Allie was able to immediately contact the lab and get a corrected report emailed to us. Her calm and grounded demeanor gave us great comfort, especially with pre-trip jitters and generalized low-level anxiety during the trip. I knew that if anything went sideways in Ecuador that we weren’t alone.

Travel is unpredictable in this post-Covid world. A WOW List planner is vital to ensuring a successful, enjoyable trip no matter your travel history or expertise. We are experienced travelers, have lived abroad, and, pre-pandemic, travelled internationally five to six times a year. But we absolutely could not have done this trip without Allie.

It goes without saying that Allie’s hotel picks, scheduling, transfers etc. were top-notch. She recommended a few days in the Highlands at Hacienda Zuleta, which wasn’t on our radar at all and ended up being one of the highlights and my kids’ favorite hotel. And her recommendation of La Selva Jungle Lodge was spot-on. This was our second time in the Amazon. La Selva blew our last experience (Brazil) out of the water. I felt I was taking a collegiate level tropical ecology/biology course. It was everything that I dreamed the Amazon would be. The Galapagos are as fantastic as reported, you feel like you are living in a National Geographic special (I could almost hear Sir David Attenborough’s voice).

We don’t know why it took us so long to visit Ecuador — it is an amazing destination and should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list.” —Julie Heimark

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Tropical beach and jungle adventures with a 2-, 6-, and 8-year-old

March 2021

“So many amazing things to mention on our recent trip (March 2021) to Belize! Maybe I will start with empty airplanes so each of us had our own row…. and customs being empty too! I am already trying to book my next trip before things pick up!!!  We were near San Ignacio at Chaa Creek and Portofino on San Pedro island and both were amazing!  We had a portable service come to us to do our Covid test prior to leaving the United States and they were so sweet with my 2, 6, and 8 year old! The true amazing parts were seeing my girls ride horses, hold iguanas, attempt to snorkel for their first time, and at the butterfly house at Chaa Creek when hundreds of butterflies landed on them. My husband and I swam with sharks, Eric and Carlos were so sweet with the kids! They let them feed the sharks because they were too afraid to jump in. The glass bottom boat was perfect. Portofino’s food was awesome and I think I gained 5 lbs on this trip. We had a tour cancellation and the concierge at Chaa Creek booked chocolate making instead. Mayan chocolate is amazing! The whole trip was incredibly amazing! I can not say enough good things! We went to the Mayan ruins and we had the whole place to ourselves! It was unreal. Usually it is shoulder to shoulder with tourists! I can’t wait for our next adventure!”—Mary Ko

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO BELIZE

 

Safari for a well-traveled family with two young boys

March 2021

“What a wonderful trip!  Julian utilizes some amazing people and companies for his Kenya bookings! We (family of four with two children, ages 11 & 13) have extensive international travel experience pre-covid and wanted to travel mid-covid as well. We had never used a travel specialist before and had some hesitations. We were hesitant to loose our control over our daily plans and freedom to roam. Our main reason for using a travel specialist was because travel can be unpredictable in todays travel climate. Julian eased our minds with his grounded approach during the very first phone conversation we had with him. Let the planning process begin! In a very short amount of time, Julian had put together a robust and adventurous itinerary for us.

Julian created a travel product that is unmatched (adventure, culture emersion, conservation, a human approach). If you are looking for an unforgettable and meaningful Kenyan experience, Julian is your guy.

Everything was seamless from the airport transfers, hotels/lodges, guides/drivers, domestic flights, Covid testing, meals, freedom to create our days plans to our liking, etc. Julian will listen to what his travelers want, their comfort levels, budget limitations, etc and create an magical African experience. Our children’s eyes were wide open from the moment we landed in Nairobi until the moment we left. We made a lifetime of memories in Kenya.

Perhaps the test of any travel specialist is when things go sideways. During our time in Kenya, the government altered their Covid regulations and locked down the counties surrounding Nairobi. Julian stepped in and handled the whole situation. In the end we had to make some changes to our plans but the end goal remained the same (our goal of an amazing trip that was safe). If we would have had to handle all the changes, within a very dynamic situation, on our own it would have ruined a full day of our trip and would have caused massive stress. Julian handled it all and we were able to continue enjoying the Masai Mara knowing that it was being handled with our safety and interests in mind. We, as a family, said to one another on numerous occasions that it was wonderful that we used Julian and had someone taking care of the tough yet important tasks to sort out these issues that were out of our control.

Our trip may be over but we have memory cards full of pictures, endless stories to relive around the table, mental images of endless African beauty, new perspectives that will guide us through our lives, and new contacts in our phones of friends we met in Kenya.
If Africa is on your list of places to experience, call Julian!” —Jonas Bean

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A catamaran anchored off the coast of Santorini, Greece.

A catamaran anchored off the coast of Santorini, Greece. Photo: Shutterstock

Summer Vacation

Costa Rica with teen daughters, one celebrating a birthday

May 2021

“Wendy, once again your WOW experts did not disappoint. My daughters (ages 15 and 16) and I went to Costa Rica at the end of May and the trip was perfect. Irene arranged a trip exactly to my specifications. We had adventure, culture, relaxation, and beautiful accommodations. We had a wonderful guide throughout our trip who was patient, knowledgeable, and entertaining. Irene and Edgar were there to solve the few catastrophes were had along the way, including forgetting our laundry bag when we left Arenal/La Fortuna heading to Nosara. They called the hotel picked the bag up and flew it to the local airport and delivered it to our hotel in two days. They didn’t even charge us for the effort. Edgar was very knowledgeable about the country, wildlife, and food. He was sooooo patient with my teenage daughters who could often be more interested in their phones than what he was showing us.

We enjoyed so many experiences from hiking, zip lining, ATV tour, a private cooking class, a chocolate farm tour and tasting…. we were busy from the start of our day until the end.

My daughter had her birthday while we were in Costa Rica and they were so great in helping us celebrate. The hotel had a cake at breakfast. Edgar had the van decorated with balloons and a gift basket, the chocolate tour gave her chocolate bars to take home and the cooking class had a cake for her as well. The entire day a celebration for her!

We also had our special WOW Moment which was really something special. Edgar picked us up in the late afternoon and we drove to the lake where a boat was waiting. There was a three piece band and dance teacher aboard. We were serenaded and taught to dance salsa (or at least they tried to teach us the Salsa). As the sun went down we toasted our great stay in La Fortuna. After we arrived back on shore we were taken to the private home of a chef in town. He and his wife prepared a delicious 4 course dinner and we could see the prep as the kitchen was outside by the table. The food was fantastic. Little did we know our guide Edgar had been observing our food preferences throughout our trip and dinner was chosen from his recommendations. So much thought was put into the experience. My daughters and I will remember the night fondly.

We ended our trip in Nosara, a small beach town were we could unwind and relax before heading home. My only complaint was the hotel was not anything special. It was a very low key, beachy hotel with minimal bells and whistles. Once we got settled in it was fine and we could walk to the beach and surf as they provided surf boards and boogie boards. We definitely got to relax after or jam packed time in La Fortuna.

I would recommend Irene for planning a fun filled trip to Costa Rica. And Edgar was the bomb….patient, kind and knowledgeable.” —Karyn Sallus

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Open-air family fun in Croatia with a 9-year-old 

June 2021

Ala planned a wonderful 10 day trip to Croatia in June for me, my husband, and my 9 year old son. We started in Istria and wound our way down the Dalmatian coast to Split. We spent a couple nights on the island of Hvar in the most peaceful and elegant hotel overlooking the Adriatic. Ala included activities that were exciting for my child: truffle hunting with dogs in Istria, a boat ride with swimming around the Pakleni Islands, and a fresco painting workshop. My husband and I loved our tour of Split and the Diocletian Palace. Ala found us a hotel right next to the Palace and our tour of the Palace was fascinating. In Istria we visited medieval hill towns with our wonderful tour guide Jasmina. All the tour guides were exceptional, informative, and personable. Ala was up to date on what Covid tests we needed, turns out we only needed to get tested for our return to the States. She suggested an at home Covid test that we packed in our suitcase and was super easy and convenient to take. We felt completely safe traveling around Croatia, most of our activities were outside and all of our guides wore masks. The hotels were very conscious of Covid safety. Every restaurant Ala recommended was amazing. I would not have been able to plan a trip like this on my own. We saw so much and learned so much in 10 days! I felt safe and that my family was very well taken care of.” —Leslie Manning

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Kid-friendly Istanbul, with unvaccinated 9- and 3-year-olds

June 2021

“Our family of four traveled to Istanbul in June of 2021 with the help of Karen and her team. We had a phenomenal trip.  My wife and I were vaccinated; our two kids (ages 9 and 3) were not, and so we really wanted a trip that would be safe and easy to control (with respect to social distancing and covid protocols) as well as exciting and fun and everything else a trip should be. In researching potential destinations, we got comfortable and excited about Turkey because it was more likely to be open (including for our unvaccinated but safe and covid-negative kids) than EU destinations and because the country had prioritized the tourism industry in its vaccination roll-out (so that most everyone we would come into contact with at hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites would be vaccinated). Karen was wonderfully helpful in providing us all the information we needed (from primary sources like the Turkish health authorities) and making arrangements for private and covid-safe activities throughout the trip. Of course Istanbul is also a fascinating city and one that we’d always wanted to visit.

We decided on just under a week in Istanbul—and left other locations in Turkey for a future trip. Staying in one place and avoiding extra flights made sense for a shorter trip, especially with our kids.

The trip was incredible, and we couldn’t be happier with the planning. Karen’s team arranged for sightseeing visits where we practically had the sites to ourselves (one benefit of reduced tourist traffic during covid) and set up great activities (including a private cruise on the Bosphorus and a cooking class). Our guide Tülay was wonderful and understood the pace we needed to keep the sometimes short-attention-spanned kids engaged. Everyone we met was warm and friendly and couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. We felt entirely safe from a covid perspective and can’t wait to get back!” —Brad Weldon

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Greece for foodies and 12-year-old Greek mythology fans

June 2021

“We took an amazing trip to mainland Greece and the Peloponnese with Jacoline as our planner – June 16 – June 29th, 2021 right as Greece was opening to American tourists. First – Jacoline’s team was amazing to work with in general – our original trip was planned for March 2020, and because they have such good relationships with their vendors, we were able to reserve the majority of our paid trip towards this year’s trip in credits. More importantly, working with Jacoline is like having a family member with exceptional taste at your side. We traveled as a family of four (two 12 year old kids), and shared that we wanted to make “real” their interest in Greek Mythology (Percy Jackson fans of course!) The guides were all very professional, knowledgable and patient with our children. We come from San Francisco – so are foodies, and we found that the restaurants that Jacoline reserved for us, as well as the ones recommended in her team’s guide – were all of excellent quality and value – not a single tourist trap in the mix. It was the most varied trip – with wonderful boat trips to beautiful beaches off the southern tip of the Peloponesse, an E bike tour through Athens, a guided tour through the nearly empty site of the Byzantine city of Mystras, and a visit to a biodynamic wine / olive oil producer outside of Nafplio. We can’t wait to go back and definitely will look up Jacoline for our next trip!” —Angela Wong

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Turkey for a mom and 18-year-old daughter

July 2021

“My daughter and I traveled to Turkey on July 5- July 14th, 2021. We visited Istanbul for 4 days and then flew to Izmir and spent 2 nights in Alacati and 2 nights in Sirince. We worked with Karen. Everything was very smooth and we felt really very taken care of from the minute we stepped off of the plane. Karen listened to my ideas for what I wanted from the trip and translated them perfectly into a special trip for my 18-year-old and me. Our guides were top notch and both of us liked them very much. I would strongly recommend Karen to anyone thinking of heading to Turkey and why not go while most people are not traveling there at this time.” —Andrea Huber

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Athens and three Greek islands with two teens

August 2021

We just returned from a fabulous 11-night trip to Greece for our family of 4 (2 adults and 2 teens)!  Faye put together a wonderful trip from start to finish and Stella was our on-the-ground contact, planning details and connecting with us as needed.

Faye helped us to create a manageable timeline seeing Athens and then traveling to 3 islands. Since we hadn’t visited Greece before, we wanted to see the highlights and historical sites, but also have opportunities for relaxation, enjoying the local culture and interacting with locals.

Although we arrived in Greece during the recent heat wave and unfortunate wildfires, we still felt extremely safe. Each of our transport drivers and tour guides were terrific and very flexible. One became our local driver throughout our time in that location. We had a little hiccup when we realized about 45 minutes into our mythology tour that the day didn’t include a visit to the Acropolis. This was unexpected, but easily managed and corrected as we had a private tour and our guide, with Stella’s help, was easily able to pivot to meet our needs.

After Athens, we spent 3 nights each in Naxos, Paros and Santorini. Each island was different and we selected an excursion in each destination. In Naxos, we had a very unique hiking experience. Set in the middle of the island, we saw historic ruins, visited tiny villages and saw wildlife. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and engaging on a long and hot hike. We selected boat/catamaran trips in both Paros and Santorini and this provided excellent opportunities to see the islands, enjoy the Aegean Sea, enjoy local food and meet people from around the world.

Our accommodations in each stop were outstanding, particularly in Athens, Naxos and Santorini. Faye did a great job of selecting hotels that provided a level of luxury, privacy and service that we were looking for. We appreciated that our hotels felt spacious and safe during Covid times. Breakfast buffets required guests to wear masks and gloves and all servers were masked as well. In addition, we had to show proof of our vaccination status on the rare occasion we ate indoors, which was very comforting.

Overall, this trip was a 10 and our travel agents were exceptionally receptive, available and accommodating. As expected with travel, there were a few bumps along the way (i.e. missing dinner reservations), but Stella was available at any time to help us problem solve. We didn’t know anything about our destination prior to traveling, and one lesson learned in the planning stage is to ask a few more questions about the different hotels and excursions – we did go in a little blind and had a few surprises (i.e. no pool in our Santorini hotel or the distance from the hotel to town/dinners), but none of this negatively impacted our trip or experience.

Our trip was very special and memorable. We received excellent guidance on what we needed to do to follow protocols (entry requirements for Greece, Covid testing for the return to the U.S.) and most of our destinations were not overly crowded. Thank you to Faye and Stella for creating an unforgettable experience for our family. We look forward to our next trip!
—Julie Schulman

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“The perfect vacation in a tropical paradise”: Private villas for a family with three college-age kids

August 2021

“I can say with confidence that planning this trip with Patricia and her team was a pleasure in addition to being completely stress-free. Our family (my husband and I plus our three college-aged kids) has enjoyed many trips together; on our survey, I was able to describe those trips and what we enjoyed about them and from this information, Patricia put together an ideal itinerary. For example, I mentioned that we liked adventurous things but also wanted some downtime to enjoy the beach. She suggested that we spend time at the beach and the jungle to really see the best that Belize has to offer. Our accommodations were top-notch: We had a private villa at Victoria House on the beach in Ambergris Caye with our own plunge pool. Having the extra space with young adults really made a huge difference in our enjoyment of our time together. The food at Victoria House was excellent, plus they prepared the fish we caught for our dinner one night. Our scuba/snorkeling excursion with Amigos del mar that Patricia arranged was so much fun; the reef and all the sea turtles, rays and nurse sharks were awe-inspiring. After four nights at the beach, we took a short flight and about a two hour drive to the Lodge at Chaa Creek in the jungle. On the way there, we stopped to do ziplines and cave tubing, both of which were great experiences. We enjoyed another private villa at Chaa Creek which may be the most luxurious place we’ve ever stayed. The balcony with its private plunge pool overlooking the jungle was one of my favorite things. We were able to relax at the pool while enjoying a family of howler monkeys playing in the trees just a few feet away. While at Chaa Creek, we enjoyed a Mayan cultural immersion tour and loved being in the homes of Belizeans. Covid tests were provided at our hotel for our return to the US, so that was easy to get done. Patricia and her team prepared everything so well that we had no complaints about our trip. I heartily recommend Patricia and her team to anyone looking to plan the perfect vacation in a tropical paradise.”  —Claire Leuenberger

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A “unique, fun” African safari for a family with three teens 

August 2021

“Our trip to Zambia August 10-22, 2021 was amazing and exactly what we needed in our first trip after COVID! Our family of 5 relished the new sights/sounds/experiences of the bush, the time spent with extremely knowledgeable local guides and the professional, attentive hospitality. While Africa was always on our trip wish list, we feel fortunate to have done it this summer without the usual crowds and before others were even thinking of traveling overseas. It was truly a once in a lifetime trip where we easily saw just about every animal (including the big 5), stayed in beautiful, luxurious accommodations, ate delicious meals every night and felt special, safe and appreciated everywhere we went. We will never forget the warm, knowledgeable guides, the bush meals and surprise moments (lunch on a sandbar), and the interesting conversations and magical sunsets every night for sundowners. Thank you for our favorite guide, Fanuelle, whom came up with unique, fun activities for our teenagers on our last day together- sand volleyball with camp staff and driving across/wading in spring fed Kapamba River.

Cherri was wonderful to work with designing the ideal itinerary with time in different landscapes, different types of camps, varied activities and the best guides. Despite the fluctuations in the pandemic and constantly changing requirements, Cherri and Frankie were confident in our ability to travel, prepared to help us navigate the extra requirements and in frequent communication before and during trip. They worked with the lodges to provide reasonable, flexible cancellation policies and connected us to an awesome luxury air specialist for flights. I believe Cherri’s connections got us the absolute best guide at camp for our first six days. Only hiccup on trip was delay in one of the charter flights which Cherri’s team was on top of and in communication with our camp to keep us updated. Getting our departure COVID test in our lodge was so convenient and easy. They obviously have great relationships with the lodges, charters and even government officials (helpful during a pandemic). Will definitely return to Africa with Cherri!

Travelers should consider what type of camps they would like (size, how much interaction with guide, types of activities, room setups if traveling with children). The more information you give the trip planner, the more satisfied you will be. Be sure to check premium cabin fares with their air specialist!

Tracy Reller and family (teens 17, 14, 14)   —Tracy Reller

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Thrills in Iceland for a family of five

August 2021

“We just returned from a fabulous 4-day trip to Iceland coordinated by Chris at the very last minute (due to cancellation of another trip to an area with a major Covid outbreak).
Chris responded to my request immediately, and treated me like a long-time client, even though we had just met.  Even if the trip weren’t last minute, I would have given Chris a five-star rating. He put together the perfect trip for our family (kids ages 21, 19, and 14), combining Iceland must-sees with great adventures. We marveled at the waterfalls, snowmobiled on glaciers, rode ATVs on black-sand beaches, and hiked all over. Every guide/driver he employed was excellent and patient, and our hotel was perfectly located in the center of town. He also arranged all of our Covid testing. How he managed to do everything in the 11th hour is beyond me.

Chris means it when he says he’s available 24/7. He told me he sleeps with his phone in his hand, and I believe it. Any time I texted him, such as when the rest of my family got our Covid results but not my oldest daughter, he responded within minutes. He was always positive and optimistic and just overall the kind of guy I felt I could trust immediately.  I could keep writing about Chris, but I’m probably bordering on gushing. I’ve used lots of WOW experts before and I think Chris is WOW.  Thanks again for recommending him and for all of your travel advice. I’ve been reading you for years and you are always spot on.” —Rebecca Wolf

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We’re Here to Help

As a travel journalist and consumer advocate for the past 30 years—first as Condé Nast Traveler’s advice columnist, then as TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate—I’m all too aware of the travel concerns that need to be addressed as a result of this pandemic. For many trips, you’d be wise to use an extremely well-connected, extremely knowledgeable, destination-specific, trip-planning specialist who can act as your local fixer. You’d be even wiser to find and contact that trip planner via The WOW List, which is the first step in my WOW approach to trip planning, created by popular demand from my longtime readers. It’s the approach used by the travelers who are submitting these trip reviews and getting benefits including priority status, VIP treatment, my advice from the start of your trip planning, and the chance to win a surprise, custom-designed WOW Moment on a third qualifying trip. It all starts when you tell us about the trip you want via the questionnaires on The WOW List. —Wendy

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