Thanksgiving may be a trying time to travel within the U.S., but it’s a great hack for an exotic family trip: Since it’s not an international holiday, you won’t find the same crowds or high prices you have to grapple with over Christmas and New Year’s. Wendy has spent many a Thanksgiving in Europe; Brook recently took her family to Egypt over her son’s week-long school break. Read on for more ideas of where you can make the most of your time off in late November—with the help of the right Trusted Travel Expert, of course. Here’s what it means to get a WOW trip.
Spain with kids: family-friendly tapas, flamenco, dancing white horses…
“Pablo and his team planned a wonderful 11-day itinerary for our family’s Thanksgiving trip to Southern Spain. We spent a significant amount of time in Madrid and then headed to Seville and Granada. Without a doubt, the success of this trip was largely attributable to the wonderful guides who showed us a little of their world. Not only were they incredibly flexible with our sons, aged 10 and 8, they found ways to bring the Spanish culture to life for them.
In Madrid, that meant trying the city’s best Tortilla in one of the city’s vibrant markets, stopping for churros, going to rooftops to teach the boys about the landmarks in a fun and interesting way and finding tapas restaurants that were authentic and family-friendly. Alfonso, our Madrid guide, was so kind and generous with his time, he really made us feel welcomed.
In Seville, I was pleasantly surprised to see the boys connecting with the Flamenco show Pablo arranged for us; it was an authentic experience that the adults enjoyed too! We loved our day trip to Jerez de la Frontera to see the dancing white horses at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. And, our tour of Alhambra Palace and Generalife was perfectly timed for the family—we were able to see the entire complex without rushing, but also held the kids’ interest.
The details were seamless throughout the entire trip and I appreciated Pablo’s office working on a last-minute change to our itinerary when we decided to call an audible on the final days of our trip. Spain is a wonderful place for children and this was one of our very best family vacations to date.” —Gina Melton
Tulum, Mexico, with a blended family group: A private villa, exquisite beaches, snorkeling, biking…
“We just returned from an extraordinary WOW trip to Tulum, Mexico. Our trip planners Zach and Patricia were truly helpful and incredibly responsive throughout. We had a challenge: A blended family with 5 grown kids from all corners of the country and with different backgrounds, interests and styles. It was a 60th birthday celebration for Jessica and a pre-wedding, postponed 3x, gathering. We wanted exquisite beaches, Mayan history, a private villa with chef, and planned, safe activities as well as private beach. Zach found it! Casa Ixchel took our breath away and exceeded all our expectations. The accommodations were spectacular, everyone had a gorgeous, well appointed, beautiful designed room, the Casa had marvelous open common rooms with views of the gardens, pool and beach, the beach itself was beyond imagination, and our excursions were marvelous. We spent one half day biking at the Coba ruins and another day snorkeling off Cozumel island. The other two days we had free—to ride bikes, walk on the beach, lounge at the pool and just be together. The meals were beyond delicious—and accommodated a variety of dietary restrictions! The villa staff was professional, kind, helpful and responsive. Mostly we had a beautiful, breathtaking week. It was a trip we will cherish and remember always. Thank you, Wendy! Once again, we couldn’t have done it without you.” —Jessica Tolmach
London with teens: Christmas lights, food tour, nighttime photo shoot…
“Our London trip over the 2022 Thanksgiving holiday was fantastic—fulfilling the wishes of a family of four, including two teens. We are very glad we went for five nights, any longer would have been too much, any shorter wouldn’t have included such a variety of experiences. We all needed a seamless getaway from work and school, with enough activity to engage without the worry of language translations. We had heard the Christmas lights could be grand (they were) and that the streets wouldn’t be crowded (not true). The trip was energetic and vibrant—a great refresh.
Jennifer and her righthand planner, Zara, were pleasant to deal with, efficient, and thorough. In five short weeks, they planned a packed itinerary meeting all our specs. They suggested 3 hotels and we selected the one (The Ampersand) with a charming private nook for the four of us, which had the added benefit of being near the Tube. The staff was very attentive and the food delicious. After a day, the breakfast staff knew us and had our food ready every morning when we arrived! Dinner was good too. Given we were hesitant about dining out coming off Covid, meeting our personal needs was important and appreciated.
The trip planners added value in many ways: organizing a one-direction route for our activities, taking into consideration the timing of all activities and our walking stamina. There was no backtracking and all new material to see. They also provided guides that had extraordinarily deep knowledge of the subjects we wanted to tackle each day, from London history, architecture, Savile Row and Tower of London to the new demands on the city from an environmental perspective. We are foodies, and our food tour was over the top, even the vegan cheese! The planners also suggested our getting our own theatre tickets ahead of time online to save an agent fee, which we appreciated. While we were very fortunate with all our guides, one convinced a maître d’ (twice) into taking us for an early meal without a reservation, including a Friday night at a great Indian restaurant (Masala Zone).
In the end, the teens loved the London Eye (priority tickets cut so much time), Cabaret, Winter Wonderland, Tower of London, and the RIB ride. The historians in the family enjoyed St. Paul’s, changing of the guard, financial district, judicial buildings, and the many detailed stories from the guides. My husband enjoyed Savile Row, the changing architecture seen from rooftops, and the night lights. Me, I loved the personal photography shoot at night. We all loved the food tour. Other travelers can’t go wrong with any of these.
If you are booking with Jennifer, specify your interests in detail, where you want to spend your money (hotel, shows), and all the things you want to see. She listens, follows direction and has great suggestions.”—Peti Stone
Family-friendly Peru: The Amazon & Machu Picchu
“We traveled from the U.S. to Peru for the week of Thanksgiving, and Marisol and Mark did a great job creating the trip for us. We traveled with three teenagers and we visited an ecolodge in the rainforest in the Amazon Basin, and then went to Cusco to visit the Sacred Valley area as well as Machu Picchu. Mark made all our travel and hotel arrangements and did a great job organizing the whole trip. Our guides and drivers were fabulous and we learned just how important having a great travel agent was when Peru began having protests that shut down the cities. Our travel agent and guide managed to reschedule each of our days, filling in where possible with activities that we could do, even though no cars were allowed to move on the streets and all the of places we had planned to go were shut down. We still ended up with a great visit and we really got to see so many wonderful parts of Peru, thanks to all of the help from Mark’s team—thank you!” —Laura Virkler
Belize for 3 generations: beach, jungle, kayaking, zip-lining, hand-grinding corn, making pottery…
“To plan for our 50th anniversary family celebration adventure in Belize, Wendy introduced us to Patricia, a native Belizean with a passion for introducing her country to the world. A year of planning with Patricia and Juliannie culminated in a 10-day trip, five days in the jungle and five days on an island. With us were four grandchildren, ages 9-12, so a lot of thought went into making sure we had lots of kid-oriented things to do. We truly wanted to hear lots of “WOWs” from them and we weren’t disappointed.
Imagine four kids flying into Belize City airport and being escorted across the tarmac and realizing they were about to jump into two helicopters and fly to their jungle resort, or their excitement of being whisked from the jungle, via private plane, over to Placencia, then jumping on a boat and arriving on an island? Their reactions when they walked into their luxurious accommodations, complete with plunge pools, were priceless.
Chaa Creek Resort in the jungle didn’t disappoint, upping the “WOWs” to new levels each day. Our butler, Candi, and her trainee Ryan spoiled us with private dinners for 10, breakfast deliveries early in the morning, fresh fruit drinks when we returned from a day of touring, even babysitting so the adults could dine together. At 4:00 a.m. one morning Candi was helping decorate an outdoor pavilion so our granddaughter could have a fun 9th birthday celebration that night. The surprises never stopped, the staff was so generous and kind, the accommodations top-notch, and the food delicious. Our granddaughter with celiac even got special gluten-free desserts every day!
We had a dedicated driver and guide, Darryl, throughout our 5 days of touring the jungle, and when rising water closed the ATM cave tour, Darryl seamlessly changed plans. Darryl introduced us to the Mayan world, helped us explore their temples, took us to a local coffee plantation and to a women’s local co-op where the grandchildren were able to hand-grind coffee beans, fresh corn for our tortillas, and try their hands at ancient pottery making. A trip deep into the jungle delivered us to zip-lining at the end of our cultural immersion day!
Ray Caye Resort beach days were spent in total relaxation mode so snorkeling, jumping off the two-story diving platform, kayaking, canoeing, sailing the Hobie cat, and even scuba diving kept us engaged. But enjoying gourmet meals, sipping drinks around the pool in the near-perfect weather, and playing family volleyball and puzzle games brought us together after far too many years of separation. The island was magical, the staff always ready to help us, anticipating our every need, and on our last night there, they surprised us with a 50th anniversary family meal on the beach. The resort covered the whole island and at one point there were only 16 vacationers on it. Talk about a private and perfect post-pandemic place to be! Leaving “paradise” the last morning was difficult, to say the least!
Patricia ensured that the whole trip worked seamlessly and not once did we have a glitch! She also chose the very best people to support us throughout the trip. We couldn’t have asked for a better family celebration of our 50th!” —Judith Rodwell
Italy and Switzerland with four daughters, ages 5 to 11: pizza lesson, mosaic making…
“My family of six—including four daughters, ages 5 through 11—traveled to Italy and Switzerland in November/December. Maria pulled it all together on relatively short notice; I think we had only four weeks of lead time. She arranged for great hotels, fun excursions, and private guides in Florence and Zurich who were fantastic with the girls. It was really nice to have the same driver the whole time we were in a city, and each driver was excellent and very accommodating. We had a fantastic time making pizza in Florence, and another major highlight was our WOW Moment. Thank you so much, Wendy, we really enjoyed it! We walked across the river in Florence to a more residential neighborhood and visited an artist’s studio, where she welcomed us and helped us make our own mosaics in her found-object style. While they dried, we enjoyed sandwiches and cake in the cafe. The artist and Elvira (our guide) were so friendly and welcoming it was a real treat to spend the afternoon with them. Everything went smoothly, and it was nice not to have to worry about anything. I will definitely call Maria again when we return to Italy or Switzerland!” —Rebecca Bartlett
Baja, Mexico for a family: scuba, sandboarding, horseback riding, rappelling…
“Baja CA is such an easy destination to get to from Southern CA, so when Zach and his team suggested a Thanksgiving trip for my family of 4, including 2 teen daughters, we jumped on it as we have not explored the other parts of Baja beyond Los Cabos. As up-and-coming areas, we saw the charm of Todos Santos town, hiked along the hills above the ocean and had surf lessons at Los Cerritos. Next up was La Paz, which has potential to become a wonderful destination, as there are plenty of adventure activities to choose from. We had a few travel hiccups the first few days in Todos Santos and La Paz, but Zach’s travel team of Jose & Amalia worked to make it the best they possibly could.
One of our main goals for this trip was to swim with the whale sharks in La Paz, which normally have a very dependable arrival in early November. However they decided not to show up in their regular numbers, so no one could get permits to swim with them in La Paz bay. This was a major disappointment but we had back-up activities planned and ideas ready, which is a useful travel tip for those “planning” on unpredictable animal life interactions. You just never know what will happen, so have something else in mind that will satisfy your travel wishes. We instead went on a sunset sandboarding excursion on the oceanfront dunes one late afternoon, and it was beautiful and remote. We also took a full-day boat trip to scuba dive with friendly, juvenile sea lions, took another dive through a shipwreck and then anchored at a remote beach for a wonderful lunch. These were both exciting excursions that filled the void of the whale sharks’ absence, and having Zach’s connections made it all that much easier.
Our last stop was Grand Velas on the Los Cabos corridor. What a property! The rooms, the views, the service, the spa, the food…it was all amazing! We left the property for a few activities: horseback riding on the beach and in the hills, and a jam-packed adventure up in the mountains with zip lines, rappelling, free-fall jumps, climbing, & polaris vehicle driving; all seamlessly organized by Zach’s team. But coming back to the resort was the best part of the day and their Thanksgiving night celebration on the rooftop deck was over-the-top spectacular! We ended up with a memorable holiday break, even with the few struggles, and we were all recharged going into the holiday season!” —Andrea Phillips
Family-style Costa Rica: monkeys, zip lines, surf lesson…
“Irene helped our family plan a wonderful trip to Costa Rica over Thanksgiving week. We loved the Arenas Del Mar resort in Manuel Antonio! It was the only one on the beach and even had its own private beach. The monkeys and sloths were thrilling to watch. We saw them all the time! Irene set us up with a zip-line tour that was fun for the whole family, and some of us did a surf lesson too. We also spent time with a guide in Manuel Antonio National Park. It was pretty busy, but our guide knew where to go for a quieter experience. The park is beautiful, and there was so much to see!
Our other destination was the Osa Peninsula. We got there by an exciting boat ride through the river and mangroves and into the ocean until we reached La Paloma Lodge. It’s a lovely luxury eco-resort, and we had a room with a spectacular view and plenty of space for our whole family. We enjoyed scuba diving, kayaking, exploring Corcovado National Park, and we even did a guided night walk to see some of the evening creatures. We saw macaws, toucans, many types of monkeys, sloths, agouti, crocodiles and even a tapir! We did have some rain on our trip— we heard it had been a very rainy year—but we didn’t mind: It makes everything so lush and green!
Irene was wonderful in seamlessly planning our trip and making sure everything went well. It was really helpful to have someone so familiar with the country and knowledgeable about all the hotels and activities. Thank you for making our trip great!” —Alana Jacobson
Morocco: watching ceramics artists at work, riding camels and ATVs…
“This was an absolutely amazing trip for a first time to Morocco. First, our guide, Amine, was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable about all of the locations and sites we visited. Second, the sites and towns themselves were absolutely spectacular.
We started our trip landing in Casablanca, but then found our guide and driver and immediately drove the 3-4 hours to Fes. I was a little nervous about whether that would be comfortable after a long, overnight flight, but it turns out, sitting in the car and watching this unfamiliar scenery go by was absolutely perfect—especially since it allowed Amine to orient us to Moroccan culture, a little bit of history, and our trip logistics.
When we got to Fes, we were able to immediately check into our hotel (because we had spent the time required to take the trip), and we then went out and began to see the souks of Fes. We did this again the next day, complete with a trip to see Moroccan ceramics-making in action, a working tannery, and any number of mosques and other cultural sites.
Marrakesh was the absolute highlight of the trip. Our hotel was absolutely amazing. On our last day, we made an absolutely fascinating trip hiking on the High Atlas and then ATV-ing and camel riding in the desert. It was an absolutely once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I would recommend it to anybody.” —Sarah Rathke
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