Tag Archives: family travel

Machu Picchu, Peru

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

The gift we can give our graduates—and the gift they’ll give back to us

Graduation trips are among the most popular family trips we see here at WendyPerrin.com, and we agree that an academic achievement deserves to be marked with a fun, memorable (and yes, sometimes even educational) experience. To provide inspiration for your own travels with your favorite grad this year, we’ve looked back at the graduation trips arranged by our WOW List destination experts that have most delighted your fellow travelers. Here’s how to get your own WOW trip.

START A WOW TRIP FOR YOUR GRAD


Switzerland: “Our time in Interlaken included a private chocolate-making workshop and the highlight of the trip for my daughter, a hike with St. Bernard dogs…”

Travelers hiking with St. Bernards in Switzerland.

Jennifer, David, Veronica, and Reed Datwyler hiking with St. Bernards.

“My daughter recently graduated from high school. She chose a family trip to Switzerland as a celebration of her accomplishments. My husband and I, along with our 18-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son, had a ten-day trip to three distinct regions of Switzerland. This trip was expertly planned by Nina and Annina.

We flew direct from San Francisco to Zurich. The afternoon of our arrival, we toured the city of Zurich in a tuk-tuk where we were welcomed with chocolate fondue en route. The next day, we took a short train ride to the town of Appenzell, where we visited with a local bell maker who demonstrated the art of forging cow bells. My daughter even got to participate in the forging process!

From Zurich we traveled by train to Interlaken. We stayed in a beautiful wellness hotel right on the water outside of town. Our time in Interlaken included a private chocolate-making workshop and the highlight of the trip for my daughter, a hike with St. Bernard dogs.

The third stop was the Italian region of Switzerland, where we stayed in the town of Ascona. Here we rode E-bikes to a small family-run grotto where we learned to make risotto. We spent another day exploring the Bavona Valley. We enjoyed a hike through the most beautiful terrain we have ever seen. The entire trip was flawless. We will never forget this time together as a family.” —Jennifer Datwyler

Read more reviews of Switzerland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SWITZERLAND

African safari: “My two children and I celebrated my son’s college graduation by taking a trip for the ages!”

Lynn Casper

Thomas Casper celebrated his college graduation with a safari. Here, he’s atop Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Traveler Clare Casper

“Just back from South Africa and Botswana! My two children and I celebrated my son’s college graduation by taking a trip for the ages! We worked with Christian from Julian‘s office, who put together an itinerary that included places we had not even considered. Five days in South Africa included the awe-inspiring Grootbos Nature Preserve at the bottom of the continent. We explored ancient caves, went whale watching, hiking and thoroughly enjoyed the unforgettable cuisine at Grootbos! We loved our guide Hosea who gave us such in-depth history and cultural insight on the area. It was a small gesture, but my kids really appreciated Hosea taking them into a local market in Cape Town’s Bo-Kapp neighborhood to enjoy a mid-day snack.

After a day touring and hiking on the magnificent Table Mountain, we set off to Botswana for 6 days at 3 different safari camps. Each camp was in a different ecosystem, which was something we never would have considered and were so appreciative of Christian to plan in that manner. I knew I would see the animals but did not expect to learn so much from the guides at each camp. The magnificent birds were also an unexpected surprise. The delicious food and lovely staff will never be forgotten and really made the trip our favorite so far!

Kudos to Christian for setting up this amazing experience!”—Lynn Casper

Read more reviews of South Africa and Botswana trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA AND BOTSWANA

Paris: “Our January trip to Paris was for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food, and the Louvre…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“Our January trip to Paris was for our daughter’s college graduation. She was interested in fashion, food, and the Louvre. Let’s start by how incredibly smooth our airport arrival was! Upon exiting the aircraft, we were whisked away by Mohammad, who led us through customs, helped us with our luggage, and delivered us to our driver. I bet we saved two hours not having to wait in the line at customs.

Jennifer, our trip planner, did a great job planning our tours and making our dining reservations! We were very impressed with each tour guide: our private half-day tour of the Louvre could not have been better! We loved our croissant-making class and our chef was fabulous. We were pleasantly surprised with our tour of the Dior museum—so unexpected and maybe one of our most favorite things. We had the museum to ourselves and our guide was fantastic! Jennifer secured a fashion expert who took us to neighborhood boutiques featuring up and coming Parisian designers, and this was a real treat! We loved meeting the shop owners, and we felt like locals shopping for the afternoon.

Each and every restaurant reservation that Jennifer procured provided the best table in the restaurant with amazing views of the Eiffel Tower. One of the restaurants surprised us with a sparkler in my daughter’s dessert, which was so fun.” —Kim Brown

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PARIS

Norway: “My husband and I wanted to take our four children on a graduation trip to Norway…”

Barbara Lich's son climbing in Norway's mountaineering capital of Andelsnes.

Barbara Lich’s son climbing in Norway’s mountaineering capital of Andelsnes.

Our trip (planned by Torunn and Karin) exceeded expectations! Wow! My husband and I wanted to take our four children on a graduation trip to Norway. When we first talked with Torunn, she listened to what worked for my family in previous trips, what we were looking for (an active trip to see and experience as much as possible). And she delivered!

Our children are ages 25, 22, 18 and 14. When Torunn heard that our daughter is a competitive figure skater and wanted to see sights near the 1994 Olympic venue in Lillehammer, she arranged that we would stop in Lillehammer and even set up bobsledding (!) at the Olympic Training site! That was an experience to remember.

We next enjoyed a beautiful train ride to Andelsnes! Our historic hotel was so beautiful! We felt like we were sitting in the middle of a postcard. Andelsnes is near the most gorgeous mountains and top destination for mountain climbers. Our oldest son is a climber and has earned some certifications for climbing. Karin arranged the most expert mountaineering guide with international certification and amazing demeanor for my oldest son—it was the highlight of his trip. They climbed for 12 hours and the Alpine Hike was one of the most difficult. It was an experience he will never forget… and the lovely staff at Hotel Aak held his dinner for him to enjoy when he returned at 11 pm at night!

In Bergen my daughter and I had a great morning horseback riding! with the most friendly and kind trainer. That afternoon, my husband and children took a 90-minute helicopter tour over Hardangerfjord. My family loved that helicopter experience. Sadly, it was time to depart the next morning. What a beautiful country and special family time! We really loved every minute and would recommend Torunn to everyone.”—Barbara Lich

Read more reviews of Norway trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO NORWAY

The Philippines: “Taking advantage of the time left before my 18-year-old daughter leaves to start college, the two of us jetted off…”

Traveler Andrea Phillips and daughter Rachel underwater, diving off Balicasag Island, Bohol, Philippines.

Andrea Phillips and daughter Rachel diving off Balicasag Island in the Philippines. Photo: Sander

“Taking advantage of the time left before my 18-year-old daughter leaves to start college, the two of us jetted off on a 10-day scuba diving trip to the Philippines. After in-depth planning with Andrea, an expert on unique travel in Asia, we chose the Dauin coast and Panglao Island, off Bohol, for our trip, as this was an excellent time to visit for great weather and diving conditions. Our goals were simple: level up our scuba certifications, immerse ourselves in welcoming cultures, and, finally, cross off swimming with whale sharks from our bucket list!

Andrea and his team planned it perfectly, starting with a special airport welcome that whisked us from the arrival gate and quickly through a chaotic Manila airport. Our first stop was Atmosphere Resort, where my daughter earned her Advanced Open Water Diver certification under the guidance of their skilled dive masters. We explored local dive spots and Apo Island, a beautiful marine reserve. The relaxing resort was wonderful after diving, with its refreshing pools, delicious food, a sanctuary spa, all while being cared for as a VIP guest by the warm and friendly Filipino staff. It all brought back memories of doing my own AOW certification in Asia 25 years ago.

Moving on to Amorita Resort, we spent our days diving at Balicasag & Pamilacan Islands with another great dive team recommended by Andrea and earned our Enriched Air Diver certifications. Andrea also surprised us by sending an underwater photographer along on our first dive to capture a forever moment on our mother-daughter adventure under the sea. Saving one of the best days for last, our Bohol countryside tour was incredible, from swimming with a group of large whale sharks to cruising on a private Lomboc River boat with live music, hanging out with Tarsier and macaque monkeys, admiring the famous Chocolate Hills of Bohol and even enjoying coconut wine at a local’s home. It was a perfect conclusion to our unforgettable journey in the Philippines.

This trip was tailored-made for our needs, combining the best dive resort locations for our goals, avoiding crowded tourist spots for the whale shark encounter, and adding in authentic cultural stops and touches to make each day unforgettable, including celebrating my birthday. Pushing ourselves to try somewhere new, and doing it together, made it even more thrilling.” —Andrea Phillips

Read more reviews of the Philippines trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO THE PHILIPPINES

Switzerland: “We booked a trip with our 18- and 21-year-old children to celebrate graduation and be outdoors as much as possible…”

Andy Shafran

Andy Shafran and family spelling out OHIO on top of Switzerland’s Mt. Jungfrau during their graduation trip.

“Switzerland was a beautiful country and our active hiking, kayaking, paragliding trip was exactly what we were looking for. We booked a trip with our 18- and 21-year-old children to celebrate graduation and be outdoors as much as possible. Nina and her staff helped us build an itinerary that maximized the experiences and minimized the hassle and travel time. We spent two days in Zurich/Rhine Falls, three days in Grindelwald, and three days in Lucerne. There is so much to do that we felt we could have stayed an extra week just in these three locations.

Our major interest was hiking, and we had a guided tour up Mt. Grindelwald first, which included a gondola ride up and a Trottibike ride down (highly, highly recommended). Then we took the train to the Jungfrau and even though it was pricey for that part of the trip, well worth it for the views and incredible Alpine experience. Thumbs up: Rhine Falls, Trümmelbach Falls, Aare Gorge hike, Lake Brienz kayak trip, and our full-day peak-to-peak hike on Mt. Rigi where we ate lunch at Berghaus Unterstetten on the side of the mountain with incredible views and good food.

All three hotels we stayed in were unique, terrific locations, and have fun quirks, such as the private funicular car that takes you up from Lake Lucerne to the Art Deco Hotel Montana…” —Andy Shafran

Read more reviews of Switzerland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SWITZERLAND

Uzbekistan: “My son was graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School with a degree in public policy, and his interest is Central Asia…”

Poi Kalon Mosque and Minaret in Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Poi Kalon Mosque and Minaret in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo: Shutterstock

“My son was graduating from Harvard’s Kennedy School with a degree in public policy, and his interest is Central Asia, so as a graduation present we took him to Uzbekistan. Not only would I recommend Uzbekistan as a travel destination, but I would highly recommend Zulya to anyone planning a trip there. She arranged for a wonderful guide to accompany us throughout the country; our guide stayed with us day and night, shared meals and her culture, and helped us navigate a very foreign language. Zulya even arranged for us to have lunch with her family in Bukhara. It was amazing. Her mother taught my son how to make Plov. The lunch was a true feast, with about 20 family members. After lunch we all got up and danced together. It was an experience my wife, son, daughter-in-law, and I will cherish forever.” —Ron Klausner

Read more reviews of Uzbekistan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO UZBEKISTAN

Portugal: “It was a special trip to celebrate our son’s graduation from college…”

The river Guadiana and the village of Mertola. Alentejo Region. Portugal

The village of Mertola in Portugal’s Alentejo region. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was our first trip using a recommended Wendy Perrin trip planner. We travelled to Portugal March 8th—March 15th, 2024. It was a special trip to celebrate our son’s graduation from college. Our trip was planned by Goncalo and Joanna.  WOW!  What an amazing trip they planned for us. The accommodations that they chose for us were fantastic! Very unique and customer oriented. The destinations and route they planned—from Lisbon to the Alentejo region and the West Region—were perfect. Our driver, Sandru, was amazing and he made sure everything was taken care of when we reached our destinations. (He also knew our itinerary and was always able to answer questions.) Sandru went above and beyond to make our trip very special.

We had a wonderful cooking class and gastronomic tour with Lara in Lisbon and even attended a Benefica Football game. In the Alentejo region we experienced an outstanding lunch with a wine pairing, horseback ride, cork factory and hikes. In the West Region, a full day tour which included Obidos, Nazre, and Alcobaca. The details were taken care of for us, from tours to restaurant reservations, it was the best trip I have ever been on. I can’t wait to plan our next trip with a Wendy Perrin recommended trip planner.” —Lori Bentley

Read more reviews of Portugal trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

Scandinavia: “Will is graduating from high school this spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation…”

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta.

Kate and Will Ogg view the northern lights from their lodge in Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Ryan Ogg

“My husband, Ryan Ogg and I (Kate Ogg), and our three children, Will (17), Charlotte (15), and Wyatt (12), went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oslo and Alta, Norway, from December 28 through January 6. Will is graduating from high school this spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation this year. He wanted to go someplace cold, snowy and dark, where we could do some fun outdoor adventures, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (which we had tried and failed to do in Iceland a couple of years ago).

It was a fantastic trip. Copenhagen was still pretty magical the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we found some good restaurants despite a few of the ones we had hoped for being closed. We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks, shopped and just enjoyed the festive vibe. The next day we started the day with a boat ride through the harbor and some of the bigger canals, which gave us a sense of the city’s geography as well as a lot of the architecture.

Oslo was all closed while we were there because it was both Sunday and New Year’s Eve, but a walk through the sculpture garden, to the Fram museum to see a polar expedition ship, and a chance to see the Nobel buildings and then along the harbor was a nice way to spend the day before a fancy dinner at our hotel (The Thief) and a midnight toast on the roof. On New Year’s morning in a snowstorm, we made it to Oslo airport and up to dark Alta. The Sorrisniva Hotel was fully booked by the time we planned our trip (August), so we stayed in a little fishing lodge in the woods, down the driveway from Tristin and Trine Restaurant and past some sled dogs.

It was absolutely charming, and best of all, the very first night as we walked out of our lodge to dinner, the sky lit up with northern lights that continued to brighten and dance until we gave up and went to bed. I credit our very dark spot in the woods for the fantastic viewing. Our adventures in snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, and king crab fishing all showed us different parts of the landscape and culture in northern Norway, and it was just…magical. We truly loved it.” —Kate Ogg

Read more reviews of Norway trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SCANDINAVIA

Romania: “Since the trip was last-minute (before my daughter began her new career as a RN), and it was the height of tourist season, we wanted to pick a destination that was less traveled…”

Legendary Bran (Dracula) historical castle of Transylvania, Brasov region, Romania, Eastern Europe

Bran Castle (a.k.a. “Dracula’s Castle”) in Transylvania, Romania. Photo: Shutterstock

“I traveled to Romania on a last-minute graduation trip with my daughter, Amelia, in August 2023. We have done numerous trips with Wendy’s WOW List agents before and knew that finding an agent through Wendy was the only way to go. Even the destination of our trip was inspired by articles written by Wendy.

Since the trip was last-minute (before my daughter began her new career as a RN), and it was the height of tourist season, we wanted to pick a destination that was less traveled. We chose Romania, and Wendy matched us up with Raluca and Ioana. Important to us was connecting with the local people and understanding the country.

Raluca and Ioana set us up with a local guide, Tavi, whose personality matched well with us, which was a good thing since we drove around Romania for 10 days with him. We started in Bucharest, which was great for my daughter to learn what can happen to a country if you vote in a narcissist authoritarian as a leader and to understand what life was like under the latter parts of communist ruling. We had a university history professor give us a tour of an apartment frozen in time from the 1980s under communist rule. We enjoyed wonderful restaurants, an amazing art exhibit, and historical sites in the city.

In Transylvania we enjoyed visiting the Cris Bethlen Castle. It was particularly fun for us since one of our favorite horror movies, The Nun, was shot there. A local man who lives in town jumped in and gave us a detailed tour, including side stories on the actors during the filming. We went on an amazing mountain bike ride (about 20 miles) primarily in the hills and forests with some fun single track as well. The mountain bike guide had helped to build the trails, which will eventually connect a large portion of Transylvania for mountain bike tours.

We saw wonderful fortressed churches and cities throughout our trip, including the beautiful Sighisoara. Always enjoying them without crowds and with a random local who had the keys to let us in the church or describe some interesting tidbit of history through our guide as the interpreter.

We met a local weaver whose family had been doing traditional weaving for generations and who rescued a loom headed for destruction. We enjoyed a visit with a local herbalist whose herb garden was expansive and whose knowledge of remedies was sought out throughout the area. Here we enjoyed a dinner in her home, again understanding her story and her life and sharing ours. We enjoyed seeing the UNESCO site Viscri, supported by King Charles, and enjoyed the views from the fortressed church over the rolling hills.

We moved on to Brasov. Here we had a private tour of Bran Castle and had the opportunity to climb into the highest turret to view the mountain pass that the lookouts would use in centuries past. When we expressed interest in a hike, Tavi took us up a mountainside where he had helped a friend build a cabin. We met one of his friends, a local shepherd, and discussed bears threatening his flock.

Bottom line our visit was filled with unique experiences where we connected with the people of Romania and attempted to understand their stories. Romania is a beautiful, relatively undiscovered country with rich medieval history and more recent history of the rise and fall of communism. It is not as restored as other places in Western Europe, but its beauty, its history, and its people are wonderful to experience. The smaller crowds allow for a much more enjoyable visit than other European countries.”—Theresa Boone

Read more reviews of Romania trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ROMANIA

Japan: “I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation…”

Kyoto, Japan gardens at Heian Shrine in the spring season. - Image

Heian Shrine in Kyoto, Japan, during cherry blossom season. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation. Scott planned a fabulous and varied itinerary, and our guides were fantastic: They were very flexible to accommodate our interests and energy levels and very understanding of how a teenager would like to travel.

Scott arranged several special experiences based on the relationships he has formed. We had a cooking lesson with an amazing woman in her home, a fascinating dinner at a club with geishas, and a calligraphy lesson with an excellent teacher. We both loved Studio Ghibli and the Monkey Park.

Scott’s choice of hotels was wonderful. We slept so well every night, particularly at our ryokan. The Mandarin Oriental serves a fantastic breakfast buffet. The Ritz-Carlton was very luxurious (and yes—we did see Leonardo Di Caprio there). We were particularly fortunate that the cherry blossoms came out when we got there and we got to experience the beauty of the season. Throughout the trip, I was able to sit back and relax and enjoy everything because of Scott’s careful planning and knowledge of Japan. I would absolutely use him again and recommend him. I have been a fan of Wendy’s since her Condé Nast days. This is now my second special trip with her experts, and I plan on more. The level of professionalism is exceptional.” —Patricia Klein

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO JAPAN

Austria: “The official occasion for the trip was my son’s graduation from high school and sending him off to music school…”

Mirabell Gardens with the old historic Fortress Hohensalzburg in the background in Salzburg, Austria.

Salzburg, Austria, is Mozart’s birthplace and home to the Salzburg Music Festival. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from a 14-day family trip in Austria planned by Gwen. I can only describe the experience as life-affirming. The official occasion for the trip was my son’s graduation from high school and sending him off to music school in the fall, so we had a heavy musical focus, but there was truly something for everyone in the family. We toured palaces and cathedrals in Vienna, experienced local food, watched the Lipizzaner stallions perform and had a private tour of the stables.

We moved on to the Wachau Valley for wine tasting and breathtaking Danube scenery, then visited the abbeys of Melk and Stift-Admont. In Salzburg, we soaked up the music festival, saw the fortress and countless Sound of Music film locations, attended a Mozart opera, a Vienna Philharmonic concert, and a world-class string quartet. We learned to make apple strudel and Salzburg Nockerl, and visited the charming lake district outside Salzburg. We rounded out our trip with several days in Innsbruck and a final train ride to Munich, where we celebrated my son’s birthday at a beer hall and caught our flight home.

Gwen was helpful and responsive and understood my family’s diverse needs. She steered us away from tourist traps and embraced our interest in some off-the-beaten-path locations. She suggested lovely boutique hotel experiences and guides with extraordinary depth of knowledge of their cities.” —Katherine Stadler

Read more reviews of Austria trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO AUSTRIA

Italy: “Our eight-day food tour was requested by our 21-year-old son who was graduating from university…”

Bologna, Italy Food store food market showcase full of food in Bologna city in Italy

Bologna’s markets are a great place to learn about the renowned foods of the region. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our eight-day food tour of Italy was requested by our 21-year-old son, who was graduating from university. Milan was the starting point, next was Bologna to learn about the renowned foods of the region, and then a repeat visit to Florence—and we absolutely loved everything Maria planned. The drivers, guides, food tours, wine tasting, cooking class were all impeccable. In Milan, when our guide found out our son loved fashion, she made a call to a fashion designer, and we were able to meet with the designer. We spent an hour-plus speaking with him, trying on his designs, and buying some of his pieces.

In Bologna our guide took us on a delicious food tasting that culminated in copious amounts of prosciutto, hams, cheeses, bread, balsamic vinegar, wine. Our all-day food tour through Parma and Emilia-Romagna was incredible, as was the private wine tasting where we sat in the cellar with the vineyard owner for more than two hours, tasting food and wine pairings. The vineyard owner then asked our driver to detour us through the medieval village of Fontanellato, to view the castle and moat and to indulge in gelato.” —Deb Lurie

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO ITALY

Western Canada: “We recently traveled to British Columbia to celebrate our son’s high school graduation…”

Turquoise Wedgemount Lake and wild alpine flowers, Whistler, British Columbia Canada

Whistler, British Columbia, is a mecca for sporty travelers. Photo: Shutterstock

“We recently traveled to British Columbia to celebrate our son’s high school graduation. On Wendy Perrin’s recommendation, we contacted Sheri, who suggested that, given our time constraints, we limit our visit to Whistler and Tofino. That proved to be an excellent recommendation which allowed us to enjoy our vacation without being rushed. Our son wanted to mountain bike on Whistler/Blackcomb and truly enjoyed it.

Sheri suggested other activities which kept the rest of us active while our son spent the day on the mountain. Her recommendation that we stay at the Four Seasons Whistler was great. It’s a beautiful hotel with great staff and a wonderful breakfast. We enjoyed our time in Tofino as well; Sheri’s recommendations for lodging, food, and activities were perfect for us.” —John Masko

Read more reviews of British Columbia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO BRITISH COLUMBIA

Peru: “This was a special trip to Peru for my niece just graduating from high school. She is about to study marine biology in college…”

Aerial view of Amazon Rainforest, near Iquitos in Peru.

The Peruvian Amazon is a great place to learn about river wildlife. Photo: Shutterstock

“This was a special trip to Peru for my niece just graduating from high school. She is about to study marine biology in college, so Marisol steered us toward the right Amazon basin area we hadn’t even considered. My husband, niece, and I just returned yesterday from Peru and wanted to send a HUGE GRACIAS to Marisol and her crew for making this trip one of a lifetime! There’s no way I ever could have constructed such a wonderful journey on my own. For sure, it was packed, but we came back feeling we’d seen such a diversity in Peru.

It was a perfect balance of wildlife, culture, adventure and a bit of relaxation. And although the weather was terrible during our one-day Inca Trail hike, with rain and clouds obscuring Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate, we still wouldn’t change a thing. I will of course recommend and tell everyone I know to use Marisol—and to once again trust a Wendy Perrin specialist. Over the years, I have used and vetted many of Wendy’s travel specialists—and, no doubt, Marisol and her team are top of the list.” —Jon Paul Buchmeyer

Read more reviews of Peru trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

START A TRIP TO PERU

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Wendy’s husband, Tim, diving with their sons, Charlie and Doug, in the Red Sea.

Trips That Dads Love

Looking for the perfect trip for Dad — or Granddad?  You’ll find exciting ideas in these traveler reviews of Dad-centered trips that everyone else in the family loved too.  These travelers all used The WOW List to find the right trip planner who could deliver the maximized experience and VIP treatment that Dads deserve when celebrating a special milestone.  Here’s how to get your own WOW trip.

START A DAD-APPROVED TRIP

Italy: test-driving Ferraris in Maranello, riding Vespas in Rome, rowing batelas in Venice…

Panorama of Roman Forum (Foro Romano) in the Morning, Rome, Italy

Did you know you can tour Rome by Vespa?  Photo: Shutterstock

“After an initial discussion of objectives, Maria did an excellent job of planning a balanced trip of cultural sightseeing and fun activities inside, outside and on the water.  After the overnight flight to Milan, we literally hit the ground hiking from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino, keeping our active boys moving while acclimating to the new time zone. Although a little risky with potential jet lag, this was a highlight hiking through the high serene hills for a couple of hours, with only the sounds of birds and a young wild boar and descending upon Portofino on foot. Portofino was a treat and the next full day at sea on a captained 40-foot boat to swim and visit the coastline at our leisure was awesome! Having lunch and snorkeling at San Fruttuoso was fantastic.

Additional memorable experiences included:

    • Visiting the Ferrari museum and test driving Ferraris on the streets of Maranello
    • Touring the Accademia sculptures, the Uffizi and cruising the Arno river with a renaioli and our private guide Elvira
    • Leisurely driving through Tuscany with our lively driver Francesco, stopping for a wonderful private tour and lunch at a vineyard with its owner Diana
    • Staying at a palazzo in Montefalco: Maria was right—this is the balcony of Umbria, and the views are unforgettable!
    • Fly fishing (and catching/releasing brown trout!) in tranquil Borgo Cerreto with a very fun guide named Luca
    • Sightseeing through ancient Rome—including the Forum, Colosseum and Vatican museums—with very knowledgeable private guides (Valerie) and no lines!
    • Riding on the back of Vespas, seeing unique neighborhoods and parks in Roma
    • Learning to row a batela in Venice w/ our own rowing instructor and having cicchetti (appetizers) and wine
    • Touring and climbing to the top of the Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco

Maria chose excellent hotels for our stays, and the rooftop bar lounge and pool in Florence was a great way to end every fun day. We thought having private guides and transportation (car and water) made the trip much more memorable, as we received personal attention/treatment and allowed for personal interaction with locals to better understand the culture and way of life.” —Mark Mazzatta

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ITALY

The Swiss Alps: hiking, kayaking, Trottibiking…

Andy Shafran

Andy Shafran and family spelling “O-H-I-O” (where they’re from) during a private kayak trip on Lake Brienz.

“Switzerland was a beautiful country and our active hiking, kayaking, paragliding trip was exactly what we were looking for. We booked a trip with our 18- and 21-year-old children to celebrate graduation and be outdoors as much as possible. Nina and her staff helped us build an itinerary that maximized the experiences and minimized the hassle and travel time. We spent two days in Zurich/Rhine Falls, three days in Grindelwald, and three days in Lucerne. There is so much to do that we felt we could have stayed an extra week just in these three locations.

Our major interest was hiking, and we had a guided tour up Mt. Grindelwald first, which included a gondola ride up and a Trottibike ride down (highly, highly recommended). Then we took the train to the Jungfrau and even though it was pricey for that part of the trip, well worth it for the views and incredible Alpine experience. Thumbs up: Rhine Falls, Trümmelbach Falls, Aare Gorge hike, Lake Brienz kayak trip, and our full-day peak-to-peak hike on Mt. Rigi where we ate lunch at Berghaus Unterstetten on the side of the mountain with incredible views and good food.

All three hotels we stayed in were unique, terrific locations, and have fun quirks, such as the private funicular car that takes you up from Lake Lucerne to the Art Deco Hotel Montana….” —Andy Shafran

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Belize: Caribbean adventures on land and sea

Travelers Jeremy Silverman and his family taking a selfie in Belize.

Jeremy Silverman’s favorite day in Belize was the day he and his family spent sailing on a private catamaran.

“We had another fantastic family vacation to Belize with expert planning, care and support from Patricia and Rachael. Belize is a beautiful and easy-to-reach destination from our home in Atlanta, with a wide range of activities, both on the water and inland. What stands out most about Belize is the warmth and authenticity of its people and culture. Belize is an incredible melting pot—Belizeans come from a variety of backgrounds, including Mayan, Garifuna, Creole, Mennonite and more, and almost everyone speaks at least three languages (including English). This diversity shows through all aspects of Belizean culture, cuisine, art and perhaps is part of why everyone seems so genuinely welcoming of visitors.

We had a true day-of-days on a catamaran charter to Moho Caye. This was an epic experience and probably a top-ten day of life so far. The boat and crew were amazing, we caught a fish on the way that Captain Jimmy grilled on the beach for lunch, did some great snorkeling at Moho (a picture-perfect tropical island) and had an otherwise spectacular experience.

We stayed at the Naia Resort, which was a great spot for our family of four, including our 20-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. We rented a three-bedroom private villa right on the beach, with nothing between us and the water other than palm trees and a hammock. The villa provided truly separate living/sleeping/bathing space for me and my wife, our son and daughter, which is key to a great family vacation.

Back in Atlanta, we operate as the unofficial Belizean tourism board and have encouraged several other families to visit and they’ve all been very happy they did.” —Jeremy Silverman

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Chile: contrasting natural beauty in the Atacama Desert and the Lake District

John Strachan and his family cruising on Lago Todos los Santos with Volcán Osorno in the background, Chile.

John Strachan and family cruising Lago Todos los Santos, with Volcán Osorno in the background.

“All we told Tom was that we wanted to go to the Atacama Desert and then somewhere else in Chile where there would be fun, outdoor activities for our kids (10 and 12). Animals would be a bonus. And, in deference to the kids, we didn’t want to spend too much time in cities. We ended up hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, cruising across an Andean lake surrounded by volcanoes, and more.

The Atacama Desert deserves top billing. It’s 40,000 square miles (half the size of Kansas) of the driest desert on earth. It’s harsh, and inhospitable, and why would anyone go there? Because it’s flat-out stunning. The geothermal activity has churned up volcanoes, mountains, salt formations, sand dunes, and rainbows of color. We were surrounded by otherworldly beauty and never saw another human. It was unique and dream-like.

From the desert to the rich forests and crystal pools of Chile’s Lake District. The terrain was stunning, the hotel was ideal, and the activities were abundant—lake cruising, paddleboarding, whitewater rafting. Our family fell in love with the region and were only sorry not to have more time. Wendy’s crew hooked us up with Tom, and this is the second great trip he has planned for us. So huge thanks to both Tom and Team Perrin.” —John Strachan

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New Zealand: fishing, jet boating, flightseeing…

aerial view of Queenstown New Zealand on water

Queenstown, New Zealand, is an adventure mecca for travelers of all ages. Photo: Shutterstock

“My grandfather was in the Dutch Navy and spent time in New Zealand many years ago. He always spoke about how beautiful it was and how it was his favorite place he had ever visited. So when we asked my dad where he would like to go for his 80th birthday, he said New Zealand!  We just got back from the most incredible trip planned by Jean-Michel and his team. We were traveling with 6 people from 13 to 80 years old, and Jean-Michel did a great job finding activities that we would all love.

We had only nine days so we stayed on the west coast of the South Island and there was plenty to explore. We started in Te Anu at the Fiordland Lodge and loved the beautiful lodge and surroundings. We hiked, went fishing, and explored Milford Sound by boat. The scenery was beyond breathtaking everywhere we went! Our next stop was Queenstown and we stayed at the historic Eichardt’s Private Hotel. We had a lovely wine tasting day in Central Otago with the best guide and driver (Beau Rapley) and our daughter even went bungee jumping from the Kawarau Bridge. She loved it!! The city of Queenstown & surroundings were great – plenty of walking trails, gardens, gorgeous lake and mountain views. Not to mention great food and wine!

The last place we visited was Wild Earth Lodge in Makarora. It was the most serene and beautiful little inn run from the home of Pete and Janine. They took great care of our whole family & cooked the most delicious meals! We spent our days there hiking to the Blue Pools and having some relaxing down time. We also had our most exciting day—a helicopter tour over Mt Aspiring National Park, a hike through Siberia Valley, and a thrilling jet boat ride back down the Wilkin River. The whole trip was outstanding and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without Jean-Michel.”—Alana Jacobson

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The Amazon rainforest: exploring an ecological wonderland

Amazon Jungles in Cuyabeno National Park, Ecuador.

In the Ecuadorian Amazon , be sure to navigate to the best eco-lodges and local communities. Photo: Shutterstock

Allie was essential to creating our trip to the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador’s Amazonia. She found the right lodge for our family (two kids, both around 10 years old) and got the perfect rooms at a time that was ideal. It was tough because we did not start planning long enough in advance, but Allie’s knowledge of lodges and the region made it possible to get everything lined up in an instant.

Napo Wildlife Center is a world-class lodge owned and run by the small local Añangu Kichwa community. They have committed to using ecotourism to save their community and their corner of the Amazon rainforest. Bottom line: They are knocking it out of the park. I cannot express how impressive their work and commitment is. In 1998, they were a small community, dealing with acute poverty, threatened by development, oil exploration, and the contamination of their water and forest. In that year, with little knowledge or experience in tourism, they decided they’d stave off the despoliation of their corner of the rainforest by starting a five-star ecotourism program. I am just brimming with awe and admiration for the Añangu and what they have accomplished.

The lodge itself was magical. The staff was as friendly and helpful as could be. Really made us feel at home. In the TV room out back where the employees live, my son and I watched the World Cup finals with a bunch of staff and locals who had paddled in for the game. We were welcomed warmly, and we joined in and cheered with (or against) the rest of the crowd.

In hyperdiverse Amazonia, wow did we ever see wildlife. We saw six species of monkeys, and so many parrots, macaws, grebes, flycatchers. We saw snakes, frogs, and crazy-looking crickets. We watched caimans and paiche (400-pound river fish) from the boardwalk in front of our room. All to the spectral drone of howler monkeys in the distance, like a cold north wind gusting outside your door. And Napo Wildlife Center has nearly no biting insects! Magical place. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.” —John Strachan

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The Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo: quad-biking, falconry, bocce ball…

William FIsher

Three generations of Bill Fisher’s family enjoying a gorgeous quad-bike adventure on Gozo. Photo: Bill Fisher

“Our family group of nine just returned from a week-long spring break trip to the Maltese Islands, organized by Damon and Denise. The trip included grandparents, children, and grandchildren ages 16 to 10. The trip was exceptionally well organized due to the time Damon spent prior to the trip determining what our interests were and how to maximize time spent making memories with our grandchildren.

The itinerary was heavy on outdoor activities to keep the grandkids engaged. Our activities included quad-biking on Gozo; a multi-course picnic lunch with wine on a secluded bay, followed by bocce ball with local players; touring the ruins of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples; and an amazing afternoon with the local falconer, who brought an owl, Harris hawk, and Maltese falcon to share with the entire group. We took a private tour of Underground Valletta and a private Dghajsa boat ride across the Valletta harbor for more exploration. We visited a baker and his wife where we made a local pastry called pastizzi, spent time with a local artisan who made musical instruments, visited a honey farm, and ended the day with a visit to a sheep farm where we sampled some delicious cheeses.

We stayed in a beautiful villa in Gozo that included a heated indoor swimming pool! You can imagine how excited the grandkids were when they walked in the front door and saw an indoor pool. Our lodging in Valletta was equally impressive, but in a different way. It was a castle-like structure built in the late 1500s that had been updated to include all the amenities of the current day. Our driver throughout our adventure was Super Mario. He was absolutely delightful! Always on time, always helpful, and always attentive to everyone’s needs, which were often a challenge. The entire experience was exceptional.” —Bill Fisher

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Costa Rica: wildlife, waterfalls, beach R&R

White-Headed Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio, the rainforest of Costa Rica.

A white-faced capuchin monkey in Costa Rica.  Photo: Shutterstock

“My wife and I, along with our three children (elementary, high school, and college age), worked with Priscilla in the planning of a trip to Costa Rica in March. We were able to mix in plenty of activities with some relaxation.

Our first stay was at The Springs Resort and Spa in the Arenal Volcano area. The hotel offered plenty for the children to do beyond swimming. The waterfall rappelling excursion Priscilla recommended was very fun. At the hotel we spotted sloths and toucans, and the view of the volcano from the hotel room was spectacular.

Our next stop was La Paloma Lodge in Drake Bay, on the Osa Peninsula. The Sunset Rancho offered a fantastic view of the ocean, and the meals were great. Our excursion to Corcovado National Park was a highlight and we were able to see Howler Monkeys and troops of both White-Faced Capuchin and Spider Monkeys. We also saw an arboreal anteater, Coatimundis, and a saltwater crocodile. Priscilla set up a wonderful night tour where we were able to see snakes, frogs, spiders, a scorpion, and even a fleeting glimpse of a Kinkajou. Cocolito Beach by the lodge offered some great waves for boogie boarding and never felt crowded. From beginning to end, Priscilla and the team provided a lot of details/organization so we could just enjoy the trip.” —Nelson Mongiovi

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Morocco: Fascinating sights and feeling “completely safe and pampered”

Argan trees and the goats on the way between Marrakesh and Essaouira in Morocco.

Tree-climbing goats are one of Morocco’s many surprises. Photo: Shutterstock

“This trip was for myself and two daughters, aged 50 and 46. We went the first part of April 2023 during Ramadan. All three of us concluded that the trip was beyond expectation. The weather was perfect this time of year, the Riads were exceptional, the sights were amazing, and the Moroccan people were very warm and welcoming. The trip was paced perfectly, but definitely the highlight for us was our absolutely wonderful guide Mohamed and driver Majid. They were such a pleasure to travel with, always on time, always with a smile or a joke, always with our safety a priority. We felt completely safe and pampered.

Our favorite cities were Fes and Essaouira. The ceramic work and tannery in Fes were especially interesting and dinner at a local host was most enjoyable. The Medina was fascinating. The cooking class was so much fun going to the market with our chef. In Marrakesh we had the honor of being invited to Mohamed’s house to break fast with his lovely family. We learned so much about Islamic architecture and religion, and we were very impressed how our two guides were able to fast all day and still be bright and cheerful without ever complaining.

In Essaouira we got to see the goats climbing the Argon trees and visit a woman’s cooperative where they processed the oil. Also of interest was visiting the old Jewish quarter and the synagogue. Every city and place had interesting things to see. My daughters went home after 10 days, and I went on to Tangier and then took the one-hour ferry over to Spain. We all agreed it was an exceptional trip, and we left with hundreds of photographs and wonderful memories. We would definitely recommend a trip to Morocco arranged by Hicham and Radia, and many thanks to Wendy for the recommendation.”—Leon Malkin

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Switzerland: paragliding, jet boats, canyon swings…

Start of paraglider at Mannlichen top point above Grindelwald, Switzerland. - Image

Paragliding gives you a bird’s-eye view of Grindelwald, Switzerland. Photo: Shutterstock

Nina created an itinerary that included many excellent suggestions that we were not aware of, even though I had done a fair amount of research on my own to know what Switzerland had to offer. Paragliding in Grindelwald, a canyon swing, a jet boat in Interlaken, a private cave tour, glacier trekking, a helicopter transfer from Jungfraujoch to Gstaad, the Via Ferrata in Mürren-Gimmelwald, the Gorner Gorge adventure in Zermatt….AWESOME! The execution of the trip was flawless: When the helicopter landed in Gstaad in a grassy field, the driver was right there waiting for us. There would have been no way to plan this trip on our own and have everything run as smoothly as it did.” —Travis Schmitt

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Portugal: wining, dining, and bypassing every crowd

Vineyards in the Valley of the River Douro, Portugal

While the kids are in summer camp, dad can go wine-tasting in Portugal’s Douro Valley. Photo: Shutterstock

“We submitted Wendy’s questionnaire and then had a very substantive call with Goncalo to talk about what we particularly enjoyed about prior trips and specific likes and dislikes. Our travel dates were totally inflexible because they were dictated by our kids’ summer camp schedules. This meant we had only one week for Portugal—in peak season. Our goal was to somehow thread the needle between exploring a country we’d never visited, having deep and personal experiences, avoiding tons of crowds, not bouncing around too much, and relaxing. Got it? Goncalo put together an itinerary that fit exactly what we were looking for. He had us stay in three different, small, unique, hotels—Areias do Seixo (on the coast an hour north of Lisbon), Barrocal in the Alentejo, and Santiago de Alfama in Lisbon—and each really enriched our experience of the location.

Our favorite stop was the Alentejo region, and we would highly encourage others to include it in their plans. It’s beautiful, serene, has very special medieval towns, is extremely welcoming to visitors, and is much less visited than Lisbon, Porto, and the Douro Valley. Barrocal, a farm converted into a 5-star hotel, was a phenomenal home base there. Our single favorite experience was visiting Herdade de Esparao winery, where we somehow spent almost six hours on a sweltering 104-degree day. Our private tour was followed by a private tasting and then an amazing five-course lunch with wine pairings. It was probably the best meal we had in Portugal.” —Jeremy Silverman

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Western Canada: “the right mix of adventure, nature, fun, and relaxation”

Turquoise Wedgemount Lake and wild alpine flowers, Whistler, British Columbia Canada

Whistler, British Columbia, is a natural playground that has something for everyone.  Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family of four had an amazing time in Vancouver, Whistler, and Sonora Island, British Columbia. Marc put together an itinerary that met the various wish-list items of everyone in the family, with the right mix of adventure, nature, fun, and relaxation. For an active family there is no end to the amazing experiences that can be had in Whistler, where we particularly enjoyed the zip-line, whitewater rafting, and tree-top adventure course. The second half of the trip was at the Sonora Resort, which was everything Marc said it would be and more. From the hiking to the photography, fishing, eco-tours, and fine dining, it was a wonderful experience and a relaxing time to reconnect as a family.” —Jay Matthews

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Vienna and Prague: a musical journey

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - mathematical hall of the Strahov convent library

Culture-loving dads, don’t miss out on private access to the Strahov Library in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Shutterstock

“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!” —Adam Amsterdam

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Romania: castles, horses, the royal treatment…

The Corvinesti castle also known as the Hunyad castle, is a Gothic-Renaissance castle in Hunedoara (Transylvania), Romania.

Romania’s castles and countryside are eye-popping.  Photo: Shutterstock

Raluca found us extraordinary accommodations in Romania. She tracked down a private residence in Bucharest where we had a private suite and were treated like personal friends of the family. We had three nights in Brasov in a lovely three-room hotel and four nights in Maremures in our own house on a 70-hectare property. The house was probably 100 years old and had been saved from destruction in the local village, moved to the host’s property, and completely remodeled inside. Raluca even arranged for a cook to come to the house and make us breakfast and dinner—truly special. Greg, our guide, made adjustments to the itinerary on the fly to accommodate our requests and suggested activities as he came to know us. For example, he arranged a trail ride for our daughter at a horse ranch. And Wendy, thanks for the WOW Moment. We really enjoyed getting to visit the highest tower at Bran Castle, an area generally off-limits to the public. Our very experienced guide had never been there.” —George Stephens

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Atlantic Canada: so close, yet a world away

boats in the town Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Newfoundland is an enchanting summer escape: Not too hot, and blissfully uncrowded.

“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

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a mom and two sons covered in mud at the Dead Sea

Trips To Make Mom’s Life Easier

Often the person least likely to get a true break when traveling is Mom. It’s just the same work in a different location. You fly to a new country and Mom feels she must manage every logistical detail. Or you rent a villa and she ends up doing all the dishes and laundry. Or you hit the water park and she’s the one who has to pack everything, remember everything, and sit on the sidelines watching everyone else’s stuff. And so, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’m going to tell you exactly how to give Mom an effortless trip that allows for a true vacation: Use a Trusted Travel Expert. The traveler reviews below show the difference it makes. Read more traveler reviews to find more Mom-friendly trip solutions, and have a Happy Mother’s Day! —Wendy


The Philippines: a mother/daughter scuba-diving adventure

Traveler Andrea Phillips and daughter Rachel underwater, diving off Balicasag Island, Bohol, Philippines.

Andrea Phillips and daughter Rachel diving off Balicasag Island. Photo: Sander

“Taking advantage of the time left before my 18-year-old daughter leaves to start college, the two of us jetted off on a 10-day scuba diving trip to the Philippines. After in-depth planning with Andrea, an expert on unique travel in Asia, we chose the Dauin coast and Panglao Island, off Bohol, for our trip, as this was an excellent time to visit for great weather and diving conditions. Our goals were simple: level up our scuba certifications, immerse ourselves in welcoming cultures, and, finally, cross off swimming with whale sharks from our bucket list!

Andrea and his team planned it perfectly, starting with a special airport welcome that whisked us from the arrival gate and quickly through a chaotic Manila airport. Our first stop was Atmosphere Resort, where my daughter earned her Advanced Open Water Diver certification under the guidance of their skilled dive masters. We explored local dive spots and Apo Island, a beautiful marine reserve. The relaxing resort was wonderful after diving, with its refreshing pools, delicious food, a sanctuary spa, all while being cared for as a VIP guest by the warm and friendly Filipino staff. It all brought back memories of doing my own AOW certification in Asia 25 years ago.

Moving on to Amorita Resort, we spent our days diving at Balicasag & Pamilacan Islands with another great dive team recommended by Andrea and earned our Enriched Air Diver certifications. Andrea also surprised us by sending an underwater photographer along on our first dive to capture a forever moment on our mother-daughter adventure under the sea. Saving one of the best days for last, our Bohol countryside tour was incredible, from swimming with a group of large whale sharks to cruising on a private Lomboc River boat with live music, hanging out with Tarsier and macaque monkeys, admiring the famous Chocolate Hills of Bohol and even enjoying coconut wine at a local’s home. It was a perfect conclusion to our unforgettable journey in the Philippines.

This trip was tailored-made for our needs, combining the best dive resort locations for our goals, avoiding crowded tourist spots for the whale shark encounter, and adding in authentic cultural stops and touches to make each day unforgettable, including celebrating my birthday. Pushing ourselves to try somewhere new, and doing it together, made it even more thrilling.” —Andrea Phillips

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Switzerland: “I feel more connected to my son, as we did activities together without worry…”

Traveler Wendy Mueller and son Evan riding the gondola with the Matterhorn in the background on the Swiss Side of Zermatt, Switzerland.

Wendy Mueller and son Evan riding the gondola on the Swiss side of Zermatt, with the Matterhorn in the background.

“I took my son (age 19) to Zermatt for a ski trip the first week of March. I wanted a special mom-and-son trip. I reached out to WendyPerrin.com for a referral to help and was connected with Nina and Simon. They took my wishes and planned an EPIC trip for me. The accommodations were amazing, the ski guide was so good I booked him an additional day, and they added to the itinerary a gorge trip and a special nighttime fondue and another evening tapas tour.

What made it more spectacular were the guides hired. We are very accomplished skiers in the U.S., living in Colorado and Tahoe. We knew Zermatt was a little more complicated of a mountain, with the lifts and the Swiss and Italian sides. They recommended a ski guide, and we are so very happy they did! Made the skiing more efficient and fun! One of the more memorable moments was a walk down into town from the evening fondue, and as we passed through one of the small hamlets, a small white one-room church—like the kind in old western towns—was lit, and our guide noticed my interest so he went over to see if it was open. It was and I was able to make a small donation in the box and light a candle and have a prayer of gratitude. I will remember this forever.

I rarely use travel services, as I do travel a lot and am comfortable booking on my own. However I wanted to have a bonding experience with my son and be stress-free. I feel more connected to my son, as we did activities together without worry. I would definitely recommend Nina and Simon when you want to be taken care of and have special moments. The guides were in direct contact with them, and it appeared to me the relationships are deep and very positive. We were the beneficiaries of those relationships for truly one-of-a-kind experiences.” —Wendy Mueller

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Mexico City: summertime adventures with a teenage granddaughter

Helen Blumen

A balloon’s-eye view of the pyramids at Teotihuacan, near Mexico City. Photo: Traveler Helen Blumen

“My 16-year-old granddaughter and I spent 10 days in Mexico City and Oaxaca in August 2023, and we had a wonderful time! We especially loved the cooking lesson with a wonderful Zapotec lady, and the menu was adjusted for teenager tastes so that we ate quesadillas and chiles rellenos.

Another highlight was the balloon ride to see the pyramids at Teotihuacan. We are grateful for Zach‘s flexibility when our original flight was delayed.” —Helen Blumen

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“My daughter and I both cook a lot and consider ourselves to be decent cooks, but I think we both learned new techniques that we’ve applied to our cooking since…”

Appetizer plate of Irish blended whiskey and cheeses.

Irish blended whiskey and cheeses. Photo: Shutterstock

“Having used Wendy Perrin’s WOW List last year to travel to Greece, we chose Jonathan and his team to book our mother-and-adult-daughter trip to Ireland, and they made the entire process extremely easy. We started at historic Dromoland Castle in County Clare. In Galway we took a food tour through the city to experience the best food the city had to offer. Our guide Regina was a chef herself and you could tell she thoroughly enjoyed sharing the amazing food that Ireland and Galway specifically had to offer. During this tour, we had the best raspberry croissant with red striping and a delicious raspberry puree center. We also had a whiskey tasting where we tried Irish Poitin, which is Ireland’s version of American Moonshine and it definitely made you cough on the smallest sip. The other highlight for me of the food tour was at lunch when we had local oysters. I am not usually a fan of oysters, but Regina described them as a little burst of fresh salt water, and that’s exactly what it was!

Next we headed over to Killarney and the Killarney Park Hotel. We had a very interesting whiskey tutorial and tasting with the head of spirits at the hotel. We also explored the town of Kenmare and took a chocolate-making class at Lorge Chocolates. Neither of us had ever done a chocolate-making class or anything of the sort before, and it was very fun and educational. Benoit Lorge ran the private lesson with the two of us, and he was so enthusiastic and passionate about his chocolate and the quality of chocolate that he creates.

Finally, in Dublin, we took a private cooking class with Alix Gardner’s Cookery School, and there we learned how to make all the essentials for a true Irish feast. We made scones, soda bread, shepherd’s pie with lamb, and a Guinness cake. My daughter and I both cook a lot and consider ourselves to be decent cooks, but I think we both learned new techniques that we’ve applied to our cooking since. The food was delicious and we got to take home our leftovers. We managed to bring a whole Guinness cake on the plane home with us to The States! A slice of Guinness cake after a full day of traveling was well worth the trouble of packing it.” —Robin Stone

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“She and her team allowed me the opportunity to simply enjoy 10 glorious days with my daughter…priceless.”

Big Ben Clock in London, United Kingdom.

Big Ben Clock in London, United Kingdom. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to create an unforgettable experience for my daughter’s 16th birthday. Words cannot express how perfect this trip was. I spoke with Jennifer before we even began the process, and she asked questions about my daughter to help tailor the trip around her preferences and interests. I did not have to worry about anything but my airline reservations. She and her team allowed me the opportunity to simply enjoy 10 glorious days with my daughter…priceless.

We stayed at the Reubens on the Palace in London, which was a beautiful hotel and very well located for walking to shopping, theater, Buckingham Palace and the Underground. The hotel provided a lovely gift and note to my daughter upon our arrival for her birthday and left a variety of treats for turndown each night. We had a very busy itinerary which included horseback riding in Hyde Park, a private guide for a full day in London, Windsor Castle, East End, theater tickets, a visit to Harry Potter studios, and even a day train trip to Harry Styles’ hometown (specific request).

Jennifer arranged a VIP Meet and Greet for us when we arrived in Paris, which was quite helpful to navigate our luggage through the train station and out to our driver.

We stayed at Hotel Madame Reve in Paris. Our room had a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower and a large outdoor terrace. There was a bottle of champagne and macarons waiting upon our arrival with a nice note for my daughter. We have visited Paris many times, so Jennifer provided excellent activities for us, including a Perfume Workshop, Pastry Making Class, private Louvre tour, the Moulin Rouge and a day trip out to Chateau de Chantilly to ride horses and tour the chateau with a private guide/driver.

Our departure was a welcome surprise. The driver was timely, friendly, helpful and dropped us off at the airport to another VIP Meet and Greet. This gentleman took our luggage, walked us through the airport, helped complete tax refunds, took us to VIP check-in and escorted us to the boarding gate. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of this, I think you will find that you will never do without again! We loved it.” —Lisa Semple

Read more reviews of Paris and London trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“My daughter and I just came back from an amazing week in Egypt!”

 

View of Nile from the dahabiya boat, Egypt.

View of Nile from the dahabiya boat, Egypt. Photo: Billie Cohen

“My daughter and I just came back from an amazing week in Egypt! This was one of those trips that we will truly never forget. The end of April was a great time to go, as the weather was really lovely. It was Ramadan during our time there, but this really did not impact any parts of the trip (certain attractions closed earlier in the afternoon, but this really worked well for us as it gave us time to relax after a full morning/afternoon).

Someone asked what our favorite parts of the trip were and, to be perfectly honest, it is impossible to pick one thing. The local trip leaders and guides were so friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Our guide, Abdullah, on our 4-night trip on the Nile was so passionate about hieroglyphics—we really got such a detailed instruction on how to “read” these stories within temples and tombs.

The days on the dahabiya on the Nile were so relaxing. It was nice to only have 12 tourists on the boat (which was the maximal number); this allowed for nice conversations, particularly during meal time. The meals were pretty amazing, with plenty of options for any dietary limitation/restriction. Eman, with whom we spent 3 days in Cairo, was so informative. My daughter and I really bonded with her. We would love to have her again on another trip into Egypt!

Arlene on Jim’s team really made this trip successful from beginning to end. We were so well taken care of by the drivers, trip leaders, and guides. We felt safe throughout.” —Rekha Mankad

Read more reviews of Egypt trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“…A mix of sightseeing, adventure, and downtime that was perfect for all of us.”

Killarney National Park with a scenic tour from Killarney Jaunting Cars.

Horse tour in Killarney National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

“My friend and I took our four teenage sons on a March spring break trip to Ireland arranged by Jonathan. It was a mix of sightseeing, adventure, and downtime that was perfect for all of us. I can’t speak highly enough about our time with our private drive-guide, Frank. Frank got to know the boys and their interests and went out of his way to add to the itinerary with activities such as Gaelic Games and time with a local club soccer team. Our boys loved getting to spend time with other teens from Ireland.

Some favorite activities were our boat ride in Killarney National Park followed by a seven-mile jaunting cart ride. The Galway food walking tour was a hit for all. While the rest of our group did Gaelic games, I did a walking tour of Dublin and had a wonderful time learning about Dublin past and present.

This is my second trip that I have done going through your WOW List. Your trip planners make vacations memorable and special. I will never plan a trip without going through Wendy Perrin—and I freely share this advice with others.” —Jennifer Brown

Read more reviews of Ireland trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“…The most wonderful, memorable trip for my 18-year-old son and me…”

A red kangaroo sitting inside the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, near the city of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Kangaroo in Tasmania, Australia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We cannot thank Stuart and Jacki enough for arranging the most wonderful, memorable trip for my 18-year-old son and me—two and a half glorious weeks running around beautiful Australia. They both spent real time talking to us about our likes and hopes. Every element of the itinerary they came back with was flawlessly executed and fun-filled, tailored perfectly to our quirky interests. We loved it—wow! It was nonstop terrific. Highlights especially were our time at Arkaba Station, our day at MONA and walking in Mt Field in Tasmania, and—so touristy, but oh boy so fun—petting all those kangaroos at the wildlife reserve near Hobart. Who knew kangaroos were like dogs, just wanting a cuddle and scratch?

My son adds that he also especially loved surfing on Bondi Beach, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and taking a cocktail mixology class at Saffire. In addition to the thoughtful itinerary, Jacki and Stuart paired us with some truly terrific guides, very well matched to us. For example, in Sydney, they found us a professor of architecture to give us a tour of the wonderful architecture there. It is such a beautiful country, and we can tell we only just dipped our toes in. We will certainly be back for more, with the whole family next time.” —Cate Bradley

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation…”

Kyoto, Japan gardens at Heian Shrine in the spring season. - Image

Cherry blossoms bloom around Heian Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to take my youngest daughter to Japan to celebrate her high school graduation. Scott planned a fabulous and varied itinerary, and our guides were fantastic: They were very flexible to accommodate our interests and energy levels and very understanding of how a teenager would like to travel.

Scott arranged several special experiences based on the relationships he has formed. We had a cooking lesson with an amazing woman in her home, a fascinating dinner at a club with geishas, and a calligraphy lesson with an excellent teacher. We both loved Studio Ghibli and the Monkey Park.

Scott’s choice of hotels was wonderful. We slept so well every night, particularly at our ryokan. The Mandarin Oriental serves a fantastic breakfast buffet. The Ritz-Carlton was very luxurious (and yes—we did see Leonardo Di Caprio there). We were particularly fortunate that the cherry blossoms came out when we got there and we got to experience the beauty of the season. Throughout the trip, I was able to sit back and relax and enjoy everything because of Scott’s careful planning and knowledge of Japan. I would absolutely use him again and recommend him. I have been a fan of Wendy’s since her Condé Nast days. This is now my second special trip with her experts, and I plan on more. The level of professionalism is exceptional.” —Patricia Klein

Read more reviews of Japan trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below. 

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“…The most outstanding mother-daughter spring break trip to Baja California, Mexico, for my 20-year-old and me.”

Sea lions swimming and playing, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Sea lions swimming in Baja California Sur, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

Zach and his wonderful team planned the most outstanding mother-daughter spring break trip to Baja California, Mexico, for my 20-year-old and me. We were interested in a nature-focused experience, spending all of our time on whale watching, sea lions, whale sharks, etc. Zach was so thoughtful, spending a series of phone calls with me figuring out what kind of travelers we were and what kind of experiences would be right. He then proposed the perfect itinerary, including four days in a remote whale-watching camp alongside time in La Paz on private boat excursions to key wildlife sites.

We weren’t excited about spending time in busy Cabo, and he found us an under-the-radar boutique hotel that checked all our boxes (quiet, beautiful, excellent service).  The trip was flawlessly executed, thanks to his colleague Carolina’s careful detail work and real-time monitoring. She went out of her way to figure out where we could skip logistics steps and bypass lines. It couldn’t have run more smoothly during a very crowded time in Baja.” —Cate Bradley

Read more reviews of Mexico trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“We learned so much history, ate amazing food, cooked amazing food, and saw incredible architecture and art.”

aerial view of Chapultepec Park and the Chapultepec castle in Mexico City, with green trees in foreground and city on the horizon

Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to plan a trip to Mexico City for my mom, my sister and I that we could all enjoy. I wanted us to learn, experience and spend quality time together. I think all of these objectives were met by Zach. The planning process was a bit slow initially but then went smoothly. Our transfers and day trips were seamless, everyone always on time. We felt very safe the entire time and this was a big concern of my mom’s. Our guide was very good at noticing when my mom needed to slow down a bit or take a break and she was very knowledgeable. Our driver, Alfonso, was lovely, looking out for us, showing patience and even concern at times. There were a few miscommunications between my expectations, given what was written in our itinerary/discussions, and the on-the-ground team but generally these were worked out. Our hotel was very nice and we enjoyed the location. We even had the “fortune” to experience Labor Day on our departure day. This made things hectic but we were able to figure out another meeting point with our driver, as all the roads were closed and this was not anticipated. Someone from the hotel walked with us to meet him. We learned so much history, ate amazing food, cooked amazing food, and saw incredible architecture and art. My mom even cried when I said good-bye to her at the airport because she was so happy we were able to have this special time together.” —Amy Evers

Read more reviews of Mexico trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“…A fun day at a working farm outside of Guayaquil where we made our own artisan chocolate and went tubing in a river…”

blue footed booby galapagos islands ecuador

Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands. Photo: peterstuartmill/Pixabay

“Even though I started the planning process late, Allie booked the perfect trip for us to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, taking into consideration the diverse interests of my family members. She was able to secure reservations at hotels that were ideal for our family and book tours that we all enjoyed, including a fun day at a working farm outside of Guayaquil where we made our own artisan chocolate and went tubing in a river. Allie helped us find places and things to do that we wouldn’t have found on our own. And on top of her expert advice, she was a pleasure to work with. My advice for working with Allie is to give her detailed information about the specific interests and needs of each family member. She is extremely knowledgeable. Armed with information, she can work magic.” —Patty Levin

Read more reviews of Galapagos and Ecuador trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“She helped us take advantage of a deal for extra free days at Universal…”

Happily Ever After fireworks over the castle at Disney World

Happily Ever After fireworks at Disney World. Photo: Disney

“My family of four was headed to Orlando and wanted to visit Universal (staying at the Hard Rock Hotel and focusing on the two Harry Potter worlds) and Disney (since the kids are a little older, we wanted Epcot and Animal Kingdom).  Michelle definitely added value to our vacation. She helped us take advantage of a deal for extra free days at Universal that allowed us to see the parks in a much more relaxed fashion. She also wisely steered us toward a concierge floor at our Disney hotel. At first, I didn’t think this was a big deal, but after long days in the parks, it was great to have the option of grabbing food in the concierge-floor lounge instead of going out again to get dinner.” —Melissa Pollack

Read more reviews of Disney trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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“Meeting people who have a direct hand in the life and culture of Italy was special.”

Beautiful cityscape skyline of Firenze (Florence), Italy, with the bridges over the river Arno

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“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

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Two travelers at Darling Harbour Pyrmont Bridge in Sydney, Australia

Make the Most of Your Kid Studying Abroad

With more and more students spending a semester studying abroad, we’re seeing more and more families travel to visit them. I’m just back from visiting my son Charlie in Australia, and many of you are arranging ever cooler trips to meet up with your own favorite undergrad, everywhere from Copenhagen to Botswana. So I thought I’d share some hard-earned wisdom:

  • When you reunite with your child in their foreign homebase, they won’t have jet lag, but you will. For our Australia trip, we knew Charlie would run us ragged playing tour guide. That meant we needed to get over jet lag before joining him in Sydney. So we opted to start our trip by recovering from jet lag first, at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. As it turned out, half of the people we met on Lizard Island were parents from the U.S. who had just been in Sydney visiting their student!  (And many wished they’d eased in at Lizard Island first.)
Wendy's son and other people studying at State Library in New South Wales.

Charlie studying in the grand State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Photo: Wendy Perrin

    • Consider Thanksgiving or spring break. Of course you’ll want to visit when your college student has free time and doesn’t have exams. But if you’re bringing other children who are on a U.S. school schedule, your best timing during the fall semester is likely to be Thanksgiving, and your best timing during the spring semester is likely to be spring break. Such timing works well in many popular Study Abroad cities, such as Barcelona and Florence: Prices are lower and tourist crowds fewer than in peak season (Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Europe).
    • Make advance reservations. Many college students today have a last-minute lifestyle, which might not work well if you’ve got a group of people. Let your student show you their adopted city through their eyes, but if they’re not accustomed to planning activities and meals for a group, consider using the right local itinerary-planning expert who can cater to the special interests of each family member, optimize your itinerary for the month and days of the week that you’re visiting, and reserve hard-to-get-into restaurants or activities (such as a twilight Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, which Tim and Charlie did, below).
Two travelers climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb.

Charlie and Tim atop Sydney Harbour Bridge.

    • Don’t forget about other nearby countries. The study-abroad kids I know are exploring a different city within their new country almost every weekend. So think about other countries nearby where your student might not travel on their own. I’ve seen parents take a Spain-based student to Morocco, for example, or an Italy-based student to Malta.

There is a vast array of study-abroad programs now, not just for a semester but for January term, “Maymester,” summer, and more. Read on to get ideas for experiences that might resonate with your own family. We’re happy to help you with more ideas if you click the black “Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation” button below.

GET A PERSONALIZED TRIP RECOMMENDATION

Spain: “My youngest daughter, who loves art, did a private art workshop with a local artist in Barcelona…”

Barcelona - Park Guell, Spain

Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona. Photo: Shutterstock

“It was the easiest, least stressful, most enjoyable trip our family has ever taken. Much of the credit for this goes to Iván. This trip came about because our oldest is spending a semester abroad at the University of Granada. My mom told us about Wendy’s WOW List, and we soon connected with Iván. My wife and I had a one-hour Zoom call with Iván where he asked about our family, what we like to do, where we wanted to go in Spain, and our ‘must-see/do’ list. Within 48 hours, he sent us a detailed itinerary that blew us away. It checked all the boxes we were looking for and then some.

The main cities we visited were Madrid, Granada and Barcelona. Since college, my wife has been fascinated by Gaudi and has always dreamed of seeing his work, so in Barcelona, Iván planned a ‘Gaudi Day,’ so she could get her fill. The day included visits to Park Güell, La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, and La Sagrada Familia.

Some of our favorite activities during the trip were under-the-radar experiences that Iván set up for us. My youngest daughter, who loves art, did a private art workshop with a local artist in Barcelona where she created a tile mosaic of an octopus in the style of Gaudi.

My favorite was the photography workshop we did in Granada. It was run by a couple with a studio and darkroom in one of the cave houses in the Sacromonte neighborhood of Granada. The workshop focused on wet plate photography, one of the oldest types of photography. They took a photo of our daughters to show us how the process works and then let the kids take and develop a few photos, which are now proudly displayed in our dining room. They were such a lovely couple, and we could have spent many more hours with them. It was truly a special trip.” —Alex Kovac

Read more reviews of Spain trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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New Zealand: “We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub…”

The Hancock family on top of a glacier in New Zealand's South Island.

The Hancock family explored New Zealand’s South Island by helicopter, flying past waterfalls, high alpine lakes, river valleys, and sharp mountain peaks before landing on a glacier.

“Our 21-year-old son was studying in Australia. He was going to wrap up his trip in New Zealand. The idea came to us to make it a family holiday and meet him over there. The stars aligned and all schedules allowed it to happen. First off, Jean-Michel responded to our email inquiry immediately, and we were chatting with him 10 minutes later. We tossed ideas around and he assured us we could cover a lot of ground in the 8 days we had.

We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub, went off-roading, drank lots of wonderful NZ wine and cheese. Our accommodations were fantastic. We have traveled the world, and Jean-Michel and his team are probably the best trip planners we have used to date.” —Susan and Blake Hancock

Read more reviews of New Zealand trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Italy: “Our private boat ride on the Arno was a huge hit; my niece who is studying there had not ever seen a private boat trip on the river…”

Beautiful cityscape skyline of Firenze (Florence), Italy, with the bridges over the river Arno

View over the Arno river in Florence. Photo: Shutterstock

“I had Maria plan a special family trip for three family members to spend 11 days in Italy in Oct. I had some specific requests to see some things I had not seen before, as I have lived and worked in Italy 30 years ago. Maria from the outset understood my needs and she crafted an amazing trip from the start (a private transfer from Malpensa to lunch at Villa D Este & on to Bellagio on Lake Como) to finish…High-speed train back to Milan to catch our flight home. Everything was seamless and very special.

All of the hotels were perfect for us, and Maria pulled off the virtually impossible: finding a lovely quiet room overlooking a piazza without crazy noise and in the shadow of important Renaissance architecture. She also mentioned the rooftop pool and bar at the Minerva in Florence, where we had drinks each night in the soft evening light, with gorgeous views of the Duomo.  Her private excursions to the Factory floor of Lamborghini, to lunches at small wineries run by families who have been there for centuries… it was all beyond terrific. Our private boat ride on the Arno at night was a huge hit; my niece who is studying there had not ever seen a private boat trip on the river in the evening. This is the edge Maria offers, access and know-how that only a seasoned specialist can uncover for their clients.

I can’t thank Wendy enough for linking me up with Maria, we enjoyed every day of our trip and we will certainly reach out to her again to plan some more special moments in other spots in one of my most favorite countries on earth, that I have visited more than 20 times!  Mille Grazie Maria and team!!!  —Mary Munn

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Australia: “A private sunset cruise of the Harbour (one of our favorite moments!)”

Karri Schildmeyer and her family during their private sunset cruise of Sydney Harbour, Australia.

The Schildmeyer family on their private sunset cruise of Sydney Harbour.

“We cannot imagine our trip to Australia going any better than it did, simply because we learned about Wendy Perrin’s company from a dear friend, and their connection to Stuart and Jacki. We spent two weeks visiting our daughter, who was studying abroad in Sydney. Our trip began in Sydney, where we spent the first five days learning about the city, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, hugely enjoying a private tour of the Sydney Opera House and our e-bike tour of Manly Beach. Then we ventured outside Brisbane to Lockyer Valley and the quiet, peaceful Spicers Hidden Vale. How fun to chat with the kangaroos outside our cabins! This retreat was perfectly quaint, with incredible views, meals and service.

After three days in the Valley, we flew to Cairns to spend three days at the Niramaya Villas & Spa. This leg of our trip was the most tropical, as we experienced an amazing day on the water snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and an afternoon at Four Mile Beach. Port Douglas was an incredible seaside town with fantastic restaurants and a must-see sunset at the Marina.

We flew back to Sydney for a private sunset cruise of the Harbour (one of our favorite moments!) and headed stateside after our two-week adventures in beautiful, friendly Australia. This vacation exceeded every expectation and will undoubtedly be remembered in our family as a trip-of-a-lifetime.” —Karri Schildmeyer

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Copenhagen: “We had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us…”

Cari Bender and her family with the dinner's local hosts in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Cari Bender and her family with their local hosts in Copenhagen.

“We just returned from a wonderful trip to Copenhagen to visit our daughter who is studying abroad there. Mads helped us plan a lovely vacation where we got to explore all over the area. We learned about Danish food on a food tour and loved seeing the city from a private boat excursion along the canal.

Our favorite day was the Danish design day! We love Danish design, and Mads arranged for us to have a private tour of a furniture manufacturer and meet some current local artists in their own studio. It was a special and memorable day. My son and I probably took 1,000 photographs, and we all loved learning about the history of prominent furniture design. We had a terrific hotel right in Nyhavn, the famous canal with the colored buildings that was centrally located and super charming.

The other incredibly memorable adventure was Dine with Danes, where we had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us—they must have cooked for two days! We simply adored them and we had a wonderful evening together. It was very special.” —Cari Bender

Read more reviews of Denmark trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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African safari: “We had so many up-close encounters with all sorts of wildlife…and have a shared album of over 1,000 pictures…”

lion sitting in savannah grass in botswana africa

A lion in Botswana. Photo: Shutterstock

“Thanks to Julian for arranging an absolutely fabulous trip to the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls and Cape Town during March 2024. We had travelers on different itineraries from the USA and needed to connect with my daughter in Gaborone, which complicated our agenda, and they all met up as planned. I appreciated the extra help with arranging an additional tour in Maun while we waited for our last friend. After the tour, we were the first guests at the Great Plains lounge, which just opened that day, while we waited until our departing flight to the Delta. We were met and escorted exactly as expected and did not encounter any snags along the way—relatively amazing, given we were on a total of 14 flights in the two weeks.

We thoroughly enjoyed each of the three camps in the Okavango Delta. The accommodations, service, food and animal experiences were so beyond our expectations at all three that we couldn’t pick out our favorite and wished we had another night at least to spend at all of them. We had so many up-close encounters with all sorts of wildlife—lions, elephants wild dogs and more—and have a shared album of over 1000 pictures :) In Zimbabwe, the Old Drift Lodge was also very nice, and Victoria Falls is spectacular. We had animals close to our tents in each of the camps, which was amazing—elephants, baboons, hippos and others. Each of the camps had great views of wildlife from the tents and common areas.

Our guide in Cape Town, Malcolm, was a wealth of information and really helped to show us the city and surrounding areas with a minimum of delay and made sure we had a good amount of time at each stop. We made full use of the Table Bay Hotel’s amenities, surrounding area and attached mall.” —Lori Kirk

Read more reviews of African safari trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Waterfall Agua Azul, Chiapas. Located in Mexico

Best Multigenerational Trips: Reviews from our Travelers

We see it all the time: Grandparents want to take three generations on a memorable trip—but they don’t know where to go. So we’ve compiled below reviews of our favorite multigenerational trips. Our Trusted Travel Experts know how to negotiate the particular challenges of a group that spans decades: varied interests and activity levels, reduced mobility for some, the logistics of a large group, and more. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip. If you’re not sure where you want to go, Ask Wendy—we’d be happy to give you a personalized recommendation for your next multigenerational getaway.

START A TRIP THE WHOLE FAMILY WILL LOVE


Caribbean: a private yacht charter delights everyone, from ages 4 to 70+

aerial photo of Tobacco Caye with sailboat and blue green ocean

A chartered catamaran approaches Tobacco Caye, off the coast of Belize. Photo: Absolute Belize

“We are just back from a phenomenal multi-generational family trip to Belize. Patricia had to coordinate a trip that worked for people from ages 4 to 70+. A catamaran charter had not been on my radar, and I had my concerns—having two young children on a boat for five days, in such a small space, seemed like it could go sideways quickly—but Patricia was absolutely right in her recommendation, and it truly was a superb experience.

Eric and Hannah, our captain and first mate, cared for our whole family with such kindness and positivity, and by the end of the trip we felt like we had two new friends. The food Hannah prepared was incredible—I wish I could get her recipes!—and Eric was a superb snorkeling guide. He was very patient with my seven-year-old when he was hesitant to get in the ocean, and then when he knew my seven-year-old was interested in eels, Eric found an eel and coaxed it out of the coral. He also caught fresh lobster for our meal and let my four-year-old help drive the boat. Hannah even offered to watch our younger son onboard so that both my husband and I could go snorkeling at the same time with our older son—we came back to see them playing games together at the table on deck…. Truly above and beyond!

The catamaran itinerary was excellent. They took us to spots where they knew stingrays would appear, so my kids could pet them. On Rendezvous Caye, Eric knew the caretaker, and the caretaker was happy to cut up a fish for us so we could all try feeding the stingrays. At Goff’s Caye, Eric introduced us to Gilroy, who taught my kids how to hunt for hermit crabs—they loved having hermit crab races on the beach. Hannah consistently packed snacks for our excursions, had amazing appetizers and drinks waiting for us upon our return, and was so accommodating of our kids’ limited palates.

It was truly an outstanding trip, flawlessly executed and one of the best values for the money that I can think of in terms of our travels.” —Kim Segal

Read more reviews of Belize trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Australia: boating on Sydney Harbor, bridge climb, koalas & kangaroos…

View of Sydney from the Harbour BridgeClimb Australia

Family members daring enough to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge enjoy this view. Photo: Destination NSW

Stuart and Jacki prepared an amazing itinerary for our trip to Australia in December. Jacki and the driver met us at the Sydney airport on a Sunday morning at 7am—how amazing to be met by the person who made our arrangements! She suggested the Langham Sydney, and we would be using it as a home base, as we went to Uluru (Longitude 131—an amazing hotel that even prepared a bed outside if you wanted to sleep under the stars), back to Sydney, followed by a trip to the Blue Mountains (Spicers Sangoma Retreat), and then a final 5-night stay in Sydney. Our guide in the Blue Mountains was Tim, and he knew every back road and all the locations for a beautiful view. Our WOW Moment was a sunset boat ride with drinks, and the weather was perfect for it.

The children and grandchildren arrived for the last 4 nights, and she planned a great itinerary for all of us, ages 2 to 70: a Christmas carol concert at the Opera House, drivers for everything (the driver even took a video of us from above taking the Bondi Beach walk—all 9 of us), a harbor boat trip with lunch and swimming, the Sydney Bridge Climb, a private tour of the Rocks, an Aussie Backyard Tour at the zoo, and a lovely day in Hobart, visiting Russell Falls and Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.

Our granddaughter needed a doctor, and Jacki provided a list of doctors (outside of regular hours and during the Christmas holiday!) and Tyler (the Langham’s concierge that day) made repeated calls to get us an appointment. Both Jacki and Stuart followed up with her status. The parents were very impressed with Children’s Hospital in Sydney where she was treated, and we went on with our trip. We will be using Stuart and Jacki again for our next trip to Australia—they just made it so easy!” —Denise Staal

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Galapagos, Andes, Amazon: island wildlife, countryside hacienda, remote eco-lodge…

Travelers and a giant tortoise in the Galapagos.

Lauren Schor and family catch up with a giant tortoise in the Galapagos.

Allie did an amazing job planning our 13-day multi-generational family trip to Ecuador for Christmas. We started planning almost a year in advance. Most accommodations are smaller, with about 20 rooms total, and I would definitely suggest planning this trip well in advance, as availability dictated the outline of our trip from the beginning of the planning process. And we LOVED all of the places we stayed!

Allie suggested destinations she thought were right for us, based on our travel style and age range. In the Galapagos Islands we opted for a land-based trip rather than a cruise, and although we didn’t get to see as many islands as we would have if we’d stayed on a boat, we were very happy with our choice. We spent four days in the Galapagos (two on land exploring Santa Cruz Island—so much to see and do) and two at sea exploring multiple islands in the archipelago. Allie even arranged for a private family photo shoot on the most beautiful beach!

Next stop was in the Andes mountains back on the mainland at an amazing hacienda where we really got a feel for the culture of the country. After a couple of days here, it was time for the grand finale, the Amazon rainforest. We all thought the Galapagos would be the main highlight of a trip to Ecuador, but the Amazon was just mind-blowing. Allie sent us to the most amazing eco-lodge in a very remote location where we spent three nights. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Ecuador was very unique in that we were able to spend time in the Galapagos, the Andes Mountains and the Amazon all in one trip! Just be aware, we had a lot of very early mornings and very little downtime (naps during transit were common). Some of the excursions can be physically challenging if you don’t have great balance or stamina, especially combined with the strong equator sun. And there is a lot of moving around and time spent traveling from one place to another. However, it was all 100% worth it! Allie planned the trip of a lifetime for our family of eight!” —Lauren Schor

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Kenya: a safari camp all to themselves & beach time on the Indian Ocean

Robin Carlson

Robin Carlson and family at Instinct of the Mara, a camp that they had all to themselves.

Julian planned a memorable trip to Kenya for our extended family of 11 people, including grandkids ranging in age from 11 to 17. We planned to arrive in Nairobi a day before we needed to leave for our first camp, to give ourselves a little time to recover from the flights. Although we thought we had plenty of time to make our connection in Amsterdam, a long delay caused us to miss our flight to Nairobi. Because we were expected in Nairobi for a morning visit to the Giraffe Center, I contacted Julian and Lisa to let them know of our arrival changes. They were able to change the Giraffe Center visit to our last day in Kenya instead of the first.

Julian suggested we start at Sweetwaters Serena Camp, so we could see rhinos. It was a perfect start. There was a water hole opposite the tents, so animals were coming and going all day and night. Meals were buffet-style, which provided plenty of options for everyone, including kids and vegetarians.

Then we flew to Instinct of the Mara for four days. We had booked two 2-bedroom suites, as well as a room for my husband and me. We were lucky to arrive in time for the beginning of the Great Migration, which was awe inspiring. Except for one day when we saw a few other vehicles, we were alone among the animals. One evening we had a sundowner with lamb roasted on a spit by the Maasai while we watched the sun set.

Our final stop was Cardamom House on the Indian Ocean. It’s a beautiful, very private spot. We enjoyed relaxing and swimming. I had requested a birthday cake for my granddaughter, and the staff went all out. The chairs were decorated with balloons. They brought cake and ice cream and sang to her. She said: best birthday ever.”—Robin Carlson

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Iceland: ice caves, geysers & waterfalls with 2 teens

Foggy day on an ice cave tour in Iceland

Barbara Fierman, her husband, and their grandsons geared up to explore an ice cave under a glacier.

“The timing, both time of year and number of days, was perfect for a trip with our two 14-year-old grandsons. We knew that the boys would love adventure and Chris provided ample opportunity for that. We explored caves, a geyser, and many waterfalls, hiked in national parks and in an ice cave, and kayaked at sunset through a glacial lagoon.

Most visitors to Iceland have opportunities to soak in thermal baths, such as the famous Blue Lagoon. But I doubt if many get to hike to a heated river, where the guide blocks the water flow, thereby creating a pool for private soaking, and cooks your meal over the heated rocks. Chris provided top-notch guides and special, unusual experiences.” —Barbara Fierman

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Azores: easy access to volcano hikes, whale watching, lava tubes…

Family hike up the mountain to Lagao do Fogo on São Miguel Island in the Azores.

Tony Ford-Hutchinson and family on a hike to Lagoa do Fogo on São Miguel Island in the Azores.

“For those of us who live on the East Coast of the USA, the Azores are the closest point to somewhere with a European and Portuguese feel. One of our guides (an American ex-pat) described them as a cross between Iceland (they are so volcanic), Ireland (they are so green) and Hawaii (a holiday destination in the middle of an ocean). Our trip with our daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters (aged 9 and 11) started with a direct 5.5 h flight from Newark airport. Flights arrive in San Miguel Island, the most populated, and we spent the first three nights in the luxurious Octant Furnas Hotel in Furnas. The hotel is surrounded by hot springs bringing boiling water to the surface. Highlights there were the food, including preparing and cooking a traditional stew which is buried in the hot ground for several hours, the hotel’s super warm, mineral swimming pool and a hike up a mountain side to Lagoa de Fogo (a lake in a former volcanic cone) followed by a swim on the beach.

We then took a short flight to the volcanic Island of Pico, famous for its mountain (a former volcano of course) and its outstanding white wine. During 5 nights in Pico, we took two day trips on ferries to the neighboring islands of Faial and Sao Jorge. Highlights were a trip through the lava tubes on Pico, visits to wineries and a hike around the Caldera on Faial. After flying back to San Miguel for our last 3 nights we were driven to our hotel on the Ponta Delgada harbor front (Octant Ponta Delgada). Highlights included a private whale-watching trip with great sightings of three female sperm whales (one with a calf), an evening wine and food tasting tour, a morning food tour, a Jeep tour of the Lagoa das Sete Cidades, and finally a tour of the tea plantations with an opportunity to make our own ice cream.

A 5-hour flight home took us back to Newark with the realization that we still had 5 more islands to explore! Thank you to Goncalo and his co-workers for a great trip that left a multi-generational family very happy.” —Tony Ford-Hutchinson

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Switzerland: hiking, rafting and wine tasting with an infant in tow

Laura Roberts

The Roberts family hiking in Wengen. Photo: Traveler Laura Roberts

“We traveled to Switzerland for 16 days with the help of Ana in Nina’s office. I asked a lot of her because we were traveling with our four grown children, our daughter-in-law, and our 10-month-old granddaughter. She did a great job of finding interesting activities that all eight of us could enjoy! We hiked, had a raclette lunch in a candlelight cave, rafted, mountain biked, wine tasted, and much more! We had three major destinations: Zurich, Wengen and Ascona. Wengen was our favorite—beautiful views of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, accessible only by train and no cars in town.

However, the true highlight was in the mountain near Ascona. There was a local alpine festival for the opening of a cattle-grazing area high in the mountains. Ana arranged for us to go by helicopter and see the local traditions—cheese making, eating polenta and alpine horns. We were the only foreigners there, and the people were very welcoming! We loved this trip!!” —Laura Roberts

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: city tours, desert adventures, theme parks…

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard with her husband and grandsons on a private sunset cruise in Dubai.

“My husband and I took our grandsons (ages 14 and 13) to UAE at the end of July for 10 days. We told our grandchildren many years ago they could pick any place in the world for a trip. Dubai was the choice! Although we were skeptical about going there during the summer when it is very hot, Nicholas designed an itinerary that suited all of us perfectly. He listened to our desire to give the boys an unforgettable experience and delivered.

We started in Dubai with a stay at Atlantis the Palm, including exclusive Imperial Club access, after being met with VIP service at the airport. The boys enjoyed Aquaventure and the pool. We also had a Dubai historical tour, visited Museum of the Future, went to the ‘top of the Burj Khalifa,’ had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise with a crew of four that provided excellent service.

After leaving Dubai, we ventured to Al Maha, a luxury desert resort. What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite (boys had their own Bedouin suite), a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset, early morning falconry presentation for the grandparents, and excellent food. Our only regret is we wished we would have spent more than one night there so we could have enjoyed other activities like archery, more time in the pool and watching the many gazelles and rare Arabian Oryx on the property. As the boys said, ‘this is really cool!’

The next stop was Abu Dhabi, where we stayed at the WB Hotel by Hilton, which is conveniently located near many of the theme parks. After touring Abu Dhabi, which included a tour of the Grand Mosque, we finished our trip with visits to Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and the recently opened (May) Sea World. All of the parks are covered so the hot weather was not an issue. The new Sea World is absolutely incredible. Ferrari World was the highlight, however, with an individual Ferrari car ride on nearby roads with a professional driver for each grandson.

I would highly recommend Nicholas and staff if you are planning a trip to UAE. It was very obvious he has strong relationships with local service providers and is very knowledgeable about the area. We were definitely able to experience a ‘trip of our lifetime’ for our grandsons and us!”—Diane Thormodsgard

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French Polynesia: a private catamaran charter and overwater bungalows on Bora Bora

yellow fish underwater in tahaa Island Tahiti

Snorkeling among these fish is a delight at any age. Photo: Tahiti Tourisme

“Our family enlisted Kleon to plan our trip to French Polynesia, where we spent a week on a catamaran sailing between the islands and a stop in Bora Bora for several days.

Because there were six of us, and three generations, Kleon suggested a number of activities that would suit us all. We snorkeled with manta rays and sharks, kayaked and paddleboarded. There were also visits to a pearl farm, vanilla farm, and rum factory, all of which we truly enjoyed.

The catamaran was a perfect choice for us. There was a very professional and cordial captain, and Virginie a perfect hostess and incredible cook. Because of them, we enjoyed spending time on the cat just relaxing, reading, snoozing, etc., as much as we enjoyed our excursions.

On Bora Bora, Kleon suggested the Pearl Resort, which suited us fine. We all had overwater bungalows with patios and direct lagoon access. It was also interesting to be able to feed the myriad of fish from an opening at the bottom of the bed! Kleon’s efforts and organization made this trip very easy, seamless, and special for us!” —Vanessa Hulme

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New Zealand: Family of 6 celebrates dad’s 80th birthday

Milford Sound, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

A quiet day on Milford Sound, in Fiordland National Park. Photo: Rob-Suisted/New Zealand Tourism

“My grandfather was in the Dutch Navy and spent time in New Zealand many years ago. He always spoke about how beautiful it was and how it was his favorite place he had ever visited. So when we asked my dad where he would like to go for his 80th birthday — he said New Zealand!

We just got back from the most incredible trip planned by Jean-Michel and his team. We were traveling with 6 people from 13 to 80 years old, and Jean-Michel did a great job finding activities that we would all love.

We had only 9 days so we stayed on the west coast of the South Island and there was plenty to explore. We started in Te Anu at the Fiordland Lodge and loved the beautiful lodge and surroundings. We hiked, went fishing, and explored Milford Sound by boat. The scenery was beyond breathtaking everywhere we went! Our next stop was Queenstown and we stayed at the historic Eichardt’s Private Hotel. We had a lovely wine tasting day in Central Otago with the best guide and driver (Beau Rapley) and our daughter even went bungee jumping from the Kawarau Bridge. She loved it!! The city of Queenstown & surroundings were great – plenty of walking trails, gardens, gorgeous lake and mountain views. Not to mention great food and wine!

The last place we visited was Wild Earth Lodge in Makarora. It was the most serene and beautiful little inn run from the home of Pete and Janine. They took great care of our whole family & cooked the most delicious meals! We spent our days there hiking to the Blue Pools and having some relaxing down time. We also had our most exciting day – a helicopter tour over Mt Aspiring National Park, a hike through Siberia Valley, and a thrilling jet boat ride back down the Wilkin River. The whole trip was outstanding and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without Jean-Michel.”—Alana Jacobson

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Malta: private villas and outdoor adventures

William Fisher

William Fisher’s grandchildren making pastizzi in Malta.

“Our family group of nine just returned from a week-long spring break trip to the Maltese Islands, organized by Damon and Denise. The trip included grandparents, children, and grandchildren ages 16 to 10. The trip was exceptionally well organized due to the time Damon spent prior to the trip determining what our interests were and how to maximize time spent making memories with our grandchildren.

The itinerary was heavy on outdoor activities to keep the grandkids engaged. Our activities included quad-biking on Gozo; a multi-course picnic lunch with wine on a secluded bay, followed by bocce ball with local players; touring the ruins of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples; and an amazing afternoon with the local falconer, who brought an owl, Harris hawk, and Maltese falcon to share with the entire group. We took a private tour of Underground Valletta and a private Dghajsa boat ride across the Valletta harbor for more exploration. We visited a baker and his wife where we made a local pastry called pastizzi, spent time with a local artisan who made musical instruments, visited a honey farm, and ended the day with a visit to a sheep farm where we sampled some delicious cheeses.

We stayed in a beautiful villa in Gozo that included a heated indoor swimming pool! You can imagine how excited the grandkids were when they walked in the front door and saw an indoor pool. Our lodging in Valletta was equally impressive, but in a different way. It was a castle-like structure built in the late 1500s that had been updated to include all the amenities of the current day. Our driver throughout our adventure was Super Mario. He was absolutely delightful! Always on time, always helpful, and always attentive to everyone’s needs, which were often a challenge. The entire experience was exceptional.” —William Fisher

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Belize: Family of 10 celebrates a 50th anniversary

palm tree and beach overlooking turquoise Caribbean Sea South Water Caye Belize

Clear water and sugary sand are trademarks of Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

“To plan for our 50th anniversary family celebration adventure in Belize, Wendy introduced us to Patricia, a native Belizean with a passion for introducing her country to the world. A year of planning with Patricia and Juliannie culminated in a 10-day trip, five days in the jungle and five days on an island. With us were four grandchildren, ages 9-12, so a lot of thought went into making sure we had lots of kid-oriented things to do. We truly wanted to hear lots of ‘WOWs’ from them and we weren’t disappointed.

Imagine four kids flying into Belize City airport and being escorted across the tarmac and realizing they were about to jump into two helicopters and fly to their jungle resort, or their excitement of being whisked from the jungle, via private plane, over to Placencia, then jumping on a boat and arriving on an island? Their reactions when they walked into their luxurious accommodations, complete with plunge pools, were priceless.

Chaa Creek Resort in the jungle didn’t disappoint, upping the ‘WOWs’ to new levels each day. Our butler, Candi, and her trainee Ryan spoiled us with private dinners for 10, breakfast deliveries early in the morning, fresh fruit drinks when we returned from a day of touring, even babysitting so the adults could dine together. At 4:00 a.m. one morning Candi was helping decorate an outdoor pavilion so our granddaughter could have a fun 9th birthday celebration that night. The surprises never stopped, the staff was so generous and kind, the accommodations top-notch, and the food delicious. Our granddaughter with celiac even got special gluten-free desserts every day!

We had a dedicated driver and guide, Darryl, throughout our 5 days of touring the jungle, and when rising water closed the ATM cave tour, Darryl seamlessly changed plans. Darryl introduced us to the Mayan world, helped us explore their temples, took us to a local coffee plantation and to a women’s local co-op where the grandchildren were able to hand-grind coffee beans, fresh corn for our tortillas, and try their hands at ancient pottery making. A trip deep into the jungle delivered us to zip-lining at the end of our cultural immersion day!

Ray Caye Resort beach days were spent in total relaxation mode so snorkeling, jumping off the two-story diving platform, kayaking, canoeing, sailing the Hobie cat, and even scuba diving kept us engaged. But enjoying gourmet meals, sipping drinks around the pool in the near-perfect weather, and playing family volleyball and puzzle games brought us together after far too many years of separation. The island was magical, the staff always ready to help us, anticipating our every need, and on our last night there, they surprised us with a 50th anniversary family meal on the beach. The resort covered the whole island and at one point there were only 16 vacationers on it. Talk about a private and perfect post-pandemic place to be!  Leaving ‘paradise’ the last morning was difficult, to say the least!

Patricia ensured that the whole trip worked seamlessly and not once did we have a glitch! She also chose the very best people to support us throughout the trip. We couldn’t have asked for a better family celebration of our 50th!” —Judith Rodwell

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Morocco: Family of 8 over Christmas/New Year’s

Camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Wendy took her own family on a camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Radia and her team put together a trip of a lifetime for our multi-generational family of eight. Our 10-day trip to Morocco over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays was one of the best we have ever taken together. It was the perfect combination of cultural experiences, food experiences, sightseeing, shopping and adventure! We spent three nights in Fes, one night in the Sahara, and six nights in Marrakech. Highlights included a hike in the Atlas Mountains, followed by a cooking class at a local Berber family’s home in the mountain village. We also loved the sidecar tour around Marrakech—such a fun and different way to see the city beyond the medina, where most tourists spend all their time.

But everyone’s favorite day of the trip was the time we spent in the Sahara. We felt like we were in the pages of National Geographic as we drove ATVs over the gorgeous sand dunes—so fun and thrilling, with the most unbelievable scenery. And we drove the ATVs right to where our camels were waiting to take us on an unforgettable sunset ride and then on to our luxury tented camp for the evening, where our belongings were waiting for us. It was truly a dream come true.

We also had another surreal experience in the Sahara when we had tea with a nomadic Berber family who lives in tents without electricity or running water. We were able to talk to them and ask them questions about their life (through our guide, who translated for us)—it was a very educational and eye-opening experience, especially for our teenagers. Morocco is a feast for the senses. Even just walking around the medina and souks, the sights, sounds, tastes and smells you will experience will leave a lasting impression on you.” —Lauren Schor

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Portugal & Spain: 3 generations over Christmas/New Year’s

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal

Michelle Bodine and family in Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal. 

“Our family just returned from the most magical and well-planned trip to Portugal and Spain for Christmas and New Year’s! We were thrilled to have traveled at this time of year, and especially in Europe where the Christmas lights, trees and markets made it even better. We took our four children and their spouses and four grandchildren, so fourteen all together. Wendy lined us up with the perfect people to help us plan and then succeed on a 14-day excursion with 14 people, big and small, in Portugal and Spain.

Gonçalo and Patricia were phenomenal with their hotel accommodations, food and restaurant recommendations, tour guides that fit our needs of grandchildren ages 6, 3, 1 1/2 and 3 months, and activities that enriched our trip. The itinerary was just what we wanted!  It truly was perfect in every way. There was even flexibility, so if we needed to cancel a restaurant because we were going on a food tour and would not be hungry, we could. The amount of scheduled activities and free time to explore more was perfect.

Gonçalo and Patricia are experts in what they do, and I would trust them again to plan the most satisfying travel experience for my family! They both took the precautions necessary to help us feel safe with Covid and continued to help us along our journey with lost luggage and further restaurant recommendations. We could not have done this trip without our trip planners, Gonçalo and Patricia. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for planning a Christmas to remember forever and ever!” —Michelle Bodine

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London: Chelsea Stadium, royal history, museum scavenger hunt for a family of 10

Big Ben Clock in London, United Kingdom.

The right private guide can make London come alive for kids. Photo: Shutterstock

“We recently returned from a trip to London with our family of 10 people that we had planned with Jonathan. We traveled over the Christmas holidays with our children and 4 grandchildren, aged 10-13. Jonathan and Katie’s attention to detail was superb! We stayed at the One Aldywich Hotel in Covent Garden. The hotel was amazing in every way! Our kids each had a 2-bedroom suite to accommodate their families of 4. We arrived the day after Christmas, and the kids had gifts waiting for them in each room with their names on them. The adults all had Christmas stockings filled with treats. All of the rooms were beautiful, and it was a perfect choice for people traveling with families.

Our guide, Alex, was with us for 4 days. He and Olivia, our driver, exceeded all of our expectations. Alex was great with the kids and his scavenger hunt in The British Museum was a real blast! A highlight of the trip was traveling to Hampton Court to learn all about Henry VIII and his six wives. Later that same evening, we went to the theater to see Six, which is about all of the wives. The kids also loved their visit to the Chelsea Stadium. Everything went like clockwork, from our arrival in London to the time we left for home.” —Ellen Weiner

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Norway: Fishing, hiking, RIB boating in the Lofoten Islands…

Reine, Lofoten, Norway. The village of Reine under a sunny, blue sky, with the typical rorbu houses. View from the top

You’re never far from the water in the Lofoten Islands; this is the village of Reine. Photo: Shutterstock

“Part of our Norway trip included three generations: my husband and me, our daughter, and four of our grandchildren. Jan encouraged us to stay at Reine, in the Lofoten Islands. We stayed in Robuer cabins, which were exactly the right fit for the families. Jan set up a full day with a RIB boat, including a shore lunch and a hike to a cave. The next day, he set up a fishing experience and a private chef to come to our room and cook the fish for all of us.

Following the multi-generational portion of our trip, my husband and I cruised from Copenhagen up the west coast of Norway and back to Copenhagen. Jan arranged for private guides to meet us at four different stops on the cruise. These guides were more than happy to tailor the day to our needs. While the ship offered excursions, having the private guides and drivers worked best for us, enhancing the trip with their knowledge and making each destination personal.” —Peggy Schuemann

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Austria and Germany: Christmas markets and more, to suit ages 9 to 79

Christmas market and decorations in Vienna park next to City Hall (Rathaus), Austria,Vienna.

Kick off the holidays at Vienna Park’s Christmas Market, in Austria. Photo: Shutterstock

“Took a multi-generational family trip to Germany and Austria during the Christmas holiday. Cannot say enough good things about planning a trip with Gwen. She is by far the best we have ever experienced!  Our guides — and we had a ton of them — all were fantastic. They were able to provide for and entertain everyone from our 9-year-old son to my 79-year-old mother. This was a special feat in the cold Christmastime chaos!

Gwen had all the right advice — we felt safe and cared for throughout our train and car transfers and adventures. Our initial idea was to see the Christmas markets, but what we got was so much more — the markets were almost an afterthought. She knew where to go — Munich, Salzburg, Vienna — and what to do there. When she heard that we had a 15-year-old car fanatic with us, she made arrangements for a side trip to Stuttgart as well. Just take her advice on where to go, and you won’t be disappointed!” —Theresa Sandoval

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Mexico: private villa in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta beaches, sunsets and scenic ocean views near Bay of Banderas coastline Mexico

Vanessa Hulme and family had a view of Banderas Bay from their private villa. Photo: Shutterstock

“We decided on a family vacation in Mexico for three generations, plus a pre-vacation vacation for my husband and me. The first stop for my husband and me was San Miguel de Allende. While we had initially hesitated to stay at the Rosewood because it was not in the center of town, Zach convinced us this hotel would be excellent, and he was correct. Thanks to him we were upgraded to their Tower Suite, which not only came with an enormous amount of space on two levels, but its own private elevator, three outdoor patios, and two butlers! Everything about this hotel was magical, and we cannot wait to return. The tours Zach arranged in San Miguel were excellent and included a market tour and cooking class with a chef, and an in-depth tour of San Miguel and Guanajuato.

The remainder of our trip was spent in Puerto Vallarta with the entire family. We had very specific requirements for a private villa: directly on the water, large enough so we would all have our own space, fully staffed, close to activities, and located an easy distance from the center of Puerto Vallarta.

Our villa, Casa Demae II, is in a gated complex, and was exquisite and outstanding in every way: spacious bedrooms (all ensuite, and most with balconies) with views of the pool and Banderas Bay, incredible common areas, infinity pool with a swim-up bar, jacuzzi, outdoor dining areas (from where we saw whales most days), streaming services—you name it, it was there! The staff were excellent and always helpful; what a treat to always have, without asking, coffee ready in the morning and (for the adults), margaritas ready in the evening! Our chef was fantastic—we actually cancelled two dinner reservations because the food at the villa was so wonderful. Another very nice touch was simply putting the dirty clothes in the closet basket, and having clean ones reappear that afternoon. This was like having our own private hotel…but better.

As in San Miguel, the activities planned were second to none. Everyone is still talking about the whale watching tour and the day on the private catamaran around Banderas Bay with complete crew and a chef. Also, because we had the benefit of entry to the Beach Club, the staff arranged for us to jet ski, paddleboard, and snorkel only a short distance away. There is no way we could have put together this trip on our own. From the moment my husband and I landed in Guanajuato until the entire family boarded our flight home, absolutely everything was handled efficiently and worked smoothly.” —Vanessa Hulme

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Costa Rica for four active teenagers and mobility-challenged grandparents

Monteverde Costa Rica

Don’t let physical disabilities keep you from having fun in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were traveling to Costa Rica with ten people, including four active teenagers who are up for any adventure and my father who didn’t want his physical disability to stop the adventure or fun for his grandchildren. Priscilla found us the perfect home on an amazing beach where we could watch the sunset daily and take day trips scuba diving, surfing, and fishing. After five days, we moved to the Monteverde Cloud Forest for the sky walk, zip-lining, and endless hikes. What really made this trip special was the planning that Priscilla did in finding us the perfect naturalist guide, Eddie, as well as the perfect physical therapist, Alonso, to travel with us for the 10 days we were away. Alonso provided my father with the best care possible and had the knowledge and ability to work with him in the pool and help him do things he has not been able to do, like taking short walks on the beach. Having Alonso with us allowed my mom to get the vacation she so needed and took all the daily stress away. As for Eddie, the naturalist guide, from the moment we met him at the airport, he got the kids engaged and interested in learning about Costa Rica. When we were out hiking, he not only helped us find the monkeys, quetzals and sloth, but educated the kids on the Cloud Forest and the environment. It was an amazing trip!” —Kristen Ebner

Read more reviews of Costa Rica trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

Atlantic Canada: A trip “about which my three grandchildren never stop talking”

boats in the town Joe Batt's Arm, Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Joe Batt’s Arm on Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

“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

Read more reviews of Atlantic Canada trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ATLANTIC CANADA

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Dubai Marina in the United Arab Emirates

5 Unusual Spring Break Ideas for College Students (and Their Parents)

Hi everyone, it’s Wendy’s son Doug here.  A reader asked where to take her 21-year-old for college spring break:

“Hi. This question is for Doug:  I’m thinking about a trip with my 21-year-old son for college spring break in March. Like you, he and I (I’m the Mom) have traveled together all his life. We are looking for your best ideas/suggestions. We’ve traveled to most of Europe. I’m primarily concerned that we only have a week. Can we see Dubai during that short time?  I enjoyed your trip reports and would appreciate your suggestions. Thanks, Rosalind”

I’m happy to help, and Dubai (pictured above) is a fantastic idea for spring break!  In fact, it’s one of my top five suggestions, based on my own experiences.  As a college sophomore, I can tell you that these suggestions are well suited to college students—and kids of all ages. These are destinations where you can get the combination of relaxation and adventure that you want for spring break, plus cultural exploration too.

DUBAI AND ABU DHABI

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing

This was us dune bashing in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter.  Photo: Timothy Baker

You can easily experience both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in one week!  You can go dune bashing (above is our thrilling 4×4 ride in Abu Dhabi), sandboarding, snowboarding (there’s an indoor ski slope), and still have enough time for the beach. You can drive a test Ferrari, take a hot lap in a Formula 1 car, or ride the world’s fastest roller coaster. Dubai is so technologically advanced that it lets you see and experience what the future will be like, which any college student wants to do. It’s also a big airline hub, so there are nonstop flights from many U.S. cities.

BELIZE

Two people scuba diving

That’s me earning my scuba-diving certification in Belize. Photo: Timothy Baker

One week is more than enough time to get your scuba diving license in Belize. (That’s me above, following the instructor, during my certification course there.)  On the barrier reef, you can snorkel with stingrays, dive with sharks, adventure into a cave filled top to bottom with lobsters, and explore the Blue Hole. On Ambergris Caye, you can bike or drive a golf cart around the island, and at night you can go to beach bars and sip your favorite drink while sitting in a pool or eat in restaurants with your toes in the sand. You can read about our family trip to Belize here.

PANAMA

Two kids on a boat in Panama.

That’s me and my older brother, Charlie, on a boat in the Panama Canal. Photo: Timothy Baker

Panama is known for its biodiversity. You can hike and zipline through the jungle, see the incredible wildlife by boating down the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most impressive engineering feats (my brother and I are doing that above), visit the Biomuseo designed by Frank Gehry, explore the Old Town, or hit the beach. It’s on East Coast time, so there’s no jet lag to cope with when classes start again, and there are nonstop flights from many U.S. cities.

WHISTLER, CANADA

Doug watching Charlie riding Olympics bobsled in Whistler, Canada.

When I was in Whistler, I was too small to ride the Olympics bobsled, but I watched Charlie do it. He says it went so fast it felt like a blur. Photo: Timothy Baker

Whistler is a place for thrill seekers and extreme sports lovers. Some of the best skiing and snowboarding to be had are in these world-class mountains less than a two-hour drive from Vancouver. You can also go snowmobiling, ziplining, and bungee jumping in winter. My older brother, Charlie, got to zoom down the 2010 Whistler Winter Olympics bobsled course (I was too small), and he says it happened so fast that it felt like a blur—which is how the world’s fastest roller coaster in Abu Dhabi felt too—but it was still amazing.

MOROCCO

family picture at dades gorges Morocco

Here, I’m with Mom and Charlie in Morocco’s Dadès Gorges during spring break when I was 12.

You can go sandboarding and ride camels in the Sahara, hike in the mountains, and still have time to go surfing in Essouaira and enjoy a hammam. With its incredible architecture, markets, and cities, Morocco provides many experiences that are Instagram worthy, especially the rainbow of spices they put on their food. And it’s just across the Atlantic Ocean. You can read more about our spring break in Morocco here.

The reviews below from other travelers attest to how well these places work for everyone in the family. Happy spring break!

START A SPRING TRIP

Dubai and Abu Dhabi: “We visited Museum of the Future, went to the ‘top of the Burj Khalifa,’ had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise…”

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard with her husband and grandsons on a private sunset cruise in Dubai.

“My husband and I took our grandsons (ages 14 and 13) to the U.A.E. for 10 days. Nicholas designed an itinerary that suited all of us perfectly. We started in Dubai with a stay at Atlantis the Palm, including exclusive Imperial Club access, after being met with VIP service at the airport. The boys enjoyed Aquaventure and the pool. We also had a Dubai historical tour, visited Museum of the Future, went to the ‘top of the Burj Khalifa,’ had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise with a crew of four that provided excellent service.

After leaving Dubai, we ventured to Al Maha, a luxury desert resort. What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite (boys had their own Bedouin suite), a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset, early morning falconry presentation for the grandparents, and excellent food. Our only regret is we wished we would have spent more than one night there so we could have enjoyed other activities like archery, more time in the pool and watching the many gazelles and rare Arabian Oryx on the property. As the boys said, ‘this is really cool!’

The next stop was Abu Dhabi, where we stayed at the WB Hotel by Hilton, which is conveniently located near many of the theme parks. After touring Abu Dhabi, which included a tour of the Grand Mosque, we finished our trip with visits to Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and the recently opened Sea World. The new Sea World is absolutely incredible. Ferrari World was the highlight, however, with an individual Ferrari car ride on nearby roads with a professional driver for each grandson. The trip was a nice mix of history, amazing architecture, and entertainment. We were definitely able to experience a ‘trip of our lifetime’ for our grandsons and us!” —Diane Thormodsgard

Read more reviews of Dubai and Abu Dhabi trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO DUBAI AND ABU DHABI

Belize: “Relaxing on, and snorkeling off of, idyllic islands…”

empty white sand beach with a few green trees and light turquoise water in Belize

A white sand beach in Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

“In a matter of days, Patricia organized a world-class 12-day trip for our family to Belize, with features that kept our three kids (ages 17, 17 and 20) engaged and happy, including climbing Mayan ruins, riding horses, lounging at the pool, and snorkeling. Lots of snorkeling. Christmas Day was spent relaxing on, and snorkeling off of, idyllic islands near the village of Placencia.

New Year’s Eve was spent on a ‘catch and cook’ adventure off the coast of Ambergris Caye with dive master and boat captain extraordinaire Carlos Cordova. We fished for bait, dove for conch and lobster, and went fishing. Then we cooked our catches on the beach. The highlight was ceviche made with fresh conch, lobster and fish. We particularly enjoyed the accommodations at Hidden Valley Wilderness Ranch and Naia Resort & Spa in Placencia. We couldn’t have asked for a better family trip.” —Robyn Smyers

Read more reviews of Belize trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO BELIZE

Panama: “It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde…”

Old hanging bridge in a rainforest.

Old hanging bridge in the jungle of Panama. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband, 21-year old son, and I had a fabulous time in Panama, organized by Pierre. We stayed in the old part of Panama City—very charming and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Seeing the Panama Canal was the highlight of the trip for us—an absolute must-do for anyone visiting. We also visited Monkey Island (taking a boat next to big ships in the Canal was awesome) and the sloth sanctuary.

We visited Boquete in the mountains for three nights and absolutely loved it. It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde. Highlights there included an adventurous 4×4 jeep ride to the top of Baru Volcano for sunrise and to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, a fun cooking experience with the chef of Ngädri restaurant, hanging bridges, and a tour of a coffee plantation.

We celebrated New Year’s in Panama City at one of the rooftop restaurants with great music and an excellent multi-course dinner and Champagne. Very memorable. All three of us really enjoyed Panama and look forward to going back again.” —Tina Hunt

Read more reviews of Panama trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PANAMA

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Travel Experts Share their Top 6 Tips for Successful Family Travel

The best family trips are fun and deeply rewarding. Successful family travel is about minimizing stress, smoothing out logistics, and keeping everyone in the family happy, from the grandparents to the teens and toddlers. A group of people with different ages, experiences, needs, and desires all traveling together makes for challenges, but when those challenges are overcome, it creates bonding moments and lifelong memories.

Family trips are more popular now than ever before. In 2019, the average number of travelers on a trip planned via The WOW List was three. Today, our groups average seven people. So during our 2024 WOW Week, Wendy, Brook, and Hannah (all moms themselves) had a live conversation and Q&A with several WOW Listers who are experienced family-travel planners as well as parents. Also joining us, to provide the grandparent’s perspective, was Brook’s mom, Susan Crandell. Watch the video below, and scroll down for the top takeaways from our conversation.

Shape global citizens

Wendy has been traveling with her two sons for 21 years, and they’ve been to 60 countries and counting. “Traveling gives your kids a confidence that will serve them well in life,” she said. Meeting people from completely different cultures and finding out you have a lot in common is deeply impactful. It’s how we create global citizens.

“When you model that being a traveler is part of your identity, your kids will pick up on that,” Brook said. In her family’s house, they have a hallway devoted to photographs that Zeke has taken on their trips; every time he walks to his room, he sees Egypt and Iceland and Vietnam and Norway and is reminded of the memories he made in each place. “He also has two world maps on the wall in his room, with pins for all the places he’s visited, the place he’s going next, and his dream destination,” said Brook.

Make friends

When Wendy’s sons were younger, they always brought a soccer ball on their trips. It’s a great connector, as tons of kids around the world love to play—and then you can leave it behind with the kids you meet. My own kids are still quite little, so I love making parent friends in playgrounds wherever we travel. It’s an ideal way to spend time with locals in the fresh air and get intel about more fun things to do with kids.

Wendy’s younger son, Doug, plays public pianos wherever he finds them—train stations, hotel lobbies, on the street, in music stores. It’s a fantastic ice breaker and conversation starter.

Assign jobs to kids

“Get buy-in from everybody, even if you’re the one paying the bill,” Susan suggested. In Iceland, she got her family to go horseback riding with her, something they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen—and then she went out of her comfort zone to ride an ATV, at her grandson’s request. It ended up being more fun than she expected. There’s always going to be compromise when traveling with a group, so it’s vital that everyone gets a say in the itinerary.

Zach Rabinor, on The WOW List for Mexico, took an eight-month road trip to 13 countries from Tierra del Fuego to Mexico with his family: his wife and two sons who were then 10 and 13, and at times joined by his in-laws and his mom, who was 78. His advice is to “involve everyone in the planning process, not just to avoid missteps but to get everyone engaged and excited.” Assigning responsibility to his kids helped them feel invested in the trip. One of his sons loves maps and took charge of directions. His other son, an avid reader, gave historical background and figured out the right tipping protocol in different places.

Seek out hands-on activities

Think beyond museums and landmarks. Brook and her family have “explored caves built by a pre-Viking civilization in Iceland, clambered through a Vietcong hideout in Saigon, and made cheese with a farmer in Norway—that last one wasn’t just hands-on, we were literally up to our elbows in whey!” These are the sorts of adventures that stick with all of us long after we’ve returned home, and the sort of experiences our WOW List fixers are experts at creating.

Jim Berkeley, on The WOW List for Egypt, gave his then-five-year-old son his camera in Luxor and let him follow his own inspiration. WOW List travel experts can also help steer you to guides who are excellent with children, or who even have their own children who might come along and play. “Let kids’ imaginations fly,” Jim says. “That’s what travel is all about—the world is their classroom.”

Schedule smartly

Jennifer Virgilio, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for France, England, Italy, and Switzerland, said that it’s going to be an incredibly busy summer in Europe. The Paris Olympics, Taylor Swift concerts, Wimbledon, the French Open, the Champions League, and the Formula 1 races are just the beginning of events taking over European cities. “It changes the whole landscape as a destination,” Jennifer explained. “If you are going to Paris for the first time, it’s best to wait.” If your heart is set on France and you can travel only in summertime, there are many lesser-known locales outside Paris that won’t be affected by the Olympics.

But even if, like many families, you’re forced to work around school breaks, there are alternatives to going in summer. For example, Thanksgiving is not a holiday outside the U.S., so it’s a smart time to head to Europe. If you must travel in summer, think about unexpected places such as Canada’s Maritime Provinces, including Newfoundland, to escape summertime heat, or Mexico’s Riviera Maya, to swim with whale sharks. Our WOW List experts can help you around crowds and maximize value wherever you go.

Keep it simple

Meg Austin, our expert for Caribbean beach vacations and ski vacations in the U.S. Rockies, highly recommends choosing direct flights whenever possible. Anything you can do to reduce hassle and smooth out logistics is worth the expense. “Don’t overschedule,” she urged. Make sure to build downtime into your itinerary.

All-inclusives are raising the bar on quality food—some even hiring Michelin-starred chefs, Meg reported. Ski resorts are great options for families, and ski resorts in the summer offer fantastic value, with plenty to do.

Pace your itinerary properly as well. “You don’t know how jet lag is going to affect your family,” said Jennifer. Try to stay awake the day you arrive and get to sleep at the time where you are.” Skip ambitious activities for the first morning, to give your group time to decompress after a long journey. Or skip jet lag all-together by traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central or South America.

Some final words of wisdom from Meg: “Always pack your sense of humor and your patience.”

 

We’ve published many stories about how to make the most of family travel over the years. Here are some of our favorites—and most helpful:

Traveling with Grandkids: Tips for a Successful Three-Generation Trip

This Is One Way My Family Gets to Know Locals When We Travel

How to Make Friends With Local People When Traveling

Colombia Is for Families: It’s Close, Safe, and Fascinating

Wendy’s Family Trip to Belize: Photos from the Beach and Sea

European Cities that are Surprisingly Kid-Friendly

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Egypt

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Trip to London

5 Ways To Get Your Child to Try New Foods When Traveling: A 12-Year-Old’s Advice

How to Make Sophisticated Travel Destinations Fun for the Whole Family

We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis

Wendy’s Trip Photos from Morocco: An Unusual Spring Break Idea

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental: Tips for Your First Time, or any Time

Summer Vacation at a Ski Resort? Yes, and Here’s Why

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Italy Vacation Ideas for Every Age

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Southeast Asia

This Is What Makes Namibia So Cool

How to Have a Kid-Friendly River Cruise: Advice From a 12-Year-Old

Things to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise: Tips From a 12-Year-Old

Why My Most Relaxing Vacation Was a Disney Cruise

 

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Brook posing above Lysefjord with snowy mountains in the background.

Live Answers to Your Travel Questions: Join Us on Zoom for WOW Week 2024, February 5–9

UPDATE: WOW Week 2024 is now over. Thank you all for joining us! We have posted the Zoom recordings below, in case you missed any talks or want to share them with your friends. Stay up to date by signing up for our newsletter

 


 

This year is shaping up to be another huge one for international travel.  We’re seeing more travelers booking trips farther in advance than in past years, as well as travelers taking more family and friends along.  Based on these bigger groups locking more trips in place earlier— especially to Western Europe—we’re predicting that Europe’s iconic locales, from Italy’s Amalfi Coast to the Greek island of Santorini, will be packed again this year, and that peak season will extend from May through early October.  Sadly, we’re not seeing any relief from the sticker shock that grew out of the post-pandemic demand for travel, what with Europe’s summer season coinciding with events such as the Olympics in France in July, the G7 Summit in Puglia, Italy, in June, and Taylor Swift concerts all over the U.K. and Europe from May through August.

Not to worry:  We’ve got solutions, and Brook (pictured above in Norway in November) and Hannah and I, plus special guests, will be sharing them during WOW Week, February 5-9, when we’ll host a Travel Talk every day at 7 pm EST.  Bring your burning questions!

NOTE: If you have trouble signing up for our Travel Talks, make sure you have a free Zoom account that is associated with the email address you are using. 

 


 

Where and When to Travel in 2024

Monday, February 5, at 7pm EST

Last year broke travel records, and you should expect—and prepare for—more records to fall in the year ahead. Wendy, Brook, and Hannah reveal what’s shaping up for 2024: opportunities to take advantage of, challenges to zap, and the coolest under-the-radar places, off-season values, foodie experiences, and more.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

South America Now: Smart Choices and Good Value

Tuesday, February 6, at 7pm EST

Wendy and Brook explain why the continent should be on your list for 2024, and WOW List experts for South America share what’s new, what’s best, what you haven’t thought of, and how to ensure your trip goes smoothly.

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Successful Family Travel in 2024

Wednesday, February 7, at 7pm EST

WOW List experts with the latest intel for maximizing your travels and minimizing stress—in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and beyond—will share solutions. Learn how to keep everybody in your travel group happy, whatever their ages or conflicting needs and interests. Bring your questions!

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Travel Insurance and Emergency Assistance: How to Protect Yourself

Thursday, February 8, at 7pm EST

Learn how to prepare for the unexpected, from surprise injuries to natural disasters to political unrest. Experts explain and simplify how to minimize your risk, both financial and medical, and they’ll take your questions live, so bring your list of what’s been perplexing you!

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

Take Better Travel Photos with Your Phone!

Friday, February 9, at 7pm EST

Photojournalist Tim Baker (a.k.a. Mr. Wendy Perrin) reveals simple tips to help you take much better travel photos with your smartphone–better action shots, group shots, food shots, night shots, video, and more. Tim’s advice is device-agnostic: Apple and Android users welcome!

WATCH THE ZOOM RECORDING

 

A big thank-you to our WOW Week sponsor, Medjet:

Medjet is a global air medical transport and travel security membership program that can give travelers greater peace of mind. Their sponsorship enables me, Brook, Kristine, and the rest of our growing team to spend time answering your travel questions (via our Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation feature) and finding the smartest trip-planning specialists for you (see Wendy’s WOW List).

Don’t miss this special WOW Week discount:

Medjet is offering our WOW Week audience an exclusive discount of up to $50 off New Medjet Annual Memberships. The deal is available from Monday, February 5 at 9am EST till Monday, February 12 at 5 pm EST. You can learn more about Medjet and get the deal by clicking the red button below. 

GET THE DEAL

 

A few dream trips destinations selected by our travelers.

10 Top Dream Trips for 2024

Many of you are thinking ahead this year and booking trips much farther in advance than in the past—which is smart, given the travel rush we saw last year: Many people waited too late and got shut out of the most charming places to stay and less-discovered locales.

These ten travelers are especially on top of things:  Their dream trips are already booked and on their calendars. They’ve worked with destination specialists on The WOW List to design their trips, some of which they’ve dreamt of for many years, and all of which they’ll remember for a lifetime. For the rest of us, we hope these trips provide ideas and spark inspiration.

Hoping to make a dream trip a reality this year? Click the button below to get started.

GET A PERSONALIZED TRIP RECOMMENDATION

Puglia: Italy regulars head to a lesser-known region to practice their Italian

Beautiful town of Alberobello with trulli houses among green plants and flowers, Puglia.

The town of Alberobello, in Puglia, with its iconic trulli houses. Photo: Shutterstock

Dana Perry and her husband, Charles, have been to Italy many times, where they put the Italian language they are learning to good use—most recently to Sicily with a WOW travel expert. They love slow travel and off-the-beaten-path activities—and are serious foodies. They wanted to head somewhere new to them.

“Italy has a perfect mix of cultural attractions, history and beautiful scenery—we chose Puglia for our 2024 trip because it’s a bit under the radar and got such positive reviews from travelers. I think we keep coming back to Italy due to the mix of attractions and to go deeper. We’ve hit the major cities on previous travels—by getting to some of the less touristy destinations we have more authentic experiences and can slow down the pace. We’re looking forward to a nice mix of historical sites, food and wine tours, cultural things, and relaxation.” —Dana Perry

This trip was arranged by WOW List Puglia experts Antonello Losito and Alison Pike. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PUGLIA
READ TRAVELER REVIEWS

India: “the people, colors, sounds, and food…”

Women servants dressed in sari.

Some of the people and colors you might see at the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India. Photo: Shutterstock

Ron Klausner and his wife stay home in the summer, where their family joins them by the beach. In the wintertime, they often head to warmer climes. After a trip to Sri Lanka, India sparked their excitement.

“We are hitting the major tourist sites in Northern India: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Jodhpur. We may also add in Varanasi. After those major sites we are taking a seven-day Brahmaputra river cruise in northeast India. We’re so excited to experience the unique culture—the people, colors, sounds and food. I can’t imagine there is anywhere else in the world quite like it. Anticipation is one third of the joy of travel, the trip itself is a third and the memories are the last third.” —Ron Klausner

This trip was arranged by WOW List India expert Sanjay Saxena. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO INDIA
READ TRAVELER REVIEWS

Norway and Svalbard: unique scenery, fjords, polar bears, midnight sun…

Polar bear, Svalbard, Arctic

A polar bear relaxing on the sea ice in Svalbard, in the Arctic. Photo: Shelley Fry

Tom Redburn, his wife Lisa, and their friends are retired journalists and nature photographers. Prolific travelers, Tom had wonderful memories of hiking in Norway in college and has always wanted to return.

“The trip is to fulfill a long-standing dream for both of us, a return to a place Lisa loved visiting with a close friend (who tragically died a couple of decades ago from breast cancer), and for me, to add to our great outdoors adventures by witnessing the stunning natural landscape of Norway. We’re looking forward to a different way of traveling this time. We’ve never taken a cruise (apart from a small 16-passenger adventure cruise to the Galapagos) and we’re not likely to ever take a conventional cruise. But as we’re getting older (we’re both 73), we found the idea of expedition cruising through a gorgeous remote landscape very appealing and are expecting the adventure-seeking atmosphere on the NatGeo expedition ship.

I’m probably most excited about two aspects of the trip: the spectacular scenery of the fjords and enjoying them both from the deck of our ship and exploring by small boat, kayak, and short hikes; and the chance to see polar bears in their natural environment. I also think it will be very exciting to be traveling to the land of the midnight sun during the very long daylight hours of June.” —Tom Redburn

This trip was arranged by WOW List Expedition Cruise expert Ashton Palmer. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START AN EXPEDITION CRUISE
READ TRAVELER REVIEWS

Scotland: green rolling landscapes, country castles, Scotch tastings…

Kinnoull Hill tower ruins, Perth Scotland, overlooking the River Tay on a clear day

Overlooking the River Tay from Scotland’s Kinnoull Hill tower ruins. Photo: Shutterstock

Sue Paolucci was ready for her third WOW trip after heading to Spain in 2019 and Greece in 2022. Our team helped her and her companions land on Scotland for their next trip, chosen for its unique mix of history, landscapes, and culture.

“My husband and I are recently retired physicians, and worldwide travel has always been on our bucket list. Although admittedly in this age of COVID, and global unrest, leaving the safety of our home base gives us pause. So, we decided to travel intelligently and safely (and this is where you and your colleagues come in!) and decided that our raison d’etre would be as ambassadors of goodwill and peace as we represent our country going forward. We knew we wanted to experience local flavor, not just the usual touristy sites…and if we went to a ‘touristy site,’ we would like to see it from a different, exclusive angle. We are most looking forward to wonderful green rolling landscapes, tasting Scotch, of course, and trying to decipher the Scottish brogue.” —Susan Paolucci

This trip was arranged by WOW List United Kingdom expert Jonathan Epstein. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO SCOTLAND
READ TRAVELER REVIEWS

Southern Africa: a bucket-list safari to celebrate a high-school graduation

Namib Desert, Namibia

Namibia’s Namib Desert is right on the Atlantic Ocean. Photo: Shutterstock

This family of four—mom, dad, and two boys ages 16 and 18—are celebrating their eldest’s high-school graduation with a trip they’ve long dreamed of.

“South Africa and safari has been on our bucket list for decades. But we just never made it happen—other trips, finances, time, distance from L.A., etc. All sorts of excuses. But with our older son’s high-school graduation this June we realized that if we were going to do it as a family, we needed to finally pull the trigger. And we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate him than to take this dream trip. It will be the first time to Africa for all of us.

Namibia is what we are most excited about. It has been on our list—its isolation, alien beauty, remoteness, uniqueness. We thought that we would have to wait for another trip once we had the traditional safari under our belts. So, we were extremely excited when Julian was able to include Namibia.” —Julie Heimark

This trip was arranged by WOW List African Safari expert Julian Harrison. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Vietnam and Cambodia: Off-the-beaten-path experiences and time with locals

small rowboats in Halong Bay Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam, is home to thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. Photo: Shutterstock

Molly O’Neill-Emmi and her husband, Tom, love to travel. Before the pandemic, they had pushed off many of the bigger trips for later. The pandemic changed their philosophy: “No more thinking ‘one day’ we’ll get there—now‘s the time,” Molly said.

“We didn’t want to limit ourselves to just one region in Vietnam, so Sandy provided expert guidance and recommendations for a comprehensive and diverse itinerary. We’ll start in Hanoi, travel to Hue and Hoi An in central Vietnam, and then spend time in the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam. From there, we fly to Siem Reap to explore Angkor Wat and temples off-the-beaten-tourist-path, as well as engage in hands-on experiences with locals.

There are so many elements of this trip that have us excited. True hands-on experiences with locals, including spending a day gaining insight into elements of rural Vietnamese life, such as planting rice, paddling a bamboo basket boat, etc. Exploring a war-time tunnel complex and a secret bunker. Meeting a former North Vietnam fighter pilot. Attending sunrise meditation with monks. The list goes on and on.” —Molly O’Neill-Emmi

This trip was arranged by WOW List Southeast Asia experts Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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The Galapagos Islands for giant tortoises, playful sea lions, and scuba diving

photo of Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island

A sea turtle in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

Andrea’ Phillips’ family of four—two adults and two teenage daughters—wanted to see and interact with as many sea lions, sharks, turtles, and penguins as possible. They learned that securing a Galapagos trip a year in advance is crucial to ensuring that their preferences are met.

“We are most excited about the extraordinary wildlife, breathtaking landscapes, and unique ecosystems. We love nature and creating unforgettable experiences, so to have the opportunity to meet giant tortoises, interact with playful sea lions, and dive alongside hammerhead sharks in crystal-clear waters is nothing short of a dream come true for us! In fact, we’ve arranged a trip to the Philippines this April, also planned by a Wendy-Perrin-recommended expert, specifically to prepare for scuba diving before our Galapagos adventure.” —Andrea Phillips

This trip was arranged by WOW List Galapagos expert Allie Almario. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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France: biking, hiking, cooking lessons, exploring with grandkids…

A colorful and old town street of Aix in Provence, France.

The ancient town of Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. Photo: Shutterstock

Karen Dalfen planned this trip with the intention of sharing fun and lifelong memories with her grandkids, ages 13 and 16. They love being active and have limited patience for museums and historical sites.

“I usually plan a vacation many months ahead as I want particular rooms, restaurants, entrance tickets and plane seating. This becomes particularly important when traveling alone with grandchildren. It’s important that plane seats are close by, that rooms are either next to each other or a family suite, that meal times are spaced properly. Given that Paris is an extremely busy city, planning way in advance is a must.

We will spend half our time in Paris, and the other in the region of Aix-en-Provence. There will be cooking lessons, site seeing, craft visiting, some hiking and biking, a food tasting day, and my favorite, a night at Versailles. I have discovered that it is not important to see everything on a vacation. In fact, this can be exhausting. The deeper and richer the experience is, will in turn help to create the long-lasting memories.” —Karen Dalfen

This trip was arranged by WOW List France expert Jennifer Virgilio. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Argentina and Chile: meticulously preserved nature in Patagonia and legendary wine estates

snowy mountains reflect perfectly in a blue lake in Torres del Paine park in Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park, in Chilean Patagonia, brims with mountain peaks, glaciers, and lakes. Photo: Knowmad Adventures

Andy and Marci Shapiro have used WOW List experts to plan trips to India, Sicily, Croatia, Mexico, and Thailand. Next up: wine tasting in Mendoza and breathtaking mountains in Patagonia.

“Patagonia, as well as both Argentina’s wine country/Mendoza and Chilean wine country, has been on my wife’s and my bucket list for a long time. We love nature and we love wine. Patagonia is one of the most preserved places on the planet with incredibly dramatic natural scenery. With man’s impact on earth, we’re concerned our natural wonders are being adversely affected and want to visit these places sooner than later. As for wine, Argentina and Chile produce some of the most iconic wines anywhere in the world. We’re looking forward to visiting the estates of some of our favorite wines that we’ve been drinking for decades, including but not limited to Catena Zapata, Viña Cobos, and Clos Apalta. As my wife and I enter our 60s and with the pandemic behind us, our life approach is ‘If not now, then when?” —Andy Shapiro

This trip was arranged by WOW List Chile, Argentina, and Patagonia expert Jordan Harvey. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Belize: snorkeling with stingrays, watching manatees, sailing with young kids…

aerial photo of Tobacco Caye with sailboat and blue green ocean

Tobacco Caye, a tiny tropical island in Belize. Photo: Absolute Belize

For Kim Segal and her family, Belize—where they can fly direct from their hometown—seemed a great international travel option with young children, ages 4 and 7, without the challenge of jet lag. They planned highlights for the whole family, including a night walk to look for nocturnal creatures and creepy-crawly bugs and spiders.

“I can’t wait to introduce my older son to great snorkeling. He was so excited to see fish in the ocean when we were in Croatia last year, but those fish were pretty boring compared to what we will see in Belize! I hope that my kids enjoy all the activities, and I really hope they like Shark Ray Alley. Watching them experience all these cool places and things—it’s as fun as experiencing them myself. I’m excited to watch them play on the beach; they spent hours doing that in Croatia and they just had a blast. Also, they got super into shell collecting in Croatia and in Cabo San Lucas, so hopefully they can do some beachcombing as well in Belize. Mainly, though, I’m just excited because travel allows me to focus solely on enjoying time with my family, something that is harder to do at home when I have a household to run and we all have busy and hectic lives. I set my email on out-of-office, let the organization I volunteer with know I’m unavailable, and I focus on having fun times together as a family.

Personally, I’m also hoping to see a manatee (haven’t seen one of those yet in the wild!), and I’m looking forward to cruising around on a catamaran checking out the views, maybe lounging on the trampoline of the boat with a good book and a glass of wine in hand, and of course I’m looking forward to a week of sunshine in the middle of winter!” —Kim Segal

This trip was arranged by WOW List Belize experts Patricia Johnson and Rachael Wilson. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Wendy and sons at the Pont des Arts in Paris

European Vacations for Winter School Breaks

Hey everyone, Doug Baker here, Wendy’s youngest son. Mom used to take us to Europe during our winter school breaks (such as Paris, above) when I was growing up. Now, I’m a college sophomore, and when my friends talk about where we should go for March break, I tell them Europe—and not just to avoid the summer rush.

Europe feels more authentic to me in winter. It’s easier to be part of the local scene. The weather might be colder and the days shorter, but there are so many fun activities, opportunities, and foods that are totally different from what you will find in summer.

A lot of people ice skating on an ice skating rink in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Ice skating rink in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Photo: Doug Baker

In winter, I’ve ice-skated on rinks from little town squares in Brussels and Bratislava to the Grand Palais in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (above). It’s a great way to meet local people! In winter, I’ve tried hot chocolate as thick and rich as a melted chocolate bar everywhere from Demel in Vienna to the ski slopes of Spain, and street food such as piping-hot kürtőskalács in Budapest, schupfnudeln in Germany, and this in Salzburg:

Doug at a pretzel and sweets shop in Salzburg, Austria.

Doug at a pretzel and sweets shop in Salzburg, Austria. Photo: Tim Baker

In winter, you must spend more time indoors, but museums and castles are more fun when you have them to yourself. I was able to do a scavenger hunt with my brother inside the Centre Pompidou in Paris that took us through every floor of the museum, and in Bratislava there was nobody in the ancient church, so I was able to play one of the world’s oldest pipe organs.

Most of all, people are much nicer to you in winter because the tourist crowds aren’t there to annoy them. It is much easier to have conversations and build connections with the local people. One more thing I tell my college friends when they suggest the stereotypical spring-break spots (and maybe I shouldn’t share this with their parents): The drinking age is 18 in Europe!

You’ll find more—and more serious—reasons to experience Europe in winter in the traveler reviews below. First up: A 19- and 16-year-old get educated in Eastern Europe about the Holocaust and Ukraine.

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Eastern Europe: “Making pierogi with Marta in her home…she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war…”

Travelers making pierogi in Krakow.

The Nury family learn how to make pierogi. Photo: Traveler Doug Nury

“The current state of our world is disheartening. Our March 2023 travels (arranged by a Wendy Perrin WOW List agent) took us to Israel as tourists, never imagining that seven months later, Israel would be at war with Gaza. Since October 7, our family regularly discusses the conversations we had with our two tour guides, Daphne (Israel) and Isla (West Bank) about the conflict and how both of them want a peaceful but fair solution. Through our vast international travel experiences, our family has learned to seek as many perspectives as possible, particularly from non-US citizens on domestic and international issues. As a result, we jumped at the opportunity for Gwen to plan an Eastern European trip over Christmas, not only to enjoy the Christmas traditions and markets, but also to hear the views of Europeans very close to the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.

Gwen’s tour guides were the best part of our trip. During our first four days in Budapest, Julia explained to us the devastating history of the Jewish population and how close to 500,000 citizens were murdered during WWII. She also arranged an enjoyable boat tour (the boat had heat!) on the chilly Danube, pointing out architectural landmarks on the Buda and Pest side, while cruising on the river.

Kate and Will Nury peek out of a secret stairwell in Prague's Strahov Monastery.

Kate and Will Nury peek out of a secret stairwell in Prague’s Strahov Monastery. Photo: Traveler Beth Nury

In Prague, our guide Christina spent the rainy morning with us inside the Strahov Monastery, an active monastery that houses the largest collection of Bibles in the world, and gave us a VIP tour of its two main halls, the Philosophical and Theological halls. In Poland, we toured Auschwitz privately with Wojtek Smolen, a tour guide with over 30 years of experience who had two family members imprisoned at the concentration camp. His narration and walking tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau was fact-based, with no political slant. The things I saw that day—the massive size and scope of the concentration camp, the vast piles of victims’ strands of hair, abandoned shoes and suitcases on display—will forever be tattooed on my brain.

Following Auschwitz, we drove back to Krakow and met Julie at the Krakow History Museum, which is located at Oscar Schindler’s factory, for a tour of Krakow before, during and after the Nazi occupation. The museum is well done and definitely worth visiting. Our final day in Krakow was spent making pierogi with Marta in her home. While rolling out dough, adding the fillings and pinching the pierogi before dropping it into the boiling water, she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war and is concerned about the conflict due to the proximity of Poland to Ukraine.

My husband and I hope that this trip punctuated the importance of visiting historical relics and learning from experts at the site about past events instead of watching a YouTube video for our teenagers (ages 19 and 16). It’s also essential to engage with people worldwide to gain insight on their perspective of US leadership and diplomacy.” —Beth Nury

Read more reviews of Eastern Europe trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Italy: “On our day trip to Florence we were able to attend a football match. That was wild!”

Enjoying a gelato cone in Rome.

Enjoying a gelato cone in Rome. Photo: Shutterstock

“There were six of us: me, my husband, our three children (15, 13, 10), and my mom. It was a lovely time to be in Rome because, while still busy, it was not anything like what we would have experienced in the summer months. The weather was perfectly moderate for walking around, between 55° and 60° most days. Jennifer listened so closely to what our interests were and how we wanted to divide up the trip between time in and outside of Rome. She developed the perfect itinerary, even paying attention to timing of morning excursions so as not to start too early after a late night.

While we enjoyed all of our excursions, the ones we enjoyed most were not the main tourist attractions. Collectively, we all loved the cooking classes: one a pizza and gelato class, and the other a pasta and tiramisu class. Perfect for all six of us! Our other favorite excursions were Pompeii, Villa Adriana on the way to Tivoli, and our day spent in the Jewish neighborhood and former Jewish ghetto. I was extremely pleased that Jennifer’s team only works with Jewish guides in the Jewish neighborhood. I think that is a very important detail. Having all private tours made it easy to adapt tour and timing to all of our needs, which is particularly helpful with three kids/teens.

Timing worked out that on our day trip to Florence we were able to attend a football match. That was wild! My husband and oldest son are HUGE sports fans. Even though the rest of us are not as much, it was still really terrific to be part of an event that is so important to European culture.” —Aimee Kleiman

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Norway & Copenhagen: “We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks…”

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta.

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Ryan Ogg

“My husband, Ryan Ogg and I (Kate Ogg), and our three children, Will (17), Charlotte (15), and Wyatt (12), went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oslo and Alta, Norway, from December 28 through January 6. Will is graduating from high school this spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation this year. He wanted to go someplace cold, snowy and dark, where we could do some fun outdoor adventures, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (which we had tried and failed to do in Iceland a couple of years ago).

It was a fantastic trip. Copenhagen was still pretty magical the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we found some good restaurants despite a few of the ones we had hoped for being closed. We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks, shopped and just enjoyed the festive vibe. The next day we started the day with a boat ride through the harbor and some of the bigger canals, which gave us a sense of the city’s geography as well as a lot of the architecture.

Oslo was all closed while we were there because it was both Sunday and New Year’s Eve, but a walk through the sculpture garden, to the Fram museum to see a polar expedition ship, and a chance to see the Nobel buildings and then along the harbor was a nice way to spend the day before a fancy dinner at our hotel (The Thief) and a midnight toast on the roof. On New Year’s morning in a snowstorm, we made it to Oslo airport and up to dark Alta. The Sorrisniva Hotel was fully booked by the time we planned our trip (August), so we stayed in a little fishing lodge in the woods, down the driveway from Tristin and Trine Restaurant and past some sled dogs.

It was absolutely charming, and best of all, the very first night as we walked out of our lodge to dinner, the sky lit up with northern lights that continued to brighten and dance until we gave up and went to bed. I credit our very dark spot in the woods for the fantastic viewing. Our adventures in snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, and king crab fishing all showed us different parts of the landscape and culture in northern Norway, and it was just…magical. We truly loved it.” —Kate Ogg

Read more reviews of Scandinavia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Paris: “A trip fit for royalty…”

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

“We had three weeks to plan a Paris trip with our adult children after our Israel trip was canceled. Jennifer, a WOW planner through Wendy Perrin, created a trip fit for royalty. We stayed in a gorgeous, boutique hotel in the Marais district and had private car and tour guides for the Louvre, Versailles, Chateau, Jewish and History Tours. We saw the Eiffel Tower with a private tour, the Dior Exhibit at the Foundation Giacometti, we had an amazing time.

Our WOW Moment started with a car picking us up at noon, taking us to an unknown destination which was a fabulous restaurant, Shabour. The owner told us that since we couldn’t go to Israel, this was a Jerusalem-Paris dining experience. We sat at the bar to watch the chefs prepare a delicious, fun, memorable lunch. It was awesome.

We had a concierge service at the airport on both ends, making it easy to maneuver. I can’t say enough about Jennifer and her staff who gave us a perfect trip in such a short period of time. We have traveled the world with Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. It is the best way and the only way we travel.” —Adrienne Goldberg

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Austria & Czech Republic: “The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave…”

Roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna captured from above.

Roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna captured from above. Photo: Julius Silver

Gwen planned a wonderful Christmas week in Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. Both hotels—the Sans Souci in Vienna and the Andaz in Prague—were great choices. Both were near the center but in a quieter area. The rooms, staff and breakfasts were lovely.

Our private guided walking tour of Vienna was enjoyable. The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave. A truly interesting and unique experience. The food tour was fun and enjoyable: We went to five different locations and got to sample different Viennese specialties. We enjoyed the outstanding museums and lovely shopping streets. We loved the tour of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace. Another day we took a train to Bratislava and were met on the platform by the guide who showed us this interesting city.

The train to Prague was easy. We walked everywhere in Prague—Old Town, Jewish Quarter, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square. The Strahov Monastery library and Prague Castle complex were impressive. We were so lucky that the line to the remarkable St. Vitus Cathedral was quick and we got to see it. The Lobkowicz Palace is a treasure—we could have spent hours there.

Gwen suggested terrific restaurants, including two outstanding meals at Michelin-starred restaurants Field and La Degustation in Prague. It was a wonderful vacation—the days spent in each location were just right.” —Susan Sullivan

Read more reviews of Austria and Czechia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO AUSTRIA AND CZECHIA

Portugal: “Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip…”

A winter sunny day with clear blue skies at Riberira beach in Ericeira, Portugal.

A winter day with clear blue skies at Praia de Ribeira, Ericeira. Photo: Shutterstock

Goncalo and Sofia created an itinerary that was perfect for our family. And, they gave us a trip that we will always remember! Some highlights…

The hotels were AMAZING!! We typically stay at the same hotel chain when we travel and were so grateful for their suggestion of boutique hotels. Not only did they provide our family plenty of space, but they each felt warm and welcoming every time we walked into the room. My daughters LOVED the set-up and decor of The Lumiares hotel in Lisbon, stating they never wanted to leave. The Rebello’s views of Porto were breathtaking (unless the fog rolled in) and the access to an incredible running path along the water made it the perfect place for us to stay. Our final hotel stay at the Immerso was exactly what we needed after a very busy trip. Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip; we only wish we had a few days to explore the area. : )

The guides they found for us were exceptional!! The tours provided us with interesting historical and present-day content. They were all engaging and ready to shape the tours to match our family. Tiago, in particular, was amazing!! The tour of Sintra could have been a disaster due to the weather, and he made it one of the most fun with his depth of knowledge and witty humor! For a family who loves to travel, Goncalo could not have put together a more perfect trip for us.” —Shannon Jones

Read more reviews of Portugal. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

Spain: “Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable…”

Placa Reial on a winter evening, not too crowded with people, Barcelona, Spain.

Placa Reial on a winter evening in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from an amazing winter vacation in Barcelona and Lisbon. We traveled with our 2 college-aged kids and wanted to make sure they were as excited about the itinerary as we were. Luis and Silvia did a terrific job balancing all of our needs and interests.

Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable. We were able to see all of the popular sites without lines or overcrowding. Our favorite parts, however, were more off-the-beaten-path excursions. Silvia arranged for Alex, our tour guide through the Catalan neighborhoods, to cook paella and drink vermouth with him and his mother Lourdes in a flat with a rooftop deck. This was a highlight of the trip.

In addition to sightseeing and immersing ourselves in the culture, we were interested in recommendations for restaurants, nightlife, and vintage stores. Silvia provided detailed recommendations for each and arranged nightly restaurant reservations. Our favorite meal, a 17-course tasting at the Michelin-star Loco in Lisbon, was a very special night!” —Lisa Powers

This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.

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Colorful empty adirondack Chairs lined up on a sunny Beach

How to Use Thanksgiving to Improve Your Summer Vacation

If you’re gathering with family this Thanksgiving and could use a safe conversation topic, we’ve got a suggestion:  If those are the same family and friends you travel with for summer vacation, then while you’re passing the turkey and cranberry sauce, go around the table and ask everyone what sort of travel experience they’re dreaming about for next summer.

Why start thinking about this now?  It might feel like summer 2024 is a long way off, but it’s going to be busy out there, especially in Europe.  Remember, many people are still catching up on two to three years without any overseas travel—so it will take at least that long to resolve all that pent-up demand. If you can figure out now what sort of experience you and your family would enjoy most, it can save you money and headaches later.

Family summer-vacation options with limited inventory—villas on Italy’s Amalfi Coast, African safaris, Galapagos expeditions—are already surprisingly full.  But there are smart alternatives that are on savvy travelers’ radar and do still have plenty of availability, and we’re happy to help you find them and plan for them.  So use your Thanksgiving get-together to create a travel wish list for 2024, read our compilations of traveler reviews to brainstorm ideas, then go to The WOW List or our Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation feature to make those wishes come true. By using our WOW approach to trip planning, you can avoid the crowds, minimize logistics, and enjoy WOW trips like these.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

A Private Gulet on Turkey’s Aegean Coast: Wendy’s Family Trip

In summer 2021, when many travelers were making their first trip back to Europe since the pandemic hit, Wendy chose the perfect vacation for her family: a private-yacht sail on the Turquoise Coast.  They spent almost all day, every day, in the open air, luxuriating on the plush shaded deck, enjoying delicious coast-to-table food, sightseeing privately on shore where they were almost the only tourists, and jumping in the water if it ever got too hot.  The whole family agrees this was one of their best vacations ever and plans to do it again.  Here’s the article Wendy wrote at the time:

My husband says I chose “the perfect anti-pandemic vacation.”  We’re on a private boat in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Turkey, in a Covid-safe bubble. When we anchor in a new harbor each day to check out a beach town or fishing village or ancient ruin, our exploration is always in the open air, and social distancing is easy.   Enjoy photos from my trip on a gulet along the Turquoise Coast. It’s a “cruise” option you may not have thought of, and it’s safe, easy, and spectacular.

We love the Turquoise Coast!

Here we are in Turkey, fighting off jet lag with sea breezes and reinvigorating dips in the (surprisingly not too chilly) water, and spending virtually all day, every day, in the open air.  And trying out Tim’s new drone; check out the aerial shots!

 

A family milestone

Today the boys did their first-ever Open Water dive together (now that all three are PADI-certified). The water in this part of the Mediterranean is surprisingly clean and clear.

 

Discovering under-the-radar villages

Each time we anchor at a beach town or fishing village or ancient ruin, we’re the only Americans there. Sometimes we’re the only tourists there. We anchored in Bozburun and took the dinghy into town for sightseeing and again for dinner at the Bozburun Yacht Club. We made a lot of friends there, probably because there was a piano for Doug to play. (He’s played many a piano in many a country, and it’s always a great way to meet the local people.) Here’s what else we found in Bozburun, on Turkey’s Aegean Coast.

 

 

On a gulet, the market comes to you!

They row up to your boat, make small talk (“Where are you from?”), toss you their wares so you can try them on, reduce their price even though it didn’t occur to you to bargain, then wish you well and row off to the next boat. They’re polite and respectful—none of the hard sell you might find in a touristy spot.

 

Special private access to a “museum hotel”

This Ottoman mansion and “museum hotel” is Mehmet Ali Aga Konagi. It’s been closed because of the pandemic, but the WOW List specialist for Turkey who arranged my trip, Karen Fedorko Sefer, was able to get us in!  Deniz Ikizler showed us its treasures and treated us to “plum sorbet” in the garden, and Doug found another piano to play—an historic C.J. Quandt, Berlin.

 

Exploring the historic ruins of Knidos

In the ancient Greek city of Knidos on Turkey’s southwestern coast, there were more goats than people.  We also were not far from the wildfires. We’re lucky to have a boat to go back to where cooling off is easy: Just jump in the water. If you’d like to contribute to the relief effort, I’m told good places to donate to are Türk Kızılayı (Turkish Red Crescent) or Turkish Philanthropy Funds.

 

A beach town almost entirely to ourselves

Sailing into a new harbor is like waiting for a gift to be unwrapped: What will we find? In Datca we found a beach lined with restaurant tables almost up to the water’s edge for toes-in-the-sand dining; streets of boutiques and bakeries and artisan gift shops; an Old Town of winding cobblestone alleys, car-free and dotted with outdoor cafes for coffee and ice cream; Ottoman mansions and olive farms a short drive away; and barely anybody there to enjoy any of it. Datca has everything except tourists. It’s also the biggest beach town in my memory where there are no American chains—no Pizza Hut, no McDonald’s, no Starbucks.

 

Bodrum good-byes

Because Turkey is considered a safe, smart destination choice during the pandemic, so many yachts are converging on Bodrum that berths at the marina are hard to come by. Check out the narrow slot our boat squeezed into, right in front of Bodrum Castle. It’s hard to say goodbye to our trusty captain and crew, but it’s time to fly to Istanbul. Görüsürüz, dear new friends!

ASK US ABOUT A TURKEY TRIP LIKE WENDY’S

Read reviews of more private yacht trips in Turkey.

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Turkey’s Aegean Coast on your behalf, WOW Lister Karen Fedorko Sefer arranged for a reduced rate on a gulet.  Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Karen via my WOW questionnaire.  Thanks to my WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler. 

 


 

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Book and family at Tad Yuang Waterfall in Laos, Southeast Asia.

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Southeast Asia

When you use our Trip Questionnaire to get a WOW trip, you start by articulating your trip goals and challenges. That’s what Brook did when planning her kid-friendly adventure in Southeast Asia. You can find the right Trip Questionnaire for you via The WOW List’s CONTACT buttons.



My biggest goal

My family wanted to spend our school break in Asia, avoiding crowds whenever and wherever possible.

My biggest challenge
Finding ways to keep our 11-year-old engaged and learning about the vast world around him—which meant we needed plenty of hands-on, interactive experiences.

The itinerary
This was my fifth trip to Southeast Asia, and my husband and son’s second. This time, we chose to focus on Vietnam and Laos, with a dash of Thailand. In Vietnam, we based ourselves in Hue, the Mekong Delta, and Ho Chi Minh City. In Laos, we focused on Champasak (my favorite spot of the entire trip), Vientiane, and Luang Prabang. We capped off our adventure with two blow-out nights in Bangkok.

Zeke in Wat Phou

Zeke in Wat Phou temple in Laos. Photo: Ryan Damm

What made it WOW
Our savvy private guides and the local people they introduced us to.

The broad outlines of my trip were drawn by WOW List Southeast Asia specialists Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley, but they left it up to their hand-picked, English-speaking guides on the ground to manage the details.

Adaptability is the most valuable asset in a private guide: someone who is experienced and knowledgeable enough to adjust things on the fly, revising the day’s events to match weather, energy levels, and the group’s specific interests. Not every travel company is willing to empower their guides, though. As one of my Vietnamese hosts told me, “When I work for other companies, I have to get permission for any change to the itinerary. With Sandy, the traveler’s happiness is the number-one priority.”

Take, for example, our time in Hue. While our written itinerary had us visiting the city’s historic pagoda and walled citadel, as soon as our local guide heard that we enjoyed active and interactive experiences, she quickly brainstormed ways to further personalize our days in her city: We made paper flowers with deaf women at a quaint café on the outskirts of town, shaped fruitcakes once prepared only for the Imperial Court, carved art out of bamboo pulp in a clever and easy-to-pick-up amalgam of ancient and modern techniques, and caught the sunset from standup paddleboards on the Perfume River.

Deaf women at Lavin Home in Hue, Vietnam teach Brook and Zeke how to make paper flowers.
Brook and Zeke learn how to make paper flowers.
Zeke making candies with another women.
Zeke learns how to make fruitcakes from a descendant of the Imperial Court.
Brook and Zeke learning paper making.
Brook and Zeke make art out of bamboo pulp.
Brook, her family, and a guide Paddleboarding on Perfume River.
Paddleboarding on the Perfume River (and making finger hearts, as is popular for photo ops in Vietnam).

 

Of course, some things do require more advance planning, like the lunch we had in Hue with a sociable, retired couple who welcomed us into their home, sharing not just a meal but welcoming our help in the kitchen, opening up their wedding album as we sipped tea, and showing us the garden where they grew the figs, jackfruit, tamarind, and even black pepper we’d just enjoyed. We toasted our new friendship with rice whiskey and left calling our host “Uncle.”

Zeke having a chopstick lesson.

Zeke getting a chopstick lesson from a new friend during lunch. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Best surprise
Laos New Year. We landed in southern Laos during the multi-day holiday; families and neighbors congregated in driveways, drinking beer and—because water provides cleansing for the coming year—aiming garden hoses and Super Soakers at passersby. Kids strolled along roads, their hair braided and dyed for the holiday, their cheeks smeared with baby powder, and their clothes completely drenched. We could have safely enjoyed the festivities from inside our van, but I didn’t want to just spectate and asked our driver to stop at the next party. The teens there were initially nervous to aim their firepower at these foreigners, but before long we were dousing each other with bowlfuls of water (welcomed by all in the triple-digit temperatures), and they were refilling our glasses of iced Beerlao faster than we could drink them. A granny soon beckoned us over to the party next door, where the older generation displayed no concerns about emptying their buckets of water down our backs. It was these serendipitous moments, and the immediate welcome we received at every roadside party we strolled into, that will stay with me for years.

Brook getting water-splashed by a local during Songkran Water Festival.

Watery celebrations for Laos New Year. Photo: Ryan Damm

Worst surprise
The haze that typically descends on much of Southeast Asia from late February through March, but extended into April this year and seriously obscured the region’s natural beauty. Back when weather patterns were more predictable, the first rains would have fallen by our mid-April trip dates and cleared the air of the smoke created by slash-and-burn farming. While I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience of being in Laos during New Year, next time I’ll plan my trip for the beginning of dry season (see “Timing tip,” below).

Thank goodness I packed
A handheld fan took the edge off the 100+ temperatures.

Zeke holding a handheld fan.

Zeke cooling off with a handheld fan in Hue, Vietnam. Photo: Ryan Damm

Timing tip
October, the beginning of dry season, offers advantages in the form of both cooler temperatures and greener landscapes. But also consider traveling in the first half of the “rainy season” (May through July), when crowds are minimal, rates are lower, and the heaviest storms hit overnight so you can still sightsee by day between the occasional showers.

Best daytime ride
Biking in Bangkok. This didn’t require navigating the city’s hectic traffic on two wheels, but rather traversing a gentle, 13-mile loop around Bang Krachao, an island just south of the city that is peaceful and forested but within sight of the skyscrapers. We negotiated elevated boardwalks that spanned canals, met a women planting lotus flowers in front of her home, stopped for iced coffee and fruit shakes, saw egrets, storks, and a monitor lizard, hopped off our bikes for a short paddle in kayaks, and learned traditional methods of batik dying on handkerchiefs that we strapped to our handlebars to dry. It was an unexpected way to see this megacity, and one that brought it down to a human scale. I never would have known such a thing was possible without Daniel Fraser, the Thailand specialist on The WOW List who arranged my short stopover in Bangkok, where he lives.

Brook on a bike and a local woman outside her home in Bangkok

Brook biking near Bangkok and connecting with locals. Photo: Ryan Damm

Best nighttime ride
Seeing Saigon on vintage Vespas. This evening tour is half about the delicious food that appears at each stop moments after you arrive (the organizer takes all your food preferences at the start and then calls in orders of the dishes he knows you’ll most enjoy), and half about cruising the city on two wheels in the thick of the seemingly chaotic motorbike traffic that is expertly navigated by your driver. It’s one thing to see the current of two-wheeled vehicles that dominate Saigon’s streets, and another thing entirely to be part of it. We whetted our appetites with fizzy drinks flavored with chunks of ginger, lemongrass, mint, pepper, and lime, filled up on street-food favorites at restaurants with no other Westerners in sight, listened to a trio of Vietnamese singer-songwriters at a hole-in- the-wall club populated by local Millennials on dates, and capped off the night with decadent hot chocolates made from farmed-in-Vietnam cacao. The experience perfectly encapsulated the after-dark vibrancy of this flourishing city.

Brook on a Vespa in Saigon, Vietnam at night.

Vespa night ride in Saigon, Vietnam. Photo: Ryan Damm

Best public transit
A new high-speed train line opened in Laos in 2021, and I tested out the section from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. The business-class seats recline to nearly flat, and portions of the route are quite scenic. But I think the train’s biggest impact will be in the volume of travelers it is now bringing from China (where it connects to the national rail system) to northern Laos—and, as the railway expands, beyond. Be prepared to encounter many more regional tourists in Laos in the coming years.

Smartest shortcut
The drive from Ho Chi Minh City to the Cu Chi tunnels—where North Vietnamese fighters hid from South Vietnamese and U.S. forces—can stretch past two hours, depending on traffic. Going by speedboat instead gives you a different perspective on the city (check out the $5 million mansions with private yachts docked out front) and then takes you along a pretty stretch of the Saigon River dense with foliage. Arriving in Cu Chi, I expected the vibe at this site of so much destruction to be somber, but it is oddly cheerful, with tourists even laughing as they emerge from tunnel entrances expertly hidden under a carpet of fallen leaves. Don’t miss the propaganda film that runs on loop, which simplifies the war’s actors to American “devils” and “gentle, simple peasants” (some of whom were smuggling weapons into Saigon in preparation for the Tet Offensive. You can now visit the impossibly narrow house in the city where the weapons were stored and descend through a hidden panel in the floor to an underground storage room).

Zeke going downstairs to enter in a weapon cache in Saigon.

Zeke entering a secret weapon cache in Saigon. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Animals not to miss
The elephants cared for by MandaLao, a conservation organization based outside Luang Prabang. The project’s aims are to shelter elephants rescued from logging and riding work, and to reintroduce wild elephants into Laos’ protected areas. This work is partially funded by the ethical, non-riding experiences with these magnificent, endangered creatures that the program offers to visitors. As the elephants used their nimble trunks to pluck the finger-length bananas from my hand, they came close enough that I could hear their exhalations, which sounded like breath through a snorkel tube.

Zeke feeding elephant.

Zeke and Brook feeding elephants at MandaLao, outside Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo: Ryan Damm

People not to miss
With such a young population in Vietnam (more than half its citizens are under 35), it’s increasingly rare to encounter people who actually lived through the war. But there are still plenty of connections to the past: One woman told us about her grandfather’s seven years in a reeducation camp (he had worked for the South Vietnamese government). Another described her childhood in the late 80s, when she caught fireflies in a jar to have enough light to do her homework; today her daughter has a laptop at home.

The Azerai Can Tho Restaurant Pool in Vietnam at night

The Azerai Can Tho’s restaurant and pool, Vietnam. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Best hotels for affordable luxury
After his first hotel brand, Aman, made him famous, Adrian Zecha founded Azerai to offer luxury and elegance without four-figure room rates. Think of Azerai as Aman-lite. Its three properties are all in Vietnam, and I loved the two I stayed at. In Hue, Azerai La Residence’s French colonial building dates to 1930, with plenty of art deco touches still intact. Our fan-shaped suite had a wraparound patio that overlooked manicured grounds, a handsome pool, and the Perfume River. The staff here manages to show a genuine interest in your welfare, without the service ever feeling cloying. The Azerai Can Tho is the first high-end property situated in the Mekong Delta, allowing travelers to see more than they can on a day trip from Saigon, and giving access to a working (not just for tourists) floating market. The hotel is on a private island that is five minutes by speedboat from Can Tho, a city that shows off Vietnam’s fascination with LEDs and amplified karaoke—it’s a fascinating place to stroll in the evening, but the Azerai provides a welcome respite from the noise and lights. Book one of the lake-view villas, which are less expensive than the river-view ones but have a prettier view (the Mekong is the main industrial artery of the region, after all).

Night lights at Can Tho.

Night lights in Can Tho, Vietnam. Photo: Zeke Damm

Best family-friendly urban resort
With its water features and local art, the Four Seasons Bangkok delivers a strong sense of place and lower rates than many of its luxury-brand competitors in the city. Its 299 rooms are set on a very large footprint right beside the Chao Phraya River; the extra-large family suites mean you won’t be stumbling over your kid’s cot or crowding each other in the bathroom. My 11-year- old didn’t fit in the room’s tipi, but it could work well for both play and rest time with younger kids—and he devoured the chocolate surprise left just for him.

Best hotel that’s a steal
In southern Laos, The River Resort is a solid three-star on the banks of the Mekong and the best available accommodations in the region. The rooms are spare but spacious and cost less than $150 in high season. We paid $19 for a tasty dinner for three, including a few local beers, and just $12 to clean a week’s worth of laundry.

The River Resort in Champasak surrounded by nature.

The River Resort in Champasak, Laos. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Word of warning
Tourism in Laos does not run like a well-oiled machine—and that’s part of the charm. Drivers occasionally miss pickup times, craft villages empty out for a resident’s funeral, local kids grab all the bikes set aside for tourists. But it’s all forgiven for the spontaneous moments of human connection, which are warmer than I’ve experienced anywhere else. And outside of Luang Prabang—a town that woos backpackers, Aman junkies, and seemingly everyone else in between—I saw only a handful of other Westerners in all of Laos.

Most underrated
The 4,000 Islands, a region of southern Laos, near the Cambodian border, where the Mekong River splinters around a handful of sizeable islands and countless smaller ones. You can explore the concrete path around the largest island, Don Khong, by bike or tuk-tuk, visit waterfalls where foamy, white-green water tumbles over the rocks, and see the remnants of the train the French built to get around this non- navigable part of the river.

Brook at Li Phi Somphamit Waterfall

Li Phi Somphamit Waterfall in Laos. Photo: Ryan Damm

Most overrated
For me, it was Luang Prabang. The streets were choked with tourists, and as UNESCO World Heritage towns go, I think Hoi An is more picturesque. But we also had some of our favorite experiences here: We strolled a morning market where locals were buying not just fresh produce and sticky rice, but also dried rats, live eels, and pig intestines. We spent an evening at our local host’s home sharing dinner and a very special baci blessing ceremony. And we brought extra portions of that meal to the town’s monks early the next morning. If you want to see Luang Prabang, the Amantaka provides a serene and welcoming bubble—not to mention an excellent spa and a ridiculously high staff-to-guest ratio—just a few blocks from the hubbub.

The morning market in Laos full of people.
The morning market in Luang Prabang.
A man tying string around Brook's wrist as a part of the Baci ceremony.
Receiving blessings at a baci ceremony.
Brook and family doing a morning ritual giving offerings.
Giving offerings to monks outside a monastery in Luang Prabang.

 

Biggest thrill
The circuit of zip lines around Tadfane Waterfall, on Laos’ Boloven Plateau (click here for a video). The first, most hair-raising line runs 900 feet above a deep canyon, into which splashes the cataract’s two long, skinny cascades. If you can manage that, the rest of the route is a piece of cake, with several shorter zip-line segments; a high-wire, balancing-act bridge; and a quick but steep hike through the jungle. My 11-year-old called it “one of the best experiences of my life.”  Mission accomplished!

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Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Southeast Asia, WOW Listers Dan Fraser, Sandy Ferguson, and Ethan Crowley arranged reduced rates for my family’s trip. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Dan or Sandy and Ethan via Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

Brook and her family enjoying an ethical interaction with elephants in Laos.

Family Vacation in Southeast Asia: Brook’s Trip Highlights

I’m recently back from an action-packed, two-week trip through Southeast Asia with my husband and 11-year-old son. I wanted to get there before the crowds descend once again, post-pandemic.

Since this was my fifth trip to Southeast Asia and Ryan and Zeke’s second, my challenge was to find new ways to see the region—particularly active and hands-on experiences that would keep Zeke engaged. So I polled three of the Southeast Asia specialists on our WOW List of Trusted Travel ExpertsDaniel Fraser, and the team of Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley—on their favorite hidden gems and exciting new activities. Together we decided on an itinerary that included Vietnam, Laos, and a taste of Thailand. Below you’ll find a sampling of the experiences that Dan, Sandy, and Ethan crafted for my family, and that I posted to Instagram during my trip. Swipe through for photos of Laos New Year celebrations and our two-wheeled adventures in Saigon and Bangkok, video from a hair-raising zip-line, and more.

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Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

teenage boy jumping in Negev Desert Israel

Ask a Teenager: 3 Cool Things to Do on a Family Trip in Israel

Update from Wendy:  My son Doug wrote this article when he was 14, based on our trip to Israel five years ago, but all of these experiences are still available today in 2023. 

When my mom took me to Israel, we did a lot of things that teenage boys would like. We went sandboarding in the Negev Desert. We went four-wheeling through Mahktesh Ramon. We climbed all over tanks in the Golan Heights.  We splashed through Hezekiah’s Tunnel below the City of David. We dug up artifacts with an archaeologist. But my mom wants me to tell you my three favorite things we did.  So here they are.  If your parents take you to Israel, these are three things you should not miss:

 

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  1. Powered Paragliding at Masada

Masada is a 2,000-year-old fortress that was occupied by Jews, then conquered by the Romans. In the morning, we went to the top and walked through it. Our guide, Joe Yudin, showed us everything. Here we are at a 3-D model of the fortress.

guide pointing at 3-D model of Masada fortress Israel

Then, in the afternoon, we got a surprise: Back down at the base of Masada, we did something that you’ve most likely never done before. And it was thrilling.

Israel powered paraglider on ground

We met up with a friend of  Joe’s who has a powered paraglider. Segev was our pilot.

tourists paraglide over Masada Israel

In the powered paraglider, you take off going extremely fast for about 40 meters. For the first 30 seconds, I was terrified. Segev increased altitude really quickly. After that, you felt like a bird. If you wanted, you could do a bunch of really sharp turns, so it was like a rollercoaster. Then we went high up into the air and circled Masada.

Aerial view of Masada Israel from a paraglider

Our aerial view of Masada. Photo: Tim Baker

Our view of Masada was like the 3-D model but better. From the air I got a whole different view of Masada than when we were walking in it. It changed my perspective of how beautiful Masada is. When you have an aerial view of the fortress, you can see how big certain rooms are. The storage room, which I had thought was tiny, turned out to be 1/8 the size of the fortress. You can see how everything was configured in a strategic way to ward off the Romans. And from the air you can see the ramp that the Romans made to conquer it and where they would live and hide.

Then we went what felt like five feet over the Dead Sea Canal. It felt like my feet were going to get wet.

aerial view of the Dead Sea Canal Israel from paraglider

In this photo, we were high above the Dead Sea Canal, but then we swooped down and almost skimmed the water. Photo: Tim Baker

Then the pilot went back up and cut the motor, so we glided down softly using the parachute—until he blasted it again, getting ready for landing. The landing was just as fun as the takeoff.

Next time I would love to paraglide over Jerusalem because it has a mix of modern and ancient buildings.

Check out the video that Segev made of our flight!  Everybody in the family had a turn flying over Masada.

2. Counterterrorism Training

Eitan Cohen, a counter-terrorism and security expert

Our counter-terror instructor, Eitan Cohen, at Caliber 3. Photo: Tim Baker

We got to experience what it is like to train as an Israeli soldier when we spent an afternoon at a counterterrorism training center called Caliber 3. Our instructor, Eitan Cohen, taught us the tactics and moves of the soldiers.

After giving us a safety briefing, Eitan gave us a real gun, and we got to do target practice on balloons. They make it very safe and you wear protective gear.

A counter-terrorism and security expert in Israel

Eitan Cohen gave us a safety briefing before we did target practice on balloons. Photo: Tim Baker

I learned how the army trains and why many people in Israel feel the duty to serve in the army. I also learned why they would be willing to give up their lives to protect others. They do it for their country and how much they love their country.

A counter-terrorism and security dog practices in Israel

The dog, Zeus, bites into a protective suit they use for training. Photo: Tim Baker

We also got to see a private demonstration of the K-9 unit. Their dog, Zeus, was found on the street when he was a puppy. With years of love and practice, he is now a soldier. He knows when to attack and was trained to jump through a 6-foot-high window. It was spectacular what Zeus could do. Our little dog at home can’t jump even one foot.

tourists learn about counter terrorism training in Israel

We attempt to figure out who the terrorist is. Photo: Tim Baker

Then we did an exercise where they set up their shooting range to simulate a crowded marketplace. We were told that one of these people is a threat. Our job was to figure out which one.  What we learned is that you can’t tell who the terrorist is by what they look like.  Any of these people could be a terrorist.

In a real marketplace, the soldiers’ job is to quickly spot the terrorist and to get between the terrorist and the innocent pedestrians and protect them.  We learned about how first responders will rush in when everybody else rushes out.  First responders don’t even know you, but they will rush in and try to save you. They will sacrifice their lives to save you. That’s just the kind of people they are.

3. Scuba Diving in the Red Sea

teenage boy scuba dives in Israel

This was my first time scuba diving in open water.

In Eilat I went scuba diving for the first time. In the past I had been snuba diving, which is in between snorkeling and scuba. In snuba, you have a regulator (which is the tube you breathe through), and your air tank floats on top of the water. In scuba, you have more freedom; you’re not confined by a hose to a certain area. In Eilat, you’re allowed to scuba dive without being certified.

teenage boy scuba dives in Israel

The shallow area was about eight feet deep, but we went down to 20 feet on the dive.

We went down to 20 feet on the dive. We saw a few colorful fish and jellyfish, but mainly we went diving with dolphins. The dolphins were a lot closer than I expected. One of them tried to play with Dad. One of them came up to about an inch in front of my face.

The dolphins are wild animals, not captive. They can come and go to the open sea as they please.

man scuba dives in Israel near a dolphin

A dolphin tried to play with Dad.

It was cool because we saw what the marine life is like in a different part of the world. The guide held onto our hands to keep us safe, but that didn’t take away from the experience. It was an amazing experience that I hope I will be able to do again.

Even though some of these experiences might look scary, none of them were. They were fun and exciting.

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Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

aerial view of Masada Israel

What the Right Local Fixer Can Do For You in Israel (or Anywhere)

It had been 20 years since my last trip to Israel, and all I remembered were overcrowded sights and frustrating logistics: wall-to-wall tour groups on the Via Dolorosa, endless lines snaking through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, hours of rigmarole just trying to rent a car with collision-damage coverage for the areas we wanted to drive in ….

This time my experience of Israel was the polar opposite. That’s because, this time, I had the right local fixer.  As you know, I created my WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts specifically to point you to such fixers in locations worldwide.  And so, for my family trip to Israel, I turned to Joe Yudin, the Israel specialist on my WOW List.   As you read below about how Joe saved us from lines and tourist traps, and opened doors that are normally closed to the public, please keep in mind two important things:  First, I wasn’t getting special treatment.  He’s done the same thing for many travelers, as you’ll see by reading Joe’s reviews.  Second, the other destination specialists on The WOW List do the same thing in their different destinations.  Wherever in the world you’re headed, here are eight ways a WOW Lister can make the magic happen:

They are your insurance against bad weather.

Tel Maresha archaeological dig

On a rainy day you can dig up ancient artifacts underground at Tel Maresha. At left, in gray, is archaeologist Asaf Stern of Archaeological Seminars Institute. At right, in red, is Joe Yudin of Touring Israel. Photo: Timothy Baker

I chose to take my family to Israel during the kids’ February school break because February is Israel’s low season. That means fewer crowds and lower prices, but it can also mean the possibility of torrential rains. Although it did rain in Israel while we were there, we never saw one drop, and that’s because Joe has the flexibility and connections to nimbly alter itineraries based on the weather or other surprises. When it was raining in the north, we headed south for sandboarding in the Negev Desert and scuba diving with dolphins in the Red Sea. When the rain was over, we headed north to the green vineyards of the Golan Heights.  Joe can also move things around so that, if it does start to rain where you are, you can either hit the indoor must-sees (say, view the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum, or go to the Ayalon Institute—a secret 1940s ammunition factory, built beneath a kibbutz to fool the authorities at the adjacent British army base, that was pivotal to winning the Independence War in 1948) or you can do below-ground activities (say, explore Hezekiah’s Tunnel beneath the City of David, or dig for artifacts from the Hellenistic period at the archaeological excavation at Tel Maresha, pictured above).

 

Caesarea sunset israel

When the weather cleared, we hit the ancient Roman port of Caesarea. Photo: Timothy Baker

They put you in the right place on the right day.

Makhtesh Ramon Israel

When we landed in Israel on a Saturday, we headed to Makhtesh Ramon in the Negev Desert.. Adam Sela (on the ground) is a desert expert who led our jeep adventure into the makhtesh.  Here, he photographs my 14-year-old who is finding new ways to combat jet lag. Photo: Timothy Baker

Every country has its holidays when things are closed, as well as its best days for hitting the weekly markets and other events. In Israel it’s important to plan around Shabbat (the Sabbath), from sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday, since that’s when most places are closed or, even if the doors aren’t physically shut, normal operations take a break. If you arrive in Israel on a Saturday, for instance, you might have trouble checking into your hotel room before dark, especially if your hotel is in Jerusalem. Some travelers arriving on a Saturday opt to hit the beach in Tel Aviv and power through their jet lag with fresh air and a swim. We arrived on a Saturday and headed south to the Negev Desert, combating jet lag with sandboarding and a jeep tour of Makhtesh Ramon. (A makhtesh is a crater-like geological landform that is unique to Israel’s Negev Desert and Egypt’s Sinai Desert.)  On our second Saturday in Israel, we went to Masada (since it’s open on Saturdays) and the Dead Sea. Things get more complicated—in terms of where you should be when—during Easter, Passover, Christmas week, and the many other religious and national holidays in Israel. (When planning your itinerary, remember that Sunday is the start of Israel’s work week.)

Makhtesh Ramon Negev Desert israel

When it was raining elsewhere, we went to Makhtesh Ramon. Photo: Timothy Baker

They get you past the crowds and lines.

crowd at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem Israel

This is what the tour-group crush in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity looks like—in low season!  Photo: Timothy Baker

Israel is jam-packed with tour groups from all over the world making pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Even low season (January/February) is high season for low-budget group tours. When we arrived at Masada early on a February morning, as one example, there were 50 tour buses in the parking lot and at least 300 people in line for the cable car. (Naturally, Joe took us through a different entrance and to the front of the line.)

One of the most crowded sites in the world is the spot that is recognized as the manger where Jesus was born, deep inside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.  Just one of the factors that make a visit tricky is that Bethlehem is in an exclusively Palestinian-controlled part of the West Bank where Israelis can’t go, which means you need a Palestinian guide—but one who can make the traffic and bureaucracy at the border checkpoints disappear.  Most travelers get handed from an Israeli guide on one side of the border to a Palestinian guide on the other, but Joe skips all that by using an Arab Christian guide, Daniel Sahwani, who met us on the Israel side, drove us (in a gleaming new white Mercedes van) into the West Bank, showed us everything we wanted to see in and around Bethlehem, then dropped us off back in Jerusalem’s Old City, all in record time.

You also want a guide with the right connections both outside and inside the Church of the Nativity.  When we got to Bethlehem, Daniel artfully managed to park the van in a small V.I.P. lot right at the front door of the Church. He shepherded us past a very long line comprised of umpteen tour groups (according to Daniel, the line was four hours long and, in high season, it can take all day) to the door and staircase that lead to the underground Grotto that is recognized as Jesus’s birthplace. In the photo above, you can see the mad crush at the door to the Grotto.  You can also see Daniel ahead of me (well, the side of his face), near the door, leading my 14-year-old (light brown hair, olive shirt), to his right, through the mob. Down in the Grotto, Daniel made sure we had enough time to photograph the manger. (You’re officially allowed only about two seconds.) Then he led us into the adjacent Church of St. Catherine, the Catholic chapel where Christmas Eve mass is broadcast to television audiences around the world, and showed us other sights in Bethlehem, including edgy Palestinian street art, before zipping us out of the West Bank and back to Jerusalem, all in just a couple of hours. It was like watching a magic act.

Entering West Bank Area A from Israel

This is the border checkpoint you pass through as you drive into the West Bank’s Area A, where Bethlehem is located. Photo: Timothy Baker

They get you to each sight at the best moment.

Western Wall at night Jerusalem Israel

The Western Wall is best experienced on a Friday at sundown. We shot this later, as we were leaving after dark. Photo: Timothy Baker

The Western Wall is at its most interesting on Fridays at sundown, the start of the Sabbath. You’ll see young men in dashing suits and Lubavitcher fedoras, old men in long black robes and Lithuanian fur hats, and all manner of other traditional garb and headgear worn by worshippers’ Eastern European ancestors. You’ll see female soldiers joyously singing and dancing in groups, with machine guns strapped around their bodies. You’ll see and hear multifarious small collections of worshippers holding their own services, singing their own songs and dancing in their own circles. Joe made sure we arrived shortly before sundown (which, depending on the time of year, could be any time between 5:00 pm and 8:15 pm).  Using cameras (or any other electronic devices) during the Sabbath is not smiled upon, so Joe also made sure we got to the Western Wall on another day when we could take photos of our kids doing as the locals do—writing their prayers on small slips of paper, wadding up the paper, and cramming it into a crack in the Wall.

 

Men praying at the Western Wall Jerusalem Israel

Taking photos at the Western Wall during the Sabbath is frowned upon, so go twice: once to see the scene on Friday at sundown, and another time to take photos like this. Photo: Timothy Baker

They know cool new ways to see old places.

Powered paragliding over Masada Israel

We soared over Masada and the Judean Desert in this powered paraglider. Photo: Timothy Baker

Whether you’re hiking up to Masada—the 2,000-year-old fortress-palace built by King Herod atop a rock plateau in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea—or ascending by cable car, you can’t see any of the ancient city till you’re on the mountaintop. Most people explore the fortress only at eye level. But, thanks to Joe’s friend Segev Baram, a flight instructor with a powered paraglider, we got to enjoy aerial views too. We each took a turn soaring over Masada and the sites of ancient Roman camps in the desert, and then over to the Dead Sea Canal, dipping downward until we almost skimmed the surface of the waterway. My 14-year-old says it’s the coolest thing he’s ever done.

Segev turns out to be a cinematographer too. Somehow he managed to pilot the machine, working the controls like a marionette, while simultaneously filming our entire ride.  To fly over Masada vicariously with us, check out this three-minute video Segev made and sent to my family.  It’s sababa!  (That means awesome.)

 

They ensure you taste the best local flavors.

Mahane Yehuda Market dried fruit tea vendor

Our tasting tour of Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market included this stall that sells “dried fruit tea.” There’s no tea in it. It’s just diced, sweet, intensely aromatic dried fruit that you mix with hot water. Photo: Timothy Baker

I can meander through foreign food markets all day long, losing myself in the scents and colors. But when time is short and markets huge and labyrinthine, a guide who knows everybody in the market—who knows whose Medjool dates are the plumpest and whose tahini is ground the centuries-old way and where to taste which award-winning cheese—can really enhance your experience. And that’s especially true if you’re in one of those markets on a Thursday or Friday during the pre-Shabbat scramble.  That’s why everybody in my family agrees that two of our trip highlights were our private tasting tours of two of the biggest markets: the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv and Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. At Mahane Yehuda, when we couldn’t resist buying edible souvenirs to take home, our guide arranged for our purchases to be delivered to us later, so we wouldn’t have to lug our haul from stall to stall.

Carmel Market etrog medicine man shop Israel

Medicinal fruit juices— including those made from the etrog (that bumpy greenish-yellow fruit she’s holding)—are served at the Etrog Medicine Man shop in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market. Photo: Timothy Baker

They reduce airport waits and hassles.

Joe’s travelers get airport VIP service, and here’s what that means:  When we landed at Ben-Gurion on a Saturday morning, we were met at the end of the jetway and led on an alternate path to the immigration area.  We were led to a separate VIP desk, to the side of the immigration lines, where we were handed our stamped cards to get into the country.  We exited the immigration area for the luggage carousel at the same moment that the first people off our flight were arriving to queue up at the end of the already long lines.  Back at the airport on Sunday morning eight days later for our flight home, we were met curbside by another VIP agent who enabled us to bypass the standard check-in lanes and escorted us through security to our gate.  We zipped through without a hiccup.  I estimate that this airport VIP service spared us at least an hour each way standing in lines.

Your passport no longer gets stamped when you enter Israel, by the way. At Immigration you are given a small laminated card with your principle details and a stamp on it.  Don’t lose it, since this card gets you the V.A.T. discount when you check into hotels.

They introduce you to interesting people you’d otherwise never meet.

Here I’m with Sarit Zehavi, a security expert and lieutenant colonel in the reserves of the Israeli Defense Forces, at Israel’s northern border in the Golan Heights. You’re looking at Syria (beyond that light-colored road). Photo: Joe Yudin

What’s a trip to Israel without hearing varied local perspectives on the geopolitics of the Middle East, the war against terrorism, and other important topics of the day?  So Joe arranged a few of the meetings that he has arranged for so many WOW List travelers, as you can read in their reviews of Joe’s trips.  I’ll give you just a few examples:

Joe told me that if I wanted to understand Israel’s outlook on the Middle East, I needed to go to the Golan Heights, an area of rolling vineyards and army bases on the border with Syria. There we met Sarit Zehavi, an expert on Israel’s security challenges at the northern borders. Zehavi is a 15-year military intelligence officer and lieutenant colonel in the reserves of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and is also the founder of ALMA, a research and education center focused on the border conflict. She is actually of Syrian heritage (her father grew up in Damascus). She is also a mom whose house sits six miles from the Lebanese border, so she lives with a visceral sense of danger, day in and day out.  Pointing to the Syrian border (see the photo above), she showed us exactly where and how the situation has been changing along it.  A week after we met, Zehavi was headed to Washington, D.C., to address members of Congress and other U.S. leaders at AIPAC. Here’s what she told them.

Eitan Cohen, a counter-terrorism and security expert

Eitan Cohen, a counter-terrorism and security expert, with my son Doug at Caliber 3. Photo: Timothy Baker

Joe also arranged for us to meet with Eitan Cohen at Caliber 3, a counterterrorism training academy that offers security solutions and intelligence operations to clients around the globe. Cohen is a charismatic and inspiring colonel in the IDF and a security expert who works in elite undercover units. The kids got hands-on training in self-defense strategies, as well as an unforgettable lesson in patriotism and how profound love of country—like Cohen’s for Israel—is what inspires soldiers around the world.

journalist and author Matti Friedman

We met journalist and author Matti Friedman for breakfast at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. Photo: Timothy Baker

Of the local journalists Joe offered to connect me with, I chose Matti Friedman, a former Associated Press correspondent who also served in the Israeli army.  Friedman is the author of two award-winning books, The Aleppo Codex and PumpkinFlowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War, and his third book, Spies of No Country—the story of Israel’s first spies in 1948—is coming out in November.  Friedman believes that, because of the way news about the Middle East is framed by Western news media, many travelers are left with a lot of misconceptions about Israel and the situation in the Middle East.  As just one example, people think Jerusalem is dangerous, but last year there were only 27 deaths in Jerusalem caused by acts of violence, compared with 133 in Jacksonville, Florida, and 175 in Indianapolis (cities similar in size to Jerusalem).  Social problems that Americans take for granted—health care, homelessness, gun control—hardly exist in the same way in Israel. For instance, Friedman has four kids and pays only $56 per month for health care for his whole family.  As for his perspective on conflict in the Middle East, the main takeaway was:  Don’t come to Israel with a lot of preconceptions. Or, if you do, meet with Friedman.  2023 UPDATE: Matti Friedman has little availability nowadays. Instead, you can meet with journalists such as Gil Hoffman and Khaled Abu Toameh

 

cooking class in Jersualem Israel

Chef Tali Friedman taught the boys how to cook an Israeli feast, including apple-filled phyllo pastries, in her kitchen. Photo: Timothy Baker

I went to Israel thinking most of my time would be spent on sites of historical, cultural, and religious significance.  As it turned out, most of my time was spent eating.  Israel’s culinary scene has been exploding, and one of the reasons why is Chef Tali Friedman. She gave us a cooking lesson in The Jerusalem Atelier, her kitchen workshop inside the historic Mahane Yehuda Market, and then we got to eat the feast we had cooked. I’m still dreaming of the best eggplant dish I’ve ever tasted: roasted Baladi eggplant, grilled over an open flame until scorched and smoky, with tahini and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. So simple, yet so flavorful.  We took the recipes home with us, but I’m not so sure I can replicate them without easy access to the superb produce and ingredients in the Market.

Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market Israel

Inbal Baum introduced us to her favorite finds in Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market. Photo: Timothy Baker

We also had a blast with Inbal Baum, founder of Delicious Israel, who steered us to her favorite stalls and shops in the Carmel Market, Tel Aviv’s largest outdoor food extravaganza. This eliminated haphazard guessing as to the best foods to sample—which in turn eliminated thousands of unnecessary calories—and it also meant no standing in lines:  In each spot, seats and tables magically appeared for us, and then dishes suddenly appeared on them. Come hungry!

Chef Tal Zohar and his mobile kitchen in the Golan Heights. Photo: Timothy Baker

When we went to the Golan Heights, we weren’t expecting gourmet dining al fresco, but that’s the surprise that awaited us in the middle of nowhere, thanks to Chef Tal Zohar and his mobile kitchen.  A friend of Joe’s with grandparents from Turkey on one side and Germany on the other, Chef Tal went to culinary school in New York City, and now he zips all over Israel creating gourmet “picnics” in spectacular locations.  You can see photos of what we ate here.

Joe Yudin, the Israel travel specialist on my WOW List

Joe Yudin of Touring Israel at Tel Maresha. Photo: Timothy Baker

And here’s who made it all happen:  Joe Yudin, the Trusted Travel Expert for Israel on my WOW List.  Contact Joe using my questionnaire so he knows Wendy sent you and you get the same caliber of trip that I, and all these other travelers, received.

START YOUR OWN TRIP TO ISRAEL

UPDATE:  This article was written in 2018, based on a trip to Israel in that year, but all of these experiences are still available today in 2023. 

Transparency disclosure: Thanks to a stipend that Joe Yudin received from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism for press, most elements of this trip were complimentary.  In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, no strings were attached:  There was no request for coverage, nor was any promised.

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