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“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.”
TURKEY, JANUARY 2022
Karen and her team planned a perfect multigenerational trip to Istanbul for our family! From the moment we arrived we felt the special treatment. We were met off the plane and moved swiftly through the airport with VIP service and then transferred to our vehicle with not only a driver but also an escort (separate from our guide) who we saw throughout the trip–he even accompanied us to dinner to make sure everything was fine with our reservations. We were greeted with a welcome bag including 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. A really nice touch. 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. When we had a couple of covid-related challenges that required an immediate change it was handled quickly and effectively by both Cenk and Karen’s office. Most of the trip was not that different from how it would have been pre-pandemic, other than the mask wearing. We found that most people (tourists and locals) wore masks both indoors and outdoors which made us feel safer. In our short trip we were able to hit most of the highlights of the city without feeling rushed, thanks to Cenk. Usually I like to research where to eat every meal and snack, but this time I went with Karen and her team’s suggestions and they didn’t disappoint! 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
“We had our flights completely changed as a result of Covid and Pierre and his team immediately set to work on changing literally all of our hotels and activities.”
COSTA RICA, DECEMBER 2021 – JANUARY 2022
We had originally planned to go to New Zealand over the holidays but due to Covid restrictions that trip had to be postponed and we shifted gears to locations we could visit and landed on Costa Rica. We connected with Pierre for this trip and were extremely grateful we did. We had been to Costa Rica before but with Covid decided it would be better to have the assistance of a travel specialist even though we were knowledgeable of the country. Having a resource that was up to date on all of the Covid requirements, help 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. We had our flights completely changed as a result of Covid and Pierre and his team immediately set to work on changing literally all of our hotels and activities. Pierre checked in on us throughout the trip to ensure all was going well and was available for questions and requests during our stay. The trip 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. All of our transportation was coordinated by Pierre which alleviated any potential stress with getting to our various locations. This trip was with our two college age children, which these days getting time with them is getting harder and harder, so having such a wonderful trip with them was extra special. Thank you to Pierre and team for making our trip spectacular!
“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.”
ITALY, DECEMBER 2021 – JANUARY 2022
We had a great experience with Jennifer and her staff. We planned a trip to Italy over Christmas and New Year’s 2021-2022, but had already booked accommodations, so asked Jennifer to assist with booking tours and activities. 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 Years 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
“In sum, a phenomenal leg to the trip that resulted in achieving several personal bests and an unforgettable time in an infinitely beautiful desert.”
CHILE, DECEMBER 2021 – JANUARY 2022
Just back from the holidays in Chile, December 22, 2021 – January 7, 2022. This was my second trip (Russia in October of 2021) using a Wendy Perrin travel planner. I had had such a great experience with Wendy’s first suggestion that I decided to try her again. I was looking for a travel destination over the 2021 holidays that involved a place that was warm and that I had not been to before. With Brook’s advice and counsel I settled on Chile and followed her recommendation to use Tom. To cut to the chase, I could not have been any more pleased with Brook’s recommendation and with Tom’s trip planning and assistance. To get the covid questions out of the way … all of the assistance with necessary testing and country specific entry documents was invaluable and relieved a lot of pre trip stress. Tom did a great job with all of those details, which would otherwise take away from the joy of travel. As for the trip itself, since I wanted to save Easter Island, the Lake District and Patagonia for a future trip this coming year with friends, we focussed on Santiago and its environs, wineries, Valparaiso, Vina del Mar and the Atacama desert. The highlights:
1) Vina Vik in Millahue Valley, south of Santiago – what a phenomenal location, beautiful art and architecture, terrific young staff and fabulous food. Every detail taken care of no matter how small. I hiked every day starting with the first afternoon I arrived, took a tour and had a tasting at their winery, took a cooking class with their chef, Camilo, which started with choosing our ingredients for lunch from their organic garden, and also took a mixology class with their bartender and learned the secret to a pisco sour. There was also the option to take day trips to other nearby wineries.
2) City tour of Santiago, a walk through the boho neighborhoods in Valparaiso (shopping, street art, great food) and a fresh seafood lunch in Vina Del Mar. My guide, Valentina, was interesting, knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. She was a wealth of knowledge about current events in Chile (I’m a nerd about politics … they have just elected a new president and are writing a new constitution). She also knows where to go for the best Peruvian food (which I was on the hunt for). Our driver, Rodrigo, was fun and interesting and simplified a lot of our logistics.
3) Winery tours – In addition to the days spent at Vina Vik, we made stops at Vina Montes, Harás de Pirquie (organic) and finally, the giant, Santa Rita (phenomenal and interesting tour and lunch). All great places, all different and interesting tours and tastings. And of course, great wines.
4) And last, but not least, the Atacama desert … an unexpected pleasure and my favorite experience, hands down. You’ll have to humor me here, as I cannot say enough good things about this special place. I didn’t know what to expect when Tom first suggested the desert, but I went with it anyway and followed his advice. I never knew how beautiful the desert, this desert, could be. From every angle, at every time of day … the colors. Awasi, a Relais and Chateau property in San Pedro de Atacama, and their staff, did not disappoint … an interesting and authentic local property, fresh and creative food, an energetic, caring and engaging staff, and attention to absolutely every single detail. Every guest is assigned their own guide/trekker and 4×4 vehicle for the entirety of their stay. As luck would have it, I had two guides with me, Jota and Thibeaux, both very experienced and knowledgeable (also fun and funny) and who have worked with serious trekkers over the years. I am not a serious trekker, but they always made me feel as though I was the most important thing in their day. What a joy they both were. My first afternoon there we sat down and discussed my goals for the time I was to be there and developed a plan/calendar from that discussion. It was at that time that I apparently told them that I wanted to challenge myself, but still make it home in one piece. Each day we trekked, (always to a new and interesting place, i.e. the salt flats, the petroglyphs, canyons, etc) they added a little more difficulty, gradually increasing the elevations, and offered me technical instruction when appropriate and necessary. We’d hike in the morning and in the afternoons, never in the middle of the day when the heat was at its worst. One morning we left at 5:30 a.m. to drive to the geysers in time for the sunrise. On the way back they stopped at a scenic overlook and cooked me breakfast out of the back of the 4×4. On what would have been my last day to trek before heading to the Calama airport the next morning, Jota and Thibeaux convinced me that I could trek to the summit of Toco volcano (elevation approx 18,400 ft). I took a leap of faith and extended my trip an extra day in order to make the ascent (Tom and the Awasi staff made it easy for me to do this by handling all of those last minute travel logistics also). I hadn’t come prepared with the appropriate clothing to do the trek, so Jota and Thibeaux loaned me socks, gloves, long underwear, a heavy parka and a knit beanie. And, from the Toco base at 17,000 ft, with their encouragement and gentle instruction along the way when I became uncertain, I made it. An hour and 4o minutes for the ascent and 45 minutes for the descent. It was hard, and I had plenty of doubts along the way and I could NOT have done it without the two of them. On the way back to San Pedro, we stopped for lunch (again out of the back of the 4×4), and then they called ahead and made arrangements for a massage upon my return. When we got back to Awasi, the staff was waiting outside the front gate to congratulate me. A day that I will never, ever forget. And all because of their encouragement. That night at dinner, Pablo, the sommelier, recommended an infusion (tea) with rica rica to help me recover from the affects of the altitude. In sum, a phenomenal leg to the trip that resulted in achieving several personal bests and an unforgettable time in an infinitely beautiful desert.
Lastly, back to Tom … I goofed up my own last day of the trip in Santiago by unwittingly packing an expired personal covid test kit. Tom stepped in and fixed that as well. He made my last days in Santiago memorable and very enjoyable on extremely short notice. Kudos and thank you. —Jeannie Mullen
“The planner organized all logistics very well: pick-up/drop-off at our hotel, nice newish car and good driver, lunch, and most importantly, a wonderful guide.”
ARGENTINA, DECEMBER 2021 – JANUARY 2022
We had a great tour of Santiago. Everything was Covid appropriate. The planner organized all logistics very well: pick-up/drop-off at our hotel, nice newish car and good driver, lunch, and most importantly, a wonderful guide. Alvin was knowledgeable, professional, and friendly. We learned about neighborhoods, history and current affairs. He was a pleasure to spend time with. We highly recommend this tour with Alvin. —Catherine Coates
“We started planning the trip relatively late and Chris worked some miracles to find us accommodations. He also found us fabulous guides and experiences.”
ICELAND, DECEMBER 2021 – JANUARY 2022
We had an amazing trip to Iceland during the peak holiday season that was planned by Chris. I have used many travel planners recommended by Wendy Perrin and Chris was by far the best!
We started planning the trip relatively late and Chris worked some miracles to find us accommodations. He also found us fabulous guides and experiences. He truly was available 24-7 and provided us with morning updates on weather/road conditions and alerts for the best viewing of the Northern Lights (which we saw on our first night!). He even planned out walking guides of Reykjavik based on the types of stores/sites we wanted to visit.
There were no real problems on the trip but he did smooth out some small bumps we encountered, such as moving dinner reservations to comply with Iceland’s new Covid restrictions. It gave me great peace of mind knowing that we had Chris to support us if we had encountered any problems or tested positive while we were there. I highly recommend that anyone considering travel to Iceland should work with Chris! —Ann Plaza
“A perfect vacation.”
MEXICO, DECEMBER 2021 – JANUARY 2022
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 Jose, one of Zach’s associates. They arranged private transportation to/from the airport and our hotel accommodations. We had 2 beautiful rooms for our family of 5 and enjoyed the ocean views from 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
“She saved our bacon twice on the trip…”
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS CRUISE, DECEMBER 2021 – JANUARY 2022
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
“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.”
ARGENTINA, DECEMBER 2021 – JANUARY 2022
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 to Argentina — with Maita’s expert guidance. We stayed at 3 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
“We entrusted them to prioritize and plan our limited time in Egypt, and they did it quickly and brilliantly.”
EGYPT, DECEMBER 2021 – JANUARY 2022
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
“Thanks to Zach, 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!”
MEXICO, DECEMBER 2021
When we decided on a family vacation in Mexico for three generations, plus a pre-vacation vacation for my husband and me, we knew we needed help with logistics. Also, we wanted to make sure we navigated all the ins and outs of dealing with COVID while feeling safe and still having fun.
Zach and his colleagues came through on both counts. It took us a while to get the itinerary just right, however Zach listened carefully to how we liked to travel and what activities we like. He was also very patient as we revised days and activities several times.
The first stop for my husband and me was in 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 Zach, 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 (staff, restaurants, service) was magical, and we cannot wait to return.
The tours Zach arranged in San Miguel were excellent. There were many highlights, including 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, because of COVID, we wanted to stay in 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. We also wanted private activities, just to be safe. 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 where we saw lots of whales during our 3 hours, 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 complex Beach Club, the staff arranged for us to jet ski, paddleboard, and snorkel only a short distance away.
Zach’s overall planning made for an fantastic trip: transfers worked everywhere, excellent drivers and guides, patient in-country contacts that went above and beyond to ensure we were happy, activities planned for the entire family and others for only specific family members, with enough downtime for all of us to just relax. Most importantly, we always felt comfortable with the COVID protocols that were in place.
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. When we return to Mexico, we will use Zach again. Kudos to Zach and his entire staff for ensuring we had a memorable vacation!
“We didn’t just tour this small museum that intersperses antiquities with Old Masters and modern art; Philip arranged for the museum director to spend three hours guiding us through it.”
FRANCE, DECEMBER 2021
We spent the first two weeks of December in Provence, the Riviera and Paris on an enjoyable trip planned by Philip. After we canceled two trips for late October because of COVID, we jumped on Wendy’s offer from fourteen trip specialists who were designing trips to areas safer from COVID. One was Philip who specializes in trips to Provence and the Riviera. We’d been to Provence in 2015 and loved it; this was a good way to go back, see things we had missed and also see the Riviera, which neither of us had spent much time in. We settled on a two-week trip staying outside Nice, in Aix-en-Provence and Avignon ending with four nights in Paris. This was far from high season for Provence and the Riviera so we expected to see few tourists. Our sense of this being a relatively safe choice was aided by France’s requirement for a vaccination health pass to get into almost anywhere – restaurants, hotels, museums and shops. At least, we figured, most of those we encountered would be vaccinated. In fact, we had to show our passes almost everywhere.
Philip creates elegant itineraries designed around memorable experiences. He’ll send you to the “major” sights if that’s what you want, but he especially likes to expose clients to lesser-known gems. When he learned we’d seen much of Provence, he suggested we also explore the Cote d’Azur and created a wonderful itinerary focused on memorable experiences and lesser-known sights. The hotels he chose were excellent; we especially liked Mas de Pierre in the hills northwest of Nice. Our rooms in all hotels were both comfortable and spacious—a combination less often found in France. The experiences were memorable to say the least. Philip suggested a glassblowing class in Antibes. We’d watched Netflix’s Blown Away, a glassblowing reality competition, so our ears perked up. It was a wonderful morning during which my husband and I made three glass pieces each – two vases, one bowl, two perfume bottles with fancy stoppers and my favorite, my jellyfish in a glass globe. Didier Saba, our glassblower, shipped them to the U.S. for us. The Riviera has lots of museums but Philip sent us to one of his favorites – the remarkable MACM – Museum of Classical Art–in the hilltop village of Mougins. We didn’t just tour this small museum that intersperses antiquities with Old Masters and modern art; Philip arranged for the museum director to spend three hours guiding us through it. What an enlightening experience. He arranged much of a day black-truffle hunting outside Salon de Provence, which was interesting and surprisingly educational. (They use dogs now, not pigs, because dogs can be trained with food to back away from a truffle it finds. Pigs don’t, which is why many truffle hunters are missing finger tips.) We had a delightful seven-hour private cooking class in Aix-en-Provence with a former chef who emailed us all the recipes for the dishes we’d made. We went horseback riding in La Camargue, the wetlands area south of Arles between the two branches of the Rhône River. La Camargue is famed for its white horses, bulls raised for French bullfighting (the bullfighters have to snatch a ribbon from between the bull’s horns, not kill it), and pink flamingos. We had fun riding through this region on the ranch of a former bullfighter and seeing the bulls and horses he and his elegant wife raise. We missed the flamingos due to a flat tire in our rental car that derailed our birding expedition. A don’t-miss experience was Hotel Mirande’s Table d’Haute dinner in Avignon. We dined in the hotel’s tiny cellar kitchen on a nearly all-French evening (except the chef and sommelier who spoke English), which tested my vocabulary but engaged us with locals and Belgian tourists. In Paris we did three tours including a fascinating history of the French fashion industry. We did much more but these were highlights.
Philip and his expert team including Evane Pasquier and Sarah Latrous were creative, attentive and responsive. Like the best of Wendy’s experts, Philip is good at responding to what you’re interested in but also in intuiting what you don’t know you might enjoy. We never would have known about MACM; if we hadn’t gone there and been guided by the museum’s director, we would have missed a memorable experience.
The trip was not without flaws. We learned the hard way not to stay at a hotel for three days that has closed its restaurant. My husband got food poisoning and we could get only very limited food. And don’t rent a car that doesn’t have even a donut spare tire but a container of goop to be pumped into the flat. Traffic along the Cote d’Azur was a nightmare and this wasn’t tourist season! Obviously not Phillip’s fault but true nonetheless. Going to Monaco without a guide was an exercise in frustration, as we got lost repeatedly. We thought we’d be fine with Apple Car Play but we found on all our recent trips to Europe that GPSs all-too-often lead rental car drivers astray. It seems Apple Car Play does too since we got lost several times driving through deserted hill towns. The downside to going offseason was amplified by the low volume of tourists traveling in December. We saw few except French ones and galleries and restaurants were closed all over the place. The hill towns above the Riviera were especially disappointing; half the fun comes from popping in and out of the many galleries and boutiques, but most were closed.
Philip’s guides were well chosen – knowledgeable and engaging. We’re grateful to Remy who helped me find rapid COVID tests in Aix when we had to rule out COVID in case it wasn’t food poisoning. I was glad to find it wasn’t and went off for a day of wine tasting in Cassis and on to Marseilles with Remy while my husband slept the day away. Our food tour in Nice with Franck turned out to be more a political and literary history of Nice, which was enlightening as well as enjoyable. We would happily have Philip design us another trip. Kudos to him and his team.
“We definitely felt safer in Belize than we did at home. We had quality time as a family, and interesting, memorable experiences in a beautiful, diverse country.”
BELIZE, DECEMBER 2021
We almost never return to the same country. As we confronted the possibility of trying to travel between Christmas and New Years in 2021, we decided to make an exception to our ordinary rule and return to Belize. In 2019, we took a fabulous family trip to Belize with the assistance of WOW Lister Patricia and her team. Everything about that 2019 trip was superb and really easy. Given that we were traveling during Covid, we wanted easy again.
The wisdom of that choice was completely validated by our experience the second time around. First, Patricia and the team knew us well and planned a great itinerary, which was helpfully provided to us on an app on our phones. Our family of 5, with our three active teenagers, spent 4 nights at The Lodge at Chaa Creek in the jungle, and 7 nights at the beach resort at Las Terrazas on Ambergris Caye. 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. While based at Ambergris Caye, we had many leisurely days at the pool and beach, but also enjoyed two special days of snorkeling, fishing and barbequing on the beach with the same wonderful boating captain we’d had two years earlier. One of those two days was with close friends from our hometown who also planned their trip with Patricia Johnson upon our recommendation.
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.
The excellent itinerary was matched by superior management of all logistics. Everything went smoothly and just as planned. We were met on time at every spot by drivers with signs with our names, and all of the guides were first-rate. 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 Covid antigen tests on the day before departure through the hotel. Prior to 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 and the team for making it all so easy. We are very grateful. —Robyn Smyers
“Because there were way fewer tourists in famous places like Rome, the Vatican, Pompeii, and Tuscany, the trip was far more enjoyable. I don’t know how many times I heard a guide telling me, ‘Before the pandemic, this street would have been packed!’”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER-DECEMBER 2021
The trip was the most enjoyable of my life. In 87 days, Andrea’s team showed foresight in catering to my needs/interests and flexibility in adapting to my needs and interests as they changed, instead of rigidly and blindly following the itinerary. That includes changing transport arrangements based on circumstances and my preferences and guides being willing to take me places that I saw on the spot and sounded interesting. The guides had to be among the most knowledgeable in their cities and regions. Andrea’s team worked seamlessly with a riding outfitter to mix horse trips with their arrangements. This review really only scratches the surface of 87 days in Italy, five weeks of which were horseback riding.
• How did this trip differ from one you might have taken before the pandemic?
Less than you might think. Yes, a few small rooms in a palace in Florence were closed, there were one way routes through museums, I was having to show proof of vaccination everywhere, I had to wear masks in different places, and I had to get tested before returning home and make provisions for a positive test, but in terms of activities, hardly at all. Italy has done better at managing the pandemic than most countries, and the regime was strict but not oppressive.
Because there were way fewer tourists in famous places like the obvious sites in Rome (and Rome overall), the Vatican, Pompeii, and Tuscany, the trip was far more enjoyable. I don’t know how many times I heard a guide telling me, “Before the pandemic, this street would have been packed!”
• Did the trip planner suggest experiences, accommodations, dining options, travel logistics, etc., that felt Covid-appropriate to you? Did he/she solve particular challenges or destination-related problems?
Yes. An occasional restaurant had tables that were a bit too close for my comfort level, but that is totally subjective, and I discussed that with the guide already. As to the second, airport staff used by Andrea’s team helped me deal with with an airline problem and would have helped get to a city by other other means, and Nicole booked a hotel in Torino the night before a flight because heavy snow around where I was staying in the mountains 90 minutes away could have turned into ice and made it impossible to get out. I, of course, had to pay extra.
• What did the trip planner do, or not do, to minimize your health risk or financial risk?
I never felt that there was any unreasonable health or financial risk. I don’t know what would would have happened if I had tested positive a few days before the trip, and Andrea’s team made known an evacuation insurance company that could have taken me home if I had met its criteria. If I hadn’t, according to the Embassy, I could have quarantined for as long as three weeks at my expense at my expense and not because of Andrea.
• Did the trip planner add value to your trip?
Yes. By having really knowledgeable guides who had dealt with the people who worked at every site who were willing to change the itinerary as circumstances and personal interests changed. We couldn’t do the Siracusa archeological area on the first day, but were able to add it to the beginning of another. Also, having private drivers meant that it was possible to see more since the driver could let us off at one place and pick us up at another. The guides and Andrea’s team were able to book restaurants at the last moment and other activities, such as puppet shows in Sicily.
• Did you have certain trip experiences that other travelers should either seek out or avoid?
They should seek out a villa in Sicily between Siracusa and Agrigento with complete mosaics that depicted in fine detail life in Ancient Rome, the private tour of the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel, the Palazzo Colonna in Rome, the Galileo Museum in Florence, the city of Verona, and the Piemonte region, which has rolling scenery every bit as beautiful as that of Tuscany plus great views of the Alps. Being with dogs hunting truffles was a lot of fun. San Gemignano, Siena, Assisi, and Perugia were all beautifully preserved medieval and Renaissance cities/towns that made me feel transported back in time. Being in Rome, Florence, and Verona during the time right before the holidays would have been beautiful anyway because of the decorations, but all the more so because Italians had come out of a very tough lockdown and were obviously joyful and relaxed. The only place which I wish I hadn’t visited was the August Mausoleum because the restorations and alterations totally wrecked what was an amazing building when it was constructed. —Daniel Wile
“When I chatted with friends who have been living in Bangkok for more than 20 years and told them about our experiences, they weren’t even aware of a majority of the places we visited.”
THAILAND, DECEMBER 2021
Dan did an absolutely incredible job of making our December 2021 trip to Thailand unique and unforgettable. As seasoned travelers with a healthy budget, we expect top service and want to be shown places/experiences off the beaten track. Thanks to Dan, we got routes, visited destinations and met locals that blew our minds. I even ended up buying great contemporary art pieces from a little art gallery we visited along the way (something I would not typically do). When I chatted with friends who have been living in Bangkok for more than 20 years and told them about our experiences, they weren’t even aware of a majority of the places we visited. My wife and I can’t stop talking about our incredible time with Dan’s team. Thanks again, Dan, you are the best. And, of course, a big thanks to Wendy and WendyPerrin.com. It will continue to be our go-to site for the best guides around the world. —Matthaeus Kala
“We had a fantastic time making pizza in Florence, and another major highlight was our WOW Moment.”
ITALY, NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 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
“Oman is not on everyone’s radar, and it isn’t easy to research all the options of what to see and do, and he put together an absolutely perfect trip.”
OMAN, NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2021
Oman is a total gem that was a fun and different adventure!
Nov 25-Dec 7, 2021
We reached out to Dan back in August 2020, and honestly, I found him a joy to work with. Very responsive, personal, suggestive – just a relatable, super nice person! Oman is not on everyone’s radar, and it isn’t easy to research all the options of what to see and do, and he put together an absolutely perfect trip for myself and husband. He made sure we had all the latest intel on Covid requirements and answered all my endless questions (bathroom situation, souvenirs to buy, respectful clothing to wear, where to get booze, etc). We LOVED Oman and cannot recommend it enough. It’s like a young Morocco in terms of not being very touristy…yet. Of course, like everyone else, our trip was touch-and-go as to whether it would happen, but nothing cancelled on us, and we tested negative, so off we went. We had 1 driver the entire trip and basically did Muscat, the desert, the ocean/island scene, the mountains and back to Muscat. Every vignette was very different from the last. People are extremely nice. It is a bit of driving, BUT compared to horrible Uganda roads, Oman roads/infrastructure are very good, and driving the desert “highway” is super cool and even the one-way dirt mountain road is interesting and fun. Our favorite parts actually were the drives. It really is a beautiful country – the wadis, the desert, the mountains, the ocean, the beach – it really does have it all. In regards to Covid, it’s our 2nd big trip during these times, so I’m not sure what really stood out. Oman has done fairly well, follows all the same protocols (sanitize, masks, etc) we felt safe. The only hiccup that is on us completely, is on day 1 our driver said he was fine if we all wanted to not wear our masks in the car. Honestly, rookie mistake that we are just all so tired of wearing masks that we jumped at the chance and told ourselves, yeah, we are in a bubble with our driver. BUT we should have not let our guard down and held firm to wear masks in the car because towards the end of our trip he started sniffling and had gotten a cold (we tested negative 3 times after for Covid, so it was just a cold) but then I got a cold (confirmed from testing) BUT the stress is not what you want to deal with when travelling. The bottom line – do not let your guard down during these Covid times. He was totally fine to wear a mask in the car once we said we wanted us all to. Another bottom line – we would not have been able to organize this trip on our own and it was a relief knowing you have someone watching your back and is there should you need them. We also LOVED the Chedi hotel in Muscat so much that we are looking for future opportunities in our travel schedule to just “pop” in! —Judy Calvert
“The entire staff were invariably warm and resourceful. They surprised us with cards, wine and cookies to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary…”
SPAIN, NOVEMBER – DECEMBER 2021
We chose southern Spain because of its high vaccination rates and relatively warm late Fall weather. Virginia planned a wonderful 11 day trip that included charming hotels, skilled guides, and an itinerary that exposed us to the incredible Andalusian architecture and landscapes. We felt safer from contracting COVID in Spain that we would in the US as the Spanish are “religious” about wearing masks both indoors and outdoors and are constantly sanitizing all surfaces in restaurants, museums, and other public and private facilities. A few truly special aspects of our trip:
The Urso Hotel in Madrid is a wonder. When our room wasn’t ready upon our arrival, we were upgraded to a better room. Our stays in Madrid bracketed our trip and when we returned we were given the same room. The entire staff were invariably warm and resourceful. They surprised us with cards, wine and cookies to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary and then to top off our stay allowed us to keep our room a few extra hours (w/o charge) to accommodate our departure schedule. Please, when can I move in?
We worked with 5 different guides and each was knowledgeable about their subject area, and passionate about “their” city and its sites. Some of the best guides we’ve ever had.
Virginia, Clare and their team supported us in various ways throughout the trip. They sent updates regarding Spanish and US health and travel regulations. (The requirement to be tested for Covid w/in 24 hours of traveling back to the US occurred while we were in Spain). We changed the terms of our car rental and struggled a bit with pick up and drop off and received prompt assistance.
We look forward to working with Virginia to plan our next trip to Spain and Portugal!
“Three days before the end of our trip, the airport closed as a result of the new Covid virus. The team didn’t miss a beat and took care of us for 3 days in Casablanca until we could get a flight out. Really felt safe and cared for.”
MOROCCO, NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 2021
My husband and I just returned from two weeks in Morocco. We used Radia and Hicham to organize the trip. They did a spectacular job. During the planning phase, they were truly interested in our interests and incorporating them into the itinerary. They also had recommendations of their own which were spot on. We were met at the airport by a greeter who fast tracked us through the official process and led us to our personal guide and driver waiting for us outside with their Mercedes van. Totally seamless. The vehicle, driver and guide were top notch. Our guide, Husan, was outstanding. Perfect English. Knowledgable. Great sense of humor. The boutique hotels were all great. Flexible itinerary if we wanted to return to, say, a particular shop, or linger at a particular attraction (such as the YSL museum and garden). Three days before the end of our trip, the airport closed as a result of the new Covid virus. The team didn’t miss a beat and took care of us for 3 days in Casablanca until we could get a flight out. Really felt safe and cared for. We ended up having a great time in the modern city of Casablanca (which was a surprise). Morocco is a fully functioning, multi-cultural, diverse society that offers so much to the visitor. People are very friendly. Most speak English. Shopper’s paradise for any budget. We highly recommend Morocco as a destination and Radia and Hicham as the people to make it all happen for you! —Lindsey Stewart
“Awesome locations, totally organized transfers, COVID testing and local updates come from a Wendy expert.”
BOTSWANA, ZIMBABWE AND SOUTH AFRICA, NOVEMBER 2021
In 2019, I returned from an Africa tour and had another ‘must see’ place. I love Africa, been there more than 5 times. I wanted to change up my next trip with a custom itinerary instead of a pre-defined tour. Wendy’s expert, Cherri, created a fabulous and memorable experience. A friend recommended Mana Pools so we started there. Cherri asked me what I love about Africa. The itinerary for November 2021 she recommended included:
Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe
Chobe National Park, Botswana
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa
In Mana Pools, views were expansive and breathtaking. The Nyamatusi camp was modern and rustic and comfortable. The staff was musical and friendly and fabulous. The heat was notable, but the plunge pool, fan, outside shower and the banks of the Zambezi River made every day super special. Elephants, wild dogs and hippos were so close and easy to watch to create a super special experience.
At Chobe, Flo, one of the earliest woman guides in Africa, was my own private guide. The place was uncrowded, so Flo and I drove and floated the Zambezi every day. We did more outings on the Zambezi and I got to see so much elephant and hippo behavior at the water’s edge!!!
On the Okavango Delta, the Kwai Tented Camp is a modern, beautiful place and extremely comfortable. Giraffe, hippo, wild dogs, lion, hyena and leopard kept us company. I got an amazing moment in a tiny helicopter ride over the delta. We also had a really close up visit with a pack of wild dogs, who were hanging out on a dry river bed near the camp. We ended the stay with a fabulous dinner in the camp boma.
At Sabi Sands, the first morning, a pregnant leopard stretched in a tree, climbed down and walked by our vehicle. Then a lion pride of about 20, including two males (brothers) and cubs 3 months, 6 months and one year old. The father of the cubs was eating what remained of a recent zebra. His brother waited nearby and one of the 6 month old cubs approached, looking for approval to check out the zebra. The father grunted, allowing the young one to chew and play with the nose area of the kill. A few times, the little one tried to move up towards the more interesting parts but was immediately corrected – back to the nose. According to the guide and tracker, this kind of behavior is very rare.
Wendy surprised me with a surprise WOW Moment – a visit to an elephant rescue, including an elephant ride. It was astounding!
I’m so hooked on Wendy’s experts for designing and arranging my trips! Awesome locations, totally organized transfers, COVID testing and local updates as COVID happened come from a Wendy expert. —Helene Bard
“Thank you to Boris a million times over for creating such a special trip for us. I don’t want to say it was once in a lifetime, because I know we’ll be back.”
COLOMBIA, NOVEMBER 2021
Firstly, we can’t begin to express our gratitude to Boris in crafting such an amazing trip!
We had an absolutely stellar time! Everything he suggested was truly spot on.
To break it down a bit more…
What a gorgeous city! We absolutely loved our time there. Our guide Gustavo was wonderful. He was so nice and funny and truly had a wealth of knowledge. He did a great job telling stories of the city and showing us around. It was great to meet lots of people he knew all over the city too. Really an amazing time with him/because of him. And all of the activities we booked were fantastic too!! We really really loved the cooking class and the day on the boat! But everything was super special. And the hotel Boris found for us was really special too. What a beautiful hotel… amazing room, amazing staff, amazing location, etc. etc.
What a great contrast to the coast. Everyone was very apologetic about how rainy it was, but honestly, coming from LA it was a nice change. Haha. So glad Boris recommended the area! Our guide Sebastian was just as wonderful too. Really truly made us feel welcome and did an amazing job showing us around. His genuine warmth and friendliness was so special and memorable. We had such a great time exploring the area and eating all the amazing food! Even when we couldn’t go on the rafting trip because of the weather, he was so great about finding another activity for us. We were especially touched when he took us to his house to meet his mom. What a great guy! As for activities… we LOVED meeting Pascal and Diego and sharing lunch with them in their little slice of paradise. That will definitely be one of our favorite memories from the trip! And staying at Bambusa was so wonderful. What a cool hotel in the middle of the mountains. Really peaceful and relaxing and comfortable and had great food!
Honestly… we’ve run out of all of the amazing words to describe our experience.
The trip was magical and we are absolutely in love with Colombia. We can’t wait to come back and see Medellin and Bogota and all of the other amazing places!!
Thank you to Boris a million times over for creating such a special trip for us. I don’t want to say it was once in a lifetime, because I know we’ll be back. But suffice to say it’s in the pantheon of absolute favorite trips we’ve been on. —Anne Leary
“This was our first experience using Wendy’s service and it will not be the last. It is highly worth it and this is coming from a skeptic that is used to planning all travel.”
PORTUGAL, NOVEMBER 2021
My wife and I took a 10 day trip to Portugal in November 2021 upon the recommendation of Wendy. We gave some parameters on the trip we were looking for and dates, and Portugal was the recommendation and it was a fabulous one. Wendy recommended we use Goncalo and Joana to guide us and they were terrific. We had an introductory call with Goncalo and Joana and several email conversations iterating on the itinerary. It was a relatively tight planning window complicated by limited availability but they worked their magic and everything came together without any issues.
We did two nights in Lisbon, 4 in Douro Valley and 3 in Alentejo. I personally don’t love hyper planned itineraries or doing a lot of tours but they balanced the schedule very well and the tours they arranged were the best parts of our trip. In Lisbon, it felt like we were accompanied by a college professor. It was a very efficient use of our time and allowed us to avoid the crowds. In the Douro Valley we had a private winery tour, lunch and tasting. It was relaxed yet educational and luxurious. In Alentejo we did another private winery tour and lunch and tasting but accompanied by the owner, which was wonderful. We would simply not have had, or even really known where to begin, in scheduling experiences like this.
They also arranged delivery of the rental car to the hotel in Lisbon and drop off at the airport. This was seamless and allowed us to avoid going to and from a rental counter, worry about parking, etc.
This was our first experience using Wendy’s service and it will not be the last. It is highly worth it and this is coming from a skeptic that is used to planning all travel. If you are visiting Portugal, we highly recommend Goncalo and Joana – they made the trip exceptional and easy for us, all the way down to the 36 page custom and detailed itinerary (including all contact info, directions, background, history, etc). Hard to go wrong with Portugal, it is the perfect mix of natural beauty, incredible food, warm and welcoming people and very easy to navigate.
“He exceeded our expectations in terms of the quality of the camps and vast array of large and small animals that we experienced during each game drive.”
BOTSWANA, NOVEMBER 2021
Back from Botswana!
Julian and his team, especially Lisa, planned & coordinated our WOW experience that began with one full day in Johannesburg, South Africa followed by eight nights at three separate five-star camps in Botswana at the beginning of November.
We had a few interview calls with Julian to identify what we would like to see and do since this was our first safari and we did not really know what to focus on in planning such a unique trip. Julian made it easy and conversational and we were not disappointed. He exceeded our expectations in terms of the quality of the camps, the flight connections between the camps and vast array of large and small animals that we experienced during each game drive, twice a day.
There was no short cut to the very long flight times from Miami to London to Johannesburg to Botswana & back and the many COVID protocols required along the way that required great attention to detail, however once we were on our safari we felt very safe the entire time and everyone was mindful of COVID health precautions.
The camps were all far below capacity for guests, guests arrived and departed daily and ranged from 4 guests including us to 18 guests and most of the time we were alone with the guide on our game drives.
I would recommend packing as light as you can based on the time of year but do take advantage of the available free laundry service right from your room in order to have added space in your luggage to bring back gifts. Julian selected a camp near an authentic village made up of mud huts, straw thatched roofs, no electricity or running water, where the villagers make hand crafts which was on our list of something to see. We were quite impressed this was an authentic experience rather than a tourist stop.
Early November is the first week of rainy season in Botswana but we had no rain and above normal hot days so no limitations for our game drives to see in excess of twenty five different animals during our visit that we saw from the Toyota Landcruisers, by boat, helicopter and bush planes. If you are travelling during a hot time of year, selecting a camp with room air conditioners is a must as the temperature soared to 107 degrees in mid day and even the dry heat similar to Arizona is uncomfortable.
In summary, if you are looking for something entirely different to experience on your next vacation and can find a way to schedule a safari with Julian, you will walk away with an extraordinary WOW experience with memories and pictures for a lifetime. —Bonnie Bottini
“Kleon arranged for an early morning taxi to take us to the testing lab for our Covid PCR tests. When we checked out of the hotel at 4 pm same day, the hotel’s reception handed us copies of the Covid test results. We would not have been able to get that organized without Kleon.”
FRENCH POLYNESIA, OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 2021
Our trip to French Polynesia on October 9 to November 3, 2021 included the islands of Tahiti (Intercontinental), Huahine (Lapita, and Le Mahana), Vahine motu near Tahaa, atoll Tikehau (Pearl Resort) and Morea (Sofitel), all highly recommended.
What a pleasure it was to have Kleon arrange another vacation trip for us to French Polynesia in October 2021. Kleon had organized a memorable wedding anniversary trip to Tahiti for us two years ago, so in early 2021, expecting that the Covid-19 pandemic with its associated lock-downs would hopefully soon be over, we asked Kleon, through Wendy, to arrange another trip to Tahiti with the excuse it was to celebrate a significant birthday.
We had very specific requirements for our trip: about 4 weeks long with stays in about 5 different islands or atolls, small resorts, quiet, all within our budget, but with the option of exceeding the budget for something exceptional. Leading up to the trip, Kleon kept us informed about changing requirements for entry to French Polynesia, so we could get prepared and schedule any required tests.
Kleon provided everything we asked for, small quiet resorts on 4 islands and one atoll, ocean front & spacious bungalows with privacy, all with snorkeling, great food and wine and friendly congenial staff. Kleon also arranged for a very appropriate WOW Moment, two bottles of French wine and a massage. It was such a pleasure to make the trip arranged by Kleon, because we did not have to worry about any of the details: internal flights between the islands were all pre-booked, the transfers between the airports and the resorts mostly private…..no more having to deal with aggressive taxi drivers or overloaded vans, or wondering how to get to the next location…….It was all seamless: we got off the plane, were met by a driver and van or a boat, and were promptly delivered to our next location.
Of course, the concern about Covid-19 was everywhere, but we felt safe and secure thanks to Kleon’s advice and familiarity with the resorts. At all the resorts we visited, guests were required to wear masks when in contact with other people (even if most of the guests were double or even triple vaccinated), and certainly ALL the staff we encountered in Tahiti wore masks.
Getting our Covid-19 test before leaving Tahiti was of great concern to us. We had to get the Molecular PCR test to enter Canada, which usually takes 24-48 hours. It just so happened that we were leaving on a Tuesday evening, and the labs were closed on Sat, Sun, and Monday since it was a Tahitian holiday. Kleon overcame all obstacles about getting us the test. We were staying at the Sofitel on the island of Morea, and Kleon arranged for an early Tuesday morning taxi to take us to the testing lab for our Covid PCR tests. When we checked out of the hotel at 4 pm same day, the hotel’s reception, plus the concierge, each handed us copies of the Covid test results. We would not have been able to get that organized without Kleon.
Thank you, Kleon, for another great trip. —Rose Inger
“It was a major logistics coup and something I could not have done without their help—it turned a nightmare scenario into a (minor) annoyance.”
ENGLAND AND ITALY, OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 2021
A poet once said “…through the trials and tribulations…” My travels were certainly an unforgettable experience that encompassed nearly 2 years of planning and replanning, the tireless efforts of Jennifer and her team must receive the highest commendations.
I rechecked my notes and saw that my first deposit for airfare was paid in November of 2019…but then, the “fun” started. Four reschedules later….and a tremendous effort by Jennifer, finalized my dream trip for Oct 2021. And it was everything that I had hoped for…with a little hiccup on the side.
London was amazing as ever. Jennifer was spot-on in recommending the Kensington. It had the best martinis of the entire trip (and I tasted many all over town) and was a quick walk to the Underground for exploring the city. Although I have visited several times in the past (I lived in Portsmouth on-and-off for three years), my travel expert—Hugh—turned out to be a bigger history buff than I. Special access to the Churchill War rooms, a visit to the crypts of (an almost deserted) St. Paul’s and amazing walks through Blenheim and Chartwell. Hugh knew more than just what was in history and guide books….it was an amazing educational and entertaining experience. Stephen and Antonio kept me apprised of my schedule daily and made sure every detail was confirmed. I am already planning a return to follow in the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence…Hugh, you better start reading up!!!
At the back end of the trip, Venice was starting to come alive. I, too have visited Venice before, but the city seemed to be emerging out of its pandemic isolation and tourists were coming back. So was the water!! It wouldn’t be Venice if San Marco were not flooded at least once during the week…it did not disappoint. The Baglioni Hotel Luna was perfectly situated at the corner of the Piazza San Marco, right off the Grand Canal and around the corner from Harry’s Bar (still have great Bellini’s). Alvise, my artisan tour guide, knew the ins-and-outs of the cathedral, the amazing talents on Murano and introduced me to Maestro Pastor and his wood-carving talents. But Jennifer left me just the right amount of time to wander (and get lost in) Venice on my own—it’s the best way to experience the city.
Unfortunately, the middle of vacation was filled with major upheavals—none of which was due to the actions of Jennifer and her team, but by Belmond. A day before I was to embark on the Orient Express, the entire journey was cancelled. A major disappointment. However, Jennifer, Antonio and Mattia quickly sprang into action and coordinated/expedited/confirmed transport for me from London to Bologna to Venice. It was a major logistics coup and something I could not have done without their help—it turned a nightmare scenario into a (minor) annoyance. But what would life be without such a glitch?? This only means that I will have to come back next year for the train experience—and Jennifer is already working on that. I’ll let you all know how that works out this time next year!!
My thanks to Jennifer, Antonio and Mattia for making these weeks a memorable occasion. See you all next year!! —John Bradunas
“After the tours we commented to each other that, ‘This is the way to travel.'”
GREECE, OCTOBER 2021
We were on a trip with Duke University that began in Athens and wanted a custom schedule for the two of us in and around Athens over October 28th to 30th. Wendy’s group put us in touch with Mina. Mina reached out to us and we had a telephone conversation to review our interests. She put together a wonderful itinerary that started at the airport and included three tours and transportation to the ship.
The tours were just what we had in mind. The guides were excellent as were the drivers. Mina and the support group were easy to work with as well as very accommodating. We greatly appreciate their good work and would highly recommend them. After the tours we commented to each other that, “This is the way to travel.” —William Harriss
“They answered all of our questions rapidly and thoroughly and helped us to negotiate an exception with the cruise company to get us a two category upgrade.”
EUROPEAN RIVER CRUISE, OCTOBER 2021
Uniworld European River Cruise (Amsterdam to Basel)
When half of our existing travel plans fell through due to high rates of Covid at our intended destination, we decided to replace them with a European river cruise. We had always wanted to do a cruise like that, and it seemed a good, relatively safe option during the pandemic. It was pretty easy to search on our own to identify the leading European river cruise lines. What proved much more difficult however was identifying cruises that fit with the dates of the remaining part of our trip, which had relatively little flexibility. Further, we had little means to distinguish between the top cruise lines.
We reached out to Tom for assistance with choosing and booking our river cruise. Tom and his staff were extremely helpful and knowledgeable. They recommended Uniworld based on our preferences and identified two cruises that met our scheduling needs. They answered all of our questions rapidly and thoroughly and helped us to negotiate an exception with the cruise company to get us a two-category upgrade.
The cruise itself was wonderful. Excellent food and wine, amazing staff. The daily tours (all included in the price) were fun. At ages 61 and 59, we were probably 10-15 years below the median on the cruise. As a result, it was not as physical as we would have liked and we will probably do other activities on our next river cruise to make it more physical.
All in all, a wonderful trip. Thanks to Tom and team for making it so easy. — Scott Sherman
“His expertise took us to gardens and museums before the crowds arrived and he knew the best shop owners to get quality goods.”
MOROCCO, OCTOBER 2021
Go, go go now! We just got back from Morocco after putting it on hold for a year. Helen planned the perfect trip. Most everything was open except for a few monuments. Tourist are coming back but not in droves so the medinas and souks were busy but with locals. Tour busses were hardly seen. Our guide, Said, enjoyed showing us his country and seeing colleagues he hadn’t seen in almost two years. His expertise took us to gardens and museums before the crowds arrived and he knew the best shop owners to get quality goods. The itinerary Helen planned was perfect. One day would be spent on a city tour and the next we were hiking in the mountains, then there would be a travel day so no two days were the same. Said would hire local guides for certain hikes or village tours, which gave us a personal insight into the area. We stayed in small riads from the North to the South. All of them unique. Everyone from the hotel staff to the shop owners were so happy that we were there. People smiled everywhere we went. COVID-19 was not issue. Morocco has a high vaccination rate and everyone in the tourist industry was vaccinated. The hotel restaurants were all open air. Helen arranged for a COVID test the day before we left to return to the States. It couldn’t have been easier. Dar Alham in Skoura was our last stop and what a way to end the trip. Not only was it relaxing lounging by the pool but the staff would organize special outings for their guests like a tea ceremony at sunset high in the mountains.
Loved everything about this trip, timing, itinerary and the people!. —Leslie Enlow
“No matter what I threw at him, he responded quickly and knowledgeably.”
SILVERSEA CRUISE, OCTOBER 2021
We were very nervous about traveling during the pandemic, but Gavin, on Mary Jean’s team, made it easy. And, frankly, Silversea was incredible. Silversea was simply amazing! I can’t wait to travel with them again.
Gavin answered every one of my numerous and frequent questions about testing requirements and protocols. No matter what I threw at him, he responded quickly and knowledgeably.
He also planned the two nights in Lisbon, pre and post-cruise flawlessly. He gave us a choice of three hotels, at different price points, and we were lucky enough to choose the One Palacio, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It will be our go to hotel in Lisbon.
Cheri, also on Mary Jean’s team, was patient with my many cruise bookings and cancellations. When we finally settled on the Silversea cruise to the Azores and Canaries, she picked a very well located suite.
We are anxiously awaiting next December’s Regent cruise from Capetown, and especially the pre-cruise safari and land trip that Gavin has planned.
So glad we went with Mary Jean and her team. —Judith Goodman
“The itinerary itself was packed with everything we wanted to see and then some!”
EGYPT, OCTOBER 2021
Jim and his team were amazing, both pre-pandemic when we planned to go in 2020, and later as we had to reschedule three times. They provided guidance and support throughout, and were always flexible and understanding of our concerns. Although throughout Egypt masks were worn, especially in the tourist sites, it was particularly apparent with our contacts, guides, and the hotels/cruise Jim and his team selected – they were very diligent and we always felt safe. The itinerary itself was packed with everything we wanted to see and then some! They were able to make it work somehow within the timeframe we had, but yet we never felt exhausted or “toured out”. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with this team again, and have actually already been on the site looking for our next destination! —Heather Reinders
“We were surprised and treated to a WOW Moment: a handcrafted wet plate tintype portrait session…”
SPAIN, OCTOBER 2021
Just returned from a 16-day exploration trip to Spain arranged by Iván. With changing restrictions and guidelines, this last-minute trip was planned with Ivan about 3 weeks prior to departure in early October. Ivan made many adjustments and planned the itinerary based on our preferences while providing invaluable suggestions and alternatives. He also had to work around two consecutive Spanish and community holidays to ensure that we were able to cover the major sights. The focus of the trip was the Andalusia area due to the season and trip length. We went to Barcelona (Figueres day trip), Madrid (Toledo day trip), Cordoba, Seville, Jerez (include Cadiz) and Granada (via Ronda). Long distance transfers were done with Spain’s AVE high speed trains (1st class seating when possible) while the rest were done via luxurious private transfers.
The entire trip was fully guided, and the excellent guides adjusted the itineraries based on our interests while providing timing/feedback and adjusting/ensuring that we covered the main attractions. We experienced wonderful guides who provided us with curated experiences at the museums, palaces and parks while also enriching us with different knowledge and perspective. Ivan specializes in Andalusia and we were fortunate to have him guide us in Seville and Jerez. Throughout the entire trip as we traversed through Spain, he would check-in consistently for feedback and make any recommendations and adjustments where necessary.
We had a fascinating visit to a boutique traditional family-owned artisan Jamón Ibérico producer and had a fun, educational tour and tasting session that included visiting the free roaming pigs in their oak forest. We learned about the curing and aging process; appreciating all the various cuts of ham and the wine that enhanced the jamón. The owners and people who run the farm were warm, hospitable and have been in the business for generations – the matriarch is an absolute character and gem. We left with a better understanding and appreciation of the Jamón Ibérico and simply loved every part of that experience.
Ivan also arranged for a private visit to one of the rare female-owned bull farms to give us a more holistic view to one of Spain’s most famous and controversial traditions. We were able to see “a day in the life” of the brave farm owner. Seeing these magnificent creatures in their element and understanding the economy and system that supports the culture of the Spanish bullfights was very meaningful. It was good to learn about the entire story of this tradition – from rearing to selection to the bullfight – not just what we typically are exposed to, the fight. We had a wonderful lunch with the owner and even more exchange around the trials and tribulations of running the farm during Covid and the future of this tradition. This was an intimate experience and truly eye opening.
Ivan surprised us with VIP seating and backstage barn access during the Equestrian school show in Jerez. On the last day in Granada, we were surprised and treated to a WOW Moment: a handcrafted wet plate tintype portrait session at a wonderful little studio located in cave-studded Gypsy neighborhood of Sacromonte.
Besides the grand sights, other highlights included Patios festival in Cordoba; evening guided group tour of Cathedral de Seville including the rooftops, tower and interior (cathedral was closed to public that day); impromptu visit to a former professional flamenco dancer’s (friend of Ivan’s) store where it was interesting to hear her perspective of the art and accessories associated with the flamenco culture; flamenco performance; and tapas bar tours.
Restaurant recommendations were provided, and Ivan also made all the reservations including seven Michelin starred restaurants. Language can be an issue at some very local restaurants, but everyone was very kind and helpful – and the delicious food and being a fly on the wall observing the locals and their interactions with one another makes it worthwhile. When we visited the local market in Jerez, we told Ivan for our love of mangoes and he got us Málaga mangoes on our last day in Jerez (they were fragrant and deliciously sweet)!
Even though we carried the Abbott Home Test kit as a backup, we decided to get the rapid PCR tests via the airport clinic recommended by Ivan. He arranged the stopover during the transfer back to Madrid one day before our departure flight. The driver escorted us to the clinic, and we were out in less than 10 minutes with the results via email within 2 hours.
On departure day, there was a marathon that closed the streets around the hotel area and Ivan was on top coordinating with the hotel, driver, and police for the airport transfer. The tax refund process and immigration were unfortunately extremely slow (maybe due to long weekend) and we nearly missed our flight.
Spain enjoys the highest percentage of vaccinated population in Europe, we felt completely safe and at ease with the guides, drivers and everyone are very respectful of wearing masks indoors, outdoors and in vehicles. The people of Spain enjoy a relaxing outlook on life and there were virtually no one honking even in large cities like Madrid. We had absolutely no bad meals and enjoyed great weather the entire trip.
In summary, Ivan was able to curate and plan a private luxurious exploration trip showcasing Andalusia’s tradition, diverse culture from different Moorish, Christian and Jewish influences that still persists in its architecture, art, food and people. He truly cares that you have an amazing and memorable trip. —Jonathan Tsai
“Something we will always treasure is the morning we spent with the owner/chef of a small waterfront pintxos bar learning how to make pintxos.”
SPAIN, OCTOBER 2021
Pablo crafted a wonderful itinerary for my wife and me in the Ribera del Deuro and the Basque Country of Spain. We had guides take us to a couple of wonderful wineries and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Guides also introduced us to the wonderful world of pintxos (tapas) in the Basque Country. Something we will always treasure is the morning we spent with the owner/chef of a small waterfront pintxos bar learning how to make pintxos. We and our guide got to enjoy our creations washed down with a bottle of local txakoli wine outside on the terrace. It was a truly special experience. We have a new appreciation for anchovies! —Bill Hiatt
“The extraordinary experiences (behind the scenes at the theatre in Moscow, dinner in the home of a lovely young woman in Suzdal, chocolate making class in Estonia) were each phenomenal.”
RUSSIA AND THE BALTICS, OCTOBER 2021
Just back from Russia and the Baltic’s … when I saw a three week window open on my calendar recently I made a very last minute decision to go to Russia …Greg and Stella put together a fabulous and interesting itinerary (encouraging me to add Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) expedited my visa application and guided me through all of the covid related hoops going from country to country … when my own covid test results didn’t come through in time for my initial departure, Stella found and set up an appointment for a rapid test 5 minutes from my ATL hotel the morning of departure, thereby saving me a potential delay in leaving for the trip. As for the trip itself, I had a blast. Every single detail was taken care of, the extraordinary experiences (behind the scenes at the theatre in Moscow, dinner in the home of a lovely young woman in Suzdal, theatre tickets, a boat trip in St Petersburg, chocolate making class in Estonia, I can’t remember them all) were each phenomenal. Guides, drivers, covid testing and hotels all perfectly arranged and top notch. Thank you Greg and Stella for a very memorable return to travel after 20 months at home due to covid restrictions (both here and abroad) and to one of the places that has been on my list for a long time. I’ve already got designs on my next trip!
“Jonathan listened to all I desired to do in Ireland but also want I did not want do. They put together the perfect tour with a private driver guide.”
IRELAND, OCTOBER 2021
I returned from a two week trip to Ireland in early October 2021. I was interested in a trip to Ireland and looked at many organized tours, but none were satisfactory. I reviewed Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts and reached out to Jonathan.
Jonathan and Nicole listened to all I desired to do in Ireland but also want I did not want do. They put together the perfect tour with a private driver guide. The hotels were spectacular, excellent dining reservations were made. The driver guide, John was outstanding! He was extremely knowledgeable, friendly and it was hard to say goodbye. Every detail was taken care of.
The tour needed to be rescheduled twice due to Covid. Nicole rebooked hotels several times graciously. She replied quickly to any questions and offered helpful tips and suggestions.
I cannot recommend Jonathan and his team enough. I absolutely will use them again for future trips! —Peter Zadro
“It felt like a WOW Moment when they opened a bottle of Abyss (champagne aged for a year in the sea) for us to enjoy. I believe this special moment may have been thanks to our driver.”
FRANCE, OCTOBER 2021
What an incredible trip! We started with a couple of nights in Brittany, then Paris, Alsace and Champagne. It was a very full trip that went seamlessly. Alex and I worked together to plan this trip for 6 women. We stayed in a different hotel every two nights but Alex worked to ensure that the transitions were seamless. We would be picked up in the morning, and would arrive at our hotels with our bags in the rooms. The hotel choices were wonderful. The guides were incredible, of special note were Yann in Brittany, Caroline for the Louvre and David Ling in Alsace. We were exposed to so many special moments. Alex checked in regularly to make sure everything was going ok and was always available for any questions or changes. I really can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed this trip. The tide changes in Brittany, walking in quicksand at Mont St. Michel, learning about the history of Alsace, exploring the caves in Champagne. I just finished a digital scrapbook and it is 75 pages – so many experiences.
We felt very comfortable regarding Covid. We all received our French health passes and used them for all interior activities. France is 86% vaccinated, and masks are required inside. Alex arranged for a nurse to do our Covid tests for our returns, it worked out beautifully.
We had time to wander the cities and villages, visited wineries, champagne houses and a barrel making factory that was unexpectedly interesting. I would highly recommend Bott Freres in Alsace and LeClerc Briant in Champagne. We had a fascinating tour of this biodynamic champagne house, then an incredible meal cooked in front of us paired with champagnes. It felt like a WOW Moment when they opened a bottle of Abyss (champagne aged for a year in the sea) for us to enjoy. I believe this special moment may have been thanks to our driver Thomas.
I can’t wait for the next trip to France! —Deborah Wente
“This was our first time to travel with local experts, and we absolutely do not plan to travel any other way in the future. I cannot say enough about the secure feelings we had on this trip!!”
CROATIA, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2021
We left the United States on Sept. 17 and traveled for 16 glorious fall days to Croatia. On the FIRST morning of the trip my husband and I were visiting a small village in Istria with a guide, and I slipped on wet cobblestones. I broke my wrist, and we seriously just considered going home. However, I reached out to our local contact, Antonija, and she took over from there. We absolutely could not have continued our trip through Croatia had it not been for Jay and his team, and in particular, Antonija!
Naturally, we had to make some itinerary adjustments, doctor and hospital appointments, but Antonija worked everything out for us.
As for Croatia, it is now on my all-time favorites list…We started in Rovinj (and Istria) then worked our way south to Dubrovnik. All the towns, accommodations, drivers & guides were chosen for us by Jay and his team, and all are praise worthy! My personal favorite was the small island of Korcula and Taras Lodge Hotel. It was a small boutique hotel right on the Adriatic with the bed facing the water. Every morning when I sat up, I felt like pinching myself … is this real? And the people of Croatia are incredible as well. They are all kind and accommodating. And just glad to have us in their country! One extremely special evening was actually in a local family home in Dubrovnik. Jay set up a “dinner with locals”. We joined 8 other travelers to eat Peka on the owner’s outdoor patio…
Our Covid travel experiences were also fairly easy. We had a local PCR test 3 days before leaving on British Air. For our return, Antonija had a driver pick us up at our local Dubrovnik villa and take us to a small medical center for a rapid test. Our results were received within an hour!
This was our first time to travel with local experts, and we absolutely do not plan to travel any other way in the future. I cannot say enough about the secure feelings we had on this trip!!
“We had some outstanding guides who brought to light the ancient Greek and Minoan cultures, but also an excellent food guide in Athens who took us around all sorts of specialty stores to help us understand Greek cuisine.”
GREECE, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2021
Greece seemed to be an easy country for vaccinated Americans to enter (it was with direct flights from the USA) and we hoped that islands like Santorini would not be overrun with cruise ships (turned out to be true). We approached Jacoline and set up a zoom call. We spent 75 minutes talking in which we told her what we liked about past trips and what we were hoping to get out of this trip. She then asked us a series of questions about our likes and dislikes which resulted in her putting together an outstanding itinerary which reflected exactly what we were hoping for. We indicated we wanted to go to Santorini and Crete and she suggested also going to Nafplio in the Peloponnese (a place not even on our radar screen, but popular with Athenians). Throughout the trip we had some outstanding guides who brought to light the ancient Greek and Minoan cultures, but also an excellent food guide in Athens who took us around all sorts of specialty stores to help us understand Greek cuisine. We asked to stay in small luxury boutique hotels where we would not be sharing elevators etc with many tourists. The best were Perivolas on Santorini and Kapsaliana Village Hotel in Crete. In addition to the archeological tours, we also had wine tours, a WOW Moment with Greek dancing and plate tossing in a Greek vineyard and a trip on a catamaran. Eating well was also very important for us and Jacoline suggested and booked some outstanding restaurants throughout the trip. We spent a week in Crete, rented a car there (easy to drive around) and could easily have spent longer. Jacoline kept in touch through email throughout the trip and provided a bound personalized book which they call a piglet which covers the whole itinerary with lots of useful suggestions. Thank you Jacoline for a great trip. — Tony Ford-Hutchinson
“Jonathan and Nicole applied such useful knowledge of every aspect of our three-week trip to the UK.”
ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2021
Jonathan and Nicole applied such useful knowledge of every aspect of our three-week trip to the UK. They walked us through the complexities of the vaccination procedures, always staying on top of the latest rules. They checked in on us during our trip, made sure that we had dinner reservations on the arrival day for each new city, and provided the friendliest and most knowledgeable guides for us. We never used to have guides, but the difference is night and day. They all knew Jonathan and Nicole intimately! I can absolutely endorse Jonathan’s team as our forever “go to” agency for the UK, Ireland, and Italy. —Laurence Heifetz
“This trip was WAY beyond my expectations. And it was all pulled together in about 3 weeks.”
UGANDA, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2021
I retired and had a full year of travel plans laid out in front of me…..then COVID hit and all those plans were cancelled and kicked down the road. After two years of domestic RV trips and local stuff (all good but not what I yearned for) I found Wendy Perrin’s site that led me to countries where I could go. I got quotes on three possible trips – Uganda, Maldives, and Columbia. All the itineraries were impressive. But I decided if I was ever going to see the gorillas, I better start there. I love Africa and have travelled to 6 different countries on that continent but the gorillas were still on my radar. This trip was WAY beyond my expectations. And it was all pulled together in about 3 weeks from start of the plan to travel date, including what was required to traverse Europe and down to Africa in transit, meeting all the COVID requirements. I could not have had a better experience. The guide was fantastic, the accommodations were each so unique and special in different ways, and the experience with the mountain gorillas and the chimpanzees, not to mention all the other game we saw, was so far above my expectations. Highly recommend.
“The true test of a travel professional is how they handle the unexpected and Jill was wonderful.”
CANADA, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2021
Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Fall 2021
Jill, located in Newfoundland, provided us with a complete itinerary, rental car and accommodations. She allocated our time effectively and gave wonderful recommendations for very locale. She suggested music venues, as well as dining venues. She suggested drives and day trips along with pointing out local shops that we might have missed, not to mention the chocolate and pastry shops along the way. All of her recommendations were accurate and welcome and her caring was obvious.
Jill’s caring became particularly evident when my husband became ill and we had to cut the trip short by several days, exacerbated by the fact that it happened on a weekend. She was calm and reassuring and handled details and refunds with grace and efficiency. Although I’m old enough to be her mother, maybe her grandmother, it was lovely to be cared for so kindly. The true test of a travel professional is how they handle the unexpected and Jill was wonderful and I highly recommend her.
“The benefit of using an experienced local agency like Matteo’s was their firsthand knowledge of experiences I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER 2021
The first time tour of Sicily that Matteo planned for me was an amazing cultural tour of my ancestors’ homeland. I asked him to plan a 10 day tour across the whole island, focusing on culture and food (of course, being Sicilian myself) and he did not disappoint. Sure anyone could open a tour book and pick from the standard museums and cultural attractions, however the benefit of using an experienced local agency like Matteo’s was their firsthand knowledge of experiences I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
For example, I went wine tasting at multiple vineyards, however doing so with a personal guided tour from the owner and a certified wine sommelier made the experience that much more exceptional and personal. I visited an almond farm (didn’t even know you could do that) where we sat down with the owner and ate an amazing traditional Sicilian lunch prepared by his wife. Of course the best was touring Palermo with a local who then helped research and translate the birth records of my great-grandfather in the village where he was born was an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity, (Thanks Enrica!) If youre going to visit Sicily, I highly recommend you consult with an experienced agency like Matteo’s before you do. —Chris Lopinto
“The tours were absolutely incredible and added such insight that we never could have encountered on our own.”
FRANCE, SEPTEMBER 2021
Thank you Wendy Perrin for your awesome recommendation of Jennifer and team for our wonderful and memorable trip to Paris and Versaille. The value that Jennifer and team added to our trip is one that we could never have achieved on our own! (and this is a couple who travels extensively and has been to Paris multiple times!)
My husband and I were planning this trip to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We were a little concerned about the covid restrictions that were in place and how it might impact our plans. Jennifer and her team put us at ease. They were very knowledgeable about all the changes taking place in France and kept us up to date on anything that might personally impact our trip. This included arranging for our required vaccination passes that were mandatory for entrance into all public venues. In addition, Jennifer’s team also arranged for our pcr covid tests, performed in the convenience of our hotel room, before our departure back to the states.
Jennifer’s focus to detail was apparent from our first zoom call where she covered all our expectations from hotel accommodations, experiences, restaurant reservations, car services, etc. She followed up our zoom call with multiple suggestions that allowed us to choose some fabulous experiences such as private guide tours at the Louvre and Versaille. The tours were absolutely incredible and added such insight (our guide at the Louvre was an art historian) that we never could have encountered on our own. We received access on some of these tours that is normally not available to the general public. This included after hours tours of Versailles and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet.
In addition, Jennifer arranged all of our dining experiences throughout Paris and Versaille. All of her recommendations were excellent and exactly what we wanted. She also arranged for our special anniversary dinner on the grounds of the Airelles Chateau de Versaille at the amazing Alain Ducasse restaurant. She also arranged for a private room and a very special anniversary dinner that was way beyond spectacular!
In addition, to our excellent car service Jennifer also arranged for our meet and greets upon arrival and departure. This was definitely useful and made the normal hassle of airport travel completely stress free. I cannot emphasize during these new norms of travel how having such an incredible and professional group like Jennifer and her team is invaluable.
Jennifer and team were incredible and their focus on detail was exceptional. In addition to our detailed itinerary prior to our departure, we also received daily detailed reminders of all our scheduled events on our phones. I cannot fully express my gratitude to Wendy Perrin for another amazing recommendation. I left Paris with some incredible memories because of all the hard work Jennifer and her team provided. It was an amazing and stress free experience!!! Thank you for helping to make this trip so very special!! —Lisa Ruane
“Alex escorted us for hikes in the Piatra Craiului Mountains, led a private tour of the magnificent Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest, and even arranged access for us to services in the beautiful Choral Synagogue.”
ROMANIA, SEPTEMBER 2021
Have just returned from our first trip to Romania and wanted to say thank you to Raluca for a warm welcome to her fabulous country! From first contact we knew we were in good hands. A phone call helped Raluca determine what type of adventure we were looking for and from that moment on, everything ran smooth as silk! Recommendations for sights, restaurants and hotels were all spot on.
Our personal guide, Alex escorted us into the countryside for sightseeing, hikes in the Piatra Craiului Mountains, led a private tour of the magnificent Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest, and even arranged access for us to services in the beautiful Choral Synagogue. By the end of our trip, Alex felt like an old and well informed friend!
Raluca kept in touch during our visit via email and phone calls just to make sure all was going well. COVID and seasonal changes threw a few obstacles into our plans, Raluca however was on top of everything and adjustments were made without having to miss anything on our agenda.
I cannot give enough kudos to Raluca and her team and look forward to planning our next trip to Romania! —David Weinkle
“Taking this trip during COVID could have been a challenge, but Dan anticipated all of our needs.”
KENYA-RWANDA, SEPTEMBER 2021
Dan and team planned an amazing trip to Kenya and Rwanda for my husband and me. Their choice of destinations – three very different but equally wonderful Kenya camps plus a great lodge in Kenya – all offered us incredible stays with excellent food and service. The Kenya game drives were amazing as was our up close and personal visit with the silverback gorillas in Rwanda. Taking this trip during COVID could have been a challenge, but Dan anticipated all of our needs and arranged Covid testing as well as guides and transfers, which made our great adventure worry-free. The team knows Africa very well and were able to personalize our trip to meet our specific wants and needs. Well Done! —Mary Stephenson
“Walks in amazing natural beauty in Slovenia and Croatia, wine tasting and a lot of history.”
SLOVENIA-CROATIA-BOSNIA, SEPTEMBER 2021
Our trip to Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina in September 2021 was a long time in the planning stage. Due to Covid 19, it was postponed and in working with Ala we had to pay close attention to the changing requirements.
The trip was very well organized. The drivers and the guides in each country were superb. While planning the trip we indicated that we love history, culture, nature and of course food and wine. Ala found the perfect balance between the two. Walks in amazing natural beauty in Slovenia and Croatia (Truffle searching with dogs, though none were found), wine tasting and a lot of history. What we found probably the best part of the trip was how knowledgeable the guides were. At the end of our almost 3 weeks, we felt that we had a great understanding of the complicated history of the region, which each guide and driver, with their own point of view and personal experiences shared with us.
Ala recommended and reserved great restaurants for us and everyone of them was a “hit”, as was the opera in Ljubljana.
While Ala planned an amazing trip for us, our contact “on the ground” Natasa, was very responsive when I had a few questions.
Throughout the whole trip, special attention was paid to compliance with each country’s Covid regulations. Drivers and guide always wore masks in the car, all were vaccinated, hotels and restaurants all took the necessary steps to minimize our risk of infection.
A great trip all around, with memories (and pictures) for a lifetime. —Sarah Zeitlin
“Our stays in Bath and Painswick were superb — especially dinner outside and the gardens at the Bath Priory.”
ENGLAND, SEPTEMBER 2021
Jonathan and his team were very helpful in suggesting alternatives for our last minute trip to London and the Cotswolds. They suggested hotels that had weathered COVID a bit better than others, and helped us by providing advice on how to get through the testing protocols needed for the trip. We took a day tour outside of London with Will and toured Arundel, Wisley Gardens and Chichester — it was a great day and a highlight of our trip. The suggested Hidden London tour was also very fun. Our stays in Bath and Painswick were superb. —John Ryan
“The whole trip was seamless.”
SPAIN, SEPTEMBER 2021
Normally we book our trips well in advance. Due to the changing restrictions and guidelines, we kept on delaying our trip to Spain which has always been on our bucket list. When Spain restricted the entry to only double vaccinated travelers we felt safe. We contacted Virginia. She was very quick to respond and in a short phone call was able to glean what we wanted out of our trip. Virginia and Clare from her team scrambled to create a great itinerary for my husband and I in just two weeks! We were still reviewing the trip and making changes as we landed in Barcelona. All the changes were taken care of and the whole trip was seamless. We were very impressed with the level of support Virginia’s team provided. I emailed our contact there at bedtime to request a change in time for a guided tour. We received a response from the team to confirm that the changes were made by the time we got up next morning. This was impressive service.
In every city we visited in Spain, we had extraordinary guides who spoke very good English. Before we went to Spain we had read a little about the art and culture of Spain. We are not art experts. We returned home schooled in Spanish art, history and culture. The guides were art experts who were able to explain Dali, Gaudi, Picasso, Murillo, Sorolla, Greco, Diago and Goya to us in layman’s terms. Thomas was a great driver. We learnt a lot from him about life in Spain. In Barcelona, Marta was an art expert and a translator. She explained Gaudi to us. In Madrid we had Belen who was like having a friend show us around. She was very experienced and knowledgeable. She took us to Sorolla’s house for our WOW Moment and next day explained Picasso at the Prado museum. We watched a great Flamenco show in Madrid recommended by Virginia.
Fernando gave a different perspective of Toledo and we learnt a great deal about how three religions lived well together in Spain. Laura in Cordoba explained the evolution of the Cathedral mosque and highlighted the key historical events. Federico brought Alhambra to life.
We finished the tour in Seville but with Virginia’s suggestion, rented a car and spent a few days in spectacular Andalusian countryside seeing the white villages. Ronda was not to be missed.
Overall an extraordinary trip and WOW Moment! — Kirti Shah
“Dealing with all the details while trying to ensure that we were not taking undue risks due to COVID would have been a significant challenge.”
GERMANY, SEPTEMBER 2021
The 14th through the 19th of September, 2021.
While planning a trip to Kenya we found that we would need to change planes in Frankfurt. Sensing an opportunity we decided to turn our connection into a 5 night layover and contacted Gwen to help us make the most of our stay. It turned out to be a good decision. While we might have stumbled across some of the elements that made it into itinerary, dealing with all the details while trying to ensure that we were not taking undue risks due to COVID would have been a significant challenge.
After listening carefully to our interests, Gwen and Lori put together an itinerary that suited us perfectly. They suggested we board a train at the Frankfurt airport and travel immediately to Baden-Baden. Our three night stay there was perfect. Baden-Baden made a terrific base of operations for our explorations. We started that first day with a guided walking tour that acquainted us with the charming city. We then took a full day tour of the Black Forest, which included strolls around lakes and hikes along waterfalls. It also included a private demonstration of a chef putting together a Black Forest cake and a visit to a cuckoo clock atelier. The next day we drove a rented car to Strasbourg. There our guide toured us through the Old Town of that delightful World Heritage Site, ending with a visit to the famed cathedral. We also enjoyed a relaxing private boat tour on the river that took us by the impressive buildings of the European Parliament.
At the end of the day we returned to Brenners Park, our hotel in Baden-Baden. Not only are the accommodations there exceedingly comfortable, and the location an easy walk to the heart of town with its fun dining options, but the staff is the best of any hotel we have visited. We would not hesitate to recommend Brenners Park to anyone staying in Baden-Baden.
The next day was dedicated to the town of Heidelberg, with a focus on Heidelberg Castle, which should be considered a must-see for anyone in the area. We then drove to our hotel in Frankfurt, which was within walking distance of the old part of town. Our last day gave us a chance to explore this largely underappreciated city.
This trip involved some complex logistics. This included arrangements for our COVID PCR tests at Brenners Park. Gwen and Lori had it all under control. With just one small exception, everything went according to plan. The exception was an anomaly which Gwen has already taken steps to insure won’t happen again. We would recommend the services of Gwen and Lori to anyone planning a trip in the area.
“We had a private tour of Neuschwanstein where [we] were the only 3 individuals with the keys to the Disney castle.”
GERMANY, SEPTEMBER 2021
Claudia provided a highly personalized Germany itinerary that exceeded all expectations. It was flawless. We traversed Germany both in geography and local culture from Bavaria in the South to Hamburg in the North. We experienced the highs and lows of Germany’s history from visiting Dachau concentration camp to the revelry of sharing a bier with locals in Munich during Oktober. We had a Porsche Carrera convertible with detailed maps and itinerary to visit many quaint villages, castles and churches as we drove from the Alps through the Black Forest and north along the Rhine River Valley. We had a private tour of Neuschwanstein where along with the guide, were the only 3 individuals with the keys to the Disney castle. We ate five star cuisine. We took a ride to the highest point in Germany at Zugspitze. We slept in castles and strolled a university town. We even spent a day biking with locals in Hamburg. So much to see and do and memories made. Very exquisite. —Wendy Duchene
“She definitely picked out the most can’t miss, authentic and cultural trip for us.”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER 2021
Our trip to Puglia/ Sicily was planned very last minute (2 weeks prior!) with many variables going on. Ali nailed it and went over and above a trip planner. In addition to amazing experiences at a Masseria w/ a cooking lesson & dinner al fresco, Olive oil tasting and dinner at a 600-year-old olive-tree farm, a day on a boat, and private Mt. Etna hiking and winery visit, the list goes on.
She also coordinated all our pick ups as we were coming from 3 different places, all our COVID tests for our return to the US and checking in and coordinating our 2 lost bags on 2 different airlines!
All the guides were the best we’ve had on our travels and she definitely picked out the most can’t miss, authentic and cultural trip for us. I will definitely be working with her again and recommend her to everyone.—Grace Leone
“Each place and every restaurant they recommended made us feel totally safe and secure in these times of pandemic.”
SCOTLAND, SEPTEMBER 2021
Barbra & I just returned from a wonderful trip to Scotland. We can’t thank Jonathan and Nicole enough for creating some fantastic memories for us! They connected us with an expert driver/guide, Robert McElwee, who took us to places we would have never thought of and led us through an exploration of this historic and majestic country. The hotels they chose were perfect, from the grand Scotsman in Edinburgh, to the St. Andrews Rufflets country house, the riverside Inverness boutique hotel, magnificent Inverlochy Castle and the comfort of Kimpton Blythswood Square Glasgow prior to our return. Each place and every restaurant they recommended made us feel totally safe and secure in these times of pandemic, and we had no problems with any of our necessary testing procedures. The pace was tailor made to our preferences and each day was filled with marvelous views and fun and illuminating events. They even arranged great weather for us! Thanks for putting us in touch with this talented crew. —Eugene Hirsh
“I believe Cherri’s connections got us the absolute best [safari] guide.”
ZAMBIA, 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
“It was such a pleasure to experience Venice as I remember it 25 years ago, before the crowds became overwhelming and floating skyscrapers were allowed to anchor in the lagoon.”
ITALY, AUGUST 2021
During our initial phone consultation, Luisa listened carefully to all our preferences and worked quickly to line up airport pickups, our preferred hotel (based on our conversation), guides, and restaurants and made suggestions for things to do during our free time. She was extremely flexible if we decided we wanted to make slight alterations.
My only complaint is that we only had five days – our choice, not theirs! (And they were flexible enough to adjust their minimum of a 10-day trip to accommodate our inability to spend more than five days.)
The hotel, Ca’ Sagredo, was absolutely what we wanted – a former palazzo, on the small side, so I would put it in the boutique category. We had a gorgeous junior suite with 3 huge windows on the Grand Canal and it was an easy walk to most parts of Venice, other than the St. Marks area and the Biennale. We loved exploring Canareggio and Dorsoduro on our own and of course got lost, even with Google maps trying to help us.
The restaurant suggestions were all wonderful and each one had impeccable service and lovely food. The two guides Luisa lined up were both helpful and knowledgeable – and very different. One had grown up on Murano, so knew much about Venice from the perspective of a local; the other was a Brit who has lived in Venice for about two decades. Both provided a wealth of information about art, architecture and history and gave us great insights without overwhelming us with details. It was such a pleasure to experience Venice as I remember it 25 years ago, before the crowds became overwhelming and floating skyscrapers were allowed to anchor in the lagoon. We were thrilled to learn that cruise ships are now permanently barred from anchoring in the lagoon and it is likely to be some time before the big tour groups return and make it impossible to walk across the Rialto Bridge. These moves might just “save Venice”!
I am a very particular person and quite observant of details that turn out to be much less than expected and I have absolutely nothing to complain about during this trip – except not having enough time to do all we wanted, even in five days. Thank you for connecting us with Luisa; I would highly recommend her for your WOW List! —Bo Aldigé
“Ecuador is a beautiful country and the people are friendly, generous and kind.”
ECUADOR AND THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, AUGUST 2021
Our trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos islands was wonderful. We had no problems while there and while Ecuador is well masked for Covid, we were given the choice of wearing a mask or not. We chose not to wear a mask unless we were among other people. Since our family group consisted of 17 people, we had our own travel conveyance and guides who gave us the choice of masking. They and we had all been vaccinated.
Ashton recommended at the onset that while our main interest was the Galapagos, we should consider spending some time in Ecuador. We did that and it was such a good addition to our trip. I would certainly recommend Ashton and his assistant Keri.
Ecuador is a beautiful country and the people are friendly, generous and kind and the staff at Pikaia Lodge on Santa Cruz island was exceptional. —Marvelene Looby
“Traveling is always difficult and much more during the time of Covid. Gwen was invaluable.”
POLAND AND THE NETHERLANDS, AUGUST 2021
Gwen and her team did an excellent job of communicating the planning of my trip to Krakow and Amsterdam. Everything worked like clockwork, from the airport pickups to the multiple specialty guides. The trip to Auschwitz was difficult but very important. The guide’s father had been a captive at the camp and his perspective was excellent. Traveling is always difficult and much more during the time of Covid. Gwen was invaluable. Anyone considering a similar trip must use Gwen. —Edwin Homansky
“Our villa concierge…always responded quickly and his knowledge was invaluable!”
MEXICO, JULY 2021
Julie helped us plan a wonderful week long trip to Cabo with our 3 sons who are in their twenties. She found us a lovely villa with plenty of space, a private pool and an amazing view in the Palmilla subdivision near San Jose del Cabo. Julie and Beth were very easy to reach and patient in answering my questions, and they shared their wealth of information and expertise about activities and restaurants. They booked a driver to take us to our villa from the airport and had a rental car waiting there for us. That made arrival at the San Jose airport much quicker, smoother and less stressful! I recommend that you have a rental car if you are staying at a villa.
Our concierge Hector was at our villa upon arrival, and he spent a lot of time answering our questions. Throughout the week I was able to contact Hector at any time to ask for recommendations or have him book activities for us. He always responded quickly and his knowledge was invaluable! My husband and sons played golf at 3 different courses, and I took a cooking class at Flora Farms which I highly recommend. Hector set up a fishing trip where the boat picked up my husband and sons at the Palmilla beach (just a few minutes from our villa) so we didn’t have to drive to a marina.
Julie and Beth had our COVID tests scheduled a few days before departure and someone came to our villa to quickly administer the tests. Our results arrived by email an hour later. They also arranged for a driver to take us to the airport on departure day and we were able to leave the rental car at the villa for pickup by Avis. My family all agreed that we will return to Cabo and I will definitely use Julie to plan our next trip! —Karen Davis
“With only 97 passengers on this cruise, we experienced no lines and excellent, personal service.”
GREEK ISLANDS CRUISE, JULY 2021
“Our family of five adults finally got to take our trip. It wasn’t the one we originally booked. It wasn’t even the second or third iteration, but the fourth!
Several months before the COVID pandemic hit, Tom helped me book a Windstar cruise. A few months later, we were informed that our cruise was cancelled due to delays in the ship’s construction updates. Would we like to book another cruise? We did. This time to the Norwegian fjords leaving from Edinburgh. That cruise was later cancelled in 2020 due to COVID restrictions. Again, would we like to reschedule? With incentives? We did and planned to sail the same itinerary in 2021. A few months into 2021, because of shutdowns in the UK, we learned our cruise was cancelled. Again. But Greece was open. Would we like to sail the ship the Wind Star in the Greek Isles? Yes! So, although I wouldn’t usually recommend a cruise round trip from Athens in July (the hottest time of the year), we were able to travel and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There were hiccups: our stop in Kusadasi/Ephesus was changed to Syros (gorgeous!) when Turkey shut its border, the breakdown of one of the ships engines made sailing a little slower and prevented our stop in Santorini (Windstar bent over backwards to accommodate stopping in Paros instead and chartering a last-minute ferry to Santorini from there.)
We loved the ship Wind Star. With only 97 passengers on this cruise, we experienced no lines and excellent, personal service. And Tom was patient and adept with all our cancellations and rescheduling. My adult children loved the experience and are already hoping to cruise with Windstar next year.” — Patricia Moody
“My husband wanted to stay on board for another week.”
BAHAMAS CRUISE, JULY 2021
“We were so happy to hear from Tom about Crystal Cruises’ Bahamas itinerary. Like many, we have not taken any vacation since the pandemic, but felt completely safe with the required vaccinations and pre-testing requirements on this trip. We understood from Tom that this was essentially a trip to nowhere, which actually sounded pretty perfect for just getting out of our own living room! So glad that we took advantage of the offer and had a wonderful and relaxing time onboard Crystal Serenity. The restaurants, spa treatments and all onboard amenities were great, and in spite of the “small” ship, we kept wondering where all the other people were! My husband wanted to stay on board for another week, but alas, other obligations prevented it. Tom was available and in contact throughout the trip, and I always felt like there was someone to call in the event of any issue, which happily there were none.” — Lorraine Victor
“This is the summer to visit Croatia without the crowds…..we are so glad we did!”
CROATIA, JULY 2021
We want to thank Ala and Natasa for putting together an amazing 9 days on the Dalmation Coast and a very special WOW Moment!!! After a VERY long and frustrating flight into Split, we were welcomed with big smiles, cool face towels and yummy ginger lemonades at the Maslina in Hvar. This hotel quickly became one of our favorites! The general manager greeted us daily, the entire staff not only knew our names, but would continue conversations with us from the day before. We ate at the restaurant every morning and a few times for dinner. Top notch food and service every time! One of our excursions was supposed to be a half day boat ride and swim around the local islands. As we were speaking to our skipper and learning about the area, we asked if we could extend to a full day and visit Vis and the Blue Caves off of Vis. Within moments, he called Natasa and the new plan was in place. The last minute change was seamless. We later learned that the Blue Caves often get up to 2000 boats a day and sometimes people wait in an hours-long line to have a brief visit inside. We had no reservation, pulled up and hopped in a waiting dingy to enter. Our caves guide allowed us to stay as long as we wanted, as we were the only people around!!! It was unbelievable!
After several amazing days on Hvar, we headed to Split. The Judita Palace hotel could not have been better situated for touring. With the extreme heat going on, we loved being able to pop into the room for a break during our days. Our guide on the first day got into a car accident on her way to meet us….she was not hurt but couldn’t give us the tour. A replacement guide arrived within minutes of our scheduled time and gave us a comprehensive city tour. She was filled with personality.
Split was an excellent juxtaposition from a few days in Hvar. As we headed down to Dubrovnik, we stopped for a detour in Ston. I was a bit skeptical because I don’t eat mussels or oysters but was assured by Ala that the experience is worth the visit even if you don’t eat the local delicacies. Dennis and his daughter greeted us and took us by boat to their tiny island. They had a magnificent set up of an outdoor kitchen and picnic tables. We learned all about oyster farming and the family history in the area. Eric had the best oysters and mussels of his life! Dennis grilled up vegetables with homemade olive oil, bread, grandpa’s wine and cheese. We had big smiles and filled bellies! After the experience with Dennis, our driver knew that Eric loved wine and he took us to his favorite wine maker in the area. This was not a planned stop, but we spontaneously had a wine tasting and tour with the owner. It ended up being our favorite and they were able to ship to the States. We never felt that our driver was in a rush to get us from point A to point B. He genuinely wanted to share the beauty of his country with us and even told us about his days of living in Dubrovnik during the war in the 90’s.
We arrived at The Excelsior in Dubrovnik and were at a loss for words when we stepped out onto our balcony in the room with a breathtaking view of the old city. It doesn’t get better!! Once again, we had an excellent city tour and wonderful meals. On our second-to-last night, we met our driver in the lobby at 7pm for our WOW Moment. We obviously had no idea what we were doing. The private sunset cruise was magical!! We have seen many beautiful sunsets, but this sunset was unbelievable!! You could literally see rays of light coming out of the multicolor sun. The boat went in and out of the barrier island inlets and caves. It was an experience we will never forget.
Yesterday we flew home and were very sad to leave. As we were told by Ala months ago, this is the summer to visit Croatia without the crowds…..we are so glad we did! —Jennifer Mann
“Our trip was flawlessly planned, went off without a hitch, and was beyond memorable!”
ZAMBIA AND BOTSWANA, JUNE 2021
We just returned from an unforgettable trip to Zambia and Botswana in June! Cherri and her team were wonderful to deal with and helped us to plan a trip we had not considered for this year until listening to the WOW Week list of speakers in May. Taking a safari trip was on our bucket list, and we know that one is generally planned months if not years in advance. We left one month after first speaking with Cherri’s team based on what we learned.
Africa is the definition of uncrowded at this time, and, as all activities and dining are outside, it could not be more Covid friendly. We had many camps and experiences almost totally to ourselves…something we know we will never be able to replicate in the future! From helicopter flights to romantic dinners in the wild, our trip was the definition of fabulous! The team listened to what we wanted to do, helped us to coordinate all needed Covid tests both here in Chicago and during the trip, connected us to a wonderful flight coordinator, made sure we had all necessary paperwork, travel insurance and plans that ensured that the trip could be managed in a more challenging time. Travelers now truly must have people to “watch their backs”…our return flights were cancelled by our carrier on the day we were due to leave, and our flight coordinator and Cherri’s team went to work to make sure the problem was solved before we left. The coordination for each leg of our trip was flawlessly planned, went off without a hitch, and our trip was beyond memorable! —Jennifer Olson
“While a few COVID restrictions and closures remained, Tom and the local guides worked around them so all we noticed was the non-existent crowds.”
PERU, MAY-JUNE 2021
I traveled to Peru in June, 2021 with my son and son-in-law. Our original plan was scuttled by COVID and our original outfitter. That’s when I found Tom. Tom’s expertise on the area was immediately clear. With Peru just re-opening from COVID closures, Tom put together an itinerary that let us experience Machu Picchu and the Lares Trek. The agenda was perfectly paced – time to acclimate after arriving in Cusco followed by challenging hikes with stunning scenery. The guides were extremely knowledgeable – we learned so much about Peruvian life, past and present. The support staff attended to every detail – making sure we had appropriate supplies each day, great meals, taking great pictures and more. Our journey included classic Inca sites in Cusco, Sachsayhuaman, Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, a 3-day trek to Lares and finally the Inca Trail and Macchu Picchu. We enjoyed delicious meals in local restaurants and while camping. While a few COVID restrictions and closures remained, Tom and the local guides worked around them so all we noticed was the non-existent crowds – we felt like we had the place to ourselves! Overall, we had a fantastic trip and happily give a 5-star rating. —Steve Dellasega
“Zulya set up a lunch with her parents and family in her hometown of Bukara.”
UZBEKISTAN, MAY-JUNE 2021
I traveled to Uzbekistan w/ Zulya in late May/June of this year. Here are the highlights:
* the country was fully open as was Tajikistan. I had originally planned to also travel to Turkmenistan (this trip was originally planned for last year but COVID made it untenable) but it was still closed due to COVID.
* My itinerary was the same as the original one, minus Turkmenistan. It included a week and a half or so in UZB and 3 days of hiking in the Fann Mountains in TJK.
* The logistics were flawless — was smooth and well though out. My guide, Faikhridden, was also great and was w/ me for the entire trip. I also had two drivers as I covered a lot of territory. However, this was unique as I have typically had multiple guides and drivers — often one in each city that I visit as it is more economical. This was a plus for me — it was great to get to know both Faikhridden and the drivers — they were all kind, helpful, and knowledgeable.
* UZB is fully open, despite COVID. I felt very comfortable throughout as I am vaccinated, although I mostly wore a mask b/c of the testing requirement to return to the U.S.
*I traveled to Tashkent, Nukus (Savitsky Museum), Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and the Tien Shan mountains. The sites were all great and I learned a lot of history about this part of the world that is often overlooked in American schools! In particular, i enjoyed the Savitsky Museum in Nukus. Zulya set up a private tour w/ the Museum exhibition director who is also an art history professor at the local university. She was terrific and spent over 2 hours w/ me. Her explanations of the history in both Russia and Nukus/UZB during the 1920s – 1940s gave me a great perspective on the art. Her descriptions of the artists and their art was also terrific. While it’s not on many itineraries b/c of its remote location and lack of other things to see (although we visited a very interesting cemetery outside of town w/ a beautiful underground mausoleum), people who enjoy art should make the effort!
*Another highlight was Zulya setting up a lunch w/ her parents/family in her hometown of Bukara. It was a real treat to meet her parents as well as many of her siblings and nieces, nephews. The lunch was really tasty and bountiful — they demonstrated how they make plov, the national dish, and also had many other tasty dishes, bread, and homemade fruit juices. After lunch, the children put on a dance show, first the boys and then the girls. I was asked to join them — I am NOT a dancer but gave it a go! Their warm hospitality was much appreciated and I had a wonderful time.
* The ancient cities of Khiva, Bukara, and Samarkand are all wonderful — the architecture is breathtaking, perhaps some of the best preserved Islamic architecture in the world.
* The only disappointment was that the Tajikistan border inexplicably closed a day before I was to travel to TJK!! I don’t think Zulya or her team were able to figure out why (it was only for a short period of dates). So my hiking had to be canceled, a big disappointment. However, Zulya and her team pivoted and were able to organize hiking in the Tian Shan mountains just outside of Tashkent w/in 24 hours, complete w/ a guest house and a local hiking guide. I did 3 hikes and the scenery was great. While I would have preferred to see the Fann Mountains/Seven Lakes, it was great to still be able to do some hiking on such short notice. I appreciated Zulya’s ability to arrange this w/in less than 24 hours’ notice!
*My COVID test was arranged at my hotel 3 days before my departure — very easy and results were provided w/in 24 hours. —Sally Lee
“We LOVED the over-the-top VIP treatment and the bonus of having PRIVATE GAME DRIVES”
ZIMBABWE, BOTSWANA, JOHANNESBURG and UGANDA, MAY-JUNE 2021
“We booked this trip for 2 back in March 2019 for May 2020, and then we all know what happened – Covid! Luckily for us, we booked with Cherri (conception with Cherri and hands on operation with Elizabeth), and it was very smoothly rebooked (and even slightly tweaked with money returned) for May 2021. Honestly, it couldn’t have been easier, and I know this, because I had a couple of pre elements I had booked myself that were not that easy to deal with. Coming from the Tourism Industry, I understand how incredibly terrible this time was for all of Tourism worldwide, and of course, the loss of life and horribleness of Covid. Because of these two opposing themes – Help Tourism and Don’t Contribute To More Covid – we really struggled as May 2021 grew closer… do we go? 1 month out we received our 1st Astrazeneca Shot and prior to our departure, no flights, camps or any details cancelled on us, making us believe that we were doing the right thing. Obviously, we really wanted to go, and we realize how incredibly privileged we were to actually be able to go.
The most challenging part, that Elizabeth expertly figured out for us, was all the Covid testing. We had to get a Covid test in Vancouver 48 hours prior to our flight, then a Covid test at our home that was 48 hours before arriving in Zimbabwe (which we received while in the air), a Covid test in Zimbabwe that would get us into Botswana and a nurse was flown into our camp in Botswana for a covid test to get us into Johannesburg – which lasted us through to our arrival in Uganda, a test in Uganda to get home and our final two tests when we were home.
Prior to our departure, we received a package from Elizabeth – shirts, hats, luggage tags, masks with filters and most importantly a small bound book in a beautiful leather case, that was ALL of our information, including a TIP GUIDE! I cannot stress enough how much I LOVED this….it provided the exact amount to tip for each and every interaction. It allowed me to get the exact amount in denominations of US currency, etc and alleviated so much stress that I usually feel when travelling. We never had to worry about getting more cash or change during the entire 3.5 week trip.
The true mark of how amazing Elizabeth was, is that we had zero issues during our trip and no reason to contact her (other than her checking in that all was great) as all ran according to her plan. Including being met just off the plane by a greeter to smooth our arrival process in Entebbe!
Our itinerary was Victoria Falls – Batonka Lodge, 4 nights / Linkwasha Camp Hwange Zimbabwe, 4 nights / Lagoon Camp Botswana, 3 nights / Kwara Camp Botswana, 3 nights / Johannesburg Fairlawns Hotel, 2 nights / Entebbe Uganda Hotel No 5, 2 nights / Primate Lodge Uganda, 2 nights / Buhoma Lodge Uganda, 2 nights.
We felt safe everywhere. In many places, tourism had been a focus of their vaccination program, but everyone still wore masks (Victoria Falls and Uganda weren’t the best at wearing their masks properly, but they did have them on their faces!) All of the camps were really into hand sanitizing. The Botswana camps even took everyone’s temperatures 2x daily. There really wasn’t a need to social distance as we were often THE ONLY ONES IN CAMP! Linkwasha it was just us for 2 nights, Lagoon for all 3 nights and Kwara for 1 night. In Uganda, there were 2 to 5 rooms in house during our stays. How special and guilty did we feel? Is this how billionaires who do a camp buyout feel? Of course, we LOVED the over-the-top VIP treatment and the bonus of having PRIVATE GAME DRIVES! The guilt came from knowing that the Tourism Industry is so important and so many people’s livelihoods were affected, BUT they all kept telling us how happy they were that we decided to travel and could we please spread the word. The only slight downside, that pains me to admit publicly, and I know makes us sound like unappreciative, privileged A-holes, is that we were slightly over serviced! When does that happen! When you are the only guests!
We LOVED all 3 camps in Zimbabwe and Botswana, each for different reasons, which was great. And overall, our game viewing was OUTSTANDING! Our driver/guide Livingstone at Linkwasha, our guide/tracker Spencer and James at Lagoon and at Kwara our guide/tracker Carter and Luke. They found us everything we asked for and more – we ran with wild dogs and lions, we searched hard and found not one but two cheetahs! We had an amazing walking safari in Hwange. I could go on and on. The photos and videos are beyond amazing, we saw so much. Everyone was so happy we were there, and they were super excited to get back out and find all the game as well.
In Uganda, the big draw was the Gorillas, which we saw at the very end of our trip. Elizabeth had arranged for us to do two days and we can’t thank her enough – just one would never have been satisfying. Our only slight change is that my husband thinks we should have done the gorillas at the beginning of our trip as he was a bit concerned about physical factors (getting a cold, previously injuring ourselves) and I really did not enjoy the 8.5 hour drive from the Primate Lodge to Buhoma Lodge – Uganda roads are terrible. I would suggest if people want to do the Chimp treks (which were very easy and it was super to see the chimps in the wild) that they fly.
At the beginning of our trip, flights and airports were not very busy, and a month later, on our return, you could see the uptick – people are travelling again!” —Judy Calvert
“We enjoyed so many experiences from hiking, zip lining, ATV tour, a private cooking class, a chocolate farm tour and tasting…. “
COSTA RICA, MAY-JUNE 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 didnt 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.
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Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes.