Your feedback about the trip-planning experts on The WOW List is more important now than ever. That’s because the world has restarted, travel-wise, and what matters is not the WOW that these experts delivered overseas pre-pandemic, but the WOW that they’re able to deliver now during Covid. So please, for the sake of your fellow travelers, when you use Wendy’s WOW approach for safe, responsible travel during the pandemic, send us your trip review as soon as you receive Wendy’s post-trip survey.
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“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
“As it turned out, it was the best time to travel as the many places we visited had reduced number of travelers.”
KENYA AND RWANDA, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2021
Katie planned the most perfect trip for my daughter and I. We had originally booked for 2020 and were a bit reluctant to travel this year due to the many Covid tests we had to undertake. As it turned out, it was the best time to travel as the many places we visited had reduced number of travelers. The itinerary Katie made flowed flawlessly, we didn’t have to worry about a single detail once we left the USA. The guides, drivers and hotel/camp employees were some of the best that I have encountered. Hiking to see the mountain gorillas was perhaps the highlight of our trip, although the safaris themselves were epic as well. Two nights at the Giraffe Manor was ideal, we had such great time taking pictures and being close to those magnificent animals. Katie recommended a private visit to the elephant orphanage in Nairobi which added greatly to our adventure. Everything was planned out, from Covid testing at the various destinations to meet and greet at the airports. —Donna Palomino-Shearer
“He invited us to unlock the door to the Sistine Chapel. Quite an experience, to open the doors to so much history and art, and behold it all on our own, with no one else present!”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2021
Our recent trip to Italy–September 28-October 8th–arranged by Eleonora and Andrea and their team, was more fabulous than we could ever have hoped. Through several thoughtful zoom sessions and email exchanges, they acquired a deep understanding of who we were and the activities and places we would be most likely to enjoy, and then created a customized itinerary that fit us beautifully. During our 10 day trip, we squeezed in stays at Lake Orto in northern Italy, Portofino on the Mediterranean coast, Tuscan hill country, and then Rome. The trip was magical in every way: the accommodations they found for us every where we stayed were exquisite, as were the Michelin one- and two-star restaurants where they arranged for us to dine every evening. Understanding our love for the outdoors, photography, and history, they also arranged numerous hikes and bike rides for us with fantastic guides, permitting us to visit so many extraordinary places that we would never have found on our own–from ancient chestnut forests and Roman ruins in the hills surrounding Lake Orto and Lake Mergozzo and an eco-farm high up in the hills of Portofino to a fantastic tour and wine-tasting with the owner at her family vineyard in Barolo.
Two other special trip highlights made possible by Andrea’s team should also be mentioned: One morning, well before dawn, my husband and I accompanied the clavigero (key keeper) of the Vatican on his rounds to unlock and open all of the doors to the Vatican Museums. He invited us to unlock a number of the doors ourselves, including the door to the Sistine Chapel, where I also turned on the lights. Quite an experience, to open the doors to so much history and art, and behold it all on our own, with no one else present!
When told about my wish to get in some long runs during our trip in Italy, as I was preparing for an upcoming marathon, Andrea’s staff also arranged for a marathon-running guide to fetch me at my hotel in Rome early one morning, for a two-hour running tour through the city. And what a fantastic two hours I had, as my guide shared her own personal stories as a child growing up in Rome, as well as never-heard-before histories of the different sites and neighborhoods we jogged through.
All of the guides throughout our trip were fantastic–knowledgeable, personable, flexible, charming, fluent in English, and eager to share stories and engage in conversations that were as much an exchange of ideas as fact-sharing tutelage. We could never have hoped to find such consistently wonderful guides on our own.
The perils and hassles of Covid were also carefully addressed. Andrea’s staff made a point of ensuring that mask-wearing was required in all of the indoor places we visited–and so we felt fully protected at every hotel, restaurant, and museum we visited, and in every private car and alongside every one of our guides that they arranged for us. The staff also helped guide us through Italy’s always-changing requirements regarding vaccination and Covid testing and related documentation and helped arrange for us to get the test we needed the day before our return to the USA. They also helped us obtain travel insurance that would cover Covid-related risks.
Our time in Italy was made infinitely richer as a result of Andrea’s meticulous designing of our itinerary that perfectly addressed our special wishes and needs. I strongly encourage anyone thinking about a trip to Italy to make use of her services too! —Lynn Savarese
“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.
“Matteo put it all together superbly, including visits to two wineries which I would not have thought of. Those visits were a highlight of the trip.”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2021
We took a two-week trip to Sicily with the help of Marcello and Matteo, with Matteo being our primary contact and planner. Although I had a rough idea of the places I wanted to go, Matteo put it all together superbly, including visits to two wineries which I would not have thought of. Those visits were a highlight of the trip as was a sailboat excursion in the Bay of Syracuse with a delightful owner/skipper who provided a delicious meal, including olive oil he makes himself. Matteo gave us an excellent driver, Salvatore, in western SIcily who was with us for a week. He was fluent in English and a great companion. Our other drivers were also excellent but Salvatore was something special. Our guide in Palermo, Enrica, was exactly what we wanted. I had told Matteo I am interested in architecture and art and he gave us a real expert. Without her, we would not have truly understood a lot of what we saw. And finally, Matteo suggested the most wonderful accommodations where we were comfortable and happy. I never would have found them on my own. I would have liked to stay longer in any one of them. We had to cancel this trip twice and are so glad we finally made it and that Matteo made it so special. —Katherine Hoyt
“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.
“We were quite nervous about traveling during the pandemic, but the team took great care of us from the minute we landed in Athens.”
GREECE, SEPTEMBER 2021
My husband and I had a wonderful trip to Greece this fall. We were quite nervous about traveling during the pandemic, but the team took great care of us from the minute we landed in Athens. Our itinerary really was perfect for a first-time trip: Paros, Naxos and Santorini. We had a private tour on each island: sailing, wine tasting and more. The people of Greece are fabulous, and our guides were no exception. We also achieved the perfect balance of sightseeing and downtime. I would absolutely have this team plan another trip for us to Greece … there is so much more to see and experience. —Lynn Herrick
“Iceland and its scenery were magnificent, and I got to experience the best of it all thanks to Chris’s expertise and enthusiasm.”
ICELAND, SEPTEMBER 2021
Chris planned the trip of a lifetime to Iceland for me from September 16-26, 2021.
I contacted him only two weeks before departure, since many other trip plans had fallen through due to Covid. He put together an incredibly detailed itinerary, including reservations at the top hotels and restaurants. He also arranged fascinating extra experiences, such as hiking to an ice cave inside a glacier, bathing in an outdoor thermal pool overlooking a fjord and mountains, and a stay at the spectacular private Retreat at the Blue Lagoon.
Iceland was the perfect Covid destination, since the population is very low density and almost all activities are outside. There also are stringent entry requirements for international travelers. I felt very safe everywhere I visited.
I was traveling alone by car, so safety was a big concern. Chris prepared a comprehensive manual with detailed maps, sightseeing tips, and locations of gas stations and rest stops (very important in Iceland, given the distance between facilities). He also was available by text day and night and checked in every morning to update me on driving conditions and discuss the day’s itinerary.
Iceland and its scenery were magnificent, and I got to experience the best of it all thanks to Chris’s expertise and enthusiasm. —Lyn McHugh
“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
“We loved Sandra’s ‘add-on’ suggestions and would not hesitate to utilize the entire team on another trip.”
FRANCE, SEPTEMBER 2021
We had an amazing trip to the Dordogne in late September. Philip, with his associate Evane, planned a fabulous itinerary that included all of the villages, castles, restaurants and historic sites on our wish list. Evane saved the day for us upon arrival – we had privately arranged an apartment, but it did not live up to expectations. Within an hour, Evane had us booked into a lovely, historical apartment. Prior to departure, Evane stayed in communication with us regarding the Covid travel requirements for France. Once we obtained our Passe Sanitaire, it was completely smooth. Our QR codes were scanned at restaurants and other venues and we had no trouble whatsoever. We were based in Sarlat, and had daily excursions with our private guide / driver, Sandra. I must add that Sandra was an outstanding guide, so personable and incredibly knowledgeable about the area. We loved Sandra’s “add-on” suggestions and would not hesitate to utilize the entire team on another trip. It was a lovely vacation, not crowded at all, and the locals seemed truly pleased to have us back. —Rhonda McCune
“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
“As someone who planned our trips by myself for 30+ years, I know for sure that nothing can compare to having an expert in your corner.”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER 2021
We recently took our second trip with Maria and Brian and we are ready to book a third trip as soon as we can! We originally planned this trip (Matera/Alberobello/Amalfi Coast/Sorrento/Naples) for March 2020, then postponed it twice before finally going last month. Maria was completely patient and flexible about holding our payment until the time we could actually travel. The test and EU locator form required for entry were not very burdensome and obtaining an antigen test before coming home was easy and inexpensive. (Maria told us which Farmacia to use.)
As it turns out, the original itinerary was perfect for this stage of the pandemic: we were outdoors most of the time, at archaeological sites (Herculaneum, Paestum, Pompeii), seeing the Amalfi Coast, exploring cities on foot and dining outdoors. As Maria had described, Italians are very respectful of covid protocols, requiring proof of vaccination to enter museums (and ruins) and masks indoors. We had private guides and drivers who were quick to assure us that they had been vaccinated and then ensure that we were comfortable along the way.
Thanks to Maria’s suggestions, we stayed multiple nights in Matera (which has much more to offer than the sassi) and in Sorrento (which we loved, and after seeing the busy Amalfi Coast towns, we were happy to just visit them rather than stay overnight). Each hotel recommendation was perfectly suited to our taste and were some of our favorite hotels ever. The guides Maria arranged for the 3 visits to ancient ruins were terrific; they did not talk about dates and names, they were able to paint a picture of life in those cities before their destruction. And the guides we had for walking tours in each city were energetic, personable and passionate about their home towns.
The true icing on the cake were the special events arranged for us — a hands-on bakery visit, lunches in local restaurants/wineries, and a spectacular private lunch with a famous chef in Sorrento who took us shopping for produce and fish, then sat and talked to us while one of his chefs prepared our lunch in front of our eyes.
As someone who planned our trips by myself for 30+ years, I know for sure that nothing can compare to having an expert in your corner. We’ve been to Italy a dozen times on our own, but I don’t know that we’ll ever go again without Maria and Brian arranging it for us. —Elaine Patterson
“Jill couldn’t have been nicer and more involved to make sure the trip adjustments were made seamlessly.”
CANADA, SEPTEMBER 2021
First of all, Jill was extremely sweet and kind and a true pleasure to deal with. Jill helped us plan a fantastic trip to Newfoundland for a week, her suggestions for our itinerary to Fogo Island and St. John’s were all terrific. We decided this was the year to stay in Canada given Covid and see something inside our own country that we wouldn’t usually do. While we were in St. John’s hurricane Larry was rapidly approaching and we decided to alter our plans to leave St John’s a day early to try to avoid Larry. This involved quick adjustments by Jill who managed to get us the same room for an additional night at the Fogo Island Inn. Fortunately we made this change as otherwise we would have been stuck in St John’s with power outages and a cancelled ferry. Jill kept checking in with us to make sure we had what we needed and were comfortable with the changes. On our last morning we came down to breakfast a couple hours before needing to catch the ferry to leave Fogo Island and another glitch, the ferry was down due to a broken water pump. Jill was in constant communication with the hotel, who moved us during the day to another room so we could relax and wait for the ferry to be fixed, fed us and made sure we were comfortable while waiting. That night- finally at 9 pm we caught the ferry to Gander and stayed the night to allow us to catch our rescheduled flights the next day. During both of the mishaps Jill couldn’t have been nicer and more involved to make sure the trip adjustments were made seamlessly. We really loved Fogo Island Inn and the people on the island, a true treasure to have this experience which we will never forget. The staff at the Inn were so friendly and authentic, the food was delicious and the room was unique and comfortable. We loved the hikes and our 2 local guides were truly enjoyable to be with while enjoying the stories and history they provided us. Watching the broadway play Come From Away newly released on Apple TV for the 20th anniversary of 9-11 in the Inn’s intimate movie theatre was a special memory for us as well. We hope we will come back to eastern Canada one day soon!
“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
“We were a group of 10 … and everyone was handled exceptionally.”
GREECE, SEPTEMBER 2021
Mina and her team helped plan our exceptional trip to Greece in September 2021. We used Mina’s team to plan the land portion of our time in Greece and they were perfect. A friendly face greeted us as soon as we walked off the plane, and we were at our hotel in no time. Mina chose hotels, arranged a walking tour of the Acropolis in Athens, a hiking trek on Naxos, a fun cooking class/farm tour/lunch on Naxos, and even helped us get Covid tests to return to the US. We were a group of 10 and not everyone had the identical itinerary, but everyone was handled exceptionally. —Kathy Sklar
“The crew of the Selene took care of all of our needs on the boat (great food, wonderful swimming, fun water toys) and off (expert island tours, reservations at perfect restaurants).”
GREEK ISLANDS, SEPTEMBER 2021
Ten friends travelled happily together for 1 week on a 62 catamaran throughout the Aegean/Greek Islands. The trip was coordinated by Mary and Ryan. They helped us select our perfect boat and then coordinated the details with the ship’s crew. The trip was rescheduled a couple of times from its original date and Mary and Ryan handled the logistics.
Theo and the crew of the Selene took care of all of our needs on the boat (great food, wonderful swimming, fun water toys) and off (expert island tours, reservations at perfect restaurants). No request went unanswered. Every moment was a brilliant blue dream.
September 2021 — Kathy Sklar
“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
“It wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good if we had planned it ourselves!”
GREECE, SEPTEMBER 2021
In September 2021 we went to Greece on a trip planned by the excellent Jacoline. We visited Athens, Santorini, Naxos, and Sifnos and everything was wonderful. Greece was very strict about masking indoors and in vehicles, but it was not a problem. And since almost everything we did was outdoors (including dining) the pandemic was really not much of an issue.
All of Jacoline’s suggestions for hotels, activities, and dining were spot on. Great food tour in Athens, wonderful boating days on both Santorini and Sifnos, and a morning with a master potter and his wife on Santorini where we made some wonderful items that will be shipped to us after the firing and glazing are complete. Lots of tiny and authentic mountain villages on Naxos and Sifnos.
And of course Jacoline’s planning was key to this trip; it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good if we had planned it ourselves! — Anne Mirkin
“Even though travel in the age of COVID can be challenging, there are certainly benefits to going at this time.”
KENYA, SEPTEMBER 2021
Going on safari in Kenya, from the 19th to the 30th of September, 2021.
When we started planning our trip to Kenya over two years ago, we knew from our experience with an earlier trip to Botswana that we would benefit from working with an expert knowledgeable about Kenya. We contacted Dan and, after listening carefully to what we wanted, he put together a well thought out itinerary. At this point, he had already proven his value to us. Then COVID struck and his services became even more important. Dan walked us through the preparation of all the additional paperwork necessary to enter Kenya in the middle of the COVID pandemic. The staff at the safari camps Dan had selected for us were fully vaccinated. In addition, they wore masks at all times, even though almost all our activities were outdoors, including our meals. Knowing that we needed a negative PCR test to return to the US, Dan arranged to have COVID testers come directly to our last camp. Taking everything together, we felt perfectly safe throughout our trip.
Dan’s value was proved to us in other ways as well. Included in our original itinerary was a visit to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, where we had adopted an elephant. COVID forced the orphanage to change the hours they were open to the public. As a result our plan to visit after returning from the safari camps was no longer possible. When we learned this less than a week before the start of the trip, Dan was able to rework the itinerary to allow us to instead make the visit upon our initial arrival in Nairobi. This included getting us on the approved visitors list and arranging a car and driver to take us there.
In short, our trip to Kenya was everything we could have hoped. The logistics were carefully planned and everything came off without a hitch. Dan and his team put together an itinerary that perfectly met our expectations. We visited three safari camps, spending 3 nights at each. The three camps were quite different, but each was special in its own way and provided a wonderful experience.
The most beautiful camp was Sarara with its 6 tents. The setting is spectacular and we had the best tent (number 6) from which to enjoy our stay. One unexpected feature of our tent was the elephant path just behind it. On several occasions we just looked through the screen in our bathroom and enjoyed the sight of elephants crashing through the brush, probably on their way to the watering hole visible from the lodge. One particularly pleasant surprise was getting met at the Air Kenya airstrip by Jeremy, the owner, who flew us the rest of the way to the camp in his private plane, thereby avoiding a two hour drive. At the end of our stay, he then flew us directly to our next camp, bypassing the three hour drive that we had expected.
Sirikoi was our overall favorite camp. Sirikoi is a small camp, with just 4 tents and 2 cottages, but it has the best combination of location, game viewing, wonderful dining, and attentive service. Sue, the owner, has done a spectacular job of creating a little bit of heaven on earth. We were quite impressed by the degree to which the camp is self-sufficient. During our ‘Back of the House’ tour we saw how the camp is able to grow most of its own food, build its own furniture, power everything with solar, and even make its own charcoal to be used in the tent fireplaces. The camp’s location in the Lewa Conservancy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is superb. Close in viewing of dozens of both white and black rhinoceroses with their babies was quite special. We could have easily spent a week at Sirikoi.
The Mara Bushtops camp wins the award for best game viewing. Our guide asked us what we wanted to see and we answered: as much as possible. He was happy to comply. During our two full days there we took two game drives in the Masai Mara. The first was 8 ½ hours long, the second was 9 ½ hours. We were reluctant to stop since we kept seeing remarkable things. We started at 5:45 each morning and enjoyed breakfast on the drive, eating at a table set up for us in a particularly scenic location. The last drive was best of our trip. On that one drive, we saw all of the Big Five, plus cheetahs feasting on a kill, as well as the tail end of the Great Migration featuring a large herd of zebras crossing the Mara River into the Serengeti. In addition, we managed to pay a short visit to Tanzania. It was a wonderful way to end our trip.
Mara Bushtops is a luxury camp with all the amenities that implies. During our three night stay we were the only guests in the 12 tent camp and were treated royally. Even though travel in the age of COVID can be challenging, there are certainly benefits to going at this time. Being able to avoid the crowds normally associated with visits during the high season is special. —Stephen Behnen
“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.
“As soon as we stepped foot into the CDG airport, we were greeted by Brice, who whisked us through the airport, including the Customs and Immigration windows, and then directly to our driver.”
FRANCE, SEPTEMBER 2021
My husband and I traveled to France for two weeks in September. Our trip covered the northern section of France – from Paris to the Loire Valley, and up to the northern coast.
My husband and I actually felt relatively safe, concerning the pandemic, during most of our travel throughout France. Their vaccination level is high and knowing that the pass sanitaire was required virtually everywhere (except the metro), allowed for a certain level of comfort. Plus, we tended to avoid exceptionally crowded cafes and restaurants. (We were unaware of how many people smoke at the outdoor cafes.)
Jennifer worked her magic in getting the pass sanitaire to us before leaving for France. We met quite a few American travelers who applied for the pass but did not receive it before traveling. Fortunately, those travelers were able to use their vaccination card in place of the pass.
Jennifer set up a COVID testing appointment, with a qualified nurse, to come to our apartment in Paris, which was quite convenient. We did learn later that one can take a much less expensive USA-approved COVID-19 test at the local pharmacy, but we thought it better to stick to the English-speaking nurse who could take care of the testing and keep us from trying to figure out the process in a pharmacy – in French, no less.
Having our own driver and/or guide was key to keeping us away from traveling with large tour groups. All were vaccinated except one, and she explained that she must test twice per week in order to work as a guide.
I enjoy trip planning but was happy to hand over some of the duties to Jennifer. Her knowledge and expertise provided us with a plethora of tour, restaurant, and hotel choices. Through several Zoom meetings, phone calls, and emails, we discussed our have to-do list and she suggested other possibilities.
The travel guides Jennifer set up were top notch. All personable, knowledgeable, and English speakers. We spent an entire day with Gigliola, a wonderful guide, who escorted us through San Germain chocolate shops and patisseries, the Musee d’Orsay, and Sainte-Chapelle. We also thoroughly enjoyed a day trip to the Champagne region of France. Perrine, our driver and guide, took us to family-owned vineyards. We met the owners, toured their underground Champagne caves, and enjoyed private Champagne tastings. The most memorable experience of our trip was candlelight dinner and tour of Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, followed by a fireworks show – with Alexander as our driver and guide.
I highly recommend the airport VIP meet and greet. As soon as we stepped foot into the CDG airport, we were greeted by Brice, who whisked us through the airport, including the Customs and Immigration windows, and then directly to our driver.
Jennifer is able to plan a trip from start to finish, or provide assistance as needed. We thoroughly enjoyed the tours she provided for our trip to France. —Cindy Kennedy
“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
“We learned firsthand the value and importance of having a well respected and trusted travel agency behind us.”
RWANDA AND KENYA, SEPTEMBER 2021
My husband Kenn and I waited and planned a long time for our African dream trip and had very high expectations. Thanks to Nina, Dan, and their team, the reality exceeded ALL of our expectations. While my comments only add to the long list of their delighted clients, we treasured the amazing itinerary that Nina and Dan put together for us. We visited Rwanda and Kenya, leaving Los Angeles on September 7th and returning home September 22nd. We flew business class on Qatar which is an airline experience every traveler should have at least once in their lifetime. We enjoyed unparalleled service and comfort between two flights and 22 hours of travel plus a layover in Doha, Qatar, understandably selected recently as the number one airport in the world.
Nina did an amazing job re-shuffling all of our dates and plans when Covid forced us to wait a year-plus to begin our African adventure. She managed to fit everything on my bucket list into our new itinerary plus a few incredible add-ons. We loved every camp and lodge that she sent us to– each one unique and wonderful in their own way from the magnificent beauty and luxury of Singita Kwitanda Lodge in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda (the only lodge minutes away from the gorilla trekking), to the intimacy of Sirikoi Lodge in the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya, to Bushtops and Salas Camp in the jaw-dropping expanse of the Masai Mara, Kenn and I realized early on that the best view rooms, guides and services were not coming to us by accident. It was clearly the benefit of being with Nina and all the good will her team has built up over the years. To end our trip with the wonder of the Masai Mara was a magical finale to the trip of a lifetime.
All of Dan’s notes were enormously helpful and understandable, especially during the pandemic when each country’s required Covid testing paperwork and qr code uploads would otherwise have been daunting. The ground teams in Rwanda and Kenya were indispensable. When we went through customs in Rwanda, I made sure to ask for the East Africa Visa, but whether it was the mask or the fact that my customs agent was a trainee, he gave me the visa only for Rwanda which I failed to pick up on. But our ground agent immediately recognized the error and went to great lengths to fix it. What a nightmare that could have been without the necessary added visa to let us enter Kenya!
Giraffe Manor was on my bucket list. Because Giraffe Manor is now familiar due to extensive publicizing, I was afraid it might come off as kitschy and more of a Disneyland experience than something out of Africa. Actually, neither was the case. Delightfully, Giraffe Manor is instead an authentic re-creation of a Scottish hunting lodge with the incredible inclusion of 12 giraffes. Nina made sure we had a “view room” at Giraffe Manor which made all the difference in the morning. We were on the second floor and had the joy of waking up to giraffes at our window. Giraffes don’t like to bend down because it causes them light-headedness, so those people with rooms on the first floor didn’t have this memorable experience. Who knew this giraffe ephemera? Well, Nina did, thankfully for us.
We learned firsthand the value and importance of having a well respected and trusted travel agency behind us. There were, simply, no snaffoos, no problems and only wonderful treatment, lodgings and unforgetable experiences everywhere we visited. Many WOW reviews have already talked in detail about the impeccable quality of the guides, trekkers, drivers, staff at all of the lodges Nina and Dan endorse, and we concur. Truly, there was not one experience or moment we would have traded throughout our entire two week trip. Personal safety was felt at every stop along the way with tremendous care and caution taken at every lodge to ensure nothing was sacrificed in the name of cleanliness and Covid protocols.
How Kenn and I can possibly add to all of the other African WOW reviews might be our reflections and suggestions after returning home: This is not a trip to economize on. We heard from other travelers tremendous differences in their experiences based upon the camps they stayed at. This might seem like a small item, but when you’re on a safari drive for 8-10 hours, you don’t want to be in an overcrowded van with closed windows leaving Nairobi at 4 am with a driver who is not familiar with the Masai Mara the way the local, incredibly knowledgeable guides are. Kenn and I had an open-air Range Rover to ourselves with a Masai trekker and expert guide. We saw every animal on our wish list plus many unexpected surprise viewings.
Also, plan tipping as part of your overall trip budget. We allocated $50-$100 daily which proved accurate for all of the wonderful service people who made our trip so memorable on a daily basis, from the safari guides and trackers– whether on hikes or in vehicles– to the dining staff, the housekeeping team, the daily laundry service, etc. These people could not be more helpful or gracious, and tips are their bread and butter. Now is the time to visit Africa. It is uncrowded, and the tourist industry is only beginning to re-open after over a year of Covid-related cancelations. None of the lodges we stayed at were full, and we experienced none of the traffic jams at any view site throughout our trip. We were also able to see some of the Great Migration without being bumper-to-bumper with competing vehicles.
We also realized that Africa may be a bucket list trip, but it requires a certain level of fitness and the ability to hike in somewhat challenging terrain if one wants to trek with the gorillas or venture into jungle-like settings. This is not the trip for anyone with a bad back or prone to car sickness. The daily drives often begin at 6 am to see the sun rise and can extend an entire day, 8-10 hours of very bumpy driving conditions on muddy roads– I use the word “roads” with an eye roll–up and down riverbanks like a roller coaster and no restrooms or comfort stops, period. There’s simply too much to see, as each drive is a completely different, magical experience. Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the value and importance that one’s travel agency brings to a trip like this. For my husband and I with a very limited knowledge of Africa outside of the few “musts” I had envisioned as part of my first African experience, we placed ourselves completely in the hands of Nina and Dan, in large part because I so trusted Wendy’s WOW List from our initial travel experience with them to Tahiti several years ago. That decision ended up guaranteeing the trip we had. Thank you beyond words for everything that Nina, Dan and their team in the U.S., Rwanda and Kenya did to make our Africa trip a milestone memory that we’ll always cherish. —Bonnie Raskin
“They took care of every detail and made it possible for us to focus on enjoying ourselves without having to worry about any of the logistics of travel.”
EGYPT, SEPTEMBER 2021
•How did this trip differ from one you might have taken before the pandemic?
We’ve not taken a trip so well coordinated and planned as what we did with Jim and his team in Egypt. We felt zero impact from the pandemic during our travel, other than seeing plenty of people wearing masks. We got to do everything we wanted and planned for when we originally booked the trip in 2019.
•Did the trip planner suggest experiences, accommodations, dining options, travel logistics, etc., that felt Covid-appropriate to you?
Jim asked us to “trust” him when he put together our itinerary. We did and were very glad about it. Everything, done to the smallest detail was taken care of by the local staff. The only covid related item was arranging for our pre-departure covid test, which they did and made is very easy.
Did he/she solve particular challenges or destination-related problems?
We had a few minor issues at the airports during the internal air travel portion of the trip. The local agents intervened for us and solved these minor problems quickly and made it easy for us to focus on enjoying our trip
•What did the trip planner do, or not do, to minimize your health risk or financial risk?
We were not worried about health-related issues of our trip. Jim’s team did coordinate our pre-departure required covid test and they answered all of our covid related questions prior to the trip. In regard to the financial issues, again Jim answered all of our questions. We were originally scheduled to take this trip in 2020, but had to cancel just weeks before we were supposed to leave. Jim Berkeley was gracious enough to return our final payment at that time and promised that the cost would not change when we rescheduled for 2021 travel (excepting changes in vendor prices, which did not happen)
•Did the trip planner add value to your trip? If so, how
Jim and his team were absolutely AMAZING! They took care of every detail and made it possible for us to focus on enjoying ourselves without having to worry about any of the logistics of travel. They picked out five star accommodations (with our approval) and planned an excellent itinerary that allowed us to see what we most wanted without being exhausted. It’s impossible to outline everything that they did that added value to our trip. I can’t imagine a better, more enjoyable trip to Egypt than the one coordinated by Jim. Use Jim and his team!
Egypt Sept 19-30, 2021 —David Dubow
“Luckily we were on one of Wendy’s Zoom calls or we would have never thought of going back to one of our favorite countries in Europe without the crowds.”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER 2021
We just returned from a fantastic 3 week trip to Italy that Maria had arranged for us. It was a complicated itinerary going from northern to southern Italy, with many wonderful stops on the way. Maria carefully vetted all the hotels, guides and restaurants that she arranged for us and they were wonderful. I had lived and worked in Italy, so the initial list of places to revisit was quite long. Maria listened to us carefully and slimmed the list down perfectly to fit into 3 weeks. She did an outstanding job and is one of the best WOW Listers we have worked with in our many years in working with Wendy’s recommendations at Condé Nast and now The WOW List. Our only disappointment is that we didn’t go longer! For the last 10 years we have been traveling to other places in the world as we have worked for many years in Europe and wanted to see other parts of the world. Luckily we were on one of Wendy’s Zoom calls in May or we would have never thought of going back to one of our favorite countries in Europe without the crowds.
We were nervous when the Delta variant hit in July and almost postponed, but glad we didn’t! We felt safer on the international flights and in Italy itself than where we live. Most people were compliant with mask wearing and everyone was checked for any indoor venue with either a green pass or other documentation for vaccination. In addition, we felt comfortable that Italy has a high vaccination rate.
We toured with comfortable private cars everywhere and all dinner reservations were made for us. Every driver was on time, personable and spoke English. We just had to get in the car and go. Everything went off without a hitch. The guides were superb, especially Elvira in Florence and Guido in Rome. Cristina Tili, who is Maria’s Operations manager on the ground in Italy, was extremely proactive and a joy to work with. Unfortunately my husband had back problems during the trip and Cristina along with The Palazzo Bontadosi, which was our hotel in Montefalco, helped him tremendously. One of the staff took him to the pharmacy so she could interpret what he needed from the pharmacist in Italian!
The highlights of this wonderful trip included:
~Half day lake tour on Como and exploring the region which is beautiful
~Venice without floating hotels and massive crowds
We toured the grand canal, along with Murano known for its exquisite glass, Burano (lace and colorful houses), and Torcello which has a beautiful cathedral. The Hotel Londra Palace was everything I remembered and so happy Maria booked us into a fabulous room overlooking the canal.
~Florence: We stayed at the Grand Hotel Minerva on the Piazza and it was a great location and the room was divine along with the customer service. We loved the rooftop pool and what a view of the Duomo at night. Elvira, who was one of the best guides we have had anywhere, was a wealth of information, fun and nothing was too much trouble for her. We went to the Academia to see Michelangelo’s David, toured the Uffizi (no lines!) and had a fun time on the Arno River with food and apertivos.
When we thought it couldn’t get any better in our 3 days in Florence we had a Wendy WOW Moment that was over the top!! We saw that Maria listed “a one of a kind experience” in the early evening. Of course, we tried getting hints from Elvira, but she was not sharing anything, until we were almost at our destination and told us that we were meeting the Marchesa Elena Torrigiani at her estate and grounds in the middle of Florence! Her family goes back generations and is considered royalty in Italy. The garden is 17 acres and she personally led us through the gardens and explained all the monuments, trees, etc. The best site on the grounds was a neo gothic tower and walls from the Middle Ages! Elana was so charming and a wonderful host as she told us her interesting family history up to the present. She finally led us to an outside bistro where we had a wonderful dinner. What a way to end the day. Thank you Wendy!
~Umbria was one of our personal favorites and we stayed at the Palazzo Bontadosi on the Piazza in Montefalco. The hotel was beautiful with frescoes and the staff were so kind and helpful. Great home base for visiting the hill towns of Assisi, Spello, Spoleto and Orvieto. I met Cristina which was so nice and we went to Spoleto for a truffle hunt. We had a home cooked meal that was wonderful by the family who runs the agrotouristo.
~we then headed down to southern Italy and really enjoyed Sorrento as a home base (the square is quite lively) and toured the Amalfi coast which is just breathtaking-where we visited a local farm where they make mozzarella cheese. Our favorite spot was the hill town of Ravello and enjoyed all the beautiful ceramics.
~we also visited Paestum which has 3 well preserved Ancient Greek Doric Temples and not to be missed. I found the temples in better shape than Athens.
~ on our way to Rome we went back to Pompei (that was the only site that was very crowded) and I also wanted to revisit Herculaneum which is even better preserved in my opinion and almost no crowds.
We capped our trip off in Rome at the Hotel Artemide which was a lovely contemporary hotel with a rooftop for dining and the food quite good. We loved seeing the sights again in Rome including the Colossum, Pantheon, and my eternal favorite, the Borghese Gallery with some of the best Bernini sculptures.
We loved our trip so much we are thinking of going back to a different area of Italy with Maria and Cristina in spring! I just have to figure out how to lose the 10 pounds I gained from all the good food and wine.
We also wanted to give Cranky Concierge a shoutout who Maria partners with and we have used them for years. —Sandy Collins
“We enjoyed cooking classes, market visits, historic walks and nature hikes.”
PORTUGAL, SEPTEMBER 2021
We had been planning our trip to Portugal now for over a year, as Covid put initially a dent in our plans. Therefore we were highly anticipating this trip. Goncalo was awesome. He picked the perfect places with the perfect guides for us. He picked great hotels with great locations in historic districts. We enjoyed cooking classes, market visits, historic walks and nature hikes. Two things stood out for us. The first one was a visit to Tomar and the Templars Convent of Christ, as we find the history behind it fascinating and the other was Joao, our hiking guide in Algarve who was fantastic both in his knowledge of the environment and his caring attitude. I really cannot say enough good things about our trip. Thanks to Goncalo and his team!
“We found Moroccans generally friendly, enthusiastic, willing to be of great service and places that were open rolled out the red carpet.”
MOROCCO, SEPTEMBER 2021
We just got back from a 2 week trip to Morocco that had originally been planned for June of 2020, but the world had other plans… We were put in contact with Hicham and Radia by Wendy Perrin for that original trip and kept in touch with them as we ultimately moved the trip to Sept. of 2021, thinking surely COVID would be behind us then. We worked primarily with Radia and largely revised our original itinerary but with a few tweaks learned from the interim. Radia from the very start was quick to respond, helpful and upbeat. She understood the kinds of things we wanted to do, that we wanted charming riads not big hotels and that we were willing to be active. I gave her a rough outline of the 5 places/areas of Morocco I was most interested in seeing and that this was to be a family trip with our grown children (ranging in age from 27 to 31). After all this meticulous planning, fast forwarding to the trip itself, it was a great sequence of places starting with landing in Marrakech, heading right to Essaouira on the coast the next morning for 2 nights, followed by a long drive (totally worth it and not to be missed) to the Sahara to a desert camp for a night, back to Marrakech for 3 nights, then to the high Atlas Mts for 2 nights and ultimately to Fes for 2 nights. Essaouira was perhaps our least favorite of the locations but still interesting and the most fascinating experience there was taking us to the docks as the sardine fishermen came in: a scene of mayhem, color, sound, smell, and unbelievable variety of sea creatures and since it had been a good catch, the fisherman were giving away lots of fresh fish to the poor who thronged around with buckets. We had a guide for the whole 2 weeks, Anouar, and a driver, Hafid, who were both terrific. Hafid drove confidently and well through absolutely harrowing roads that had my husband intensely thankful he was not driving, through mountains and city streets and was always waiting when we needed him. Anouar was a crucial part of the trip (both chosen by Radia, although he freelances) and a fount of cultural and historical information about his beloved country and even more beloved Fes (just for the record, everything is better in Fes). He steered us to wonderful quality shops, whether it was jewelry or fresh dates or leather goods and was willing to help haggle in Arabic, when needed. So much of this trip was different than what one might expect of a trip to Morocco in non-COVID times because tourist numbers were still way down. Rather than acting resentful we found Moroccans generally friendly, enthusiastic, willing to be of great service and places that were open (sadly many restaurants we might have wanted were closed, either temporarily for COVID or now permanently) rolled out the red carpet. For example, one of the absolute highlights of the trip was a night in the Sahara at a desert camp. It is a long drive (roughly 12 hours split over two days each way) to get there and our comfortable van with Hafid gave way for the last hour to 4-wheel drive vehicles capable of rough sand roads and ultimately just hard sand. Then we transitioned to riding camels into the dunes (actually dromedaries because only one hump in Morocco) for about 20-30 min but they would have let us ride longer, or not at all if one didn’t want to). Normally set up for about 8-10 full size luxury tents in this Berber camp, we were the only tourists there, and I think the first ones in almost 15 months, but they treated us with such warmth and welcome. Plentiful food, fresh orange juice brought up to the top of the dune where we were watching the sunset, a feast followed by music and singing on traditional drums around a camp fire with unbelievable stars. We got up to ride the camels again to see sunrise over the dunes. Another highlight of the trip was our hotel in the high Atlas Mts (near where some of Game of Thrones was shot) Kasbah Tamadot (owned by Richard Branson). They had gorgeous, extensive grounds with pools, nooks and crannies with appealing seats, lawns with games from grass tennis courts to bocce, ping pong, and showed the movie Casablanca on a big screen on the lawn with headphones that evening if one wanted to see it (was great fun). The physical, mountainous setting was spectacular. We also did a hiking afternoon with a local guide, Rasheed, who couldn’t have been better. One of us wanted a less strenuous experience but still to go, so Anouar accompanied me with Rasheed taking others in the family, and we had two mules for riding at times if desired. Our last stop, Fes, for two nights was wonderful and a good capstone. Anouar knew excellent shops for those of us wishing to purchase ceramics, leather goods, and fresh dates (quite a dizzying array of each available so having someone’s expert guidance for quality and price was invaluable). Fes normally would be clogged with tourists in its narrow alleys but because tourist numbers were down so much, we had much easier path through places. The riads we stayed in at each location of the trip were exactly the level of accommodation we had hoped for and Radia delivered: more like charming smaller boutique hotels with Moroccan history and art all built around beautiful interior courtyards, usually with fruit trees and fountains, with outdoor and/or rooftop dining. Our last evening in Fes was memorable because Anouar invited us to have dinner in his home with his family and had arranged with his wife to make a few of the dishes we had most enjoyed on the trip (e.g. chicken bastilla) and on one other occasion had a friend of his who owned a restaurant which was closed, open up with a private rooftop dinner for us with one of Marrakech’s speciality dishes served. – On one COVID related note as a warning, Radia had very nicely set up rapid Antigen testing at our hotel the day before leaving, required for us to fly back to the US. While they did come do the testing, they did not include our birthdays and passport numbers or stamp each certificate that they were supposed to email to all of us (and only 2 of the 5 of us got their emails), which Anouar ultimately solved. At the airport, the lack of this info on the test result caused consternation as to whether it was acceptable but ultimately Air Maroc let us fly. I don’t fault Radia in the least but if you need COVID testing, make sure the facility includes all that info on the results certificate. – All in all, it was a really terrific trip and I’d urge people not to shy away from visiting Morocco as soon as possible, preferably even before all the hordes of tourists reappear. So much of our experience was in open air that this also helped us feel safe in COVID times. We felt that going through Wendy Perrin who put us in touch with Radia who then hired out guide Anouar and driver, was a really successful way to have customized a trip that was exactly what we wanted and had ultimate flexibility and focus to our needs and wishes, with invaluable local knowledge and experience. Radia checked in with me by phone several times during the trip to make sure all was going as planned. Five stars all around! – Marcia Wood, Portland OR —Marcia Wood
“Jill felt like an angel guiding us along our wonderful 12-day Newfoundland experience.”
CANADA, SEPTEMBER 2021
I would eagerly recommend Jill as a trip planning specialist for anyone traveling to Newfoundland. I am 69 years old and had polio when I was two years old. Due to a very weak left leg and back and the fact that I walk with two walking canes I had concerns traveling to a province in Canada that I knew would be rocky. Jill planned the trip that fit my needs and my wife’s and the couple that traveled with us perfectly. I was able to do some very short walks and found that I handled the trip including driving and in and out of our bed and breakfasts and inns without any trouble. We left Louisiana right as hurricane Ike was passing east of us but with Jill‘s help had all of our needs met. Canada has just been opened and had specific Covid requirements which she made us well aware of. While we were in Newfoundland another hurricane passed between the Avalon Peninsula where she lives and St. John’s. She reassured us and sure enough we were fine since we were further west at Twillingate by the time the hurricane came. Each place we stayed had a wonderful room and the hosts were always waiting for us and knew Jill so well. We felt like VIPs the entire trip. While we were in Ferryland we not only met Jill but shared muffins and the best coffee I had on the whole trip at her house and again felt right at home with all of her family. After a wonderful eco-tour returning to thoroughly in our second night she and her family met us at my request for supper at the local fish restaurant and we literally sang and danced with the owner and three of his daughters all in their 60s who work there. I can honestly say all the people we encountered on our trip were as nice and friendly as I’ve ever met many wonderful trips my wife and I have shared traveling literally around the world. We ended our trip at the Fogo Island which of course was amazing and we loved our 2 1/2 days there. The ferry off the island was broken when we were planned to leave for Gander but they took great care of us and we caught a ferry at night and managed to get to Gander with Jill‘s help and some change in flights on our way to Halifax. Jill was literally in touch with us almost on a daily basis despite hurricanes coming and going and felt like an angel guiding us along our wonderful 12-day Newfoundland experience. I love Newfoundland and I love Jill Curran and her family and all the awesome people and friends we met on our trip. Jill was the icing on the cake of a dream trip that I have hoped to make for over 20 years and now can continue dreaming about the beautiful coves, awesome friendly people, and true spirituality I felt in Newfoundland. I know this has been a very long and rambling review but I could go on and on about each single place we saw on the trip and continue to praise and thank Jill for guiding it.
Sincerely, Dr. J. Brent Prather of Lafayette, Louisiana —Brent Prather
“We joked that for 12 days we did not have to think about anything but the beauty around us. Everyone we came in contact with took care of us to ensure that our trip was flawless.”
KENYA, SEPTEMBER 2021
We recently returned from a magical African Safari Adventure in Kenya with private safari camps, private game drives, and private flights (more on that later). In the spring of 2019, we completed the Get a Personalized Recommendation questionnaire on Wendy Perrin’s website and were connected with Dan. We were scheduled to travel for twelve days in August 2020. Instead, we spent the summer of 2020 at home due to COVID-19. We rescheduled our safari adventure for August 2021.
Dan and his team worked tirelessly to reshuffle the four safari camps in an effort to match the schedule of the only airline that had limited direct flights to/from New York and Nairobi.
Dan walked us through all the COVID-19 requirements to ensure smooth travel. Dan also scheduled our COVID-19 test at the last Safari camp 48 hours before leaving Kenya.
Our magical trip began at the airport in Nairobi and from the moment we landed through our very last day we were in paradise. We joked that for 12 days we did not have to think about anything but the beauty around us. Everyone we came in contact with took care of us to ensure that our trip was flawless.
We were greeted at the Nairobi airport by a local liaison who escorted us through COVID-19 verification, passport control and customs. We were out of the terminal within 15 minutes! A local liaison was waiting for us outside with the driver, Sammy, and after a few minutes of introduction we were on our way to the first safari camp, Emakoko, Nairobi National Park. After one night at Emakoko we flew to Sirikoi Lodge, Lewa Conservancy. We were the only passengers on the flight to Sirikoi. Upon landing at the airstrip, we were greeted by James from the Masai tribe who was our guide and driver for the next three days. At the camp, we were greeted by Caroline and Emily who co-manage the lodge. We were one of three couples at the lodge and we enjoyed first class service. Our luxurious tent was our home for the next three days. Sirikoi has a water hole on its outskirts so we saw animals throughout the day – zebras, buffalos, giraffes, gazelles, impalas, and numerous birds. At sundown, the animals move into the grounds for the night as a safe heaven. We loved getting to know James and the Masai’s traditions. We had a private game-drive and the freedom to go on sunrise or sunset game drives, take a bush walk with a local ranger, and explore the Lewa Conservancy. On one of the sunrise game-drives we were surprised with tables loaded with fresh breakfast and we enjoyed being watched by curious giraffes. After three nights at Sirikoi we flew north, on a private flight, to the Sarara Tree Camp, Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy, at the foothills of the Mathews Range, or Ol Donyo Lenkiyieu.
We were greeted by Resin from the Samburu tribe who was our guide and driver for the next three days. At Sarara, we were greeted by Kim, Philip and Shchandra (sp?). We built our itinerary with Resin and enjoyed sunrise and sunset private game-drives, a visit to the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, a drive to a river bed where we ate breakfast and saw the Samburu men dig wells and sing, and a visit to a Samburu village. On our last day, we were the only guests at the camp and enjoyed getting full attention from the staff. The next day, at a breakfast next to the pool, Kim informed us that were being transported by private plane to our next stop. We enjoyed a low altitude flight so we could see the beautiful landscape and animals.
Upon landing, we were greeted by Alex, our guide, and Dennis, our spotter from the Masai tribe. At Mara Bushtops, we were greeted by Thomas and his staff. The Mara Bushtops is a very luxurious camp. It is situated near a salt lick that attracts zebras, buffalos, giraffes, gazelles, impalas, baboons, and elephants throughout the day. We enjoyed meals with the animals!
We built a unique itinerary with Alex and Dennis. We learned that the best game-drives are early mornings. So, for three days, we woke up before sunrise, and enjoyed private game-drives. Alex and Dennis were extremely knowledgeable about the animals and their behavior, and the Masai Mara landscape. We saw the Big-5, Ugly-5, and everything in between. Alex and Dennis arranged a visit to a Masai village, where we were greeted by Masai men and women singing and dancing, and a family opened their home to us. On the final day of our adventure, we went to the House of Waine, a lovely boutique hotel in the upscale Karen suburb of Nairobi, so we could relax before our flight back to the US. By then, we were exhausted!
The selected safari camps were excellent!!! We were educated and pampered throughout our stay and got to know great people.
This trip exceeded our already high expectations. We never worried about anything. If one flight was slightly delayed, the staff on the ground was informed. We never had to wait for anyone, nor did we worry about being left “alone”. The food was incredible. Never once did we feel hungry because food was always available. Daily, hot coffee and cookies were delivered to our tent! Laundry was washed daily and delivered later in the day like magic! We felt like royalty!
Asante Sana, Dan. —Yehuda Schmidt
“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
“He was able to get us up onto the rooftop of one of the stores for a spectacular view of Venice, despite the fact that others were being turned away at the door.”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER 2021
The actual act of traveling, in other words, transit, itself is made ever so slightly more cumbersome and uncomfortable due to the pandemic. For example, long plane rides, in fact very long travel days, with mask in place, little on plane food and an acute lack of shops and eateries available at airports. Over half of the food places were closed in both JFK and Atlanta, making the other places crowded, with long waits. Of course, you must be vaccinated and schedule your pre-test for Italy. This was easy for us to do in Portland, ME. On our return flight, our trip planner, Jennifer, and her staff made all the necessary arrangements for us to get our COVID test in Venice the day before our flight. That part was very smooth. On the real upside, Venice was relatively uncrowded! To see Venice just as it is opening up again was a rare opportunity. Don’t miss this chance. No cruise ships and no large tour groups. Most of the tourists were Italian, Scandinavian or German! Jennifer and her staff planned an outstanding trip. We felt 100% safe in all ways, but in particular with regards to COVID risk. The trip was special, personal, enlightening and very, very safe. Our local guides, Alvise in Venice and Monica in Verona, were outstanding!!! I cannot say enough about them. They were both vaccinated and chose locations, tour routes and provided additional recommendations that definitely minimized our exposure to large crowds whenever possible, chose restaurants and shops that were genuine, unique and where they knew that the proprietors would be respectful of COVID precautions. Jennifer and her staff, especially Susanna and Mattia, made sure that our transportation was always COVID safe. Again, it all felt very personal without being so exclusive that you missed getting a feel for the actual location. Jennifer found a wonderful apartment for us to rent in Campo San Maurizio. It was sunny, gorgeous, centrally located and supremely comfortable. This was very important to me, as I was traveling with my 77 year old mother. Comfortable beds, good air-conditioning, functional kitchen, great bathrooms. Our local guide, Alvise picked us up at our apartment at the start of each excursion. Jennifer and her staff worked so hard on the entire itinerary, but even if all they had done was find Alvise as our guide, they would already have added enough value to pay for the trip. My mother and I cannot say enough about him. Born and raised on Lido in Venice, he knew it inside and out and demonstrated immense pride in his city and culture. As an Art History major, he knew more about the art and architecture than we could possibly absorb! Most importantly, as a genuinely kind and happy human being, he always kept our welfare in mind and went out of his way, even on his off days, to make sure we were ok and having good experiences. He must have personally known every 5th or 6th Venetian on the street or on the water. Someone was always calling out to him with a few friendly words and a wave. He was able to get us up onto the rooftop of one of the stores for a spectacular view of Venice, despite the fact that others were being turned away at the door. This is just one example. Truly, everyone knew him and clearly liked him. We really felt that as his charges we would learn about and experience the best that Venice has to offer. He is a true treasure. Any of the excursions that get you out on the water, such as the day trip to Murano and Burano – both of which have suffered so much in the pandemic – are memorable. Especially if you are a boat enthusiast, get out there on those gorgeous wood-paneled, leather-seated private water taxis and just soak in the waterways, canals and incredible history and architecture of Venice. There is no better way to “feel” what it means to be a city with such spectacular history that is built on the water, literally. The other experience that is a must do is the trip out to Verona and the Valpolicella that Jennifer and her team planned. Our guide, Monica, in Verona was so knowledgeable that it was like drinking from a fire-hose. We were deeply impressed with the history and beauty of that city. I could go back again in a heartbeat. The two small, family-owned Amarone wineries that we visited were delightful, packed with an almost unbelievable history and the wines! WOW! If a non-drinker, such as myself, is telling you that you must do that day out in the Valpolicella visiting the Tedeschi and Fumarelli wineries, then really, you must do it!! Thank you, Jennifer! Finally, I would say that some of the richness of this experience came out of the fact that we stayed in Venice for a week. We didn’t have to rush through experiences and we could really start to gain an appreciation for life in Venice. We were so proud of ourselves the first time we made it back from San Marco to our apartment without using a map or getting lost and the first time we walked over to the Vaporetto stop or Tragetto stop and hopped on with the others without fumbling or milling around. Take the time to stay. You may see less of Italy, but you will feel Venice at a point in history like no other. Thank you Jennifer, Susanna, Mattie, Alvise and Monica. What a trip! —Kristen MacLeod
“Highlights included the Casablanca mosque, tasting our way through Fez, tagine cooking in Marrakesh, and shopping at the ceramic cooperative and tannery.”
MOROCCO, SEPTEMBER 2021
On September 4-12, 2021 I had the pleasure of traveling to Morocco with three of my closest friends. Hurricane Ida just passed over the East Coast, the Delta variant of the coronavirus was spreading, and unruly passengers was all over the news, so my trip started with some trepidation. All was immediately eliminated with an easy and comfortable flight on Royal Air Maroc and a warm welcome from our guide, Miloud. He took exceptional care of us throughout the entire trip!
We had a wonderful time seeing the sights of cities and towns, including the desert, and sleeping in lovely hotels along the way. The food was delicious everywhere we ate and I really appreciated the complimentary goodies left for me at several of the hotels. Miloud educated me and made me feel immersed in the culture, which is what I was seeking. Highlights included the Casablanca mosque, tasting our way through Fez, tagine cooking in Marrakesh, and shopping at the ceramic cooperative and tannery. Watching the sun rise from the basket of a hot air balloon and riding a dromedary through the desert are tied as my most memorable experiences.
I can’t say enough about the communication before and during our trip. They quickly replied to all of my emails and checked in (twice!) while in Morocco to ensure my satisfaction. The trip I enjoyed via Hicham and Radia exceeded my expectations! —Lisa Lenrow
“I could go on about the museums, the extraordinary meals and the tucked-away shops and small fairs that he took us to.”
FRANCE, SEPTEMBER 2021
We are so glad that we used Philip and his team to help us plan our trip to Provence. They guided us through the COVID requirements, even as the restrictions seemed to change daily. From the moment we arrived in Aix-en-Provence, we knew we were in good hands. Our guide, William Templer, was incredibly knowledgeable and was able to convey the long history of the region in a way that made it come alive. We had told Philip that we were interested in Provence’s Jewish history and William took us to an ancient synagogue that was hundreds of years old with artifacts dating back to the 17th century. We were taken to areas of Marseille that we would not have seen on our own, and we went to small towns that were surrounded by vineyards, lavender and sunflower fields. Gorgeous! We climbed up seaside cliffs that bordered the Mediterranean, amazed by the ruggedness and beauty. And I could go on about the museums, the extraordinary meals and the tucked-away shops and small fairs that he took us to. It all happened seamlessly, but it was evident that time and thought went into planning our days. Once again, The WOW List helped us make the very most of our vacation.
“The special winery experiences and arranged lunches would not have been possible without them.”
PORTUGAL, SEPTEMBER 2021
Goncalo and Joana were very responsive to our trip goals for Portugal. They were happy to make adjustments when we requested a combination of inland and coastal destinations and when we had to reverse our itinerary due to changing flight availability. They were helpful in providing information re COVID-19-related paper work and trends in Portugal. We also appreciated that they secured upgrades to our accommodations as well as securing one driver for the entire trip, at no increased costs. The 2 main guides they provided for our city tours were excellent. We were delighted to receive personal welcome notes and tasty treats upon our arrival at each lodging. We originally explored the services of Goncalo and another trip planner but we decided to go with Goncalo because he was more targeted to our goals and timely in his communications. The special winery experiences and arranged lunches would not have been possible without them. We recommend him and his company with enthusiasm. —Sandy Cohen
“Jonathan and Nicole saved us so much time, energy and money by planning this trip for us, which allowed us to just go and enjoy ourselves.”
IRELAND, SEPTEMBER 2021
Jonathan and Nicole did an absolutely fantastic job curating our trip to Ireland. With our tight budget, we were out of our depth and overambitious with where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do, but Jonathan and Nicole helped focus our attentions. They treated us like royalty throughout the entire process. No inquiry about our trip was too small; no detail overlooked. This gave us an excellent experience in Galway and Dublin that we will cherish forever.
In the months leading up to the trip, Jonathan and Nicole monitored the COVID entry requirements and kept us updated, relieving us of the stress of wondering if there were any changes that would negatively impact our trip. Nicole gave us the necessary information to obtain our COVID tests for reentry into the U.S. at a clinic right around the corner from our hotel.
When we told Jonathan and Nicole that we were fine to take a train from Dublin to Galway, they suggested and arranged for a private driver to meet us at Dublin airport when our flight arrived at 5:05 am and drive us the 2 and a half hours to our hotel in Galway. This made our arrival into Ireland seamless.
We relied on Jonathan and Nicole’s expertise and knowledge of Ireland for experiences, accommodations, dining options and travel logistics. As a result, all of our experiences and dinner reservations went off without a hitch. We would not have thought to go to dinner at any of the restaurants Jonathan and Nicole recommended and we would have missed out on some truly incredible meals and dining experiences.
Our accommodations were wonderful and the staff at those places were very friendly and helpful. When the hotel in Galway overcharged us for our stay, Nicole contacted them immediately and procured a refund of the overpayment. I wasn’t able to accomplish this on my own when checking out of the hotel that morning so having Nicole as our advocate was a real bonus.
When I booked separate activities for us, Nicole happily added the details to our itinerary for me. Nicole arranged a number of private tours for us with local guides, something we wouldn’t have been able to do on our own. The value received by having Irish natives show us their cities was immeasurable. We were better able to interact with the locals and get a non-touristy perspective of Ireland. When I went back to one of the restaurants on our food tour in Galway for dinner, the owner fit me in without a reservation because I had been there earlier with our local guide, Sheena. I think I might have been turned away otherwise.
Jonathan and Nicole saved us so much time, energy and money by planning this trip for us, which allowed us to just go and enjoy ourselves. It was wonderful and comforting to know that all of the details had been capably handled by Jonathan and Nicole. I would highly recommend the private food tour in Galway. Spending that private time with a local was a priceless way to learn about Galway and its people and to have meaningful dialogue about the similarities and differences between U.S. and Irish cultures. It was also a fantastic opportunity to get additional suggestions from a local about places to go and places to avoid as tourist traps.
The next time we go to Ireland, Scotland, England or Wales, we will be contacting this WOW list planner! —Malika Ash Shakur
“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
“We had the whole place to ourselves and spent our last day relaxing by the pool – perfect way to end our trip.”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER 2021
This was our first trip to Calabria, and we had no idea what to expect. Jennifer researched the area and found really great places to visit – lovely villages, unique architecture and experiences with local food and people. We spent one day on a sailboat enjoying the stunning coastline from Tropea to Capo Vaticano, swimming in the beautifully clear water. We visited a bergamot farm and drove to the village of Bova where we took in a panoramic view of the ocean and countryside. We visited gorgeous churches in Tropea and grottoes and caves in Pizzo. Our guide, Tatiana, was very informative and attentive to the types of things we were drawn to, stopping for photos where she thought I’d be interested and pointing out significant monuments.
On our last day, we thought the place we were staying might be too far a drive to the airport (we had a 6:45am flight), I mentioned it to Mara and she found us a perfect B & B, close to the airport but in a beautiful remote area. We had the whole place to ourselves and spent our last day relaxing by the pool – perfect way to end our trip. —Cindy Kelly
“We saw things we’d never have been able to arrange easily on our own.”
ITALY, SEPTEMBER 2021
This is the second trip I’ve taken where I’ve used a trip planner – and I doubt I’ll take another without taking advantage of their expertise if they’re anything like Marcello. He planned out our days (after giving us many options of what type of trip we’d like) – we had direction and saw things we’d never have been able to arrange easily on our own. Tours of ancient cities, quant villages, vineyards, almond farms and Mt Etna. And not just with guides, but with experts – archaeologists & vulcanologists, wonderfully well-versed and entertaining people, we liked being with them and found ourselves learning (in a good way!). We shopped in a farmers market with a guide who brought us back to her beautiful home and we prepared a delicious, traditional meal together. Marcello offered dining and hotel recommendations, supplied directions and suggestions for car rentals and ferry passage – he even found a jeweler who had an unusual pendant I had been searching for (a trinacria).
We had concerns about Covid and the wildfires in Sicily – Marcello researched and addressed them quickly and thoroughly. He also suggested trip insurance to afford us peace of mind (which was worth every penny). We were always able to quickly get in touch if we had questions before, during and even after our trip, and he checked in frequently to make sure we were ok – and because he was in Sicily while we were, he surprised us with a quick meeting while we were out with our guide.
I can heartily recommend Marcello, he’s a great planner if you know a little bit about what you want to see and do, or if you don’t have a clue but would like an incredible, memorable experience.—Cindy Kelly
“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
“The Covid test requirements changed several times when we were planning the trip and he always kept us apprised.”
ICELAND, AUGUST 2021
This August 16-24 trip differed from one we might have taken before the pandemic because we wore masks inside and took a Covid test where we were visiting in France 3 days before our flight to Iceland and took a Covid “home-test” 3 days before our flight home to the US. Chris is very engaging and worked hard and well with me to plan exactly what I wanted for our trip to Iceland. He is very responsive. We were self-driving and participated in private experiences and were supposed to participate in 1 group excursion that we declined when we arrived and saw 14 people packed in a van for a 25-minute ride each way to an ice cave. Only the front seat windows went all the way down, the rear windows only vented. Several people were not wearing masks correctly. We texted Chris and he said that he would refund us and contact the company. The information packet that he prepared for us was on paper (not available by PDF or online portal). It was extensive and detailed – with our itinerary, vouchers, suggested stops, maps, and beautiful photos. He made all our dinner reservations ahead of time. The trip went very smooth and the hotels, meals, spa treatments and planned excursions were clearly laid out with vouchers for each. We texted throughout the trip asking him to add something or make a change. Chris always did it right away. He provided an internet hotspot for our car which turned out to be very useful. We had a wonderful trip. Chris diligently worked out every large (helicopters lost their landing spot at the volcano) and small (changing dinner reservation times) problems or requests. The Covid test requirements changed several times when we were planning the trip and he always kept us apprised. The nature in Iceland is stunning. When you engage Chris to plan your trip…Hike to the hot river! Boat on the Iceberg Lagoon and walk from there to Diamond Beach, where the icebergs float out to sea and roll back in, creating the most beautiful sculpture show on the black-sand beach! Hike to the Volcano! Tour a Geothermal Plant! Explore the black sand beach near Vik! Go down roads that seem to go nowhere and be surprised (if you have 4-wheel drive). —Melanie Nichols
“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
“We received excellent guidance on what we needed to do to follow protocols (entry requirements for Greece, Covid testing for the return to the U.S.) and most of our destinations were not overly crowded.”
GREECE, AUGUST 2021
We just returned from a fabulous 11-night trip to Greece for our family of 4 (2 adults and 2 teens)! Faye put together a wonderful trip from start to finish and Stella was our on-the-ground contact, planning details and connecting with us as needed.
Faye helped us to create a manageable timeline seeing Athens and then traveling to 3 islands. Since we hadn’t visited Greece before, we wanted to see the highlights and historical sites, but also have opportunities for relaxation, enjoying the local culture and interacting with locals.
Although we arrived in Greece during the recent heat wave and unfortunate wildfires, we still felt extremely safe. Each of our transport drivers and tour guides were terrific and very flexible. One became our local driver throughout our time in that location. We had a little hiccup when we realized about 45 minutes into our mythology tour that the day didn’t include a visit to the Acropolis. This was unexpected, but easily managed and corrected as we had a private tour and our guide, with Stella’s help, was easily able to pivot to meet our needs.
After Athens, we spent 3 nights each in Naxos, Paros and Santorini. Each island was different and we selected an excursion in each destination. In Naxos, we had a very unique hiking experience. Set in the middle of the island, we saw historic ruins, visited tiny villages and saw wildlife. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and engaging on a long and hot hike. We selected boat/catamaran trips in both Paros and Santorini and this provided excellent opportunities to see the islands, enjoy the Aegean Sea, enjoy local food and meet people from around the world.
Our accommodations in each stop were outstanding, particularly in Athens, Naxos and Santorini. Faye did a great job of selecting hotels that provided a level of luxury, privacy and service that we were looking for. We appreciated that our hotels felt spacious and safe during Covid times. Breakfast buffets required guests to wear masks and gloves and all servers were masked as well. In addition, we had to show proof of our vaccination status on the rare occasion we ate indoors, which was very comforting.
Overall, this trip was a 10 and our travel agents were exceptionally receptive, available and accommodating. As expected with travel, there were a few bumps along the way (i.e. missing dinner reservations), but Stella was available at any time to help us problem solve. We didn’t know anything about our destination prior to traveling, and one lesson learned in the planning stage is to ask a few more questions about the different hotels and excursions – we did go in a little blind and had a few surprises (i.e. no pool in our Santorini hotel or the distance from the hotel to town/dinners), but none of this negatively impacted our trip or experience.
Our trip was very special and memorable. We received excellent guidance on what we needed to do to follow protocols (entry requirements for Greece, Covid testing for the return to the U.S.) and most of our destinations were not overly crowded. Thank you to Faye and Stella for creating an unforgettable experience for our family. We look forward to our next trip!
“He did not give up when things were changing that were out of his control but still helped us to have a wonderful trip.”
ICELAND, AUGUST 2021
Chris planned a wonderful 6 day itinerary to Iceland August 3-10, 2021. Then Hertz with only a 2 week notice canceled our rental car. This major impacted the first 3 days of our trip when we were going to drive around. Chris was good to get us a hotel in Reykjavik for the part of our trip that was impacted. (We already had a hotel in Reykjavik for the last 3 days of the trip that Chris had booked) I used local day tours to fill those 3 days. It was not an easy task for him to find us a hotel in a good location. Since many of the cars were canceled hotel bookings were at a premium. He did not give up though and found us a wonderful accommodation. He also booked us a transport to the Blue Lagoon for which he had already reserved time for us for our last part of the stay since we no longer had a car. Chris refunded the difference in the trip cost and waived his planning fee due to all the changes. He booked us wonderful dinner reservations and told us where to get the Covid test we needed to re-enter the US. The day trips I booked were based on our original drive around itinerary. They just meant longer days but the scenery was worth the drives. My daughter and I hiked lava fields, took a boat ride among icebergs, stood on black sand beaches, were lowered into an inactive volcano, observed beautiful waterfalls and were pampered at the Blue Lagoon Spa. I highly suggest if you plan to go to the Blue Lagoon splurge extra on the Retreat Spa for a private relaxing experience. We had a private dressing room and could order drinks and food easily. It was not crowded at all. The highlight of our tours was our jeep tour to Landmannalaugar. Every turn of the hike provided breathtaking views. This tour was so worth the long day. Thing to know is if you plan to do the inside the volcano experience it is a little over 2 mile hike to the volcano and again 2 miles back again. It was worth the walk for the experience but might not be as pleasant if it were rainy and cold.
I had booked our flights on United. The day we were to leave I woke up to find our flight had been canceled and rebooked to the next day. I booked us on Icelandair out to Chicago that afternoon. Used points to stay at the airport hotel and then booked us home on United the following morning. My daughter had planned a trip to Cancun leaving two days from our original arrival time so we did not want to risk another delay not being able to get home. Lesson here is in these uncertain travel times where flights are canceled at times (ours was due to crew issues), it is best to not have set plans in case of a cancelation. United was good to refund the unused portion of my ticket for the flight they canceled. Everything worked out with my daughter having a day and a half to get repacked and ready for her trip.
Also be aware testing requirements can change. Ours did to enter Iceland the week we were to leave for Iceland. I was in Colorado at a conference not returning until Sunday night. I had to find a place where I live to do a PCR test on Monday morning to have results before I flew out Tuesday. That was poor planning on my part to not be home to get the test with time for results return since Iceland would not accept a quick antigen test.
In summary, Iceland is beautiful and so unique. Chris knows it well and can help direct you to your interests. He did not give up when things were changing that were out of his control but still helped us to have a wonderful trip. He was a joy to work with. Pre Covid I would go on annual missions trips and the leader would always tell us to be flexible because the itinerary could and probably would change. That is how traveling is now. Pack your patience and your flexibility. For all the changes we had, my daughter and I still think Iceland was one of our best vacation locations. —Sheri Hardin
“Chris means it when he says he’s available 24/7. He told me he sleeps with his phone in his hand, and I believe it.”
ICELAND, AUGUST 2021
We just returned from a fabulous 4-day trip to Iceland coordinated by Chris at the very last minute (due to cancellation of another trip to an area with a major Covid outbreak).
Chris responded to my request immediately, and treated me like a long-time client, even though we had just met.
Even if the trip weren’t last minute, I would have given Chris a five-star rating. He put together the perfect trip for our family (kids ages 21, 19, and 14), combining Iceland must-sees with great adventures. We marveled at the waterfalls, snowmobiled on glaciers, rode ATVs on black-sand beaches, and hiked all over. Every guide/driver he employed was excellent and patient, and our hotel was perfectly located in the center of town. He also arranged all of our Covid testing. How he managed to do everything in the 11th hour is beyond me.
Chris means it when he says he’s available 24/7. He told me he sleeps with his phone in his hand, and I believe it. Any time I texted him, such as when the rest of my family got our Covid results but not my oldest daughter, he responded within minutes. He was always positive and optimistic and just overall the kind of guy I felt I could trust immediately.
I could keep writing about Chris, but I’m probably bordering on gushing. I’ve used lots of WOW experts before and I think Chris is WOW.
Thanks again for recommending him and for all of your travel advice. I’ve been reading you for years and you are always spot on. —Rebecca Wolf
“I particularly liked the daily text reviewing what was on the schedule for the next day and stating important updates such as the need for proof of vaccination in order to eat indoors, go to museums etc., which began in Italy midway through our trip.”
ITALY, AUGUST 2021
Jennifer and her team were great to work with. In the planning stage we worked through several options as to how best to enjoy our 5 1/2 days in Venice & came to an ideal balance between scheduled time and free time.
Throughout the planning one or the other, often both, were touching base; making sure we knew not just what we would be doing but also what we needed to do to meet all requirements of travel as they changed leading up to departure. When we had specific requests they were able to accommodate without difficulty.
After our arrival, I particularly liked the daily text update from a staff member reviewing what was on the schedule for the next day, a contact phone number for any issues and stating any important updates such as the need for proof of vaccination in order to eat indoors, go to museums etc. which began in Italy midway through our trip. Yes, I had my printed copy as well as access to the digital copy of daily activities but getting that text made it so easy. Who wants to carry around the printed page and a text is easier to access by phone than getting into the itinerary!
Our guide for touring Venice and our sommelier guide for Valpolicella wineries were knowledgeable as well as engaging to spend time with–both are native Venetians which provided an ideal lens through which to learn about Veneto. Venice is a magical place and having Alvise take us to the expected as well as unexpected and unknown spots was wonderful. Make sure not to miss the best, and funniest, saleswoman in the world at the linen shop on Burano!
Unrelated to Jennifer–we had purchased the BinaxNOW home test to use prior to our return to the US. Wait times however were over 3 hours whenever we checked within our window for testing which negated any convenience aspect as we weren’t going to sit around and waste time. Luckily Marriott has a system whereby the primary properties in Venice have rotating “testers” who come to their hotels for 2 hours each day and for $65 we could get an antigen test. Felt like BinaxNOW let us down but there was an easy solution that left us able to not miss out on time exploring. Thank you Bonvoy/Marriott for making the process simple and the price reasonable.
My husband and I had a very stress free trip with all planning aspects having been taken care of by Jennifer and Susanna. Thank you again for recommending a great travel agent to help create a memorable trip–especially in these travailing travel times. I do feel that with appropriate destinations and precautions, travel can be done safely and enjoyably. Venice was delightfully uncrowded, by Venice terms! —Kim Prater
“He was on the phone with us for almost 2 hours helping us fill out the multiple online entry forms and followed up with us to make sure we received all of the necessary forms back with the approvals. We would not have wanted to manage this process on our own.”
FRENCH POLYNESIA, JULY-AUGUST 2021
Our end of July anniversary trip to French Polynesia was awesome! We have wanted to take this trip for close to 15 years. While we didn’t necessarily choose the destination solely because of the pandemic, it was a location we felt comfortable with during the pandemic. Kleon offered us key information and great perspectives that helped us pick the St Regis in Bora Bora as we were also considering several other Bora Bora resorts. Kleon was also essential in helping us navigate the Covid 19 requirements for entry. He was on the phone with us for almost 2 hours helping us fill out the multiple online entry forms and followed up with us to make sure we received all of the necessary forms back with the approvals. We would not have wanted to manage this process on our own. The St Regis was phenomenal. It was such a beautiful setting. The villas were spectacular. The food was wonderful. The staff were amazingly attentive and friendly and they were all masked inside and almost always outside too. Kleon helped us pick two off-resort excursions. The first was a great snorkeling trip where we stopped at 4 spots and got to see manta rays, leopard rays and an amazing collection of fish and coral. There were only 2 other couples with us along with the guide. The second one was a whale watching trip that we couldn’t book until after we arrived and the first whales were spotted, as we were there at the very beginning of the season. We ultimately booked a private trip on our last day through the St Regis concierge, as Kleon had advised us to check in with them on our arrival as they would be the first to know if and when the whales were there. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any whales BUT it was a beautiful day, our guides were wonderful and we got to circle the whole island and learn quite a bit of island history and whale knowledge. A few minor disappointments: 1) the second resort pool was closed for renovations; we were disappointed that Kleon’s contacts hadn’t shared that information with him so that our expectations could have been managed ahead and 2) although our villa was truly spectacular as said above and we had the mountain view Kleon recommended, we were not as far along the dock as we would have liked and which was what Kleon requested for us. Overall, it was a phenomenal trip. It is absolutely a place we would love to return to except that there are so so many other places in the world we still want to visit! We will absolutely recommend The St Regis Bora Bora and Kleon to our friends.
“From getting laundry done, shipping items back to the United States, setting up COVID travel testing and giving us Euros out of their own pockets when it proved difficult to change money, there was nothing they wouldn’t do for us.”
IRELAND, JULY-AUGUST 2021
I can’t say enough about Jonathan and his team. After asking him in March to create a golf itinerary to Ireland for my husband and I and another couple, the other couple ultimately decided they wanted to go a different direction. However, when they backed out less than three weeks before we were supposed to leave because of COVID concerns, I sheepishly asked Jonathan if he might be able to pull something together on extremely short notice for just the two of us. What he did exceeded every expectation. He got to work right away and had an exceptional itinerary planned within two days. We played some of the best golf courses in the world along with a full itinerary of sightseeing, private sheep dog and falconry tours and a private tour/tasting at the first new distillery in Dublin in 125 years, Teeling Distillery. Our private driver/guides, Brendan and Noel, were exceptional and were full of interesting information about the good, the bad, and the ugly of Ireland. Brendan and Noel both went above and beyond to make our trip as stress free and relaxing as possible. From getting laundry done, shipping items back to the United States, setting up COVID travel testing and giving us Euros out of their own pockets when it proved difficult to change money, there was nothing they wouldn’t do for us. Brendan even met us on the 18th green at Doonbeg to present us with a gift and take a few pictures on our 16th wedding anniversary. The staff at the hotels told us that there would be no room services provided because of COVID protocols but each day we returned to find our rooms immaculately cleaned and made up. I have no doubt that Jonathan had a hand in this. When we were accidentally double billed at one of the hotels, I contacted Jonathan and he immediately got to work on the problem. I know he felt terrible about the extra charges on our credit card but I wasn’t concerned. We were in good hands and he wasn’t going to let anything take away from our Ireland experience. Thankfully we had no COVID troubles and the testing to return to the United States went off without a hitch but Jonathan gave me peace of mind when he told me that if something were to go wrong, he would make sure we had comfortable accommodations to catch up on Netflix while we quarantined and I have no doubt that he would have. I can’t recommend Jonathan and his team enough. They were thoughtful, considerate and took care of our every need and their attention to detail percolated down through everyone we dealt with on our travels, as well. —Meghan Houtsma
“Without Karen, we would have missed the real Turkey.”
TURKEY, JULY – AUGUST 2021
A few months ago, Wendy Perrin had a special seminar, via Zoom, where she interviewed her travel agents about foreign travel after the Covid-19 vaccinations. During the week-long seminar clients were introduced to agents from across the globe. A handful of countries were allowing foreign travelers inside their borders, others were about to open, and others still were closed, or very difficult to take advantage of their respective cultural offerings. This is how we were introduced to Karen in Turkey.
We found Karen to be at the very top level of the esteemed WOW List. I think Wendy might want to consider adding another tier to her famed WOW List. In a nutshell, the only way to describe the type of service we received from Karen, is that Karen is a hostess to her adopted country. This is the only word that comes close to describing how we were treated by Karen and by her extraordinary staff. We felt like we were spending time with an old friend in her home.
From the initial email questionnaire to a final dinner with Karen, we were catered to in the most professional, timely, and thoughtful manner. I am not speaking of a five star/Four Seasons type of service, which we did receive. I am speaking of a very personalized, yet unobtrusive, excellence; something more on the lines of Downton Abbey. We felt at home in a sea of luxury, yet all the while maintaining a down to earth respectability.
All the Mercedes vehicles had a clear plastic partition separating the driver and guide from our party of two. The vehicles were always spotless and disinfected after every unloading and reloading of passengers. We were given countless individually wrapped sanitizer wipes. Every morning we were given pocket sized sanitizer spray bottles. I loved these sanitizer spray bottles, the sanitizer never left my hands sticky, or with a thick coating of film, as many do. They even smelled fresh like the outdoors, yet the scent was very mild and never heavy. In general, I hate heavy fragrances. Of course, we were always offered bottles of cold still and mineral water. We were also provided with boxes of new face masks for our use. Karen’s staff were all very conscientious of their hands and cleansed them constantly. Moreover, their new fleet provides Wi-Fi, as well as multi-international charging cords. Bottom line, we felt very safeguarded against Covid-19 and never felt at risk.
I can go on and on about how fantastic Karen and her team treated us, but that would take a small book to fully explain. Instead, I will write down a few memories, which might encapsulate our experience in Turkey. It was an extraordinary itinerary.
Originally, we were a party of three, the third wheel was our female cousin, an elementary school teacher. I love knowing that she takes her experiences of foreign travel and explains the cities and sites to her young students during history lessons. Through her, we feel that we are helping, in a tiny way, to expand the minds of these many young people. At least we hope that is the case. This is another reason why Karen is so important, her recommendations help to influence the ideas and understanding of the world and our place in it. As it turned out, sadly, our cousin took a bad fall while we were in Croatia. After an MRI, the sports medicine doctor recommended immediate surgery. We had to send her back home to the USA.
A little background: We were taking her for the summer, a month in Croatia and then a month in Turkey. We would spend the third month without her in Africa to see the gorillas in Rwanda. Now, here is the unexpected thing about Karen. Normally, as is standard, when a person is injured during their holiday the saying is, “That is how the cookie crumbles.” Knowing this, we always purchase travel insurance and Wendy’s recommended Medjet. During this ordeal, Karen was so helpful and considerate, even though the Turkey portion of our trip had not begun. Karen came through unexpectedly, obtaining refunds from some of her vendors (even though our contract with Karen clearly indicated no refunds available after a certain date).
Did I already mention that Karen was always available to meet via Zoom? She even held a last-minute meeting with us on a Sunday morning. We had clarification questions. You must remember, this was at the tail end of Covid vaccinations, and Turkey was just opening for US travelers. Karen put the entire trip together in about a week.
After an initial email questionnaire that we filled out we set a time to meet via Zoom. The meeting took as much time as she needed to understand what kind of trip we wanted, what types of accommodations we prefer, our food allergies, our intellectual interests, our artistic sensibilities, our wishes, our desires for this trip, did we like antique shopping, what about the spice market, the Grand Bazar, music, mosaics, pottery, fabrics, boating, wine tasting, cooking class, baking classes, meeting with a world renown olive oil maker, etc., etc. The Zoom meeting allowed her to get a sense of us. In this way she was able to best match her guides, drivers, dinner escorts (a Turkish speaker is helpful when entering a crowded restaurant) to our unique personalities. Karen discovered exactly what type of guide we wanted: Did we like chatty guides, relaxed guides, guides who knew how to keep their distance, or guides who were more personal, joking, professorial types? Our initial Zoom conference with Karen was amazing: it was more like getting together with friends and sharing our mutual interests with each other. There was a lot of listening going on: We always find great agents are also extraordinary listeners. Never once did we feel rushed during our Zoom meetings. Each one lasted for as long as we had questions.
A bit of insight into Karen. We learned that she had been a top executive of an international clothing company. Among her responsibilities was going to third-world countries and establishing clothing factories from the ground up. Karen oversaw all the factories around the globe. I don’t think she will mind me saying, she came to Turkey for love of her husband, a highly intelligent Turkish man of a long aristocrat lineage and a hugely successful businessman in his own right. After leaving her executive position, Karen brought her immense international business skills and knowhow to the travel industry. Karen single handedly carved out the luxury segment in Turkey. Everyone we met knew her, or of her. I mention a bit of her personal story in the hope that potential clients might have an understanding of the caliber of professionalism they will receive with her and her team. The highest levels of dignitaries and biggest A-list celebrities can rest assured they are in the very best hands with Karen.
We wanted a special “experience,” in the hope that upon our return to the U.S., we would retain a part of Turkey with us forever: Its people, food, culture, history, and its unique sensibilities, or humor. We also wanted to have a lot of FUN. Well, what can we say: Karen delivered all of this and much, much more.
Once we developed an exciting itinerary, Karen provided an extensive outline, which was easy to follow, setting forth the costs of each service and hotel. We rarely find an agent who breaks down each hotel and /or service cost. This made it quite easy to upgrade or downgrade, depending upon costs. It also showed Karen’s negotiated rates with the five-star hotels, which were substantially less than what was shown on the hotel websites. This is another great perk, adding special value through her agency. At our request, Karen even sent a recommended book list of history, travel, fiction, and essays of Turkey.
As promised, there was a surprise around every corner. Thanks to Karen, we were able to experience Turkey on many different levels; from the viewpoints of many different individuals, all experts in their fields. And all with amazing food experiences. And above all: IT WAS FUN.
Our final itinerary did not resemble anything like our initial thoughts about visiting Turkey. Without Karen, we would have missed the real Turkey.
We could go on and on about the sensitivity and enjoyment of our trip. Bottom line: Karen and her amazing team sit on the highest level of recommendation we have ever provided for a Wendy Perrin WOW List agent.
Karen, thank you and your team, so much for the trip of a lifetime. And thank you, Wendy, for putting us together. — Scott Lichtig
“The only activity that did not work out was the one we scheduled without Jennifer. Lesson learned!”
ITALY, JULY – AUGUST 2021
My husband searched The Wall Street Journal for help planning our July/August 2021 Italy trip. An article there sent us to WendyPerrin.com, and Wendy’s team recommended Jennifer in Italy. We communicated our desire to see the art and architecture in three cities: Venice, Florence, and Rome. Jennifer attentively listened and created a plan that made our trip a huge success. She and her assistant Mara made arrangements for five people in our family the first week and seven the second week. They set up transportation and hotels and suggested great sites of which we were not aware. Because of such detail, we were ready with proof of our COVID-19 vaccination. She gave us the place to receive the virus test so we could be readmitted to the U.S.A. Every detail! Fantastic guides met us in each city and oriented us about the history, architecture, and art. We had studied the Renaissance and ancient Roman history, but these guides deepened our knowledge and understanding much, much more than we expected. They also snapped photos of all our family. We particularly enjoyed the craftsmen we visited: In Venice, we saw lace makers and glass blowers. In Florence we watched engravers, leather artisans, and jewelry makers. The only activity that did not work out was the one we scheduled without Jennifer. Lesson learned! From then on, we depended on her to set up all our activities. The pinnacle of the trip was different for each of us, but we all enjoyed every single experience and guide. —Cynthia L. Simmons
“Chris had vetted the companies he hired for our excursions, giving us a sense of safety.”
ICELAND, JULY – AUGUST 2021
Our destinations within Iceland were Snaefellsness Peninsula, Golden Circle, Myrdal and Reykjavik. I chose Iceland due to being a covid safe place to travel being most things you do are outdoors (never high on my list of places to visit) and extremely glad I did. This was one of the our most memorable trips we have taken. Chris planned the perfect trip for our family. Prior to our trip, I spoke with Chris at great lengths letting him know our likes and dislikes when traveling. He kept updating me on all covid related travel advisories and requirements. Chris made sure the guide would take us to be tested for covid prior to our return flight.
After receiving the itinerary I did question some of his choices (a private concert in a church, a whiskey tasting in a cave with a cellist and a food tour of Reykjavik) thinking they would be very touristy. In the end, I am extremely happy Chris was insistent on leaving those experiences in our itinerary. The concert was amazing and the whiskey tasting with a fabulous cellist was fantastic, and we loved our food tour (the two women guides were extremely knowledgeable on the foods of Iceland). We found the tour of the glacier on the zodiac surrounded by seals to be a fantastic experience along with the ATVs on the black beach. Every restaurant recommendation Chris suggested were perfect choices for us, especially Frideheimer Tomato Restaurant. Our hotels were clean, comfortable and well located for the areas we wanted to be in. All the hotels were following covid safety protocols. Masks must be worn in the lobby, hand sanitizers everywhere and rooms were immaculate. Chris had vetted the companies he hired for our excursions, giving us a sense of safety.
When some mishaps occurred (not due to Chris or our guide), Chris was available to us 24/7 and was able to make new arrangements for us at a moment’s notice. When our flight was delayed from the U.S. by a day, Chris was able to rearrange our itinerary so we would not miss anything. Our Cave and Under Volcano Tour was canceled due to the cave not being safe. Chris was able to arrange for a refund and booked a Lava show and horseback riding on the beach (two excellent alternatives). The guide Chris had chosen for us (Fred) was extremely knowledgeable on the history of Iceland, extremely accommodating and very pleasant to be with. The Mercedes van was clean, comfortable, had wifi and always stocked with Icelandic water. In the future, should I return to Iceland, I would not have anyone other than Chris to arrange my trip. —Janet Stein
“We are experienced travelers in our 50s and typically do all the bookings ourselves, but given the specifics of this trip we wanted professional assistance and we sure got it.”
ENGLAND, JULY 2021
We are recently back from a truly wonderful month in the English countryside and am very grateful for the fine work Jonathan and Nicole did on our behalf. My wife and I have travelled to the UK many times before, but given Covid this time we wanted to skip the cities and really focus on the English coasts and countryside. From my first call with Jonathan to Nicole’s excellent and efficient hotel & restaurant bookings, we were very happy. We are experienced travelers in our 50s and typically do all the bookings ourselves, but given the specifics of this trip we wanted professional assistance and we sure got it. Their local knowledge and hotel recommendations were spot on and the trip exceeded our expectations. Thank you very much. —David Gilman
“The whole experience was very well organized, reliable, and safe, and gave me peace of mind to enjoy the trip and be able to relax.”
GREECE, JULY 2021
Thank you Wendy and team for recommending Mina and Faye, who planned our trip to Greece July 10-22. After a year of Covid and the death of my husband, my daughters (22, 20, 12) and I needed a chance to breathe and experience something new. Faye helped us plan two weeks in Greece: a few days in Athens, and then island hopping to Paros, Naxos, and Santorini. We loved both our down time and our planned experiences: Parthenon and food-market tours in Athens, island tour with a very knowledgable wonderful artist on Paros, cooking lesson at a family-owned restaurant/farm on Naxos, and a catamaran sail on Santorini. The whole experience was very well organized, reliable, and safe, and gave me peace of mind to enjoy the trip and be able to relax. You can’t go wrong!
Specific to COVID – we felt safe throughout the trip. Locals were very careful, but also so relieved to have people coming back to the islands. —Cece Hallisey
“We visited a local winery where Jennifer arranged to have the owner invite us to his home for a tasting and lunch. We sampled his wines, his olive oil, limoncello, and one of the best meals ever. We would meet his wife and children and eat tomatoes from his garden.”
SOUTHERN ITALY, JULY 2021
Jennifer did a great job developing an itinerary, helping us react with flexibility in-country, and putting us in the hands of great people on the ground. We felt very safe in Italy. Our trip had a very rocky start, as it was a stormy night at Newark Airport. Our flight was over 8hrs delayed, forcing us to miss our connection and then take the last flight out of Frankfort, arriving in Naples at 11pm and transferring 3hrs+ to Ostuni, arriving at 3am. (More on how fabulous our driver Luca was later). Italy required masks indoors, and most places were requiring social distancing and had timed entrances.
Ostuni was lovely. We stayed at the Paragon 700, a boutique hotel in a historic mansion. The staff and service were top-notch. They serve a la carte breakfast each morning starting about 7:30ish. The room was large, the bed comfortable, but there is no television. I think had we known we would have asked for a different hotel. (We like to have access to the news and would have enjoyed seeing the Olympics in the evenings when we were home). However, all our hotel choices were based on being able to cancel without penalty, so they probably aren’t what Jennifer would have suggested normally. Ostuni is very walkable and has a lively aperitivo scene. We visited the Pianelle Masseria and had a magnificent time learning and participating in making mozzarella, stracciatella, and burrata. We were then treated to an incredible tasting. We were so full we canceled our dinner plans. The next day we met our guide and visited Lecce and had a private tour with a local docent of the Jewish history museum and area. Our guide then took us around Lecce and Otranto. Angela was so knowledgeable about history, culture, and was able to impart what was most special and unique about each town. We were her first tour since the shutdown and everyone—no matter where we went—was thrilled and said they were so happy to see Americans.
The next day, we would be leaving Ostuni for Matera. We learned about the bacteria that is killing the olive trees of Puglia. It is sad to see field after field of dead trees as the Italians fight to save this ancient industry. We would stop in Locorondtondo and Alberobello. The first town was voted as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. The residents compete to have the most gorgeous flowers. Our guide had relationships with people in both cities, allowing us entrance into homes to see what a traditional Trulli looked like when people lived there in the past.
We arrived to Matera at the Sextanto Le Grotte Della Civita. This is a hotel and UNSECO site. The hotel has somewhat modernized caves. While we previewed the rooms before agreeing to stay here, we hadn’t grasped the amenities. It is truly an experience. The caves are a bit dark and warm (we should have known), no television (we should have known), and no door to the bathroom. If ever there was something I could classify as “luxury rustic,” this would be it. One of the most comfortable beds and the breakfast was amazing. An elaborate buffet that the staff served to keep things safe. They could not have been more helpful, kind, and accommodating. They brought us an extra light and fan. It is air-conditioned but the controls are in the office. Our biggest issue was the bathroom mirror was practically unusable. It was antiqued, hung low, and quite small which made it hard for getting ready to go out, shaving, etc. I would still suggest everyone stay here one night. Matera is magical. Antonio took us on a tour that was fascinating and had the perfect mix of history, culture, art, and food. We had two fantastic dinners. The first at Le Baccanti in a cave and the second at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Vitantonio Lombardo Ristorante. Chef Lombardo signed a menu for us and came out to greet us as we left.
The next morning Luca picked up us and all our luggage and drove us via Sorrento to Positano. Jennifer was able to re-adjust our itinerary so that we could learn about the ancient craft of wood inlay (Intarsia) and visit one of the oldest crafters of this art form. After this brief visit to Sorrento, Luca suggested a lovely restaurant overlooking the water in Positano, and then we went to our hotel, The Eden Roc. Our room at the Eden Roc was large, air-conditioned, and had a television. We were on the second floor and had a bit of street noise but all in all was fine. The breakfast is a la carte and comes with a dose of Tony. Tony is amazing and makes you feel so welcome. This hotel was conveniently located by the stairs that took you down and across the street to the main path to the beach area of Positano. Positano was beautiful and we were happy to have a day to ourselves. We had privately scheduled a sunset boat tour with Junior Grassi Boats. We had a great time seeing Positano from the water. Positano was the busiest place we were and saw crowds everywhere. As expected it is expensive and full of young beautiful people. It was also quite hot and humid. Jennifer helped us get reservations at La Sponda. We had requested indoors assuming it would be air-conditioned, it is not. If you are sensitive to heat, you might want to ask specifically. We would recommend people not miss the museum, Mar Positano,that shows the ruins of a Roman Villa in the crypt of the nearby church. It is a docent-led tour and truly fascinating.
After two nights it was off to Naples. We would visit the Herculaneum and Pompeii, mixed with free time in Naples. Once again Luca would be our driver. Our guide in the Archeological Parks was Augustino. He was so knowledgeable and was able to transport us back in time and give us the context to better understand what occurred. He was an accomplished scholar of history, archeology, and more. He made sure we didn’t wait too long in lines to get in. Pompeii was a bit busy and we focused on the highlights, There were places we had hoped we would see and didn’t, but there were traffic plans in place and closures of areas so we understood. We were able to visit the museum at the Herculaneum and had the site largely to ourselves. We visited a local winery, Casa Setaro, where Jennifer arranged to have the owner invite us to his home for a tasting and lunch. This would have to be a highlight. We sampled four of his wines, his olive oil, limoncello, and one of the best meals ever. We would meet his wife and children and eat tomatoes from his garden. Luckily we were able to ship some wine home.
Back in Naples, we decided to tackle it on our own without a guide and visit the wealth of museums and historic sites. We were sure to purchase timed tickets for the most important sites, Sansevero Chapel, Archeology Museum, Capodimonte Museum, and Tour of the Catacombs. Naples is not known as the safest of cities so it was great to have a driver. Luca added stops at other sites, allowing us to get out and look around. He also took us to a historic pizza place for authentic Neapolitan pizza. We stayed at the Romeo Hotel, which is a 5-star hotel near the port. Truthfully it is not our style of hotel and we only agreed to stay there when the Grand-Parker closed during the days we were there. We had a sea-view room which really from our low floor was a building. The hotel seemed to have very few people so we had hoped for a possible upgrade. Room-service food was par at best. The room was very streamlined, not much space for unpacking and having your things accessible. Very high concept that sacrificed utility. Breakfast was upstairs and had a gorgeous view. There was no menu and it was very unclear. They brought you a basket of pastries, juice, coffee, a bowl of fruit, and then we figured out you could ask for eggs but they never offered or explained what they could get you or offered a menu to scan. We found COVID protocols across our hotels very different, which leads me to believe that most of the “restrictions” were cost-cutting measures and less about safety in most cases. I however honor the fact that everyone is just trying to do their best given the circumstances.
All in all it was a wonderful trip. The itinerary and time at each place was perfect. The guides and drivers were phenomenal. We had a great mix of experiences. Southern Italy is a truly beautiful group of regions each that could have been a vacation in itself. —JoEllen Shelden
“We really felt like we were in Italy at a special time and Jennifer’s choices helped us take advantage of all it has to offer.”
ITALY, JULY 2021
We felt completely comfortable on this trip. The apartment-style accommodations had a double benefit that they felt more COVID-friendly and also really made us feel like we were living in the city where we were staying.
In addition, as others have noted, this is a truly special time to be in Rome and Venice. It was my first time and I am afraid I have been ruined for the future. The crowds just weren’t a factor at any time. We felt like we always had the space to move around freely, visit any location and were comfortable with the mask wearing when we and others were indoors.
– The guides, Roberto and Alvise, really were wonderful. They obviously both love their cities and their work and they made the time with them quite educational and fun. Alvise was particularly engaging. His personality is perfectly suited to being a guide and he loves showing off his hometown of Venice. We learned so much during our orientation tour and got great dinner reservations as well at lOsteria di Santa Marina.
– The Danza tickets were amazing!!! Jennifer didn’t tell us they were front row!! Thanks so much to her for coming through on that request. Choreographer Wayne MacGregor was actually sitting right behind my son in the audience too. We really enjoyed the show and the talk afterwards. We also loved the Architecture exhibit at the Arsenale (didn’t have time for the Giardini unfortunately).
– The various accommodations worked out very well for us. In Rome, the Martius private suites were very well situated and quite comfortable. In Bologna, we were close to Oriana’s (chef for cooking class) apartment and just down the street from her optometrist shop and of course a quick walk to the downtown area. We enjoyed doing a little bit of shopping and cooking while we were there. In fact we took some of the groceries with us to use in Venice. The Venice apartment was beautiful and very comfortable and a nice bit away from the hubbub of the central part of Venice. I would definitely stay there again. And then the Villa Serbelloni’s history and beautiful views made it special as well.
– Oriana, our chef for the cooking class, took us for a delightful tour of the outdoor markets and then welcomed us into her home for a relaxed, fun and educational afternoon of pasta making.
Thanks again for your assistance. We really felt like we were in Italy at a special time and Jennifer’s choices helped us take advantage of all it has to offer. —Susan Bailey
“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
“They notified us on the morning of a tour that something we had wanted to see had just opened to the public–and with our approval, they immediately secured tickets for us.”
ITALY, JULY 2021
Jennifer and her associates furnished us with the best imaginable service in Italy, from scheduling private tours for us, to understanding who we are and finding guides who matched and built on our interests. Above all, given the unpredictability that the pandemic continues to wreak on openings and closings of monuments and museums, Jennifer and associates were able to “turn on a dime” and give us alternative tours and tickets if something was closed, and they notified us on the morning of a tour that something we had wanted to see had just opened to the public–and with our approval, they immediately secured tickets and tours for us.
She/they did this without causing us one iota of stress or worry. We were in the hands of professionals who wanted to give us the best experience possible. We did not take advantage of a number of lovely services that Jennifer provides, including chauffer and reservation services, but we look forward to doing so on our next visit to Europe. —Amy Nadel
“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
“Karen listened to my ideas and translated them perfectly into a special trip for my 18-year-old and me.”
TURKEY, JULY 2021
My daughter and I traveled to Turkey on July 5- July 14th. We visited Istanbul for 4 days and then flew to Izmir and spent 2 nights in Alacati and 2 nights in Sirince. We worked with Karen. Everything was very smooth and we felt really very taken care of from the minute we stepped off of the plane. Karen listened to my ideas for what I wanted from the trip and translated them perfectly into a special trip for my 18-year-old and me. Our guides were top notch and both of us liked them very much. I would strongly recommend Karen to anyone thinking of heading to Turkey and why not go while most people are not traveling there at this time. — Andrea Huber
“I can’t imagine not using a planner for our trip. We would have floundered.”
ICELAND, JULY 2021
Chris planned a wonderful 2 week stay in Iceland for us. We wanted longer stays in fewer places – which proved a challenge – but Chris came up with a great itinerary that fit our wants and needs. We kayaked in a glacier lagoon, went on ATVs on black beaches and had some amazing hikes with really beautiful weather. Chris sent a package with day-to-day itineraries for us that had lots of ideas for stops and sites to see. He also planned really great restaurants for us in Reykjavik that we loved. Chris took lots of time to plan just want we wanted and our first trip to Iceland was perfect. We had an easy covid test before we left – we were in and out in 20 minutes. I can’t imagine not using a planner like Chris for our trip. We would have floundered. I can’t recommend him highly enough. —Jennifer Andrews
“We hiked to ancient monasteries, floated down rivers…and ate the most delicious Greek food.”
GREECE, JULY 2021
Jacoline put together a magical trip for us in mid-July. We had been to “beachy” Greece and wanted to experience something different and go somewhere that was not crowded with tourists as countries opened back up for travel. Jacoline recommended the mountainous region of northern Greece, Zagori. The Pindos Mountains are absolutely stunning, and there is a lot to do. We hiked to ancient monasteries, floated down rivers, hiked to the Beloi viewpoint where we admired an incredible view of the Vikos gorge, met wonderful people, and ate the most delicious Greek food. We visited many different villages and stayed in 3: Kastraki, Ano Pedina, and Aristi. Our hotels and tour guides were a cut above—Jacoline really knows her stuff! One thing I really appreciated was a small binder of our itinerary day-by-day. It fit into my purse/backpack easily and came in handy many times.
I think what makes Jacoline stand out is that she really listened to what we wanted and made it all happen, right down to me having a private guided tour of a winery (Metsovo) and its vineyards with the owner, and my husband being able to cycle in a remote region (near Verdeto) with an expert guide. Jacoline knew we were interested in history, so she arranged for a very special guide who was able to teach us so much about the history of Greece and the region which was awesome—like taking a class on Greece.
It is very rare for me to say this but I can’t wait to go back and explore other villages and meet more exceptional people. And of course, Jacoline will be my first call! —Jenn Tabb
“Our trip to Paris was such a welcome return to pre-pandemic life.”
FRANCE, JULY 2021
Our trip to Paris was such a welcome return to pre-pandemic life. We worked with Jennifer and her team to arrange a private half day tour of Versailles and a private tour of the Kings stables and Equestrian center. Both were fantastic. The stables tour was absolutely a once in a lifetime treat. I wasn’t even aware of the riding academy and am so grateful to Jennifer for suggesting it when I inquired about a private guide for Versailles. I have already recommended that part of our experience to all of our Francophile friends. After the stables we went to the palace where we were delighted to to be among the few who were out enjoying a beautiful day. It was so wonderful to tour the palace without the usual massive crowds. Having such a knowledgeable guide added so much to our enjoyment of that exquisite building. Gigliola’s style felt like being with a really good friend who just happens to know the answer all your questions about the art, the rooms, the history and the courts of the many kings.
Thank you again for another WOW trip.—Sue Hilton
“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
“Chris has lots of contacts with native Icelanders with whom he arranged many special and unique excursions. That was a recurring high point of our trip.”
ICELAND, JUNE-JULY 2021
When we told people we were going to Iceland for 19 days, the most common response was: “Won’t you get bored? What is there to do? We went for four days and that was plenty. Why would I ever go back?” Having returned from our trip, we have some answers. There are lots of things to do and learn about. In fact, there is so much that we could have used another couple of days. There are excursions: ice caving, ATVs, horseback riding, thermal bathing, hiking, caving in a lava tube, flight-seeing (fixed wing and helicopter), volcanoes (both dormant and active), reindeer safari, Super Jeep tours, etc. There is wildlife: birds, reindeer and whales. There are good museums: National Museum of Iceland, Herring Era Museum (Siglufjördur), Whale Museum (Husavik), Sigurgeirs Bird Museum (Myvatn), West Fjord Heritage Museum (Isafjördur) and Volcano Museum (Westman Islands) among others. There are a few truly excellent restaurants including a destination restaurant: Tjöruhúsið in Isafjördur, the best fish restaurant I’ve ever visited and, unfortunately, one of the least accessible. There are islands nearby: Westman Islands, Faroe Islands and Grimsey where you can go snorkeling with puffins. We did all of the above, except the Faroe Islands, which were closed, and Grimsey Island. There are only a few first class places to stay, but the number is growing. For hotels and restaurants, you need someone who knows the territory. Finally, the Icelandic people are wonderful. The only problem is it can be hard during high tourist season to get past the tens of thousands of imported workers to meet the locals.
But all these attractions are only available if you have someone knowledgeable enough to sort through your desires and put something together that matches your interests–someone like Chris. Our trip had a few issues but overall, we had a great trip.
When Iceland announced in late spring 2021 it would begin to admit vaccinated Americans I decided my husband and I would break our pandemic travel famine by going to Iceland. We entered the pandemic March 17, 2020, upon return from a four-week Australia trip planned by Stuart Rigg. It was apt to end our famine by using another of Wendy’s experts to plan a trip to the safest place we could find: Iceland. She directed us to Chris, whom she was testing for inclusion in her WOW List. He designed a wonderful and unusual trip. He used his knowledge and unique connections to add special opportunities. He stayed in close touch and solved numerous problems (a few big ones like rental car problems and some smaller ones) along the way. Like many service providers reopening after long closures, a few things slipped through the cracks.
Chris has unbounded enthusiasm for Iceland and now that we’ve been there we understand why. It is a country with incredible adventure-travel options and spectacular scenery. His choice of excursions was excellent; his chosen guides superb. We had great excursions, wonderful guides, “best available” accommodations and good restaurant recommendations, which Chris booked in advance. Iceland is an undervalued destination most travelers see in only a short time. For those for whom a quick tour of Iceland would suffice, Chris’s skills and contacts would be wasted; any tour company can handle those. Wendy’s experts have extensive contacts and can whip up the out-of-the-ordinary trips. On that score, Chris fills the bill. He arranged ice caving, a reindeer safari, horseback riding, ATVs on a black sand beach, birding with the head of Iceland’s only bird observatory, whale watching, mountain thermal river bathing and more. Because Iceland’s tourist industry serves vast hordes relative to its population (360,000 vs. six times as many tourists — over 2.3 million in 2017), it has to import workers. Most visitors don’t meet Icelanders in hotels, restaurants and tourist sites, which severely limits cultural exchange. Chris, however, has lots of contacts with native Icelanders with whom he arranged many special and unique excursions. That was a recurring high point of our trip. We got great pleasure from our interactions with locals. Icelanders are knowledgeable, warm and friendly.
Chris too is personable and very friendly. He worked very hard to get us the trip we wanted. He had lots of great suggestions about things we might want to do and how to work them into our schedule. He listened to what we had to say. Given the time we planned this trip relative to reopening of Iceland’s tourist industry, Chris overcame a lot of slow responses from Iceland. There was much not known about how reopening would be implemented and things were changing rapidly. Chris is also superb at problem solving on the fly—and we had several problems with which we needed help (mostly pertaining to wind damage to our rental car). Regardless of time of day (or time zone), he was always available when needed. He also knows and picks not only the best hotels but reserved for us the best rooms in those hotels. Iceland is not noted for its fine hotels, but he picked several that were memorable. These included Skalakot Manor on the south coast, noted for its stables and its chef, and Siglo Hotel in Siglufjördur, which would be memorable anywhere.
Chris knows and picked the right restaurants (reservations ahead of time are essential). In Iceland, if you don’t have a reservation, you might not get food especially where demand is high and choice scarce. Our most memorable dinner was at Tjöruhúsið in Ísafjörður. We were seated with two Icelandic couples and had a great evening of both conversation and food. This dinner is pretty much fish and I, who am not a fish eater, loved it (and even ate some fish). Chris used his insider connections to move our reservation at Tjöruhúsið back one night when we had to change our plans. This place is completely booked up way in advance. I don’t know how he did it. He also had good suggestions for lunch places.
He provided incredibly extensive material to help us find our way and anticipate things we might want to see or do. We really valued the daily pages during the trip though two-sided printing would have made it less bulky to deal with.
As we traveled just as Iceland was reopening, it’s not surprising Chris seemed to be gearing up working alone. That led to a few problems. Presumably he has gotten past these “restart” issues.
Chris designed us a wonderful trip that we value even more in retrospect as Iceland’s Covid status deteriorated from Level 1 when we were there to Level 4 after our return. We understand it is recovering from its summer wave and is Level 3 as I write this. Just as we look back with great fondness on our Feb/March 2020 Australia trip as our last semblance of pre-pandemic normality, so, too, we look back on our June 17-July 6, 2021, Iceland trip as a marvelous vacation from unhappy pandemic life. We very much treasure our time in Iceland. We really like Chris and recommend him to others who are looking for a not-just-the-usual-itinerary for Iceland. —Jan Heininger
“For one property, we could not decide the rooms we wanted to book from the online photos. Ala actually had the manager Facetime a video of the rooms for us, so we could select.”
CROATIA, JUNE – JULY 2021
We found Ala by listening to Wendy’s WOW Week webinar, indicating the countries open to US visitors, indicating the countries open to U.S. visitors. We had never thought of going to Croatia before, but Wendy indicated “now” would be a great time to visit, especially without the usual Summer European crowds. We contacted Ala through Wendy’s website, and within 24hr. our Zoom conference was set. We told her we wanted to spend one month in Croatia, and thereafter, we were using another Wendy expert, Karen, to spend another month in Turkey. We stressed that we needed our plan “immediately,” since we were ready to leave in two weeks. The travelers would be me and my spouse, David, as well as my cousin, Barrie. The program would need to be for three adults.
From the very beginning of our conference, we could tell Ala knew all aspects of this complex culture, especially in light of the severe history of religious and culture war. Ala assured us, however, that this would be a great time to visit the country, especially due to a lack of crowds in key cities, such as Dubrovnik. Ala was absolutely right. We are so glad we listened to her advice and visited Croatia without all the cruise ships and summer crowds.
Our first concern was obviously Covid. Ala assured us that each property was on top of the latest health issues, and our experience was the same. We felt safe at all properties. We were actually surprised that the level of health readiness was better in Croatia, than in the U.S.
Ala discussed the very different areas of Croatia, from the North to the South; inland and from the Sea. We decided on a tentative itinerary, based upon Ala’s recommendations. However, before doing so, Ala provided an extensive written description of each area, along with very specific photos, descriptions, costs, etc., that each property or experience would provide. After reviewing those descriptions, we narrowed down our favorite choices. Remember: this is all “last minute,” since we were several weeks out from a month long trip in Croatia.
Ala and her team were remarkable, confirming property and restaurants as we had requested. During this process, we had several more Zoom conferences with Ala, to fine tune properties, restaurants, and the program. The itinerary we received ended up being a wonderful trip. We would not have been able to put this trip together, with all the best properties and restaurants, without Ala and her team.
We always say a travel agent shows their expertise more when problems arise, than when everything is running smoothly. Well we did have a hiccup on our trip. After several weeks in Croatia, my cousin, Barrie, slipped and fell. She was unable to walk. Barrie still had to be moved from the mountains of Istria, to Split, where she could obtain medical attention. Ala made this a smooth transition. We sent Barrie back to the U.S. immediately, since the Croatian doctors indicated an operation was necessary.
Moreover, even though the contract with Ala indicated all services are “non-refundable,” Ala was successful in obtaining a $2525 refund. The surprise refund tells me Ala has some amazing relationships with her properties.
For one property, we could not decide the rooms we wanted to book from the online photos. Ala actually had the manager Facetime a video of the rooms for us, so we could select. No detail was left undone by Ala.
During our Zoom conferences, we provided Ala strict parameters for certain aspects of our trip. As an example only, we told her driving time from destination to destination could not exceed 2 hrs, and that we wanted to be booked at several Michelin starred restaurants (which were difficult to get into). Ala clearly listened. Everything was set like clockwork.
Clearly, we would not have experienced Croatia, in all its splendor, without Ala and her team. And I mention the “team,” because we had an opportunity to see the “team” in action. At the very last minute, just before getting on the plane from the U.S., we still had a few changes to make. This was the only time we could not reach Ala directly. However, we spoke with one of her team members, who ultimately made these “last minute” changes happen. We were impressed.
We send out a BIG: THANK YOU TO ALA AND HER TEAM!! Our trip was remarkable.
“There are so many possible destinations, stops, and detours—Chris does all the work for you.”
ICELAND, JUNE-JULY 2021
Planning an eleven day driving trip around Iceland’s Ring Road is a major undertaking. There are so many possible destinations, stops and detours – Chris does all the work for you. First, he sent a multi-page exhaustive list of every activity, adventure or experience to determine our interests and plan the perfect trip for our family. Every activity he booked, such as ice climbing on a glacier, ATVs on a black sand beach and other beautiful landscapes, a whale watching tour from Husavik in which we saw the most humpbacks and minke whales we’ve ever seen in one day, hot spring/spa visits, kayaking among icebergs, visits to stunning waterfalls and valleys, among others, was great. He even surprised us by adding a private ice cave tour to the itinerary at no extra cost. It was one of our favorite experiences, especially because of the terrific Icelandic guide. Chris provides maps to every single destination and descriptions of every stop (of which there are many), and notes places to get gas/ stop for bathrooms etc. He even made all of our restaurant reservations for us – no other adviser has done so, and we greatly appreciated having reservations set up each night. Many hotels are small and have limited seatings for dinner and limited hours. Most towns are very small and there may not be many (any?) other options. We also loved the restaurants he reserved for us in Reykjavik.
Luckily, Chris provided as part of the extensive materials that were organized by day, letters listing the confirmation number for every single reservation. He knows that many hospitality workers in Iceland are young and inexperienced (many told us it was their first or second day at work). On every occasion but one, the employees were able to locate our reservation using the confirmation number. On one occasion, the hotel receptionist insisted (nicely) that we had no reservations and that the confirmation number didn’t have the right number of digits and was therefore not theirs. I texted Chris on the special number he provides for issues while in Iceland. He responded immediately, called the hotel, and sent them the email chain in which they confirmed the reservation. The receptionist then admitted the error was the hotel’s. Chris obtained a refund for one of our three rooms, since the hotel had given away the nice room we booked.
From a Covid standpoint, Iceland is ideal. It has experienced 0 (not a typo) cases since late May. It’s easy to obtain the required covid test for returning to the US (despite a line we were out of the testing site within about 10 minutes; of course, Chris told us where to go). Also, Iceland is the most stunning country we’ve visited, and right now you can safely visit an erupting volcano only 45 minutes from Reykjavik. —Rita Solomon
“Because of Covid, and the difficulty in knowing ferry routes, internal air flights, and which restaurants are open, etc, it was essential to have somebody on the ground in Greece….”
GREECE, JUNE-JULY 2021
Travel to Greece June 21 – July 3, 2021
Athens, Oia, Santorini, Sifnos
I have nothing but rave reviews for Jacoline in planning an amazing trip to Greece! Delayed from last year, we were thrilled that we would be able to make the journey this June. Everything from the pacing of trip, to all the wonderful unique experiences, restaurants and hotels were nothing short of top notch. Because of Covid, and the difficulty in knowing ferry routes, internal air flights, and which restaurants are open, etc, it was essential to have somebody on the ground in Greece. We were able to keep in touch the past year, and decide together that it was safe and welcoming to visit Greece this June.
A trip to celebrate my daughter’s sweet 16, which became “sweet seventeen”, we had lots of activities planned, a must when traveling with an easily bored teen. Jacoline arranged everything with the best guides – a private tour of the Acropolis (a huge bonus to traveling now – we shared the view with only a handful of people!, an e-bike tour that turned out to be so much fun, and a food tour through “Old Athens”. Onto Santorini where we had a great day with tour guide Kostas, in which we saw the whole of Santorini, had an amazing sunset cruise and kayaking tour. Jacoline planned a pottery/kiln session with an artist on the island for our budding artist – a fantastic experience! We ended our trip in Sifnos, a lovely laid back island with great food, and amazing scenery. We had another awesome private boat charter, as well as a fun cooking visit to an organic farm.
Because of the locale, having pretty much everything outdoors due to covid was easy. Masks remain required in all indoor spaces. We felt very safe being vaccinated – and Jacoline recommended bring covid self-tests along for reentry into the states. So glad we did this! Process was smooth and so easy – we could do the testing right in our hotel room!
Having Jacoline as our travel specialist was the best thing we could have done. She spent time on the phone with me going through our priorities, likes and desires for this trip and came up with an amazing itinerary that was tailor made for our needs and wants. Every experience we did, every hotel we stayed at, every restaurant, shopping, and spa were perfect for us! Adding in the complications of covid delays and rebookings, Jacoline was invaluable. I would use her again in a heartbeat – here’s hoping our next trip is soon! —Christine Daudelin
“I heartily recommend Patricia and her team to anyone looking to plan the perfect vacation in a tropical paradise.”
BELIZE, JUNE 2021
I can say with confidence that planning this trip with Patricia and her team was a pleasure in addition to being completely stress-free. Our family (my husband and I plus our three college-aged kids) has enjoyed many trips together; on our survey, I was able to describe those trips and what we enjoyed about them and from this information, Patricia put together an ideal itinerary. For example, I mentioned that we liked adventurous things but also wanted some downtime to enjoy the beach. She suggested that we spend time at the beach and the jungle to really see the best that Belize has to offer. Our accommodations were top-notch: We had a private villa at Victoria House on the beach in Ambergris Caye with our own plunge pool. Having the extra space with young adults really made a huge difference in our enjoyment of our time together. The food at Victoria House was excellent, plus they prepared the fish we caught for our dinner one night. Our scuba/snorkeling excursion with Amigos del mar that Patricia arranged was so much fun; the reef and all the sea turtles, rays and nurse sharks were awe-inspiring. After four nights at the beach, we took a short flight and about a two hour drive to the Lodge at Chaa Creek in the jungle. On the way there, we stopped to do ziplines and cave tubing, both of which were great experiences. We enjoyed another private villa at Chaa Creek which may be the most luxurious place we’ve ever stayed. The balcony with its private plunge pool overlooking the jungle was one of my favorite things. We were able to relax at the pool while enjoying a family of howler monkeys playing in the trees just a few feet away. While at Chaa Creek, we enjoyed a Mayan cultural immersion tour and loved being in the homes of Belizeans. Covid tests were provided at our hotel for our return to the US, so that was easy to get done. Patricia and her team prepared everything so well that we had no complaints about our trip. I heartily recommend Patricia and her team to anyone looking to plan the perfect vacation in a tropical paradise. —Claire Leuenberger
“The private yacht cruise was a great way to view the city and certainly not something I would have known was an option without Karen.”
TURKEY, JUNE 2021
We had an amazing time exploring Istanbul with our guide, Esin. Istanbul is a massive, sprawling city that would have been difficult to navigate on our own. Our itinerary was perfect, and it was clear that it was carefully created to minimize time in transit, crowds, and to give us a snapshot of historical timelines (i.e. visiting the Topkapi Palace and then the Dolmabahce Palace). Esin has an amazing command of Turkey’s history and shared so much information with us that made all of our experiences more engaging.
Every experience we had in Istanbul was enjoyable and easy because all of the logistics were taken care of for us. Our driver was amazing and made moving around Istanbul stress-free. Esin enriched every experience and made it frustration-free for us as we never stood in a line, didn’t have to check schedules, hours of operation etc.
We were traveling as three generations of women and Esin had an excellent ability to appeal to all of our interests. She was incredibly flexible and patient. My mom was dealing with a foot injury and Esin was extremely protective of her, always scouting for an elevator and ensuring she was okay. In general, she was protective of all of us at all times, which made us feel very comfortable exploring a country that was new to us. She taught us about cultural norms and traditions, helped us negotiate at the bazaars, and made sure we had a good plan for dinner every evening before leaving us at the end of the day.
I don’t often use travel agencies as I like to research and figure things out on my own. Because of the enormity of Istanbul though, I decided to use Wendy Perrin (referred by a friend). I am so thankful that I did. Karen’s team made excellent recommendations and arrangements throughout our stay. The hotel and our cruise were two of my highlights. The Bank Hotel was fabulous and had the boutique feel we wanted. It’s a beautiful, clean hotel with supreme service. Another highlight is the private yacht cruise we took. It was a great way to view the city and was certainly not something I would have known was an option without them. Karen added to our trip in so many wonderful ways and Esin was the perfect guide for us. We are so thankful! — Christina Schwam
“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
“Julie had great suggestions and detailed personal knowledge of the housing options.”
MEXICO, JUNE 2021
What a wonderful trip! We flew for the first time in almost 2 years and rented a beautiful home near San Jose del Cabo. The home was very private and we felt completely safe during our trip. Julie helped us all along the way, from deciding whether to rent a house or stay in a hotel, to helping with activities, to a COVID test prior to departure. Oh, and we also had our WOW Moment, which Julie planned. It was fantastic, more below.
Julie helped us decide to stay closer to San Jose Del Cabo than to the more touristy Cabo San Lucas, and that turned out to be a great decision. We were traveling with our small family of 3, including our young son, and so wanted to find a villa that was smaller, rather than a larger party-style house. Julie had great suggestions and detailed personal knowledge of the housing options. We ended up with a lovely home in La Quinceria, which was perfect for us, with a gorgeous outdoor living space and pool.
We also got super helpful advice on activities and logistics. We arranged for transportation from the airport, to have some basic groceries stocked in the house fridge, and for a rental car to be delivered to the house upon our arrival. We spent a lot of time enjoying the house but we also had a few fun activities. One highlight was Flora Farms, a beautiful organic farm and restaurant that is a must-do for foodies. Julie helped us set up a private tour, which was so fun and informative, as well as a great breakfast. Julie’s team also helped us set up a golf outing for my husband at Puerto los Cabos, which he really loved. And, we planned a driving trip to the lovely town of Todos Santos, through the desert.
We were also lucky enough to have a WOW Moment on this trip as we’ve taken several trips using great planners suggested by Wendy and team. We were picked up at our house by our guide, Oscar, who is a lovely man with a great knowledge of the local area, its geology, history, traditions, culture, and food. Oscar took us to the marina in Cabo San Lucas, where we took a private boat to a secluded cove for a private snorkel. We were so happy with the location, especially as we saw how crowded the other snorkel locations were. Oscar helped our 10-year old son learn how to snorkel and helped him spot puffer fish, angel fish, and other cool wildlife. And then Oscar made us the most amazing gourmet lunch on the boat! We had some delicious local fish, sashimi style, and a ridiculously amazing guacamole. He loves food almost as much as I do! :-). And to top it off, Oscar helped us find a local fishmonger on the way back. I bought marlin and bonito, both caught that day, and cleaned and cut to my specs, with a friendly pelican who enjoyed eating the fish scraps. We grilled the fish over the next 2 days and they were amazing! A total home run and we were so grateful for this outing from Julie and team Wendy. THANK YOU!
We had a 24/7 concierge named Hector the whole time we were there and he was amazing! Hector did a great job with questions about the house, activities, grocery stores (I recommend Selecto), restaurants (try Don Sanchez, Agave, and tacos at La Lupita Tacos and Mezcal), and the like. He was really spectacularly good and we appreciated this as a touch that a great travel planner can help provide. He even arranged for a local doctor to come to our house for a required COVID test to re-enter the US. Simply unparalleled service!
So, a fabulous trip from beginning to end. We felt so safe and were so grateful to be in a beautiful place with such lovely people. Julie, Wendy and team – sincere Thank You!! We can’t wait for our next adventure, wherever it might be. —Chris Kloes
“Working with Jacoline is like having a family member with exceptional taste at your side.”
GREECE, JUNE 2021
We took an amazing trip to mainland Greece and the Peloponnese with Jacoline as our planner – June 16 – June 29th, right as Greece was opening to American tourists. First – Jacoline’s team was amazing to work with in general – our original trip was planned for March 2020, and because they have such good relationships with their vendors, we were able to reserve the majority of our paid trip towards this year’s trip in credits. More importantly, working with Jacoline is like having a family member with exceptional taste at your side. We traveled as a family of four (two 12 year old kids), and shared that we wanted to make “real” their interest in Greek Mythology (Percy Jackson fans of course!) The guides were all very professional, knowledgable and patient with our children. We come from San Francisco – so are foodies, and we found that the restaurants that Jacoline reserved for us, as well as the ones recommended in her team’s guide – were all of excellent quality and value – not a single tourist trap in the mix. It was the most varied trip – with wonderful boat trips to beautiful beaches off the southern tip of the Peloponesse, an E bike tour through Athens, a guided tour through the nearly empty site of the Byzantine city of Mystras, and a visit to a biodynamic wine / olive oil producer outside of Nafplio. We cant wait to go back and definitely will look up Jacoline for our next trip!
“Because of the open air environment, we felt perfectly safe.”
BELIZE, JUNE 2021
We visited Belize in June 2021 with our extended family. Patricia found the perfect place for us – Sofia’s Beach House at the fabulous Turtle Inn in Placencia. The resort is luxurious, but not pretentious. Patricia planned day trips of snorkeling and island hopping which we all enjoyed immensely. We also did the ATM cave tour – which was an incredible adventure for our family. The staff at the Turtle Inn wore masks, but because of the open air environment, we felt perfectly safe. We would definitely go back! —Rhonda McCune
“I felt safe and that my family was very well taken care of.”
CROATIA, JUNE 2021
“Ala planned a wonderful 10 day trip to Croatia in June for me, my husband, and my 9 year old son. We started in Istria and wound our way down the Dalmatian coast to Split. We spent a couple nights on the island of Hvar in the most peaceful and elegant hotel overlooking the Adriatic. Ala included activities that were exciting for my child: truffle hunting with dogs in Istria, a boat ride with swimming around the Pakleni Islands, and a fresco painting workshop. My husband and I loved our tour of Split and the Diocletian Palace. Ala found us a hotel right next to the Palace and our tour of the Palace was fascinating. In Istria we visited medieval hill towns with our wonderful tour guide Jasmina. All the tour guides were exceptional, informative, and personable. Ala was up to date on what Covid tests we needed, turns out we only needed to get tested for our return to the States. She suggested an at home Covid test that we packed in our suitcase and was super easy and convenient to take. We felt completely safe traveling around Croatia, most of our activities were outside and all of our guides wore masks. The hotels were very conscious of Covid safety. Every restaurant Ala recommended was amazing. I would not have been able to plan a trip like this on my own. We saw so much and learned so much in 10 days! I felt safe and that my family was very well taken care of.” —Leslie Manning
“Karen was wonderfully helpful in providing us all the information we needed and making arrangements for private and Covid-safe activities.”
TURKEY, JUNE 2021
Our family of four traveled to Istanbul in June of 2021 with the help of Karen and her team. We had a phenomenal trip.
My wife and I were vaccinated; our two kids (ages 9 and 3) were not, and so we really wanted a trip that would be safe and easy to control (with respect to social distancing and covid protocols) as well as exciting and fun and everything else a trip should be. In researching potential destinations, we got comfortable and excited about Turkey because it was more likely to be open (including for our unvaccinated but safe and covid-negative kids) than EU destinations and because the country had prioritized the tourism industry in its vaccination roll-out (so that most everyone we would come into contact with at hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites would be vaccinated). Karen was wonderfully helpful in providing us all the information we needed (from primary sources like the Turkish health authorities) and making arrangements for private and covid-safe activities throughout the trip. Of course Istanbul is also a fascinating city and one that we’d always wanted to visit.
We decided on just under a week in Istanbul—and left other locations in Turkey for a future trip. Staying in one place and avoiding extra flights made sense for a shorter trip, especially with our kids.
The trip was incredible, and we couldn’t be happier with the planning. Karen’s team arranged for sightseeing visits where we practically had the sites to ourselves (one benefit of reduced tourist traffic during covid) and set up great activities (including a private cruise on the Bosphorus and a cooking class). Our guide Tülay was wonderful and understood the pace we needed to keep the sometimes short-attention-spanned kids engaged. Everyone we met was warm and friendly and couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. We felt entirely safe from a covid perspective and can’t wait to get back!
“Most of the activities and eating were outdoors, and masking was therefore minimal…”
GREECE, JUNE 2021
We traveled to Greece June 9-26 2021. My wife and I accompanied by our son, started our trip in the Peloponnese. We were joined a week later in Athens by my 2 single adult daughters. We finished up with 6 days in Santorini. Jacoline was our WOW expert for our trip.
We had a great trip which met all our needs, and provided special memories for us as a family. Our trip had been delayed a year due to COVID, and Jacoline was able to keep the majority of our payment for the delayed trip, about 90% I would say. Going to Greece after it opened up May 14th was actually pretty easy…..if you are vaccinated! We just had to show our vaccine card, fill out a “locator” form for the Greek government, and we were good to go. Most of the activities and eating were outdoors, and masking was therefore minimal. Indoors, such as at museums, required masks of course. We needed a COVID test to return to the US, which Jacoline arranged to take place right at our hotel room. There was a cost (120 euros X 5) but it was simple. We had the results emailed to us later that day.
Jacoline is a delight, and specializes in unique experiences and smaller boutique-style accommodations. We were very happy with our various hotels and guesthouses. We loved all the guides (some of them archeologists), especially their kindness and enthusiasm. We like being active, and Jacoline arranged sea kayaking, a private catamaran sunset cruise with snorkeling-type activities with a fabulous dinner on board, and pottery class with a Santorini master. Everything exceeded our expectations. There were a couple of schedule glitches along the way, handled easily with a few emails.
I think Jacoline deserves all the accolades one can throw her way, and I would certainly love to use her again in that area of the world. I can’t speak for other countries, but happily COVID had minimal impact on our enjoyment of a memorable family vacation. —Michael Kelberman
“Having a local contact just helps with any small glitches and gives a feeling of confidence.”
CROATIA, JUNE 2021
“I traveled to the Istrian peninsula in Croatia in June, 2021 with my husband.
We planned this trip at the last minute, inspired by the fact that Croatia was open to Americans. It was a long trip to northern Croatia, about 24 hours from our home in Wisconsin to our hotel. Most of that time was masked. I was nervous about the requirements to transfer through Germany, but we were able to pass through with our vaccine card. I would highly recommend leaving more time at the airport for travel to Europe, the document control (verifying vaccine status and/or negative tests) is ever-changing, confusing and very slow.
We had traveled to the Dalmation Coast 2 years ago and wanted to experience a different part of Croatia. It was wonderful, rolling hills, hill top towns and very few people. One of our favorite experiences was renting a Porsche for a day and driving around the countryside. The wine and olive oil are wonderful, our suitcases were pretty heavy with bottles on the way home! After our time in the interior we spent a few days on the coast in Rovinj. We rented a boat and captain for one day and loved seeing the coastline from the water.
We had a wonderful guide, Jasmina, with whom we very much enjoyed spending time. She knew just how much to educate us to keep us interested. A pasta making class at a small Konoba was entertaining and delicious.
It is wonderful to have a trip planner such as Ala. We were met at our plane, fast tracked through and driven right to our hotel. Ala arranged for the Covid test that was required to reenter the US, and it was an easy, seamless process. The hotels were very different and very well chosen. Having a local contact just helps with any small glitches and gives a feeling of confidence.” —Deborah Wente
“When he said he was available for us during the trip 24/7 he was not kidding.”
ICELAND, JUNE 2021
Iceland booking by Chris was covid appropriate. We had an initial phone call with our family of 4 so Chris could learn about our desires and help determine the best activities and itineraries. A few days later, he called to discuss choices in more detail as well as discuss each hotel option. After the first draft of the itinerary, we had another discussion to fine tune it. He was so enthusiastic and put together a great trip for us. That is standard in the industry. Where he stands out is his customer service and “extras”. When he said he was available for us during the trip 24/7 he was not kidding. When we checked into our first hotel after 14 hours of travel, they had the wrong room type for us. They agreed to let us nap there while they found another room. Before we took a nap, I emailed Chris to let him know. When we woke up, everything was straightened out and he bought us box lunches to make up for the inconvenience. Another extra was the dairy free birthday cake he gifted us for our daughter’s birthday! Another dairy free extra was when we realized the special bread they bake in the ground at the Fontana spa had milk in it, he called the bakery and asked them to provide a special dairy free one for us. They had never done this before and did it especially for us. We were in contact with Chris in real time by email throughout the trip with logistical questions which he answered immediately. We had a problem at one hotel (room was not as advertised) and by morning he had arranged for us to move to an “apartment” on the property and negotiated free breakfast for us which was not included in the apartment price. These things added so much value to our trip. Chris was genuinely pleased to be helping us and always made us feel so well cared for. The trip was a breeze as he provided an inch thick packet filled with vouchers, detailed maps and even photos of where we were going. The restaurant choices were all excellent and each activity was fun. We especially loved the private retreat at the Blue Lagoon, the Ice cave adventure, the kayaking in the glacier lagoon with Icebergs, the Feather Canyon hike and the town of Reykjavik. We decided not to do what was planned for the last day and Chris came up with an excellent alternative immediately without blinking an eye. The only advice I can share to avoid any unpleasant surprises during the trip is to communicate each day with the activity provider about the expected weather and plan for the worst case. We had a worse case weather experience at the river bathing and were not as prepared as we should have been. We were safe but it was a challenge. Iceland is beautiful and a relatively covid safe trip being outdoor for most activities. Everyone is covid tested at the airport on arrival even if they are vaccinated. The only time I saw people in masks were on the tour buses. The restaurants and hotels are pretty well staffed and there are not too many crowds of tourists yet. Everyone speaks perfect English and the food is excellent. Chris did a wonderful job for us on very short notice. —Beth Minick
“Everything happened seamlessly – luxurious smooth transfers, dinner reservations – everything worked without a hitch.”
CROATIA, JUNE 2021
“Ala planned the perfect trip for us with guides and drivers for 12 days through Croatia. We started in Istria and down the Dalmatian coast to end in Dubrovnik. Throughout the planning process, she was thoughtful and curious about our interest and planned an itinerary that suited our personality. We had very knowledgeable guides who were passionate about the history and culture of their towns and regions. The hotels that she recommended were relaxing and a wonderful way to start and end your day. Everything happened seamlessly – luxurious smooth transfers, dinner reservations – everything worked without a hitch. Something for everyone – a lazy day on the beach or balcony, hiking through national parks, truffle hunting, oyster/mussel tasting, kayaking, to a few hours cycling through the rustic towns, vineyards and lavender fields. With not the usual crowds – now is the best time to soak in all Croatia has to offer.
Ala was also up to date on the COVID requirements and we were able to go through the bureaucracy of travel without any incidents.” —Jonathan Tsai
“His knowledge and love of Iceland gives his recommendations an absolute sense of authenticity.”
ICELAND, JUNE 2021
After more than a year of no travel, we felt housebound and anxious to get back to experiencing foreign lands. We’ve never been to Iceland and our research indicated it had a low infection rate and high vaccination numbers. Having used Wendy’s WOW List successfully multiple times (at least 9), we went directly to Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Agents. We used Chris for our trip to Iceland.
We were his first clients since the easing of travel restrictions to Iceland caused by the Pandemic. We had several phone conversations, lots of email communication which created a strong bond and a comfortable sense that we were on the same page and that we were dealing with someone who was professional, warm and understanding but, most importantly, someone who listened carefully and patiently.
The resulting itinerary, given our finances, age and extensive travel was top notch. He clearly listened to our concerns and readily matched those to a perfectly delineated itinerary. He knowingly addressed our concerns about COVID Testing both upon arrival and departure. We had talked about using a guide but he indicated that both the expense and the breadth and scope of the itinerary pretty much precluded the need. He instilled both a confidence and a virtually mile-by-mile narrative of what we would see and experience throughout the journey.
His knowledge and love of Iceland gives his recommendations an absolute sense of authenticity. He was able to perfectly match his expertise to our interests. Thus, the traveler no longer feels like a stranger in a foreign land. Conversely, one is made aware of the culture, travel conditions, places to see, vistas to visit, and where to dine. Every recommendation matched our interests and limitations.
I live on email. When I was teaching online courses almost twenty years ago (the internet was in its infancy) I was in constant communication with my students whether from New York, India or Spain. I wanted students to know that they were not isolated and that they could always get in touch with me. It gave them a sense of reassurance when they were confused or disoriented by an assignment. Chris treated us the same way. I would email him with a concern, request some advice or, because of weather, notify him of the need to cancel a particular venue. Despite the time difference, he was on it. He frequently responded within minutes with either, a) information relevant to the request or b) advice on how to proceed. It was like having our own personal guide at every turn. No request was beyond his scope of expertise and if he could not answer immediately he got back to us within a few hours after he had communicated with his wealth of contacts within country.
Even when, after the trip, we had to file an insurance claim with our credit card company for a damaged windscreen (apparently fairly common on roads in Iceland) he walked us through the process and immediately provided the insurance company with all the necessary documentation.
Bottom line: I’ve used at least nine WOW agents to date and using a 10th for Hawaii in February so I can speak and write with a high degree of certainty that Chris would be a valuable addition to your cadre of WOW agents. Iceland travelers would be well served by his presence on The WOW List. —Gerry O’Connor
“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.
“He was very responsive to questions and emails and I always felt like he had time for us and our questions or needs.”
FRENCH POLYNESIA, MAY-JUNE 2021
“Kleon was absolutely fantastic to work with! He was very responsive to questions and emails and I always felt like he had time for us and our questions or needs. We didn’t call often, but especially when we were getting our covid tests, he always answered our calls. I don’t remember ever needing to leave him a voicemail. He has a really calm and easy going demeanor that was so helpful with all the changes and restrictions due to covid. With covid, he was so helpful in making sure we had everything we needed to get in. He even filled out our paperwork online with us on the phone so that he would know how it worked for future clients (we were his first clients to go since the second closure). I am so so grateful we had Kleon to help us get through all the covid stuff, it was so helpful and he was just amazing.
We absolutely loved the trip he planned for us! I have never been on a trip where every guide was great, but that happened on this trip. There was not a single activity we scheduled that wasn’t amazing. He even helped make sure that I could go on a food tour with my dietary restrictions, and even though he never got verbal confirmation before the tour (and he offered to refund us my portion if it was not acceptable), the tour went off without a hitch. At the end of the tour, our guide told us that whoever we had hired was amazing and persistent, so clearly Kleon had really been making a huge effort for me.
I think in my mind, I always thought there was a good chance this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip because it’s just far. Our return trip was 23 hours or so, thanks to an awful 7 hour layover in LAX. But after being there, I’m quite confident we’ll be going again, it was just too amazing. And when we go, we’ll be hiring Kleon again, no question.” —Rebecca Bartlett
“We had dinner one night at the home of a very small vintner, which included a tour of their beautiful garden…”
GREECE, MAY-JUNE 2021
“My husband and I and our three young adult children traveled to Greece from May 29th to June 6th. Our flight from JFK to Athens was Deltas first direct flight since the beginning of the pandemic! Jacoline did a great job planning this trip for us, on very short notice, and under uncertain circumstances as to what would be open etc. Rather than spending time in Athens, she recommended that we go to the small town of Nafplio where there would be fewer crowds. She arranged a local guide group that put together three days of wonderful excursions for just our family. We went to a small mountain village and met some of the local residents. We had dinner one night at the home of a very small vintner, which included a tour of their beautiful garden guided by the husband and their 26 year old daughter who translated, dinner prepared by the wife, and then Greek dancing with a local teacher and four of her young adult students. We all ended up dancing together in the driveway! The evening closed out with the grandfather sitting with us and singing some old Greek songs. It was a wonderful evening. After Nafplio we went to a resort in Kranida which was beautiful and a real escape. Jacoline was smart to plan the first part of the trip with real “authentic” Greek experiences as a sort of balance to our time at the resort which was more about the downtime. All the plans were made with covid and covid restrictions in mind — doing things outdoors and in settings where it would just be our family and the guides. Jacoline added value by picking a small hotel that she knew would be up and running. There was a bigger, slightly more elegant hotel that she did not select for us and we learned later from friends who stayed there that that hotel was not fully staffed up and a big disappointment.
Overall, I would highly recommend using Jacoline. She has a great take on the country and her recommendations for guides, activities, hotels, and restaurants were terrific.” —Julie Baker
“No place was crowded. At all.”
COSTA RICA, MAY 2021
“Priscilla and her team assembled a magical trip to Costa Rica for our family in May 2021. Pre-pandemic my husband and I were travelling without our 20-year old daughter and on a shorter trip. Rescheduling the trip to a date 14 months later worked out well, as we were able to include her and spend time in places like Monteverde, that were usually filled with tourists. We were relieved that all of our previous payments were still in place. Only one company had gone under we were told, but it did not seem to change our costs. Adding the daughter and additional days increased the cost!
Covid-19 prevention was always top of mind for all the people that we encountered in our travels, especially those connected with Priscilla’s team. We are fully vaccinated so we had few concerns but were happy to comply with their requirements. Their operations group send us a daily email with the next days or days activities and timing. What a nice luxury! One day I even wrote back and asked for a dinner recommendation in La Fortuna and they made us a reservation in a fantastic restaurant. The other positive aspect for us, the travelers, is that no place was crowded. At all.
We visited the Osa Peninsula, Arenal and Monteverde and found each to be fascinating in its own right. We flew into Pt. Jimenez on the Osa Peninisula and then stayed at Bosque del Cabo, a somewhat remote eco-lodge in the heart of the rainforest. The variety of wildlife was remarkable. The lodge has an outstanding tropical biologist on staff who took us on two amazing guided hikes that the planner recommended. We learned so much. The only drawback is that their birding guide was not available because so few people were visiting, but Priscilla’s team did not know that. It wasn’t until later in the trip that I realized just how much we missed. The food was outstanding as well!!
From there we went to Arenal and were provided excellent shuttle service by Priscilla’s company. Turns out that the shared shuttle was private. That happened several times. We are so glad that the company chose to honor their commitment rather than just make us wait until more people showed up. We heard about other companies doing that to other tourists.
The activities that our planner recommended were all enjoyable and interesting. Importantly, the guides are terrific, knowledgeable and enthusiastic and they help make the experience. At Arenal we visited the Sky Park for the Nature hike and the zip line – so much fun. We went white water rafting on the Sarapiqui, which is only an hours drive away. The guide was skilled and fun and the water was wonderful. She booked the twilight tour for Mistico Hanging Bridges and we did not even realize it would turn into a night tour. Amazing. Great surprise! She also worked in a Chocolate tour (Rainforest Chocolate) that was so much fun.
In Monteverde we had guided hikes at Monteverde Cloud Forest and at Curi Canche Reserve. The latter may have been the highlight of the trip in part because they booked the best guide imaginable. His enthusiasm and engagement with us was fantastic. We also visited the Orchid Garden on our own at their recommendation and loved it. Kinda surprised about that one.
I also want to give a shout out to our shuttle driver on almost every drive, Mauricio. Terrific driver, extremely knowledgeable about all things Costa Rican from plants to history, and a real pleasure to spend several hours with in the van.
The paperwork and insurance to go to Costa Rica can be confusing. We used Trawick for that specific insurance requirement. To return to the US, we found the lab paperwork to get the required Covid test was also a bit frustrating and it seems to be changing. Priscilla’s team organized a very convenient lab testing site and helped us sign up for the antigen rather than the PCR, saving us money.
All in all we hope to go back someday and will surely work with this group as well!” —Rebel Rice
“She took us to areas of Costa Rica that we probably wouldn’t have found on our own.”
COSTA RICA, MAY 2021
I used Irene and her team to coordinate our first trip to Costa Rica. Irene provided us with an itinerary that focused on our interests. Her hotel recommendations were great but more importantly she took us to areas of Costa Rica that we probably wouldn’t have found on our own. Once in Costa Rica her team of drivers and activity guides were excellent. Overall it was a great trip and we would recommend Irene to others planning a trip to CR.
May 22-30, 2021 —Jill Boerger
“Rueben was always cracking jokes and creating adventures for our family. He got us safely to every destination and made it fun along the way.”
BELIZE, MAY 2021
I found out about the beautiful country of Belize from another family who rated their trip on WendyPerrin.com. Before seeing the review, I had very little knowledge of Belize. The review caught my attention because it featured traveling on a private sailboat and, consequently, traveling safely during Covid. When I got the a-okay from my husband to start booking a family vacation in Belize, I jumped at the opportunity.
My contacts for the trip planning process were Patricia and Rachel. We had a couple of phone calls in the planning stages to go over options. Rachel suggested the new boat in their fleet called “Nowhere” because it could fit my family of 9, plus the captain and chef, onboard. My family had so many personal complications happen right before our trip. We were praying every day leading up to our departure that everything would work out alright. Patricia stayed positive during the weeks of stress and consistently encouraged me. I named her “my angel in Belize.” They were awesome in so many ways!
We arrived in Belize a day before we were planning on boarding the sailboat. We stayed in a resort in the jungle along the river, and we loved it. It was very secluded, and the hotel staff made us feel so welcome. The morning after we arrived, we went on a cave tubing trip. We had a blast! It was incredible to experience.
We then were on our way to set sail. We boarded Nowhere and met our captain, Rueben, and chef, Christie. The sailboat was beautiful, and Rueben and Christie immediately made us feel like we were at home. We sat down for our first meal from Christie and knew that we were in for a fantastic trip. Her cooking was incredible throughout our trip. She never failed to deliver wonderful meals from a variety of different cuisines. Our family consistently joked about bringing her home with us, and we are still missing her cooking.
Rueben was an excellent captain. He always kept us up-to-date on where we were headed. Reuben took us to beautiful destinations in the south bit of Belize. He took us snorkeling, spearfishing, and deep-sea fishing. He set us up with our scuba diving tours. Rueben was always cracking jokes and creating adventures for our family. He got us safely to every destination and made it fun along the way.
One of my main goals for our vacation was to scuba dive. This was our first experience of scuba diving with the whole family together. We did 2, 2-tank dives, so 4 dives in all. They were all so incredible. The underwater life in Belize is extraordinary! Every chance my kids had to jump in, swim, snorkel, spearfish, or dive, they were doing it.
Our trip was spectacular. Saying goodbye to Rueben, Christie, Nowhere, and Belize as a whole was challenging. We made so many memories on our Belize trip that we won’t forget. My family is convinced that we must go back and visit the northern parts of Belize with Reuben and Christie. Who could say no to another round in Belize on a private sailboat with an incredible crew? —Tamsen Toal
“We felt Covid-safe in every hotel, on every activity, and in all situations.”
COSTA RICA, MAY 2021
We just returned from an amazing trip to Costa Rica designed by Pierre and his colleague Michael. We couldn’t be happier with the entire experience, start to finish. In our initial phone conversation, Pierre understood that we were looking for a stress-free balance of activities and relaxation. We also needed a bit of assurance that it was a good time to travel to Costa Rica. Pierre shared information and gently reassured me that Costa Rica is eager to welcome back tourists and that Covid protocols are being followed and respected. He couldn’t have been more correct. Costa Ricans are incredibly friendly and lovely people, and we felt Covid-safe in every hotel, on every activity, and in all situations. Pierre and Michael ensured that our trip was stress-free by arranging everything – private transportation, wonderful activities, professional guides, and beautiful lodging. They even arranged for our Covid tests to be taken in San Jose the night before returning to the US. The trip was flawless, and they exceeded our expectations. Thank you, Pierre and Michael!! —Daena Craven
“As close to perfection as one could get…”
MEXICO, APRIL 2021
“We recently used Zach and his staff for a wonderful trip to The Four Seasons Punta Mita. This was a pretty straight forward trip, but due to covid concerns I felt more comfortable using a travel planner who was on the ground in Mexico. After chatting with Zach, and determining our main goal was time on a beautiful beach, he recommended the Four Seasons and it was the perfect resort. Trip was very low financial risk – as if the trip needed to be canceled due to covid it would be completely refundable. Four Seasons was taking a lot of health precautions, and we felt completely comfortable (turned out we were fully vaccinated before traveling so perhaps not as much of an issue when we traveled but still was great to see.
This was a trip to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from her master’s program, and while Zach offered up a slew of wonderful ideas for tours, surf classes, etc., in the end we decided to do one tour of the Marietta Islands and swim to the hidden beach, and the rest staying at resort. The boat tour was a lot of fun and we were glad we did it. Carlos from Zach’s team was in touch with us on the ground in Mexico which was so sweet and great to have in case we had any issues (which we had none). A nice touch was a piece of congratulatory cake in the room when we arrived – so thoughtful! We had a great room and location, and everything including their restaurant recommendations were excellent! (Definitely worth staying oceanfront at this resort – views to die for!). We loved our stay and was as close to perfection as one could get!” —Christine Daudelin
“A person should go to Colombia because of the spectacular variety of intimate, beautiful experiences in one country.”
COLOMBIA, JANUARY 15–APRIL 21
“WOW memory: Standing on my balcony on my suite in Cartagena in the late afternoon and watching the golden waves striking the shore below the colonial era walls. This would be true at any time, but was sensory overload after a year without travel.
There are some important features of travel in Colombia that are independent of the pandemic. Perhaps because Colombia has no obvious famous tourist destinations such as the Galapagos or Machu Picchu, and because it just emerged from a fifty year civil war, it doesn’t get many foreign tourists in most parts. As a result, very few people in the travel infrastructure speak English. That is true for check in agents at airports, and flight attendants even on Avianca, Colombia’s premium airline, and in five star, international class hotels such as the Four Seasons Casa Medina Bogota.
A person should go to Colombia because of the spectacular variety of intimate, beautiful experiences in one country.
In what was an often challenging travel environment, Marc and Boris performed heroically and with the complete finesse of an expert kayaker on the most challenging whitewater. After the pandemic, anyone on a trip with them will find working with them even more of a total joy. Without them, my trip would have been impossible.
To address the questions Wendy asked:
“How did this trip differ from one you might have taken before the pandemic?”
Because of the possibility of a national lockdown or travel ban in the US, I arrived three weeks earlier than in the original itinerary, namely, before January 20. I switched hotels at the end so that I could stay in a hotel with a room more tolerable in a two week quarantine. Historically important churches everywhere and some museums and restaurants were closed because of the pandemic. One region was closed that I would have otherwise visited. Airline travel at every stage was always awkward. Covid procedures were different at each airport.
“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?”
The answer is yes to every part of the first question. With regard to the second, Marc and Boris’ team wrote letters that enabled the guide to enter airline terminals generally restricted to passengers in order to help me check in with airline agents who spoke only locally accented Spanish. Their team over the phone helped me fill in very confusing forms for pre-registration for arrival and departure and for extending my visa. The outfitter arranged for the hotel to have a doctor test me for Covid in my room within the required three days before departure. To deal with the closure of the region in the previous section, the outfitter rescheduled and expanded visits to other places to fill the gap. The outfitter and the local partners were able to adapt airport transfers to accommodate local lockdowns and curfews. They were always accommodating to my uniquely personal wishes and interests, requests for itinerary changes, and inherent way of doing things. They were easily reachable over the phone and responded quickly to emails
“What did the trip planner do, or not do, to minimize your health risk or financial risk?”
Because my trip was always going to be private and in luxury accommodations and private cars, the health risk was reduced substantially. There really wasn’t any financial risk.
“Did the trip planner add value to your trip? If so, how?”
Being able to negotiate the often changing or confusing or difficult procedures described earlier, being willing to make frequent changes, and knowing the fine details of which rooms in a particular hotel were suitable to my tastes added immense value.
“Did you have certain trip experiences that other travelers should either seek out or avoid?”
In Cartagena, do stay at Sofitel Leyenda Santa Clara. Don’t stay at the Four Seasons Casa Medina in Bogota because they didn’t observe the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the room and because the hotel has restaurant staff who don’t understand menus that are printed in English, and don’t stay at Gitana Del Mar on the Caribbean coast because the receptionists were rude or indifferent and because their kitchen staff did not observe basic Covid rules. Marc and Boris do not deserve a scintilla of responsibility for these bad experiences; the hotel staffs do completely. No travel company can be around a client every minute of every day.” —Daniel Wile
“A highlight was a WOW moment when we were driven to a pool by a waterfall…”
BELIZE, APRIL 2021
“The big question was where to go once we had been vaccinated. Belize seemed a great choice with a level 2 rating, easy entry with a vaccination certificate and direct flights from Newark airport which by definition would have passengers on board who had either been tested or vaccinated. We immediately contacted Wendy’s recommended travel agent, Patricia, and set up zoom calls. She could not have been more helpful and we ended up staying in three places. Her first recommendation was Cayo Espanto, a private island with a few luxury villas and with two butlers assigned to each villa. It could not have been a better choice, with great private snorkeling trips, bone fishing and water sports at the island. She then arranged a charter flight on Tropic Air to take us over the Blue Hole (well worth doing) and then to fly us out to Hidden Valley. A highlight there was a wow moment when we were driven to a pool by a waterfall where lunch had been set up with table and chairs, sparkling wine in an ice bucket, a hammock and towels for bathing. We transferred from there via the Mayan site of Caracol to the Lodge at Chaa Creek, a magical place we last visited 25 years ago. It may be more modern, but it is still magical with the same owners who live on site. There Patricia organized a birding trip for us with a local expert, we canoed on the Macal River, lounged in our private plunge pool and hiked throughout the property. Patricia kept in touch with us by text throughout the trip and met us at Chaa Creek. It was a great 8 day trip and we felt very safe there with all the staff we interacted with being either vaccinated or in the process of being vaccinated. Finally we flew home on a plane with 13 passengers on board!” —Tony & Jane Ford-Hutchinson
“Our second trip to Croatia was even better than the first.”
CROATIA, APRIL 2021
“Our second trip to Croatia was even better than the first [in October 2020, see review below]. Ala took what we loved about our last trip and made this one even more tailored to what we wanted to do. We did not have to worry about a single thing—Ala took care of everything including organizing our covid test for our flight home. All the restaurants we went to were informed of my no meat/no dairy so I didn’t have to explain it over and over. We had an amazing driver/guide who suggested several stops so we could walk around some different towns and we loved that—so much so that we are going to stay in one of the towns we asked about (Opatija). The Istrian Coast has had very few cases of covid but all the hotels and restaurants were very cautious and strict about following guidelines. We felt very comfortable everywhere. Ala really does plan the most perfect visit to Croatia and you have local numbers for anything that comes up during your trip so I never had to worry about anything. She knew the hotels really well and is really good about knowing what we would like or didn’t like. I cannot recommend her highly enough.” —Jennifer Andrews
“It was incredibly reassuring to know that we had Allie watching our back during the trip, to troubleshoot for us.”
THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, APRIL 2021
“We planned our trip with Allie to Ecuador pre-pandemic, in 2019, for March 2020. We actually took our trip post-pandemic, late March through mid-April 2021. Back in those halcyon pre-pandemic days of 2019/20 when we planned the trip, Allie was fantastic at accommodating our complicated schedules (kids and I flying in from West Coast, my husband joining us later in the trip from the East Coast). It’s rueful to look back on those days when our busy lives meant we “had” to leave on a certain day and could “only” make certain sailings. How naive we were! Nevertheless, Allie was able to put together an amazing trip on limited notice even with our (now laughable) schedule demands – demands we now know were so artificial and that we will probably never see again for a long time (“we have to be back for school”; “I have to attend this industry conference with five thousand other people and will join you later”).
The pandemic hit two weeks before our departure. We thought we had lost everything as we had already paid for the entire trip. Amazingly, Allie was able to retain ALL of our bookings. Honestly, I don’t know how she did that. And it’s not something I could have ever navigated. This is exactly why you use a talented and experienced agent. The only thing we lost was our international airfare — which I had handled. (Note to others — use only legacy carriers for the foreseeable future. I often used small, budget carriers pre-pandemic. For the next few years, I will only use legacy carriers. It was impossible to recover my $7K of international airfare with the low-cost carrier. By contrast, I was able to secure a $12K credit of international airfare with a legacy carrier for my cancelled summer 2020 Europe trip.)
In March 2021, we actually took the trip. Allie was even more amazing in this post-Covid world. A week before our departure, Ecuador changed the rules, allowing vaccinated people to skip Covid testing. Allie informed us within the hour of this happening — although it was still news to the airline desk agent when we checked in! Travel in the post-Covid era is challenging. Flight schedules seem to change daily, even during our trip! Allie was always there to make the necessary adjustments. Our international arrival and departure changed, our domestic flights changed repeatedly (with one even being cancelled), our ship changed. Allie handled it all. We never could have done any of this on our own. And most importantly, we never had to worry or fret about it, because we knew Allie was taking care of it all.
It was incredibly reassuring to know that we had Allie watching our back during the trip, to troubleshoot for us. During our trip, one of my sons was ill, which, to put it mildly, is distressing during pandemic travel — Allie knew via the lodge and texted us immediately. (He was fine.) The details on one of the PCR tests for our US return was incorrect — Allie was able to immediately contact the lab and get a corrected report emailed to us. Her calm and grounded demeanor gave us great comfort, especially with pre-trip jitters and generalized low-level anxiety during the trip. I knew that if anything went sideways in Ecuador that we weren’t alone.
Travel is unpredictable in this post-Covid world. A WOW List planner is vital to ensuring a successful, enjoyable trip no matter your travel history or expertise. We are experienced travelers, have lived abroad, and, pre-pandemic, travelled internationally five to six times a year. But we absolutely could not have done this trip without Allie.
It goes without saying that Allie’s hotel picks, scheduling, transfers etc. were top-notch. She recommended a few days in the Highlands at Hacienda Zuleta, which wasn’t on our radar at all and ended up being one of the highlights and my kids’ favorite hotel. And her recommendation of La Selva Jungle Lodge was spot-on. This was our second time in the Amazon. La Selva blew our last experience (Brazil) out of the water. I felt I was taking a collegiate level tropical ecology/biology course. It was everything that I dreamed the Amazon would be. The Galapagos are as fantastic as reported, you feel like you are living in a National Geographic special (I could almost hear Sir David Attenborough’s voice).
We don’t know why it took us so long to visit Ecuador — it is an amazing destination and should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list.” —Julie Heimark
“Very good food, very nice people, and wonderful sites to see…”
COSTA RICA, APRIL 2021
“We just returned from a 17 days trip to Costa Rica (April 2021). Very good food, very nice people, and wonderful sites to see, how can you not have a wonderful time? At the start of the trip, we missed our flight, Pierre managed to rearrange everything so that we did not miss anything on our itinerary. All the places that we stayed were very nice. We felt very safe eating inside the hotel and also eating out, because it seems everyone followed COVID-19 protocol (mask/hand sanitizing). All of our transfers were always on time. Pierre/Michael’s team always checked on us every two or three days to see if everything went well. For the excursions, we did have options to wear or not to wear mask because the groups were very small (from 2 to 6 persons). Most of the time, it is only two of us. However, all drivers and guides wore their masks. The crowds are not there, so it is very nice. On our last night at Arenas del Mar hotel in Manuel Antonio, on one of our PCR test (required for returning to US) they used middle name as the last name, but the hotel were able to call the lab around 6 in the afternoon and fixed it right away. I would highly recommended Pierre/Michael’s team, they are the best.” —Dominique Tran and William Parr
“From our outing to the ATM caves to a very special horseback riding morning and outdoor cooking experience…”
BELIZE, APRIL 2021
“We can’t say enough good about our recent trip to Belize. Patricia was amazing to work with and her recommendations of the Lodge at Chaa Creek and a private catamaran were the perfect combination for our family of five.
We were scheduled to begin on the water but due to some unforeseen flight changes, Patricia recommended that we start on land and made all arrangements for us.
The experience at Chaa Creek was incredible… from our outing to the ATM caves (one of the most amazing things we’ve ever done) to a very special horseback riding morning and WOW moment overlooking the entire property along with an outdoor cooking experience, we couldn’t have asked for anything more.
From the jungle, we headed back towards town to meet our catamaran and crew. As new “sailors” we cant say enough about this adventure. Our chef Ellen fed us better than we could have imagined all while giving us a taste of local flavor including conch ceviche and conch fritters. Our Capitan made the adventure especially fun for our 11-year-old son by allowing him the chance to help on boat the boat with the anchor, fishing rods, etc…
We are truly appreciative to Patricia and her team for this wonderful introduction to Belize. We can’t imagine a more perfect pandemic getaway.” —Kate Rader
“Our WOW Moment at Gili Lankanfushi was such fun! We and the dive master and two naturalists headed out and we had a fantastic dive.”
THE MALDIVES, MARCH 2021
“Justin was fantastic! We planned our eight-day trip to the Maldives to split time between two resorts. Half was at the St Regis on points. When there was Covid at the other resort we chose, Justin was very proactive at getting us into Gili Lankanfushi [pictured] instead. I can’t imagine dealing with the nightmare of finding a new place eight days before arrival without someone like Justin to work through the logistics. He was quite right in discouraging two seaplane-distance resorts, given our short time in the country and the unscheduled nature of seaplanes in the Maldives. His recommendations for restaurants to prioritize at both resorts was spot on, and he was very helpful with plans for scuba, advising on better house reefs, etc. Our WOW Moment at Gili Lankanfushi was such fun! We and the dive master and two naturalists headed out and we had a fantastic dive. Then we headed across the atoll to use a drone to try to find whale sharks and manta rays. While none were to be found, it was still a blast to watch the naturalists use the drone to hunt for them!” —Kim Prater
“Our children’s eyes were wide open from the moment we landed in Nairobi until the moment we left. “
KENYA, MARCH 2021
“What a wonderful trip! Julian utilizes some amazing people and companies for his Kenya bookings! We (family of four with two children, ages 11 & 13) have extensive international travel experience pre-covid and wanted to travel mid-covid as well. We had never used a travel specialist before and had some hesitations. We were hesitant to loose our control over our daily plans and freedom to roam. Our main reason for using a travel specialist was because travel can be unpredictable in todays travel climate. Julian eased our minds with his grounded approach during the very first phone conversation we had with him. Let the planning process begin! In a very short amount of time, Julian had put together a robust and adventurous itinerary for us.
Julian created a travel product that is unmatched (adventure, culture emersion, conservation, a human approach). If you are looking for an unforgettable and meaningful Kenyan experience, Julian is your guy.
Everything was seamless from the airport transfers, hotels/lodges, guides/drivers, domestic flights, Covid testing, meals, freedom to create our days plans to our liking, etc. Julian will listen to what his travelers want, their comfort levels, budget limitations, etc and create an magical African experience. Our children’s eyes were wide open from the moment we landed in Nairobi until the moment we left. We made a lifetime of memories in Kenya.
Perhaps the test of any travel specialist is when things go sideways. During our time in Kenya, the government altered their Covid regulations and locked down the counties surrounding Nairobi. Julian stepped in and handled the whole situation. In the end we had to make some changes to our plans but the end goal remained the same (our goal of an amazing trip that was safe). If we would have had to handle all the changes, within a very dynamic situation, on our own it would have ruined a full day of our trip and would have caused massive stress. Julian handled it all and we were able to continue enjoying the Masai Mara knowing that it was being handled with our safety and interests in mind. We, as a family, said to one another on numerous occasions that it was wonderful that we used Julian and had someone taking care of the tough yet important tasks to sort out these issues that were out of our control.
Our trip may be over but we have memory cards full of pictures, endless stories to relive around the table, mental images of endless African beauty, new perspectives that will guide us through our lives, and new contacts in our phones of friends we met in Kenya.
If Africa is on your list of places to experience, call Julian!” —Jonas Bean
“The amazing parts were seeing my girls ride horses, hold iguanas, attempt to snorkel for their first time…”
BELIZE, MARCH 2021
“So many amazing things to mention on our recent trip (March 2021) to Belize! Maybe I will start with empty airplanes so each of us had our own row…. and customs being empty too! I am already trying to book my next trip before things pick up!!! We were near San Ignacio at Chaa Creek and Portofino on San Pedro island and both were amazing! We had a portable service come to us to do our Covid test prior to leaving the United States and they were so sweet with my 2, 6, and 8 year old! The true amazing parts were seeing my girls ride horses, hold iguanas, attempt to snorkel for their first time, and at the butterfly house at Chaa Creek when hundreds of butterflies landed on them. My husband and I swam with sharks, Eric and Carlos were so sweet with the kids! They let them feed the sharks because they were too afraid to jump in. The glass bottom boat was perfect. Portofino’s food was awesome and I think I gained 5 lbs on this trip. We had a tour cancellation and the concierge at Chaa Creek booked chocolate making instead. Mayan chocolate is amazing! The whole trip was incredibly amazing! I can not say enough good things! We went to the Mayan ruins and we had the whole place to ourselves! It was unreal. Usually it is shoulder to shoulder with tourists! I can’t wait for our next adventure!” —Mary Ko
“A great mix of active events and time at leisure to soak in the sun…”
COSTA RICA, JANUARY 2021
“We went to two wonderful locations in Costa Rica with the assistance of Pierre‘s team in January of this year. Initially, we were supposed to go to Panama but because of Covid, we had to change our itinerary quickly. They proved the worth of a good travel agent because our flights were delayed repeatedly and they handled adjusting our hotel reservations quickly and efficiently. (Along with transfers, etc.) All of this was done from WhatsApp! The activities that were planned were terrific. A great mix of active events and time at leisure to soak in the sun. In short, when you are going on vacation you don’t want to worry about getting things right. Pierre and his staff got everything right. Questions were encouraged and answered quickly We have already started planning our next trip with them. Thanks again.” —Cindy and Jim Francies
“It was like our own private Kenya in lots of ways.”
KENYA, JANUARY–FEBRUARY 2021
“We were in Kenya from January 13 until February 2nd. It was our first trip to Kenya and it was one of my favorite trips to date. Kenya was remarkably safe and very Covid aware (better than the US) and we could not have felt more comfortable. Because Julian picked really incredible lodges with a small amount of rooms, we had two of the lodges all to ourselves. Since is was our first trip there, I don’t have any comparison to non Covid times but I do know it was remarkable to be on the Masai Mara and see no other cars all day. It was like our own private Kenya in lots of ways.
We started in Nairobi at Hemingways for 2 nights to get over jet lag. We then flew bush planes to the other lodges and we usually flew alone but 2 of the flights we had a few others. We relied completely on Julian for our lodges, our itinerary and his experience. We had to have a test before we got on the plane home and Julian had a doctor fly to us in the bush and give us our tests while we had breakfast. Because Kenya put a new form in place while we were there, Julian’s point person in Nairobi spent all day tracking down the specifics and got us the needed TT Code a few hours before our flight so it was seamless for us.
Our lodges were incredible. We had amazing food and wine, the best guides, the most exclusive lodges and such a high level of service—we were completely spoiled. We really put ourselves in Julian’s hands and let him do all the work and we could not be happier with our trip. I was really excited but I had no idea how amazing it would be and how much we loved Kenya. Julian organized all our flights, all our transportation and all our requests had been pre-sent so we just had to show up and have this incredible trip.
We flew Emirates to Dubai and then to Nairobi and they could not have been safer or more careful. When we arrived back in Dubai on the way home, they whisked us through another PCR test because we had to stay overnight due to weather in Boston and it was all handled for us. It’s my favorite airline already but to see how they are handling the pandemic and testing with such efficiency is amazing. We never felt nervous for a second—on the flight or the trip.
I would recommend going to Kenya and having Julian plan it for you ASAP because it is truly remarkable to have all the animals, land and incredible Kenyans show off their country right now.
Places stayed: Ol Donyo Lodge, Sasaab, Salas Camp, Mara Nyika, Hemingways.”
“It was the perfect family friendly resort…”
MEXICO’s CARIBBEAN COAST, JANUARY 2021
“We went to the Fairmont Mayakoba Dec 28-Jan 3rd. We saw Tulum and swam in a cenote and enjoyed the resort. It was the perfect family friendly resort. The service was great. My 2 year old is particularly difficult and she loved seeing the turtles at the grand cenote and my older girls loved swimming and seeing the bats above our heads. In Tulum they loved running around exploring. Franc was so helpful and kind he picked a delicious restaurant for us to eat at for lunch and helped us skip the wait. He totally didn’t mind having kids around. The resort was the perfect way to relax but escaping to see some of the beauty and history of Mexico was great. Traveling with 3 kids is always tricky but we use Wendy Perrin’s list to make it easy.” —Mary Ko
“Having private SCUBA diving excursions limited our exposure to others and ensured we were typically the only boat at the location…”
BELIZE, DECEMBER 2020
“Choosing to travel internationally as a family during the pandemic was not an easy decision, but after hearing Rachael discuss the health and safety measures they were taking with their sailing vacations during one of Wendy Perrin’s Zoom sessions, we decided to explore the possibility further.
The attraction to us was being socially distanced by miles versus feet. The yacht would serve as our accommodation, dining venue and entertainment for our 10-day vacation. Another reassuring factor is that the country of Belize requires a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours to enter. American Airlines offers PCR Covid testing through a partnership with Let’s Get Checked. Passengers booked on AA flights are “guaranteed” results within 72 hours. We were pleased with the Let’s Get Checked process and liked that they require you to take the sample while on a video chat with a health care professional.
Traveling during the pandemic does take additional planning. There were no last-minute trips to the store to pick up items as we self-quarantined for 2 weeks prior to our trip. In addition to the Let’s Get Checked test, we took several local PCR Covid tests in the weeks prior to our travels. To minimize transportation exposure, we drove ourselves to the airport and parked in the short-term parking lot. My husband parked the car and walked across the street to enter the airport – well worth the additional cost. We choose flight times early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the crowds at the airport. Wendy’s seat selection recommendations were greatly appreciated. In our opinion, American Airlines did a wonderful job ensuring everyone was wearing their face mask properly.
If for some reason we would have been unable to travel, Rachael gave us the option to reschedule the vacation within a year. A very generous offer that put our minds at ease when booking. Rachael, Cliff and Patricia, were very prompt in replying to our e-mails and providing additional information. They even tracked down poker chips at the last minute to add to our yacht – remember, I couldn’t go to the store.
Joining us in our yacht bubble, were 2 wonderful crew members, Eric, the captain and Andrea 1st mate/chef. Whether it was playing silly reindeer games on a rainy Christmas day, spending extra time fishing for the prize catch or cooking up the prized catch, their dedication and attention really made the trip special. They covertly decorated the yacht for our 25th wedding anniversary while we were out kayaking. Andrea even found time to stealthy make a cake from scratch.
We are a SCUBA diving family and diving in Belize has been on our wish list for a while. Rachael and Patricia worked closely with us to arrange private dives and diving equipment that we could procure at the beginning of the trip and keep for the duration. The Amigos Del Mar dive shop in San Pedro were top notch!! We had 7 wonderful SCUBA dives with Carlos and Alex. Having private SCUBA diving excursions limited our exposure to others and ensured we were typically the only boat at the location. Also, it afforded us the opportunity to feel comfortable taking our 12-year-old son to the Great Blue Hole! An amazing experience and bucket list worthy location that not many young divers can say they have accomplished. The juvenile nurse sharks were quite playful and joined us on several of our dives. They showed us around their swim throughs ensuring we all stayed together. In our many years of SCUBA diving, we have never had the wildlife engage with us so much – I think they were feeling neglected with the lack of tourist.
In addition to SCUBA diving, we enjoyed the yacht activities of paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, exploring deserted islands, spotting the rare red-footed boobie bird, star gazing and quality family time. My 12-year-old and I had an engaging conversation for 2 hours one evening while we gazed at the galaxies – a moment in time that I will treasure.
We will be talking about this vacation for years to come! Thank you to Rachael and her team for helping us feel safe while traveling during the Covid pandemic and making family memories that we will forever cherish.” —Shelby Willets
“When everyone in my travel group backed out…, Julian sensed how much I wanted to take this tour to Africa, and he planned a solo trip just for me.”
KENYA, DECEMBER 2020
“As an avid traveler, I knew that planning an African Safari was beyond my own abilities. After reading Wendy’s article about WOW Lister Julian’s recent trip to Kenya with his son, Dispatch from Kenya: What a Safari Looks Like Now by Billie Cohen, I knew that Julian could plan the right trip for me.
I first made contact with Julian on October 19, 2020. Julian was patient, informative, and knowledgeable. Julian’s patience and planning were immediately tested when everyone in my travel group backed-out of this trip as soon as Julian had it completely planned and ready to go. Instead of complaining about these travelers backing-out, Julian sensed how much I wanted to take this tour to Africa, and he planned a solo trip just for me. As an added bonus, Julian was going to accompany me on this trip. As Wendy would say, WOW!
By November 12, 2020, Julian had modified a multi-person itinerary to a solo itinerary just for me. From December 4-14, in less than four weeks, I would be traveling to Kenya and the Maasai Mara.
I only had a few requests for Julian regarding this trip: 1. I wanted the best opportunity to see as much game and birds as possible (no checklist, just opportunity); 2. I wanted as much of the trip to be inclusive as possible, so that I did not have to incur additional costs during the trip; 3. I wanted private game drives so that my time searching for game would not be determined by others; and 4. I wanted to “go with the flow once in the Mara”–get up early, go to bed at a reasonable time, but see what the day and conditions dictated, rather than having a set time-table and schedule of things to do.
Julian not only delivered on each of these requirements, but he exceeded them. For most of this trip, I felt and believed I was the only person in the Mara. From his selection of camps, Instinct of the Mara and Entim Camp, to knowing what to look for and ask for, Julian’s knowledge was invaluable. Notable, unexpected highlights included:
1. Traditional fire-roasted lamb prepared by Maasai men, accompanied by sundowners high on a hill in the Mara;
2. Persuading Richard and staff at Instinct of the Mara to prepare and serve an impromptu three-course-meal on a sandbar in the middle of the Sand River;
3. Assisting me with adding over 70 new bird species to my bird knowledge and inventory;
4. Innumerable animal encounters; and
5. An unexpected, secluded waterfall and resulting pool in the Mara.
Covid-19 protocols were evident at every step of the trip planning process and the trip itself. Admission to Kenya required a negative PCR test and answers to a Kenyan Government internet health questionnaire, which resulted in a QR code to be submitted upon arrival in Nairobi. The most stressful part of this trip was awaiting the results of my PCR test, which required that the test results be no older than 96 hours upon arrival in Kenya. I received my results at 10:30 PM, the night before my departure flight. (That was too close for comfort for me—outside the “cancel for any reason” window. In hindsight, when I plan another trip of this magnitude and expense, I am going to have a second, “back-up” Covid-19 test conducted through the mail.) Julian pointed out all of the Covid-19 testing requirements early in the planning process, and he continually followed-up with me to ensure that I had what I needed for arrival in Kenya, including satisfactory trip insurance.
During the trip, every person in Kenya with whom I made contact was wearing a mask. Before entering any Camp or establishment, each time I was required to wash my hands, and hand sanitizer was present at all locations. In addition, all camps conducted temperature screenings prior to entering, and all eating establishments practiced social distancing by keeping patrons and guests separated. I felt each Camp did everything it could to ensure the most safety for its guests.
Even though a negative Covid-19 test was not required for my return trip to Georgia, Julian assisted me and was able to schedule a Covid-19 test prior to leaving Kenya so that I could have a high degree of assurance that I was not infected prior to returning home.
The most people I encountered at one time during my Kenyan Safari was at the major international airports—Atlanta, Amsterdam, and Nairobi. Everyone wore masks, and I kept my distance, finding a seat away from groups. I had never seen Atlanta’s international terminal so empty, but Amsterdam and Nairobi were busy but not crowded. The international airports were the only places where my thoughts returned to Covid.
I look forward to another experience just like this one, and I will ask Julian for his assistance and planning when I do.
Asante sana, Julian.” —Jeremy Lynch
“Rigorous pandemic protocols that made us feel safe as we enjoyed the magical cities we explored…”
TURKEY, OCTOBER 2020
“What a spectacular trip! I was desperate to go anywhere this fall after a long quarantine in New York. Earl was incredibly responsive and after just one phone call, our itinerary was quickly assembled. Our amazing guide Riza and our lovely drivers could not have been more thoughtful and careful given the pandemic, and our itinerary was constantly being tweaked to avoid crowds, maximize time outdoors, while not missing a single sight! All our hotels had rigorous pandemic protocols that made us feel safe as we enjoyed the magical cities we explored. Earl also helped us adapt our itinerary throughout the trip. We booked the Bosphorus cruise while in Turkey after initially opting out and it turned out to be a true highlight. We appreciated all the helpful guidance from Riza, who blended tremendous historical knowledge, with incredible recommendations for restaurants, quick bites, and quality vendors for souvenir purchases. He made sure we missed absolutely nothing while making sure we weren’t exhausted. I don’t know how he did it, but his guidance truly made the trip. It was incredible having him as a constant presence throughout our trip. This was a truly remarkable trip and I strongly encourage anyone who feels comfortable traveling to take the opportunity to visit Turkey without the crowds.
One word of warning, no one in the Cappadocia balloon ride apart from us wore their mask and there was little enforcement although the pilot did try. Most tourists were from Russia and showed an utter lack of regard for the pandemic. Warn any guests that might be sensitive. I don’t want to recommend against the balloon company though because they objectively were excellent pilots and got down into the canyons in a way that other companies did not.” —Katie Stiner
“Our trip was full of special experiences, knowledgeable guides, special hikes, tastings and more…”
GREECE, OCTOBER 2020
“So grateful for both Faye and Stella who arranged a fabulous experience to Greece from 10/24/2020 to 11/1/2020 for our family of four on super short notice. Stella was incredibly helpful in arranging a great experience every step of the way and was a joy to work with. She graciously and promptly handled lots of last minute questions and change requests which made all the difference. Our trip was full of special experiences, knowledgeable guides, special hikes, tastings and more – All your partners were great and the activities were well planned and very enjoyable. Thank you for everything!” —Elena Lytkina
“She was on top of all Covid issues and gave us options on how to best handle them…”
CROATIA, OCTOBER 2020
“Our trip to Croatia could not have been better planned by Ala. She thought of absolutely everything and made it so easy for us. Every single aspect was planned out perfectly- our fast track services, our drivers, our experiences, the restaurants— every detail was thought of. From the moment I talked to her she was on top of all Covid issues and gave us options on how to best handle them. She came up with experiences for us that were even better than they sounded on our itinerary and she clearly spent a lot of time and thought bc everyone mentioned they had read our itinerary – which was nice bc we didn’t have to tell each person where we had been or what we had done- they already knew so there was no repeating all the time.
This was my first trip through Wendy Perrin. I chose it bc of the emails I got that sounded so well versed in Covid issues. I will never try to plan alone or use anyone else for now on bc of how detail oriented our trip was. I said it before but Ala thought of everything. We never worried about Covid bc we were well prepared and did everything private. She was really good about giving her opinion rather than just planning what I thought we wanted to do and we would have had a far less experience had she not planned our trip. She really listened to our preferences and then ran with them. We got to spend a day with a vintner in Hvar and then have a really special meal and wine tasting at the end of the day that was such a highlight for us. The websites for the hotels made it a bit hard to gauge but she knew the hotels personally and was able to address any questions. It was so nice to be traveling and Ala made sure we felt safe and comfortable – and aware of what we needed to do and she had a backup plan had things gone south.
If anyone is thinking of going to Croatia, it felt so safe. They have not been hit hard at all yet they are following all the guidelines and safety measures. We are going to go back in April (if covid allows). It was not crowded at all but it also did not feel deserted so it was perfect. Had it not been for Covid, we would have just booked some hotels and drivers on our own and I cannot fathom how much we would have missed by doing that. Ala didn’t plan too much (we didn’t want every minute planned) but she planned our activities perfectly and they were not things I could have found online and booked myself so we are so grateful for her amazing planning- and she has great taste in restaurants so that was a plus too!” —Jennifer Andrews
“I don’t think we could have found testing, if it were not for Kleon.”
TAHITI AND FRENCH POLYNESIA, SEPTEMBER 2020
“There were three areas where Kleon provided super value.
First, I would have passed on The Brando if it wasn’t for Kleon, and that would have been a mistake. Why? The price—it’s expensive. But it was well worth it. … It’s the finest resort we’ve ever stayed at anywhere in the world, in terms of service, privacy, and attention to detail.
Second, I don’t think we could have found testing, if it were not for Kleon.
And third, not huge, but we made a decision while at The Brando that we wanted to visit a pearl market, and he made those arrangements for us on the fly and organized the transportation for us.
Without Kleon, the trip would have been a much less enjoyable experience—or we might not have been able to go at all. That’s because French Polynesia’s entry requirements changed while we were going through the planning process. Just having Kleon hold our hand through it and make sure we did it correctly was very reassuring.” —Jeff Goble
“Zach’s staff were on top of every detail and stayed in contact via SMS…”
MEXICO, JULY 2020
“My family enjoyed a wonderful trip to Mexico during this very challenging moment. Zach was extremely helpful in recommending and securing the perfect accommodation and experiences for my family.
My concerns were: Will my family be safe? Are we taking unnecessary risks by traveling? Will we be in certain situations that will be beyond our control? In terms of meeting those concerns, the recommendations that the travel specialists made helped—especially the first resort, Chablé, because it’s such a large property and the accommodations were stand-alone villas. It felt 100% safe. The safety protocols at both resorts and both airports, and even with the car rental, made me feel like they were taking it very seriously.
During the trip, Zach’s staff were on-top of every detail and stayed in contact via SMS, which was just the right level of touch. They even sent someone to assist at the airport on our outbound journey, which was above and beyond. We were thrilled with the level of care and attention they gave us.” —Charlie Myers
We’re Here to Help
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.