Tag Archives: family

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.


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.

START A TRIP TO SPAIN

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

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

START A TRIP TO OMAN

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

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

START A TRIP TO ITALY

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

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

START A TRIP TO DUBAI AND OMAN

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

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

START A TRIP TO MALTA

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

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

START A TRIP TO POLAND

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

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

START A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

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

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

START A TRIP TO BELIZE

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

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

START A TRIP TO GALAPAGOS

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

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

START A TRIP TO SPAIN

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

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

START A TRIP TO ENGLAND

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

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

START A TRIP TO EGYPT

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

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

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

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

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

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

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

START A TRIP TO ITALY

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.

START A TRIP TO EGYPT

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.

START A TRIP TO DUBAI AND ABU DHABI

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.

START A TRIP TO COLOMBIA

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.

START A TRIP TO THE MIDDLE EAST

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.

START A TRIP TO IRELAND

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.

START A TRIP TO OMAN

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.

START A TRIP TO SPAIN

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.

START A TRIP TO BELIZE

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.

START A TRIP TO MEXICO

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.

START A TRIP TO ENGLAND

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.

START A TRIP TO MOROCCO

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.

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

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.

START A TRIP TO SWITZERLAND

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.

START A TRIP TO ISRAEL

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.

START A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

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.

START A TRIP TO CROATIA

 

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.

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Romantic Travel Ideas for an Anniversary Trip, or Any Trip

Considering what we’ve all been through in the past few years, it feels more important than ever to celebrate joyous milestones.  So we’ve collected these unforgettable wedding-anniversary trips enjoyed by your fellow travelers. They all used The WOW List to find the right trip planner who could deliver the maximized experience and VIP treatment that people who are celebrating a special anniversary deserve.  Here’s how to get your own WOW trip.


25th Anniversary trip to Panama: “I never would have found this hotel on my own. It is on a private island…”

Bungalow of a private resport in Panama.

An eco-friendly private-island resort, Isla Palenque is on Panama’s Pacific coast. Photo: Isla Palenque

“My husband and I had a fabulous 25th anniversary trip to Panama planned by Pierre. We started out with one night staying in the Old City in Panama City. At Pierre’s suggestion, we stayed at the American Trade hotel. It was fabulous. It was like a throwback in time but with all the modern luxuries. And the location was perfect for exploring the Old City and going out to eat. Pierre arranged a dinner reservation at a nearby restaurant that could accommodate all of my husband’s dietary restrictions. To our surprise, they seated us at a secluded table on a balcony overlooking a plaza.

The next day was on to Isla Palenque. Absolute paradise. Pierre arranged all of the travel, from the car to the airport to the pickup at the airport in David and the boat ride then to Paradise. I never would have found this hotel on my own. I have never been to such a fabulous hotel. It is on a private island. 400 acres. Eight casitas and one villa. There are nearly 50 staff members for less than 20 guests. The water was 85°. The sand was soft as silk. The restaurant was excellent and very accommodating to our dietary restrictions. We went snorkeling, see kayaking, paddle boarding and dolphin watching. We still had plenty of time to do nothing on the private beach.

On the final day we had about 8 hours in Panama City before our evening flight back to the States. Pierre arranged a private guided tour of the Canal and the city. That was also fabulous.” —Randi Maidman

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

START A TRIP TO PANAMA

30th Anniversary trip to Antarctica: “When we entered the igloo, the ship’s crew had it decorated with anniversary décor along with champagne…”

Travelers in Antarctica

Jeff and Lisa Wellen having a ball in Antarctica.

“From the first Zoom call with Ashton and Christine, we knew we were in great hands for our dream trip to Antarctica. On this trip, we were celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and I asked if there could be something special I could do to surprise my wife on the trip. They took care of everything. They first surprised us with an anniversary bottle of champagne and a cake at our hotel in Santiago.

One of the things you can do on the ship is sleep in an igloo on the top deck. It was first come, first serve. We were able to get the igloo reserved for one night. When we entered the igloo, the ship’s crew had it decorated with anniversary décor along with champagne and treats. It was so emotional that it brought my wife and I to tears.

The Lindblad Resolution was spectacular, and we are so thankful Ashton pushed us to take this ship. This is their newest ship and we saw every day why this is the best ship to take to the Great White Continent….This ship’s capabilities allowed us to go to the eastern side of the peninsula. Not one of the other sixty ships in the area had the capabilities to do that. It allowed us to sail through the Weddell Sea and see enormous tabular icebergs the size of three or four football stadiums, 100’s of Emperor Penguin chicks, thousands of penguins, pods of killer whales and watched pods of humpbacks eating fifty yards from the ship.—Jeff Wellen

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

START A TRIP TO ANTARCTICA

50th Anniversary trip to Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland: “Following in some of the footsteps of our original honeymoon…”

Tom Redburn

Lisa Redburn at a cooking lesson at Tatjana Ciciliani’s home in Trojir, Croatia. Photo: Traveler Tom Redburn

“Lisa and I have had a lot of wonderful adventures in our more than 50 years together, but for our 50th wedding anniversary trip to Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Switzerland, the extraordinary planning of Claudia and Luisa took our travel experience to a whole new level. It’s true that Europe was already getting overrun with tourists during our six-week trip, but we rarely felt it because time after time Claudia and Luisa arranged guides and outings that took us away from the crowds and to hidden corners we never would have found on our own.

There are too many highlights to include all of them, but some of our most memorable moments were a gastronomic walking tour of Bologna with Giacomo, a guided E-bike ride along the Appian Way in Rome with Gioia, who spontaneously added in a visit to the multi-layered Church of San Clemente when we expressed interest in it, a guided cable car ride and walk to the top of Anacapri with Melania, and two hikes in the Dolomites with Paola, who revised her plans to reflect our own capacities for strenuous walking (there’s a theme here: nearly all our best guides were women). And that’s just Italy.

In Croatia and Slovenia, we enjoyed a guided walk up Mt. Srd above Dubrovnik, where two women from Piknik Dubrovnik had set up an extraordinary sunset picnic dinner just for us, two guided trips (one by E-bike, the other walking) in the backcountry of the islands of Korcula and Hvar that both included amazing private lunches far from the madding crowds, and an extraordinary tour by the charismatic Mario Bartulovic of his family’s winery and steep-sided vineyard on one of our only rainy days. We nearly cancelled but are so thankful that we didn’t. We also had a food shopping and cooking session with the charming Tatjana Ciciliani at her home in Trojir, near Split.

And the discovery of the trip, for us, was Slovenia, where we dined at the famous Hisa Franko (a 3 1/2-hour, 18-course tasting menu from chef Ana Ros), with a stay at tiny Chalets Nebesa, which is not to be missed if you are anywhere in the area. Four-room Nebesa (reserve far in advance!) is owned and run by Ana’s charming mother, father, sister and brother-in-law, and enjoys an extraordinary view in the Julian Alps over Kobarid, where there are still trenches from the devastating fighting along a front of World War I.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that, with only one or two exceptions, every guide was sensational, just about every accommodation was terrific, and nearly all the reserved dinners were a delight. And that’s not to mention our WOW Moment from Wendy of a lunch and wine tasting at the extraordinary BIBICh Winery, on a day when we traveled from Split to Zadar, right after visiting Krka National Park.

Luisa and Claudia took my idea of following in some of the footsteps of our original honeymoon trip to Europe (10 months on $6,000 in 1973-74 to Italy, Yugoslavia, Austria, Greece, Switzerland and France) and built it into an equally memorable highlight in our lives together. We spent our actual anniversary at a pension in the car-free Fex Valley in the Engadin that was one of the top places we stayed on our honeymoon. Our trip lived up to everything I had been dreaming about since we first thought of the idea more than two years in advance.” —Tom Redburn

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

START A TRIP TO CENTRAL EUROPE

50th Anniversary trip to the Galapagos Islands: “A bouquet of five dozen roses and a bottle of wine…”

Blue-footed Booby on rocks, in Galapagos Islands.

Blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands celebrating our 50th Anniversary. We shared with Allie our desire to focus on the Galapagos: the variety of wildlife, geography, and culture.   The trip was wonderful. Celeste, our mainland guide, met us at the airport and checked us in at the Hilton Colon Guayaquil. Our room, on the executive floor, was decorated with rose petals covering the bed and an assortment of chocolates in celebration of our anniversary (thanks, Allie).

We flew to the Islands and boarded the Endemic, a 16-passenger catamaran with floor to ceiling windows and balconies in each large stateroom. Carlos, a native of the Galapagos Islands, was our terrific naturalist guide. We visited the islands of Santa Cruz, Santiago, Bartolome, Isabella, Fernandina, and Rabida. We snorkeled with marine iguanas, crabs, sharks, penguins, green Pacific turtles, flightless cormorants, and sea lions. We also saw land iguanas, flamingos, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, giant tortoises, pelicans, hawks, frigatebirds and many other endemic species. We took numerous hikes learning about the geology and geography of the Islands and viewing wildlife. Carlos kept us very busy, with four planned activities each day, including hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and panga rides. Guests were welcome to stay and relax onboard if they wanted to skip an activity.

Celeste escorted us from the Guayaquil airport to the Hotel del Parque on our return to the mainland. We were greeted in our suite with a bouquet of five dozen roses and a bottle of wine in celebration of our Anniversary (thanks again, Allie). With Allie’s advice and help, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” —Scott and Lorna Conroy

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

START A TRIP TO THE GALAPAGOS

20th Anniversary trip to Italy: “Exploring the gardens and farm…eating the farm-to-table food…all set in a serene oasis in the heart of Tuscany…”

Andrea Phillips

Traveler Andrea Phillips and family enjoying a summer evening in Tuscany during their WOW trip.

“My family of four, with two teen girls, had a wonderful and action-packed trip to Italy in mid to late June covering Umbria, Tuscany, Florence, Bologna, Lake Como and Milan, planned with Maria. We stayed at hotels that were the perfect fit (like the one in Florence that had a rooftop pool to beat the heat!), had the best rooms and locations and such personal service, all due to Maria’s connections.  Italy was busy with travelers while we were there, but I can honestly say that it did not affect our plans at all, as Maria had it coordinated and timed out so perfectly.

This trip was also to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and Maria had suggested two stops along the way that were very special. Wow, were they ever! Borgo Santo Pietro, a working farm & wellness resort in west Tuscany, and Grand Hotel Tremezzo, near Bellagio in Lake Como. Both resorts resembled something made out of a dream. Beautiful landscapes, amazing service, delicious food, gorgeous rooms, and so many amenities. At Borgo Santo Pietro, you had the feeling of being in a fairy garden wherever you went and around every corner, there was something new to discover.  Bicycles & e-bikes, animal-tending sessions, exploring the gardens and farm, tennis courts, the spa & classes, eating the farm-to-table food in their lovely restaurants, all set in a serene oasis in the heart of Tuscany. We did not want to leave!

The other amazing stop was the Hotel Grand Tremezzo, which is a standout feature on any Lake Como ferry ride with its striking architecture, gardens and in-lake floating pool in front, so actually staying there was quite a treat! The inner decor of the hotel and outer gardens were magical and so were the concierges and staff that were always ready to help. We enjoyed the spa, the many pools and casual restaurants and even had a private wakeboarding session one morning on the Lake! That is a memory that will never be forgotten and made this stop my girls’ favorite! Maria also arranged a great private boat tour to visit Bellagio and the famous villas of the lake with a lovely private guide, who had access to go inside the villas and educate us on all of the historic collections and stories. It was fascinating!

We were surprised with our WOW Moment early in this trip. We were given a special opportunity to be dressed up for the night in the Foligno Quintana traditional costumes for their festival later in the week. That was a unique experience and one that we would never have been able to arrange or even be allowed to do without Maria’s network in Italy. Thank you Wendy and Maria!

We had many other activities that were also highlights. In Umbria, we went canyoning through a roaring mountain river, had an in-depth local cooking class, a gelato-making class, and went truffle hunting with the cutest, yet very talented dogs. In Siena, we had lunch on the exact alleyway where the Mille Miglia Race of Classic Cars were driving through to enter the Il Campo (definitely because of Maria’s connections in Italy!). In Florence, we climbed the Brunelleschi Duomo, took a lively pizza-making class, saw the awe-inspiring David & the Uffizi Gallery, and took a relaxing Arno River boat ride. In Lucca, we rode bikes around the medieval walls where we crossed paths with a special parade of classic Fiat 500’s. In Bologna, we visited one of the world’s oldest universities, and in nearby Maranello, drove Ferraris through the streets of the town where they are made! In Milan, we had the privilege of being able to see the Last Supper, which was breathtaking. Needless to say, we were very busy on this trip!

It was a trip full of variety, which I had specifically asked Maria for when planning this vacation last fall, and she delivered!  When we head to Italy again, I will definitely have Maria help me plan our route around the country, but next time, we will stay longer than 3 nights at each stop to really experience the culture and have some more free time to explore on our own!” —Andrea Phillips

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

START A TRIP TO ITALY

50th Anniversary safari: “A bush dinner with an open bonfire and full moon celebrating our anniversary. Local folks came in their native dress, danced and sang…”

Two young lion cubs ( Panthera Leo) looking at the camera, Samburu National Reserve, Kenya.

Two young lion cubs at the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya. Photo: Shutterstock

“To celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, we decided we wanted to take our two daughters and their families on an African safari. The trip Daniel planned for us was fantastic. Since we and our daughters live in 3 different U.S. cities, we met in Nairobi and stayed for 2 nights. The accommodations at the House of Waine were outstanding and the staff very accommodating, given two of our arrivals were very late and the 4 grandkids varied in age from 6 to 13. This gave us time to get over some jet lag and see some of Nairobi. We then flew via private charter for 4 nights to a Saruni camp in Samburu, followed by another private charter to a Saruni camp in Maasai Mara for 4 nights, before returning to Nairobi for our flights home.

The staff and guides at the camps were friendly and went out of their way to please us. They had a special celebration for our anniversary at all three locations. They also celebrated one of our son-in-law’s birthdays while we were on the trip with a cake and singing at each location.

Samburu is semi-arid and Maasai Mara lush and green. It was great to see the two different areas and experience the different as well as similar animals in each. Daniel is the one that recommended the two different areas and we are quite happy he did. The pace of the trip which he planned was good; having 4 days at each camp gave us the time to truly experience and appreciate each area.

Our experience suggests that other travelers should pace their trip similar to ours. Two of our international flights were extremely late and having 2 nights in Nairobi before going to the safari camps allowed us to catch our breath. Also spending 4 nights at a camp allows you to settle in and appreciate the uniqueness of the location.

Seeing all the animals with our extended family at each location made this a special travel experience. Some of the most outstanding were seeing the 5 animals unique to the Samburu area, lions along with some cubs, leopards, cheetah, elephants, giraffes and hippos. The sundowners and meals in the bush also were very special times. Of these, the most memorable was having a bush dinner with an open bonfire and full moon celebrating our anniversary. Local folks came in their native dress, danced and sang. They encouraged the kids and adults to participate and we all had a grand time. We would not have had all these wonderful experiences if it had not been for Daniel.” —David Magdanz

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

START AN AFRICAN SAFARI TRIP

Norway: “We were serenaded by a musician playing a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle…”

Reine village with traditional red rorbu cottages, fishing boats and high mountains in the background on Lofoten islands in Norway.

Reine village surrounded by high mountains in Lofoten Islands in Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

“We traveled from Oslo to Nesseby, which is past the Arctic Circle near the Russian border, spending 3 nights each in 7 venues. Torunn tailored the trip to our preferences, which lean toward a bit of adventure and agri-tourism. In the north we stayed at a 2-room lodge run by a Sami fisherman and spent a morning crab fishing on his boat and an afternoon on an archaeological walk with his wife. He was an excellent cook and served foods he and his wife had caught, shot, or foraged from the landscape. He served the crab we caught in 3 different preparations, each of which was excellent.

The next day we toured the area with a Sami reindeer herder. We also spent time on a small island well out in the Atlantic where we kayaked along the seashore to a lighthouse; foraged in Trondheim with a professional forager picking plants for our lunch; visited a dairy near Oslo producing a unique cheese product and advocating a more humane way to treat dairy cattle; and spent 3 nights at a farm with a gourmet chef specializing in dishes featuring fruit and vegetables from the farm. We received very personal treatment from the hosts at our smaller venues and each of them indicated how much they valued their relationship with Torunn.

Our wedding anniversary occurred during the trip and Torunn arranged a WOW Moment for us that was great fun. We were in Aurland at a farm set in a stunningly beautiful valley with steep mountainsides and many waterfalls. We were serenaded by a musician playing a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, a type of double-strung violin. The venue was a small shelter with a magnificent view, and we toasted ourselves and the trip with homemade pear Kombucha made by the chef. We thoroughly enjoyed it.” –George Stephens

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

START A TRIP TO NORWAY

20th Anniversary trip to Tahiti: “No noise other than the wind, the waves, and the coconut trees…”

Michael Ruma

Rainbow over Tahiti. Photo: Traveler Michael Ruma

“We traveled to Tahiti, visiting three different islands. I had held off on faraway, remote beach destinations for decades under the notion of the value for your money and the ease of travel of Mexico and the Caribbean. But given this trip was meant to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, I threw caution to the winds and went all in.

Getting to Tahiti is not the hard part. The adventure starts as soon as you begin booking your inter-island air travel, boat transfers, a sundry of activities, and actually coordinate all of the above to achieve a relaxing visit to the islands. We did not have to worry about any of this with Kleon at the helm. He asked important questions about our likes and dislikes and then crafted an itinerary which slowly evolved into a spectacular journey with three ever-better chapters in a jaw-dropping beautiful region.

Our first stop was Vahine Island Resort and Spa. With nine acres and only a handful of rooms, this small island stop helped us relax, reset and realize what truly is Tahitian beauty and calm. No noise other than the wind, the waves, and the coconut trees. No thinking about meal choices with simple, but elegant prix fixe dinner menus. No people (there were a few other couples which we visited with over meals and activities), but a private tranquil island where my wife and I watched the sunset on the dock with baby blacktip reef sharks swimming underneath, cracked open fresh coconuts when thirsty, and went paddle boarding in the large bay between Vahine and Tahaa…all alone. The privacy, intimacy, and peace on this island with such a limited number of guests began to open my eyes to why we made the long journey to this beach.

We traveled to Bora Bora next. A water taxi with an impromptu stop to see over a hundred blacktip reef sharks in pristinely clear water was an unexpected highlight during our ride to the airport. No airport security made the trip even better. Upon arrival to Bora Bora, another boat awaited to transfer us to the St. Regis. While significantly more tourists visit this island, the number of hotels and additional guests did not diminish the striking beauty of Mount Otemanu. We enjoyed our over-the-water bungalow immensely, in particular, leaping off the deck into the refreshing turquoise lagoon water. We chose to refresh our diving skills and were incredibly fortunate to have two massive reef mantas swim two feet over our heads while we gazed upward from 40 feet below on the white sand bottom.

Immensely relaxed, in beach mode and thrilled with our first two hotel stays, we topped off our travel with our final nights at the Brando in Tetiaroa. Lunch at your private pool, scuba diving outside amongst a mountain of colorful coral, cocktails at sunset at the bar above the treeline…simply ask and your wish is their command. Getting to the hotel is equally spectacular using a singular private charter which whisked us to and from paradise without a worry and with ease. And for my wife who seems to attract mosquito bites wherever we may be, the hotel has an answer for that as well. Their island scientists eradicated the pest from the island without the use of any chemicals, allowing for outdoor enjoyment unlike any other experience where you may encounter the often annoying bugs. The experience at the Brando can only be described as sublime perfection, where any of your needs or desires instantly come to fruition.

Tahiti is burned into our memories with its unforgettably blue waters, tranquil relaxing days, vivid and abundant sea life and unique island vibes. Now home, we daydream daily of when we will return.” —Michael Ruma

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

START A TRIP TO FRENCH POLYNESIA

25th Anniversary trip to Italy’s Cinque Terre: “All of our dinner reservations included the best tables and the best views…”

Colorful harbor at Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I had a fabulous trip to the Cinque Terre, Italy, for our 25th anniversary.

I had an initial meeting over Zoom with Anna to discuss the purpose of our trip and our style of travel, things we enjoy, etc. and then Anna basically took it from there. She came up with a suggested itinerary which we then discussed and finalized together.  I had no idea what to expect and we were WOWED from the moment we arrived. All of our transfers included first-class transportation services, each of our hotels provided a complimentary upgrade along with a welcome gift, and all of our dinner reservations included the best tables and the best views.

We especially loved our two boat days: One included a tour of Portofino and lunch at a restaurant overlooking the cove of San Fruttuoso, and another included a trip to Portovenere and lunch onboard in a beautiful bay. Anna’s advice was spot-on and we felt as though we were in excellent hands. We had the perfect balance of activities and down time and never felt overscheduled.” —Kim Brown

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

START A TRIP TO NORTHERN ITALY

30th Anniversary safari: “At each stop we were made to feel so special, with an incredible ‘sundowner’ experience at Old Drift, along with cakes and celebrations…”

Rainbow over Victoria Falls on Zambezi River, border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.

A rainbow hangs in the mist from Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our 30th wedding anniversary was coming up, and I landed on an African safari as the perfect way to celebrate. We’ve just returned from this spectacular trip: Four days in Cape Town visiting Table Mountain, Boulders Beach, the Cape of Good Hope, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and of course the Winelands, along with a fantastic lunch at Glen Carlou; two nights at Victoria Falls in the lovely Old Drift Lodge; and six nights in Botswana: two at Savute, two at Camp Moremi, and two at Shinde. All the accommodations were outstanding, and the transport between camps was flawless.

At each stop we were made to feel so special, with an incredible ‘sundowner’ experience at Old Drift, along with cakes and celebrations at each safari camp for our anniversary. It was clear that Julian and team had taken exceptional effort to ensure all the camps were aware of our special event, which was a wonderful surprise that we really appreciated.

This complicated trip was made so easy!  While I often plan trips myself, I can highly recommend arranging a trip like this through an expert.  Julian’s services took all the stress out and we were left with nothing but fantastic fun and great memories.” —Nancy Megehee

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

START A SAFARI

25th Anniversary trip to Portugal: “They secured one of the few very best rooms with the best view at our resort on the Algarve…”

Beautiful sandy beach near Lagos in Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal

A beach near Lagos in Portugal’s Algarve region. Photo: Shutterstock

Goncalo and his team planned a Portugal trip to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. They secured one of the few very best rooms with the best view at our resort on the Algarve, which we could not have obtained ourselves. Very few rooms at the very large hotel had ocean views, so this was a big deal (we even had two balconies facing the ocean).  All of their recommendations as to where to stay were great and took into account our preferences, which we discussed in a planning call. They planned great activities, like a lovely large private sailboat from Sintra back to Lisbon, a visit to an observatory (at night of course), and a private cruise along the cliffs of the Algarve. We would not have known about the lovely hotel converted from a farming village in the Alentejo if we hadn’t used a Portugal expert, and we wouldn’t have known which towns to visit. We loved the itinerary they planned and will use them again if we return to Portugal!” —Rita Solomon

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

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

Belize: “While my husband played golf, she arranged a tour for me of the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich…”

Xunantunich Mayan ruins in Belize

The Mayan ruins at Xunantunich. Photo: Absolute Belize

Patricia is my new best friend. We told her that our trip to Belize was to celebrate our wedding anniversary. She listened to our wants and needs and more than delivered. She suggested that we split our January trip between inland and the coast and set us up with activities that satisfied both of our desires, since they were not necessarily the same.

My husband wanted to play golf, and Patricia made the arrangements for him. She satisfied our interest in culture and history with the Garifuna Cultural immersion. Additionally, while my husband played golf, she arranged a tour for me of the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich and a day at the San Antonio Women’s Co-op to learn about the ancient Mayan life. Patricia joined me for my tour of Xunantunich, and my husband was jealous that he didn’t get to meet her in person.

On the coast we both wanted water sports. She arranged two wonderful boat/snorkel adventures for us, and one included a barbecue of freshly caught fish. Yes, my husband had the opportunity to reel in one fish while we were on the boat.  I cannot say enough good things about how we were treated by Patricia, our guides, the staff of the hotels that she recommended, and the activities that she arranged.” —Bonnie Warton

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

START A TRIP TO BELIZE

10th Anniversary trip to Peru: “When we arrived at our picnic, we were amazed to see a canopy tent popped up in a field that overlooked the Andes…”

Peru's Sacred Valley mountains and rivers

A quiet stretch of the Urubamba River, Peru’s Sacred Valley. Photo: Aracari

“Our favorite experience in Peru was on the afternoon of our 10th wedding anniversary. We thought we would be having a simple picnic lunch, but when we arrived at our picnic, we were amazed to see a canopy tent popped up in a field that overlooked the Andes. The table was tastefully decorated with linens, lace, fresh flowers, and local decor pieces. Wow!  A three-man cooking team prepared a lovely four-course meal in a separate tent while we sipped wine. There was even a portable toilet in a third small tent!  Nothing was overlooked. In fact, during our ten-day trip arranged by Marisol, no detail was left unturned, from our beautiful accommodations to our awesome local guide to the snacks in our vehicle. We had an incredible trip.” —Erica Stanforth

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

START A TRIP TO PERU

30th Anniversary trip to Australia: “Stuart must have told everyone that we were celebrating an anniversary…”

rustic beach bungalow overwater suite at Haggerstone Island resort at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

The remote Haggerstone Island resort at the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Haggerstone Island

Stuart planned the perfect trip for our 30th wedding anniversary: We spent three weeks in Australia, taking multiple in-country flights and visiting Melbourne, Tasmania, Kangaroo Island, Uluru, the Daintree Rainforest, and Sydney. We wanted luxury lodges and unique experiences, and our expectations were exceeded.

Stuart must have told everyone that we were celebrating an anniversary because, at each location, we received not only cards and good wishes but sometimes cakes or champagne or chocolates. But this is what blew us away: In Tasmania, at Saffire Freciynet, we tasted several excellent local gins one evening and commented to the staff on how much we liked them, and when we reached Sydney at the end of the trip, there was a gift of three bottles of gin and a lovely note from Stuart. That is one of the above-and-beyond gestures that made this trip extraordinary.” —Robin and Josh Madden

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

Disney World: “Everyone knew it was our anniversary!”

Happily Ever After fireworks at Disney World.

Happily Ever After fireworks at Disney World. Photo: Disney

“While we take fairly involved adventure vacations (safaris, a dog-sledding expedition, and scuba diving, rafting and trekking trips), none have involved the degree of planning that our recent Disney trip did!  Disney World can be overwhelming: To maximize your time there, you need to carefully plan out your schedule for each day and manage restaurant reservations, show times, and Fast Passes.

Michelle’s advice was invaluable in this regard. She took into consideration that this was an adults-only vacation and made great suggestions such as visiting a practically empty and childless Magic Kingdom with an After Dark ticket. She managed to fit in a coveted reservation for Be Our Guest, and her recommendations for the Epcot Food & Wine Festival helped us navigate that fun event.  Michelle’s hard work enabled us to have a wonderful anniversary trip—and everyone knew it was our anniversary because Michelle told them!” —Barbara Sheridan

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

START A TRIP TO DISNEY WORLD

2nd Anniversary trip to Spain: “Pablo was able to secure reservations at three Michelin-star restaurants…”

Madrid, Spain. Gran Via, main shopping street at twilight.

Madrid’s Gran Via shopping strip lights up at night. Photo: Shutterstock

“I used Pablo to arrange a celebration trip to Spain—Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Madrid—for my son and his wife for their 2nd wedding anniversary. One of their interests was to try different exclusive restaurants and wineries, and Pablo was able to secure reservations at three Michelin-star restaurants. He arranged tours of boutique-style wineries, including a special wine-tour bike ride in Barcelona. Since my son is a guitar enthusiast, Pablo arranged for a Spanish guitar lesson and also got him into a special Flamenco show. Pablo had the ability to secure unique, private, and culturally enriching activities, allowing my son and daughter-in-law to experience Spanish cuisine and culture in a way that I am sure would not have been possible otherwise.” —Jeffrey Bernfield

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

START A TRIP TO SPAIN

Paris: “I wanted to present her with the diamond ring she never got when we first got together 10 years ago”

Pont Alexandre III (Alexander the third bridge) over river Seine in Paris, France. Architecture and landmarks of Paris.

River Seine in Paris, France. Photo: Shutterstock

“I wanted to make the most of a short trip to Paris to celebrate my wife’s birthday and to present her with the diamond ring she never got when we first got together 10 years ago. Jennifer made a variety of suggestions, and we decided I would surprise my wife with the ring in a renewal proposal aboard a private yacht. I had originally requested a Venetian boat, but at the last minute it had mechanical problems, rendering it unavailable. Jennifer quickly replaced it with Sophia Loren’s private yacht and assured me that the furnishings and seating would be altered to make it more intimate and romantic. The result was spot-on, resulting in the highlight of our trip.” —William Harwayne

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

START A TRIP TO PARIS

10th Anniversary trip to Italy: “Our private boat captain picked us up in Capri, toured us around the island, let us swim in the grottos, and eventually dropped us off for the rest of our stay in Positano…”

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy

Positano on the Amalfi Coast, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband and I rarely use a travel agent because we love to do the research and plan every detail of our vacations. However, this trip to Capri and the Amalfi Coast was for our 10-year wedding anniversary, so we wanted the ultimate luxury experience without having to worry about anything. Andrea really listened to what we wanted and tailored the trip accordingly. And there wasn’t a minute of it that went by that my husband and I didn’t think, ‘This was worth every penny and more.’  From the knowledgeable drivers to awesome tour guides and boat captains, it was beyond perfect. Our favorite day of the trip, and arguably in our lives, was when our private boat captain picked us up in Capri, toured us around the island, let us swim in the grottos, and eventually dropped us off for the rest of our stay in Positano. The views were stunning, but the captain really made our experience so special. Andrea has the connections with all of the right people, which makes the entire experience unlike any other.” —Meredith Still

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

START A TRIP TO CAPRI AND THE AMALFI COAST

25th Anniversary trip to Bali: “Affordable luxury with a fascinating itinerary…”

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Hindu temple on Bratan lake landscape, one of famous tourist attraction in Bali, Indonesia - Image

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, a Hindu temple on Bratan Lake, Bali. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our trip to Bali was perfect for celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.  Diane lined up affordable luxury with a fascinating itinerary.  We took in many diverse sites in the Ubud area from our base at the Komaneka Resort at Bisma, and the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa upgraded us to a lagoon-access suite, which was very relaxing.  Diane lined up the perfect English-speaking private guide and driver, and she also introduced us to Nadya, a clothing designer whose home we got to visit. Our trip was a great balance of guided travel and looking around on our own. We felt truly fortunate that we could make use of Diane’s excellent insight. She is a gem. Thank you!” —Charles Barber and Carolyn Roth

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

START A TRIP TO BALI

Hawaii: “A sunrise visit to the top of Mt. Haleakalā and a subsequent bike ride down, surfing lessons in Lahaina, a helicopter tour of the Big Island…”

Maui, Hawaii

Maui, Hawaii. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“We used Dani’s help to put together our trip to Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii. It was a great trip packed with hiking, a sunrise visit to the top of Mt. Haleakalā and a subsequent bike ride down, surfing lessons in Lahaina, and a helicopter tour of the Big Island, including the active volcano. Dani was in constant contact with us throughout, which was greatly appreciated, as we had questions about various things while we were there. We had mentioned this trip was a celebration of our wedding anniversary, and at both of our hotels there was chilled champagne and sweet treats, courtesy of Dani. She even managed to snag us an upgrade to a suite at the Four Seasons Hualalai, which was a pleasant surprise.” —Joseph McBrine

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

START A TRIP TO HAWAII

60th Anniversary cruise in the Caribbean: “We were a family of 10 traveling for my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary…”

Idyllic tropical beach with white sand, turquoise ocean water and blue sky at Antigua island in Caribbean

An empty beach on Antigua. Photo: Shutterstock

“We were a family of 10 traveling for my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. We had first-time cruisers and seasoned cruisers, and we wanted an itinerary that would enable us to spend time together as well as enjoy personal time. For our specific needs, Tom suggested Celebrity Cruises, and we selected an itinerary in the ‘ABC islands’ with several days at sea. Everyone was very happy.  Both the sea days and the days in port offered everyone enough sightseeing, shopping, and relaxation options to keep as busy (or not) as we wanted. Some of us went to the beach, while others went to town and sightseeing. We all met for cocktails in the Martini Bar before our family dinner each night. It was a fun and successful cruise for everyone, and my parents especially appreciated the special touches that Tom provided—including champagne, flowers, and a delicious chocolate cake in their cabin.” —Lorraine Victor

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

START A CRUISE EXPERIENCE

 

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

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

Travel Experts Share their Top 6 Tips for Successful Family Travel

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

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

Shape global citizens

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

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

Make friends

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

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

Assign jobs to kids

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

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

Seek out hands-on activities

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

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

Schedule smartly

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

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

Keep it simple

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

How to Make Friends With Local People When Traveling

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

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

European Cities that are Surprisingly Kid-Friendly

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

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

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

How to Make Sophisticated Travel Destinations Fun for the Whole Family

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

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

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

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

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

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Italy Vacation Ideas for Every Age

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

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

This Is What Makes Namibia So Cool

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

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

Why My Most Relaxing Vacation Was a Disney Cruise

 

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

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.


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.

START A TRIP TO OMAN

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.

START A TRIP TO VIETNAM

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.

START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

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

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

START A TRIP TO INDIA

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

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

START A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

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

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

START A TRIP TO DENMARK

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

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

START A TRIP TO SPAIN

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

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

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

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

START A TRIP TO LONDON

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

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

START A TRIP TO PERU

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

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

START A TRIP TO BELIZE

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

Read more reviews of Italy and Switzerland 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.

START A TRIP TO ITALY AND SWITZERLAND

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

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

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

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

START A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

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

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

START A TRIP TO MOROCCO

 

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

teenage boy jumping in Negev Desert Israel

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

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

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

 

START YOUR OWN FAMILY TRIP TO ISRAEL

 

  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.

START YOUR OWN FAMILY TRIP TO ISRAEL

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.

The old town of Tbilisi, Georgia, with the fairy tale Clock Tower of puppet theater Rezo Gabriadze

Extraordinary School-Break Trip Ideas for Your Family

One of the key lessons I’ve learned from my travels (and from yours) is that the right trip designer can transform a family vacation, taking what could have been a week of stress and disagreement and turning it into a miracle. Below is a sampling of family trip reviews from your fellow WendyPerrin.com readers who are WOW List travelers. In each case, the trip designer delivered transcendent family memories, thanks to relationships with the right local fixers. Read more traveler reviews to get more unusual family trip ideas and, for additional inspiration, don’t miss these unexpected spring-break destinations, this collection of family vacations that adults will love too, my tips for how to make sophisticated destinations fun for the whole family, and this video I shot on one of my own family trips about the strategies I use to keep everyone happy.  Happy school-break travel brainstorming!

Spring Break

Hot springs in Costa Rica

Hot springs in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Costa Rica: “We swam in thermal hot springs, zip-lined through the rainforest, walked the hanging bridges of the rainforest canopy…”

“Traveling as a family of six is not easy! We have four children between the ages of 8 and 15, each more adventurous than the next. We needed a spring break that would keep them entertained but also allow us the leisure time we really needed. 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

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

 

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

The mathematical hall of the Strahov Convent Library, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Shutterstock

Vienna and Prague: “I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers…”

“I told Gwen that our 17-year-old son is passionate about playing piano, particularly the music of Classical- and Romantic-era composers. She asked questions to understand how we like to travel, especially when it came to what would interest our son, and then planned and executed an absolutely amazing trip to Vienna and Prague for us. Our itinerary included visits to Mozart’s and Beethoven’s apartments in Vienna; the cemetery where Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, and Schönberg are buried; and an exhibit that included one of Mozart’s original manuscripts. In Prague she arranged visits to a collection that included the original score to Beethoven’s third symphony, as well as access to the Strahov Library, which travelers typically only get to view from a distance but where we got to wander among the stacks! We also got to spray paint our ‘tags’ on the famous Lennon Wall! Gwen paired us with fabulous guides who, by the time we left, felt more like friends than mere guides. Our Vienna guide was from a musical family, so she had unique insights into Viennese musical history.” —Adam Amsterdam

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO AUSTRIA

 

Lisbon, Portugal skyline with Sao Jorge Castle

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Shutterstock

Portugal: “We were traveling to Portugal with my one-year-old grandson…”

“We were traveling to Portugal with my one-year-old grandson, and this meant a lot of consideration had to be given to where we stayed, how we traveled, and what we did. Goncalo—who is the 13th of Wendy’s travel specialists I’ve used—scored on all aspects. First, he found us a two-bedroom apartment in Lisbon with a full kitchen, a washer/dryer, and a kids’ playroom. What a perfect choice this was. Second, when we did a full-day trip to Sintra, he suggested that instead of Pena Palace (which I’d been to on a previous trip), we go to Quinta da Regaleira and Convento dos Capuchos, which were much easier to navigate with a small child. On our first day in Lisbon, he personally conducted our walking food tour, educating us about Portuguese foods (and drink) and taking us to great places I’d missed entirely on my earlier trip to Portugal. When we departed Lisbon for the Douro Valley, our car was delivered to the hotel and turned out to be a major upgrade from what we’d rented (and lots more comfortable). Our Douro Valley hotel was wonderfully located, our rooms were very spacious, the private boat for our morning cruise on the Douro River was spectacular, and the wine tour he chose for us was the best I’ve ever done, including the best port wines I’ve ever tasted.” —Jan Heininger

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO PORTUGAL

 

aerial view of Famous palace Versailles with beautiful gardens and fountains in France

Versailles palace gardens, France. Photo: Shutterstock

France: “Our kids were able to see important places in a way that made them fun…”

“We spent four days in each of Normandy, Brittany, and Paris. We are a family of five (three kids, aged 9, 15, and 17), so we needed a variety of activities to engage the youngest to the oldest. Jennifer planned several day trips that were specifically designed for our kids, where they were able to see important places in a way that made them fun, from a treasure hunt in the Louvre to a bike ride around Paris to a crossing of the Bay of Mont St. Michel. Our favorite guide was Isabelle, in Paris, who took us to Versailles and to our WOW Moment—a private boat ride down a canal in Paris, complete with a skipper, picnic, and wine. It was amazing!! Isabelle was an absolute delight: warm, funny, engaging, and extremely organized. She was able to maneuver us to avoid several long lines at Versailles on an incredibly hot, crowded day. I studied in Paris in college, and I know more than the average traveler about France and its history, but I learned so much from Isabelle.” —Christa Sullivan

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO FRANCE

 

 

Newfoundland scenery

Newfoundland scenery. Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism

Atlantic Canada: “Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking…”

“For our three-generation family trip to Atlantic Canada—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland—Jill arranged excursions which we never could have arranged by ourselves and about which my three grandchildren never stop talking. These included a boat trip where we dug for clams, pulled up lobster traps, gathered fresh mussels and oysters, and had a wonderful lobster boil on a secluded beach. Another boat excursion was to islands dark with puffins, murres, razor bills, cormorants and other birds, and a boat tour of coastal resettled communities during which we saw whales. We also had a songfest in a private home with guitar and accordion. And we (and some say this was the best) hiked along the shore with Lori, a chef, who pointed out plants which were edible and then used them to make a sumptuous lunch. The vistas of inland lakes, pine forests, and ocean fronts were magnificent. This was a visit of a lifetime.” —Richard Goldin

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO ATLANTIC CANADA

 

Summer

Green rice fields on Bali island Indonesia

Green rice fields on Bali island. Photo: Shutterstock

Bali: “We were welcomed into homes in villages that we would never have had access to.”

Diane planned a 30-day itinerary throughout Indonesia for our family—five-year-old twins and my wife and me. Although we travel often, we never could have planned such a seamless vacation. We were welcomed into homes in villages that we would never have had access to. Diane’s three decades of traveling in Indonesia and discovering gorgeous idyllic islands and new hotels was evident, as was her obvious expertise in routing our journey. She has relationships with villa owners/managers in areas of Indonesia that would have been nearly impossible to find on our own. These accommodations are not in guidebooks. We could not have been happier with our trip that Diane planned for us.” —Garrett Bandy

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO BALI

 

aerial view of Sonora Resort in the Discovery Islands, British Columbia

Sonora Resort in the Discovery Islands, British Columbia. Photo: Tim Baker

Western Canada:  “A photographer gave us a personal tour of several waterfalls, giving us photography tips along the way and taking family photos…”

“My husband and I and our two teenage daughters wanted to go to British Columbia, but to avoid any really crowded areas. Marc suggested we spend a few days in Whistler, then a few days on Sonora Island, and end in Vancouver. He set us up for fun activities in Whistler—RZR cars, white-water rafting, zip lining—and we were treated to a WOW Moment: A photographer gave us a personal tour of several waterfalls, giving us photography tips along the way and taking family photos; although I am the photography buff in the family, he was able to engage the whole family and everyone really enjoyed the experience (thank you, Wendy!). We then took a seaplane to Sonora Resort, which the entire family agreed was heavenly. So remote, with beautiful scenery and gourmet food. On our eco-adventure tour we were lucky enough to be in the middle of a pod of about 100 dolphins. The food at Sonora Resort was so delicious that on the first night at dinner our daughter said, ‘Thank you for bringing me here.’ Finally, in Vancouver, Marc suggested the Fairmont Pacific Rim for us, which also was in a fabulous location. Since we are foodies, he planned a food tour at Granville Island, where there are so many booths that it was helpful to have an expert direct us; the tour allowed us to sample more items in small quantities than we could have done on our own. Although I was very involved with the details of our trip, I didn’t have to figure out where to go or how to get there or worry about logistics during my vacation. That made it a true vacation for me.” —Nancy Wolf

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO BRITISH COLUMBIA

 

the hilltop village of Gordes, Provence, France

Gordes, Provence. Photo: Pixabay

France: “He absolutely knows where you should go and the time you should do it…”

“This was a very difficult trip to plan. We gave Philip only a couple of weeks to plan it, we had nine people coming and going at different stages, we were traveling with a 6-year-old, it was the busiest season in France, we had changes to the itinerary and/or restaurants on a daily basis … and Philip and his team truly outperformed all my expectations. He saved our trip. He got us to the best places, he absolutely knows where you should go and the time you should do it. From the balloon flight to the wine tasting, he and his team made this trip unforgettable.” —Steven Morton

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO PROVENCE

 

sumo wrestlers training in Tokyo Japan

Earthen dohyo training ring for wrestlers at a sumo stable in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Ben Simmons

Japan: “One of our favorite experiences was attending a sumo wrestler practice…”

Scott arranged the most memorable private moments for our family in Japan. One of our favorite experiences was attending a sumo wrestler practice, sitting within arm’s reach of the athletes. The photos are amazing! We also loved creating a new family memory with our kids (18, 21, 25) during a taiko drumming lesson. Since our family loves music, it was a great way to experience local culture and laugh together! Other private experiences that we would never have been able to appreciate without Scott’s expertise included a five-hour cooking class and dinner in the home of a local Japanese chef. We loved learning about Buddhism and meditating with a monk. All of these were possible thanks to our unbelievable guide, Kiko-san, who also interpreted for us. She was kind, patient, knowledgeable, and respectful of our family dynamic.” —Dale Sindell

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO JAPAN

 

The old town of Tbilisi, Georgia, with the fairy tale Clock Tower of puppet theater Rezo Gabriadze

The old town of Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Shutterstock

Georgia (the country): “Never did I dream that my kids would be singing karaoke with Georgian children after lunch in their Soviet-era apartment.”

“Through every step of planning my family’s trip to the Republic of Georgia, Zulya made sure that she was meeting our travel needs and goals. Georgia is not flooded with obvious tourist attractions, so we received a well-rounded itinerary that allowed us to experience its natural wonders and connect with the culture. Never did I dream that my kids would be singing karaoke with Georgian children after lunch in their Soviet-era apartment. Some other favorite activities included cooking with local families in their homes, hiking in the Caucasus mountains, and visiting Gergeti church via horse. I think the main reason it was so pleasant to work with Zulya is that she truly cares that you have a wonderful experience on your trip. She is an ambassador of the countries she represents, and we look forward to working with her to travel to other Silk Road destinations.” —Melissa Pollack

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO CENTRAL ASIA

 

Thanksgiving

 

British Museum, London

British Museum, London. Photo: Pawel LiberaLondon and Partners – Visit London

London: “…a spy adventure at the British Museum, and a half-day of movie making throughout London…”

“
We went to England over Thanksgiving and used Philip to plan our trip. His team arranged spectacular tours for us, including early entry into the Tower of London (we got to see the Tower and the crown jewels before they were open to the public), a spy adventure at the British Museum, and a half-day of movie making throughout London. (The latter involved the children being filmed with wands and capes at various locations around London where Harry Potter was filmed. They will put this together into a movie.) The highlight for me was the tour of the Churchill War Rooms with the director emeritus of the War Rooms, who took us behind the scenes and allowed us to sit in the actual chair that Winston Churchill sat in. Our guide and our driver and the ‘spies’ and ‘movie directors’ were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and did an excellent job getting the children involved and engaged.” —Frank Richards

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO ENGLAND

 

Christmas and New Year’s

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Italy: “In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal…”

“Italy can be overwhelming because there is so much to do, see, and eat, but Maria planned a spectacular trip to Florence, Bologna, and Rome for me, my teenagers, and my fiancé over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday.  In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal (and learned how to make tortelloni) with the family chef, had a tour of the wine cellar, and joined one of the family members for lunch. We learned of the family’s wing of art at the Uffizi, which we visited the next day. Meeting people who have a direct hand in the life and culture of Italy was special. In Rome, our food lovers’ adventure on Vespas with Toni was a complete standout. My 6′ 4″ son was mortified to ride on the Vespa—and got over that fear in one minute. We were a team of five Vespas! Don’t mess with us! As for Bologna, I am a dental surgeon and am really glad Maria recommended visiting the Teatro Medica at the University of Bologna with my kids. I am sure there is no way I could’ve arranged such a trip.” —Wendy Halpern

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO ITALY

 

Argentina: “It wasn’t something you can plan on your own—which is what made it so special.”

“Our family of five had an amazing trip to Argentina organized by Maita. We hiked on a glacier, got soaked on a boat that we rode into one of the Iguassu waterfalls, went bird watching in Iguassu with an ornithologist and nature photographer, and had a wonderful private boat experience on a quiet arm of one of the lakes in Bariloche. Maita’s team suggested great hotels and was able to obtain rates at some that were lower than those available online. They also booked a fantastic New Year’s Eve Party in Buenos Aires that we will long remember. And we had a fantastic surprise WOW Moment. I prefer not to specify what we did for our WOW Moment, since I wouldn’t want to spoil a possible future WOW Moment for someone else, but suffice it to say it was our favorite meal in Argentina. It wasn’t something you can plan on your own—which is what made it so special.” —Rita Solomon

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO ARGENTINA

 

View of Journalist's Park with Monserrate and the Candelaria district of Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia. Photo: Shutterstock

Colombia: “Juliana, an artist in Bogotá, shared her perspective on museums and the graffiti district…”

“My family of two adults and three teens, ages 12 to 18, traveled to Colombia over New Year’s, spending seven days in Bogotá, Quindío (the coffee region), and Cartagena. Marc and Boris made great choices about which regions we should visit and for how long, what activities we should do, and where we should stay. They even got us into a wonderful boutique hacienda in the coffee region at a very busy time of year. All our tours and activities were fabulous. Juliana, an artist in Bogotá, shared her perspective on museums and the graffiti district. Camilo, a biologist and ornithologist, took us on a hike in the countryside and helped my husband with his birdwatching. Tavo is a musician who gave us a great perspective on Cartagena. A big highlight was our last day, when we took a private boat trip out to the Rosario Islands and spent time at a beach club. The kids got so much out of every day of the trip and continue to rave about it to everyone—a real accomplishment with teens. Thank you for suggesting Colombia as a destination in the first place and for setting us up with Marc and Boris. We all plan to return to Colombia and are evangelizing it as a destination for other Americans.” —Jarvis Weld

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO COLOMBIA

 

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City.

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City. Photo: Billie Cohen

Active Mexico: “We were always learning, exploring, and connecting with knowledgeable and fascinating local people.”

“There was no shortage of challenges to planning a last-minute Christmas trip to Mexico for me, my husband, and our 18-year-old daughter and 16-year-old twin boys. The beaches were expensive and jam-packed. So Zach’s team suggested an itinerary to Mexico City and two truly magical colonial cities—Puebla and San Miguel de Allende—and the result was fantastic! They handled all the logistical details, so we didn’t have to worry about a thing. We are a very active family and always want to be doing and learning. They understood this and designed a wonderful itinerary that opened our eyes to this complex, beautiful, sophisticated, culturally rich country. From our private cooking class with a renowned chef in Puebla to our historical and cultural bike tour down Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma and through the Bosque de Chapultepec to our private tour through the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City—they opened the Museum just for us!—we were always learning, exploring, and connecting with knowledgeable and fascinating local people. The result was a trip that left us with great respect and affection for our southern neighbor and helped us see the history of our continent from a completely different perspective. This is truly the best of travel. We will be WOW Listers for life!” —Kristen MacLeod

ASK ABOUT AN ACTIVE MEXICO TRIP

 

pool at Quinta Real Oaxaca

Quinta Real Oaxaca.

Relaxing Mexico:  “Three nights in Oaxaca for its colonial and prehistoric attractions, then three nights at the beach in Huatulco…”

“Just before giving up my Mexico trip planning as impossible, I turned to Zachary to see if he could help with the logistics. Our family of four wanted to spend three nights in Oaxaca at Christmas for its colonial and prehistoric attractions, then three nights at the beach in Huatulco. Minimum-stay requirements of five or seven nights during the holidays presented obstacles. Plus, traveling from Oaxaca to Huatulco by mountain road would be long and treacherous. We could fly, but we would have to go through Mexico City, wasting a day. Zach drew on his relationships, avoided minimum stays, and secured well-located rooms for us in outstanding hotels: Quinta Real Oaxaca, an exquisite former convent, and Camino Real Huatulco, a beautifully designed seaside resort. To make it all work, he identified non-stop flights that were not readily accessible to us online. Best of all, he provided Gabriel, an outstanding guide in Oaxaca who is the alpha educator of choice for universities and Smithsonian visitors. We benefited from the depth of Gabriel’s knowledge of history, nature, art and architecture. Zach’s resources and persistence made it possible for our family to enjoy a wonderful holiday trip.” —Barbara Schoenfeld

ASK ABOUT A RELAXING MEXICO TRIP

 

Monteverde Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Costa Rica: a 50th wedding anniversary and a group of ten with active teenagers and a mobility-impaired grandparent

“I can’t say enough about the trip Priscilla helped me plan for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. We were traveling with ten people over Christmas, including four active teenagers who are up for any adventure and my father who didn’t want his physical disability to stop the adventure or fun for his grandchildren. Priscilla found us the perfect home on an amazing beach where we could watch the sunset daily and take day trips scuba diving, surfing, and fishing. After five days, we moved to the Monteverde Cloud Forest for the sky walk, zip-lining, and endless hikes. What really made this trip special was the planning that Priscilla did in finding us the perfect naturalist guide, Eddie, as well as the perfect physical therapist, Alonso, to travel with us for the 10 days we were away. Alonso provided my father with the best care possible and had the knowledge and ability to work with him in the pool and help him do things he has not been able to do, like taking short walks on the beach. Having Alonso with us allowed my mom to get the vacation she so needed and took all the daily stress away. As for Eddie, the naturalist guide, from the moment we met him at the airport, he got the kids engaged and interested in learning about Costa Rica. When we were out hiking, he not only helped us find the monkeys, quetzals and sloth, but educated the kids on the Cloud Forest and the environment. It was an amazing trip!” —Kristen Ebner

ASK ABOUT A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

 

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Photo: Jennifer Santoyo

Antarctica: “Ashton was perfect in assessing what everyone wanted…”

Ashton planned the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica for us! It was my last continent, and I cried when I arrived and cried when it was over. I had thought I wanted to fly over the Drake Passage because I was terrified of getting seasick, but I’m really happy I listened to Ashton. He said that flying over the Drake can mean delays on either side because of weather, and unless you have flexibility in your schedule, it’s not advisable. He highly recommended a ship that has the best stabilizers to handle the Drake, has excellent naturalist guides, and would work for my 17-year-old. Also, my husband wasn’t as excited about Antarctica as I was and preferred more luxurious accommodations than the fly trips offer. So we kind of had to agree on the trade-off to make the trip happen: my bucket list vs. Marty’s desire to be more comfortable on a nicer boat. Ashton was perfect in assessing what everyone wanted. Marty now agrees it was the best trip we ever had, and we all want to come back on the longer trip, which would include South Georgia Island, where the king penguins are. I will also use Ashton again for the North Pole, hopefully soon.” —Tina Sarafa

ASK ABOUT AN ANTARCTICA CRUISE

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

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

Zeke befriends two Colombian girls at a flower farm near Medellin. Photo: Ryan Damm
Zeke tries on a silleta—an ornate arrangement of fresh flowers worn on the back in parades, and local to the region around Medellin. Photo: Ryan Damm
A coffee cherry. Photo: Ryan Damm
Our guide gives Zeke a few pointers as he plays his first round of tejo. Photo: Ryan Damm
The streets of Pijao, in Colombia's coffee country, are full of lovingly cared for Willys Jeeps from the 1940s that now haul sacks of coffee beans. Photo: Ryan Damm
Zeke uses a hand-cranked machine to remove the beans from coffee cherries. Photo: Ryan Damm
The main squares of Colombian towns such as Pijao turn into kid playlands on Saturdays. Photo: Ryan Damm
Zeke milks a cow near Hacienda Bambusa. Photo: Ryan Damm
Making fresh cheese from our milk. Photo: Ryan Damm
Every great guide has a bag of tricks for befriending the youngest clients. Photo: Ryan Damm
Hacienda Bambusa, in Colombia's coffee country. Photo: Ryan Damm
A walk in the countryside near Hacienda Bambusa. Photo: Ryan Damm
The Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena delivered this miniature ode to the U.S. on July 4th—the "fries" are actually mango strips, and the "burger" is a brownie! Photo: Ryan Damm
We break the ice by taking part in a dance class at the ProBoquilla Foundation, which provides after-school enrichment to children in an impoverished village near Cartagena. Photo: Ryan Damm
Demente, right on the square in Cartagena's bohemian Getsemani neighborhood, serves delicious pizzas, tapas, and cocktails. Photo: Ryan Damm
A quiet moment on the Rosario Islands off Cartagena; that's our private motorboat in the background. Photo: Ryan Damm

 

The way I figure it, my son is now the top-ranking junior tejo player in the United States. What’s tejo, you ask? It’s practically the national sport of Colombia; my family got to try it when we visited the country a few months ago. To be fair, though, Zeke doesn’t have much stateside competition—and it’s not simply because lead discs and gunpowder aren’t perfect ingredients for a kids’ game (confused? Read on). Rather, it’s because family travelers are late to the realization that Colombia is an excellent destination for parents and young kids. Here’s why:

No middle-of-the-night wakeups.

Jet lag can wreak havoc on young kids. When we went to Southeast Asia a few years ago, it took days for Zeke’s body to adjust—and we all suffered from lack of sleep in the interim. But that wasn’t an issue on this trip: Colombia is never more than three time zones from any part of the continental U.S., making the adjustment easy.

You won’t have to spend much once you get there.

While international-standard hotels, high-caliber guides, and private transportation cost roughly the same in Colombia as they do in more popular parts of South America, your other on-the-ground costs will be lower. A 30-minute taxi ride in Medellin cost $5, and my family of three ate out—often with drinks and dessert—for less than $50.

Yes, it’s safe.

Today’s parents might worry about bringing their kids to the country about which their strongest association is Pablo Escobar—but that era of widespread violence is over. I’ve been to countries saddled with State Department travel warnings before, but never with my son in tow. So I was extra-cautious this time, walking around with as little cash as possible and even leaving my wedding ring at home. In retrospect, I needn’t have bothered: I never once felt at risk. Colombians are optimistic about the peace accord that was recently signed with FARC (the country’s largest guerrilla group). As one expat explained to me, nowadays you really have to go looking for trouble to find it in Colombia; the same basic safety precautions you’d take in any unfamiliar place will serve you just fine there.

Coffee country isn’t just for drinking espresso.

We discovered tejo in the town of Pijao, in the heart of Colombia’s coffee country. It was a Saturday, when farmers bring their harvested coffee beans into town to sell to the regional cooperative. Many then head across the street to the tejo club, where the aim is to throw a lead disk at a board covered in clay; if you explode one of the little packets of gunpowder that’s embedded in the clay, you earn extra points. On the afternoon when we visited, the central plaza was a kids’ mecca, with a trampoline, a bouncy house, and mini electric vehicles available to take for a spin around the square. We spent that afternoon touring a coffee plantation and having lunch with the owners. But the rest of our three days in the country’s coffee-growing region were filled with kid-focused adventures: milking a cow, hiking through a forest of towering bamboo, making hot chocolate from scratch (as in raw cacao beans), and—if we hadn’t opted instead to slow ourselves down and spend an afternoon by the pool—rafting down a river. And the chef at our hotel, Hacienda Bambusa, prepared kid-friendly pizza and chicken nuggets as flawlessly as he did our five-course gourmet meals, which each night were inspired by a different region of the country.

Medellin’s fabulous public transportation network connects city and countryside.

Cities can make young kids feel cooped up, without room to run around. Medellin has a fair bit of urban green space, but it’s the ease with which you can get outside the city limits and into nature that’s most impressive. Kids will more easily tolerate a morning’s city tour when they know they’ll be spending the afternoon, say, hiking in Arvi Park, which is connected to Medellin by a public cable car. In a 30-minute drive from our hotel, we were visiting a small village where a philosophy professor showed us around his family’s flower farm one day, and hiking to a waterfall in the hills outside town on another.

There be pirates in Cartagena!

Now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of picturesque colonial architecture, Cartagena has a history that reads like a children’s adventure book: tales of gold stashed away in basements, towers built for the express purpose of watching for pirates, a bridge that went up every night to keep out the riff-raff, ghosts who continue to haunt those homes where hidden treasures remain. Walking the old city walls, with their replica cannons pointed out to sea, and hearing the stories of the pirates who once lurked offshore, is a history lesson that will capture many a young imagination.

Flights are short and direct.

Book a nonstop from Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Atlanta, Dallas, New York, or Los Angeles, and within three to six hours you can be just about anywhere you’d want to go in Colombia: There are direct flights from the U.S. to Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin, and coffee country. Heck, it’s probably an easier trip than driving your kids to summer camp, or taking the family to the Caribbean or Hawaii.

But once you’re there, the culture feels distinctly different.

In certain parts of Mexico or the Caribbean, you might wonder why you had to go through customs and immigration just to be surrounded by American brands and American travelers. What appealed most to me about Colombia was that the short flight ended at a place that felt clearly different from what my son sees at home. Sure, there are some U.S. chains in the main cities, and plenty of English speakers. But everything from the corrugated-metal roofs to the rules of the road (or, more specifically, the lack thereof—we saw two fender-benders in our first four hours of driving) constantly reminded us that we were in a foreign land.

However, it’s not just what’s unfamiliar that was important. I like to play a game with Zeke while we’re traveling, asking him to describe what’s similar, and what’s different, from home. When he told me on our first day in Colombia, “I know something that’s similar: People are people,” every hesitation I’d felt about traveling abroad with a young child melted away. The education I hoped it would inspire was already at work.

Transparency disclosure: Some experiences described here were provided to Brook for free, or at reduced rates, by local hotels and suppliers. In keeping with our standard practice, there was no promise of editorial coverage in exchange: Complimentary or discounted travel never influences our reportage. All of these experiences are accessible to every traveler who uses Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.