Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Barbara Mace and husband Joe at their anniversary dinner on the beach at the Vakkaru Maldives resort during sunset.

Barbara Mace and husband Joe sit down for an anniversary dinner on the beach at the Vakkaru Maldives resort.

For our anniversary in March/April, my husband, Joe, and I traveled to Dubai and the Maldives. It was a wonderful trip! We worked with Justin to plan the trip and he did a fantastic job. Justin has expertise on Dubai and the Maldives and had much first-hand knowledge on the hotels and resorts, as well as cultural expectations. He was very responsive and great to work with. We were impressed, not only with his knowledge, but with the level of service he arranged in both Dubai and the Maldives. For example, we were greeted as we stepped off the plane in Dubai, guided through immigration and customs, and then handed off to our local contact and driver.

Dubai is a very impressive and new city. Since we were going to the Maldives after Dubai, Justin recommended staying downtown. We stayed at the Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, which is a stunning piece of architecture. We chose a one-bedroom suite, which was perfect for us. The Armani design was beautiful with so much attention to detail; for example, some of the interior walls in our room were curved, as were the doors! Our room overlooked the Dubai Fountain, which I’m told is grander than the fountain at the Bellagio in Vegas. We were treated to fountain shows set to a variety of music every 30 minutes each evening. A delicious daily breakfast was included, and dinner at the Armani Ristorante was amazing. The food was superb, the view was beautiful, the service impeccable, and the chef came to our table to say hello. Justin arranged for a city tour and a Night Safari. The former included a tour of the Burj Khalifa (so impressive), Palm Jumeirah, and many other sites and photo ops; Gabriel was our tour guide and was well versed in the history and culture; it was a fun morning! For the latter we had Land Rover transportation through the desert to see animals, a falconry demonstration, and then we arrived at the camp for a very delicious traditional dinner.

From Dubai, we traveled to Male, the capital of Maldives, and then took a seaplane to the Vakkaru island and resort. While waiting for the seaplane, Vakkaru had a private lounge for its guests. The seaplane was a great experience, taking off from and landing in the water, and we had beautiful views of the Indian Ocean.

At the Vakkaru International airport (a pier off the island), we were greeted by many including Emma, our butler, and Patrick Duff, the resort manager. Emma, was the Best Butler Ever! Emma greeted us by name, and then took us on a quick tour of the island. We then proceeded onto the pier for our overwater bungalow. The one-bedroom suite was beautiful. In addition to the indoor living room, bedroom, dressing area, and luxurious bath, we had an outdoor living room, outdoor dining room, lounge chairs, and a full-size pool with ocean views. We were also given a bottle of champagne in the room.

Vakkaru is in the Baa Atoll, which has blue holes. These suddenly deeper bodies of water, denoted by the sudden deep blue color, have more and varied aquatic life. There were several blue holes right off the island—so beautiful.

Emma took care of our every need, including dinner reservations, snorkeling gear, and all other arrangements. She picked us up for dinner every night, and dropped off treats in the afternoon.

The resort has complimentary bikes for our use; we biked to breakfast every morning! We enjoyed lounging by and luxuriating in our residence pool immensely. The resort also provided morning yoga in the yoga pavilion with an instructor from India, who did a great job of mixing in different levels of practice. Our room had steps to the ocean, which we used for snorkeling. The spa was over-water, and my massage was very relaxing. Emma also arranged for us to experience a Hemisphere Wine Tasting on the terrace of their wine cellar; Retheesh, the resort’s sommelier, taught us what to look for in tasting wine and how to tell if a wine is from a cooler or warmer climate. We were thoroughly delighted in all our experiences. The breakfast buffet was large and varied, with made-to-order eggs, smoothie bar, and mimosas! The resort had 6 dinner venues. We tried every restaurant; the food was delicious and the service stellar.

Emma arranged for a special anniversary dinner at Vakku (the resort’s signature restaurant) on the beach, with a view of the stunning sunset. (The sunsets were gorgeous all week!) Emma and Chili (housekeeping) decorated our bed and drew a bath for us in the huge tub that evening. Emma also wished us a happy anniversary in sand art outside our door.

To impress upon you the attention to detail of the resort and staff, Joe and I were amazed that the resort manager knew where we’re from and spoke to us about a tragedy near home that happened overnight. In the early hours of the morning on our day of arrival, the Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed due to a cargo ship collision. The resort manager spoke to us of this and extended to us and the city well wishes. Several staff members mentioned this to us that day and evening as well. While this tragedy did make international news, we were very impressed that he knew our home in Ellicott City was in the vicinity of this accident. This really touched us.

There were so many special touches for our stays as well as for our anniversary—we are grateful for the personal service! This extraordinary bucket list trip exceeded all our expectations!

Traveler Lauren Schor and family ventured into the desert outside Dubai via vintage Land Rovers.

Lauren Schor and family ventured into the desert outside Dubai via vintage Land Rovers.

Justin planned an amazing spring-break week for our family of three in Dubai and Oman. We spent four nights in Dubai and three nights at a beach resort in Oman. There are so many areas to stay in Dubai, but he suggested staying downtown (at the Armani Hotel) as first-time visitors, and because he thought our teenage daughter would like being in close proximity to the Dubai mall, and he was right! Justin arranged a private yacht cruise around the harbor one morning, which was amazing as we got to see so much of the city from the water (vs sitting in traffic to drive around and see everything). We took a full-day tour of the city (both the old city and the newer city) which was completely customizable as the day went on. We really got to see and do most of the city in one day.

The next day, after a morning on our own (Dubai Gardens and the mall), we went on a luxury desert excursion for the afternoon and evening. Having been to the Sahara in Morocco, we were skeptical about doing something so similar and Justin was confident that it would be a completely different experience than we had in Morocco and again, he was correct! We loved it, definitely one of the highlights of our trip! We also did a day trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai which was great! Again, we got to see most of the major sites in the one day and while we could have stayed by the beach here for a few days, Justin instead suggested we take the two-hour drive to the Six Senses resort at Zighy Bay in Oman. Once again, Justin was right!

We have traveled a lot all over the world and this was one of the most special and amazing resorts in the most gorgeous setting that we have ever been to. As soon as we arrived we wished we were staying longer! The resort offers incredible activities such as paragliding which I would highly recommend—an unforgettable and bucket-list experience! Justin also arranged our WOW Moment here, which was an Arabic cooking class that we loved! Justin knew that we love to do cooking classes and food tours when we travel, but Dubai didn’t really have much to offer us. So he set up a private experience for us in Oman which was really special!

But, the biggest thing that Justin helped with was jumping into action when our international flight from the States got canceled at the last minute and we couldn’t get onto another flight for 48 hours. Justin communicated with me over a holiday weekend and at all hours of the night so that we could get everything pushed back by two days on our itinerary, and in the end it was seamless and everything worked out perfectly! We also traveled during Ramadan which I was concerned about, but it really had very little to no impact on our trip at all! And a lot of people have asked if we felt safe being in the Middle East and I can say, without hesitation, that we felt 100% safe 100% of the time.

This was a three-day stay after a long trip in India and Sri Lanka at the beginning of April. I really didn’t know much about the Maldives and Justin Parkinson helped me decide where to stay and which bungalow to pick. What we wound up with was one of the nicest bungalows, with a private pool overlooking the ocean. Truly beautiful. What I would urge people to consider is that apart from breakfast and dinner, everything else is chargeable. The costs are high because everything has to be boated in. Perhaps a place that is more inclusive of meals and drinks and some activities. We did the snorkeling with nurse sharks and stingrays and that was terrific. This time of year it was extremely hot and since you are near the equator we found it hard to be outside for long — something to consider.

My husband and I just returned from a trip to Dubai to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We booked the trip with Justin Parkinson and would absolutely recommend him. It was a perfect week with a combination of tours and beach days at our fabulous hotel. We had the same guide and driver for our tours of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and they were terrific. Our guide continued to check in on us via WhatsApp for the rest of our week in Dubai. We had another amazing guide/driver for our Desert Safari Excursion, which was super fun. We went on our last night, and it was a fantastic way to end our trip. Justin was always available for all of my questions and concerns regarding the trip, and I hope to use him again for a trip to the Maldives someday in the future.

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