Tag Archives: Rome

older male traveler in a red vintage Fiat car touring ruins around Rome Italy

This Couple Traveled to Rome Right Before the Pandemic—and Went Back Again Now

One of Wendy’s tips for smart travel in 2022 is: Don’t dismiss relatively Covid-safe places just because you’ve been there before. A local trip-planning expert can devise a completely different itinerary that gives you a fresh look at a place, and you’ll also have a built-in familiarity and comfort level that can help in pandemic times.

That’s what reader Kevin Haney did. As a holiday present to each other, he and his wife, Nancy, always travel in January. This year, they chose the same place they’d gone in January 2020, right before the pandemic: Rome.

“There’s so much to see,” he told me over the phone before they left for the Eternal City plus excursions to Naples, Pompeii and a few surrounding vineyards. They’re even using the same WOW List expert again, Jennifer Virgilio. “Jennifer did our Rome trip in 2020,” Kevin explained. “She lives there, so she’s able to offer insight of things to do and get access to private experiences, which is even more useful right now with Covid.”

I emailed with Kevin toward the end of his trip to see how the experience panned out and what it is like to travel in Italy now.

What’s the vibe of the places you’ve visited? How crowded are they?

None of the places we visited were crowded. As our guides told us, that has been the one advantage to Covid. We are in Rome at the exact same time as our pre-Covid trip in January 2020, and it is noticeable how much less crowded places are.

Where have you felt comfortable, and where have you not?

We have felt comfortable everywhere on this trip. With just a little common sense, we have been able to avoid crowds at indoor events.

Are people wearing masks and following other Covid protocols?

Yes. The Italian people are very conscious of following the protocols. They believe following the protocols is their responsibility to ensure that things get better and can return to normal. They do not see it as a political issue.

What has Jennifer done so far that made you feel safer?

Jennifer and her team have been able to get us after-hours access to the Borghese Gallery and the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. We feel so fortunate to be able to experience these locations without the crowds, and we get the chance to learn so much with the expertise the local guides provide.

older male traveler wearing mask standing in front of Doria Pamphilj Palace Rome Italy

Kevin Haney at a private after-hours visit to the Doria Pamphilj Palace in Rome. Photo courtesy Kevin Haney

What other experiences have you had this trip?

We have also done a nightingale Trastevere food tour, a vintage Fiat tour, and a day trip to Naples and Pompeii. The crowds have been reduced from the past, but that allows you to enjoy the sights.

Is there anything you weren’t able to do because of the pandemic?

One tour, “A Focus on Caravaggio,” cancelled the day before we were to take it, as the guide got Covid and the people in her office had to quarantine because of exposure to her. We decided to spend that time exploring Rome on our own instead.

How have you found the transportation logistics—airports, trains?

Everything has gone very smoothly. Our planes were on time, and the trains we took on our day trip to Naples worked out well. The car service that we used was on time. None of the modes of transportation have been crowded or made us feel uncomfortable. Jennifer’s guides and drivers were all vaccinated and observed the Covid protocols of Italy. They made sure not to expose us to situations where we would feel uncomfortable and, when appropriate, adjusted the order in which to see things so as to avoid the crowds.

Is Italy different than before?

It was much better than expected. Everything was open and, because of the pre-trip planning and our guides, we always felt safe.

Where did you get your Covid test before returning to the U.S.?

We noticed that testing was readily available throughout Rome and Naples as it seemed like there was a tent to perform the test on every other corner, and our one guide who we had for Borghese and Doria Pamphilj was telling us she got tested once a week to make sure she was ok to perform tours.

Our pre-departure Covid test was performed at the hotel, thanks to Jennifer, so we had the results quickly and could enjoy our final day in Rome. Once we got our negative result, it confirmed why we use WOW List specialists like Jennifer when we travel to Europe, as it makes the trip go so smoothly.


We’re Here to Help

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

This Is How You Get that Dream Cooking Vacation in Italy

Most travelers who think about taking a cooking vacation in Italy automatically start looking for a cooking school—meaning that, for a week or so, they’ll head to one spot and take lessons from the same team in the same place each day. But that is not the best recipe for success. There’s a much smarter way.

For years, my mom had been dreaming of a cooking vacation in Italy, so when a window opened up for the two of us to do it together as a mother-daughter trip, I was determined that it not only be special and delicious, but that it exceed her expectations. My first step: Filling out the trip request form for Maria Gabriella Landers, one of the Italy travel specialists on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts.

Right in our initial conversation, Maria disabused us of the misconception that we should base ourselves in a major city like Rome or Florence and spend the week in classes. Why sleep in the same hotel every night, spend your days in an institutional kitchen, and take limited day trips, when you can turn your entire vacation into a moving culinary education instead, with a different kitchen, different view, different local chefs, and different delicious lessons every day? In the end, Maria arranged an ongoing feast for us that we’ll keep talking about, and using recipes from, forever.

Here are seven benefits to skipping school and indulging in a mobile culinary trip instead:

1. You cook in real people’s kitchens.

Tony taught us his family’s meatball recipe as we cooked in his home kitchen with him and his daughter.

Over the course of our ten-day trip, we spent time in a variety of charming kitchens with fascinating locals, each of whom made us feel like family by the time we hugged and said good-bye, stuffed and happy. We cooked in:

  • a suburban family home in Pompeii with lifelong resident Tony, who grew up around the ruins where his father owned a food stand (now run by his brother) and who shared his family recipe for meatballs.
  • an agriturismo outside Montefalco in Umbria, where owner-chef Giuseppe and his wife taught us how to make cheese ravioli from scratch, zucchini tarts, and molten chocolate mini cakes.
  • a centuries-old organic family farm near Spoleto with Ettore and his wife, Lorella, who showed us how to make the best vegetable-laden tomato sauce, handmade gnocchi, and tarts with lemon-scented crust called crostata (which are now a regular dessert at our own family’s holiday meals). Afterward, we sat in their dining room and feasted all together, drizzling olive oil from their own trees onto our bread.
  • a glamorous farm-to-table B&B with an acclaimed chef who picked ingredients right from her garden and seemed to have an endless menu of desserts for us to prepare and then gobble down.

We cooked a pasta feast in a centuries-old family farmhouse with husband and wife Ettore and Lorella. Here my mom is preparing some vegetables for the sauce.

Ettore showed us how to make fresh gnocchi dough that we later replicated easily at home. So good!

Maria also arranged:

•one gelato-making night at the happiest ice cream shop I’ve ever seen (where the owner, Ricardo, let us taste every single flavor in the store)

•two walking food tours of Rome and Naples, to taste each city’s signature snacks

•visits to a goat cheese and wine farm, a vineyard, a chocolate factory, and an olive oil mill

These were more than hands-on experiences. They were extended opportunities to get to know people, to talk and laugh with them, and to learn about their lives and share about ours.

2. You meet local people and get to know them and their friends and families.

That’s us with Tony’s stepson, who runs a cheese shop a few blocks away. We ate mozzarella cheese he’d made that morning!

Every time we cooked, we didn’t only meet the chef. We met husbands, wives, daughters, sons, and friends, sometimes because they were helping us out and other times because they stopped by in the regular course of their day. At Giuseppe’s agriturismo, his wife joined us in the kitchen, and we met his son later in the day. And at Tony’s, not only did we meet his daughter who helped us prepare her mother’s family-famous meatballs (mom was away visiting her own mother), but we also walked into town to visit the cheese shop that Tony’s stepson owns and we got to taste mozzarella he’d made that morning. Then, when we drove over to the Pompeii ruins, where Tony is a professional guide, we had the chance to meet his mom and his brother, who now runs the stand formerly run by his dad.

Giuseppe’s kitchen was a lively, fun place to be. His wife helped us prepare our lunch, and a few of his staff pitched in to make us feel welcome too. That’s my mom pressing pasta for ravioli.

And at the newly opened Amandola Gelateria in Foligno, where we donned fedoras and aprons like the rest of the smiling staff as we crafted ice cream with the freshest ingredients with owner-chef Ricardo, we also met his wife, some neighborhood locals who seem to use the shop as their regular hangout, and a master gelato maker who was visiting Ricardo (a master in his own right) to brainstorm new flavors and recipes.

3. You learn about local culinary traditions.

The bread in Umbria is never made with salt. It gets all its flavor from natural ingredients and that delicious “new” olive oil.

By cooking with real people, we were clued into regional tastes—like when we baked bread with Giuseppe and learned why Umbrians never add salt to their loaves. According to local legend, it’s a tradition that began in the Middle Ages when a pope imposed a salt tax as part of an effort to limit Perugia’s autonomy. The locals rebelled by simply not buying any, and to this day, you can still taste their independent streak in the unsalted bread on every family’s table. You won’t miss the salt, though, because Umbria’s olive oil is so unbelievably delicious—another culinary tradition you won’t experience the same way in a school. My favorite “lesson” was about a type of olive oil I’d never heard of: new olive oil.

It’s the most recently pressed olive oil possible, basically fresh off the tree. And early November is the season for it. Around this time every year, everyone in Umbria harvests their olives. (And everyone in Umbria has olive trees on their property—that’s just the way it is.) For the best flavor, those olives must be pressed into oil within 48 hours. Once the oil is extracted, big containers of it are stored in cellars and then siphoned off into smaller bottles for use throughout the year.

We saw how olives are pressed into oil at a local mill run by two sisters. The area residents lug in their hand-picked olives and then wait around as the fruit is transformed into oil.

Because our timing was perfect, we got to taste many different family olive oils as we visited our different kitchens and restaurants, and I fell in love with the fresh, grassy and almost garlicky flavor that is worlds away from the stuff we buy here at home. And because she saw that I was so interested in this unique local tradition, our guide Cristina arranged, on the spur of the moment, for us to visit a family-run olive mill one afternoon. We got a tour from one of the sisters while half a dozen area residents were hanging out inside, waiting for their oil to be finished. (We learned that Umbrians are vigilant about watching their oil being pressed, to ensure that their olives don’t get mistaken for someone else’s. They are protective!)

4. The ingredients are as fresh as they come.

We got a behind-the-scenes tour with Diego Calcabrina, one half of the brother duo that runs a biodynamic wine and goat-cheese farm.

In addition to tasting each family’s personal new olive oil, we sampled vegetables from their own gardens, cheese from goats down the road, wine from their neighbors’ grapes, and fruit from their orchards. In fact, at Villa Roncalli, Chef Luisa walked out to her field directly before meeting us and picked what looked best to her, then we prepared a vegetable risotto and an egg dish with herbs and greens. On another day, after a tour of Calcabrina wine and cheese farm—run by two brothers who pick all their grapes by hand, make only single-blend wines, and don’t use any antibiotics for their cheese—we went to their restaurant to taste their wares. Not 20 minutes prior, we had been petting their goats.

Then we sampled the wine…

…and the cheese.

And moments like that were in addition to the steady stream of local wine and olive oil with every meal—meaning, wine from grapes picked in fields we’d passed and oil from olive trees in our hosts’ backyards.

5. You can customize the menus for likes, dislikes, and restrictions.

At Ettore and Lorella’s farmhouse, we adjusted his family’s go-to tomato sauce recipe to leave out the meat—just look at all those vegetables!

When the cooking experience is private and informal, as ours were, the menu can be customized however you need it to be. My mother and I each have several food allergies and restrictions. Maria collected our big list of prohibited ingredients, and not only did she make it work, but she and our hosts also made sure it was all delicious. What impressed me even more was how everyone handled the fact that I’m vegetarian but my mom enjoys meat and fish. In most cases that meant our hosts planned two entrées, or two sauces. My mom never felt that she had to give anything up, and I never felt that the veggie option was an afterthought.

Chef Luisa of Villa Roncalli picked these greens from her garden right before we arrived…

And then we made this delicious egg-vegetable dish—a cross between a scramble and a frittata, and incredibly delicious.

And because I like dessert, we made a ton of it. This was a delicate coffee-sambuca cake we made with Chef Luisa. I was skeptical because I don’t love licorice, but I learned to trust the chef: The combination of flavors was perfect.

Amandola Gelateria

We also got to customize our gelato! These are the three flavors we made with Ricardo at Amandola Gelateria: Nutella with candied almond crunch, natural pistachio, and clementine (from fresh clementines we cut and juiced ourselves!).

6. You can truly replicate the recipes at home.

My mom and I loved the jam-filled, lemon-crusted crostata that we made with Ettore and Lorella so much that we baked them at home for Thanksgiving. My mom also made them for a party with her friends.

They are now a Cohen dessert staple.

Culinary schools sometimes have specialty ingredients and professional machines—things you would never have in your own home. But on our trip, we worked with what people had in their kitchens—normal ingredients and gadgets. In fact, my mom and I were able to use what we learned to prepare a special Italian Thanksgiving feast a few weeks after we got home. And even though we didn’t have fresh Umbrian tomatoes from Luisa’s garden or Lorella’s jam from her orchard, we did have a canister of olive oil from Ettore’s farm, and it all turned out pretty close to what we’d eaten in Italy. (Pro tip: After a cooking vacation, invite friends and family over to share what you’ve learned. It’s a fun way to relive the trip and to share the spoils with those who couldn’t join you.)

7. You make true friends.

Something magical happens when you cook and dine with someone in their own home — you laugh, you share stories, and you make true friends.

A culinary school instructor may end up being an inspiration, but it’s unlikely they will become your friend. However, when you cook with people in their homes, when they show you their favorite recipes, when you sit down at the table with them and pass around delicious food that you all made together over laughter and conversation, you can’t help but feel affection for one another.

There is just something magical that happens while you chat and laugh with new friends in the kitchen and toast each other over a good meal. Yes, my mother and I came away with wonderful recipes and memories, but it was that authentic connection with warm, welcoming people that really satisfied us—something I think all travelers are hungry for. And if you get to mix up a little handmade gelato for dessert, well that’s just a bonus.

Ricardo is my new best friend and favorite person in the world. Did I mention he let us taste every gelato flavor in the shop? There were about 30.

Billie used Wendy’s WOW List system to plan this trip. She received a discounted media rate, but in keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, coverage was not guaranteed and remained at our editorial discretion. You can read the signed agreement between WendyPerrin.com and Maria Gabriella Landers here. And, lest you think Billie received special treatment, you can read additional reviews of Maria’s trips, written by other WOW List travelers, here.

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.

Sydney Opera House New Years Fireworks

A Holiday Deal for Our Readers: See These Cities for Less

Everyone loves presents, so here’s one for all you urban explorers out there. If you’re headed to one of the following cities during your holiday getaway, Context Travel is offering a discount to all WendyPerrin.com readers. Context has smart docents leading behind-the-scenes food, art, history, and architecture tours in urban hot spots all over the world. The company’s distinctive approach to in-depth, sophisticated walking tours has earned its founder, Paul Bennett, a spot on Wendy’s WOW List (and her Condé Nast Traveler list for years before that).

As a special gift for WendyPerrin.com readers, Context is offering a 15% discount until January 1 on tours in Paul’s favorite holiday-time cities. Be sure to use the links below to get the discounts, and come back and leave reviews of your experiences after your tours!


“We think Paris is tops at Christmas,” Paul says. “Colorful lights line the city’s wide boulevards; the department stores unveil elaborate Christmas-themed windows; and it’s the season for special treats like oysters, bûche de noël, pain d’épices, and foie gras. (Yum.) Paris over Christmas is busy, but not inundated with tourists like in the summer months. In fact, the increased crowds add something festive to the period. Shoppers will want to stay over into the New Year to experience the biannual store sales (in 2017 these run Jan 11­Feb 8).”

Use this link to get 15% off Context’s holiday food tour in Paris, for bookings placed before Jan 1.


“Rome is also a favorite spot of mine for Christmas. Food dominates, as it often does: torrone, or nougat candy, a mouth-watering concoction of honey, egg whites and toasted nuts; or the panettone, a sweet bread rich in butter, candied fruit and raisins. We run a holiday food tour in Rome; also, during this time, most churches display elaborate nativities for veneration. You can learn more on our Rome Holiday Walk: The Tradition of Italian Nativities.”

Use these links to get 15% off Context’s holiday food tour and Rome Holiday Walk: The Tradition of Italian Nativities.

Christmas tree in Love Park, Philadelphia

A Christmas tree in Love Park, Philadelphia. Photo: J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia


“We also love Philadelphia around the holidays. The city is decked out with lights along Broad Street and throughout Rittenhouse Square, and hosts multiple tree lighting ceremonies, including one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We usually take a break for some ice-skating in Dilworth Park at City Hall, or visit the annual WinterFest along the Delaware River that features rustic cabins, wool blankets, and fire pits to roast marshmallows, in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The Mummers Parade on New Year’s Day is a quirky, colorful spectacle and hallmark event in Philadelphia, with roots that date to the 18th century. The city is less crowded in the winter than in summer, making sites enjoyable to visit.”

Use this link to get 15% off Context’s Philadelphia tours for bookings placed before Jan 1.


“Okay, my personal favorite? Sydney or Melbourne. Sun-drenched days, balmy long nights and a vibrant atmosphere is what’s on offer over Christmas and New Year’s down under. The cultural capital of Melbourne has a rich array of Christmas celebrations, from Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve, a Boxing Day Test cricket match, and an abundance of locally sourced delicious treats at Queen Victoria Market. The beach capital of Sydney has endless stretches of stunning coastline, all offering the perfect (and slightly unusual) venue for a Christmas Day picnic. It goes without saying that Sydney is the place to be for the most epic fireworks spectacle around at New Year. Other than at this theatrical performance (when careful planning is necessary to gain the best viewing spot on The Rocks), summer in both cities is a relatively stress-free time to visit.”

Use these links to get 15% off Context’s Melbourne tours and Sydney tours for bookings placed before Jan 1.

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

Café Einstein, Berlin

6 Sweet Spots Worth the International Plane Ticket

This article originally ran on Luxe City Guides


You’ll need to dig out that elastic waistband for these sweet boutiques.

Sebastien Gaudard, Paris

Sebastien Gaudard, Paris

Sebastien Gaudard, Paris

From petit fortes and eclairs to almond croissants and caramel macarons, pâtissier extraordinaire Sebastien Gaudard (aka the ‘Tom Ford of pastry’) has the most magnifique (read: calorifique) creations in his pretty pastel-hued shop. Or for something a little more swish, sashay over to his Tuileries Salon de Thé for millefeuilles and crème Chantilly creations in a truly sumptuous setting.

1 Rue des Pyramides, 1st, Paris. +33 171 182 470, sebastiengaudard.com

Café Einstein, Berlin

Kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cafe) is an afternoon institution all across Germany and in Berlin the best place to indulge is Café Einstein. Many a literary great has put in time at this historic, mahogany parquet and garden delight that served up decadent slabs of schwarzwald kuchen, strudel and sacher torte. Heavenly hot chocolate too.

Kurfürstenstr. 58, Tiergarten, Berlin. +49 30 2639 1918, cafeeinstein.com

Ciampini Gelateria, Rome

Ciampini Gelateria, Rome

Ciampini Gelateria, Rome

When in Italy…. Gelati. This charming, retro-ish gelato bar serves up the nicest frozen flaves in all of Roma. The frutti di bosco and pistachio are both winners while the sinfully good whipped cream (panna) is only for truest of ice cream devotees.

Ciampini, Piazza di S. Lorenzo in Lucina, Rome. +39 06 687 6606, ciampini.com

Karakoy Gulluoglu, Istanbul

Karaköy Güllüoglu, Istanbul

Karaköy Güllüoglu, Istanbul

Of all the baklava shops in Istanbul, this is the bonanza best. Güllüoğlu has been baking the sweet, flakey treats since the 1820s and have over a dozen different varieties including chocolate, walnut, pistachio, or good old plain (which is anything but). For top Turkish delight head to Aladdin in the Spice Bazaar and order the milk lokum with nutella swirls. More like loku-mmm!

Karaköy Güllüoglu, Rihtim Cad. Katli Otopark Alti 3-4, Karaköy, Istanbul. +90 212 293 0910, karakoygulluoglu.com

Kosoan, Tokyo

Kosoan, Tokyo

Kosoan, Tokyo

Mochi might not be to everyone’s taste, but if you do like a chewy ball or two you’ll love this tatami-lined garden-chic teahouse that serves up rolled rice mouthfuls with hot green tea and a side of, errr, palate-cleansing salted kelp?

Kosoan, 1-24-23 Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku, Tokyo. +81 3 3718 4203, kosoan.co.jp

Bibelot, Melbourne

Bibelot, Melbourne

Bibelot, Melbourne

A dreamy sweet-tooth sanctuary inspired by the patisseries of Europe… but these pretty petit fortes and melt-in-your-mouth macarons get an Aussie twist with native ingredients like pepper berries, macadamias and lemon myrtle. Try the signature gourmandise platter or high tea service. Pinkies!

Bibelot, 285-287 Coventry St, South Melbourne, Melbourne. +61 3 9690 2688, bibelot.com.au


More from Luxe City Guides

Top Sweet Spots for a Sugar Fix
5 Top Shops in Seoul
Rome’s Best Aperitivo Bars
New Art Museums & Galleries
7 Hotel Rooms With A View

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Windstar Cruises’ Star Breeze—and Wendy in one of its zodiacs

How I Became a Cruise Ship’s Godmother

I’ve been a travel reporter for 25 years, and never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be named godmother of a cruise ship. But last week I christened the newest addition to Windstar Cruises’ fleet, the 212-passenger Star Breeze, in a ceremony on the French Riviera, and then hosted the inaugural voyage to Rome.

Star Breeze christening ceremony in Nice, France, on May 6, 2015

Star Breeze christening ceremony in Nice, France, on May 6, 2015

It’s a longstanding maritime tradition for cruise ships to have godmothers—they bless the ship and historically have been entrusted with the safe passage of the vessel—and I’m told I’m the first journalist to receive this honor. Usually it’s reserved for people like Sophia Loren and Princess Kate. Here’s why Windstar chose me.

Captain Krasimir Ivanov, priest Father Jean Marie, Windstar CEO Hans Birkholz, and Wendy

Star Breeze captain Krasimir Ivanov, priest Father Jean Marie, Windstar CEO Hans Birkholz, and Wendy

Hans Birkholz introducing Wendy

Hans Birkholz introducing Wendy as the ship’s godmother

The ship’s crew—and a Jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot

The ship’s crew watching the ceremony—and a Jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot waiting to be smashed against the bow

The moment before the champagne bottle hit the ship

The moment before the champagne bottle hit the ship

Being named godmother is a tremendous honor. It’s also one that some people might view as a conflict of interest for a journalist. You might be wondering whether I’ll show bias toward Windstar. You might question how I can report impartially on Star Breeze when my portrait hangs in one of its hallways.

So let me explain why I accepted this honor. First, as I’ve said before, it’s meaningful to me personally. The Windstar sailings I took with my dad two decades ago are among my favorite memories of our time together. And my husband and I still keep in touch with friends we made on our Windstar honeymoon voyage 15 years ago.

Moreover, I want to do what I can to support small ships. Some would say they’re endangered. Most of the new ships that cruise lines build nowadays are behemoths. And while a vacation in a 4,000-passenger floating city may make sense for some people, it’s certainly not the best way to explore foreign countries. So I’m relieved that there are still a few small ships taking travelers to those off-the-beaten-path islands and hidden-gem harbors that might otherwise be too logistically difficult or prohibitively expensive to get to any other way. Anything I can do to help small ships continue to help sophisticated travelers see the world better, I’ll do.

I want to assure anyone who might be concerned about a conflict of interest that my godmother role will have zero influence on my travel reportage or the advice I give travelers. I remain the same unbiased truth teller and honest adviser I’ve always been. Just because Windstar’s style of small-ship travel suits me personally, that does not mean it’s for everyone. We all have different travel tastes, interests, and needs, and my mission is the same as it’s been for 25 years: To point you toward the right travel experience for your goals, whether that’s a small ship, a big ship, or no ship at all.

If you’re hoping for a review of Star Breeze, though, I’m going to recuse myself—not because I can’t write about the ship impartially, but because there was nothing typical about the voyage I just experienced. I was showered with special treatment (as you’ll see in the photos below), and while there were a number of regular passengers onboard—and I spent as much time as I could chatting with them—I was mainly with the media and travel-industry execs who were being wined and dined (as they are on nearly every new cruise ship’s inaugural voyage). In other words, it was not a normal cruise like one that my readers would experience, and therefore it would be a disservice to them to pretend that it was.

So I will leave the reviews of Star Breeze to exceptional cruise reporters such as Cruise Critic’s Carolyn Spencer Brown and USA Today’s Gene Sloan. You can read their accounts of the christening ceremony here on Cruise Critic and here in USA Today. My husband Tim (who shot the photos here) also plans to weigh in (I’m not sure how, but I’m sure it will involve more photos). Stay tuned.

With Nancy Anschutz, godmother of Star Breeze’s sister ship Star Pride

With Nancy Anschutz, godmother of Star Breeze’s sister ship Star Pride

With Windstar CEO Hans Birkholz

With Windstar CEO Hans Birkholz

The sailaway from Nice

The sailaway from Nice

Arriving in Monte Carlo a few hours later

Arriving in Monte Carlo that same night

The pool deck

The top deck

The Yacht Club observation lounge

The Yacht Club observation lounge

The dining room

The dining room

The Veranda café

The Veranda café

A pretty typical room on Star Breeze

A pretty typical room on Star Breeze

Wendy’s room: Suite 03 (one of the Owner’s Suites)

Wendy’s room: Suite 03 (one of the Owner’s Suites)

Wendy on her balcony on the ship’s bow

Wendy on her balcony on the ship’s bow

The Star Breeze

What I Have in Common with the Queen of England and the Rockettes

Can you guess what I have in common with the Queen of England, Sophia Loren, the Rockettes, and Tinkerbell (besides two X chromosomes)? We’re all godmothers of ships. I’m honored and flattered that Windstar Cruises has named me the godmother of its newest ship, the Star Breeze. I’ll be christening the 212-passenger vessel on May 6 in Nice, France. Yes, that means I’ll get to smash the champagne bottle against the boat’s bow—a 4,000-year-old tradition (although the Vikings sprayed blood over the bow)—and host glittery parties on the inaugural voyage. We’ll be sailing to Rome, with stops in the picture-postcard ports of Monte Carlo, Portofino, and Portoferraio, on the island of Elba. While I’ve sailed on Windstar before as a guest lecturer, this will be my first time back onboard since I had children. And I cannot wait to return to the small, romantic, sophisticated ships of my pre-kids life!

Some of the most rewarding and authentic travel experiences I’ve had have been on Windstar voyages. That’s because they enable you to see collections of islands and stretches of coastline that would be too logistically difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to see any other way: The ships are small enough to sail into the tiny picturesque harbors and hidden coves that big ships can’t access.

As an example, my first Windstar voyage was in the Caribbean, and each day we stopped at a different off-the-beaten-path island—such as Bequia, Ile des Saintes, Jost Van Dyke, and Virgin Gorda. They’re the sorts of tiny islands where you can get off the ship and just meander off on your own and meet and talk to the locals. That’s hard to do on big cruise ships because the larger the ship, the more industrial and overbuilt the ports, the more time it takes to get on and off the ship, and the harder it is to escape the cruise crowds. I took my dad on that Windstar Caribbean trip, and what we loved most were the idyllic views as we sailed into port each morning and out again each evening. My dad also loved how the bartender remembered his name and favorite drink from Day One.

I was scheduled to be a guest lecturer on Windstar again right after I got married, so I took my husband, Tim, and it morphed into our honeymoon—the first of several (honeymoons, that is; not husbands). The cruise was from Athens to Monte Carlo, with stops in jewels such as Monemvasia, Greece; Taormina, Sicily; Capri, Italy; Bastia, Corsica; Portoferraio, Elba; Portofino, Italy; and St. Tropez, France. We had the same perspicacious bartender, Danny (yes, we remember his name too).

The day I recall most vividly—because it was the most perfect day of any cruise I’ve ever taken—was when we stopped in Fiskardo, a sweet fishing village on the Greek island of Kefalonia. Tim and I rented a car to explore the island. Our first stop was Myrtos Beach—a dazzling white arc of sand book-ended by dramatic cliffs and water in a dozen shades of blue. We were the only people there. After a swim and a couple of fun drives up and down the steep winding road with hairpin turns that leads to and from the beach, with Tim trying to teach me how to drive a stick (rental cars and zig-zag roads are good for that), we continued on and stopped at a seaside taverna for lunch. Again, we were the only people there—and it was the freshest calamari and Greek salad we’d ever tasted. On we went, passing a farm with a “honey for sale” sign. We stopped to buy some homemade honey and ended up spending an hour talking with the beekeeper and his daughter in their house and getting a tour of his traditional rural apiary. We continued criss-crossing the island, at each turn seeing views more glorious than the last. By the time the sun was setting, we were back onboard the ship in the hot tub, daiquiris in hand, watching our favorite new Greek island recede into the distance as we sailed to the next day’s adventure.

Back then never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that someday I might serve as the godmother of a Windstar ship. The inaugural sailing is sold out, but I’ll be hosting another Windstar voyage this summer—as well as lecturing onboard—and I’d love for you to join me! Details to come.

Have you sailed on Windstar? I’d love to hear about your experience.