Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Being outside or with private vaccinated guides was a great way to vacation with COVID ongoing
Sheri Hardin | September 22, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  My husband’s skepticism turned to awe during our 10 day trip to Utah September 10-18. Melissa listened to the concerns he had since he is not an avid hiker and he likes some down time. She planned an itinerary that included the Big 5 National Parks in Utah. She also listened and planned around our wanting to attend the Moab Music Festival (we listened to classical music from NYC and Boston artists in a grotto in Canyonlands Park with a wine reception after). We stayed in a combination of Hilton hotels with our points and locations Melissa planned. I did not want to leave the Cougar Ridge Lodge outside of Capitol Reef that Melissa booked. All of the guides were fabulous, vaccinated and took us on short walks in various parts of the parks so we got to see so much beauty even without the long hikes. Melissa planned guided tours in each park, UTV tour outside Capitol Reef, horseback riding in Bryce, stargazing outside of Bryce. I had a concern about the dust with my asthma on the UTV tour and contacted one of the team that works with Melissa. I received a message back right away and the owner of the tour company spoke with me and made adjustments so the guide drove us. Melissa had already booked us a private tour so there was little dust. This UTV tour ended up being the highlight of our entire trip. At Canyonlands and Capitol Reef we saw few people. Our guide knew how to avoid the crowds at Arches. Bryce and Zion were a little more crowded but on the Zion shuttle everyone had their masks on and our guide was good to avoid the crowds on our short hikes. For Bryce we were on horses outside so not close to the others. Our stargazing was private and so were all our guided tours so we really had limited exposure to others. We received a detailed itinerary that even had a range of suggested tip amounts and what to wear and bring for each outing. There were suggested restaurants with most having outdoor spaces. The issue right now is check before you go because some restaurants are closed certain days of the week. My recommendation is to book reservations for dinner whenever you can. The parks are crowded with individuals and with tour buses and all of these people eat dinner making for long waits. Very thankful that most nights I had booked dinner reservations prior to our trip. Melissa and her team were good to preorder our lunches in several places with menus they provided to us and that helped save time and they were very good. My husband and I have traveled extensively but we both were still in awe at the beauty and the differences in each of the parks. Being outside or with private vaccinated guides was a great way to vacation with COVID ongoing. I plan to use Melissa again for any national park visits. She definitely has great tour contacts and understands the correct amount of time for each park and the highlights with the best way to observe them.
Trip comments: Follow the itinerary recommendations and wear layers. It started cool some mornings but definitely heated up in September. Always bring a refillable water bottle as suggested. If you want to attend the Moab Music Festival tickets usually go on sale in February. I was on a wait list in March but luckily cleared. We decided on our own we wanted to add a flyover of Canyonlands because so many remote parts of the park that takes days to reach by backpacking. The flyover was awesome! It was my husband’s second favorite activity. I am sure Melissa could have booked that but we did spur of the moment.

Lobster boat fishing, a day cruise in a sailboat, and a guided tour of Acadia park
Renee Alcheck | September 18, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  We spent a week this summer in Maine with our family including kids age 9 and 14. The hotels we stayed at and the activities that were designed for us included lobster boat fishing, a day cruise on the water in a sailboat, and a guided tour of Acadia park. We really enjoyed all aspects of the trip and found the hotels to be well situated and family friendly.

Flightseeing over Canyonlands during a perfect sunset, horseback riding in Bryce Canyon (perfect the day after a long hike on our own legs)...
Jeremy Silverman | September 9, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  Melissa did a fantastic job planning a great family adventure for our family of four (including two teenagers) in Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks in June of 2021. During our planning session, we told Melissa that two of our family mottos are: (1) always leave the party while you’re having fun and (2) never leave fun to chase fun. In practice, this means we try to enjoy what we’re doing for as long as it’s enjoyable, but not push beyond for the sake of seeing every sight or checking every box. In keeping with our mottos, Melissa planned an itinerary that was very active, but mixed in appropriate downtime and breaks.

We had phenomenal guides throughout our travels who helped us navigate (and avoid) crowds and lines — including by visiting the less visited areas of Moab/Arches and Capitol Reef — but also enriched our experience by sharing their decades of personal knowledge. As importantly, all of our guides made great connections with our teenage kids who soaked up all the information they had to offer about the history, geology and unique beauty of the Mighty 5. There are too many highlights to list — and everyone in my family had different favorites — but a few were flightseeing over Canyonlands during a perfect sunset, horseback riding in Bryce Canyon (perfect the day after a long hike on our own legs) and canyoneering a few feet outside of Zion National Park.

Visiting the western parks in the summer of 2021 was obviously a very popular idea. I am certain it would have been impossible for us to plan our itinerary (on fairly short notice) — including fantastic guides and popular activities — without Melissa’s and her team’s help. Matching our dates with hotels, guides and activities was 5 dimensional chess and I know others who tried to plan similar on their own and ran into many stumbling blocks that we avoided. We were so appreciative of the experience we had thanks to Melissa’s deep knowledge and connectivity.

The canyoneering trip was challenging enough for us but still do-able for my son
Amy Evers | August 28, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  I worked with the wonderful Melissa Ladvala and her team for this trip to Moab with my 11 year old son. She was very helpful getting us lined up for the activities we wanted to do and made suggestions as well. She made sure there were other kids similar in age to my son on the 4 day whitewater rafting trip, which he absolutely loved. He had so much fun with the other kids, trying to be as independent as they could be given the circumstances. He loved the rafting and loved sleeping outside (not in the tent!). Melissa made sure the canyoneering trip was challenging enough for us but still do-able for my son. The guide was great and the water obstacles were perfect given how hot it was. The via ferrata course was fun too. We had never done one before and really enjoyed it. The hotel selection was perfect too. She knows what the important features are. We had a blast and felt safe the entire time. It helps being outside the whole time! Thank you so much!!!!

Melissa arranged diverse activities, and top-notch folks to help us experience these activities
Richard Ashmore | August 18, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  Thank you to Melissa and Sharman for curating and watching over our road trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton, with stops in Aspen and Santa Fe on the way home. It was wonderful in every way. They did a fabulous job.

Guides and activities. Melissa arranged diverse activities, and top-notch folks to help us experience these activities. Here are some highlights. Max and Tom, our guides for kayaking on Lake Yellowstone, were engaging and informative. Chris, our guide for rafting on the Snake River, was wonderful – knowledgeable and personable. The walking tour in Santa Fe with Peter was excellent. Peter he knew his stuff and catered to what we wanted to see and experience. He also took us to places we would not have gone on our own. For example, the New Mexico State Capital is extremely impressive. In some ways, it is like a classy art and history museum.

Hotels. Fabulous. Perfect in every way. Melissa put us in outstanding places, in perfect locations, and got us great rooms. We mention just a few. Stoney Cabin at the Rock Creek Lodge in Red Lodge was charming and very special. We loved hearing the rushing creek just outside. The best sound machine in the world. Room 419 in the Aspen Square Hotel and Condominiums was fabulous. As a corner unit, it had views in two directions with a partial view of Aspen Mountain. From our balcony we could see and hear the street activity, and yet with the sliding glass door closed, the room was very quiet. Once again the location of the hotel was perfect. Right in the heart of Aspen. We saved the best for last: Jenny Lake Lodge was perfection. We stayed in Buckwheat cabin which had a fabulous view of the Tetons. The staff members are excellent and the meals perfect. This place is heaven. We hope to go back next year.

In sum, Melissa gave us the trip of a lifetime, and we thank her for that.

Highlights included: Full-day rock climbing, challenging but exhilarating. Absolutely exquisite all-day hike. Morning wildlife tour.
Christie Peck | August 15, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  Trip to Jackson, WY 7/15/21-7/22/21. 68 yr old mother and two adult sons. Worked with Melissa Ladvala and her support team.

Had a terrific week! Ladvala provided excellent outfitter reservations and overall plan for the week. (We managed our own accommodations.) Highlights included: Full-day rock climbing for boys, challenging but exhilarating. Absolutely exquisite all-day hike. Morning wildlife tour which provided excellent overview of area on first day. Only disappointment was four-hour horseback ride for mother; ride was best suited for beginner riders.

In addition to Ladvala’s contacts and planning, her team provided excellent support before and during the trip.

Trip was before new Delta variant outbreaks and Jackson is highly vaccinated so we took modest precautions during the trip. A welcome respite from full-time masking.

Would recommend Melissa for this area of the country!

A fantastic itinerary that minimized driving and maximized family time
Karl Mattsson-Boze | July 26, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL Many thanks to Melissa Ladvala and her team. We took a custom private tour starting in Albuquerque, NM and ending in Salt Lake City, UT, and the team set up a fantastic trip that brought us through the history and geology from Mesa Verde to Canyonlands, from the dinosaurs to the “Wild West,” while providing fantastic activities for the kids (9 and 11). Melissa connected us to a phenomenal guide in Moab, private 3 hour horseback riding, an archaeologist guide in Mesa Verde and a fantastic itinerary that minimized driving and maximized family time.
July 2021

Whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole, rock climbing in the Grand Tetons, kayaking in Yellowstone, fly fishing in Montana...
Renee Alcheck | July 13, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL Melissa planned an amazing road trip for our family that took us from Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons to Yellowstone and Montana to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills and ended in Chicago. We are a family of 5 with 3 kids ranging in age from 8 to 16 and wanted a variety of activities. Melissa delivered – we went whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole, rock climbing in the Grand Tetons, kayaking in Yellowstone, fly fishing and horse back riding in Montana and biking in the Black Hills. Every day was a new adventure. We had well curated activities and private guides in the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and the Black Hills. Melissa had excellent suggestions and put together a memorable trip for our family.

We did not have a positive experience
Ronit Setton | July 8, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  We did not have a positive experience using Melissa and her team for a road trip from Montana to Jackson Hole to visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We have used half a dozen experts on Wendy’s List and our experience did not meet the same standards. For example, we were sent to the wrong location and almost missed a kayaking trip, and changed the hotels that were suggested, including one that had no AC (it was 85 degrees when we arrived. After a full day of touring, we had to book and drive to a different hotel).


Response from Trusted Travel Expert Melissa Ladvala:

We’re sorry that Ms. Setton and her family were disappointed with some aspects of their trip. Air conditioning is not common in most national park accommodations in or around Yellowstone and it was unusually warm the week they were traveling. We booked Ms. Setton and her family at a historic lodge just outside the park that has a nice restaurant on-site, as dining has been a perpetual issue this summer. The hotel that they switched to does not meet our standards and we would therefore not recommend it. Regarding the kayaking excursion, hundreds of our clients have used our driving directions for this particular excursion without issue. We hope that the refund we provided helped make up for the issues they experienced.

All our guides knew the exclusive places (without crowds)
Janis Marcus | June 19, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  Yellowstone/Tetons and Montana
The trip was so well planned – we were busy as much as we wanted to be .. the guides were incredible- each offering a different flavor. All our guides knew the exclusive places (without crowds). The expertise they offered included wildlife, plants, terrain, geology, and climate — loved the float down the snake river and breakfast at the campsite. Loved the kayaking company and the triple creek ranch. The trip planner suggested all of our accommodations and restaurants!! So well planned – Would not change anything.

We were able to do everything we wanted plus more
Linda Stapf | May 16, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL Arizona – Grand Canyon May 2021

We had a wonderful time and were able to do everything we wanted plus more! I had already booked hotels and flights, but Melissa’s colleague Mindy was able to add some great experiences. She booked Lowell observatory, guided hike to Grand Canyon, a helicopter ride and a desert dusk tour. We even swapped one of our hotel nights for a cool glamping night in the desert.

There were less people around, our tour in the Grand Canyon with All Star Grand Canyon Tours and the helicopter ride at Maverick were both private, just our family. Our guide Ben took great care of us at the Grand Canyon and was able to give us some off-road driving directions. The kids had the best day ever – everyday and want to go back.

The helicopter ride was great fun, but in the middle of the day it did interfere a bit with our hiking, I would recommend putting that in another day if at all possible.

Melissa organized a trip that allowed us to enjoy the national parks without COVID limitations
Beth Nury | April 12, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL Melissa and Mindi moved quickly to plan a fabulous Southwest trip within seven days of my first email to them. Our ten day trip (March 19, 2021 – March 29, 2021) took us to four National Parks (Arches, Capitol Reef, Zion & Grand Canyon), Esclanante (National Monument) and Sedona, AZ.

Guides: Melissa did a great job of securing day trips with guides in all of our stops. We have two kids, ages 16 and 13, and found that going with a guide makes the trip much more efficient and enjoyable for all! We particularly enjoyed the guides in Capitol Reef (Shawn/Fremont River Guides), Escalante (Sage/Earth-Tours), Zion (Tonya/Zion Guru) and Grand Canyon (Donnie/All Star Tours). The guides know which trails are less crowded than others, where to spot wildlife, etc.

Accommodations: Melissa was spot-on with the Hoodoo Moab Hilton, Cliffrose Lodge (also Hilton) and El Tovar. Hoodoo and Cliffrose locations could not be beat, as they are located within a 5-8 minute drive to Arches and Zion. In addition, these hotels are within walking distance to restaurants, coffee shops, etc. As for El Tovar, the history and grandeur of this hotel took our breath away. Even though we could only stay for one night, it was well worth the detour from Zion on our way to our final stop, Sedona. In addition, the time spent in the Grand Canyon was short, but undoubtedly some of the best time spent on our trip. (Who would have ever guessed we would not be able to see the canyon due to a blizzard in March!!)

Overall, despite our concerns about anticipated COVID restrictions, Melissa and Mindi organized a trip that allowed us to enjoy the national parks/monuments without COVID limitations.

When we returned home, I noticed a double charge on my credit card for a hotel and immediately reached out to Mindi. Within 30 minutes, she contacted the hotel and the charges were reversed. I was impressed with how quickly I saw the credit appear on my statement!

I would recommend Melissa and Mindi for future Southwestern USA travelers. Thanks again for a wonderful trip,

They could not have been more thoughtful and professional during a really challenging time
Charlie Myers | January 6, 2021

PANDEMIC TRAVEL My family and I were so lucky to have had the opportunity to have worked with Melissa, Mindy and their team on our last minute vacation to Arizona. They could not have been more thoughtful and professional in organizing all aspects of the trip, during a really challenging time.

We felt safe throughout the trip. Nearly all our excursions were outside
Amy Evers | November 7, 2020

woman rappelling and rock climbing in Zion national park

PANDEMIC TRAVEL Melissa and her colleague Mindy put together (in just a couple of weeks) an amazing trip for my husband and I! Like many others, we were supposed to be somewhere else (Zimbabwe for us) but were unable to go secondary to covid. Instead we opted to stay in the country and visit the southwest. We were NOT disappointed. We flew into Phoenix and out of Salt Lake City, but rented a car and drove between.

Our trip was filled with incredible, fun, and active ventures. We started things on the relaxing side with golf for my husband (which he did again later in the trip), a massage for me, and a bit of pool time. We then moved on to a lot of very active experiences until the end when we relaxed again. We went mountain biking twice and white water rafting. We went on a hot air balloon flight. We hiked in many gorgeous locales. We did a cooking class (the food was out of this world), a sunset tour in the desert, a UTV tour, a stargazing experience, and jeep tours. We had some time to explore on our own as well. Our two favorite experiences were exploring the very narrow slot canyons in Escalante with a guide that took us off the tourist grid (we didn’t see anyone else!) and a WOW Moment of canyoneering near Zion. No doubt we are slight adrenaline junkies, but this trip really fulfilled our desires!

We had booked a half-day of canyoneering, but the WOW Moment surprise turned it into a full day of elevated canyoneering with a special picnic along the way. And we had a photographer with us to take pictures of us all day! I am elated that we had more time to go further into the canyon and do more repels and obstacles. There was even one small section that got me out of my comfort zone and that is usually what I’m looking for! I know that type of thing is not for everyone, but that’s where it’s up to an intuitive and knowledgeable travel agent to find those things that make the trip really shine. I definitely feel like our travel agent “got us” in planning this trip. Our guides were all amazing too. They were personable, knowledgeable and good at what they do. My husband and I are both fit individuals and our guides were able to tailor our activities to our physical abilities, allowing us to get the most out of each day. I know the guides also had a heads up on expectations even before we met them, thanks to our travel agent! We ended our trip with some much needed, relaxing spa time in a gorgeous mountain resort.

Our hotels were all perfectly chosen for us. We ate like kings and queens. We even had some amazing meals in some very small towns. Melissa & Mindy made us feel very special throughout, leaving treats and champagne at hotels for us, as well as during excursions or sunsets. We truly were blown away by the beauty we have here in our own country! We felt safe throughout the trip. Nearly all our excursions were outside. We also ate outside for the majority of our meals. We wore masks anytime we weren’t outside and distanced and others did too

We were able to see an incredible part of our country during a very difficult time and feel safe while doing it
Amy Evers | July 31, 2020

PANDEMIC TRAVEL  We had such an amazing trip! Melissa was wonderful to work with during the planning stages. She really listened to what I was hoping to get from this trip and did all she could to accommodate that. We made several changes in the initial planning. I wanted to see wildlife in the Lamar Valley so we switched the location of our accommodation the night before entering Yellowstone so we would enter through the northeast entrance which is the closest to the Lamar Valley. And we lucked out! We saw several wolves, foxes, bison, and a bear! We wanted to go paragliding, which Melissa did not book for us, but she adjusted the schedule so we had a morning available to do it. We down graded a few nights of accommodation to save a bit of money as well. Then, just as I was about to book the trip (which was somewhat last minute given the covid-19 situation), my sister and her 2 girls decided to join us on the trip. This required some more manipulation of accommodation and switching a few activities around. Melissa took this all in stride with grace and had the new itinerary to us in no time! I was very impressed!

On to the execution of the trip… very well done indeed! We had a nice mix of independent time and guided activities. On arrival in South Dakota, it was arranged for our guide to meet us at an unusual location to make it more convenient for us given where we had just driven from. We had one hiccup on checking into the hotel in Rapid City but Melissa was available via phone and took care of it immediately.

Our time in Yellowstone, Tetons, and Jackson Hole went very smoothly. We did so many activities (learning about the geothermal features, wild life viewing, white water rafting, horse back riding, rock climbing, fly fishing, paragliding, etc.)! We brought our bikes with us and were able to tootle around at Under Canvas in Yellowstone as well as on all the pathways out of Teton Village. We loved our stay at Under Canvas, especially the kids, and really loved being all in one suite in Teton Village.

We are so grateful that we were able to see and experience an incredible part of our country during a very difficult time and feel safe while doing it! Thank you Melissa!

The mix of scheduled activities and unscheduled time was just right
Terry Feng | January 15, 2020

I contacted Melissa Ladvala for a trip to Yellowstone NP in January 2020. This was an unexpected opening in my schedule and the travel dates were less than 4 weeks away.

I mentioned a few of the activities we would be interested in trying.

She put together a great 5 day itinerary in 24-48 hours. Her advice regarding snowmobiling was correct (do the trip to Old Faithful). The mix of scheduled activities and unscheduled time was just right. She sent detailed instructions regarding each daily activity, packing list, tips for guides, and restaurants. Each company providing an activity (dog sledding, snow mobile, wild life viewing, docent at National Museum of Wildlife Art ) was excellent. Surprise Free Lunch at the Museum!

The accommodations were spacious. I did airfare separately into Jackson, WY
Trying to complete this plan in a short time would not be possible on your own. Trying to sort through each company that provides an activity (for instance snow mobile) requires insider information.

Thanks Melissa for a memorable experience

The guides that she found for us in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Dakota, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton were all fantastic…
Nicole Trella | August 7, 2019

What a wonderful trip! And we could not have done it without the help of Mindi and Melissa! We traveled through North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho & Montana. With 6 hotels involved in the itinerary, organizing this trip was no small feat. There was one issue with a hotel not understanding our payment, but I called Mindi and she handled it practically instantaneously. The guides that she found for us in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Dakota, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton were all fantastic and we were thrilled with all of our accommodations as well as the outings we did. The level of detail provided in our printed itinerary was terrific. We especially appreciated the google map links to each of our destinations. We would totally recommend using this planner if you are planning a trip to the National Parks. We hope to do a future trip soon! Sincerely, Nicole Trella

Listened to our requests and gave us exactly what we wanted.
Priscella Stevens | June 19, 2019

Mark and Melissa listened to our requests and gave us exactly what we wanted in the trip.

Mindy solved 2 lodging issues superbly: one where the Page, AZ Marriott mistakenly cancelled our reservation (clerical error she rectified) and two, when a room was not ready for guests (she got another place near Zion).

The value add: planning, quality/unique activities, impeccable guides, great lodging & time.

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