How to minimize your risk and maximize your travel experience? Know the right local fixer. What will the right fixer do for you? Read on. Below is a continually updated sampling of the trip reviews that your fellow readers are submitting after using Wendy’s WOW approach.
Your feedback about the local fixers on Wendy’s WOW List is more important now than ever. That’s because the world has restarted, travel-wise, and what matters is not the WOW that these trip-planning experts delivered pre-pandemic, but the WOW that they’re able to deliver now. So please, for the sake of your fellow travelers, send us your trip review as soon as you receive Wendy’s post-trip survey!
Malta: waterside picnics, ancient ruins, insider access…
ELLIOT LASKIN| OCTOBER 2, 2022
My wife and I just returned from a month long holiday – traveling to Portugal, Sicily and Malta in Sept 2022. We worked with Jason to plan the Malta portion for the last week of our trip Sept 22-29 and he did an outstanding job – from the moment of our arrival being greeted at the plane by a private car and driver to the WOW Moment he organized for us and several other special surprises…it was orchestrated to perfection.
We knew we were in good hands from that first moment, and it continued for our entire stay. Given we had already been touring for about 3 weeks, Jason was right to have us start in Gozo…where it is a bit slower and not as busy. It was a long day though – flight to Malta, then a drive to the ferry, ferry over to Gozo and then another drive to the hotel. However, at every stop there was someone waiting for us and helping us with our bags. The hotel (Cesca Lodge) was a beautifully converted ancient stone building. We were tempted not to go out to dinner, but we pushed ourselves to go out to where Jason had booked us and are we glad we did!! The owner was amazing…treated us like old friends, and the food was delicious too! It was such a fun night. The next day we had an amazing tour with our private guide of Gozo which included some stunning views of the turquoise water from a hidden cave. Later that evening we had our WOW Moment, which was truly spectacular!! We had an incredibly beautiful picnic on the water with a solo musician playing guitar…some songs which Jason had personally requested that he knew we would like! We watched the sunset while drinking champagne, sitting on blankets and pillows, surrounded by twinkle lights.
The next day we took a private boat transfer to Malta. Along the way we passed Comino Island and the gorgeous waters of the blue lagoon. Jason arranged a picnic basket of food for us on the boat which was such a thoughtful touch…although the water was too rough for us to eat, once we got to the hotel we were certainly grateful to have some food. Our driver had been waiting for us…everything was organized perfectly. The hotel Jason recommended (Iniala) was beautiful and right on the Grand Harbour – an amazing location with a fabulous view. That afternoon we went exploring on our own and had dinner on an incredible rooftop terrace where an opera soloist was singing. Once again, the owner treated us like royalty, as we were guests of Jason’s.
The next day we were met again by our guide and driver, who showed us the most ancient ruins of Malta as well as an old fishing village that had a market going on. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable, we asked him to join us for lunch which he did. After that we were on our own…it was a perfect balance of touring with a guide and then exploring Valleta by ourselves – which is safe and very easy to do.
The next day we had no plans which was great…we explored on our own and found our own restaurants, although Jason had provided us with tons of choices should we have needed help or wanted advice on where to go.
After a great free day, we were back to touring with our same excellent guide and very personable and helpful driver. We walked around the main city of Valletta and had a surprise visit with a 6th-generation clock maker/gilder. That was an amazing opportunity that Jason arranged for us. After that we made it to hear the famous cannon go off at noon…another highlight. We then took a boat across to the 3 cities and walked around there. Everything was organized to a tee and we never waited more than a minute for a boat or the car…it was seamless.
What we also greatly appreciated beyond the precisely organized days was that Jason took the time to check in numerous times during our time in Malta. He really cared about us and our experience…and he took the time to make sure that all was well. It was that and the other personal touches that really took our experience using Jason as our agent to the next level.
On our last day we were booked with the “father of all tour guides” and it was a fabulous way to end our trip. He took us on an amazing tour with numerous special surprises, including being able to visit a noblewoman’s private home with an incredible art and antique collection. She showed us around and was very clear that she does not do that for just anyone, but she is friends with Jason (and his brother) and so she was willing to open her home to us. It was a true highlight of our monthlong vacation. In addition, we gained access to the private summer home of the President of Malta…and we very much appreciated that Jason was able to arrange this opportunity for us.
We absolutely loved our time in Malta and are very grateful for the amazing trip that Jason organized for us. We really treasured our time there. Most of our friends have never been to Malta and many have never even heard of it…but after traveling there we are telling all of our friends that they must go and they must talk to Jason!!
Newfoundland, Canada: hiking, fishing, music…
BARBARA PALTER | OCTOBER 1, 2022
This was our second holiday with Jill and it didn’t disappoint! She organized an eight-day trip for four couples, best friends for the last 30 years….
Before Covid, Jill organized a tour of the east coast of Newfoundland for us. We loved the area so much that we chose to return; this time we visited Newfoundland’s west coast and Cape Breton. Again, a trip full of great adventure, good food and fantastic people. The recommendations from hiking, to eating, fishing and all of the accommodations were wonderful.
In Cape Breton we toured with Harry – he figured our group out right away and told us great stories of the various communities. Misty also caught our vibe from the minute she met us, changed things up 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! On our drive, we stopped at a local artisan, Melinda by the Sea…and an engagement ring was purchased for a surprise engagement that occurred a few days later! Misty then drove us from Cape Breton to Halifax so we could catch our flight to Newfoundland the next morning. She gave us the low-down on where to eat and what to do there. We caught Nova Scotia’s Joel Plaskett at an outdoor concert – a real treat!
And on to Newfoundland…
We stayed in Woody Point at the Seaside Suites for 3 nights – what a treat! The townspeople were again, warm and welcoming (a common characteristic in this part of our country). 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 same owners run the Seaside Restaurant and we had an equally wonderful dinner there as well. Taste, a new restaurant down the road, was also very worth a visit.
The hikes here though were unrivalled; accurately marked and well-kept, the unique landscapes and terrain were breathtaking. We will be back to conquer Gros Morne!
Finally, we ended our vacation in Cornerbrook and stayed at the beautiful new Hew and Draw Hotel. The highlight here though was our time with Darren. He took us out in his dory to his cabin on the water. We enjoyed 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 travelled to many places in the world and the Canadian Maritimes is indeed a treasure – thank you Jill for all of your guidance.
Iceland: private hot springs, ice caves…
STEVE JELLINEK | SEPTEMBER 29, 2022
Our trip to Iceland, planned by Chris, was fabulous. The hotels, restaurants, driver/guide. and specialty guides were all wonderful. I have no complaints. Chris checked in with us every day and was available to answer questions or make suggestions 24/7, literally. I don’t think he ever sleeps. A couple of the special days — the trek into a spectacular ice cave inside a glacier, and bathing in a hot spring bath “built” on the spot by our guide — gave us experiences that we would never have gotten on our own. My wife and I — both octogenarians — could not be happier with our time in Iceland.
France: historical tours, river cruise, Versailles…
KATHY DECARLO | SEPTEMBER 27, 2022
When we first decided to travel to Paris, we went to Wendy to find the best match for our travel plans. She suggested Jennifer. We had not been to France in 30 years but knew that we wanted to focus on the French Revolution and WWII history. From the first meeting and emails we secured the perfect itinerary for us. Jennifer knew the guides that would help us and suggested several tours.
Jennifer’s choice of guides matched us perfectly. So full of life, passion and information. We enjoyed each tour with Isabelle and Edith. Tarek, the driver, was amazing. How he drives in Paris needs a courage and bravery medal, and he never lost his smile. We appreciated how both Isabelle and Edith put the tours into historical context for us to readily understand the meaning. Not too much detail nor too little. They were fun to be with – and even gave me some insights into Emily in Paris, including showing us the shooting locations. Loved it.
The River Cruise was as imagined. I only wish there was a bit more information given during the time on board. I did provide the feedback via text.
We so enjoyed Le Grand Controle in Versailles. Every detail mirrored the time period. I don’t know where they bought their towels, slippers and bathrobes but they were the lushest, plushest we ever used. Having a private tour of Versailles – what can I say, really made the tours a pleasure with no crowds to deal with. The Hamlet was the best tour – after the oppressive nature of the palace I can see why Marie Antoinette built it for her and her friends. The breakfast, sweet tea, dinner and drinks made one feel pampered and spoiled.
We liked the daily updates to keep us on track and added flexibility for last-minute time changes.
Overall, a great tour and we will definitely rebook with Jennifer.
Norway: fjords, northern lights, meeting locals…
SALLY BOLAND | SEPTEMBER 27, 2022
We are just back from a most wonderful two weeks in Norway as arranged by Jan. So many aspects of this trip are amazing and I will try to touch on a few of them, although the entire time is worthy of mentioning.
We started in Bergen, which we easily explored on our own upon arrival. Such a pretty and comfortable — it deserves at least two days. Our first guide was Solveig Mohr, a perfect match for us. We left Bergen feeling we would love to come back and spend more time.
But we had much to see in our short two weeks, so our next day we were picked up by Erik Haukeland, who would be with us the next 3 days on our drive north through the fjords. When planning the trip, we had discussed with Jan about cruising vs. driving — and he totally recommended the drive. We were so glad we took his recommendation. It was three days of constant awe-inspiring scenery. But Erik had so much insight into places we drove through — history, stories and just talking to us about life in Norway. He was the best and we so appreciated his being our guide. Jan had arranged two different times we would be on the water in a fjord — so we did not miss the feeling of what being on a cruise might be like. In fact, possibly it was even better! We spent a 1/2-day on a RIB boat — just the two of us and the captain — gliding along the fjord waters and enjoying the experience.
I have to mention that Jan also arranged for some amazing lodging along the way. We stayed in three different places, as we had to continue our drive each morning. All three could have been a trip by themselves! We were so sad each morning to have to leave and not get to fully enjoy just staying in these incredible places for at least two nights. Each one had charming rooms, views that were like a postcard, places to walk or hike, and such friendly hosts. I hope sometime we can return to at least one of them and just stay a few days to enjoy. Oh — and the food in each place was superb. I couldn’t even compare between the three — each was that good.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Erik and fly to the Lofoten Islands where we stayed in a Rorbu in Reine. We had another Erik — Erik Fokke — who also fitted us perfectly. Just like our other Erik, he didn’t just show us scenic or interesting places — but talked to us and answered so many questions we had. I love leaving a location feeling I have learned a little about the people and customs — and that was being fulfilled on this trip.
We spent two enjoyable days in the Rorbu and had a fun WOW Moment when an excellent halibut dinner was prepared for us in our own room and we were able to enjoy this private time together watching the harbor with a great meal! Thank you for arranging this!! I’m not sure if this was also part of the plan, but a couple of hours later, we stepped outside to a show of the Northern Lights — right there on our own porch!! It was our first time to see these! Thank you for that arrangement too!!!
And finally, after too short of a time in the Lofoten Islands (detect a theme here?!) — we flew up to Alta, which is above the Arctic Circle. Our first accommodation was the Sorrisniva Arctic Wilderness Lodge. This place was absolutely incredible. Our room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, looked out over the Alta River and you really felt a million miles from everything. We would have been content to stay there and never leave the grounds — but there was much to see and do! Sadly, we were supposed to stay there 5 nights, but due to a convention that had booked the entire hotel a year ago, we had to move to a different place for our last two nights. However, that was also very charming and we enjoyed it very, very much. The owner and chef there, Johnny, was amazing — and Jan had mentioned he was considered one of Norway’s best. We would agree!
The guides were all wonderful for the various activities. They accommodated us to our wishes and needs. We were able to take a boat ride on the Alta River with a BBQ lunch of salmon along the way. Very memorable. The visit to the Sami — where we met Johan — was so interesting and so glad we were able to learn about this culture. And each night, Sara took us on our Chasing the Northern Lights Safari. After 4 nights — we had success!!
A special mention of our guide, Kenneth Johansen. Jan went out of his way to arrange our time with him, as we had requested time to do some birding. Dr. Johansen is world famous for raptors and also a busy medical doctor. He is not a guide! Yet, he took the time to spend two days with us and was so gracious. We just can’t express how much we appreciate what he did to fulfill a request we had made — probably somewhat ignorantly, as we didn’t understand this was not a great time to see birds!! Regardless, he showed us what he could — and so much more. We learned about his wonderful country and special things about it, opening up to us with all our questions. We saw some birds, but more importantly, we saw aspects of Norway you can’t see without someone who lives there showing and explaining their life.
The last day in Alta was truly a surprise! Another WOW Moment and this one left both of us speechless. As we arrived at the small airport, we were a bit confused. Kenneth must have something of historical interest to show us. And then — there was the helicopter!! It was such a perfect way to end our trip! The fall colors were lighting up the whole countryside and we saw it all from the air! It was the cherry on top of a perfect trip and we thank all of you for arranging this. Nothing could have been better!!
My last thoughts. We travel to see the beauty of the world and explore famous or historical sites. But the best part is always when there are opportunities to meet the people who live there and you have the chance to gain insights into their way of life, culture, interests and way of seeing the world. We always come home feeling enriched from these experiences. Norway is a beautiful country with incredible people. What a pleasure to have been able to share their country for two weeks!
Peru: adventure for three girlfriends
MAIRA SURO | SEPTEMBER 26, 2022
I just got back from the MOST AMAZING trip to Perú! Tom heard me loud and clear when I initially said this was an adventure trip for my girlfriends and I, and he delivered amazing guides, wonderful and challenging experiences, unique visits to learn all about the Peruvian culture and its people, and just an overall incredible 10 days! The hotels were luxurious and the attention to detail, including every transfer from hotel to airport to train, was seamless! We even made some last-minute changes while on the trip, which were handled easily. Our WOW Moment was exactly that…an unexpected WOW! Thank you Wendy. I came back to the U.S. in love with Perú and anxious to return to South America.
Norway: fjords, hiking, northern lights…
DEBORAH EVANS | SEPTEMBER 25, 2022
My husband and I just returned from a trip to Norway organized by Jan. We had planned the trip at the height of Covid to have something to look forward to, and the trip definitely fulfilled all our expectations! We had explained to Jan that we wanted to see the fjords and also the northern lights, and he advised us the best time to travel would be September. He kept us appraised of changes that had to be made to our itinerary and provided options to substitute when, for example, ferries decided not to run in September. Other request were for hiking and good food. In the west of Norway to see the fjords we opted to self-drive, and Jan provided excellent driving directions enabling us to take the most scenic routes. We were lucky with the weather, after a very wet summer the sun came out and gave us spectacular views. Jan arranged excellent hiking guides who suggested routes suitable for our fitness, and were very knowledgeable about Norway’s history and culture. Every hotel was quiet, with excellent food and very attentive staff.
We flew to Alta, far beyond the Arctic Circle, to optimize our chances of seeing the northern lights. Jan had arranged for our trip to be guided by Glod Explorer, whose guides were fantastic. We had three days to see the lights, days one and three were difficult due to cloud cover, and despite travel only caught glimpses of the lights. However, on day 2 the skies had cleared and we were treated to an amazing display! The area around Alta has its own beauty, which we experienced both hiking and canoeing. The lodge where Jan had arranged accommodation was very comfortable and the food was extremely good.
Our final day was in Oslo, unfortunately our initial choice of restaurant was closed on a Saturday, but Jan obtained a booking at a wonderful replacement where the multi-course tasting menu was incredible.
Norway, though expensive, is an amazing place to visit and we had an unforgettable experience there.
Ireland: history, pub lunches, a WOW Moment…
VANESSA HULME | SEPTEMBER 18, 2022
My husband and I have just returned from a fantastic 3-week trip planned by Jonathan and his team. From our first conversation with Jonathan and Katie, we knew we were in good hands. We had some idea of the places we wanted to visit and things we wanted to see; they listened to us, asked questions, made suggestions, and put together an itinerary that was better than we hoped.
Because we were traveling to different cities (Belfast, Dublin, Killarney, Cong and Galway), Jonathan suggested a driver rather than self-driving, and he was so right! Having the pressure of driving removed gave us so much more freedom to explore the areas and enjoy the days. Also, the drivers did not just drive, they provided historical facts, made suggestions of out-of-the-way places to visit, knew the best local places for a pub lunch, the best place to buy a special gift, the place to stop for the best view/photos, etc.
The hotels Jonathan suggested were truly amazing. In each, we felt very special, and we are sure Jonathan’s connections made a huge difference. The Merchant in Belfast, the Shelbourne in Dublin, and the Killarney Park in Killarney were all wonderful; it is difficult to describe how nice it is to walk into a hotel and be greeted like an old friend! And Ashford Castle…there are not enough superlatives to describe this hotel…top-notch service, magnificent rooms, excellent restaurants & bars, and an attitude that ‘nothing is too much to ask.’ We could have certainly stayed there longer.
We had too many outstanding experiences to list here, but some were: visiting the area of the ‘Troubles’ in Belfast, including the murals and Wall of Peace; tours of the Book of Kells and Kilmainham Jail in Dublin; Rock of Cashel; Dingle peninsula; the Hawk Walk and cruise at Ashford Castle; a day trip to the Aran Islands; sheepdog demonstration; Cliffs of Moher; and a food tour in Galway. Many of the activities we would not have known about had it not been for the suggestion of Jonathan and Katie.
Thank you, Wendy, for another memorable WOW Moment. Sitting on one of the columns at the Giant’s Causeway sipping Bushmill’s Reserve whiskey gives a new meaning to ‘whiskey on the rocks.’ Everyone passing by us was jealous!
Thanks, Jonathan and Katie for putting together one of the best vacations we have had. We cannot wait to return to Ireland!
Italy: food, wine & boats in the Lake Region…
DEL CROCKETT | SEPTEMBER 18, 2022
I worked with Emanuela and was very impressed with the entire trip-planning process through to the final day of the trip. I highly recommend. Both Lake Como and Lake Garda were absolutely amazing, but very different in feel. Como was beyond stunning, just like you see online, but I’d easily visit both again.
The trip was planned for my mother’s birthday, so we requested a detailed itinerary that combined high-end accommodations and day trips that were private in nature and aligned with her interests (wine, food, boating on the lake, plus a sprinkle of history).
Emanuela nailed it.
I gave her a general outline of what we were thinking for the trip to satisfy my mother’s interests, and she went to work to curate a custom itinerary. The process of working thru fine-tuning the itinerary was seamless and so easy. Emanuela was always quick to respond and suggest revisions. She also helped with dining suggestions (all of which were phenomenal) and ensured our private travel (car and boat) were set up (all of which were high-end, on time, safe, friendly, and clean).
In addition, the guides that were selected for us during the trip were just fantastic. We had lunch several times with our guides as they fit in so easily. I would use the exact same guides again in the future.
Overall, I was really pleased with the trip and overall planning services. I set a budget and gave Emanuela a general idea of what I was thinking for the trip and sat back. Planing was a breeze. The trip itself was simply unforgettable.
I really appreciate Emanuela’s service levels during the entire process. On a few occasions during the trip I sent her a few questions (via WhatsApp) and she responded right away, which is really great to have when overseas. She was even able to move reservations and suggest additional places of interest upon request as we made small edits to our daily plans along the way.
If you are looking for a quality trip to Italy and want authentic experiences without all the tourist traps and crowds—I highly suggest connecting with Emanuela and her team, as they can curate a masterful itinerary.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Peru: insider city tour, Machu Picchu, a WOW Moment…
ANDREA REED | SEPTEMBER 15, 2022
How many different ways can you say the word “amazing”??? Marisol’s office of experts were the sum of all the ways it can be expressed. Our trip to Peru was postponed from 2020 until now (9/1-9/12). In that time Mark was responsive and caring no matter how small or “in the weeds” my questions and concerns were. All of my check boxes were fulfilled to make this a dream trip come true. We were looked after and felt safe both before and during our trip related to Covid protocols and in every other sense. The staff went above and beyond.
One example is upon landing in Lima our first day. A representative from Marisol’s team went out at 11pm at night and found and DELIVERED a new knee brace to our hotel as the one my husband packed had been “misplaced” by the airline. We had an early flight in the morning so this was nothing short of miraculous. Without this brace my husband may not have been able to explore Machu Picchu or the other sites planned.
Because of the almost immediate responses of the team, we were able to tweak our itinerary on the fly when the need arose (like when we got a stomach bug). It would not have been the same trip without the magic of Marisol’s on-the-ground and planning crews. They are all worth their weight in gold!
OH How could I forget! Our WOW Moment was a tour of the “real” Lima with a local guide. We got the scoop of the good, the bad, and the ugly related to the nuances of life in Lima—not just the tourist façade view of things. The fabulously in-depth tour was capped off with a visit to the CIRCUITO MÁGICO DEL AGUA—a light/laser/fountain show in Lima. The projection show story was the perfect synopsis of all of the history we had learned that day in addition to being beautifully magical! We even convinced our guide to run through the water tunnel with us where we all got drenched! A good laugh is a good laugh in any language!
My ONLY complaint is that we could not take all of our guides home with us! : )
Germany: castles, Alps, Berlin Wall, a WOW Moment…
BILL MARTIN | SEPTEMBER 13, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We have just returned from a spectacular 2 ½ week trip to Germany. We were not sure what to expect, but we found a beautiful, diverse country with friendly people and an interesting but complex history.
Our August 22 trip was planned by WOW List Germany expert Claudia in Toronto. Claudia was a pro every step of the way. She listened to our needs and desires and addressed them admirably. She contributed great ideas which immeasurably increased our pleasure. She arranged outstanding driver/guides and hotels. She recommended wonderful restaurants for every evening. Throughout out trip, Claudia connected with our guides almost daily to ensure all was well. She quickly addressed and resolved several challenging personal hiccups which occurred along the way. We can’t say enough about Claudia.
Great guides can make or break a trip. Aaron and Sue in Berlin, Uli in the Rhine Valley, Black Forest and Alsace, and Andreas in the Bavarian Alps and Munich were among the best we have ever had. They were highly experienced, unusually knowledgeable about sights, culture, and history, communicated well, were flexible, and patient. They had been well-briefed by Claudia. In short, they were a joy to know and be with. They went out of their way to make our trip special. For example, Uli brought a scooter for me to facilitate long center-city walks. Andreas put remarkable effort into helping Lynn trace her family roots.
Without exception, Claudia’s recommended hotels were amazing. To cover a broad swath of Germany in the time available, we moved every third day. Each time, we regretted leaving our wonderful hotel. The locations were ideal, our rooms perfect, the staffs friendly and responsive, and the breakfasts terrific. Especially memorable were our room in a real castle with a patio overlooking the Rhine River and our balcony overlooking Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles in the Alps.
A variety of special experiences planned by Claudia enhanced our trip. They included visits to the Berlin Wall and Potsdam, castle visits, boat trips on the Rhine and Lake Constance, and a side trip to Strasbourg, France. In Berlin, we had the joy of our surprise WOW Moment, earned after two Wendy Perrin trips. It was a special riverside gourmet dinner followed by a wonderful nighttime cruise on the Spree River. This cruise, with all the city lights and activity, gave us a whole new perspective of Berlin. We were hugely appreciative.
I could go on and on because we can’t stop talking about this trip. We thank Claudia, her colleague Saskia, and our exceptional guides for making it successful and truly memorable.
Portugal: anniversary trip combining beach & countryside
RITA SOLOMON | SEPTEMBER 13, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Goncalo and his team planned a Portugal trip to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. They secured one of the few very best rooms with the best view at our resort on the Algarve, which we could not have obtained ourselves. Very few rooms at the very large hotel had ocean views, so this was a big deal (we even had two balconies facing the ocean). All of their recommendations as to where to stay were great and took into account our preferences, which we discussed in a planning call. They planned great activities, like a lovely large private sailboat from Sintra back to Lisbon, a visit to an observatory (at night of course), and a private cruise along the cliffs of the Algarve. We would not have known about the lovely hotel converted from a farming village in the Alentejo if we hadn’t used a Portugal expert, and we wouldn’t have known which towns to visit. We loved the itinerary they planned and will use them again if we return to Portugal!
Botswana & Zimbabwe safari: seeing the Big 5, village visit…
JANICE YONKO | SEPTEMBER 8, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Cherri helped us plan an unforgettably wonderful journey to Cape Town, 2 camps in Botswana, Victoria Falls and 1 lodge in Zimbabwe. We traveled Aug. 11-Sept. 4, 2022. It was a trip of a lifetime, one that was filled with momentous experiences, great beauty, luxurious camps and lodges, delicious food and wines, along with the most gracious and knowledgeable hosts and guides. Every detail was carefully attended to, making for a flawless experience. We had hoped to take this trip 2 years ago, but had to postpone due to Covid. Timing now was perfect. Without Cherri’s expert advice, we would not have chosen the itinerary that we had. Her help was invaluable. Because of health fears, we delayed beginning the planning for this trip until about 5 months prior to departure. Cherri reacted immediately and was able to secure exquisite lodging for us despite our late notice. Each destination, hotel, camp, lodge and restaurant was impeccably chosen. One experience in particular of note was a visit that Cherri arranged to a local village in Zimbabwe where we met with an incredibly intelligent and inspirational Village Chief. This visit far exceeded our expectations. We were fortunate to see all of the big 5 at each camp or lodge (even 3 leopards!) as well as many endangered wild dogs and their pups, beautiful birds and countless other animals. Cherri and her team helped make this dream trip become a reality that we will remember with great fondness through the rest of our lives.
Australia: art, wine, luxe hotels…
GARY KOROTZER | SEPTEMBER 7, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We cannot recommend Drew’s office highly enough for assisting with your travel plans. Our travel advisor, Kylie, has gone WAY above and beyond to make sure we had a truly execptional experience. We were originally scheduled to go to Australia for our 25th anniversary in April 2020. You can guess how that worked out. But she worked with us for nearly 3 years (we started planning the trip in June 2019) to reschedule the trip 4 different times as we tried to anticipate re-opening dates, and we finally traveled on August 19th and had an incredible trip.
Beyond the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, Kylie has deep expertise about Australia paired with a deep understanding of the needs/expectations of luxury travelers. When we first started planning the trip, she set up a phone call to understand our needs and expectations. We told her of our interests in Art and Wine, as well as our preference for smaller luxury accommodations, and she used that information to put a terrific itinerary together encompassing Perth, Margaret River, Uluru and Melbourne. The accommodations she recommended in Uluru (Longitude 131) and Perth (COMO The Treasury) are among the nicest places we’ve ever stayed. She also arranged truly unique experiences—at two wineries not only did we have tastings, but they were with the owner and head winemaker respectively who each spent well over 2 hours with us. Amazing. If you are looking for a provider with deep expertise about Australia who will go the extra mile to understand and exceed your expectations, you can’t make a better choice than Drew’s team and Kylie.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Capri & Amalfi Coast: perfect hotel, day on a yacht…
STEPHAN ROCHE | SEPTEMBER 6, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We planned our trip to Italy to coincide with a friend’s wedding in Ravello. Our last time on the Amalfi Coast had been in 1996, so we were seeking some help planning 5 days in Capri to celebrate our own 25th wedding anniversary.
Jennifer and her team clearly know Capri, as they set up a fantastic set of activities along with a perfect hotel for our stay. She made sure the transfer from Rome’s airport to the hotel was seamless. Given that this required planning a 2 hour car ride, 45 min ferry, and a taxi up to Anacapri, this was a very welcomed expertise coming off of our long flight from the US!
In Capri, Jennifer helped select a beautiful hotel and a room with a stunning view of the Mediterranean. Even the porter helping with our luggage shared that it was one of his favorite rooms. For dining options, Jennifer chose options that met our desire for terrific Caprese food, wonderful service, and exquisite views.
For the most part, we just stuck to sitting out in the sun and going off to dinners in the evening. On one of the days, though, Jennifer chartered us a boat to explore the Amalfi Coast. Our captain and his crew were a perfect fit. We had a fantastic day on the water swimming, sunning, and posing for classic Amalfi photographs.
We left Capri to make our way to Ravello for the wedding. Jennifer made all of the arrangements, including a stop in the city of Amalfi itself for our favorite meal of the entire trip. We arrived at the wedding well-rested, adjusted to the time zone, and ready to party. Several days later, Jennifer had arranged for a quick and easy transport back to Naples by car to catch a train up to Rome for one last night in the eternal city before we went to the airport in the morning to fly back to the US.
Overall, Jennifer did a fantastic job listening closely to our experience as travelers, our interests for this particular trip, and our logistics for the wedding. Every decision she helped us make worked out even better than expected. While Jennifer is quite busy due to the post-Covid travel boom, we felt well-taken care of. All in all, a wonderful vacation experience!
Indonesia & Singapore: village visit, national park, island cruise…
TRACY RELLER | SEPTEMBER 5, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We finally made it to Singapore and Indonesia with the help of Diane! While not the same trip we initially planned for June 2020 for our family of five, I think our redesigned trip July 17-August 1, 2022 for my husband, 18yo son and me was even better. With our younger teenagers happily engaged at sleep-away camp, we were able to spend precious quality time with our older son before he left for college.
Diane was amazing to work with over the course of two years. In our initial planning back in 2019, she took time to explain various options in the region and give realistic expectations of the many areas, helping me decide what was possible with our time and budget. She was gracious once we realized we needed to cancel during COVID, spending her time canceling everything, helping us retain as much of our deposits as possible. Over the course of almost two years while Indonesia was closed she kept in touch, periodically advising us of vaccination in the country, possible opening, entry requirements, etc. Once we decided just three of us would be traveling, she was happy to make all the new reservations, change our travel insurance policy, reach out to a surf school for our son and again change reservations three months out when I decided to add a Seatrek cruise to our plans.
Our trip was a wonderful mix meant to satisfy all three of us. Two days in Singapore was perfect to see and experience the multi-cultural city state. Next, we stayed at the Four Seasons in Jimbaran Bay, Bali so our son could surf with a guide through Tropicsurf at the hotel. Despite probably never having had a client ask about surfing, Diane contacted Tropicsurf and arranged the entire package, including free breakfast for the 3 of us. Next was the 4 day sightseeing/cultural portion of the trip from Ubud. Our guide was wonderful and our days full of temples, rice terraces, village and market visits, cooking class and volcano hike. One of the most unique and memorable days was visiting our guide’s village, seeing his home and meeting his family and playing traditional instruments with the community. Finally, we loved the 7 day Seatrek cruise, from Flores to Bali through Komodo Island National Park, that allowed us to see more of Indonesia’s islands, people and fauna without the usual logistical issues. The small ship, Ombak Putih, was beautiful, the crew fabulous, the food delicious and activities amazing. We visited local, traditional communities, snorkeled, swam with whale sharks and visited uninhabited islands. I will never forget the gorgeous landscapes, sunsets and happy, smiling locals.
Indonesia is a beautiful, geographically interesting country with warm, happy people who are eager to share their culture with visitors. Thanks to Diane, this trip was by far our most rewarding in terms of connecting with locals and having authentic experiences. I enthusiastically recommend Diane!!
Ecuador: wildlife trip for multigenerational family
ANTHONY FORD-HUTCHINSON | SEPTEMBER 5, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We were looking for a multi-generational, active vacation with a strong nature component to it (group of 8 ranging from 8 years old to 75, with two very keen birdwatchers). Ecuador fit the bill and Allie organized an outstanding vacation for us. We started in Quito with a trip up the cable car on a perfect day where we had views of all the volcanoes surrounding the city, then lunch on the edge of a caldera, a visit to a museum on the equator (granddaughters loved this) and a quick tour round the old town. The next day it was off to the Napo Wildlife Center in the Amazon basin. We had beautiful weather, great accommodation and Allie had arranged two private guides, one the top birder in the Amazon region of Ecuador and the other a more general guide for the rest who wanted a more varied trip (visit to the parrot clay licks, cultural center and views of the many species of monkeys). After three nights there, we headed off for four nights in Mashpi, an outstanding luxury lodge in the middle of the cloud forests. Again we had two different guides so everyone could participate in the activities they wanted. The final leg of our trip was in the Galapagos, where the remaining 6 of our group went on board a luxury catamaran (The Ocean Spray) with 10 other passengers and 12 crew, including an excellent naturalist. The group dynamics were outstanding and with a combination of snorkeling and land based-trips we had great views of most of the Galapagos wild life. Think hammerhead sharks, penguins, sea lions and turtles swimming next to you, and birds galore and giant tortoises on the land. The trip was a four-night trip which included one of the outer islands and I think was perfect length for our group. Our final night was in Hotel del Parque in Guayaquil and finished with an outstanding meal on the terrace at Casa Julian, surrounded by the sounds of an Ecuadorian wedding. All transfers worked perfectly, all flights were on time and no lost luggage. Thank you Allie!
African safari: South Africa, Botswana & Zimbabwe
JEFF WELLEN | SEPTEMBER 1, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL This was a dream trip for my wife to go to southern Africa since she was a little girl, and Julian and Lisa planned 19 magical days that exceeded both of our expectations. We started with Julian back in September of 2019 and had our hopes dashed twice in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid. Julian never once wavered in his support of our trip and his incredible diligence to rebook our trip…twice.
2022 was the magical year and everything could not have been more perfect. We stayed in 8 different locations, had 14 flights and 20-something transfers, and incredibly we had no logistical issues throughout the entire trip.
We started in Cape Town, where Jacqui Van Rensburg was our guide. She was absolutely fabulous and you should request her if you have the option. The Table Bay Hotel was wonderful and in a perfect location for first time visitors to this beautiful city. From Cape Town we were off to our first of four safari camps, Gomoti Plains in Botswana. The main goal of our trip was animals, animals, and more animals and Gomoti camp got us off on a fantastic start. Our game drives with Oracle (our driver) were fantastic, the camp was located on the lovely Okavango Delta. We checked off 80% of our animal bucket list during our three day stay.
We then flew to Victoria Falls where we stayed at the incredible Victoria Falls Safari Club. Our main goal was seeing the falls and our two-hour walk did not disappoint. We were then off to two camps in Zimbabwe, Little Makalolo (Hwange National Park) and Ruckomechi (Mana Pools National Park). The accommodations were wonderful and the staff at both locations made sure our stay was fantastic.
Our drivers, Charles (Little Makalolo) and Tongo (Ruckomechi) each listened to our desires and did an outstanding job finding incredible animal moments for us to remember.
Due to the potential of having to take a Covid test, we had to schedule an additional one-day pit stop in Harare, Zimbabwe at the Highlands House. Thankfully, we did not need the test, but the Highlands House turned out to be an outstanding break from our schedule. If you need a stopover in Harare this is the place.
We were off next to Johannesburg for one night at the African Rock Hotel. Just like the Highland House, this is a perfect pit stop if you need one in this city. Then it was off to our last camp in Mala Mala Private Reserve. The camp is more upscale, building rooms and not luxury tents, but it was perfect for the end of a long three-week trip. Our driver, Kerry, was absolutely the best. The game sightings were not as plentiful as some of the camps, but the quality of what we saw more than made up for this.
The bottom line, Julian listened to our needs from day one and planned a wonderful trip that will live in our memories forever. I am not sure how it could have been better. The logistics, locations and the sequence and timing of the entire trip were picture perfect. The browser and app view they provided was perfect for us to understand what and when things would take place. The final transfer document, provided just before the trip, was an added bonus to understand each part of chain that moved us from place to place.
Because the logistics went so smoothly, all we had to do was enjoy the camps, the staff, the wonderful individuals we met from all around the world and of course: animals, animals, and more animals.
We cannot more highly recommend Julian and Lisa, if you want to take your first trip or your tenth trip to this part of the world.
Portugal: smart planning to avoid crowds
ALLEGRA KUHL | AUGUST 31, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had a great trip to Portugal this August, thanks to Goncalo and Patricia. Prior to the trip, Goncalo walked me through the various options, highlighting the areas that would be the most crowded during August. We came up with a great customized itinerary—I wouldn’t change a thing about it! We appreciated that the week before we left, Patricia reached out to let us know that one of the palaces we were supposed to visit was experiencing 2-hour wait times, even for those with tickets like us. We quickly pivoted and chose a different palace to visit. We were also pleased with all 3 tour guides we had, and all the restaurant recommendations. Highlights were San Lourenco du Barrocal hotel and a special lunch we had in Cascais on the water. The team in Portugal was very responsive to our questions during the week. I would absolutely recommend them to anyone planning a trip to Portugal or Spain—we hope to use them for a Spain trip at some point in the future.
Austria & Germany: family trip with music focus
KATHERINE STADLER | AUGUST 29, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned from a 14-day family trip in Austria planned by Gwen. I can only describe the experience as life-affirming. The official occasion for the trip was my son’s graduation from high school and sending him off to music school in the fall, so we had a heavy musical focus, but there was truly something for everyone in the family. We toured palaces and cathedrals in Vienna, experienced local food, watched the Lipizzaner stallions perform and had a private tour of the stables. We moved on to the Wachau Valley for wine tasting and breathtaking Danube scenery, then visited the abbeys of Melk and Stift-Admont. In Salzburg, we soaked up the music festival, saw the fortress and countless Sound of Music film locations, attended a Mozart opera, a Vienna Philharmonic concert, and a world-class string quartet. We learned to make apple strudel and Salzburg Nockerl, and visited the charming lake district outside Salzburg. We rounded out our trip with several days in Innsbruck and a final train ride to Munich where we celebrated my son’s birthday at a beer hall and caught our flight home. Gwen was helpful and responsive and understood my family’s diverse needs. She steered us away from tourist traps and embraced our interest in some off-the-beaten-path locations. She suggested lovely boutique hotel experiences and guides with extraordinary depth of knowledge of their cities. Her restaurant and activity recommendations were spot on. I highly recommend Gwen and her team for anyone looking to travel in Austria and central Europe.
African safari: Kenya for the Great Migration
MAEGHAN WHITEHEAD | AUGUST 28, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Julian coordinated a wonderful itinerary for our first African safari. When planning the trip, we told Julian that our priority was seeing as many animals as possible and that we hoped to witness the wildebeest migration. Julian helped us narrow down our timeline to mid-August 2022, and he suggested two different camps in the Masai Mara in Kenya where we would have the best odds of seeing the Big Five and possibly a river crossing.
We stayed at the first camp–Instinct of the Mara–for four nights. We were treated like family. We spent a lot of time with our guide (Henry), spotter (San), and spotter-in-training (Jed) on our private game drives, and they took excellent care of us. During our game drives, we saw tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebras; hundreds of giraffes and gazelles; twelve lions; a cheetah; a leopard; a black-necked spitting cobra; a black mamba; and many, many other animals. In my view, the most spectacular safari experience we had was to witness an iconic river crossing of the wildebeest migration…and we only shared the experience with one other safari vehicle! It was simply incredible! Back at the camp, our Forest Suite arranged by Julian was equally magical. We had a family of elephants eating in our backyard on our second night in addition to multiple visits by cape buffalo, and I will never forget the sound of hearing monkeys chasing each other on the roof of our tented suite. The staff left personal notes during turndown service and hot water bottles in the bed. We simply loved our entire experience at Instinct of the Mara.
We spent our last two nights at andBeyond Kichwa Tembo Tented Camp. At Julian’s direction, we moved from a more remote part of the Mara to a camp with more people and more amenities. It was a good change of pace as we prepared to travel home. This camp is higher end, and our guide really came through when we told him the only animal in the Big Five we had not yet seen was a black rhino. On our first game drive, we were able to view a black rhino and her calf–amazing! Additionally, we saw a male lion with a gorgeous mane, a female cheetah hunting for lunch for her four cubs (which were precious), and another river crossing of the wildebeest migration (although this one was considerably more crowded). We concluded our trip by watching a male black rhino with the sunset on one side of the Mara and rain and a rainbow on the other side of the Mara. It was simply magical and not something I will never forget.
We could not be happier with our choice of Kenya in August during the wildebeest migration, and Julian’s itinerary was flawless. I dont use “perfect” lightly, and this was a perfect first African safari.
Greece: off-the-beaten-track island, meeting locals…
JUDY KAY | AUGUST 27, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My husband and I were very happy with our trip to Greece designed by Jacoline. She and I had a very lengthy conversation at the outset in which we discussed the kind of trip my husband I wanted, which was a trip a bit off the beaten track that provided us free time and independence. The trip she designed was spot on and her suggestion of Kythira island was definitely off the beaten track and had very few tourists.
We particularly enjoyed the experiences she arranged with locals (meeting with a family at their organic farm culminating in an amazing home cooked meal, making spanakopita and other dishes with a local Kythira family, meeting with a local beekeeper and his nephew, and a boat trip with a local fisherman). These experiences provided us with opportunities to meet and get to know locals that wouldn’t have happened without Jacoline.
Her restaurant suggestions and driving directions in the Piglet guide were perfect. We also appreciated her constant monitoring and communications during our trip. In sum, I highly recommend Jacoline for anyone considering a trip to Greece.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: game drives, canoeing, fishing, birdwatching…
KATHY PARTRIDGE | AUGUST 27, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Last fall, after having received our Covid vaccinations and first booster shots, we were champing at the bit to do some “real” travel to destinations not accessible by car. It took about ten minutes for us to decide on Africa, a place we’d both only dreamed of visiting. On a whim, I filled out Wendy’s online questionnaire, and within a day had an hour-long chat with Cherri. Because we wanted the focus of our trip to be wildlife viewing, and also wanted to avoid crowds as much as possible, Cherri recommended that we go to Zambia and Zimbabwe, two countries we had not even considered.
Katie was assigned to work with us to design the perfect itinerary, and she did just that. We visited three different habitats—South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi, and Hwange national parks—as well as Victoria Falls. Each of the accommodations she arranged was unique; all were superior in every way. In one of our conversations with Katie, we mentioned that we enjoyed birdwatching, so at Sausage Tree our guide was the resident bird specialist. We expressed an interest in canoeing and fishing, and voilà!—both activities were included. (And I caught a tiger fish!) We were entirely astounded by the the depth of knowledge of every guide we encountered, as well as the effort they put into making our experience the best possible, including moving our vehicle so we could get the best light on animals we were trying to photograph. We saw all of the “Big Five,” and other species too numerous to mention. We watched a leopard moving its impala kill to a safer location, listened to hippos grunting as we drifted off to sleep, giggled at the antics of baboons along the banks of the Kapamba River, and simply marveled at the majesty of lions, elephants, and giraffes everywhere. We now know the true meaning of the word “awesome.”
As a postscript, traveling from Boston to Zambia is a pretty arduous endeavor, but Katie helped make it as seamless as possible by having a local representative meet us at the airport when we arrived. As it turned out, this was a godsend, since the airline scheduled to take us from Lusaka to Mfuwe had no record of our reservation in their system. Fortunately, we had all of the details, and the local rep made sure we got on our flight. Similarly, when we crossed from Zambia into Zimbabwe, a local agent helped us navigate customs and immigration in a matter of minutes—a real blessing at the end of a long day.
African safari: camps & lodges near waterways
CHRISTINE ZUFELT | AUGUST 22, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Frankie, Elizabeth and Cherri planned and executed an amazing trip to 4 camps in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana in August of 2022. We really appreciated their expertise when we postponed this trip twice because of COVID and then when we had to redo the schedule at almost the last minute because of flight changes. Going to 4 different camps and 3 countries required a lot of transfers and border crossings, by air and car, and they were all flawless. I could never have organized this on my own!
Because we had been on the more typical safaris before, we asked for some more water-based places and they listened and really came through. All of our camps were different and unique and we loved them all—Baines River Camp and Thorntree Lodge in Zambia, Little Makololo in Hwange, Zimbabwe and Xugana Island Lodge in the Okavango Delta. As others have mentioned, I felt like we were getting some of the best rooms and the best guides. As well, all of the staff were welcoming and friendly. One of us was having a significant birthday and he had 2 different celebrations in 2 different camps.
I also really appreciated the trip guide they sent with a very complete itinerary, spelling out all of our transfers especially and the extremely detailed tipping guide was very helpful. The guide also included all COVID protocols for our destinations, which fortunately had pretty much been eased by the time we went.
We waited for over 2 years to take this trip, and it exceeded our expectations thanks to Cherri’s team! I am looking forward to visiting Africa again and will definitely use Cherri and her office again.
France: museums, Champagne caves, cycling Paris…
MARY HOAK | AUGUST 22, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had a great trip to Champagne and Paris. We spent four nights at the fabulous Royal Champagne hotel. Jennifer booked us into five wine caves, which were each spectacular. We ate at Michelin-star restaurants and had wonderful guides in both Paris and Champagne. The quality of guides was magnificent: Our guide to at the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay was so well educated in art history that I think we could have spent an afternoon in just one gallery learning from her. Our guide in Reims and our bicycle guide in Paris were so kind and knowledgeable and friendly. Jennifer’s team was also great about making sure everyone knew about our son’s friend’s allergy—I would say six out of eight of the restaurants we went to identified and confirmed his allergy before we even ordered drinks. That was amazing. The highlight of the trip, besides the tours of the Champagne caves, was seeing the fireworks from a boat in front of the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day. My husband, my son, his friend, and I will remember that for the rest of our lives.
Morocco: Jewish and Islamic sites, photography, shopping…
JENNIFER MANN | AUGUST 22, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Working with Michael was a pleasure. After months of planning a family trip to Morocco over the holidays, our trip was abruptly cancelled after Morocco closed its borders due to Omicron. Looking forward, my husband and I decided to do a modified trip to Morocco over the summer. Michael was quick to point out the pros and cons of summertime in Morocco, but we opted to do it and had a phenomenal time. From the moment we were greeted at the airport by our guide Marwan and driver Zach, we knew this would be a great week. Both Marwan and Zach were literally “on call” 24/7 and we never had to worry about a thing…even taking us to and from dinners. Michael prepped Marwan ahead of time that we wanted to see Jewish as well as Islamic sites. Marwan didn’t miss a beat and was extremely knowledgeable. Michael was well connected with “out of the box” experts to make our trip extra special. We spent several hours with a professional photographer taking us around the old Medina in Fez teaching us how to take the perfect photos and spent half a day with a world renowned interior designer who took us to his favorite shopping spots in Marrakesh. He and Marwan helped us do our best price negotiating! In our many years of traveling with WOW experts, we have never had such phenomenal service as we did with Michael, Marwan and Zach. They literally left no stone unturned. We spent about 9 days touring Fez, Rabat and Marrakesh. This is a trip we will never forget!
Italy & France: Tuscany, Umbria, Provence, the Cõte d’Azur…
DAVID GILMAN | AUGUST 21, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My wife and I recently returned from an outstanding 4 week trip to Italy & France wonderfully planned by Jennifer and her exceptional team. The trip included private villas, transportation, private tours, restaurant reservations, and a rental car. We spent two weeks in Italy (Umbria & Tuscany) and two weeks in France (Cõte d’Azur & Provence). Planning and executing custom luxury travel is a challenge in the best of times, but in these super busy post-Covid times, Jennifer’s team was exceptional in delivering such a flawless vacation.
The planning process with Jennifer starts with a good understanding of the type of trip we were looking for, our budget, and what was most important to us and ends with a detailed, customized travel itinerary including conveniently web-linked documents. For this trip, I had the good fortune of working with Jennifer and her highly capable, efficient, and charming staff, Susanna, Tiago, Luna, Antoniette, and a number of “Duty Managers.” Jennifer is super knowledgeable and a pleasure to work with, and I will say the range and depth of her team and staff really make the difference, including a daily text message summary of tomorrow’s plans. It was like having a Concierge via text message. From Villa selection to hotel, tour guide, and restaurant suggestions, Jennifer really delivered. Each week had its unique features and experiences, and in totality, the full 4 weeks were a terrific complete vacation, including a few final days feeling like royalty in Versailles.
I cannot thank and recommend Jennifer enough, and can’t wait to plan our next memorable vacation together.
India: local festivals, local guides who became friends…
MEGAN EVANS| AUGUST 19, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Sanjay made our trip truly the trip of a lifetime. We could have never ever on our own crafted such an amazing itinerary and been connected to such wonderful local guides and great rooms at hotels without him.
As context, I started trying to plan this India trip by myself, but got a bit overwhelmed by how to do pull it all together—drivers, tours, what’s good, what’s not? That’s when I reached out to Sanjay and felt a weight drop off my shoulder. He intimately knew the area and was wonderful about talking us through each piece of the itinerary. There happened to be a large Buddhist festival happening in a more remote town in the region while we were visiting. There is ZERO chance we would have found out about it just through our own internet research—Sanjay was chatting with a friend on the ground there who knew about it—and it was incredible. Seriously, a few of our local guides are folks we’ve already stayed in touch with and feel like friends.
In addition to the perfect itinerary and people we were matched with, Sanjay was great at helping us adapt on the fly when my husband got sick (through no fault of the itinerary!). Sanjay was available and responsive as we made changes. He was always thinking a few steps ahead and had us feeling very calm during what could have been a stressful situation. Sanjay was the perfect match for us!
Costa Rica: nature hikes, ATV tour, beach time…
CLAIRE LEUENBERGER | AUGUST 18, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our family (husband, wife, and two college-aged daughters) used Priscilla to plan a May trip to Costa Rica. She carefully listened to our desires and tailored a vacation that catered to our interests.We had a balance between fun activities and down time at the beach, which meant that we stayed in two different places.
Our first base was the Tabacon Grand Spa and Thermal Resort near Fortuna. It boasted large, comfortable rooms with stunning views of the Arenal volcano. From this location, we were able to go canyoning and have several nature hikes with our naturalist Gustavo. His knowledge and love for the natural world was evident. At first I thought that it might be too much of a splurge for us to be accompanied all the time by our own naturalist, but honestly, it was so worth it! He was able to spot sloths (which obviously aren’t active enough for us to spot) and so many birds, exotic toucans, even an arboreal snake that we would have simply passed right by without noticing. We thoroughly enjoyed the time we had with him.
Our second base was the W Resort at the beach, first-class accommodations with howler monkeys in the surrounding forest, an attentive staff and excellent food.
Every tour arranged by Priscilla and her team was outstanding, from the canyoning to the ATV tour. Gustavo even arranged for us to have a private ATV tour because he saw that the afternoon forecast was looking pretty rainy. Our driver Carlos was careful and competent. No matter what kind of roads or traffic, we were in good hands with him.
Mongolia: stunning landscapes, magnificent wildlife, ger camps…
KATIE STINER | AUGUST 17, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL What a fantastic trip to Mongolia! As so many other people I knew were fighting the crowds in Europe, Mongolia’s beautiful deserts and steppes were wide open for exploration without the jockeying for position. With my wonderful guide and driver, I spent 8 days looping through multiple stunning landscapes on the hunt for photos of wild horse (takhi), Argali sheep, and magnificent birds. Between the nights in the ger by Khustain National Park, the relaxed pace of camping near Ikh Nart, and the wonderful luxury of Three Camel Lodge, I had a fabulous trip and was so grateful to be out in nature after a long pandemic. Mongolia is not for the faint of heart! We did a fair amount of driving since intra-country flights are not quite back to pre-pandemic levels, but the landscapes were breath-taking and the wildlife spotting was an adventure.
Kenya safari: 4 families with teens
BERNARDINE WU | AUGUST 15, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our 2-week safari trip to Kenya was nothing short of EPIC! Four families with teenagers traveled together in a perfectly planned trip by Dan and his team. We stayed in 4 places (Nairobi plus 3 camps) and experienced a variety of accommodations and settings that progressed magically and logically. Each location – Amboseli, Ol Pejeta, Maasai Mara – revealed more of Kenya’s treasures: the people, the animals, the landscape and the spirit. We saw WAY more than the Big 5, had many take-your-breath-away moments, fed a blind black rhino, pet baby elephants, fed giraffes, visited chimps saved from a bush-meat market, jumped, danced and laughed with the Maasai, and went on almost 20 game drives! They added fun twists like breakfast out in the plains, dinner in the bush, and flexibility when we needed it. The local team and guides from Bush & Beyond were exceptional – every departure leaving with a hug and heartfelt wish to see them again. Dan’s office provided all the guidance – we are busy execs and didn’t have time for much planning or discussion – and info we needed. This trip should be on everyone’s bucket list – we are lucky to have gone!
Safari in Botswana for three generations
DEIRDRE HALBERSTADT | AUGUST 14, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned from a great trip to Botswana planned by Dan and his office.
For five of the six of us this was our fourth Safari. The first for my future son-in-law.
Dan had the unenviable task of creating a trip that would appeal to three generations of the family, and he had to work around our very tight vacation schedule. A lot of back-and-forth trying to make appropriate camps work for the dates we wanted.
Since we’ve been on several safaris already, we have learned what we like (eating at different and varying places around the camps) and don’t (bucket showers). Dan suggested camps that worked beautifully for our family. He made sure that the camps knew that we wanted to eat alone as a group because we feel more comfortable being on our own schedule.
Also, my daughters have food allergies and Dan made sure the camps were well aware of what was safe vs not. Of course we checked in with the chefs at each camp, but they had everything under control which made us feel very comfortable.
France: D-Day stories, family wineries, Seine cruise…
JOELLEN SCHULEMAN | AUGUST 12, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had a wonderful honeymoon with Phillip’s team. We had a great itinerary that helped us check many things off our bucket list and even add a few new things to it. In Normandy, we stayed at a perfectly located hotel, Villa Lara, which is owned and managed by a family. The rooms were comfortable, large, and had all the bells and whistles you could want. From Bayeux, we took a D-Day tour with a guide who had interviewed veterans of WW2, as well as people living in the area, and amassed a collection of stories that make the sites come alive and give you a more intimate connection to the events. Another guide, Giselle, who hails from Brazil but came to France as a college student at the Sorbonne and has a doctorate in history, made Mont St Michel so interesting. We learned about the medical texts that were amassed there during the time of the abbey and how this knowledge was lost in the French Revolution when much was burned and destroyed. We saw the tides and Giselle shared stories of how she has twice had to call for helicopters to rescue people.
From Normandy, we arrived in Beaune in Burgundy. Here we stayed at the Hotel Le Cep. The hotel upgraded us to an executive room with a large balcony. The room was large and comfortable, albeit a bit dated, and could use a new mattress but exuded that old-world charm. The location was perfect. In Beaune we met Brendan, a Brit who has been living in France for over 30 years. He started as a barge captain and has since become an expert on the wines of France. He has personal relationships with numerous wineries large and small. We saw the famous vineyards of Romanée-Conti and visited other vineyards and wineries. We mostly had tastings with smaller family houses that do not export to the U.S. We sat with family members tasting 5-15 different wines at each house. Each afternoon we were treated to a picnic consisting of local charcuterie and wine in a beautiful spot. At Domaine Daniel Séguinot et Filles, we sat at the table with the family and the bottlers who came in their special truck to bottle last year’s wine. Daniel is quite the character who kept bringing different wines, from premier cru to village appellation and different vintages. In between our wine tasting adventures, Brendan took us to historical places and UNESCO sites. We even visited a Roman bridge from over 2,000 years ago. We then moved north to Chablis and stayed at Chateau Vault De Lugny, a family-run hotel with a one-starred Michelin restaurant on site. Breakfast is basic and offers no hot dishes. This hotel is isolated and would require a car to get to town. We opted to bring in sandwiches for our second night, as we didn’t want to eat from the same prix-fixe menu twice. The grounds were beautiful and the room large. We would not recommend this hotel to anyone with trouble walking, as even entering the bathroom required climbing stairs. From this location, we continued with Brendan and visited other family wineries and learned about the northern wines of Burgundy. We left feeling knowledgeable and with a better understanding of wine in general. Mostly we left with a huge appreciation of the families who have inherited and continue this vocation steeped in history, hard work, and a bit of the magic that the land gives to each vineyard, depending on where they are located.
We then had a driver take us to Paris to finish our honeymoon. We had planned this portion ourselves but were surprised with a WOW Moment: We were picked up and driven to a lovely afternoon cruise of the Seine, dining on a 3-course meal with a wine pairing from Alain Ducasse. It was a wonderful treat as we dined on gourmet food and wonderful wine, and cruised past some of Paris’ iconic sites.
There were some communication gaps in the planning process and a few hiccups on the ground, but Phillip did a great job combining our interests in history, culture, art, wine, and food.
Croatia: fabulous hotels, private boats, cooking class…
CAROLINE KLEIN | AUGUST 11, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I had a 5-week break between jobs and planned to “panic travel” because I knew it would be a long time until I could travel again. Ala was a lifesaver in helping plan an unforgettable, truly relaxing 10-day trip to Croatia—all on 2 weeks’ notice! She listened to our needs and wants and put together a seamless itinerary that not only gave us an incredible experience but also done in a way that avoided any unnecessary travel (i.e. we got to spend all of our time enjoying ourselves in the way we wanted!). The itinerary included Split (2 nights), Hvar (3 nights), and Dubrovnik (5 nights). The hotel recommendations were spot on (especially Maslina in Hvar and Hotel Excelsior in Dubrovnik), and we loved the activities she organized. The cooking class in Dubrovnik was second to none—such a great family, immersive feel. And the two days we took on private boats (one from Hvar and one from Dubrovnik) fully exceeded my expectations in terms of quality of the boat and where we traveled. And I have to agree with others: One thing that stood out to us in particular was how well organized the logistics were—transfers, guides, activities. Everyone was working in concert (and also so hospitable), and it was pretty amazing. We didn’t have to worry about anything! While I know I gave Ala few options due to how last-minute our trip planning was, she did help plan the best 10-day trip between jobs that I could’ve imagined. I would highly recommend Ala for any trip you are planning to Croatia!
Iceland with kids: mountain bathing, horseback riding…
WENLAN CHENG | AUGUST 4, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We visited Reykjavik and south Iceland from 7/25-31. Chris arranged our trip and wonderful itinerary. This is the first time we have used a trip planner, so we did not know what to expect. We have 2 children ages 10 and 12, and our number one goal on this trip was to have age appropriate activities that are adventurous enough for the adults as well. Chris really did a wonderful job highlighting this beautiful country and making sure our children were entertained as well. The trip plan he gave us was very thorough, including step-by-step driving instructions. Mountain bathing, ice-cave hikes, glacier lagoon boat ride, and horseback riding were just some of the highlights. The first day was a bit hard given the time change and the lack of dark nights for sleeping. We loved having our own itinerary tailored to our needs and being able to see the landscape on our own. Chris arranged all the dining logistics as well, so that took the pressure off us having to find restaurants with 2 kids in tow. He was very responsive to any issues that came up, available by texts or phone calls. We had minor hiccups with one restaurant losing our reservation. That was quickly fixed by Chris and the meal was taken care of by the restaurant. Iceland is a very easy country to travel to with children, so we highly recommend this destination to families. We plan on going back and visiting the western and northern parts in the near future. When we do, we will use Chris’ expertise again for sure. As far as Covid concerns, there were no restrictions at this time in Iceland. We tried to avoid very crowded areas like bars and tightly packed restaurants. The great thing about having a personalized itinerary is that you’re never on a tour bus with a bunch of other people. Given also that all the activities we did in Iceland were all outdoors, we were not concerned about contracting Covid. A huge shoutout to Chris for making this trip so memorable for our family!
Caribbean: scuba trip with kids
MEGHAN HOUTSMA | AUGUST 4, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Meg planned an outstanding 40th birthday trip for me and my husband to St. Lucia in 2020 so I didn’t hesitate to call her about a summer trip with our children. We wanted a place to unplug and spend time together as a family. Our 11- and 13-year-old boys were working on their PADI scuba certifications and Meg suggested Grand Cayman for our trip. She set us up in a beautiful two-bedroom suite at the Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa on Seven Mile Beach.
Meg also arranged dives for us with Living the Dream Dive Shop. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience for the boys to complete their first open water dives. Matt picked us up at the hotel after lunch and returned us when we were finished. He was great with the boys and made sure they were ready and comfortable. Thanks in part to Matt and in part to the world-class diving Grand Cayman offers, they were already planning our next dive vacation after their very first trip underwater. It was fun to watch their eyes light up every time they saw a sea turtle, squid, or nurse shark.
The atmosphere above the surface was just as enjoyable. Every restaurant we went to, from haute cuisine to waterside meals on picnic tables, had delicious food, outstanding seafood, and equally impressive wine lists. Other than the diving, the biggest hit of the trip was the day we rented a boat with a captain who took us to Stingray City, Starfish Point and Bio Bay. The boys couldn’t say enough about Stingray City. Our captain was very knowledgeable and gave us a mini lesson on stingrays and then caught a pregnant female for us to hold, pet, and kiss. She even gave us a back rub. The starfish at Starfish Point were just as friendly and it was amazing to watch them slowly get comfortable and wrap themselves around you. Bio Bay was by far the most breathtaking experience of my life. Swimming through the exceptionally warm water at night with the bioluminescent plankton was like swimming through the galaxy with stars emanating from your very pores. It was truly a magical experience and both boys, despite being stung by jellyfish, loved it. On the way home that evening, my hard-to-please 13-year-old said, “Mom, this is the best week of my life, and it isn’t even over yet!” Thank you, Meg, for an amazing week! We will definitely be calling you again.
Iceland: whale watching, thermal baths, “Viking sushi”…
CYNTHIA FRANCISCO | AUGUST 3, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Chris planned for us an 8-day driving trip to Southern and Western Iceland in July 2022 (two adults, two kids ages 14 and 21). My adventure-loving family was looking for a vacation where we could spend most of our time outdoors and active – and Chris fully delivered! Although I contacted Chris only about 6 weeks before departure, he quickly pulled together an action-packed itinerary with something for everyone. We could not have been more pleased with the results. He was in contact with us frequently during the trip and quick to address any potential issues: for example, he kept an eye on the weather and texted us the night before a whale watching cruise to give us an alternative plan in case the weather forced cancellation – then texted again in the morning (middle of the night his time) confirming that the trip was on. As other reviewers have said, I’m not sure when Chris sleeps! He was always cheery, upbeat, helpful and responsive and the extremely detailed driving itinerary he created made everything so easy. The experiences he chose for us (after a detailed consultation about our interests) were amazing – too many to mention them all here – but highlights were a private RIB boat trip in Reyjkavik looking at whales, dolphins and puffins (the dolphins were jumping literally right next to our small boat); riding ATVs on a black sand beach near Vik; a private Superjeep tour though an otherworldly landscape and visit inside an ice cave; a hike to and soak in a hot-tub temperature river; a “Viking Sushi” cruise where we ate scallops just dredged up from the ocean floor; day rooms at the incomparable Blue Lagoon Retreat Spa, and many, many more! I have worked with several other WOW-listed agents but Chris was hands down the finest travel agent I’ve ever engaged – true concierge service, 24/7. This was the best trip our family has taken in a long time – I can’t wait to go back to Iceland, and without question, I will have Chris do all the arrangements. WOW!
Germany & Austria: touring castles, tasting schnapps, making friends…
ROBYN NEEDHAM | AUGUST 2, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My husband, daughter and I traveled to Germany and Austria between June 17th and July 3, 2022. Our trip was planned by Gwen. Our trip was fantastic. We started in Munich and attended the Passion Play in Oberammergau the day after arrival. Even though we don’t speak German, the play was an amazing experience. We then spent two days touring Munich learning about German history, visiting the Olympic Park and BMW World. My husband studied German in high school and the visit to Munich and Bavaria was magical. He said what place could be better where beer is actually cheaper than water? In addition, our hotel was in the middle of the old section of Munich and we had a direct view of the famous Glockenspiel from our hotel window.
We then moved to Tegernsee lake region and stayed at an amazing resort on the lake. The town was very beautiful. We also toured the Bavarian countryside visiting Neuschwanstein, a local supermarket for meats and cheeses and ended up in the clouds on the top of Zug Spitze via the gondola. And I also need to mention our driver in Munich and throughout Bavaria was Robert Herr, who was awesome and most accommodating. In addition, Gwen booked amazing restaurants each night that gave us variety, local flavor and great atmospheres. This was throughout our trip.
Leaving Tegernsee, we headed towards an Austrian experience starting in Salzburg. On the way, we stopped to have a schnapps tasting experience. Our expectation was that we would be stopping at a distillery that made schnapps. How wrong were we? We stopped at a schnapps distillery, but it was a family farm with third-generation family owners. They are one of the larger schnapps distillers in Austria, but it absolutely was a family farm experience. They served us an amazing charcuterie board and we tasted many flavors of amazing schnapps and gin. The family was amazing and charming. This absolutely was one of our favorite experiences of the trip!
On to Salzburg, home of Mozart and a history that dates back to 500 BC and Roman occupation from 50 BC to 500 AD. We toured the city and learned the amazing history. We had a cooking experience to make the famous Salzburger Nockerl and Apfelstrudel. My husband then had to depart this amazing experience and my daughter and I continued with a trip to Eagles Nest and a bike ride through Salzburg donning Dirndls for the true Sound of Music experience. Again, dining was amazing from Gwen setting up a historic abbey to a cliff side experience with an amazing view at the metropolitan museum.
The final destination was Vienna. A quick train ride and drivers at departure and arrival destinations made the trip easy and safe. Vienna is an amazing cultural city with deep history. I would also be remiss to not mention how great all the tour guides were (Gerti, Martin, Tom, Marco, etc) from Munich to Salzburg to Vienna, all arranged by Gwen and her team. In Vienna, we experienced a walking food tour; a walking street art tour to satisfy our love of graffiti art; a wine tour of the Wachau Valley; a visit to the famous Spanish Riding School of Vienna; and a unique dining experience on a horse-drawn carriage through the city.
Our trip enabled us to make new friends and new cultural connections. It was humbling to remind us that in our vast world, we all share the same passions and desires to enjoy life, respect fellow human beings and learn from one another. We developed huge appreciation for the German and Austrian people and their amazing picturesque countries. And all of it well planned by Gwen’s office to ensure a fantastic life experience. We also felt very safe and comfortable throughout our trip. Thanks Gwen!
Portugal: hiking, cooking, wine tasting…
GEOFFREY GLAZER | AUGUST 2, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our trip was great however it’s a very busy time in Europe and it was extremely hot! My wife and I have decided that in the future we will travel to Europe in September, October or the late Spring. We were very happy with the planner, especially the suites at all the hotels. We especially enjoyed the hike with the guide to Cape Roca, it was fantastic and he was terrific and knowledgeable, always watching out for our safety. We also enjoyed the lunch and cooking class that was arranged for us at Casa de Juste, as well as the lunch and wine tasting at Quinta do Crasto. I’m certain that Goncalo and Madalena added value and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. Thanks !
Paris: teen-friendly fashion experiences
DIANE STONE | JULY 29, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Working with Jennifer and her team was such a fabulous experience. Nothing was left to chance, all the experiences arranged for my 13-year-old granddaughter were incredible and we couldn’t possibly have had a better trip. We learned how to make macarons, worked with a perfumer to create our own scents, went hot-air ballooning in the Loire Valley and took a small boat on the Canal St Martin. Since my granddaughter is a “creative” who’s interested in fashion and fashion design, Jennifer arranged several hours for us with an expert for a teen shopping tour. Also in the fashion vein, we met with Marine Henrion, a wonderful up-and-coming fashion designer. My granddaughter went home with Paris fashion appropriate to her age and fashion sense, and I loved sharing the experiences with her. Jennifer and her colleagues are so skilled at what they do. I’m on a safari with my grandson in Africa now and I had Jennifer arrange VIP Meet and Greet services for us when we had to change planes at Heathrow since I’ve decided I’ll never travel without it again! This was my summer to introduce my boy/girl twin grandchildren to traveling the world and Jennifer and her incredible team have made all of it as wonderful as can be.
Venice: uncrowded back streets, cicchetti with locals…
SUSAN KETCHUM | JULY 21, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My husband and I recently finished an extensive trip to Slovenia and Croatia and we flew into and out of Venice. We wanted to stay 2 nights, July 9-11th, in Venice before flying back home. Fortunately the requirement to be tested for Covid ended just prior to our flight to Venice so we did not have to be concerned about that.
We contacted Jennifer at Wendy Perrin’s suggestion and had a conversation with her about our plans. It may seem that a trip of 2 days would not require the services of a WOW advisor, however, we have had at least 3 very positive experiences with Jennifer, twice in France and once in Italy, and again we were very happy we reached out to her.
She arranged an airport VIP and assist with 2 porters to meet us at our airport gate upon arrival in Venice after a very long overnight flight with 2 stops, and escort us to our driver waiting to take us to Slovenia. To us, this is a valuable service and money well spent.
At the end of our time in Croatia, Jennifer again arranged for a private transfer via water taxi to our hotel, the St. Regis, which has been recently renovated, and in a very great location. It was a good recommendation. We had a view of the canal and it was mesmerizing.
Jennifer and her team also arranged dinner for us both nights at restaurants within walking distance of the hotel and both were excellent.
We had a guide on our second day, Sara, who met us at the hotel. Jennifer secured tickets to the 59th Biennale and we viewed amazing art from all over the world. It was fun having a guide who knew the streets not traveled by tourists and at times it seemed like we had Venice to ourselves!
Sara even took us to her favorite bacari for the Venetian snacks, cicchetti. Delicious!
When it was time to fly home, Jennifer arranged for a private water taxi from the pier of the hotel directly to the airport terminal where we were met by a driver who retrieved our bags and drove us to the front door and helped us with our luggage at check in. Again, a small worthwhile luxury at the end of our trip!
Luna, who works with Jennifer, was great about texting us each day and evening to confirm our schedule and reservations. It was seamless as every trip planned by Jennifer and her team has been! I know we will call on Jennifer again for a future trip.
Slovenia & Croatia: farm meals, lake hikes, fly fishing…
SUSAN KETCHUM | JULY 21, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My husband and I recently returned from a fabulous vacation planned by Ala to Slovenia and Croatia.
We first spoke with Ala in January to start planning this trip for June. After our initial call, Ala quickly sent some suggestions to us to review and consider. As she has traveled extensively in these countries, she has a wealth of knowledge and connections with guides, drivers, restaurants and hotels. We wanted to incorporate fly fishing and hiking as well as cultural experiences and she included all in her recommendations.
We flew into Venice and our driver greeted us and drove us to Ljubljana, about 3 hours away.
Loise was very pleasant and shared the history of his country, Slovenia, with us along the way.
Loise was our driver for the 6 days we stayed in Slovenia. In Ljubljana we stayed at a recently opened boutique hotel called Zlata Ladjica. I highly recommend it!
Slovenia is beautiful. It is also the foodie capital of Eastern Europe! Ala was able to arrange a lunch reservation at the much in demand restaurant, Hisa Franko in Kobarid, just named again to the top 50 restaurants in the world. We stayed 3 nights at Nebessa in Kobarid, an amazing property with 4 cottages overlooking the Soca Valley. Ala was spot on with this recommendation! We loved it so much that the owners arranged for delicious dinners from a local farm to be delivered to our cottage on 2 of the evenings we stayed there. Fly fishing in the Soca River was beautiful. The water was crystal clear and our guide knew the spots to put us on to catch fish.
We also visited Lake Bled and the Balkan lake while we were there, both beautiful. We also had a personal tour of the WWI museum and site of a major battle with the former director of the museum. He was very passionate about this important part of history in his country so if you go there, my advice is to make sure you make it clear how much time you would like to spend there because there is much to see, including a trail you can hike.
Slovenia is a small country with immense natural beauty and a fascinating history.
We next went to Rovinj on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula in Croatia. Again, at Ala’s suggestion we stayed at the Grand Park Hotel, opened a few years ago in Rovinj. It was close to the old town, however not too close, which was perfect. We could walk to the town and then get away from the crowds after. Rovinj is such a gem. We had been to Croatia before, in the south on the Dalmatian coast, however, Istria is a well kept secret!
Our guides in both countries were pleasant and knowledgeable and we had the right amount of time with them. Our drivers were also very good. It was nice to relax and enjoy the scenery without worrying about getting lost!
Our contact while traveling, Natasa, was excellent. She answered any questions or requests we had. Of course, there were few because Ala saw to all the details ahead of time and once again, Wendy Perrin’s recommendation to reach out to Ala was perfect! We would absolutely reach out to Ala again.
Belize: yacht charter & jungle resort with teens
SHERI HEDLUND | JULY 21, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We’ve just returned from an amazing trip to the beautiful country of Belize. When we started discussing our summer family vacation, we didn’t know exactly where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do – we just knew we wanted something tropical and memorable. Based upon a recommendation from an avid traveler friend, I reached out to Wendy Perrin to see if a planner may help. I was initially thinking Caribbean and after initial discussions it became clear that it was not going to work for us. While we were disappointed that it wasn’t working out as planned, the WendyPerrin.com planner made some alternate recommendations, one of which was Belize.
Belize was not on our list and not in consideration, however after one conversation with the Belize travel planner, Patricia, things quickly changed! She presented some sample itineraries and activity recommendations that we immediately fell in love with – and booked the trip right away! From the itinerary to the activities to the transfers to the menus – all was absolutely perfect!
We sailed on a private catamaran captained by Eric and first mate/chef Kainie (both AWESOME) visited uninhibited amazing cayes, paddleboarded thru the mangroves, kayaked, sunned, snorkeled every day, fished, and ate amazing food! I was initially concerned about my two teenagers getting bored on the catamaran for several days, however Patricia assured me there would be more than enough activities to keep them busy – and my husband and I enjoyed the perfect mix of relaxation and fun. It was a great experience!
We then transferred to The Lodge at Chaa Creek and had awesome tour guides thru the ATM caves, the Mayan Ruins and more. The resort was absolutely beautiful. We shared with Patricia that we like our space, and the room she arranged for us was amazing! We had more than enough room in the Spa Villa with great accommodations and we were very well cared for!
From start to finish – our first experience with WendyPerrin.com has been wonderful. And Patricia proved to be an invaluable resource in ensuring our investment in a memorable trip of a lifetime was exactly as we wanted it to be and more.
We are already looking at our calendar to see when we can book our next trip – we never repeat our vacation locations but we are definitely going back to Belize!
Costa Rica: surfing, zipline, waterfalls…
LISA SEMPLE | JULY 20, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Irene planned an itinerary for our family in Costa Rica that went above and beyond our expectations. It was our first time visiting this country, and Irene helped us narrow down our destinations to maximize our experience. We cannot wait to return because our experience was the best family vacation we have had! In general, all of our transfers, excursions, accommodations were top notch. I wouldn’t change a thing! Upon arrival, we stayed in San Jose at the Hotel Grano de Oro, which was very comfortable with a fabulous restaurant. The next day we took a flight to Quepos to stay at Arenas del Mar. Our accommodations were so beautiful, overlooking the ocean and beachfront with our own hot tub and spacious outdoor area and very well appointed. Upon her suggestion, we took surfing lessons with Dante’s Watersports, which we all agreed was a highlight of the trip. We never thought we could do it, but everyone was able to ride some waves and felt very accomplished. Over the course of the next few days, we enjoyed walks on the beach, the pools at the resort, and all of the games and activities on the beach of the resort. We didn’t even have to leave the resort to see 3 types of monkeys, sloths. The food and drinks were gourmet, and the staff was very attentive to our needs. By the time we left, we felt as if we were family. Our tour of the Los Campesinos area with Heaven Tours was fabulous. We learned so much about the flora and fauna, enjoyed swimming and playing in waterfalls, hiked and traversed hanging bridges with breathtaking views. It included a homemade lunch in the home of a local family, adding a very personal touch. My daughter requested a zipline experience, which was a great adventure. Our next stop was La Paloma Lodge on the Osa Peninsula. Our transfer included a boat ride that provided such a lush backdrop and spectacular arrival. Our accommodations at La Paloma Lodge had the most amazing view! The sunsets were bursting with color. Our scheduled tour of Corcovado National Park left us speechless. We saw 3 types of monkeys, 2 tapirs and hiked to waterfalls. Macaws and Toucans were able to be spied from the main lodge sitting in the trees. The pool is small but lovely. There are kayaks available for use, which is a must-do to explore the waters surrounding the resort. It is an easy walk into town which allows a little change of pace if looking for options other than eating and drinking at the resort. There was some confusion about our itineraries at the resort, and we had some trouble getting answers. There is some staff that are interns with little knowledge and experience. Eventually, we worked things out. We also went scuba diving, which was a family request. The conditions were not the greatest, so we would not include this in our itinerary next time. There are far too many other activities that we enjoyed and would repeat again. Prior to our departure, Irene arranged for someone to come to our hotel and perform our covid tests, which made it stress free. We did not have to worry about a thing. I am usually the one who plans all of our vacations, but I am so satisfied with Irene’s planning that I don’t think I will ever do it myself again! Thank you, Irene, for so many wonderful family memories!
Kenya safari with teens
REBECCA SCOTT | JULY 20, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our family of four (2 adults and 2 children ages 12 and 15) spent an amazing week in Kenya in early July planned by Dan. Kenya was beautiful, the wildlife was plentiful and awe-inspiring, the people were kind and welcoming, and the camps we stayed in were perfect in every way. We split our time in Kenya between two camps, one in the Mara and the other in Laikipia, which gave us a chance to experience different landscapes. The Mara was action-packed with prolific wildlife viewing. Laikipia was less dense in wildlife (although we still saw plenty!) but very serene and relaxing. Our days were filled with private game drives, time at the pool, delicious meals, walking safaris, sundowners, and even mountain biking. The guides were all top-notch, as were each and every one of the staff members at the camps we stayed in. In addition, the drivers and airport representatives were all of the highest quality. When our flight arrived in Nairobi at 4am, the airport representative who met us upon landing whisked us through the airport completely hassle-free and faster than I could have imagined. We felt well taken care of every step of the way, making the long travel as easy as possible. Planning a safari for the first time can feel overwhelming due to the number of possible destinations and lodging options. Dan made it feel easy, providing suggestions while listening carefully to our goals and desires for the trip. I also appreciated that he provided plenty of options that fit our objectives and worked within the budget we envisioned. We will always cherish the memories from this family trip!
Norway with three generations
TODD PURDUM| JULY 20, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Jan and his team planned a fantastic trip for our family of four – us and our 18-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter — to Denmark and Norway. The experience met or exceeded our expectations in virtually every way, and we have made memories that will last a lifetime. The trip went way beyond a surface touristic visit to give us a real and deep sense of the places we saw. It didn’t just refresh and relax us; it educated us and broadened our horizons as well.
Specific Comments on Detailed Itinerary
Copenhagen. What a lovely city! We so enjoyed ourselves. It is charming, spotlessly clean, and a constant delight. Jan specializes in booking luxury trips in which travelers would expect car and driver for airport transfer, but our arrival coincided with festivities surrounding the start of the Tour de France, and the concierge at the Hotel D’Angleterre, whom I had consulted about restaurant advice, recommended taking the metro into town, which was easy and efficient. (That said, we very much enjoyed the convenience of car and driver for our return trip to the airport when outbound for Bergen, Norway).
The Hotel D’Angleterre is so beautiful and perfect in every way that it seems churlish to note any qualm, but it is worth saying that it is very old school and formal. The staff could not have been kinder or more helpful or less snooty, but it is easy to feel a bit under-dressed in those grand surroundings – though we eventually noticed that most guests did dress pretty informally at breakfast. The concierge helped us secure a dinner reservation at Barr on the former site of Noma in Christianshaven, and it was hands down the best meal of the trip! We were so busy that we didn’t have even to see the hotel’s impressive pool and spa, much less use them.
Britt Herrmann was a superb guide for our trip to the Zealand castles (Fredricksborg and Elsinore) and the Louisiana Museum of Art. We learned so much more with her than we would have on our own, and driver Johnny made the northern trip infinitely easier than it would have been by train. This seemed to us the perfect use of a guide, and on starting out, Britt also showed us a few hidden gems in town, like the Royal Library garden on the Christianslot, which we would have been unlikely to find ourselves.
At the same time, we were very grateful to have ample time to explore the city center by ourselves, on foot, by bike, and by private rented electric boat. After our arrival on Saturday, we just wandered a bit, and on Monday, we rented nice bikes from the hotel and made a wonderful tour, to the Little Mermaid and beyond, before stumbling on the charming and elegant Holmen Cemetery, the burial place of many Danish notables in a lovely garden setting. We stopped for lunch at the food stalls at Torvehallerne, then rented a boat to explore the inner harbor, before finally biking on paths through Freetown. This was a real highlight and conveyed a very exciting sense of personal discovery that no guide could have supplied. We spent our last evening at Tivoli, and like millions of others before us, were charmed and could easily see how it inspired Mr. Disney to build his Magic Kingdom here in our California backyard.
Solstrand. Our flight from Copenhagen to Bergen was easy, but there was some confusion at the Avis counter about pre-payment for the car, which had been arranged by Jan. This was no one’s fault but it caused an annoying delay of well over an hour. The wait mattered only in the sense that it delayed our arrival to, and enjoyment of, the wonderful facilities at Solstrand Spa and Hotel, where our stay was just one night to begin with. Solstrand was great – the dinner, the large breakfast buffet, the pools and saunas. We just hated to leave after such a short stay.
Ferry from Gudvangen to Kaupanger. There was serious construction on the road that delayed our progress (this is something that GPS would probably note) and we just made the ferry with less than 15 minutes to spare. Also, while this dramatic trip was the longest ferry ride of our stay — at 2.5 hours — the boat is the least well outfitted, with only a self-service snack bar offering crisps and candies. So it would have been helpful to know that we should have asked Solstrand to pack us a picnic lunch of some kind. I’d strongly suggest provisioning yourselves with food for lunch before getting on the boat.
Bestebakken. Our stay here on the shores of beautiful Lake Hafslo was a classic example of how first impressions can be wrong. I think it is fair to say that upon arrival, we were all very disappointed. This property is in no sense what any American would consider a “hotel.” It is more like a bed and breakfast or a country house but it lacks the usual privacy one expects in a true hotel. At first it seemed to the kids, in particular, that we might have to share baths with strangers. These concerns ultimately evaporated upon the arrival of Lindis, our fantastic host. We ended up having the entire upstairs of the main house, including a newly built sort of master suite with a large ensuite bath, to ourselves, while the kids each had a separate room and bath down the hall. The kids were also initially upset and unnerved by the idea of dining at a communal table. But in the end, this proved a great aspect of the trip, allowing us to meet and converse with interesting and cosmopolitan European and Australian travelers, which expanded our understanding at a troubling time for our own country. The food is excellent and Lindis a completely charming, helpful host! By the third day, however, the nightly routine of the shared meal – and Lindis’s preference for a plated, multi-course breakfast rather than the more typical buffet, began to wear a bit. It might have been good to spend one night here not dining at Bestebakken, though I doubt the food anywhere else in the area would have been as good!
Glacier Hike on the Nigardsbreen Glacier. A wonderful experience in every way! By far the hardest part is the rocky hourlong walk leading to the ice. Our guide met us promptly with no fuss. One for the books. Lindis packed us a picnic lunch but Jan’s advice about the Glacier Museum and visitors’ center was very helpful and we stopped there for coffee and cake afterward.
Hovland Farm. Near Vik, Norway. I personally loved this experience and was fascinated by the life that the owners Kjersti and Geir have chosen to live here in a kind of “back to the land” experiment. This visit to a family farm that has been under cultivation since 600 A.D. was a chance to learn about a vanishing part of Norwegian life that has endured for centuries but is now at risk. Our hosts could not have been kinder. I think the kids and Dee Dee might have preferred a somewhat shorter visit that allowed time for another activity during this day, but that is a highly personal thing. For me, this was a very special journalistic opportunity that went well beyond any kind of typical tourist visit one could imagine. And, arguing against the idea of fitting in another activity on this day, it was nice to have a fairly late and easy start on this morning after a busy couple of days.
The Stave Church at Urnes, dating from 1,100 A.D. (as old as Notre Dame de Paris), and a lovely tour by a thoughtful young French guide, was simply astounding. The drive north, through clouds and mist, was gorgeous. Lindis had recommended we stop at Bakar Jon in Berkjelo to see the many Norwegian gourmet food products on offer, and we had a fine hot lunch in the little café there. This would be a good suggestion for any travelers taking this route.
The Hotel Union Oye is wonderful, and its setting breathtaking. We arrived in a late afternoon rain and found Torestova, a freestanding house with two bedrooms and two lofts, completely charming. The kitchen isn’t really set up for actual cooking; more for making coffee or a quick lunch for families or something, but I think Dee Dee might have still been tempted to try it if there had been a grocery store nearby, or if we had bought ingredients at Bakar Jon. That said, the food at dinner here both nights was excellent – light, interesting and reflective of both local products and the remoteness of the location. It would obviously be impossible to offer a large dinner menu here, so there is a set meal with no choice. The elaborate renovation of the hotel is very impressive – especially the new palm court dining room and bar. But this is the new iteration’s first full season up and running and it would be worth noting that while the staff is young and charming and attractive, it is also very green and the service was a bit rocky at times. Nothing that a few months of operating experience shouldn’t resolve, but it is not yet a finely tuned machine of the kind one expects at a Relais and Chateaux property.
Havard Karstad was a superb guide for our Sunday rowing/hiking experience on the fjords, going well beyond the basics of boatmanship to offer us many stories of local history and tradition. He took us to a secluded picnic spot at the junction of the Norangsfjord and the Hronundfjord, at a lighthouse. After days of mixed misty weather, this was a glorious sunny day and we had an uninterrupted view up the fjord toward Alesund. Superb experience!
Our ferry ride on the Geirangerfjord was all that this route promised, and once again easy and uneventful. This was the first and almost the only place on the trip where we encountered a lot of tourists from buses and the big cruise ships and it made us all the more appreciate the special places Jan sent us, where we did not encounter other Americans! The Eagle’s Road offered amazing views back down to the fjord, and while the drive is indeed challenging, it is not that scary for a Californian, since we have similar winding, steep roads in our mountains and coastline here. Once again, the sun came out as we approached the ferry from Linge to Vallidal – and once again, we would have appreciated some advice about provisioning ourselves for lunch. In the end, we stopped at a BunnPris grocery store in Vallidal to get picnic makings (itself a cultural experience!), and then proceeded to inadvertently annoy the café operator at the Gudbrandsjuvet gorge by setting up our picnic at one of his tables there. We did not realize that this was not allowed, but promptly moved to a bench where picnicking was OK. Again, suggesting a lunch stop here, at the rather nice-looking café, would be good advice for future travelers. There just aren’t that many good food options in rural Norway.
Alesund. Our stay here was very pleasant. While I think we all regretted not being able to stay at the Storfjord resort hotel (the original hope, but it was full) and have one more chance for some outdoor activities on a brilliant sunny day, we were also grateful for the urban experience of the Hotel Brosundet and Alesund itself, especially since we had not seen central Bergen or any other city of size. We made the most of our visit – hiking the big Aksla hill and visiting the Art Nouveau and fishing museums. One other note: Our (first!!) stay here was on a Monday night, when most restaurants in town – including Bro, which came highly recommended – are closed, and at first it seemed that not even the Brosundet restaurant could accommodate us. They eventually did, but once again, it would have been helpful to have had specific advice about this reality of the weekly calendar.
Finally, I would raise one last point: Scheduling our return to Amsterdam on the last flight of the day from Alesund was always a somewhat risky choice, and one I confess I was worried about from the moment I first saw the itinerary, though we could not, of course, have imagined the bizarre problem that eventually occurred when a mistakenly deployed airplane slide cancelled our flight. This schedule was an admirable reflection of a desire to keep us in Norway as long as possible, and was also the logical result of the south-to-north trajectory that our trip through the western fjords took. So I am not sure there was really any way to have avoided it without re-thinking the whole itinerary. But – at a time of peak summer travel and global airline disruptions – it really left us no margin for error. We wound up being able to book the last seats on a flight the next morning that, by some miracle, allowed us to make our originally scheduled flight home to the states. But building in more wiggle room is worth considering when planning future trips in the current disastrous air travel environment.
A Couple of General Comments:
Driving. Jan initially proposed having a car and driver for our trip around the fjords. But unless a traveler is elderly, infirm, or somehow afraid or unfamiliar with driving in mountainous terrain, I cannot imagine why anyone would want a driver on this trip. Half the fun for our family was finding our own way (with Jan’s excellent step-by-step directions, and a good paper map, supplemented occasionally by GPS). We would definitely not have wanted to share our car for a week with a driver; it would have seemed a violation of our privacy and would have changed the character of the trip for us for the worse. Our Volvo station wagon was very roomy and performed beautifully.
The Norwegian infrastructure – from telecommunication and internet to the ferries, which depart punctually with no fuss as a direct extension of the highways – is simply superb. We should have such good roads and bridges here at home, but do not! The only oddity is that sometimes, when a roadway is effectively a dual-designated highway (combining a major long-distance route and a more local one) the roadside signage on the ground displays only the local route number. This can be confusing, but we made no more than a couple of wrong turns, costing no more than a few minutes in each case.
Guides. Jan is a strong advocate for expert guides, and he suggested that we have them at virtually every point of the trip. His guides were uniformly excellent, knowledgeable, personable and kind. We found our guides to be wonderful shepherds who not only explained their countries’ heritage and history at the sites we visited but conversed meaningfully in general about how life works in Scandinavia compared to the U.S. Yet we also strongly appreciated having ample unstructured time to explore on our own – especially in Copenhagen. Travelers should feel free to advocate for their own preferences and push back if they feel Jan is proposing too many guided experiences. He is more than willing to work with you. In the end, we felt we had about the right mix, and would not have wanted any additional guided activities.
Porters/bellmen. Norwegians don’t use them. We are used to carrying our own bags, and tried to pack sensibly, but at no time, in any hotel, did anyone ever offer to help us get bags up and down steps or elevators to the rooms – and sometimes there were twisted paths. This is not so much a complaint as an expression of confusion. Is this just the way things work?
Coffee. Uniformly watery and bad in Norway, especially after Amsterdam and Copenhagen. This is apparently just the way Norwegians like to drink their brew, but be forewarned!
None of the foregoing small notes should be heard in the nature of a serious complaint, but rather in the spirit of constructive feedback that might aid in planning for future travelers. We had a fantastic time, remain incredibly grateful for Jan and his team’s kindness, thoroughness, patience and wise counsel, and would recommend them in the most enthusiastic way.
Ireland: behind-the-scenes tours, locals-only pubs…
JENNIFER AINSWORTH | JULY 2O, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We are just back from Ireland and are thrilled to recommend Jonathan as a travel planner. Our family of 4 (including 2 college-age sons) spent 8 days in Ireland and worked with Jonathan and Katie Stewart in planning a trip that our family will always remember. From our first telephone call, I felt like a valued client, and they took my ideas of the way we wanted to travel and the top things we wanted to see, then designed an itinerary that was better than I could have ever planned.
One of the first recommendations that Jonathan made was to use a driver rather than to drive ourselves. Although I was nervous about spending days with someone we didn’t know, we all heartily agree that it was one of the best things we did. Not only did our drivers, Gerry and Seamus, know details and have suggestions we would never have known, but spending time with someone who loves and knows Ireland added an unexpected dimension to our trip. Seamus always knew places to stop for lunch, unexpected detours with the most amazing views, a perfect spot for coffee or for shopping, and the best local pubs with music that our boys would love. When we told him about one son’s interest in prehistoric and Celtic history, he took us to several out-of-the-way stops and tiny towns where we saw stone circles and ruins, and also had fun pub lunches away from crowds of tourists. Our boys learned all about hurling from Seamus and we talked about and watched matches on the trip.
We made a large circle around the Republic of Ireland, starting and ending in Dublin. We saw Cashel and the historic Rock of Cashel, Cork, Cobh, the Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, the Burren region, Galway, and Dublin. Jonathan suggested the behind-the-scenes tour at the Jameson distillery, which was excellent, and a food tour in Galway which was one of the highlights of the trip. We explored towns and countryside, hiked through the Burren area, saw historical Irish sites and ruins, and explored the city highlights of Dublin. He managed to weave it all together in a way where we felt like we saw an incredible view of the country without being rushed.
The hotels where we stayed were wonderful, with beautiful rooms and grounds and exceptional service. The Cashel Palace and Greghans Castle were places where we wished we could stay for a month, and the kind of places where we got to know staff and felt like welcome family rather than just customers. All of the hotels and venues knew Jonathan and his company. Having Jonathan and Katie plan this trip was worth every penny. We were able to relax and enjoy the scenery without worrying about every detail or running over sheep on windy Irish country roads! It truly makes a difference to work with a professional. I can’t recommend them more highly, and this trip will be a part of our family’s memories always!
Italy with teens: Vespa tour, olive oil tasting…
JILL MEHL | JULY 18, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL In July 2022 our family of four, including two young teens, travelled in Italy for two weeks with a trip planned by Andrea’s team. Our focus was mythology and ancient history and it followed a week in Greece, planned by Wendy’s Greece expert, Jacoline. We had a GREAT time. After a detailed zoom conversation about our travel preferences, budget and general wishes the expert brainstormed so many amazing ideas I fretted we’d need a month for a rich experience. However, she skillfully crafted a two-week trip that hit all the right notes, including private tours with top-notch guides, special activities, and plenty of free time to relax and wander.
One of the best things about hiring is an expert is being connected to their contacts, which makes for a trip full of magical moments that I never would know to imagine for myself. For example, the “secret Rome” Vespa tour allowed us four hours on the back of Vespas whipping around central Rome and beautiful residential neighborhoods (with stops for photos and explanation by our guide), which was incredibly fun and became a highlight of the whole trip. In Tuscany we spent a few hours with a husband and wife who run a small artisinal olive oil company. We learned a lot about the process and enjoyed a lovely homemade lunch and personal conversation with them both. It was delightful and even the kids enjoyed it.
Another benefit of the experts is having all logistics handled, which is especially helpful when travel is rebounding post-Covid and circumstances can change on a dime. They provided a mobile app that allowed us to check our itinerary throughout each day, access tickets and transfer information, and contact our 24/7 concierge who helped us out a few times by ordering last-minute tickets to the Uffizi and sending our train tickets, which we had misplaced.
We made clear that we didn’t want to spend heavily on hotels the whole time so opted for an Airbnb in the former Jewish Ghetto of Rome for a week, which saved a lot of money and allowed us to enjoy the city like locals. I recommend it! In the second week we splurged at a resort in Tuscany and also enjoyed a small hotel in Florence with a view of the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio – which I’m sure was arranged by Andrea’s team!
Our trip was so memorable, made especially so because of expert guidance. Honestly, you can’t go wrong.
Italy: tasting tour of Emilia-Romagna
ADAM AMSTERDAM | JULY 18, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My brother-in-law rented a villa in Tuscany in July and invited us to come for five days. We added a visit to Emilia-Romagna after the villa. Our travel expert Marta arranged an amazing trip for us, including all transfers for airport-to-Tuscan villa and villa-to-Emilia-Romagna. We were based in Bologna at the Grand Hotel Majestic Già Baglioni. During the week Iron Maiden and Queen both performed in Bologna and the bands stayed at our hotel. We felt like rock stars every time we left the lobby because there were huge crowds waiting for a glimpse of the band members. We had a wonderful private cooking class where we made pasta by hand (with a rolling pin!), and learned to make authentic Ragù alla Bolognese as well as tortellini in brodo. We visited the Ferrari museum in Maranello and did a test drive in a 2010 Ferrari California, which was quite a rush! During our five-day stay in Bologna we also took day trips to an “acetaio” to learn about and taste traditional balsamic vinegar, an organic farm that makes Parmigiano Reggiano (more tasting), wineries, and Ravenna where we saw the most incredible mosaics from the 9th century. I don’t have enough room to write about the FOOD. Emilia-Romagna has perhaps the best food in Italy!
Iceland: whale-watching, glacier trek, geo-thermal river…
DIANE BOAS | JULY 18, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Chris planned a nine-day itinerary that allowed us to explore Iceland’s spectacular, diverse and often other-worldly landscapes. Chris rented us a 4WD car that we drove to less frequented towns and sites on the eastern, northern, and western coasts. When we arrived back at Reykjavik and toured the golden circle, we really appreciated that most of our trip was spent far from the hordes of tourists who congregate at those locations.
My birthday occurred during the trip and by sheer luck, it was a perfect sunny day. The day began with a puffin and whale watching excursion from the port of Husavik. Chris had jokingly promised some extra whales for my birthday, but he must actually have connections with these mammals because we saw multiple humpbacks diving in synchronized unison. After a delicious lunch of Plokfiskur (Icelandic stew) at a waterfront café, we soaked in thermally heated saltwater infinity pools overlooking Iceland’s northern fjords. Heaven. Other special excursions included a glacier trek, and bathing in an isolated geo-thermal mountain river.
Chris is detailed oriented and attentive. He prepared a multi-page itinerary for each day of the trip describing the best driving routes, sites of interest, area hikes, a choice of restaurants and recommended “pit stops.” Many mornings, Chris sent us texts with weather advisories and suggestions for modifying the route if we wanted to shorten our daily drive. We texted him a few times with questions and he always answered immediately – essentially a concierge in our pocket.
We encourage anyone thinking about travelling to Iceland to immediately contact Chris!
Amsterdam: 3-day stopover
TODD PURDUM| JULY 18, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Tom planned a most thoughtful three-day visit for our family of four to Amsterdam – June 29 – July 2, 2022. Starting from the moment of our arrival at the wretchedly chaotic Schiphol Airport, Tom was helpful and flexible. When our daughter’s plane was delayed by several hours, he immediately arranged a second car to take her to the Pulitzer Hotel, so the rest of us could go ahead. The hotel was lovely, and he’d arranged not only two canal-view junior suites with breakfast but a special food and beverage credit that made eating in the hotel’s excellent dining room practical and cost-efficient on our first, tired night in town. He booked a wonderful private tour on a saloon boat through the canals, and a terrific private guide to take us on tours of the leading museums. He offered other services we did not feel we needed – like a private walking tour of the city center. He uses an excellent digital app – Axus – that allows real-time updates and communication during the trip. He warned us – appropriately – of the long (four hours’) time we’d need at Schiphol for our flight to Copenhagen. When a return flight to Amsterdam from Norway was cancelled unexpectedly at the end of our trip, he immediately was able to guarantee hotel arrangements if we needed to stay in Europe longer. Alas, he was unable to secure a refund for the required last-minute cancellation of a planned overnight at the Amsterdam airport Sheraton – understandable but regrettable. Tom’s services are not cheap, but he is instantly available by phone and email and his careful and thoughtful planning made all the difference in giving our family a fantastic stay in Amsterdam. He arranged experiences and activities we would have been very unlikely ever to find on our own. Flying these days is complete misery, but travel is still uplifting and very fun. Tom made sure we could cope with the former and enjoy the latter to the utmost.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
France: kid-friendly Pais & Dordogne
LESLIE MANN | JULY 17, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Jennifer planned an amazing trip for my family of 3 to Paris and the Dordogne for 9 days in June. My 10 year old son loved the chocolate making class with our very personable and kid friendly guide. I loved how Jennifer arranged for a guide to take us speedily through the airport where we skipped every line and sped through customs! The most magical highlight of the trip for me was Rouffignac cave, where we took a train a mile into the cave and came upon a glorious array of prehistoric cave paintings. Our guide, Martin, was perhaps the best guide I have ever had, full of knowledge and fascinating to listen to talk about the area. The apartment Jennifer arranged for us in Paris was perfectly situated and much easier than a hotel when traveling with kids. There was so many wonderful moments and so many great memories from this excellently planned trip!
Norway with three generations
PEGGY SCHUEMANN | JULY 17, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our trip to Norway, planned in part by Jan, was wonderful. Jan was available via Zoom for a preliminary meeting where we went over some trip ideas. Part of the trip would include three generations; my husband and me, our daughter, and 4 of our grandchildren. Norway seems to be an “in” destination and the natural beauty, along with Jan’s suggestions, made for a memorable experience. Jan encouraged us to stay at Reine, in the Lofoten Islands. We stayed in Roburer cabins, which were exactly the right fit for the families. Jan set up a full day with a RIB boat, including a shore lunch and a hike to a cave. The next day he set up a fishing experience and then a private chef to come to our room and cook the fish for all of us.
Following the multi generation portion of our trip, my husband and I cruised from Copenhagen up the west coast of Norway and back to Copenhagen. Jan arranged for private guides to meet us at 4 different ports on the trip. These guides were quite knowledgable and more than happy to tailor the day to our needs. While the ship offered excursions, having the private guides and drivers worked best for us, enhancing the trip with their knowledge and making each destination personal.
Covid was not an issue in our trip. Norway had been closed tight for two years and only opened the month or so prior to our departure. During the time of our trip the SAS pilots were on strike, making some of our travel plans most worrisome. Jan and his staff were literally at our service day and night as we tried to navigate the travel concerns brought on by the strike.
We highly recommend Jan for your trip to Norway.
Brazil: month-long working vacation
BONNIE THOMPSON | JULY 17, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had a fantastic month-long trip to Brazil which we planned with Paul. Working with Paul was great – he listened very carefully to how we like to travel, and what activities we enjoy doing, and then he blended all of that into a wonderful itinerary. His choices were perfect – the hotels were amazing, the guides were knowledgeable and enthusiastic, our drivers were safe and professional, and the locations were delightful. Paul and I worked on the specifics of the plans for several months until it was precisely what I wanted. Before departure, we downloaded the app that he and his team use to send messages, keep us informed about the plans, to view our boarding passes, and any updates or notices. That was an extremely useful feature for our travels.
The first three weeks of our trip was just my husband and me, and it was a combination of vacation and working remotely. Paul was careful to book us in places with reliable wi-fi and a desk in the room. We stayed in each location for 3-4 days, which allowed us the opportunity to better understand the area before we moved on. Paul arranged guided tours in each place for the first day or two, and then the remaining days in that location we spent exploring (or remotely working) using the suggestions and information that Paul provided to maximize our time.
The third week of our trip was a family wedding – our nephew was getting married to a lovely young woman who was born in Brazil. The American family members flew to Brazil from all over the United States to help celebrate. And after those festivities, my husband and I, my sister and her husband – and all of our grown children! – stayed on for another 10 days of travel in two different locations. Paul arranged that portion of the trip as well, coordinating hotel rooms, transportation between locations, activities, guides, and drivers for all 10 of us. It was a very complicated task, and Paul handled it beautifully.
The added value of using Paul and his team is incalculable. At each hotel, we were greeted with notes from both Paul and the hotel staff, and welcome gifts in our room. I am convinced that we were upgraded to the best room in the hotel everywhere we stayed. Our room rates always included breakfast, teatimes, and other amenities not offered with regular bookings. Our guides and driver were always on time, the details of attraction tickets and lines and logistics were seamlessly attended to in advance so we never had to wait for anything. The pre-planning allowed us to maximize our time, and it reduced the stress of traveling for such a long period of time and with such a large group. We had a wonderful experience, and it is because of the superior work done by Paul and his team.
RE COVID: Most of the places we traveled in Brazil were very off the beaten path, and much of our exploring was outdoors, in smaller venues, and done privately. All of us were double vaccinated and we all had our booster shots — plus several of us had actually gotten very mild cases of COVID in the winter. We were not nervous about COVID exposure.
Paul also arranged for us to have the required departure COVID tests privately done by lab professionals who came to our hotel rooms. As it turned out, the requirement to test before returning to the USA was dropped the weekend we flew home, so it wasn’t necessary. But we certainly appreciated the effort.
Botswana & Zimbabwe safari: focus on leopard & cheetah
REBEL RICE | JULY 16, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL • How was your trip? Are you glad you decided to travel now?
• How happy are you with your choices of destination, timing, and trip planner?
Our trip to Botswana and Zimbabwe in May 2022 exceeded expectations. We began planning in May 2020 to jolly ourselves through lockdown and a year to later turned to Wendy Perrin to begin in earnest. The May timing was great for our family.
I listened to Wendy’s Zoom presentations and thought that Cherri and her company would be a good fit for us because of her in-depth knowledge of Africa. I was right! She and her group did an exceptional job from recommending which countries were best in May to which camps were well suited for our interests and budget.
Cherri recommended Botswana and Zimbabwe for our May travels for optimal animal sightings and weather. She was right! Our animal sightings were off the charts. My husband and I had traveled there in 1996 for our honeymoon and we worried that it would seem too similar. We were so wrong. The quality of the camps and the guiding has increased exponentially. Plus, we spent more time at each camp this trip. Overall, the trip was fantastic.
We had two requests for Cherri and her team’s planning: 1) excellent guides, and 2) camps with a good chance of seeing leopard and cheetah. Oh my gosh, did this trip deliver. We stayed at 2 different camps in Botswana run by Kwando (Splash and Lebabala) then went to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe where we stayed at Somalisa Acacia run by African Bush Camps. We saw every major mammal, including leopard and cheetah and we saw them more than once. The whole experience was thrilling. We have so many amazing photographs we are not sure what to do with them all.
Years ago, a friend and avid birder told us, “Birds fill the time between the mammals.” He was so right; the guides were wonderful about finding and identifying so many birds. We saw over 100 species and were not even on a special bird tour.
Each of our three guides are “of the bush.” The passion they have for wildlife shows. The bush and the delta are in their souls, and they clearly love showing it to people and teaching them about it. Each guide was different, and we loved them all.
At our last camp, Somalisa Acacia in Hwange NP, we were booked for 4 nights. It seemed excessive, but we trusted Cherri. We understood when we arrived there – it was a perfect end to our safari. The camp was the most comfortable / upscale of the three. As an example, the deck of the lodge went right up to a watering hole where the we sat and watched elephants drink less than 6 feet away. The camp is smaller and because we spent 4 nights, we got to know the staff. Their warmth and hospitality are a delight. Our guide there is the Senior Guide who won Outstanding Guide for 2021 in Zimbabwe. He wondered who our little group of 4 was that he would be assigned to us. Turns out Cherri had requested him on our behalf, and it was a great match.
• Did the trip planner suggest experiences, accommodations, dining options, travel logistics, etc., that felt Covid-appropriate to you? Did he/she solve particular challenges or destination-related problems?
The whole trip felt “Covid appropriate” to us. We were outside almost all of our waking hours. The most amazing challenge that Frankie, Cherrie’s trusted assistant and our day-to-day contact, solved for us was South Africa’s change for the Covid entry procedure. The day we departed (!!) South Africa instituted a QR code to prove your vaccination status rather than use the original vaccine card. We got a heads up the day before we left from Frankie, as well as a suggested platform from which we could generate a code. When that didn’t work, she then found another one that did. Phew.
•Did the trip planner add value to your trip? If so, how?
We could not have organized this trip without our travel planner. In addition to selecting and booking camps, we had charter flights between camps, transfers in Victoria Falls, and specific commercial flights that we needed to match up with the charter bush flights. They also set up a fantastic day in Zambia for a rhino walk, to see the town of Livingstone and then go to the rescue center called Elephant Café. Our guide and driver for that day was another highlight. We learned so much from him about the economic, political and historical situation of the area.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip for all of us and we appreciate the great plannng and advice from Cherri’s office.
Greece: focus on mythology & ancient history
JILL MEHL | JULY 16, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL In July 2022 our family of four, including two young teens, travelled to Greece for one week with a focus on mythology and ancient history. This was the first week of a longer trip that included Italy, where we utilized Wendy’s Italy expert.
We worked with Jacoline and were SO pleased with our experience. Jacoline got to know us in a phone call and many back-and-forth emails. She asked clarifying questions about what we really like and don’t like, our budget, and how we wanted to spend our time. She used this feedback to craft a well-planned week that delivered mostly half-day tours with private guides (all of them top-notch and tuned in to our interest in mythology and history) as well as free time for rest and wandering. This wasn’t a Greek island vacation yet she found a way to prioritize the requisite touring and include a few relaxing days on an island as well!
We prefer to spend money on experiences rather than on hotels, and she took that into consideration while managing to find wonderful accommodations every step of the way. Jacoline suggested two activities in Athens that I never would have thought to do, and we enjoyed them both: an e-bike tour and a culinary walk, which ended up being one highlight in our three weeks. She also recommended multiple restaurants for dinner each night, had me choose one, and made reservations for us as we wished; we had some spectacular meals with exceptional service and breathtaking views.
Jacoline urged us to consider visiting the Peloponnesian Peninsula, which is full of history and rarely traveled by Americans. Again, we are so glad we took her advice. From there we travelled by hydrofoil to Hydra and enjoyed three nights on this nearby, car-free island. It was the perfect end to a week in Greece and allowed us to recharge before continuing to Rome.
One benefit to using this trip planner was the detailed itinerary she provided with short histories, contact information, Covid suggestions, tipping and “helpful to know” kinds of localized information that would have taken me hours to hunt down on my own. It was a pleasure to work with Jacoline, and our family is grateful for our memorable trip.
Switzerland: flawless Alpine adventures
MATT COHEN | JULY 16, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL This is an email we sent to Nina and David following our trip:
“Cheri and I just want to personally thank you for putting together the most incredible and extraordinary vacation. It felt so good to finally spend time in Switzerland after delaying it for so long. We were extremely impressed with how perfect everything came together and how logistically sound the entire 11 days were. The planning and execution were absolutely perfect. We both realize how complicated and challenging planning the logistics of such a trip is, and we very much appreciate all of your hard work to make it seem flawless and seamless to us. We can’t say enough good things about you and looking forward to return to Switzerland again soon.”
Needless to say we were very impressed with Nina’s office. We originally planned this trip for 2020, but obviously this didn’t happen due to Covid. They were very generous and allowed us to move our deposit to 2021. Again, we couldn’t do it last summer either, as Covid restrictions were still in place when we had to make a decision about our 2021 travels. So, David and Nina allowed us again to move our deposit until this summer 2022.
We worked on most of the details with David, who is their Apline specialist. He was extremely attentive and very detailed. He always got back to us very quickly via email or we set up Zoom calls to discuss ideas and changes. Once we were in Switzerland, he made himself available for on-the-spot questions and last-minute planning ideas. I think its important to note that David and Nina were great listeners and got a real sense of how we like to travel, what we like to do, and the type of accommodations we like to stay in, and then planned an almost perfect itinerary that matched our needs.
My wife and I highly recommend Nina’s team and must say they were one of the best travel planners (maybe “the” best) we’ve ever worked with.
Germany & Austria: cities, mountain hiking, relaxation…
LEANNE STEVENS | JULY 15, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our family of three traveled to Munich, Hallstatt, Austria and Vienna during June 2022. It was the perfect mix of city exploration, mountain hiking and relaxation. We were especially pleased that they quickly suggested Hallstatt as the mountain escape to take a break from city touring for our entire vacation. Hallstatt was a family favorite and we would recommend as a “don’t miss” location if planning a trip in that region. Gwen and her team picked hotels that were always the perfect combination of hotel amenities and location activities. They suggested extraordinary experiences in both a Vienna food tour with the brilliant and personable Bianca and a Wachau Valley wine tour that knocked our socks off with the personal attention of Martin. I appreciated the travel planner’s responsiveness with questions mid-trip and the addition of a hotel room in Vienna for our son. And lastly, Gwen exceeded expectations when she offered her thoughts of my son’s trip to the Balkan countries right before he met with us. She gave me peace of mind for how our trips would dovetail efficiently and without drama.
Sicily: chatting with villagers, market visit & cooking class, sailing…
CATHY UNRUH | JULY 15, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Marcello and team are superb, A++, creating a trip of a lifetime
We have utilized the WOW List travel experts for our last 3 trips with great satisfaction. Marcello raised the bar even higher, creating a truly exceptional itinerary for our 26-day sojourn in Sicily, one that exceeded our high expectations! Marcello is an avid listener who understood our desire to learn and deepen our understanding of the culture of Sicily….achieved through a good balance of visits to archaeological and historic sites coupled with engagement with expert guides and local people, visiting out of the way places that most travelers would miss. Marcello checked in every day during our trip, both with us and with the guides, as he genuinely cares about your enjoyment and satisfaction with the experiences he has so artfully and carefully created. In conversations with Marcello, his love of Sicily….the people, the food, its vast and complex history…is palpable, and reflected in the itinerary.
We would not have had the in-depth experience of life and history of this island without our drivers and guides.
All the drivers were wonderful. They were knowledgeable about each region, eager to engage in conversation, and share with us their insights. They were always prompt, professional, and went out of their way to make sure our needs were being met.
The guides were outstanding, each being expert in their field and relaying their knowledge in a digestible way. Importantly, they were fun to be with, candidly sharing their experiences and perspectives of Sicily. Love of family and love of this island’s complex and storied history has drawn them back with an eagerness to share with others the beauty of this land. We bid farewell to each guide with a bit of sadness, as over the course of a few days we had become friends. While every day presented unique and wonderful experiences, some highlights:
-hiking Mt. Etna with a volcanologist, deepening our understanding of this mysterious, mystical place and the mountain they refer to as mother;
-wine tasting/pairing with a sommelier expert on Mt. Etna wines, who introduced us not only to the special quality of wines grown in volcanic soil, but granita, a most delectable treat during a warm summer day
-visits to the Greek/Romans temples of Segesta, Selinunte and the Valley of the Temples with archaeologists who vastly increased our knowledge of Sicily’s complex and complicated history
-visit to the tuna factory on Favignana and the “impossible Garden,” a dream realized by a determined and courageous woman who envisioned a garden in the midst of the rock quarries
-shopping the local market with Maurizio, the entertaining and charismatic chef of Macalle in Ortigia, followed by a cooking class and meal, and many ideas to take home
-hiking and sailing on the island of Salina, enjoying lunch where Il Postino was filmed, visit to a local caper farm, and enjoying the outstanding wines of the local vineyards
-visit to a water mill which has been grinding wheat into flour since the 1690s, a process that results in flour naturally low in gluten
-visits to many small, beautiful villages: Castellammare del Golfo, Castelbuono, Novara Da Sicilia, Montalbano Elicona, Favara, Santa Anastasia, SantAngelo Muxaro, Cefalu – walking and chatting with the men who congregate in the piazzas, enjoying a meal prepared by Annalisa in her home, gaining insight into their traditional way of life over centuries
-a special shout out to Italo, who guided us through Ortigia, Buccheri where we enjoyed a delightful lunch prepared by Sebastiano and his brother, joined in the celebration of St. Paul in the town of Palazzolo, a performance by a puppet master. Italo’s joy and zest for life were truly contagious.
I could go on. This was a trip of a lifetime. We returned home with a deeper understanding of the Sicilian culture, their love and loyalty to family, a well-deserved pride in their diverse and complex history, and their vision, hopes and dreams for the future of Sicily. While 26 days seemed more than adequate, we have continued to talk about our next trip to this beautiful island. With deepest gratitude to you, Marcello, for creating a truly outstanding itinerary, and your amazing team of guides and drivers and all those who made this an unforgettable experience.
Southern Africa safari: Namibia & Botswana
ELANE ZELCER | JULY 14, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Wonderful Namibia & Botswana!
I can’t thank Frankie and Cherri enough – their attention to detail was perfect, and Frankie’s responsiveness was very helpful, particularly given our concerns during the pandemic. This was my and my travelling companion’s first visit to Africa and it hit all the right spots: Our high-quality, friendly and helpful guides ensured that we saw and learned about new places, the people, wildlife, history and geography, and that we had opportunities to photograph the wildlife and extraordinary vistas.
Accommodation everywhere was very, very good. In Namibia from Galton House (delightful, friendly, helpful) to Dead Valley Lodge (great location, wonderful people, very comfortable, good food) and the hotel in Swakopmund (also a great location, lovely rooms, very helpful staff, good food options), and then our transfer to Botswana, everything worked well and was handled with a minimum of fuss. Our stays at Splash Camp (Okavango Delta) and San Camp (Makgadikgadi Salt Pans) were very, very comfortable – the ultimate in glamping.
Flying in light planes allowed us to see the country unfold below, and sight elephants, giraffe and hippos from above – lots of fun.
Our guides knew what we wanted to see and photograph, and made it possible. From walking the dunes in Sesriem and Deadvlei, to driving over the huge ones along the coast on the Sandwich Harbour day trip – and having a flock of pelicans fly over us at Sandwich Harbour, and then follow us north along the beach – wonderful. The foodie tour in Swakopmund was very good, and the yummy cakes at Cafe Anton should be a stop on everyone’s visit. Because we had unusually warm weather with strong winds, the Living Desert Tour time was changed, and we chose to not do this.
In Botswana they ensured we were comfortable and safe with only six of us in the 4WDs. In both locations we saw many animals, including elephants, giraffe, a cheetah, a leopard and lions around their recent kill. Ponchos with warm “bush baby” inserts kept us warm on the 5 degrees Celsius morning and night game drives.
Splash Camp was great from our first breakfast around an outdoor fire, to the singing from the camp’s staff at our last dinner. San Camp in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans was also excellent – what a beautiful place, and how interesting it was to meet and learn from the Kalahari bushmen and women. All dietary requirements were catered for – and that’s always appreciated. San Camp’s team surprised me on my birthday with a yummy cake (enough for everyone at the table), songs sung in their language with their beautiful voices, and even dancing – a very nice way to celebrate my birthday, and being there after a 2-year delay!
I had two “Out of Africa” moments (reference to the movie): one sitting on the outside veranda at Splash Camp and the other at San Camp, watching the glorious vistas, with Mozart & Beethoven playing on my iPad, and a delicious cup of tea. The only thing missing was Robert Redford!
Big thanks to all who helped make this amazing trip happen so seamlessly.
Morocco with teens: Marrakech, Fes & the desert
SARAH WIGGLESWORTH | JULY 13, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our family of 2 adults+2 older teenage boys just returned from a week in Morocco, organized by Radia Tehitahe. We had 3 nights/2+ days in Fes, 24 hours in the desert at Merzouga, and then 3 full days+nights in Marrakech. Radia organized us an absolutely fantastic trip! Our itinerary was a mix of sights, cultural visits, and food experiences – every day was different and packed with activity. She also built in time for us to relax or explore on our own. We connected by phone to plan the trip and went through 2-3 variations of an itinerary before finalizing. Radia asked great questions and gave me good choices for activities to choose from, understanding limitations on time/interest/cost. Once in Morocco, we had a terrific guide and driver for the week. Ahmed and Aziz took very good care of us: stocking the van with snacks good for our son allergic to nuts, accompanying us on extra walks, arranging a birthday cake and celebration for our other son, reserving spots for lunch or dinner as needed. We really appreciated the attention to detail throughout our visit as well as Radia’s and Ahmed’s recommendations for us as we went along. They nailed it! We won’t ever forget the sandstorm in the Sahara, or the gardens of Marrakech, or sunset over Djemaa Al-Fina, or the endless maze of the medina in Fes, or the Roman mosaics in Volubilis. It was a wonderful trip start to finish.
Costa Rica with three generations
RUTH ANNE LAWSON | JULY 13, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We returned Saturday, July 9, from a week in Costa Rica. This was our annual family vacaction and there were eight of us ages ranging from 4 to 68. Normally, we rent a big house somewhere in the US or USVI, but we wanted to see more of Costa Rica than we thought possible by staying in one location. I explained to Irene Edwards that we wanted to move as little as possible because picking up and moving every day or two with small children is a lot of work. Irene listened to our input and tailored a week that was nothing short of perfect for our family. We stayed at two very family-friendly resorts, Arenas del Mar near the Manuel Antonio National Park and then at La Paloma on the Oso Peninsula.
When we arrived in San Jose, Irene had escorts waiting to shepherd us through the airport. We are not unseasoned travelers, but having kids in tow changes things when traveling and it was invaluable to have escorts waiting to get us to our private airplane to the Manuel Antonio area. Irene suggested going private because she knew that, after a four hour flight, the little guys would be too weary of travel to withstand a three hour van ride. Don’t know about the kids, but the adults were seriously ready to get to the resort and the flight was a lifesaver!
Arenas del Mar is situated directly on the beach and has two swimming pools, obviously major kid attractions. The children loved it there. The resort featured kids’ movies in the evening with big beanbags for lounging and a popcorn machine nearby, so the little boys were thrilled. Irene arranged surfing lessons for the seven year old and his parents and the rest of us hung out on the beach while they had their lessons. Miraculously, they all were able to get up on the boards, thanks to the excellent instructors. They had a blast! Irene thoughtfully set aside plenty of down time for relaxing, but also planned enough activities to keep everyone happy. We had a wonderful naturalist in the national park and he was very patient with the little ones. One day, we took a boat ride through the mangroves around Damas Island and our naturalist spotted all sorts of wildlife for us and explained the different types of mangrove trees surrounding the islands.
After four nights at Arenas del Mar, we hopped in a van and were taken to meet a boat for the ride to La Paloma for three nights. The resort on the Oso Peninsula was accessible by water only. Meals are included and we were given three choices at each meal. The food was good home cooking, not pretentious and fancy, just plain good. The boys had kid-friendly options at each meal, too. Irene arranged a variety of activities for us and balanced activities with down time so that no one was frazzled and too exhausted at the end of the day. Tico, our naturalist, was our guide every day. He accompanied us on a snorkling trip, a walk in Corcovado National Park, and a night hike around the La Paloma property. He was so wonderful with the little boys and they got along famously with him. He is passionate about his work and it shows. Plus, he’s just a super nice man!
When we left La Paloma, we had a short boat ride to meet a van ride to the airport at Sierpe. From there, we took a short Sansa flight back to San Jose. We have wondered how it would have been possible for us to figure out all the logistics needed to make the trip possible with the infrastructure as it is in rural Costa Rica. We all agreed it would not been anywhere as seamless, if at all possible, without Irene’s knowledge and resources.
The family cannot stop praising Irene Edwards for her intuitive planning. I am quite sure everyone will still be talking about this travel adventure for years to come. Our hope is that our children and their children will learn two concepts from our travels as a family. We want them to understand the importance of strong family bonds and, at the same time, learn about the world as the larger family that we are all a part of.
Egypt: foodie’s Cairo, Nile sailing & a WOW Moment…
BARBARA PALTER | JULY 11, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our family just returned from an outstanding 12-day trip in Egypt…finally…third time is definitely a charm!
To start, I can’t say enough about Jim and his team. We had been planning this trip for some time and with slight trepidation due to Covid but complete assurances from Jim that we would be “kept whole” should there be any Covid related issues. We booked the trip with an anticipated travel date in December 2021. As our departure date approached, Canada decided to prohibit travel to Egypt. Jim was a man of his word and without much fuss moved our trip to the first week of May 2022. One week before our May trip, our whole family came down with Covid. Again, Jim and (the spectacular) Seema moved our trip to begin in mid-May.
The DAI team was truly meticulous with their communication, planning and execution. In each city, we were met by the local representative and guide. They provided everything we needed, answered all of our questions and tailored our time to best meet our needs.
We toured Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel and cruised the Nile on a Dahabiya. Each city was completely unique from the next – its own culture and vibe.
We all loved the dahabiya. The small sailboat had the ability to sneak in and out of smaller ports (beaches). That gave us the opportunity to visit small villages and interact with those who lived there. We even had a short soccer game with some children at their village schoolyard. A huge bonus was travelling for three days with 8 other travellers from various corners of the world. The food was great and the company was even better.
Food Tour with Bellies En Route in Cairo. Mariam, a young millennial, spent 3.5 hours with us walking and eating our way through the streets of Cairo. Most of these restaurants/kiosks were family-owned. The owners were super friendly and the food was beyond delicious. Not a joke when I say that it was the best food that we had eaten during our time in Egypt! I would highly recommend having Bellies En Route consult with you prior to visiting Cairo to help choose your dining options.
Over the years, our family has travelled with many of Wendy’s WOW advisors. We were lucky enough to have a surprise WOW Moment while in Aswan – a private dinner cruise! We were treated like royalty and enjoyed delicious food and a beautiful sunset. Thank you Wendy!
Croatia: cycling, culinary experiences, touring by private boat…
JULIE BARRY | JULY 11, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I am so glad that we traveled to Croatia this year and that we went when we did. We were there from June 10 – 19. Ala was our trip planner and she encouraged us to go before peak season if at all possible. That was great advice. We stayed in Split, on the island of Hvar and Dubrovnik and loved them all, but I can see how Split and Dubrovnik especially might feel a bit overrun with tourists by mid-summer.
Based on our desire to have some time to relax while traveling, Ala recommended we only spend one night in Split, then four nights at a resort in Stari Grad and three nights in Dubrovnik. That felt like the perfect amount in each and the hotels she recommended were great. We were especially happy she recommended the Hotel Maslina where we were able to rent a villa that was large enough for our whole family.
One of the things that stands out about the trip was that the logistics — the transfers, the guides, the dinner reservations, the activities we had scheduled — all came off without a hitch. Also, it seemed that the people we encountered from our drivers to the hotel staff seemed to know our itinerary and were helpful and friendly at each turn.
Ala offered us the option of a private boat transfer from Hvar to Dubrovnik instead of boating to the mainland and then driving. It was a splurge, but well worth it in that we had a day on a lovely boat on the Adriatic and were able to stop in Korcula for lunch. We also loved the cooking class we took just outside Dubrovnik as well as the day we spent cycling on Hvar Island. Our tour guide in Dubrovnik was one of the best we have ever had and did a great job explaining Croatia’s history — which is complicated!!
As for covid, we were not overly concerned about it by the time we travelled — flight requirements for negative tests had been lifted in both the US and Croatia. With that said, almost all of our dining was outdoors as were most of our activities so even if we had been concerned, I would have felt like we’d chosen a good destination. And as it turned out, we left for Croatia in good health and came home that way.
I would recommend both this trip and Ala.
African safari in Zambia, Tanzania & Kenya
JOE ROTHMAN | JULY 10, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Just returned from our 3rd month-long trip to Africa. Once again Cherri Briggs, Katie McDonough and their team delivered a trip that exceeded our lofty expectations. And the Wendy Perrin WOW Moment was the icing on the cake. Thank you Wendy. We stayed at 6 lodges in Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya. The four lodges in Zambia and Kenya were new and the two in Tanzania repeat visits. Every trip detail was planned and executed perfectly. We received special treatment along the way and are certain this is due to the relationships forged by Cherri and Katie. Our rooms were well located and our guides all outstanding. Seeing wildlife was a challenge this year and our guides met the challenge head on. We learned that cooler temperatures cause the wildlife to seek forested areas. And, the delayed migration resulted in higher grass. Both made seeing cats more difficult. So our guides located leopards in trees and looked for matted grass to find lions and cheetah. The airport VIP support was especially appreciated given the crowded conditions and various virus related checks. Finally, all handoffs occurred as scheduled. We look forward to our next African adventure supported by Cherri & Katie.
Italy: hiking in the Dolomites, relaxing on Lake Garda…
ALANA JACOBSON| JULY 10, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had a wonderful trip hiking in the Italian Dolomites (June 22-29)! We were very happy with our location, especially because the large cities are so crowded right now. We hiked for 7 days and oftentimes were the only ones on the trails. The scenery was unlike anything I have ever seen. Towering rock mountains, green fields filled with wildflowers of every color, lush forests, roaring rivers & waterfalls. Our favorite part was arriving at a cozy mountain Refugio and enjoying delicious food and drinks after a long day of hiking. Also, our bags were transferred to the different Refugios and hotels, so we didn’t have to carry huge backpacks. Sara also helped us set up a Via Ferrata experience with a great guide one day. What a hair-raising but amazing experience! We climbed about 2000 feet up a sheer rock face, clipped onto a metal cable with harness & helmet. I was very happy to have a knowledgeable guide! He made it all seem easy, even crossing a narrow suspension bridge thousands of feet above the ground!
After our active time in the Dolomites, we spent a few days relaxing in Riva Del Garda (6/29-7/3). A beautiful town on Italy’s largest lake. Then a quick one night in Verona, where we saw an opera (La Traviata) in the ancient Roman amphitheater. What an amazing experience!
Sara helped us organize seamless transfers as well. It was so helpful not to have to rent a car and figure out where and how to drive through the cities.
We loved our trip and hope to go back to the Dolomites to hike in summer or perhaps ski in winter!
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
France: Paris, Avignon, the French Riviera…
DAVID HALE | JULY 9, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL For our first major trip since Covid, France was a perfect destination. We had been to Paris a number of times in the past, but we had never explored the South of France or the French Riviera to any extent. What made this trip so special was having knowledgeable guides who would give us the background for what we were seeing. With guides lined up daily to show us the highlights of the area, there was structure for our days. After ten days in Paris we took the amazingly fast TGV train to Avignon, where we explored the South of France. We were there for five nights before heading to the Riviera. We had wanted to explore the coast hotels as well as some of the villages in the surrounding area. After five nights there our tour company recommended that we travel north again and spend our last night in Chantilly because of its convenience to CDG airport. That turned out to be very good advice. Everything about the trip was perfect! What stands out about the experience is the quality of the guides. Knowledgeable guides who were fluent in English make a big difference in the enjoyment of each day. Also, the quality of the hotels was impressive. We knew some of the important highlights in the City of Paris which we wanted to explore, but we knew very little about the South of France. Our tour company had specialists in the areas where we were traveling, so we relied on them to guide us in the selection process. Sorting out our preferences and fine tuning our selections seemed tedious at times, but our tour company was very quick to respond to our questions and assisting us in making decisions.
Traveling can be done on a shoestring, which is not the case when one selects a tour company. However, I feel the benefits of using a good tour company definitely justify the added costs.
France: retirement celebration in Paris, WWII remembrance in Normandy…
STEPHEN GORMAN | JULY 5, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My wife Andrea retired in April 2022 so I wanted to plan a special trip to celebrate the conclusion of a 35-year career in healthcare management. After learning about the Wendy Perrin WOW List I reached out to one of the suggested travel planners that specialized in France, Jennifer Virgilio. I told her my goal was to put together an unforgettable trip to Paris and Normandy for my wife that would celebrate her father’s service in WWII and allow us to explore the wonderful and romantic city of Paris. During my first Zoom session with Jennifer it was clear that I had come to the right place. She immediately knew what we were looking for in an experience and provided valuable guidance as to the appropriate length of stay in both destinations. She also suggested some additional side trips and stops that looked amazing but ultimately we settled on three days in Normandy with a half day stop in Giverny followed by seven days in the heart of Paris.
Although we have traveled to other parts of Europe in the past, and own an apartment in a Tuscan hill town in Italy, this would be our very first trip to France. After sharing our preferences with Jennifer during several Zoom sessions we arrived at a final customized itinerary that was itemized and fully booked by Jennifer’s office well ahead of our trip. While one objective was to enjoy guided tours of the most important sites and destinations, we also wanted plenty of free time to explore on our own, especially in the heart of Paris.
Since this was also our first time working with a travel planner we both agreed that we would commit to the process and trust the experts. Thankfully, Jennifer and the team did not let us down as they presented a number of hotel, dining, sightseeing and tour options for every one of our 10 days, along with excellent descriptions of what to expect including the pros and cons. After several back and forth emails and Zoom sessions, Jennifer presented us with a truly personalized and comprehensive itinerary that was meticulously planned but not over-scheduled. Best of all it provided the balance we sought between private tours and free-form exploration.
Starting with Normandy we narrowed things down by selecting a hotel in Bayeux (the Normandy base recommended by Jennifer) with two full days set aside for the WWII sites. We also managed to include time on our day of arrival to visit Monet’s house and garden in Giverny plus enough time in Bayeux to visit the famous tapestry. While that may seem like a lot after a long flight from the US, the airport connection and Giverny stopover were seamless thanks to a “meet and greet” service that whisked us through customs to our private car for the day. After several hours exploring Monet’s wonderful home and gardens with time for lunch we journeyed on to our handpicked hotel in Bayeux (Villa Lara) where we were welcomed for three nights. While there are other very fine hotels in Bayeux, Villa Lara was a perfect fit for us combining a boutique family-run style with high-end luxury and best of all an A+ location in the downtown. Really this is one of the best located hotels in all of Bayeux.
For the rest of our stay in Normandy Jennifer arranged for us to spend two full days with Pierre, an outstanding private guide and WWII historian. We cannot say enough about Pierre and the moving experiences of visiting Utah and Omaha beach along with Point du Hoc and the US Cemetery. While we could have visited all of the sites on our own, the value of a knowledgeable guide cannot be overstated. Knowing that Andrea’s dad was a WWII veteran who landed in France a few months after D-Day, Pierre guided us through a very emotional experience with grace and compassion. He knew how to keep us moving so we could visit and see all of the important sites while giving us space to process our emotions and reflect on the history changing events that took place so many years ago. Given the large area that we covered in two days, it is hard to imagine doing this without the help of a guide or a travel planner.
The next part of our trip began with a high speed train to Paris for another meet and greet at the train station compliments of our hotel, La Reserve Hotel & Spa. Although this was a hotel we suggested for consideration along with a half dozen other wonderful options presented by Jennifer, she was very familiar with this small-form palace hotel in central Paris near the Plaza de Concorde. More importantly, her personal knowledge of the property and an understanding of what Andrea wanted for her first “Paris hotel experience” helped us choose La Reserve as the home base for the next seven nights in the City of Lights.
Jennifer also proposed a number of guided tours and dining options including a luxury gourmet dinner cruise called The Ducasse de Seine. Without a doubt this was one of the most spectacular and memorable meals we have ever had and will always be one of the highlights of our amazing Paris experience. Although there were lower priced dinner cruise options, we chose the Ducasse “Best View on the Seine” six-course dinner with champagne and wine pairings. While this experience is not for everyone, for those that want to feel like royalty for one glorious night in Paris it should be at the top of the list. Oftentimes these over the top dinners can be a disappointment but in this case we can truly say it was worth every penny. Thank you Jennifer and the Alain Ducasse team for a special night we will always remember.
Of course fine dining in Paris is just one of the many wonderful things we wanted to experience on this trip. Jennifer also selected several other bistros for lunch and dinner during our week along with private guided tours of the premier sites including the Louvre, The Orsay Museum, the Marais neighborhood, and Carnevalet Museum with food and wine tastings mixed in. Sadly, Notre Dame was closed due to the horrific fire a few years ago, so that was one site we could not enjoy. Also, by our choice we decided not to trek up the Eifel Tower, leaving that for another time.
However, with help from Gigiliana, the personal guide selected by Jennifer, we navigated through and around all of the main sites and museums with half-day private tours, leaving each afternoon for exploration on our own. We also had two free days during our week long stay, including an afternoon for a spa treatment at our hotel. Without question the private walking tours and dining options were just what the doctor ordered for our way of travel. Also, Gigiliana made sure each and every tour (we had four of them with the same guide) ended in a place where we could easily extend the experience on our own. On two occasions she stayed with us beyond the allotted time and went above and beyond to make sure we found our away around. As with Pierre in Normandy, Gigiliana, the Paris tour guide selected by Jennifer, was a great fit.
If we had to do it all over we would keep everything the same except for a prix fixe dinner at L’Oiseau Blanc and a half-day “Discover Paris” tour by car. After our dining experience on the Seine, a second five-course gourmet dinner was not needed and the touted view from the top of the Peninsula Hotel was only for a few tables. Also, the menu was very limited and the pricing of the a la carte choices made them not much of an option. For the car tour the time spent was valuable but not the way we like to see things. However, it did provide an overview of central Paris that we were able to draw upon especially during our free exploration time.
Obviously if you cannot tell by now our trip and experience with the Wendy Perrin WOW List and Jennifer was a huge success. We enjoyed the trip of a lifetime and will use these services again, especially when we are exploring new places outside our Tuscan comfort zone.
Rome & the Amalfi Coast with teens
DEBBIE WOODBURY | JULY 5, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our trip to Rome and Amalfi was a perfect family vacation with our teens. We had a golf cart tour of Rome enabling us to see so much that we otherwise couldn’t have fit in. The guide took great family photos of us at all the stops and was very knowledgeable about the history of each place. Note that if you want to see the inside of the Pantheon, you need to make a reservation. We absolutely loved the gluten-free cooking class arranged by Jennifer, Mara and Maria. The kids were impressed that they were able to cook such delicious food. Our visit to Pompeii was a highlight. Our tour guide Costanza made it so interesting for a teenage audience. Our stay in Amalfi was incredible. We loved our hotel, the Borgo Santandrea. it was beyond amazing. Breakfasts on the gorgeous terrace were a highlight as was the beach. Mara arranged a day on a private boat which stopped for lunch in Nerano and the grottos near Capri. The crew was wonderful and the day lovely. Everything about our trip was made easy and our country experts were always responsive. We cannot recommend them highly enough.
France with a teenage granddaughter
DIANE STONE | JULY 5, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Working with Jennifer and her team was an unparalleled experience. Our trip to France with my nearly 14 year old granddaughter was a special gift for her and, after COVID shutdowns, a welcome treat. The menu of experiences Jennifer tailored to someone of her age and interests was unbelievable. My granddaughter was able to select exactly what interested her and the outcome was dazzling. The level of service Jennifer’s office provides, with a 24/7 contact in Paris who communicates the daily itinerary in the late afternoon each day, answers questions and clears up any issues, however small, is extraordinary and immediate. The skill and contacts of the airport greeter they arranged to get us onto our plane in the midst of the CDG Airport strike this past weekend defies description. People were waiting on long lines for hours and we were checked in, whisked through Border Patrol and Security in what felt like seconds and in the Lounge in no time. Jennifer’s team operates in several European countries. I will certainly seek their services whenever I travel to any of them and I recommend everyone doing so uses them. Your experiences will be unforgettable. It is an extraordinary company and Jennifer Virgilio is a pure pleasure to deal with. This is high end travel at its best!
Switzerland: meeting musicians, farmers, authors, clock makers…
ANDY KAPLAN | JULY 3, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We worked with Nina to plan a trip for my wife and me to Switzerland. It was a bit of a late planning session because our original plans to go to Japan were cancelled due to Covid.
Nina was terrific! The trip went well beyond our expectations. Switzerland is a bit under the radar and I think not that well known, but it really should be!
Nina planned us a wonderful two week trip taking us to 4 different regions of the country. I didn’t really understand that the regions were *so* different – Swiss German, French, Italian – and the itinerary and guides really gave us the flavor and appreciation for each area and the unique county as a whole.
Nina was amazing at taking into consideration our personal interests, traveling style, and Covid concerns. For example, we went to some less visited areas and never stayed less than 3 nights in a hotel (both important to us). She listenend closely to our goals for level of activity (vs. relaxation), guided time (vs. on our own), and the overall amount of scheduling. It was a great balance, just what we were looking for.
The guides were excellent – highly knowledgable, engaged, very happy to have any (and all) discussions….and they obviously love their country and showing it to us.
The experiences Nina planned were all fun, enjoyable, and enlightening. Some examples: During our visit to the Appenzelle, we had a chance to meet some musicians and farmers and spend real time talking with them about what they did. During our time in Neuchatel, we visited a family-owned clock master repairman—who had invented a unique clock. In Interlaken, we experienced Jungfrau with a great local mountaineering guide, we went to a special cheese manufacturer in Emmental (with a phenomenal lunch and cheese tasting in the staff dining room), and we took a hike with an author that had written a bestseller about Swiss culture for outsiders. Finishing in Ascona was a great and relaxing conclusion where we could rest and enjoy the lake and rich Italian culture.
When we ran into a transportation hiccup (cancelled train), Nina quickly made alternate arrangements, even before we knew there was a problem. She also added a couple of last minute things we requested when we were already on our trip (e.g. paragliding) with excellent providers.
We could go on forever — it was a really great trip. And we brought home 25 pounds of chocolate to boot! (Turns out all our guides had their favorites among the many boutique chocolates made in Switzerland.)
Paris with a WOW Moment
KEVIN HANEY | JUNE 30, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Nancy and I were fortunate to have spent a week in early May in Paris, which is one of our favorite cities to visit. We were even more fortunate to have Jennifer and her team assist us with planning this trip. This was the fifth time we have used Jennifer for a trip (3 in France and 2 in Italy). Like all of our other trips with Jennifer, we had a great time and some wonderful experiences.
The highlight of our trip was the WOW Moment Jennifer arranged for us with a tour of some quintessential gardens in Paris with our guide David. We had a great time with David as he provided us with a fun and educational experience. David was always looking out for us and made sure that we enjoyed this WOW Moment. Jennifer also arranged some other wonderful experiences including an after-hours tour of The Conciergerie, a before-hours visit to the Louis Vuitton Foundation, a special tour of the Opera House and a fine tour of the Pinault Collection at the Bourse de Commerce.
One of the great things about using Jennifer and her team is that they check in daily to make sure that you are enjoying the experiences they arranged and to see if they can help you with anything. They also make the entire experience go seamlessly from having an airport greeter to transportation while you are in the city. Jennifer suggested a great place to stay at Le Bristol Hotel and even arranged for us to have our Covid-19 test at the hotel before we returned home (at present, no longer required). With all our trips together, Jennifer knows how we like to travel and makes the planning process thoroughly enjoyable. Jennifer and her team always had time for us and responded quickly to us even though they were extremely busy because of so many people wanting to travel.
We were very lucky to have Jennifer and the team arrange our recent trip to Paris. We will use absolutely use Jennifer if we visit any of the locations which she arranges travel experiences
Croatia: private yachts, hiking, culinary experiences…
ANDY ROBINSON | JUNE 28, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We (two couples) just returned from a spectacular 12-day trip to Croatia arranged for us by Ala over 18 months ago. Our ambitious itinerary was meticulously planned with short stays in Istria, Plitvice, Hvar, Split and Dubrovnik, including a small number of guided historical tours, a truffle-hunting demonstration, a 6-mile hike in Plitvice (breathtaking, unspoiled beauty), two half-day private yacht excursions (totally indulgent and totally worth it), two wine tastings (one would’ve been sufficient), a fantastic cooking class in Split (do not miss this under any circumstances, even if you don’t cook–Chef Jzelko is great), oyster tasting in Ston (do not miss this either, the fresh cooked mussels are delicious too). Each of these activities exceeded our expectations.
There is no shortage of good food in Croatia and the list of restaurants provided by Ala was extensive. Every place we went to had courteous staff, interesting takes on fresh seafood and often the owner was working the tables so we got first-hand insight to preparations, technique and often, free wine, prosciutto and grappa samples. The Croatians (all speak English) are enthusiastic about their food and wine, as are we, so that added another dimension to the experience. Do go to Giaxa in Hvar, Tramonto in Istria, Bokeria in Split, Konoba Dubrava for peka and Proto for seafood, both in Dubrovnik.
The hotels were also excellent, offering 5-star service and amenities with easy access to the Adriatic (Istria, Hvar, Dubrovnik) as well as the pool and short walks into town. The staff were attentive, rooms were clean, views were gorgeous. The Grand Park in Istria and the Excelsior in Dubrovnik were our favorites but we are really splitting hairs. They were all top-notch.
Despite the complexity of our itinerary, Ala and her team ensured that we had flawless connections and transfers, even arranging a last-minute pick up in Venice to get us to Istria after a missed connection that was supposed to get us to Zagreb (a very long and stressful story–get the full Cranky Concierge flight monitoring service–indispensable these days). Cannot emphasize enough the importance of the drivers–they take all the stress out of making connections so that you can focus on your trip. Talk to them, they are eager to brief you on local history and are a lot of fun to chat with. Would also like to make a special shout-out to Natasa Lovic, Ala’s “in country” contact. She was essentially on-call for us and really saved the day with our blown connection. What could have been a nightmare turned out to be a non-event thanks to her. She also took care of a number of last minute restaurant changes and other items for us. Invaluable resource–very responsive and always had a solution.
As with previous trips, all of our guides were engaging and very knowledgeable, especially when we asked questions and showed some genuine interest in Croatia’s history, which is very complicated. This is the key to maximizing your experience with the guides and it adds a whole new perspective to your trip.
All told, Ala and her staff put together the complete experience for us. We cannot say enough good things about her and our trip. None of us wanted to leave, which is the hallmark of a successful vacation, and Ala made it happen. Can’t wait to go back.
Kenya & Tanzania safari with private vehicles
YADIRA PEDRAZA | JUNE 28, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL JMy daughter and I just returned from the most amazing trip to Kenya and Tanzania. The trip was organized by Linda and Kathy. I contacted Linda approximately 11 months ago to inquire about an East Africa safari. She immediately returned my call. It was clear from my first conversation with her that she knew this area and was “no-nonsense” about her advice. Linda proposed 2 itineraries of various lengths. After choosing one itinerary, she set up all the lodges, transfers, meals, hot-air balloon ride, and guides. We did not worry about a thing—and it all worked out without any problems. Due to different and ever-changing Covid requirements, I was concerned about travelling to more than one country.
Kathy was on top of each country’s entry rules and was able to put my mind at ease (and luckily, the US got rid of its testing requirement while we were on our trip). Once we arrived at each destination, I had no Covid concerns – we had private vehicles and were out in the open at all times. Some special moments: our guide Freddy (just wonderful), the jaw-dropping view at Angama Mara, the “talking shower” at Lemala, the vastness of the Serengeti, the flowers at Gibbs Farm and most important—the time I got to spend with my daughter on this unforgettable trip. Thank you to Linda and Kathy!
Scotland & Ireland: magnificent hotels, expert private driver/guides…
JUDITH RODWELL | JUNE 28, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL After two years of waiting to re-book our Scotland/Ireland trip with Jonathan, we were ready to leave behind the reality of COVID, meet warm and generous folks, and experience the wonder of our world.
Driver/guides, from kind-hearted Neil Spowart and dry-witted Robert Mcelwee in Scotland, to youthful Jordan Schmidt in Ireland, became fast friends and wonderful ambassadors for their countries. Treacherous, single-lane roads were no problem for them and while they kept us safe, we were happy to watch indescribable scenery pass by. How many different ways can you express the word “beautiful”? We were simply filled with awe. All three drivers tapped into our sense of adventure, making diversions from our itinerary, exploring less traveled mountain roads and stopping often for photo opportunities and walks. Three different drivers came down with COVID the day before we expected to meet them but these three incredible substitute drivers were found overnight. Pandemic related problems were quickly solved as Jonathan only works with the best companies.
Jonathan has relationships with magnificent hotels and we entered each one with excitement. Stately Culloden House, thank you for your kindness, and a shout out to Stephen for figuring out a way to retrieve items we had left in Edinburgh! Glenapp Castle welcomed us with beautiful gardens, views of Ailsa Craig, and attentive staff. What a magical place overlooking the sea and what a glorious sunny half-day boat ride and tour of Ailsa Craig we had!
In Ireland, Killarney Park Hotel gave us the best hotel greeting of the trip, with warm smiles, elegant rooms, lit fireplaces and the feeling of being in a real home. How fun it was to do a Jonathan-provided perk of an Irish Whiskey tasting in the library our last night there! Thinking no hotel could top Killarney Park, we made our grand entrance into Ashford Castle and felt like royalty coming home. We experienced good food, sumptuous rooms, walks in gardens, a lake cruise, and a juice sommelier at Breakfast! But the Hawk Walk at Ashford and the wonder of communing with a hawk, seeing it fly off your hand and return, filled us with such childlike joy. What a perfect ending to to a life-affirming trip!
Thank you Jonathan and Katie for orchestrating a magnificent tour for us! Our spirit of anticipation of what would be down the road continued from start to finish and we were never disappointed! And thank you Wendy Perrin for always introducing us to the world’s best travel experts!
Amalfi Coast with teens: private beach clubs, secret grottos…
ELIZABETH CRAWFORD | JUNE 28, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL After having to cancel several European trips during these pandemic years, it was a joy to finally return to Italy. Andrea’s office did a great job of planning our tour of the Amalfi Coast. We would have skipped Naples, but Andrea insisted in our planning Zoom meeting that we spend time there exploring the rich history. Boy was she right! Our excellent guide, Maria Luisa, walked the city with us pointing out the layers and layers of diverse and multicultural contributions to this unique and ancient city. We learned so much appreciation for Naples from her and had the best pizza of our lives! From Naples, we traveled by ferry to Capri, where we were met by drivers in these outrageously fun cabana cars. I wish I could attach photos but imagine convertibles with striped awnings overhead for shade. They had great style. As did everything in Capri. We loved the accommodations that Andrea arranged for us in Capri. Our hotel was gorgeous, filled with outstanding contemporary art and a sublime pool – but the views from our rooms and private patios were perhaps the most spectacular. We spent a day at the hotel’s beach club, relaxing on private Christian Dior-appointed lounge chairs, swimming in the Mediterranean, and eating fresh seafood. Probably one of our family’s best days ever spent on holiday. Next we traveled by private boat up the Amalfi Coast to Positano. Our Captain, Paolo, and his mate Salvatore, cruised us along the gorgeous coastline, stopping to let us swim and explore grottos at leisure. Paolo persuaded us to skip the more crowded spots and took us to his secret blue grotto, a cave with gorgeous blue lighted water tucked into the coastline. The boat ride was cool on so many levels (thanks in part to Paolo’s 80s soundtrack). Arriving in Positano, we were reminded that we were not the only people who were excited to return to traveling this summer. The narrow streets were jammed with tourists, and the crowds were huge. Our hotel on top of the hill was appreciated for its remote location away from the busy port. We were grateful Andrea arranged for us to have a driver, Roberto, drive us along the famous coastal road. Roberto was experienced and full of information, but also extremely kind. When my daughter felt car sick, he treated her with great care and understanding for which we were grateful. We asked our hotel concierge for an escape from the crowds and they arranged a water taxi to a private beach club along the coast. We had another great day swimming in the Mediterranean and felt better with fewer people pressed around us. The crowds reminded us that Covid cautions have relaxed and we flew home without having to test for Covid as we originally planned. Flights were a challenge. Having had good experience with Wendy’s recommendation in the past, we enlisted Cranky Concierge to help oversee our flights. Their team was on top of cancellations and delays for us, and although we got home later than planned there were no unwanted layovers. We have learned to trust Wendy’s WOW List for ease of travel and guiding us towards those special experiences that only an insider can arrange. Well done Andrea!
Spain: foodie tours, Roman ruins, flamenco…
DAVID RAND | JUNE 26, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Fantastic trip to Spain, executed perfectly by Virginia and her staff. Thank you!!
I’ll start by saying our itinerary was pretty complicated, however the execution was flawless and impeccable. Our itinerary included multiple domestic flights around Spain, several day trips from Barcelona, Mallorca and Madrid, and daily private tours activities (many involving private transportation) all arranged by Virginia’s team. EVERYTHING (I mean 100%) was executed with perfection. Every driver was prompt/friendly and each of our personal tour guides were fun, knowledgeable and great people to meet. They all spoke very highly about Virginia and her team – she is a legend in Spain!!
Our trip planning, which started with a call about our trip vision and likes/dislikes, continued over numerous emails. The planning process was seamless, interactive and fun. The team provided wonderful feedback on our ideas and numerous suggestions which resulted in a fantastic trip. The entire team was incredibly responsive throughout the entire process.
We can’t wait to go back to Spain and will most definitely be utilizing Virginia and team for our next trip.
Some of our highlights (for other travelers):
* Lifestyle tours – we did these in every city we went and asked for these to be tailored to focus on the different foods of Spain, shopping, day-to-day living, food markets, interesting specialty stores, insider tips and other locals-only places we would have never known about
* Day trip to Girona – fabulous city about an hour from Barcelona. Loved it! Fun fact: scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed here
* Mallorca – especially Palma and our day trip to Valdemossa. Also LOVED the St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort (best service at a hotel I’ve ever had and I’m a service snob)
* Day trip to Segovia – Roman aqueduct built 2,000+ years ago; castle that’s said to have inspired the castle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom
*Corral de la Morería in Madrid. The most famous and prestigious flamenco tablao in Spain.
France & Spain: insider access to private clubs, local celebrations…
GINA MELTON | JUNE 26, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Jennifer and her team planned a wonderful itinerary to enjoy the Basque region of Spain/France as well as time in Bordeaux. This is our third trip with her, and this trip was consistent in the high quality we have become accustomed to with Jennifer’s team of planners. We really enjoyed our guides. One was able to get us in to see one of the San Sebastián area’s famed “social clubs” and showed us around the Basque seaside town he grew up in — which included entrance into a hotel not open to the public where the only tapestries Paul Reubens designed reside. The bonus was observing the town’s Corpus Christi celebration. In Bordeaux, our guide was very well versed in wine and gastronomy — the cousin of a *very* famous French chef (don’t want to out him here!), his knowledge of food and wine was unparalleled, and he was well versed in the history and culture of the region too. I could add so many more special moments from our trip, but ultimately the guides’ deep knowledge added so much nuance and depth to our experiences. We made many cherished memories.
Venice: an insider’s experience
SARAH JESSUP | JUNE 24, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Jennifer and Chiara planned a terrific trip to Venice for our family of two adults and two older teen age boys. We went in mid June for a week, and wanted to have something structured and locally meaningful to break the occasional randomness of our own explorations. Jennifer had a lot of suggestions when we met online a few months before the trip and we went over them before selecting just a few. We had a pizza, bruschetta, and gelato making class with Michele one day for around 3 hours. We got to see his apartment in an area of town we would not have traveled to, and all had a lot of fun. We also had a private tour of the islands with Alvise; we were met at our airbnb apartment by motor boat and went out to Burano and Murano and then slowly through the canals. Alvise knows a ton about the city and was a thoughtful and really terrific guide. Seeing the city from the water (and not just on a vaporetto) was wonderful and gives you a great perch to see the different sites; going out to the lagoon was also really interesting for getting a sense of the geography of the islands. Lastly, Chiara selected a restaurant for us for an anniversary dinner that was fantastic and one I never would have found on my own. The inside knowledge the travel planners have is invaluable and can make a trip really unique, plus they take some of the planning out of your hands which can be hugely welcome. We were able to choose just a few things from the long list they offered and they were among the highlights of the trip. One great part about having these different guides is the opportunity to meet local Venetians and ask them lots of questions about the city.
Portugal: private Douro river cruise, Lisbon beyond the tourist sites…
MINA MILLER SABRITT | JUNE 24, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to Portugal that Gonçalo and Joana organized for us. Our itinerary of nearly four weeks began with a short restful stay in Comporta to recover from jet lag, then continued to the Algarve, Alentejo, the Douro Valley, Porto and the surrounding area, Coimbra, the West Coast and finally five days in Lisbon. With the help of Gonçalo and Joana we experienced places we could not have discovered on our own, and we came away with an appreciation of how varied this beautiful country is. Gonçalo and Joana planned the itinerary with attention to our interests and needs. We’re still very cautious about Covid exposure when we travel, and they made sure to help us avoid crowded indoor spaces without isolating us from people and places. Some of the most memorable stays were in small places like Belmonte, where we explored living connections with Portugal’s Sephardic Jewish legacy, and Marialva with its haunting solitude. In the Douro Valley there was a private river cruise, and a highlight in Lisbon was a private sailing on the Tagus. Our driver throughout the trip, João, was marvelous – thoroughly professional, accommodating, helpful in countless small ways, and an excellent driver. Our local guides were all knowledgeable. We especially appreciated Claudia, our guide in Lisbon, who helped us get a glimpse of life in the city beyond the usual tourist sites.
Sicily for a milestone anniversary
EILEEN RICKS | JUNE 22, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Just returned form three weeks in Sicily celebrating 50 years of marriage. This could not have been a better choice for our milestone. Matteo organized our trip to perfection. We did not rent a car and the drivers that were provided were always timely, professional and used very comfortable cars. Our many activities and experiences were too numerous to mention separately but all exceeded our expectations for local expertise. This was a trip of a lifetime. We spent our time in the southeast plus Salina island with days on our own here and there. We also kept our activities to mostly half-days. This pace suited our age and energy. We were very happy to have had Matteo as a local organizer and think that made a huge difference in our very enjoyable time in Sicily.
Small-ship cruise: Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Denmark & Estonia
PATRICIA MOODY | JUNE 22, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Tom was helpful, prompt and professional as usual and we would definitely book with him again.
I’m so glad our family of six decided to travel to Europe and take a Scandinavian cruise in late May and early June on Windstar’s Star Legend. We had a few glitches with our air travel, but that was not the fault of anyone but Delta. We sailed from Amsterdam to Stockholm and were in the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Estonia. People there are living their lives freely and without any COVID restrictions. At one point, the cruise director was diagnosed with COVID and in isolation, but he was fine a few days later and back at work. And I’m not aware of anyone else on the ship being ill.
We loved the Norwegian Fjords – a wonderful cool break from a hot summer here in the U.S. and I have never seen so many waterfalls!
Since you asked for tips, here are a few random ones:
• I did learn that late May and early June are best there as the crowds in July can overwhelm the small villages where the ships dock.
• Mariehamm is an unusual stop for a Scandinavia cruise, but is lovely and another good reason to choose a smaller ship for this cruise.
• I will NEVER again use Trip Advisor / Viator to book a tour/excursion. While in Stockholm, we used a lovely Viator guide to see Drottningholm Palace. The price of the excursion was changed after the booking. When I tried to pay for the additional cost with a VISA, I was told by Viator (not our individual guide) that I would be charged an extra 24 percent for simply using a credit card. When I politely protested about this exorbitant extra fee, the Viator manager by phone accused me of trying to cheat him!!! Viator, never again.
Peru: a family trip focused on food, hiking and Machu Picchu
SAMUEL LADA | JUNE 21, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our recent trip to Peru was a trip of a lifetime. With concerns regarding European crowds, Eastern Europe conflict and COVID, we pivoted somewhat last minute and looked to South America for a long awaited trip.
Marisol and her colleague Mark put together what proved to be an incredible time. Mark reached out promptly following initial contact, listened very clearly to our interests focusing primarily on food and hiking, and tailored a trip, spent largely in the Sacred Valley and Cusco, that aligned nearly perfectly with our family’s goals. Mark guided us on choosing appropriate activities, lodgings and dining. He presented options, offered pros/cons, and after getting to know us, made ideal suggestions. He steered us from crowds and minimized risks of altitude and COVID illness. Mark took care of all the details, including booking connecting flight and train tickets, coordinating complicated Machu Picchu arrangements, managing high end restaurant reservations, ensuring hotel rooms included connecting rooms, and setting up all ground activities. He also advised all establishments of food preferences and allergies that proved very helpful. After arrangements were made, he provided detailed itinerary information in communication including a useful phone app that was quite helpful during our trip. Costs were clear and understandable. Lastly, prior to arrival, Mark coordinated a group communication thread with folks on the ground to make sure we were all on the same page.
Once on the ground, things were seamless. Delayed international arrival?, no worries, they changed connecting flights to ensure we didn’t miss flights. Mark had a representative at each airport arrival and departure to ensure smooth transitions. Hotels and restaurants expected us, knew our names and likes. Prearranged lunches were some of the best we’ve eaten, wrapped and labeled almost like birthday presents. Activities included things we never could have arranged on our own. Daughter hiking in hand with an alpaca, helping plow a field at 12000 ft in traditional garb with no other tourists in sight, ceremonial offering followed by picnic snack with traditional food with locals. Hiking at 15000 ft followed by another picnic lunch, creekside, in the sun, slight breeze, with arguably the best boxed lunch ever, when alpacas start meandering in the area. Early morning start, train ride toward Machu Picchu, getting off train early for 8 miles on the Incan Trail while our bags head on the train to the hotel, all permits and tickets and arrangements made. What could have felt contrived or cliche felt authentic and real. We didn’t feel like we were imposing, we didn’t feel guilty; we just felt like we could relax and experience.
While Mark created a framework for a great trip, it was primarily our guide Joaquin, that made it truly remarkable. Joaquin was an incredibly knowledgeable, friendly and reassuring presence. Always prepared and on time, Joaquin kept things organized and moving, while affording us flexibility, time and fun. He would give us the Quechuan name for a plant, followed by its Spanish name, then it’s Latin name. He knew all the birds, all the constellations. He pointed out details on hikes and drives that played on our interests. He knew of well more than Incan history, and would often connect things to relatable American and Indian themes. He dropped a Tupac Shakur reference. He advocated for us with vendors, supported our kids in hiking endeavors, tuned the radio to stations we would enjoy. Joaquin seemed genuinely interested in sharing his passion for Peruvian and Incan history with us while also taking the time to really get to know us and share some of his personal history as well. Around others, it was abundantly clear that Joaquin was on another level when it comes to guides- in more popular places we had people eavesdropping or asking him for significant advice.
In Lima, Mark’s team set us up with another guide, more of a food guide, that brought us to a fascinating market, a great gelato shop and then to a local restaurant, one we’d never heard of and would not have gone to, where we arguably had the best meal we ate in Peru- trying this and that including the best ceviche ever.
Only things in trip I would change would to have been perhaps a little less scheduled so as to have some more time to enjoy the wonderful hotels and relax just a bit more.
Italy: Florence, Milan, Cinque Terre…
FRANCIS GRUMBINE | JUNE 21, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our trip was from June 4 through June 18th and took us to various regions of northern Italy. The impetus for the trip was a wedding in Piedmont region followed by travels to the Cinque Terre then Florence then Milan. Only one of us had been to any of these places some 20+ years ago. The detailed planning of Andrea and her team was essential for this venture. All hotel reservations and travel reservations excluding airline tickets were set by the planners. Also an app was provided that made the daily plans easy to follow. Each of our venues included a guide to show us the sites. Each of these 3 guides could not have been nicer and more informative. The sites we visited were incredibly historic and our guides were most knowledgeable about the subjects.They moved us along comfortably, set up lunch at great restaurants and provided names and reservations for dinner as well. I cannot imagine trying to do this trip without these 3 persons.
When we plan our next trip I am sure we will use this team. Overall the trip was really fun, the accommodations excellent, the food and wine outstanding.
Alaska: Small-ship expedition cruise
PHIL HOCH | JUNE 21, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Just got back from Alaska on a National Geographic cruise we planned with the help of Ashton and his team, and we couldn’t have been happier. While we originally planned a land-based trip, the many lengthy conversations with Ashton helped us solidify goals and make this choice. The small ship size was perfect and the staff and crew were as great as the wildlife and landscape experiences. We saw whales, bears, more bald eagles than we could imagine, sea lions, seals, etc.
With Ashton’s help we picked a cruise that had the Covid protocols we felt safe with and I would highly recommend Ashton and the cruise to anyone.
Once you begin a dialogue with him, It is clear why Ashton is on The WOW List!!
Thankfully we didn’t have any issues or problems but we were confident Ashton would have been there and solved them easily.
Greece: Crete, Naxos, mainland adventures…
MARY POWERS | JUNE 21, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Faye was our travel specialist and she did a great job of identifying activities and places of interest for our trip to Greece. My son and I traveled together, with our trip starting in Athens. We had multiple private tour guides on our trip and all were truly knowledgeable and enhanced our experience. The most breathtaking place we went was Meteora, where we got to see close-up and personal the monasteries that were built on cliffs and how they functioned. The e-bike tour that we had there was incredible, especially the sunset, a true WOW Moment! On the island of Naxos, we were impressed with the food and the River Walk Hike. On the Hike, our guide Thomas led us through the back country to unique places off the beaten path and showed us things like the old Water Mills as well as the different plants, wild herbs and vegetables that cover the landscape. We liked to hear how the locals make full use of these when in season. We had an incredible meal at Elliniko in the capital city of Chora. The catamaran day cruise was also an amazing experience with snorkeling and great food. On the island of Crete, we were totally blown away by the Blue Palace Resort & Spa – everything there, from the rooms to breakfast to the grounds, were so well done and over the top. The view from the resort looking out on Spinalonga was spectacular, especially in the mornings. And the meals we had in the nearby villages of Plaka & Elounda were outstanding, especially at the the Taverna Spinalonga and Lotus Eaters. Crete’s landscape was truly beautiful and unique. Would go back there again! Also, don’t miss the Knossos Palace and the archaelogical museum in Heraklion as they were really neat. The people in Greece were so inviting, easy to talk with in English while teaching Greek words along the way, and so generous when serving us their delicious meals. My son and I are now officially addicted to Tzatziki! Thanks so much for helping us plan this once-in-a-lifetime trip together!
Honeymoon in France
ISABEL ROTHSCHILD | JUNE 20, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Philip and his team planned the most incredible 3-week vacation for our honeymoon! Everything exceeded our expectations and we could not be more thrilled. Every hotel was unique and luxurious with fabulous accommodations and staff. We had several walking tours and wine tours, all of which were fantastic. The guides for each tour were extremely friendly and knowledgable. The overall itinerary was perfectly planned–we felt as though we had enough time in each city and we had a good combination of activities planned versus down time. The hotels chosen for us all had very delicious restaurants attached–some Michelin-rated.
Overall, our time traveling was seamless and without any road bumps. I greatly appreciate all the hard work Philip’s office put into planning our trip. They were flexible with altering the itinerary until it met our exact needs. The app they used for our itinerary was also extremely helpful! They went above and beyond to provide driving directions to each hotel and activity as well. This truly deserved 5 stars. Thank you!
Portugal with young kids
ALEXIS LIPSON | JUNE 19, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Booking travel for a family of four (our children were 4 years and 4 months) with two weeks’ notice is not an easy task, but Isabel took the challenge on without stress or strain. We had a very informative call and were able to narrow down our goals, then she sent me a handful of hotel options at each location. This proved to be an invaluable tool, because very quickly once she understood the types of accommodations we were looking for, she was able to put together a lovely trip that encompassed the vibes of each location chosen. The activities recommended were impeccably chosen, as were her recommendations on restaurants. She was communicative, flexible, and helpful at every stage.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
England: Cotswolds with a private driver/guide
RACHEL WEBBER | JUNE 19, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My mother and I returned last week from 10 days in the Cotswolds (June 5-14). Our trip was planned by Jonathan. This was our first time to use a trip planner and we weren’t sure what to expect. Jonathan and his team made everything go smoothly, from our airport transfers to dinner reservations, and we had exactly the trip we had envisioned.
During our initial consultation, we discussed what my mom and I wanted from the trip and listed our must-see sights. Jonathan then designed a trip where we based out of three beautiful villages (from small and remote Painswick and Lower Slaughter to bigger and more bustling Chipping Campden) and worked our way from south to north, ticking items off our sightseeing list along the way: Tewkesbury Abbey, attending Evensong service at Gloucester Cathedral, Sudeley Castle & Gardens, Kelmscott Manor, St Mary’s Church in Fairford, Hidcote Manor Gardens, Kiftsgate Court Gardens, and Blenheim Palace. One of the gardens we wanted to visit wasn’t running their normal tours because the head gardener was out on medical leave. At no cost to us, Jonathan was able to arrange a short private tour with the general manager of the property, after which we were left to enjoy a pot of tea in the magnificent garden.
All of our accommodations were outstanding (in fact one of them, The Painswick, couldn’t have been more perfect if we’d designed it ourselves), with superb locations, amenities and food. For our last night before flying home, we were booked at The Runnymede on Thames. Though only 10 minutes from Heathrow, it’s right on the river. After a long day of sightseeing and then driving back to London, we were able to spend one final glorious summer evening enjoying gin & tonics outside by the river.
Jon, our driver/guide, was a simply a gem. He was prompt, professional, knowledgeable and lots of fun! Ahead of our visits, he provided us with printed materials about our chosen sights so we could familiarize ourselves and make sure we didn’t miss anything that would be of interest to us. He booked lunches for us at wonderful local pubs so we didn’t waste valuable time looking for a place to eat or standing in queues. He chose beautiful scenic routes and stopped in several villages along the way so we could have a short ramble, and he gave us good advice on our plans for the days we were on our own. After a visit to Blenheim Palace on our final day, he drove us away from the tourist crowds to the little village churchyard where Winston Churchill is buried. This was the perfect way to end our trip!
Jonathan and his team allowed us to really relax and enjoy ourselves, making our “dream trip” a reality.
Portugal: Food, wine, small towns, castles on hills…
CHRIS LOPINTO | JUNE 19, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Gonçalo was wonderful in planning my trip to Portugal in early May. We planned a 10-day tour around the country focusing on food, wine, and cultural attractions that covered a diverse range of towns big and small. Lots of castles on hills and good wine along the way. Gonçalo knew the out-of-the-way places that made Portugal come to life, and the local knowledgeable tour guides to properly show them.
What’s even more impressive is he put together an amazing itinerary with little direction. I just told him I wanted to get the feel for the different regions of Portugal, only a month before my departure, and he put together an itinerary that was exactly what I was looking for. They even put together a list of restaurants I should dine at in each town I visited and gave me recommendations for where I should rent an apartment in Lisbon for the next part of my trip. I’d highly recommend him and his team to anyone who wants to experience this great country!
Italy: yachting on the Amalfi Coast, cooking at a Michelin-starred restaurant…
LISA MURPHY | JUNE 17, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Wendy, Thank you for another amazing referral!
Destination Italy – Matera –> Pompei—> Amalfi Coast. May 31-June 11, 2022
We had several phases of a complicated group and private trip to Italy for our “gang of 8” adults deferred through Covid, and finally we were able to travel in May 2022. Fortunately we booked our Amalfi villa accommodation before the 2022 travel demand explosion, but we hadn’t made most of the detailed arrangements re. logistics of transport of our large group, and our activities, and frankly I was exhausted trying. In steps Maria at T minus 1 month, with detailed recommendations, advice, and ultimately a well-organized, richly experiential itinerary (with a lot of moving parts!). The absolute highlight of our trip was a private tour of the Amalfi Coast by sea on the powerboat Sea Legend. Captain Leonardo and first mate Bianca were delightful, the sun was out, the seas were warm(ish) and welcoming, and the day was simply the best. A second high point, nearly as much fun as the boat trip, was the cooking class arranged at Michelin-starred Don Alfonso in the village of Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi. Chef Nicola was a charming teacher, and we actually ate the food we prepared! The Don Alfonso property and family proprietors could not have been more welcoming. The irony is that Don Alfonso was a last-minute substitution found by Maria and team for the originally planned class that had to be cancelled owing to unforeseen water issues. These were experiences I’m quite sure I would not have found on my own. Maria and her Italian colleague Cristina were also very flexible with short-notice adaptations to the schedule, which we very much appreciated. Another time I would come to Maria much earlier in the planning stages to let her do her magic for more aspects of a trip, but within the constraints I gave her, she and her staff were brilliant.
River cruise on the Seine, plus Paris
DENNIS GAGNE | JUNE 16, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My wife and I just returned from a Scenic river cruise—Normandy & Gems of the Seine with Highlights of Paris (5/22/2022 – 6/4/2022)—we scheduled through Tom. Tom and his staff did their usual excellent job and responded quickly to our questions and concerns, and there were many due to COVID. At Tom Baker’s recommendation we scheduled our own flights on Air France MIA to CDG non stop and return premium economy which were uneventful and on time. Scenic picked us up at CDG and took us to the Hilton Opera House in Paris for two nights before transfer to the Scenic Gem. The ship was at about 70% capacity; staff may have been a little less than our previous cruise but the room, service, food, drinks, entertainment and excursions etc. were all top-shelf. Staff led by Mandy, Mitch, Mikai were excellent. This was a great trip and is highly recommended.
Croatia: family trip with adult kids
MARK DALEBROUX| JUNE 15, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our trip planner for a 9 day trip to Croatia was Jay. (Caveat: We planned an eight day cruise on Katarina before COVID hit. After waiting two years, we coupled the cruise with a family trip so spent nearly 3 weeks in Croatia. Jay handled the family portion of the trip, June 4-13). Once Wendy connected us, the entire trip planning experience was seamless. Jay was professional, detail oriented but not bothersome. Even made personal phone calls to clarify our goals for the trip. He asked good questions to better understand what we were looking for and what our price point was. The personal website he built for us kept everything centralized and added tremendous value to the overall experience. Everything was right there in front of us, with extensive details on our hotel, the excursions, history of the country, the restaurants and very importantly, tipping directions. Even the payment process was on our website and very clear/concise. Jay was also very patient with us since planning for 5 is really a contact sport…..lots of ideas/preferences/wishes flying around. He never got frustrated with us or gave up trying to find the “perfect” group activity. And the trip was planned in a way that we could really just relax and enjoy. We never had to worry about getting from the airport to the hotel or finding our guide or getting on our boat. All of the directions were incredibly clear. Our timing was impeccable as we beat the summer crowds AND heat. We also dodged the COVID testing for return to the US by 23 hours! Lucky us. Croatia itself was spectacular. Unbelievably beautiful, the people really stood out. So friendly, so helpful and so engaging. And everyone had enough English to be helpful, since our Croatian is very, very bad! But I’d be remiss not to mention the superb food and wine. And of course the grapa. Drinking wine on a boat as the oyster farmer shucked fresh oysters for us had to be a highlight. A very important component of our trip was our local Croatian expert, Ivana Laca who we were introduced to about 30 days before our departure from the US. She turned out to be our friend….our hand holder….and our emergency kit. She was a true delight. She suggested restaurants and made dinner reservations for us. If it was too windy to sail, she was talking to us immediately regarding Plan B options. She made sure my sister in law’s birthday was a memorable evening and surprise. Even when our flights back home were cancelled, she was there immediately making sure we had lodging and a shuttle to the airport as our return plans “evolved.” Lots of special touches. She was truly a godsend. We’ve only been back a few days but we already miss Croatia and want to return. And everyone had a wonderful time…..no small feat when you’re dealing with a 29, 30, and 55 year olds….to say nothing of retired people like us. But there was something for everyone. (We did not hear one siren for three weeks, only saw two police cars, never saw a homeless person and felt totally safe everywhere we went, no matter the time). COVID felt like a non-issue though we did discuss with our Croatian hosts how hard the past two years have been for them. One final bit of advice. Bring Dramamine! If you are at all prone to motion sickness, between the boats and small, switchback roads, Dramamine was a vital component of our trip! We highly recommend Wendy and Jay…..and Ivana. I would use them again in a heartbeat. We had a wonderful family trip with pictures and memories that will last a lifetime.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Turkey: Istanbul, Ephesus, Bodrum, private sailboat…
TAMARA MCCARTY | JUNE 15, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Turkey. I have been dreaming about it since 2014. It exceeded my dreams. I had originally contacted Karen in the winter of 2020 and we had started working on an itinerary that combined our love of history and love of culture and water, especially water. Then Covid came and plans were dashed. I was a little hesitant to commit in early 2022 but spoke with Karen and her team and decided it was worth it. Also followed Wendy’s advice to get Medjet.
So the trip expanded in time because you only live once as Covid has taught us. Amazing, fabulous, and dream-fulfilling.
Each guide was so well versed and genuinely interested in us and our interests. Our guide in Istanbul took us to get local pizza, pide. And a real handmade Turkish rug. Our Ephesus guide actually worked on the excavation. The guide in Bodrum helped me buy a rare Turkish mineral zultanite ring. The Alcatsti guide helped us with wine and the Dacia guide took us to the local market. The drivers and driver guides were professional and always on time.
Now for the private gulet. Over the top and I felt so spoiled. Attentive to our requests, needs for naps after wine at lunch and the special attention to food and presentation. I want to go back!!!
Karen and her team are outstanding. Can I give 10 Stars? yes
Alaska small-ship cruise; Ecuadorian cloud forest
MARY RAE ROGERS| JUNE 14, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our cruise, “Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness” (May 14 – 21, 2022) could not have been more perfect. Aston’s team helped us choose the cruise line and the particular cruise so that we were able to have exactly the kind of experience we wanted. They also helped us with all the details when our cruise was cancelled (twice) due to covid. They helped us choose the right trip insurance, and made sure the insurance policy was transferred both times the cruise was cancelled. While it wasn’t possible for them to suggest any special “experiences” since it was an all-inclusive cruise, we wouldn’t hesitate to work with them again in the future. Having them handle all the details put our minds at ease and enabled us to really enjoy our trip to the fullest.
Spain: tapas, flamenco, city tours with flexible private guides…
CHRIS NYERS| JUNE 14, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Outstanding two-week trip to 5 cities in Spain. Entire trip was planned by Pablo. All planes, trains, and automobiles were coordinated flawlessly. The highlights of the trip were the guides he picked to take us through each city. Knowledgeable, experienced, easygoing, flexible. They brought an entirely new level of understanding to our travel experiences. Interesting anecdotes, stories, historical context, an understanding of art, architecture, culture, and even horticulture. COVID was a non-issue, by the way. Each city was 90+% vaccinated and everything was clean. Didn’t wear a mask except for a few small places. Testing prior to US return just ended, but that was a pain.
Madrid was fabulous. Next time we will spend more time there to see all 3 major art museums. Our itinerary: Madrid, Granada, Ronda (day), Sienna, Cordoba (day), San Sebastian, Barcelona.
Staying on site in the former monastery at the Alhambra was a unique experience. The gardens are stunning and the place is lush compared to how it looks in photos (like a desert). The nearby Sierra Nevada white-capped mountains were gorgeous. Barcelona was small and crowded, but Gaudi cathedral and park were not to be missed. Cordoba was rather touristy, so we should have allocated less time to there and more to Madrid and Seville. San Sebastian had the best food by far. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it was amazingly different from the rest of Spain. We even went to Southern France, which was only 20 minutes away.
Pablo arranged full-day tours and tapas food tours with local experts for us to sample the sites and food of each area. From flamenco dancing to scenic views, he made sure we didn’t miss anything. We didn’t have to navigate or get frustrated with travel schedules because he did all the planning. All 5 hotels (small, non-chains) were exceptional, centrally located yet away from tourists, with amazing amenities, location, views and service. Including breakfast was a nice way to start each day.
Pablo’s recommendations were perfect for us. He took the time to understand us as individuals, and was flexible as we adjusted the plan along the way. We came away with a much better understanding of how Spain really feels like several different countries and is worth exploring further. We are now thinking about scheduling a trip to Portugal with Pablo as our expert guide. Thanks to Pablo and all of our wonderful guides Alfonso, Ellie (Eli), Vicky, Paula, Marianne, Lola, Manfredo, and our numerous classy drivers including Eduardo, Francisco, Daniel, Pablo, etc.
Random advice to travelers: Carry your hotel name and address on a handy card to show to taxi drivers. Taxis were cheap within cities (~$6-12). Be sure to check whether hotels have instant coffee or Nespresso machines in the room. Makes a big difference to coffee lovers! First class on trains has 3 seats across; regular class has 4 seats. Otherwise, not worth double the price for each ticket. Take express trains when you can, and consider flying. Purchase tickets in advance (everything is online) to avoid waiting in long lines. We didn’t use cash the entire time, so no need for money changing. No place accepts dollars, but credit cards are accepted everywhere. Make sure your bank’s ATM doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee.
Take photos of local maps so you don’t look like a tourist if you get lost. Pickpockets were only an issue in Barcelona (be careful there).
Meal times are very different. Breakfast is an espresso. Lunch is at 2:30 or 3pm. Dinner starts at 9pm. There are separate shops to go for coffee, drinking, tapas, fine dining, quick meals, and they open and close at unpredictable times. Expect them to be closed when you are hungry. Tapas (small food plates) provide a good excuse for people to go pub hopping and socialize with different friends. We saw mostly the same food tapas menu everywhere, but some people go to 3-6 places in one night: Iberian ham, croquettes (yummy), bread with tomato topping, fried potatoes and chorizo topped with fried egg, gazpacho, tomato soup, Russian potato salad, fried calamari, garlic shrimp, fried anchovies, etc. Each tapa is ~4-5 euros (roughly $5). I recommend staying away from cheap pizza and hamburgers (most American food). Bring multiple charging adapters and USB hubs. You’ll need them!
Talk with locals whenever you can. They are the best part of Spain!
Bali: meeting artisans, temple visits, village homestay…
DIANA TAYLOR | JUNE 14, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL On a scale of 1-10, our trip to Bali was way over the 10+ level thanks to the detailed plans from our trip planner, Diane.
Although Bali was just opening back up for tourists, traffic on the island had not increased to pre-pandemic levels.
Happy with all decisions and extremely happy with Diane and her planning.
We were in three areas of Bali: Ubud-Tjampuan; remote NW region (Pemuteran, Menjangan); and eastern Bali (Candidasa villages) for last two weeks of May (between the rainy and dry season)
Diane’s plans and information were all very detailed including attention to COVID-related requirements. Bali’s COVID restrictions had just lifted before we arrived but everyone was wearing masks indoors and the Balinese population has a very high rate of vaccination. We did not have any problems but Diane was able to arrange mobile COVID testing for us in our small village the day before departure. Diane was very clear about requirements, details, our contract as well as advising trip interruption/cancellation insurance.
Diane definitely added value to our trip. Even though I had been to Bali many times, it had been 10 years since we had been there and we were taking some of our family who had time limitations. Diane created an ideal itinerary for us that allowed us to maximize our time and to experience the rich cultural practices and people of Bali. Diane has many contacts with the best people, places and experiences in Bali.
Although Bali is a tropical paradise with many beautiful beaches, that is not the reason to go to Bali. I wanted my family to experience their deeply communitarian culture where art, work, government, healing, spirituality, ritual and family life are integrated with few disparities across wealth, class and religion. The people truly live and resolve conflicts by karma, treating everyone with a caring respect.
Our trip was organized to experience Balinese people’s daily lives–we spent a couple of days in two different villages working alongside people doing their work (in the terraced rice fields), their art (making music, wood carving, puppet making, weaving), and cooking or preparing for religious/cultural festivals. We participated in a purification ritual and visited a body work healer. If we had more time, I would have wanted to visit a Tjokorda (a village leader/spiritual advisor). We visited many temples–our favorites being the Royal pools at Tirta Gangga, Temple Lempuhan, and the Bat caves at Goa Lawah. Another highlight was the very early morning (2 am) hike up Mt. Batur to see the sunrise.
We stayed only in Balinese hotels and avoided any of the international hotels on the southern end of the island. If you want beaches and large resorts, there are many other locations where you don’t have to take 25hrs to get there!
Everything is wonderful in Bali but avoid Kuta and Nusa Dua unless you like loud, drunk tourists. Instead, spend a few days in a Balinese village homestay–in the middle of a rice terrace–talking and learning from the Balinese.
Although we loved scuba diving on Menjangan Island in the remote NW part of Bali, I would probably skip this part of our trip unless you have more than two weeks. Or go to Nusa Penida for a couple of days and dive with the manta rays.
Regardless of how much time you have in Bali, you will always want more so use Diane to plan your perfect Bali itinerary.
Greece: Santorini, Crete, Paros
CYNTHIA KOUNARIS| JUNE 13, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We were thrilled with our trip. Our trip to Greece with friends and family was originally planned for April 2020 and, needless to say, cancelled last minute. We planned this new trip using The WOW List because of awesome past experiences and because we decided to go with relatively short notice (3 months) and visiting the Greek islands can be challenging, logistically. We were very happy with Faye and Stella, who helped us with all the preparation and with any and all issues, on site.
We took extra insurance to mitigate cancellation and covid risks.
The experiences and accommodations that I discussed with the planners were awesome. They listened to my thoughts and suggested great ideas that hadn’t occurred to me. The wine tasting and private catamaran trips in Santorini were spectacular. We also loved that we went to three islands that were each delightful and each so different from the others: Paros, Santorini, and Crete.
My only advice would be, for any tours/experiences, to be sure to get as much clarity as possible as to how much time you’d be in a car, how windy the roads, etc. We had a couple of people who were prone to motion sickness and 2+ hours in a car up hairpin mountain roads was not ideal. Also, be aware that on those inter-island ferries, you are pushing your own luggage up the steep gangway. Not easy with large pieces of luggage! And a foot injury!
Again, highly recommend using Wendy and her team; we certainly will for our future adventures!
Turkey: Istanbul & a private sailboat off the Aegean coast
RAMIN NOGHREIAN | JUNE 10, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My family is so happy that we went to Turkey. The timing was perfect. We went at the end of May to beginning of June for 2 weeks. It was not hot or cold. Karen put together a perfect itinerary for us. We wanted to spend more time in Istanbul and less on the gulet. She helped make that possible by changing the itinerary and the flights. She added so much value by choosing the guides and hotels in each city. We went to Istanbul, Cappadoccia, Izmir, and Bodrum. Tulay was our amazing guide in Istanbul with so much knowledge. She kept my 21- and 23-year-old adult children so engaged. They were so sad to say goodbye to her. She became part of our family.
Everyone should definitely experience the gulet. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Mehmet, Ahmed and Mustafa were terrific. We were given a five-star experience on a boat, by the food we were given, the way we were taken care of and felt so safe. They went above and beyond for us. We want to go back next year!
Vietnam & Cambodia: Angkor Wat with no crowds, chats with former North Vietnamese soldiers…
LISA RIGGS | JUNE 9, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had a terrific trip to Vietnam and Cambodia arranged by Sandy in early May 2022. Our original plan was to go in March but Vietnam was still getting its act together regarding visas. As it was, we got the visas a few days before we left. So we were among the very first American travelers to arrive in Vietnam after 2 years of Covid closure. They were very happy to see us. We went to Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Hue, and Saigon, and then to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Having come of age in the Vietnam War protest era, we were especially interested in history. Although our guides were born after the war, they shared family stories and experiences with us. We were also invited into the homes of former North Vietnam soldiers, sharing tea and rice wine. Their perspective was that the war was between governments and not people. As with all of our WOW List travels, the guides were intelligent, educated, interesting and personable. It was a pleasure to get to know each one of them and to have an ongoing information exchange about our respective countries and cultures. Being the first tourists was mostly a good thing. A few things were closed. But we had many places practically to ourselves. Angkor Wat draws thousands of visitors daily, during normal times, but we were able to see the temples with just a handful of others.
People were very conscientious about masking in Vietnam. In Cambodia it was optional. The food was excellent. We learned that coffee is big in Vietnam, and Vietnamese iced coffee is an amazing treat.
Sandy and team did a wonderful job of coordinating everything on the trip and juggling the few Covid-related snafus (couldn’t fly into Siem Reap, so we were picked up and driven 5 hours from Phnom Penh).
Indonesia: hiking, snorkeling, school visit…
NANCY KRITZER | JUNE 9, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Diane is truly the expert on Indonesia! We have traveled the world and back and I have to say this trip was not only an amazing adventure it was meticulously planned and and went off without a hitch. This was an excellent time to travel to Indonesia, as the tourists are just starting to return.
We traveled to Singapore, Yogyakarta, Bali, Komodo and Sumba Islands. I cannot say enough about the guides Diane chose, they were knowledgable, professional and truly kind. We climbed mountains, biked through rice fields, paddle boarded down rivers, learned to play new instruments with the locals, released turtles on the beach, went swimming with horses, snorkeled with the mantas, and found a few scary Komodo dragons! We also visited a clinic and school and sang and danced with the beautiful children! Everyone we met along the way left us with indelible memories.
This was the most incredible trip, thank you Diane, from the bottom of our hearts!
Italy: sailing the Amalfi Coast, pizza-making in Naples…
ADAM AMSTERDAM | JUNE 7, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had a wonderful 10-day trip to the Amalfi Coast, ending with a couple of days in Rome. Traveling in Italy at this point during the Covid pandemic is very much like being in New York City. Masks required in taxis and on public transportation, otherwise it feels very pre-pandemic.
Our travel experts Andrea and Marta planned a fantastic itinerary. We started in Positano at the Hotel Il San Pietro, which is like living in a dream. Our room, with a balcony overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, was perhaps the nicest hotel room ever. We spent a fun-filled day on a private yacht cruising the coastline, sipping Prosecco, and having lunch at a restaurant only accessible by boat. If you go to the Amalfi Coast you MUST spend time on a boat! Our private cooking class with Chef Peter was a blast. We learned so much about local ingredients and ate like royalty. The food and wines were delicious and abundant (maybe too abundant!), and his villa is a perfect location with gorgeous seaside views.
Ravello was a bit calmer than Positano and we had a lovely walking tour with Mena. One of the highlights of the whole trip was spending a day in Naples learning to make authentic Pizza Napoletana from one of Italy’s premier pizzaiolos (the same pizzaiola who showed Stanley Tucci how to make pizza). A once-in-a-lifetime experience! We also visited Italy’s only biodynamic buffalo mozzarella producer where we sampled the mozzarella, ricotta, and gelato, all made with buffalo milk.
We ended in Rome, where we’ve been many times. The Hotel de la Ville is in an perfect location and we had a palatial room with a balcony. It was perfect vacation start to finish.
Israel: meeting with local chefs, journalists, soldiers…
JEANNE LEE| JUNE 6, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Joe arranged the perfect trip. From the VIP service at the airport to the stargazing in the Negev Desert, Joe’s attention to detail was beyond reproach. During this trip we saw religious and archeological sites and so much more. Our WOW Moment was having Joe as our guide for four days and that translates as WOW times ten. Joe has a PhD in history. His background information was invaluable. It was very informative but not overwhelming. Gil Haran took over on day 5. Gil was the Head of National Tour Guides Training Program for the Israel Ministry of Tourism. Needless to say, he was an excellent guide. Gil has a PhD in archelogy and by the end of the trip even I could identify stones from the second temple period.
Joe arranged for my husband, ex-infantry officer who fought in Vietnam, to meet some reserve officers. At Kibbutz Hanita near the border with Lebanon we met Major Avraham Levine, a reserve IDF Intelligence Officer, who gave us the latest updates about the relations between Israel, Lebanon, and Hezbollah. We met with Eyal Droran an IDF officer and founder of the Israeli military aid project in Syria called the “Good Neighbor Campaign” at Fence Post 116. He gave us an in-depth geopolitical analysis of the situation in the Middle East. It was a privilege to meet these remarkable men.
We met with two journalists over breakfast. The first was Matti Freidman an Israeli-Canadian journalist and author. He was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press. Khaled Abu Toameh is an Arab Israeli journalist who is a producer and consultant for NBC news. Fascinating men with great insights.
Chef Tal prepared a gourmet picnic overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It was a meal that you would expect from a Michelin-starred restaurant. The day we spent at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem was amazing. We have done markets on other trips but this one was different. We had a local chef take us to his favorite shops for pastries, spices, coffee, wine, cheese, etc. After sampling the best that the market had to offer, we went back to the atelier for a cooking class. We helped prepare a meal and then sat on a roof top deck overlooking the market to enjoy the feast.
The visit to the Negev Desert was exceptional. The jeep tour into Machtesh Roman was specular. To add to the experience Joe arranged for us to have a private stargazing experience with a knowledgeable guide with a high-powered telescope. It was the best way to spend our last night in Israel. Wendy thank you for introducing us to Joe.
African safari: Botswana, Victoria Falls & South Africa
LYNNE GAYNOR| JUNE 4, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL BEST BEST TRIP – Perfect Itinerary, Magical Scenery, Spectacular Animals, Stunning Accommodations – we spent 19 days visiting Africa, during which we stayed in 7 different places and had 15 different flights – and it was all seamless, full of “oh can you believe this” moments.
I started working with Julian in 2019 for a 2020 trip, and, like many others, we had to reschedule twice before finally going this May. (Julian was fabulous each time with the rebooking.) I can say that Julian really listened to what I said because even without me realizing it in advance of the actual trip, this was a PERFECT itinerary for us. The pacing, the selection of hotels and camps, the schedule for our few days in Cape Town – we loved it all! We started with 5 nights in Cape Town (one more than originally planned due to flight changes but we took the first day “off” after 30 plus hours of travel). We had a delightful guide, Malcolm, and spent one day doing local sightseeing, one day heading to the Cape of Good Hope, and one day in wine country and small surrounding towns. Cape Town is fabulous, we stayed at Cape Grace – terrific hotel in a super location. Next off to 3 Wilderness Safari camps in Botswana – Quorokwe, Jao and Duma Tau – spectacular all. Then to Zimbabwe and lucky us, Victoria Falls were full and raging, there are no words! We spent a relaxing night in Johannesburg (The Residence) before heading to Rattrays at Mala Mala. I could go on and on about each place — all our guides were fabulous, we saw every kind of animal and animal movements we ever dreamed about (and it was dreamy). All our accommodations were unique and luxurious. The chefs even pleasantly catered to my special dietary needs which Julian and Lisa had advised them during planning. One of the camp managers said to me “you have many choices about where to spend your time here, and we are so happy you came to us” and they make you feel so special and welcomed.
Bottom line: Julian and Lisa planned the PERFECT trip for us. We are only home 2 weeks and are constantly talking about when we can make a return trip. The connections were seamless. Our guide was always there to meet us. My husband was very concerned about small planes and after the trip, he commented the planes between camps were the easiest way to move between places — better than back to a larger airport and spending the day on connecting flights. You can leave one camp at noon and be in the next camp at 1:30. Twice we were the only passengers on the plane.
DO NOT HESITATE ONE SECOND, CALL JULIAN … this is truly the trip of a lifetime and Julian and his crew are experts at planning the BEST TRIP.
(PS- at the time we traveled, we needed 2 Covid tests, one leaving Zimbabwe and one to fly back to the US from Johannesburg. Both were done at our hotel, the managers printed out the results, it was easy. The rules changed during our trip and Lisa communicated exactly what we needed to do).
Indonesia: multigenerational trip to Bali & beyond
FLAMINIA RAVALLI| JUNE 4, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We were supposed to go to Indonesia in May 2020 … of course it didn’t happen. Diane asked if we wanted a refund or a rescheduling. I thought no refund, we were going to go the following year for sure…. Diane kept up with us for two years: sending us updates on the situation in Indonesia (closings, vaccinations status, requirements….), asking about our health … she was always available for enquiries and suggestions … When Indonesia finally opened to foreigners, we decided to go (May 2022, two years after our schedule). Unfortunately the original group of travelers dissolved in those two years and we asked her to organize at the last minute a multigenerational itinerary (from two years old to grandparents). We had days when we would be together and days when we would meet for lunch or dinner only. This way, everyone was happy. We traveled to Bali, Lombok and Java. The tourism situation is different in each island. Bali is seeing some tourists (mostly Europeans), some restaurants and stores are still closed and many times we were the only tourists in some of the famous temples or at the rice terraces. But the tourists are coming back and reservations are up for July and August. At the famous Java temples (Borobudur and Prambanan) there were local tourists and many students on school trips but we were the only foreigners there. It must be said that as of now, no tourist can climb up Borobudur, but to make up for the disappointment, Diane sent us on a hill to have breakfast and see the sunrise over Borobudur (we were the only foreigners there too). In Lombok and the famous Gili islands, we were able to go snorkeling with the turtles alone without any other group.
Indonesians are very good with mask wearing, even outside, they are all vaccinated and boosted (once) and Diane organized for us to take the COVID test for US re-entry at a local hospital. It was $7.
The charming and very knowledgeable guides told us that people in tourism had not worked for two and a half years and they are ready to welcome everybody. We felt lucky that we missed the notorious Bali crowds and pampered by everybody in hotels, restaurants and stores.
Diane was extraordinary and I wouldn’t go to another Indonesian island without her expertise.
Spain with an itinerary tailored to perfection
BETSY MALONE| JUNE 4, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We cannot say enough good things about Pablo. Four of us took a 13 day trip to Spain in mid-May that included Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Madrid, with day trips to Toledo and Cordoba. Our hotels were superb, our guides excellent, and our transfers seamless. Pablo helped us in our initial planning to decide on how much territory to cover and the number of days in each place. We told him our interests, and he tailored the trip accordingly. We would not have seen so much, learned so much, or enjoyed it as much without his expertise.
Greece: Athens, Santorini, Crete…
BEVERLY PHILLIPS| JUNE 2, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Athens, Santorini and Crete from May 15-30, 2022, was a truly marvelous travel experience for us. We, of course, had not traveled for awhile but, other than wearing a mask and trying to always dine outside, nothing really felt differently from previous trips. We had already chosen our destinations and hotel accommodations but worked with the trip planner for tours. Wow, did we have great tours! We had talked by phone with Faye about Greece and discussed what we were interested in. Mina planned the itinerary for us. We were stunned at how well all the tours were thought out and planned for our ultimate enjoyment. Every detail was considered to make each day fun, informative and with special and thoughtful events. No two days were alike and all were exciting and personalized. The guides and drivers were exceptionally well versed in Greek history and knowledgeable in the focus of the tour. They impressed us with being experts in their field. They were always on time and careful in wearing their masks too. We highly recommend traveling with this group!
Spain: castles, artist studios, culinary experiences…
KATHRYN BARDEN | JUNE 2, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had an absolutely marvelous vacation. It was wonderful to be back out in the world. While we wore masks in taxis and trains, there was very little stress over COVID and we felt comfortable throughout.
Virginia and her team mapped out a full 12 day trip for us to Andalusia and Madrid. There were several people engaged in setting up our plans and they were all responsive to our requests and interests. As well, Virginia herself was available on email before, during and after the trip. Several times during the trip we said to each other “trust Virginia” – including the Almodevar Castle visit which was a highlight, and also spending the 2 days in Madrid. Our Prado tour and contemporary galleries was perfect. With the head of the art department of a local university, we saw inside artist studios, an auction house and other galleries. Mencia took us on a memorable food and lifestyle tour, also in Madrid. The Seville Jewish tour WOW Moment was super interesting and on-point with our interests; the Alhambra and Ronda tours and guides, exceptional.
Perhaps we were a little over-ambitious and/or maybe it was the unanticipated heat, but we ended up cutting back a bit as we traveled and Paloma was a lifesaver making last minute changes to accommodate us.
Our hotels were super. In Granada we were upgraded to a suite, at the Hacienda we relaxed and rejuvenated and they were wonderful hosts. The staff at Mercer and Ursa could not have been more gracious and accommodating and both hotels were excellent and well-located.
Booking through Virginia is not inexpensive but you get what you pay for. We sat next to another American couple at a cafe in Madrid. They were lamenting poor hotel choices, train travel delays and were travel weary from their sightseeing. Working with Virginia’s team takes away all the travel coordination stress and you are assured of great accommodations, knowledgeable and friendly tour guides (and drivers), and worthwhile experiences.
Multigenerational trip to Nepal
KIMBERLEY LIAO| JUNE 1, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Toni helped us plan an amazing trip to Nepal that would have been difficult for us to pull off even with family living in the country. We cannot recommend her guidance and support enough. Nepal is not an easy country, so if you’re on the fence, this is one of those times paying for more support is the smart move because on vacation, you want things to be easy, not hard! Throw in COVID and having the peace of mind that the team working with you will mask up indoors is peace of mind that is invaluable.
We traveled in mid-May with the monsoon season approaching. Having an air conditioned tourist bus for the five of us (two grandparents, two adults, one four-year-old) was indispensable, and the fact that there was a team of three with us meant that all of us could enjoy the trip. Sanjeeb our guide was super knowledgeable and unflappable – we had to reschedule a few things due to weather and local events that would have meant overcrowding, and he handled it all on our behalf.
My husband’s father also has an injured knee, and having a guide, a driver, and assistant meant that everyone had enough support for whatever could come up. Our 4-year old loved Suresh, the assistant, and we were so grateful that Suresh was willing to give our 4-year old shoulder rides when he got tired of walking. The pre-monsoon heat was ferocious at times, but instead of meltdowns, there was Suresh!
The experiences Toni picked out for us were memorable – the highlight of the trip. Even the grandparents who are locals loved participating and learned something new. Our time in Dhulikel was special, and we were grateful for the upgrade we received at the resort. Dwarikas was seriously one of the nicest places we have stayed at on any of the six continents we’ve visited.
All in all, Toni delivered terrific value. Nepal surprised us with how much of life is set up for outdoor living, something you want in COVID times. There weren’t many tourists in the pre-monsoon season which was great and added to our enjoyment. We’re so glad we worked with Toni and highly recommend her.
Italy: Rome, Amalfi Coast, Capri…
TONYA PLYLAR| MAY 31, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our trip to Italy began 2 years ago. The agency worked with us during the planning of our fabulous trip to Rome and the Amalfi Coast. They guided us towards great accommodations, excursions, guides and some local dining adventures. Then Covid and lockdowns. They continued to work with us for 2 years as we rescheduled then had to cancel again. When the trip finally was going to happen – they worked with us to make some changes to the itinerary and our trip was almost perfect. They use a wonderful app to help with all our documents and a local contact that was available 24/7 during our trip. All of the drivers and guides were extremely professional and knowledgeable – truly felt like we had the very best while there. Before the trip they also sent out book and movie recommendations for prep on our trip and large restaurant guides that helped us plan our lunches and dinners. The private yacht to the island of Capri, the pasta-making class, the private dinners, the Vespa tour—all highlights of our trip. Highly recommend and will definitely use them again!!!
Morocco: tailored tours, friendly locals, excellent dining…
RACHELLE GRAHAM | MAY 31, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Radia & Oussama put together a top notch itinerary for my husband and I to experience Morocco in just 8 days. We were blown away with the hospitality of all of our guides, the local people in general, and of course our amazing driver Ahmed. The experiences were all exactly tailored to what we discussed ahead of time, while also allowing for on the fly modifications based on how we were feeling (ex: adding on extra time to our hike in the Atlas mountains). The dining was excellent, whether it was our driver choosing a place for us to stop along the way on our road trip, or a selected restaurant in Marrakech, every meal was a hit. Our guides took great care of us, acquiring entrance tickets, paying restaurant tabs, etc so that we didn’t have to worry about it. All we had to do was show up and enjoy ourselves, Moroccan people are friendly, hospitable, and we felt so very safe the entire time, even when we ventured out solo.
Italy: Cinque Terre with a quick-thinking planner
ERIC HAMMER | MAY 31, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL A week before our trip, Emanuela noted a cruise ship would be docked in La Spezia. As our plan to enjoy the Cinque Terre was to train south to north, the recommendation was we pivot to a car. Simply, due to the size of the roads, the thousands of disembarking cruise passengers would only be able to travel the Cinque Terre by train. We didn’t want to feel the NYC commute in Italy!
When we arrived in Riomangarri, Emanuela planned for us to visit a boutique vineyard. A six-person operation, producing 20,000 bottles a year based on the side of a cliff and run by a man who can trace his family to this village for over a 1000 years. After a wonderful experience we drove north.
There are three ways to travel the Cinque Terre; 1. Small Boat. 2. Train. 3. Car. For years the Italian government has discussed converting the train tracks to a bike trail and building a new train system inland. It’s old, hot and busy. The road is narrow, wrapping itself around cliffs, but it turns a hour 45 min drive into 20 minutes. Beautiful and easy was the drive from Riomangarri to the next village. Well until it wasn’t…
An avalanche struck the road a day or two prior. There were no signs, no police, but the road was closed. Our guide called Emanuela. She pivoted us from the car to the train only to find out the train station was on fire and also closed. As boat times didn’t work, we had to drive back to La Spezia, miss lunch and continue to Montarossa. A 20 minute drive now nearly two hours.
Emanuela personally apologies, treating the rockslide and fire as if it’s her fault. Then tells us she booked us a lunch in hills of Montarossa. For this lunch we were hosted by a former Italian senator and World Bank executive who now owns this slice of heaven. For over two hours we drank, ate and experienced true dolce vita. This was an experience we never would have had without the Rockslide. Fire. Royal Caribbean day trippers.
Our adventure in the Cinque Terre was ripe for disaster, but we had Emanuela watching our every move from Genoa. She took our trip as seriously as if we were her visiting family and her desire for us to have the best trip showed. Everyone wanted to impress Emanuela through us; we had the best tables, hotel upgrades and surprise experiences that just consistently took the trip up a level. Thank you!
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Jordan & Israel: historic sites, Dead Sea mud baths, desert camp…
MARTHA NABER| MAY 31, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Just returned from a 3-week trip to Jordan and Israel planned by Jonny and Dan. We have been using Wendy Perrin’s recommendations for many years and Jonny and Dan did not disappoint. Our initial consultation was with both of them, after which Dan handled our entire trip. We started planning the trip in 2019 and due to the pandemic did not travel until this May. Dan and his team hung in with us for almost three years until we were able to go. At last count we had over 400 emails fine tuning, changing, adjusting the trip. It was well worth the wait! We had some challenges due to the covid protocols, especially in Israel. I won’t go into detail because the covid restrictions were lifted the day after we arrived and hopefully no one will have to deal with them again. The trip exceeded our expectations. The sights were incredible, the guides knowledgeable, food delicious. One of the joys of small-group travel is being able to change and adjust as needed. The guides that Dan selected were outstanding. Ready to make changes if the drives were too long or we wanted to stay longer in one place. The accommodations were excellent. The only issue we had was with the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. We were travelling with one couple who, since we booked in 2019, has mobility issues. The comfort rooms at the American Colony are very small and the bathrooms have the old-time tubs that made it impossible for him to shower. Dan’s team was on it and we were upgraded to one of the larger and more spacious rooms. I don’t recommend the comfort rooms to anyone, mobility issues or not. One of the best experiences that Dan put together for us was a stay at the Bedu Discovery Camp in Wadi Rum. Unfortunately, Wadi Rum is getting very crowded with camps. But Discovery has only 6 tents so you really get the feel for the desert. Even better, we were the only 2 couples in the camp that night. The staff set up a fire in front of the dining tent and we were able to have our evening drinks overlooking the amazing desert landscape. Both dinner and breakfast were excellent. Dan picked the Kempinski Hotel for our night in the Dead Sea area. Beautiful hotel and setting. After going into the Dead Sea from the hotel’s private beach, you are treated to mud being spread over your entire body, after 10 minutes you go back into the water to get the mud off, then salt scrub is spread over your body followed by a rinse. Fun and relaxing. I would have stayed a second night there before the frenetic pace of Israel. We had major hassles crossing the border, nothing that Dan could have prevented. After the very positive experiences in Jordan we found Israel to overall be much less welcoming. The sights were interesting although a bit overwhelming some days. It was important for us that we had a local guide that made adjustments as needed. He was always aware of any potential marches or disturbances and we changed our visits when necessary. I think this is very important in Israel given the potential for unrest. In Israel we also liked the Scots Hotel in Tiberius. Beautiful, historic hotel overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Stayed there 2 nights and would have liked to stay another. The days in Israel are very full and there wasn’t a lot of down time by the time you got back to the hotel. The town is very appealing and would have liked more time to explore on our own. Once again, another great trip from one of Wendy’s recommendations. I would highly recommend Dan for Middle East travel.
Morocco: Jewish sites, hiking, cities & towns…
RHODA SCHULZINGER| MAY 30, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned from amazing adventures in Morocco, thoughtfully arranged by Michael. Our discussions with Michael began in November 2021 and from the beginning, he understood our priorities and interests. As a result, our trip included a range of cities and smaller towns as well as Jewish sites and hiking opportunities. Our 15-day itinerary included overnight stays of different lengths in Casablanca, Tangier, Chefchaouen, Fes, a hiking destination in the High Atlas, Essaouira and Marrakesh. Michael booked fabulous riads in each location and had wonderful recommendations for dinners. The trip was flawlessly executed by Michael’s local contacts. Our guide Said’s love of his country’s history, culture, art and architecture tremendously enhanced our trip and remained responsive to our particular interests. Fayssal, our superb driver, flawlessly coordinated with Said whenever necessary and was available for evening transportation to our dining destinations. Morocco was an excellent choice for our return to international travel. Thankfully, no issues arose during our trip that required Michael’s attention, but we traveled with confidence knowing that he and his local staff were available at any time. We would recommend, with no reservations, planning an unforgettable trip with Michael.
Iceland: guided activities & independent adventures
KELVIN ROTH | MAY 28, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL This was a fantastic trip. Chris listened to our request and provided a perfect itinerary, that hit on on all of our requests. We loved the pacing of the days and the variety of activities. It was a great blend of guided activities and self-guided activities.
The hotels were all great and had their own unique features that made them special. Each of them had great restaurants and we thought the breakfasts were really good. We had an issue at one of the hotels and Chris jumped into action to address the issue and set the hotel straight.
Each guided activity we had was great as well. They treated us in a way that made us feel special and while they may do the same for other clients, they all left us with the impression that they were doing this “just for us.” They all clearly loved what they were doing as well (and we loved the big inflating/deflating wheels they had on their trucks).
As people will tell you, the food is expensive in Iceland but it’s easy to forgive that when it’s so delicious. I’m going through fish withdrawal as I write this :-)
We had initially asked about driving the Ring Road. I’m so glad Chris talked us out of that as we only had 7 days. Having been there, I think that would have been way too much driving to get it done so quickly.
We marveled at how responsive Chris was to any and all requests – from the “good morning” emails with a reminder of the day’s activities and any logistics to the on the spot lunch suggestions – we felt extremely well taken care of.… It was like having a portable concierge. He knew the country well and thought of little things like WiFi for the car, the best places to park, clothing recommendations, and even when and where to look for gas stations.
I would say this was a once in a lifetime trip, but we’ll definitely be coming back for more Iceland adventures… and we’ll definitely be using Chris!
Croatia: wine tasting, truffle hunting, cooking class…
SUSAN SAIDEMAN | MAY 26, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I traveled to Croatia with 5 girlfriends to celebrate my birthday and our friendships in May 2022 for a week. We started in Split and went to Dubrovnik with a stop along the way for a wine tasting and snacks in Ston. The whole trip was absolutely fabulous and our trip planner, Ala, did an amazing job. I told her what we were interested in doing and what our “travel style” was and she developed an itinerary that wowed us. When she found out that we loved cooking, she suggested an amazing truffle hunting experience in Split along with a cooking class in Dubrovnik. All of her recommendations from activities to restaurants were wonderful and made this a trip of a lifetime for me and my friends. I cannot thank her or recommend her enough. Thanks for introducing us Wendy!
Morocco: souks, seaside, food tour…
THOMAS JOHN | MAY 25, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We have just returned from a great two-week trip to Morocco. The trip was planned by Radia (except the riads, which we selected before finding Radia). We started in Casablanca, then moved on to Fez (from there we visited Chefchouen, Meknes and Volubilis). The scenery in this area of Morocco was beautiful, with vista of green, hills with acres of olive trees and wonderful people. Our next stop was Marrakech, a personal favorite, where we enjoyed wandering in the souks, a food tour, cultural highlights like the Radia Palace, great restaurants, the Atlas Mountains and beyond with connections to the Berber community and a lovely riad. Then on to Essaouira, a lovely seaside city with great views, open streets, and wonderful seafood.
The absolute highlight of the whole trip was our driver Said, a warm, friendly and extremely helpful person who we all appreciated so much. He literally could not do too much for us, including shopping for clothes and pharmaceuticals in Fes as our luggage was delayed for five days (thanks to KLM and Air France). He was with us at all times, is a great ambassador for Morocco and has become a good friend.
Radia’s recommendations for tours and activities was perfect, and the selection of guides excellent. We highly recommend Radia’s team and a big thank you to Wendy Perrin, who did indeed provide a WOW experience. In fact we will lean on Wendy’s connections to help us plan a few days in Istanbul next year.
Sicily: vineyard tour, pastry class, hike with a vulcanologist…
LISA WOLLAN | MAY 25, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned from an incredible trip to Sicily, curated by Marcello. From beginning to end, Marcello did a wonderful job of listening to the sometimes varied needs and wants of our two couples, crafting personalized experiences that truly helped us understand the beauty and uniqueness of Sicily, and staying in touch to make sure we were having a wonderful time. We knew very little about this amazing island before our trip – and thanks to the interesting places and knowledgeable guides and delightful experiences arranged by Marcello, we left feeling a great affinity for Sicily and looking forward to coming back. This was our first Covid-era trip and we were impressed with the safety measures taken by our guides and throughout our travels. While it is hard to pick a favorite moment, some of the highlights included an amazing vineyard tour and lunch in the hills of Camporeale, making pastries with the incredible 82-year old Maria Grammatico in Erice, experiencing the stunning Infiorata in Noto and hiking on Mt. Etna with a Vulcanologist during a very active time. We will be reliving this trip for years to come. Thank you Wendy for introducing us to Marcello and bravo to his entire team!
Mexico: nature & wildlife in Baja California
CATE BRADLEY| MAY 24, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Zach and his wonderful team – Carolina and Jose among many others behind the scenes I’m sure – planned the most outstanding mother-daughter spring break trip to Baja California Mexico for my 20 year old and me. We were interested in a nature-focused experience, spending all of our time on whale watching, sea lions, whale sharks, etc. Zach was so thoughtful, spending a series of phone calls with me figuring out what kind of travelers we were and what kind of experiences would be right. He then proposed the perfect itinerary, including four days in a remote whale-watching camp alongside time in La Paz on private boat excursions to key wildlife sites and a transfer evening in Cabo. We weren’t excited about spending time in busy Cabo, and he found us an under-the-radar boutique hotel that checked all our boxes (quiet, beautiful, excellent service).
The trip itself was flawlessly executed, thanks to his colleague Carolina’s careful detail work and real-time monitoring. She went out of her way to figure out where we could skip logistics steps and bypass lines. It couldn’t have run more smoothly during a very crowded time in Baja.
I was also so appreciative of their flexibility and help when, at the last minute, I had a medical emergency and couldn’t go with my daughter. They immediately shifted all of the reservations to a new family member who accompanied her. Hearing their glowing, joyful reports every day of the amazing time Zach and team had organized was almost as wonderful as being there myself.
We can’t recommend Zach, Carolina, Jose and team more highly.
Belgium: Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp
AMY KALES | MAY 24, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL The trip Thomas had planned for us to Belgium two years ago was worth waiting for. His hotel choice, The Amigo, was the perfect place from which to explore the sights in Brussels and to return to from our day trips. We also enjoyed Thomas’s restaurant recommendations near our hotel which offered everything from local seafood to haute cuisine.
The daily excursions, which were very well planned, gave us an opportunity to see the old in Bruges, the new in Brussels and everything in between. Because I am a retired teacher and museum educator, I expect a guide to be an energetic and engaging person who is well versed in his/her subject matter. Thomas’s relationships with his guides allow him to pick among the best.
Thomas choose Sofie, who spoke excellent English, for our guide for Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. She was more than perfect. In addition, she was very sensitive to my husband’s mobility problems and included stops for coffee, biscuits and chocolates along the way. The two days we spent with her were interesting and fun.
COVID is hard to avoid in Europe. Venues are crowded and no one wears masks. My husband and I, who tested negative 24 hours before our flight, became ill 48 hours upon our return. We think we were exposed on our last day in Brussels or in the airport before our departure but will never know. One has to accept the risk in order to travel.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
To get a trip like one below, click on the black CONTACT button, submit the questionnaire, and you’ll hear back from us shortly. Here’s what you get when you start a trip with our questionnaire.
Northern Ireland and Scotland: history, countryside, behind-the-scenes distillery tour…
LARRY BRIDGE | MAY 24, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Another great trip from Jonathan and his team!
After a 2-year delay due to Covid restrictions, my son and I were able to finally make it to Northern Ireland and Scotland for a great 7-day trip which included visits to Belfast, Islay and Glasgow. This was my third time using Jonathan and every trip has been fantastic. We landed in Dublin where we were met by Jimmy, our driver-guide for the first leg of our trip – Jimmy was excellent. The drive to Belfast from Dublin gave us a chance to see the Irish countryside and learn more about the evolution of Northern Ireland since the “Troubles” were resolved in the 1990s. The natural beauty of the area remains strong and while you can tell that the area is still struggling to recover from Covid, the experience was top-notch including a private Bushmills tasting that Jonathan arranged for our hotel. Our next stop was Islay, which remains an undiscovered gem. Hard to get to, but worth the effort, especially if you are a fan of peated scotch. Our driver-guide David – also excellent – guided us through two full days of distillery tours and sight-seeing, including a private, “behind the scenes” tour of the Laphroaig distillery – what an incredible experience! Our final stop was two nights in Glasgow with John McElwee – John is a superstar when it comes to driver-guides. John led us on a trip to Oban where we had the best, freshest fish & chips that we’ve ever eaten, not to mention a great tour of the Oban distillery. We finished up our trip with a visit to Culzean Castle and Burns Memorial Gardens before heading to the airport for our flight home.
Overall, this was another amazing trip delivered by Jonathan’s team. It was astounding what they were able to pull together in a world still trying to recover from Covid. Their knowledge of the hotels and the sights guarantees great trips, but the secret is the quality of the driver-guides. The driver-guides have all been excellent. They are the difference between a very good trip and a fantastic one. It is very likely that I will be using Jonathan and his team again in the future.
Netherlands and Belgium: museums, chocolate tasting, private canal tour…
DEE BADEN | MAY 24, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Aer Lingus required a mask but restrictions in the Netherlands and Belgium were easing by the time we took the trip. As we had private drivers (and didn’t require public transportation), there were no places that required a mask, including museums and restaurants. The trip was fantastic, and private guides in each of the cities were superb. After a long flight, a canal tour in Amsterdam was a relaxing way to start our adventure. Our private boat captain picked us up in front of our hotel. He provided interesting historical details and answered questions as we sipped cool beverages from the bar and waved at passengers on the larger tour vessels. We were dropped off near the Anne Frank house where we had tickets to tour this remarkable site. The following day was a guided walking tour of Amsterdam that concluded with visits to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum. The next day was at leisure before we joined a bike tour the following day. Tom was great to work with in coordinating our adventures in the Netherlands and Belgium before and after our bike adventure. The travel app he provided was a great way to keep track of our itinerary and to communicate with him during our travels. On the last day of the bike tour, a private driver picked us up in Bruges and drove us to Ghent for a couple of days. Our last stop was in Brussels. The hotels were great! Private guides in each city took us on amazing tours of historical sights and we enjoyed another boat tour in Ghent. We especially enjoyed visiting boutique chocolate shops and a private chocolate tasting. Tom suggested and helped obtain tickets for Floralien Ghent – Nocturne 6th of May which only occurs every 5 years. It was the most amazing floral exhibit I have ever seen! He also secured reservations at a special restaurant for us to celebrate our anniversary.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
To get a trip like one below, click on the black CONTACT button, submit the questionnaire, and you’ll hear back from us shortly. Here’s what you get when you start a trip with our questionnaire.
Chile: Patagonia, Atacama Desert, Santiago…
DAVID WEINKLE | MAY 23, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Wendy, Thank you for another amazing referral!
Have just returned from a 17 day trip to Chile planned by Jordan and his team. Thanks to Jordan and Krista for a trip we will never forget. Originally planned pre-COVID and then rescheduled 2 times due to Chile’s travel restrictions, Jordan’s team stayed on top of everything and made the required changes as smooth as possible. I am very detail oriented and do a lot of research prior to traveling. They really listened to what I wanted and came up with fantastic options to choose from for each stop during our trip, in addition to suggesting some not on my radar.
As our departure date finally arrived, and Rapa Nui remained closed to tourism, a last minute destination change was made and our time at Awasi Atacama ended up being a highlight of the trip! Patagonia, Santiago along with Central Chile were all amazing, each area with its own charm/beauty.
Jordan’s local guides/drivers were fantastic. Hotel recommendations were perfect and fit our travel personality perfectly. Communication was timely, informative and always personable!
We look forward to planning another trip with Jordan in South America!
Italy with unique experiences: wine, music, Lamborghinis…
ELAINE PATTERSON | MAY 23, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned from our third trip to Italy with Maria and Brian and maybe the best compliment I can give them is to say that we are already looking forward to a fourth trip. (And for readers with Covid concerns, we were in Italy last September when many restrictions were still in place including mandatory masks and showing proof of vaccination for indoor locations. Those restrictions were mostly dropped just prior to our arrival, but much of our trip was outdoors and people were still respectful – and we felt very comfortable the whole time.)
This trip focused on Emilia-Romagna (Parma, Ravenna, Modena, Bologna) with an additional stop in Lake Garda. We had been to each of those towns before (except Modena) but this trip was so much more interesting, educational and memorable, thanks to Maria and Brian’s planning. As always, the pace of the trip was exactly what we prefer; we like having some free time every day as well as a couple of totally free days within the two weeks. As always, our guides and drivers were terrific and added tremendously to our experience. Hotels were well-matched with our tastes and even when there were a couple of last minute hotel changes, we were notified in advance and everything worked smoothly. Thanks to Maria’s suggestions, two of the hotels in particular were simply exceptional and we will be dreaming of them for years to come.
But what makes working with Maria and Brian so special is the unique experiences they organize to suit your interests. We had a private winemaker/winery visit outside Parma that we’ll never forget, a magical visit with a violin-maker in Cremona, fun experiences at the Lamborghini Museum and Imola Formula 1 racetrack, and a delightful visit to some beautiful villages in the foothills of the Appenines.
Last but not least, since Emilia-Romagna is the food paradise of Italy, Maria booked several lunches and dinners at restaurants for us — something we don’t do too often — and all of them were fabulous, with staff that made us feel at home and the kind of down-to-earth menus that we love. So now we just have to decide where in Italy we want to go next, of course with Maria and Brian’s help.
Portugal: help within minutes during the trip
HARRISON EARL | MAY 22, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Gonçalo and Joana put together an excellent trip for us throughout Portugal in May 2022, identifying hotels that fit what we were looking for perfectly and different parts of Portugal that we would not have explored on our own. We especially loved the activities they arranged for us at the Torre de Palma Wine Hotel and an amazing stay in Marialva, where we felt like we had the town to ourselves. While Gonçalo and Joana were fantastic before our trip, they seemed overwhelmed by the sudden huge travel demand coming of the pandemic. They were not terribly responsive to questions or concerns before we departed. However, during our one issue on the trip, they were in touch within minutes and got it solved quickly. While I do hope that they can improve their pre-trip response time, I would absolutely use their services again, as we would not have had such a great trip without their expertise.
Italy: wine tasting in Chianti, museum-hopping in Florence…
JOAN BERGER| MAY 22, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Since we’ve returned from Italy, my husband turns to me EVERY SINGLE DAY and remarks, “That travel agent did a PERFECT job on our trip. Every detail was fabulous!” Yes, Andrea’s team listened closely to our needs (as seniors) and found us perfect accommodations and perfect transportation within Italy to make our time unforgettable. Andrea’s idea of three days in the Chianti countryside after the tiring overnight transportation from Chicago gave us time to relax and enjoy tiny towns and green hillsides (and taste wine) before arriving in more urban Florence. She selected an unforgettable countryside resort with two fabulous restaurants. Her driver picked us up for three days of scenic hill towns, tiny shops, and a well known winery where we had our own private tasting on a hillside overlooking the vineyards. After that, our marvelous driver, Giovanni, dropped us off in Florence, and we were delighted with the hotel’s location–a 10-minute walk from everything we hoped to see: museums, Duomo, shops, and river, but not buried in the crowded shopping area. We requested a suite so we could relax every day before dinner, and Marta (part of Andrea’s dream team) found us a suite with its own balcony where we could view the entire plaza and cathedral while sipping a glass of wine. Our Florence tour guide, Olivera, was divine: informed, responsive, and delightful to be with. Eleanora, on Andrea’s team, efficiently purchased all of our museum passes so we had no long waits in line and gave us a good list of restaurants. The hotel Maria Novella staff went out of their way to be helpful with dinner reservations within walking distance and spoiled us with their friendly concern for our every need. We had the name and phone number of a “team member” in case we needed extra help while we were in Italy, and she arranged for covid tests IN OUR HOTEL ROOM so there was no searching or uncertainty. We stayed in stunning rooms, met lovely Italian staff members, and we returned thrilled with Andrea and her delightful, knowledgeable, and patient staff. We’d definitely ask for their help again and recommend her to others. The $300 pre-booking fee worried me at first, but I learned that it was worth gold. This is an experienced group with an international reputation. Hats off to Wendy Perrin for helping us make this invaluable connection!
Portugal: city, wine country, seaside…
MARY LAMALFA | MAY 22, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We have just returned from a 10 day trip to Portugal planned by Goncalo and his assistant Joana from May 6th to the 16th. The trip was amazing in every way. We began in Lisbon where we spent 3 nights and then progressed on to Alentejo, the Douro valley, Porto and finally Cascais. The city hotels were centrally located in convenient areas. The hotels in Alentejo and the Douro Valley were gorgeous. The scenery was exquisite in both places. The seaside hotel in Cascais was quite beautiful and we wished that we had more than one night there. Our driver John, was a total professional. He was always on time (usually early) and was completely accommodating even with some last minute changes to our itinerary. Having a private driver was was very reassuring and we felt more comfortable and safe than we would have on a group tour. The tour guides were all wonderful but our favorite was Tiago. He had a wealth of knowledge on every subject and was able to impart it in a very engaging way. Our tours in Lisbon were more enjoyable because of him. The highlight of the trip for us was a private lunch and wine tasting in a beautiful estate winery. It was definitely a once in a lifetime afternoon.
We had given a deposit a few months before our trip and were told that the remainder was due 30 days before. They did not ask for the balance until 2 days before our trip. This may have been due to the recent uptick in Covid cases.
Joana arranged for a lab technician to come to our hotel room for Covid testing before our return to the US. This was so convenient and saved us quite a bit of time.
I would highly recommend Goncalo and Joana to anyone planning a trip to Portugal. They will tailor the trip to your specific needs.
Galapagos cruise & Ecuadorian cloud forest
DAVID WEINSTEIN| MAY 21, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL The Galapagos had always been on our bucket list and moved to the top of the list due to Covid, as we figured that being on a small ship would help isolate us and the ship required all passengers to be tested prior to embarkation. Until this trip I had done our own trip planning, but Ashton and his team have changed my mind.
During our initial hour-long call Ashton explained the pros and cons of different ships, and we discussed what time of year to visit, from the weather to animals. In the end we decided on Silversea in May. The ship was beautiful, the crew fantastic, and the food excellent. We were younger than most of the passengers (average age probably in mid 60s); although this wasn’t entirely surprising to us, the pace did end up being a bit slower than we had anticipated.
We snorkeled with sea turtles, penguins, and playful sea lions (it’s true that the animals have no fear of people); hiked beautiful islands; saw land and marine iguanas up close (almost tripped on them close) and walked among giant tortoises; and saw many exotic birds (yes the blue footed boobies’ feet really are bright blue).
Ashton highly recommended we visit Mashpi Lodge in the cloud forest as an add on to our trip. He was actually rather insistent, and we are glad he was, as the lodge and its staff were spectacular. Our only regret is he recommended two nights and we wish we stayed three. Note that it is a three hour drive from Quito, the last one over bumpy dirt “roads” and the main activity at the lodge is hiking in the forest. Although there were a few relatively easy options for activities, overall these were not simple nature walks—they were real hikes (and we only did moderate ones).
Ashton’s team, particularly Monica, was very patient with my many questions. I actually started to feel bad for asking so many questions and requesting so many different quotes, but they were all handled with good cheer.
Thanks to the Points Guy website for mentioning Wendy in an article, Wendy’s team for recommending Ashton, and Ashton’s team for putting together a fantastic trip.
Five-week road trip through France (and a bit of Italy)
DEVAN ULLMAN| MAY 21, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I cannot say enough great things about Philip, and our constant contact Evane! And even our Paris contact, Sarah! We always had someone readily available throughout our 5-week trip for any questions, concerns or changes we wanted to make!
We decided on a last minute trip to France, and Philip was more than up to the task by scheduling a zoom call to discuss everything we wanted for our trip. We gave them no easy task with a month’s notice to plan a trip starting on February 26th to March 22nd, and then surprising them by adding another week (with only a week’s notice) while we were on the trip!
They created a perfect itinerary for us. We had never been to France and were overwhelmed with all that France had to offer. We didn’t know what to expect or what would be best to see during that time of year so all their suggestions and planning were invaluable to us. It felt like most places were all to ourselves, due to their impeccable planning during the off-season. Particularly scheduling our skiing after all the French school breaks, something we would have no idea about if we planned the trip ourselves. They sent us plenty of options for hotels, mostly 5-star and some 4-star, when the hotel was on par to any 5-star accommodation or the location was too cool to pass up. They gave us a plethora of options while steering us in the right direction since we wanted to stay in some more off-the-beaten path towns and some in more central locations, helping us decide which would be best in all of our destinations. Some of our hotels even gave us upgrades for both rooms, while making sure our rooms were adjoining or close to each other. All in all, we stayed in Paris for a few days three times and they made sure to put us in a new arrondissement each time so we could see as much of Paris as we could. Philip, Evane, and Sarah were truly so patient and accommodating dealing with all of us.
At first, we were a little hesitant to travel but we were more than ready to pack our bags for over a month and finally go somewhere! Philip made sure to tell us what the current situation was in France and made us feel way more at ease about going to a different country during this time. Now looking back, I don’t even know why we were worried because it was such an easy process to get the vaccination pass on our phone or a test at a pharmacy. Only once did covid come up during our entire trip, when Sarah immediately contacted us about our previous guide testing positive so we all took a test with luckily negative results. She was so prompt to keep us informed and made sure we got tested immediately. In terms of covid, we felt safer in France than here in the States.
We wanted to do a road trip around France so we could see as much as we could while still having a few days in each place to relax. Philip and Evane mapped out some smaller and cool towns that we could stop at while on our drives. They literally provided us a Google map with all the stops and drive times. They provided great lunch suggestions for us to eat at in each stop, and my dad’s favorite was in Dolceacqua overlooking one of the bridges that Monet painted while on our way from Fossano to St Paul de Vence. We have driven in a handful of other countries but we didn’t know what to expect driving in France, and through the mountains with potential snow, etc. Philip and Evane advised us on what parts of the trip would be best to drive ourselves and what areas would have lots of traffic or any headaches, etc. so it would be best to have a driver. I cannot thank them enough for those recommendations and it definitely added to our smooth trip.
We had a few days in Paris to adjust to the time change before going to Champagne, where they arranged a private visit to Veuve Clicquot. Then we drove to Chamonix, where Evane arranged for a private ski guide that was invaluable as we would have never been able to ski as much of the mountain as we did and go to all the best spots to view the Alps and Mont Blanc. Also, it was so helpful because we have some skiers and snowboarders in the family so we were able to bypass any long flat parts that might make it difficult for any of us snowboarders.
Philip and Evane even added the Piedmont region in Italy (a small addition they included since I told them how much my dad loved Italy and us being so close by), filling our time there with lots of Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Then we drove to Nice but stayed in smaller St Paul de Vence with day trips around to see Eze, Monaco, Antibes, and all the spots along the Riviera.
Eventually worked our way to Provence and went around the region with William, our fantastic guide. Finishing off with a few days in Paris but adding some time in-between up in Normandy before leaving from CDG.
I cannot say enough about how much we loved our guides all throughout our trip. Sebastien in Lyon, took us to his family-owned winery in the Beaujolais and a private demonstration of weaving in Lyon. In Provence, I don’t think my family can say enough nice things about William. He went above and beyond to make sure our packages got shipped back to the U.S. and along with our hotel, found the best option that would not be outrageously expensive. Marie Ange was everything Google and the Internet could only tell you after some seriously extensive research on Paris. My sister and I are so thankful for her knowledge of vintage stores in Paris and helping us bargain at the flea market. Diane was absolutely amazing and told us everything and anything about Normandy. Nothing was lost in translation because she was an American living in France – made it very easy for us to walk away with all the knowledge we had hoped for when visiting the beaches and important sites. I cannot recommend any of these guides enough, and thank you to Philip and his team for being able to get such amazing guides for us our whole time there! They really made the trip surpass all of our expectations.
We had a decent amount of last minute additions and decisions, and they did not hesitate to respond as soon as possible to accommodate all our requests and needs. My sister decided later on that she was going to join us in France, and Evane amended the entire itinerary to accommodate all of us. This also included us changing our flights while we were there and her making all the necessary changes to our itinerary. We also loved France so much that we decided to extend the trip another week! Giving Sarah, our Paris contact, only a week to plan an adventure up to Normandy and a few days in Paris. Honestly, we owe Sarah (and Evane) our lives! She looked up every hotel in Paris because it was beginning to be the high season in the city and everything (literally) was booked up. She did not hesitate to find us the best 5-star options in a location we had yet to stay in without a crazy price tag.
We are beyond thankful to Wendy for putting us in contact with Philip and cannot wait to go back. Without a doubt we will be contacting Philip next time. It was a trip of a lifetime where it never felt like too much time in each destination but it will always never be enough! Thank you for making us fall in love with France!
Caribbean cruise with upgraded suite
LAUREN DEFREITAS | MAY 18, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Before the pandemic we had planned a few cruises with Tom through Wendy Perrin’s advice. When all the cruises were cancelled due to COVID-19 Tom kept us well informed and handled all the cancellations and rebooks.
We just returned from a long awaited cruise on Virgin Voyages April 10-15 that was originally booked for June 2020. Tom was helpful in making sure we got our cruise credits that were offered due to the pandemic and helped us with updated pricing and upgrades. He rebooked us in an upgraded suite that was stunning, putting our credits to good use!!
We had one hiccup while on board and I immediately got in touch with Tom from the ship. We had remaining credits that we wanted to use on board but couldn’t due to a discrepancy with Virgin Voyages. Tom answered our call and immediately started contacting the people at Virgin and was able to get the issue resolved within hours.
I highly recommend working with Tom because he is kind, patient and very knowledgeable in the travel industry. He always responds to your calls and emails quickly no matter where he is in the world. When Tom is not available to speak to you directly he makes sure to have one of his team members available to handle any of your questions or travel needs.
I have other cruises booked with Tom and am looking forward to working with him with confidence and excitement for future fantastic vacations.
Ireland: private home rental for a family trip
BEN WRIGHT | MAY 18, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I was extremely satisfied with Jonathan and Katie, the two people I worked to plan our family vacation in Ireland. They were able to take an amorphous concept that I had in my mind and make it tangible.
They arranged the perfect house for us to rent, with just enough amenities that we were not isolated, but enough space to enjoy and relax.
All details were as they promised, from the airport pickup, to the tour guides, to the restaurant recommendations.
We are a difficult family to travel with since two people have celiac disease. Jonathan made the experience seamless. Each restaurant had full menus from which to choose and that made my wife and daughter extremely happy. Similarly, at our hotel in Dublin for our last weekend in Ireland, the hotel staff knew about the dietary needs and we did not need to even address it.
Most importantly, Jonathan and Katie were both kind and patient with all my questions and worries, especially since we began planning while Covid restrictions were still significant. I am thankful for their skills and we will use their services again.
Southern African safari: small camps, top guides, airport VIP service…
DEBORAH WENTE | MAY 16, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned home from our African safari in April/May 2022. This trip was originally planned for 2020, then 2021 and finally 2022. The Trusted Travel Expert, Cherri, and her colleague Katie rescheduled without complaint. It was a lot of work for one trip! We had never traveled to southern Africa and trusted the recommendations of Katie of how to structure our trip. We traveled to Kenya, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It was a lot of countries in this time of Covid, but fortunately all test restrictions were lifted shortly before our trip (other than testing to return to the US). Of course, every time we crossed a border we were required to go through security, customs, vaccine check, etc. It was invaluable to have someone facilitate airport transfers. They often took us to the front of the line, directed us through the airport, checked us in to airport hotels as needed and helped with luggage. It’s a TTE service that just makes traveling that much easier.
We loved every camp we stayed at. They were intimate and welcoming. We also had the top guides at a couple of camps thanks to Cherri’s connections. I wore their company’s hat, and it was always recognized and it gave me confidence that the TTE was familiar with the camp and checked in on an ongoing basis.
I just completed a 100 p book of our adventures, but I’ll try to summarize.
Makgadikgadi Plains in Botswana is a desert environment. As we traveled during April, there were not huge herds, but we were lucky enough to come across a couple of fresh kills so were able to observe the cycle of lion/cheetah kills, jackals, vultures and hyenas. The walk with the Bushman was fascinating and felt very authentic. Finally, the habituated meerkats were fun, we have some great photos of them climbing on us. I think my favorite part was the brilliance of the stars.
Khwai Leadwood in the Okavango Delta was magical. Our guide, Banda, was fantastic and we saw a great variety of wildlife. The camp was one of our favorites, due in large part to the hostess, Mimi. She was fantastic! Always there to greet us and send us off with a smile. Sleeping to the sound of hippos is memorable.
Thornwood Lodge on the Zambezi river was a bit bigger, but was our base to visit Victoria Falls. It was so worth seeing.
Our final camp was Somalisa. Our guide was Calvet who had been voted best guide in Zimbabwe in 2021 – thanks to Katie for making sure he was our guide, he was wonderful. The feel of the lodge was comfortable and fun. AND, there is a watering hole right in front where we saw herds of elephants, buffalo (300!) and hyenas.
This felt like a very safe trip as far as Covid is concerned. We were outside on safari for about 8 hours a day, and ate all of our meals outside.
Transfers can be complicated moving from camp to camp, but Katie managed them beautifully.
I was sorry to have to leave. Safaris are an amazing, life changing experience. We are lucky that so much land in Africa is protected to ensure the safety of these animals.
Paris: personalized shopping, dining, airport VIP service…
KATHERINE WHITE | MAY 16, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Jennifer created the perfect girls’ trip getaway for me and a friend in Paris.
We had both been before and had done museums so we wanted a different experience this time. Jennifer recommended the Grande Hotel de Palais Royal and we could not have been happier (and we were upgraded upon arrival!). Excellent location, delicious breakfast, and such friendly, helpful staff.
Jennifer connected us with a local personal stylist who took us to 4 French designer boutiques that we would never have found on our own. It was such a fun and unique experience.
Jennifer also recommended excellent restaurants and while the street cafes are absolutely delicious, our meal at Girafe overlooking the Eiffel Tower was simply spectacular.
The recommendation to have a personal meet and greet at the airport and driver to/from the hotel was invaluable since CGD was very crowded and hectic.
Jennifer and her team were fantastic and I would highly recommend. I already want to plan another trip with them! Thank you for connecting us!
The Galapagos: 20-passenger yacht with private balconies
JULIE OLSON | MAY 16, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned (May 2022) from a fabulous trip to the Galapagos that was originally scheduled for May of 2020. The original trip planned with the help of Allie included both Machu Picchu and the Galapagos and got postponed 2x during the pandemic as has happened to so many travelers.
In January as Covid was surging again, we decided to break the trip into 2 pieces as we did not want to risk entry into 2 countries. Allie quickly jumped in to help us secure the original 8 day Galapagos cruise as planned, and we are now planning an extended trip to Peru in May 2023. The pandemic has forced us all to make choices with ever changing information, and we couldn’t be more appreciative of her help in adjusting our original plans.
For the Galapagos, Allie listened to what we wanted from the trip and suggested a newer small boat that provides balconies for each cabin and accommodates only 20 people. In fact, we had only 14 guests when we arrived! Before we left, Allie got a call from the boat company, who was trying to accommodate a family group, offering us a free upgrade to a suite. What a testament to her connections that she got the call! It was a treat to have bigger windows from which to see the beautiful vistas!
Prior to our trip, Allie asked for information on food allergies/sensitivities that was shared with the boat. At each meal, the chef made sure I had options that worked for me, and the cruise director made sure I was clear on what was in each dish on the buffet line or plated for dinner. For anyone with food allergies, this is so important, and their help made the trip safe and enjoyable for me! The boat also provided walking sticks and full wetsuits for each of us which was much appreciated.
At the end of the trip, Allie ensured that a nurse came to meet us at our hotel the day before we flew back to the US to perform required covid testing with results that were returned by email within hours. That allowed us to provide necessary documentation to check in the night before our flight. The value of having this part of travel made easy cannot be over-stated!
With Allie’s help, we had a truly fabulous trip!
Rome: 4 days for a first-timer
NANCY FOOTER | MAY 12, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL As a first time visitor to Rome I knew I needed expert help, especially since I only had 4 days the first week in May and a long list of must see sites. Jennifer came to my rescue with a great plan that allowed me to see the key sites and also have several super special off the beaten path experiences. My golf cart tour was such a fun way to get oriented to the city and Mauro was charming and knowledgeable. I cannot say enough good things about my afternoon with Alessia visiting Borghese Gallery and Palazzo Colonna – she’s a brilliant and passionate guide who makes history and art come alive. Borghese Gallery is magnificent and our visit to Palazzo Colonna was completely private – just the two of us and so magical. I had the good fortune to see the Colosseum and Forum with Alessia as well as the Vatican. Jennifer suggested I visit Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer palace, which is not something I would have known about myself. Just 30 minutes from Rome, the palace and gardens are beautifully situated above Lake Albano – the day was an idyllic respite from the hustle and bustle of Rome. Again, my guide and driver were superb – I could not have enjoyed the day more. Jennifer also found a way to accommodate my request for a food tour – I loved being in Testaccio, a neighborhood devoid of tourists filled with artisanal food shops, restaurants, and a fantastic market. Jennifer made wonderful restaurant recommendations and sent me to quintessentially Roman coffee shops and gelaterias. I did not leave Rome hungry!
I would say travelers are back – Rome was super busy and many sites were crowded given that Covid restrictions are loosening. My guides did a great job steering clear of the worst crowds and a good bit of my time was spent outdoors. The hotel staff were courteous and helpful and I loved being able to open my window to the see the Spanish Steps and Via Condotti. Maria, a member of Jennifer’s team, did a great job keeping me posted on daily logistics. I appreciated Jennifer’s attention to airport pick up and return, and loved her fast tracking through the Rome airport on departure.
I am sure I could not have had such a comprehensive and memorable first visit to Rome without Jennifer’s help. After two trips this year using Wow List travel experts I cannot imagine traveling any other way.
Italy: cooking class, winery visit, private gardens…
ELIZABETH MARSHALL | MAY 11, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL This trip was planned for 2 years ago. We were a couple of weeks away from travel with everything paid when COVID shut everything down. Maria assured us the trip would be waiting for us when we were ready to travel, and she delivered on her promise.
We kept the itinerary the same and had a fabulous time. Starting in Florence, drivers then took us on the scenic route to Montefalco in Umbria, then to Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, ending in Rome by way of Pompeii. All of our guides and drivers were top-notch.
Accommodations throughout were great with beautiful views and helpful staff. Our favorite hotels were Antica Torre in Florence and Grand Hotel Capodimonte in Sorrento.
All the tours and activities were enjoyable and informative, but a few stand out. We had a WOW Moment surprise in Florence (Thank you, Wendy!) when we were led along back streets to the Torrigiani Gardens, the largest private garden in city limits in Europe. It’s been owned by the same family for centuries. After a tour of the spectacular grounds, the owner took us to the balcony in his residence and visited with us over wine and a huge assortment of antipasti – a wonderful experience.
On our drive to Umbria, we stopped for lunch and a tour at I Balzini, a small family vineyard and winery. Lunch was served on the patio overlooking the vineyards and gorgeous Tuscan scenery. The wines and food were delicious, and we’re looking forward to the arrival of wine we purchased there.
Cristina set us up with dinner reservations throughout the trip and all of them were good. Ristorante Bagni Delfino in Sorrento was special for the lovely sunset view on the water as well as excellent food. We ate well with a fun cooking lesson from Chef Andrea at Locanda Rovicciano in Umbria, a food tour in Rome, and one great restaurant after another.
Maria recommended the use of Cranky Concierge for our air arrangements and I’m so glad she did. We had delay after delay on the trip to Florence, and we had peace of mind knowing they were ready with backup arrangements if we didn’t make our connection.
The trip was definitely worth the wait. Maria listened to what we wanted on this trip and gave us the trip we hoped for. Highly recommend!
Ireland: group of 18 with mobility issues
BRONWEN KELLY | MAY 11, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Having lost a sibling earlier in 2021, my husband and I reached out to Jonathan in October to see about organizing a trip to Ireland for the remaining siblings and in-laws some time in 2022. Jonathan didn’t even flinch when we mentioned the group totaled 18, 3 of whom have mobility issues. Jonathan and Katie went right to work helping us think through best time of year to travel with a group that large and destinations to reasonably cover in a two week period. Then came the hard part. All accommodations, restaurants, sight seeing venues and transportation had to be largely wheelchair accessible — not an easy feat in historical venues — and had to meet local Covid requirements and capacity limits in effect earlier this year when most of the bookings were finalized. Jonathan, Katie and the team did an absolutely spectacular job for our family! The accommodations were all 5 star (Adare Manor is beyond 5 stars and not to be missed! and The Europe is so special right on the Lake), meals were a delightful mix of everything from pubs to gorgeous private rooms, the itinerary perfectly captured the scenic beauty of Ireland and the history and vibrancy of Dublin, and the private transportation was amazing. We were met at the airport by our incredible guide Brendan and chief driver Martin and instantly knew we were in great hands. They became part of the family, along with relief driver Patsy, and taught us so much about their beautiful country while appreciating the banter on the bus and often participating in it. For most of the group, this was their first time abroad and to say this was a trip of a lifetime is an understatement! Every detail was thought through by Jonathan, Katie and the team. They strongly recommended and booked an early private tour of the Book of Kells, they organized a private tour of the Kilmainham Gaol, helped us work with The Epic Museum for some research into ancestry (not an easy task for a family named Kelly) and presentation to our group, they organized a private music experience for our group that was one of the highlights of our trip, shared knowledge of exceptional crafts people for those interested in bringing back crystal and jewelry, organized an informative and memorable Falconry experience for the group and arranged for a private whiskey tasting at an up and coming distillery. With a group this large, there were of course some challenges to overcome. When a personal wheelchair proved too difficult to travel with, Brendan miraculously produced a scooter we were able to utilize and travel with for the length of our stay — I still don’t know how he sourced this but without it, that couple would have missed so much! At each stop, Martin and Brendan set up and repacked 2 wheelchairs, a scooter and an additional mobility device. We didn’t travel light but these gentlemen never made any of us feel like a burden and did whatever they could to make sure wherever we stopped could be enjoyed by all of us. Jonathan, Katie and the team were very helpful when some of the group experienced Covid (no one was seriously ill) and we will always be grateful for their assistance. (Covid restrictions of all kinds were eliminated just prior to our arrival and Ireland experienced a surge in cases as did most of Europe as a consequence of lifted restrictions). The final challenge came as an organized trucker protest was setting up just as we were heading to the airport. Jonathan’s transportation partner, Bruno, was exceedingly kind, calm and helpful in ensuring we made it to the airport in time for our flight! My husband and I have worked with a few of the listed travel specialists and I can honestly say that Jonathan Epstein was an absolute joy to work with and is absolutely worthy of a WOW label. I would work with him again in a heartbeat and highly recommend him without any reservation!
Bora Bora: beach getaway in French Polynesia
MOLLY ASHFORD | MAY 9, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Great Recommendations and deep knowledge of the area…..
Just back from a lovely trip to French Polynesia. Kleon did a great job of recommending interesting places to stay and things to do, helping us to narrow and hone our itinerary. He suggested two things in particular we would not have known about otherwise–the magical Vahine Island Resort which would not be perfect for everyone but he understood how much we would respond to its charm and also the delightful Villa Mahana restaurant on Bora Bora. Both those, and our Bora Bora hotel, the St. Regis, knew him and greeted us warmly as his clients with personal notes and welcome treats. All the connections and details were flawless and made everything easy. He also was responsive and current on Covid concerns and regulations. In addition to our travel materials, we appreciated that he provided an informative and curated packet on the islands and their history and culture with maps and resources.
Namibia: landscapes, sand dunes, stargazing…
JUDY CALVERT | MAY 9, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Stunning Namibia enhanced by a WOW moment:
Just back from our 2nd trip booked with Cherri, with Elise taking the planning helm. The trip totally exceeded our expectations, which were already high based on our perceptions from some of the high end lodges’ marketing. We give full credit to Elise for taking the bits and bobs of what we wanted to experience and putting it into a fully rounded Namibia experience. The direction she chose of having the trip start with animals and build in lodge quality with each one and experience just getting better and better. We really enjoyed all the properties, with Onduli Ridge and and beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge being real stand outs (Okonjima Bush Camp and Ongava Lodge were very good too!). The only negative to the trip is on me, as I chose/pushed for Shipwreck Lodge, which although the staff were great and the property/location stunning, the experience fell below expectation for us. I would still highly recommend the area, just another property.
Our trip was just under 3 weeks from April 14-May 1, 2022. Even though Elise had provided all covid related information, all covid testing was relaxed for all of our destinations right before we left, which was so great. However, we had asked Elise to ensure Ultimate Safaris knew that we wanted to wear masks still while in the closed vehicle – compliance without an issue! Originally, we were adding on a South African portion to the trip which Elise fully planned BUT then Omicron hit and we decided to dial back to just travelling to Namibia and she made all those changes for us, bless her.
Namibia is fabulous. It’s a large country, so a lot to cover, but private flights and private safari vehicles make it happen. The intimate boutique lodges are outstanding and the food and beverage a great surprise of how good it all was. They have all the wild life, with some being desert-adapted, the amazing natural beauty of landscape, sky, sand dunes, ocean, stargazing (never have we seen the southern cross and milky way so clearly) and friendly people!
We really felt that we were treated like VIPs throughout our trip, getting the better room, getting the better guide, getting the better pilot, etc. And then there was our WOW Moment, which happened in Walvis Bay. After we finished our private kayak with Cape Fur Seals surrounding us, the owners of Mola Mola took us further along the beach where they had set up a private VIP gourmet beach lunch, complete with a beautiful beach toilet (honestly, a thing of beauty!). Their wonderful engaging personalities were icing on the cake… adding to tasty huge crayfish and delicious wines. Thank you!
Sicily with experts: chef, volcanologist, architect, archaeologist…
ANN WILKINSON | MAY 9, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My trip to Sicily was a long time coming—-originally planned for April 2020, postponed by the pandemic, and finally came to fruition in April 2022—and the wait was worth it!!
Throughout it all, Marcello provided a steady hand in the initial planning, the COVID cancellation, and finally the execution of what is one of the most wonderful trips ever.
When rebooking, adjustments to the itinerary were inevitable. But with Marcello’s expertise and contacts, he succeeded in providing an ever more stellar experience.
The itinerary gave us the perfect mix of the cities as well as hilltop villages and landscape in the hinterlands. Among the highlights—a market visit and cooking class in Ortigia, a day foraging for wild herbs with a food historian and chef near Buccheri, visiting Mt Etna with a volcanologist, touring Palermo and Monreale with an architect and Siracusa with an archeologist, experiencing an Easter procession in Scicli, birding with a naturalist near the temple of Segesta.
Drivers, guides, accommodations were just perfect at each and every location.
Most importantly, Marcello was with us via phone and WhatsApp throughout. He was totally engaged in checking and rechecking to ensure all went as planned and on schedule.
His personal attention had us feeling “like family” as he understood our interests and tastes so well!
I’ve been home less than a week and have already recommended Wendy Perrin and Marcello to friends. Thank you once again for another WOW trip!
Switzerland with kids
TARA ROBERTSON | MAY 1, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our Switzerland trip with Philipp and Nina was incredible. I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone who is going to this beautiful country. They accommodated all of our requests including staying in a hotel using our points at one stop, going to a specific town to see friends, and most important, they planned a trip that made everyone in our family happy. Not an easy task with an 8- and 11-year-old! We were supposed to take this trip pre-COVID and had to postpone. Philipp worked with us for over a year until we could actually travel. He was always responsive and helpful to everyone we needed and planned a well thought out trip for Spring that really showed us diverse aspects of Switzerland. We could not have asked for a better agent!
Family trip to Spain: Madrid & Andalusia
AMY GOLDBERG | MAY 1, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Virginia planned and executed the perfect family trip to Spain at the end of March to visit my son who was studying for the semester in Madrid. She balanced the itinerary between spending time with my son in Madrid to see his life there and traveling throughout Andalusia. The hotel accommodations were terrific and the tour guides were knowledgeable and accommodating. She coordinated a private lunch at a castle with the owner to learn about the history of the castle and the family that has owned it for generations. Our planned fishing trip in Marbella was cancelled because of the weather and she adjusted the itinerary so that we could spend more time in Granada to see the Cathedral and tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella. All of the transportation between cities was seamless and the drivers were all professional. I would strongly recommend Virginia and her team to friends that are planning trips to Spain.
Provence: food, wine, countryside…
BRIAN BALTES| APRIL 30, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My wife and I took a long awaited celebration of our 25th Anniversary and our 50th Birthdays to Provence, France April 15-23. Philip planned a terrific trip which wound up being one of the best weeks of our entire lives! He listened very carefully to our list of wants and desires and the result was a perfectly paced yet action-packed week. We visited wineries, explored several old and charming towns, ate in 3-Michelin-star restaurants as well as fantastic low key cafes, shopped and took a hike in the footsteps of Van Gogh. We have fallen in love with Provence and will definitely going back. I am looking forward to seeing Philip’s plan for your next trip there!
Ireland: five-star hotels & a private driver/guide
JANICE LAWSON | APRIL 27, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We took an incredible trip to Ireland using Jonathan and his team. They were very responsive in listening to what we desired and were patient with us when we felt the need to postpone during the Covid crisis. They booked us beautiful five star hotels and breath taking rooms. I figure they must have a map of each room at each hotel so they can fulfill your request, we never walked into one of our five hotels and thought they could have done better! It was always spot on. After our long flight they were thoughtful without asking by booking us two nights of rest before our touring at the Ballyfin. Every need is taken care of there by the experienced staff. After two days we caught our breath and the most professional driver/guide picked us up. Frank Kelley is a professional like no other. His knowledge on our touring was vast and his professionalism can not be beat. We moved on to Sheen Falls Lodge, Gregan’s Castle, Ashford Castle and the Shelbourn in Dublin to end our trip. We spent 6-8 hours a day with Frank. He found us wonderful restaurants and pubs for lunch. Took us to all the wonderful sights Ireland has to offer. Everywhere we went the hotel staff fondly talked about Jonathan Epstein. He and his company made a very good impression on not only us by the hotels we stayed at. Jonathan’s team booked all our dining reservations and most of our tours. We did also manage to add a few tours to our itinerary at the suggestion of our driver. We would definitely use Jonathan and his team for a future trip.
Spain: multigenerational trip to Andalusia
ADIL KARIM | APRIL 23, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We highly recommend working with Ivan. Ivan helped us plan a multi-generational 8 day trip that took place in April 2022. He put together an amazing itinerary that took into account family interests, mobility limitations, and dietary restrictions. His team went above and beyond to assist us with a lost luggage problem that was not their responsibility. Communication was excellent throughout starting with a Zoom call in October 2021 to explain our interests and with regular detailed e-mails and documentation after that. I’m the kind of person that has always planned itineraries myself. Ivan and team worked so seamlessly that I was never concerned or felt like I was missing information. This included items such as covid testing prior to our return to the US and arranging for a home chef for selected meals. Even during the Easter crowds, we felt comfortable with the itinerary and transportation plan. My only regret is that it will probably be some time before we return to Andalusia! Ivan helped us create some wonderful family memories while removing the burden of detailed planning. Highly recommended.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Caribbean cruise with upgraded suite
CONRAD EHRLICH | APRIL 22, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL At the advice of Wendy Perrin, we started working with Tom on March 10, 2021 on planning cruises because, after being on self-imposed Covid lockdown for over a year, we wanted to begin enjoying life again when we felt it safe to do so which we guessed would be in another year. The first cruise Tom planned was on the Celebrity Apex, April 2, 2022 – April 9, 2022. Tom handled the reservation with ease and when pricing suddenly became more favorable in an upgraded suite, he was able to act immediately and be the first to secure the cabin. Dealing with Tom is a joy and we feel he adds great value. We are particularly impressed with his profound and up to date knowledge of the cruise industry, its personnel, and its procedures, and with his response time. No matter where in the world Tom happens to be located, he will respond promptly and fully to any inquiry. Now that’s service! Planning a one week Caribbean cruise is a relatively simple matter perhaps but we can also say based on working with Tom on a 2023 World Cruise, that he possesses a unique skill set. We clearly love working with Tom.
Belize trip: beach & jungle with teens
SARAH WIGGLESWORTH | APRIL 20, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Patricia crafted a wonderful itinerary for our family of four in April 2022. She did a great job helping me think through how to spend our week in Belize, and explaining the options for activities and accommodation in various parts of the country. We spent 3 nights in the Cayó district in the west (Mayan sites, caving, canoeing) and 4 nights in Placencia on the beach. Her recommendations were spot-on and the tours/activities she organized were great. Only regret: I wish we had opted for more activity on some days – there was a lot of sitting during driving, canoeing, small-boat fishing – but it felt important when booking to keep things unstructured. Patricia asked all the right questions along the way. We had a fantastic time!
Heli-skiing in Canada
RACHEL BUNTON | APRIL 19, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We took our first helicopter skiing trip February 26th through March 8th and have decided that was the most fun vacation we’ve ever had! We started with a phone conversation with Marc to explain our interest in heli-skiing combined with fine dining restaurants and luxury accommodations. Our biggest concern was that most heli-ski trips appear to involve staying in remote accommodations for a week with a small group of strangers and a common dining room, but no restaurants or other activities on-property for the bad weather days. Marc suggested we try staying in the Whistler-Blackcomb Village in Canada at the Four Seasons Hotel and utilize the Whistler Heli-Skiing company that leaves daily directly from the Village. The best decision we made was to go with his recommendation. Marc’s staff, Beatrice and Andrea, did an amazing job of handling the trip details. Private transportation was arranged to take us from the airport to Whistler and back. They made dinner reservations every night of our trip at the best fine dining restaurants and Andrea even called the restaurants every day to reconfirm. One of our scheduled heli-ski days got cancelled due to weather and Andrea immediately rescheduled our day including spa reservations to ensure we didn’t miss a beat. We were able to heli-ski two other days and it was a blast! It was so nice knowing our trip planner was following up all the way through our trip. There was even a surprise cheese board that arrived in our hotel room shortly after arrival with a special note from our trip planners. Covid was not really an issue on this trip. We had to take the tests to enter and exit the country, but those were easy. The level of details that were thought through for this trip were outstanding and more than we could have done on our own. They even provided an itinerary with all the spa/travel/hotel/heli-ski details that we needed to know for each day, so we could just relax and have fun.
We will definitely do this trip and utilize this planning team again!
Budapest, Vienna, Prague: food tours, Danube, wine tasting…
JENNIFER ANDREWS | APRIL 17, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Gwen planned our first trip to Budapest, Vienna and Prague to perfection. We had experiences beyond anything I imagined (private tours of palaces, libraries, etc) with incredible guides. We had a food tour in Vienna that we could never have done on our own and a lovely boat trip at sunset down the Danube in Budapest. And in route to each city, we stopped at a vineyard for a private tasting and even had lunch in a Michelin star restaurant in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t have to think of anything, Gwen had it all planned. She picked amazing restaurants and every one of them knew of my dietary requirements before I got there. She picked amazing hotels and got us really good suites and the hotels gave us extra stuff with a note that said your travel designer planned x for you – which was a wonderful surprise. She knows the area so well and after speaking with her, she knew what we would and would not like. She even communicated with her colleague that planned different trips for us and Ala told her our likes as well so she really knew what to plan for us. When you get someone like Gwen, you immediately understand why having someone plan out your trip takes it to a level you could never achieve. Covid was not really an issue where we went but we did have to get a test to come home and the hotel sent someone to our room for an instant result test so it was easy. The Axus app that comes with the trip is constantly updated so it’s your bible on the trip and when our flight got canceled and rebooked later the same day, I emailed Gwen and the app was instantly updated and she changed our pickup, etc. without me having to do anything. We really loved all three cities and I know it’s because of how Gwen planned it for us.
Portugal: Lisbon, Douro Valley, Porto, Azores
JOANNE HENTON | APRIL 17, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our trip to Portugal was incredible. Goncalo and Joana did an awesome job planning our extensive itinerary. They kept us moving – which we love to do. From Lisbon to Douro Valley, with much in between. From Douro Valley to Porto, with much in between. Four days in the Azores was a different experience than the mainland. Enjoyed exploring the volcanic lakes, hot springs and the lushness. Then back to Lisbon to explore for our final two days. Our guides were fun and knowledgeable and our driver Luis was terrific! We felt safe the entire time. Covid testing was seamless. We needed to test on a Sunday to return to the U.S. As Portugal is a religious country, many places were closed. Tiago figured it out so as not to lose any time running around to find a testing place.
We would not recommend the pottery class. We did not get to take it, however, as when we drove up, one of the artists mentioned to Luis that one of his staff had tested positive for covid. Never relayed this info to Goncalo. (we did get reimbursed) Stargazing was not what we expected. Perhaps it was the time of year. They were the only two snafu’s.
Our trip would not have been the same without planning through your recommended tour specialist in Portugal. Highly recommend Goncalo and his team. Much more to see in this beautiful country. We will be back!
Italy: Venice, Milan, Lake Como…
ADAM AMSTERDAM | APRIL 14, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We returned yesterday from a fabulous trip to Italy planned by Maria. I don’t know how it could have been any better! We received a package a couple of weeks before our departure containing our final itinerary and two high-quality face masks. The “nota bene” section of the itinerary included a ton of useful Covid-specific and other information. Maria very thoughtfully arranged for a pharmacist to come to our hotel room the day before we returned home to administer the rapid Covid antigen test required for entry to the US. How convenient! Covid precautions (masks, proof of vaccination, etc.) in Italy were very similar to those at home and we never felt uncomfortable or at an unreasonable risk.
A combination of our visit occurring during shoulder season and the pandemic severely limiting tourists from Asia and other regions meant we encountered no crushing crowds and no problems getting into restaurants. This was most noticeable in Venice, where we enjoyed strolling freely the narrow streets of La Serenissima.
Fabulous hotels!!! In Milan the Hotel Principe di Savoia is a luxurious property, centrally located for walking to most things we wanted to do. Our guide Lorenza was delightful. Her insights into DaVinci’s Last Supper were better than anything we could have gotten out of a book.
Maria broke up our drive from Milan to Venice with a stop in Verona for a walking tour and lunch. It was perfect. We loved our guide Marina so much that we insisted she join us for lunch.
Venice is my wife’s favorite city after our home city of New York, and she has always wanted to stay in the Gritti Palace. Maria arranged a beautiful room with a balcony facing the Grand Canal. It could not have been better. Daria was the perfect guide! An Italian who spent time living in New York and going to college in Boston; she was a perfect bridge between the Italian and American cultures.
On the drive from Venice to Lake Como we stopped in Vicenza to see some of Palladio’s best architecture and a delicious lunch in the wine cellar at Il Cepo. The Grand Hotel Tremezzo on Lake Como is like something out of movie. We had a corner room with a lake view of Bellagio. The “Grand” in the hotel’s name is most appropriate. Our guide Rita and our skipper Carlo, took great care of us and had fantastic senses of humor. We spent the morning touring on a private water taxi. Tremezzo and its surroundings took our breath away. Lunch at Crotto del Misto was unbelievable! We had the restaurant all to ourselves. It was like a dream.
This was our first international trip since the lockdown and it reminded us of how much we’ve missed traveling. We’re already thinking about our next trip!
Portugal: spring break with teens
JULIE HEIMARK | APRIL 13, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned from a long awaited trip to Portugal. Gonçalo arranged a two week tour of Portugal for our family of four over spring break 2022. We spent six days in Lisbon, five days exploring the hilltop Templar castelos of Central Portugal, and then three nights in the Azores. Gonçalo and his team were very responsive and provided great support during the trip. We had difficulty finding the meeting spot for one activity and Gonçalo’s team solved the problem for us promptly (not only on the phone but our previous guide personally came and found us to make sure we were ok!) Gonçalo’s hotel recommendations were spot on. We loved Hotel Bairro Alto in Lisbon — luxurious, great balcony for drinks and dining, fantastic location. And São Lourenço do Barrocal in the Alentejo is now up there with one of my favorites in the world — think a Portuguese Meadowood. Just an exquisite property, and I’m already dreaming of a return trip there. Gonçalo arranged many unique experiences for us — a graffiti workshop, dinner in a Portuguese home (the best food we ate the entire trip), rail biking outside Mervão (my 16 year old’s favorite), stargazing in Dark Sky Alqueva (my 14 year olds favorite), and guided hiking in the Azores. For me, the highlight of the trip was a picnic lunch in a nature reserve outside Sintra after braving the hordes at Pena Palace. We spent the most delightful two hours in a sunny flower filled meadow sipping vinho verde, enjoying delicious homemade food and laughing and talking with Lara (the chef and foodie tour guide) and Tiago F. (our walking guide and one of the smartest and most entertaining guys we’ve met), discussing everything from the Oscars to Queirós. I felt like I was experiencing the best of authentic Portugal and its people.
Morocco: open-air sites, Sahara, Berber village…
JEFF GREENBERG | APRIL 12, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Just back from a great two-week trip to Morocco, arranged by Radia and her team. This was twice delayed by Covid, so we made sure health issues were taken care of first. Morocco is actually a great place to visit in the Covid world, as it has an extremely low infection rate and most of the places we visited were outdoors and spacious. Our driver and guides were fully vaccinated, masked etc, so we felt completely safe. Radia also worked with us on being flexible on cancellation policies as Morocco was closed for a time before our trip.
The trip planning process was excellent, with Radia working very patiently with me to adjust the trip itinerary, hotels and activities as required. The trip to the Sahara, staying in a tent amidst the sand dunes, was special, along with a hike/mule ride to a Berber village at the top of a mountain, including tea with a local family. Our driver Said was with us the whole trip and was fantastic- a good driver as we hit a snowstorm on a mountain pass, and always flexible as timing or weather changed, re-arranging/adding items to the trip. They even provided us with some small bills upon arrival so we could have money for tips before we were able to hit the ATM.
Overall a fantastic experience and would highly recommend Radia and her team.
Caribbean cruise from Miami
MELANIE KAMINETSKY| APRIL 7, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Cheri guided us with our first foray back to cruising. Our friends had decided to cruise in December in Europe on Viking, contracted Covid after 3 days aboard, and spent 12 days isolating in a (beautiful) villa in Greece until she FINALLY tested negative. With that misadventure in mind, I did not want to need to isolate on a Caribbean island!
We found out that Regent isolates you on board, and brings you to your final destination, Miami-Miami in our case. With that reassurance, we were comfortable taking the chance.
As well, the ship had 490 passengers vs. 700 capacity.
Cheri guided us to an insurance agent for our Cancel-for-any-reason insurance, in case we were not comfortable going at the last minute.
Cheri guided us with our cabin choice; it was fabulous.
I was so happy to be back on a ship. It was perfect. Cheri said we would love Regent and we did!
Turkey: private guiding in Cappadocia
ELAINE GOLIN | APRIL 7, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our request to Earl was a bit of an unusual one – we already were joining a cooking seminar in Antalya and Istanbul for a week prior, so were just looking for someone to plan a four day extension to Cappadocia in March 2022. Earl went above and beyond. He recommended and booked an exquisitely beautiful, perfectly located hotel in Cappadocia that turned out to be one of my favorites anywhere (great rooms, great food, great service). He paid attention to our interests and planned an itinerary accordingly. He was always super responsive to our emails and requests, and handled everything with a nice sense of humor. And perhaps most importantly, the guide he picked for us, Riza, was among the best I’ve had anywhere in the world. A wealth of knowledge with a can do, flexible attitude, and a great conversationalist, Riza quickly got our vibe and interests and made everything just that much more fun and interesting. As an obsessive with respect to all things food, I liked that he made sure I tried all the local specialties. Between Earl, Riza and our driver Mehmet, it was a seamless and truly memorable trip and they will be my first call (through Wendy of course!) when I return to Turkey, which I now hope will be very very soon. Now – with respect to Covid – we had a little bit of chaos when the Turkish Airlines representative wouldn’t accept our test results because they were more than 24 hours before our international flight (and contended that Emed video testing was a “home test.”) Anyway, that was in no way Earl or Riza’s fault, and in fact, we were thankful that Riza was still with us and was able to advocate with us with the airline, translate for us at the testing center, and generally manage the process until we were safely on the plane. Can’t recommend this team enough.
Belize with teens: jungle & private yacht charter…
ELIZABETH CRAWFORD | APRIL 6, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My husband and I just returned from a fabulous 10 day trip to Belize. We stayed in 3 different areas and each one was beautiful and interesting with terrific hotels. Since we knew very little about Belize, Patricia was extremely valuable in helping us decide where to stay and in identifying activities and experiences that fit our interests. Patricia arranged for a Garifuna immersion day while we were in Placencia which was very interesting and a lot of fun. We stayed in Chaa Creek Lodge which was gorgeous and where we enjoyed the on-site activities as well as visiting Xunantunich and the Saturday morning farmers market. And on Ambergris Caye, Patricia arranged for a private catamaran snorkeling tour of the famous barrier reef which was perfect for my husband who is not a strong swimmer and was hesitant to snorkel on his own. The crew was fantastic in providing personal snorkeling guides for each of us and preparing delicious food and drinks for us to enjoy. Belize was a perfect destination during Covid given that everything we did was outdoors and all of the staff and guides were vaccinated. Patricia handled all of the logistics which were flawless, including arranging for our Covid tests before returning to the U.S. The trip truly exceeded our expectations!
England with kids: London & the Cotswolds
JESSICA AND STEVE MARTIN | APRIL 5, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We travelled to London and The Cotswolds in March of 2022.
Our team, led by Jonathan, was exceptional. They helped us pick the perfect hotels for us (in London, The Goring, and in the Cotswolds, Lucknam Park) and for that reason alone they were worth it- we were so overwhelmed by all of the choices. Our transfers and all of the details that can be very tedious and annoying were all seamless and we didn’t have any kind of logistical stress during our whole trip.
The tours they chose for us were perfect and we got guides that were great for our family. We especially loved the Mini Cooper Harry Potter tour, and our tour of Oxford and the Cotswolds. They helped us organize our days so that each day was special but not overwhelmingly busy.
The Goring was amazing- the service was the best we have experienced and it was so charming and English. The bar, breakfast service, and afternoon tea were great and the rooms were beautiful. Housekeeping went above and beyond and the concierge is incredible. The location is great too.
In the Cotswolds we stayed at Lucknam Park, which is a beautiful, expansive property. My daughter loves horses and my son loves being in nature and we all really enjoyed it. It was a great change of pace from London and a relaxing way to end our trip.
In terms of Covid, it really wasn’t a concern of ours. The UK has dropped all protocols and it feels very pre-pandemic over there, which we loved.
This is our second time using Wendy Perrin and it certainly won’t be our last. Before, we always figured with the internet you really don’t need a travel agent. But we have learned that the value-add makes it well worth it. The headaches are removed, the itinerary is thoughtfully organized, and you have access to special experiences you wouldn’t otherwise have. We highly recommend Wendy Perrin!
Italy: food focus in Rome & Umbria
CATHY AND JIM GETZ | APRIL 4, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We truly enjoyed a wonderful trip to Umbria and Rome. Maria and her team had a spectacular itinerary tailored around food and walking. We were blessed with wonderful weather as we hiked near Assisi and explored Gubbio, Spello, Spoleto, Bevagna and Montefalco with Maria’s team of excellent guides and drivers. Our guide Marco’s knowledge of art was truly amazing and we learned the Umbrian perspective on 2000 years of history. We explored smaller, well preserved walled towns, most dating from Roman times. We ate magnificently, with truffles being a major focus in pasta, bruschetta and scrambled eggs. The truffle hunt was fun and informative and lunch following truly memorable thanks to Cristina. Rome was very busy, Gina made our food walk there one of the highlights of the trip, showcasing smaller neighborhoods, shops and wine bars. Maria had everything in place for Covid protocols and we had no issues with our Green Pass, EU tracing and testing to return to the US. In addition, the team was more than accommodating with minor changes, including a request for a second dinner reservation in Montefalco at a very small, highly rated spot.
Colombia for a multigenerational family
ERIN TEXEIRA | APRIL 4, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Boris and his team were absolutely invaluable in helping us have an amazing family trip. Pre-planning was very easy via phone and email, and the expert guidance on activities and locales led us to have a wonderful time.
On arrival, every arrangement unfolded as planned: Each of the three tour guides were so professional, knowledgeable, flexible, and very warm/good-humored — truly lovely people who are great at their jobs and really enhanced our time. We would recommend them all without hesitation.
A special note of gratitude to coffee region tour guide Sebastian Arbelaez who, after three very full days of touring, met us at our hotel at 5am and helped us through the confusing, two-hour-long process of getting checked in and organizing our luggage and paperwork for departure from Armenia. He was incredible and patient, and I literally don’t know what we would have done without him.
The tours themselves were amazing, especially Gregorio Uribe (music) and Maria Paula (art tour) in Bogota and Palenque (so beautiful and culturally rich)! Cartagena is, of course, incredibly special and we mostly enjoyed walking around and soaking it all in. The coffee region was so different — lush, green and peaceful.
We adored Casa Medina and Hacienda Bambusa — gorgeous, high quality, unique hotels with superb staff. If we had it to do over again, we probably shouldn’t have arranged quite so much activity so that we could relax at our wonderful hotels a bit more. I wish Casa Medina and Sofitel had been able to arrange adjacent hotel rooms, but for some reason hotels (in general) rarely seem to be able to accommodate these requests.
In Cartagena, the Sofitel is stunning, we loved the historical feel of it, and the food/buffet is stellar, but the hotel was too large and crowded for our tastes. More importantly, the hotel rooms showed obvious wear and tear and need to be refreshed. It was simply not in the same category as the other two hotels on the trip. If we returned to Cartagena, we would not stay at the Sofitel again.
As far as Covid, it was a non-issue. Everyone wore a mask (moreso than in the States) unless we specifically invited them not to. Most restaurants checked vaccine cards. The Covid testing was remarkably easy to arrange and results were prompt. We felt safe every step of the way.
We hired Boris’ team for their pre-trip planning expertise, and that aspect was absolutely wonderful. What was unexpectedly amazing was being able to truly enjoy our time and not spend part of each day debating what to do, see or eat. This is a huge bonus, especially with a multi-generational family group full of opinionated people. Having a great plan in place allowed us all to actually relax and enjoy our family time pretty much from day one. In other words, the trip planner absolutely added value to our trip!
All that to say, we highly recommend Boris, and we will call again when we return to beautiful Colombia!
Thank you to Wendy Perrin for helping us find Boris. It was an unforgettable family trip
Italy: Florence, Rome, Pisa, Lucca…
DEBORAH TREECE | APRIL 4, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL A most beautiful trip to Florence, Italy with a brief overnight in Rome and day trips to Pisa, Lucca, and shopping the outlets. Our hotel had a patio with a view of the Duomo that was truly stunning.
One of the best features of visiting Europe is the knowledge of the tour guides. Most are historians and become certified to offer their expertise on the past and current culture. We had amazingly friendly and knowledgable guides who offered not only a unique perspective on Florence and Rome but also on Italy in general. We are given a person to contact with any questions or concerns while abroad. This came in handy for covid testing before returning home and following up with any necessary questions about where to eat, etc. It was truly a beautiful trip.
We had the most amazing meal in Rome for our anniversary and it was one of the top five meals of my life.
Our vaccine card and masks were required to enter every store, restaurant and museum. We chose to wear our masks in large crowds outdoors but mostly went without while outside.
Morocco: cities, Sahara, Atlas Mountains…
ARTHUR EVERLY| APRIL 4, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL The three of us just returned from a 12 day trip to Morocco planned by Michael. When the three of us put our heads together after our trip we could not come up with a single change we would have made to the planning. Michael worked with us early to understand all that we wanted to see and do, then planned the perfect trip for us. We were met at the Casablanca airport by a gentleman who guided us through the airport, bypassing all the normal lines and took us to our waiting van to meet our guide Zayd and our driver Mohammed. These two were wonderful, guiding us every step of our trip giving us great details about the many places, architecture, and culture we visited. This was no easy task as we visited Rabat, Chefchaouen, Fes, the Sahara for a camel trek and Marrakech. This does not even include the countless little villages while traveling the Atlas Mountains. Zayd’s extensive knowledge of his country and Mohammed’s driving skills made our trip truly special. Just wonderful!
Our trip ended when another gentleman named Asad guided us back through the Marrakech airport avoiding all the normal hassle. Just a perfect trip!
Southern Spain with teens/tweens
DAN RYAN | APRIL 3, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My family of 4 had an amazing trip to Southern Spain, thanks to the planning and efforts of Ivan. To begin with, Ivan setup a 1-hour Zoom meeting so he could meet me and better understand my family, our travel desires and anything that could make our trip more special. Within a few days, he had multiple options for our itinerary, as well as hotel choices.
We spent 3 nights in Granada and 3 nights in Seville. Both hotels were great and our guides were amazing. Ivan really knows the local area and the local guides, and our hotels were perfectly situated to everything we did.
Our itinerary was a great mix of history, culture, food and family activities. And even though were experienced travelers, we would have had a very hard time replicating what Ivan was able to deliver.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Malta: meeting locals, insider experiences
PETER WATSON| APRIL 3, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We completed a very enjoyable trip to Malta in late March 2022. We had originally conceived of a short trip to Malta being part of a cruise. But we then changed our minds and decided to add Malta to our trip to the UK. Malta can be easily accessed from the UK via Air Malta (the carrier we used) or British Airways or Ryanair.
We worked exclusively with Jason to set up the trip having identified his company through The WOW List. It turned out that we had a lot in common having both grown up in southern Ontario. We had an initial call to set some of the parameters e.g. number of nights (in the end 6 nights), hotel in Malta (he proposed and we agreed on Domus Zamitello – superb location in the center of Malta from where you can walk to dinner and local attractions), whether Sicily should be included (there is a ferry which makes daily trips but we opted not to add this and instead focus on just Malta) and then Jason developed a proposed trip. His initial proposal exceeded my budget and so we worked together to refine his proposal. The final itinerary included a combination of, on various days, a guide, a car, a guide and a car and self-guiding. On the days we had a guide we picked the experiences we wanted from Jason’s vast catalogue of options. We were very satisfied with all of our choices but one – what ended up as a public tour of the Manoel Theatre as they would not permit our guide to host our visit. We met many local residents and had ample opportunity to get to know them and learn about their life in Malta. For example, at our farm lunch, we met our host for the day, the farmer and his wife and her helper as well as a local maker of musical instruments and music all in a country-like setting. We sampled tasty local red and white wines and tapas. We have no doubt that we would not have had these sorts of experiences had we not worked with Jason. We had several excellent meals in and around Valetta.
Covid concerns were greatly reduced by March as we were past the Omicron peak. But we were happy that we postponed our trip from February as originally scheduled. We did not have any Covid issues at any time during our trip.
Malta is very safe to visit. We had hoped for warmer weather but temperatures were moderate and it was after all early spring. There was very little cruise traffic in Valetta which also contributed to the “local” experience. We had no issues during our trip which necessitated contacting Jason but were we confident that he / his team would be there if we needed them.
Robert was our local guide and Mario was our local driver and Mario also handled our airport transfers. Both were very experienced in taking care of travelers like us. We were well taken care of and enjoyed engaging with them throughout.
Mexico: trip planner to the rescue
EMMA JACOBS| APRIL 2, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My husband and I are very seasoned travelers having visited over 114 countries in the world. We have never experienced service as good as this before, that’s for sure.
Zach, along with his team on the ground, were incredible.
There are always moments along the way when something goes awry, small details can and do fall by the wayside at those times. Carlos, our contact on the ground, jumped in and did an excellent job
However the REALLY BIG difference came when my husband needed a doctor.
On returning from dinner to our hotel one night in Mexico City, Patrick was experiencing chest pains that felt like very bad indigestion, so we stopped by the desk to ask for a doctor.
Within a few minutes the owner of this small boutique hotel was at our side, saying he had called an UBER and was going to go with us to the ER, by then, it was around 1030 pm.
Sam stayed with us translating and advocating for us.
I can’t imagine how we would have coped without him. No one spoke English except the doctors. We speak no Spanish really. He navigated us through the ER making sure that we were taken care of, even referring his mother’s cardiologist to us. At 230am a young man named Tim arrived. He reported directly to Zach, basically he was the head guy on his team, he had been woken up in the middle of the night and came immediately to the hospital.
When my husband was admitted for over night evaluation at around 4am and they had ruled out all heart issues, Tim took me by UBER back to the hotel.
Over the next few days Sam and Carlos checked in on us regularly and his team stayed on top of the situation until we left.
All I can say is, thank you Zach, the relationships that you clearly have formed on the ground really paid off for us!!
Portugal with teens: history, adventure, cooking classes…
KARYN SALLUS | APRIL 2, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned from a long awaited trip to Portugal. The trip was rescheduled three times due to Covid and throughout this process Gonçalo and his team were patient and through.
We had a fantastic trip in spite of rain throughout the 10 day trip and a once every 20 year sand storm that blanketed the country for 3 days giving all our photos a yellow/orange haze.
Our trip began in Porto where we stayed a beautiful hotel walking distance to shops and good food. We had a great tour guide who spent two days showing us the sites and history of this beautiful city. We had an amazing cooking class at an estate outside the city that had been in the owner’s family for 18 generations. Unfortunately weather did not permit enjoying the beautiful grounds.
Next we spent time in Algarve where Gonçalo booked us at a wonderful resort on the beach. We spent the afternoons exploring nearby towns. Our boat trip to the caves was a bust due to weather, but now we have an excuse to return to this beautiful part of the country.
Lastly we spent the end of our trip in Lisbon. We had an amazing tour guide Matilda who was able to engage our three teenage girls and keep all of us interested in the history and sites. We did an amazing Coasteering activity along the coast the girls loved. It involved cliff jumping, rock climbing and swimming. We were freezing but adrenaline kept us going, and the wetsuits helped a bit.
Our last day we were rewarded with a chilly but sunny day…..we took a sailing trip and explored some cities outside Lisbon.
Gonçalo arranged a trip exactly as requested: some history, some culture and some active adventure. If only he could have controlled the weather it would have been a perfect trip!
As usual Wendy’s Wow List did not disappoint!
Peru: food, nature, history, pisco sours…
SANDRA SOUTHWICK | APRIL 2, 2022
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My husband and I were scheduled to take two trips back to back (they were trips postponed twice due to covid) in Chile and Peru. As the travel dates approached, the requirements for entering Chile and the rise in covid cases in Chile had me worried. I cancelled the Chile part of the trip (for a third time!). With airline tickets booked I now had 8 days free. So, best to ask Wendy! She connected me with Tom and he did a great job finding activities that didn’t overlap with our other planned activities.
Our guide Claudia was delightful. She is a wealth of knowledge but knows just how much information to give each person – doesn’t leave you with questions and doesn’t overload you with information. In Lima, she brought us to an open market where where she shops and she introduced us to all kinds of fruit and vegetables we had never seen. We had a cooking class and a pisco sour making class. We went to a tasting of sustainable sourced Peruvian chocolate bars. For history, we went to the Larco Museum. Claudia could write books with the knowledge she has about Peru’s history and she shares it in a very understandable way.
While in Paracas we went to Ballestas Islands and Paracas National Reserve for my nature fix. I could never have done this on my own. So glad for Tom’s itinerary.
* 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.