PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had an epic family trip to Egypt over Christmas and NYEve break! Arlene & Jim set up this trip perfectly – and with very little input since we were too busy. We entrusted them to prioritize and plan our limited time in Egypt, and they did it quickly and brilliantly. The tool they use to share itinerary drafts and the final documents and suggestions were fantastic! When we faced some issues or had changes, they were quick to support us. When we had to cancel one of our group due to Covid, they tried to get as much $ back as possible. Scuba diving the Red Sea was a bucket list item for me and we pulled that off as well (even though it was a little cold). Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome – helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized. St Regis in Cairo, Sonesta Star Nile cruise, and Savoy Sharm el Sheikh were all great choices too – especially NYEve party!
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Imagine standing inches away from King Tutankhamun’s funerary mask…or in front of a 4,500 year old Sphinx…or in a tomb with hieroglyphics dating back 3,200 years…or in front of a 2,300 year old Monastery carved in a mountain…with next to no one around you. Can you imagine it?? With the help of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert Jim Berkeley, we did more than imagine it…we experienced it during a fabulous trip to Jordan and Egypt. Thanks to Jim’s expertise, our trip was the perfect blend of history, culture, touring, relaxation, city, desert and river….all without the pre-pandemic crowds.
The Jordanians were so welcoming and gracious, repeatedly thanking us for visiting their country. Our guide in Jordan was just fantastic. Beyond teaching us about each site, he shared fascinating antecdotes and historical perspectives. He patiently answered our questions so that we could gain a better understanding of the Muslim faith and political climate in the Middle East. He helped bring Petra to life in a way I couldn’t have ever imagined. I was truly humbled as we gazed at numerous structures, still standing thousands of years after they were carved.
Our Egyptologist in Cairo was key to navigating the major sites. Upon entering the Egyptian Museum, he guided us to the second floor, bypassing the traditional route taken by all other museum visitors. Thanks to him, we stood in awe, marveling at the beauty of King Tutankhamun’s bejeweled, solid gold funerary mask, with nobody else in the room. We weren’t jostling other tourists, fighting for prime view. We saw the mask in all its glory for a good 5 minutes before other tourists reached the room. It was an invaluable, priceless opportunity. In Giza, he took us directly to the Sphinx, before proceeding to the pyramids, so that we had an unobstructed view well before other tourists arrived.
Had it not been for Jim’s suggestion, we would have missed out on the most beautiful tomb in Egypt. Found in the Valley of the Queens, Queen Nefartari’s tomb was absolutely exquisite, with hieroglyphics that looked as though they were painted yesterday. Standing in awe, mesmerized by the vibrant colors and the beauty of the artistry, I was struck by the fact that no one else was in the tomb but us. Another absolutely priceless opportunity.
After exploring Jordan, Cairo and Luxor, we set sail up the Nile in a dahabiya. What a fabulous experience…the perfect combination of touring and relaxing. Each morning, we explored a temple, quarry or village, and each afternoon we relaxed on deck, lazily watching farmers tend their fields and villagers cut down sugar cane as we slowly sailed passed.
Our final destination, Aswan, was just beautiful. Perfectly positioned along the first cataract of the Nile, it offered gorgeous views across the river to the desert and magnificent sunsets. Riding camels up to St. Simeon’s monastery was a definite highlight, as was the felucca sailing around Elephantine & Kitchener Islands.
From a Covid perspective, we were very comfortable with the protocols in place at each of our hotels and on the dahabiya. Shortly before departing the US, Jim notified us of a hotel change, as his team was not comfortable with the Covid protocols at our original hotel. We appreciated his proactive approach and efforts to minimize our health risk.
Prior to the trip, I had inquired about entering the Great Pyramid. Due to Covid, Jim advised against it, in light of the low ventilation and close proximity to other tourists as you navigate your way through the pyramid to the burial chamber. We greatly appreciated his guidance and have no regrets about choosing not to enter it. From the safety of the outdoors, we marveled at its creation and were mesmerized by its majesty.
PCR Testing in Jordan and Egypt went as smoothly & easily as possible, with Jim’s team having arranged onsite testing at our hotels. Both tests were quick and didn’t interfere with our plans for the rest of the day.
Yet another way in which Jim added value was the planning and coordination of our transportation, including timely transfers, dedicated drivers with private vehicles, and internal flights. When EgyptAir cancelled our flight to Abu Simbel, Jim‘s team in Aswan leapt into action. Without their help, I would have spent precious vacation time trying to rearrange travel plans. I was so grateful that Jim‘s team handled everything seamlessly, so that I could continue relaxing on the Nile instead of trying to coordinate new arrangements.
Traveling these days presents such wonderful opportunities to explore sites that are usually inundated with tourists. We are so grateful that Jim and his team facilitated our safe travels through Jordan and Egypt before the pre-pandemic levels resume. To be up close and personal with ancient creations and works of art was extraordinary and humbling. It was beyond special.
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Jim and his team were amazing, both pre-pandemic when we planned to go in 2020, and later as we had to reschedule three times. They provided guidance and support throughout, and were always flexible and understanding of our concerns. Although throughout Egypt masks were worn, especially in the tourist sites, it was particularly apparent with our contacts, guides, and the hotels/cruise Jim and his team selected – they were very diligent and we always felt safe. The itinerary itself was packed with everything we wanted to see and then some! They were able to make it work somehow within the timeframe we had, but yet we never felt exhausted or “toured out”. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with this team again, and have actually already been on the site looking for our next destination!
PANDEMIC TRAVEL •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 Berkeley 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
My husband and I traveled to Egypt and Jordan – just barely ahead of the corona virus! We were in Egypt for three weeks and in Jordan for one week. Being in our seventies, we don’t like to pack and unpack often nor do we like to have too many days in a row of activities. Jim did an excellent job of scheduling our trip to accommodate our needs. We had personable, knowledgeable guides who let us choose how much to see and do.
Not only did the guides have encyclopedic knowledge about the ancient sites but they also knew the patterns of the masses of tourists. Often, they got us to places before or after the crowds. We saw too many amazing places to list here. We learned something new (often a lot) every day.
Our accommodations were excellent with one exception. The Nile cruise was very nice and the activities, food and staff were very good. The rooms were acceptable but our bathroom was in serious need of repair.
Overall Jim created a fantastic, well planned month of touring for us.
Jim Berkeley and Arlene Santos put together a wonderful highlights of Cairo trip for my husband and me. We were well taken care every step of the way of from our Greeter who escorted us to and from the airport to our driver who’s driving skill was as epic as the Pyramids in the chaotic Cairo Traffic. But our local guide/ Egyptologist “ Riko” was the one who made our experience exceptional. She was knowledgeable, patient, kind and passionate about her city, country’s history and culture. Hands down the best guide in all our world travels. She avoided the crowds not only at the Pyramids and major sites but literally unlocked and gave us private access to tombs not available to the public. What an experience to stand alone in an Egyptian tomb 4 thousand years old ! The accommodations Jim and Arlene selected at the Four Seasons was a luxury oasis from the desert heat while still giving us a beautiful sunset view of the Nile and a call to prayer from our balcony each evening. Thanks for fantastic trip and a bucket list item checked !
Jim Berkeley and his company planned a month long trip to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel for my husband and me and another couple. Because of health reasons we had to put the trip off twice. I spoke to Jim about safety concerns in all of these countries and he quickly put my fears to rest. Finally after putting him on hold for a year we were able to take the trip. We stayed in varied, interesting hotels, had different guides in all three countries, took several in country flights, crossed from Jordan to Israel all without incident nor fears for our safety. His suggestions were invaluable and his assistant Arlene was always quick answering emails before our trip. Our in-country guides helped us understand their culture, politics, and history in ways we could never have discovered on our own. We rode camels, took river boats, rode in horse drawn buggies, wandered in crowded markets. We always felt safe. All four of us learned so much and enjoyed all the planned activities. In Petra our driver and guide took our companion to the hospital. He was dehydrated and after an IV came to dinner that evening. Their attention, understanding, and care was invaluable. A trip to the Middle East is a must. I couldn’t recommend the agency and their staff more highly.
We had specific places of interest we wanted to include in our vacation to Egypt, Jordan and Israel and Jim was very creative in providing an itinerary that meet our needs. The guides and drivers at each destination were very responsible and courteous. They helped us avoid the crowds and see many amazing things up close and personal.
Jim Berkeley and Arlene Santos — WOW! What a fabulous Egyptian adventure they arranged for the four of us. From the very moment we stepped off the plane in Cairo, when our VIP greeter whisked us speedily through the airport, we knew we were in great hands! Jim and Arlene did everything to make us feel safe and well cared for. At every location — Cairo, Aswan, and Luxor — we were greeted not only by our local Egyptologist (each an incredibly well educated and personable guide!) and driver, but by a local representative who shared his contact information, answered our initial questions, and simply made us feel right at home. Our private Egyptologists, especially in Cairo, were exceptional — filling us with as much history and cultural information as we could absorb. They knew how to avoid the crowds and zero in on the most important sites to see. Our drivers were always there, ready for us the moment we finished visiting a site — and ensured our complete comfort in the van. The hotels Jim and Arlene selected for us were the tops in Egypt, each with its own fabulous view of the Nile — and in the case of Cairo — we could even see the pyramids 14 km away on a clear day! We loved the flexibility of our Egyptologists, giving us glimpses of local life, from meandering through a rural market that tourists don’t visit near Valley of the Kings to enjoying a great pizza lunch (Maison Thomas) and our guides’ favorite shopping haunts in Zamalek (Gezira Island). And so glad Jim urged us to visit Abu Simbel — worth the short flight from Aswan and back to spend time exploring two massive rock temples near Egypt’s southern border with Sudan. While every day was a highlight, the most memorable for us would have to be the pyramids, sphinx, Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel, and our magical 4-day Nile River cruise on the Oberoi Philae. Truly I could write a book about how thousands of years of history came to life for us during our 12 days in Egypt! And, yes, we did feel safe throughout our journey as security is excellent throughout the country. Egypt rates high as one of the best, most memorable vacations we’ve enjoyed! Don’t miss Egypt!
Jim really listened to what we had in mind for our trip to Egypt. He talked to us twice in the planning stage and had the foresight to say that he thought we were good candidates for a trip down the Nile on a dahabiya and he was certainly right! We loved every second of that 5 day experience. He also booked us in at the most delightful hotels in Luxor and Aswan with gorgeous views and fantastic service. We had flawless pickups, guide services and transfers and always felt we were in good hands. Although Egypt can be hectic, crowded and noisy, our guides knew how to navigate the sites and always found a quiet pocket of calm so we could enjoy our time with the antiquities. All told, this was another great experience with a Wendy Perrin travel specialist. And to top it all off, we were treated to an evening sail in Cairo on a felucca as a WOW moment. Thank you Wendy!
Egypt and Jordan.
One of the favorite phrases we learned on our trip was mi’a mi’a, which translates roughly as “the best”. We got to use it often on the three-week trip Jim Berkeley and his team put together for my wife and me plus our daughter.
We often book small group tours but were unable to find any single tour that covered everything we wanted during our visit to Egypt and Jordan. After consulting Wendy’s list of travel experts, we decided on Jim. He listened carefully to our desires and then put together a trip plan that met our needs. But Jim didn’t stop there. Based on his understanding of our interests, he suggested several additions: Jerash, an ancient Roman city nearly as impressive as Ephesus; a stay in a Bedouin camp at Wadi Rum where we found the best scenery of our trip; the Temple of Philae, one of the single nicest temples we saw in Egypt; and the Tombs of the Artists, which provide a perspective on Pharaonic Egypt not available in the better-known Valleys of the Kings and Queens.
In addition, Jim suggested adjustments to our requests. We asked to include a one-week cruise down the Nile. Jim suggested that we would be better served by taking a three-night cruise instead, and then spending the extra days on land in Aswan and Luxor. His advice was spot on. We also told Jim that although we wanted first-class lodgings, we weren’t interested in paying for luxurious hotels that cater to the jet-set crowd. Jim encouraged us to allow him to make one exception during our visit, and as a result, we found ourselves in premium suites at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Each oversized suite featured 26 foot wide balconies with a spectacular panoramic view of the Nile and Elephantine Island. Our three-night stay there was a highlight of our trip.
The logistics for our trip were complex. We had 5 interior flights, a cruise on the Nile, lengthy rides in the desert including on a 4×4, two camel rides, a carriage ride, a thrilling burro ride to the Monastery in Petra, and probably 20 visits to sites that required tickets. Everything was flawless. We did not have a single hiccup during our trip.
Jim’s deep roots in the area paid off in several ways. He was able to secure upgrades at our hotels. He got us top-deck suites on the Sonesta Star Goddess cruise ship. His long relationship with the owner of the Sakkara Carpet school landed us an especially good price for an Egyptian rug after only a little haggling.
Finally, Jim was able to secure the best guides for us. Our guides were uniformly excellent. Each was knowledgeable about all aspects of the areas we were visiting. For example, our Egyptologists could read hieroglyphics. Our guides worked hard to get us to locations either before or after the cruise ship crowds arrived. For example, when we visited Tutankhamun’s tomb, we were the only people there.
When we decided at the last minute to add a hot air balloon ride, our Luxor guide made special arrangements with the operator to ensure personal attention, including securing the best spot in the balloon basket for viewing the monuments as we glided by. When the ride took longer than expected, our guide worked with the ship captain to make sure we still had a hot breakfast awaiting our return onboard after everyone else had already departed. And as a bonus, our guides suggested superb local restaurants, such as Makka in Aswan and Taboulah in Cairo.
And then there was our WOW moment. I am guessing that Wendy had some input from Jim on what would make a good WOW moment for us because it was inspired. Our planned trip included almost everything a visitor might hope for, with one exception. We had not included a visit to the tomb of Nefertari, generally considered to be the nicest tomb in all of Egypt. That turned out to be our WOW moment, and it was perfect. The tomb has restricted access, with a vault door at the entrance to enable better climate control than at the other tombs. Signs everywhere note that stays are limited to 10 minutes. Not only were we able to stay for 15 minutes, but we were the only people there. It was a magical moment, a perfect capstone to our trip.
All of this added up to a trip that was mi’a mi’a. We would recommend Jim to anyone planning a trip to the area.
Jim was extremely knowledgeable about Egypt and recommended we also visit Jordan and Petra, a truly worthwhile diversion. We had no idea he had lived in Egypt for years until a guide informed us. We made a change during the trip and his staff was very helpful n that regard, too.
We had a wonderful trip. Guides were very good. Wonderful hotel choices. Egypt is a must visit; just incredible sites that are hard to believe even when you are seeing them.
WOW Trip Review #2
Cairo & vicinity in 2.5 days. This was a stopover-of-convenience between two business trips and not something I would recommend for the average person.
Never having been to Egypt before plus a limited time window caused me to seek out professional assistance. I told Jim and his team that I wanted to accomplish the following:
* see the pyramids
* ride on a felucca (small sailing boat on the Nile)
* get pictures of a sunset/night view of Cairo
* as much as possible, avoid the constant harassment by people trying to sell me things I didn’t want
Everything else I saw would be frosting on the cake.
The pre-arrival documentation was detailed & very informative.
Upon arrival at the Cairo airport, I opted for the VIP treatment. It was a super cool experience and consisted of being met at the stairs of the aircraft, taken by private car to a nice lounge with food&drink while they took care of getting my visa.
I was then connected with a highly qualified Egyptologist (an academic who actually participated in excavations of antiquities) & driver for my tour. They did a pretty good job of adapting to my really brief stay.
Additionally, she shared a lot about Muslim culture, Egyptian politics and other subjects that I was curious about… no question seemed to be “off limits”.
Accommodations were at the Kempinski and the room had a great view of the Nile.
But there were a few misses:
* the felucca ride was supposed to be at sunset and include “with local beer and light Oriental Mezze.”. Unfortunately, the local rep showed up late and we just missed the sunset. Also, the Mezze never appeared. No mention of what happened and no apology. It was a small miss but I was pretty hungry by that time and was counting on the food to keep me fueled.
* we made a stop (not on the original itinerary) at the “Papyrus Institute” presumably to see how papyrus was made and see why it’s such an awesome, durable material; that part was very informative… However, I was not warned about the showroom and the slightly pushy sales pitch as a part of the “Institute”. I probably should have known better but when I’m paying for a private tour, I expect the guide to alert me to these situations. Also, this extra stop had a cascade effect on our schedule for the rest of the day and we only caught the final few minutes of the sunset over Cairo which was one of the stated goals.
Bottom line: super high-quality guide, good support & documentation but the unwelcome surprises slightly tarnished what was otherwise an excellent trip.
Still, I would absolutely use Jim and his team again.
From the outset, Jim established his credentials for planning our trip to Egypt for October 2018 for four adults. As the former chief of the Cairo office of a leading upscale travel company, he knows the area and the providers extremely well. He assigned excellent Egyptologists to accompany us, which meant that we explored some tombs off the beaten path…once even involving finding a guard to get a key for access. Our days were occasionally scheduled in reverse order from the crowds, meaning that we experienced spaces to ourselves. He advised where it was worth splurging, like the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, and where it was not. Great advice.
Positive: Terrific, knowledgeable, guides, great service at airports, picking up etc.
Negative: Hotel Kempinski was just terrible- used moisturizer, and shampoo, dirty carpet, rusted shower head and more- I think I received the single worst room in a hostel and it was less than 50% occupied and much more-
One hotel in Aswan and internet access just in the lobby – I run a business with clients in 72 countries and it’s my lifeline- but wasn’t told this! After making a big fuss they brought me up a router and it was fine- but a cardinal sin not to tell me upfront.
All in all a terrific trip.
My husband and I recently returned from Morocco. We have a particular style of travel that does not suit most and tried to be very clear about that when planning with our agent. As well, we have worked with other travel agencies over the years, but this was the first time we used Wendy Perrins services. None of our friends were familiar with the agency, so, even with the positive reviews and conversations prior to our trip, we were definitely apprehensive.
Well, there was absolutely no reason for our concerns. Helen Wilson, on Jim Berkeley’s team, was our agent and she did an amazing job. She paid attention to the information we provided her, made adjustments accordingly as plans progressed, and masterfully planned and executed every aspect of our trip!
We will absolutely employ Wendy Perrins agency again. Our only regret will be that we will be assigned a new agent, but if Helen is any indication of the quality of agents available, we will look forward to it.
Our trip to Jerusalem, Petra and Egypt was one of the best trips in a lifetime of travel. Jim Berkeley zeroed in on our interests, addressed our security concerns and worked with his extensive local contacts to organize an amazing 18-day itinerary. Thanks to Jim, the three of us had the freedom to avoid the crowds and travel comfortably with a series of personal guides who were knowledgeable, friendly and confident talking about their countries from ancient to current times. We especially enjoyed exploring The Valley of the Nobles and Deir el-Medina outside Luxor. These tombs were in excellent condition, incredibly beautiful AND there was virtually no one else there! Secondly, while all the hotels were excellent, the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan is an experience in itself!
We loved the trip. It was especially meaningful for our friends who had this on their bucket list for 20 years but had been afraid to go. When we jumped in and told them we had a fantastic travel specialist that we found through Wendy, they were ready to go. I am truly grateful that for them it was so special as my girlfriend is picky! We were upgraded on more than one occasion and stayed in a true historical suite which was fantastic. We went to Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan in February. It is a great time of year to go and you want guides at all of these places. My biggest tip to you take lots of $1 bills and use this travel planner. Tell them exactly what you want so they can do what it takes to get it for you! Lauren Mescon
Jim Berkeley planned a well organized trip for us in Jordan and Egypt for our family of 4. He did a great job of getting us around to a few chosen locations and to hit the highlights in each locale. We came home feeling like we had really seen and experienced the culture of Jordan and we would love to return and see more! In Egypt, we saw the highlights and every day were somewhat awestruck with what we were seeing! Amazing!
Jim prepared an excellent trip to Egypt for us. The guides were generally quite good (the one in Luxor was fantastic!) and got us into all the places we wanted to see without the crowds and the pressure of mass tour groups. We’d definitely use him again for future trips.
Unbelievable experiences we had on our trip to Egypt. We booked Jim Berkeley and worked with him and his company Destinations and Adventures to plan our two week vacation. Our trip was fantastic. We learned so much about Egypt. Our guides were so informative and made our excursions to the temples, pyramids, and museums really enjoyable. The Egyptian museum was incredible – our guide maneuvered us first to the best rooms where we had time to ourselves before the crowds appeared. Each guide was SO informative and responsive. They truly got to know us and personalized our visit in each location. Our travel connections all along the way were seamless and we really felt that we were in excellent hands. Jim was able to book us for specific tombs that other agencies couldn’t offer. Our concerns about safety were never an issue. Accommodations were perfect. We did have one issue with a hotel and Jims immediate attention resolved it perfectly. I would highly encourage using Jim and his team for your travel plans. The wealth of knowledge, awesome guides, and the extras cannot be beat.
Jim was a pleasure to work with and he put together an incredible trip. My husband and I often tell others that our trip to Egypt was the trip of a lifetime (we are well traveled).
All of the highlights described above are really beyond description!
One of the egyptologists who guided us (he had also worked with the BBC and National Geographic) was encyclopedic about ancient Egypt. Because the ancient Egyptians documented everything, their culture becomes palpable – I remember being read (hieroglyphs) an IOU written on a stone from one neighbor who had borrowed wheat from another promising to pay it back!
I don’t know what it’s like to be in Egypt now, but I trust Jim not only to deliver a unique adventure in one of the world’s most fascinating places but also a safe one.
My husband and I traveled to Egypt and Jordan (including Petra) on a trip choreographed by Jim Berkeley in December 2009. The trip was flawless and now, six years later, our memories remain striking and vivid. Amazing history, landscapes, culture. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and am thinking of going back.