Tag Archives: family trip

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

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: “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

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

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

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

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

“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

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

START A TRIP TO IRELAND

“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.

START A TRIP TO PARIS AND LONDON

“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.

START A TRIP TO IRELAND

“…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.

START A TRIP TO AUSTRALIA

“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.

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

“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.

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

“…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.

START A TRIP TO GALAPAGOS AND ECUADOR

“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.

START A TRIP TO DISNEY WORLD

“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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boat in Halong Bay Vietnam

WOW Asia: Reviews from our Travelers

This is Asia’s moment. As one of the last regions to open after Covid, Asia hasn’t yet seen the tourist crowds that you’ll find once again in Europe. Our travelers were among the vanguard to return to Asia, aided by the local intel of our Trusted Travel Experts. Read on to learn what it’s like to be there now. And here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.

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China: “We had an amazing dinner prepared and cooked in a private space by a chef and his team…”

Travelers Emma Jacobs and her husband dining on the Great Wall of China during their WOW Moment.

Emma Jacobs and her husband dining on the Great Wall of China.

“Our trip to China was excellent. We had an amazing dinner prepared and cooked in a private space by a chef and his team, curated by Mei’s office, as our WOW Moment in Beijing. Having a gourmet lunch prepared on the Great Wall was a very special moment. One of a kind!! Shanghai took us by surprise, what a great city with exceptional food. We had a wonderful foodie tour there too.” —Emma Jacobs

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

START A TRIP TO CHINA

Japan: “A tea ceremony and visit with a bonsai master in Tokyo, a traditional dinner in Kyoto with a Maiko (Geisha in training)…”

A traditional tea ceremony performance in Japan.

A traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Photo: Shutterstock

“When we discovered that neither of our husbands was interested in traveling to Japan, my girlfriend and I decided to go for it. Our travel window was limited to the last two weeks of March, high season for Japan travel, and this was only a month away. The first three travel agents that I spoke to turned me down outright; small group trips were also fully booked. When we were about to give up, Wendy Perrin introduced us to Andrea. Andrea added value to our trip even before we left home, sharing lists of books to read, movies to watch, and insight into the culture. He took the time to get to know our interests, and his enthusiasm for all things Japanese was contagious.

Andrea managed to pull off the impossible — a rich and varied itinerary customized to our taste, drivers and guides (all excellent) when desired, free time when requested, train tickets reserved, even some unusual experiences along the way. He and his team were in constant contact with us via a dedicated WhatsApp group (appropriately called “Guardian Angels in Japan” to check in and keep us updated on the itinerary. We enjoyed sharing pictures and summaries of each day’s adventures with our angels.

There were several moments that Andrea planned — a tea ceremony and visit with a bonsai master in Tokyo, crafting in Kanazawa and Takayama, a traditional dinner in Kyoto with a Maiko (Geisha in training) — that were unexpected highlights. I have traveled with other experts before, but Andrea’s attention to detail was extraordinary.” —Janet Fattal

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

START A TRIP TO THE JAPAN

Vietnam & Cambodia: “The lunch they had prepared for us, hosted by a lovely Cambodian family on their floating dock, was amazingly delicious…”

Traveler Sharon Theroux and her husband were hosted for lunch by a local family in the floating village of Prek Toal near Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Sharon Theroux and her husband were hosted for lunch by a local family near Siem Reap.

“My husband and I just returned from our second trip to Southeast Asia, both of them through Sandy and Ethan’s office. Someone once said, ‘We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.’ That couldn’t be more true about our experience. This year, we spent one week in Saigon, followed by one week in Siem Reap.

In Saigon, we stayed at the Majestic Hotel, which was a perfect location on the Saigon river and at the heart of the city. Sandy and Ethan were able to get us the same room on the same floor we had last year, #317, which had an outdoor garden where we had coffee in the morning. So beautiful. The ride up the Saigon river to Can Gio nature reserve provided a well-needed ‘Nature Bath’ while boating through mangroves, hiking through jungles, and feeding crocodiles and monkeys. What a major de-stressor and complete departure from our day-to-day life back home!

Our next leg of the trip was the Jaya House at Siem Reap, which is where we stayed last year. The Jaya House is one of my favorite places on earth. Upon arrival, we met with Christian, the property manager, who made sure we were scheduled for our daily massage. After recently experiencing a running injury, I was very happy to take him up on that offer! Those daily massages really helped me to heal from injury, as well as reduce a year full of stressors from back home.

We took an excursion to the margins of Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Cambodia. On this boat tour, we traveled back in time to see a floating fishing village, where people survive with very little, some without electricity. And yet, the people there smiled and waved at us as they went about their life, and we saw the children happily playing with each other and swimming in the water. I learned that if they could be happy with so little, I don’t need to sweat the small stuff at home. And the lunch they had prepared for us, hosted by a lovely Cambodian family on their floating dock, was amazingly delicious, with a charcuterie that rivaled that from NYC! I would highly recommend traveling to Southeast Asia in general, and with Sandy and Ethan more specifically, if you are looking for a truly authentic, immersive, and life-enhancing experience.” —Sharon Theroux

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

START A TRIP TO SOUTHEAST ASIA

The Philippines: “Andrea surprised us by sending an underwater photographer along on our first dive…”

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 from late March to April. 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 Andrea’s 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.

One of the best aspects of traveling with Andrea was his responsive support team, always just a WhatsApp message away. They swiftly resolved any questions or issues we encountered, such as when there was a mix-up with our room at Amorita, and they went the extra mile to secure a complimentary upgrade for us. Their extensive network within the local communities demonstrated their dedication to ensuring a memorable experience for us.

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. Even though initially I had some reservations about taking this trip, as sometimes it’s difficult to find the right time to travel, it ended up being a wonderful experience and one that will hold memories for us that we will always treasure. Pushing ourselves to try somewhere new and doing it together, made it even more thrilling and well worth the efforts, especially with Andrea, Pablo, Lauren, Michael and the rest of the team to support us along the way.” —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. 

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India: “One of our favorite stops was the Dera Amer camp, an animal sanctuary and home of elephant rescues…”

Travelers and the elephant at the Dera Amer sanctuary in India.

Michael and Lisa Riggs with new friend Rangmala at the Dera Amer sanctuary.

“As with every WOW List specialist we have worked with over the past five years, we found that Victoria had everything planned and arranged to perfection. Any glitches were handled and fixed immediately. Most notable, after I left a packing cube with my husband’s polo shirts in the Delhi hotel, Victoria’s team managed to retrieve them and get them to us, via a variety of drivers and tour guides, at a later destination. Meanwhile, our guide Vanch suggested we get some shirts made, which was fun, inexpensive, and quick. A great souvenir from India, whether or not you lose yours.

The hotels were 5-star, gorgeous, and even historic. At The Imperial in New Delhi, the site of many historic meetings, we enjoyed sitting at the same table Gandhi did!

In Agra, we were surprised by our WOW Moment: an authentic Hindu marriage ceremony for us! We participated in the rituals, learned a lot, and enjoyed the experience of ‘renewing our vows’ in a different culture. Now we will be together for 7 lifetimes, the priest told us. Luckily, we’re good with that.

Our WOW celebration continued with an excellent dinner of Mughal tandoor cuisine, with a traditional Santoor musician, at the highly rated Esphahan restaurant in our hotel, the Oberoi.

It was wedding season in Rajasthan, and it was fun to see things even more ornately decorated than usual, including horses, elephants, vehicles in the streets and our hotel, The Taj Rambagh Palace (a former Jaipur Maharaja’s palace). The elaborate Mughal gardens were the site of a large and lavish wedding reception, all day and into the night. It was fun and interesting to witness. Even the staff was impressed.

One of our favorite stops was the Dera Amer camp, an animal sanctuary and home of elephant rescues. We fed and took a walk with Rangmala and her mahout, and she allowed us to pet her and pose for photos.

We saw sunset and sunrise at the Taj Mahal and were thrilled to tour the inside of this monument and many other historic forts, temples, mosques and palaces. It was a beautiful trip to a most interesting country.” —Lisa Riggs

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Southeast Asia: “We were the only ones there, drifting through the lily pads watching the birds and sunset. It was beautiful and peaceful.”

Panorama of ancient stone door and tree roots.

Ta Prohm temple ruins in Angkor, Cambodia. Photo: Shutterstock

“My wife, 22 year-old daughter, and I visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The local guides arranged by Sandy and Ethan were knowledgeable, eager to take family pictures for us, and easy to work with as we tweaked some of the details of our itinerary as our trip progressed.

In Chiang Mai we went on a beautiful two-hour hike on the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail in the Doi Inthanon National Park. There was a river with multiple waterfalls along the way. The hike ended at a pretty farm in the hills with water buffalo roaming around, where we had a cup of locally grown coffee and a nice lunch at a small restaurant. Speaking of food, the Khao Soi curry in Chiang Mai was one of our food highlights.

In Laos, our guide had excellent knowledge of Buddhism and relationships with local Buddhist monks, so we spent time with the monks learning about their religion, sitting with the monks as they chanted, and participated in the custom of giving alms (making merit) where we provided the monks with their morning breakfast before sunrise. It was unique and educational. Our guide also hosted us at his family house for a wonderful dinner and Buddhist ceremony attended by numerous members of our guide’s extended family. We visited some villages to see how local farmers and craftspeople live, including talking with women making papadam and men distilling local moonshine, both of which we tasted. We also had a lovely and relaxing and scenic private boat ride down the Mekong river, returning to Luang Prabang from the Pak Ou caves as the sun gradually set.

In Siem Reap, Cambodia, we attended the roughly hour-long Phare ‘circus,’ a high-energy, very entertaining, and unique experience, and it’s for a good cause. Of course, we visited the massive ancient Angkor temples, which are incredibly impressive, and each one was different. The Ta Prohm temple with the massive trees growing on it is a must-see. One of our more special moments in Cambodia was when our excellent guide arranged to take us out on two small boats (just a bit bigger than large canoes) on one of the ‘moats’ (really a manmade lake) just before sunset. A local paddler gently moved the boats across the calm waters as our guide mixed gin and tonics for us and provided snacks. We were the only ones there, drifting through the lily pads watching the birds and sunset. It was beautiful and peaceful.” —Joe Coco

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Bhutan: “Peaceful, calm, clean, welcoming, safe and fascinating, with people full of warmth…”

Herbal bath with a view at Gangtey Lodge, Bhutan.

An herbal bath with a view at Bhutan’s Gangtey Lodge. Photo: Traveler Wendy Tucker

“My husband and I just returned from a fantastic two-week-plus trip to India and Bhutan. We have been lucky enough to travel to many places, but we both declared at our return that this was our favorite destination. Sanjay planned a perfect trip and we are so grateful to him and his local agencies for their knowledge, punctuality, kindness and seamless handling of everything. When I initially contacted Sanjay, our plan only included Bhutan. There are no flights to Bhutan from the US or Europe—you need to go through India or Thailand. We had never been to India, so Sanjay suggested that we fly into Delhi (one of the cities you can access Bhutan from) and spend a few days to see the Taj Mahal. We were so glad we took his advice.

Overall, we found Bhutan to be peaceful, calm, clean, welcoming, safe and fascinating, with people full of warmth, interest and kindness. We stayed at four incredible properties, each with their own flavor, beauty and charm. My favorite was Gangtey Lodge. Gangtey Lodge was the furthest east we traveled and is high above a beautiful valley. It snowed when we were there, so we enjoyed herbal baths gazing from the tub out over the valley.

We filled our days with visits to fortresses, nunneries, temples and monasteries—we loved them all, although our favorite was Gangtey Goenpa Monastery. We spent almost three hours there participating in a tea ceremony with the monks and discussing Buddhism and life in a monastery with a senior monk.” —Wendy Tucker

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Japan: “A tea ceremony and visit with a bonsai master in Tokyo, a traditional dinner in Kyoto with a Maiko (Geisha in training)…”

Fushimi Inari Shrine Torii in kyoto Japan

Fushimi Inari Shrine Torii in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“When we discovered that neither of our husbands was interested in traveling to Japan, my girlfriend and I decided to go for it. Our travel window was limited to the last two weeks of March, high season for Japan travel, and this was only a month away. The first three travel agents that I spoke to turned me down outright; small group trips were also fully booked. When we were about to give up, Wendy Perrin introduced us to Andrea. Andrea added value to our trip even before we left home, sharing lists of books to read, movies to watch, and insight into the culture. He took the time to get to know our interests, and his enthusiasm for all things Japanese was contagious.

Andrea managed to pull off the impossible — a rich and varied itinerary customized to our taste, drivers and guides (all excellent) when desired, free time when requested, train tickets reserved, even some unusual experiences along the way. He and his team were in constant contact with us via a dedicated WhatsApp group (appropriately called “Guardian Angels in Japan” to check in and keep us updated on the itinerary. We enjoyed sharing pictures and summaries of each day’s adventures with our angels.

There were several moments that Andrea planned — a tea ceremony and visit with a bonsai master in Tokyo, crafting in Kanazawa and Takayama, a traditional dinner in Kyoto with a Maiko (Geisha in training) — that were unexpected highlights. I have traveled with other experts before, but Andrea’s attention to detail was extraordinary.” —Janet Fattal

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India: “The weather was perfect, the guides were flexible and kind, and India is truly a magical place.”

Girls tasting jalebi, a traditional Indian sweet.

Tasting jalebi, an Indian sweet, during a tuk tuk tour. Photo: Traveler Mary Ko

“Our family has been on many trips. We usually use Wendy Perrin’s List because all the companies offer flexibility and we travel with young kids (ages 11, 9, and 5). We went to India February 28th- March 9th, and it was our best family trip to date. I know part of this was because we finally don’t have a kid under 4 with us, but the other part was Victoria—and Narji, our guide. We went to Agra, Jaipur, and Udaipur. There was so much to offer for everyone.

The kids’ favorite parts of the trip were the shopping, the block printing, feeding peacocks at Taj Rambagh, and seeing elephants at the Sanctuary. My husband and I loved the Oberoi hotels, the gems, the Taj Mahal, the love of Western travelers we felt, the tuk tuk ride, the historic sites, and so much more. The weather was perfect, the guides were flexible and kind, and India is truly a magical place. We have already purchased the things needed to try to make our own jalebi, and we loved the tea!!!

We hopped airports a bit to quickly jump cities, and our driver would drive our luggage so we only had a backpack and snacks, making flying headache-free. What I love about Victoria is that we had flexibility with kids—meaning, if we cancelled something because they needed downtime, it was fine, or if we had to change things quickly, it was no big deal. An amazing adventure!!” —Mary Ko

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Sri Lanka: “Wonderful experiences including a cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop, and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory…”

Travelers surrounded by village kids on their Tea Trail hike in Sri Lanka.

Jan Heininger and husband Jamie Reuter meeting village kids on a Tea Trail hike.

“We had a three-week trip to Sri Lanka planned by Miguel. This very interesting trip covered almost the entire country from the Cultural Triangle with its archaeological ruins, cave temples and Buddhist sacred sites, its historic capitals of Anuradhapura and Kandy, its largest national park (Yala) famed for its leopards, its gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches, its colonial past displayed in the Galle Fort, and its myriad of agricultural products, especially tea and cinnamon.

Miguel’s skill in putting our trip together started when he built in an extra day of rest after our arrival. I agreed to add in the day, in spite of not thinking it necessary—until it was. A snowstorm delayed our departure from DC, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Doha. We ended up with a 9-hour airport layover and didn’t get to our hotel until 4 am. We were very grateful to sleep late the next morning and snooze by the pool that afternoon.

Miguel also ensured that we had a flexible schedule. Our driver, Thissa, could say, “Let’s stop and see that bird,” or we could stop and taste a Golden coconut or visit a local market where we were introduced to many unfamiliar vegetables and fruits that are essential elements of Sri Lankan cuisine.

Miguel had us stay in wonderful places, including two Aman resorts on the south coast. At Amanwella, we took one of the best cooking classes we’ve ever had with the Executive Chef. At Amangalla in Galle Fort, we went for a bike ride in the countryside (beware of heat exhaustion), toured the Fort with a terrific local guide, and had a workshop making and painting traditional Sri Lankan masks. Miguel also booked us into Castlereagh, a five-room, former tea plantation manager’s bungalow. We were told to treat it like our home—just tell them what we wanted to eat and when.

Miguel set up wonderful experiences including the cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory. He had us hike a segment of the Tea Trail where we interacted with women tea pickers and with kids and villagers we encountered along the way.

We could not have planned this trip by ourselves. Miguel has access to unique experiences. We spent an afternoon in Kandy with an artist and his artist daughter. Miguel directed us to accommodations he knew would meet our not-even-known-to-us needs. The night before we left Sri Lanka, we were lucky to have dinner with Miguel and his lovely wife. It was a treat to meet with and talk to the man who was behind our trip.

What makes Wendy’s trip specialists stand out from the usual run-of-the-mill travel agents is that they—and Miguel—listen carefully to what you’re looking for in a trip. They have access to experiences you could never find on your own and include things you had no idea you wanted and end up delighted you experienced them. The mask my husband carved from a block of balsa wood and the two we painted are off being framed right now and will always be physical reminders of our time in Sri Lanka.” —Jan Heininger

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Southeast Asia: “The diversity of the trip was amazing and included fabulous street food adventures in several of the cities, ringside seats in Bangkok…”

Ingredients in bowl for preparing Vietnamese rice noodles.

A bowl of Vietnamese rice noodles with beef and other ingredients. Photo: Shutterstock

“Just back from our third trip booked through one of Wendy’s fabulous travel arrangers. In this case we worked with Dan for a 3 ½ week itinerary that started and ended in Singapore, with Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Saigon, Hue, Hoi An, and Hanoi in between.

Dan and his team did a great job attending to all of the details, especially the VIP arrival treatment in the many airports we traversed. The diversity of the trip was amazing and included fabulous street food adventures in several of the cities, ringside seats in Bangkok for Muay Thai boxing, a cruise on the Mekong river from Luang Prabang to the Pak Ou caves (with a stop at a whisky distillery whose bottles contained snakes and scorpions—a bit too much for my taste), sunrise at Angkor Wat, incredible acrobats at the Phare circus, thrilling rides in several cities on cyclos, tuk-tuks, and scooters, and various museums and places that are etched in memories of those of us that grew up in the Viet Nam war era. Lots of lessons to be learned from that time.

But perhaps the most interesting part of our visit involved a dinner and musical performance at the Ben Xuan Garden House. When we saw this on the agenda, we thought ok, that could be a nice evening. Well, the host, Camille Huyen, is six generations removed from the emperor and is an incredible artist. She designed the home using bricks from the rubble of the destroyed Imperial Palace area, has her paintings on display throughout the home, and provided vocals alongside some fabulously talented musicians whom she personally selected and developed from the local university. After the performance we were treated to an amazing dinner and wonderful conversation with Camille and Ngo Truong Dinh, her husband and a former banker during their time in Switzerland. This evening was one of the more remarkable events of many years of travel around the world.” —Mike and Marilyn Modak

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Sri Lanka: “We saw beautiful Buddha temples…hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari…”

Travelers on Peradeniya Botanical Garden's Avenue of Royal Palms, Sri Lanka.

Pam Greenstein and family on Peradeniya Botanical Garden’s Avenue of Royal Palms.

“We had an incredible vacation to Sri Lanka over the Christmas holidays with our two daughters, ages 21 and 18. We had just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and wanted to do something special with them. We were there for 2.5 weeks and stayed in 9 different boutique hotels. They were all fantastic! Our guide was absolutely outstanding. He added so much to the trip by getting us into various cultural events, restaurants, markets, and experiences. We never had to wait in line! He was also very caring with our girls when they were tired and needed a break. His passion for the country was instrumental in our learning about the culture and history, and eating incredible food.

We saw beautiful Buddha temples, rode the famous train to see the incredible topography, learned all about tea country, hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari and got up close elephants, leopards and water buffalos; rode bikes through rice paddies, had a wonderful massage and sauna, toured a gem mine to see how they make beautiful jewelry, and swam with the sea turtles. The highlight was our farm-to-table cooking class, picking fresh vegetables at the market and then making Sri Lankan rice and curry dishes with local chefs. It was fun and delicious.

We had various anniversary cards, cakes, and champagne when we arrived at our hotels, such a warm and caring gesture from the staff. This was our third trip working with Wendy and her team, and as usual, they did an outstanding job planning every detail.” —Pam Greenstein

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Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand: “Walking in the cities (other than Bangkok) was an adventure, as motorcycles and cars do not stop for pedestrians…”

Busy daily traffic with stream of motorbikes and cars.

Motion view of a busy street with scooters and cars in Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I traveled to Southeast Asia for 25 days in December 2023 on a trip designed by Sandy and Ethan. While Vietnam was the centerpiece, given the journey required to get there, we included three other countries as well—Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Walking in the cities (other than Bangkok) was an adventure, as motorcycles and cars do not stop for pedestrians. You just walk slowly and steadily across the lanes of traffic, and the vehicles go around you—not for the faint of heart. And walking on sidewalks is often not possible, as vehicles park on them and vendors set up shop.

Our favorite experience of the trip was the visit to the elephant sanctuary in Laos, where we got to feed the elephants and spend an hour walking with them in the woods. Such beautiful creatures. In Laos, our lovely local host Paan educated us about Buddhism, a religion we were quite unfamiliar with. We enjoyed a delightful evening at her home with her family and neighbors where we participated in a blessing ceremony.

Another highlight was arranged by our wonderful local Hanoi host: We got to meet a former North Vietnam fighter pilot trained to fly in Russia. He shot down the first American fighter in the War and was later shot down by an American pilot. The 3 met in the 1990s and still remain in contact. We met in his home, where he showed us pictures and we learned not only about his war experience but about his family and his life post-war.

In Cambodia our passionate and delightful local host Sokros delved into the Cambodia genocide with us, as we had requested. We visited the “prison” Pol Pot established in a high school in Phnom Penh and the associated “killing field” a few kilometers from the city. We discussed the recently concluded judicial inquiry into the genocide crimes and met one of the 7 (out of 20,000) survivors of those imprisoned in the prison.

We finished the trip in Bangkok, where local host Kat was a treasure. She guided us on an enjoyable walk from the grounds of the royal palace to the Chinese market. We enjoyed two wonderful lunches with her where she chose a variety of delicious Thai dishes for us to sample and shared stories about life in Thailand.” —Linda Shorey

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Thailand: “The stories behind some of the elephants were heartbreaking, but it was good to know that they could live out the rest of their lives being well taken care of.”

The Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: Traveler Bruce Tylock

“With a short lead time of about two weeks due to my last-minute China business travel, we decided to use Wendy Perrin’s travel service. We were matched up with Dan and Obb. We wanted to focus on food, culture and markets. We had a great time experiencing the street food of Bangkok. Thailand street food is amazing. We also loved our longboat tour to see the sights in Bangkok from the river. From the water, we saw the Wat Paknam giant buddha that was incredible.

From there, we were off to Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai. We loved our guide, Yawan, for this portion of the trip. We loved our hike through the tea and coffee fields in Chiang Rai. Yawan knew all the different types of plants along the way, and it was very interesting to see all the different herbs, fruits, and vegetables growing along the roads. We had a great stop at the Elephant Nature Conservation Sanctuary Park outside of Chiang Mai. The stories behind some of the elephants were heartbreaking, but it was good to know that they could live out the rest of their lives being well taken care of by the staff at the camp.

We were then on to the final leg of our trip in Phuket—and Dan and Obb saved the best activities for last! Our guide, Pong, gave us a great overview of Old Town Phuket and took us out for some delicious food at some local favorite restaurants. The next day was our favorite excursion of the whole trip: The John Gray sea kayak tour. Everywhere we looked was incredibly beautiful, and we will forever remember the night kayaking where we made an offering to the water goddess and got to see the luminescent phytoplankton, which was an amazing sight!

It was tough to follow up the sea kayaking, but we also had a great time at our cooking class the next day. Chef Pui at the Brass Wok was so much fun to talk with about food and restaurants, and she showed us how to make several delicious Thai dishes. I’d always been intimidated by Thai cooking. However, when I arrived back home the following week, I headed to the Asian grocery store for supplies and was able to reproduce the same delicious dishes that Chef Pui taught us to make.

It was very thoughtful that our guides in the different areas communicated with each other so that it felt like the guides already knew us when we arrived. When we told Dao in Bangkok that we were interested in getting some makrut lime leaves to take home with us, she contacted Yawan in Chiang Mai, who gave us a bag of dried lime leaves from the tree at his home.” —Amy and Bruce Tylock

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Oman and Jordan: “All was well and safe…”

Our travelers, Amy Evers and her husband atop a rock arch in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

Amy Evers and her husband atop a rock arch in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

“Our trip to Oman and Jordan October 14th- Nov. 1st, 2023, was extraordinary! Even with the slight unease regarding the war, while in Oman and Jordan, all was well and safe. There did seem to be some extra military presence in Amman but that didn’t interfere with our trip. We are very happy we did not cancel!

Out trip planner, Daniel, did a wonderful job talking through everything with us ahead of time. He was honest about his thoughts about things that are worth it and that aren’t. Some of the highlights of our trip were:

Oman: Eating and drinking dates and Omani coffee with locals, dinner with a local family in Muscat, learning about the culture, talking with a local at the Grand Mosque to learn more about Islam, swimming and exploring Wadi Shaab and Wadi Bani Khalid, dune bashing in Wahiba Sands, the via ferrata course in Jebel Akhdar, biking down the mountains in Jabel Shams, the random barber shop experience for my husband to get his beard trimmed (hilarious and wonderful cultural experience), and the balcony hike in Jebel Shams.

Jordan: Petra during the day/night and the back door hike in, SCUBA diving the wreck in the Red Sea (not organized by Dan), ‘soft’ canyoning in Wadi Al Mujib, floating in the Dead Sea (so unique and funny!), and discussions about current issues with our guide.

I feel very lucky to have experienced this trip, especially in today’s political climate. It is always good to learn more, have more awareness and to become better global citizens. Thank you!” —Amy Evers

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Indonesia: “An exceptionally beautiful country, with interesting history, gorgeous art and relics, and incredible food….”

Chris Kloes

Chris Kloes and her family in East Java, Indonesia, viewing Mount Bromo and its caldera at sunset.

“Our trip to Indonesia vastly exceeded our high expectations! We thought Indonesia was an exceptionally beautiful country, with interesting history, gorgeous art and relics, and incredible food. And the people were unfailingly kind everywhere we went. We are grateful for Diane’s help. She helped shape this trip from the initial concept to the finished itinerary and also deftly managed a curveball along the way. She’s deeply knowledgeable and unflappable, exactly what you want from a travel planner. Highly, highly recommend her!

Our family trip (me, my husband, and my 12-year-old son) was 3 weeks long and had 4 distinct chapters, which flowed very well.

Mt. Bromo
Diane helped us navigate a curveball at a destination we had initially planned to visit after the hotel was hit by lightning and had limited electricity as a result. Diane suggested a couple of alternatives and we decided to change that leg of the trip entirely. We are so glad we did and are so happy we went to Mt. Bromo! The Plataran Bromo was one of the best hotels we’ve stayed at in the world (and we’ve been to fabulous hotels in over 50 countries), both the facility, but especially the exceptional level of service. We met so many kind people there and ate truly delicious food. The staff went over-the-top to help our son, even going as far as to take him horseback riding while we enjoyed a massage. This was definitely our favorite of all of the lovely hotels and places we stayed. Our excursions were also very memorable. I mean, we rode horses across a sea of sand and climbed an active volcano! We especially appreciated the sunset tour of Mt. Bromo and the caldera. We were virtually alone to watch the sunset and had some unparalleled views.

Yogyakarta
Diane connected us to a local guide, Emmanuel, who was amazing. His English was excellent and he had a wealth of interesting info to share with us. We loved the sunrise breakfast at the hotel overlooking Borobudur, and especially appreciated the talk by the local guide who ran the breakfast. That guide had a deep knowledge of Borobudur and shared details about the history and importance of the temple. We also loved visiting the temple — it is truly amazing and so beautiful. We had an excursion and our son really enjoyed learning how to make batik. The people who worked at the batik shop were all very patient and sweet to him as they showed him the multi-step process. Plataran Bromo was again an exceptional property. We lucked into an incredible room, with a private pool overlooking Borobudur. It was incredible to look out as the sun set, the bats dipped in and out of our pool, and the numerous calls to prayer competed in a hypnotic melody. The villa was excellent, with our master bedroom and a comfy large cot in the adjoining room for our son. We enjoyed seeing Yogyakarta, touring the Water Castle and Sultan’s Palace — we took local rickshaws, which was a ton of fun and a great way to see the area.

Gilli Trawangan
Diane helped us with the overview of this island, but we managed most of the details here ourselves, as we had a rental home. We are glad that we stayed at the north end of the island, close to Turtle Beach. It was stunningly beautiful and much quieter than the east side, which is more of a party area. Being able to snorkel at the beach right across from our villa was amazing, and we saw many sea turtles, which was a magical experience.

Lombok
This felt like the most authentic leg of our stay. Diane recommended the gorgeous Hotel Tugu Lombok, which is rich with antiques and local art. We had a magical room, with the private pool overlooking the beach. The location is fairly remote, but we took advantage of the hotel’s bikes to explore the local area. Everyone was so welcoming!! My husband and son took a walk down the beach by the local public beach area, which was cute as they met some local girls who were especially interested in talking with our son. Our local guide was able to help us pivot after we decided we wanted some changes to the planned activities, and we visited a fantastic local market that was only about 1 hour from the Tugu. We also took a cooking class arranged by the hotel, which we all really enjoyed. We cooked local specialties and then ate our creations at a feast of a lunch.

Overall, this was an incredible trip and we highly recommend going to Indonesia and using Diane to help plan your trip!” —Chris Cloes

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Japan: “A cooking class at the home of a chef with an amazing history, visiting a sword maker, and a sake (actually nihonshu) tasting class…”

A traditional onsen ryokan hot spring inn Japanese hotel in the middle of nature.

A traditional onsen ryokan Japanese hotel. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family of 6 (mom, dad, and four 20-something kids) recently got home from a 16-day trip in Japan created by Scott’s colleague Jason. Jason helped us shape a trip that worked well for our family and really took into account our interests and preferences. We started in Tokyo with our guide Narumi, who stayed with us for the whole trip. Our guide met us the first day and suggested we go ‘off itinerary’ for a special local event, the Kanda Myojin Shrine Parade, and we watched hundreds of people from many neighborhoods celebrate and dance with their shrines. We also saw all the major sites and had a few special and memorable experiences: our favorites in and near Tokyo were a cooking class at the home of a chef with an amazing history, visiting a sword maker, and a sake (actually nihonshu) tasting class. For the rest of our trip we had fun finding and ordering sakes of different types.

We next visited Kanazawa to see several UNESCO World Heritage Sites that were beautiful and interesting and stayed in a fantastic onsen ryokan that gave us a taste of hot-spring bathing and provided more of a Japanese feeling than traditional western hotels. In Kyoto, we visited temples—some with amazing views—a bamboo forest, a building housing 1,000 Buddha statues from the 1200s, and some terrific shrines. We had a Taiko drum class—a real hoot for the whole family—and had a moving and relaxing Zen Buddhism experience. We saw many gorgeous meditative gardens where we could have spent hours. Our daughter also found a ‘Pig Café’ (think ‘Cat Café’ but with little pigs) which was…different and fun.

En route to Kyoto, one of our kids left a phone on the train and our guide did a great job of working the (impressive) Japanese systems for finding and reclaiming lost items—far, far different than it would have been in the U.S. And yes, we got it back three days later before leaving the area.

We specifically requested a stop in Hiroshima, which we found particularly moving and profound and such a testament to the evil of nuclear weapons and resilience of the Japanese people. A local specialty, an Okonomiyaki dinner, was a real treat—never had anything like it. Another favorite location was Naoshima, which was completely Jason’s suggestion. We’d never heard of it. We’ve told several friends about ‘the art islands’ since we’ve been back. We could have easily spent an extra day or two, and the art and experience was truly memorable.” —Andy Kaplan

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Indonesia: “As special as Bali is, Flores Island/Komodo National Park (a 1-hour flight from Bali) was the highlight of the trip for our family.”

Komodo National Park is an island's paradise for diving and exploring. The most popular tourist destination in Indonesia, Nusa Tenggara.

Komodo National Park in Nusa Tenggara. Photo: Shutterstock

“Overall our trip to Bali and Komodo was absolutely amazing, and I can’t thank Diane enough for her guidance in planning. As special as Bali is, Flores Island/Komodo National Park (a 1-hour flight from Bali) was the highlight of the trip for our family. The experience of trekking around Rinca and Komodo Islands to see the Komodo dragons was incredible. And very little trekking needed to view them, really—there were several of the giant lizards cruising the pier and beaches when we arrived by speedboat at Komodo! Later on, snorkeling at a beautiful pink sand beach was literally like diving into the world of Finding Nemo, and we also marveled at the giant fruit bats, emerging from their roost in the mangroves at sunset.

Truly magical and I only wished we had allotted more time to explore this beautiful area, which is about to explode with tourism, given the Indonesian government’s plan to promote the region. Several new hotels are under construction—go now while it’s still somewhat quiet!” —Karen Dalton

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

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Japan: “Through the Japanese Alps, through the Kiso Valley and its enchanting post towns and fairytale villages untouched by time…”

A small stream turns a motion blurred wooden water wheel next to beautifully restored stone steps on the historic Nakasendo trail in Magome, Kiso Valley.

Japanese buildings and restored stone steps in Nakasendo trail in Magome, Kiso Valley, Japan. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted a mix of urban and rural life, so Scott made a number of recommendations that would fulfill my desires. Besides vibrant Tokyo and Kyoto, we included a trip through the Japanese Alps, through the Kiso Valley and its enchanting post towns and fairytale villages untouched by time, to the charming towns of Takayama and Kanazawa.

The trip was topped off with a two-day stay in beautiful Hakone. And the WOW Moment! Made even more special by the happy coincidence of Scott being in Kyoto for business. So he was able to join us at the incredible multi-course dinner at the Michelin-star French/Japanese restaurant Motoï, a beautifully atmospheric restaurant with divine food, made extra special by the talented chef visiting us at our table.

This trip exceeded my wildest imagination due in great part to Scott’s magnificent knowledge and love of Japan and our incredible guide, Makiko. I feel so fortunate to have found Scott through Wendy. A truly priceless experience.” —Roseanne Horn

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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Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos: “I flew by helicopter to the even more remote and off-the-radar locations of Preah Vihear and Prasat Banteay Chhmar…”

Jeannie Mullen

Aerial view of temple ruins by helicopter. Photo: Jeannie Mullen

“On a lark, and with spot-on advice and counsel from Wendy about where to go on short notice, I booked a trip to Southeast Asia. Wendy put me in touch with Sandy and Ethan and, just as she said they would, they were able to turn on a dime.

I don’t think I’ve been to that many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in one single trip, ever. Every planning detail, including Fast Track airport service (where available) for arrivals and departures, was taken care of with great care and attention.

Siem Reap, Cambodia—the place around which the entire trip was planned—was phenomenal. Traipsing in and around the temple complexes and experiencing sunrise at Angkor Wat was a major bucket-list item. Major shout-out to Silen, my guide and Ethan’s friend, for her attention to every detail and working our way into and out of the temple complexes in such a way as to avoid other tourists. She was also a master at pacing the day so as to provide relief from the heat and humidity.

Surpassing those experiences was the day that I flew by helicopter to the even more remote and off-the-radar locations of Preah Vihear and Prasat Banteay Chhmar with Po-Thai Khan, a renowned Cambodian archaeologist. Walking these temple complexes with Thai was one of those pinch-me experiences … he was so interesting, engaging and affirming. And the temples were totally without tourists. Something I will never forget. On the way back to Siem Reap, as we skirted a massive thunderstorm, we flew through a full circle rainbow …how did Wendy manage THAT wow moment?

Thank you so much to Sandy and Ethan, and all of their family and friends in Southeast Asia, for turning a spur-of-the-moment trip idea into a reality for this solo wanderer.” —Jeannie Mullen

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

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: “What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite, a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset…”

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard’s grandsons enjoy their private pool at the Al Maha desert resort.

“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.

The trip was a nice mix of history, amazing architecture, and entertainment. The guides and drivers were always early, very professional and top-notch. They readily adjusted our tours (like less shopping time) to cater to our interests. Nicholas was available during the trip for any issues or questions we had. He started working with us to plan the trip 7 months before we traveled and never hesitated to make himself available.

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

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

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Thailand and Cambodia: “A way of life that we couldn’t have imagined…”

Jeff Lonsinger

Floating Market near Bangkok. Photo: Traveler Jeff Lonsinger

“Several friends and I volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. After our week there, we wanted to spend more time traveling on our own, so we called Dan. Our instructions were minimal: A leisurely pace with some hiking and biking, and small, beautifully designed hotels.

Taking it from there, Dan and his experience planner, Bank, put together a perfect itinerary with just the right amount of activity. They suggested three nights in Chiang Rai, three nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the last three nights in Bangkok. In northern Thailand, we hiked through coffee and tea plantations, through rice paddies, and cherry orchards. A highlight was a visit to the Royal Villa and Gardens in Doi Tung. Learning about Mae Fah Luang, the princess mother who developed this area, was fascinating as well.

Next it was on to Siem Reap, where we visited the UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat, along with several other temples. The town itself was a surprise, with upscale hotels and sophisticated restaurants. We really enjoyed our visit to Theam’s Gallery, where Cambodian artist Lim Muy Theam and apprentices are reestablishing Khmer art and culture.

In Bangkok we stayed at a lovely small hotel right on the Chao Phraya River and within walking distance of the royal palace. We loved our morning bike ride through neighborhoods and temples in an area of the city not often frequented by tourists. In the evening we enjoyed a tour of the local food scene, with many opportunities to try unusual fare! Fermented fish, water beetles, and live shrimp, if you are brave enough! Our last morning was spent at a floating market about an hour outside of Bangkok. This was very touristy, but a lot of fun… a way of life that we couldn’t have imagined! That evening we celebrated our wonderful adventure with drinks and dinner on the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. Dan and Bank created the perfect trip.” —Jeff Lonsinger

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

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Cambodia & Vietnam: Angkor Wat at sunrise, street food tours, even sand worm pancakes…

Angkor Wat

David Wertheimer and friends at Angkor Wat in Cambodia during their WOW trip

“Our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam from January 21st to February 6th, was spectacular. We started in Phnom Penh, and traveled from there to Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat temple complex, Saigon, Cu Chi, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay.  Andy‘s team prepared our itinerary and arranged for personal guides at each of our stops. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly, and provided both historical information and personal stories that placed the horrors of the eras of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the U.S. military activities in Vietnam within the context of our visit and our understanding of current life in both nations.

Our guides also provided us with street food tours that allowed us to sample some of the most unusual dishes we’ve ever eaten. (The sand worm pancakes were delicious!)  We had postponed our trip for three years because of COVID, and felt safe and comfortable traveling, especially because the tourist crowds are still minimal. There were multiple “wow,” bucket-list moments, including Angkor Wat at sunrise (get there early!) and Ha Long Bay, to name just two of them.” —David Wertheimer

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

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Mongolia: photo ops of deserts and steppes, adventures in wildlife spotting…

Ger yurt tents at Three Camel Lodge in Gobi Desert of Mongolia at sunrise

Three Camel Lodge in the Gobi Desert. Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

“What a fantastic trip to Mongolia! As so many other people I knew were fighting the crowds in Europe, Mongolia’s beautiful deserts and steppes were wide open for exploration without the jockeying for position. With my wonderful guide and driver, I spent eight days looping through multiple stunning landscapes on the hunt for photos of wild horse (takhi), Argali sheep, and magnificent birds. Between the nights in the ger by Khustain National Park, the relaxed pace of camping near Ikh Nart, and the wonderful luxury of Three Camel Lodge, I had a fabulous trip and was so grateful to be out in nature after a long pandemic. Mongolia is not for the faint of heart! We did a fair amount of driving, since intra-country flights are not quite back to pre-pandemic levels, but the landscapes were breathtaking and the wildlife spotting was an adventure.” —Katie Stiner

Read more reviews of Mongolia 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.

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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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William FIsher

Spring Break: Unusual Ideas for an Amazing Family Trip

You may think that traveling over school holidays means you must tolerate crowds and inflated prices—and that’s true, if you head for a predictable destination like Hawaii or Mexico over spring break. But if you expand your horizons to consider the unexpected, spring can be a brilliant time to travel to places that aren’t in peak season. Our own team follows this advice: We’ve taken our families to Morocco, Namibia, and Southeast Asia during our kids’ spring breaks.

Below you’ll find more firsthand reports of family-friendly trips that were educational, active, and thrilling. These travelers all took advantage of a Trusted Travel Expert’s insider intel and careful planning to make the most of their kids’ limited time away from elementary school, high school, or college. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.

START A SPRING BREAK TRIP


Keeping school-age kids active in Iceland

Iceland waterfall Skogafoss in Icelandic nature landscape. Famous tourist attractions and landmarks destination in Icelandic nature landscape on South Iceland. Aerial drone view of top waterfall. -

Skogafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. Photo: Shutterstock

Chris planned an absolutely wonderful Icelandic trip for our family. He listened when I said we wanted to be active and see as much as we could in our eight days but needed to balance some self-guided days, as well downtime. The result was a trip we will never forget. The relationships Chris has with his outfitters made us feel taken care of, and we had the best time with Andres, who guided us to a river that is warmed by a nearby geyser that he dammed up with rocks and moss so we could have our own private hot tub while he made us lunch.

We will never forget our hike in the Katla Ice Caves in the heart of a glacier, our ATV ride on Black Beach, horseback riding to waterfalls, the glacier lagoon and the cool local restaurants Chris suggested. It almost felt like Chris personally planned the rainbows on our waterfall days! The self-guided days went off without a hitch, thanks to the meticulous details Chris provides. We never got lost, knew exactly where to park, and knew what to avoid and when to leave—even at the most touristy areas. We saw everything we wanted and never once felt rushed.” —Gina Melton

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

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The Philippines: mother/daughter scuba diving trip

Two travelers on a boat about to do a dive.

Andrea Phillips and her daughter on a boat about to do a dive in the Philippines.

“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.

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Meeting a daughter studying in Spain: Andalusia’s countryside, Semana Santa in Seville…

A village with white houses and a church surrounded by mountains.

The White Villages of the Genal Valley in Malaga, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family had a wonderful 17-day trip to Spain planned by Iván. During the planning phase Iván listened closely to my goals for the trip and provided a number of relevant activities that would suit us. Perhaps the most memorable experience we had was a hike between two mountain villages in the Genal Valley. We walked along a path used by local villagers to tend their vegetable gardens and olive groves and ended at the home of a charismatic local chef where we enjoyed a lunch that might have been the best meal on our trip. It was gorgeous scenery and we didn’t encounter a single other tourist.

Another highlight was viewing Seville’s legendary Semana Santa processions from a private balcony. When rain caused delays we enjoyed drinking wine and practicing our Spanish with our gracious hosts. If you are considering a trip to Spain, and especially to Andalusia, you can’t go wrong with Iván. I hope to have reason to use his services again soon.” —Melissa Pollack

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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Oman with teens: “Varied landscapes, warm/friendly people, interesting culture and very few Americans”

Tracy Reller's daughter with a local little boy during the meal in Oman.

Tracy Reller’s daughter poses with a little boy during dinner in his family’s home.

“Our family (with two 17-year-olds) spent an amazing spring break in Oman! It offers varied landscapes, warm/friendly people, interesting culture and very few Americans. Dan did a great job planning a family trip that included a bit of everything Oman offers. We explored the capital of Muscat, visited mosques/forts/small towns/abandoned towns, snorkeled with turtles, dined with a local family, spent a night at a tent camp in the desert and hiked in wadis and mountains.

Our guide, Fahad, was superb and really added to our trip. We spent a good amount of time driving around the northern part of the country and had many interesting conversations about religion, daily life, challenges of our respective countries, history of Oman and Sultan Qaboos. This is the main reason we use Wendy Perrin and the travel specialists. You get built-in access to locals and closer to the local culture and way of life. Fahad was fine with our eating and drinking in the car despite his fasting during Ramadan and even stopped at grocery stores for us to get mid-day snacks, allowing us to eat despite many restaurants being closed during the day.

Our dinner with a local Omani family gave us a peek into their home life, such as seeing typical sibling interactions, eating on the floor and our teenagers engaging their 4-year-old boy in an amusing game of indoor soccer. We felt very fortunate to be able to share Iftar (fast-breaking evening meal of Muslims during Ramadan) while learning about Ramadan, Omani education, family sizes and new foods.” —Tracy Reller

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Umbria and Rome: truffle hunting, soccer game, kid-friendly Vatican tour…

The ceiling of Sistine Chapel painted in fresco, Vatican, Rome.

The ceiling of Sistine Chapel in Vatican, Rome. Photo: Shutterstock

“I cannot say enough good things about our recent trip to Italy planned by Maria. I traveled with my husband and 9-year-old son to Umbria and Rome during our school spring break.

When Maria recommended making restaurant reservations in the weeks before our trip, I was too overwhelmed to even begin to choose, so I asked her if she could just book for us. We had wonderful meals every night (not a tourist trap in sight), and not having to stress about where to go was priceless.

Also notable was that a number of our (amazing!) guides mentioned that they typically have their own businesses, etc., and they currently will only do tours for Maria—a true testament to her relationships in the area.

We started off with five days in Umbria based out of Montefalco at the Palazzo Bontadosi. We all fell in love with this intimate hotel right on the piazza. It was quiet (but not too quiet), intimate (but not awkwardly so), and we often felt like the only ones there, while still having attentive service whenever we needed it. This was the perfect jumping-off point for daily excursions to the nearby towns of Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto, Spello and Orvieto.

Standout moments were: (1) A truffle hunt in the hills above Spoleto. We loved getting to hike through the hills of this beautiful farm, trailing behind the truffle dogs. After the hike, we sat down to lunch with the farmers and enjoyed an incredible 6-course meal with food from their farm and local area. (2) A wine tasting and meal at an enoteca in Spello. One of those absolutely perfect evenings (which happened to be my husband’s birthday). We had the place to ourselves, dined outside, a perfect temperature…and a truly incredible menu that paired perfectly with the wine poured for us by a master sommelier and his sommelier son. Unforgettable.

We then moved on to Rome, where we stayed at another lovely hotel, away from the crush of tourists, but just minutes away from the action. We were worried about how our son would handle the Vatican tour, but thank gosh we kept it on the itinerary because the guide was AMAZING. She was so passionate and turned the whole experience into a game to keep him engaged, giving him things to seek out and assigning points when he succeeded. Maria was also able to get us (very hard to come by) soccer tickets for the Rome vs. Lazio derby. We also had an AMAZING walking food tour with the loveliest guide (yet another expert who only does tours for Maria).” —Kathryn Blaze

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Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman: city, desert and beach with a teen

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

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

Justin planned an amazing spring break week for our family of three. We spent four nights in Dubai and three nights at a beach resort in Oman. There are so many areas to stay in Dubai, but he suggested staying downtown (at the Armani Hotel) because he thought our teenage daughter would like being in close proximity to the Dubai Mall, and he was right!

Justin arranged a private yacht cruise around the harbor, which was amazing, as we got to see so much of the city from the water (vs. sitting in traffic to drive around and see everything). The next day we went on a luxury desert excursion. Having been to the Sahara in Morocco, we were skeptical about doing something so similar, and Justin was confident that it would be a completely different experience than we had in Morocco and again, he was correct! We loved it, definitely one of the highlights of our trip!

We also did a day trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai, which was great! While we could have stayed by the beach here for a few days, Justin instead suggested we take the two-hour drive to the Six Senses resort at Zighy Bay in Oman. Once again, Justin was right! We have traveled a lot all over the world, and this was one of the most special and amazing resorts in the most gorgeous setting that we have ever been to. The resort offers incredible activities such as paragliding, which I would highly recommend—an unforgettable and bucket list experience!

But the biggest thing that Justin helped with was jumping into action when our international flight from the States got canceled at the last minute and we couldn’t get onto another flight for 48 hours. Justin communicated with me over a holiday weekend and at all hours of the night so that we could get everything pushed back by two days on our itinerary, and in the end it was seamless and everything worked out perfectly! A lot of people have asked if we felt safe being in the Middle East and I can say, without hesitation, that we felt 100% safe 100% of the time.” —Lauren Schor

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Malta with grandparents, children, and grandchildren ages 16 to 10

William Fisher

The Fisher Family enjoying a picnic lunch in Malta during their spring break trip.

“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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Poland with teens: WWII history, ancestral roots, gingerbread…

Beautiful Krakow market square, Poland, Europe.

Krakow market square in Poland. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our family of four (two boys, 17 and 15) did two weeks from Gdansk to Torun to Warsaw to Krakow. Gwen suggested Torun, a medieval city known for its gingerbread—which we loved and highly recommend. She also encouraged the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, and we are so happy she did—it was one of our favorites. In Warsaw a must-see is the museum POLIN (Jews in Poland). It is hands-down one of the best history museums we have ever visited and a can’t-miss in Warsaw. Gwen arranged a gingerbread-making class in Torun and a pierogi-making class in Krakow—these were both incredibly unique and memorable.

The most special part of our trip was Gwen arranging a driver and guide to take us to the small village two hours east of Krakow to the cemetery where my great-great grandparents were buried—and all we had to go on was an old print with a few sentences of my great-grandfather’s handwriting on the back.

Gwen’s guides made all the difference: At the Solidarity Museum in Gdansk, our guide Kasha shared how she remembered the day martial law was imposed because her son had an earache that day and she had to go out and get medicine—you can’t get that from a wall placard! And at the Schindler Museum in Krakow, Marta was able to navigate us through the throngs (like hundreds!) of people at the entrance. Similarly, at Auschwitz, our guide was able to get us quickly through the crowds and confusion.” —Julie Heimark

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Costa Rica with elementary, high school & college-age kids

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

White-Headed Capuchin monkey in Manuel Antonio, the rainforest of 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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Belize with 6 people ranging in age from 17 to 60: “an unforgettable experience for the whole family”

Xunantunich Mayan ruins in Belize

Xunantunich Mayan ruins. Photo: Absolute Belize

“We travel a lot but generally to the beaten-track destinations, so Belize was a bit exciting and scary when we were planning! But with Patricia’s help it was an amazing trip that was an unforgettable experience for the whole family—everyone (6 people ranging in age from 17 to 60) loved it (which is rare) and Patricia’s help was just invaluable—so thank you!

In Ambergris Cay we stayed at the Alaia—loved this resort and our villa! Obviously the seaweed situation now is unfortunate, but nothing anyone can do and it affects many Caribbean and Mexican destinations. Loved our snorkeling trip—the reef here is amazing!

Then we moved on to the jungle and Ka-Ana resort—the rooms were very nice and the people were lovely and the special birthday dinner they put together for two members of our party who had a birthday while there was just amazing! This was our favorite part of the trip. All of the activities with Darryl of Unbelizable Adventures were amazing and we all loved Darryl as a guide—just the right balance for us of adventure and caution, of educating us but not droning on or being boring! The Caracol and Xunantunich Mayan ruin tours were amazing (lots of monkeys and wildlife too!), but the pontoon boat trip was an amazing highlight—I don’t think the description in the brochure does it justice! We all had the most amazing day.

Finally we stayed in Placencia at Itzana—loved the resort and the villa and the location. Adored the snorkeling trip to that amazing small island (bird something?); such a fun day in the Caribbean. We enjoyed the spice-farm and chocolate-farm tours as well as a Mayan cooking and drumming demonstration. We also all loved the boat tour of the bioluminescent lagoon and are very glad we added it!

All the flights and arrangements went very smoothly and we had a great trip and loved Belize!”—Regina Olshan

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Galapagos: small-boat cruise with a kid-friendly crew

photo of Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island

Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family of four (two parents, 10yr old, 12yr old) took a one-week Galapagos cruise aboard the Elite. Allie planned the trip. EVERY aspect of the journey was incredible, and none of us wanted to leave.

We plan 90% of our travel on our own, but with a trip like this, which we thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we wanted to be 100% sure we got it right. We are so happy Wendy linked us up with Allie. Allie was essential to helping us sort through the blizzard of options (land-based or boat-based? which of a hundred boats? large or small? monohull or cat? four-day or longer? etc.). She helped us make it perfect. So perfect that maybe it won’t be once-in-a-lifetime.

With Allie’s guidance we chose a small boat (the Elite has a 16-person max). Small boats can be rocky, so she steered us toward a catamaran for more stability, to minimize the risk of seasickness. The water was generally smooth, but on one or two nights with bigger waves, we were very happy to have two hulls, especially while watching how tippy the monohulls were. We didn’t really think about it beforehand, but being aboard a catamaran allowed for a wider beam and more spacious rooms on board.

The reason to go to the Galapagos is the geological and natural history, so I’ll start there. We saw blue-footed boobies, courting frigate birds, gulls, Galapagos hawks (hunting and eating marine iguanas!) and more. We encountered a number of Galapagos tortoises in the wild. In the water, on numerous snorkeling activities, we saw more types of reef fish than I could name, from little gobis and half-inch baby puffers up to tuna. Small sharks skimmed the bottom, oblivious of us. Penguins flashed by, within a few feet, as they hunted, and we actually saw them catching fish. We never sought out sea lions because as soon as we hit the water, they found us, swimming within inches of us in circles and loops, trying to get us to play with them. Pods of sea turtles munched on algae as we floated above, swimming so close to us at times that we actually had to struggle to swim away in order not to contact or disturb them. It was simply mind-boggling how many amazing animals we saw up close.

My 12yr old was captivated by being on a boat and got to know Marcello, the captain, and Rey, the first mate. They let him take the wheel a few times. Both were great with the kids aboard. On the zodiac boats that took us from the Elite to the shore, the guys who drove those boats also let our kids take the helm a couple times. The whole crew was super friendly and seemed committed to sharing their beautiful islands and making sure everyone left having had an extraordinary experience. They all had their specific jobs which they took seriously (it was a boat, after all, so it’s all serious at some point), but when they had time, they stepped outside their appointed roles to help guests or to point out interesting things. For example, one of the crew, Francis, snorkeled whenever he could and did a great job enhancing our experience, pointing out hard-to-spot creatures like sea cucumbers or rays camouflaged on the ocean bottom.

One unexpected aspect of the trip was the beauty of the islands. Had we never stepped ashore, the trip would have been memorable just for the gorgeous islands, striking sunsets, impressive vistas, and stunning beaches. I genuinely cannot think of anything that could be improved upon. We badly want to go again, bringing aunts, uncles, and cousins to share this exceptional experience.” —John Strachan

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Southern Spain with daughters in college: food tours, an equestrian show, a Real Madrid Femeninos soccer match…

Aerial evening view of New Bridge over Guadalevin River in Ronda, Andalusia, Spain.

Aerial evening view of New Bridge over the Guadalevin River in Ronda, Andalusia. Photo: Shutterstock

“For the first of two weeks in Spain arranged by Pablo, my wife and my daughter who is about to graduate from college hit Seville, Cordoba, Jerez de la Frontera, Ronda, and Granada. It would be hard to pick a favorite, but the highlights were the bull ring and views in Ronda, the equestrian show and mini food tour in Jerez, the old town in Seville, and the Alhambra in Granada. The hotels were just what we asked Pablo for: small, boutique hotels with charm to spare.

Our second week saw us dropping our oldest at the airport and meeting our youngest, who is studying in Madrid for the spring. The highlight was being able to work with Pablo’s guide Alfonso, who took us through the Prado and through Toledo, El Escorial, and Segovia. Alfonso set us up with reservations at incredible restaurants for lunch in both Toledo and Segovia.

In Madrid we stayed at the Totem Hotel, which was absolutely fabulous. A sneaky favorite for us in Madrid was an unplanned visit to Alfredo di Stéfano stadium to see the Real Madrid Femeninos play a match. Another was an impromptu visit to an Arab bath in the lower part of a privately owned building in Toledo. This was only possible because of Alfonso’s incredible connections. Pablo and his team were great to work with, extremely accommodating, very well connected, and really delivered on what we asked for and more.” —Neil Theberge

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London and Oxford with teens: “Our best family vacation by far”

Wynne Wages

Wynne Wages and family at Windsor Castle.

“This was our best family vacation by far. My “royalist” daughter was in literal tears when we walked up to Buckingham Palace…and her enthusiasm didn’t wane throughout the entire trip. Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London…so many places were thrilling for her (and for all of us!). When Tanner wanted to go by the Lindo Wing steps, our London guide, Mark, made the time…and made her day! Trey was enthralled with the behind-the-scenes tour of the Churchill War Rooms. We all were, actually.

In Oxford, our guide Elizabeth had such grace, knowledge, and love for Oxford. Not only do I want to be her best friend, but I want to be in her book club! Stratford-Upon-Avon was great; unfortunately, Anne Hathaway’s cottage was closed, so we missed going there. But we added a stop to Holy Trinity Church and Shakespeare’s grave, so that eased the pain! Both hotels—the Chesterfield Mayfair in London and the Old Bank in Oxford—were lovely, with perfect locations. Jennifer listened to our desires, planned a wonderful trip which checked all of the boxes for our various family members, and was incredibly patient and kind throughout the entire process.” —Wynne Wages

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Egypt: temples & museums for 8- and 9-year-olds

Part of the Mortuary temple of the Queen Hatshepsut (Dayr el-Bahari or Dayr el-Bahri), Western Bank of the Nile

Hatshepsut temple, Egypt. Photo: Shutterstock

“For spring break this year in early April, my husband and I took our 8- and 9-year old children to Cairo, Aswan, Abu Simbel — and then did a spectacular Nile cruise for a few days on a small dahabiya, ending in Luxor. Thanks to Jim‘s great team (and Arlene’s endless patience!) we were able to have the bucket-list family vacation of my dreams! We were taken care of every step of the way, met by kind guides and cool cars that helped up beat the heat while seeing loads of spectacular sites efficiently.

In Cairo, Max met us at the airport and sped us through security — he was a consummate gentleman. Iman, our guide, was deeply knowledgeable, and her ability to stay one step ahead of the crowds really made the difference when we visited the pyramids and Sphinx — where we had the Sphinx all to ourselves, silent in the morning! When our children faded early on our first day (a combination of much walking and the heat), Iman transitioned smoothly into dropping us off so the kids could rest. It was such a treat to be able to visit the Grand Egyptian Museum before it officially opened to the public — even though all of the spaces weren’t open to viewing, it was a tantalizing peek at a world-class institution.

We were grateful to have Max’s assistance navigating the Cairo airport for our domestic flight to Aswan — and when we arrived in Aswan, to stay at the Old Cataract was mind-blowing. We were in the newer tower of the hotel — it was slightly suboptimal to not have adjoining rooms, but they were on the same floor at least. The Philae temple and the quarry were astonishing. Our day trip down to Abu Simbel was a memory we will all cherish as well — the engineering feat that the Egyptian government & UNESCO accomplished by moving the temples to higher ground was truly an astonishing feat.

Our Nile cruise on a five-cabin dahabiya was beautiful and calm, and a lovely respite. I worried about bugs, but we didn’t have any problems, and the food was delicious — every meal was delicious! Our favorite temple was the Temple of Horus at Edfu; the Egyptologist on the boat was terrific and really picked up on our kids’ favorite gods and made a point of highlighting them when we’d tour sites, which really brought the temples to life for them.

We disembarked at Luxor and went straight to the temple there — the hypostyle hall full of columns is astonishing. From there, we went to the Valley of the Kings, where our guide recommended a set of tombs to visit. It was hottest in Luxor — fortunately the Al Moudira was a luxurious oasis!

After flying back to Cairo, we had an unexpected last day to fill due to an evening flight — so Max’s team stepped in and got us tickets to the mummies at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization and King Tut at the Egyptian Museum.

We were a little trepidatious because it was Ramadan — but we had no problems finding food, nor were we ever in an uncomfortable position eating in front of our guides. We felt safe the whole time, and are eternally grateful for everyone’s kindness!”—Nicole Neily

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Ireland with teens: “perfect mix of sightseeing, adventure, and downtime”

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

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Portugal with teens: unique family-friendly experiences

Lisbon, Portugal skyline with Sao Jorge Castle

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Gonçalo arranged a two-week tour of Portugal for our family of four over spring break 2022. We spent six days in Lisbon, five days exploring the hilltop Templar castelos of Central Portugal, and then three nights in the Azores. Gonçalo and his team were very responsive and provided great support, and his hotel recommendations were spot on. We loved Hotel Bairro Alto in Lisbon—luxurious, great balcony for drinks and dining, fantastic location. And São Lourenço do Barrocal in the Alentejo is now up there with one of my favorites in the world—think a Portuguese Meadowood.  Just an exquisite property, and I’m already dreaming of a return trip there.

Gonçalo planned many unique experiences for us—a graffiti workshop, dinner in a Portuguese home (the best food we ate the entire trip), rail biking outside Mervão (my 16-year-old’s favorite), stargazing in Dark Sky Alqueva (my 14-year-old’s favorite), and guided hiking in the Azores.

For me, the highlight of the trip was a picnic lunch in a nature reserve outside Sintra after braving the hordes at Pena Palace. We spent the most delightful two hours in a sunny, flower-filled meadow sipping vinho verde, enjoying delicious homemade food, and laughing and talking with Lara (the chef and foodie tour guide) and Tiago F. (our walking guide and one of the smartest and most entertaining guys we’ve met), discussing everything from the Oscars to Queirós. I felt like I was experiencing the best of authentic Portugal and its people.” —Julie Heimark

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Northern Italy with teens: private fashion, food, and Ferrari experiences

Pool view looking over the lake and mountains in Villa Balbiano, Lake Como, Italy.

Villa Balbiano, Lake Como, Italy. Photo: IC Bellagio

“For our trip to northern Italy in late March with our teen daughters (14 and 17), Andrea added value by arranging experiences that we would not have known about. First was a private experience with a couture fashion designer in her studio: We learned all about the couture and ready-to-wear markets, along with a crash course on fabrics, materials, etc….We even got to see seamstresses working on one-of-a-kind dresses.

On Lake Como we had an all-day private boat tour, and en route to Bologna we stopped at the Ferrari Museum for a private VIP tour. It was very interesting….even for non-car people! In Bologna a chef/guide met us at the hotel to walk us through the old food markets of Bologna. He taught us all about the local foods while we shopped for ingredients for our private cooking class that afternoon. The chef was entertaining and informative. Most importantly, we made the most amazing homemade pastas and sauces!

Next came Italy’s Piedmont region, best known for wine and truffles. Andrea’s group had recommended a hotel that opened last year called Casa di Langa, located in the hills outside of Alba. This hotel was amazing, and the views from our room were stunning. The Piedmont region is completely underrated!!!  It has the beauty of Tuscany without the crowds. My husband is an avid wine collector and had requested a tour of the Gaia winery in a local village. Gaia is not open to the public for tours, but Andrea used her connections to set up a private tour and tasting for us that was definitely a highlight for my husband!

On our last day, we were taken to a private home of two brothers who truffle hunt. After a truffle tutorial, we made our way up into the hills with our truffle hunting dog. It was so exciting to actually find truffles in the ground! We proceeded back to the house for an amazing selection of local cheese, salami and olive oil…..with a generous portion of truffles slices on top! Back in Alba, we wandered the narrow streets filled with locals. Northern Italy was a special area that we can’t wait to go back to!!” —Jennifer Mann

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Egypt, Jordan, Israel: Middle East adventures with teens

Travelers posing in front of one of Giza pyramids

With the right strategy, you too can see the Pyramids without crowds marring your view. Photo: Traveler Beth Nury

“Arlene meticulously planned a 17-day adventure for our family of four that began in Egypt. Egypt continues to be an international tourist hot spot, and since we started planning a bit late, few accommodations were available. However, she was able to use her contacts for stays at the Four Seasons/Cairo, where we took advantage of the strong USD and had two five-star dinners at one of its six restaurants, Riviera. Arlene took a calculated risk and recommended the Sonesta Sun Goddess Nile cruise ship, a recently refurbished ship. Her insight paid off — the ship was great! As we sailed down the Nile over four days, we happened to see that our ship was one of the only that had an outdoor balcony, which my husband and I used regularly. The staff was attentive and friendly and there was a good variety of food. Once back on land in Cairo, we really enjoyed our WOW Moment, a VIP/behind-the-scenes tour of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), not yet open to the public. Very few crowds. We then drove over to Giza, where our guide, Remunda, cleverly started our pyramid/sphinx tour backwards, avoiding long lines. Our photos were incredible! They look like we had a private tour of Giza since there are very few tourists in the background.

One of our favorite memories was the food tour in Cairo. Our tour guide, Amina, did a great job and took us to some authentic neighborhood spots that locals frequent, like a juice bar that used over 10 fruits indigenous to Egypt. Kudos to her for finding restaurants that were open early (prior to 8:00), during Ramadan!

Following Egypt, we moved on to Jordan for three nights. We specifically requested a stop in Amman so our 18-year-old daughter, who lived there in July 2022 while learning Arabic, could show us her neighborhood and school. We capped our Jordan adventure with a two-day visit to Petra. Petra is worth the hype and has definitely earned its Wonder of the World status. The archaeological park is over 2,500 acres and provides plenty of space and freedom to walk and explore the numerous rock-cut architectural masterpieces.

We finished our Middle East adventure by staying four nights in Israel. We toured Old City Jerusalem by entering through the Jaffa Gate and meandering through the four quarters to see the mix of architecture and learn more about how religious groups lived harmoniously despite different beliefs.

We will never forget the tour of the West Bank. Our tour guide, Daphna, drove us to an area very close to the Israeli military checkpoint where we nervously waited for her friend Iesaa. When he arrived, we quickly hopped into his car and drove away. Iessa gave us an inside tour of the West Bank, highlighted by a tour of Bethlehem/Church of the Nativity. While stuck in traffic, he pointed out some Bansky graffiti and drove us through a refugee camp. He explained the politics, his perspective on the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict and his hope for the future.

Other trip highlights that we would recommend for any future Middle East travel include: day trip to Abu Simbel, Valley of the Kings and a caleche ride to see the Temple of Horus at Edfu.”—Beth Nury

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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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: city sights and desert adventures with 6- and 7-year-olds

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is 2,722 feet tall, making it the tallest building in the world—for now. Photo: BS1920/Pixabay

“We had a wonderful time during our trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi that was planned by Justin. The trip was very professionally arranged, from picking us up at the airport to all activities and transportation. We stayed at Jumeirah Beach hotel, which has beautiful views of the ocean and you can see the Burj Al Arab from it as well. Over the next few days we had our personal guide, who gave us a comprehensive tour of Dubai. We learnt about the city’s Bedouin heritage, bold architecture, Emirati culture, politics/sheiks. We got to see all the major attractions, the gold souk, Atlantis, and of course the Burj Khalifa. The guide had our tickets ready for us, which was nice. It took us 60 seconds in the lift to get to the top of the world’s tallest building. The views from there were spectacular. Once you exit the Burj Khalifa you end up in Dubai Mall (one of the world’s largest shopping malls), so we ended up walking around the mall and ate at the food court. Our kids had to try the McArabia from McDonald’s, which they thought was pretty good.

After a few days in Dubai we went to the desert. The highlight of our trip was the desert/Qasr Al Sarab Resort. It was a magical place, absolutely breathtaking. The desert sand is so soft, fine and has multicolored hues of khaki and orange. We all enjoyed rolling around in the sand dunes, and seeing the magical sunsets. Getting from Dubai to Qasr Al Sarab was flawlessly planned. We had our own private driver who was flexible in case we needed to make stops, as we were traveling with two kids (ages 6 & 7). Arriving there felt like arriving at an Arabian palace, the kind you see in Aladdin. They greeted us with some dates and a yogurt drink which was cooling in the hot weather. The breakfast was amazing, a lavish buffet having a mix of local delights. We enjoyed the dates, local jams, omelettes, and fresh juices. All the excursions were prefectly organized. We went on a camel trek, which was a great experience and felt like something out of a movie. In the evenings we got a chance to have some fine Arabic cuisine set in a beautiful ambiance amidst the desert lit up by lanterns, fire pits and the stars above. Certainly a dream. We dined amidst the desert dunes, a Bedouin set-up of plush carpets and cushions serving lamb, cherry rice, variety of dips/hummus, and breads. Another highlight of our trip was dune bashing. My oldest son loved it and said he would do it again, while my youngest said it was terrible. I would say it was exhilarating, however not for everyone. I would recommend not eating an hour before doing it.

Our next stop was Abu Dhabi. It was a quick two-hour drive from the desert. We only spent a day in Abu Dhabi, and then went back to Dubai. Abu Dhabi’s highlight was the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. We were greeted by our tour guide, who was well prepared. She had an extra head scarf for my wife, as the dress code is very strictly enforced. She was a wealth of information and was able to get us into the mosque the most efficient way. The architecture and design of the mosque is something quite special. It has intricate designs of flowers and geometric designs carved on the walls and exquisite carpets and chandeliers inside. After the mosque our guide gave us a tour of Abu Dhabi. We requested to go to some local markets, as we needed to get some souvenirs. She took us to a quaint market where they had camel key chains, local embroidered pillowcases, Aladdin lamps which my kids loved. Overall we really enjoyed our visit to the UAE. The tour guides, hotels, and recommended sightseeing spots were on point and made everything super-easy and stress-free.”—Adi Derasari

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.

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Colombia: cities, coastline, coffee country…

Cartagena de Indias/Colombia, 06/05/2020: The vintage colonials facades of San Diego neighborhood in the heart of walled city

The San Diego neighborhood is lined with colorful facades. Photo: Shutterstock

Boris and his team were absolutely invaluable in helping us have an unforgettable family trip. We hired them for their pre-trip planning expertise, but what was unexpectedly amazing was being able to truly enjoy our time and not spend part of each day debating what to do, see or eat. This is a huge bonus, especially with a multi-generational family group full of opinionated people. Having a great plan in place allowed us all to actually relax and enjoy our family time pretty much from Day One.

Our tours were amazing, especially the music and art tours in Bogota and Palenque (so beautiful and culturally rich)! Cartagena is incredibly special; we enjoyed soaking it all in. The coffee region was so different—lush, green and peaceful. We adored Casa Medina and Hacienda Bambusa — gorgeous, high-quality, unique hotels with superb staff. If we had it to do over again, we probably shouldn’t have arranged quite so much activity, so that we could have relaxed at our wonderful hotels a bit more.” —Erin Texeira

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

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Israel, Jordan, Egypt: 2 weeks with a family of 8

Petra Jordan

Petra, Jordan. Photo: ChiemSeherin/Pixabay

“We recently travelled to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt with extended family on a trip planned by Dan. It was an amazing trip, and he made all our requests happen despite Passover, Ramadan, and Easter all taking place during our travel. With great planning, we were able to see all the major sites and packed many interesting experiences into our two weeks. Having a private guide and driver took the stress out of managing travel during our family vacation and created an experience where we were able to do and see a lot more than a typical tour. Our guides were truly experts in each region and connected us with friendly locals and great restaurants.

With the situation changing in Israel shortly before our trip, Dan was in contact with the local guides right up to our departure, and proposed alternative locations and timing to ensure we did not experience any disruption. Dan and our guides made sure every border crossing was smooth, airport transfers were easy, and had people waiting for us in each location to ensure we never had to worry.

Highlights of our trip included traveling from Tel Aviv to the Sea of Galilee (Cesarea, Akko, Haifa, Tiberias), time exploring Jerusalem, and time in Bethlehem. We visited Amman and Jerash, stayed in Bubble tents in Wadi Rum, and experienced the wonder of Petra. Finally, we travelled to Egypt where we visited the Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara, and visited Islamic and Coptic Cairo. Our guides timed each experience so that we missed the crowds, and used their expertise to bring each site to life. I highly recommend working with Dan and his office.”—Amy Johnston

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

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Ireland with three teens in late February, with a magical driver/guide

Slea Head, Drive Dingle, Ireland. Photo courtesy Jonathon Epstein

Slea Head, Drive Dingle, Ireland. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

“With three and a half weeks’ notice, Jonathan planned a fabulous 10-day trip to Ireland for our family of two adults and three teens. We stayed two nights in Dublin, and then our fabulous guide, Brendan, picked us up and spent the next eight days driving us around. We spent three nights in Galway and three in Cork. During the days, we explored the countryside and visited both historic landmarks and out-of-the-way finds. Along the way, Brendan charmed us with his unending knowledge of historical facts, local stories, jokes, and quick wit. As Jonathan had predicted, Brendan is now on our Christmas card list!

Each family member loved learning about the rich history and culture of Ireland. Our kids, aged 20, 18, and 14, were the perfect ages for this trip, as there was so much to learn but also a lot of time in the car to see the far-flung rural sites. We were fortunate to attend a Gaelic football game where Brendan, a former player, could explain all the rules. The kids are very into sports, so this was a definite highlight. In all, the itinerary was a perfect mix for all our interests, and the right amount of moving from one hotel to another.

We were aware how much work Jonathan and Brendan did to make sure we were treated as VIPs everywhere we went. Our schedule frequently changed on the fly, due to weather or our wish to stay longer to learn more about a particular place, and Brendan was able to arrange upcoming situations to fit, every time. He could always call ahead to the perfect restaurant to get us right in, and he knew people everywhere we went to pave our way. We received the royal treatment wherever we went, and problems we faced were quickly arranged away.

Each of us are experienced travelers, but we would not have been able to do the volume of planning required to make this trip happen so well and so quickly, or to sit back, relax, and experience all the joys of Ireland while trying to manage the myriad logistics on our own.” —Jarvis Weld

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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Oman: local interactions & desert adventures with a 7-year-old

Delicious dishes of traditional omani food served on carpet in traditional restaurant, Oman.

Traditional Omani dishes. Photo: Shutterstock

“We can’t say enough good things about the two-week Oman trip Dan and his team planned for us over spring break. Dan was responsive and thoughtful, putting together a trip that balanced immersion in a completely different culture with enough outdoor adventure for us while not daunting our 7-year-old. From bustling Muscat with an incredible home-stay dinner where our kid spent the night playing and laughing with our hosts’ children, to being way off the grid climbing sand dunes for a technicolor sunset in the desert, and walking through ancient villages in the mountains, it was an unforgettable adventure.

Our guides on the ground were flawless: knowledgeable, kind, and adaptable, with real substantive contacts and knowledge. They set up coffee and dates with a Bedouin family, showed our kiddo how to pet and meet camels, and adjusted plans seamlessly when a sandstorm blew up. Our WOW Moment from Wendy was a special surprise: a glorious five-course dinner under the stars looking over an enormous mountainside canyon. It was an amazing trip and wouldn’t have happened without Dan.” —Katherine Sanders

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

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Spain: Madrid and Andalusia during a semester abroad

The Cathedral in Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz Province

The Cathedral in Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz Province, Andalusia. Photo: Shutterstock

Virginia planned and executed the perfect family trip to Spain at the end of March to visit my son, who was studying for the semester in Madrid. She balanced the itinerary between spending time with my son in Madrid, to see his life there, and traveling throughout Andalusia.

She coordinated a private lunch at a castle with the owner, to learn about the history of the castle and the family that has owned it for generations. Our planned fishing trip in Marbella was cancelled because of the weather, and she adjusted the itinerary so that we could spend more time in Granada to see the Cathedral and tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella. All of the transportation between cities was seamless and the drivers were all professional.” —Amy Goldberg

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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Belize: beach & jungle with teens

Footbridge over river in tranquil forest in Belize

Footbridge over river in tranquil forest in Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

Patricia crafted a wonderful itinerary for our family of four. She did a great job helping me think through how to spend our week in Belize, and explaining the options for activities and accommodation in various parts of the country. We spent 3 nights in the Cayó district in the west (Mayan sites, caving, canoeing) and 4 nights in Placencia on the beach. Her recommendations were spot-on and the tours/activities she organized were great.

Only regret: I wish we had opted for more activity on some days—there was a lot of sitting during driving, canoeing, small-boat fishing—but it felt important when booking to keep things unstructured. Patricia asked all the right questions along the way. We had a fantastic time!” —Sarah Wigglesworth

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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Mexico: mother/daughter trip in nature

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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England: London, the Cotswolds, posh hotels, Harry Potter…

England, Cotswolds, Hidcote gardens. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds, England. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

“We traveled to London and the Cotswolds in March. Jonathan and his team helped pick the perfect hotels for us: in London, The Goring, and in the Cotswolds, Lucknam Park. Our transfers and all of the details that can be very tedious and annoying were all seamless and we didn’t have any kind of logistical stress during our whole trip.

The tours they chose for us were perfect, and we got guides that were great for our family. We especially loved the Mini Cooper Harry Potter tour, and our tour of Oxford and the Cotswolds. Jonathan helped us organize our days so that each day was special but not overwhelmingly busy. T

he Goring was so charming and English: the bar, breakfast service, and afternoon tea were great, the rooms were beautiful, and the location is great too.  In the Cotswolds, Lucknam Park is a beautiful, expansive property. My daughter loves horses, and my son loves being in nature, so it was a great change of pace from London and a relaxing way to end our trip.

This is our second time using Wendy Perrin and it certainly won’t be our last. Before, we always figured with the internet you really don’t need a travel agent. But we have learned that the value-add makes it well worth it. The headaches are removed, the itinerary is thoughtfully organized, and you have access to special experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have.” —Jessica and Steve Martin

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

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Morocco with three kids, ages 3, 7, and 9

Camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco. Photo: Tim Baker

“Just got back from spring break in Morocco with my three kids (ages 3, 7, and 9).  We never could have planned an experience as wonderful as what Hicham and Radia planned for us.  We rode camels, went ATVing along the ocean, and my girls love couscous. We loved our private local guide, chosen for us by Hicham and Radia. He has three kids himself and was empathetic to the occasional chaos.

My snake-loving daughter loved the cobras and snakes she was able to hold. My 7-year-old got a fever and cough and our guide helped us find medicine for her. Honestly, it is always an adventure to travel, but with three kids we have to be able to pivot, and pause. Everyone was so helpful and kind. The Four Seasons was perfect for kids. The beach was beautiful. We feel so lucky to have been on this trip!” —Mary Ko

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

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Portugal with teens: culture, cooking classes, Coasteering…

Pessegueiro Island (or Ilha do Pessegueiro) on the Vincentina Coast, Algarve, Portugal

Pessegueiro Island (or Ilha do Pessegueiro) on the Vincentina Coast, Algarve, Portugal. Photo: Goncalo Correia

“We had a fantastic time in Portugal, in spite of rain throughout the 10-day trip and a once-every-20-year sandstorm that blanketed the country for three days.

Our trip began in Porto, where we stayed in a beautiful hotel within walking distance to shops and good food. We had an amazing cooking class at an estate outside the city that had been in the owner’s family for 18 generations. Next we spent time in the Algarve, where Gonçalo booked us at a wonderful resort on the beach and we spent the afternoons exploring nearby towns.

We spent the end of our trip in Lisbon, where our amazing local guide was able to engage our three teenage girls and keep all of us interested in the history and sights. We took a sailing trip and did an amazing Coasteering activity along the coast that the girls loved. It involved cliff jumping, rock climbing and swimming. We were freezing, but adrenaline kept us going, and the wetsuits helped.

Gonçalo arranged a trip exactly as we requested: some history, some culture, and some active adventure. If only he could have controlled the weather, it would have been a perfect trip.” —Karyn Sallus

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

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Switzerland with an 8- and 11-year-old

View to Lugano city, Lugano lake and Monte San Salvatore from Monte Bre, Ticino, Switzerland - Image

Monte Bre, Ticino, Switzerland. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our Switzerland trip with Philipp and Nina was incredible.  They planned a trip that made everyone in our family happy. Not an easy task with an 8- and 11-year-old!  We were supposed to take this trip pre-COVID and had to postpone. Philipp worked with us for over a year until we could actually travel. He planned a well-thought-out trip for Spring that really showed us diverse aspects of Switzerland. We could not have asked for a better agent!” —Tara Robertson

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

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Israel: adventure thrills + connecting a 12- and 15-year-old with local people with a range of perspectives

paragliding Masada Israel

Paragliding over Masada. Israel.

Joe listened carefully to the type of travelers we are and the experiences we wished to have in Israel and arranged our itinerary accordingly. Highlights for us were lunch with a Druze family, a visit with a Palestinian family in the West Bank, a briefing in the Golan Heights with an IDF reservist, powered paragliding, Krav Maga class, a Jeep tour, an ATV ride, and our guide Itay’s amazing storytelling at Masada.

Our kids (ages 12 and 15) liked that we incorporated adventurous experiences into our itinerary. Itay connected well with our children (a priority for us) and even called on friends to answer our questions when he knew of someone with specialized knowledge in the area about which we were asking. We learned so much on this trip because of the team’s ability to connect us with people who had different points of view. That gave the trip real value for us.” —Jennifer Milano

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

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London: private backstage tours, East End neighborhoods not mentioned in any guidebooks…

Evening View, London, England

Evening view of London. Photo: Visit Britain

“My daughter is a huge Harry Potter fan, so we wanted to go to the Warner Brothers Studio outside of London. Admission tickets were sold out when we started our planning, but Wendy’s recommended London specialist was able to secure tickets from a secondary source.

He also got us amazing seats to two requested West End shows and arranged great tours for us that lined up with our interests. We had a private backstage tour of the National Theatre, a place I never would have discovered on my own. I highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting London. We were surprised at how large the Theatre is and how much actually takes place there—the prop building (including their own wood and metal shops), rehearsals, public education spaces, and several stages.

We also enjoyed a three-hour guided tour of the food, street art, and culture of the East End. Our guide showed us parts of the East End that were not mentioned in any guidebooks that I had reviewed. My friend who lives outside of London and joined us on the tour, and who had been on several of these East End tours, said she saw so many new things.” —Nancy Wolf

To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO LONDON

Vienna & Prague: trip for a piano-loving teen

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

The mathematical hall of the Strahov Convent Library, Prague, The 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

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

START A TRIP TO AUSTRIA OR THE CZECH REPUBLIC

Costa Rica with four kids, ages 8 to 15

Hot springs in Costa Rica

Hot springs in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

“Traveling as a family of six is not easy! We have four children between the ages of 8 and 15, each more adventurous than the next. We needed a spring break that would keep them entertained but also allow us the leisure time we really needed. Priscilla put together a perfectly balanced vacation for us in Costa Rica. Everyone was happy! She suggested we spend our week in two areas—Arenal (volcano and rainforest) and Manuel Antonio (beach). In Arenal, we swam in thermal hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, walked the hanging bridges of the rainforest canopy, and went white-water rafting. In Manuel Antonio, we spent quality time at the beach, surfing, boogie boarding, and relaxing. Priscilla and her team arranged all of our travel details (flights, hotels, activities, transfers to and from), and they really went out of their way to make sure our vacation was memorable. All we had to do was sit back and enjoy!”—Kara Lawler

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

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Croatia: a mix of history, art, culture, and Game of Thrones

Aerial view at famous european travel destination in Croatia, Dubrovnik old town.

The old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were traveling over Easter and wanted to maximize our time in Croatia. We wanted a mix of history, art, culture, Jewish history, and Game of Thrones—and each of our three guides delivered. We saw and learned so much more than we could have seen on our own. Gwen was able to help us secure reservations at the restaurants we wanted, including Michelin-starred Restaurant 360 in Dubrovnik. We also loved her suggestions of Restaurant Dubrovnik and Adriatic Graso in Split—we had amazing meals and service.

While in Dubrovnik we were surprised with our WOW Moment. We had a private boat ride from the new harbor to the old harbor just outside the Ancient Walls of Dubrovnik. We were served wine and charcuterie. Despite the rough waters, Captain Chris gave us a wonderful tour and a new perspective of Dubrovnik. It was such a treat. Croatia is a magical place, and Gwen and her team are there to roll out the red carpet for you.” —Joellen Shelden

Read more reviews of Croatia trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.

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underwater photo of family snorkeling in Mexico

Thanksgiving Trip Reviews: Inspiration for a Holiday Abroad

Thanksgiving may be a trying time to travel within the U.S., but it’s a great hack for an exotic family trip: Since it’s not an international holiday, you won’t find the same crowds or high prices you have to grapple with over Christmas and New Year’s. Wendy has spent many a Thanksgiving in Europe; Brook recently took her family to Egypt over her son’s week-long school break. Read on for more ideas of where you can make the most of your time off in late November—with the help of the right Trusted Travel Expert, of course.  Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.

START A THANKSGIVING TRIP


Oman: forts and castles, white-sand beaches, luxurious hotels…

Daytime view of the Omani Coast on a sunny day.

Omani Coast Landscape at Barr Al Jissah in east of Muscat, Oman. Photo: Shutterstock

“Oman is a fascinating country. Huge variety of scenery, from lush date and coconut plantations on the coast to quite high mountains to deserts with lots of sand dunes. The history is interesting: The country has made huge strides in the past 60 years, from an underdeveloped country in 1970 to a modern, prosperous environment. Travelling is easy: Roads are great, there are lots of hiking trails and camping facilities, Oman Air was on time, etc.

The government has spent a lot of effort preserving old forts and castles (there are many of both). Our touring included many of these historical structures, hikes through old towns, visits to several mosques, two stays in the desert, a visit to a Bedouin household, and stays in three of the most luxurious hotels we have ever seen (and some not so great but quite acceptable).

This is a beautiful country, with long white sand beaches, that is just being discovered, mostly by travelers from Europe. I highly recommend it for people who have an interest in the history and culture, or just want to enjoy the warm weather and beaches. Daniel did a great job of the arrangements—everything unfolded exactly as planned.” —Robin Louis

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

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Vietnam: top to bottom in one week

Islands and islets in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock

“WOW seems like too weak an accolade for Sandy and Ethan‘s magical trip suggestions and planning expertise in Vietnam. We have exquisite memories of a wonderful country and its people.

Starting in Hanoi and ending in Saigon worked perfectly and really felt like the right direction for us. Hanoi felt like what I was mostly expecting from Vietnam. It was charming and delightful. And then the following stops in Ha Long Bay and Hoi An were totally different and unique, upending any expectations. And then ending in Saigon felt like re-entering the modern world. There is clearly so much to see and do. And all of it is interesting and important and beautiful. So even though we had an abbreviated time in each of the spots, all of the activities were perfect. And just made us excited for a return trip some day.

This was everything and more that we wanted out of a Thanksgiving break in Vietnam. We really appreciate the time and hard work it took to bring all of this together. These kinds of trips are the ones that stick with us the most…the ones where we have a chance to get a bit off the beaten track and have a chance to connect with local people (now friends).”—Anne and Alex Leary

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

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Portugal with adult kids: Lisbon by tuk-tuk, stargazing, e-biking, Jewish history…

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Pixabay

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: cristinamacia/Pixabay

I can not say enough positives about our recent trip to Portugal over Thanksgiving 2023, planned by Goncalo and his team. We had originally planned to travel to Tel Aviv, and when the tragic war broke out, I emailed Wendy Perrin for suggestions. They responded immediately with a few ideas and travel consultants. After a call with Goncalo, we decided on Portugal. We were traveling with two of our kids, boys ages 26 and 28. At first, I was concerned that we were missing the summer beach vibes, but we had such an amazing trip we will need to return.

Goncalo’s office planned the perfect trip understanding that we wanted to experience the country without an overload of sightseeing, and we had the perfect amount of planned tours and free days. With busy work schedules, we wanted a balance and time to relax. We started in Porto, where we, of course, took a port-tasting tour. We also had a private tour of the city to learn its history, see some of the main sites, and try its famous dessert wine. St. Francis Church, the train station, the Stock Exchange Palace, Bolhao Market, Cristal Palace Gardens, and so much more to see in Porto. It is a beautiful town on the river, and we loved it.

From there, Goncalo recommended two nights at Sao Lourenco do Barrcal in the countryside, and on our way, we stopped at a charming town, Tomar. We went to see one of the oldest synagogues and the castle. In the countryside, we had a stargazing tour, a beautiful property and spa, and the restaurant and shop were both fantastic. We rode E-bikes to a small nearby town called Monsaraz to visit a castle, and we amazingly happened upon a small interactive Jewish History Center. The scenery on the bike ride was spectacular, and the castle was really cool to see, but we were shocked to find the Jewish history center in this tiny town. It depicted the story of the Jewish community from medieval times, and it was fascinating and incredibly meaningful.

From there we went to Lisbon, a fun and lively city. Our hotel had a fun rooftop bar with an amazing view. The boys loved it! We had a fun tuk-tuk half-day tour and a day trip to Cascais and Sintra. We also had a Fado concert in an underground reservoir, delicious meals, and some fun shopping.

You would never imagine this trip was planned so close to departure; it’s one of the good things about traveling off-peak. We had beautiful sunny days with temperatures in the mid 60s. Overall, I cannot say enough great things not only about Portugal but how Wendy Perrin and her recommended tour operator stepped in to make sure we were able to enjoy the time with two of our kids who had taken the time off of work to spend with us.”—Elizabeth Schwartz

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

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India with 3 generations: hands-on art lessons, street food, temples…

Amy Evers and her family at a produce market in Jaipur, India wearing marigold flowers.

Amy Evers and family at a produce market in Jaipur, India.

“Our trip was wonderful! I have now visited 52 countries and I don’t know why it’s taken this long to get to India. We loved it. This trip was with my husband, 2 kids (ages 12 & 13), my mother-in-law and I. We all loved it. Victoria and Diggi did a wonderful job planning a trip that would cater to all of our interests and abilities. I had a long call with Victoria in the beginning to get the process started and for her to get a better idea of what we wanted out of this trip. She took this to heart and knocked it out of the park. November was a perfect month to visit, highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s in Rajasthan.

Harsh, our guide, was one of the best! He is knowledgable, flexible, agreeable, capable of dealing with the trials of siblings, liked by all, patient, etc, etc. I’ve had good guides and I’ve had bad guides. He’s a great guide!

Dinesh, our driver, was wonderful too. We always felt safe with him at the wheel. He always greeted us with a smile. The vehicle was clean and roomy and perfect for our group.

We loved the tuktuk rides. Yes, at times, they were chaotic, but that just added to the adventure. The rickshaw ride got a special mention from my daughter. Our modes of transportation were perfect.

All of our accommodations were beautiful and unique. I honestly don’t have any complaints about any of them. My mother-in-law was able to do yoga 2 mornings at one of them, which made her very happy.

I don’t think there were any activities that we didn’t like, but the things that received special mentions by the group are:

-Food tour in Delhi. Everyone pushed themselves out of their comfort zones just a bit.
-Jaipur by dawn tour, including a very authentic experience at an active Hindu temple.
-Impromptu walking tour in Udaipur, resulting in feeding a random elephant walking down the road.
-Block printing workshop, a fascinating village visit and a hands-on creative experience.
-Elephant experience. Who doesn’t love spending close time with elephants?
-Jain temple visit and lunch with the pilgrims.
-Astrologer reading. My kids thought this was spectacular.
-Street food Indian breakfast.

Ultimately this was just the cultural and fun trip I was hoping my kids would have. We learned so much about various religions, culture and history. My kids truly are catching the travel bug and this trip has definitely contributed! I have no doubt that my husband and I will be back to India, maybe several more times, and we will definitely be contacting Victoria’s office again!” —Amy Evers

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Costa Rica: hot springs, high adventure & a plethora of wildlife

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

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

“Just back from Costa Rica over Thanksgiving week and the trip planned by Priscilla was spot-on perfect. The locations we selected, Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, gave us three different settings to enjoy and were all easy travel distances apart. We started in Arenal where Priscilla recommended Tabacon Resort — the room was spacious and had a direct view overlooking the volcano, the included breakfast was an incredible selection of continental and Costa Rican cuisine with the freshest, sweetest fruit, and the included hot springs were a wonderful way to relax at the end of the day. She arranged a private driver and guides and nearly all our activities were private too, and this really allowed us to learn more, see more and deeply experience each area. Across the entire trip, Priscilla expertly matched the activities with our desire for an active, high adventure vacation and we enjoyed canyoning (with waterfall rappelling), ziplining, white water rafting and lots of great hikes with hanging bridges.

She made the trip flow so smoothly that even the travel days were filled with fun activities. On the transfer between Arenal and Monteverde we had a private boat ride across a lake and our naturalist guide, Fico (who was with us for 5 days and became like family) pointed out all sorts of wildlife along the way and then we did the most wonderful night hike and climbed a towering tree in the jungle to enjoy the sunset view from the treetops while snacking on Costa Rican treats. Hiking with Fico continued in Monteverde with hanging bridges and lots of bird watching. We saw sloths, monkeys, coati, agouti, snakes and more at every location. I was hoping to see one sloth the entire trip and we must have seen over 20, including one that was right next to us on the ground.

Our driver, Mauricio was also phenomenal and helped my daughter practice her Spanish. On the transfer between Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, we enjoyed a private crocodile boat tour where we saw many crocodiles, monkeys, birds and were slightly scared when a giant crocodile swam right up alongside the boat. Manuel Antonio National Park was the only really overcrowded spot of the trip, but the amount of wildlife we saw there with our wonderful guide Karla and taking a quick dip in the picture perfect, pristine beach were still highlights. Priscilla’s recommendations of Senda in Monteverde and Gaia in Quepos were also wonderful hotels with wildlife on both properties and amazing cuisine at the restaurants. Thanks for a perfect vacation, we can’t wait to see more of Costa Rica.” —Jill Teschmacher

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Denmark: solo travel in Copenhagen & beyond

Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen.

“When I was looking for a place to spend Thanksgiving this year, Jan listened and delivered exactly what I asked for. What I did not appreciate ahead of my arrival was just how much of a kick-start to the Christmas season this trip would be. Copenhagen was already decorated for the ‘Jul’ season, and a number of Christmas markets had already opened on November 16th, the day of my arrival. The hotel that Jan chose was perfectly located on Kongens Nytorv (the King’s New Square) for the market on the square, harbor walks, and great shopping in general.

Britt, the guide that Jan arranged in Copenhagen, did a great job of introducing me to the art and architecture, urban development and repurposing of buildings and land, food and spirits, culture and moods of Copenhagen’s various neighborhoods. When I inquired about more local, neighborhood markets, she took me to a ‘pop-up’ Christmas market, off the beaten path, that was there for only two days. As we made our way out of the city on other days to Frederiksborg, Charlottenlund, Elsinore and Kronborg, she introduced me to locally made products, local artisans, craftspeople and leaders in design.

Jan alerted me early on that Copenhagen is a city known for its food and, in particular, its Michelin-star restaurants. When I expressed my interest, he used his ‘fixer’ to secure a table at Geranium (ranked the best restaurant in the world in 2022), one of the two 3-star Michelin restaurants in Copenhagen. It was an experience more than a meal, which included a private tour of the wine cellar and the kitchen. From beginning to end, a visual as well as gastronomic experience.

A word about the temperatures and the crowds: I’m always looking to get away from crowds, lines, and traffic, and I don’t mind traveling in the off-season to do so (as Wendy so often suggests). The weather in Copenhagen at this time of year alternates between cool and crisp with gorgeous, blue skies to heavy and overcast, with occasional rain. No worries if one packs with that in mind.

I cannot say enough about the lengths to which Jan went to make this trip seamless. Not one detail was missed. It was a terrific and different Thanksgiving getaway that has me prepped for Christmas earlier than usual.” —Jeannie Mullen

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Spain with kids: family-friendly tapas, flamenco, dancing white horses…

Río Guadalquivir, Seville.

Gina Melton and her family enjoying a boat trip on Seville’s Río Guadalquivir.

Pablo and his team planned a wonderful 11-day itinerary for our family’s Thanksgiving trip to Southern Spain. We spent a significant amount of time in Madrid and then headed to Seville and Granada. Without a doubt, the success of this trip was largely attributable to the wonderful guides who showed us a little of their world. Not only were they incredibly flexible with our sons, aged 10 and 8, they found ways to bring the Spanish culture to life for them.

In Madrid, that meant trying the city’s best Tortilla in one of the city’s vibrant markets, stopping for churros, going to rooftops to teach the boys about the landmarks in a fun and interesting way and finding tapas restaurants that were authentic and family-friendly. Alfonso, our Madrid guide, was so kind and generous with his time, he really made us feel welcomed.

In Seville, I was pleasantly surprised to see the boys connecting with the Flamenco show Pablo arranged for us; it was an authentic experience that the adults enjoyed too! We loved our day trip to Jerez de la Frontera to see the dancing white horses at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art.  And, our tour of Alhambra Palace and Generalife was perfectly timed for the family—we were able to see the entire complex without rushing, but also held the kids’ interest.

The details were seamless throughout the entire trip and I appreciated Pablo’s office working on a last-minute change to our itinerary when we decided to call an audible on the final days of our trip. Spain is a wonderful place for children and this was one of our very best family vacations to date.” —Gina Melton

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Tulum, Mexico, with a blended family group: A private villa, exquisite beaches, snorkeling, biking…

underwater photo of family snorkeling in Mexico

Jessica Tolmach and her blended family snorkeling in Mexico.

“We just returned from an extraordinary WOW trip to Tulum, Mexico. Our trip planners Zach and Patricia were truly helpful and incredibly responsive throughout. We had a challenge: A blended family with 5 grown kids from all corners of the country and with different backgrounds, interests and styles. It was a 60th birthday celebration for Jessica and a pre-wedding, postponed 3x, gathering. We wanted exquisite beaches, Mayan history, a private villa with chef, and planned, safe activities as well as private beach. Zach found it! Casa Ixchel took our breath away and exceeded all our expectations. The accommodations were spectacular, everyone had a gorgeous, well appointed, beautiful designed room, the Casa had marvelous open common rooms with views of the gardens, pool and beach, the beach itself was beyond imagination, and our excursions were marvelous. We spent one half day biking at the Coba ruins and another day snorkeling off Cozumel island. The other two days we had free—to ride bikes, walk on the beach, lounge at the pool and just be together. The meals were beyond delicious—and accommodated a variety of dietary restrictions! The villa staff was professional, kind, helpful and responsive. Mostly we had a beautiful, breathtaking week. It was a trip we will cherish and remember always. Thank you, Wendy! Once again, we couldn’t have done it without you.” —Jessica Tolmach

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London with teens: Christmas lights, food tour, nighttime photo shoot…

Christmas in London

London gets decked out for Christmas. Photo: visitlondon.com

“Our London trip over the Thanksgiving holiday was fantastic—fulfilling the wishes of a family of four, including two teens. We are very glad we went for five nights, any longer would have been too much, any shorter wouldn’t have included such a variety of experiences. We all needed a seamless getaway from work and school, with enough activity to engage without the worry of language translations. We had heard the Christmas lights could be grand (they were) and that the streets wouldn’t be crowded (not true). The trip was energetic and vibrant—a great refresh.

Jennifer and her righthand planner, Zara, were pleasant to deal with, efficient, and thorough. In five short weeks, they planned a packed itinerary meeting all our specs. They suggested 3 hotels and we selected the one (The Ampersand) with a charming private nook for the four of us, which had the added benefit of being near the Tube. The staff was very attentive and the food delicious. After a day, the breakfast staff knew us and had our food ready every morning when we arrived! Dinner was good too.

The trip planners added value in many ways: organizing a one-direction route for our activities, taking into consideration the timing of all activities and our walking stamina. There was no backtracking and all new material to see. They also provided guides that had extraordinarily deep knowledge of the subjects we wanted to tackle each day, from London history, architecture, Savile Row and Tower of London to the new demands on the city from an environmental perspective. We are foodies, and our food tour was over the top, even the vegan cheese! The planners also suggested our getting our own theatre tickets ahead of time online to save an agent fee, which we appreciated. While we were very fortunate with all our guides, one convinced a maître d’ (twice) into taking us for an early meal without a reservation, including a Friday night at a great Indian restaurant (Masala Zone).

In the end, the teens loved the London Eye (priority tickets cut so much time), Cabaret, Winter Wonderland, Tower of London, and the RIB ride. The historians in the family enjoyed St. Paul’s, changing of the guard, financial district, judicial buildings, and the many detailed stories from the guides. My husband enjoyed Savile Row, the changing architecture seen from rooftops, and the night lights. Me, I loved the personal photography shoot at night. We all loved the food tour. Other travelers can’t go wrong with any of these.

If you are booking with Jennifer, specify your interests in detail, where you want to spend your money (hotel, shows), and all the things you want to see. She listens, follows direction and has great suggestions.”—Peti Stone

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Family-friendly Peru: The Amazon & Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu sits atop a ridge, nearly level with the clouds. Photo: Aracari

“We traveled from the U.S. to Peru for the week of Thanksgiving, and Marisol and Mark did a great job creating the trip for us. We traveled with three teenagers and we visited an ecolodge in the rainforest in the Amazon Basin, and then went to Cusco to visit the Sacred Valley area as well as Machu Picchu. Mark made all our travel and hotel arrangements and did a great job organizing the whole trip. Our guides and drivers were fabulous and we learned just how important having a great travel agent was when Peru began having protests that shut down the cities. Our travel agent and guide managed to reschedule each of our days, filling in where possible with activities that we could do, even though no cars were allowed to move on the streets and all the of places we had planned to go were shut down. We still ended up with a great visit and we really got to see so many wonderful parts of Peru, thanks to all of the help from Mark’s team—thank you!” —Laura Virkler

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Belize for 3 generations: beach, jungle, kayaking, zip-lining, hand-grinding corn, making pottery…

A treetop villa with outdoor plunge pool at Chaa Creek Lodge in Belize.

A treetop villa and its private pool at Chaa Creek Lodge in Belize. Photo: Chaa Creek

“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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Italy and Switzerland with four daughters, ages 5 to 11: pizza lesson, mosaic making…

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

A Trusted Travel Expert can get you access to artists’ studios in less touristed neighborhoods Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“My family of six—including four daughters, ages 5 through 11—traveled to Italy and Switzerland in November/December. Maria pulled it all together on relatively short notice; I think we had only four weeks of lead time. She arranged for great hotels, fun excursions, and private guides in Florence and Zurich who were fantastic with the girls. It was really nice to have the same driver the whole time we were in a city, and each driver was excellent and very accommodating. We had a fantastic time making pizza in Florence, and another major highlight was our WOW Moment. Thank you so much, Wendy, we really enjoyed it! We walked across the river in Florence to a more residential neighborhood and visited an artist’s studio, where she welcomed us and helped us make our own mosaics in her found-object style. While they dried, we enjoyed sandwiches and cake in the cafe. The artist and Elvira (our guide) were so friendly and welcoming it was a real treat to spend the afternoon with them. Everything went smoothly, and it was nice not to have to worry about anything. I will definitely call Maria again when we return to Italy or Switzerland!” —Rebecca Bartlett

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Baja, Mexico for a family: scuba, sandboarding, horseback riding, rappelling…

underwater diver with fish in Los Cabos, Mexico

Explore a new world by going scuba diving in Los Cabos, Mexico. Photo: Los Cabos Villa Vacations

“Baja CA is such an easy destination to get to from Southern CA, so when Zach and his team suggested a Thanksgiving trip for my family of 4, including 2 teen daughters, we jumped on it as we have not explored the other parts of Baja beyond Los Cabos. As up-and-coming areas, we saw the charm of Todos Santos town, hiked along the hills above the ocean and had surf lessons at Los Cerritos. Next up was La Paz, which has potential to become a wonderful destination, as there are plenty of adventure activities to choose from. We had a few travel hiccups the first few days in Todos Santos and La Paz, but Zach’s travel team of Jose & Amalia worked to make it the best they possibly could.

One of our main goals for this trip was to swim with the whale sharks in La Paz, which normally have a very dependable arrival in early November. However they decided not to show up in their regular numbers, so no one could get permits to swim with them in La Paz bay. This was a major disappointment but we had back-up activities planned and ideas ready, which is a useful travel tip for those “planning” on unpredictable animal life interactions. You just never know what will happen, so have something else in mind that will satisfy your travel wishes.  We instead went on a sunset sandboarding excursion on the oceanfront dunes one late afternoon, and it was beautiful and remote. We also took a full-day boat trip to scuba dive with friendly, juvenile sea lions, took another dive through a shipwreck and then anchored at a remote beach for a wonderful lunch. These were both exciting excursions that filled the void of the whale sharks’ absence, and having Zach’s connections made it all that much easier.

Our last stop was Grand Velas on the Los Cabos corridor. What a property! The rooms, the views, the service, the spa, the food…it was all amazing!  We left the property for a few activities: horseback riding on the beach and in the hills, and a jam-packed adventure up in the mountains with zip lines, rappelling, free-fall jumps, climbing, & polaris vehicle driving; all seamlessly organized by Zach’s team. But coming back to the resort was the best part of the day and their Thanksgiving night celebration on the rooftop deck was over-the-top spectacular! We ended up with a memorable holiday break, even with the few struggles, and we were all recharged going into the holiday season!” —Andrea Phillips

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Family-style Costa Rica: monkeys, zip lines, surf lesson…

Manuel Antonio beach, Costa Rica - tropical pacific coast

The calm waters at Manuel Antonio beach are perfect for snorkeling. Photo: Shutterstock

Irene helped our family plan a wonderful trip to Costa Rica over Thanksgiving week. We loved the Arenas Del Mar resort in Manuel Antonio!  It was the only one on the beach and even had its own private beach. The monkeys and sloths were thrilling to watch. We saw them all the time!  Irene set us up with a zip-line tour that was fun for the whole family, and some of us did a surf lesson too. We also spent time with a guide in Manuel Antonio National Park. It was pretty busy, but our guide knew where to go for a quieter experience. The park is beautiful, and there was so much to see!

Our other destination was the Osa Peninsula. We got there by an exciting boat ride through the river and mangroves and into the ocean until we reached La Paloma Lodge. It’s a lovely luxury eco-resort, and we had a room with a spectacular view and plenty of space for our whole family. We enjoyed scuba diving, kayaking, exploring Corcovado National Park, and we even did a guided night walk to see some of the evening creatures. We saw macaws, toucans, many types of monkeys, sloths, agouti, crocodiles and even a tapir! We did have some rain on our trip— we heard it had been a very rainy year—but we didn’t mind: It makes everything so lush and green!

Irene was wonderful in seamlessly planning our trip and making sure everything went well. It was really helpful to have someone so familiar with the country and knowledgeable about all the hotels and activities. Thank you for making our trip great!” —Alana Jacobson

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Morocco: watching ceramics artists at work, riding camels and ATVs…

Racing down sand dunes in Morocco’s desert. Photo by Tim Baker

“This was an absolutely amazing trip for a first time to Morocco. First, our guide, Amine, was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about all of the locations and sites we visited. Second, the sites and towns themselves were absolutely spectacular.

We started our trip landing in Casablanca, but then found our guide and driver and immediately drove the 3-4 hours to Fes. I was a little nervous about whether that would be comfortable after a long, overnight flight, but it turns out, sitting in the car and watching this unfamiliar scenery go by was absolutely perfect—especially since it allowed Amine to orient us to Moroccan culture, a little bit of history, and our trip logistics.

When we got to Fes, we were able to immediately check into our hotel (because we had spent the time required to take the trip), and we then went out and began to see the souks of Fes. We did this again the next day, complete with a trip to see Moroccan ceramics-making in action, a working tannery, and any number of mosques and other cultural sites.

Marrakesh was the absolute highlight of the trip. Our hotel was absolutely amazing. On our last day, we made an absolutely fascinating trip hiking on the High Atlas and then ATV-ing and camel riding in the desert.  It was an absolutely once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I would recommend it to anybody.” —Sarah Rathke

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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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A postcard view of Amalfi Coast in Italy.

10 Top Dream Trips for 2023

With so many more people worldwide planning to travel this year—now that so many countries have dropped their Covid entry requirements—it’s important to book well ahead. These ten travelers have already locked in their 2023 dream trips: They’ve used destination specialists on The WOW List to arrange exciting trips that they’ll be sharing with family and friends in the coming months—and there are great ideas here for the rest of us!

Wondering which dream of yours to bring to life in 2023?  Click the black button below for our help.

GET A PERSONALIZED TRIP RECOMMENDATION

Morocco: birthday and anniversary milestones

Medina Walls, Marrakech, Morocco

The juxtaposition of palm trees and snow-capped peaks in Marrakech, Morocco makes for a memorable birthday or anniversary backdrop. Photo: iStockPhoto

Bill and Lynn Martin will be celebrating both a birthday and an anniversary in Morocco in the fall, joined by friends Bill has known since high school.

“Morocco has been on our bucket list for a long time. Many friends have raved about their time there. We were uncomfortable traveling there during the pandemic, but now seems like a great time to go. We will start in Casablanca and finish in Marrakech. In addition to the predictable venues, we are excited to include Chefchaoun (the Blue City) and Essaouira. We will celebrate a big birthday for Lynn and our 30th anniversary at the spectacular Richard Branson resort Kasbah Tamadot in the Atlas Mountains.” —Bill Martin

This trip was arranged by WOW List Morocco experts Hicham Alaoui and Radia Tehitahe. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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A Galapagos family cruise over Spring Break

photo of Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island

A sea turtle swimming off the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Photo: Shutterstock

Expats John and Janie Strachan are taking advantage of their current homebase in Quito, Ecuador, to bring their school-age kids to the Galapagos in April 2023.

“When we moved to Quito, I immediately went to your website to find people to help plan some of the trips which we had long aspired to make. Back in August, I contacted agents about trips to the Amazon, Galapagos, and Machu Picchu/Inca trail. I really didn’t know how far in advance I SHOULD have started planning, but in response to my timelines and assumptions, they all pretty much said, ‘Nope. Not enough lead time. Wrong time of year. Can’t do it.’ Together, we worked to reschedule and re-order the trips I had imagined, and we made it all work. We had hoped to be able to get two rooms on a ship, we had hoped to get a cruise of seven or eight days, we had hoped that it would be on a catamaran for a smoother trip, and it had to be during the kids’ Spring break. With Allie’s help, we got it all. I have read this line in a lot of trip reviews on your site, but without Allie, we would NOT have been able to make this Galapagos trip happen. At least not the way we wanted with only an eight-month lead. I’d recommend longer — a year — to anyone who asked.” —John Strachan

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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Thailand in June: bonding time with grown kids

Floating market Traders bring fruits and vegetables to a small boat engine sold to the canal in Bangkok Thailand

Thai cuisine—and the bevy of local produce seen here at a floating market in Bangkok—makes Thailand a mecca for foodies. Photo: Shutterstock

Andy and Marci Shapiro booked a year ahead for their adventure to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Phuket with their two twenty-something kids.

“Thailand has been on our ‘must’ visit list for many years. We love Thai food; Thailand’s history and culture are fascinating; it has a reputation of having wonderful people, extraordinary diversity, and unique animal/elephant experiences; and, all of our friends who’ve visited loved it! We always book our exotic and extensive trips well in advance. Allowing ample time to plan has provided so many benefits to us over the years with our travel adventures. They include but are not limited to… getting our choice of hotels; often getting better rates because we book far in advance; getting our desired rooms with spectacular views and ideally a balcony, which is important to us; booking certain excursions; reservations for select restaurants; obtaining great seats for various events; enabling us to use points for business-class airfares if we choose. Of course, having travel insurance is critical!” —Andy Shapiro

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

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Italy: summer trip with teens

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

Florence is a must for many families planning a Northern Italy itinerary. Photo: Shutterstock

After a much-loved family trip to southern Italy seven years ago, Andrea and Dave Phillips and their two teenage girls are returning to northern Italy in June 2023.

“We started thinking about this trip during our trip to Greece this past summer. We usually brainstorm about the next year’s trips during our extended summer trip. It is a great time to discuss future travel wishes for everyone at dinners, on boat trips, midday between safaris, etc. We love the Italian culture, so we are most excited about all of the cooking experiences and excursions that we have planned, as well as the wellness resort and an anniversary splurge hotel in Tremezzina, Lake Como: We are also celebrating our 20th anniversary and we honeymooned in Italy, so the timing works out perfectly. A long, multifaceted trip takes time in order to get the correct stops, excursions and flight patterns lined up, so I started planning with Maria in mid-September. Plus, fall and winter get busy, so it’s one less task to work on with everything else going on, and it’s something to look forward to!” —Andrea Phillips

This trip was arranged by WOW List Italy expert Maria Gabriella Landers. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Indonesia and Singapore in March, before tourists return en masse

Raja Ampat islands, Indonesia

World-class snorkeling and diving attract travelers to Indonesia’s Raja Ampat islands. Photo: Amanresorts

Judy Calvert and Doug Anderson are making the most of their early retirement and getting to Asia before the crowds return, building a three-week trip around a world-class scuba-diving site with the help of a candidate for The WOW List (a destination expert who is being tested for possible inclusion on the List).

“I think because it had stayed closed the longest, there is still an allure that Asia won’t be as busy yet. That is what we are hoping for. The research I did on Raja Ampat was that the snorkeling and diving there should be the best in the world. And because my husband dives, and I love snorkeling, it was on my radar to build a trip around that. But it’s a very obscure area, and when you want to do a VIP trip, of course I thought of Wendy’s WOW List. We are early retirees and we want to do all the big, dreamed-of trips while we are still healthy. Too many times you hear of people who are waiting until they’re retired but older, and all of a sudden the health just isn’t there. YOLO!!!” —Judy Calvert

This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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The United Kingdom: two countries, three kids, one month

England, Cotswolds, Hidcote gardens. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

To kids, Hidcote Manor Gardens in the Cotswolds, England seems like a fairy tale come to life. Photo: Jonathan Epstein

Greg Broughton and Anne Scott are bringing their three children (ages 8, 5, and 3) to England and Scotland in July 2023.

“We chose to travel to the English-speaking world with our children so that they may more fully participate in the trip due to the common language. We didn’t want them to feel disengaged and disconnected due to a language barrier. We’re starting off in the Cotswolds, which to the kids should feel a bit like a fairy tale. Then it’s on to London for about 10 days. After that, we’re heading to York for the Viking and Roman history (and to hopefully avoid some of the summer crowds). We get a vacation within a vacation at Gleneagles, in the Scottish countryside, which we’re really excited about. We finish up in Edinburgh. Normally, it isn’t until about day five or six of our seven-day vacations that we finally achieve relaxation. We’ve had this summer 2023 trip planned since this past summer, so the hardest part is just waiting for it to finally get here!” —Greg Broughton

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

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Japan in late spring: insider access, local experiences

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

Cherry blossoms draw travelers to Japan in April, but in May you’ll find lingering blooms and fewer crowds. Photo: Shutterstock

After Covid closures delayed their plans for a year, Andy and Sarah Kaplan are finally taking their four adult kids to Japan (after the sold-out cherry blossom season).

“As our kids have gotten older and they have jobs and lives, their vacation time is pretty constrained, so we are focused on doing really special trips during the time we have. After many Europe trips, we did a safari during summer ’21 — and on that success, started planning Japan for our big ’22 trip. But as we got closer to the trip, Japan had still not re-opened to outside vacationers…so 30 days before the planned trip, we rescheduled for the following year. Our travel expert was great about rescheduling and made things very easy. If I had to narrow it down, it’s the experiences that I’m most excited about. We’ll be sake tasting, doing a cooking class, seeing a master swordsmith at work, enjoying a Ryokan, and several others — including the traditional tea ceremony.” —Andy Kaplan

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

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Retirement kickoff in southern Africa

A leopard walking around at a national park in Zimbabwe

Spotting a leopard in the wild is a high point for lucky safari-goers. Photo: Shutterstock

Two couples—two of whom are friends since college—are celebrating retirement with an August 2023 trip to South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

“I’ve been thinking about a tour of sub-Saharan Africa for 15 years. When we first contacted Julian, he cautioned that our options would be limited in the few months that remained to book the trip for September 2022; our entire group was amenable to delaying the trip for a year. The delay also enabled us to move the trip to Julian’s preferred month of August. Wildlife has always been the greatest African attraction for me, but Julian’s itinerary has taken this trip over the top. Our group is accustomed to going first class, but we were surprised by the combination of 5-star accommodations and fine cuisines in Cape Town, and world-class bush camps. Working Victoria Falls into the mix really made the whole itinerary special. I expect that when I finally hang up my traveling shoes, I will look back on this trip as one of the highlights of my traveling life. Recognizing that fact and with Julian’s counsel that the high-end camps we were seeking filled up early, especially in the prime August window, made the year’s wait worthwhile.” —Stephen Bajan

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

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Ecuador for a multi-generational group of 7

Galapagos penguins in Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

The Galapagos penguin is the rare breed living outside the Southern Hemisphere. Photo: sebastian_photos/Pixabay

Peggy and Bob Schuemann are taking their son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren on a spring break trip to the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador.

“This is a Christmas gift for three of our grandchildren. Our four older grandchildren went with us to the Galapagos in March 2013. We think there is no better gift than to share travel with our families, and in particular, our grandchildren. As Americans we sometimes forget that we live in the greatest country in the world. As we travel, especially to many remote countries, we find that many want to visit our country, and many want to live here. When we traveled with our daughter and her family, we spent a couple of days in Quito and went for the day to the market in Otavalo. This time we are going to the Lodge at Mashpi. We think this looks very educational for our three grandsons, who at the time of the trip will be 13, 11, and 7. Previously we traveled on a ship that accommodated around 100 guests. This time we chose a smaller vessel, the Origin/Theory. Many years ago, when we did our first trip with our older grandchildren (and their parents), I decided we all would do ‘reports.’ I make a list of subjects, such as Blue Footed Booby, Frigate Bird, Tortoise, Charles Darwin. We each do several reports and then we present them to one another. This way, when the tour guide is talking about a particular subject, the children, and we as well, are able to chime in with questions or comments. When another trip is announced, the children excitedly ask if they can do reports!” —Peggy Schuemann

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

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New Zealand: 3 generations honor a big birthday

Lupins on the shore of Lake Tekapo, New Zealand.

Lake Tekapo is on New Zealand’s South Island, which offers a bevy of activities from fishing to speed boating to wine tasting. Photo Shutterstock

Alana Jacobson’s dad is celebrating his 80th in New Zealand in April 2023 with a group of six family members, ranging in age from 13 to 80.

“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! My dad loves to hike, fish, boat, and just be in nature. He also enjoys wine tasting — New Zealand has it all! We are planning most activities together, with downtime for individuals to do what they like. Hiking, wine tasting, kayaking, fishing, helicopter tour, speed boating!” —Alana Jacobson

This trip was arranged by WOW List New Zealand expert Jean-Michel Jefferson. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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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.

Rovinj Croatia. Sunrise sky above vintage town at Istria peninsula in Adriatic Sea. View from water at old Mediterranean architecture buildings. Coastline and tower of Church of Saint Euphemia.

Croatia Becomes Part of Europe’s Schengen Area. What Does That Mean for You?

On January 1, Croatia celebrated two major milestones that will only enhance its already beguiling appeal for travelers. First, the country has become part of the European Union’s Schengen Zone, which means that travelers won’t need to go through passport control when traveling between Croatia and any of 26 other E.U. countries. Second, Croatia adopted the Euro, which means you won’t need to exchange currency when crossing those borders either.

The new ease of travel between Croatia and many other European countries will affect anyone who dreams of a trip combining Croatia’s ancient harbors and charming villages with a few days in neighboring Slovenia, Hungary, or beyond. In all, a total of 27 European countries are part of the Schengen Zone. It’s interesting to note that of the three countries that applied to be added to the zone in 2023, only Croatia was approved; Romania and Bulgaria were denied.

The entry into the Euro Zone also means the removal of land and sea border checks with some of Croatia’s European neighbors. Americans who fly directly to Europe will still need to show their passport at the first Schengen Zone country they enter, of course, but they won’t need to go through border control after that. Check here for a list of all 27 countries that are members of the Euro Zone. At this point, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom (which is no longer part of the EU as a result of Brexit) are not included in the Schengen area and still require travelers to show passports at border control.

Croatia is the 20th European country to adopt the Euro, officially replacing its currency, the Kuna. For Croatia itself, the big benefit of this change is a greater sense of monetary stability. For travelers who will no longer need to exchange currency when they arrive in Croatia, it’s a convenience, particularly for those of us who used to struggle with the mathematical conversions we needed to make whenever we made a purchase in Croatia.

At this point in early 2023, only seven EU countries still use their own currencies: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Sweden.

 

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.

tourist woman on safari in South Africa sitting in jeep with elephant in distance

Here’s Why I Felt Covid-Safe on Safari

As the floodgates of travel reopen and we all learn to negotiate staying safe while away from home—and as European sidewalks and museums are once again crowded with visitors—I want to tell you about the low-risk travel formula I’ve hit upon: an African safari. I’ve spent time in southern Africa twice in the past year (in Botswana and Zimbabwe in 2021, and in Namibia and South Africa in 2022), and on both trips I felt safe and returned home Covid-free. Here’s why:

 

Our safari vehicle at Sabi Sabi: no sides or top, with our ranger at the wheel and our tracker up front. South Africa
Our safari vehicle at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve: no sides or top, with our ranger at the wheel and our tracker up front.
Our enclosed vehicle at Little Kulala in Namibia.
The salad buffet and open-air dining room at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge, South Africa.
The salad buffet and open-air dining room at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge.
The open-air “lobby” at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, South Africa.
The open-air “lobby” at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge.
The dining room at Earth Lodge, South Africa.
The dining room at Earth Lodge.
A special outdoor table for my family at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia.
A special outdoor table for my family at Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp, Namibia.

Just about everything happens outdoors.

On a safari, the bulk of your day is spent on game drives—and at most camps, that means being in a vehicle with no sides (and often no top), and plenty of fresh breeze immediately diluting any exhaled virus particles. Vehicle set-up does vary by camp and by destination; this is something worth discussing with an in-the-know travel planner before your trip. The camps I visited in Namibia’s desert, for example, use enclosed vehicles to keep the sand out. I could open the windows and pop up the roof when I wanted fresh air, and I felt comfortable riding inside with my guides after confirming that they’d been vaccinated (more on that below).

Long before Covid, most safari camps and lodges were already designed for outdoor dining. A year ago, every single meal I ate on safari was served al fresco. On my recent trip, camp staff opted to set up indoors on a couple of chilly mornings and rainy evenings. In the few instances where I didn’t feel comfortable enough sitting near a window, they happily moved my family outside—and brought us blankets to stay warm, and even luminaries for ambiance.

 

Our tracker in Sabi Sabi, Lesley, teaches my son how to grind coffee in the bush.  South African safari
Our tracker in Sabi Sabi, Lesley, teaches my son how to grind coffee in the bush.
inside a charter flight with pilot and tourist woman South African safari
Charter flights make for close quarters; every one of our pilots was vaccinated.
tourist woman and guide on safari in South Africa
Namibian guide Joas arranged for treatment at a private hospital when his parents got Covid; he’s vaccinated.

Most people in the travel industry are vaccinated.

At the time of my most recent trip, just 30% of South Africa’s population and 15% of Namibia’s population was fully vaccinated. But I asked every person I was in close contact with if they were vaccinated, and the answer was always yes. Some of those in Namibia felt that their job was at risk if they didn’t get vaccinated; at the camps I visited in South Africa, a local clinic had vaccinated the entire staff. Even when a country’s overall vaccination rate is relatively low, uptake among people who work in travel is often much higher.

 

The sitting area in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge safari
The sitting area in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge
The bedroom in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge South Africa
The bedroom
The indoor/outdoor bathroom in my suite at Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge in South Africa
The indoor/outdoor bathroom

You’re not interacting with lots of people, even when camps are full.

I visited a range of camps and lodges this year, from remote spots with just eight tents to one with 25 stand-alone villas. While each one was busier than the places I visited last year, nowhere ever felt crowded. I could chat with fellow travelers over the breakfast buffet or at the airstrip waiting for a charter flight, but I never found myself in close quarters with strangers. What’s more, there’s a bit less mixing at safari camps these days: Before Covid, the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve where I stayed, on the edge of South Africa’s Kruger National Park, grouped the same guests together for both game drives and meals. Today, those who don’t pay for a private vehicle will likely share one with others, but each group dines separately.

A savvy fixer can speed you through the only place you’ll find crowds: the airports.

Johannesburg Airport was a ghost town a year ago, but things have picked up significantly since then. Luckily, each time I arrived at an airport on my most recent trip, Trusted Travel Expert Cherri Briggs had someone there to meet me. Sure, I’m capable of navigating check-in counters and customs procedures on my own—but having a minder accompany me meant that I got to skip to the front of lines and use security checks reserved for crew and other VIPs. So even though the airports were busy, the time I had to spend in them shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers was minimal.

 

Photographing Soweto with our photojournalist/guide.
An impromptu drum lesson in Soweto.
Witnessing the devastation of recent flooding on Soweto’s streets.
Visiting a preschool in Soweto. Photo: Ilan Ossendryver
A spontaneous embrace from a food vendor at a Soweto market. Photo: Ilan Ossendryver

I saved my riskiest interactions for the end of the trip.

While the safari was the main purpose for my trip this year, I wanted my ten-year-old son to see a bit of urban Africa as well. We were flying through Johannesburg, so Cherri helped me plan a day-and-a-half in the city. Since city activities were the part of the trip when our exposure to Covid was likely to be highest, we built this into the end of my trip rather than the beginning. On our last day in Africa, a photojournalist-turned-tour-guide took my family to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Satyagraha House (where Gandhi once lived), and the Kliptown neighborhood of Soweto. Cultural exchanges can be tricky, and in Soweto I planned to follow my hosts’ lead in terms of Covid protocols, without disrupting the flow by asking about vaccination status; in practice, that meant going indoors unmasked to visit a preschool, to hear a group of local musicians perform, and to buy some knit hats from a trio of enterprising grannies. Everywhere I went, the welcome seemed warm and genuine, and I’m glad I didn’t have a mask hiding my smile for those brief interactions. (I tested five days after returning home, per CDC guidance, and was negative.)

So that’s why I felt safe on safari—but here’s why I’d go back in a heartbeat:

Rhinos in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve South Africa
Rhinos in Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve
Lions drinking after a kill South African safari
Lions drinking after a kill.
Playful lions south africa safari
Playful lions.
cheetah seen on safari in South Africa
The enormous lungs beneath a cheetah’s prominent chest aid its sprinting abilities.
an elephant seen on safari in South Africa
A thorny breakfast for an elephant.

The wildlife experience is unchanged since Covid.

Few corners of the globe remain unaffected by Covid; the African veld seems to be one such spot (excepting, perhaps, the hand sanitizer that appears beside your sundowners on evening game drives). This was my fifth time on safari, and I saw more animals at Sabi Sabi than I’d seen on any other trip: playful packs of lion cubs running laps around their mothers; elephants munching on shrubbery, seemingly unconcerned by the plant’s inch-long thorns; a barrel-chested cheetah and her offspring that came close enough we could hear them purring; a leopard and the impala kill it had dragged impressively high into a tree; two sturdy rhinos, unaware that their horns would soon be removed to discourage poaching. The wildlife that brings so many to Southern Africa is still there in abundance.

 

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience South Africa, WOW Lister Cherri Briggs arranged for a reduced rate at Bush Lodge and Earth Lodge in the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. Everything I did on my trip is accessible to every traveler who contacts Cherri via Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

 

family of travelers in Egypt at Hatshupset Temple

Egypt During Omicron: A Family Trip

Hi everyone, Billie here. As you know, I went to Egypt this past October. Omicron hadn’t arrived yet, nor had the peak winter tourist season, so when I saw that several families were venturing there over New Year’s, I wanted to check in to see what the experience is like now.

Christa Sullivan is one of those travelers. Based in Florida, her family of six (her husband, and four children ages 12, 19, 21, and 25) just returned from two weeks in Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and on a Nile cruise. Some of their experiences were different than mine—for instance, she found some places crowded that were empty when I visited—but, like me, they felt safe and comfortable and loved sailing the Nile on a dahabiya!

Why she chose Egypt

“I looked at the list you put out of the places that were open to Americans and didn’t have a lot of restrictions. Egypt was on the list, and I already knew that Egypt was on my husband’s bucket list. I’ve always thought it was so dangerous so I wasn’t interested in going. But I asked my kids for their top three places in the world and Egypt was on their list too. Then I saw an article about traveling on the boat on the Nile and I thought, oh it’s not just some dusty pyramids, this could be a really cool trip.”

family of travelers at Egyptian temple at sunset

Pre-trip, her concerns (shared on the phone)

“I worry about safety as an American abroad more than I worry about the virus. When I called Jim [WOW List Egypt expert Jim Berkeley], I said I’m going with four kids—I don’t want to be left on our own. And he reassured me: ‘You’ll never be on your own. We’ll always be with you, we’ll take you everywhere.’ That took away the fear factor.”

Mid-trip, her impressions (shared by email)

“The trip is very different from what I expected. As you know, I wasn’t the one excited about going, but I have loved it. I was surprised at how warm, welcoming and kind most of the people have been. I have enjoyed the food and the culture a great deal, and having an Egyptologist with us every day has made all the difference in adding meaning to the temples, tombs and hieroglyphics we are seeing.”

Cairo was crowded, but she wouldn’t recommend skipping it

“Cairo was a bit overwhelming due to the number of people and the traffic.  You took your life into your hands when you crossed the streets.  Our guide Ahmed was amazing—he was very assertive and made us feel more comfortable maneuvering the city.  We did not like the number of vendors that have accosted us at each place as we walk through on our way to a monument.  They were too aggressive and made us very uncomfortable.  Ahmed was the best at keeping them away, and also keeping away the schoolchildren that wanted to take our picture.… “

They loved the dahabiya boat

“The Nile cruise has been a highlight!  It was a great break after the busy days in Cairo and Luxor to relax on the deck and watch the river and the scenery. Our kids have really, really enjoyed the boat (as have we).

Last night on the boat, we stopped at an island and our captain and Egyptologist took us to a little town back through the woods and we went inside one of the mud brick houses and met the owners and were served tea.  It was so neat to see what’s inside one of their houses.  We also had a bonfire on the banks and they brought a table out and we had our dinner on the shore.  After dinner they danced and sang us some traditional songs.”

family lounging on a boat on the Nile

Her advice to other travelers

“For anyone concerned about Covid, I would avoid going inside the Great Pyramid.  It was tight and hot with zero ventilation. I would also be wary of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor—they were very crowded with no ventilation.  The Valley of the Queens was not crowded…. Outside of Cairo, we haven’t had any safety concerns at all.”

 


 

We’re Here to Help

As a travel journalist and consumer advocate for the past 30 years—first as Condé Nast Traveler’s advice columnist, then as TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate—I’m all too aware of the travel concerns that need to be addressed as a result of this pandemic. For many trips, you’d be wise to use an extremely well-connected, extremely knowledgeable, destination-specific, trip-planning specialist who can act as your local fixer. You’d be even wiser to find and contact that trip planner via The WOW List, which is the first step in my WOW approach to trip planning, created by popular demand from my longtime readers. It’s the approach used by the travelers who are submitting these trip reviews and getting benefits including priority status, VIP treatment, my advice from the start of your trip planning, and the chance to win a surprise, custom-designed WOW Moment on a third qualifying trip. It all starts when you tell us about the trip you want via the questionnaires on The WOW List. —Wendy

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Staying Safe in a Global City: Wendy’s Trip to Istanbul

I’m just back from Istanbul, where I checked out how an iconic global crossroads has learned to manage Covid for the throngs of travelers who have continued coming here almost throughout the pandemic. Unlike the great majority of countries, Turkey has been welcoming international travelers for more than a year now, and when it got ready to vaccinate its citizens, it chose to vaccinate everyone in its travel industry first. This means that everyone who has regular contact with tourists is double-vaccinated. Turkey’s caseload is lower than the caseload back home (Turkey is currently averaging 23 cases per 100,000 people, vs. 47 cases per 100,000 in the U.S.), and its vaccination rate is catching up to that of the United States (57% of Turkey’s population has received one shot, vs. 61% in the US).

Turkey is a country where it’s easy to eat every meal outdoors—in the spring, summer, or fall—and to focus your sightseeing outside too, as the country is an outdoor museum. The first portion of this family trip—our sail in a private boat along the Turquoise Coast—was a Covid-safe experience from start to finish. Istanbul was more challenging: It’s a big, bustling city full of museums, mosques, and other indoor spaces that are tourist magnets, some with single-entry points. Since this was my fifth trip to Turkey, I’ve got a good sense of what’s normal for travelers in Istanbul, which helped as I investigated what’s changed, what hasn’t, what’s open, what’s closed, what’s safe, what’s not, what’s easy, what’s hard, and how to enjoy one of the world’s most vibrant and exotic cities to the max while staying safe. If you’d like to take a trip like mine, or plan one anywhere else in the world, contact us via the black buttons on The WOW List. In the meantime, enjoy my photos!

My number-one hotel tip

Book hotel rooms with balconies (or at least windows that open) for ventilation and where you can eat your breakfast (typically included in your hotel price) outdoors.  It’s easy to eat all your meals outdoors in the spring, summer, or fall. And, of course, spend time in neighborhoods where the throngs of tourists aren’t.  Check out these scenes from our stroll through Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul. When there wasn’t enough space on the sidewalks to stay socially distanced, people just walked in the street (which were empty enough for it). Check out our lunch too: We ate indoors, but next to a big window with a strong breeze, at Ismet Baba Fish Restaurant.

At night, we watched sunset turn to night from Mikla restaurant on the roof of The Marmara Pera. In how many restaurants can you sit in Europe and overlook Asia?!

The one indoor thing you do not want to miss

Turkey is a country where it’s easy to do most things in the open air—including dining and sightseeing—but there’s one indoor thing you do not want to miss: Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. When we went to the Grand Bazaar, it was mid-afternoon, and the main passageways were crowded, with about 20% of the people not wearing their masks. It was ventilated, though—the windows were open, and cool air was blowing through—and it was pretty easy to quickly access offshoot passageways that were nearly empty and the occasional open-air courtyard (both pictured). My advice:  Go to the Grand Bazaar at 9 am, when the shops start to open and there are the fewest people.

 

And if it gets too crowded…

If the Grand Bazaar gets too crowded, head to safe havens nearby. One block away sits Orient Handmade, a clean, spacious, professional, trusted carpet emporium where we acquired a little souvenir.

 

How to see the Spice Bazaar safely

Thanks to Covid protocols in place, Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar feels safe to me. It wasn’t at all crowded when we went at 10 am. (Go when the shops open in the morning, instead of in the busier afternoons.) The bazaar’s windows were open, and cool air was blowing through. At the entrances are hand disinfectant dispensers, and they check the temperature of every person entering (see demonstration by yours truly). Plus the shops we purchased tea and spices from served us out of sanitized bins in the back, rather than from the display areas up front.

 

 

How to visit Hagia Sophia safely

Hagia Sophia means “holy wisdom,” but when we visited, there were a lot of unwise people inside not wearing masks (about 20%). The mosque was closed for disinfection when we first arrived—apparently they disinfect every couple of hours—and we were told to come back in half an hour. At about 1:00 pm when we returned, it was impossible to stay 1.5 meters away from other people (1.5 meters = 4.9 feet = the social distancing that Turkish signs advise). This was on a Monday in August, so it was a peak day and month. Lesson learned: Go when it’s least crowded, which is first thing in the morning—8 or 9 am—and not on a Friday. (And, given how many people are removing their shoes, remember which shelf you left yours on!)

 

My favorite mosque in Istanbul

The Sülimaniye Mosque has always been my favorite mosque in Istanbul: It’s bright and pretty and peaceful, with panoramic views and airy gardens. When we visited at a peak time for sightseers (midday on a weekday in August), it was uncrowded and well ventilated and felt Covid-safe. By contrast, the Blue Mosque was the most jam-packed and stuffy place we visited in Istanbul, with no social distancing—AND it’s under restoration, so there’s little to see. So, during Covid, you might skip the Blue Mosque in favor of Sülimaniye.

 

What it’s like at Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace! Social distancing wasn’t really possible in the security line, which is the single entry point to the Palace, but it’s a quick line and outdoors. It was better than an airport security line!  After that, the crowd disperses. The arms and relics rooms were hopping, but the Harem and the Sultan’s bedroom were empty. Check out the Topkapi Dagger!

ASK US ABOUT A TURKEY TRIP LIKE WENDY’S

Transparency disclosure: So that I could experience Istanbul on your behalf, WOW Lister Karen Fedorko Sefer arranged for complimentary accommodations and transportation in Istanbul. 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.

 


 

We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

american tourists posing with dancers in traditional blue and white dress in Uzbekistan

Photos From Wendy’s Family Trip to the Silk Road

american tourists posing with dancers in traditional blue and white dress in Uzbekistan

We met this teen dance troupe in Khiva, where they were competing with young performers from other parts of Uzbekistan as part of the annual Melon Festival.

 

I’m just back from a trip to Central Asia that was packed with UNESCO World Heritage Sites that we had almost to ourselves and neighborhoods so unchanged for centuries—so relatively undeveloped for tourists—that it felt like we had traveled back in time.  The highlights of our Silk Road adventure were Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand—legendary cities that have been a crossroads of cultures for 2,500 years and today belong to the 28-year-old country of Uzbekistan.

The Uzbek people have a strong innate tradition of hospitality toward guests and see so few foreign visitors that, we found, travelers are a curiosity who are welcomed enthusiastically. Most of the tourists in Uzbekistan are from France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Japan, and South Korea, and the few visiting Americans tend to be on group tours, so the locals were especially thrilled to meet Americans (us) who were not in a group and on whom they could practice their English.  We were able to enjoy a variety of spontaneous surprises and fascinating encounters, simply because we were American.


I shot this video with my iPhone at a dress rehearsal for the International Music Festival that is taking place in the magnificent Registan Square in Samarkand, August 25 – 30, 2019.

As an example, one evening when we were people-watching outside the Registan in Samarkand, we and other foreigners standing there were suddenly invited into a special seating area inside the Registan to watch a dress rehearsal for this week’s International Music Festival (see video above).   On another evening, also in Samarkand, we were walking home from dinner and passed by a reception hall with a party going on; some partygoers spotted us and invited us inside, where we were wined and dined and treated as honored guests, just because we were Americans in their country.  Below you’ll find photos and videos of these highlights and more, taken from my Instagram feed.  Be sure to click on the audio icon in the videos, so that you hear the music we did!

Anyone who thinks Uzbekistan might not be safe for travelers or friendly toward Americans simply hasn’t been there and experienced it for themselves.  Our trip was arranged by the Silk Road travel specialist on my WOW List, Zulya Rajabova. Zulya grew up in Uzbekistan and worked as an interpreter and guide there for visiting heads of state before starting her U.S.-based travel company.  If you would like a trip like mine, I recommend reaching out to her via this questionnaire, so that she knows I sent you and you’re recognized as a VIP  traveler, and so that I can follow your trip-planning process and advise you along the way.

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Wendy family dinner Bukhara old town square Uzbekistan

This is our favorite spot in the ancient Silk Road city of Bukhara. Lyabi Hauz is the Old Town’s main square, built in 1620 around a pond lined with mulberry trees. It’s such a lively, peaceful, joyful, thoroughly local scene.

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Transparency disclosure:  While my family paid for our airfare to Uzbekistan, most of our travel arrangements on the ground once we arrived were complimentary, thanks to Zulya Rajabova’s connections there.  In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on her part, nor was anything promised on mine. Zulya had been trying to show me her homeland for seven years, and I finally said yes!   Read your fellow paying travelers’ reviews of Zulya’s trips here.

Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands.

Choosing a Galapagos Cruise: The Most Important Things to Know

There was one small box left under the Christmas tree, addressed to my husband, my son, and me. Inside was a tiny globe from the dollar store—a symbol, my mother explained, of the trip that she and my father would take us on together. The destination: TBD.

It’s part of my job here at WendyPerrin.com to read every trip review that we receive, so I knew immediately that the Galapagos Islands were a multigenerational crowd-pleaser: The low-effort/high-payoff wildlife sightings were sure to appeal to both my 7-year-old son and my 82-year-father, who bracket our small family, as would the unpack-once ease of a cruise.

The tougher decision was which of the 77 licensed vessels to book for our voyage. Hotels are becoming more and more common on the Galapagos’ four inhabited islands, but we knew that we wanted to visit a wider range of islands than we could see on day trips from land. After all, it’s how species change from island to island that steered Darwin to his theory of evolution, and that has attracted awe-struck visitors ever since—those finches and their multitude of beaks, if you remember a little of biology class. And I’m so glad we went by sea: The moments when we, our shipmates, and a colony of bold sea lions shared an empty beach, with not a single other ship on the horizon, were my favorites of the trip by far, and the time we spent in a handful of towns I found the least enjoyable.

To aid us in narrowing down the options, I reached out to Ashton Palmer, an expedition cruise specialist on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts who has spent time in the Galapagos, both with and without his own family of four kids. As Ashton helped us sort through the possibilities, here are the main factors that I learned you need to weigh when picking the right Galapagos experience for your group. Many of these factors, it’s important to note, are drastically different from the considerations you want to weigh when picking an ocean cruise:

  1. Length of cruise
Bartolome Islet and Santiago Island: This is the iconic postcard view of the Galapagos Islands

Bartolome Islet and Santiago Island: This is the iconic postcard view of the Galapagos. Photo: Ryan Damm

Most Galapagos cruises are, for all intents and purposes, almost two days shorter than advertised; that’s because you arrive from mainland Ecuador on the first day and have only the afternoon to explore, and most itineraries don’t include any activities before returning to the airport on the final morning. Anything shorter than a five-day cruise—which includes three full days of excursions—doesn’t give you enough time to properly explore the archipelago. On the other hand, you needn’t look for anything longer than a week: Our cruise lasted six full days, and we saw every major species but one (the flightless cormorant, which is found on only two islands).

2. Itinerary/combination of islands

The National Geographic Endeavour II at anchor off Espanola Island in the Galapagos Islands

The National Geographic Endeavour II at anchor off Espanola Island. This 96-passenger ship is the biggest allowed in the Galapagos, but tiny by cruise-ship standards—and perfect for our multigenerational group, which ranged in age from 7 to 82. Photo: Ryan Damm

In many parts of the world, the size of your cruise ship determines which ports you can visit; forget navigating Alaska’s Inside Passage or the hidden gems of the Caribbean on a 5,000-passenger megaship. But in the Galapagos, every vessel can access all the locations where Ecuador’s national park service allows visitors, by anchoring off the island and carrying travelers to land via pangas (small inflatable boats).

Genovesa Island in the Galapagos Islands - tourists get Up close and personal with sea lions.

Genovesa Island: Up close and personal with sea lions. Photo: Ryan Damm

boy takes photograph of frigatebirds on Genovesa Island in the Gapalagos Islands

Genovesa Island: Zeke takes aim at some frigatebirds. Photo: Ryan Damm

Furthermore, the park service dictates the itinerary of each vessel, and it does so with the marquee attractions in mind. So don’t worry that you’re going to end up on a week-long cruise and miss the giant tortoises or blue-footed boobies. Generally speaking, the longer the cruise, the greater the assortment of wildlife and landscapes you’ll see. Some islands are dusty and have only scrubby vegetation; others are covered by abrasive lava rock and bits of pioneer cactus; still others are cloaked in rain-soaked foliage. But beyond length (or the requirements of a serious birder), there’s not much to make one itinerary superior to another.

3. Size and features of the ship

tourists wade through mangroves on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos Islands

Genovesa Island: Wading through mangroves. Photo: Ryan Damm

Tourist vessels in the Galapagos range from small yachts that carry just a dozen passengers to expedition ships holding 100. That capacity dictates the number of guides on board, as visitors must be accompanied by a naturalist on every excursion, divided in groups of up to 16. So a 16-passenger catamaran will likely have just one guide and one option of activity per outing (typically hiking, snorkeling, or kayaking). The 96-passenger ship that we settled on, Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endeavour II, had seven naturalists on board, and every day offered a range of activities to suit different abilities: beach strolls, longer walks, shallow or deep-water snorkeling, and even a glass-bottom boat, which I was surprised to find nearly as rewarding as snorkeling (and with the added benefit of a guide naming each species as it wriggled below you). This proved essential for a family such as ours with varying levels of stamina. Keep in mind, though, that none of the hikes allowed by the park service are more than two to three miles in length; my young son wilted at times in the thick and steamy air, but his little legs never once gave out.

birdwatching on Genovesa Island on a Galapagos island cruise

Genovesa Island: Framing a swallow-tailed gull. Some Galapagos walking trails, such as this one, are quite flat, while others require that you boulder-hop among volcanic rocks. Photo: Ryan Damm

The larger ships also tend to have more creature comforts; our rooms had gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows, for instance, and the kitchen staff catered to finicky eaters with ease (when the captain dined with us one evening and saw my son receive a special order of pesto pasta, he even requested a bowl for himself). Consider what you’ll actually use, though: A hot tub may sound appealing, but you’ll seldom want to jump in given the year-round humidity; and with two or even three active excursions every day, only die-hards will use a gym. Room to roam onboard can be a boon for families with young kids who might feel cooped up on a small yacht; a larger ships also brings more potential buddies for your children. By day two, my son had blown us off to eat at a kids’ table with a group of new friends.

On a smaller ship, the days unfold a bit more efficiently: You won’t have to wait in line for pangas to start each excursion, and the mandatory park and safety talks are shorter (it’s easier to succinctly convey a message—and answer questions—with a group of a dozen rather than 100). There’s also a bit more flexibility to each day’s schedule, with the opportunity to linger a few minutes longer at a fabulous snorkeling spot or on a deserted beach.

4. Quality of the naturalists

Galapagos Cruise boy spotting seabirds off coast

Espanola Island: My son enjoys a moment of silence spotting seabirds with our fabulous naturalist, Celso Mantalvo Fuentes. Photo: Ryan Damm

Some cruise operators prioritize the expertise and experience of their guides more than others; this was a factor that attracted us—and just about every other passenger I chatted with on the ship—to Lindblad. The naturalists leading our expeditions had published studies and photographs in scientific journals; started nonprofits to introduce island kids to the Galapagos’ natural wonders (which even locals can only visit with a guide); and consulted on ecotourism projects throughout Ecuador. A knowledgeable Galapagos trip-planning specialist will have cruised on most or all of the vessels they recommend and will know which attract the best-qualified naturalists (almost all of whom are from Ecuador).

5. Commitment to sustainability

hot peppers, hibiscus flowers, and herbs sourced from Galapagos farms by Lindblad cruises

Lindblad Expeditions sources much of the produce served on the ship—including these hot peppers, hibiscus flowers, and herbs—from Galapagos farms. It’s an economic win for locals, and also good practice environmentally: Invasive pests sometimes catch a ride on food shipped in from the mainland. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Tourist vessels in the Galapagos are strictly regulated by the park service, but some cruise operators go above and beyond to be good stewards of this unique environment. Lindblad, for example, has partnered with farmers on the islands to grow much of the produce used on the ships. This not only creates employment opportunities for locals but also avoids introducing invasive pests to the islands (insects can hitch a ride with food shipped over from the mainland). Lindblad will also only serve beer and soft drinks that come in reusable glass bottles (their Ecuadorian craft beer selection is particularly impressive); they stock their gift shops with jewelry, chocolates, and hand-painted t-shirts that are handmade in the Galapagos; and traveler donations to a fund that the company has set up support island conservation and local education. Ask your cruise company what it’s doing to ensure that the Galapagos are preserved for the next generation.

6. Time of year

There’s no off-season in the Galapagos: Since the islands are sprinkled around the equator, you don’t get seasonal variations in weather. The ocean currents are a different story, though, and the normally tepid water gets downright chilly—and choppy—in September and October. If it’s animal behavior you’re after, fear not: Something is nesting, mating, and birthing just about every month of the year. While our April departure was dictated by my son’s school schedule, it meant that we saw the waved albatross returning to land on Española Island and great flocks of frigatebirds flouting their bright red neck pouches on Genovesa. Had we visited in December, we would have seen sea lion pups and bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the water. If you’d rather not deal with the chatter of kids on your cruise, avoid spring-break weeks and the summer months. (Of course, if you want playmates for your own children, those weeks are ideal.)

7. Your preference for privacy—or camaraderie

National Geographic Endeavour Galapagos Cruise ship cabin

Cabin Tip: The two Suite B cabins are the only ones on the National Geographic Endeavour II with these large windows. Photo: Ryan Damm

A smaller vessel feels more intimate, and you’ll likely be trading email addresses with your fellow passengers by the end of the trip. If you’d rather keep to yourself, you might actually prefer a larger ship—or, for the ultimate in privacy, a chartered vessel for your exclusive use. Chartering is best done with groups of ten to 20 family members or friends.

When I called Ashton for advice, he asked about our family dynamics and trip goals, and then presented three options: The Origin, a 20-passenger vessel that carries two guides for some of the smallest excursion groups available; La Pinta, a mid-sized, 40-passenger ship; and the National Geographic Endeavour II. We chose the Endeavour II for its extra onboard amenities and wider range of outings. And it was such a terrific fit for us that, within three weeks of leaving the Galapagos, we booked an Alaska cruise on a similarly sized Lindblad ship (this from a family that had never taken a cruise vacation before). Had my parents not been along, I might have preferred the more intimate feel of a smaller vessel, with less time spent waiting in line to board pangas or attending mandatory lectures. But for a multigenerational group such as ours, a larger ship was just the ticket.

START A TRIP TO THE GALAPAGOS

boy watches a Galapagos hawk on Espanola Island in the Galapagos Islands

Espanola Island: Zeke stares down a Galapagos hawk, the islands’ apex predator.

Full Disclosure: Lindblad Expeditions provided this reporter with a reduced rate for her cruise cabin.  In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of editorial coverage on Lindblad Expeditions’ part, nor was anything promised on ours.