Tag Archives: wendy perrin

Travelers at Iguazu Falls in Brazil.

The Secret to Extraordinary Travel: Here’s Proof That The WOW List Works

Wondering what a WOW trip looks like? Read the trip reviews below, all written in your fellow travelers’ own words. WOW trips are custom-tailored exactly to your interests, maximizing your experience, minimizing logistics, whisking you past lines, and avoiding crowds (yes, even this summer in Europe—read on to see how that’s possible).

Learn how to get your own WOW trip. Then, browse our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts to find the right specialist for the trip you’re dreaming of. If you’d like help figuring out where to go or how to plan it, write to Ask Wendy. And you’ll find lots of other ideas in our other compilations of traveler reviews.


Ireland: castle stays, culinary scene, Irish dancing & fiddling…

HARRISON EARL | APRIL 17, 2024

We had a fantastic trip to Ireland, planned primarily by Katie on Jonathan’s team, that got us to spectacular parts of the country and opened doors we couldn’t have on our own. We focused on the west coast of Ireland, mostly along the Wild Atlantic Way, and enjoyed stunning scenery, excellent food, and welcoming locals. Dromoland and Ballynahinch Castles were amazing properties to stay at, and our driver Fergus went out of his way to make us feel welcome in his country and to make sure we were getting the best experience. The true highlight was a private food tour in Galway with Sheena, who highlighted the best of the new Irish culinary scene in the city. The WOW Moment Sheena and Katie arranged was something we never would have thought to do on our own, but was amazing. We had a private Irish dancing demonstration and lesson with a highly accomplished dancer and musical accompaniment by an excellent fiddle player. While I can’t say I got any good at Irish dancing, I can say that my wife and I had a blast and can’t wait to go back to Ireland to explore even more.

Read more reviews of Jonathan. Or request your own trip.

Contact Jonathan


Italy: seamless plans, special-access experts and kid-friendly touches make all the difference…

KATHRYN BLAZE | APRIL 16, 2024

Kathryn's son frolics in the hills of Umbria during their truffle hunt, Italy.

Kathryn’s son frolics in the hills of Umbria during their truffle hunt. Photo: Traveler Kathryn Blaze

I cannot say enough good things about our recent trip to Italy planned by Maria Gabriella Landers. I traveled with my husband and 9-year-old son to Umbria and Rome from April 1-10 during our school spring break. We loved our accommodations, the drivers and guides were all absolutely fantastic, and the communication and assistance during the trip itself was incredible.

Cristina — the operations manager + direct contact while in Italy — was incredibly responsive via text. When we had to make a few last-minute shifts (food poisoning, oversleeping, adding people to a reservation), she accommodated it all seamlessly.

When Maria recommended making restaurant reservations in the weeks before our trip, I was too overwhelmed to even begin to choose, so 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.

The details:

We started off with 5 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. The staff was so lovely, helpful, and incredibly kind to my son.

This was the perfect jumping-off point for daily excursions — during our time we toured the nearby towns of Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto, Spello and Orvieto. Our tour guide, Marco, was with us each day, and simply remarkable — not only knowledgeable, but also just a lovely person to spend time with, and so patient with a (sometimes impatient) kid. My son is still talking about how he misses him…

Standout moments were:

– A truffle hunt in the hills above Spoleto. We loved getting to hike thru the hills of this beautiful farm, trailing behind the truffle dogs. It was the perfect antidote for a child who was getting sick of churches and history tours…. He frolicked in the hills following the dogs, watching the sheep, horses and cows. 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.

– A wine tasting + 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 b/c 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 — and even better, had a lovely local fan accompany us to make sure we stayed safe during this emotionally-charged match!

We also had an AMAZING walking food tour with the loveliest guide (yet another expert who only does tours for Maria).

Clearly, I have MUCH to say about this trip, and am incredibly grateful to Maria and Cristina for making it such a seamless, wonderful experience for us.

Can’t wait to plan our next one!

Read more reviews of Maria and Brian. Or request your own trip.

Contact Maria and Brian


Southeast Asia: eating and praying with locals…

SHARON THEROUX | APRIL 12, 2024

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

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

My husband and I just returned from our second trip to Southeast Asia, both of them through Sandy and Ethan’s office. We chose Sandy and Ethan because they were recommended by Wendy Perrin’s WOW List, and because we wanted to have a more authentic and less “touristy” experience. Because both Sandy (Founder) and Ethan (Trip Planner) have lived in Southeast Asia, they are very knowledgeable about the local people, their customs, and their way of life.

Someone once said, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” That couldn’t be more true about our experience. This year, we spent one week in Saigon, followed by one week in Siem Reap. Unlike last year, where we had a guide with us every day, we felt a little more comfortable taking a few days to ourselves to explore on our own. In Saigon, we stayed at the Majestic Hotel, which was a perfect location on the Saigon river and at the heart of the city. Sandy and Ethan were able to get us the same room on the same floor we had last year, # 317, which had an outdoor garden where we had coffee in the morning. So beautiful. Like last year, Thuy was our guide for the boat excursion to Can Gio. Thuy is so warm and friendly, she feels like family. From finding someone to do our laundry, to making sure we have a fresh morning breakfast of exotic fruit and croissants on our boat, she was superb. We also were treated to have Sandy and his wife come along for the day! After two years of planning these trips, it was so nice to connect with them, face to face! The ride up the Saigon river to Can Gio nature reserve was relaxing, and provided a well-needed “Nature Bath” while boating through mangroves, hiking through jungles, and feeding crocodiles and monkeys. What a major de-stressor and complete departure from our day-to-day life back home! On our free days, we ventured out into the streets of Saigon, a very large but safe city to walk around in, and language was really not much of a barrier. We went to the War Remnants museum, which I believe is a “must see” for all, particularly Americans. We also did the Vespa Night Out, where we traveled on the back seat of Vespas, with drivers who took us to different places for appetizers and dinner. I have a shellfish allergy, and Sandy and Ethan made sure that the hotel and Vespa drivers chose places that were able to accommodate someone who loves fish, but can’t have shellfish. A difficult feat in Vietnam!

Our next leg of the trip was the Jaya House at Siem Reap, which is where we stayed last year. The Jaya House is one of my favorite places on earth. From the rich dark wood accents, to amazing art sculptures and paintings, to the lush tropical landscaping, to the amazingly comfortable bedding, we felt like we were in heaven. Upon arrival, we met with Christian, the property manager, who greeted us with a glass of wine and a cool, moist towel. After giving us an introduction to his facility, he made sure we were scheduled for our daily massage. After recently experiencing a running injury, I was very happy to take him up on that offer! Those daily massages really helped me to heal from injury, as well as reduce a year full of stressors from back home. And I can’t say enough about the staff there. They were so warm, friendly, and extremely attentive without being obtrusive. I believe they actually have a full-time flower person. Our hotel room always had fresh flowers and fruit, a very nice touch!

Cambodia does not require a visa prior to arrival, and Sandy and Ethan made sure we had someone to meet us at the airport to secure our visa. Nice touch! Once out of the airport, we were greeted by our guide, Silen Truy, who we had requested from our visit last year. Silen was a pleasure to be with. She seems to be a genuinely happy person who was very flexible with us, particularly with our preference to start a bit later than typical. Her smile is contagious. We took an excursion to the margins of Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Cambodia. On this boat tour, we traveled back in time to see a floating fishing village, where people survive with very little, some without electricity. And yet, the people there smiled and waved at us as they went about their life, and we saw the children happily playing with each other and swimming in the water. I learned that if they could be happy with so little, I don’t need to sweat the small stuff at home. And the lunch they had prepared for us, hosted by a lovely Cambodian family on their floating dock, was amazingly delicious with a charcuterie that rivaled that from NYC! So primitive and civilized at the same time.

One of my favorite experiences was the bicycle tour to the temples of Ta Prohm and Bayon. I really can’t get over the beauty of these temples created in the 11th century, and how nature actually enhanced their beauty by growing into the temple rock when they were abandoned. What a wonderful inadvertent collaboration of man and nature! The Bayon temple is not to be missed, which has 49 towers, each of which has 4 edifices which face in each direction. We were told the 4 faces on each tower represent the 4 components to true love, maitri (loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (empathetic joy), and upeksa (equanimity). I know this may sound strange, but walking among the towers and seeing the sculptures of faces that appear peaceful and happy, I felt a sense of connection and acceptance; like I was among friends. It is striking, if not surprising, that we found the people of Cambodia to embody these four components. Something to emulate, for sure.

The next day, Silen took us to Phnom Krom Pagoda, where we met and meditated with 3 Buddhist monks. The Pagoda sits on a hill overlooking Tonle Sap Lake. Sandy and Ethan have a wonderful tradition of giving prepared “care packages” (on our behalf) to the monks we sat with, to thank them for allowing us foreigners to meditate with them. Another very nice touch! After the meditation, we were offered the chance to ask them questions, with Silen acting as interpreter. I learned a valuable life lesson from this interaction, which enables me to accept things at home that I had been struggling with for awhile. What a gift! And not to mention the surprise breakfast on the temple premises after the meditation…lovely!

The last couple days we spent on our own, where we ventured out to the Angkor National Museum and Apopo facility. At Apopo, we were educated in how African rats are trained to sniff out landmines that were placed all over the country from 1975-1979. I now see rats in a whole different light! Their trained ability to sniff out TNT is more efficient than metal detectors, and they have helped to prevent the loss of life and limb to thousands of farmers in the area. Amazing. They continue to work to this day.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend traveling to Southeast Asia in general, and with Sandy and Ethan more specifically, if you are looking for a truly authentic, immersive, and life enhancing experience.

Read more reviews of Sandy and Ethan. Or request your own trip.

Contact Sandy and Ethan


Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman: city glitz, desert adventures, beach time…

LAUREN SCHOR | APRIL 11, 2024

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 in Dubai and Oman. 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) as first-time visitors, and 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 one morning, 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). We took a full-day tour of the city (both the old city and the newer city) which was completely customizable as the day went on. We really got to see and do most of the city in one day.

The next day, after a morning on our own (Dubai Gardens and the mall), we went on a luxury desert excursion for the afternoon and evening. 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! Again, we got to see most of the major sites in the one day and 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. As soon as we arrived we wished we were staying longer! The resort offers incredible activities such as paragliding which I would highly recommend—an unforgettable and bucket-list experience! Justin also arranged our WOW Moment here, which was an Arabic cooking class that we loved! Justin knew that we love to do cooking classes and food tours when we travel, but Dubai didn’t really have much to offer us. So he set up a private experience for us in Oman which was really special!

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! We also traveled during Ramadan which I was concerned about, but it really had very little to no impact on our trip at all! And 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.

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Contact Justin


Italy: Venice, Tuscany, Florence, Rome…

SARAH COHEN | APRIL 10, 2024

Traveler Sarah Cohen with her husband and guide Salvatore in Rome with the Colosseum in the background.

Sarah Cohen with her husband and guide Salvatore in Rome.

We just returned from a two-week trip to Italy. We travelled March 21 – APRIL 4, 2024. We visited Venice, Tuscany, Florence & Rome. Jennifer planned our vacation. I CANNOT recommend Jennifer enough! She was AMAZING. I worked with Jennifer from the beginning to lay out the best way to visit the different cities (ie: in what order would we go to the cities). Jennifer was pivotal in planning the schedule of our trip, especially when we needed to work around Easter in Rome! We met via Zoom on several occasions to pick out hotels, restaurants and excursions. Choosing hotels and restaurants was a large part of our trip and Jennifer did a great job. I always felt that she made my trip her first priority; it was a comforting feeling! Jennifer’s team texted us the night before each new day to lay out WHEN we would meet our driver, WHO that driver would be and WHAT we would be doing for the day. It felt like someone was with us to support us along the entire trip! One day when rain affected our excursion, Jennifer’s team was on the phone with us to discuss options. This small aspect of Jennifer’s trip planning was instrumental to us having the trip of a lifetime!

In addition to Jennifer’s trip planning, the level of guides she used was phenomenal. We had Alvise in Venice who escorted us to our gondola ride, spent the day with us on a land and sea tour of Venice and gave us endless suggestions for shopping and sightseeing on our own. He was very knowledgeable about all things Venice and knew exactly the speed in which we wanted information, or just needed to absorb the sights! I would NOT have wanted to visit Venice with Alvise as our guide. As we travelled to Tuscany, our driver, Simone, was awesome. We had Simone for several excursions and our trip on to Florence. He was also knowledgeable and it felt nice to have the same driver for the entirety of our trip in Tuscany.

Once in Venice, we had Veronica as our tour guide. Veronica has a degree in art history and it felt like we were students in her class as she shared her wealth of knowledge with us. We could’ve listened to her for hours. She kept a good pace and knew when it was too much information — Florence obviously has ENDLESS treasures to share. Veronica took us to trusted leather makers and jewelers with handmade craftsmanship and honest pricing. She also gave us her cell number to ask other questions while we were in Florence. We asked her about a few areas we wanted to visit and also some stores we wanted to see if she felt they were “valid.” We spent two days with Veronica at The Florence Orientation and Paper workshop and could’ve spent several more with her! She was excellent.

Finally, we had Salvatore as our guide in Rome. We did the Ancient Rome Experience and the Vatican tour with Salvatore. Salvatore was very knowledgeable and kept a perfect pace for us. He offered to extend our tours to other areas he wanted us to see in Rome. It was above and beyond his job. He also gave us wonderful advice about places to eat lunch and other areas of the city to visit on our own. All three guides spoke excellent English and were the top guides in the city. It was surprising they all knew each other and spoke highly of Jennifer and Wendy Perrin. We truly felt we had the best guides possible in each city planned by Jennifer.

I have already recommended Jennifer and Wendy Perrin to several friends traveling to Italy. I only wish I could have Jennifer plan every one of our trips. She was INCREDIBLE.

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Contact Jennifer


Oman: tented desert camp, snorkeling with turtles, dining with a local family…

TRACY RELLER | APRIL 10, 2024

Tracy Reller and her kids at an overlook in Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun), also known as Omani Grand Canyon.

Tracy Reller and her kids at an overlook in Jebel Shams, also known as the Omani Grand Canyon.

Our family (with two 17-year-olds) spent an amazing spring break (March 23-April 1, 2024) in Oman! It offers varied landscapes, warm/friendly people, interesting culture and very few Americans. Dan Waters 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 one regret is that we didn’t get to meet his family as we thought there wouldn’t be time before our departure. We were thrilled to see him one last time as he chose to handle our transfer from hotel to airport.

Our favorite experiences included my teen daughter thanking me after swimming with sea turtles on her first snorkeling experience, my twins playing indoor soccer with an adorable 4-year-old while having dinner in a local home, seeing camels and spending the night in the desert for the first time and off roading/hiking in Wadi Ghul and then experiencing same canyon from the top on Balcony Walk in Jebel Shams. Wadi Ghul was surreal driving through the gorgeous canyon, sometimes through remaining water from the winter rains, with date palm trees growing, abandoned stone buildings and towering canyon walls.

Also memorable was our crazy hard “Lost Village” hike in Jebel Ahkdar 600 meters down to an oasis in the canyon and 600 meters back up. Incredibly impressive was our hiking guide doing it while fasting!! We also enjoyed Al Hamra, one of Oman’s oldest towns now mostly abandoned except for the interesting heritage house Bait Al Safah.

Read more reviews of Jonny and Dan. Or request your own trip.

Contact Jonny and Dan


Japan: tea ceremony, bonsai master, dinner with geisha in training…

JANET FATTAL | APRIL 8, 2024

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

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

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

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

Ask Wendy


Barcelona: cooking class, vineyard visit, Gaudi tour…

CARI BENDER | APRIL 7, 2024

The corpinnat sparkling wine vineyard Recaredo in Spain.

The vineyard at sparkling-wine producer Recaredo. Photo: Traveler Cari Bender

Our family of four enjoyed a wonderful trip to Barcelona from March 28-April 1 (Easter weekend). Iván planned a lovely few days for us. The hotel, the H10 Casa Mimosa, had an amazing view of the rooftop of one of Gaudi’s famous buildings, and was well located with great service. Highlights for us were the Gaudi architecture tour, including a visit inside the spectacular Sagrada Familia and the Park Guell and a private wine tour learning about the designation of corpinnat sparkling wines with the owner of the vineyard who spent four hours with us showing us around and tasting some delicious sparkling wines. I am not sure I would have chosen this experience on my own, and it turned out to be one of our favorite highlights from the trip.

We also thoroughly enjoyed the Catalan cooking class where we made more than half a dozen different dishes, each one more delicious than the next. The chef was charming, the setting, in an old espadrille factory, was delightful, and we loved every minute of it. Ivan was responsive, attentive, and in constant communication when we were in Barcelona. We highly recommend his services!

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Denmark: private canal cruise, modern art & design…

CARI BENDER | APRIL 7, 2024

Travelers watching an artisan work at the PP Møbler furniture factory in Denmark.

Watching an artisan work at the PP Møbler furniture factory. Photo: Traveler Cari Bender

We just returned from a wonderful trip to Copenhagen to visit our daughter who is studying abroad there. Mads Tange Christensen helped us plan a lovely vacation (March 23-27) where we got to explore all over the area. We loved visiting the gorgeous Louisiana modern art museum on a beautiful day in the most spectacular setting, with Elsinore (of Hamlet fame) on the way. We learned about Danish food on a food tour and loved seeing the city from a private boat excursion along the canal.

Our favorite day was the Danish design day! We love Danish design, and Mads arranged for us to have a private tour of a furniture manufacturer and meet some current local artists in their own studio. It was a special and memorable day. My son and I probably took 1,000 photographs and we all loved learning about the history of prominent furniture design. We had a terrific hotel right in Nyhavn, the famous canal with the colored buildings that was centrally located and super charming. The other incredibly memorable adventure was Dine with Danes, where we had a truly special evening at the home of a local couple. They prepared a Danish Easter dinner for us — they must have cooked for two days! We simply adored them and we had a wonderful evening together. It was very special. Mads planned a terrific trip for us, and we will remember it forever!

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Spain: front-row view of Semana Santa, Gibraltar’s macaques…

JULIE HEIMARK | APRIL 4, 2024

Julie Heimark's son taking a photo with Gibraltar's macaques in Spain.

Julie Heimark’s son checks an item off his bucket list: Gibraltar’s macaques. Photo: Julie Heimark

My husband had been to Holy Week in Seville thirty years ago and wanted to share this unique experience; our 18-year-old son’s bucket list includes seeing the Barbary macaques of Gibraltar. With those directives, Ivan curated a fantastic trip for us with many special experiences. We spent three nights in Seville at the spectacular Alfonso XIII. Ivan was able to secure us a private balcony just across from City Hall to view the Santa Semana processions. It was incredible. We had the best views from the comfort of a gorgeous apartment with a guide (a penitent herself) to explain everything. It is difficult to fully convey the spectacle of tens of thousands of robed penitents, the enormous gilded and flower bedecked shoulder borne palanquins.

We then spent two nights in Jerez at Hotel Maria Luisa (awesome hotel), with day trips to Cadiz and Gibraltar. Again, Ivan secured us incredible private experiences: a sherry tasting with a producer in his bodega and then lunch with local aristocracy. We were especially appreciative of all his arrangements for Gibraltar — our driver walked us across the land border and handed us over to our local driver/guide. Gibraltar was most definitely only on our son’s list, not ours, but it turned out to be the most fascinating day and I would highly recommend. We finished the trip in Ronda, where we spent a day with a local winemaker in his tiny village. The weather on our last day in Ronda was frightful — hail, lightning, torrential downpour — which was the day we had a guided hike planned. Ivan was patient and reassuring and our guide immediately pivoted to what proved to be my husband’s favorite experience.

Thanks to Ivan, we feel that we made our our own personal procession through Andalusia this semana santa: from the epic and grandiose crowds of Sevilla with all the pomp and circumstance and ceremony to the smaller celebrations of Jerez and then culminating with the most intimate procession of children in Benalauria carrying the passos and making the stations of the cross. Ivan is one of the best travel specialists we have worked with, he was constantly checking in, all of the arrangements were top-notch. We look forward to returning to Spain with Ivan.

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Contact Ivan


Vietnam & Cambodia: Saigon street food, biking Hoi An, Angkor Wat…

LINDA GREEN | APRIL 3, 2024

My husband and I just returned from a fabulous trip to Vietnam and Cambodia planned by Sandy and Ethan. In Vietnam, we visited Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, and Saigon, each of which was fascinating in its own way. The temples around Siem Reap, particularly Angkor Wat, are truly awesome and should not be missed if visiting this part of the world. We were met by local hosts in every destination who not only took great care of us, but also helped make the trip more meaningful. By sharing their deep knowledge of the area and their own personal experiences, we learned much more about these fascinating countries than we possibly could have with a large group tour or on our own.

Sandy and Ethan offered several optional experiences and we very much enjoyed the ones we decided on. We loved riding around on Vespas in the crazy traffic in Saigon, seeing its backstreets and alleys, and sampling some delicious street food. We also enjoyed the “eco experience” in Hoi An where we rode bikes through the rice paddies, learned about local organic farming and went out on a fishing boat. And visiting a small village in the Mekong Delta where we met a tofu maker who made us a delicious lunch with his just-made tofu was very interesting and a lot of fun. This was one of the most memorable trips we have taken and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about a very different culture.

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Contact Sandy and Ethan


Chile: short visit to the wine region and coast…

BONNIE THOMPSON | APRIL 3, 2024

We had a fantastic time in Chile, on a trip planned for us by Paul and his team. We worked with Paul two years ago for a trip to Brazil, and he remembered our preferences and expectations, which made the planning for this trip exceptionally easy. We wanted to explore some of the wine country in central Chile for several days before boarding a cruise, and we knew we didn’t want to spend too much of our time in transit. Paul outlined an itinerary for us that was perfect — interesting wines and not too much time in the car. The hotels he suggested were spot-on for our tastes, which he knew from our previous conversations. The logistics of booking all these arrangements were handled with efficiency and care. One of the most important aspects of using Paul was his ability to select a responsible and safe driver for us. Hernan was careful, punctual, and extremely personable. We enjoyed our time traveling with him.

We landed in Santiago early in the morning from our overnight flight, where we were greeted by Hernan. After a quick stop for some coffee, he drove us to the Colchagua Valley, where we stayed for 3 days/2 nights. Our lodging was at the Clos Apalta Residences, and truly, this is now high on our list of the most beautiful places we have ever stayed. The main house where we had our meals is the former residence of the owners, and everything about it is warm and welcoming. We felt like we were visiting friends (who just happened to own a fabulous winery!). This year several new casitas have been added along the hillside, which is where we slept. The architecture is absolutely stunning — floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the vineyard, individual plunge pool on the private terrace, separate sitting area with a desk, and a free-standing tub in the magnificent bathroom. All our meals were included in the rate. The food was exceptional, and each course was paired with the amazing wines from their cellars. The winery can be toured even if you are not a guest at the Residences, and I would highly recommend touring it. The design is fascinating, and the science behind the architecture is incredible. There are many things to do in the valley as well. We did another wine tasting nearby at Viu Manent, had a cocktail class for Pisco Sours, and we also had a lovely horseback ride through the vineyard, which Paul took the time to arrange for us. We could have stayed at Clos Apalta for a week!

Our driver Hernan returned for us on Friday, and we headed towards the coast to La Casona at Vina Matetic. This was a delightful spot, very friendly and with beautiful gardens. There are only 10 rooms in the lodge, which is in the Spanish-Colonial style with thick walls and carved wooden doors. We enjoyed both the tasting and the meals with paired wines.

On Saturday Hernan came to drive us to Valparaiso. But wait! We had more wine tasting scheduled before that! Our first stop was at Emiliana vineyard in the Casablanca Valley. Like the other wineries we visited, they also use organic and bio-diversity practices in their vineyards and winemaking. Our guide was delightful and informative, and we enjoyed walking in the vines and seeing the wildlife before heading to the tasting. Then Hernan drove us to Casas del Bosque for lunch with paired wine selections. It was delicious, and the restaurant is beautiful.

We arrived in Valparaiso in the early afternoon, and Hernan gave us a tour by car. It was a great introduction to the city. We drove through many of the neighborhoods spread out on the different hills. We saw the historic plazas and government buildings, and we stopped to walk along the sidewalks above the harbor while Hernan explained about the history and architecture. Valparaiso is a fun city — it is messy, colorful, run-down and untidy but very exciting. Street art is everywhere, with fantastic murals that explode in colors and styles on whatever space is available. Our hotel — Hotel Cas Higueras — is in the Monte Alegre neighborhood, in an old mansion from the 1920’s. It is perched at the top, with lovely suites and their private terraces stair-stepping down the hillside towards the slender pool and garden. The view to the working harbor was fabulous. After a long stroll through the neighborhood with the shops, galleries, and cafes, we returned to the hotel for dinner on their terrace and listened to live jazz while the full moon shone in the sky above the hills. After dinner we went out again, and ended up in a tavern called CinZano, which has been in operation since 1896. It was a great spot, with a multi-generational crowd and lots of singing along with the musician onstage. At the end of the evening, we took a quick taxi ride back up the hill to our hotel.

And on Sunday, Hernan returned once more to drive us to the pier for our cruise. He knew exactly where to go, because he had made a visual check on where the ship was docked before coming to get us at our hotel.

This was a short visit to the wine region, but so well arranged by Paul that we felt we saw quite a lot. We would highly recommend the places he selected for us, and we are extremely pleased with his services.

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Ireland: castle hotel, sheep farm visit, food tour…

JESSICA AND STEVE MARTIN | APRIL 3, 2024

Our family went to Ireland in late March 2024 on a trip planned by Jonathan and Katie. We had a wonderful trip that started in Dublin (stayed at the Shelbourne), went to Ashford Castle in Cong and ended at the K Club outside of Dublin. Jonathan and Katie arranged wonderful guides that provided a perfect mix for us and our two children. We did a walking tour of Dublin, a food tour of Galway and a day trip to Connemara that included a sheep farm visit (highlight of the trip). It was a great mix of city and countryside. The guides were extremely friendly, knowledgeable and flexible. Jonathan and Katie were able to guide us down to the specific rooms at each hotel that were the best setup for our family. This is the third time we have used Jonathan and can’t speak any more highly of him and his team.

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Spain: touring a private castle (and Game of Thrones location) with the owner…

LORIN SEIDMAN | APRIL 2, 2024

Travelers Lorin and Jeremy Seidman with their family met the WOW Lister Virginia Irurita in Madrid, Spain.

Lorin and Jeremy Seidman with their family and WOW Lister Virginia Irurita in Madrid.

Virginia and her team planned an incredible trip to Spain for our family, with the kind of experiences that we’re quite sure no other travel agent would have had access to. Our teenage kids’ favorite part of the trip was a visit to Almodovar Castle, near Sevilla. The owner of the castle, Eva Morejon, greeted us upon our arrival, and then invited us to have lunch with her in the family’s private quarters of the castle. We sat in Eva’s dining room enjoying the most delicious authentic Spanish cuisine, which was cooked by her family’s personal chef, while she told us the history of the castle. She then took us on a private tour of the castle, including parts that were used for the filming of Game of Thrones.

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Australia: cities, wildlife, autumn sun…

MARY LAFERRIERE | APRIL 1, 2024

Our work with Stuart and Jacki began almost one year in advance with a relaxed video meeting during which we gave them an idea of the things we’d like to see and do while in Australia in March of 2024. It included Canberra, the Blue Mountains, Sydney, and Perth. They asked great questions and within days came back to us with our first draft itinerary. After tweaking it to our liking, we had an exciting plan for just over a two-week stay.

Each step along the way, Jacki kept in touch and explained everything thoroughly. We decided we’d like to see an opera at the Sydney Opera House during our stay and Jacki made it happen. We especially wanted to see quokkas on Rottnest Island, and they planned a day just for that. (The island coast was beautiful, and well worth the ferry trip from Perth.)

Early March was a comfortable time to visit Australia. Warm days and cool nights made it enjoyable.

We had a hiccup with the time preceding our arrival in Australia, and Jacki went above and beyond, at the last minute, to find additional hotel nights for us and to change our rental car pickup city to Melbourne. She was amazing; I can’t praise her enough for her attention and responsiveness.
For anyone who loves nature, animals and/or geology, the Blue Mountains should not be missed. The vistas are awe-inspiring and the history so interesting. With our guide, we saw mobs of kangaroos lounging in the shade, with joeys popping their curious heads out of pouches; we learned about how fire-proof native Australian flora is; we saw goanna lizards strolling through the low grasses.

In Sydney, we had the most wonderful tour guide, Matt, show us all around a city he obviously loves. We had coffee at Bondi Beach and chatted like old friends.

The hotels Jacki chose were perfect — full of character, and comfort, and with excellent service. The trip was celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary, and Jacki had let every hotel know; they each marked the occasion with treats and messages of congratulations.

Perth was a lovely last stop. The sun was always bright and the waters — rivers, harbors, estuaries, ocean — shone everywhere.

Jacki and Stuart made our Australian trip the most effortless trip we’ve taken. I usually plan vacations myself, but their intimate knowledge of Australia was invaluable, and we are so glad we decided to ask them to plan our trip!

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New Zealand: stargazing, glaciers, Maori culture…

MARY LOU VOYTKO | MARCH 30, 2024

Travelers Joe Tobin and Mary Lou Voytko on a glacier in Whitcombe Valley, New Zealand.

Joe Tobin and Mary Lou Voytko perch on the edge of a glacier in Whitcombe Valley.

We just completed an absolutely fabulous month-long trip to New Zealand that was designed with Jean-Michel and arranged by his teammates Lucy and Ellen. Jean-Michel took to heart our interests of where we wanted to visit and the various things we wanted to see and do on our trip. With his extensive relationships, especially with the Maori, Jean-Michel crafted a truly unique trip that we would never have been able to create on our own. We traveled throughout all of New Zealand, with the most time spent in the South Island. We felt that a month was perfect in seeing as much as we could without rushing. We were equally glad that we started in Auckland and traveled our way down to Manapouri/Te Anua in Fiordland. Many travelers that we met along the way, who were traveling in the opposite direction, told us that they wished that they had saved the South Island until last because of the indescribable beauty of the mountains, glaciers and fiords. Both islands however have their share of wondrous things to see, do and experience that we loved. Along the way, we stayed at exceptional hotels in the cities and beautiful intimate lodges, with our final five days at the extraordinary Cabot Lodge with unobstructed views of Fiordland National Park and Lake Manapouri.

Besides cruising Milford Sound, we had three major interests for our trip: interacting with Maori to learn about their culture, going to the MacKenzie-designated Dark Sky region to stargaze, and being on a glacier. Jean-Michel came through in spades for us on all counts. Instead of going to touristy places to see the Maori, Jean-Michel set us up with several unbelievable one-on-one days with individual Maori, including Tom Loughlin, who cooked us a fabulous traditional Hangi meal in the ground at his 5,000-acre wilderness cabin; Delani Brown, a famous master carver who creates enormous masterpieces of complexly intricate carved wood scenes of Maori culture; and Bevin Climo, a master pounamu (New Zealand greenstone or jade) carver, who took us to his tribe’s portion of the Arahura River where I found a lovely piece of greenstone! For our dark sky experience, Jean-Michel arranged for a privately guided astral viewing at the Matuka Lodge in Twizel where we were staying. The stargazing was fabulous and to not to have to do the 3-hour round trip to the St. John’s Observatory was priceless. As for the glacier experience, Jean-Michel again came up with an amazing intimate experience in the Whitcombe Valley, instead of the over-touristy Franz Josef glacier. Matt, our helicopter pilot, came with over 30 years of flying experience and was even the pilot for Tom Cruise when he was filming in the region! Matt created a once-in-a-lifetime experience with views of numerous glaciers and glacier lakes, highlighted by a landing at a glacier that we walked up to and sat on! Talk about being at the top of the world and having your dream come true!

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Ecuador: Quito, countryside hacienda, Galapagos cruise…

KATHERINE SANDERS | MARCH 25, 2024

We wanted a balance of active adventuring and some much-needed downtime for a spring break trip as a family and Allie more than delivered! Between a delightful boutique hotel in Quito’s old town, Casa Eden, with proprietors who fussed over our kiddo like their own grandchild, to a 300-year-old hacienda in Otavalo that seemed like it belonged to a dear family friend (with the family’s friendly horses wandering through to say hello to visitors, and the chef happily teaching us how to make empanadas or offering samples of freshly made local gelato), we had ample time to relax.

Allie set us up with fantastic drivers/guides throughout Ecuador, with special shout-outs to our guide who took us to see artisanal chocolate being made, to eat bizcochos at a super-local non-touristy spot, and to meet a weaver whose family has made award-winning textiles in the same manner for hundreds of years, as well as set us up with great hiking and exploring by foot and horseback, incredible meals, and a stop at the equator (I was skeptical of the museum but it’s a hidden gem and great for families). Every transition/driver/logistics happened seamlessly, even on some roads that were definitely not easy to drive!

Allie also connected us with a breathtaking week in the Galapagos on the Ocean Spray: There was just one other couple on the boat besides our family, so we had incredible small experiences snorkeling, kayaking, and on some of the smaller islands, where our naturalist, Enrique Silva, really took the time to interact with us and point out things for our kid (who was a first-time snorkeler but by the second day was cruising everywhere thanks to his help). The catamaran was very comfortable and the rooms quite large — but the real highlight was the warmth and kindness of the staff and crew (and the food — which was phenomenal).

Overall, likely due to there seem to be far fewer tourists than normal right now in Ecuador (and even in the Galapagos, though more people there) — we were the only ones staying at our hacienda and at the boutique hotel for several of the days — but we felt safe under Allie’s team’s care. She also was very responsive in adjusting our schedule and responding to concerns before the trip. Her knowledge of the situation on the ground and her frequent updates hit the right balance on keeping us informed and we appreciate her attention to detail and her team’s considerations.

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Bhutan: festival rehearsals, scenic hikes…

ADRIENNE HOWARD | MARCH 24, 2024

We had an amazing trip to Bhutan thanks to Andrea & his team. Andrea mapped out a perfect itinerary for us, prioritizing the right locations and activities given the 9 days we had in the country. It was a good balance of scenic hiking and cultural activities, often combining the two. We loved nearly all our hotels, which were for the most part small, independently owned boutique lodges. Our guide and driver were top-notch. You spend so much time with your guide and driver on a trip like this, that their fun personalities, flexibility and knowledge really make the trip. We all joked that by trip’s end, we were proud graduates of “Jamyang (our guide’s name) University” given how much we’d learned about Bhutanese history, art, architecture, culture and religion.

We unfortunately couldn’t sync our availability with any of the festivals, but the opportunity to see a few smaller informal ceremonies and festival rehearsals was unforgettable, so we highly recommend any such opportunities. We especially loved the Khamsum Yuelley Chorten hike & temple in Punakha and Trongsa Dzong. We had a particularly nice hike in Gangtey that was a spontaneous addition to the itinerary. We also loved the surprise picnic lunch in Phobjika Valley!

Andrea & his team were so helpful & responsive throughout the planning process, and also set up a group chat for us upon arrival that included their office, our local guide & driver, should we ever need assistance. We also appreciated their help getting us checked in with seat assignments on the local flights, since we were always on the road without wifi at those times. A great trip overall that we will never forget.

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

Ask Wendy


Belize: a culture welcoming of special needs

JEREMY SILVERMAN | MARCH 23, 2024

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

Jeremy Silverman and family on their favorite day in Belize.

We had another fantastic family vacation to Belize in December with expert planning, care and support from Patricia and Rachael. We visited Belize for the first time in 2021 — specifically Chaa Creek Resort in the Cayo District and then Ambergris Caye — and fell in love with the country and its people. We marked Belize on our list for a return visit and asked Patricia to recommend a different part of the country for our second Belize vacation — this time we spent 8 days in Placencia and, again, had a wonderful experience. Patricia and Rachel set us up with the perfect accommodations at Naia, the best activities and guides and Rachael was on the ground in Placencia regularly checking in on us during the week, both by WhatsApp and in-person.

Belize is a beautiful and easy-to-reach destination from our home in Atlanta, with a wide range of activities, both on the water and inland. I’ll talk about some specific activity highlights, but what stands out most about Belize is the warmth and authenticity of its people and culture. Belize is an incredible melting pot — Belizeans come from a variety of backgrounds, including Mayan, Garifuna, Creole, Mennonite and more, and almost everyone speaks at least 3 languages (including English). This diversity shows through all aspects of Belizean culture, cuisine, art and perhaps is part of why everyone seems so genuinely welcoming of visitors.

In addition, we have found Belize to be the most autism-friendly vacation destination we have experienced. Our 20 year-old son is on the autism spectrum (high functioning) and is a unique and quirky guy. At home in the U.S. and in many other destinations, most people are tolerant of his differences. But in Belize, people consistently embrace and celebrate his differences — they engage with him in a way that’s qualitatively different than anywhere else we’ve been, which is very meaningful for us.

In terms of specific vacation highlights:

– We had a true day-of-days on a catamaran charter to Moho Caye with Nautilus Adventures. This was an epic experience and probably a top-ten day of life so far. The boat and crew were amazing, we caught a fish on the way that Captain Jimmy grilled on the beach for lunch, did some great snorkeling at Moho (a picture-perfect tropical island) and had an otherwise spectacular experience. This is not to be missed.

– We loved our food-hopping tour through Placencia Village, led by Peter, who was our guide for this and another full-day activity and is now our unofficial Belizean cousin. (We are still regularly in contact on WhatsApp)! Peter led us through restaurants and other dining spots that we never would have found on our own (and several of which we returned to later in the week, including to sample desserts being sold on someone’s front porch).

– We stayed at the Naia Resort, which was a great spot for our family of four, including our 20-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. We rented a three-bedroom private villa right on the beach, with nothing between us and the water other than palm trees and a hammock. The villa provided truly separate living/sleeping/bathing space for me and my wife, our son and daughter, which is key to a great family vacation. The restaurant was very good (don’t miss the fry jacks), the staff super friendly and helpful and the location beautiful. We didn’t mind being 20 minutes from the village, which was easily accessible by hotel shuttle or a golf cart.

– The last experience I’d highlight really captures so much of what’s great about Belize (and an example of what can happen with a WOW Lister planning your vacation). Our last full day was a fishing and snorkeling trip to Laughing Bird Caye. Unfortunately, the weather was not ideal, but we made the best of it and the kids managed to catch a tuna and mackerel on the way back. (Because we had our own tour, we could pull the ripcord whenever we chose.) For our last night, we planned to have dinner at a brand-new sushi restaurant (Koi) that we never would have found without Peter — the restaurant was still in its “soft opening” and appeared in no guides or restaurant lists (yet). We called the restaurant and asked if they would want to use our freshly caught fish for dinner that night. They enthusiastically said yes and we dropped it off on our way out of the village. That night, we were treated to an incredible sushi and sashimi dinner, including the fish we caught earlier in the day, which we shared with the rest of the restaurant. (This meal in Atlanta would have cost 5 times the price). And because this is Belize, who should walk by during dinner — “cousin Peter”!

Back in Atlanta, we operate as the unofficial Belizean tourism board and have encouraged several other families to visit and they’ve all been very happy they did. We are already looking forward to our next vacation to Belize — for the next time, we are planning to do a multi-day catamaran trip with private chef via Patricia and Rachael!

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Norway: reindeer herding, snowshoeing, northern lights…

JULIE AND MAX SILBERMANN | MARCH 22, 2024

Traveler Julie Silbermann feeding reindeer in Norway.

Julie Silbermann spent a day with Sami people and got to help feed their reindeer.

WOW! What a trip we had to Finnmark in Northern Norway! We can’t thank Wendy Perrin enough for connecting us with Jan Sortland and Miriam Paige-Sortland for our trip March 7-15, 2024. They crafted an exciting trip of 1 adventure after another. We flew to Oslo and then flew directly onto Trondheim. It was white-glove service all the way (and our driver actually wore white gloves, too!)! We had wonderful tour guides in Trondheim and took a day trip to Roros, a UNESCO World Heritage site. From there, we flew to Alta, which is 400 miles inside the Arctic Circle, and stayed at the Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge. It is remote and incredibly beautiful. We stayed in a room overlooking the river and mountains with floor-to-ceiling windows. Jan’s office worked with a local expedition company, Glød, to create 4 adventure-packed days for us. We went dog sledding, snow shoeing, and ice fishing. We even caught arctic char which our guide, Kalle, expertly cooked for us inside our warming tent for lunch! Each night we were taken out on a Northern Lights Safari! We were very lucky to see the Northern Lights on 3 out of 4 nights and Helle knew just where to bring us to see the spectacular light show. One of our most special expeditions was spending the day with the Sami people helping them herd and feed their reindeer! We were in the middle of a herd of hundreds of reindeer watching them and admiring their beauty inside an Arctic wonderland. Just an amazing experience. Big thanks to Glød owner Trygve Nygard, Kalle, Helle, and Emilie for their special care on our expeditions. Everything was taken care of for us—there wasn’t a detail left to chance. I highly recommend Jan’s team for a Wendy Perrin WOW trip to Norway!

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Costa Rica: beach and rainforest from one location

ANNE LLOYD | MARCH 21, 2024

We were absolutely thrilled with the spring break trip that Pierre planned for our family. From the very first call he proved that his instincts were spot-on with what would work best for our family. Most people tend to visit multiple places when they come to Costa Rica, but we wanted one place that we could enjoy for a week that offered both a beach and rainforest experience. Manuel Antonio and the Arenas Del Mar hotel were absolutely perfect for that. I cannot say enough good things about the hotel. The wildlife sightings there were far and away better than in the national park. There were squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, scarlet macaws, iguanas, and two- and three-fingered sloths right outside our doors. But what really set the hotel apart was the staff. I have never visited a place with kinder or more caring staff. At the end of the week our son announced that he would not be leaving and would henceforth be living there. The activities that Pierre planned for us were perfect (zip lining, a waterfall hike, surfing lessons), again with guides that could not have been kinder or more accommodating. I’ll never forget our son’s 7th birthday and watching him leap from a platform hundreds of feet in the air to swing on a Tarzan rope while our zip-lining guides sang happy birthday to him. Pierre and his team were extraordinarily responsive to us during the trip when we completely changed one of our plans and asked for an additional surfing lesson. Overall we can’t wait to use them to book another trip.

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Norway: northern lights, dogsledding, farm visit…

BARBARA PALTER | MARCH 19, 2024

Travelers during their ice fishing/snowshoe adventure in Alta, Norway.

Barbara Palter and her husband during their ice fishing/snowshoe adventure in Alta, Norway.

My husband and I had watched the episode of The Reluctant Traveller with Eugene Levy where he had visited Finland to see the Northern Lights. We had the bug and had to see them for ourselves!

We immediately contacted Wendy to find out where we should travel to not only see the lights but also to experience a great adventure. She suggested that our needs would be best met in Norway. We were then connected with Torunn and her team, who listened to our requests and put together a terrific 10-day itinerary.

We spent the bulk of our time in the north of the country dogsledding, ice fishing, meeting the Samis, the Indigenous people of Norway, and interacting with the most fascinating people.

We were lucky to see the Northern Lights quite a few times and the phenomenon did not disappoint. However, the highlight for us was the dog sledding excursion from Engeholm Husky Lodge. We were under the impression that we would be riding in a sled pulled by some huskies, but boy were we wrong! We were driving the sleds ourselves — that was quite the experience and one we will never forget.

We ended our adventure in Oslo and had quite a treat planned by Torunn’s office. We visited Grøndalen farm, a family-run dairy farm. Hans, his son Lars who now runs the farm, and his family have owned the farm since the 1600s and can trace their lineage back to the Vikings. He introduced us to his dairy cows, which he taught us how to milk. Most importantly, he shared with us his family’s philosophy for taking care of the cows; specifically, how calves and mothers are not separated at birth as is typical in most farms. Instead, calves stay with their mothers until 2 months of age…happy cows make extra-yummy milk! That milk is then turned into a delicious thick labneh type of product called Nyr. To top it off, we were invited to have dinner with the family. Hans’ wife cooked a delicious meal complete with ice-cream Nyr; the food and the conversation made it a truly special evening!

A huge thank you to Torunn’s team for creating an unforgettable adventure!!

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Disney World: checked every box on a last-minute trip

YVETTE FUNG | MARCH 16, 2024

Michelle and her team are simply the best! We were rather late booking our trip to Walt Disney World and did not realize that it was actually the start of Spring Break. Michelle quickly scheduled a call so she could understand our priorities, including any difficult-to-get bookings for character breakfast, a hotel with access to the monorail and preferred seating. Since we were late to the game, Michelle and her team kept checking on the Disney site after we confirmed and managed to snag everything we wanted for our short trip. This is the second time we used her team for a Disney vacation — and we are just as delighted as last time. Michelle et al take the stress out of any Disney trip!

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Chile: wine tasting, Atacama Desert wildlife…

WENLAN CHENG | MARCH 16, 2024

We picked Chile to celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday. We loved our previous South American trips to Peru and Galapagos, so we decided to head to Chile instead of crowded and expensive Europe. Jordan put together a 1-week trip involving wine tasting and relaxation at Clos Alpalta Residence followed by 4 days of outdoor explorations in the Atacama Desert. We had no idea we were in for such a treat at Clos Apalta! The food is delicious and fresh. Staff is very attentive and meticulous, leaving no details to chance. The accommodation is gorgeous with a view to die for, overlooking the winery. Visiting the on-site wine cellar was the cherry on top for our stay! We also got a chance to visit other wineries in the same area. Everything was arranged perfectly by the staff at Clos Apalta.

Our 4-day stay in San Pedro de Atacama was at Explora Atacama. Visiting the driest place on Earth was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that excited us. Maybe we were just happy to get out of the Midwest winter. The landscape was beautiful. Hiking through the canyons and walking though the salt flats reminded us how little of this world we have seen in our lifetime so far. My favorite part was seeing all the flamingos that live in the salt flats as well as all the wildlife like the vicunas and vizcachas that thrive in the highlands. The Explora resort had its own telescope for stargazing at night. What a fun experience that was! The food was also well made and tasty.

We were sad to leave Chile, but we plan on coming back to visit Easter Island and Torres del Paine in the future. And probably more wine tasting. We will task Jordan and his team with planning that trip when the time comes. We are so glad we had Jordan and his team plan this amazing trip for us. Their deep knowledge of this region is why we chose them.

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Costa Rica: misty hikes, kayaking, chocolate making…

Mary Ann Smith | MARCH 13, 2024

A waterfall in the Nectandra Cloud Forest, Costa Rica.

A waterfall in the Nectandra Cloud Forest. Photo: Traveler Mary Ann Smith

We had a fabulous trip to Costa Rica the end of February. It was planned for us by Irene Edwards, and she could not have planned a better trip for us. Our driver, Jonathan Ramirez, was a wonderful driver even through dense fog. He was guide, translator, and driver — I would highly recommend him to anyone. Visiting the Nectandra Cloud Forest was magical with the mist and educational with our expert guide, Arturo. It was great to start there to understand the ecological mind set of Costa Rica.

Our time at Nayara Tented Camp was beyond wonderful. We’d never stayed in something so luxurious and we enjoyed every moment. Irene had balloons, a card, and a bottle of champagne in the room to celebrate my 80th birthday when we arrived. We also really enjoyed kayaking on Lake Arenal with Jonathan, doing the zip lines over the trees, and the Hanging Bridges Park. Thanks to the seminar on taking photos with cell phones, we got some wonderful pictures of waterfalls, birds, the yellow pit viper, and the red dart frog. We also enjoyed the chocolate tour immensely and our friends enjoyed the chocolates we made and brought home.

While on the drive from La Fortuna to Manuel Antonio, it was very interesting to see the countryside with coffee beans growing and all the tropical plants (under netting) that they grow for export. Upon arrival at Arenas del Mar we enjoyed another lovely room with a beautiful view, plus a great restaurant, a private beach, and great service. Our whitewater rafting on the Savegre River was one of our best days. Jesus and Juan were great guides and despite the early questions about being able to do it at our age, they kept saying “excellente” as we went through the rapids. We loved it!

Irene had arranged for us to fly back to San Jose from Quepos rather than driving, which was a wonderful way to end the trip with views of the mountain range and 30 minutes of flying versus several hours of driving. It was more than we could have imagined!

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India with kids: block printing, feeding peacocks, elephants…

MARY KO | MARCH 11, 2024

Girls tasting jalebi, a traditional Indian sweet.

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

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

The kids’ favorite parts of the trip were the shopping, the block printing (2 of 3 kids took very serious), feeding peacocks at Taj Rambough, and seeing elephants at the Sanctuary. They truly loved all of the trip, but those are their favorites. My husband and I loved the Oberoi hotels, the gems, the Taj Mahal, the love of western travelers we felt, the tuk tuk ride, the historic sites, and so much more. Really every day. The weather was perfect, the guides were flexible and kind, and India is truly a magical place. We have already purchased the things needed to try to make our own jalebi and we loved the tea!!!

A few details that can’t be missed. We hopped airports a bit to quickly jump cities, and our driver would drive our luggage so we only had a backpack and snacks, making flying headache-free. Narji our guide was an amazing photographer, so sweet with our kids, and he is crazy smart, and so funny. He had us laughing many times. I don’t think I would change a thing. What I love about Victoria and Bertie’s company is that we had flexibility with kids. Meaning if we cancelled something because they needed downtime, it was fine, or if we had to change things quickly, it was no big deal.

Before we went I had heard not to drink the water and bring shoe covers and hand sanitizer. Victoria and Bertie provided all of this…so pack lighter!

Amazing adventure!!

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Norway: reindeer herding, dogsledding, northern lights…

KATHYE FARIES | MARCH 10, 2024

Travelers wearing warm reindeer hide ponchos at lodge in Karasjok, Norway.

Kathye Faries and her husband Jim Braun sporting reindeer-hide ponchos at their lodge in Karasjok, Norway.

Seeing the Aurora Borealis has been on my bucket list for ages and it was time to make it happen! With Wendy’s help we were connected with Torunn, who planned a terrific 10-day adventure for us in northern Norway in February, 2024. I worked with Karin Andresen on many of the details and Karin did a wonderful job too. My focus was seeing the lights (we saw them twice, yippee!), but the entire trip turned out to be way better than we expected due to the fun activities Torunn and Karin planned for us.

We started in Alta, well north of the Arctic Circle, and stayed at a great property outside of the town in a beautiful setting on the banks of a frozen river. We went snowshoeing (easier than I thought it would be) and ice fishing with Kelle of Glod Explorer, and his husky Bruno. Jim caught an Arctic Char so our lunch was as fresh is it could get! Sitting in a lavvu, around a fire, sipping hot chocolate and eating fresh-caught fish was a real treat. We also took a snowmobile ride at night at Bjornfjeld Mountain Lodge. We were cozy in a beautiful mountaintop glass igloo, cooked our dinner over a fire and looked for the lights. On our last day in Alta we spent several hours dog sledding in the beautiful Finnmark forest and on frozen lakes, which was one of the highlights of the trip. Our guide, Hannah, ran the Iditarod two years ago and was so expert on the trails. We loved our day with her and her dog teams.

While en route to our next destination (we saw moose, reindeer and foxes along the way), we had lunch with Johan, a Sami elder, in the village of Maze. His family has raised and herded reindeer for generations and his sons are poised to take care of the business someday. We learned so much from him about his profession, about the Sami, and got to meet some of his reindeer. Fascinating.

In Karasjok we stayed at one of the most unique, exceptional small properties we’ve ever seen. Every cabin and all of the furniture in each of the 7 cabins has been built by hand from natural materials. This place is a hidden gem, set in the forest and truly magical. On property were 45 Alaskan Huskies who were very friendly and loved “cuddles” from everyone. One of our days was spent with Magrit, a Sami woman who has spent her entire life raising and herding reindeer. We went with her by snowmobile, up high in the mountains, to see and feed some of her family’s herd. We spent time in the forest around a warm fire and she shared stories with us about her life. On our last day there, I went dog sledding with the Alaskan Huskies—it was an exciting ride where the dogs broke a new trail in deep, newly fallen snow on the frozen lake. It was a wonderful experience I will never forget.

The last few days of the trip were spent in Oslo where our expert guide took us to the Nobel Peace Prize Museum (very, very moving), and the National Museum (which houses Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”). We saw several contemporary buildings—the Library and the Opera House—watched some young men run from the sauna and jump into the 32-degree water of the harbor (yikes!); and toured the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

The Aurora was as wondrous as I expected and we were so lucky to see it. Northern Norway is a beautiful part of the world with clean water, clean air, warm and friendly people and so accessible to the outdoors. When we asked local guides (who grew up in Alta and Karasjok) if they ever wanted to move away, their answer was NO!!!! We could understand why.

The trip was so smooth due to Torunn and Karin’s expertise. Prior to and during the trip we made a few itinerary adjustments and all went perfectly. All of the guides and ground transportation services were there when and where they were supposed to be, and the outfitters and lodging choices were a great fit for us. We are so glad we saw the lights but we are also so appreciative of the adventures we experienced on this wonderful, enchanting trip.

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Brazil: Carnival dancers, Iguassu Falls, private boat trip…

TED EMBACHER | MARCH 10, 2024

My wife and I had traveled extensively through North America, Europe and the Caribbean, so we decided that we had to expand and try another continent. We booked a two-week trip to Brazil using Wendy’s recommendation of Paul, and he came through big time.

The best tour guide we’ve ever had, Lais, met us at the airport on arrival and transported us to the beautiful Hotel Fasano right on Ipanema Beach. We were able to spend two full days on the beach where we really got a feel for the local culture. Later, Lais gave us the grand tour of Rio de Janeiro including the iconic Christ the Redeemer. We visited the unique, quirky Convent Stairway.

My wife had wanted to see the dancers at Carnivale, but we didn’t arrive in Rio until it was over. Somehow Lais pulled off a miracle and found a group that was meeting in a public park and recreating their Carnivale performance. It was called a Samba Hangover Dance. Since they’d bought the outfits and practiced so hard they figured they should perform the dance one more time. We were able to hang out with the locals for a few hours and able to see the performance up close. Afterwards we stopped at a popular, crowded neighborhood diner and feasted on huge plates of crab meat for a very reasonable price.

Then we went to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, where we were met by a master craftsman who taught us how to make the best Caipirinhas we had on the entire trip.

While in Rio we were able to eat at Garota de Ipanema, the cafe where Vinicius de Moraes originally saw the famous “girl from Ipanema” go by before writing the lyrics to the song.

On Paul’s advice we also went to eat at Aprazivel Restaurant in the hills above Rio for a delicious meal in a beautiful restaurant with an amazing view of the city below.

Next, we boarded a plane to Iguassu Falls on the other side of Brazil and at the border of Argentina. We stayed at the Hotel des Cataratas in the national park and only 100 yards from the falls. The hotel is the only one in the park and you often had the viewing areas to yourself. The hotel was beautiful and perfectly located. Our guide took us on a tour the next day of both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides of these gigantic, 2 1/2-mile-wide falls. Seeing them was awe inspiring, but taking a boat ride under them was exhilarating and an experience not to be missed. At Niagara Falls you get misted when taking the boat ride, at Iguassu you actually go under the falls. It was safe and great fun.

We ended our trip with a stay in the colonial town of Paraty. We’d seen the big city while in Rio, the jungle in Iguassu, and now a peaceful, historical small town in the center of the country. Our stay at Casa Turquesa was magical. It’s a 9-room inn with a beautiful pool and lovely rooms. We enjoyed navigating the original rocky streets while visiting the shops in town. Paul had arranged a day trip on a schooner where we visited several bays and beaches and had lunch at a place that was only accessible by boat. It was a perfect, relaxing way to end our trip.

Everything had been well planned and executed by Paul and his team. Great guides, great hotels and memorable experiences.

A final note about safety. In the United States we’d read traveler warnings and received a notice to beware of dengue fever from our government. Some friends were wary of us going to Brazil. In response I’d like to note that we never felt uncomfortable or unsafe for even a minute during our trip. Are there places in the city of Rio that you shouldn’t visit? Of course, just like in New York City. So don’t go there. Your guides will help you with that. I’ve told friends that Rio is like NYC, but with a better view. Even though we’d taken mosquito repellent to avoid getting dengue fever we only used it once the whole trip and I never saw a mosquito the whole time. So, of course, take precautions, but we found Brazil to be a very safe place to visit.

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Sri Lanka: cave temples, leopards, tea plantations…

JAN HEININGER | MARCH 8, 2024

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

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

We had a three-week trip to Sri Lanka in January/February 2024 planned by Miguel, aided by Nicola Watson. This very interesting trip covered almost the entire country from the Cultural Triangle with its archaeological ruins, cave temples and Buddhist sacred sites, its historic capitals of Anuradhapura and Kandy, its largest national park (Yala) famed for its leopards, its gorgeous Indian Ocean beaches, its colonial past displayed in the Galle Fort, and its myriad of agricultural products, especially tea and cinnamon. We especially thank our chauffeur/guide T.G (Thissa) Ranasinghe, who took wonderful care of us.

Miguel’s skill in putting our trip together started when he built in an extra day of rest after our arrival. I agreed to add in the day in spite of not thinking it necessary, until it was. A snowstorm delayed our departure from DC, causing us to miss our connecting flight in Doha. We end up with a 9-hour airport layover and didn’t get to our hotel until 4 am. We were very grateful to sleep late the next morning and snooze by the pool that afternoon. It began our process of recovering from the exhausting trip to get to Sri Lanka. Miguel also ensured that we had a flexible schedule. Thissa could say, “let’s stop and see that bird” or we could stop and taste a Golden coconut or visit a local market where we were introduced to many unfamiliar vegetables and fruits that are essential elements of Sri Lankan cuisine. Miguel had us stay in wonderful places including two Aman resorts on the south coast. At Amanwella, we took one of the best cooking classes we’ve ever had with the Executive Chef. As Amanwella was on the Indian Ocean, it was also a great place to just kick back, cancel everything and have a wonderful day reading on our huge terrace high above the Indian Ocean. At Amangalla in Galle Fort, we went for a bike ride in the countryside (beware of heat exhaustion), toured the Fort with a terrific local guide, and had a workshop making and painting traditional Sri Lankan masks. We also spent hours reading and lounging by Amangalla’s secluded pool, blissfully escaping from the heat and humidity. Miguel also booked us into Castlereagh, a five-room, former tea plantation manager’s bungalow. We were told to treat it like our home—just tell them what we wanted to eat and when. Our days in the tea country were a haven from our packed schedule in the Cultural Triangle and the daily heat and humidity.

Most important, Miguel directed us to Leopard Safaris for our three days at Yala National Park and booked the owner, Noel Rodrigo, a leopard expert, as our exclusive guide for our time there. We had no idea how important this decision would turn out to be. Unlike in Africa, no safari camps are inside Yala. That means all safari vehicles line up at one of the three Park entrances at 6 am. Once people get into the park, they drive in line frantically searching for a leopard—the chief reason people come there. Only 1% of the park is available for tourism. Most people take one safari into the park, or two at most (an afternoon and the next morning). Leopard Safaris is adjacent to the park and very close to a less-used park entrance. Most vehicles use a different entrance and have to travel up to an hour and a half just to get to the entry gate, especially if you stay at the high-end Wild Coast Tented Lodge. It was such a smart decision by Miguel to book our time exclusively with Noel Rodrigo. We spent most of our time on safari birding—and still saw four leopards. Noel told us he’d enjoyed the time because it gave him time to enjoy the park focusing on birding instead of making a frantic search for a leopard. Leopard Safaris is one of only two camps that have a ranger sitting with the guests, not isolated in an air-conditioned cab in front of them. It’s definitely the best place to stay.

Miguel set up wonderful experiences including the cooking class, a mask carving and painting workshop and visits to a cinnamon plantation and to a tea factory. He had us hike a segment of the Tea Trail where we interacted with women tea pickers and with kids and villagers we encountered along the way. We also had a private whale-watching trip from Mirissa. This is the best place in the world to see blue whales and sperm whales. Unfortunately, our catamaran crew told us that the monsoon season was late this year and the whales’ migratory patterns had shifted. They hadn’t seen blue or sperm whales in three weeks. Alas, neither did we, although we surely enjoyed our time on the boat. We think of this experience as having seen an example of climate change in action.

We could not have planned this trip by ourselves. Miguel has access to unique experiences. We spent an afternoon in Kandy with an artist and his artist daughter. Miguel directed us to accommodations he knew would meet our not-even-known-to-us needs. We’re especially grateful he sent us to Leopard Safaris. And very grateful for our wonderful chauffeur/guide. Thissa retrieved items we left behind, negotiated with the ground crew to ensure our seaplane took all the luggage we needed on the plane, and most important, kept the car stocked with Diet Coke—er, Coke Zero, for me. The night before we left Sri Lanka, we were lucky to have dinner with Miguel and his lovely wife. It was a treat to meet with and talk to the man who was behind our trip.

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

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Morocco: action-packed two weeks with a “stellar” private guide…

CRAIG AND STEPHANIE SMITH | MARCH 8, 2024

Travelers Craig and Stephanie Smith with their driver and guide having dinner on the rooftop terrace of Essaouira's Salut Maroc, Morocco.

Craig and Stephanie Smith had a farewell dinner on the rooftop terrace of Essaouira’s Salut Maroc with new friends: private guide Jamal and driver Majid.

We just returned from an amazing two weeks in Morocco, organized by Hicham’s team. We have nothing but positive things to say about the entire experience. It was our first time on a WOW List trip, though we had traveled several times in the past with someone who also happened to be one of Wendy Perrin’s experts, the late Toni Neubauer.

We spoke with Radia on the phone, and told her the general route that we wanted to take: Casablanca, Volubilis, Fes, the Sahara Desert, Marrakech, and Essaouira. We told her that what was most important to us was to have a stellar guide. We also told her that we have a strong interest in music, and would like to incorporate learning about Gnawa music in some way. We told her that our hotel preference was to stay in riads instead of international chain hotels. She put together a great starting itinerary, which we just tweaked a bit to add some additional activities. Planning the trip went quite smoothly.

From the moment we were met at the Casablanca airport by our private guide Jamal and private driver Majid, we knew that we were in for an incredible trip. They were both so hospitable! Jamal was incredibly knowledgeable about the culture and history of his country. He had lots of interesting information to share. He was very attentive to all of our needs, and he made us laugh a lot. He made sure that we saw everything on the itinerary and then some.

Hicham’s company provided personalized welcome gifts, as well as power adapters, a map, and some local money to start us off before we had a chance to go to an ATM.

Majid drove us many miles in a huge loop, from Casablanca to Volubilis, to Fes, to Ifrane, to Merzouga, to Todra Valley, to Dades Gorge, to Skoura, to Marrakech, to Imlil, to Essaouira, and back to Marrakech. We always felt very safe with him behind the wheel and he had a great sense of humor.

We stayed in beautiful riads with a very personal touch, and enjoyed all kinds of delicious food. All of the riads were wonderful, but the Riad Almaha in the Medina of Marrakech, where we spent four nights, was thoroughly enjoyable, and we felt quite at home. The riad was an oasis of calm in the midst of the bustling Medina.

In addition to seeing many historic sites (mosques, synagogues, palaces, medinas, souks, tanneries), we also had adventures. We went for a camel ride and rode ATVs in the desert. We went for a hot-air balloon ride outside of Marrakech. We went for a hike in the High Atlas Mountains from Imlil to Armed. One of our favorite activities was the sunset motorcycle sidecar tour of Marrakech, suggested by Radia. We felt like we were in a movie, riding through the Palmerie and the Medina in comfortable, roomy, sidecars. A definite must-do!

Another highlight was an impromptu visit to the Todra Valley for lunch at Jamal’s family’s home. We were so honored and humbled to be invited into their home for lively conversation and a delicious lunch. This excursion added even more driving for Majid on a day that already had a lot of driving, but he happily obliged, and joined us for lunch. It also afforded us the opportunity to see the beautiful Todra Gorge.

To satisfy our musical interest, Radia organized a thoroughly enjoyable private Gnawa music workshop with master musician Najib Soudani in Essaouira.

We had one day when we weren’t feeling our best, and Jamal adjusted the itinerary so that we were able to do what we could that day, get some rest, and do the remainder of the activities the following day. He was able to find some electrolyte drinks for us to keep us from becoming dehydrated when our stomachs weren’t at their best. Luckily, that only lasted a day, and then we were back to our normal selves again. We were very grateful for the flexibility.

It’s hard to believe that we packed so many amazing experiences into two weeks! By design, we didn’t have much down time on the trip; we like to maximize our time. But we did have an unbelievably relaxing hammam treatment in Fes. Although we chose a whirlwind trip, we feel like it gave us a good overview of the country, and now we know which places we might like to return to in the future.

With Jamal and Majid at our sides, it felt like we were traveling with friends we had known for a lifetime. The itinerary was wonderful, but they made the trip into an experience that we will cherish forever.

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Brazil: cities, coast, Amazon, Iguazu Falls…

KAREN BIRNBAUM | MARCH 8, 2024

Travelers at Iguazu Falls in Brazil.

Karen and Paul Birnbaum, Julia Greenstein and Paul Bleicher at Iguazu Falls.

My husband Paul and I went with our friends to Brazil this past February, planned by Paul and his staff. It was amazing! We were there for 17 days and each destination was unique and everyday was a different adventure. We went from Sao Paulo, to the Amazon Rain Forest, to Iguazu Falls, Rio and then Paraty. We enjoyed each of our destinations…

In the Amazon Rain Forest we stayed at the Cristalino Lodge, a lovely eco-lodge on a private river. Everyday, our guides, big Bruno and little Bruno (little Bruno was in training) took us out on an adventure, either on our own boat on the river, bird and monkey watching, or hiking in the jungle looking for snakes and jaguars. From there we flew to Iguazu Falls. The falls have to be one of the top wonders of the world. With our guide, Tadeu, we toured the falls from both the Argentinean side one day, taking a powerboat ride into the falls, and then the Brazil side (even more beautiful). We stay at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas which had to be one of the nicest hotels we have every stayed in. Did not want to leave.

From there we went to Rio and stayed in a lovely hotel on Ipanema Beach where we saw Christ the Redeemer and gorgeous views from Sugarloaf Mountain. Beautiful! On to Paraty, an old town on a beautiful bay that was used for sugar export in the colonial days. We did a lovely hike one day and a speedboat ride another day, visiting all the little islands with beautiful beaches surrounding the port. So fun! Paul and his team were a text away. Had a couple of airplane hiccups and they were able to reroute us within minutes so we didn’t miss a day…very impressive! We were VERY happy with our trip!

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Bhutan & India: tea ceremony with monks, the Taj Mahal…

WENDY TUCKER | MARCH 3, 2024

Taj Mahal, India

Staying near the Taj Mahal means that you can get there before the crowds. Photo: Traveler Wendy Tucker

My husband and I just returned from a fantastic two-week-plus trip to India and Bhutan. Bhutan has always been on my bucket list and it exceeded expectations. We have been lucky enough to travel to many places but we both declared at our return that this was our favorite destination. Sanjay planned a perfect trip and we are so grateful to him and his local agencies for their knowledge, punctuality, kindness and seamless handling of everything. My husband had a motorcycle accident resulting in a traumatic brain injury many years ago—although he has had an incredible recovery, some challenges remain, particularly with walking on uneven surfaces and crowds where he can become easily overwhelmed. Sanjay’s guides and drivers immediately tuned into how to assist him when needed with professionalism, care and respect, which we both appreciated beyond measure.

When I initially contacted Sanjay our plan only included Bhutan. There are no flights to Bhutan from the US or Europe—you need to go through India or Thailand. We had never been to India so Sanjay suggested that we fly into Delhi (one of the cities you can access Bhutan from) and spend a few days to see the Taj Mahal. We were so glad we took his advice. We stayed at the incredible Oberoi Amarvilas which not only allows easy access to the Taj Mahal first thing in the morning but provides a dream-like view of the Taj Mahal from your room. Our guide and driver in India were outstanding.

In Bhutan we stayed at four incredible properties—each with their own flavor, beauty and charm. Overall, we found Bhutan to be peaceful, calm, clean, welcoming, safe and fascinating with people full of warmth, interest and kindness. Six Senses Thimphu was our first stay and is a beautiful, serene property. February was an auspicious month in this Buddhist country which means the sale of fresh meat was prohibited. Although hotels typically stash away meat, we so appreciated that Six Senses offered a vegetarian menu which provided a diverse and delicious selection. If you really wanted meat they happily provided it but we so enjoyed participating in this practice.

We next stayed at a new property in Bhutan—&Beyond Punakha River Lodge. We so enjoyed our luxurious tent with the beautiful sound of the rushing river nearby. More incredible food at this location. Our third and my favorite was Gangtey Lodge. Gangtey Lodge was the furthest east we traveled and is high above a beautiful valley. It snowed when we were there so we enjoyed herbal baths gazing from the tub out over the valley. The food was even better than the first two places, which already offered wonderful cuisine. Service was perfect.

Our final stay was at Zwiwa Ling Heritage in Paro. Although Zwiwa Ling did not have the intimacy of the other lodges, the traditional architecture and trove of photos and museum-like objects scattered throughout the hotel provided a perfect ending spot for our stay.

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

You must use a local guide in Bhutan and Singye was stellar, as was our driver, Gembo. We spent 11 days together and throughout they were attentive, kind, intuitive, knowledgeable and on top of every detail. We are so grateful to Sanjay and his team for creating a bucket-list trip that was beyond our expectations.

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Cuba: no creature comforts, but “the real Cuba”

JOE ROTHMAN | MARCH 3, 2024

Recently returned from a 12-night stay in Cuba designed by Joe and supported by a very talented local team headed by concierge Yusi and our guide/driver Jose Miguel.

Cuba is a fascinating country whose people manage to deal with numerous issues resulting from their political structure. Our visit enabled us to meet with and speak freely to a cross section of the population. This enabled us to learn a great deal about the culture, history and current state of affairs in Cuba. We are grateful to Joe, Yusi and Jose Miguel for providing the opportunity to experience the real Cuba. We visited 3 different cities, saw many of the traditional tourist sites; enjoyed several excellent restaurants; hiked the numerous nature pathways; experienced the power outages; observed the gas shortages; and traveled many roadways along with the horse and wagons. But the lasting memory is that of the Cuban people struggling with the decision: Do we stay or leave Cuba. Our thanks to Jose Miguel who traveled with us; ate dinner with us nightly, introduced us to his family and the many Cubans who are his friends. He enabled us to learn a great deal about Cuba, for which we are grateful. Highly recommended, but don’t expect “creature comforts.”

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

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Belize: private jungle villa with plunge pool, Caribbean yacht charter…

KIM SEGAL | FEBRUARY 28, 2024

We are just back from a phenomenal multi-generational family trip to Belize that Patricia organized to perfection (taken in February, 2024). It was one of the best family trips we’ve ever taken.

We were traveling with our immediate family (me, my husband, and our two kids ages 4.5 and 7), my sister, and my mom, so Patricia had to coordinate a trip that worked for people from ages 4 to 70+. She did it flawlessly.

Our trip started with four days in the Cayo region, where we stayed at Chaa Creek. What a lovely hotel! Situated on a large nature reserve, we woke to the sound of howler monkeys hanging out in the trees outside our villa and enjoyed the noise from various birds throughout the day.

We rented the Ix Chel Villa for our immediate family, and a cottage for my mom and sister. Both rooms were lovely and spacious and clean. The Ix Chel Villa was great—with a private plunge pool, hot tub, and expansive patio—and I would highly recommend it if it falls in your budget. It also came with a “butler” and Candi was ours—she was exceptional! Every day she would set up our dinner meal in a new spot at the hotel; she greeted us when we arrived back from a day of touring and my kids loved to guess what color drink she’d have waiting for us; she set up spa treatments for me on short notice; she took us up to the butterfly farm after it had closed for the day because I mentioned I was bummed we weren’t going to get to see it. And, in conjunction with Patricia, she helped orchestrate an incredible WOW Moment (thank you Wendy for it!)—the hotel set up a private sunset dinner atop the highest hill in the reserve, with stunning 360-degree views. We had a charcuterie platter and drinks to enjoy while we watched the sunset before moving on to a full meal and ending with s’mores at our private fire pit. It was truly magical. And then we had fun being transported back to our rooms via the hotel’s off-road vehicles—my kids loved it when we had to stop to let a tarantula finish crossing the road!

Our days in the Cayo were spent with Patricia’s excellent guides in the area, specifically Oscar and Darryl. They were amazing and I would request them both when I return. Darryl spent three days with us and handled our airport transfers, which were quite an experience with my tired four-year-old. He was a wealth of knowledge on the days he spent with us, trying his best to spot a crocodile on our pontoon boat and ensuring we hit the highlights of the Belize Zoo before the crowds (and talking our way into some animal experiences there when my youngest was a bit too young for them). He was wonderful taking us to the Barton Creek Caves (and again, getting my youngest in when he was questionable on height requirements), and just such an enjoyable person to spend time with. He even offered to go out of his way and drop our car seats off at Patricia’s office at the marina so we didn’t have to take them with us on the catamaran. Likewise, Oscar—who was with us one day to explore the Mayan ruins—was engaging with our kids, full of interesting information, and patient when our boys wanted to run around or play dinosaurs at one of our stops. Outside of the guided tours we did with Darryl and Oscar, we also enjoyed a few activities offered at the hotel: a night walk critter search through Chaa Creek, and the complimentary morning birdwatching walk—both were such fun and I’d highly recommend them.

The Cayo was absolutely fabulous and we barely scratched the surface of things to do there—if our kids had been a bit older, we could have tried many other wonderful adventures. I wish we’d had more time there and I would absolutely recommend including it on any planned trip to Belize.

After four lovely days in the jungle, we transferred down to Belize City, where Patricia had smartly arranged a flight transfer for us out to Ambergris Caye. The pilot on our flight took extra time to give us the “scenic” route and pointed out sights as we flew over them. It was such an unexpected pleasant addition to our trip, and much better than taking the water taxi.

When we landed at Ambergris, we transferred to the nearby marina where Eric and Hannah, our captain and first mate, were waiting aboard the Nowhere, a 50’ catamaran that was to be our home for the next five nights. A catamaran charter had not been on my radar, and I had my concerns—having two young children on a boat for five days, in such a small space, seemed like it could go sideways quickly—but Patricia was absolutely right in her recommendation and it truly was a superb experience. Eric and Hannah cared for our whole family with such kindness and positivity, and by the end of the trip we felt like we had two new friends. The food Hannah prepared was incredible—I wish I could get her recipes!—and Eric was a superb snorkeling guide. He was very patient with my seven-year-old when he was hesitant to get in the ocean, and then when he knew my seven-year-old was interested in eels, Eric found an eel and coaxed it out of the coral. He also caught fresh lobster for our meal, let my four-year-old help drive the boat, and went out of his way to try to spot manatees for us (no luck, but I’ll just have to return and try to spot them next time). Hannah kept the entire boat spotless and ensured we had everything we needed—often before we even knew we needed it. And she even offered to watch our younger son on board the catamaran so that both my husband and I could go snorkeling at the same time with our older son—we came back to see them playing games together at the table on deck…truly above and beyond! They were a fabulous team.

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

It was truly an outstanding trip, flawlessly executed and one of the best values for the money that I can think of in terms of our travels. Every one of us had an amazing time and I’m surprised Belize isn’t on everyone’s radar, as this little country offers so much in terms of natural beauty, activities, hospitality, and friendly people. We all cannot wait to return (and we will absolutely do the catamaran cruise again—I’m hooked!)!

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Norway: reindeer herding, husky sledding, northern lights…

CLAUDIA SENDER | FEBRUARY 25, 2024

We had a very short break of 4 days in February and an old dream of seeing the northern lights. Over a decade ago we did a trip to Norway, above the Arctic Circle, and got a very faint glimpse of it.

This time we decided to rely on Jan Sortland’s expertise—he promised that if we spent at least 3 nights in Alta, the chances of seeing it would be quite high.

That’s what we did: We spent 4 nights at a beautiful hotel in a very quiet area and got to see the lights twice! Also, taking advantage of the beautiful sunny days, we went husky sledding and snowshoeing. But the most amazing experience—which Jan strongly recommended—was reindeer herding with a Sami family, learning more about their culture and meeting one of the very few female herders.

Feeding the reindeers with the Arctic sunset as our background was magical!

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Mexico: artist studios, butterfly reserves, after-hours museum tours…

TONY FORD-HUTCHINSON | FEBRUARY 23, 2024

Tony Ford-Hutchinson and wife Jane at Monte Alban, a pre-Columbian archaeological site in Mexico.

Tony Ford-Hutchinson and wife Jane explored Monte Alban, a pre-Columbian archaeological site.

As our previous trips to Mexico have all been to resort areas, Jane and I realized we really need to go to Mexico City and beyond to understand what the country is all about, including its complicated history.

Zach organized an outstanding trip starting with 5 nights in Mexico City. We stayed in the boutique hotel Casa Polanco, right in the Polanco neighborhood with restaurants etc. all within walking distance. Zach’s office was able to snag reservations at top restaurants, including Pujol ,which was a short walk from the hotel and lived up to its reputation of being one of the world’s top restaurants. Our guide in Mexico City and the butterfly reserves, Jose, was exceptional and knowledgeable. He took us around for the next 4 days. Day 1 to visit Teotihuacan and then the City’s historical center. Day 2 a wander around the Southern neighborhood, including Frida Kahlo’s house. That evening a private, after-hours tour around the Museum of Anthropology. Day 3 a climb through Chapultec Park to the Castle and its museums. A complete change of pace and experience that evening with prime seats at a Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling) followed by drinks and snacks in a mezzcaleria. Day 4 an exploration of the modern architecture of the city, afterwards another great meal in the evening at Maximo.

Leaving Mexico City, we headed out into Michoacan to visit two of the Monarch Butterfly Reserves over two days. Seeing these large numbers of butterflies and climbing up to where they gather is a unique experience, and with the declining numbers who knows how long this will continue.

Our next stop was Oaxaca, a place we have always wanted to visit, and it did not disappoint. Zach’s team arranged several private artist studio tours. Many artists have made Oaxaca their home. We walked all around the town, ran into a Carnival procession and met multiple wedding processions. All unexpected. Our guide, Lenny, took us around the archeological site of Monte Alban, the city’s markets and many churches and other interesting sights. He too was very knowledgeable. With so many great restaurants and bars in Oaxaca, what is there not to like!

After all this activity we planned 4 days of R&R in a tree-house accommodation in the extensive grounds of the One&Only Mandarina resort, north of Puerto Vallarta.

Finally we flew to Tijuana, walked across the border from the air terminal (very easy) to meet our son in San Diego. Quite surreal.

All in all a great trip to Mexico. Thank you Zach for understanding our needs and wants and delivering on them.

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Antarctica: hiking, kayaking, scenic helicopter flight…

MILINDA MARTIN | FEBRUARY 23, 2024

Milinda Martin and other travelers taking a shot with the penguins they encountered at Mikkelsen Harbor on Antarctica.

Milinda Martin and new friends encountered penguins at Mikkelsen Harbor on Antarctica.

Antarctica! It had long been a dream to visit my seventh continent, but how to travel? As a solo traveler on this trip, it was important to me to select the right cruise ship. By nature, cruising is not my preferred method of travel, so I had some specific needs:

• There needed to be lots of other single travelers and ways to engage with them
• I wanted an active trip, meaning setting foot on the continent and doing some of my favorite activities while there — hiking, kayaking, a polar plunge
• I wanted like-minded travelers from around the world
• As much as I love families, this would not be a family cruise — I wanted time with adults
• Plenty of expertise and seminars on the continent, its history, and the animals there
• No casino, no endless buffet, no forced fun

As I have so many times in the past, I turned to one of Wendy’s experts, in this case, Ashton and his team. They immediately set up a Zoom call where I could share all my wishes for this trip, and given the pricing, I wanted to make sure my choice had everything that I wanted.

Ashton, Ashley, and Keri listened, and then did their research, eventually giving me four options which they walked me through. I chose Quark’s Ultramarine, and was grateful that Ashley had traveled on the same ship, solo, just the year before. It was, indeed, everything I could have hoped for.

I met a group of singles immediately in Buenos Aires and we ended up staying together for the entire cruise! They are so much fun, and we have stayed in touch since. In fact, I am seeing one on the ski slopes of Colorado and visiting another in the UK.

I can’t say enough about how Quark runs its operations. Every day we had full updates, were very well organized and did something exceptional. The food was amazing — healthy, varied, and we often ordered off the menu (as a gluten-free pescatarian, my diet isn’t easy). The cabin was outstanding. The excursions were just the best. I loved the kayaking, but the true highlight of the trip was the final day — a sunny, blue-sky day — when we all got a helicopter flight over the continent. We met penguins and whales and seals. We kayaked among icebergs. We dipped into the water for our polar plunge. We climbed to a lookout for a 360-degree view. And all this despite a medical emergency that forced us to return to South Georgia and medevac someone to Chile. Despite the change in agenda, both the captain and the excursion leader ensured we did not miss out.

A cruise to Antarctica is not cheap, no matter whom you travel with, but I know I made the right choice in trusting Ashton and his team. They helped me ensure every penny was well spent, and I had the final confirmation when I was at the airport afterwards and spoke with a couple from the US that had gone on a different cruise ship: no land excursions, no kayaking, no helicopter, no adventures at all! Thank goodness I had Ashton’s team to point me in the right direction. When planning the trip of a lifetime, having a trusted expert who listens and guides is the best way to ensure success. Thank you, Team Wendy.

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Belize: Francis Ford Coppola’s resorts, vibrant Mayan culture…

SALENA KERN | FEBRUARY 22, 2024

Our travelers Salena and Allen Kern with WOW Lister Patricia Johnson in Belize.

WOW Lister Patricia Johnson joined Salena and Allen Kern for lunch one day.

As it says in an ad, “Belize has it all.” And that is almost true: I don’t believe there is an ice-skating rink, yet. But it has Patricia to make your trip what you want it to be.

This is how I found Patricia: We had no winter plans and needed to renew our passports. The passports came back much earlier than expected (5 1/2 weeks) and I said, “Let’s go somewhere.”

My criteria was a direct flight from Newark, warmth, a place we’d never been to with lots to do if we wished, and a Wendy Perrin advisor. It took about a minute to find Patricia. And we were off….

The next day Patricia contacted me via Zoom and by that afternoon we had the trip sketched out. There was one enormous coincidence. Patricia recommended a few places to stay and two of the resorts (one in the jungle and the other on the beach) were owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Who knew? Not I, for sure. Well, my husband was an extra in Apocalypse Now many years ago and that was that. He was thrilled to be seeing what Coppola had created in Belize.

Both resorts were beautiful, but Blancaneaux Lodge was one of the nicest places I have stayed in my life.

Patricia suggested many activities. I was reluctant to commit to some of them, thinking we might not be up to them, so we booked some and decided to decide later about others. She and I were in almost constant contact during the trip and she was good with that. As it turned out, we climbed ruins, rafted through a cave that should have been a cathedral, and visited an entrepreneurial coffee “factory,” amongst other things. Most important to me, however, was that we got to know something about the current economy of this young country and much about its varied cultures. On our first full day, after a very, very busy morning, we were surprised by our WOW Moment. At this most beautiful site, overlooking a series of waterfalls, we were served lunch by a local family (now, Patricia did know that I am a bit of a foodie) who served us a traditional Mayan lunch nouvelle style. The family has a catering company called U Janal Masewal, Ancient Recipes for a Modern World. That sort of sums up my worldview too. We were happy! And Patricia met us there for lunch. Thank you, Patricia and Wendy.

This lunch opened our eyes to what was happening in the local communities. The Mayan culture isn’t stuck in the past or lost as it is in Chiapas, Mexico, where I visited last year. The Belizeans are creating a wonderful and mixed culture ripe for all sorts of tourism.

Our week in Belize was full of surprises. I would recommend it to older people like us, to young families, well, to anyone who likes travel.

Read more reviews of Patricia and Rachael. Or request your own trip.

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Panama: 25th anniversary at a private-island resort

RANDI MAIDMAN | FEBRUARY 20, 2024

My husband and I had a fabulous 25th anniversary trip to Panama planned by Pierre and his team. 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, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and dolphin watching. We still had plenty of time to do nothing on the private beach. I really cannot recommend this place and Pierre’s company enough.

On the final day we had about 8 hours in Panama City before our evening flight back to the States. Pierre arranged a private guide of the canal and the city. That was also fabulous.

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Mexico: meeting a famous chef, art gallerist, Mezcal master…

ELISA SPAIN | FEBRUARY 20, 2024

This was our second trip with Zach’s team, and once again, Zach and Jose did a fantastic job. As with all of Wendy Perrin’s fixers, the logistics were impeccable, enabling us to relax and enjoy our trip.

We’ve been to Mexico several times on our own. Last year, we contacted Zach’s office because we were looking for a unique experience. During our first call, Zach gave us an overview of his favorite Mexican places and experiences, and this conversation became our guide. We went to CDMX and Morelia to see the winter habitat of the Monarch butterflies. While we had been to CDMX before, our experiences this time were unique, and the pilgrimage to see the butterflies was an experience we will never forget.

This year, we chose Oaxaca. We had been 20+ years ago and had fond memories, so we decided to visit again. And, of course, we wanted a completely different experience. Given last year, our expectations for this year were high, and Zach exceeded them.

Zach and Jose listened carefully to what we wanted, and they delivered, including the right blend of guided time and time on our own.

We met and interacted with local people, which is important to us when we travel. These encounters included a visit to his farm with a Mezcal master and a day with a gallerist that included visits to artist studios. Both were lots of fun.

The highlight of our trip was the day we spent with award-winning chef Alejandro Ruiz. We began with a visit to the Central market with Alejandro and one of his chefs—we were the only Americans there. Shopping with him, watching what he chose as he planned the menu in his head was a treat. We followed the visit to the market by joining his kitchen staff to prepare a multi-course meal for the three of us. We were expecting a cooking “lesson”; instead, we were chefs (of sorts). And we couldn’t have asked for a better tutor (btw, Alejandro was a teacher before becoming a chef). We learned a ton; Alejandro was patient and fun to be with, in no way fitting the stereotype of a famous chef, and we had a great time.

The whole Oaxaca experience came together with our stellar guide, Carlos.

We are looking forward to our next visit to Mexico with Zach and team.

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Finland: northern lights, snowmobiling, ice fishing, “scrumptious” food…

MICHAEL RUMA | FEBRUARY 19, 2024

The northern lights captured by the traveler from his suite's porch at the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel in Finland.

Traveler Michael Ruma shot this view of the northern lights from his suite’s porch at the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel.

My wife said she’d like to see the aurora borealis and with Wendy’s help, we were quickly introduced to Leigh. Never having visited Scandinavia, we leaned heavily on Leigh’s knowledge of the country’s landscape, culture, and food scene. Leigh quickly answered our call, listened carefully to our wants and needs, and created a delightful week of fun in Finland.

Getting to Finland involved a luxurious and efficient flight on FinnAir. Their business-class product was excellent, with superior service to U.S. air carriers. Landing in Finland during winter quickly introduces you to life in the Arctic. Cloudy, gray, and snow covered, we made our way to Hotel Maria, where we received a beautiful upgrade to a Serene Suite. Our room with muted gray walls and plush fabrics throughout created a calming atmosphere with classical piano playing softly on a perfectly integrated, audiophile-quality sound system built into a control panel operating the lights, blinds, and temperature settings. Opened at the beginning of 2024, the sparkling-new hotel provided a beautiful environment as our home base to explore the country’s capital.

Hello…Helsinki. Fortunately, we did not have to worry about managing any language barrier, as citizens in Finland generally speak three languages, Finnish, Swedish and English. On our first afternoon, we were met by a private guide who introduced us to the well-laid out and easily walkable city of Helsinki. We utilized the superior public tram system, visiting the Helsinki Cathedral, its main esplanade with glamorous shopping and dining, and the national library. Finland has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and it is no doubt seeing their citizens enjoy the incredible library, which acts as a social and educational hub for the community. Receiving a guide on the dining in Helsinki prior to arrival, we sampled several Finnish traditional dishes, including reindeer filet and smoked salmon soup at a traditional restaurant, Kuu.

The following day, after a scrumptious breakfast at the Hotel Maria, we ventured out to see the Fortress of Suomenlinna. Catching the first ferry at sunrise was a delight watching our ship cruise through an ice-filled bay. Built in the 18th century, Helsinki’s harbor fortress was an impressive demonstration of defensive architecture and a refreshing walk during the winter, which is undoubtedly gorgeous in the summer months. At the end of our morning walking tour, we enjoyed lunch at the Old Market Hall, the oldest food hall in Helsinki dating back to 1889. After visiting with numerous vendors, sampling reindeer jerky and a variety of cookies, we sat down at a fish vendor to try some fresh salmon sashimi and langoustine soup. In the afternoon, we retired to the hotel for a massage and our first experience with the Finnish sauna. The sauna layout at the Hotel Maria is decadent, with steam and dry sauna rooms along with a cold plunge pool and two different temperature hot tubs.

The next day, we hopped an easy flight to Rovaniemi, which lies directly on the latitude of the Arctic Circle. An efficient, private transfer brought us to the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel. Met with warm blueberry juice, we checked into our GlassHouse suite. Our room had a centrally located living room with an enclosed wood-burning stove along with two bathrooms, one of which had our very own dry sauna.

Advised to download the Aurora app, we learned about the KP index, which predicts the probability of witnessing the northern lights. Fortunately, after dinner at the hotel, a notification from the app informed us at 9pm the chance was high! A bit tired, but intent on seeing the natural phenomenon, we bundled up, hiked up a trail to a 50-foot observation tower specifically designed for viewing the lights. Finnish myths say the lights are caused when a fox runs across the arctic landscape whipping up snow from its tail, sparking the lights in the night sky. Regardless of the cause, we were blessed by an hour display of a gray hazy line emerging in the distance and evolving into a bright green glow right in front of our eyes. As we watched and photographed the sky, the lights blew around us along our walk back to our room. Thrilled and chilled by the experience, we stopped to show all the hotel staff our photos while warming up with a drink at the bar.

Our next two days were filled with other Arctic adventures, which included an exciting jaunt by snowmobile to learn how to ice fish on a frozen lake and then dog sledding on a snowy day in the beautiful and vast northern Finnish countryside. We concluded our trip with a train ride from Rovaniemi back to Helsinki. Unfortunately, the Finnish Aviation Union was on strike the day of our return flight, but we found the train ride to be quite enjoyable, catching up on some unread books and unwatched movies. Honestly, when we return to Finland, we plan on booking the overnight train which has comfortable sleeper cars with private bathroom and shower, which will certainly be a great adventure.

On our last day in Helsinki, we hit the esplanade and shopped at Iittala for classic glassware and Marimekko for stylish home goods. We splurged and dined at Restaurant Savoy on our last night, which was designed by architects Aino and Alvar Aalto who are famous for the iconic, birch wood, curved, 3-legged stool.

We would happily come back to Finland for a future visit either in the winter to take in the unique night sky, but this time much further north, or during the summer to take in the lively and sunny long days in Helsinki filled with so much to see, taste, and do.

Delighted by its vast country, small polite population, and compact capital, its seasonally focused food, and its matter-of-fact and kind people. We had such fun in Finland.

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Southeast Asia: hiking, meeting monks, sunset boat ride…

JOE COCO | FEBRUARY 16, 2024

My wife, 22-year-old daughter, and I visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia during the last two weeks of January. We worked initially with Sandy but most of our interaction was with Ethan. We were very pleased with them. They were responsive, on top of everything, provided high-quality guides, and gave us frequent updates/reminders as the trip neared. Prior to our trip, we received a detailed packet with everything we needed to know, including our itinerary and guides, cultural information and practical tips about each country. We felt fully prepared. The local guides arranged by their office in each country were all very good. They were knowledgeable, eager to take family pictures for us, and easy to work with as we tweaked some of the details of our itinerary as our trip progressed.

Our itinerary: We started in Chiang Mai, Thailand, then took a short flight to Luang Prabang in Laos, then another flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia, then a flight back to Bangkok for 2 days before returning home. Sandy and Ethan arranged our 3 flights within Asia and our airport transfers, which were all smooth.

January is a good time to visit SE Asia. It’s the dry season and not too hot; it was almost cool in Laos, although Bangkok was quite hot and humid. The majority of farmers haven’t yet started to burn their fields so there wasn’t a problem with smoke/air pollution, which we had heard from friends is a problem in the early spring.

Here are some of the highlights we recommend to other travelers:

In Chiang Mai we went on a beautiful 2-hour hike on the Pha Dok Sieo Nature Trail in the Doi Inthanon National Park. There was a river with multiple waterfalls along the way. We were led by a local naturalist who was very friendly, engaging and knew everything about the flora and fauna. The hike ended at a pretty farm in the hills with water buffalo roaming around, where we had a cup of locally grown coffee and a nice lunch at a small restaurant. Speaking of food, the Khao Soi curry in Chiang Mai was one of our food highlights.

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

In Siem Reap, Cambodia, we attended the roughly hour-long Phare “circus,” a high-energy, very entertaining, and unique experience, and it’s for a good cause. Of course, we visited the massive ancient Angkor temples, which are incredibly impressive, and each one was different. The Ta Prohm temple with the massive trees growing on it is a must-see. One of our more special moments in Cambodia was when our excellent guide arranged to take us out on two small boats (just a bit bigger than large canoes) on one of the “moats” (really a manmade lake) just before sunset. A local paddler gently moved the boats across the calm waters as our guide mixed gin and tonics for us and provided snacks. We were the only ones there, drifting through the lily pads watching the birds and sunset. It was beautiful and peaceful. Finally, we went to Villa Chandara for dinner. It is entirely outdoors in a lovely rural setting. We started with cocktails and a foot massage. The staff was very friendly, and the food was all excellent. Unfortunately, we had to leave a bit early before the end of the meal because one person in our party started to have a modest allergic reaction to something, which was unusual. We were in the middle of nowhere and didn’t know if the reaction would get worse, so we deemed it prudent to head back to the hotel where we had Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to calm the reaction, which it did. Lesson learned, keep Benadryl in the backpack, not just the hotel room!

Wrapping it up in Bangkok, even though we were a bit “templed-out” by the end of the trip, the huge golden Buddha and reclining Buddha are both worth seeing. And one must spend a little time wandering through the massive night market to fully appreciate the huge size and energy of Bangkok. Another way to experience that energy is to stay along the Chao Phraya River, with the constant flow of commercial barges, ferries/taxis, and party boats.

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Kenya: a safari experience “above and beyond”

JAMES AND MARTHA ISSOKSON | FEBRUARY 16, 2024

Travelers taking photo with the rainbow behind them at the safari in Masa Mara Conservancy, Kenya.

Martha and James Issokson saw not just wildlife but a rainbow on their safari in the Masa Mara Conservancy.

We just returned from a wonderful stay in Kenya. We started planning this trip with Daniel over one year ago. His guidance enabled us to narrow down the many possibilities for a trip to Aftrica. He was helpful in selecting the time of year, the locations, and also the type of resort experience we wished to have. We stayed at two of the Kicheche resorts from February 4th-February 12th. The selection of camps in the Masa Mara Conservatory and the Old Pejeta Conservancy provided a wonderful variety of terrain and wildlife to view. The camps were exactly the type of accommodation we described for Daniel. The location, food and level of service were above and beyond our expectations. The staff made us feel at home and were very eager to accommodate our every need. Experiences like viewing elephants, buffalo and gazelles from our tent at the Old Pejeta camp and watching a pride of lions feast on a freshly killed hippo at the Mara Conservancy made our trip one we will not soon forget. We hope to return to Africa someday soon and will certainly call Daniel to assist us once again.

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Ecuador: two lodges connected to the local communities and environments

ROBIN AND JOSH MADDEN | FEBRUARY 15, 2024

A frog clinging on the traveler's glasses frame.

A Mashpi glass frog clings to a traveler’s glasses frame. Photo: Traveler Robin Madden

We just returned from a 10-day trip to Ecuador, with our two adult sons and one of their partners, and unlike most, we did not include the Galapagos in the itinerary. We chose to visit the Amazon and stay at Napo Wildlife Center (NWC) and Mashpi in the cloud forest. These two places were chosen due to their commitment to the local communities and preservation of the incredibly biologically diverse ecosystems in which they are each set. Jordan is listed on The WOW List for Chile, Argentina and Patagonia, but looking at his company’s website, we found just the type of trip we wanted in their Ecuador listings. We worked with Carmen, with some input from Jordan, who put together a seamless experience. We began in Quito, with a daylong visit to some churches, the equator, chocolate and agave tastings, and a fabulous restaurant set in the caldera of an old volcano. Despite the recent unrest, we felt comfortable, and heeded the advice to not go out without a taxi at night.

Getting to Napo and the NWC included a short flight, a two-hour speed boat ride and another 1.5 hours by paddled canoe. Though remote, the lodge is both elegant and comfortable. Our experience included a dedicated and very knowledgeable guide, Juan, as well as a local guide from the indigenous community, and an additional paddler for the canoe. The food and drink was very good, and Edison the bartender was everywhere making everyone feel welcome. It is owned and operated by the local community—a rarity in luxury lodges. Mornings started early, 5:30, but oh, the payoff! We saw multiple species of monkeys, more than 40 different birds, caimen, river otters, and a sloth, as well as various snakes and insects. The food was good, and accommodations very comfortable despite no air conditioning. We even had a jacuzzi on the deck of one our suites! Our WOW Moment occurred while being paddled on the lake at sunset, when chilled wine was served along with gifts of handmade jewelry and a gorgeous bowl made by the local women. Then upon arriving back at the dock, there was a sumptuous spread of food and more wine! Enough to share with many others.

At Mashpi there were also extraordinarily knowledgeable guides. Fernando (Anderson) was our guide, and he is the “frog whisperer.” He found them and many other species everywhere. He is a biologist who did research there prior to becoming a guide and identified a new species, the “Mashpi glass frog,” which he found for us on a night walk. We had the extraordinary luck of witnessing a battle between a wasp and a tarantula. The wasp won, killing the tarantula and depositing her eggs inside to hatch in about 10 days. Fernando videotaped the whole encounter. It was like watching a National Geographic special, but it was right there in front of us. The most surprising thing was the food at Mashpi. We knew the lodge would be luxurious and visually striking, and had great guides, but did not expect the world-class cuisine that was constantly delivered at every meal with great service. Would highly recommend Jordan’s team, and hope they get added as Ecuador specialists on The WOW List.

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Cuba: guiding an author’s book research

TODD PURDUM | FEBRUARY 14, 2024

The Wendy Perrin team scores again. Needing expert advice on travel to Cuba, I reached out and they connected me with Rob and Ana Maria, who planned a wonderful trip! I am researching a book that involves Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second-largest city, and a less-visited destination than Havana. Ana understood instinctively what I needed, first steering me to an on-the-ground researcher, Alicia Howland, who did much advance work that narrowed my itinerary, and then putting me in the kind and extremely capable hands of Tania Vivar, a peerless guide during my four-day stay. I could not have asked for a better experience, from the first pickup at the Santiago airport to my last poignant goodbye.

Rob and Ana’s team booked me into a lovely private casa in a leafy suburban neighborhood, near the sites I most wanted to see, where the on-site garden provided daily fresh produce in a place where basic foodstuffs are in short supply. My spacious, air-conditioned room with ensuite bath was the perfect refuge at day’s end. Alicia and Tania’s knowledge of the city, and of Cuban history, made my stay so much richer, and Tania’s perfect English made communication a breeze. Economic conditions in Cuba are grim indeed — especially in the eastern part of the island — but the resilience and fortitude of the Cuban people is inspiring, and so is the country’s rich cultural and social history. I simply could not have asked for more caring or capable shepherds to a destination that can be challenging, especially for a non-Spanish-speaking American. I am everlastingly grateful and cannot recommend Rob and Ana highly enough!

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

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Belize & Guatemala: beach, jungle, Mayan ruins…

CATHERINE MATHIS | FEBRUARY 12, 2024

We had a wonderful trip to Belize and Guatemala planned for us by Patricia. She worked with us to find experiences and hotels that worked well for us. Our trip was eight days long and divided into two parts—one was in the jungle and the other was on the beach at Placencia.

We flew from Newark to Belize City (a direct flight of less than five hours) and were picked up by our driver/guide Brainerd. Over the years, we’ve learned that a guide can make or break a trip. We had a phenomenal guide with Brainerd—very knowledgeable, warm, and just a lot of fun. (He’s named after a town in my home state of Minnesota.) We learned a great deal from him. He, without our asking, took loads of photos of us with my phone and his own. He later sent me the ones he took, which I very much appreciated because I make a photobook of all our trips. He made a habit of checking in to see if we wanted water, if the temperature in the car was okay and if we needed a bathroom break. Very considerate.

We stayed first at the Lodge at Chaa Creek, a 400-acre eco-resort. Lots to do there: visit the butterfly farm, the natural history exhibit, the organic farm; canoe; hike; birdwatch or sit with a delicious drink and admire the beautiful grounds. The staff could not have been more hospitable. They asked and remembered our names, where we were from and our food preferences. Very professional.

We used Chaa Creek as a base from which to explore the Maya ceremonial centers at nearby Xunantunich and Tikal in Guatemala. We absolutely loved the Belize Botanic Garden tour. I am a gardener, and the tour was one of the highlights of the trip.

The Naia Resort, right on the beach near Placencia, was lovely. We were very happy with our little bungalow, which was about 30 feet from the water. The staff was helpful and friendly.

While we were there, Patricia arranged for us to spend time with a group of six Maya sisters who taught us how to cook on an open hearth. They showed us how they weave baskets and extract the juice from sugar cane. It was fun!

We really enjoyed our trip and met people who go to Belize year after year. We can understand why.

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New Zealand: jet boating that impresses even a repeat visitor

ADAM FRIED | FEBRUARY 12, 2024

This is my 5th trip to NZ and first with Jean-Michel’s team as our trip planners. It was superb. The jet boat experience in Fiordland was one of my most favorite days ever in NZ.

Geoff met us at the Fiordland Lodge in Te Anua for our 90-minute drive to Lake Hauroko. Geoff is a chill Kiwi and former guide on the Milford Track. He plans to do a night trail run on the next cloudless full moon on the Kepler Track. In Fiordland, the mutable weather means rain every 2 days on average. We had a perfect day for our jet boat: grey clouds, warm air, and still waters.

Kevin met us at Lake Hauroko and took my wife and daughters, along with Geoff and me, across the lake and down the rapids of the Wairaurahiri River to the bottom of the South Island. The vastness of Fiordland National Park hit me more here than in busier areas that more tourists frequent. Kevin began to hike and camp along the coast alone with a buddy when he was only 13. Twenty years later now and here he hunts and goes out fishing for blue fin tuna. While we gazed out to Stewart Island, he noted that the South Pacific was as calm as he had ever seen it and that 5-meter great whites lurked below.

Lunch was at the Wairaurahiri Lodge a few hundred meters from the ocean. While Kevin and his stepfather prepared a great lunch of fresh venison and vegan dishes, Alan told us about the lodge on the 5,000 acres owned by a Māori tribe in Trust. He lives alone on the isolated lodge surrounded by a magnificent podocarp virgin forest. After a short hike past Rimu and Rata trees, we walked across the river on a new swinging bridge designed with a door to keep possums and stoats off. Kevin’s mom monitors 300 traps in the region, all baited with peanut butter. It’s working, as we saw many ducks, pigeons, and a pair of Kea parrots flying over the river.

From the bridge, Kevin picked us up and revved the engines for the ride back up the Class 2 rapids. On the eerily calm lake, we dallied at Teal Beach to skip rocks. We stopped on a creek to peer at eels and brown trout. We did donuts just below a waterfall. Before departing Lake Hauroko, we quietly passed Mary Island, where the remains of the Māori princess from 1640 lie in repose in a cave.

Geoff drove us back to Te Anua and I enjoyed the thousands of white sheep along the beautiful drive back. It was a stellar day in Fiordland.

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Colombia: private orchid collection, cooking class, coffee region…

ROBERT ROSENBERG | FEBRUARY 8, 2024

My wife and I traveled to Colombia from January 25 to February 5, 2024. Boris’ office planned and executed the trip, and we could not be more pleased. We had 4 primary destinations: Bogota, Villa de Leyva, the coffee region and Medellín. We skipped Cartagena because we had been there before. Boris and his team did a terrific job in planning the trip with us. We had several unique experiences, my favorite being lunch and a tour of a private collection containing every one of the hundreds of Colombian orchid varieties. Boris also found wonderful ways to accommodate us when we had different interests—for example, while I was touring a coffee plantation my wife was with a charming local woman cooking our Colombian lunch at her home. The four hotels chosen were all exceptionally lovely. The 3 guides we had were among the very best we have had in our travels to over 90 countries. The destination offers a virtually unlimited range of experiences to suit anyone, and Boris clearly is expert at marshalling them. In summary, a fantastically executed visit to a fascinating and diverse country.

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Ecuador: “we actually felt safer” despite the unrest

JOEY LAVALLEE | FEBRUARY 7, 2024

This was a trip of a lifetime. From the magical lodge of Mashpi in the cloud forest to the beautiful Galápagos, every arrangement was catered to our wants and needs.

Allie did not miss a beat. Traveling to another country is stressful enough, but through Allie we always had a friendly face greeting us and ready to transfer us to our next adventure. Our local guides were knowledgeable and proud of their country. The accommodations were top-notch and the suggestions she made were right on. My husband is a detailed-oriented man and Allie was always a step ahead of him to lower his anxiety. Mashpi was magical. The Elite yacht was perfect. The size was just what we wanted, very personalized and the boat was stable in the water. Allie suggested we do 4 nights on the cruise, and afterwards we agreed it was the perfect length of time. There was not a glitch in any of the transfers or accommodations. Allie is on top of it all.

Pertaining to the unrest in Ecuador: There was increased military presence in Quito, mainly around the presidential building. Other than that, the locals and tourists went about their usual activities. In speaking to the locals, they felt there was no danger to them. They said if anything, the cartel presence would be closer to the coastal cities. We actually felt safer with the increased police and military. We saw none of this on the Galápagos Islands. The locals felt that the media had exaggerated what was happening. There were no road closures. Thank you for a fabulous, memorable trip.

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Sri Lanka: biking through rice paddies, swimming with sea turtles, jeep safari…

PAM GREENSTEIN | FEBRUARY 5, 2024

Travelers taking a photo with the elephants on a safari in Sri Lanka.

Pam Greenstein and family saw elephants on their Sri Lanka safari.

We had an incredible vacation to Sri Lanka over the Christmas holidays with our two daughters, ages 21 and 18. We had just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and wanted to do something special with them. We were there for 2.5 weeks and stayed in 9 different boutique hotels. They were all fantastic! Our guide was absolutely outstanding. He added so much to the trip by getting us into various cultural events, restaurants, markets, and experiences. We never had to wait in line! He was also very caring with our girls when they were tired and needed a break. His passion for the country was instrumental in our learning about the culture and history, and eating incredible food. Unfortunately, we had a lot of rain, which was unusual for the time of year. He was able to be flexible and change our plans accordingly. We saw beautiful Buddha temples, rode the famous train to see the incredible topography, learned all about tea country, hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari and got up close to elephants, leopards and water buffalos; rode bikes through rice paddies, had a wonderful massage and sauna, toured a gem mine to see how they make beautiful jewelry, and swam with the sea turtles. The highlight was our farm-to-table cooking class, picking fresh vegetables at the market and then making Sri Lankan rice and curry dishes with local chefs. It was fun and delicious.

We had various anniversary cards, cakes, and champagne when we arrived at our hotels, such a warm and caring gesture from the staff. This was our third trip working with Wendy and her team, and as usual, they did an outstanding job connecting us to someone who could plan every detail.

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Southeast Asia: sunrise at Angkor Wat, home-hosted dinner, Mekong cruise…

MICHAEL MODAK | FEBRUARY 4, 2024

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

Dan and the team did a great job attending to all of the details, especially the VIP arrival treatment in the many airports we traversed. The diversity of the trip was amazing, starting with a festive New Year’s Eve party at 137 Pillars in Chiang Mai. A great rock band interspersed with traditional Thai dances performed amazingly well. Other events included fabulous street-food adventures in several of the cities, ringside seat in Bangkok for Muay Thai boxing, a cruise on the Mekong River from Luang Prabang to the Pak Ou caves (with a stop at a whisky distillery whose bottles contained snakes and scorpions—a bit too much for my taste), sunrise at Angkor Wat, incredible acrobats at the Phare circus, thrilling rides in several cities on cyclos, tuk-tuks, and scooters, and various museums and places that are etched in memories of those of us that grew up in the Viet Nam war era. Lots of lessons to be learned from that time.

But perhaps the most interesting part of our visit involved a dinner and musical performance at the Ben Xuan Garden House. When we saw this on the agenda, we thought OK, that could be a nice evening. Well, the host, Camille Huyen, is 6 generations removed from the emperor and is an incredible artist. She designed the home using bricks from the rubble of the destroyed Imperial Palace area, has her paintings on display throughout the home and provided vocals alongside some fabulously talented musicians whom she personally selected and developed from the local university. After the performance we were treated to an amazing dinner and wonderful conversation with Camille and Ngo Truong Dinh, her husband and a former banker during their time in Switzerland. This evening was one of the more remarkable events of many years of travel around the world. If you make the trip to Viet Nam, this is a must-do!

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Costa Rica: beaches, cloud forest, cooking and cacao workshops…

GERALYN WESTERVELT | FEBRUARY 4, 2024

Travelers at the cacao workshop at Two Little Monkeys, Costa Rica.

Geralyn, Elise, and Rob Westervelt loved their cacao workshop at Two Little Monkeys.

My husband and I, both in our 60s, wanted a vacation that combined relaxation with outdoor activities, culture, nature, adventure, and eco-friendly accommodations. We checked The WOW List and Wendy connected us with Irene. After our initial communication with Irene, we knew we were heading to Costa Rica! We began planning directly with Irene, who asked many questions to customize our trip. Mid-way through planning, we added our 26-year-old daughter to the trip and Irene seamlessly made the adjustments.

We visited three locations during our 8-night stay. This pace allowed just enough time in each location. If you prefer a slower pace, I recommend adding 1-2 nights. Our guide, Pablo, and driver, Jenkins, met us at the airport and brought us to our first location, the Arenal Volcano area. We settled into our beautiful accommodations for three nights. Our activities here included a sloth visit, hike up the volcano, and our two favorite experiences, a cooking class with Dona Mara and a cacao workshop at Two Little Monkeys. These are not to be missed! During this leg of the trip, Pablo’s knowledge of the area, the ecosystem, and the language enhanced our experience tremendously.

Irene arranged for transport to our next location, the Senda Monteverde Hotel. We spent two nights in beautiful accommodations and surroundings. We had a night walk and hanging bridges tour. With each activity, we were impressed by the vast knowledge of the guides. My daughter is in her last year of veterinarian school and she had in-depth conversations about animals and ecology with many of them. We were also very pleased that every transport was punctual and safe!

Our final destination was the beautiful Manuel Antonio area. The plan was to relax here, but we found ourselves hiking, zip lining, and taking a sunset tour of the property! We had prearranged a Damas Island kayak tour and this is the only experience we would not repeat. There are nicer ways to explore this beautiful country and we didn’t feel this tour did it justice. The staff at Arenas del Mar was exceptional. Every interaction made us feel like the only guests. The drivers, the front desk, the in-house naturalist (Mauricio), and the restaurant staff were all incredibly accommodating.

One thing to note, if you plan an itinerary that includes beaches and mountains, you will need to pack wisely. We wore everything from bathing suits to mid-weight fleeces, as the temperatures are quite different in each location. We packed lightly and took advantage of the free laundry services offered at two of our hotels.

We could not have planned this trip without Irene Edwards. She connected us with exceptional guides, drivers, hotels, and experiences. She listened to our concerns and interests and created a customized trip that can only be described as Pura Vida. We can’t wait to return!

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Antarctica: top-deck igloo, unique peninsula access…

JEFF WELLEN | JANUARY 29, 2024

Travelers in Antarctica

Jeff and Lisa Wellen having a ball on Antarctica.

From the first Zoom call with Ashton and Christine, we knew we were in great hands for our dream trip to Antarctica. With Ashton’s 50 or so trips to the continent and Christine recently returning from her first expedition, it provided us with a wealth of knowledge when researching how to best plan a trip like this.

After doing our own research, we were, to say the least, confused and frustrated, but Ashton and Christine listened to our desires and quickly refocused us on the correct path. Their attention to detail during all the planning stages was excellent and it was shown throughout the execution of the trip.

Ashton’s team also listened to special requests and knocked it out of the ballpark with execution. 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.

Their suggestion to take the Lindblad National Geographic Resolution ship the first two weeks of January 2024 was absolutely perfect. 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 everyday why this is the best ship to take to the Great White Continent. From Captain Heidi to Andy our Expedition Leader to Laura who ran the hotel part of the ship to Evylyn at the reception desk to Alexia who cleaned our room; their number-one desire was to make sure we had the best experience of our lives. The passion of the naturalist and scientist on the expedition team made the trip even more enjoyable and educational. They were as excited as the passengers were about what we were seeing and experiencing.

Also, 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.

We were fortunate to take a dream trip to Africa last year and thought nothing would ever come close to rivaling that trip. How wrong we were. With the help of Ashton and his team, Antarctica has equaled and, in many cases, beat that trip.

We are currently 3 for 3 when using Trusted Travel Experts from Wendy Perrin. The expertise provided by advisors like Ashton are in my opinion invaluable. THANK YOU ASHTON AND TEAM!!!

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Chile: Patagonia, Atacama Desert, wine country…

LAURIE RICHTER | JANUARY 24, 2024

Travelers at Explora Lodge in Chile's Torres del Paine National Park.

Laurie and Jim Richter at Explora Lodge in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park.

Just returned from a spectacular trip to Chile. I knew very little about it other than I wanted to experience Patagonia. There were six of us—3 couples, all in our 60s. We are well traveled but had never been to Chile. Tom’s pre-planning information was like an encyclopedia—nothing was left out. Lodging (Palacio Duhau in BA and Singular Lastarria in Santiago) was just perfect in both cities. We prefer smaller, more boutique-like hotels and these were in wonderful walking neighborhoods.

A fair warning: Travel within Chile is a little more complicated than some other places. The sheer length of the country meant that going from place to place often meant two flights and an overnight in between. But visiting BOTH Patagonia and the Atacama Desert is an absolute must. The beauty and ruggedness of both places was unsurpassed. They were pristine and there were very few other people or vehicles. And they were so different from each other. The scenery in Patagonia is breathtaking–newly formed mountains, green glacial lakes, layers upon layers of natural formations. Explora Lodge wasn’t fancy but the location was unsurpassed and the quality of the guides and excursions available provided something for everyone. We mostly hiked and with the windy conditions there, even a simple hike was pretty strenuous. Try out the spa and the outside hot tubs.

On to the Vik Chile in wine country, outside of Santiago, as we had to pass through Santiago and spend a night before we could fly up to the desert. After a flight and two-hour drive, we were only going to have one overnight and one full day at the Vik before we had to leave, and we wondered if it was going to be worthwhile. As we left, we all agreed it was not to be missed. Spectacular facility in a beautiful setting with a wonderful winery. We toured their garden and everyone in our group was pleasantly surprised how interesting it was. The food in the restaurant is spectacular and not to be missed. The winery tour and tasting was a highlight as well.

Then on to the Atacama Desert, which may have been the unexpected highlight for me. Again, wonderful lodging (Nayara Alto Atacama) with terrific service and again, some of the best food you can imagine. I don’t expect this level of food quality at an all-inclusive but it was terrific. Very similar to Explora, there are two excursions per day and the guides help you figure out what to do each day. The terrain was so varied it felt like we had gone to a different planet each day. You are at elevation (8,000 at the lodge and up to 14,350 at the geysers) so you need to be prepared for that, but everyone in our group was fine. I left feeling like there were still two excursions I wish I could have gone on. You do spend a lot of time in the vans as most of the hikes and sites are 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half away, but this isn’t Disneyland and no lodge can be close to everything.

In terms of Tom’s execution, the details were pretty flawless. Besides our international flights that we booked ourselves, there were five internal flights and numerous van/driver/guide combinations throughout this trip. There were no glitches at all—everyone was where they were supposed to be at the right time. And all of our guides were full of personality, which is important for our group. Of course, they knew all the geographical and historical details as we would expect, but they were also really fun and personable.

I can’t stress enough that if you can afford the time and money, make sure to see both Patagonia and the Atacama Desert. Unforgettable.

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Barcelona & Lisbon: no crowds, comfortable weather…

LISA POWERS | JANUARY 23, 2024

We just returned from an amazing winter vacation in Barcelona and Lisbon. We selected Luis because of his expertise in both Spain and Portugal. We traveled with our 2 college-aged kids and wanted to make sure they were as excited about the itinerary as we were. Silvia, who was our primary contact, did a terrific job balancing all of our needs and interests.

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

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

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

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Belize: climbing Mayan ruins, riding horses, catch-and-cook boat trip…

ROBYN SMYERS | JANUARY 23, 2024

I knew just who to call after deciding last-minute to book a family vacation over the Christmas to New Year’s holidays — Wendy Perrin WOW travel agent Patricia. In a matter of days, Patricia organized a world-class 12-day trip for our family us to Belize, with features that kept our 3 kids (ages 17, 17 and 20) engaged and happy, including climbing Mayan ruins, riding horses, lounging at the pool and snorkeling. Lots of snorkeling.

Christmas Day was spent relaxing on and snorkeling off of idyllic islands near the village of Placencia. New Year’s Eve was spent on a “catch and cook” adventure off the coast of Ambergris Caye with dive master and boat captain extraordinaire Carlos Cordova. We fished for bait, dove for conch and lobster, and went fishing. Then we cooked our catches on the beach. The highlight was ceviche made with fresh conch, lobster and fish. We particularly enjoyed the accommodations at Hidden Valley Wilderness Ranch and Naia Resort & Spa in Placencia. Patricia, Rachael and Josue were in regular communication with us throughout the trip. They even rearranged one of our outings when they noticed the weather forecast didn’t look favorable. We couldn’t have asked for a better family trip.

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Sicily: archaeology hikes, food and wine…

BARBARA GROSS | JANUARY 22, 2024

We are just back from an AMAZING, perfectly planned and executed trip to Sicily. Marcello is the gold standard of travel planners. He created a perfectly curated, balanced itinerary and checked in daily to make sure all was going smoothly. We could not have covered as much as we did (in 9 days) without having private drivers, who were excellent—especially Josie who started with us in Palermo. We covered a lot of ground in Sicily with a full schedule each day, but somehow it never felt rushed.

While January might not be the ideal time to visit Sicily (with the weather less than cooperative!), we saw, learned, engaged, and met wonderful people all along the way—from Palermo and surrounding towns Monreale, Castebuono, Cefalu to Villa Romana del Casale, Agrigento, Testa del Aqua, Noto, Siracusa/Ortiega to Mt Etna. More than anything, getting to know Sicilians—over good conversations, culinary experiences, archaeology hikes, tours, food and wine—was the highlight of the entire trip. Marcello’s selection of guides and hosts was superb. Perhaps the highlight of many highlights was the final day at Mt. Etna guided by Salvo (a vulcanologist) followed by our visit to the Santa Maria La Nava Winery for a tour, wine-tasting and lunch hosted by Vera and Carmello. They epitomized the warmth, welcome and pride of purpose we found everyday during this first visit to Sicily. We look forward to returning soon to this stunning, fascinating, history-filled island.

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Peru: Machu Picchu, Cusco, Sacred Valley…

JIM STOCK | JANUARY 22, 2024

My granddaughter and I just returned from our latest adventure, this time in Peru.

This was our third New Year’s adventure organized by Allie. Our other two experiences being the Galapagos Islands and Santiago/Easter Island, Chile. This trip’s primary objective was the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Allie did not disappoint. We had a great 11 days. We were greeted by our guide Nick and driver Eduardo at the Cusco Airport. The guide and driver were a perfect fit for us. We had been given a heads-up about our guide. It seemed as if we already knew Nick and had been friends in the past, he was very kind and knowledgeable.

We promptly departed to the Sacred Valley, where we spent the next 6 days. Our base in the Sacred Valley was the Sol y Luna Hotel. Could not have asked for better accommodations. We visited many Inca sites. Nick explained the purpose of each. We also had a day of white water rafting. The Urubamba market is open twice a week, so we took the opportunity to shop with the locals. Being the new year, the flowers were aplenty, yellow, a color of note to the Peruvians at New Year. The highlight of the trip was Machu Picchu citadel. Pictures do not do it justice. The vastness of the site in the clouds and the river far below. It was beautiful!

On New Year’s Eve we had good intentions on staying up to ring in the new year but Allie had other plans, gratefully and thankfully. The next morning we returned very early to the citadel. Allie was able to obtain tickets for Huayna Picchu. Tickets are in a limited number. We were very fortunate as many people are disappointed when they find out tickets are not available. Allie had procured ours well in advance. My granddaughter climbed Huayna Picchu, also known as “the stairs of death,” an experience she will never forget.

We returned to Cusco for a day, then it was off to the Amazon. Our flight was from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, gateway to the Peruvian Amazon. That was followed by a 45-minute powered canoe ride to the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, an eco lodge and our home for the next three days. We had a riverside cabana on the Madre del Dias River. In the mornings, we could hear howler monkeys and other unknown critters. It was the rainy season, so we had rain and thunderstorms daily. The weather did not hamper our activities, actually the weather was part of the experience. Although we had a twilight boat excursion and jungle canopy walks, our highlight was fishing on Lake Valencia. An optional tour again arranged by Allie well in advance. We went Piranha fishing followed by a shore lunch. This wasn’t a typical fish trip shore lunch. In addition to the fresh fish we had a buffet of fruits, beef, veggies, salads and dessert.

Unfortunately, our time had run out, we had to get back to the States. One night in Lima and then a long day of traveling back home. I said earlier that this was our third New Year’s adventure organized by Allie, which was my favorite. All were unique, different experiences and introduced us to some great people. Before deciding on Peru, we had looked into going to Costa Rica, neither myself nor my granddaughter could get into any of the proposed itineraries, something was missing. At that point I said e-mail Allie! Let’s go to Peru! I am glad we did.

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Panama: VIP canal tour, cloud forest, beach time…

BETH NELSON | JANUARY 20, 2024

Pierre designed a trip that was perfect for us! We started in Panama City where we had a walking tour and a VIP tour of the Panama Canal. Usually canal visitors can only look from a balcony but we were able to walk out onto the canal deck and see the operations up close with our private guide.

Next we had a short flight to David and then drove to Boca Chica and spent 3 days at the beach. Christmas Day was spent on the water in a private boat. We snorkeled, swam and had a picnic on a private island. We even water skied! Our resort, Bocas Del Mar, was an excellent choice for our family of 5. We had 2 rooms and 1 had a kitchen, which is helpful when trying to feed hungry kids.

Following the beach we drove to Boquete. Spending time in the cloud forest was like a completely different trip. We stayed at a coffee plantation and drank the best coffee I’ve ever had. We did a guided, challenging hike to the 3 lost waterfalls. A highlight was shopping at the market with a chef and cooking traditional Panamanian food in his restaurant.

We flew back to Panama City for the last day and did a private tour of Monkey Island, a boat tour on the lake of the Panama Canal. We were up close to the ships traversing the canal. A highlight was seeing (and feeding!) the wild monkeys. Our guide was able to get a monkey come onto our boat, where we fed it a grape out of our hands.

Pierre arranged private bilingual drivers. They were prompt and professional and were happy to tell us about local culture and current political issues. They even stopped at grocery stores at our request. Another guide helped us barter at a market. Our lodging was comfortable and in great locations. The entire trip was well planned and went smoothly. Thanks Pierre!

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Eastern Europe: celebrating Christmas while teaching teens about conflicts past and present

BETH NURY | JANUARY 18, 2024

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

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

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

Gwen’s tour guides were the best part of our trip. During our first four days in Budapest, Julia explained to us the devastating history of the Jewish population and how close to 500,000 citizens were murdered during WWII. She also arranged an enjoyable boat tour (the boat had heat!) on the chilly Danube, pointing out architectural landmarks on the Buda and Pest side, while cruising on the river. In Prague, our guide Christina spent the rainy morning with us inside the Strahov Monastery, an active monastery that houses the largest collection of Bibles in the world, and gave us a VIP tour of its two main halls, the Philosophical and Theological halls. In Poland, we toured Auschwitz privately with Wojtek Smolen, a tour guide with over 30 years of experience who had two family members imprisoned at the concentration camp. His narration and walking tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau was fact-based, with no political slant. The things I saw that day — the massive size and scope of the concentration camp, the vast piles of victims’ strands of hair, abandoned shoes and suitcases on display, will forever be tattooed on my brain.

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

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

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Australia: diving the reef, driving the Great Ocean Road, breakfast with kangaroos…

JANET KUZMISHIN | JANUARY 17, 2024

Travelers celebrating New Year's Eve at the Opera Bar in Sydney, Australia.

The Kuzmishin family celebrating New Year’s Eve at the Opera Bar in Sydney.

Stuart’s office planned a fabulous trip for the 4 of us to Australia. We loved our itinerary. After the cyclone hit, our activities needed to be adjusted and they managed the rescheduling seamlessly.

In the Blue Mountains, we got to have breakfast as kangaroos were hopping around in the wild!

Lizard Island in the Great Barrier Reef was a highlight. The scuba diving was phenomenal. We borrowed a dinghy from the resort for a day and checked out other beaches on the island. We were launched with emergency supplies and a luxury picnic lunch. The snorkeling right from the beaches was phenomenal with turtles and giant clams.

We drove the Great Ocean Road. My husband managed to stay on the left side of the road! It was beautiful. We saw waterfalls, the 10 Apostles, and hiked to see koalas.

After 2 weeks, we were sorry to leave. It is a huge country and we hope to go back and use Stuart’s team again.

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Panama: colonial charm, cloud forest, the canal…

TINA HUNT | JANUARY 16, 2024

My husband, 21-year-old son, and I had a fabulous time in Panama, organized by Pierre and his team. We were late in planning the trip for the week after Christmas but Pierre was able to help us with the right recommendations and accommodations. We stayed in the old part of Panama City—very charming and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Seeing the Panama Canal was the highlight of the trip for us—an absolute must-do for anyone visiting. We could not visit the private exhibit halls because they were unexpectedly closed, due to no fault of Pierre’s, but he was kind enough to treat us to a dinner to make up for it. We also visited monkey island (taking a boat next to big ships in the canal was awesome) and the sloth sanctuary.

We visited Boquete in the mountains for 3 nights and absolutely loved it. It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde. Highlights there included an adventurous 4×4 jeep ride to the top of Baru Volcano for sunrise and seeing both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, a fun cooking experience with the chef of Ngadri restaurant, hanging bridges, and tour of a coffee plantation.

We celebrated New Year’s in Panama City at one of the rooftop restaurants with great music and an excellent multi-course dinner and Champagne. Very memorable. All 3 of us really enjoyed Panama and look forward to going back again.

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Thailand & Laos: biking, elephants, local festival…

RITA SOLOMON | JANUARY 14, 2024

We highly recommend Dan’s office, which provided great guides, hotels, and activities for our family trip to Thailand and Laos. They planned a fun and memorable WOW Moment in Bangkok, but also incorporated other nice surprises. Even though it wasn’t on the itinerary, our guide Son took us to a large festival at a university in Chiang Mai after the day’s planned bike ride through the countryside, which ended up being my son’s favorite activity. We were the only tourists, and Son surprised us with foot massages. We also loved the visit to the Patara elephant camp. I’ve been to several elephant camps, and this was my favorite. I’ll never forget the time I spent with a baby elephant. In Bangkok, Nadia took us to a rooftop bar with stunning views and a great tour of old Thailand through the canals; we felt like we were out with a friend. In Laos, Kham treated us to a baci ceremony and a dance performance to wish us luck for our journey home, which wasn’t an official “WOW Moment” but definitely qualified as one. He also took us to meet with a shaman in a Hmong village.

Dan’s recommendation of the Six Senses on Ko Yao Not for the beach part of the vacation was perfect, especially since I’ve already been to other resorts in southern Thailand. The hotel staff is amazing, and the views from the villas and the main pool are incredible (check out the website). We also enjoyed visits to the resort’s chickens and feeding the goats, and of course, an amazing private boat trip to Phang Na Bay. The Luang Prabang Rosewood hotel rooms, many of which have views of a natural waterfall, are also lovely. We recommend the hotel’s alms-giving experience with Noi at a nearby village with no other tourists (at around 5:30 a.m.), which is booked through the hotel. We hope to return to Thailand and will definitely plan our next trip through Dan’s team.

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Austria, Slovakia & Czech Republic: Christmas week with special access and meals

SUSAN SULLIVAN | JANUARY 14, 2024

Gwen and her team planned a wonderful Christmas week in Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. This is the second trip with Gwen and she impressed us once again. Both hotels — the Sans Souci Hotel in Vienna and the Andaz in Prague — were great choices. Both were near the center but in a quieter area. The rooms, staff and breakfasts were lovely.

The guides in all three locations were personable and knowledgeable. All transfers were on time and efficient.

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

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

Gwen and her team suggested terrific restaurants, including two outstanding meals at Michelin-starred restaurants Field and La Degustation in Prague.

It was a wonderful vacation — the days spent in each location were just right.

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Copenhagen & Norway: city sights and northern lights

KATE OGG | JANUARY 11, 2024

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

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

My husband, Ryan Ogg and I and our three children, Will (17), Charlotte (15), and Wyatt (12), went to Copenhagen, Denmark and Oslo and Alta, Norway, from December 28, 2023 through January 6, 2024. Will is graduating from high school this Spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation this year. He wanted to go someplace cold, snowy and dark, where we could do some fun outdoor adventures, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (which we had tried and failed to do in Iceland a couple of years ago). We stopped in Copenhagen on the way to check out another city and have a couple of fun dinners out before our rural adventures. We were not disappointed by any of it! It was a fantastic trip. Copenhagen was still pretty magical the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we found some good restaurants despite a few of the ones we had hoped for being closed. We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks, shopped and just enjoyed the festive vibe. The next day we started the day with a boat ride through the harbor and some of the bigger canals, which gave us a sense of the city’s geography as well as a lot of the architecture. Afterwards, we had a guide and driver who showed us the highlights. With just a day, we didn’t want to spend too much time in any one location, but got to see the Little Mermaid, the Royal Castle and a couple of the horses, parliament, the outer edges of the hippie commune of Christiana, and a few more historic sights.

The next day we went out into the countryside, driving along the seaside to the Hamlet castle and then inland to another, before heading to the airport and to Oslo. Oslo was all closed while we were there because it was both Sunday and New Year’s Eve, but a walk through the sculpture garden, to the Fram museum to see a polar expedition ship, and a chance to see the Nobel buildings and then along the harbor was a nice way to spend the day before a fancy dinner at our hotel (The Thief) and a midnight toast on the roof. On New Year’s morning in a snowstorm we made it to Oslo airport and up to dark Alta. The Sorrisniva Hotel was fully booked by the time we planned our trip (August), so we stayed in a little fishing lodge in the woods, down the driveway from Tristin and Trine Restaurant and past some sled dogs. It was absolutely charming, and best of all, the very first night as we walked out of our lodge to dinner, the sky lit up with northern lights that continued to brighten and dance until we gave up and went to bed. I credit our very dark spot in the woods for the fantastic viewing. Our adventures in snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snow shoeing, and king-crab fishing all showed us different parts of the landscape and culture in Northern Norway, and it was just…magical. We truly loved it.

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Ecuador: Galapagos, Andes, Amazon…

LAUREN SCHOR | JANUARY 10, 2024

Travelers on Bartolomé island in the Galapagos.

Lauren Schor and family on Bartolomé island in the Galapagos.

Allie did an amazing job planning our 13-day multi-generational family trip to Ecuador for Christmas 2023. We started planning almost a year in advance. Most accommodations are smaller with about 20 rooms total, and I would definitely suggest planning this trip well in advance as availability dictated the outline of our trip from the beginning of the planning process. And we LOVED all of the places we stayed! Allie suggested destinations she thought were right for us, based on our travel style and age range. We spent a day in Quito (that’s really all you need) before heading out to the Galapagos Islands. We opted for a land-based trip rather than a cruise, and although we didn’t get to see as many islands as we would have if we stayed on a boat, we were very happy with our choice. We spent four days in the Galapagos (two on land exploring Santa Cruz Island—so much to see and do) and two at sea exploring multiple islands in the archipelago. Allie even arranged for a private family photoshoot on the most beautiful beach! We felt like this was enough time in the Galapagos, though it would have been nice to have one day to just relax by the pool or hit one more island.

Next stop was in the Andes mountains back on the mainland at an amazing hacienda where we really got a feel for the culture of the country. After a couple of days here, it was time for the grand finale, the Amazon Rainforest. We all thought the Galapagos would be the main highlight of a trip to Ecuador, but the Amazon was just mind-blowing. Allie sent us to the most amazing eco-lodge in a very remote location where we spent three nights. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Ecuador was very unique in that we were able to spend time in the Galapagos, the Andes Mountains and the Amazon all in one trip! Just be aware, we had a lot of very early mornings and very little downtime (naps during transit were common). Some of the excursions can be physically challenging if you don’t have great balance or stamina, especially combined with the strong equator sun. And there is a lot of moving around and time spent traveling from one place to another. However, it was all 100% worth it! Allie planned the trip of a lifetime for our family of eight!

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Belize: Christmas/New Year’s with family and friends

DAN RING | JANUARY 9, 2024

The Ring family and friends at the Indian Creek Mayan Arts Women's Group, Belize.

The Ring family and friends at the Indian Creek Mayan Arts Women’s Group, where they learned local cooking techniques, basket-weaving, and a traditional dance.

Our family (parents, 1 teen and 4 20-somethings) and 2 friends of my adult children visited Belize for 2 weeks over the Christmas/New Year’s Holiday season. We stayed in San Pedro at the Grand Caribe and The Enclave in Placencia. There were complicated logistics with some people traveling from different cities and joining at later dates, and Patricia’s office handled that incredibly well. The housing options recommended were luxurious and enjoyable as well. Patricia’s team did a fantastic job of keeping everything on track while we were in Belize and checking in with us to fine-tune trips. Our family’s favorite excursions were the trip to Xunantunich, the sunset Catamaran rides, a helicopter charter over the Blue Hole, river tubing in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve and snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve. They organized a private chef to make us meals in our villa in San Pedro, which is a tip when large families travel at the holidays—sometimes it is difficult to get a reservation for a large group.

Patricia’s office excelled at communication and trip-planning process in the months leading up to the trip, when we were deciding what the trip would look like. Also, in terms of value added to the trip, they organized a surprise singer/guitar player that came to play for our son’s birthday party and another surprise picnic after our river-tubing excursion, both of which were completely appreciated and really great highlights of our trip.

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Colombia: history, adventure, culture, fun…

LYNN HERRICK | JANUARY 7, 2024

Sliding in Medellin's hilly Comuna 13 neighborhood.

Lynn Herrick’s son tries out a slide in Medellin’s hilly Comuna 13 neighborhood. Photo: Traveler Lynn Herrick

We have been fortunate to take many Wendy Perrin-approved trips, and worked with many excellent trip planners. However, Boris and his team are the best. From our first call with Boris, where we were just exploring the idea of visiting Colombia, to our final itinerary, the team did an incredible job. They even sent us music, reading material and other media suggestions to help us prepare for Colombia. This was a family trip with my three college-aged kids and my husband. So, we wanted a bit of history, a bit of adventure, a bit of culture and a lot of fun. Our trip started in Cartagena with the best tour guide ever, Will. Not only was Will’s dad the mayor of Cartagena, so we got to visit town hall, but he quickly got to know each of us and tailored our tours to our personalities. The kids even scheduled a secret outing with him to surprise me with emerald earrings for my birthday! In Cartagena we ate street food we would have never tried, learned salsa dancing, took a cooking class with a cantankerous French chef and made the best ceviche ever, went canoeing in the mangroves, learned to drum with a local group, and participated in a rum and cacao tasting. We also fell in love with this hot, romantic, beautiful Caribbean town.

Next on the itinerary was the coffee region. We visited the Wax Palm trees, zip lined, rafted and spent a special morning at a coffee plantation. We all loved learning about the coffee industry in Colombia, enjoyed the delicious lunch that was served, and agreed the organic coffee was special. We spent our last three nights in Medellin. While we learned about Colombia’s violent history throughout the trip, this was our opportunity to visit the countryside and hear from farmers how both the left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries imposed themselves on the farming communities and how many fled to Medellin during this time. The next day in Medellin, we took the cable cars to visit the barrio and see how those who escaped the civil war in the countryside built homes into the hills and created new communities. On our final day, we visited the memorial museum and then the very vibrant, and exciting, Comuna 13 where urban art and music are thriving. Throughout Colombia we ate the most delicious food, fruits and drinks. We will be craving coconut lemonade for a long time!

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Australia: Christmas trip with 3 generations

DENISE STAAL | JANUARY 7, 2024

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

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

Our granddaughter needed a doctor and Jacki provided a list of doctors (outside of regular hours and during the Christmas holiday!) and Tyler (Langham Concierge that day) made repeated calls to get us an appointment. Both Jacki and Stuart followed up with her status. The parents were very impressed with Childrens Hospital in Sydney where she was treated and we went on with our trip.

We will be using Stuart and Jacki again for our next trip to Australia — they just made it so easy!

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Southeast Asia: 25 days in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand…

LINDA SHOREY | JANUARY 3, 2024

My husband and I traveled to SE Asia for 25 days in December 2023 on a trip designed by Sandy and Ethan. While we have traveled to over 50 countries, Asia was a continent we had barely touched and one we decided we could use assistance in visiting. While Vietnam was the centerpiece, given the journey required to get there, we included 3 other countries as well — Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. The trip had a total of 14 flights on 4 different airlines and 9 airports. The most challenging air transit was connecting international flights on different PNRs in Bangkok, where without assistance we might still be figuring it out. Sandy and Ethan were easy to work with and all but one of the local hosts they arranged were personable and joys to spend time with.

At each stop, we had a local host and driver. The problem we had with them all was getting them to believe we were serious about wanting to walk and walk a lot — it seems we were not typical! We were able to convince most of them that we were serious walkers and not troubled by the heat and humidity, although we had to add walks on our own in each city visited to get near our usual daily distance! Walking in the cities (other than Bangkok) was an adventure as motorcycles and cars do not stop for pedestrians. You just walk slowly and steadily across the lanes of traffic and the vehicles go around you — not for the faint of heart. And walking on sidewalks is often not possible as vehicles park on them and vendors set up shop.

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

Another highlight was arranged by our wonderful local Hanoi host Mike — we got to meet a former North Vietnam fighter pilot trained to fly in Russia. He shot down the first American fighter in the War and was later shot down by an American pilot. The 3 met in the 1990’s and still remain in contact. We met in his home where he showed us pictures and we learned not only about his war experience but about his family and his life post-war. In Saigon, our most excellent local host Candy joined us at the Lex Hotel where we learned about the “five o’clock follies” when the South Vietnam officials provided daily updates about the War to journalists. Candy did a great job explaining about how North Vietnam infiltrated South Vietnam and got weapons in. She took us to a house where NV soldiers and ammunition were hid in a basement bunker. She also took us to the post office and helped us mail cards to friends and see the kindergarteners, dressed in Santa hats, learn how to mail their letters to Santa.

In Cambodia our passionate and delightful local host Sokros delved into the Cambodia genocide with us, as we had requested. We visited the “prison” Pol Pot established in a high school in Phnom Penh and the associated “killing field” a few kilometers from the city. We discussed the recently concluded judicial inquiry into the genocide crimes and met one of the 7 (out of 20,000) survivors of those imprisoned in the prison. On a happier note was a visit to Oudong with its ancient ruins and the, relatively, new mausoleum housing Buddha relics given to Cambodia by Sri Lanka. The National Museum of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh should not be missed.

We finished the trip in Bangkok where local host Kat was a treasure. She guided us on an enjoyable walk from the grounds of the royal palace to the Chinese market. We enjoyed two wonderful lunches with her where she chose a variety of delicious Thai dishes for us to sample and shared stories about life in Thailand. On our last day, we visited one of the ancient seats of power of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. They were much busier than the ancient ruins in Cambodia but quite impressive.

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Egypt with kids: ATV ride, sand surfing, Nile cruise…

ASHLEY POINT | JANUARY 3, 2024

Travelers on a camel ride near the Pyramids of Giza.

Ashley Point and her family on a camel ride near the Pyramids of Giza.

Wow! What an amazing trip. We just returned from Egypt. Jim, Glenda and their team did an extraordinary job planning our 2-week trip. Our family of 5, including 3 kids aged 6-11 years old, started in Cairo with the Pyramids of Giza (including camel and ATV rides around the pyramids). Our guide, Eman Shawky Mahmoud, was wonderful. She is pursuing her PhD in archaeology and knows everything about Egypt. Our 11-year-old had just completed ancient history and he asked so many questions and she answered them all. For three days we toured pyramids, museums, etc. We all enjoyed climbing into two pyramids. We also did a Bellies en Route walking food tour. It was wonderful to see and taste the city with the help of a local. We stayed in connecting rooms at the Four Seasons. The food, service and rooms were top-notch.

After 4 days we flew to Luxor and met with our second guide, Bishoy George. He has two children and knew how to accommodate our needs when the kids were tired. He too is an expert on the history and culture of Egypt. We stayed at the Winter Palace. It was beautiful. The kids woke up Christmas morning to stockings filled with candy and gifts from the hotel!

After two nights, we boarded the M/S Farah and cruised the Nile. This smaller boat (120 passengers) was perfect for our family. The pool was a nice distraction after a long day of touring. They offered to make special meals for the kids, but they weren’t needed because the kids loved all of the dishes served. The staff on the Farah were the best with their towel creations each night, ice cream every afternoon and very clean accommodations. George met us at each port and showed us around each city. He answered all of our questions about the history, culture, politics, and people of Egypt. On our last night of the cruise, we went sand surfing in Aswan. It was a blast!

The next day we flew to Abu Simbel, then to back to Cairo to enjoy two more days with Eman at the GEM and Islamic Cairo.

Jim addressed all of our safety concerns, but we trusted that he knew Egypt best and he did. We never felt unsafe. The Egyptians were kind and friendly and happy to share their beautiful country with us.

We are already booking our next trip with a WOW planner!

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

ROBIN LOUIS | DECEMBER 30, 2023

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 3rd world 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, 2 stays in the desert, a visit to a Bedouin household and stays in 3 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 travellers 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 and crew did a great job of the arrangements in Oman, everything unfolded exactly as planned.

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Norway: winter wonderland with northern lights

REKHA MANKAD | DECEMBER 18, 2023

Norway was truly magical! I had an unexpected week off after Thanksgiving and saw Norway pop up on the Wendy Perrin newsletter. After speaking with Torunn, I was sold. Torunn, Mari and the team gave me a great itinerary as a solo traveler with only a week available. I rode the magical Flam Railway and was mesmerized by Hafslo. The pictures I took did not fully capture the beauty I had the privilege of witnessing. BesteBekken was the best place to stay. Lindis cooked all the meals (accommodating all dietary restrictions) and was the tour guide to boot. We bonded in just the few short days. Her alpacas were adorable as well!

Next it was travel up north to the Lofoten Islands. Despite needing to change planes a few times, the process went off so smoothly. I was a bit anxious about renting a car but Torunn’s team was absolutely correct that this was the way to go. The apartment I stayed at in Henningsvær was on the water and a perfect location for the places I needed to get to. I had a blast making cheese with organic cheesemakers and making glass beads with a seasoned glassmaker. We were unlucky with our Northern Lights excursion but learned a lot about the physics behind their occurrence. Luck visited me the next night when I saw the lights while walking to dinner. This trip was an unexpected joy. I can’t wait to visit again in other seasons. But to be honest, I would totally go back in the winter again (so many more places to visit in this winter wonderland).

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British Virgin Islands: yacht charter over New Year’s

ANDY SHAPIRO | JANUARY 8, 2024

We’ve done the 7-day private yacht charters twice before to Greece, August of 2016, and Croatia, May of 2018, but for various reasons (i.e. boat was tired and was not remotely close to what the pictures on-line presented; Captain and/or crew was lazy; food and beverages were mediocre; I used a typical travel agent, not a yacht broker, for one trip; I organized the other yacht trip myself on-line; etc.) these experiences fell far short of my expectations.

Approximately five years ago we started using Wendy Perrin’s WOW List experts to plan various trips such as India, Sicily, Amalfi Coast, Thailand, et al and were extremely pleased with all of these travel adventures. Although we were certainly disappointed with our past private yacht trips, my family and I loved various aspects about the private yacht experience (i.e. the solitude of the water without hundreds or thousands of other passengers; having a boat to yourself and making plans with the Captain where you want to go; total flexibility; being barefoot from start to finish; comfy clothes and/or bathing suits everyday; incredible views from everywhere; spectacular sunsets and moon rises; being in awe of the sky-filled stars at night; finding private coves or islands to explore, have fun and/or spend the night; being as active or as inactive as anyone wants anytime; the air and sea are very soothing and relaxing; experiencing the yachting world for a week; etc.) and after a long break I especially wanted to give it another try. We decided our next and possibly final private yacht attempt would be to the British Virgin Islands over New Year’s. We heard the BVI is a beautiful and very popular destination for the private yachts, the weather should be nice and our kids, 24 and 27, were available to join us.

Total transparency, our daughter and son, and even my wife, were resistant to the private yacht charter given our past history combined with the fact that trips with our entire family because of our kids’ ages, their jobs, etc. were getting much more difficult to organize. They were lobbying for a new Four Seasons in Mexico but with some convincing and definitely reluctantly, were prepared to give the private yacht one more try. I really wanted to do everything I could to get it right this time.

I reviewed WP’s WOW List and saw there was a “Yacht Charters” section but there were no specific WOW List expert(s) highlighted, only to “ASK WENDY” if interested. I emailed WP and conveyed what we were thinking. The response was “We do not yet have a Yacht WOW Expert BUT are currently working with someone who handles different parts of the world for private yacht charters including the Caribbean/BVI who we have high hopes for. With that caveat we will gladly put you in contact with her if you’d like. Her name is Mandy.” Why not?

Sidebar — I have since learned that there is a rigorous, extensive and extended vetting process for any travel expert who makes the WOW List. Moreover, the WOW List is constantly being evaluated, which is why reviews and honest feedback is so important. I’ve also learned and seen that making the WOW List does not guarantee one will stay on the WOW List. The WOW experts earn (or can lose) their place on the list with every trip. I love this!

I started communicating with Mandy via phone, email and text. I liked her and was impressed immediately. Mandy’s intelligent questions, professionalism, enthusiasm, very apparent expertise and experience with private yacht charters, detailed and prompt (very important to me) follow up, really trying to thoroughly understand what we liked and didn’t like from our past yacht experiences, and perhaps most important, what we wanted in our BVI yacht adventure, was all giving me a confidence and comfort level.

This BVI yacht charter was just going to be for our family of four. Based upon our past experiences we only needed three cabins and a boat ranging in size from 55’ to 80’ would work well. We also felt a total crew of two (Captain and Chef who also acted in the crew capacity) would be perfectly fine for our family of four if that option was available, which it was. I wanted a beautiful, upscale, elegant, very comfortable, good size cabins each with a shower and toilet, ideally with good Wi-Fi, well maintained, luxurious boat. I wanted lots of toys — water skiing, 2 person Kayak, 2 paddle boards, snorkeling gear, etc. I wanted an experienced, safety minded Captain who on our 7 days’ charter would give us a BVI greatest hits with the islands we visit. Equally important, I wanted an awesome Chef!

Mandy took note of all of these criteria and started emailing me various boats and crew to review and discuss. Though some were interesting and may have been a possibility, it wasn’t until Mandy excitedly called me and said “I have your boat and crew! It’s perfect! You’re going to love it!” It was because of Mandy’s private yachting expertise and experience that she knew of an amazing boat and crew that was doing charters in the Bahamas and became aware that they were switching to the BVI for the upcoming season and called me immediately. I loved what I saw and we locked it up immediately and this was 14 months prior to our trip. TIP — I’ve learned finding the right boat and crew and using an excellent yacht broker like Mandy is critical to having a great experience, so give yourself plenty of time to do your research and then lock it up, especially if you are planning your trip during the busy season, which New Year’s and Christmas are the two busiest weeks for the BVI yacht charters!

Long story short…my family and I were blown away by this boat and crew! Everything about it was amazing and met or exceeded my criteria! The food and beverages throughout (i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner) everyday were extraordinary, including a nine-course seafood tasting menu on New Year’s! The meals we had on this trip were some of the best food we’ve had anywhere in the world! This entire 7-day yacht experience from start to finish FAR exceeded all of our expectations! It was absolutely perfect! We all LOVED it! Everyone in my family not only declared this easily our best yacht experience but our best fun-and-sun trip and our best New Year’s! We will always be grateful to WP and Mandy for making this BVI private yacht trip one of our most memorable family experiences! I’m also very pleased to say that the Shapiro family private yachting adventures will continue…

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

Ask Wendy


Egypt: Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Nile cruise…

SANDY COLLINS | DECEMBER 15, 2023

Travelers at the pyramids of Giza all by themselves.

Sandy and Art Collins get a view of the pyramids of Giza all to themselves.

We just returned from a 15-day trip to Egypt that Jim and Arlene expertly planned. We felt perfectly safe in Egypt and well cared for. The VIP process once we stepped off the plane in Cairo was flawless. At the jetway our first rep had a sign with our name and whisked us through the airport to a lovely private lounge with food and refreshments. We gave him our passports and luggage claim checks and he told us he would deal with immigration and fetch our luggage. We loved this VIP process, since the airport was a madhouse when we landed at 5:30 AM and doing this ourselves would not have been fun.

Thirty minutes later we were driven by private car to the Four Seasons Nile Plaza, which is a beautiful hotel. We already had a Nile-view room but somehow Arlene got us upgraded to a suite overlooking the Nile!! She also alerted every hotel and our cruise ship that it was our 35th anniversary, and we had a small cake with our Anniversary inscribed everywhere we visited—very thoughtful!

The Abu Simbel tour was outstanding. Our Nubian guide was a fountain of information on the Great Temple of Ramses II and his favorite wife, Nefertari. The site was incredible, with both temples being moved/saved by the monumental efforts of UNESCO. We then moved to the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract in Aswan. Arlene booked a beautiful suite with a Nile view, and we sat on the balcony looking at all the feluccas sailing by, which was so relaxing. The hotel is beautiful and has so much history where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile. We found out that the hotel gives a tour of ‘special rooms’ each day, and that was a real treat.

We took a felucca (traditional Egyptian sailboat) from the Old Cataract for a 30-minute camel excursion to St. Simeon’s Monastery. What a great preserved Coptic monastery, founded in the 7th century. We were the only tourists in the site and had it all to ourselves. Our guide was great friends with the gentleman who has been working at the monastery for 10 years, and we climbed to the top wall that overlooked the desert—it was stunning!

The next morning we boarded a felucca on a sailing excursion around Elephantine and Kitchener Islands. We thought we were heading back to the Old Cataract when our guide announced we were having lunch on the boat. We then pulled up in our felucca to a yacht with a crew which included a chef, and we were gobsmacked that this was our WOW Moment! We enjoyed a beautifully prepared lunch and relaxed on our private yacht for the afternoon sailing down the Nile. Thank you so much, Wendy, for this special treat!!!

Our last stop on our trip was a sneak peak of the Grand Egyptian Museum, which we were so excited about. We were thrilled at this point to see the floating Obelisk and 30-foot statue of Ramses II, along with some other Pharaonic items in the main hallway. Our guide, Rania, surprised us as we entered the GEM and told us that the grand staircase up to the top of the GEM just opened several weeks ago and it was just fantastic! Art and I loved working with Arlene, and we intend to go back to Egypt once the GEM is fully open and also want to explore the White Desert, Siwa Oasis, and Jordan.

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Ecuador: historic haciendas, artisans, birding…

MARY STROHM | DECEMBER 14, 2023

Travelers at Ingapirca, Inca ruins in Ecuador.

Chris and Mary Strohm at Ingapirca, the most significant Inca ruins in Ecuador. Photo: Wilson Galarza

When Allie first interviewed us to plan our trip to Ecuador, we told her we wanted to hike in the Andes, stay in old, historic haciendas and explore artisan activities. Between November 21 and December 1 we followed a very well-planned and paced itinerary traveling from Quito to Cuenca with two outstanding guides.

When we first met Henry at the beautiful Casa Gangotena in Quito we knew we were going to have a terrific trip. Henry’s all-encompassing knowledge of Ecuador, paired with his attention to detail and easy-going ability to pivot, made him a great match for us. Thanks to him, we found the best wood-fired bizcoches in San Pedro de Cayama and enjoyed finding Ecuadorian birds.

The literal high point of our trip was on the continental divide at 13,000’ in Caja National Park. There, with our excellent guide Wilson, we hiked, birded, identified wildflowers and successfully fly-fished for beautiful Rainbow Trout.

We had a wonderful trip, great activities, beautiful, historic lodging, and warm, friendly welcoming people everywhere. We still have a lot to see and do in Ecuador and look forward to the next trip Allie plans for us!

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New Zealand: hiking, kayaking, mountaintop whisky bar…

SUSAN AND BLAKE HANCOCK | DECEMBER 11, 2023

The Hancock's children in the remote hot tub in the mountains on New Zealand's South Island.

A helicopter brought the Hancock family to this remote hot tub in the mountains on New Zealand’s South Island.

We are the Hancock Family (Mom/Dad, children 23, 21, 18) who traveled to New Zealand 11/26-12/3. We used Jean-Michel’s office. Trip was outstanding. Could not have been more pleased from start to finish. Our 21-year-old son was studying in Australia. He was going to wrap up his trip in New Zealand. The idea came to us to make it a family holiday and meet him over there. The stars aligned and all schedules allowed it to happen. We reached out to Jean-Michel knowing we had limited time in NZ and a short lead time to make the trip happen. First off, Jean-Michel responded to our email inquiry immediately and we were chatting with him 10 minutes later. We tossed ideas around and he assured us we could cover a lot of ground in the 8 days we had. Gillian then reached out to us with options for an initial itinerary. She was great to work with. We were able to openly discuss the details regarding the accommodations and trip activities and what made sense. We tweaked the itinerary accordingly. Communication was always outstanding. Once trip time came we were in contact with Lynn, who was our day-to-day contact while on the ground. The whole team in Jean-Michel’s office, and everyone else including hotel staff, pilots, guides and drivers, executed everything flawlessly. We saw a lot of the South Island by helicopter, we hiked, we kayaked, went to a mountaintop whisky bar and hot tub, went off-roading, drank lots of wonderful NZ wine and cheese. Our accommodations were fantastic. We have traveled the world and Jean-Michel’s team are probably the best trip planners we have used to date. Would definitely recommend them and would use them again for sure.

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Australia: Sydney, outback, Great Barrier Reef…

KARRI SCHILDMEYER | DECEMBER 6, 2023

The Schildmeyer family exploring Lockyer Valley, Australia.

The Schildmeyer family exploring Australia’s Lockyer Valley.

We cannot imagine our trip to Australia going any better than it did, simply because we learned about Wendy Perrin’s company from a dear friend, and their connection to Stuart and Jacki. We spent two weeks in November 2023 visiting our daughter, who was studying abroad in Sydney. Our trip began in Sydney where we spent the first five days learning about the city, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, hugely enjoying a private tour of the Sydney Opera House and our e-bike tour of Manly Beach. Then we ventured outside Brisbane to Lockyer Valley and the quiet, peaceful Spicers Hidden Vale. How fun to chat with the kangaroos outside our cabins! This retreat was perfectly quaint with incredible views, meals and service. After three days in the Valley, we flew to Cairns to spend three days at the Niramaya Spa & Resort. This leg of our trip was the most tropical, as we experienced an amazing day on the water snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and an afternoon at Four Mile Beach. Port Douglas was an incredible seaside town with fantastic restaurants and a must-see sunset at the Marina. We flew back to Sydney for a private sunset cruise of the Harbour (one of our favorite moments!) and headed stateside after our two-week adventures in beautiful, friendly Australia. We didn’t know anything about Australia before our trip and knew we wanted to have support from a reputable travel planner. This vacation exceeded every expectation and will undoubtedly be remembered in our family as a trip of a lifetime. Every detail was considered and we experienced nothing but friendliness, exceptional and professional service. To be able to meet our travel planner in person on our first day was an added blessing. Thank you, Jacki Lang and team, for answering our MANY questions and offering your superb expertise and wonderful recommendations.

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Egypt: Cairo & the Nile for a special birthday

MAEGHAN WHITEHEAD | DECEMBER 6, 2023

My husband and I had such a fabulous time in Egypt thanks to Jim’s and Arlene’s hard work and guidance. We chose Egypt as a milestone birthday trip for my husband, and the whole trip was truly special.

On our first day in Cairo, we saw the Sphinx, Pyramids at Giza, Saqqara, and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. Eman was our Egyptologist in Cairo, and she was simply wonderful. While we enjoyed all guides, Eman was so knowledgeable and naturally struck the right balance between providing us enough information/details and also being helpful with avoiding crowds and finding photo opportunities. Plus, she was just pleasant to be around — it felt like touring Cairo with a family friend. Our first day was so spectacular that I was a little worried no other days would live up to Day 1 (I was wrong).

The highlight of our second day in Cairo was the introduction to the GEM. We got to see the grand staircase which had only been open for maybe two days. It was Eman’s first time to see it, and she was beaming with pride as we went through it. Her excitement was truly contagious.

I loved our two nights in Aswan and REALLY loved the Old Cataract Hotel. For our WOW Moment, we had a sunset dinner on the Nile on a yacht. The experience and the surroundings in Aswan were just amazing. My only regret is that we didn’t have one full day to relax at the hotel, but we made the best use of our time. Abu Simbel completely blew me away. We appreciated Mena’s hospitality — he treated us to soft drinks and shisha at a coffee shop at the Aswan Bazaar.

The dahabiya was a great experience. The crew members who interacted with us were all friendly and welcoming. Hamdy was a knowledgeable guide. The crew and all other passengers sang “happy birthday” to my husband, and it was a lovely celebration. This experience was really special, and one I’ll be really talking up among our friend group.

By the time we got to Luxor, I was worried I might be a little underwhelmed by remaining temples and tombs — that was the furthest from the truth. Queen Nefertari’s Tomb was just incredible — my favorite of all the tombs and temples we visited in the Luxor area. Again, I just wish we’d had one more night at the Winter Palace.

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New Zealand: access to a Maori ceremony, conservation projects, a wood artist…

BARBARA SCHOENFELD | DECEMBER 5, 2023

The guide taking a photo of Barbara and Larry Schoenfeld birdwatching at the Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari ecological park, New Zealand.

Barbara and Larry Schoenfeld birdwatching at the Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari ecological park.

Jean-Michel’s colleague Clare organized five days of interesting, off-the-beaten-path experiences in New Zealand. Clare carved a reasonable itinerary out of such a potentially vast area. One of the highlights was a private guided tour of Maungatautari, a Sanctuary Mountain. It’s an incredible conservation area where they constructed one of the world’s largest pest-proof fences and succeeded in rejuvenating tree and bird species, especially New Zealand’s endangered kiwis. She also arranged for my husband and me to accompany a Maori leader on a spiritual ceremony greeting the dawn, followed by a visit and discussion about Orakei Marae, his tribal community in the hills near Auckland. The next day, we spent a fascinating few hours with Mamakan, a botanical artist who led us through her forest restoration project in Parau and then served us an elegant foraged lunch. A highlight of our trip was the Wendy WOW Moment, a studio visit with Delani Brown, a Maori/Irish wood artist in Taupo who produces giant columns and edifices for buildings and public spaces worldwide. Those experiences were so unusual and specialized that we wouldn’t have known to seek them, and I doubt we could have connected with them on our own.

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India: food tours, artisan visits, elephants…

AMY EVERS | DECEMBER 4, 2023

One of the travelers and the private guide at a block-printing workshop in India.

Amy Evers’ daughter and their private guide at a block-printing workshop in 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!

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Southeast Asia: fishing with locals, cruising Ha Long Bay…

TARA MURPHY | DECEMBER 2, 2023

We hired Sandy and Ethan to plan our three-week trip to South East Asia and were so glad we did. From the first Zoom phone call with them to start planning the trip, we were so impressed with their incredible knowledge of the area and all the interesting ideas they had for us. Both of them have lived for long periods of time in Asia and it really gives them incredible insight and great contacts in all the countries we went to.

I can’t say enough about how wonderful this trip was, we are very active travelers and this was probably the most organized and well-executed trip we’ve ever been on. We went to four different countries and took several flights to cities within those countries; at every stop there was a guide and driver at the airport welcoming us and whisking us off to a beautiful hotel. When available, Sandy and Ethan got us expedited travel through immigration and customs at the airports, which was wonderful and such a time saver.

All our guides were amazing, very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. Sandy and Ethan also gave us great advice on things to do that we might have not done on our own. For example, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Laos; it just didn’t seem like there was a lot there that would interest me, but Sandy really encouraged us to include Laos and I’m so glad he did; it turned out to be one of our favorite places we visited. Another highlight of the trip was a three-day cruise in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Sandy and Ethan picked out the best boat in the harbor and we had one of the nicest rooms on the boat; it was such a treat and we enjoyed that so much. Another highlight of the trip was a day we spent in Vietnam doing local things in the countryside; we rode water buffalo, went fishing in a small boat with nets, met local rice farmers and learned how they grow their crops. It was such a special day meeting real people and learning about their lifestyle, and it would be something that we would’ve never been able to do on our own.

I’m afraid Sandy and Ethan have spoiled us for future trips and that we will expect everything to go as smoothly and seamlessly as it did on this trip to Asia. I cant recommend them enough for travels through Asia.

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Egypt: “We did not feel anxious or alarmed that the current crisis in the neighboring region would affect us”

GEORGE ANIFANTIS | NOVEMBER 29, 2023

The trip to Egypt was wonderful. All our expectations were met in relation to the guides and the places we visited. We really enjoyed going and seeing the temple of Ramesses at Abu Simbel. Something special about it being inside a mountain. Another highlight was actually entering deep into the pyramids and the tombs. Tip: Always go early to the sites: The lack of crowds enhances the magnificence of the pyramids, temples, statues, etc. against the backdrop of the desert. Tip 2: Bring more tipping money than you think you need… As an aside, we took every opportunity to stroll the city streets alone. Everyone was friendly and we did not feel anxious or alarmed that the current crisis in the neighboring region would affect us.

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Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket…

BRENDA OSBORNE | NOVEMBER 28, 2023

Our family (4 couples) just completed a trip to Thailand in November of 2023 which had been postponed from April 2020 due to COVID. We relied on Dan’s team to advise us and make arrangements for our 12-day adventure. We began in Bangkok, which I was hesitant to include because it is such a big city. We loved it, much different than we expected because our guide Nemo took us to so many small local villages and we experienced daily life along the river, traveling in long boats rather than cars. The beautiful Siam hotel was a fantastic choice right on the river so we could hop on a long boat for a lot of our sightseeing. We learned a great deal about Thai culture by visiting temples, royal palaces, amazing markets such as floating – flower – produce – local crafts and merchandise in addition to thousands of food vendors selling delicious tastes to sample. Our guide Nemo was very accommodating, knowledgeable, friendly, truly loved and cared about the Thai people and really wanted to make sure we had the best experience.

We took a short one-hour plane ride to Chiang Mai in the north and checked into The Four Seasons Resort. A much slower pace and quite beautiful. Our guides “Moon” and “Sun” as we called them (officially Mr. Mont) were great, full of information and truly were able to show us their culture through visits to temples and markets. They made sure we tasted our way through Chiang Mai also. We had one day at the Patara Elephant Farm, which was very educational and certainly got us out of our comfort zone by being an elephant caretaker and rider. A once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We took another one-hour flight to Phuket to finish our Thailand stay at a gorgeous private beach house at Trisara. We were not aware that the home came with so many staff to wait on us! We did venture into Phuket one evening for the night market but did more relaxing here. One day we had a chartered boat take us out to the Phi Phi islands for a picnic lunch and scuba diving/snorkeling. The crew was awesome, the weather did not cooperate, however, and we ended up racing to shore early as a result of a thunderstorm. The scuba diving and snorkeling did get completed but some of the gorgeous sights have to wait for another visit. The owner of the charter still managed to bring out a birthday cake in the rain for our son-in-law and when we returned to the house, our staff had decorated in honor of his birthday!

Our guides this entire trip were flexible, able to improvise if needed and just plain fantastic, the transportation and transfers were flawless. We all enjoyed our first visit to Thailand; felt very safe, always smiled watching the locals maneuver through crazy traffic on scooters, felt comfortable trying so many different foods at the markets, so easy to exchange money, sweet people. Dan’s office was great to work with and planned a very memorable trip for us. Highly recommend!

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Brazil: Rio, Paraty, Iguazu Falls…

DARRELL ANDERSON | NOVEMBER 27, 2023

Our thanks to Paul for his careful and complete planning of our amazing southern Brazil excursion!

When we docked in Rio at the conclusion of a two-week cruise, Patricia met us at the terminal and we immediately began two intensive days getting acquainted with the city and its surroundings. She adapted the tour to our interests and covered the must-see features of Rio along with delightful morsels that most visitors probably don’t experience — hidden vistas overlooking the city, a walk through one of the favelas, and much more.

We moved on to Paraty for a complete change of pace, beginning with a private tour of Paraty Bay on a converted fishing boat. We relaxed on the boat as we visited many of the beautiful small bays and islands. We made a stop to swim in the warm Atlantic water and another to enjoy lunch at a great restaurant where all the patrons arrived by boat.

Also near Paraty, we enjoyed a forest hike with Rodrigo and Felipe with a restful stop at a waterfall. After the hike we enjoyed an excellent lunch at Fazenda Bananal prepared from ingredients grown on the farm where it is located. A highlight was a demonstration of produce grown on the farm including the various uses and how some of the exotic fruits and vegetables are opened and eaten.

We finished with our bucket-list item — a visit to Iguazu Falls! What an incredible place! Unfortunately, the only sun we saw there was as we were leaving our hotel for the airport at the conclusion of our visit. But our guide showed us both the Argentine and Brazilian sides of the falls and we thoroughly enjoyed hiking the walkways that brought us to amazing views, despite the need for umbrellas. On our last morning, because our stay at the Belmond Hotel offered us early-morning access to the Brazil-side walkways before the influx of visitors, our guide took us on a hike when almost no one else was on the walkways, all the way down until we stood only a few feet above the crest of one of the nearly 300 individual waterfalls that make up this complex — followed by an elevator ride up to where our driver waited for us.

The entire excursion was a wonderful experience! Our Zoom conference with Paul kicked off the planning and we exchanged emails as the details came together. The resulting plan with the hotel and transportation facilities it included couldn’t have been better crafted. Paul and his staff were available throughout the tour to support us, including messages to greet us at each hotel, having boarding passes for our flights delivered to us at the hotel, and assisting us with airport check-ins since we didn’t speak the local language.

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South Korea: city sights, Buddhist temples, decadent dining…

MICHAEL RUMA | NOVEMBER 26, 2023

A tea sommelier at the Rakkojae Seoul Bukchon Village Hanok Hotel, South Korea.

A tea sommelier leads a tasting at the Rakkojae Seoul Bukchon Village Hanok Hotel. Photo: Traveler Michael Ruma

We traveled to South Korea on October 12, visiting 4 cities, and returned on October 27.

Drawn to Seoul to attend a business meeting, we decided to extend our Korean journey to explore a loop of the southern half of the country. With limited knowledge of the culture, food, and scenery of South Korea, we reached out to Wendy, who pointed us to Grant to help coordinate our trip. Grant was easy to reach, listened attentively to our travel interests and collated a well-curated agenda for my wife and me along with two friends joining us from Saipan.

Getting to Seoul is not the hard part. The excitement starts as you begin to journey into one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Fortunately, we did not have to worry about managing the language barrier, the poor functionality of most US-based map apps or the extensive Seoul transit system with Grant as our travel organizer. He coordinated all the above to achieve a smooth, immersive, and fun-filled time not only in Seoul, but also in Jeonju, Gwanju and Busan. Prior to departure, Grant asked important questions about our likes and dislikes and then created an itinerary which evolved into a spectacular journey of big cities, endless exploration of food and an opportunity to witness the magic of the rural countryside.

Our first stop was the Park Hyatt Seoul, which was a stunning and well-situated hotel with superb service. Greeted by our guide the following day, we oriented ourselves to the massive city, hitting all the major sightseeing stops and learning how to manage the Seoul subway with the ever-convenient transit card included in our booking. During our time in the Korean capital, we sampled the highest quality Korean BBQ, innumerable variations of seafood, a tea tasting and a Korean liquor tasting. Despite a population of over 25 million in a concentrated area, we were struck by the city’s cleanliness, convenience, and kindness of its people.

Following Seoul, we travelled to Jeonju. After an efficient high-speed train ride, we checked into the Lahan Hotel overlooking the traditional Hanok village, which allowed for an easy stroll to any of the shops or restaurants that make this area a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Following the recommendation from the chef who taught us how to make beef bulgogi in Seoul, we went to her favorite place for bibimbap and seafood pajeon.

After eating and drinking our way around Jeonju, we traveled by car to Gwanju in the southwestern portion of the country. On our drive, we were immersed in the beauty of the Korean countryside, taking a moment to stretch our legs with a nice autumn walk at Hwaeomsa temple. A stunningly beautiful site of quietude, we wandered the numerous Buddhist temple buildings and pagodas with each vantage point offering a better view of the surrounding mountains. Informed by our guide that guests are allowed to reside overnight in this special place, we plan to come back soon to try out a “temple stay.”

While significantly more tourists visit Seoul, we were pleasantly surprised by our visit to Korea’s second largest city, Busan. Located on the water with sublime city views, we checked into the Park Hyatt Busan, which rivaled the service of its sister hotel in Seoul. While in Busan, we took in incredible oceanside views, decadent dining, and a bit of relaxation at the hotel spa. We would happily come back to Busan for future visits, as the city is filled with so much to see and do.

While uncertain what Korea would hold, we were delighted by its massive, clean, and well-organized cities, its infinite delicious dining, and its helpful, caring, and thoughtful people. Finally home, we are excited for the day we will return.

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

Ask Wendy


Copenhagen: city neighborhoods, Christmas markets, a quick trip to Sweden…

JEANNIE MULLEN | NOVEMBER 26, 2023

Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen.

When looking for a place to spend the Thanksgiving holidays this year, I decided to book a city trip (mostly) versus some of the more active trips that Wendy’s travel planners have booked for me over the last year or so. One hotel, one time to unpack. Jan, with whom I had worked on a recent, more active trip to Norway, did a phenomenal job of planning the trip that I had envisioned. Instead of supersizing each day with multiple activities, I was interested in a combination of privately guided days, interspersed with unscripted days to explore (or not) on my own and at my own pace. Jan listened, and delivered exactly what I asked for.

Copenhagen is a gorgeous and engaging city, as are the ‘burbs and towns the further away from the city center one goes. 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 the day of my arrival. The hotel that Jan chose had everything that I was looking for and was perfectly located on Kongens Nytorv (the King’s New Square) for the market on the square, harbor walks and for great shopping in general.

Britt, the guide that Jan arranged in Copenhagen, did a great job of orienting me to the city and 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. Britt was thoughtful, listened intently and had great ideas for what I might like as we got to know each other. When I inquired about more local, neighborhood markets, she took me to a “pop-up” Christmas market off the beaten path, that would only be there for two days. I would have likely missed out on it altogether had I been looking for it myself. As we made our way out of the city on other days to Fredericksborg, Charlottenlund, Elsinore and Kronborg, she introduced me to locally made products, local artisans, craftspeople and leaders in design, and took me to several sweet churches tucked away in quiet neighborhoods. In addition to all of that, we somehow managed to share with each other our backgrounds and respective family histories. Truly a terrific ambassador for Copenhagen and a delightful woman.

Since Copenhagen and southern Sweden are conveniently connected by the iconic Oresund Bridge (think “The Bridge” on Prime Video), Jan planned a day trip for me to southern Sweden toward the end of the trip. Pía, my driver, and Annette, my guide, were both from southern Sweden and were a delightful addition to my experience for the day. We first made the drive, followed by a scenic walk on the Baltic Sea coastline, to see Ales Stenar, a preserved stone megalith (think Stonehenge) in the shape of a ship on the cliffs above the harbor town of Kaseberga. Fascinating, and a little bit of much-needed exercise. On the return trip we stopped for lunch and a tour of scenic Ystad, followed by a late afternoon tour of the coastal town of Malmo before returning to Copenhagen.

Last, but in no way least, Jan alerted me early on in our trip planning 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. I am so very glad that I followed Jan’s lead on that.

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, his staff, the local guides and drivers 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. Thank you Wendy and Jan!

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Switzerland: cheese, chocolate, watches…

TRACY GOBLE | NOVEMBER 25, 2023

We just returned from Switzerland and can I say, “WOW”!!! Nina Mueller and Ana Marques planned an amazing trip for us centered around my husband’s passion for watches. There is not enough space to explain the outstanding experiences we had because of Nina, and we also had a jaw-dropping WOW Moment provided by Wendy Perrin!! They picked outstanding hotels for us, and even arranged for the general manager to give us a private tour of our historic accommodation. We traveled through the Alps to have a cheese tasting in a 50-foot renovated cistern, learning about the difference between winter cheese and summer cheese. We stopped for an hour at Max’s Chocolatier to experience a chocolate tasting and learn why their approach to chocolate making is so unique and extraordinary. But the heart of the trip exceeded our expectations by getting us access to a watchmaking factory where we not only toured, but also had a master class on how to be a watchmaker! In Bern, our tour guide gave us a walking tour of the city where we had our WOW Moment: We got access to the clock tower where we got to see the 500-year-old working clock while it was exhibiting its complications during its hour chime!! We also got to wind the clock, which is a rare treat. Our guide then took us up to look out over the city, and then spread out a fabulous lunch including homemade pumpkin soup with cheese, charcuterie and crusty bread while we drank champagne together and enjoyed time standing still! Our trip was truly above and beyond what we could have possibly dreamed of, all thanks to Nina, Ana and Wendy!! Thank you all for giving us such a fabulous trip!!

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Morocco: “We felt completely safe”

MONICA GEOCARIS | NOVEMBER 14, 2023

My three friends and I went on the most magical trip to Morocco in October 2023. The itinerary was planned beautifully and our guide, Anouar, was a walking encyclopedia! We learned so much, some that we even retained! We were honored to be invited to his house for a wonderful meal prepared by his mother. War had just broken out in Gaza and we had some concerns about traveling even though I was reassured by Hicham and Radia’s team that we’d be safe. They were right. We were welcomed everywhere we went by warm and friendly hotel staff; and we felt completely safe with Anouar. We thoroughly enjoyed traveling with him. We loved our driver, Magid, who was fabulous too, with excellent driving skills! He was so attentive and caring. I wonder how many miles we put on that Mercedes! With Magid’s ever-present smile he made us feel like we were really important to him. Fes Cooking School was a hoot and we had a blast making a delicious tagine meal we heartily consumed. The Dunes and the camp accommodations were spectacular. I kept pinching myself that we were really there atop camels traveling to our camp, and the next night we sat on a dune watching other guests come to the desert on their camels in front of a setting sun backdrop. Unbelievable beauty in the starkness of the dunes. Every hotel was as nice as the next and we wished we had more time at each one. Another highlight was the hike in the High Atlas Mountains with tea and a fabulous lunch on a rooftop surrounded by the mountains. The sidecar ride in Marrakech was icing on the cake. We’re going to the medina in this??? The itinerary going from Casablanca/Fes/Desert/Marrakech/Casablanca was perfect. It was completely magical and the weather was perfect. A trip of a lifetime! Go!

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Sicily: Mt. Etna with a volcanologist, tasting rare wines…

JOE LYLE | NOVEMBER 11, 2023

The view of Mt. Etna ecosphere, showing a smoking Mt. Etna, lava flows, regrowth, surviving trees.

The Mt. Etna ecosphere: a smoke plume, lava flows, regrowth, and surviving trees. Photo: Traveler Joe Lyle

In 2022, we spent 2 weeks in Sicily, perfectly planned by Marcello. It was so much fun (see previous review) that we decided to go back for five nights to explore the Mt Etna wine region this past October. We wanted a home base providing easy excursions within the region without changing our accommodations or staying in locations with “tourists.” Our location was central, and we could explore local wineries and learn about the rich growing environment of the region.

Two highlights were the Mt Etna hiking tour and a fabulous cooking and wine-pairing luncheon. A visit to Mt Etna volcano is amazing, but if you are guided by a volcanologist named Salvatore, it is spectacular. Salvo’s enthusiasm and love of science is infectious. To see the top of a hotel that was destroyed during an eruption is an amazing experience. You look around and can follow the lava flow of previous eruptions and see the regrowth of trees in the igneous rock formed from the lava. When there is a news report of an eruption on Mt Etna, I know Salvo will be in the mix.

A visit to Santa Maria La Nave Winery is a must. This area is known for its fertile soils, orchards, and particular grape varietals located on the northernmost flanks of Mt Etna. Vera, our wine expert, explained the recovery project of previously abandoned varietals on the property and the Casa Decima vineyard. The Grecanico Dorato and Albanello grape varietals were new to us and not something that can be found easily in the US. After a tour of the vineyards, we joined Lucia, an amazing cook, and Vera in the Zen building (our name for the structure). You walk in and immediately feel at home. A wall of glass overlooks the vineyards and mountains. Now, we got down to business with a glass of sparkling wine and a pasta-making lesson. Suffice it to say that Lucia did most of the cooking, and Vera paired the wine for a delightful afternoon in a beautiful location.

The trip was rounded out with a home-cooked meal and wine tasting at Filippo Grasso Winery and visits to nearby towns and villages that offered spectacular views of the coastline.

All of this was made possible by the wonderful relationships that Marcello has with local tour guides, wine experts, and chefs across Sicily. I don’t expect this will be our last trip to Sicily; without a doubt, Marcello will be our first call.

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Morocco: felt safe despite current events…

BILL MARTIN | NOVEMBER 10, 2023

Morocco has a rich history, remarkable cultural diversity, amazing points of interest, and warm, welcoming people. We have just returned from a spectacular, long-awaited trip there planned by Radia. Radia carefully listened to our trip goals and needs. She then expertly planned a wonderful two-week itinerary and many unique experiences.

We will long remember the huge Hassan II mosque in Casablanca, the glorious Medersa in Fez, the Roman ruins of Volubilis, the beautiful Blue City Chefchaouen, the grand Mausoleum in Rabat, the exciting souks and square of Marrakech, and the vibrant beaches and fish market of Essaouira.
Unhappily, the recent earthquake prohibited our intended stay in the Atlas Mountains and time did not allow a side trip to the Sahara Desert.

Equally memorable were learnings about the Muslim religion, the rich Jewish history, the Berber culture, the many kings, and French colonial rule. This information, and our many questions about it, was expertly communicated by our amazing guide Mustapha. Mustapha is a prime example of a superb Wendy Perrin WOW guide…an invaluable trip manager, highly knowledgeable, an effective communicator, flexible, and attentive to a client’s every need. Mustapha made our trip very special and we are so very lucky Radia assigned him to us for the duration.

Mustapha had a valuable partner in Zazac, our calm, personable driver. Zazac negotiated our complex routing with ease and handled the innumerable, often chaotic, roundabouts like a pro. He also generously transported us to and from dinner restaurants. His Mercedes van was very comfortable for the sometime long drives between cities.

We prefer small, local, boutique hotels. Radia made some great choices for us. The various riads were gorgeous with well-appointed guest rooms, amazing staffs and delicious breakfasts. We loved Palais Amani in Fez but our favorite was Maison L’Arabe in Marrakech. Food was an adventure. There were many new things to try, making our chef-guided souk food tour in Fez extra special. At Radia’s recommended Moroccan restaurants, we became experts in the many versions of tagine.

Before arriving in Morocco, we had some anxiety and uncertainty about our first visit to an Arab country, especially in the context of troubling current events in the Middle East. But Radia, General Manager Maryama, and co-founder Hicham were reassuring. Mustapha and Zazac were alert and careful. Local authorities, including “tourist police,” were vigilant. We felt safe and calm throughout our trip.

All in all, visiting Morocco was a remarkable experience which far exceeded our expectations. We are eager to relive it through our hundreds of photos and sharing stories with friends. We highly recommend Hicham, Radia, and their colleagues.

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Peru: skip-the-line access in Machu Picchu, Cusco, Sacred Valley…

JULIE OLSON | NOVEMBER 9, 2023

We just returned from a fabulous 10-day trip to Peru planned with the help of Allie. The trip was a long time coming (postponed 3x due to Covid (twice) and political instability early in 2023). Our original trip included both Peru and the Galapagos, but we broke it apart into 2 pieces as it kept getting postponed. As a result, we were able to make this trip slightly longer than our original Peru plan which we would highly recommend, and Allie was wonderful to work with and adjusted with us to finally make this trip a reality…and it was SO worth it! She helped us to find wonderful hotels, and probably the best guide in all of Peru!

Our guide Nick met us in Cusco and was with our group of 4 the entire trip. His English was impeccable, and he quickly determined our interests and made wonderful trip adjustments, as well as museum and restaurant recommendations. His extensive network of contacts made it seem like he knew EVERYONE in Peru, which became a running joke. However, it became central to the success and ease of our trip as he networked us to the front of lines for access to everything (including the line for buses up and back from Machu Picchu). To Allie’s credit, she had just returned from a trip to Peru a month before we left, had Nick as a tour guide, and personally selected him to be the guide for our trip for which we cannot thank her enough!

Allie’s hotel recommendations were also spot-on! We liked each for different reasons, but they far exceeded our expectations for the country. Her local partners also provided a van and a wonderful driver for the trip, and we felt very safe when driving on the very narrow, twisting roads of the Sacred Valley and the mountains around it, which was not an easy feat! Allie also provided very helpful recommendations for what to bring (ponchos for rain in MP, which we experienced for an hour our first day) and found walking sticks we could borrow rather than schlepping them with us.

We also had the opportunity to do the full-day experience at MIL, which we would highly recommend! As much as the food there is fabulous, the learning experience by hiking into the hills behind the restaurant with a knowledgeable local guide provided a fabulous addition to better understand the Peruvian culture and food presentation at MIL. It was a highlight of the trip and books up months in advance, so be sure to get reservations online as soon as trip dates are established! The people of Peru, the Andes mountains and the Inca ruins exceeded our expectations! Also, don’t skimp on time in Cusco at the end as it is a wonderful city!

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Japan: ryokan, hiking, “stress-free” logistics…

CATHY GREEN | NOVEMBER 8, 2023

We travelled to Japan with Scott’s office in late October/November 2023. From the planning to execution, we were extremely impressed with Scott and his team. We love to be actively involved in the planning of a trip, and Scott was very responsive to our requests and suggestions. He always replied to us promptly (often within minutes). We wanted to be a bit “off the beaten path” so Scott designed an itinerary that included not only Tokyo, Kanazawa, Takayama, and Kyoto, but Kamikochi National Park where we had an amazing day of hiking, Matsumoto in a beautiful ryokan, and a stay at the beautiful Aman resort in Ise Shima. His hotel/inn and restaurant recommendations were spot-on, and we ate some amazing food. We often had our room category upgraded, no doubt due to Scott’s relationship with the hotel. We have learned that the quality of a guide can make or break a trip. Our guide Tomo was wonderful—knowledgeable, kind, and fun. She went out of her way to understand our interests and show us the non-touristy side of the places that we visited.

The train network in Japan is great but some of the transfers can be intimidating (Tokyo Station at rush hour is an experience!). As part of their service, Scott’s office arranged for us to be met by their representative as we got off trains to guide us to our next transfer or accommodation, which made the travel completely stress-free. Scott and Tomo provided perfect suggestions for spending our time alone in Kyoto and Tokyo, which helped us plan our days without a guide. We highly recommend Scott and his team. Thank you for recommending them!

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Cuba: local connections make all the difference…

ARTHUR HERMANN | NOVEMBER 7, 2023

We recently returned from our trip to Cuba, planned by Ana and Rob. It is difficult to lavish too much praise on this team! First, Rob called me within a day or so of my inquiry and spent at least 45 minutes on the phone with me, digging hard during our conversation to really understand our interests and how we should spend our time in their jam-packed itinerary. It was clear from the trip, that Rob and Ana heard every word and truly tailored our immersive Cuban visit to ensure that our time was focused on these personal interests. In fact, they included some visits to locations that I would not have thought to be interesting to me, but because of the exceptional experts they managed to have as our guides, we did indeed find them of great interest.

Our main guide throughout the trip was Raquel, and she was a wonderful and caring person, with an extraordinary knowledge of her country’s history, challenges and successes. She gave us an unflinching view of the challenges which the Cuban people have endured since the revolution, along with a taste of the tenacity and ability of her people to enjoy life whenever they can.

This tour was unlike any I have ever taken before (and there have been many). Instead, it felt like driving from place to place to visit with unique and gracious hosts that were anxious to share their specialties and skills with us. It was more like visiting a series of friends, than being on a tour of a foreign country. This was true from the dinner we had at the home of a former journalist, to the tour of the Cuban Art Musuem with the head of their educational unit. There are too many to spell out, but each was truly a unique experience which added to the puzzle which makes up Cuba. I wouldn’t hesitate to use Rob and Ana’s services again, or highly recommend them to a friend.

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

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Italy: Puglia, Naples, the Amalfi Coast…

JAMES HEGER | NOVEMBER 7, 2023

Just back from a 10-day tour of Italy, Oct 16-26, 2023, that we began and ended by visiting our daughter’s home in Bologna, and our wonderful 2 grandchildren there. We had previous visits there and had taken daytrips from Bologna, but my wife and I wanted to see more of this fascinating country.

What a wonderful trip it was. Alison and Elisa worked with us to plan an agenda, modified it when we had additional requests, always kept in contact during the planning and made sure all our needs were met. We put together a tour that included 6 days in Puglia, ½ day in Matera and 3 ½ days in Naples, including the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Herculaneum, and a city food tour of Naples. This was nothing short of a fantastic experience. Every detail was anticipated and completed. The guides were absolutely great, with depths of knowledge and ease of communication that made us want to never stop. Drivers were very professional, often contributing to the information, and vehicles were first class.

Unexpected highlights were countless and included a textile factory in Puglia, La Constantine, where hand-operated looms have been creating beautiful fabrics for 200+ years, even items for Dior. The intensity and talent of these ladies at the loom was inspiring and we were able to purchase several lovely items, including a gift for our daughter’s home. A second surprise was the nature reserve at Torre Gauceto. A wonderful environmentalist led us on a 3 ½ hour walk along the coast and wetlands, home to thousands of migratory birds, a special interest of my wife and an example of how our planners could adapt expertly to meet our requests. A great example of the personal planning was the change of a scheduled e-bike tour through the “trulli” region as the original day scheduled was predicted to be rainy, and the tour was moved a day earlier, at the last moment, to ensure a wonderful bicycling experience, which it was. Elisa kept in close contact with us throughout and we were especially delighted to meet both her and Alison in the town of Polignano a Mare, and share coffee and gelato. All of the accommodations were tastefully elegant with wonderful staff. The food in Italy is beyond description and we have too many favorites to list. A real plus was the day in Naples, a food tour in the first half and on our own in the afternoon. Aldo gave us a superb food and history lesson and discussion, and the confidence to step out on our own. We finished in Naples and took the fast train to Bologna to complete our visit with family and enjoy a Halloween in Italy.

I was astounded just how well planned and executed this tour was and look forward to many more trips to Italy.

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

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Sicily: food, Greek ruins, a hidden da Vinci gem…

KATHRYN WINTER | NOVEMBER 5, 2023

My niece and I returned from Sicily just 17 days ago, but I’m only just coming down from the high induced by this remarkable trip! I’ve wanted to travel to Sicily for years but didn’t want to go on my own, so I asked my adult niece to accompany me since she is fascinated with Italy and its food, being a former chef. We wanted a trip that balanced cultural highlights with food experiences, and Marcello and Matteo really delivered! They arranged wonderful drivers and local guides in each of our locations—many of whom were specialists in their field. For example, our guide in Palermo, Andrea, is an archaeologist. He provided unique local insight and expertise on the city and its astonishingly beautiful mosaic-decorated churches. By having private drivers and guides, we not only maximized what we were able to see, but the guides helped us fully understand our experiences. One of the highlights of our time in Palermo was a day when we went to Monreale to see the exquisite Norman church and then stopped at a vineyard on the way back to Palermo for a private wine tasting and amazing lunch with the owners and their big friendly adorable dog!
Many of our days were a lovely balance of cultural touring/visits and the rest of the day making cheese or tasting olive oil or learning how to make cookies! We also appreciated the boutique hotels recommended by Marcello and Matteo. Even when we were in cities, these hotels felt like a private, restful oasis each day when we returned from our activities. Their restaurant recommendations were also excellent and easy to find, thanks to the maps they provided!

Our favorite part of the trip was our final few days, based in Ortigia, visiting the Greek ruins of Siracusa and the beautiful Baroque towns of Ragusa, Noto, and Modica. We both agreed that the private 4-course lunch served after an olive oil tasting in Ragusa was among the best meals we’d ever eaten in our lives! As we were leaving the Greek temples one late afternoon (wonderful light for photos) our guide told us about a Leonardo da Vinci painting that was being displayed in a small gallery near the exit of the temple area. We never would have known it was there if he hadn’t been with us.

I’ve already recommended Marcello and Matteo to friends of mine who are interested in traveling to Sicily. We loved every minute of it and never had to worry about a thing. A perfect holiday!

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Oman and Jordan: “We are very happy we did not cancel!”

AMY EVERS | NOVEMBER 4, 2023

Amy Avers and her husband having coffee and dates with Omani locals.

Amy Evers and her husband talking world politics with Omani locals over coffee and dates.

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

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

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

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

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

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Vietnam, Cambodia & Hong Kong: Vespa tour of Ho Chi Minh City, sunrise at Angkor Wat…

JOSEPH MCBRINE | NOVEMBER 4, 2023

Photo of Angkor Wat temple complex taken by the traveler.

Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex is filled with intricate carvings. Photo: Traveler Joe McBrine

Ethan and Sandy put together our 2.5-week trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Hong Kong. Without them we would have been hard pressed to have the amazing variety and depth of experiences which allowed us to really experience Vietnamese and Cambodian culture. In Vietnam we watched a water puppet show in Hanoi, biked on Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay, took a speedboat along the Mekong Delta to a remote village where we biked again, dined with a welcoming Vietnamese family in Hue, and had a private nighttime Vespa food tour of Ho Chi Minh City. Each experience forced us out of our comfort zone as passive tourists and made us engage in the best possible way. We travel to see the world, experience other cultures, and meet those who live like us but only differently. Sandy and Ethan provided us with the opportunities to do that. And from these experiences the best type of memories are made.

As far as unique experiences there were too many to count. Two stand out. The Vespa tour of Ho Chi Minh City was beyond. At first I was a bit anxious at the thought of getting on a Vespa. It was hot and I was worried we might have a collision—or worse—I’d fall off. However the drivers were expert and put us instantly at ease. Once we set off and felt the breeze against our skin, took in the beautiful twinkling lights, and smelled the aromas of this city—including all the delicious food we tried at the three different restaurants we stopped at—we were in heaven. One particularly memorable moment occurred as we zipped down a small alleyway passing by residents cooking their evening meals, eating, and socializing—a site familiar no matter where one is in the world. Amazing. Additionally the flower market was also especially beautiful at night. After the food we stopped at an intimate bar for wonderful live music, and then capped the evening with a visit to famed local chocolatier Maison Marou for probably the richest and most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

In Cambodia one of the highlights of our trip was getting up before dawn and being able to enjoy sunrise at the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat. Seeing this beautiful and immense temple complex appear out of the mist as the sun rises is an experience too ethereal and intense for words. Along those lines we visited a Cambodian Buddhist monastery for blessings and prayers with a young Buddhist monk. Our guide in Cambodia, Thuy Silen, was beyond lovely and informative during our travels there. I won’t forget her smile and laugh.

Truly a trip to remember and we owe that to Sandy and Ethan. Bravo.

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Turkey: Istanbul is “business as usual” despite the war

DEBBIE LITTMAN | NOVEMBER 3, 2023

The plan was to spend 3 days in Istanbul following a Ponant cruise in Greece. Midway through the cruise the anti Israel and antisemitism demonstrations in Europe caused us to reach out to Karen over our concerns for safety in Istanbul. She outlined what was happening in Turkey and emphasized that we would be okay and that it was business as usual. Our 3 days were memorable. Cenk is a phenomenal guide. He is charming, knowledgeable,fun and warm. We enjoyed learning about Turkish history and were surprised at how little we knew. The tourist sites were crowded but we were able to get in and out without waiting. The shops in the Grand Bazaar were fabulous and our cooking class was fun and yummy. One of the best organized cooking classes we have taken. We were worried about visiting Jewish sites but there was no issue. The Bank Hotel was an excellent choice. A lovely oasis in a bustling city of 20 million people .Once again another terrific travel specialist referral. This might be our 8th or 9th trip with your recommendations. Next trip to South Africa in the spring.

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Greece: Athens, Santorini, Sifnos…

DEBBIE GROB | NOVEMBER 3, 2023

We recently returned from a lovely 10-day trip to Greece, which Jacoline and Evan planned for us.

Our first stop was Athens. The private tour of the Parthenon was fabulous, as was the E-bike tour of the city. But equally memorable was the view from our hotel. We were travelling with another couple and Jacoline suggested we share the penthouse suite at the Perianth. What an incredible view of the Parthenon, especially in the evening when it was so beautifully illuminated!

We knew we wanted to visit Athens and Santorini, but asked Jacoline to pick a 3rd stop. She hit a home run with her selection of Sifnos — a beautiful little island where we took a fun cooking class and enjoyed a half day on a private skippered boat trip on the wonderfully blue Aegean Sea. The scenery was breathtaking. The small hotel Jacoline selected was lovely. The overall ambiance was upscale yet relaxed, and the room amenities were outstanding. The staff was extremely personable and made us feel very special.

Although our husbands enjoyed driving around the island in our little car (we requested something fun), they were a little hesitant to venture too far in the evenings because of the winding roads. As a result, we chose not to try all of the local restaurants that Jacoline recommended. No worries, however, as the food at the hotel was exceptional and there was a wonderful family-run restaurant on the beach (also recommended by Jacoline) which was an easy and pleasant walk from our hotel.

On to Santorini, where we enjoyed wine tastings and an interesting tour of island excavations. Jacoline also arranged a private evening cruise on a 46 ft catamaran. We stopped several times for a quick dip in the sea and the captain and 1st mate prepared a lovely dinner for us. What a wonderful way to watch the sunset.

There were a lot of moving pieces to this trip and we couldn’t have done it without Jacoline and Evan’s help. When one of our guides cancelled at the last minute, due to Covid, Jacoline was quick to find a replacement. And Evan immediately notified us when a ferry schedule changed.
Many of our guides volunteered that we were in excellent hands when working with Jacoline’s office. We agree.

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Croatia and Slovenia: cities, countryside, resort R&R…

CHRISTINE QUICK | NOVEMBER 3, 2023

My husband, my Mom and I just got back from our trip to Slovenia and Croatia (September 8 – September 25, 2023) which Ala and her team planned for us flawlessly!!!

We challenged Ala to create an itinerary that would work for my husband and I and my 81-year-old mother, and she delivered in spades!!!! The hotel recommendations and selections were impeccable! The tour guides she booked were top notch; an absolute wealth of information. The connections and transfers were seamless. Just timed perfectly!

I had an idea of what I wanted to see and do and Ala and her team took that information and built a custom itinerary with such incredible final touches that just matched our style and the type of trip we wanted perfectly. It was the perfect combination of cityscapes, tours, natural beauty offered by both Slovenia and Croatia and time for resort downtime and self-exploration. Ala added some touches that I would never have thought of, for example the Oyster and Mussels lunch in Ston with the Oyster and Mussels farmer. Absolutely amazing!!!

We opted to self-drive for a portion of our trip and Ala and her team made it so easy, providing us with all the information we would need regarding driving in Slovenia and Croatia with the added bonus of Google Maps links with pre-mapped directions taking us directly to parking lots needed for each destination we drove! We enjoyed having that freedom to be able to self-explore and set our own pace on some of the days, and Ala and her team made it so easy to do.

We were provided a local contact for any issues or questions that came up. Natasa was extremely helpful and responsive to any question we had. It was so nice to have someone local in country to reach out to for assistance.

A huge thank you to Ala and her team for putting this trip together for us, we have a lifetime of experiences and memories.

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Italy: skip-the-line entries, private demonstrations with chefs and artisans…

ROGER AND CHERYL FIERY | NOVEMBER 3, 2023

Originally planned in 2020 and then postponed by the pandemic, we recently completed a wonderful two-week early October trip to Venice, Florence, Rome and Positano, all of which was expertly designed and executed by Andrea and her team.

We have typically performed all of our own travel planning, so working with someone else to create an itinerary with this many moving pieces was a new experience for us. We began with an in-depth planning conversation with Andrea and one of her associates about what we were looking for (primarily a history and food focus) as well as our travel preferences. We subsequently worked through multiple iterations of our plan — asking lots of questions along the way. The team was extremely responsive, thorough, and patient in working with us. When all the planning was complete, we felt we had an itinerary that would make the logistics of moving around the country stress-free, allow us to visit many of the historical spots typical for a first-time Italy visitor, and provide some unique “off the beaten path” experiences. On all three counts, Andrea’s team delivered!

From a logistics standpoint, our trip was perfect. From the time we arrived at the Venice airport and were escorted to our private water taxi, to the last day of our trip when we were driven to our departure point in Naples, every encounter with a driver or travel assistant was timely, friendly, professional and courteous. Our boutique hotels were centrally located, but also very quiet, comfortable and relaxing.

It’s been well-documented that Italy has been very crowded with tourists, and this has seemingly extended the peak travel season into October. Despite the crowds, we were able to thoroughly enjoy the major historical sights due to the superb guides we were paired with. Advance reservations allowed us to skip most of the lines, and our guides were very savvy about finding ways to lessen the impact of the many tourists. Beyond helping us to navigate the crowds, our guides were historical experts, adding lots of background and insights about each place we visited and giving us a sense of life in Italy then and now.

Apart from the traditional historical spots, the experiences that Andrea’s office suggested and arranged were a major highlight of our trip. There were too many to list them all here, but they included a private demonstration with a master glassblower and a visit to a weaving factory in Venice, a culinary food tour in Bologna while in transit from Venice to Florence, a Tuscan cooking class at the home of a chef in Florence, a hike in the hills outside of Florence ending with an amazing picnic lunch at the villa of a family with a historical and current connection to local art, and a full-day tour of small-town areas near Positano — including an excellent private lunch in Tramonti. Extra bonus — thanks to lots of walking, we enjoyed all of these food experiences without gaining a pound!

More than anything else, it is the people we will remember about this trip. Time spent with drivers, guides, and hosts inevitably led to conversations about our families, our day-to-day lives, the things we have in common and the differences that make us unique. Although we will likely never see these people again, these interactions enriched our experience immeasurably and we will fondly remember these new friends.

The tagline on Andrea’s website is very fitting — “More than a Journey, an Experience.” Andrea and team added a great deal of value to our trip and made it so much more meaningful than it would have been had we sought to plan it all ourselves. We should also mention that a number of our guides and drivers made unsolicited comments about how much they enjoyed working with Andrea’s office. To us, this says a lot about an organization and reinforces everything we experienced. We are extremely grateful to have had such an amazing two weeks and would highly recommend Andrea to anyone looking to have an outstanding Italy experience!

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Morocco: special access to mosaic workshop and the Majorelle Gardens…

MILINDA MARTIN | NOVEMBER 2, 2023

Traveler in the "Blue City" of Chefchaouen, Morocco.

Milinda Martin in the famous “Blue City” of Chefchaouen.

It had been 20 years since I had visited Morocco, and I have to say, the country is going through such a positive time. People are happy there! The government is building tons of affordable housing, redoing the waterfront areas, and spiffing up all the cities. It’s a good time to visit.

Thanks to Radia and her team, I was able to indulge my desire to learn more about the history of this country, especially the Berber culture, the invasion of the Arabs, and the long history of the Moors and Jews. Radia did not disappoint; all of my guides were experts and very willing to discuss the benefits and challenges of being such a rich land where everyone wants to be. My guide in Tangier, AbdulRahman, was OUTSTANDING. He was born in the Medina and his family still lived there, and he was able to share stories of how Tangier has changed over the centuries with all the invaders. He shared the local delicacies — mint tea and amazing cookies — with me, and we truly felt like friends by the time I moved on to Chefchaouen.

With Radia’s guidance, I visited Casablanca, and the amazing Hassan II mosque, with a Muslim scholar who could really immerse me in the religion, far beyond the 5 pillars. The trip ended in Marrakesh, where I had the most unique experience of learning how to make mosaics. This wasn’t a “tourist activity”; this was a visit to a gentleman’s workshop where we cut the tiles, arranged the mosaics and eventually plastered the mosaics into place. Radia provided a translator because the artist — having mastered this trade 40 years ago — did not speak English.

And I have to give a strong shout-out to my driver, Rachid. Throughout my tour, he was always on time, always kind, always conversational, and a great driver to boot. This is what I like about planning with Wendy Perrin: meeting the people and seeing life like a local. We visited the communal bakery and the hammam, two vital components of life for every Moroccan. I was able to go hiking in the Atlas Mountains, obtain early entry to the Majorelle Gardens, and have someone guide me through the mazes of the Medinas. The riad in Marrakesh was truly divine! Unlike other tours that whisk you here and there, in international hotels, where you never meet a local, Radia and her team ensured that I felt like a Moroccan from the very start.

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Tanzania: the Big Five & the Great Migration

DIANE BOAS | OCTOBER 31, 2023

Traveler gets close to a tusker on safari in Tanzania.

Diane Boas gets close to a tusker on safari in Tanzania.

Cherri’s deputy Katie McDonough planned a perfect two-week itinerary for us in Tanzania.

We stayed in a range of unique accommodations from luxury camps to tents to a historic farm property. Each was beautiful, comfortable, served incredible, often organic and locally grown food and was managed by the most welcoming and gracious people that we have encountered on any trip.

Each day on safari day we saw a multitude of beautiful and fascinating animals including the big five: Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Buffalo, and Rhinoceros, the little five, and even what the guides call the ugly five (you’ll have to see for yourself to decide if you agree). We witnessed the wildebeest migration when thousands of animals surge across the Mara River as well as a multitude of other animals hunting, mating, grooming, sleeping and playing. Every day we witnessed something extraordinary.

The guides were extremely knowledgeable regarding animal behavior, the local geography and horticulture, and regional history. They were genuinely warm and accommodating, always ensuring that we could have a special experience while remaining within our individual comfort zones.

I can recommend Cherri’s team without hesitation.

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Morocco: desert camel & ATV rides, centuries-old culture…

MAX SILBERMANN | OCTOBER 29, 2023

We are 2 couples that wanted to go to Morocco as a bucket-list trip. We were introduced to Radia through Wendy Perrin and immediately began planning our trip. Radia called us to talk about our interests, timing, budget, wish list of things to do and see, dietary issues, and everything else you can think of! We received a draft itinerary in a day or two and then began to tweak small changes to incorporate the must-do’s with the want-to-do’s, which resulted in our final itinerary. Radia and her team were always very responsive to email correspondence and kept us fully informed after the earthquake about any changes to our proposed itinerary. Radia’s colleague Aicha worked with us to set our dinner reservations and took care of the last-minute changes to our itinerary like our cooking class instead of our Atlas Mountains hike because of the earthquake. Radia’s office certainly took care of every detail and we felt very well cared for throughout our entire visit.

We started in Casablanca. Then onto Rabat, Fes, the Sahara Desert, the Dades Gorge, Marrakech, and we ended in Essaouira. And so much in between! We toured cities and learned about amazing centuries-old culture. We rode camels to our desert camp and watched sunset and sunrise over the dunes. We drove ATV’s over the Saharan dunes and couldn’t believe the colors of the sand. We felt well-cared for and safe throughout our entire trip. A 2-week trip giving us a fabulous overview of Morocco! Our guide, Haddou, was very knowledgeable and able to easily discuss aspects of Morocco’s history, culture, religion, and politics. He was a pleasure to travel with and never tired of our endless questions!

The accommodations were spectacular and we enjoyed every morsel of Moroccan food! Our days were the perfect mix of activity and time for reflection.

Thank you, Wendy Perrin, for connecting us with Radia and her team! We can’t wait for our next Wendy Perrin trip!

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Brazil & Argentina: São Paulo, Paraty, Rio, Iguaçu Falls, Buenos Aires…

SHAWN ROSENZWEIG | OCTOBER 28, 2023

My wife and I have recently returned from a trip to South America. We were gone from October 5th till October 19th. Paul and his team did an excellent job in planning our trip to Brazil and Argentina. Paul developed an itinerary that fit into our flights we had to and from South America. When we had to make a change to the itinerary for our first night, Paul was able to make the adjustment immediately. Paul listened to our requests, such as keeping our tours to no more than four hours a day to give us time each afternoon to relax.

The guides that Paul was able to arrange for us in each location (São Paulo, Paraty, Rio, Iguaçu Falls and Buenos Aires) were all excellent. They were all top-notch and we enjoyed learning about each location from them. Getting to know them and their personal stories was very interesting.

One of the highlights was the fact that Paul arranged for us to stay in Iguaçu Falls at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas, which was located in the national park overlooking the falls. Based on our guide’s advice I was able to see the falls early in the morning before the park opened and after 5PM when the park closed to the public. Seeing the falls without the crowds was truly special.

We had an outstanding trip and would highly recommend Paul and his team to anyone looking to visit South America.

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Italy: private cooking demo with a chef, local wine producers…

RACHEL WEBBER | OCTOBER 28, 2023

Jennifer helped us plan a two-week trip to Friuli Venezia-Giulia. In researching past trips, we had come across snippets about the culinary delights of FVG. When we delved more deeply, we learned that the area is a melting pot of northern Italian, Austrian and Slovenian cuisines and has great wines (mostly white). Inexplicably, the region doesn’t seem to be on the tourist radar, so of course we decided that this was the place for us!

We had a guided tour on our first full day in Trieste. We learned about the long struggle for control of the city between the Venetian Republic and the Hapsburgs of Austria, and the resulting cosmopolitanism of Trieste. After two days on our own in Trieste, our driver took us to the Collio wine country, with a stop at Miramare Castle on the way.

The accommodation Jennifer suggested to us in the Collio was outstanding, just what we were hoping for! The property was lovely, with a spa and walking paths through the surrounding vineyards. Jennifer helped us with booking and transportation for lunch at a nearby restaurant we had set our hearts on. (Shout out to Stanley Tucci for his Friulian footnote in “Searching for Italy!”) We had our local guide back for a half-day trip to Gorizia, on the Slovenian border. Having discussed our interest in World War I with her, she arranged for us to make a short visit to an Italian war memorial that was nearby. We also spent an amazing day visiting local wine producers and sampling their wares. (Our favorites were Friuliano and schioppettino!)

After our break in the countryside, we moved on to Udine. There we had another guided tour, learning about the tug of war fought over the area for centuries and the remarkable mix of historical influences at play. A highlight was seeing Tiepolo’s amazing ceiling frescoes. From our base in Udine, we visited the lovely town of Cividale del Friuli, with beautiful Lombard art and architecture, and day tripped to Kobarid in Slovenia to learn about the Italian front in the First World War. So much of what we know about World War I is focused on Belgium and France. Learning about trench warfare in the mountains was fascinating and a highlight of our trip.

We also had a WOW Moment while staying in Udine. This was our first one, so we had no idea what to expect, but it was quite simply the perfect addition to this trip, where food and wine were the main attractions. We had a private cooking demo in the kitchen with chef Anna Barbina and her mother, who serves as her sommelier. Anna made five traditional dishes for us to sample (with wine served by her mother, of course), then we had lunch in her restaurant, Ab Osteria Contemporanea, where she serves contemporary twists on traditional cooking. Heavenly! Anna and her mother were delightful and couldn’t have been more gracious. She deserves to be rich and famous. And our hats are off to Wendy and Jennifer for arranging this experience for us. You nailed it!

Our final activity was a guided tour of Aquileia on our way back to Venice to fly home.

We loved working with Jennifer and particularly appreciated her willingness to work with our more relaxed and independent travel style. We needed advice on accommodation and help with transportation, guides and some bookings, but didn’t want scheduled activity all day, every day. She and her team delivered exactly the trip we were hoping for. FVG was full of beautiful scenery and art, brimming over with fascinating history, and the food and wine were simply spectacular. We’ve had many incredible meals in Italy over the years, but we had more standouts on this trip than any other. If food is your religion, you should make your way to FVG.

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Portugal: port tasting, food tours, medieval towns…

TIM TRICHE | OCTOBER 25, 2023

Traveler tasting 50 year old Port at the Taylor Floodgate Quinta in Porto, Portugal.

Tim Triche enjoys a glass of 50-year-old port at Taylor Fladgate’s quinta in Porto.

Our recent trip to Portugal, from September 27 to October 6, encompassing Porto, the Douro Valley, Alentejo, and Lisbon, exceeded all our expectations. It was memorable, and prepared with little advance notice from us by Gonçalo and his assistant Catarina Fonseca. We were able to see all the sites we had hoped to see thanks to their efforts, which was all the more remarkable given the short notice. Of the many adventures we experienced a few noteworthy ones: the Port flight (10, 20, 30, 40, & 50 year old Tawny) at Taylor Fladgate in Porto was both uniquely enjoyable and informative; I never realized I knew so little about one of my favorite wines.

The drive to the Douro Valley was thrilling, including the narrow one-lane roads often wide enough only for one car—with oncoming cars! The views were stunning, and the trip was timed perfectly: we arrived just at the last harvest and were able to see (and smell) the last grapes being processed into wine at Quinta do Bomfin, where we also tasted their Dow and Grahams vintage ports after a memorable lunch at their restaurant, which included an exceptional bottle of their local Dona Berta verdelho white wine.

In fact, every meal and every wine served with the meals at every site we visited in Portugal was memorable; the tasting luncheon Gonçalo arranged at Herdade do Esporão was truly unforgettable, one of the best meals my wife and I have ever had. It lasted over two hours with at least 6 courses paired with wine, plus dessert and port, of course. We not surprisingly elected to pass on dinner that night.

I should also note that every lodging we stayed in was absolutely first class, from the Vintage Hotel in Pinhao to the Palácio Ludovice in Lisbon, including the unique São Lourenço do Barrocal in Alentejo in between, which was one of a kind. We finished our trip by driving from Alentejo to Lisbon via Evora, a charming medieval town with a unique bones chapel (literally decorated with thousands of human skeletons—go figure). Upon arriving in Lisbon, we first toured Sintra on the seaside and visited one of the most beautiful estates I have ever seen, Monserrate Palace and its grounds. The palace itself has been restored to its early 20th-century splendor and was either breathtakingly beautiful or over the top, depending on your taste.

We finished our all-too-short stay with a walking tour of Lisbon, and a second food tour of same. Lisbon reminds one of any major city, with a vibrant street and night life, remarkable food and restaurants, and grand old historical sites like the Moorish castle on the highest point in the city—a stark departure from the rest of Portugal save perhaps for Porto, also a vibrant but smaller city with its own charm, historically inextricably tied to port wine production.

Needless to say, this trip would have been impossible without the careful planning by Gonçalo, who interviewed us a mere 3 weeks before our departure yet was able to obviously call in many favors and secure lodging, meals, and visits to unique places throughout Portugal on very short notice. He was incredibly attentive and communicative. The only hiccup we had was at the very end, when my email to him about our hotel pickup for our car to the airport went to his junk email. Lesson learned: Put phone numbers on your contact list before leaving! I failed to do that. We did work it out and all went well in the end. All in all, I would rate this as one of the best trips I have ever taken.

This is the third or fourth one Wendy and Brook have put together for us and it is hard to choose one over the other (they were all great), but this one was certainly the most carefully planned and executed. The virtual meeting with Gonçalo was key to creating a unique trip tailored to our desire to see sites and meet people that are often overlooked in the classic tours that focus on the same well-trodden routes. This was definitely not that. And, Gonçalo noted our interests and arranged the trip accordingly, while also suggesting unique destinations like Alentejo that we would never have thought of. That was unique to this trip of all the ones we have taken. If I had it to do over again, about the only thing I would change is the duration of our trip: Our stay was too short! We should have stayed on and visited at least Madeira, and preferably the Azores as well. But, we will go back and do exactly that another day.

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Ireland: parents, adult kids & their spouses reconnect

VICKY PENDELL | OCTOBER 25, 2023

Travelers at Dublin's Pearse Lyons Distillery, which is housed in a former church.

Vicky Pendell and family at Dublin’s Pearse Lyons Distillery, which is housed in a former church.

Some of “our kids” (spouses of our kids) had never been on a “Family Trip” before and they were astounded at the level of detail and quality of EVERYTHING, as were our own children. There were ten of us ranging in age from early 40’s to mid 70’s and we could not have had a better time together! The hotels were 5-stars, above and beyond, our driver guide Martin, who picked us up on our first day and stayed with us for 6 days total, was phenomenal; he was a treasure trove of historical information wherever we drove, he was the epitome of a gentleman, taking care of all of us and our varied needs constantly, checking on arrangements for future outings, and more. There were very real tears shed when we said good-bye to this man as he dropped us at our final hotel in Dublin, at the end of our trip.

Katie and Jonathan suggested a variety of activities that made everyone happy, including a falconry walk at our first hotel (Dromoland—a 16th-century castle that truly set the tone for what a spectacular trip this was going to be…). We learned so much from Liam about the role falconry has played throughout history and throughout our language—all fascinating! Our outing to the Cliffs of Moher was truly breathtaking…and enroute the countryside alone was worth the trip. A trip to Caherconnell Farm provided us with an incredible sheepdog demonstration, followed by our getting to know the pups up close and personal, followed by artisanal cheeses and hot toddys served in a charming back room of the farm shop. The staff at Dromoland were all amazing and the foods and drinks we had there were simply the best! Weather was beautiful for us our first few days but the day that our daughter and sons were set to play Dooks, one of the oldest golf courses in Ireland, winds kicked up and rain pelted down, yet they played anyway and said they would do it all again for the experience of playing that course!

We sadly left Dromoland after 2 nights and went to Killarney for 3 nights, where we completely enjoyed all of the amenities offered at The Europe, our hotel there. Every one of us utilized the fitness center, spa treatments, pools, hot tubs, steam rooms, all while enjoying the most gorgeous views from our rooms overlooking Lough Leanne. The hotel staff was SO SO helpful and accommodating…. Padraig arranged a birthday dinner at a local restaurant for us one evening, and it was one of the best meals we had during our stay, at a lovely little restaurant owned by the same family since the ‘50’s, and they even prepared a special birthday dessert for our daughter. Across the street from our dinner we found a small authentic pub where we enjoyed lively Irish music afterwards. Killarney was a lovely little town and we spent time exploring there in between hiking nearly 7 miles through some of the most diverse, rugged and beautiful landscape I’ve personally seen. It was such a thrill to be able to do this with my kids!!! On our last night there, I asked for help in getting some drinks and appetizers brought to our suite so we could have a small cocktail party for all of the family. Padraig once again rose to the occasion, brought huge candle-filled lanterns to our room “to create more ambience” (as if the beautiful view wasn’t enough!) and we had the most lovely little “party” with our kids on our last night there.

Next morning on our way to Dublin, Martin took us to the Rock of Cashel where we stepped back hundreds of years in time to explore that historic site, and also had a delightful lunch in a locally owned place where Mary, the owner, made us feel like their most important customers of the day! On to Dublin for our last 3 nights and the Shelbourne Hotel did not disappoint either…incredible staff, a sumptuous high tea service, delicious foods and drink, and within walking distance to some very cool parts of the city. Pat Liddy was an exceptional guide for our half-day walking tour there; he was so interesting we stopped for coffee together so we could hear more about all he was showing us! Seeing The Book of Kells, and the “Long Room” (the massive library at Trinity College) nearly had us in tears; the books are shelved floor-to-ceiling and it was a sight never to be repeated, at least not in my mind. Our final evening here, Nikita helped me arrange a special dinner in a private room for our family, next to a smaller room alongside where an Irish duo came to entertain us before dinner. The Irish pipes and the violinist were incredible—we were clapping, laughing, singing, playing flutes along with the duo, and ended up dancing before they were done! The dinner was exquisite, with a gorgeous linen-laid table, crystal, and servers timing the “reveal” of each dish just perfectly. We felt like royalty. What a way to end our time together!!

None of us will EVER forget this trip and it only solidifies my thinking that when it comes to trip planning, Wendy’s WOW List of agents is the ONLY way to go. Even the simplest things, like having airport transportation already set up, is worth any extra cost. Knowing you are with a knowledgeable guide and that your group is NOT part of a busload of 50 or more people, is worth any extra cost! (Our vehicle, by the way, for the ten of us, was incredibly comfortable and luxurious—a Mercedes “van” that was all windows and comfortable seating for our group!) This was our fourth trip using Wendy’s resources and it will NOT be our last. Kudos to Jonathan, Katie, Norma and all the staff who made this an unforgettable family trip. The connections and reconnections that were made in our little group of ten were priceless.

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Italy: Tuscan hill towns, Amalfi Coast, Vatican special access…

CHRISTOPHER GEBELEIN | OCTOBER 25, 2023

Andrea and her team did an excellent job planning our trip to Italy over September 26 to October 11. We visited the hill towns of Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Rome. The pace of the trip was excellent, mixing what seemed like mostly uphill : ) walking with a guide and more relaxed days. The drivers were all excellent—I did opt to drive in Tuscany, but would definitely recommend using a driver on the Amalfi Coast. The guides were nearly all excellent.

We enjoyed several unusual experiences, including a cooking class at Tenuta San Francisco in Ravello and a visit to the headquarters of the Goose contrada in Siena, winner of this years Paleo horse race—even the Pope needs an invitation to enter the headquarters. The highlight of the trip was the pre-dawn Key Holder tour of the Vatican museums. Just the two of us got to open the doors and turn on the lights of the major galleries, including the original Bramante Staircase from 1505 that most Key Holder tours do not get to see, much less walk up. The tour culminated with our opening the simple door and turning on the lights in the Sistine Chapel! We got to spend 20 minutes by ourselves in the Chapel, a really amazing experience.

We felt very well taken care of and had a staff person to contact 24/7 if we needed anything, though fortunately nearly everything went smoothly. Mariana Micheli checked up on us and made sure the guides and drivers met us. I would definitely recommend Andrea’s office to anyone planning a unique high-end trip to Italy.

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Morocco: the Sahara, the coast, the medinas…

SUSAN BLATT | OCTOBER 25, 2023

Thanks to the careful and personalized planning by Hicham and Radia’s office, Morocco will be in our hearts—always!

The colors, the food, the scents, and the Moroccan people made for an unforgettable two weeks in October. Our accommodations were beautiful, particularly The Palais Amani in Fes, and The L’Ma Lodge in Skoura. We lucked out with our personal guide and driver. Both men were knowledgeable and always pleasant. They provided us with security, insight, and guidance throughout our entire 14-day trip. Their recommendations for dining spots were invaluable.

Highlights: walking the souks in the Medina of Fes, especially during our private tasting tour, and our cooking class at Palais Amani. I look forward to impressing my friends and family with a delicious vegetable tagine! The two nights we spent at the luxury camp in the Sahara gave us a different taste of Morocco after the bustle of the medinas. Seeing the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh was a bucket-list check off for me…incredible.

Ending our trip with a stay in Essaouira provided the slower pace needed to catch our breaths before heading to Casablanca for the flight home. Delicious seafood!

Hicham and Radia’s office worked closely with us to ensure that we had a full, exciting, and complete view of the country. I would suggest that you do a bit of research on your own before contacting them in order to best apprise them of your interests. I wouldn’t hesitate to refer them to anyone planning a trip to this beautiful part of Africa.

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Galapagos: quick thinking saves an anniversary trip

SCOTT AND LORNA CONROY | OCTOBER 24, 2023

We just returned from Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands celebrating our 50th Anniversary. We shared with Allie our desire to focus on the Galapagos Islands: the variety of wildlife, geography, and culture. We were interested in cruising on a small ship but were also concerned about seasickness. Allie suggested we select a catamaran and recommended the Elite, one of the newest ships in the Galapagos and the itinerary dates included our anniversary. Since our focus was the Islands, not the Ecuador mainland, she suggested we stay at the Hotel del Parque in Guayaquil rather than in Quito. This eliminated an extra flight (and expense) between Quito and Guayaquil.

Three weeks before the start of our trip, we received disconcerting news from Allie that the Elite would be in drydock and would be unavailable for our trip. My heart sank, but Allie already had options. There was another larger ship sailing the same dates, or we could sail on the Endemic, Elite’s sister ship. The drawback was that the Endemic sailed 5 days earlier, which meant changing domestic and international flights and lodging. We selected the Endemic because we wanted the intimacy of a smaller ship. Allie handled all of the changes in Ecuador and the Galapagos (including reimbursement from the operator for extra airline charges) while we changed our airline reservations and domestic lodging (since we made those arrangements).

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). The following day Celeste showed us the culture and history of Guayaquil.

The following day we flew to the Islands and boarded the Endemic, a 16-passenger catamaran with floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies in each large stateroom. There were 10 passengers and 12 crew members. The crew were all extremely helpful and made us feel right at home. The food on the Endemic was exceptional: the presentation, preparation, and quality of ingredients rivaled the best restaurants. The Chef was an artist, creating works of art on our plates.

Carlos, a native of the Galapagos Islands, was our naturalist guide. Carlos was a terrific and very knowledgeable guide who reveled in sharing his knowledge and experiences of the Galapagos. 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 a was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Iceland: hot springs, ice cave, northern lights…

CHRISTINE STOLL | OCTOBER 23, 2023

Travelers at Go∂afoss Waterfall in northern Iceland.

Christine Stoll and friends at Go∂afoss Waterfall in northern Iceland.

Finally! We had a trip to Iceland planned in 2021 by Chris, but Covid derailed that trip. Our excitement to see Iceland didn’t go away, so we asked Chris planned to plan another trip for us. “We” started out as two couples, but expanded to three couples as the trip began to come together. Chris and I had several phone conversations where he listened to what our wishes were, our limitations due to age, and planned a 14-day trip full of sights, scenery and soft-adventure along with plenty of comfort and excellent food. He found us a 9-passenger van, and the Ring Road trip began.

An independent road trip could be tricky for a trip advisor to plan, but Chris did an excellent job. We were given a packet before leaving outlining in detail each day’s scheduled and reserved activities. One day our guide drove us in his super jeep off-road to a geothermal river for a soak. When we arrived, the river was only about 6 inches deep, and we all wondered how we were actually going to soak in that. He began building a dam, along with a canal from an adjacent stream to cool off the water, and soon we were happily soaking out in the beautiful countryside. While we were relaxing, our guide prepared a salmon lunch for us in an adjacent hot spring. The experience was so unique, relaxing and delicious!

Another fabulous excursion was near Vik. We were outfitted by our guide with crampons and driven to the nose of a glacier. From there we hiked into an other-worldly place. It was a walk in a sapphire ice cave inside a glacier under a volcano. Our guide gave us lots of information about what we were seeing and then let us just enjoy the experience. We always felt safe, but unbelieving of what we were seeing. What a highlight!

Of course, seeing the Northern Lights was a trip wish, one that Chris couldn’t guarantee. But, he sure made it happen. Much of our trip was under a cloud cover, making seeing the lights impossible. But, our second-to-last night, while having dinner in Reykjavik, I got a text from Chris. It said that the lights were showing over Reykjavik, but would only be visible for about an hour. We rushed back to the hotel, asked the bartender where we could drive to see them, and headed straight for a dark zone. And, there they were. We were all excited, like a bunch of kids. Chris was right on top of it and gave us the critical information at the right time. Northern Lights Mission Accomplished.

Before we left home, Chris sent each couple a very comprehensive and beautiful packet filled with important information and tantalizing options. Each day had a section called, “What’s Happening Today.” There was also a section telling what reservations we had for the day. Then, there were beautiful photographs of both the reserved excursions and optional activities based on our time and interests. The driving distances planned by Chris were very manageable and navigation was a cinch with the Wi-Fi access that was included with our van. The variety of what we saw and did was exceptional.

All of our accommodations were special with several boutique hotels set in exquisite, and often secluded, scenery. Chris made dinner reservations for us each night which led to some very special dinners, like at a Moroccan restaurant in Siglufjör∂ur and the exceptional Fish Company in Reykjavik. Chris knows his food! It was a memorable trip in so many ways, well planned and well executed by Chris.

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Greece: the Acropolis, organic farm, catamaran sailing…

CINDY KELLY | OCTOBER 23, 2023

My husband and I just returned from 13 days in Greece (9/25-10/7). We visited Athens, Naxos and Santorini. Thanks to Mina and her staff, our trip was perfectly executed down to the last detail. Any questions, concerns or requests we had were answered quickly, efficiently and with a degree of care that made us feel as though we were very important travelers. Everyone, from Mina’s team to the drivers, tour guides and staff at the different hotels, were professional, friendly, and courteous. We never felt rushed or concerned—we could relax and enjoy our trip—which is a lovely way to travel.

In Athens our itinerary included a walking tour of the city with a guide who was an archeologist, geologist and very knowledgeable in the culture, history, mythology, and architecture of the city. Visiting the Acropolis, the museum and various churches and monuments are very different with someone there with you explaining their significance. We also enjoyed a food tour that brought us through the many neighborhoods of Athens and included lunch in a taverna, olive oil, cheese and ouzo tasting, Greek coffee, souvlaki, open-air markets, and bakeries.

After a seamless transfer, we arrived in Naxos where we stayed in a charming boutique hotel (18 Grapes). Very close to the beach and not far from the town center, the staff there were friendly, courteous, and gracious. In Naxos we enjoyed a hike through small towns, past olive and fig trees, beautiful vistas and many, many Byzantine churches. Our guide explained the importance of these churches, the changes in these towns over the centuries, and what life was like today to these people. At the end of our hike, we enjoyed a farm-to-table lunch in a family kafenio. We also attended a cooking class at an organic farm, where, after a tour of the farm, we created our lunch of home-grown vegetables and keftedes. We visited an olive oil press and sampled tapas produced there. We spent a day on a catamaran with stops around the small Cyclades islands, then enjoyed home-made moussaka.

A high-speed ferry (no idea one existed there, but so happy that Mina booked that for us, very rough seas, the “regular” ferry would have killed me) brought us to Santorini and to the beautiful Hom Santorini boutique hotel on the island cliffs of Oia overlooking the Aegean Sea. You could never leave, and be happy, but we enjoyed a walking tour of the villages of Santorini—churches, and narrow alleys through whitewashed buildings. We ended our tour at a family-owned winery. We also spent a day visiting 4 different wineries, each tasting paired with meze-style bites. Our last day was spent on an afternoon catamaran cruise, with swimming at various beaches, a BBQ on board, the panorama of Oia from the sea, and ending with views of the sunset from the boat.

This is our fourth trip with one of Wendy’s teams of experts, and we, again, were not disappointed. Travel can be expensive and stressful, and you want to be sure you’re not missing something amazing—when we returned home, we felt we had made the most of our time in Greece, it was an amazing trip—we saw and did things we’ll always remember.

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Turkey: Istanbul & a private yacht on the Aegean

ANNE HALL | OCTOBER 19, 2023

Sailing the Turquoise Coast on a private gulet.

Anne Hall and her husband and sister spent four days sailing the Turquoise Coast on a private gulet. Photo: Traveler Anne Hall

My husband, sister, and I spent eight days in Turkey in September 2023: four days in Istanbul and four days on a gulet sailing along the southwestern coast of Turkey. It was an extraordinary trip. Many thanks to Karen and Mustafa for a unique and amazing trip.

Our guide in Istanbul was Cenk. He is terrific. He showed us the major sites of his city, but we liked best walking around the Asian side of Istanbul where he walked us through the neighborhoods while discussing life in Istanbul. We had tea overlooking the Bosporus, lunch at local workingmen’s lunch spot, and he set us up for massages at an ancient hammam. Cenk was easy to be with, fun to talk to, kind to us, and dedicated to our deeper understanding of Istanbul and its people. He felt like family and we were sad to say goodbye.

Karen’s team recommended we stay at the TomTom Suites in Istanbul. This was a great recommendation (“Best hotel I’ve ever stayed at,” says Bill), with beautiful rooms and a warm and inviting staff.

After four exceptional days in Istanbul, we flew to Dalaman where a driver and guide took us to Gocek Marina to board the Serenity 70, a lovely two-masted gulet. We three were the only passengers. How do you define perfect? We can’t say enough about the incredible crew (captain, first mate, and chef) and the four days of sailing the southwestern coast of Turkey. We would sail for 2-3 hours each day, then anchored at one of the coast’s many bays. Each day we swam in the silky, blue waters and toured an ancient site on land. One day we traveled via flat-bottomed boat through the reeds to the Lycian Rock Tombs and toured ancient villages. This was my WOW Moment provided by Wendy Perrin (thanks, Wendy!) and organized by Mustafa. The old tombs were amazing—like Petra in Jordon. We swam through the ruins of Cleopatra’s bath house, and hiked Gemiler Island. Otherwise, we read, napped or sat up above with the captain while he steered the boat.

The chef was a master (imaginative, well prepared, and fun food), and the first mate was so charming, kind, and fun that we felt at ease (it’s hard to get used to being waited on). We warmed to all of them quickly. It was hard to say goodbye to them, too. At the end of the voyage the chef baked a cake for our newly retired sister, which congratulated her in Turkish on the top of the cake, and the whole crew joined us in the celebration.

Finally, we need to stress how exceptional Karen’s office was to work with. They were responsive to every inquiry, marvelous at keeping in touch, and immediately available to help when one of us unexpectedly got sick. We were met at every airport or at the beginning of a touring day with a driver and guide. Karen’s team is utterly dependable. They ensured we had a unique experience. We would love to travel with them again. Thanks, Karen!

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Morocco: “amazing” trip during the Israel-Hamas war

TAMMY AND YEHUDA SCHMIDT | OCTOBER 19, 2023

Camels in Morocco's desert.

Camels in the Sahara. Photo: Traveler Yehuda Schmidt

Before the glow begins to fade we want to write about our amazing trip to Morocco!  We visited Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes and the Sahara desert from October 5 – 16, along the way we saw countless villages and interesting sites.

From start to finish Radia’s team was professional yet personal, organized yet flexible to our needs, deeply knowledgeable and overflowing with warmth and concern. Radia really listened to our desires and needs. We were able to craft a wonderful trip.

Our itinerary, from north to south, from city to desert (even cheesy camel rides!) was perfection. We had requested unique hotels that spoke to the culture of Morocco. We loved the hotels chosen! The riads were beautiful with internal courtyards rich with gardens and fountains. They were unique and comfortable. Different enough that we fully felt in vacation mode but familiar enough that we could relax.

We had to slightly change our itinerary due to some physical limitations and due to the earthquake. Radia’s team helped make our changes seamless.

My heart though is with Ahmed Mha, our guide, and Younis El Guarah, our driver. They were the golden core of our trip. Younis, aka Mr. Magic, was always waiting right where we needed him to be. He drove professionally and capably. I am a nervous passenger but he was calm and respectful. He cared for us in a way I didn’t know was possible. Zero stress!

Ahmed was a perfect tour guide. His knowledge is deep and constant. No matter what the topic or the discussion, he had the context and the history to enrich the conversation. He “knew” us and our interests of history and culture. He adjusted our schedule to fill our every need. For example, due to our situation we could not hike the Atlas mountains so he planned a magical day in the port city of Essaouira. It was one of our absolute favorite days. We loved the medina and the seaside.

I would also like to mention their attentiveness to me when I was not feeling well. They provided unparalleled care. I felt supported and cared for as if I was home. It was very touching. They gave me a day to recover while touring with my husband but we returned to the spots that I was most sad to have missed.

We most definitely recommend Radia and her team!

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Italy: private boat off Capri, Palio di Siena…

JILL MARGET | OCTOBER 17, 2023

My husband and I just returned from 10 wonderful days in Italy—Positano, Florence and Rome. Jennifer and her team were exceptional. Pat and I knew we were trying to put a lot into a limited timeframe, but Jennifer made it happen. No detail was forgotten. This, particularly during such a huge boom in Italy travel, was priceless. Every guide, driver, restaurant recommendation and hotel suggestion was spot on.

We stayed in a lovely seaside hotel in Positano. Our favorite day was probably chartering a boat for ourselves to tour the coast and Capri. The highlight was lunch at a beach club only accessible by boat—Conca del Sogno. So fun and delicious.

Before Florence we stopped at Pompeii. Our tour guide, Paola, was amazing. There’s so much to see in Florence, we couldn’t do it all in two days. But our guide, Elisa, didn’t just follow a set script. She talked to us and got to know what our interests were and made sure to prioritize those. She was great!

We stopped in Siena before Rome. Wow, Siena was a great surprise. Our guide, Fiorenza, was so passionate and knowledgable. I am now a Palio di Siena fan.

Rome was phenomenal. Even with the large crowds, Jennifer’s guides and her team’s daily communications made us feel very well taken care of the entire time.

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Croatia: food, wine, swimming in the Adriatic…

DONNA PRASKACH | OCTOBER 14, 2023

Travelers next to a private sailboat on the coast of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Karen Bennett and Donna Praskach got to explore the Elaphiti Islands, near Dubrovnik, by private sailboat.

My girlfriend and I just returned from a most PERFECT and fabulous trip to Croatia that your expert agents designed for us (Sept. 27-Oct. 8, 2023). I can’t express enough how amazing the guides, drivers, hotels, etc. were. Our drivers never missed a beat; all were so punctual, professional, knowledgeable about their country and willing to share. Our guides: Lea in Split, Violet in Hvar and Anna Marie in Dubrovnik were some of the most incredible people during our visit to beautiful Croatia. I was so impressed with the knowledge of not only their country, but history, economics, culture, language, religions and so willing to answer any question we had. It truly was an interactive experience with them.

The specific agent that we worked with, Ala, was just a wealth of knowledge. She arranged cooking classes, wine tastings, walking tours, visiting an oyster farm and having a private oyster and mussel tasting, but still plenty of time to relax and swim in the Adriatic Sea. It really was a trip of a lifetime and one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve taken abroad. And everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, came together without one hiccup happening. Truly, a PERFECT experience.

My friend had used WendyPerrin.com previously and, therefore, we were granted a WOW Moment and, oh my goodness, was it a WOW Moment! Probably the highlight of our trip. You arranged to have a gorgeous private sailboat to sail around the Elaphiti Islands right off the coast of Dubrovnik. What an over-the-top experience that was for us and culminated our trip on the last day. It couldn’t have been more perfect, again, perfect!

Thank you, Wendy Perrin, and your incredible team of experts. I will definitely be using you again in the near future, without a doubt, and have already recommended you to so many of my friends. A trip of a lifetime thanks to you!

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Morocco: traveling after the earthquake

MICHAEL MODAK | OCTOBER 15, 2023

When we awoke on September 9 to read the headlines about the earthquake in Morocco, we were deeply saddened by all the loss of life and damage to people’s homes and property. And we were also ready to cancel our trip that was to begin a week later.

Radia had done an excellent job with an itinerary that began in Casablanca and moved to Rabat, Menkes, Fes, Merzouga (desert camp), Dades Gorge, Marrakech, Essaouira, and back to Casablanca.

When we heard the news our first inclination was to cancel. Radia was reassuring as to the situation in the country. We also reached out to the various hotels in which we were booked and the story on the ground was clear. The devastation was in particular areas and that the economy is so dependent on tourists that they encouraged us to come. But they also clearly put the decision in our hands if we felt any discomfort in travelling there.

We went and are very glad we did.

I was coming in from Paris and my wife from New York and you guessed it, my wife was delayed. No problem as our guide, Mustapha, and I headed to a local coffee shop and had a chance to talk about the country and his background. Both he and our driver, Abdul, were great comrades for the two-plus weeks in the country. I have done many tours with custom guides and would rate Mustapha’s knowledge, flexibility, personality, and pacing of the trip as among the best I’ve encountered.

As for the trip, all of our expectations were exceeded. Some of the most memorable moments were:
• Dinner at a traditional Moroccan restaurant (our first, but not last, tajine-cooked meal) overlooking the casbah of Rabat
• Lunch at a local restaurant in Moulay Idriss on a Sunday – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the buzz of families dining out
• In Fes, watching artisans make intricate tile objects such as fountains and tables
• Watching a butcher in the Medina in Fes shave a cow face (for what reason I do not know)
• A dinner experience at numerous stalls for different courses in the medina
• The drive from Fes to Merzouga and seeing desert and various oases along the way
• The beauty of the afternoon dunes before a camel ride to view a sunset in the desert
• Tea at the tents of a nomadic Bedouin family
• A breathtaking drive from the Dades Gorge to Marrakech. There were clear signs of the earthquake damage along this route. Very sad to see government-supplied tents for those who lost their homes
• An incredible “singing” welcome upon arrival by many birds in the trees in the courtyard at the Villa des Orangers
• An exciting motorcycle sidecar ride through Marrakech and the medina – great for movie making
• A photoshoot (arranged by Radia’s office) at La Mamounia
• Another great food experience at the night market in Marrakech. From snails to soup to fish to sweets. And all the street entertainment
• Goats in trees near Essaouira. You have to see it to believe it
and many more.

This was quite an experience and we plan to come back to visit Tangier!

The big learning for us is that unless the disruption caused by a natural disaster is directly in the area you plan to visit, it makes sense to see what is going on where you intend to visit. And I can say that the places we stayed and visited were very appreciative of our coming despite the news that was flowing to the world on the scope of the damage.

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Ireland: food tour of Galway, yachting on a lake…

HEATHER MCDOWELL | OCTOBER 13, 2023

We had a fabulous first trip to Ireland in September, thanks to Jonathan and Katie! Our little group—my husband and I, our daughter, and her friend—only had a week to squeeze in the trip before the kids were due back to college. And our decision to go was comparatively last-minute given the increasing popularity of fall travel. Knowing we couldn’t see everything, we still hoped for a varied sampling of the culture, history, and sights that make Ireland special, and Jonathan and Katie absolutely delivered! We started at the stunning Ashford Castle, which offered impeccable service and surroundings, wonderful dining and activities, and the perfect base for a food-tasting tour of charming Galway one day, and for exploring Sky Drive, Connemara National Park, and Kylemore Abbey on another. Then, making our way to the lovely Cashel Palace Hotel, we first enjoyed a spectacular day on a “Secret Ireland” guided yacht trip on scenic Lough Derg, stopping to visit both a modern home with an inspired art collection, and a restored medieval tower castle. Everyone was welcoming, and spoiled us with food and drink and fascinating stories. Another day we spent the morning at Rock of Cashel and afternoon exploring Kilkenny, soaking up more of Ireland’s history. Throughout the trip, our primary driver-guide was always ready, anticipated things we might need or want to see, and always game for making little adjustments in our itinerary to ensure we made the most of each day. Our last two days in Dublin were full but not rushed, and our guides there were equally perfect—extremely knowledgeable as well as fun to be around. Highlights included a walking tour brimming with history and stops at pubs with special literary significance (for our bibliophiles), as well as visits to Trinity College, Kilmainham Jail, and several museums. Jonathan and Katie listened carefully when we talked about our interests and goals for the trip, and arranged an itinerary that hit all the right notes. We made wonderful memories and look forward to seeing more of Ireland soon!

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Norway: northern lights, Oslo’s museums, art & architecture…

Jeannie Mullen | OCTOBER 11, 2023

Crab fishing in Alta Fjord, Norway

Jeannie Mullen suited up to fish for king crab and halibut with boat captain Albert.

Just returned from a solo trip to Norway September 11-20, 2023. After my pet sitter bailed on me at the last minute, I reached out to Jan to see what he could do to adjust the 3-week driving itinerary through Norway that he and I had just finalized. Jan was very flexible, gave me several options to choose from and before long we had whittled a 21-day trip down to 10, maintaining the main focus of trip…seeing the northern lights.

I started out at Sorrisniva Wilderness Lodge in Alta, above the Arctic Circle in the northern fjords. By day I was entertained with king-crab fishing in Storekorsnes, lunch with and storytelling by a local reindeer herder, a visit to the nearby UNESCO site featuring northern Europe’s largest concentration of petroglyphs (rock art) made by hunter-gathers dating back 2000-7000 years, and a boat ride on the Alta River with Tor, one of the lodge owners. Each night after dinner I was driven to different locations to search for the lights…. It was such a great experience. I had been coached beforehand that not everyone gets to see the lights every night and sometimes not at all over a period of several nights. Fortunately I saw them each of the four nights that I was there and got some great photos. On my last night in Alta I came back early enough to see the lights with a cup of hot chocolate from the warmth of my bed. It was an experience that I will never forget.

I had shared with Jan that I had a very broad range of interests coming into this trip, so the tenor and tempo changed quickly when I arrived back in Oslo. At my request, it was all about art, architecture, history and culture. In a very fun surprise, I was treated to a WOW Moment as I walked out of the elevator my first morning there. Jan knew from our trip-planning discussions that I am involved with a professional theatre company in my hometown and had made arrangements for his sister-in-law, Ingjerd Egeberg, a Norwegian actress (and national treasure), to spend an hour with me prior to the start of my planned day. Over coffee we had a lovely discussion about the theatre and then walked across the street together to the National Theatre for a backstage tour. It was truly delightful! Thank you again, Jan and Wendy! And THEN the day started.… The museums, art, architecture and parks in Oslo were beautiful…the Munch (The Scream) Museum, City Hall, the Opera House, the Deichman Bjorvika (the world’s best new public library), the Nobel Peace Center, the Harbour Promenade in Oslo Fjord, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History and the Vigeland Sculpture Park. The next day was spent away from the city at the Kistefos Museum in Jevnaker, one of the most important outdoor sculpture parks for contemporary art.

And then it was time to head home. I cannot say enough about Wendy’s suggestion to use Jan.… His detailed planning, choice of hotels, guides, drivers, and restaurant suggestions were all spot-on. I enjoyed myself so much on this trip that I had Jan plan a 10-day itinerary to Denmark for the fast-approaching Thanksgiving holidays. And next summer I’ll work in the driving portion of the Norway trip that I missed out on this year.

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Ireland: “stunning and rugged” coastlines, Belfast…

LYNN CASPER | OCTOBER 6, 2023

Just back from the beautiful country of Ireland. This trip was different than past trips thanks to the stellar itinerary that the folks from Jonathan’s office put together for us. We focused on the west coast of Ireland and our new favorite: County Donegal. Micheal and I were treated to the stunning and rugged coastline views, including Slieve League, which I had never heard of before. These are cliffs on the Donegal coast that are not to be missed. While on the west—Jonathan’s group set up a border collie / sheep herding demonstration. It was so interesting and fun—the dogs and their skilled trainers are amazing. From Donegal, we made our way east to Derry and ultimately Belfast. We toured an entire day on the coastline north of Belfast in County Antrim. Our driver/guide Colm made the trip so much better with his knowledge, wit and that undeniable Irish humor. I loved the pace and the time spent in three main areas. Everything was planned to perfection and the guides in Ireland were the BEST!

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Zimbabwe, Namibia, Johannesburg: safari, desert, Victoria Falls…

KAREN LINDFORS | OCTOBER 3, 2023

Travelers swimming in the Devil's Pool at the top of Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe

Karen Lindfors and Patrick Moore brave the Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls.

We had a marvelous, perfectly planned trip to Zimbabwe and Namibia in September. Katie on Cherri’s team designed an itinerary that was varied and had an optimal blend of animal safaris, cultural content, adventure activities and jaw-dropping landscapes. We began our trip with one day in Johannesburg, which we spent in Soweto with a fascinating photojournalist who seemed to know everyone in Kliptown. Following our tour he sent us all of the photos he took during our day with him. Unfortunately, we were there on a day when the Apartheid Museum was closed so we weren’t able to visit.

From Johannesburg we flew to Zimbabwe and stayed at three different safari camps. The first was on the Zambezi River, the highlight of which was a canoe trip on the river amongst the hippos and crocodiles. Our second stop was the stunning Bumi Hills Hotel on the shores of Lake Kariba. There we enjoyed traveling to a local village and visiting an African Bush Camp Foundation school. Other highlights were fishing on the lake, where we caught about 50 bream in a couple of short hours, and a wonderful sunset cruise.

Our third camp in Hwange National Park was in the classic African savannah. 50,000 elephants live there and we marveled at their fascinating behavior at the camp and park-maintained watering holes. We saw many lions up close and even a leopard on multiple occasions. Our sundowners (those gin and tonics were something else we loved) were generally in open areas where we could see herds of animals traversing to the watering holes for their own evening drinks. It was nature on full display.

After our three safari camps we spent a night in Victoria Falls and, at Katie’s suggestion, braved a heart-pounding swim in the Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls. After a helicopter ride over the Falls, it was on to Namibia and its stunning Sand Sea. The desert was mesmerizing and a photographer’s dream. We drove through the dunes, hiked on them and even took a balloon ride over the desert landscape. Throughout the trip we had fabulous guides who shared so much knowledge with us, both regarding the natural world and all of its creatures, and also their personal stories as well as the history and politics of their nations. The camps were lovely with such hospitable staff members who truly made us feel like welcomed friends. For the first time ever on the last day of a trip, my husband said he wished he could stay longer!

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Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda: wildebeest migration, gorilla trek, luxe lodges…

LYNNE GAYNOR | SEPTEMBER 28, 2023

Just returned from a spectacular 19-day trip, arranged by Julian, Lisa and Carmella. This is our second trip planned by Julian, we went to Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe in April 2022 and loved it so much that I started working again with his office shortly after we returned. Our trip was seamless. We stayed in 7 different lodges/hotels and had 11 flights. Julian and the team had everything in place, our accommodations were luxe and gorgeous, we had amazing guides, and every transfer from flights to pick-ups was on time and perfect. Even when we encountered a blip (missing our Qatar connection on the flight to Kenya), I was unbelievably able to email Carmella and Lisa from the plane and they advised me on our options. We started in Nairobi, stayed at Hemingways. We visited the Giraffe Center (fabulous), the Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary (also wonderful), stopped at a workshop where they recycle flipflops into art products and more. The poverty as you drive along is eye-opening in all these countries, but you will over and over hear that tourism is the main industry and that your visit is important. Following Nairobi, we visited 3 Kenya parks—each with different geography but all spectacular. We stayed at Ol Donyo Lodge, Segera Retreat, and Mara Plains in Kenya—all stunning, welcoming, with the nicest rooms and outstanding food. I am on a salt-restricted diet and every place made me the most delicious meals—best food I have had in ages, seriously! Our Kenya guides were phenomenal, all belonging to Masai tribes. We had the opportunity to visit a kindergarten, 2 bead cooperatives, gardens, our guide’s village, and the anti-poaching dog-training group at Segera. All really enhanced our trip. We moved to Tanzania and had a highlight day waiting for and watching a wildebeest migration of (our guide estimated) 6000-plus animals. The final stop was Rwanda, we had one terrific night at Kigali Serena before moving on to the most amazing, incredible lodge of a lifetime—Bisate Lodge. With only 6 rooms, the service and accommodation is an unparalleled treat. They guided us in getting ready for our Gorilla Trek. I was really nervous and they all kept reassuring me—you will make it—and I did. The Gorilla Trek is a once-in-a-lifetime, the porters are your best friends in making the journey.

Bottom line: None of this would have been possible without the expertise and perfect itinerary prepared by Julian and Lisa. After our first trip, I realized that 3 nights per location was preferable. Somehow Julian and Lisa listen and put together the ideal itinerary. I have referred friends to Julian and they all feel the same way—THE BEST BEST travel agent. If you are thinking about South or East Africa, Julian and Lisa are your new best friends. I promise you.

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Kenya & Rwanda: private conservancies & gorilla trekking

GINA AND ROGER SYMCZAK | SEPTEMBER 27, 2023

We recently returned from a truly amazing trip to Kenya and Rwanda, organized by Dan Saperstein. We began planning our trip over a year ago, initially interviewing two companies that were rated as being in “the top five” by respected travel publications. Disappointed that their representatives weren’t really listening and designing trips that met our criteria, we reached out to Wendy’s team and got connected with Dan.

Dan is a great listener, and promptly put together an itinerary for September that excited us and met our requirements. With his guidance, we selected two locations for safaris on private lands in Kenya, the Lewa Conservancy and the Mara North Conservancy. The safari experiences at the two locations complemented each other really well. In Lewa, we saw four of the Big Five upon arrival, just on our drive from the airstrip to camp! Home to countless unique species, there we also saw Grevys Zebra, white and black rhinos and even wild dogs. Fortunately, we also made it to the Masai Mara in time to see the migration and a drama-filled river crossing, as well as all the Big Five. Our last stop was Rwanda, where we went gorilla trekking for two days. It’s hard to explain the joy and wonder one experiences when face-to-face with a gorilla family, but it was extraordinary and we are forever changed.

For all of our adventures, Dan secured safe, plush accommodations and knowledgeable, helpful and attentive local guides who were great ambassadors for their countries. We were really impressed with their sincere commitment to conservation and their communities. We are so happy we entrusted Dan with our first trip to Africa, including our “bucket list” time with the gorillas; he delivered a truly awesome experience.

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Peru: Machu Picchu, desert, beach…

JOHN STRACHAN | SEPTEMBER 25, 2023

My wife, kids (10 and 12 years old) and I had a fantastic trip to Peru, hiking four days on the Inca trail, visiting Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, Cusco and Paracas. Wendy put us in touch Tom, who created a great itinerary, got us lined up with superb guides, and made it so that all went seamlessly.

Everything about the trip was wonderful. We divided it in two parts. First we did the Cusco/Machu Picchu region for about ten days, then we went to the Paracas Desert/coast for about five days. Our thinking, which turned out to be wrong, was that the adults would thrill to the hiking and Inca portion of the trip, and the Paracas portion would be the reward for the kids. In fact, we all enjoyed the whole trip, but the Inca portion was what we will all forever remember.

We did so much and saw so much, that I cannot describe it in great detail, but in general, we were blown away by all that we learned about and saw of the Inca civilization. Their growth and all they accomplished in only a hundred years still has me dumbfounded. Visiting the Sacred Valley, which is in the Cusco region, was a great way to start. We saw a number of Inca ruins, and learned a great deal from our guide Ronny. The Inca architecture, engineering, farming, food storage, religion, social systems, political systems, communication systems, and on and on…. Every bit of it was jaw-dropping and fascinating.

But for me, what heightened the impact was four days hiking and camping on the Inca trail. Akin to taking a Nile cruise to see sights that would otherwise be inaccessible, hiking from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu gave us the chance to see not just individual, hard-to-access sites, but even better, to see the connections between them all and get a sense of how the Incas knit it all together—areas with different climates, environments, agriculture, foods, etc. Walking the centuries-old trail and encountering still-standing aqueducts, temples, waystations, and granaries along the way had a profound impact that I do not think would have hit us had we only hopped from site to site by train or car.

The trail itself was a good challenge but there was never a moment when any of us—kids or adults—thought we’d taken on too much. The kids did great, even up at 14,000ft, laughing and having fun the whole way, even if they won’t admit it. Law requires hikers to have a guide and porters, and our team was superb. It wasn’t glamping by any stretch—the food was good but simple, and we slept on mats on the ground in regular tents—but the porters did all the work. They set up and broke down camp, carried 95% of what needed to be carried, brought us hot beverages in the morning. And then as we huffed and puffed up the trail during the day, they literally ran past us up or down steep inclines (some of them in open-toed sandals!), as if it were a walk in the park.

(The packing list Tom provided was spot-on. We skipped bringing rain pants because we went during the dry season, but all his other recommendations were perfect.)

Aside from the Inca ruins we saw along the way, the natural beauty was almost overwhelming. Every step through the Andes was breathtaking. Any vantage point on the trail whether verdant or dry could almost move you to tears, it was so gorgeous.

When we got to Machu Picchu late the fourth day…, what a reward. Everyone has seen pictures, but to pass through the Gateway of the Sun and see the complex surrounded, even dwarfed, by the dramatic topography around it, well, it leaves me without words just thinking about it.

All the hotels in Cusco/Machu Picchu were excellent. We loved every one of them. But the star of the hotels was the Inkaterra Machu Picchu hotel. I’ll never forget that first hot shower, that sumptuous meal, or the comfort of that bed after four days on the trail. (I don’t know what it is, but we’ve found that hotels in Ecuador and Peru have the comfiest beds in the world—even in little $20/night places we’ve stayed in little mountain towns.) This hotel is unique in the village of Machu Picchu—formerly Aguas Calientes—in that it has beautiful, secluded grounds to roam, whereas most other hotels are pretty tightly packed together.

During the whole trip, the staff was 100% there to help and make sure all went well. For example, I would have expected the drivers to simply do their job and drive, but they went the extra step. They knew all the roads and shortcuts, but also made sure we were comfortable, well fed, and had snacks and water. Whenever we stopped and got out, each of our drivers kept an eye on the kids to make sure they didn’t head in the wrong direction or get swarmed by street vendors. If one of the kids got bored or tired, they were there to take the child back to the bus to rest. And all of it with kindness.

All the places Ronny took us for lunch were delicious, and we had the chance to try foods we never had tasted before such as beef heart and alpaca meat—both as delicious as could be. Don’t knock it till you try it! One day for lunch in Cusco, when the kids were beat and we were looking for something casual and easy, Ronny—who is from Cusco—took us off-itinerary to his favorite hole-in-the-wall roasted chicken joint, which was as memorable and tasty as any meal we had.

I could write about that Inca part of the trip for days, and I am all charged up now just thinking about the memories. My mind and heart are overflowing.

At any other time, the rest of our trip would have shined more brightly, but honestly, it pales in comparison with Machu Picchu. We had fun in the desert/beach region of Paracas, and saw some some cool stuff—penguins, flamingos, sea lions, cormorants in the wild—and we ate well (I love tacu-tacu), but hey, we had just hiked the freaking Inca trail! Of this part of the trip, the big highlight was the stunning Huacachina oasis and the roller-coaster-like dune buggy ride around its environs. Big fun.

Big thanks to Wendy and team, our TTE Tom, our guide Ronny, and all the on-the-ground staff who blew our minds.

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Croatia, Herzegovina, Montenegro: kid-friendly experiences, private boat charter…

KIM SEGAL | SEPTEMBER 14, 2023

My husband, two children (ages 4 and 6) and I just returned from a 2.5-week trip through Croatia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro, coordinated by Ala and her fabulous team. The trip was, in a word, perfection—so thoughtfully planned out and orchestrated, with amazing guides, fabulous restaurant recommendations, and superb on-the-ground service. It was the first large international trip we’ve taken with our two kids, and it ended up surpassing all our expectations. My older child kept exclaiming, “Mom, Croatia is paradise!” They’re not wrong.

Ala did a wonderful job of recommending hotels that were family-friendly, given the constraints she was working with (some areas in Croatia really just don’t have true luxury hotels yet like I am used to). One highlight was the Relais & Chateaux property Maslina, on the island of Hvar, which is a true gem—everyone should splurge and stay there. It’s located a 20-minute walk from Stari Grad (there’s a beautiful paved path that winds along the coast), had exceptional food, great rooms with gorgeous views, a truly attentive staff who took care of everything, and two great pools for the kids to enjoy—along with a kids’ club which my two children loved. While on the island we also had an incredible full-day private boat charter to the Pakleni Islands, fully arranged by Ala, and it was magical—we swam in beautiful azure waters, saw fish (it was my older child’s first time donning goggles to “snorkel” and they loved it!); and took in incredible views. Many times, we were one of only a few boats located in our swimming area. We also enjoyed an amazing meal at a restaurant in Hvar town with a beautiful, quaint outdoor terrace area, which was easy to settle on as Ala’s team provided a full suite of restaurant recommendations in each area we visited.

One of the things our family most appreciated about Ala was her ability to pivot on the fly and suggest plans that would work best for our younger children, as we were not sure what would and wouldn’t work for our kids. In Split, for example, Ala put us in a charming hotel right in the historic palace area, but its size and location meant it lacked the amenities my kids like (think pools, beach access, etc.). When I inquired about a good public beach to visit, knowing my kids would want some beach time on this stop, Ala was quick to help us set up an afternoon at Le Meridien outside of town (and coordinate transportation for us as well)—all on an hour’s notice. While not a traditional activity that most would plan—and not something I would have found on my own—it was perfect for my family, as the kids spent the day being fishes and I spent the afternoon reading a book seaside.

As I mentioned above, this was our first large, multi-country trip with our children and we didn’t know exactly what to expect—we were learning as we went. Ala made herself and her team available at all times—via WhatsApp or phone—to pivot and make changes as I requested. And, while I didn’t expect to, I ended up making multiple change requests! We were able to shift tour start times to better align with our schedule once we ended up on-continent, and we added / subtracted items as we realized what worked best for our family. On our drive to Herzegovina, Ala was happy to flex our schedule on a day’s notice so that we could stop at Kravica waterfall, where one can swim at the base of the falls—something that our two kids really enjoyed! We bought small nets from the vendor at the base of the waterfall and one of my kids “caught” their first fish—a huge moment for them! Our tour guides flexed their schedules to accommodate our children’s interests (or lack of interest in history), and were quick to share advice with us about local restaurants, things to see or do, etc.—in Mostar we ended up attending a Bosnian Street Food festival one evening, complete with a DJ and a bouncy house (something my kids were thrilled about!) because our guide made sure to mention it to us and show us where it was set up—it wasn’t something we ever would have found on our own. Our guide in Mostar also took us back down the residential streets to our hotel, passing a huge street art installation she knew was being worked on that day, simply because I mentioned how much I was enjoying the street art we passed.

The level of attention to detail and full-service offerings from Ala and team just made this trip such a dream. Our family had the best time and our two children are already asking to go back (especially to Maslina and the One&Only in Montenegro!). While there are many other places on the planet I long to visit, I am sure that we will return to Croatia in the future and when we do, Ala will be the first person I reach out to. If you’re considering a trip to Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, or Montenegro, do yourself a favor and contact Ala—she will ensure it is the trip of a lifetime.

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Hawaii: private villa for three generations

JEREMY SILVERMAN | SEPTEMBER 14, 2023

With expert help from Dani and Jen, we had a wonderful multi-generational family vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii in June. A visit to Hawaii had been on our son’s wish list, so that was our destination to celebrate his high school graduation. In addition to our core family of four (including our 16-year-old daughter), my parents joined, making this an extra-special family getaway.

Given the primary goal of being together, along with different levels of activity and mobility of our group, our lodging was particularly important. We needed a house big enough for all of us that would be a great home base and enjoyable place for my mother to spend time when others were venturing out for more active days. With that, Dani and Jen recommended the Villas at Mauna Kea resort on the Kona coast. We had a spectacular house with a large pool and amazing views of the beach and sunsets. The house was just a 5 or so minute walk down to the hotel’s great beach (best on the island, including one very friendly turtle), which made it easy for different members of the group to peel off for beach time while others stayed “at home.” With a gourmet kitchen we generally had breakfast at home together, as well as a number of dinners — and sunset cocktails was a can’t-miss, every-night event. The villa was the most expensive place we’ve stayed on any vacation to anywhere, but also one of the nicest and worth it for this special family vacation.

Before Kona, we spent a few days at Volcano House in Volcanoes National Park. The park is like no place on earth and the hotel is steps away from one of the largest volcanic craters. The hotel itself is fine, but we were glad we started in Volcanoes because it would have been very hard to go there after the luxury splendor of Mauna Kea.

Other highlights included an amazing helicopter trip for me and my son with Blue Hawaii and driving the Chain of Craters Road in Volcanoes Park — both are must-do activities on the island — as well as the Waimea Saturday farmers’ market, snorkeling in Puako Bay (nearby to Mauna Kea) and eating shaved ice at every opportunity! We capped the trip off with an amazing dinner at Canoe House at the Mauni Lani hotel — Dani used her inside connections to get us a perfectly timed reservation for our last night, which was the perfect send-off for our vacation.

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France: Provence, Paris, Rhone Valley…

JULIE HOLDER | SEPTEMBER 13, 2023

The Holder family in Les Baux-de-Provence in the south of France

The Holder family in Les Baux-de-Provence in the south of France.

Michael planned a trip for our family of 6, two adult children couples and my husband and I in September 2023. It was a wonderful experience from the planning to the execution. The communication and attention to detail was excellent. Michael was also able to be flexible when we wanted to make some minor changes to our day. We wanted to visit the Rhone wine valley in France, because my husband loves the wine, and we wanted both a wine-tasting experience while exploring historical and cultural sites there. Michael did not disappoint. We stayed at La Maison Papillon with our hosts Caroline and Olivier, who made us feel like family. The rooms were lovely, Caroline prepared delicious meals and we had a cooking class where we made our own dinner one night. It was wonderful. Our second stop was at La Bastide de Marie, which was an upscale boutique hotel in the middle of a winery in Provence—a beautiful property. The food and service was excellent. We had excellent guides and a variety of activities: wine tasting, visiting ancient caves, kayaking, cooking classes, etc. A highlight was our last night in Paris before our trip home. Michael planned a private cruise on the Seine to see the sites of Paris. It was a great way to use a small bit of time to give us a feel for the city and included champagne! It was a great way end to a marvelous 10-day vacation.

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Tanzania: Great Migration river crossings, cats galore…

SCOTT RIFKIN | SEPTEMBER 11, 2023

When I hired Cherri and Katie to plan this trip, I had one major goal – put us in a good position to see the Great Migration crossing the Mara River. The other goals were to give us a first-class trip with great camps and great guiding. Cherri and Katie succeeded in every aspect.

Trip dates – Aug 13 – 25 – perfect for Mara River crossings.

This is my fourth trip to Africa for safari. I was accompanied by my wife, another couple, and an individual who runs a major US zoo. I saw several river crossings in 2013. My wife has been to Africa three times but in her previous trip near the Mara, we missed seeing a crossing. The other three folks had never been to the continent.

First stop – Sanctuary Kichikani – Great Camp – Great wildlife – Great hosting. This is a mobile camp so bucket showers, tent, etc. However, the camp was beautiful, the staff was amazing, and the guiding was excellent. We saw a great variety of mammals and birds. The vastness of the great herd was everywhere. The predators had full bellies. We saw a leopard on day 1 – what a rare amazement. Our guide got us to a crossing of the herd that was in progress when we arrived on day 2. Wonderful to see but it was a bit crowded with vehicles. All in all an excellent experience.

Second Stop – Sayari – also in the northern Serengeti. Fantastic fixed camp. Again great accommodations with very good internet, great food, great staff, etc. Again we saw all the animals that you hope to see including Leopards, Cheetah, Lions, Giraffe, Wart Hogs, Zebras, etc. Great variety of birds. Here we had a wonderful guide who got us to a crossing of the Mara by the herd just minutes before it began. We were the first vehicle on site and had a fantastic position to appreciate the chaos and the magnificence of one of the most amazing natural events. We even saw a croc strike out trying to grab a young zebra.

Stop 3 – Namiri Planes – Cats, Cats, Cats!! Great camp, great hosting, wonderful food, etc. Good internet. This is the camp to see the cats – cheetah, lions, leopards. The short grasses and the flat planes make sighting easy. We saw the drama of failed hunts. A cheetah jumped on the front hood of our vehicle. He stood there for several moments staring at us. The guide started the engine and he jumped off.

Stop 4 – Chem Chem – We left the Serengeti and headed to Lake Manyara. Lovely camp with a great location at a watering hole. The zebras and giraffes and wildebeast would walk and run toward the watering hole in clear close view to our bed in the tent. A large herd of male elephants was nearby but less predators or female elephants. Great staff and guiding. Great food. Lovely walking safari ending with a beautiful meal under an immense baobab tree. We also visited a local Masai home and met the chief and his wives and children. This was very real and not touristy. We had drinks down by the lake and saw a small group of flamingos up fairly close. This is a private concession and one needs to drive across the highway into the main park. This isn’t a big issue. I think this camp would be perfect for a family with young kids – the close interaction with the prey animals was astounding. We actually got delayed from dinner one night by a group of five zebra munching away on the path between our tent and the main walkway to the dining hall.

All in all a phenomenal trip. Katie did a great job getting us where we needed to be. The only issue is the logistics between camps was at times a bit difficult as we need to go to hub airstrips and change planes a few times. The waits at the hubs can be a few hours. I suspect this is just a result of how Tanzania has set up its safari transportation system.

The trip was an A+. Our friends were stunned and amazed by the beauty and miracles of the parks.

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Spain: food tours, cooking class, biking Barcelona…

JOANNA BUCKNER | SEPTEMBER 8, 2023

Our trip was excellent and we were very happy with Pablo’s suggestions! The best part of our trip were the private food tours and the cooking class, which I had never thought to do before, and we covered so much ground in every way. I’d highly recommend these experiences, which felt very personal and not touristy. Our only negative was that I’d think twice about a bike tour in Barcelona for an 8 year old. But half of us continued with that same bike tour and loved it. The trip planner absolutely added value by booking fantastic, charming, perfectly located hotels and booking such incredible unique experiences like our cooking class and our tapas and pintxos tours that make a short trip feel SO full of culture, new experiences, new tastes, new friends. Bravo!!

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Costa Rica: rafting, rappelling, chocolate workshop…

JASON GRAPSKI | SEPTEMBER 8, 2023

My family of five spent 10 days in Costa Rica at the end of August, 2023. Our trip was planned by Irene (and her team) who lives locally in the region. We were looking for engaging adventure while staying in higher-end hotels that could easily accommodate a setup for a family (villas or adjoining rooms). Our trip was an amazing, wonderful family event that we’ll remember for a lifetime. The overall experience with Irene, from the initial scoping of a potential trip, to the selection of regions and hotels, to the detailed planning of daily activities, and the real-time adjustments during the trip, was top-notch. Our family includes three teenage children, so we were looking for adventure. Irene delivered. My wife has several dietary restrictions, so we needed hotels and restaurants that would accommodate us. Irene delivered. We had heard from several friends that Costa Rica provided the best family vacation their family ever experienced. We now feel exactly the same way.

For those interested in more specifics, please continue to read. We spent 5 days in La Fortuna, residing at the Nayara Tented Camp, in a family tent that easily accommodated the five of us comfortably (no bed sharing for the kids!). The hotel was absolutely magical, and we want to go back. We did a chocolate workshop at Two Little Monkeys, which was a highlight for us, and well worth the drive out of town. Irene organized our excursions to the Hanging Bridges, the zip lines that rip down a mountain and a canyoning tour that had us rappelling down waterfalls. All were amazing, with the rappelling being the family’s collective favorite. We also had a dedicated driver and larger van that accompanied us for our entire chapter in Arenal (hola Jonathan!), which we highly recommend.

We hopped a short flight and spent the last 5 days in the Manuel Antonio region. The hotel, Arenas del Mar, had a fantastic beach and wonderful restaurant. The wildlife was very active, including the white-faced monkeys that were a permanent fixture on the hotel grounds. For adventure, we got to paddle class III and IV rapids and we had a epic day surfing.

Some final random thoughts: The flights in and out of San Jose were easy. The short-hop domestic flights were incredibly convenient and worth the small extra cost vs. driving for 4-5 hours between destinations. I can’t emphasize enough how much we appreciated the dedicated travel van and driver in La Fortuna.

We will partner with Wendy Perrin/Irene for any future trip to Costa Rica (we will be back). And given the strength of our experience with our Costa Rica adventure, we will certainly turn to Wendy Perrin to help us explore other parts of the world.

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Azores: hot springs, volcano hikes, food & wine tours…

TONY FORD-HUTCHINSON | SEPTEMBER 6, 2023

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

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

For those of us who live on the East Coast of the USA, the Azores are the closest point to somewhere with a European and Portuguese feel. One of our guides (an American ex-pat) described them as a cross between Iceland (they are so volcanic), Ireland (they are so green) and Hawaii (a holiday destination in the middle of an ocean). Our trip with our daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters (aged 9 and 11) started with a direct 5.5 h flight from Newark airport. Flights arrive in San Miguel Island, the most populated, and we spent the first three nights in the luxurious Octant Furnas Hotel in Furnas, The hotel is surrounded by hot springs bringing boiling water to the surface. Highlights there were the food, including preparing and cooking a traditional stew which is buried in the hot ground for several hours, the hotel’s super warm, mineral swimming pool and a hike up a mountain side to Lagoa de Fogo (a lake in a former volcanic cone) followed by a swim on the beach. We then took a short flight to the volcanic Island of Pico famous for its mountain (a former volcano of course) and its outstanding white wine. During 5 nights in Pico, we took two day trips on ferries to the neighboring islands of Faial and Sao Jorge. Highlights were a trip through the lava tubes on Pico, visits to wineries and a hike around the Caldera on Faial. After flying back to San Miguel for our last 3 nights we were driven to our hotel on the Ponta Delgada harbor front (Octant Ponta Delgada). Highlights included a private whale watching trip with great sightings of three female sperm whales (one with a calf), an evening wine and food tasting tour, a morning food tour, a Jeep tour of the Lagoa das Sete Cidades and finally a tour of the tea plantations with an opportunity to make our own ice cream. Throughout the trip we had excellent local food and wine, including ultra-fresh seafood and excellent beef (cows outnumber people on the islands). A 5-hour flight home took us back to Newark with the realization that we still had 5 more islands to explore! Thank you to Goncalo and his co-workers for a great trip that left a multi-generational family very happy.

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Ecuador: hotel stay in the Galapagos, hacienda on the mainland…

JUDY WIMPFHEIMER | SEPTEMBER 6, 2023

Another fantastic trip thanks to our travel planner, Allie, found through the Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. We just returned from The Galapagos Islands with our adult children, our 6-year old granddaughter and our adult nephew and his partner. It was a trip we will all remember.

Working with Allie was a pleasure. She responded quickly and thoroughly to every question asked and, whenever we threw her a curveball (i.e. we’d like to add two more people to our group; or could this trip be done more economically), she just made it happen. At each stop, we were met at the airport by local guides and escorted to our destination. Allie fully prepared us for what we would need at the airports, and her people on the ground negotiated the airport transfers smoothly.

Our trip started in Guayaquil, where we had one day before heading to The Galapagos Islands. Allie sent us to La Danesa, a gorgeous, working hacienda! We visited the cacao plantation and participated in making chocolate from start to finish. Delicious! We also milked cows, went horseback riding and bicycling, and had a wonderful lunch. The grounds are beautiful and luxurious and we could have spent much more time there.

We traveled to The Galapagos the next day, where we met our wonderful guide, Viviana. She was truly one of the highlights of the trip. As a native of The Galapagos, she was knowledgeable and could share information in a way that was interesting to all of us. Even our 6-year-old peppered her with questions! We stayed on land at the Ikala Hotel, which had nice rooms, a lovely breakfast and restaurant area and a pool and lounge area which we all enjoyed. In our five days on the islands, our time was filled with varied and fascinating activities. We went to the Giant Tortoise Reserve; saw the lava caves and tubes; spent an incredible day walking along the beach at Tortuga Bay and snorkeling in the calmer area. We were met there by a photographer who spent an hour taking photos, which will be made into an album. We had days of boating to areas where we could go snorkeling and there we saw turtles, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, iguanas, pelicans, baby sharks and schools and schools of fish. One of the standout activities was a morning at Las Grietas, which is a swimming hole at the bottom of a lava-created crevasse. It was completely private and truly one of the highlights of our trip. On our last day, three scuba-certified family members went diving and they absolutely loved their day! I could go on and on because every activity that was planned for us was incredible. My only regret – we should have stayed longer!

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Iceland: adventuring with teenage grandsons…

BARBARA FIERMAN | SEPTEMBER 6, 2023

Foggy day on an ice cave tour in Iceland

Barbara Fireman, her husband, and their grandsons geared up to explore an ice cave.

From our first conversation with Chris, my husband Bob and I were “wowed” by his enthusiasm for Iceland travel. That, and his preference for a trip in which we did the driving and much of the touring on our own, with specialized guides at key sites, made choosing Chris’ operation an easy decision.

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

Most visitors to Iceland have opportunities to soak in thermal baths, such as the famous Blue Lagoon. But I doubt if many get to hike to a heated river, where the guide blocks the water flow, thereby creating a pool for private soaking, and cooks your meal over the heated rocks.

Chris provided top-notch guides and special, unusual experiences. His restaurant recommendations were excellent (especially in Reykjavik) and hotel choices were perfect for us. He was available to trouble-shoot if needed.

Bob, Tyler, Ben and I give Chris a thumbs-up across the board.

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Southern Africa: Victoria Falls, Cape Town, safari…

DAVID WEINSTEIN | SEPTEMBER 5, 2023

Cherri and Frankie were excellent! We told them our requirements were Victoria Falls, Cape Town, and animals at any time of the year they thought best. They put together a three-week trip in August to three different environments — wooded along the river at Anabezi Camp in Lower Zambezi, Zambia, the Okavango Delta, Bostwana at Shinde Camp, and the Camp Kalahari in the Kalahari desert, Botswana. I had not considered visiting the Kalahari, but Cherri highly recommended it and she was right. All were excellent — comfortable, well run, with top-notch guides, and very good food. We saw many lions, elephants, hippos, wild dogs, beautiful birds, and many other animals up close.

Most importantly, Frankie cheerfully answered our many questions and all the accommodations and guides they recommended were terrific. The planning was excellent and we felt comfortable and well taken care of every step of the way. My wife’s dietary issues were easily and well handled at each camp.

I would like to mention a couple highlights, but every day was a highlight — meerkats on our head, up close with a lion chowing down on a kudu, leopards seemingly posing for us atop a termite mound, twice watching packs of wild dogs hunt, boat rides, etc., etc, . . .

We thought going on a safari would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience literally and figuratively. However, we already agreed to do another one, and will not hesitate to contact Cherri and Frankie when we do.

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Bali: holiday festivities, village visit, snorkeling…

BRENDON LEWIS | SEPTEMBER 4, 2023

Our family of four, including 11- and 14-year-old sons, traveled to Bali in early August 2023. During our 10 days in Bali, we felt like we learned a lot about the Balinese culture. We arrived during the Galungan holiday and were amazed by the penjors decorating every street and the processions of worshippers walking in the street as we drove around the island. A highlight from our itinerary was the visit to a local village where we learned about rice farming, ate a delicious home-cooked meal, and played gamelan with the villagers. We also enjoyed our snorkeling trip to Menjangan Island and exploring the city of Ubud. All of the people we met in Bali were very kind and welcoming to us. Our guides Agung and Made, and driver Agus, took great care of us during our stay and taught us about the Balinese culture. We were sad to say goodbye when they dropped us off at the airport at the end of our stay.

Diane was extremely helpful in the planning of our trip. After a phonecall to discuss our family’s interests, she put together an excellent itinerary. Over the months leading up to our trip, she was exceptionally responsive to our questions and provided us with lots of information to help with the planning of our trip. It was a pleasure working with her.

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: beating the heat in summer

DIANE THORMODSGARD | AUGUST 28, 2023

Diane Thormodsgard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Italy: private villa on Lake Como

ADAM AMSTERDAM | AUGUST 25, 2023

Adam Amsterdam

Imagine three weeks in a villa with this view of Lake Como. Photo: Traveler Adam Amsterdam

We worked with Andrea and her excellent team to rent a wonderful villa for three weeks in Ossuccio, a small comune on the western shore of Lake Como (about 12 miles northeast of the city of Como). Andrea’s team found the perfect villa for us and our two adult children and made all the necessary arrangements with the owner and property manager. They even made sure that any groceries and household items we wanted were ordered and stocked for our arrival. Andrea arranged a day trip to Bergamo with a great English-speaking guide. If you’re within a two-hour drive I highly recommend visiting Bergamo. She also arranged a cooking class for us in Bellagio with an award-winning celebrity chef. We made beautiful tri-color pasta and feasted on a delicious lunch. Andrea also arranged a boat with an English-speaking captain to take us to several towns along the western and eastern shores of Lake Como where we stopped for lunch, shopping, and gelato. I also must mention that we had a WOW Moment, which was a romantic dinner for my wife and me on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo overlooking Lake Como and the twinkling lights of Bellagio, all framed by the pre-Alps in the distance. This was our third trip to Italy planned by Andrea and her team as our travel experts and I wouldn’t think of planning anything in Italy without them.

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Southern Africa: safari, Cape Town, Victoria Falls…

MILINDA MARTIN | AUGUST 20, 2023

My daughter and I had the most incredible trip to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, as organized by Cherri, Katie and Sara. They were all outstanding and so easy to work with. One thing I always appreciate about your specialists is their desire to understand my particular travel needs and desires. We started with 5 days in Cape Town and Cherri kindly said that we would be best served by working with a local specialist, so she introduced us to Chantell McBain at Chalan Africa. Chantell did an excellent job of organizing our time in Cape Town, mixing up our need for outdoor activities — hiking and biking — with cultural and historical highlights. Her local guides were so willing to share information on the past and present challenges in South Africa, and we really felt we made new friends.

Then, off to Camp Moremi in Botswana, where we did 7 jeep drives that brought us so close to all the animals. Having been in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater before, I really appreciated the small and intimate camps in Botswana. When we found animals, there were only 2-3 jeeps and we did not crowd them. This allowed us to see animals mating, feeding, nursing, fighting, and other activities that are just part of life. Both Camp Moremi and Camp Okavango were beautiful, with kind staff members and great food. At Camp Okavango, which is surrounded by water, our safaris were by boat, canoe and on foot. We loved this — the quiet, the birds, the alarm calls! Once, on walking safari, we encountered a male elephant at close range. Our guide Taps quickly advised us on how to act and proceed. We felt entirely safe, and at the same time, were within 10 feet of the elephant. He even sniffed us!

We dearly loved Botswana, a beautiful place with charming people, but it was time to head to Victoria Falls. The land border crossing was a challenge, but we knew that would be the case in advance. Thankfully, the Palm River Hotel was excellent and we truly enjoyed the waterfalls. People recommended spending 2 hours on the walk along the falls. We were so captivated, we were there for 6, and especially enjoyed watching some slack-liners making their way across the gorge.

Our final stop was at Dulini Leadwood in Sabi Sands, and I have to say, this was beyond fantastic. The camp is beautifully designed and ever-so-comfortable. Our guide Mac and tracker Prince were so knowledgeable and within one day, we saw all of the Big 5 animals! Again, we were able to watch animal behaviors that are so rare, such as a leopard with her 3-month-old cub, playing. The family at Dulini are beyond service-oriented and the food is, quite simply, Michelin-star quality.

While we moved around a lot on this trip, every transfer was perfectly organized. We never had to worry about the timing or if we were in the right place. I was always confident knowing Cherri’s team were ensuring all went smoothly. While an African safari is never inexpensive, this one surely met all the criteria of “trip of a lifetime.” My daughter and I were profoundly affected by the emphasis on sustainability and respect/harmony with nature. She has some special dietary needs, and Cherri’s office ensured that she had options everywhere we want. Truly, we were pampered!

This is my 5th trip with one of Wendy’s experts, and we have 2 more coming up. I love doing my own travel planning, but when going somewhere that has myriad options and connections, it’s just so much easier with one of your travel planners. Thanks so much.

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Greece: Athens, Paros, Santorini…

AMANDA MANDEL | AUGUST 17, 2023

We had one of our best family trips in years, thanks to Maria’s colleague, Irene.

Irene was attentive to our needs and interests from the very start, and always available to answer a question or provide excellent recommendations. She was also highly available and responsive during our trip, on the occasions we needed a quick activity change to meet the needs of our two teens, or for a meal and activity out of the heat.

We started in Athens, where Irene booked us in a spacious, modern “apartment” at The Dolli, which had excellent service and food. The rooftop pool overlooking the Acropolis was a huge plus given the heat, and the day trip to the ruins at Delphi was a family favorite.

Then it was on to Paros, where we enjoyed the beautiful accommodations and staff attention at the Minois Hotel. Our teens loved the amazing outdoor space with our own small pool, as well as the resident cats. Our most favorite day of the trip was on a speed boat, where we traveled to the Blue Lagoon, went cliff jumping, and visited remote beaches in Antiparos and Despatiko. Nikos, our driver/guide, was fabulous, and we had a delicious lunch on board.

We then ferried to Santorini, where we stayed in the breathtaking Grace Hotel. The geology, ruins, and small towns in Santorini didn’t disappoint, and we enjoyed special attention at dinners that Irene arranged and various recommended restaurants, some off the “beaten path.” We also loved our fascinating guided tour to Akrotiri, a town even older than Pompeii that was also destroyed — and then preserved — due to a massive volcanic explosion.

Our meals, guides, and hotels were all impeccable, and even with the heat and crowds, we always felt supported and well taken care of. We would highly recommend Irene and the team to anyone planning a trip to Greece.

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

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Mexico City and Oaxaca: A grandmother-granddaughter adventure

HELEN BLUMEN | AUGUST 17, 2023

Helen Blumen

Hot air balloons above one of the pyramids at Teotihuacan, near Mexico City. Photo: Traveler Helen Blumen

My 16-year-old granddaughter and I spent 10 days in Mexico City and Oaxaca in August 2023, and we had a wonderful time! We especially loved the cooking lesson with a wonderful Zapotec lady, and the menu was adjusted for teenager tastes so that we ate quesadillas and chiles rellenos. Another highlight was the balloon ride to see the pyramids at Teotihuacan. We are grateful for Zach’s team’s flexibility when our original flight was delayed.

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Italy: history in Florence, food & wine in Tuscany…

ANDY ROBINSON | AUGUST 17, 2023

We just returned from a 12-day trip to Florence (2 days) and various other parts of Tuscany (8 days). This was a hybrid trip for us, as we planned some minor excursions on our own, but Andrea and her team worked with us and set up some great tours in Florence (despite our short stay) and experiences around Greve-in-Chianti, where we were based. While we had been to Florence before (also arranged by Andrea), the other couple we were with had not, so Stefano arranged separate tours on the same day for each of us which culminated in a private sunset cruise on the Arno (thank you Sylvia for your animated and attentive commentary—lots of fun). Our enthusiastic and passionate guides, Chiara, Sarah and Sylvia, brought Florence’s history and culture to life making the tours of the city, the Academy, Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and the Oltrarno District both informative and entertaining. The Brunelleschi Hotel, where we stayed, is a beautifully appointed property, centrally located with great service and amenities. The staff was very professional and accommodating. Highly recommended.

On to Greve-in-Chianti. We stayed at the Borgo del Cabreo, another beautiful property located on a vineyard high above the town offering a 360-degree view of the Tuscan countryside. Breathtaking, especially while sipping our morning coffee or enjoying an aperitivo by the pool at sunset. Rooms are big and the beds are very comfortable. Staff is very friendly but do be aware that you must have a car to get down to the village and there is no on-site shuttle but taxis are available. We had a car so it was not an issue for us. The breakfast spread is outstanding.

Our excursion to Montalcino and Pienza was sensational as was our driver Giovanni. We are big Brunello fans and Andrea’s team arranged a great experience for us at the small, family-owned Poggio Rubino vineyard. What a great day—we got the the tour of the winemaking operations and then sat down for a homemade Tuscan lunch (thank you Nonna) to accompany our very generous and expertly paced Brunello tasting. A great experience. Do it, but make sure you have Giovanni there to take you home. Since we probably overstayed our welcome at Poggio Rubino, our time in Pienza was brief but still worthwhile—even if just for the aroma of the cheese and truffles that surrounded us as we wandered down the streets.

The following day we drove to the Antinori-owned Fonte de Medici estate, where we took a pasta-making class with Ellis followed by a 5-course tasting menu at the Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Passignano just down the road. Wow. Both experiences were eye-opening and a treat for all the senses. Not enough room to really give these experiences their due but the meal was a show-stopper and the pasta class was revelatory. Ellis is a great teacher with a sharp sense of humor. We loved him. Our only advice is don’t drive there and maybe don’t do them back-to-back. A must-do experience. Thank you, Stefano and Andrea.

All in all, this was another fantastic trip arranged by Andrea and her team. Thank you to the guides and the hosts at all of the properties. Looking forward to our next adventure.

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Kenya: safari for 3 generations…

DAVID MAGDANZ | AUGUST 13, 2023

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. Daniel made all these arrangements.

The staff and guides at the camps were friendly and went out of their way to please us. The facilities were spacious and first-rate. The food was outstanding and the kitchen staff worked hard to accommodate the kids that were somewhat picky eaters. 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. After listening to what we wanted for the trip, he put it together recognizing our unique situation with 3 families and 4 children. When we had questions, he responded within a day and often sooner. He guided us through the procedures to get a Kenya visa as well as medical requirements and considerations, what to bring and packing limitations for the private small-plane air charters. When we go on safari again, Daniel will be our planner.

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Disney World & Universal: Room upgrade, VIP guide…

ADAM LEWIS | AUGUST 13, 2023

Our entire family had an AMAZING Disney and Universal Trip — we are very thankful to Michelle and the rest of her team. My wife and I have three daughters — 14, 13 & 10. We planned 4 of our own previous trips to Disney, but we knew we wanted to have a new/different experience so we contacted Michelle. We spent 7 nights at the Yacht and Beach Club, with 5 days at Disney parks and 2 days at Universal — July 31st – August 7th. The original planning call included a 60-minute Zoom with Michelle and team where we shared what we have enjoyed on previous trips but learned from Michelle how we could enjoy new and unique experiences. Some of the unique experiences for us were an upgraded room to Club Level at the Beach Club, which included access to an exclusive lounge with staff, small plates, coffee and drinks. They also secured a VIP guide on the day of our daughter’s birthday and our last day at Universal. My wife and I were busy with family things leading up to the vacation, but we hardly had to do anything because Michelle and team took care of the personalized itinerary and all reservations. They also provided stellar intra-travel support when I threw them a couple of audibles — they were very gracious and responsive.

We will always use Michelle’s office for future family Disney trips, as they are indispensable. The girls are already talking me into a trip to Disney in Anaheim and given we have never been, I’m confident Michelle’s team will make it a breeze and a slam-dunk.

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Mexico: after-hours museum tour, mezcal tasting…

KENNETH BOHAN | AUGUST 12, 2023

Special thanks to Zach and his team for an extraordinary tour! We decided to engage Zach based on the recommendations of good friends and Wendy Perrin advocates who visited Mexico last year. I appreciate the time that they spent curating such a unique experience! Simply put, Zach and his team listened.

Our plan was to explore Mexico City after attending a conference and finishing up in Oaxaca. Our guide Jaime, a professor at the University, introduced us to the highlights and historical center of Mexico City. He provided us cultural, social and historical background which made our visit all the more relevant and personal. The conference had some last-minute schedule changes which affected our itinerary. In short, we had to actually flip days and tour on a Sunday rather than the originally planned Saturday. Senior Coordinator Ileana handled the switch with grace and was able to make everything work seamlessly! This is what working with a pro is all about! Jaime made us feel like locals by accompanying us to Lucha Libre, the freestyle Mexican wrestling which was an immersion in culture! The next morning came very early with an exhilarating, not-to-be-missed balloon ride over the pyramids, followed by a delicious breakfast and tour of the Teotihuacan sight! Finally, I must mention a true highlight of Mexico City, our private after-hours tour of the Anthropology Museum. The stunning expanse of structure filled with artistic treasures could have been overwhelming. Our knowledgeable guide provided us with just enough detail to allow us to walk away with a sense of awe for the culture of Mexico.

Off to Oaxaca where we met our first guide Juan. After checking into our hotel that started as a 16th-century convent, we were treated to a mezcal tasting to learn about the spirit that is taking the world by storm. Afterwards we had dinner of grilled Tlayuda, the traditional tortilla that falls into the category of ultimate comfort food! For the next few days, our skilled guide Gabriel immersed us in the culture and history of Oaxaca. From churches, art galleries, museums and historic sights Monte Alban and Mitla, Gabriel’s impressive knowledge of so many subjects became apparent. I must mention that Zach’s restaurant choices in Oaxaca were fantastic! Each restaurant was unique and charming on their own merit, a perfect complement to our stay. Oaxaca is one of the most sought-after travel destinations and it is certainly apparent why. Thank you, Zach and team, for such an incredible experience!

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Canada: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia…

PHIL HOCH | AUGUST 12, 2023

Phil Hoch

Atlantic Canada is a smart choice for escaping summer heat and crowds. This is East Point Lighthouse on Prince Edward Island. Photo: Traveler Phil Hoch

We just returned from a trip to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and could not be happier that we chose Jill Curran as our travel expert. Jill was always accessible, even during high season and during both the massive fires and floods the area experienced. With her first-priority travelers on the ground, she always had time for us and our concerns about impact on our trip.

Jill was excellent at listening to our thoughts and wishes and crafted a beautiful itinerary that kept us mostly focused on smaller towns and areas for walking/hiking. From St Andrews to Saint Martin we could not have had a better introduction to the Bay of Fundy and life outside the big cities. Of particular note were our guides. Genny was fabulous in St Andrews and got us on Ministers Island, which you can only drive to at low tide. In St Martin, Mike, Jordan and Joe from Bay of Fundy Adventures took us hiking/walking, kayaking in the Bay, and best of all—our WOW Moment. We were treated to a private lobster dinner on the Bay of Fundy, watching the tide disappear, with enough scallops, lobster and more to feed us for a week. We tried to eat it all and failed!

Just prior to our starting the trip, one of the guide companies closed and Jill seamlessly found Bay of Fundy Adventures as a substitute and was able to get us a room at the quaint and lovely St Martin Inn. We felt incredibly lucky to stay there, hosted by Lynnette and served by Maggie. I would suggest everyone put this town and these suppliers on their itinerary.

We enjoyed walking the dunes at Greenwich beach on PEI and seeing the East Point lighthouse. On Nova Scotia, the grave site of Titanic victims, the boardwalk along the Halifax waterfront, and stops at Peggy’s Cove, Lunenburg and Mahone Bay were part of the final days of a trip we loved from start to finish.

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Italy: Tuscan coast, Rome, prime seats for Andrea Bocelli…

SUSAN KETCHUM | AUGUST 8, 2023

My husband and I just returned from Italy. Our travel dates were July 21-31.

Jennifer planned this amazing trip for us. Normally we would not travel to Italy in July…too hot and too crowded. However, our goal was to see Andrea Bocelli perform at the amphitheater he built in Tuscany called Teatro del Silenzio in Lajatico, his hometown. The theater is “silent” except for the one concert he performs there each year in July, and we felt it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The concert was taking place during the middle of our time in Italy, so we needed an agenda before and after.

We have planned other trips with Jennifer’s expert advice over the years in France and Italy and knew she would be the one to make this happen for us.

She suggested we start our trip on the Tuscan coast, staying 4 nights at the Hotel Il Pellicano. This gorgeous, iconic property overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea providing cool breezes throughout the day and evening, a welcome relief from the heat in Europe this summer. Heaven in July! We then traveled inland to the countryside of Tuscany for the next 4 nights, where we would be closer to the Bocelli concert. Borgo Pignano is an elegant country estate close to the hill towns of Volterra and San Gimignano. A perfect location that we would never have found on our own. Again the temperature dropped in the mornings and evenings, making it very pleasant for al fresco dining and touring.

While at these locations, Jennifer arranged for driver/guides to transport us to several wineries. A standout was Ornellaia. Not an easy tour to arrange, and Jennifer managed it!

The Bocelli concert was beyond our expectations. The tickets that Jennifer and her team secured were front and center, 5 rows back from the stage. We will never forget it. It was more than a concert, it was a masterful production with a full orchestra, ballet company, chorus and guest artists, from opera to pop. Magical.

Because we were flying home from Rome, we stayed 2 nights at the Six Senses Hotel in Rome, which just opened in March. Another superb recommendation.

We trust Jennifer and her team to ensure all the details are taken care of, from the meet-and-greets at the airport, the professional drivers, and the knowledgeable guides. A member of her team is in constant contact with texts each day giving all the details of the next day’s itinerary, including the names of the drivers and guides. It takes away any anxiety…we just have to show up!

Jennifer’s advice is invaluable to us and we consider her a friend. We will definitely call on Jennifer again!

We have used other WOW List advisors with the same excellent results and will continue to use Wendy Perrin’s great resources when we travel.

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South Africa & Botswana: whale-watching, ancient caves, safari…

LYNN CASPER | AUGUST 7, 2023

Lynn Casper

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

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

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

Kudos to Christian Harrison for setting up this amazing experience!

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Newfoundland & Nova Scotia: hikes, history, wildlife…

CHRISTINA BROWN | AUGUST 7, 2023

My husband and I just got back from a marvelous trip to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia planned by Jill, July 9 – July 24. We told Jill we liked comfort but valued friendliness and expertise over all else, and she really delivered. In St John’s, she got the author of a well-known history of Newfoundland to give us a long walking tour, including a stop into an officers’ private club from WW2 perfectly preserved. We saw amazing whales and puffins on a boat tour. We drove to the Bonavista Peninsula where we stayed at the amazing Fishers Loft Inn (what a view) and hiked the Skerwink trail. I thought the height of the trail might intimidate but it was fantastic.

From there we drove to the trip’s highlight, Fogo Island and the Fogo Island Inn, which is honestly the nicest, most comfortable place I ever stayed. The Inn was created by a not-for-profit foundation to employ the local community and keep its economy alive. The service is unbeatable—as though your cousins were keeping an eye out for you. The food was great too, and there were more awesome hikes. Don’t miss the boat ride to Little Fogo Island; we saw icebergs and dozens of whales.

The second week, we moved on to Nova Scotia, starting out with two great days in Halifax—don’t miss the boardwalk along the waterfront! We visited Prince Edward Island (lovely drive), but ran into difficulty driving back as there was terrible flooding between us and our next destination. On a moment’s notice, Jill nabbed the last hotel room in little Truro, Nova Scotia, so we stayed safe and dry despite unforeseen circumstances. I cannot say enough good things about Jill’s responsiveness. Newfoundland should be on everyone’s bucket list!

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Southern Africa: city life & safari…

THERESA SANDOVAL | AUGUST 6, 2023

We just returned from a remarkable trip to Southern Africa, as planned Dan. Our guides (along with the animals, of course!) were incredible, with each day bringing a new, exciting adventure. We met artists, designers, and entrepreneurs in Johannesburg and Cape Town who we would not have met without our well-connected guides. And then we went on safari! The animals did not disappoint, and neither did the lodges. Our seasoned rangers taught us so much about the wildlife and helped us to feel more connected to the experience. Every driver and guide provided our family excellent service from beginning to end. We would love to visit again someday soon!

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Vietnam: 12 days for a solo traveler

KATHERINE ALBERT | AUGUST 5, 2023

In my 85 years, I have seen a lot of the world. This trip to Vietnam was among the most wonderful journeys I have undertaken. It was eventful, enlightening, and altogether happy. I am very grateful to Wendy for referring me to Ethan and Sandy. They meticulously coordinated every detail of a packed agenda. They had wonderful ideas about how an older person like me could get the most out of the trip. As a result, it went off without a hitch—smooth sailing all the way. The hotels were all excellent, with an array of amenities. The food was an adventure in and of itself. It varied slightly from region to region but was pretty phenomenal everywhere. The weather was hot but tolerable, with almost no rain.

All my guides were great. Each brought their own perspectives and personal style to the job, which made things interesting; but they were uniformly competent, knowledgeable, accommodating, resourceful—even funny. From them, I learned things I did not know about Vietnam. For example, I did not realize that Vietnam is in some ways still a divided nation. I was very glad that my guides were candid about the contradictions and tensions between North and South. It was important to learn from them both how far the country has come in its long struggle for peace and independence and how much still needs to be done. I came away richer for that knowledge.

The beauty of the country is simply astonishing—water everywhere; flowers in abundance; the grandeur of Ha Long Bay; the backdrop of mountains and the natural grace of the landscape. The richness and diversity of Vietnamese culture and its history were evident everywhere, from the old city of Hanoi to Chinatown in Saigon. Bustling markets, temple after beautiful temple. And then the Maison Centrale (aka the Hanoi Hilton), a quaint name given by the French to a horribly brutal prison. On the other end of the spectrum, Ho’s tomb was uplifting. Though it was closed for renovation, it was moving to see the changing of the guard and the grounds surrounding the tomb where Ho lived and worked.

In the beautiful city of Hue, my guide did a good job of keeping the WOW Moment secret until we arrived at the home of Bon and Tchi (I’m sure I am misspelling their names—doing it from phonetic memory). Their hospitality was amazing, and the meal we shared was really good! Their grandson proved to be an excellent waiter; and their son was a pleasure to talk to. I very much enjoyed exploring their overgrown backyard, which contained everything from chickens to the elaborate tomb of Bon’s father. What a trip, in the 60s sense of the word. Thanks a million for setting that up!

There were unexpected “off-road” moments. In Hanoi, a visit to a gallery of (very impressive) contemporary Vietnamese painting; in Hoi An, a dinner at home with my guide, his wife and two boys; in Saigon, a serendipitous trip through back alleys to an orthodox Jewish Chabad, on the sabbath no less. Though I was not able to do any daredevil Vespa-riding, I did have a spin on the back of a bike in small villages on the Mekong. I even managed to cross the street all by myself—six times if my recollection is correct.

These are just some of the most memorable experiences I had. I have bored many friends and colleagues with reams of detail. I have also sung your praises. Again, my thanks to Wendy, Ethan and Sandy for a memorable trip. I enjoyed every minute of it.

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Switzerland: hiking, raclette, local mountain festival…

LAURA ROBERTS | AUGUST 3, 2023

Laura Roberts

The Roberts family hiking in Wengen during their WOW trip to Switzerland. Photo: Traveler Laura Roberts

We traveled to Switzerland for 16 days in late June with the help of Ana Marquez. I asked a lot of her because we were traveling with our 4 grown children, our daughter-in-law, and our 10-month-old granddaughter. She did a great job of finding interesting activities that all 8 of us could enjoy! We hiked, had a raclette lunch in a candlelit cave, rafted, mountain-biked, wine-tasted, and much more! We had 3 major destinations—Zurich, Wengen and Ascona. Wengen was our favorite—beautiful views of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, accessible only by train and no cars in town. However, the true highlight was in the mountains near Ascona. There was a local alpine festival for the opening of a cattle-grazing area high in the mountains. Ana arranged for us to go by helicopter and see the local traditions — cheese making, eating polenta and alpine horns. We were the only foreigners there and the people were very welcoming! We loved this trip!!

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Portugal: Lisbon, the Alentejo, beach time…

GINA SCHULMAN | JULY 30, 2023

We wanted to take a family trip for 2 weeks in July to Portugal with our two young children 7 and 2 years old. I had an idea of the areas I wanted to go but was unsure how to route it. We asked Goncalo and Joana Silva to plan an authentic, off-the-beaten-path look into the south of Portugal and the Alentejo and Lisbon, and we had a perfect time. Portugal is incredible! And it’s possible to beat the summer crowds. Everything was planned and executed perfectly from the minute we landed. We loved our day in Sintra and the coast at Azenas Do Mar with our guide Luís, and my son loved spending the day with our cooking teacher Claudia. We loved our apartment at Lumiares in Lisbon and the breakfasts on the rooftop. One of the highlights was our Costa Caparica beach day at Irmao. We felt like we were one of the only tourists and it felt like a slice of life for young Lisboans. Joana also got us a reservation at Belcanto, a very special experience for a parents’ night out. Another highlight of the trip were the people we met and the food at Craveiral Farmhouse. The kids loved to roam on their bikes and we found our favorite beach and fish shack on the beach on the quiet coastline of Costa Vincentina. We didn’t hear any English at these beaches and the water and coves were so unique. The most spectacular property we stayed at was Sao Lorrenco Borrocal in the Alentenjo. We had such a special time there, with delicious food and hospitality. We are so grateful to Joana for making sure we had large rooms at each of our hotels giving our family lots of space, and ease of rental car and drivers made everything stress-free. Portugal has quickly become one of our favorite places to visit and we plan on returning to see more of this beautiful country!

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France: wine trip to Bordeaux, Champagne, & the Loire Valley

MICHELLE PRICE | JULY 29, 2023

Michelle Price

Traveler Michelle Price and her friend Candi at the Eiffel Tower.

Jennifer planned a glorious 14-day girls’ wine trip in France. Our itinerary was completely planned around our focus on wine. Every hotel, tour guide, driver, wine tasting, and dinner recommendation was perfection.

Our trip started with being met on the jet bridge by Sofiane, who was literally waiting outside the airplane door. He whisked us through passport control, helped with baggage and escorted us to the awaiting car. This was the first time utilizing the service for passport control, and I am a big fan!

We had a wonderful day in Bordeaux visiting three Grand Cru Classe chateaux with private tours and wine tasting. Our driver, Remy, was full of wine knowledge and helped us with our French. The tasting in the cellar at Chateau Pichon-Longueville was incredibly memorable.

In the Loire Valley our highlight was learning about the powerful women who owned Chenonceau castle. The highlight in Paris was a private cooking class in Veronique’s home (Cuisine Elegante). And dinner at Le Tout Paris was delicious, with an incredible view of the city—including the Eiffel Tower.

My personal favorite part of the trip was Champagne. Domaine Les Crayères was an outstanding hotel, and both meals were amazing (Le Jardin and Le Parc). We toured Reims Cathedral, Veuve Clicquot, and a small Champagne house, La Maison Penet, where we had a delightful lunch.

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Italy: Tuscany, Florence & Sicily

JESSICA TOLMACH | JULY 29, 2023

Jessica Tolmach

Jessica Tolmach and her husband, Bruce, exploring Pienza during their WOW Trip in Tuscany. Photo: Zac Plett

Maria handled a multi-region, multi-person, multi-interest trip to Sicily, Florence and Tuscany wonderfully. Her attention to detail was particularly appreciated as we tend to squeeze into our trips just about as much as each day can handle.

We initially were doing just a week at a villa in Tuscany (with our 5 adult kids and their significant others), then expanded to include an additional week in Sicily with stays in 3 different regions—including a few days on an Aeolian island—and a weekend in Florence in between. All our transfers, ferries, small planes, cars, drivers, and guides were organized flawlessly and pulled off without a hitch. The guides were all knowledgable about art, architecture and history, which are our main interests. In addition, Maria acknowledged that large villa-renting was not her forte, so she collaborated with Patrice Salezze to find our dream spot—which she did! Patrice then secured a private chef for us and pointed us in the direction of some fabulous local spots in the area. Maria handled all the day activities, Patrice handled the villa. It was a great partnership.

Four special highlights that Maria secured for our group during our Tuscany stay: a spectacularly situated apartment in Siena overlooking the town square for perfect viewing of the wild, medieval, spectacular Palio horse race and dinner with the family who graciously opened their home, and shared wine, food and stories of the history of the races over the centuries. Another highlight was an outing with a truffle hunter and his dog into the hills and woods where the dog found truffles, and after we were hosted at their farmhouse overlooking the valley while they served us a multi-course lunch of truffle-focused dishes that were scrumptious, along with their own wines. We also adored a private tour and lunch prepared for us at a little-known but spectacular vineyard in Chianti with tastings paired with each course. And last but not least we will all remember forever our lunch at an agritourismo farm with a most generous host and chef that happily went on for hours on a glorious afternoon on their patio on the edge of their fields where we were served mind-blowing grilled meats and the best lasagna and tiramisu any of us has ever tasted. (My boys wanted to stay and work on the farm and never come home! And I got his grandmother’s recipes!) This trip in Tuscany was a first introduction to Italy for most of our kids and a 65th birthday celebration for Bruce and we wanted it to be memorable—it was just that!

P.S. Maria treated us to a WOW Moment that was truly WOW. We had a private tour of a villa in Noto, owned and lived in currently by a rare antiques collector who had refurbished and renovated this exquisite and over the top 100+ room villa unlike anything we’d ever seen. Most of the villa is not open to the public, by invitation only, so we felt we were peeking into a rarified world of fresco ceilings, breathtaking tiles, and hand-painted furniture that would be a museum by any other name. But it was a private, lived-in home where we were treated to a cocktail hour in the owner’s dining room with prosecco and appetizers. A treat! Thank you Maria.

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Peru: Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Amazon…

APRIL DWORETZ | JULY 27, 2023

We travelled to Peru with the help of Mark. From beginning of planning to the last day of our trip (July 11-23, 2023) we had an incredibly great experience. Mark listened to our preferences and concerns, which resulted in an ideal trip for us. We stayed in hotels of our liking, ate amazing food, and stayed busy with one amazing activity after another. Our guide in the Sacred Valley and Cusco, Adriana, was knowledgeable, fun, flexible, and kind. In the Amazon, Mark snagged the best guide at the Inkaterra Amazonica Reserva, Javier, who shared the secrets of the Amazon. I can’t imagine a better birthday trip.

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Indonesia: snorkeling, horseback riding, Buddhist relics…

CHRIS KLOES | JULY 26, 2023

Chris Kloes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Australia: Sydney, Northern Territory, Uluru…

MARSHA FRIEDLI | JULY 26, 2023

After waiting for over 2 years for COVID restrictions to be lifted and rules and regulations to be decided, we were finally able to travel to Australia. Hurray!!! And throughout this process, Kylie was with us. From planning in the beginning, September of 2019, to finally accomplishing the trip, May/June 2023, Kylie was with us. She worked with vendors to ensure we could still book with them and our deposits/payments would be safe and carried forward; she ensured prices either remained the same or had small increases. And the trip turned out to be the trip of a lifetime!

This was our 4th trip to the wonderful country of Australia. And we decided to visit Queensland and the Northern Territory. Kylie was invaluable with regards to arranging travel partners and visiting the natural and historic aboriginal sites. We started our adventure with 3 days in Sydney, having been to Australia before but never had time allotted for enjoying Sydney. This time we made sure we did. Such a wonderful city to walk and we enjoyed the hop-on-off bus. We also completed a desire of mine — Sydney Bridge Climb! Fantastic. We did it on a blustery and chilly day. It was worth it!

After Sydney, we stayed in the lovely town of Port Douglas. Several good walk/hiking paths and 4-Mile beach both were steps from our hotel. We could hear the surf at night, delightful. And many good restaurants in the very walkable town. Then on to a lovely lodge in the rainforest. We went river rafting, drift snorkeling in the Mosman River. Visited the Great Barrier Reef for more snorkeling and a sunset cruise. After leaving the very relaxing Port Douglas area we traveled to Darwin for our next adventure. And it was!

This is where we traveled by heavy-duty, all-terrain transport to the aboriginal parks of Kakadu and Arnhem Land. The wildlife we saw — flying foxes chattering in the trees and also flying overhead; crocs sunning on the banks of the billabong and swimming; too many birds to keep track of, all delightful! We went hiking in the parks to reach very old aboriginal rock artwork. Our guide, Damon, of Venture North, was a wealth of information.

Since we were in the north country, safety was paramount as we were in some very remote areas, no cell service or even people for miles and miles around. Once at the camp we were welcomed with champagne and canapes. There were many activities/tours to enjoy or not, your choice. We went fishing. And we had to be mindful of crocs — no hands over the side of the boat. As one of our fellow travelers was reeling in a fish and ready to take it off the hook a shark came and bit the fish clean off, only leaving the head! That was an eye opener!! We also went mud crabbing — delicious to eat! Our camp was quite nice for being in the very top end of the Coburgh Peninsula. And our travel companions for this part of our adventure were a delight!

And an added bonus was being able to fly from Coburgh to Darwin, by 5-seat private plane. This flight was totally unexpected! It was so interesting to see the terrain we had traveled by SUV from the air. After our Venture North adventure it was back to Darwin for some relaxing down time, exploring the town of Darwin and enjoying sitting beside the pool and not having to worry about crocs being in the water!

The next part of the trip was getting from Darwin to Uluru. Before COVID there were several flying options of getting to Uluru from Darwin, after COVID nothing direct or time-efficient. Having a travel agent like Kylie was invaluable! Kylie was able to secure private air travel for us between Alice Springs and Uluru. And what a delightful way to travel! Such a beautiful and interesting country!

Staying at Uluru at the end of our trip was really a highlight! Our all-inclusive hotel lived up to its reputation! From the arranged hikes, to the meals with wine, and dinner under the stars with an astronomer who was able to tell the aboriginal stories and point out the constellations — a magical night under the Milky Way!

Without Kylie’s knowledge of Australia and knowledge of the various vendors and listening to the places/things we wanted to see and experience, this trip would not have happened! And thank you Wendy Perrin and company for the resources of The WOW List!

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

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Ireland & Northern Ireland: Irish sports, farm visit, castle stay…

MICHAEL KELBERMAN | JULY 22, 2023

My wife and I traveled with our 3 adult children to Northern Ireland and Ireland July 1-12, 2023. Jonathan and his team planned and executed our entire trip for us from beginning to end. The logistics of the trip were essentially flawless. The itinerary was a combination of the typical tourist agenda with some unique and more personalized experiences thrown in, and most importantly, a cadre of guides whose authenticity was only exceeded by their graciousness.

We were delighted that Jonathan got on the phone with us for our first meeting, which he assured us is only a certainty with clients referred through Wendy. Indeed, when this came up in conversation during our trip, one of the experienced guides remarked that it was distinctly unusual to speak directly with him! It was Jonathan’s strong suggestion that we include Northern Ireland in our itinerary instead of just Ireland, and we are glad that we did. Our experience in N. Ireland was the soul of our trip, and we could never have understood the country without that experience and the help of our guide for 3 days while there, Mark Murphy. His authenticity was palpable, in addition to being a consummate professional. For example, he not only took us through a small Catholic village to watch children learning the Irish sport of hurling on a field surrounded by Irish national flags, but then took out his equipment so we could all give the game a try on an adjacent field. Every experience with Mark was like that, including his lessons on tasting Irish Whiskey at Bushmills and getting me the opportunity to hold the great N. Irish golfer Rory McIlroy’s PGA championship trophy at his home golf club in Belfast! We also spent a morning at Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen, making (and eating) delicious soda bread along with other delectables. Like all the folks we encountered, Tracey was an absolute delight, and we loved getting to go out to the countryside and spend some quality time with people who were so happy to share their lives with us.

We then went on to spend 3 days in Dublin, staying at a classic property called The Shelbourne. This gorgeous masterpiece offered impeccable service and a perfect location. One of the benefits of working through Jonathan’s office are some small perks offered to you at each of the hotels, and we enjoyed oysters and Guinness in the beautiful lobby bar at the Shelbourne one early evening before heading to dinner. We had less time than we thought in Dublin, and probably only did about half of what we intended, but we really enjoyed the city.

Galway was our next stop, and we used that as the base for our exploration of the Connemara National Park and the Cliffs of Moher. Once again, our guide for 3 days, Anne Marie Lally, was lovely and extremely accommodating. She made sure we found the shopping that we needed, and the restaurants that would satisfy us. Another absolute highlight of the trip is the Killary Sheepfarm. It’s on an absolutely beautiful fjord, and it’s fascinating to watch the sheepdogs in action and to participate in shearing the wool off the sheep. Tom, a 3rd generation proprietor, is eager to share his place, and it helps keep the lights on for these family businesses.

Our last stop was Dromoland Castle. At this point we had been on the move constantly for 10 days, and I think it was brilliant planning to let us decompress at this gorgeous castle for a few days before returning home. They do make you feel special there, although it is an expensive treat during the peak season.

As you can see, we left the planning and logistics entirely up to Jonathan, Katie and their team. We are glad we did, and I don’t think we would have changed a thing. As Wendy has written about before, the real difference maker is the quality of the guides and their gracious attitude and terrific knowledge and pride in their homeland. Perhaps the only thing I would do differently is giving a bit more guidance on special or unusually good restaurants or places to eat. We were told to rely on the concierge at the respective hotels, and they were fine for the most part, but it was a mixed bag. We did get shut out of one place since we made no reservations ahead of time, and another restaurant we tried was fairly pedestrian. Restaurants change from time to time, and it’s hard to predict individual tastes, but perhaps a few “classics” should be suggested in each area that capture something unique about that particular place.

It’s always hard to decide on the “value” of any trip. From our perspective, having Jonathan and his team create our trip for us was “invaluable”! Most of the cost was not the guides and extra experiences, which really made the whole trip! It was more the hotels, airfare, etc in peak season and there is only so much you can do about that. We chose not to, but I’m sure you can be guided to less expensive hotels and shoulder-season prices to make an experience more affordable. We rarely travel anymore without using Wendy’s WOW List planners, because you really do get spoiled. Thanks again to Wendy and Jonathan!

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Turkey: Istanbul, Ephesus, Cappadocia, a private gulet…

TINA HUNT | JULY 21, 2023

Tina Hunt

Tina Hunt and family on the rooftop of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

If you like to travel and experience diverse culture, food, history, and enjoy meeting welcoming people, then Turkey is not to be missed! We worked with Karen to curate and customize our adventure. We started with a three-day gulet voyage on the Prima Donna. We were welcomed aboard to a gorgeous Turkish spread of nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and vegetables as a light afternoon snack. Captain Nihat and deckhand Mesuit had us quickly underway for our first-ever overnighting on a sailing vessel. Our chef, Zekai, was a wonder as he quietly turned out fantastic food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Just over-the-top fun. Every meal was a delicious surprise and felt extra special with incorporation of local fresh items….

After the relaxing gulet, we did a whirlwind tour of Ephesus, which was not to be missed if you enjoy ancient history and beautiful ruins. Cappadocia was a place of pure joy for us. The fairy landscape with the “mushroom”-capped chimneys and cave churches and dwellings provided a much needed bit of exercise with short hikes. Our sunrise balloon experience was pure early morning magic. The-8 person gondola was piloted expertly over the otherworldly landscape. Even after seeing photos of how beautiful it could be, in-person was jaw-dropping.

All too soon it was time to head back to Istanbul for our last three nights of our adventure. We typically aren’t much for big cities and were surprised by the playfulness and welcome vibe of Istanbul. Our guide Cenk helped make this very memorable with his quick wit, fast pace, and love of the city that shined through his every story. Our foodie tour was a blast, with a mix of local tasty bits, drinks, and followed up with some sweets from one of his favorite shops. The history just permeates the entire vibe of the city and feels vibrant and modern while mixing seamlessly into structures that are thousands of years old…. Our WOW Moment was extra special—reminiscent of Skyfall on the roof of the Grand Bazaar. We found ourselves wishing for more time at almost every stop in Turkey and can’t wait to return!

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Italy: hiking, boating, riding Vespas…

MARK MAZZATTA | JULY 20, 2023

We recently returned from an extraordinary 15-day introductory touring trip of Italy for my family, arranged by Maria. After an initial discussion of objectives, Maria did an excellent job of planning a balanced trip of cultural sightseeing and fun activities inside, outside and on the water. During the planning phase, Maria was especially helpful (and patient) to decide where to travel and the duration of each stay. Execution was flawless, and it was huge value having a digital personal itinerary (w/contacts and maps) and Cristina, our local operations manager, a text away for any last-minute needed changes.

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

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

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

South of Rome, Sicily and the Lake region are next!

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Italy: Tuscany, Umbria, Milan, Lake Como…

ANDREA PHILLIPS | JULY 18, 2023

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. Our transportation coordination around the country was flawless and that had to be a challenge with the many, many day trips we had planned and the 6 stops to transfer to! Maria’s local ground support, Cristina, was absolutely amazing throughout the entire trip and very accommodating to help out if we needed something altered. Plus she was our fabulous guide on our day trips in Umbria. The many other guides along the trip were also very friendly, passionate about sharing their knowledge, and did their best to keep our teenagers engaged on the tours. We had another family with three teenagers join us for parts of our trip and Maria and Cristina helped coordinate our joint stays, activities & reservations. 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. The staff was amazing and there was so much to explore and do. 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! My family (and the friends who joined us) were thrilled with our stops and most of the planned activities. When we needed to change a pick-up time, tour length, or cancel a nice dinner reservation for something more causal, Maria’s team was more than happy to help out to make this a wonderful trip catered to us. 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!

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Indonesia: Bali & Komodo National Park

KAREN DALTON | JULY 17, 2023

Overall, our trip to Bali and Komodo was absolutely amazing and I can’t thank Diane enough for her guidance in planning. All the hotels were beautiful, activities were incredible experiences and the logistics on point. A few highlights/comments:

UBUD:
– Guide Agung and driver Agus were fantastic. Very sweet, lovely people and we really enjoyed spending time with them. We appreciated the level of detail that Agung shared about the history of the island, culture, religion and more, including on-the-spot explanations of activities and ceremonies we saw along the way as we drove around the island. A very special day was spent at their home village, eating lunch with their families, preparing flower offerings, watching local farmers work in the rice fields and playing with the village gamelan orchestra.
– We also really enjoyed the cooking class in Munduk, overlooking the sea and beautiful valleys. This came after a morning hike to several stunning waterfalls.
– Our daily schedule in Ubud was quite busy—visitors should understand that distances are long and traffic can be challenging when getting around Bali. Not a surprise, as Diane had advised on this, but something to consider when planning your itinerary and length of stay.

FLORES ISLAND/KOMODO NATIONAL PARK (1-hour flight from Bali):
As special as Bali is, this stop was the highlight of the trip for our family. The experience of trekking around Rinca and Komodo Islands to see the Komodo dragons was incredible. And very little trekking needed to view them, really—there were several of the giant lizards cruising the pier and beaches when we arrived by speedboat at Komodo! Later on, snorkeling at a beautiful pink-sand beach was literally like diving into the world of Finding Nemo, and we also marveled at the giant fruit bats, emerging from their roost in the mangroves at sunset. Truly magical and I only wished we had allotted more time to explore this beautiful area, which is about to explode with tourism, given the Indonesian government’s plan to promote the region. Several new hotels are under construction—go now while it’s still somewhat quiet!

SEMINYAK:
We chose this location for our last few nights back in Bali specifically for the sunset views, but unseasonably heavy rains took that away. Luckily, Diane had recommended the Oberoi hotel, which was an absolutely beautiful oasis away from the congested and highly touristed streets of Seminyak. We stayed on the grounds pretty much the entire time to get massages, enjoy the restaurant (which featured Balinese dancers at dinner) and gorgeous bar, all in view of the ocean.

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Denmark: Copenhagen, castles, seaside…

LYNN HERRICK | JULY 17, 2023

Lynn Herrick

Rainbow over Copenhagen. Photo: Traveler Lynn Herrick

Just back from Denmark! We rarely travel to Europe in the summer because of the heat and crowds, but we needed to be in Berlin in mid-July this year and wanted to add a week to another destination prior to reaching Berlin. Denmark was the PERFECT choice. Not too hot (even chilly some days!), reasonable crowds, not too expensive, and very enjoyable. Mads arranged our trip for us and he made it very easy. We did not mind driving in Denmark, so he arranged for a private car and put together an itinerary that gave us a flavor of the country. Our college-age kids traveled with us and there was enough to keep everyone engaged. We loved, loved, loved Copenhagen. Our hotel was in the middle of all the action and the city is extremely walkable and public transportation easy to navigate. Our first morning in town was our WOW Moment, and it was perfect. We sailed (electric boat) around the city with a private tour guide and lots of fun snacks. It was a great introduction to the city and the guide gave us lots of ideas for the rest of our trip. We traveled to several cities after Copenhagen, visited castles, stayed at an inn that has been hosting guests since 1744, learned all about Hans Christian Andersen, visited museums, enjoyed a ferry ride, and stayed in a charming Danish seaside town with a great spa. We finished the trip with one more fun night in Copenhagen and stayed up late, as the sun seems to last forever. The only part of our trip that was frustrating was the voucher system that really did not work well, but hopefully, with the feedback we provided, Mads and his team will update that system! Highly recommend Mads and Denmark for a special summer trip.

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Tanzania & Rwanda: safari & gorilla trekking

DAN FRIEDMAN | JULY 13, 2023

Dan Friedman

A leopard lounging in a tree. Photo: Traveler Dan Friedman

Dan arranged the trip of a lifetime for me, my wife and our son and daughter-in-law. It was a private safari in Tanzania and then a few days in Rwanda and Nairobi. Every detail was taken care of—basically all we had to do was show up. The safaris, camps and guides were amazing and his recommendations were invaluable in making our trip absolutely wonderful.

We began our adventure in Arusha on July 26, 2023, where we met our guide at the airport and spent the first night at a local hotel (the Mt. Meru). The next morning our guide picked us up we were off on safari. It was private—just the 4 of us plus our driver/guide in a 7-passenger safari vehicle with a pop-up-roof. After a couple of hours getting out of Arusha, Tanzania, we entered Tarangire National Park and saw elephants, zebras, and—the list is too long to include here, but it was incredible. The “camp” we stayed at for the next 2 nights, the Maramboi, was a delight—spectacular views, great food, terrific pool and very comfortable tented chalet. We had never stayed at a safari “camp” before and, frankly, it’s nothing like camping—more like a luxury getaway with all your needs taken care of.

All of the accommodations arranged by Dan while on safari were terrific:
Maramboi Tented Lodge on Lake Manyara. Fabulous view and GREAT pool!
Acacia Farm Lodge, in Karatu. You’ll have your own butler. Pure luxury.
Mbalageti Tented Challets in the Serengeti: Watch herds of animals right from your porch.
In Rwanda, I’ve got to make special mention of the Virunga Lodge. Possibly the most spectacular, elegant and wonderful place we’ve ever stayed.

We began each day very early to catch the animals when they’re most active. Some days we went out for a few hours in the morning, then relaxed at the camp, then a few hours in the evening—again when the animals are the most active. Our guide knew where to look and every game drive was filled with sightings of new species.

As we headed west in Tanzania we went into the Ngorongoro Crater (you need layers for the drive over the rim) and encountered the rare Rhino, many lions and beautiful scenery. Continuing west, we spent 3 full days in Serengeti National Park.

Dan selected great guides for our trip. In Tanzania, our guide, Vienney, was with us the entire 9 days we were there. He was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about the animals and their habits. With his deep knowledge he was able to predict where we were most likely to see the rare cats—cheetahs and leopards—and we saw them all. Often we were the only safari vehicle at the site. While in the Serengeti we witnessed the Great Migration where thousands of wildebeest and zebras head east to areas with more water—an amazing sight. In my lifetime I never expected to see and experience a trip like this.

From the Serengeti we flew to Rwanda, where Dan had arranged treks to see the mountain gorillas. The treks are arduous, but very worthwhile. It’s an effort, but once you encounter a gorilla family, the experience will amaze you. Their behavior is so much more human-like than I imagined. Dan will advise you to always hire a porter to help you on these treks. Great advice and, frankly, essential. I hired 2 porters and they made it their mission to see to it that I both made it to the gorilla site, but also never slipped or fell. This is a breathtaking experience that you will never forget.

The planning process for our East Africa journey began before the Covid shutdown and then resumed last year. Throughout it all, Dan was patient and very responsive to the myriad of questions I threw at him—constantly! His communications were always timely and contained the answers that we needed. His advice was spot on and every detail—minor or major—was taken care of.

Every step of the way there was someone there to help us. When we got off a plane, there was someone with a sign with our name who whisked us through immigration and customs. As I wrote above, all we had to do was show up. Thank you Dan and his team for the exceptional service that truly made this a trip of a lifetime.

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France: Paris & Provence

JULIE SCHULMAN | JULY 11, 2023

Julie Schulman

The hilltop village of Gordes, in Provence. Photo: Traveler Leah Schulman

We recently returned from a 9-night trip to Paris and the South of France with our family of 4. This was the second trip we took through a Wendy Perrin recommended travel agent and it was, again, a wonderful adventure! The team in Philip’s office helped us book an active and engaging itinerary for 2 adults and 2 teenagers.

We spent 5 nights in Paris and Sarah, our local representative, connected us with an outstanding private tour guide for 3 separate excursions, including a scavenger hunt at the Louvre, a driving tour of all the city highlights and a day trip to Versailles. She also shared walking directions to explore Paris on our own, excellent dinner recommendations and tickets to a fun Seine river cruise. We took some time to find the right hotel at a very busy and expensive time (during the French Open) and it was perfect – accessible location in a walkable area, outstanding service and delicious breakfasts.

Particularly important was navigating an unexpected strike while visiting the city and expertly re-arranging our plans so that we didn’t miss anything that we wanted to see. Sarah was on-hand throughout our time in Paris to help with any needs that arose.

After our time in Paris, we took a high-speed train to Avignon, where we picked up a rental car. With recommendations from Philip and Julie, we spent 2 nights in Aix-en-Provence and 2 nights in Cap D’Antibes. Our drive included exploring several small villages of interest including Gordes, Mougins, Rousillon and St. Paul de Vence. We enjoyed a half-day tour in Aix-en-Provence and a full-day tour of Nice, Eze and Monaco. Our private guides provided engaging information to our teens and shared out-of-the way spots known to locals.

France was definitely busy during our travel, but with the guidance of the team and the knowledge and access of our tour guides, we had very little waiting time at any of our stops. It was an active and engaging vacation and a lot of ground covered during the 9 days.

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French Polynesia: Bora Bora & a private catamaran

VANESSA HULME | JULY 10, 2023

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

Because there were 6 of us, and 3 generations, Kleon suggested a number of activities that would suit us all. We snorkeled with manta rays and sharks, kayaked and paddle boarded. There were also visits to a pearl farm, vanilla farm and rum factory, all of which we truly enjoyed.

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

On Bora Bora, Kleon suggested the Pearl Resort, which suited us fine. We all had overwater bungalows with patios and direct lagoon access. It was also interesting to be able to feed the myriad of fish from an opening at the bottom of the bed!

Kleon’s efforts and organization made this trip very easy, seamless and special for us!

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Hawaii: three generations, two islands

VANESSA HULME | JULY 10, 2023

This was our second time using Dani for a vacation to Hawaii, except this time instead of 2 people she was tasked with planning for 3 generations (6 people) and two islands. As before, she worked her magic and provided us with an exceptional experience.

Because of the number of people, she suggested a villa on the Big Island and found one that suited us perfectly. It was furnished with everything necessary, including its own pool, several outdoor spaces for dining and lounging, room for us all to have our own space, and spectacular views. Everyone is still talking about all the fantastic activities she planned for us — a helicopter flight over the island included flying over Kilauea, which was erupting (providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience), a visit to see sunset at the summit of Mauna Kea, and snorkeling with manta rays (something our grandchildren thought was the BEST!). Our grandchildren experienced their first luau, with best seats in the house courtesy of Dani. It was also very special as they had the opportunity to take the stage with the dancers for a hula lesson.

It was then on to Oahu for 2 days, where because of Dani’s connections, we had some of the best rooms at the Royal Hawaiian. This was a short stop, and our only request was a visit to Pearl Harbor; although there was some confusion about this tour, Dani once again pulled a rabbit out of the hat and ensured we experienced the expected tour, including basically making the lines disappear! It was very special to visit both the Arizona and the Missouri.

We will return to Hawaii again, and once again Dani will be our first call.

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Spain: food, history, culture of Andalusia

LINDA AND TOM UHLER | JULY 10, 2023

Ivan promises a memorable private trip to Spain and he delivered just that to help us explore Andalusia. We met Ivan via Zoom and immediately felt that we were in good hands. He got to know us and learned what our interests are. Taking that information, he crafted the perfect 14-day itinerary for us. Each day touched on at least one of the elements that are important to us when we travel — food, wine, history, culture. We learned about the production of Iberico ham, olive oil, cheese, bread and salt. Our education on sherry included a visit to a vineyard with a tasting in the private bodega of the owner, and a multi-course traditional lunch. We were fascinated with the culture surrounding the brave bulls. We were immersed in the history of each of the towns we visited. What tied all of this together was the interaction we had with everyone we met, from our hosts to our guides to our driver. We were warmly welcomed by everyone, saw Andalusia through their eyes and came away with a better understanding of this region and its people. Thanks to Ivan and his planning, this was one of the best trips we’ve taken. His attention to detail, his care in making sure that everything went well during our stay, and his love for his country was a winning combination. We are so happy that we had the chance to meet and work with Ivan and give him our highest recommendation.

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Turkey: Istanbul & sailing a private yacht

VANESSA HULME | JULY 10, 2023

Vanessa Hulme

Travelers Vanessa and Colin Hulme aboard their private yacht on the Turquoise Coast.

Karen and her team planned an absolutely flawless vacation for my husband and me for 3 days in Istanbul and a 6-day cruise on a gulet along the Turkish coast. From our initial contact, they listened to our likes/dislikes and put together an itinerary that suited us perfectly.

Our incredible guide in Istanbul, Sinan, not only showed us the tourist highlights, but out-of-the ordinary places we would never have found on our own. He also introduced us to real Turkish food, even going so far as booking a dinner reservation and pre-ordering a menu that suited us perfectly. It was also very nice that Karen and her associates took time from their schedule to come speak with us personally.

From Istanbul, we flew to Bodrum and boarded our private gulet. We had never toured via a gulet, but it certainly exceeded our expectations. The crew was professional, accommodating, and went out of their way to make the trip special. The stops were beautiful and the food amazing. We also had the pleasure of our most memorable WOW Moment in Datca, being the first and only guests at a hotel just prior to the opening! We had the facility to ourselves, were served a gourmet dinner that was overseen by the General Manager and Food Service Manager, and offered a gorgeous suite for an overnight stay; to say this was very, very special is an understatement (thank you Wendy, Karen & Mustafa).

They even made our departure seamless, with assistance at the airport with check-in, security and ensuring we had access to the Club.

Karen and those that work with her obviously have an in-depth knowledge of Turkey. This certainly made our trip both exciting and relaxing, both of which we requested. We would absolutely give Karen our highest marks, and would definitely use her office again.

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Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Hiroshima…

ANDY KAPLAN | JULY 9, 2023

Our family of 6 (mom, dad, and four 20-something kids) recently got home from a 16-day trip in Japan created by Jason. Jason helped us shape a trip that worked well for our family and really took into account our interests and preferences. We went through many iterations of our itinerary until the pacing and the sites made us all happy.

We started in Tokyo with our guide Narumi, who stayed with us for the whole trip. Our guide met us the first day and suggested we go “off itinerary” for a special local event – the Kanda Myojin Shrine Parade – and we watched hundreds of people from many neighborhoods celebrate and dance with their shrines. We also saw all the major sites and also had a few special and memorable experiences – our favorites in and near Tokyo were a cooking class at the home of a chef with an amazing history, visiting a sword maker, and a sake (actually nihon shu) tasting class. For the rest of our trip we had fun finding and ordering sakes of different types.

We next visited Kanazawa to see several UNESCO World Heritage sites that were beautiful and interesting and stayed in a fantastic onsen ryokan that gave us a taste of hot-spring bathing and provided more of a Japanese feeling than traditional western hotels.

In Kyoto, we visited temples – some with amazing views, a bamboo forest, a building housing 1000 Buddha statues from the 1200s, and some terrific shrines. We had a Taiko drum class – a real hoot for the whole family – and had a moving and relaxing Zen Buddhism experience. We saw many gorgeous meditative gardens where we could have spent hours. Our daughter also found a “Pig Café” (think “Cat Café” but with little pigs) which was…different and fun.

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

The deer in Nara are really cute (but carefully, one bit me in the butt – no damage done) and we spoke with a group of schoolchildren that wanted to practice their English.

We specifically requested a stop in Hiroshima, which we found particularly moving and profound and such a testament to the evil of nuclear weapons and resilience of the Japanese people. A local specialty, an Okonomiyaki dinner, was a real treat – never had anything like it.

Another favorite location was Naoshima, which was completely Jason’s suggestion. We’d never heard of it. We’ve told several friends about “the art islands” since we’ve been back. We could have easily spent an extra day or two, and the art and experience was truly memorable.

Jason created a logical circuit for us to follow and included bonus stops along the way to make our longer travel days easier. He was very helpful at identifying “must-see” sites and helped us fill, but not over fill, our days. Narumi our guide was knowledgeable and lovely. She was our private tour guide and kept track of the details and managed our time such that the trains, planes, automobiles, restaurants, activities, reservations, tickets, etc. were nearly invisible to us. Even with all we had scheduled, she sometimes suggested a change in a daily itinerary if there was a special local event, weather concerns, or a newly discovered activity we wanted to add.

Thank you to Narumi, Jason, and the entire team for a wonderful Japan trip.

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Switzerland: Lake Lucerne, Zermatt, Ascona…

WESLEY BRAY | JULY 9, 2023

My wife and I have recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Switzerland, planned and coordinated by Simon Kessler from Nina’s office. We are so glad that this agency was recommended to us by Wendy.

The process began with a video-call with Simon about 10 months ago, where we discussed our travel likes and dislikes, and described what we wanted to see during our time in Switzerland. Simon and his team did an excellent job of taking the information we gave him, and orchestrating a 10-day itinerary, allowing us to see three distinct and different parts of this beautiful country.

We spent the first couple of days in the Lake Lucerne area, touring the historic areas of the city, and taking a cog-wheel tour to the top of Mt Pilatus. We stayed at a great hotel, with beautiful views of the lake and city.

We then spent 3 days in Zermatt, at a lovely, small boutique-type hotel with a view of the Matterhorn. The service at this hotel (and all our hotels) was personalized and first-rate. While in Zermatt, Simon arranged for a private tour to a remote farm in the mountains, where we were able to meet the local farmers and watch the process of cheese-making. We were treated to a wine and cheese tasting at the farm. We also took a tour to the top of Mt Gornergrat, allowing us to see some of the multiple glaciers and mountain ranges that Switzerland is famous for.

Our last stop was in the southern portion of the country, in Ascona, near the Italian border. This area had a distinct Mediterranean flare, an excellent contrast from our previous stops. Here, we also had some private tours with Anna, allowing us to see and hike thru some of the non-touristy areas in the nearby valleys, and explore some historic castles. Of course, excellent lunches and wine/cheese tastings were a part of these tours.

Throughout the trip, the arrangements made by Simon (travel, hotels, meals) were all spot-on, and everything went as smoothly as could be expected. We had one glitch, early in the trip, where we missed a connecting flight, and therefore had to rearrange our first day’s plans. After a quick text to Simon, we received an immediate response, and all the arrangements were immediately redone for us. It was so reassuring to have that all handled for us.

We will definitely recommend this type of travel arrangement to Switzerland to our friends, and can’t wait to schedule our next travel dates with another part of Wendy’s team.

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France: Provence & Monet’s gardens in Giverny

VIRGINIA SOCOLOF | JULY 7, 2023

Virginia Socolof

Virginia Socolof enjoying Gordes with three generations of women in her family.

I recently returned from a FABULOUS trip to France with my mother, sister, and 17-year-old daughter. This was a real bucket list item for my mother—she is 80 and wanted to see both Monet’s gardens at Giverny and Provence. Philip and his team planned and executed a wonderful itinerary that perfectly satisfied my mother’s wishes—a special shout-out to Marion, who successfully navigated a few challenges in the planning process. I love the Axus app, which constantly updated our itinerary and provided a way for us to quickly communicate with Philip’s team. From the moment we landed in Paris until the day we flew out of Marseille, the drivers, excursions, and hotels exceeded our expectations. On the day we were going to Giverny our van had a flat tire in the middle of the countryside, and within 30 minutes my family was in an Uber called by our heroic guide Paul, headed to Giverny with our tickets and lunch reservation in hand. Paul had the tire repaired and met us after lunch for the rest of our trip to Auvers sur Oise, but we didn’t miss a thing. Giverny was the most eagerly anticipated moment of the trip for my mother, and what could have been a disappointing travel disaster is now one of our funniest trip memories, involving aggressive strawberry buyers and a tiny blue car. Cedric, our guide in Provence, was a gem—my whole family loved him and both his hilarious stories and historic insights. The Hotel du Pigeonnet in Aix was so very lovely, and Philip’s team also provided us with some wonderful restaurant recommendations and reservations. I began the planning process for this trip with concerns about how we could manage an experience that would make all of us happy and be comfortable enough for my mother, but Philip and his team pulled it off. Their advice about transportation (private cars and high speed train), luxurious hotel choices, creative excursion ideas, and flawless execution of our busy itinerary delivered a once-in-a-lifetime family experience that the women of my family will always remember. Merci beaucoup, Philip!

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Norway: meeting locals, exploring fjords & villages…

BILL MARTIN | JULY 6, 2023

Torunn quickly grasped our interests, desires, travel style, and preferences. She promised to connect us to the “real Norway.” This came to mean experiencing the spectacular environment, meeting people of all kinds, and learning about the Norwegian way of life. Our trip accomplished these goals in ways far beyond our expectations.

Norway is profoundly beautiful. The scope and diversity of our itinerary proved valuable. We could not stop taking pictures of the majestic fjords, omnipresent waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, the troll wall, and charming fishing villages. We also enjoyed cruise ports like Bergen, Alesund, and Oslo with their varied attractions and vibrant harbors.

Our interaction with the natural beauty of Norway was enhanced by Torunn’s clever use of variable forms of transportation. Targeted for just the right places, they included ferries, cars/drivers, fjord shuttles, buses, rental cars, and trains. Highlights were time spent on the water in fjords and the breathtaking Rauma train ride along the troll wall toward Dombas.

Weatherwise, we were lucky. No one could believe it but mid-June 2023 was unexpectedly sunny and warm. The hats, gloves, sweaters, jackets, and raingear Torunn had thoughtfully recommended packing remained in our suitcases the whole trip.

The people Torunn arranged for us to meet at various venues are special and memorable. They were warm, welcoming, informative, and above all, interesting. Among them is Sven, the entrepreneurial owner of Knutholmen in Kalvag who works harder to please his clients than anyone we have met. He became an instant friend. Fjord skipper Roy taught us about commercial fishing and graciously shared much of his life story, helping us learn what growing up in remote Norway is all about. Driver Per delighted in taking us to see a replica Viking ship. Dinner with Edith and Jon at their hilltop “summer pasture” cabin near Oye was a memorable experience filled with stories about Jon’s longtime mink business and special Norwegian delicacies to try, topped off with Edith’s handmade chocolates. Fjord skipper Daniel took us to his family guest house at Trandal where we were thrilled by the famous swing and braved deer-burgers and brown cheese ice cream, both delicious. Guide Britt, also an osteopath, was unusually informative and interesting. She took us on a delightful hike, showed us around the Tafjord village where she grew up, described her annual reindeer hunt, and escorted us to a friend’s guest house for a delicious lunch of deer lasagna.

Introductions to persons like these added immeasurable pleasure to our trip. But we also met many wonderful Norwegians while traveling, in shops, and even just seeking directions in the street.

Our hotels were superb and often historical. Without exception, they were situated in gorgeous surroundings and well managed with great service. The room types Torunn chose for us were perfect. Breakfast buffets were exquisite, and our included welcome dinners were delicious. Remarkable hotel staffers came from all over Norway and beyond. Each hotel was unique and memorable but our favorites were Knutholmen in Kalvag, Hotel Union Oye, and the amazing Storfjord Hotel.

The new-to-us comprehensive Trip Planner web app used by Torunn’s office made managing trip logistics remarkably simple. All the details and tickets were in one place. Thanks to Torunn’s colleagues Anja, Karin, and Mari, the chat feature made it easy to get questions answered and quickly resolve several minor hiccups.

As is evident, Torunn did indeed connect us to the “real Norway.” We will long remember this spectacular trip and the special people we met.

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Panama: mountain adventures & a private-island resort

LAURA JORDAN | JULY 5, 2023

We’re back from beautiful Panama and had an awesome trip! We worked with Pierre to plan a trip for our family of two adults and two teens that would include both plenty of adventure and activity along with great food and some relaxation, and he successfully hit all of our asks for a memorable vacation! We started off in Panama City, where we immediately went to the canal to view ships that stick to a strict schedule. After that we did a half-day tour of Panama City, where we learned about the very interesting history of the country and the Canal. After a stay at the gorgeous Hotel La Compania and an incredible dinner at Fondo Lo Que Hay, we flew up to Boquete for some mountain adventures! Our kids loved the swinging bridges hike and the afternoon of zip lines. Our driver that day was a local who gave us the tip to order our lunch in advance so that it would be ready in time (Panama enjoys a relaxed dining pace). The zip line adventure was awesome and we were so lucky with the weather — no rain, common in the afternoons this time of year. All four of us decided to flip upside down and it was just so much fun! The family also enjoyed the selected hotel in Boquete, where we loved the breakfasts, enjoyed the pool and fitness center, and had a very competitive round of mini golf. After a second night in Boquete, we headed to our next (and favorite) destination, Isla Palenque. Wow, where do I start? We were taken by boat to the island resort where each of the staff knew us by name. We were treated to fantastic meals — every single one of our family was happy, including one very picky eater. The seafood was delicious and the fresh farm-to-table produce, homemade pasta, homemade ice creams (new flavors daily), fresh eggs, etc. were all so wonderful. The guided adventures and tours were so much fun! We tried them all…bird watching, hikes, snorkeling and island-hopping adventure with a picnic, rock fishing, kayaking, bracelet making, and a cooking class! We also SUP’ed multiple times and swam every day. I’d be remiss not to mention the howler monkeys on the island; how fun. While the entire island experience was memorable, I particularly enjoyed the empanada-making class that I took with my 15-yr-old son, the island-hopping adventure picnic and snorkel, and the beautiful sunsets with my daughter. Finally, I cannot compliment the resort staff enough — they treated us so well. They even made a custom birthday cake for my husband with one day’s notice. After Isla Palenque we headed back to Panama City for one final night before flying back to Los Angeles. It’s rare that I want to go back to a particular resort as I love exploring new places, but I think I would be happy to vacation to Isla Palenque every year (the kids liked it better than Hawaii because it was so relaxing and NOT CROWDED!).

A couple things to note: June/early July is shoulder season, heading into Panama’s rainy season. This worked out well for us as we only had one really rainy day. However, I think we were pretty lucky, as the next week looked really rainy. Also, I loved that there weren’t as many tourists around, it felt like a nice change after our last trip to Europe where we were shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone. Also, please exit Panama City’s new airport terminal 2, this is important as that’s where all of the passenger pickups are now. Because it was shoulder season we had no problem getting into the top restaurants in Boquete and Panama City, but you may want to reserve in advance.

Pierre really added a lot of value on this trip for us. He steered me away from Bocas del Toro due to the rainy season and introduced us to the amazing Isla Palenque. All of the tours and transfers would have been much more difficult to arrange, and everything he picked was top-notch. He checked in with us ahead of each of our location changes to make sure all was well. Please follow the packing list and suggestions, too — Boquete was chilly and we all needed our extra layers. Bug spray and sunscreen are a must! And bring a lot of smaller dollar bills ($1s, 5s, 10s) — tipping is expected and everything runs on USD.

Thanks for a great trip!

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Croatia: Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik…

ANDREA SHAVER | JULY 5, 2023

Andrea Shaver

Andrea Shaver Carpenter and husband on a bike tour of Hvar Island, Croatia.

We had a lovely, romantic trip down the coast of Croatia from May 28th to June 6th planned by Ala. Since my husband loves Roman and medieval history, and it was his first trip to Europe, we asked for a mixture of knowledgeable guides and fun activities. Our itinerary did not disappoint.

We started in Split. Ala recommended that we should see the Roman ruins at Salona in addition to the tour of Diocletian’s Palace. This escape from the city and the crowds turned out to be the highlight of our time in Split! After a couple of days in Split, we took the ferry to the island of Hvar. Every touchpoint in our transfers from location to location was carefully orchestrated by Ala and her team. We felt extremely taken care of.

Hvar was the definite highlight of our trip. I’d love to come back and just spend a week at the Maslina Resort. Our room and private patio had gorgeous views, the resort was quiet, and the service was excellent! After hearing that we love (casually) biking, Ala put together a 22-mile custom bike tour for us on Hvar. My husband and I agree that the bike ride through the island’s small towns, followed by a picnic lunch cooked by a local farmer on her coastal olive farm before we rode back along the coast, was an absolutely unbeatable experience.

We wrapped up the trip in Dubrovnik, immersing ourselves back in the history of Croatia. We especially liked the immaculate breakfast on the terrace at the Hotel Excelsior. Throughout the entire vacation, Ala and her local team were very responsive to our feedback. They also went above and beyond to make up for an unfortunate error on one excursion that was in no way their fault by offering us a sailing trip on our last day. It was a lovely way to end an excellent trip.

Read more reviews of Ala. Or request your own trip.

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Portugal: hiking, on-the-ground support, “exceptional accommodations”…

ANITA GARFAGNOLI | JULY 5, 2023

We were a family of six (three couples) traveling to Portugal in May/June 2023 to celebrate some milestone life events.

We were extremely impressed with the exemplary level of service we received from Goncalo and his team. While Goncalo and his team flawlessly executed on a travel plan to Lisbon, Porto, Douro Valley, Alentejo, and Algarve, the times that really had us appreciate his expertise as a travel consultant were:

—finding us exceptional accommodations: we especially loved, loved, loved the serviced apartments he arranged for us in Lisbon and Porto. Who wouldn’t love a chic, top-floor, 3 br, 3ba space with a balcony and a view of the Tagus river, the Christo Rei monument, and the infamous bridge in the Chiado neighborhood in Lisbon?

—recommending unforgettable places to visit: he listened when we articulated that we were interested in seeing some of Portugal’s natural wonders, so he arranged for us to hike in the wondrous Paiva Walkways outside of Porto.

—having someone to call when something goes wrong: when I forgot an entry ticket in the hotel, I was able to connect with the on-call agent and get replacement tickets texted to me within minutes. I felt so relieved to have had someone I could contact to help me resolve my problem.

Goncalo and his team listened attentively when we were planning the trip and created an itinerary that was perfectly attuned to how we wanted to travel and to what we wanted to see and do.

Read more reviews of Goncalo. Or request your own trip.

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Morocco: Atlas mountains, desert, seashore…

GERI KRAUSS | JULY 5, 2023

Camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco. Photo: Traveler Geri Krauss

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Morocco planned by Michael. The trip was superb. To begin with, we had a wonderful guide who stayed with us throughout the two-plus-week trip. He was not only a talented guide—sharing with us his deep knowledge of the country and its culture—but a kind, thoughtful and devout person who truly cared about our enjoyment, well-being and how we experienced Morocco. The trip itself spanned much of the country—from the cities of Marrakesh and Fes to the Atlas mountains, the Sahara desert and the seashore. While we had to drive long distances to cover everything we wanted to see, the time passed quickly, as the scenery throughout the country was gorgeous and dramatic. The drivers were careful and great—accommodating many requests to stop for photos. The hotels Michael recommended were each special in their own way (riads in the cities, kasbahs in the mountains and a tent in the desert) and the experiences he planned for us—cooking classes, dinner with a university professor to speak to us about the Sufis, walks through villages, markets and the old cities—were truly special. Wendy treated us to a WOW Moment in the desert—a camel ride up the dunes with hors d’oeuvres and champagne as the sun set—which was truly WOW! We did, unfortunately, suffer some health issues during the trip, but Michael and our guide were very accommodating to adjust our schedule as necessary. The country itself is fascinating—and we learned so much about its history, politics, culture and role in the world. We have traveled extensively with Wendy’s experts and every trip has been great. We heartily recommend both Morocco, Michael and Wendy!

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Botswana & South Africa: once-in-a-lifetime safari

KAREN COMBS | JULY 5, 2023

An African safari has been at the top of my bucket list for a really long time. My daughter and I started researching and planning a trip for this year, but quickly became overwhelmed with all the decisions and choices to make with no real knowledge of the area. As longtime readers of Wendy’s website, we quickly realized where to turn for advice. We reached out to Julian, listed as one of the Africa specialists, gave him our dates, completed an interest questionnaire, corresponded by email and eventually spoke on the phone to confirm all our information. We gave him our budget range with trip experience priorities, other pertinent information and a few days later a beautiful travel booklet complete with daily itineraries, camp descriptions, transportation details and, well, all kinds of great information and advice arrived in my email inbox. We literally took Julian’s advice about our entire itinerary choices and it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime and more than we could ever have imagined. We started with a few days in Cape Town and despite the terrible weather had a wonderful time. Our driver, Jacques, was a fantastic guide and had some great advice for things to do despite the weather. We are in the healthcare industry and the Heart of Cape Town Museum was a fabulous, unplanned stop for us. The Four Rosmead Boutique Guesthouse was the perfect choice for our stay, so central and convenient to all our outings. The staff went above and beyond, the room was comfortable and breakfast each morning was amazing. Julian suggested we visit two safari camps at two different locations in Botswana, and this gave us an opportunity to explore different ecosystems. Both camps, Lebala and Sable Alley, were uniquely special, perfectly furnished, ideally located and staffed with the most welcoming and friendly people that we have ever met. The food was amazing and we especially loved the uncrowded, unhurried mood at camp as well as on the safari drives. We were able to see every animal on our bucket list, including the leopard family who are often well hidden and easy to miss. So many wonderful pictures and videos that our terrific guides were able to help us capture. Mr. G, Akeem, and Mario gave us a glimpse of animal life as we have never seen before, an up close, intimate view of a sometimes harsh reality. A mokoro excursion is definitely a do-not-miss adventure as well. Julian arranged all transportation between camps and airport pickups, which were exactly as described in our brochure and executed flawlessly. There are not enough words to express how grateful we are that he planned such a perfect trip for us. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for our family. Botswana and South Africa are truly special and amazing places. Many thanks to Julian for an unforgettable experience.

Read more reviews of Julian. Or request your own trip.

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Newfoundland: Whales, icebergs, music…

BONNIE WARTON | JULY 4, 2023

We visited Newfoundland in June to celebrate my birthday. Jill made sure that it was a special trip that would generate the best of memories. She was attentive to my requests and texted me throughout the trip to ensure that all was going well. When she came to meet us for tea, it felt like we were visiting with a friend. The activities that she planned for us checked off all of the boxes that we had requested and then some. We enjoyed the boat and zodiac tours that checked off the puffins, whales and iceberg boxes. Foraging and cooking with Alex was a plus! She was able to get us last-minute tickets to both Sullivan’s Song House and Anchors Aweigh. Our biggest request of Jill came at the end of the trip. We had planned 3 days in Montreal but because of the air-quality issues there, we had to make a last-minute decision. I spoke to Jill and she was able to extend our car rental and book us accommodations. She arranged for us to see the sold-out performance of Anchors Aweigh. We called her our miracle worker.

Read more reviews of Jill. Or request your own trip.

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Montreal & Quebec: valuable hotel intel, hard-to-get reservations…

MIRIAM MORRIS | JULY 1, 2023

Just returned from a fantastic trip to Montreal and Quebec City orchestrated by Yoann. The trip was June 9 thru June 17. We were meeting friends in Montreal for four nights and then we all went to Quebec City. Yoann listened to me and delivered a spectacular trip. In Montreal, he recommended that we go to the new show of Cirque de Soleil and arranged wonderful seats for us. Everyone loved it and it was a highlight of the whole trip. Our friends had been trying to snag a reservation for Joe Beef in Montreal and in a flash, Yoann got us a Saturday night reservation.

By the time I first spoke to Yoann we had already reserved hotels. He strongly discouraged me from staying at the hotel in Quebec and steered us to the absolutely charming Le Germain Hotel. This was a wonderful choice in every way. Staff, room and breakfast were great. But, as Yoann said, we really should be in lower Quebec not higher Quebec. I was so happy we listened to him as we did go to higher Quebec, of course, but found it too crowded, too touristy and too much. In contrast, we could walk out the door of our hotel and be in the most charming area filled with incredible restaurants and shops. It also was just a short walk to the funicular which takes you to the upper part.

Per Yoann’s recommendation, we also spent an idyllic day on the Isle d’Orleans just off of Quebec. All four of us were in heaven stopping at various farms and outlooks and having a very tasty meal. This was certainly another highlight for all of us.

Yoann made our trip much better. He was attentive and always available. Easy to communicate with and a real pleasure. I could not recommend him highly enough and am already planning to do another trip with him next year.

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

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Iceland: glaciers, horses, volcanoes…

SUSAN CRANDELL | JUNE 29, 2023

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

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

Chris must live on Iceland time at his home in upstate New York. Far as I can figure, there is no time you cannot reach him. He boasts concierge service for his travelers, and he delivers. When we texted at 2 a.m. East Coast time with a query, Chris was on it immediately.

Not only did he create a well-planned self-driving itinerary for us with action-packed days, but he was available throughout our trip, whether we needed to sort out a glitch or decide where to eat dinner.

There were so many highlights: transiting a glacier cave via criss-crossing planks above roaring glacial runoff; a private sanctuary tour that had us inches from two beluga whales; experiencing tolt, a unique gait of the flowing-maned Icelandic horses; Zodiac-ing among icebergs to the face of a glacier.

I would encourage anybody who loves the outdoors to visit Iceland. There are hikes galore: you can transit behind a towering waterfall, ascend to the rim of an active volcano, or visit an extraordinary black-pebble beach. We boated by Surtsey, the newest island on earth, a dozen years younger than I am.

Read more reviews of Chris. Or request your own trip.

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* Although we have compiled and reviewed these reviews for trip planners to earn a spot on The  WOW List, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or truthfulness of the reviews we receive and cannot assure that all travelers will have the same experience.

 

 

A man tying string around Brook's wrist as a part of the Baci ceremony.

Real Connections with Locals: WOW Trip Reviews

From cooking up regional recipes in a chef’s home to learning old-world crafts in an artisan’s workshop to getting invited to a traditional wedding, there are many ways to meet noteworthy local characters (as well as normal, everyday people) and gain a much deeper understanding of the culture and traditions of the places we explore. Our Trusted Travel Experts shine at making these connections that enrich travel. The reviews below illustrate just a handful of the people you can meet and friends you can make when you have a savvy travel fixer in your corner. Here’s how to get your own WOW trip.

New Zealand: one-on-one time with Maori artisans…

Maori green jade Koru pendant on wood log.

Maori jade Koru pendant. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just completed an absolutely fabulous month-long trip to New Zealand. With his extensive relationships, especially with the Maori, Jean-Michel crafted a truly unique trip that we would never have been able to create on our own. Besides cruising Milford Sound, we had three major interests for our trip: interacting with Maori to learn about their culture, going to the MacKenzie-designated Dark Sky region to stargaze, and being on a glacier.

Instead of going to touristy places to see the Maori, Jean-Michel set us up with several unbelievable one-on-one days with individual Maori, including Tom Loughlin, who cooked us a fabulous traditional Hangi meal in the ground at his 5,000-acre wilderness cabin; Delani Brown, a famous master carver who creates enormous masterpieces of complexly intricate carved wood scenes of Maori culture; and Bevan Climo, a master pounamu (New Zealand greenstone or jade) carver, who took us to his tribe’s portion of the Arahura River, where I found a lovely piece of greenstone!

For our Dark Sky experience, Jean-Michel arranged for a privately guided astral viewing at the Matuka Lodge in Twizel where we were staying. The stargazing was fabulous, and to not to have to do the 3-hour roundtrip to the St. John’s Observatory was priceless.

As for the glacier, Jean-Michel again came up with an amazing intimate experience in the Whitcombe Valley, instead of the over-touristy Franz Josef Glacier. Matt, our helicopter pilot, came with over 30 years of flying experience and was even the pilot for Tom Cruise when he was filming in the region! Matt created a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with views of numerous glaciers and glacier lakes, highlighted by a landing at a glacier that we walked up to and sat on! Talk about being at the top of the world and having your dream come true!” —Mary Lou Voytko

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

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Spain: lunch in the private quarters of a castlewith the owner…

Travelers Lorin and Jeremy Seidman with their family met the WOW Lister Virginia Irurita in Madrid, Spain.

Lorin and Jeremy Seidman with their family and WOW Lister Virginia Irurita in Madrid.

Virginia and her team planned an incredible trip to Spain for our family, with the kind of experiences that we’re quite sure no other travel agent would have had access to. Our teenage kids’ favorite part of the trip was a visit to Almodovar Castle, near Sevilla. The owner of the castle, Eva Morejon, greeted us upon our arrival, and then invited us to have lunch with her in the family’s private quarters of the castle.

We sat in Eva’s dining room enjoying the most delicious authentic Spanish cuisine, which was cooked by her family’s personal chef, while she told us the history of the castle. She then took us on a private tour of the castle, including parts that were used for the filming of Game of Thrones.” —Lorin Seidman

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

Norway: lunch with a Sami elder, dogsledding with an Iditarod racer…

Traveler Kathye Faries with a Sami reindeer herder, in the village of Maze, Norway.

Kathye Faries with Johan, a Sami reindeer herder, in the Norwegian village of Maze. Photo: Traveler Jim Braun

“Seeing the Aurora Borealis has been on my bucket list for ages and it was time to make it happen! With Wendy’s help we were connected with Torunn, who planned a terrific 10-day adventure for us in northern Norway in February, 2024. I worked with Karin Andresen on many of the details and Karin did a wonderful job too. My focus was seeing the lights (we saw them twice, yippee!), but the entire trip turned out to be way better than we expected due to the fun activities Torunn and Karin planned for us.

We started in Alta, well north of the Arctic Circle, and stayed at a great property outside of the town in a beautiful setting on the banks of a frozen river. We went snowshoeing (easier than I thought it would be) and ice fishing with Kelle of Glod Explorer, and his husky Bruno. Jim caught an Arctic Char so our lunch was as fresh is it could get! Sitting in a lavvu, around a fire, sipping hot chocolate and eating fresh-caught fish was a real treat. We also took a snowmobile ride at night at Bjornfjeld Mountain Lodge. We were cozy in a beautiful mountaintop glass igloo, cooked our dinner over a fire and looked for the lights. On our last day in Alta we spent several hours dog sledding in the beautiful Finnmark forest and on frozen lakes, which was one of the highlights of the trip. Our guide, Hannah, ran the Iditarod two years ago and was so expert on the trails. We loved our day with her and her dog teams.

While en route to our next destination (we saw moose, reindeer and foxes along the way), we had lunch with Johan, a Sami elder, in the village of Maze. His family has raised and herded reindeer for generations and his sons are poised to take care of the business someday. We learned so much from him about his profession, about the Sami, and got to meet some of his reindeer. Fascinating.

In Karasjok we stayed at one of the most unique, exceptional small properties we’ve ever seen. Every cabin and all of the furniture in each of the 7 cabins has been built by hand from natural materials. This place is a hidden gem, set in the forest and truly magical. On property were 45 Alaskan Huskies who were very friendly and loved “cuddles” from everyone. One of our days was spent with Magrit, a Sami woman who has spent her entire life raising and herding reindeer. We went with her by snowmobile, up high in the mountains, to see and feed some of her family’s herd. We spent time in the forest around a warm fire and she shared stories with us about her life. On our last day there, I went dog sledding with the Alaskan Huskies—it was an exciting ride where the dogs broke a new trail in deep, newly fallen snow on the frozen lake. It was a wonderful experience I will never forget.

The last few days of the trip were spent in Oslo where our expert guide took us to the Nobel Peace Prize Museum (very, very moving), and the National Museum (which houses Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”). We saw several contemporary buildings—the Library and the Opera House—watched some young men run from the sauna and jump into the 32-degree water of the harbor (yikes!); and toured the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

The Aurora was as wondrous as I expected and we were so lucky to see it. Northern Norway is a beautiful part of the world with clean water, clean air, warm and friendly people and so accessible to the outdoors. When we asked local guides (who grew up in Alta and Karasjok) if they ever wanted to move away, their answer was NO!!!! We could understand why.

The trip was so smooth due to Torunn and Karin’s expertise. Prior to and during the trip we made a few itinerary adjustments and all went perfectly. All of the guides and ground transportation services were there when and where they were supposed to be, and the outfitters and lodging choices were a great fit for us. We are so glad we saw the lights but we are also so appreciative of the adventures we experienced on this wonderful, enchanting trip.” —Kathye Faries

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

Belize: “A local family served us a traditional Mayan lunch, nouvelle-style. And Patricia met us there for lunch…”

Our travelers Salena and Allen Kern with WOW Lister Patricia Johnson in Belize.

WOW Lister Patricia Johnson joined Salena and Allen Kern for lunch one day.

“My criteria was a direct flight from Newark, warmth, a place we’d never been to with lots to do if we wished, and a Wendy Perrin advisor. It took about a minute to find Belize and Patricia. And we were off…. Patricia recommended a few places to stay, and two of the resorts (one in the jungle and the other on the beach) were owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Who knew? Not I, for sure. Well, my husband was an extra in Apocalypse Now many years ago and that was that. He was thrilled to be seeing what Coppola had created in Belize. Both resorts were beautiful but Blancaneaux Lodge was one of the nicest places I have stayed in my life.

We climbed ruins, rafted through a cave that should have been a cathedral, and visited an entrepreneurial coffee “factory” amongst other things. Most important to me, however, was that we got to know something about the current economy of this young country and much about its varied cultures. On our first full day, we were surprised by our WOW Moment. At this most beautiful site, overlooking a series of waterfalls, we were served lunch by a local family (now, Patricia did know that I am a bit of a foodie) who served us a traditional Mayan lunch, nouvelle-style. The family has a catering company called U Janal Masewal, Ancient Recipes for a Modern World. That sort of sums up my worldview too. We were happy! And Patricia met us there for lunch. Thank you, Patricia and Wendy.

This lunch opened our eyes to what was happening in the local communities. The Mayan culture isn’t stuck in the past or lost, as it is in Chiapas, Mexico, where I visited last year. The Belizeans are creating a wonderful and mixed culture ripe for all sorts of tourism. Our week in Belize was full of surprises. I would recommend it to older people like us, to young families, well, to anyone who likes travel.” —Salena Kern

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

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East Africa: hunting with bushmen, visiting a local women’s organization…

Traveler taking a selfie with with local kids during a community visit to the Mukundusi Village in Tanzania.

Traveler Jeannie Mullen snapped a selfie with local kids during a community visit to the Mukundusi Village in Tanzania.

“I just returned from a trip to East Africa planned by Cherri and her team. The lodges and their phenomenal staffs, the wildlife, the guides, the available local activities, the holiday and birthday celebrations along with numerous personal touches…I cannot say enough about the locals that I met and the recurring personal interactions I had.

Normally I schedule every day of a trip down to the minute. Since this trip was so long (and as I get older!) I left some time open in the itinerary in the event that I just needed to chill here and there. Doing so enabled me to schedule some additional, non-game-viewing activities at each location which really enriched my overall experience. Highlights included: Following bushmen on a game hunt (and taste-testing the grilled results!) in Tanzania, participating in an anti-poaching demonstration (I played the poacher and hid out in the bush) at Sirikoi in Kenya, multiple community/village visits, and a visit to an inspiring women’s organization (Ride 4 A Woman) in Uganda.

On New Year’s Eve I was at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania. At the conclusion of a tribal dance ritual at the north lodge, we all followed their torch-lit procession (singing, chanting and dancing the entire way) down to the south lodge where the Maasai then put on a spectacular dance demonstration which told the story of their customs and rituals.” —Jeannie Mullen

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

START A TRIP TO EAST AFRICA

Italy: fishing and cheesemaking with locals, watching glass artisans at work…

Scenic overlook of the Tyrrhenian Sea along the Amalfi Coast of Italy.

Scenic overlook of the Tyrrhenian Sea along the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“From the moment we were picked up in Rome to the time we were dropped at the airport after 15 days in this beautiful country, we would have changed nothing! The food and wine were incredible, the hotels were spectacular and the guides and their tours were unforgettable. While the trip was overall the most memorable experience of our lifetimes, there are a few things that we cannot go without highlighting:

1. The boat ride along the Amalfi Coast was nothing short of spectacular, and our captain and first mate made it truly enjoyable. Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea is something we will never forget;

2. The cooking class and lunch with Mrs. Luciana and Maria Cristina were so incredibly enjoyable and delicious that we wished we could have stayed forever;

3. Watching Benedetto create his masterpiece of mozzarella and burrata cheese and tasting the delicious virgin olive oils, followed by the private tour of his amazing lemon orchard, was an unforgettable experience.

4. Our visit to Murano and the Vetreria Estevan Rossetto glass factory was inspirational. To see the centuries-old workmanship of glass making and learning the history of this profession was incredible. We actually purchased artworks made by two of the most prominent glass artisans known to Italy, Walter Furan and Amedeo Rossetto. Our guides, Daria and Piero, were so knowledgeable and spent hours teaching us about glass making and the history behind it. Piero is the grandson of Walter Furan, and being able to purchase one of his grandfather’s pieces was truly special.

5. And finally, only to keep this review from being too lengthy, trout fishing with Luca. While I did not catch a monster, the beautiful little brown trout I did catch brought a smile to my face, and the lunch we shared and our time together was terrific.

We would like to thank Wendy, Maria Gabriella, Maria Cristina, our fabulous guides, our amazing drivers, and all of the employees and staff at the hotels in which we stayed for their incredible hospitality. We cannot wait for our next WOW experience.” —Lizzy and Jay Bryan

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

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Oman and Jordan: “It is always good to learn more, have more awareness and to become better global citizens…”

Amy Avers and her husband having coffee and dates with Omani locals.

Amy Evers and her husband talking world politics with Omani locals over coffee and dates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

START A TRIP TO OMAN AND JORDAN

Morocco: learning history and culture from scholars and artisans…

Our traveler's guide outside his family home in Tangier's Medina, Morocco.

Milinda Martin’s guide AbdulRahman outside his family home in Tangier’s Medina. Photo: Traveler Milinda Martin

“It had been 20 years since I had visited Morocco, and I have to say, the country is going through such a positive time. People are happy there! The government is building tons of affordable housing, redoing the waterfront areas, and spiffing up all the cities. It’s a good time to visit.

Thanks to Radia and her team, I was able to indulge my desire to learn more about the history of this country, especially the Berber culture, the invasion of the Arabs, and the long history of the Moors and Jews. Radia did not disappoint; all of my guides were experts and very willing to discuss the benefits and challenges of being such a rich land where everyone wants to be. My guide in Tangier, AbdulRahman, was OUTSTANDING. He was born in the Medina and his family still lived there, and he was able to share stories of how Tangier has changed over the centuries with all the invaders. He shared the local delicacies — mint tea and amazing cookies — with me, and we truly felt like friends by the time I moved on to Chefchaouen.

With Radia’s guidance, I visited Casablanca, and the amazing Hassan II mosque, with a Muslim scholar who could really immerse me in the religion, far beyond the 5 pillars. The trip ended in Marrakesh, where I had the most unique experience of learning how to make mosaics. This wasn’t a “tourist activity”; this was a visit to a gentleman’s workshop where we cut the tiles, arranged the mosaics and eventually plastered the mosaics into place. Radia provided a translator because the artist — having mastered this trade 40 years ago — did not speak English.

And I have to give a strong shout-out to my driver, Rachid. Throughout my tour, he was always on time, always kind, always conversational, and a great driver to boot. This is what I like about planning with Wendy Perrin: meeting the people and seeing life like a local. We visited the communal bakery and the hammam, two vital components of life for every Moroccan. I was able to go hiking in the Atlas Mountains, obtain early entry to the Majorelle Gardens, and have someone guide me through the mazes of the Medinas. The riad in Marrakesh was truly divine! Unlike other tours that whisk you here and there, in international hotels, where you never meet a local, Radia and her team ensured that I felt like a Moroccan from the very start.” —Milinda Martin

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

Norway: meeting a local fisherman, reindeer herder, and even an acclaimed actress

Crab fishing in Alta Fjord, Norway

Jeannie Mullen suited up to fish for king crab and halibut with boat captain Albert.

“Just returned from a solo trip to Norway September 11-20, 2023. After my pet sitter bailed on me at the last minute, I reached out to Jan to see what he could do to adjust the 3-week driving itinerary through Norway that he and I had just finalized. Jan was very flexible, gave me several options to choose from and before long we had whittled a 21-day trip down to 10, maintaining the main focus of trip…seeing the northern lights.

I started out at Sorrisniva Wilderness Lodge in Alta, above the Arctic Circle in the northern fjords. By day I was entertained with king-crab fishing in Storekorsnes, lunch with and storytelling by a local reindeer herder, a visit to the nearby UNESCO site featuring northern Europe’s largest concentration of petroglyphs (rock art) made by hunter-gathers dating back 2000-7000 years, and a boat ride on the Alta River with Tor, one of the lodge owners. Each night after dinner I was driven to different locations to search for the lights…. It was such a great experience. I had been coached beforehand that not everyone gets to see the lights every night and sometimes not at all over a period of several nights. Fortunately I saw them each of the four nights that I was there and got some great photos. On my last night in Alta I came back early enough to see the lights with a cup of hot chocolate from the warmth of my bed. It was an experience that I will never forget.

I had shared with Jan that I had a very broad range of interests coming into this trip, so the tenor and tempo changed quickly when I arrived back in Oslo. At my request, it was all about art, architecture, history and culture. In a very fun surprise, I was treated to a WOW Moment as I walked out of the elevator my first morning there. Jan knew from our trip-planning discussions that I am involved with a professional theatre company in my hometown and had made arrangements for his sister-in-law, Ingjerd Egeberg, a Norwegian actress (and national treasure), to spend an hour with me prior to the start of my planned day. Over coffee we had a lovely discussion about the theatre and then walked across the street together to the National Theatre for a backstage tour. It was truly delightful! Thank you again, Jan and Wendy! And THEN the day started.… The museums, art, architecture and parks in Oslo were beautiful…the Munch (The Scream) Museum, City Hall, the Opera House, the Deichman Bjorvika (the world’s best new public library), the Nobel Peace Center, the Harbour Promenade in Oslo Fjord, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History and the Vigeland Sculpture Park. The next day was spent away from the city at the Kistefos Museum in Jevnaker, one of the most important outdoor sculpture parks for contemporary art.

And then it was time to head home. I cannot say enough about Wendy’s suggestion to use Jan.… His detailed planning, choice of hotels, guides, drivers, and restaurant suggestions were all spot-on. I enjoyed myself so much on this trip that I had Jan plan a 10-day itinerary to Denmark for the fast-approaching Thanksgiving holidays. And next summer I’ll work in the driving portion of the Norway trip that I missed out on this year.” —Jeannie Mullen

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Poland & Austria: master classes in amber jewelry, pierogis, Christmas ornaments…

Beautiful Krakow market square, Poland, Europe.

Krakow market square in Poland. Photo: Shutterstock

Gwen knows we have traveled the world on all seven continents. Many of our trips (at least eighteen) have been curated by Wendy’s trip specialists. Gwen knows we increasingly value experiences over mere sightseeing. This itinerary included many hands-on and personal experiences. In Gdansk, we visited an amber workshop and created our own amber jewelry using the workshop’s professional tools overseen by a friendly jeweler. We took home the two amber pendants we made.

In Warsaw, Gwen had another wonderful special experience for us: a visit with an artisanal nalewka (pronounced na lef ka) producer. This cordial is made in many homes. But this producer elevates the quality to the nth degree. Made of macerated fruits (or flowers or pine shoots or even milk), water, alcohol and sugar, the mixture sits in huge glass jars in his backyard for at least ten months, then matures in huge plastic barrels for at least three years before bottling. While visiting with this fascinating man, we tasted twelve of his varieties. We brought home two bottles and wish we’d brought a lot more.

In Krakow, we had a great lesson on how to make one of Poland’s national foods, pierogis (filled dumplings.) The private class was in the home of the woman who runs the annual Krakow Pierogi Festival. We had such a good time with her that we stayed far beyond our scheduled time.

Also in Krakow, we visited a small workshop that makes hand-painted glass Christmas ornaments. My husband and I each painted our own ornaments with direction from the chief painter. We ended up bringing a dozen or so ornaments home. In Vienna, we had a great food safari that took us off the tourist circuit and introduced us to stores and producers of traditional Viennese foods.” —Jan Heininger

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Italy: Palio horse race with local family, outing with a truffle hunter and lunch at his farmhouse…

Palio horse race in Italy.

Palio horse race in Italy. Photo: Traveler Jessica Tolmach

“Four special highlights that Maria secured for our group during our Tuscany stay: A spectacularly situated apartment in Siena overlooking the town square for perfect viewing of the wild, medieval, spectacular Palio horse race and dinner with the family who graciously opened their home, shared wine, food and stories of the history of the races over the centuries.

Another highlight was an outing with a truffle hunter and his dog into the hills and woods where the dog found truffles and after we were hosted at their farmhouse overlooking the valley while they served us a multi-course lunch of truffle-focused dishes that were scrumptious, along with their own wines. We also adored a private tour and lunch prepared for us at a little-known but spectacular vineyard in Chianti, with tastings paired with each course.

And, last but not least, we will all remember forever our lunch at an agriturismo farm with a most generous host and chef that happily went on for hours, on a glorious afternoon, on their patio on the edge of their fields, where we were served mind-blowing grilled meats and the best lasagna and tiramisu any of us has ever tasted. My boys wanted to stay and work on the farm and never come home! And I got his grandmother’s recipes!” —Jessica Tolmach

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Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland: cooking lesson in the chef’s home, charming family-run inn…

Tom Redburn

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

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Norway: learning from locals about fishing, reindeer hunting, village life…

Beautiful Nature Norway natural landscape aerial photography. lovatnet lake.

Lovatnet Lake, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

Torunn quickly grasped our interests, desires, travel style, and preferences. She promised to connect us to ‘the real Norway.’ This came to mean experiencing the spectacular environment, meeting people of all kinds, and learning about the Norwegian way of life.

The people Torunn arranged for us to meet at various venues are special and memorable. They were warm, welcoming, informative, and above all, interesting. Among them is Sven, the entrepreneurial owner of Knutholmen in Kalvag, who works harder to please his clients than anyone we have met. He became an instant friend.

Fjord skipper Roy taught us about commercial fishing and graciously shared much of his life story, helping us learn what growing up in remote Norway is all about. Driver Per delighted in taking us to see a replica Viking ship. Dinner with Edith and Jon at their hilltop ‘summer pasture’ cabin near Oye was a memorable experience filled with stories about Jon’s longtime mink business and special Norwegian delicacies to try, topped off with Edith’s handmade chocolates.

Fjord skipper Daniel took us to his family guest house at Trandal, where we were thrilled by the famous swing and braved deer-burgers and brown cheese ice cream, both delicious. Guide Britt, also an osteopath, was unusually informative and interesting. She took us on a delightful hike, showed us around the Tafjord village where she grew up, described her annual reindeer hunt, and escorted us to a friend’s guest house for a delicious lunch of deer lasagna.

Our hotels were superb and often historical. Without exception, they were situated in gorgeous surroundings and well managed with great service. Remarkable hotel staffers came from all over Norway and beyond. Each hotel was unique and memorable but our favorites were Knutholmen in Kalvag, Hotel Union Oye, and the amazing Storfjord Hotel. As is evident, Torunn did indeed connect us to ‘the real Norway.’ We will long remember this spectacular trip and the special people we met.”—Bill and Lynn Martin

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Northern Ireland & Ireland: making soda bread, helping shear sheep, a lesson in hurling…

sheep in a green field in Ireland

Sheep in a green field in Ireland. Photo: Shutterstock

“It was Jonathan’s strong suggestion that we include Northern Ireland in our itinerary instead of just Ireland, and we are glad that we did. Our experience in Northern Ireland was the soul of our trip, and we could never have understood the country without that experience and the help of our guide for three days while there, Mark Murphy. His authenticity was palpable, in addition to being a consummate professional.

For example, he not only took us through a small Catholic village to watch children learning the Irish sport of hurling on a field surrounded by Irish national flags, but then took out his equipment so we could all give the game a try on an adjacent field. Every experience with Mark was like that, including his lessons on tasting Irish Whiskey at Bushmills and getting me the opportunity to hold the great Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy’s PGA championship trophy at his home golf club in Belfast!

We also spent a morning at Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen, making (and eating) delicious soda bread, along with other delectables. Like all the folks we encountered, Tracey was an absolute delight, and we loved getting to go out to the countryside and spend some quality time with people who were so happy to share their lives with us.

We then went on to spend three days in Dublin, staying at a classic property called The Shelbourne. This gorgeous masterpiece offered impeccable service and a perfect location. One of the benefits of working through Jonathan are some small perks offered to you at each of the hotels, and we enjoyed oysters and Guinness in the beautiful lobby bar at the Shelbourne one early evening before heading to dinner.

Galway was our next stop, and we used that as the base for our exploration of the Connemara National Park and the Cliffs of Moher. Another absolute highlight of the trip is the Killary Sheep Farm. It’s on an absolutely beautiful fjord, and it’s fascinating to watch the sheepdogs in action and to participate in shearing the wool off the sheep. Tom, a third-generation proprietor, is eager to share his place, and it helps keep the lights on for these family businesses.

Our last stop was Dromoland Castle. At this point we had been on the move constantly for 10 days, and I think it was brilliant planning to let us decompress at this gorgeous castle for a few days before returning home.” —Michael Kelberman

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Malta and Sardinia: a sixth-generation gilder, a food-market expert, a real Knight of Malta…

The famous arch of Blue Grotto in Malta.

Picnics on isolated cliffs are a Malta highlight, but so are the many people you can meet elsewhere on the Mediterranean island. Photo: Shutterstock

“The nine-day itinerary Jason created for us to Malta and Sardinia in March was crammed with memorable experiences: entrance to the 4000 B.C. Hypogeum underground burial complex (tickets difficult to come by); a fascinating visit with a sixth-generation gilder; the tastiest private tour of a food market I’ve ever been on; a walk in the Sardinian countryside to see the island’s wild four-foot-tall horses; and—my favorite—a fabulous multi-course lunch set up just for us on an isolated cliff in Gozo above the crashing waves.

Jason’s ground teams were as interesting as the sights and scenery—our Malta guide, Martin, is a practicing Knight of Malta whose title goes back generations, as well as a professional photographer and former coach of Australia’s Olympic bobsled team (go figure); our driver there, Mario, is a former comptroller and auditor in addition to being an all-around great guy; guide Paola got her start translating for Tony Ryan when he was setting up his Ryanair empire in Sardinia; Marcello, our driver in Sardinia, had recently returned from the Polish border as a volunteer transporting Ukrainian orphans by bus to safety.

And if you ever want to feel like Bill Gates, now is your moment: Thanks to the VIP service Jason arranges at the airport, you wait in a private lounge before being escorted past the frenzied crowds to a town car on the tarmac that drives you to your plane, all before boarding officially begins.” —Priscilla Eakeley

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Oman: Bedouin women, pottery artisans, wedding prep with an Omani bride, meals in new friends’ homes…

Dhow boat Cruise in Arabian Peninsula, boat on blue water with desert mountains in background

A dhow cruise off the coast of Oman. Photo: Shutterstock

“My friend and I are active 60-plus-year-old women who enjoy traveling and immersing ourselves into the countries that we visit. We don’t want to just see a UNESCO World Heritage Site but want to meet the locals and see how they live—which is what we get when we use Wendy’s WOW List travel specialists.

We flew to Muscat and traveled around Oman for about two weeks. Dan listened to what we wanted to see and experience, and he or his office was with us via email, phone, and/or text every day of our visit.  Our guide, Fahad, heard I was a potter and took us to a pottery factory. He took us to his brother’s home for a typical Omani lunch and to see how they live. At this house we met his newborn niece and received the traditional gift of Frankincense. Fahad also took us to his friend’s home who was getting married that evening. We spent a few hours with the women in their traditional garb and experienced their welcome foods… dates, coffee, apples, oranges, chickpeas and other delicacies.

We also went to a local family’s home for another typical Omani meal on the floor and got to speak with their children. The father worked in the Ministry and the wife worked in the travel business setting up trips for Omanis. Quite stimulating conversations!

We visited souqs, fish markets, experienced the dhow-making process, lunched at the Chedi Hotel (a must!), visited mosques, learned about the Frankincense tree, swam in Hawiyat Najm Sink Hole (a must!), drove through wadis, learned about the date trees, photographed wild donkeys, had our feet ‘cleaned’ in the Sink Hole by the little fish, rode camels in the desert, met and dressed like Bedouin women, dune bashed in Wahiba Sands, experienced a sand storm, saw how Kumas are made, played soccer with an eight-year-old, saw goats climb trees, enjoyed a warm herbal compress massage at the Alila Jabal Akhdar (our favorite hotel!), had an impromptu donkey ride, went grocery shopping at the Hypermarket, and snorkeled with sea turtles in the Daymaniyat Islands (a must!).

We felt so welcomed in Oman and felt that the Omani people were kind, interesting and curious about us. It was another WONDERFUL adventure using Wendy’s travel specialists!” —Maureen Ferrari

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Colombia: a gallery opening with eminent artists, a private cooking class, a salsa dancing lesson…

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

Bogota, Colombia, is an easy nonstop flight from New York City.  Photo: Shutterstock

“Contrary to what people may think based on past history, Colombia was very safe. Our trip started in Bogota with an easy direct day flight from New York. Three nights there allowed us to explore the city, its food, and the amazing gold museum. Boris arranged a private art tour which included access to a private opening of the works of the famous Colombian artist Jim Amaral, where we met him and his more famous wife Olga de Amaral. For a change in pace, we then spent a night in Villa de Leyva, a national heritage site with a stop in Zipaquira to see the spectacular underground salt cathedral.

Next stop was Medellin, with visits to Comuna 13, with an understanding of conflict and cacao, and a visit to a large orchid collection. Four nights in the coffee country, staying in a wonderful hacienda, allowed us to explore that area, including a rafting trip, a visit to a coffee plantation, and a day out with an excellent birding guide. The final stop was Cartagena, where we stayed in the Casa San Augustin in the middle of the old city; great for walking around the old areas with activities such as a rum and chocolate tasting, a private cooking class in one of the best restaurants, and a salsa dancing lesson. An easy 5-hour direct day flight took us back to New York. Colombia is a country well worth a visit—even though it does not seem to be on the radar screens of many of our acquaintances—and Boris and his team are a great asset for organizing a diverse and interesting trip.” —Tony Ford-Hutchinson

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Southeast Asia: being blessed by the family elders in a local home, a sunrise breakfast with saffron-robed monks…

Ancient statues outside South Gate of Angkor Thom at sunset in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sunset at Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: Shutterstock

“We just returned from a fabulous three-week-plus trip to Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, and Cambodia, organized for us by Sandy. While we have traveled a great deal, this trip was among the best, if not THE best, trip we’ve taken. The diversity and specialness of our experiences made it stand out.

Like Napoleon’s army, we travel on our stomachs, and the food we had on this trip was extraordinary. One evening in Laos we went to the home of our guide, who Sandy has worked closely with for years. We helped prepare dinner, were blessed by the family elders in a Baci ceremony for success on our journey, ate the delicious food we had helped cook, and danced and sang with the family. Another night in Cambodia, we ate at a local village restaurant. With travel to Cambodia down due to the pandemic, it’s a great time to visit, and we were the only people at the restaurant. After a foot massage and passion fruit mojito, we were escorted to our table overlooking vibrant green rice fields while being serenaded by lovely music. In Hanoi, we went to Bun Cha Sinh Tu and had the famous soup it’s known for. It was table-pounding good. And our Vespa food tour of Saigon, which Sandy had strongly suggested, was both delicious and terrifying. Driving a motorbike in Saigon should be an Olympic sport, and we just rode!

Our excellent guides in Laos and Viet Nam shared with us the experiences of their families during the War and recounted working with American veterans who returned years later, as well as a reporter who had covered it. These personal and moving stories touched us and helped us better understand the profound effect of the War on the people who lived through it.

In Cambodia, we went to a Buddhist temple at 5:30 in the morning and meditated. Afterward we were showered with lotus petals as part of a blessing ceremony and had breakfast at the monastery as the sun rose. Early one morning in Laos, we gave sticky rice to saffron-robed monks who extended their begging bowls to us. Through this daily ritual, the monks demonstrate their vows of poverty and humility. Our guide took us to a quiet place where her family normally gives alms, avoiding other tourists.

It’s hard to encapsulate all we saw and did because there was so much: seeing the temples of Angkor, kayaking in Halong Bay, boating on the Saigon River, biking through Hoi An. Part of what made this trip so good was the flexibility we had in determining what we would do and not do each day. We had great guidance and suggestions from Sandy, but he emphasized this was our trip. Thoughtful planning and flexibility helped make this the trip of a lifetime.” —Catherine Mathis

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Bali: visiting farmers, playing instruments with village musicians…

“Having never been to Indonesia before, we told Diane the types of activities we enjoyed and she devised a custom itinerary that suited us perfectly. We spent an exciting day rafting down the Ayung river in Ubud and enjoyed a scenic guided hike to two beautiful waterfalls in the northern part of the island.

We also enjoyed a visit to a Balinese farming village where we got to sample Balinese cuisine and meet the lovely Balinese people who call this area their home. A highlight we’ll always remember is the live Balinese music and dancing which were performed for our enjoyment. We were shy, to be honest, at first. But by the end of the performance we actually got up there and played the drums and cymbals! These are the types of experiences that make travel so worthwhile. We’ll never forget it—and we have Diane to thank for that!” —Joe McBrine

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Belize: meeting fishermen, organic farmers, Mayan artisans at a women’s cooperative…

a fishing guide in Belize poles the boat into position to intercept a school of fish that would have been scared off by the engine.

A fisherman in Belize.  Photo: Timothy Baker

Rachael and Patricia curated a wonderful 17 days for us in Belize. The accommodations were first-rate, beautiful, and serene. At The Lodge at Chaa Creek, no matter where we stood, the view was picture-perfect. Further, at each of the five places we stayed, the service matched the setting. We were treated very well. Trip highlights were the ancient Mayan sites of Tikal and Xunantunich, Che Chem Ha Cave, a visit to the San Antonio Women’s Group Center, and a back street food tour in San Pedro.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we were able to meet, spend time with, and learn from many wonderful people. Gonzo, Andrea, and Calliandra of Che Chem Ha were enchanting. Timotea and the other members of the San Antonio Women’s Group Center were gracious, committed, and knowledgeable. Eder and his father, El Fego, at Xunantunich made us feel welcome and taught us much. Don Eladio took us for an educational and entertaining romp through his organic farm, Victoria taught us much as she prepared our lunch, and her children Christian and Tristan made us part of the family for the day. Axel, Vickie, and Isien of Manta Island Resort were so good to us that, even in the age of Covid, hugs were essential.

And then there were the two anonymous guests (fishermen, we surmised) who ate dinner at the table next to ours two nights in a row at the Copal Tree Lodge. Their almost childlike joy (even choosing the entrée for dinner was an adventure to be savored) underlined for us how fortunate we were to be there at that moment. Rachael and Patricia provided us with many such moments, and for that we are very grateful.” —Richard Ashmore

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Canada: townspeople at a fair, musicians and storytellers, a screech-in at a local pub…

Newfoundlanders welcome travelers into their homes (and lighthouses). Photo: Maxxim Vacations

Jill organized an eight-day trip for four couples, best friends for the last 30 years. It was a trip full of great adventure, hiking, fishing, good food, and fantastic people. In Cape Breton our local guide caught our vibe from the minute she met us and took us to her own town’s annual fair. She introduced us to some of the families there, and we instantly felt the warmth and kindness—we didn’t want to leave!

In Newfoundland, we stayed in Woody Point in Gros Morne National Park. The townspeople were, again, warm and welcoming (a common characteristic in this part of Canada). The local pub, The Merchant Warehouse, had great food, and the owner’s daughter plays her guitar and sings up a storm (don’t miss it). We had our screech-in there as well with the incomparable Aunt Sophie!!! The hikes were unrivalled; accurately marked and well-kept, the unique landscapes and terrain were breathtaking. We will be back to conquer Gros Morne itself!

Finally, we ended our vacation in Corner Brook at the beautiful Hew & Draw Hotel. The highlight here was our time with Darren, who took us out in his dory to his cabin on the water for a dinner of mussels and cod, with an evening tour of the surrounding region by boat. His mom had even baked us an apple pie! The stories he told us of his family and the region were again just part of the local hospitality. We have traveled to many places in the world, and the Canadian Maritimes is indeed a treasure.” —Barbara Palter

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Mexico City: an expert-led taco tour, meals with private chefs, off-the-beaten-path shopping…

tacos

An expert-led taco tour is a must-do in Mexico City. Photo: Shutterstock

“We wanted to explore neighborhoods and culture and avoid crowded museums and other tourist sites. Zach and his team delivered right on point. We were able to visit the historic downtown, stroll through neighborhoods like Roma, Condessa and Polanca in the heart of Mexico City, and visit the district of Coyoacan with the charming Colonia del Carmen neighborhood and village center with our guide Amalia.

If you are a foodie, you will love your options: We had a wonderful taco tour with Frederico and two wonderful meals with private chefs Alfredo and Graciela. Everything was absolutely delicious. Another highlight was a shopping afternoon with Cristina, who took us to wonderful off-the-beaten-path shops where we were able to purchase items we will cherish forever and a beautiful selection of clothing for my wife. We had a wonderful time and will definitely use Zach next time we go to Mexico.” —Susan and Blake Hancock

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Ireland: teen boys meeting local teens for outdoor fun and games

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

A jaunting cart ride in Killarney National Park, Ireland.  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 driver-guide, Frank. Frank got to know the boys and their interests and went out of his way to add to the itinerary with activities such as Gaelic Games and time with a local club soccer team. Our boys loved getting to spend time with other teens from Ireland.

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

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

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Wendy’s Travel Advice for 2022

Of the thousands of you who arranged international trips via our WOW system last year during Covid, many of you said in your trip reviews that it was the best trip of your life and that you felt safer overseas than you do back home. This was not just dumb luck. It was the result of careful orchestration of the pandemic-travel experience by people with the expertise and connections for navigating the new international travel landscape. Based on everything we’ve learned throughout the pandemic, if you’re looking for the best travel experiences in 2022, here’s my advice:

Let your timing dictate where you go. Flexibility regarding choice of your travel destination is key. Smart windows for travel will differ by country, as the factors that help determine a destination’s Covid-safeness (e.g., local vaccination rate and type, availability of open-air dining, optimal conditions for outdoor activities, etc.) fluctuate. When you know when you’ll be able to travel, write to Ask Wendy, and we can recommend where you’re likely to have the best experience during that window.

Embrace last-minute opportunities. Given how quickly the travel landscape keeps changing, the next smart opportunity may come sooner than you think, so be ready to jump. (My family, for instance, is ready to jump because we’ve already ordered, and received, the mail-in PCR tests and at-home antigen tests we’ll need for our next international flight, even though we haven’t chosen our destination yet.) Fair warning, though:  Last-minute arrangements are a bad idea for popular countries such as France, Greece, and Italy that are seeing sky-high demand (and consequent sky-high pricing) for spring/summer/fall 2022.

Favor travel to countries that require vaccination and/or a negative test for entry. So many of your trip reviews mention you felt safer in the foreign country than you do back home, thanks to local protocols and private, Covid-safe arrangements. Even the international flight feels safer because everybody onboard is vaccinated, or has just tested negative, or both. If you choose the right country at the right time, you’ll get better service, fewer tourists, and a more rewarding experience than in crowded, understaffed resort areas in the mainland U.S.

Stick to one country per trip. With entry requirements in constant flux, every border crossing introduces the possibility that something could go wrong and ruin the rest of your trip.

Fly nonstop, if possible, to reduce time in airports and avoid more requirements.

Don’t discount a country because you’ve already been there: It’s easy to get a trip that’s completely different from your last trip to that place if you use a WOW List local expert. Just ask your fellow travelers who made return trips in 2021 to Belize or Croatia or Morocco or Italy or Tahiti or Greece or….

Give yourself something to look forward to. Anticipation of a trip helps your mental health. If prepaying for a trip, protect yourself financially by using the right WOW Lister and/or buying the right travel insurance (and using a credit card to purchase your trip; here’s more on that). A WOW Moment is something to look forward to as well, so if you’ve traveled with us recently, don’t forget to submit your trip review within three months of your return date so you’ll earn WOW Moment credit for that trip. Here’s how to get a WOW Moment.

Remember that you must test negative before boarding your flight back to the U.S…
Especially if you’re traveling with kids, you will want all family members to test negative the day before your return flight.  So, even if sickness caused by Covid is not a concern for you, it’s still critical to travel in a way that avoids infection. See 5 Testing Tips for an Easy Return to the U.S.

…and for that reason, make your last hotel a good one.
On the off chance that you test positive at the end of your trip, make sure you’re staying somewhere comfortable, ideally with private outdoor space that you could access while isolating.

Keep checking back, and reading our newsletter, for smart trip ideas now (you’ll find more here) plus answers to your most pressing Covid-related travel questions. There are a ton of would-be travelers out there who could use our help de-complicating the new international travel landscape, so please share our newsletter with your friends. Billie, Brook, Kristine, and I wish you safe and extraordinary travels this year! —Wendy


 

We’re Here to Help

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

LEARN HOW WE HELP

 

 

This article was originally published January 2, 2022. It has been updated.

(3) The Blue Ridge Parkway

How to Stay Safe on a Road Trip During Covid

(3)	The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway makes social distancing easy.
(2)	Pine Spur Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
Pine Spur Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia
(1)	The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, October 2020
The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, October 2020
Woman in a mask at Mt Vernon  George Washington’s home in Virginia.
Everyone wore a mask at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia.
homeschool day with kids Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia.
At Mount Vernon it was Homeschool Day.
At Mount Vernon, costumed—and masked—interpreters
At Mount Vernon, costumed—and masked—interpreters
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia
We had to wait to enter Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, because they are limiting the number of visitors.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia
Richard Johnston Inn courtyard Fredericksburg Virginia
This is the spot where we parked our car at the Richard Johnston Inn in historic Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Richard Johnston Inn courtyard Fredericksburg Virginia
Breakfast can be served outdoors in the courtyard instead of indoors in the dining room.
Richard Johnston Inn breakfast
And the breakfast is yummy!
Richard Johnston Inn interior of guest room with dog Fredericksburg Virginia
Here’s our pet-friendly room off the courtyard. Macy (on the bed at left) felt right at home.
St Simons Island Georgia biking on beach
We met up with friends on St. Simons Island, Georgia, where you can bike on the beach!
St Simons Island georgia oak trees
St. Simons is famous for its magical oak trees.
 St. Simons Island Lighthouse Museum Georgia
We opted not to enter the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum because I was too concerned about poor ventilation in a cramped space.
 Fort Frederica National Monument entrance St Simons Georgia
The entrance to Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island, October 2020
Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
We felt very safe exploring the remains of the 18th-century fort and town known as Fort Frederica.
Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
These small motorized watercraft are a great way to get a sightseeing tour while staying socially distanced from the rest of the group.
Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
Our favorite historic landmarks of our trip were, like Fort Frederica, outside and uncrowded.
covid safety signage at Fort Frederica National Monument St Simons georgia
Safety signage at Fort Frederica

 

As we’ve learned more about Covid and how to avoid it, my family and I have grown more ambitious with each road trip.  Since the pandemic started, I’ve had to make four essential road trips. On the first trip, right after New Jersey’s lockdown ended, we avoided hotels and restaurants altogether. On the second, I learned how to choose safe hotels and restaurants. On the third, we added visits to historic monuments and museums and even rented a house. Each time, before leaving home and upon returning, we each took a mail-in Covid test and self-isolated, so as reduce the risk of spreading the virus. And it worked: Nobody in the family has gotten Covid.  As I head out on my fifth long road trip of the pandemic, here are the strategies I’ll continue to utilize.

For safer food stops and restrooms, get off the Interstate.

Gas-station convenience stores, chain restaurants, and food courts just off highways—all of which tend to have poorly ventilated, cramped bathrooms—are, in my experience, the least safe places on the road. They are highly trafficked by a wide cross-section of people from who-knows-which states with who-knows-what rules, and many of those people don’t stay six feet away. By contrast, in towns a few miles from the highway, even in red-zone states, we’ve found non-chain, family-run places that are much cleaner, less crowded, more virus-savvy, with more outdoor seating (plus outdoor heat lamps) and better take-out menus.

Bring a plug-in cooler for your car.

To avoid indoor dining, too many fast-food drive-throughs, and frequent supermarket runs, pack a cooler where you can store provisions such as cold cuts, condiments, and other ingredients for luncheon sandwiches.

Order curbside pick-up from eateries that win local awards and have extensive takeout menus.

When I can’t find a good outdoor-dining option, I search online for eateries that are beloved by the locals and do a huge takeout business.  As just one example, when we were nearing Winchester, Virginia, on I-81, I did a search for “Winchester Virginia best BBQ takeout,” found Bonnie Blue Southern Market & Bakery (check out the menu), and picked up Low Country Shrimp & Grits.  Bonus: I got to see historic Old Town Winchester en route.  Pro tip:  Always order by phone because the conversation with a human being yields important current info that you don’t get otherwise, plus they’re less likely to get your order wrong.

Look for government-run public restrooms.

In addition to local libraries, state welcome centers, and national historic landmarks’ visitor centers, we found the cleanest, least crowded bathrooms in places run by the U.S. National Park Service. First prize goes to the spotless, empty restrooms along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Before visiting a historic landmark or museum, find out what’s planned there for that day.

When we spontaneously pulled into Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home in Virginia, it turned out to be Homeschool Day. There were moms with kids all over, and while it was possible to stay six feet away from them, it would have been better to visit on a different day. A relatively easy way to avoid a school-field-trip environment is to visit such sites in the late afternoon.

Buy tickets in advance for indoor sites (and indoor sections of sites).

Many monuments and museums are limiting capacity, to reduce the number of visitors in enclosed spaces. This means there might be a wait to enter or tickets might be sold out. At F.D.R.’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, there was no wait to stroll the grounds but a wait to tour the house. At Mount Vernon, we bought Grounds Passes that allowed us to access most of the estate, but tickets to get inside the mansion itself were sold out.

Look for hotel rooms with outdoor private entrances.

To avoid sharing poorly ventilated indoor spaces with strangers, I usually seek out hotels that have standalone cabins or cottages with windows that open. (If I think a guest or housekeeper was in the room recently, I’ll keep the windows open for ventilation).  Where such hotels are not available, I look for historic inns because they often have rooms outside the main building.  We’ve now stayed twice at the Richard Johnston Inn in Fredericksburg, Virginia, because they have pet-friendly rooms off a courtyard:  We can park the car, walk to our room, and punch in the entry code to open the door, without entering a lobby or encountering another person. In the morning, breakfast can be served al fresco in the courtyard, and each time we were the only guests eating there.

Pack a HEPA filter.

When I enter a hotel room, my goal is to avoid breathing any particles left by someone else or touching anything recently touched by someone else.  So, before making a reservation, I speak with the room reservations supervisor in order to choose a room that will not be occupied by someone else the night before my arrival.  (On road trips I tend to make same-day reservations, so the supervisor knows for sure whether someone slept in the room the night before.)  Upon arrival, I use sanitizer wipes to clean all doorknobs, faucets, and the like. Last but not least, I place our air purifier with HEPA filter near the bed.

If you’re renting a house, the state’s infection rate matters less than hyperlocal factors such as the town and street you pick.

We spent the last weekend of one road trip in a vacation rental on an island off the coast of Georgia, and friends of ours who live in Florida drove up to share the house with us for three nights.  Georgia and Florida are not known for their Covid safety, yet our location and timing—St. Simons Island, near the beach, in shoulder season—allowed us to be as carefree as it gets nowadays:  We cooked all our meals, rented bikes—on St. Simons you can bike on the beach!—and spent our time sightseeing, fishing, taking long walks beneath the island’s famous oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and just being so happy that we could catch up in person with our friends, even if we couldn’t touch or hug them.  We’re already planning to rent the same house with them next year.


Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

Wendy Perrin snorkeling in Belize underwater with a smiling fish

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

The best vacations are those where you try something new you’ve never done before. When you learn a new skill or master a challenge or achieve a long-held goal during a trip, it leaves you with intense memories of that trip and a sense of accomplishment that can linger forever.

That’s one reason why I chose Belize for my family vacation: I wanted my younger son, Doug (14), to learn how to dive. Doug is starting high school next month and is fascinated by marine biology, so it seemed like a good moment to get him his scuba certification.

The diving and snorkeling in Belize is world-class, thanks to the country’s position alongside the world’s second largest barrier reef. Belize also has the typical advantages afforded by a location on the Caribbean Sea, yet it’s easier to fly to, more affordable than, and less built-up than, many Caribbean islands.

Doug wasn’t the only one with a goal to achieve. The other reason I chose Belize was so I could road-test Belize trip-planning specialists. Belize has been catching on in popularity among sophisticated travelers. For the past year I’ve received a steadily increasing number of Belize trip requests. So, of course, I wanted to investigate and find a Belize travel specialist worthy of The WOW List.

Here’s a sneak peek at our adventures. Stay tuned for more on the best things to do and see in Belize, where to stay, where to eat… and how to learn to scuba dive in just three days (that’s how long it took Doug). And if you’re looking for the best Belize trip-planning specialist, here’s who I recommend.

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Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab Wendy and camel

Wendy’s Best Travel Moments of 2017

The highlights of my travels this year were a combo of the most surprising discoveries, the most worthwhile experiences, and long-anticipated moments that finally came true. These are experiences I wish for you in 2018. If you’d like advice for how to arrange them, I can help you over at Ask Wendy. Wishing you and yours extraordinary travels in 2018!

Zambia Elephant Cafe Wendy feeding elephant

Did you know you can feed and pet elephants in the wild?  We did this at the Elephant Café, an unfenced wildlife sanctuary near Victoria Falls, Zambia, that has replaced elephant rides with gourmet cuisine as a way to earn revenue to support the animals. In this photo, I’ve just told an elephant “Trunk up!” so I can throw grain into his mouth. Check out the video here.

Zambia Chiawa Wendy dancing

For me an African safari isn’t just about viewing wildlife. It’s about meeting people from a totally different culture. When these kids in Zambia welcomed us to their village with songs and dances, of course I joined in and did as the locals do. Yes, I looked like a spazz, but it got a lot of laughs and helped break the ice. See videos from our village visit here.

Zambia Chiawa girl with Frisbee ring

We brought school supplies and toys—including Frisbee rings—to the folks of Chiawa, Zambia. Africa travel specialist Cherri Briggs, the Trusted Travel Expert on my WOW List who arranged our safari, has spearheaded a number of life-changing community projects there. Our time in Chiawa was a highlight of our Africa trip. Here’s why.

Victoria Falls helicopter Doug

Victoria Falls, which is arguably the world’s biggest waterfall, can’t be fully appreciated until you see it from above. It’s like looking back in time because you can see the geological history of the land unfold. Watch video from our helicopter flight here.

Victoria Falls Hotel veranda

This is one of the world’s most enchanting and iconic places to stay: The Victoria Falls Hotel, built by the British in 1904. It transports you back in time to the days of B.O.A.C. Clippers and steamer trunks. You feel like you’re just one step away from Stanley meeting Livingstone.

Victoria Falls Hotel presidential suite2

Tim and I stayed at The Victoria Falls Hotel on our first date, eighteen years ago. When we came back this year, married and with children in tow, they upgraded us to the presidential suite. Queen Elizabeth II and Oprah Winfrey slept here too.

Zambia South Luangwa National Park elephants

In our ever-more-crowded world, a safari in Africa increasingly means battling other Land Rovers to jockey for the best position to see the wildlife. But deep in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, we had the animals—and the landscapes—practically all to ourselves. We were certainly the only people watching these elephants cross the river. Just by looking at them, you can gauge the depth of the water, eh?

Zambia pizza lunch in the bush

Bush brunch!  It’s such a surprise when you’re on a game drive, you round a corner in the middle of nowhere, and there’s lunch waiting for you, complete with panoramic view. It’s an even bigger surprise when you get to make your own pizza!   First we rolled out the dough with a rolling pin, then we sprinkled on our choice of toppings. Bush brunch is one of the special touches you get at Bushcamp Company camps. For more on our extraordinary safari, see Where’s Wendy: Exploring the Next Great African Safari Spot.

Zambia Zambezi River tiger fish

Tim’s dream was to catch a tiger fish in the Zambezi. I’ve never seen him so happy.

Zambia Chiawa hut laptop

“What kind of drums do they play in your church?” That was one of the best questions we got in Zambia. When this man asked us that question, I pulled out my laptop to show him a video I’d shot—in Bratislava, of all places—of an historic pipe organ filling an ancient church with gorgeous music. This man had never heard a pipe organ before. If you’ve never heard Zambian music before, listen here.

Dubai Burj Khalifa view from hotel balcony

Recognize this? It’s the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. This was the view from my hotel balcony on an overnight layover in Dubai. Of course Lindsey Wallace, the U.A.E. travel specialist on my WOW List who made our arrangements, knew exactly which hotel and room are best when you’ve got only one night to see as much of Dubai as possible.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab desert oasis

It looks like a movie set, eh? Qasr al Sarab is an oasis fit for a sheikh and dropped in the middle of nowhere in the Abu Dhabi desert, just a few miles from the Saudi border. Many people ask me how to spend a Dubai layover. My answer: Make your layover at least three nights, and spend at least two of them at Qasr al Sarab, which is only a three-hour drive from the Dubai airport. I guarantee it will transport you to another place, time, and frame of mind that you won’t want to leave. We were there in August—of all crazy times for a desert adventure—and, as much as I hate heat, we loved every minute.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab camel caravan

A sunrise camel ride at Qasr al Sarab is the Mercedes of camel rides. The camels are well groomed, and the tack is first-rate: The saddles are extra-comfortable, the handles are easy to grip, and there are step stools to help you on and off.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab Wendy and camel

Me and my new friend.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing

Dune bashing at Qasr al Sarab is nothing less than spectacular. If you opt for the “hard drive” (as opposed to a “soft drive”), it’s more thrilling than any roller coaster.

Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing sunset

This is how your off-roading adventure ends: sunset on the dunes.

Burj al Arab beach with kids

The kids went swimming in the Persian Gulf for the first time. Recognize this hotel?  It’s billed as the world’s most luxurious—and, now that I’ve stayed there, I have to agree. It’s the Burj al Arab, where the kids hit the beach with new friends they made in Dubai.

Burj al Arab room desk

Check out our room. At the Burj al Arab, this is just your typical guest room. Each room is two stories tall and comes with its own 27-inch Apple computer and printer.

Burj al Arab Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara

To get the full Burj al Arab experience, we dined in the aquarium that is British award-winning chef Nathan Outlaw’s Al Mahara restaurant. We were in awe of both the fish and the prices.

Ski Dubai Mall of the Emirates

I’d been wanting to see this for years. It’s Dubai’s indoor ski resort, inside a massive shopping mall. This is merely the base of the mountain. I was surprised by how much Ski Dubai looks, feels, and even smells like an actual Alpine ski lodge, from its equipment-rental shops to its chalet-style bistros serving fondue.

Morocco boys making bread

Making a staple of local life with their hands is a good way for kids to learn about a country. So we were thrilled when, in Marrakech, the kids learned how to make Moroccan bread from scratch, the centuries-old way.

Morocco communal oven

After rolling and shaping the dough, we carried it down the street to the communal oven where the whole neighborhood takes their bread to be baked. It was way cool.

Morocco desert sandboarding

There’s Doug sandboarding in the Sahara. We spent a magical night at a luxe desert camp in Morocco, just a few miles from Algeria.

Morocco desert camp at night

Here’s the Sahara desert camp where we slept. We even had showers and flush toilets in our tents.

Morocco Fez carpet store aerial view

Carpet shopping has been a colorful way to experience local culture for centuries. But if you end up buying a carpet—or seven—it needs to be because you love it, not because a rug merchant persuades you it’s a wise financial investment. (It probably isn’t.) This was the kids’ first time carpet shopping—in Fez, Morocco—and the store was so theatrical about it, with men in white lab coats serving us tea and rolling out about 100 carpets in quick succession, that we had a blast.

Morocco Fez carpet store Wendy and boys

Voilà! This carpet now lies in our living room. At left is the merchant who put on such a fantastic show. (We set a price limit.)

Grand Velas Riviera Maya beach

This was the moment—at Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Mexico—when the Wendy Perrin Global Travel Summit had just ended. After many long days of conference prep and hard work, we finally got to hit the beach for a Taco and Tequila Tasting.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya bed rice

That’s colored rice! The Grand Velas Riviera Maya’s artistic staff recreated the WP logo on the bed of every Global Travel Summit participant!

Marseille Old Port from atop ferris wheel

I get excited when a formerly gritty, crime-ridden place that people used to avoid transforms itself back into a charming city and culinary magnet. Strolling the streets of Marseille—a stop on this Mediterranean cruise—I was struck by the colors everywhere, from the building façades to the seafood dishes that thousands of people were lunching on outdoors in the early April sunshine. I shot this photo from atop the ferris wheel in the old port.

Kitty Hawk Wright Brothers Memorial

This is the site of the world’s first airplane flight, in 1903. We drove to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, for the kids’ February school break—and let me just say that February was a lovely time in the Outer Banks: The weather was great, the Wright Brothers National Memorial uncrowded. Our dog, Macy, hasn’t been on a plane yet, but she comes on all our road trips.

Hong Kong Ngong Ping cable car

This kitschy souvenir photo is from New Year’s Day 2017. Thanks to time-zone changes and a flight itinerary that took us more than half-way around the world, our January 1 lasted about 40 hours. We boarded our flight home from Sri Lanka shortly after midnight and landed in New York City at about 10pm on the same day. In between was a Hong Kong layover long enough for us to take the Ngong Ping cable car up to the Big Buddha. There are better ways to spend a Hong Kong layover, but after the red-eye from Sri Lanka, the fresh air and the 360-degree views of Hong Kong’s islands and the South China Sea were what the doctor ordered.

 

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.

The truth about Travel Warnings

Watch: This Is How to Interpret Travel Warnings

One of the biggest mistakes I see travelers make, over and over, is to unnecessarily cancel a trip or rule out a country because they’ve misconstrued a U.S. State Department travel advisory. A Travel Alert does not mean don’t go. And sometimes that’s true for Travel Warnings too. Right now there are Travel Warnings for 45 countries, ranging from war zones that should be avoided (e.g., Syria) to places that millions of people travel to safely every year for blissful relaxation (e.g., Mexico).

Last week, the U.S. State Department updated its Travel Warning for Mexico. According to State Department officials, this was a routine update. Still, the info that crime has increased in 2017 in areas including the states of Quintana Roo (where Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen are) and Baja California Sur (where Los Cabos is) is making the travel news rounds.

The reality is that most of the conflicts have been between rival criminal organizations and have not involved travelers. The Travel Warning acknowledges this, stating: “There is no evidence that criminal organizations have targeted U.S. citizens based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.”

At Journey Mexico, the trip-planning company run by Zach Rabinor, the Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico on my WOW List, the staff has offered an in-depth explanation based on their first-hand, on-the-ground experience. They write, “It is important to note that, again, these conflicts and any related violence have not and are not targeting holiday travelers.  There has been no violence against tourists within hotels or resorts or traveling to or from any of the main tourist attractions in the area.” They also remind travelers that “Many areas of Mexico, such as the popular state of Yucatan and city of Merida, and throughout the Central Highlands in destinations such as San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City, have no travel warnings at all.”

Yes, you should be careful, but you should also keep these warnings in perspective.

Most countries are a lot like the one where you live: safer in some parts, unsafe in others. Just because Mexico has dangerous parts (e.g., border areas), it doesn’t mean you should avoid others that are hundreds of miles away. I took my own staff to Playa del Carmen in January of this year to host a summit with my WOW List travel specialists from all over the world, and we all felt safe the entire time. Would you avoid Beverly Hills because of terrorist shootings in San Bernardino (which is only an hour away)?

This video will help you quickly understand and act upon travel advisories. I shot it last year when I was in another country for which there is a Travel Warning but which tens of thousands of tourists visit safely each year. Can you guess where? Here’s a clue:

Wendy and a new friend in Cartagena, Colombia, last month.

Wendy and a new friend.

Transparency disclosure: Our sponsor, MedjetAssist, provided the financial support that made it possible to bring you these travel tips.

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.

Wendy making friends at the ancient Phoenician city of Baalbek in Lebanon

Why Xenophobia Makes Me Want to Travel More

Did you see that Dictionary.com named “xenophobia” its 2016 Word of the Year?  Defined as “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers,” xenophobia has been resonating deeply in the cultural consciousness lately.

How sad. As you can imagine, I’m a strong believer in the enlightenment that comes from traveling to foreign countries, meeting different peoples, and learning first-hand about their culture. I also believe xenophobia can be more harmful than the people it makes you afraid of. There’s danger in not leaving your comfort zone. To quote Paulo Coelho, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine—it’s lethal.” And you can argue that certain risks are greater where we live: I’m more afraid of people wielding guns at home than in the places I travel to (the U.S. has more guns per capita than any other nation).

So this Word-of-the-Year news had me down…until I realized there’s a silver lining:  If xenophobia actually leads to a wider reluctance to travel, it will be the stereotypical “ugly Americans” who stay home. And that’s not so bad for us diehard travelers. It’s always been my experience that the fewer tourists in a destination, the more welcoming the locals are, the easier it is to talk to them, and the more goodwill they show you. I’m more than happy to travel without running into crowds of Americans in fanny packs and shiny white sneakers. I’m thrilled to have iconic sights to myself and not have my photos marred by busloads of cruisegoers from megaships. And the fewer Americans filling flights and hotels, the better the deals for the rest of us.

When I’m in remote locales, I don’t want to hear Americans saying how much better something is at home. I don’t want to hear, “I had to haggle with a guy to buy this” (do the math, and you’ll see that you were bargaining in increments less than a dollar). I don’t want to hear complaints that there’s not enough ice or air conditioning or whatever drink you’re used to at home. I remember once when I was in Egypt—on the terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan overlooking the Nile—my husband ordered a Coke and I ordered a Diet Coke. The waiter brought a 16-ounce Coke for my husband and an 8-ounce Coke for me. It took us a minute to understand the logic, but we’ve been laughing about it ever since. That was a beautiful travel moment.

So, my dear xenophobes, if you prefer to stay in your bubble, I’m more than happy to do your traveling for you and serve as an ambassador for our country. I’m happy to drink tea in a bedouin tent while my children play soccer with the local kids. I’m happy to travel to rural Asia armed with pencils and postcards from home. Give a child a postcard of the place where you live and, before you know it, his mom is inviting you inside the place where they live—no fear of strangers involved.

The number of truly different places to travel to in this world is shrinking. The influences of global commerce, Hollywood, and the Internet are quickly making foreign countries more similar to ours than some of us want to admit. That’s why I think it’s important to see these places soon. I’m thrilled that countries still exist where we can say—to quote John Cleese as he sat behind his Monty Python news anchor desk—“And now for something completely different.”

So that’s how I came to terms with xenophobia. Now I just need to get past “post-truth.” That’s another 2016 Word of the Year—the one chosen by Oxford English Dictionaries.  I’m a journalist who has always stood for truth (first as a columnist at Condé Nast Traveler, where “Truth in Travel” was our credo, and now at WendyPerrin.com, where I continue that mantra). So imagine how concerned I am that murky facts and fake news have grown so prevalent that a word had to be invented to describe them.  We may be living in a post-truth era, but I, for one, feel more obligated than ever to share accurate portrayals of the world we travel in and bring truth home to our fellow citizens. How about you?

 

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.

Watch: How to Protect Yourself From Zika Virus and Mosquito Bites

 

Recently, health officials confirmed that the Zika virus is being actively transmitted by mosquitoes in Miami Beach, Florida. That’s the latest destination in a list of popular U.S. vacation spots—greater South Florida, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands—that have recently reported transmissions of the virus.

Experts are learning new information about the Zika virus every day, and the CDC is sharing that information online at cdc.gov/zika. There you can find up-to-date details on transmission, risk factors, mosquito control, as well as geographic listings and a map of where cases have been reported.

As we’ve stated here before at WendyPerrin.com, travelers who are thinking about pregnancy (along with those who are already pregnant) should not visit destinations where the virus is spreading. The illness has been reported in both men and women, and is known to be transmitted by mosquito bites, sex, blood transfusions, and from a pregnant woman to her fetus.

But as I’ve also stated, the rest of us should not let panic determine our travel decisions. The truth is that mosquitoes have been carrying nasty diseases for centuries: dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever. And nearly every country has mosquitoes. If we were to stop traveling to places with disease-carrying mosquitoes, we’d have to stop seeing most of the world and build a bubble around our own backyards. What’s more, as I explained to journalist Scott Mayerowitz in his recent article for AP News, “the rest of us should be careful not to focus so much on avoiding Zika that we choose a destination that puts our health at greater risk, whether from mosquitoes carrying other diseases or from another cause such as tainted water.”

It’s always important—not just in Zika-affected countries, but everywhere there are mosquitoes—to protect yourself. Here’s how my family and I did it in the rainforest along the Panama Canal. (While Panama is a Zika-affected country, we did not see or feel any mosquitoes during our time there.)

Wendy and her family, in mosquito-resistant clothing, in the rainforest of Panama last month.

Wendy and her family, in mosquito-resistant clothing, in the rainforest of Panama in April 2016.


Transparency disclosure:
 Our sponsor, MedjetAssist, provided the financial support that made it possible to bring you these travel tips.

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.

 

Watch: How to Make Family Trips Fun

Dear fellow parents: I feel your pain. Traveling with kids is one of the biggest challenges of parenthood. My kids have been to 30 countries, and if I had a nickel for every meltdown in an airport line, every toy left in a hotel room, every time Charlie took a permanent marker and made a mural out of Doug in the back seat, every time a jet-lagged child woke me up at 2 a.m. announcing “I’m tired of sleeping now!”… I’d be rich enough to hire a nanny to watch the kids while I travel alone.

But that’s not the answer. Because even though taking the kids can mean inviting chaos, it also means carving out the time and space to reconnect as a family and create priceless memories. And it’s a great way to raise global citizens.

Plus, it can be fun. Honest. In this video, I show you how. Charlie and Doug even have cameos, as they were plane-spotting in the Caribbean with me when we shot this.

doug sint maarten airplane landing

For more hard-earned family travel tips, check out my 10 Keys to a Peaceful Family Vacation. And here’s advice from children themselves—because sometimes they come up with the most kid-friendly travel solutions:

What to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise

How to Get Your Child to Try New Foods When Traveling

How to Save Time and Tantrums in Amusement Parks

How to Keep Your Kids Happy on a Cruise

Why You Should Sleep In a Museum

How to Have a Kid-Friendly River Cruise

doug charlie sint maarten airplane landing

 

Transparency disclosure: Our sponsor, MedjetAssist, provided the financial support that made it possible to bring you these travel tips.

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.

How to Avoid Long Airport Security Lines This Summer

Airport security lines have grown absurdly long of late, thanks to more people traveling and fewer TSA workers. With the busy summer travel season upon us, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Here’s how to minimize your time stuck in a TSA line on your next trip:

If You’re Flying Soon

Find out if your airport terminal has more than one security checkpoint.

Many terminals do. Before leaving home, go to the airport’s website and pull up a map showing the security checkpoints. (This map, for instance, indicates where the three checkpoints are in Newark airport’s Terminal C; this one shows where they are for all five terminals at Dallas-Fort Worth.) At the airport, ask an official which checkpoint has the shortest line.

Download the MyTSA app.

Available for free for iPhones and Android, this app gives you current security wait times at your airport, as reported by your fellow travelers. You can also view them here; just type in your airport code.

Arrive early and hit the club lounge.

The bigger and busier your airport—e.g., J.F.K., Chicago (O’Hare), or Miami International—the earlier you’ll want to arrive, especially if you’re flying at a peak time.  At least two hours early for a domestic flight, and three hours early for international, may be a good rule of thumb for most airports. To keep your stress level down, you might consider arriving really early and buying a day pass to an airport lounge club (if the club is gate-side).

If You’re Flying Later

Don’t buy airline tickets for flights at peak times.

Avoid Friday late afternoon and early evening, for example, because that’s when business travelers returning from business trips are hitting the airport at the same time as leisure travelers leaving on vacation, creating security-line pile-ups. If you’re taking a long weekend, consider flying on a Saturday morning and returning Tuesday. (That’s also less expensive than a Thursday-to-Sunday long weekend.)

Enroll in TSA PreCheck or, even better, Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck admits you into a priority lane where you need not remove your shoes, liquids, or laptop. The $85 fee covers you for five years. For an extra $15, though, get Global Entry (the $100 fee also covers you for five years), which lets you skip the long customs line on your way back into the U.S. from an international trip, and which automatically gives you TSA PreCheck. Not every airport has PreCheck lanes or Global Entry kiosks, so check whether yours does.

Buy access to the priority security line.

Many travelers who have elite status with an airline can use the express lane at the security checkpoint. If you don’t have elite status, some airlines let you purchase access to the priority security lane on a one-time basis. United, for instance, lets you buy access at 68 airports worldwide (prices start at $15), and JetBlue lets you buy it at 62 airports.

 

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.

Smitha leads us to our cabana in Labadee, Royal Caribbean’s private port in Haiti.

Is This the Best New Cruise Perk at Sea?

If you think there’s no way you could survive a 6,000-passenger cruise ship, listen up. When the world’s new largest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seasdebuts this month, it will introduce a first in special treatment at sea: the Royal Genie. Yes, that’s right, a genie. The kind who grants your every wish. More specifically, a shipboard fixer whose goal is to expedite you past every line and make every potential obstacle on a 227,000-ton floating megaresort vanish.

At least, that was what my Royal Genie did when my family and I put one to the test a few months ago aboard Allure of the Seas.  Allure was a fitting ship for this test run because it was the world’s largest cruise ship at the time (until Harmony of the Seas overtook it) and is very similar in design to Harmony. Royal Caribbean, the cruise line to whom these ships belong and that invited me to preview the Royal Genie service, plans to roll it out across five ships this month. Only a handful of passengers—those in the top suites—get a genie.

Now, testing a Royal Genie is harder than you might think. I had trouble dreaming up things for her to do. Maybe I’m just too low-maintenance for a genie. Or maybe I’m more comfortable fending for myself. I did that too on my cruise: I split my time between being spoiled rotten and tackling the buffet line like everyone else. My goal was to be able to advise you how to have the best trip possible aboard the world’s biggest cruise ship, whether you’re in a $30,000 suite or a genie-less $4,000 stateroom.

Before I share my hard-earned advice, though, allow me to clarify what a Royal Genie actually does.

What My Royal Genie Did

My genie, Smitha Thompson, and me in the Royal Promenade aboard Allure of the Seas.

Me and my genie, Smitha Thompson, in the Royal Promenade aboard Allure of the Seas.

If you’ve ever had an airline rep meet you at an airport entrance and escort you through check-in and immigration and onto the plane, bypassing every line en route, then you can start to wrap your head around what a Royal Genie does for you. Her first order of business is to whisk you through the cruise check-in and embarkation process. My genie—the lovely Smitha Thompson, who hails from Mauritius—met me and my family inside the Fort Lauderdale cruise terminal. After we’d sailed through check-in, she escorted us onto the ship and to our room, where awaiting us was about a month’s supply of Brownie Brittle, pretzels, and red licorice (my kids’ favorite snacks, which our genie had researched beforehand). Refills flowed every day.

Smitha got us tables in the ship’s fully booked restaurants and front-row seats to the most popular shows. She had me meet with the head of the shore excursions department so I could get answers to my questions about the pros and cons of various shore tours on offer.

Smitha with the boys at our cabana. Photo: Timothy Baker

Smitha with the boys in our cabana in Labadee.

Her main goal, though, seemed to be for us never to get lost on the ship and never to wait in any line. To that end, she insisted on coming to our room (or to wherever we were on the ship) to escort us to every dinner, show, and scheduled activity. We assured her it was unnecessary, but this genie business was new to her too, and she didn’t want to mess up. Her goal in escorting us was always to take us on the shortest route from point A to point B and, upon arriving at point B, to hand us off to the person in charge there for safe keeping. When the ship docked in port, she expedited us off the ship via a labyrinth of secret passageways, normally off-limits to all but crew, so as to bypass any potential bottlenecks en route to the gangway. When we called at Labadee, the cruise line’s private port in Haiti, we were the first passengers off the ship, onto a private golf cart, into the roped-off portion of Labadee that is reserved for suite passengers, and up to a hilltop private cabana, where snorkel masks, fins, a cooler filled with drinks, and a bartender named Kesnel awaited.

Smitha even stood in line at the lobby Starbucks each morning so that she could knock on my door holding a skinny vanilla latte at 7:00 a.m. (She had asked me to specify a coffee drink and delivery time each morning.) The coffee was free of charge, of course, as were all of her services. Only Star Class passengers get a Royal Genie, and those passengers have already paid top dollar, so the cruise line is not about to nickel-and-dime them.

Smitha expedited our departure as well. Normally, on a cruise, passengers must place all suitcases and non-carry-on luggage outside their cabin doors the night before disembarkation (so that the luggage can be transported off the ship and into the cruise terminal). Smitha got this rule waived for us. On the final morning of the cruise, we got to stay in our cabin with all our luggage till everyone else had been ushered into disembarkation groups. Then she came with porters to collect us and our bags, led us on another shortcut to the gangway, escorted us off the ship, expedited us and our baggage through customs and immigration, placed us in a taxi, and sent us on our way. From cabin door to taxi door, disembarkation took 15 minutes—which, for the world’s biggest cruise ship in one of the world’s busiest cruise terminals, is pretty darned fast. 

Our baggage left the ship at the same time we did. Photo: Timothy Bake

Thanks to Smitha, our luggage stayed with us in our cabin until we left the ship.

The Royal Genie concept has evolved in the months since my test run. Smitha, whose real job was in the ship’s guest services department, was enthusiastic about trying on the role but had never received any official genie training. Since that time, Royal Caribbean has hired a bevy of Royal Genies, trained and certified by the British Butler Institute, and has even designed special outfits for them that are less nautical, more purple.

How to Use a Royal Genie

As wonderful as having your own personal vacation assistant might sound, there were awkward moments and missed opportunities. Should you ever be so lucky as to have a Royal Genie at your disposal, here’s my advice:

Don’t be afraid to say No.

A Royal Genie wants so badly to be helpful that sometimes, so as not to hurt her feelings, you end up saying yes to things you really don’t want. For instance, I wish I’d said “No” when Smitha urged us to ride around Labadee in a private golf cart even though we would have preferred to walk like everyone else. I did say “No” to the hand-delivered morning lattes, once I realized I’d rather sleep in.

Ask which shipboard experiences are most special and why.

On a Royal Caribbean megaship, there are more activities, shows, and restaurants than anybody could ever try in one week, so you must choose carefully.  I wish Smitha and I had sat down at the start and gone through the universe of options, as overwhelming as that might have been. Somehow I didn’t even learn until Day 6 that the ship has a zip-line or that I could dine al fresco in a garden, under the stars, listening to live music.

Request an in-depth tour of the ship on Day 2 or 3.

Smitha gave us a 45-minute introductory tour of the vessel on Day 1. The ship is the length of four football fields, with 18 decks, so she probably didn’t want to tire us out. But I wish I’d asked for an in-depth, three-hour tour. The ship has seven “neighborhoods” and surprises on every deck, from a Kate Spade boutique to a Boardwalk carousel to a running track that wraps around the entirety of the ship. Only on the last day of the cruise did I discover my favorite serene hideout: Deck 5 aft, where there are just a couple of empty wooden deck chairs and ocean panoramas forever.

Find out what behind-the-scenes tours are available.

Who are you most interested in meeting on the ship and what are you most interested in learning from him or her? The inner workings of a 6,000-passenger megaship are pretty fascinating. Your genie can probably arrange an insider’s tour with anyone from the chef to the chief engineer.

Ask about private photo ops with one of the ship’s photographers.

Your genie will likely schedule activities for you that are unique in the world.  (Here, for example, is a glimpse of the first-at-sea features aboard Harmony of the Seas). And when you’re doing a one-of-a-kind activity with your family, you may want a photographer capturing the moment—such as when you’re riding the Labadee Flight Line or surfing on the Flow Rider.

Smitha checks on the boys at the Flow Rider. Photo: Timothy Baker

Smitha kept showing up to check on us around the ship. Here, she checks on the boys at the Flow Rider.

How to Get By Without a Royal Genie

The truth is, some of what a Royal Genie does you can arrange on your own, as long as you’re organized and do some advance planning.

Figure out what’s important to you ahead of time, so you board the ship with a strategy.

Study the cruise line’s website, read the forums and advice on Cruise Critic, and know the full range of options that will be available to you, so you can take action immediately upon boarding. On the ship each morning, read the list of scheduled activities in the daily newsletter; it’s a long, dense list, so bring a highlighter.

Book as much as possible before boarding.

You can make restaurant reservations and book show tickets online in advance. If it’s a free show, send a family member 30 minutes early to save seats for you.

Do the most important activities early in the cruise rather than later.

You know those one-of-a-kind activities I mentioned? On the last day of the cruise, passengers were realizing that they hadn’t tried the Flow Rider, or the Boardwalk zip-line, or what-have-you, and the result was that these things were in high demand. Try them early in the week when the line is short—or before they shut down because the weather has turned too windy.

If you’re in the Caribbean, consider staying on the ship during one of your days in port.

Nobody is a more enthusiastic shoreside sightseer than I.  If you have a smart plan for exploring and getting an authentic experience of an island during your limited time in port, good for you. But if you’ve boarded with no plan, beware. The larger a ship, the longer it takes to get on and off, and the more touristy or inconvenient the port areas it calls at. If you’ve got no sightseeing plan, and your choice is between a generic group tour and walking aimlessly around tourist traps, consider just staying put on the ship and having all its features to yourself. Then return to the island and see it properly someday when you have the time to do it justice.

Ask the crew for dining recommendations.

Seriously.  The crew members aboard Allure, at least, are outgoing conversationalists, and we got our best food tips from a random assortment of them. They recommended breakfast at the Park Café in Central Park (a big mid-ship outdoor garden), for instance; there we discovered New York deli-style bagels with assorted flavors of cream cheese, lox, and toppings. They also sent us to Johnny Rockets in the morning for omelettes. Who knew?

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If you are considering a cruise on a giant ship, I recommend having a savvy and extremely well-connected cruise specialist arrange and book it for you so that you get the best cabin and itinerary for your dollar. Feel free to write to Ask Wendy and I can suggest the right cruise advisor for your particular trip goals.

Full Disclosure: Royal Caribbean provided me and my family with a complimentary cruise  (I paid for the airfare).  In keeping with my standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Royal Caribbean’s part, nor was anything promised on mine.

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.

sleeping on a plane

15 Problem-Solving Items for Overnight Flights

Leave it to frequent fliers to come up with creative ways to make overnight flights comfortable. These unusual recommendations come from assorted travel experts and friends on Facebook. They’re not all what you’d expect, but they’re all very clever. What items do you take on the plane to help make you more comfortable?

Cabeau Fold ‘n Go Travel Blanket and Case

Cabeau Fold n Go-Blanket

Cabeau Fold n Go-Blanket

It’s super plush and comfy and can also be used as a pillow and lumbar support. It has a loop with a snap that lets me attach it to my carry-on bag so it’s easy to access and doesn’t take up precious space in my bag. —Susan Portnoy, founder, The Insatiable Traveler

Lululemon Vinyasa scarf

I never board a flight without it. The wide, soft, cotton scarf with snaps can be worn all sorts of ways, which is great for travel. For flights though, I love that it can be a blanket, a pillow, a wrap, or even a sort of light-blocking head scarf.” —Christine Sarkis, senior editor, Smarter Travel

 

FitKicks

Fit Kicks

Fit Kicks

I always bring “FitKicks,” as they keep my feet comfy and clean. I also wear my L.L. Bean 850 down jacket that weighs about 2 ounces and doubles as a pillow when stuffed inside its own pocket. —Gail Rosenberg, luxury travel designer, Largay Travel

Trtl Pillow

Trtl Pillow

Trtl Pillow

It’s a machine-washable, super-soft-fleece travel neck pillow that is the best thing ever. —Margaret Stevenson

4Head

It’s a natural headache relief treatment I buy in the U.K. It comes in a small container that you roll up, like a solid deodorant stick. It’s great for headaches and stuffy sinuses, and if you take a big whiff of it, it wakes you up too. Think of it as a solid Vicks Vapor Rub, only tinier and convenient. —Marie Fritz

Bach Remedy Rescue Night

Use these flower remedies and hope for a better sleep. —Paola Fiocchi van den Brande, founder of Passepartout Homes

 

Inflatable beach ball

beach ball photo by Michael Frascella

If you never thought to pack an inflatable beach ball in your carry-on, you’re missing out on a great nap. Photo: Michael Frascella/Flickr

Bring one of those cheap blow-up beach balls and a hand towel. Blow up the beach ball, cover with the towel, and use as a giant pillow to lay on in your lap. It’s a refreshing change from the neck pillow for those who need a “little more” cushion. —Mark Estill, travel consultant/owner, Mark4 Vacations

White noise app

I use a white noise app on my iPad. Pop in my earbuds, turn on the waves, and the sound masks airplane and passenger noises better than noise-cancelling headphones. —Deb Arora, partner, Jacks & Stars

Rosemary oil

I bring a tiny vial of rosemary oil. My sinuses get super-dry on those long flights, and that leads to headaches and other weirdness. The smell of that oil just brightens up the inside of my head. And bonus, it banishes that weird airplane smell for a bit. —Pam Mandel, writer/editor, Nerd’s Eye View

Coconut oil

I use it as a moisturizer (face and body), hair conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant (it’s anti-bacterial). —Lynn Braz, author, LynnBraz.com

Baby wipes

First, so that you can wipe off the tray table, armrests, and headrest. Second, so that when you wake up, you can wipe your face and feel refreshed. —Katie Kenner-Bohl

Emergen-C packets

I take one while flying, and I keep a few extra in my toiletries bag, for the trip. Better safe than sick! —Kelsey Ebner

Your favorite herbal tea

It’s comforting to have something familiar while traveling, and a cup of hot water is easily gotten from a flight attendant. —Scott Laird, writer, AbFabSkyLife

iPad with extra storage

Beyond all the usual stuff that experienced travelers know to do to try to sleep (much of which will work or not work with the reliability of a cheap watch), what seems to affect me best when I’m struggling to sleep is knowing I have comfort “content” handy. Most of my favorite novels—and we’re not talking Tolstoy but easier-on-the-spirit reads—are already loaded on my iPad. And if I’m too tired to read, I have episodes of favorite TV shows (“Gilmore Girls” and “Frasier” among ‘em) and movies that help me feel at home and relax (“Mamma Mia” always makes me smile). When I replaced my old iPad with a new one, I doubled up on the storage space for just this reason: I wanted to make sure there was enough room for my old pals.—Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor in chief, Cruise Critic

What do you pack in your carry-on for a more comfortable flight?

 

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

Lunch al fresco on Viking Star cruise ship

This is a Cruise Ship That Smart Travelers Will Love

Lunch aboard Viking Star in the port of Monte Carlo. It was December, and temps were in the 50s.
In Corsica, an empty beach—one of the rewards of low season.
Ajaccio, Corsica on Viking Star cruise
Viking ships tend to stay in port till after dark. This is Ajaccio, Corsica.
Lunch al fresco on Viking Star cruise ship
Lunch al fresco again—in December, in Ajaccio.
Toulon, France on Viking Star cruise ship
Here we are in Toulon, France, just past sunset.
all onboard sign on Viking Star cruise ship
A curfew of 10 pm means you can arrange a very full day of sightseeing in southern France.
big windows on Viking Star cruise ship
Most parts of the ship let the outdoors in—even the buffet restaurant.
the bar in the buffet restaurant on Viking Star cruise ship
Almost everywhere on the ship there’s a view. This is the bar in the buffet restaurant.
Explorers Lounge on Viking Star cruise ship
Viking Star has a ton of nooks with books and, sometimes, screens displaying ever-changing travel photos from around the world.
video screen on Viking Star cruise ship
The biggest screen with a scene is in the atrium.
Explorers Lounge on Viking Star cruise ship
Even the bars are comfy.
rooftop infinity pool on Viking Star cruise ship
Probably the only rooftop infinity pool in Toulon.
main pool on Viking Star cruise ship
The main pool can be enclosed or open-air, depending on the weather.
main pool on Viking Star cruise ship
Here’s the same pool, at night.
spa thermal pool on Viking Star cruise ship
And here’s the thermal pool, in the spa.
spa on Viking Star cruise ship
There’s no fee to use the spa. These heated loungers are available to everyone.
spa snow room on Viking Star cruise ship
The spa’s snow room is available to everyone too. In case you feel like jumping from hot tub to snow and back again.
cabin on Viking Star cruise ship
This was my cabin—simple and comfy.
cabin balcony on Viking Star cruise ship
This was my balcony.
putting green on Viking Star cruise ship
The ship’s putting green—which I never saw used, despite shirt-sleeve weather.
Viking Heritage Museum on Viking Star cruise ship
The atmosphere onboard is one of cultural enrichment with a Scandinavian flavor. Here’s the Viking Heritage Museum.
wool hats for sale on the Viking Star cruise ship
Homey touches include these wool hats for sale. They’re knitted by Berit Clausen, the spa manager’s 95-year-old grandmother back in Norway.
Mamsen’s, the Norwegian deli on the Viking Star cruise ship
My favorite place to eat on the ship is Mamsen’s, the Norwegian deli in the Explorers’ Lounge. It’s named after the mother of Viking president Torstein Hagen and supposedly serves her traditional recipes.
Norwegian deli food on Viking Star cruise ship
Among the delicacies on offer (for free) in the Explorers’ Lounge, as well as in The Living Room, are salmon gravlax and steak tartare.
lunch on Viking Star cruise ship
Reke (Atlantic shrimp on white bread) for lunch.
breakfast on Viking Star cruise ship
At Mamsen’s they make these special waffles with berries and sour cream.
waffles on Viking Star cruise ship
Voila!
room service on Viking star cruise ship
Room service is free too. And the salmon gravlax melts in your mouth.

 

If you’re an avid independent traveler, as I am, seeing the world by ship has its pros and cons. A cruise is an easy way to see remote places that would otherwise be too expensive and logistically tricky to get to. But there’s a trade-off: Your limited time on land at each stop hampers your freedom.

That’s why I’m excited to tell you about Viking Cruises’ first ocean ship, the Viking Star. On a recent Mediterranean sailing from Barcelona to Rome, it was easier than ever to go at my own pace and do my own thing. (I say that having sailed on more than two dozen ships worldwide, ranging in size from 120 passengers to 6,000.) Viking Star’s sister ship, Viking Sea, will launch next month, and two more nearly identical ships are coming next year: Viking Sky and Viking Sun. They’re a good option for travelers who are normally too independent for a cruise. Here’s why:

1. You can avoid the tourist hordes.

In my case, I got to explore Europe minus the crowds of peak season. It was an unconventional wintertime Romantic Mediterranean itinerary that the new Viking Sea will sail next winter. The Barcelona-Rome route includes Toulon (on the French Riviera), Monte Carlo (Monaco), Ajaccio (Corsica), and Livorno (Italy). There are two traditional drawbacks to Europe in low season, of course: Chilly weather and not enough daylight hours. Normally in low season it’s smart to stick with Europe’s large cultural capitals, since they have a lot to offer even when it’s cold and dark outside. But the Viking Star keeps you warm and cheery in cold weather (see #5 below). The ship can’t rectify the second drawback: the sun setting at 5 pm. Darkness falling early, combined with the fact that the ship was docked in one port or another all day every day, meant that I almost never got to see the ship moving through water in daylight (normally one of my favorite things about a cruise). What made up for that, though, was the absence of other cruise ships in port, making it so easy to escape other tourists on shore (something that is not easily done on, say, a Caribbean cruise).

2. The ship isn’t too big or crowded.

It holds 930 passengers, but it feels more like a 500-passenger ship. It’s blissfully uncrowded, perhaps because people disappear into the dozens of nooks and hiding spots around the ship, and also because every cabin has a balcony. At no point did I encounter or spot any lines or wait for a deck chair or an empty table. There are many public spaces where you’ll find a comfy armchair, a great book, and nobody around. The ship has three pools—an outdoor infinity pool at the stern, a heated pool in the spa, and a main pool that can be either enclosed or open-air, depending on the weather—and none of them ever had more than two people in them.

3. You spend a ton of time on land.

On the “Romantic Mediterranean” itinerary, we sailed only at night. The ship was docked in port all day long, every day. You can sightsee till 8 or 10 pm, and the ship overnights in Barcelona on the first night and in Rome on the last night, so on those nights there’s no curfew at all. I ended the trip wishing we’d had a day at sea so I could have spent more time enjoying the ship itself—watching the waves pass by, soaking in the spa’s thermal pools, sampling more Scandinavian delicacies, and curling up on one of the many plush sofas with one of the many classic novels from one of the many intriguing bookshelves.

4. You don’t feel confined.

First, you’re almost always able to get off the ship and into town. Second, every chance they get (when the weather is warm enough), the crew throws open the floor-to-ceiling doors and windows to let the outdoors in. There are great views from almost every public space on the ship. Even the buffet transforms into an open-air restaurant—and it has an open kitchen, so you can actually look through the kitchen to the ocean on the other side of the ship. Every room has a veranda with a floor-to-ceiling view, and there’s a promenade deck that wraps around the entirety of the ship (something that’s increasingly rare nowadays). Windows onto the promenade deck open as well.

5. Itineraries can be unconventional because the ship is weather-proof.

I’ve never been on a comfier ship for cold-weather cruising. In addition to two indoor pools, Viking Star’s got two indoor hot tubs, a Nordic-style spa with saunas and steam rooms, an abundance of armchairs adorned with blankets and throws, and warm Scandinavian décor throughout. This means the ship can ply cool itineraries such as from Norway to Montreal, with stops in the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Quebec.

6. There’s no regimented schedule.

Unlike on some larger ships, there’s nobody telling you when to do what. There are no announcements. There are no formal nights. You don’t have to report to a particular lounge or theater at a particular time in order to join a tour. Nope, if you want to join the free group tour in each port, you just get off the ship and meet your group on the pier. In fact, the only time I saw herding during the cruise was off the ship, on those free tours. Because they’re free, almost all the passengers take them, which means you could be part of a caravan of buses all pulling into the same tourist sites at the same time. Remember: Just because it’s free, you don’t have to do it. It’s very easy to do your own thing in port. Just grab a taxi, hop on public transit, rent a car, or start walking.

7. The Wi-Fi is free, fast, and reliable.

The Wi-Fi alone gives you freedom and flexibility because it costs you nothing to hop on the Internet and do a little research before arriving in each port to find out what’s happening on the day you’ll be there.

8. It’s easy to dine privately and on your own schedule.

There are four restaurants where you can have long, elaborate meals, but if you’re like me and you just want quick, easy options anytime, anywhere, the choices are excellent. You can order room service for free, 24 hours a day, and it’s delicious and arrives fast. You can also grab hefty, free gourmet snacks of melt-in-your-mouth salmon gravlax, Atlantic shrimp, and steak tartare (with all the trimmings), both at the ship’s Norwegian deli and at its Living Room bar.

9. The ambience is more boutique hotel than cruise ship.

The ship was designed by an architect who does not normally design cruise ships. Not only are the interior design and décor atypical, but very little of what you see onboard feels corporate or mass-produced. The ship feels like an independent, family-owned, Scandinavian hotel, with homey and personal touches—such as wool hats, for sale in the spa shop, that were knitted by the spa manager’s 95-year-old grandmother. The atmosphere is one of cultural enrichment, from the collections of classic books to the Viking Heritage museum to the selection of TED talks on your in-room television.

10. You can relax mentally because it’s so affordable.

Your cruise fare includes a lot. In addition to the Wi-Fi and the tour in each port, you get entry to the spa’s thermal pools, saunas, and steam rooms; beverages, beer, and wine served with meals; minibar items; cappuccinos at the bar; and the aforementioned gourmet snacks served around the ship. There were salmon gravlax (on rye bread with dill mustard sauce), Reke (Atlantic shrimp on white bread), steak tartare (with the trimmings), and assorted Norwegian pastries, including special waffles with berries and sour cream. When you consider the sky-high prices you’d pay for those things in Scandinavia, the value is striking. There’s no nickel-and-diming; in fact, it’s hard to spend money on the ship. There isn’t even a casino. My only shipboard expense was a 50-minute Swedish massage which, thanks to massage therapist Luisa who is literally from Sweden, was the best I’ve had on any ship.

If you’ve got questions about the ship, feel free to ask in the comments below.

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Disclosure: Viking Cruises provided me with a complimentary week-long cruise. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Viking Cruises’ part, nor was anything promised on mine. You can read the signed agreement between me and Viking Cruises here.*