One of the key lessons I’ve learned from my travels (and from yours) is that the right trip designer can transform a family vacation, taking what could have been a week of stress and disagreement and turning it into a miracle. Below is a sampling of family trip reviews from your fellow WendyPerrin.com readers who are WOW List travelers. In each case, the trip designer delivered transcendent family memories, thanks to relationships with the right local fixers. Read more traveler reviews to get more unusual family trip ideas and, for additional inspiration, don’t miss these unexpected spring-break destinations, this collection of family vacations that adults will love too, my tips for how to make sophisticated destinations fun for the whole family, and this video I shot on one of my own family trips about the strategies I use to keep everyone happy. Happy school-break travel brainstorming!
Italy for Christmas: “In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal…”
“Italy can be overwhelming because there is so much to do, see, and eat, but Maria planned a spectacular trip to Florence, Bologna, and Rome for me, my teenagers, and my fiancé over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal (and learned how to make tortelloni) with the family chef, had a tour of the wine cellar, and joined one of the family members for lunch. We learned of the family’s wing of art at the Uffizi, which we visited the next day. Meeting people who have a direct hand in the life and culture of Italy was special. In Rome, our food lovers’ adventure on Vespas with Toni was a complete standout. My 6′ 4″ son was mortified to ride on the Vespa—and got over that fear in one minute. We were a team of five Vespas! Don’t mess with us! As for Bologna, I am a dental surgeon and am really glad Maria recommended visiting the Teatro Medica at the University of Bologna with my kids. I am sure there is no way I could’ve arranged such a trip.” —Wendy Halpern
Costa Rica for spring break: “We swam in thermal hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, walked the hanging bridges of the rainforest canopy…”
“Traveling as a family of six is not easy! We have four children between the ages of 8 and 15, each more adventurous than the next. We needed a spring break that would keep them entertained but also allow us the leisure time we really needed. Natalie put together a perfectly balanced vacation for us in Costa Rica. Everyone was happy! She suggested we spend our week in two areas—Arenal (volcano and rainforest) and Manuel Antonio (beach). In Arenal, we swam in thermal hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, walked the hanging bridges of the rainforest canopy, and went white-water rafting. In Manuel Antonio, we spent quality time at the beach, surfing, boogie boarding, and relaxing. Natalie and her team arranged all of our travel details (flights, hotels, activities, transfers to and from), and they really went out of their way to make sure our vacation was memorable. All we had to do was sit back and enjoy!” —Kara Lawler
Mexico for Christmas: “Three nights in Oaxaca for its colonial and prehistoric attractions, then three nights at the beach in Huatulco…”
“Just before giving up my Mexico trip planning as impossible, I turned to Zachary to see if he could help with the logistics. Our family of four wanted to spend three nights in Oaxaca at Christmas for its colonial and prehistoric attractions, then three nights at the beach in Huatulco. Minimum-stay requirements of five or seven nights during the holidays presented obstacles. Plus, traveling from Oaxaca to Huatulco by mountain road would be long and treacherous. We could fly, but we would have to go through Mexico City, wasting a day. Zach drew on his relationships, avoided minimum stays, and secured well-located rooms for us in outstanding hotels: Quinta Real Oaxaca, an exquisite former convent, and Camino Real Huatulco, a beautifully designed seaside resort. To make it all work, he identified non-stop flights that were not readily accessible to us online. Best of all, he provided Gabriel, an outstanding guide in Oaxaca who is the alpha educator of choice for universities and Smithsonian visitors. We benefited from the depth of Gabriel’s knowledge of history, nature, art and architecture. Zach’s resources and persistence made it possible for our family to enjoy a wonderful holiday trip.” —Barbara Schoenfeld
The Grand Tetons for Thanksgiving: “We booked excursions in the refuge to see bison, hundreds of elk, and bighorn sheep…”
“We—my wife and I and our six-year-old twins—were searching for a memorable 10-day Thanksgiving trip in the mountains anywhere in the West that had the best chance of snow. After advising us as to the pros and cons of every mountain area from Colorado to British Columbia, Caroline steered us toward Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She found the perfect cabin in the Tetons for half of the time and then obtained a truly phenomenal suite for us at the Four Seasons. We booked excursions in the refuge to see bison, hundreds of elk, and bighorn sheep, and we were directed to great hills to sled on and wonderful hiking areas. Caroline checks all the boxes for a five-star experience.” —Garrett Bandy
Israel: “We had experiences that we never would have discovered or done on our own…”
“Joe made our trip to Israel unforgettable. We went for our son’s Bar Mitzvah, and Joe’s team organized every detail. We had experiences that we never would have discovered or done on our own, and my suggestion is that you trust Joe and his team because they have connections to make your trip to Israel better than you can even imagine based on reading guidebooks or browsing the Internet. One of our most special experiences was cooking with a Druze family and learning about their culture. The one must-do experience that I’d strongly recommend is the chef’s tour and cooking class in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. We ended our holiday in the Negev exploring the Ramon Crater. I strongly recommend Joe to anyone who wants a private luxury tour that’s out of the ordinary.” —Alli Polin
Vienna and Prague for spring break: “I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers…”
“I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers. She asked questions to understand how we like to travel, especially when it came to what would interest our son, and then planned and executed an absolutely amazing trip to Vienna and Prague for us. Our itinerary included visits to Mozart’s and Beethoven’s apartments in Vienna; the cemetery where Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Schönberg are buried; and an exhibit that included one of Mozart’s original manuscripts. In Prague she arranged visits to a collection that included the original score to Beethoven’s third symphony, as well as access to the Strahov Library, which travelers typically only get to view from a distance but where we got to wander among the stacks! We also got to spray paint our ‘tags’ on the famous Lennon Wall! Gwen paired us with fabulous guides who, by the time we left, felt more like friends than mere guides. Our Vienna guide was from a musical family, so she had unique insights into Viennese musical history.” —Adam Amsterdam
Jamaica for spring break: “We went zip-lining, river tubing, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, and more!”
“We have two college-age sons and a daughter who is 24, and the boys’ spring breaks were back-to-back weeks, so we wanted a place somewhere in the Caribbean where everyone could come and go easily and we could be together as a family. Lindsey helped us pick an island and villa that met our needs: She found us an extraordinary villa in Jamaica that had a staff and the most amazing view. We are not a beach kind of family—this was the first beach vacation we have taken in more than ten years—so we wanted to make sure there were lots of other activities available. Lindsey’s recommendation was perfect, since there were so many activities nearby. We went zip-lining, river tubing, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, and more! It was an excellent trip that certainly exceeded our expectations.” —Karen Baesman
Japan: “One of our favorite experiences was attending a sumo wrestler practice…”
“Scott arranged the most memorable private moments for our family in Japan. One of our favorite experiences was attending a sumo wrestler practice, sitting within arm’s reach of the athletes. The photos are amazing! We also loved creating a new family memory with our kids (18, 21, 25) during a taiko drumming lesson. Since our family loves music, it was a great way to experience local culture and laugh together! Other private experiences that we would never have been able to appreciate without Scott’s expertise included a five-hour cooking class and dinner in the home of a local Japanese chef. We loved learning about Buddhism and meditating with a monk. All of these were possible thanks to our unbelievable guide, Kiko-san, who also interpreted for us. She was kind, patient, knowledgeable, and respectful of our family dynamic.” —Dale Sindell
Western Canada: “A photographer gave us a personal tour of several waterfalls, giving us photography tips along the way and taking family photos…”
“My husband and I and our two teenage daughters wanted to go to British Columbia, but to avoid any really crowded areas. Marc suggested we spend a few days in Whistler, then a few days on Sonora Island, and end in Vancouver. He set us up for fun activities in Whistler—RZR cars, white-water rafting, zip lining—and we were treated to a WOW Moment: A photographer gave us a personal tour of several waterfalls, giving us photography tips along the way and taking family photos; although I am the photography buff in the family, he was able to engage the whole family and everyone really enjoyed the experience (thank you, Wendy!). We then took a seaplane to Sonora Resort, which the entire family agreed was heavenly. So remote, with beautiful scenery and gourmet food. On our eco-adventure tour we were lucky enough to be in the middle of a pod of about 100 dolphins. The food at Sonora Resort was so delicious that on the first night at dinner our daughter said, ‘Thank you for bringing me here.’ Finally, in Vancouver, Marc suggested the Fairmont Pacific Rim for us, which also was in a fabulous location. Since we are foodies, he planned a food tour at Granville Island, where there are so many booths that it was helpful to have an expert direct us; the tour allowed us to sample more items in small quantities than we could have done on our own. Although I was very involved with the details of our trip, I didn’t have to figure out where to go or how to get there or worry about logistics during my vacation. That made it a true vacation for me.” —Nancy Wolf
Disney World: “She made it possible for us to focus on memories instead of logistics.”
“My husband, two grandsons, and I just returned from Disney World, where we had a fabulous trip, largely due to Michelle. She worked with me on a detailed itinerary, carefully planning the order of parks we would visit to make best use of open hours and Disney Magic Hours (which we took full advantage of). She suggested that we stay at Disney’s Beach Club Resort because she said it had the best pool for our grandsons. With its pirate ship, slides and other water-park features, she was absolutely right. Michelle got reservations for a fun sit-down dinner each day, giving us a chance to take a breather and eat some interesting and healthy food. Each restaurant was convenient to where we were spending the day; I could see the wisdom of all her choices as we went through the week. One dinner even included VIP seating at Hollywood Studios’ excellent light show. On the day we qualified to sign up for our Fast Pass choices, Michelle selected the attractions that were most popular and geared to our grandsons’ ages and interests. She also ordered our Disney wrist bands that were linked to our hotel room, parks, Photo Pass, and credit card. I didn’t even have to carry a purse when we went out for the day. She made it possible for us to focus on memories instead of logistics. That’s a big reason why our grandsons announced to their parents when we returned that it was the most fun trip they had ever been on.” —Christine Stoll
Antarctica for New Year’s: “Ashton planned the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica for us!”
“Ashton planned the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica for us! It was my last continent, and I cried when I arrived and cried when it was over. I had thought I wanted to fly over the Drake Passage because I was terrified of getting seasick, but I’m really happy I listened to Ashton. He said that flying over the Drake can mean delays on either side because of weather, and unless you have flexibility in your schedule, it’s not advisable. He highly recommended a ship that has the best stabilizers to handle the Drake, has excellent naturalist guides, and would work for my 17-year-old. Also, my husband wasn’t as excited about Antarctica as I was and preferred more luxurious accommodations than the fly trips offer. So we kind of had to agree on the trade-off to make the trip happen: my bucket list vs. Marty’s desire to be more comfortable on a nicer boat. Ashton was perfect in assessing what everyone wanted. Marty now agrees it was the best trip we ever had, and we all want to come back on the longer trip, which would include South Georgia Island, where the king penguins are. I will also use Ashton again for the North Pole, hopefully soon.” —Tina Sarafa
Read reviews of Ashton. Read his Insider’s Guides to Antarctica Cruises, Arctic by Land and Sea, and Small-Ship Alaska Cruises: Insider’s Guide to the Best Ones. Then contact him to maximize your experience of the Antarctic, the Arctic, or small-ship expedition cruises.
France over July 4th: “Our kids were able to see important places in a way that made them fun…”
“We spent four days in each of Normandy, Brittany, and Paris. We are a family of five (three kids, aged 9, 15, and 17), so we needed a variety of activities to engage the youngest to the oldest. Jennifer planned several day trips that were specifically designed for our kids, where they were able to see important places in a way that made them fun, from a treasure hunt in the Louvre to a bike ride around Paris to a crossing of the Bay of Mont St. Michel. Our favorite guide was Isabelle, in Paris, who took us to Versailles and to our WOW Moment—a private boat ride down a canal in Paris, complete with a skipper, picnic, and wine. It was amazing!! Isabelle was an absolute delight: warm, funny, engaging, and extremely organized. She was able to maneuver us to avoid several long lines at Versailles on an incredibly hot, crowded day. I studied in Paris in college, and I know more than the average traveler about France and its history, but I learned so much from Isabelle.” —Christa Sullivan
Atlantic Canada over July 4th: “Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking…”
“For our three-generation family trip to Atlantic Canada—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland—Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking. These included a boat trip where we dug for clams, pulled up lobster traps, gathered fresh mussels and oysters, and had a wonderful lobster boil on a secluded beach. Another boat excursion was to islands dark with puffins, murres, razor bills, cormorants and other birds, and a boat tour of coastal resettled communities during which we saw whales. We also had a songfest in a private home with guitar and accordion. And we (and some say this was the best) hiked along the shore with Lori, a chef, who pointed out plants which were edible and then used them to make a sumptuous lunch. The vistas of inland lakes, pine forests, and ocean fronts were magnificent. This was a visit of a lifetime.” —Richard Goldin
Georgia (the country): “Never did I dream that my kids would be singing karaoke with Georgian children after lunch in their Soviet-era apartment.”
“Through every step of planning my family’s trip to the Republic of Georgia, Zulya made sure that she was meeting our travel needs and goals. Georgia is not flooded with obvious tourist attractions, so we received a well-rounded itinerary that allowed us to experience its natural wonders and connect with the culture. Never did I dream that my kids would be singing karaoke with Georgian children after lunch in their Soviet-era apartment. Some other favorite activities included cooking with local families in their homes, hiking in the Caucasus mountains, and visiting Gergeti church via horse. I think the main reason it was so pleasant to work with Zulya is that she truly cares that you have a wonderful experience on your trip. She is an ambassador of the countries she represents, and we look forward to working with her to travel to other Silk Road destinations.” —Melissa Pollack
London for Thanksgiving: “…a spy adventure at the British Museum, and a half-day of movie making throughout London…”
“ We went to England over Thanksgiving and used Jane to plan our trip. She arranged spectacular tours for us, including early entry into the Tower of London (we got to see the Tower and the crown jewels before they were open to the public), a spy adventure at the British Museum, and a half-day of movie making throughout London. (The latter involved the children being filmed with wands and capes at various locations around London where Harry Potter was filmed. They will put this together into a movie.) The highlight for me was the tour of the Churchill War Rooms with the director emeritus of the War Rooms, who took us behind the scenes and allowed us to sit in the actual chair that Winston Churchill sat in. Our guide and our driver and the ‘spies’ and ‘movie directors’ were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and did an excellent job getting the children involved and engaged.” —Frank Richards
Read reviews of Jane. Read her Insider’s Guide to London and Insider’s Guide to England’s Castles, Manor Houses, and Gardens. Then contact her to maximize your experience of England.
Turks and Caicos for Christmas: “There were 16 family members ranging in age from 3 to 74…”
“We traveled to Turks and Caicos in late December to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday. There were 16 family members ranging in age from 3 to 74. Lindsey and her team did a wonderful job of finding a property that suited all of our needs—not an easy task for a multi-generational trip such as this one. The Somerset is small and intimate, and we all appreciated having privacy when required (each of our units came with two bedrooms, full kitchen, and so on—with more space than we could have imagined). There was an infinity pool and a white-sand beach, and our kids appreciated the nightly outdoor movie screenings, replete with pizza and popcorn. Lindsey was amazing at answering my many questions over email, always in a speedy manner and with lots of detail. She had lots of recommendations for dinners and excursions, all of which were spot on.” —Shawna Cohen
Bali in summer: “We were welcomed into homes in villages that we would never have had access to.”
“Diane planned a 30-day itinerary throughout Indonesia for our family—five-year-old twins and my wife and me. Although we travel often, we never could have planned such a seamless vacation. We were welcomed into homes in villages that we would never have had access to. Diane’s three decades of traveling in Indonesia and discovering gorgeous idyllic islands and new hotels was evident, as was her obvious expertise in routing our journey. She has relationships with villa owners/managers in areas of Indonesia that would have been nearly impossible to find on our own. These accommodations are not in guidebooks. We could not have been happier with our trip that Diane planned for us.” —Garrett Bandy
Portugal for spring break: “We were traveling to Portugal with my one-year-old grandson…”
“We were traveling to Portugal with my one-year-old grandson, and this meant a lot of consideration had to be given to where we stayed, how we traveled, and what we did. Goncalo—who is the 13th of Wendy’s travel specialists I’ve used—scored on all aspects. First, he found us a two-bedroom apartment in Lisbon with a full kitchen, a washer/dryer, and a kids’ playroom. What a perfect choice this was. Second, when we did a full-day trip to Sintra, he suggested that instead of Pena Palace (which I’d been to on a previous trip), we go to Quinta da Regaleira and Convento dos Capuchos, which were much easier to navigate with a small child. On our first day in Lisbon, he personally conducted our walking food tour, educating us about Portuguese foods (and drink) and taking us to great places I’d missed entirely on my earlier trip to Portugal. When we departed Lisbon for the Douro Valley, our car was delivered to the hotel and turned out to be a major upgrade from what we’d rented (and lots more comfortable). Our Douro Valley hotel was wonderfully located, our rooms were very spacious, the private boat for our morning cruise on the Douro River was spectacular, and the wine tour he chose for us was the best I’ve ever done, including the best port wines I’ve ever tasted.” —Jan Heininger
Pacific Northwest in summer: “We were initially reluctant to hire a travel agent who charged for her time, but we are so glad we did because she was worth every penny.”
“For our trip from Seattle to Vancouver, including the Olympic Peninsula and Victoria, Sheri planned all the logistics, telling us which ferries to take, what time to visit a national park, what to do only on a sunny day rather than a cloudy one, which hikes to take in light of the ages of our kids, restaurants that we would enjoy, traffic advice, museums to visit, and more. She helped us find a great vacation home in the Olympic Peninsula that we would never have found on our own. We were initially reluctant to hire a travel agent who charged for her time, but we are so glad we did because she was worth every penny. Much of the detailed itinerary planning she does wouldn’t yield a commission for her—for example, planning scenic drives, hikes inside national parks, ferry rides—so I understand why she bills for her time the way she does and would highly recommend her.” —Sally Vaugh
Read reviews of Sheri. Read her Insider’s Guides to Seattle, the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula, and the Perfect California Coast Road Trip. Then contact her to maximize your experience of Pacific Northwest, California Coast, British Columbia, or Alberta.
France in summer: “He absolutely knows where you should go and the time you should do it…”
“This was a very difficult trip to plan. We gave Philip only a couple of weeks to plan it, we had nine people coming and going at different stages, we were traveling with a 6-year-old, it was the busiest season in France, we had changes to the itinerary and/or restaurants on a daily basis … and Philip and his team truly outperformed all my expectations. He saved our trip. He got us to the best places, he absolutely knows where you should go and the time you should do it. From the balloon flight to the wine tasting, he and his team made this trip unforgettable.” —Steven Morton
Read reviews of Philip. Read his Insider’s Guide to Provence and the French Riviera. Then contact him to maximize your experience of Provence and the south of France.
Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.