How to minimize your risk and maximize your travel experience? Know the right 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 — yes, even during the pandemic — after returning from trips arranged by Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts. Here’s how to get your own extraordinary trip. *
Hawaii: two resorts on Lana’i
ALVA ALVAREZ | AUGUST 1, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I cannot recommend Dani R. Johnson more highly for your next trip to Hawaii. Not only did she relieve the stress of our first trip after the 2020 shut down, she tended to every detail of our first trip to Lana’i. While we had travelled several times to Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island, she suggested that Lana’i would be a perfect island to ease back into travel. She was spot on. We split our time between the two resorts– Senei Lana’i and the Four Seasons resort on the beach. We loved both. The food was delicious every time we sat down. The service was great. And, thanks to Dani, my husband and I played golf together for the first time at the super fun Manele Golf Course, taking advantage of the Sunset 9 program which allows people to play the back 9 and most scenic part of the course after 3pm. It was just what we needed after not traveling for over a year. What I haven’t yet mentioned is that Dani planned all of it within less than a week’s notice! She was able to direct me to the pharmacy in TX which would get us results in time for us to board our flight to HI (This was in late Feb 2021 when HI was still requiring a negative PCR test from only a handful of pharmacies). She eased my anxiety about traveling and was available by text or phone any time I had a question, even while we were in Lana’i. She went above and beyond for us because she knew how much we needed to get away and she did everything in her power to make it happen in a very short time. I will definitely call upon her again. Thank you, Dani!
Windstar cruise of the Greek Islands
PATRICIA MOODY | JULY 31, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our family of five adults finally got to take our trip. It wasn’t the one we originally booked. It wasn’t even the second or third iteration, but the fourth!
Several months before the COVID pandemic hit, Tom Baker helped me book a Windstar cruise. A few months later, we were informed that our cruise was cancelled due to delays in the ship’s construction updates. Would we like to book another cruise? We did. This time to the Norwegian fjords leaving from Edinburgh. That cruise was later cancelled in 2020 due to COVID restrictions. Again, would we like to reschedule? With incentives? We did and planned to sail the same itinerary in 2021. A few months into 2021, because of shutdowns in the UK, we learned our cruise was cancelled. Again. But Greece was open. Would we like to sail the ship the Wind Star in the Greek Isles? Yes! So, although I wouldn’t usually recommend a cruise round trip from Athens in July (the hottest time of the year), we were able to travel and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. There were hiccups: our stop in Kusadasi/Ephesus was changed to Syros (gorgeous!) when Turkey shut its border, the breakdown of one of the ships engines made sailing a little slower and prevented our stop in Santorini (Windstar bent over backwards to accommodate stopping in Paros instead and chartering a last-minute ferry to Santorini from there.)
We loved the ship Wind Star. With only 97 passengers on this cruise, we experienced no lines and excellent, personal service. And Tom was patient and adept with all our cancellations and rescheduling. My adult children loved the experience and are already hoping to cruise with Windstar next year.
Istanbul with a private local guide
CHRISTINA SCHWAM | JULY 30, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had an amazing time exploring Istanbul with our guide, Esin. Istanbul is a massive, sprawling city that would have been difficult to navigate on our own. Our itinerary was perfect, and it was clear that it was carefully created to minimize time in transit, crowds, and to give us a snapshot of historical timelines (i.e. visiting the Topkapi Palace and then the Dolmabahce Palace). Esin has an amazing command of Turkey’s history and shared so much information with us that made all of our experiences more engaging.
Every experience we had in Istanbul was enjoyable and easy because all of the logistics were taken care of for us. Our driver was amazing and made moving around Istanbul stress-free. Esin enriched every experience and made it frustration-free for us as we never stood in a line, didn’t have to check schedules, hours of operation etc.
We were traveling as three generations of women and Esin had an excellent ability to appeal to all of our interests. She was incredibly flexible and patient. My mom was dealing with a foot injury and Esin was extremely protective of her, always scouting for an elevator and ensuring she was okay. In general, she was protective of all of us at all times, which made us feel very comfortable exploring a country that was new to us. She taught us about cultural norms and traditions, helped us negotiate at the bazaars, and made sure we had a good plan for dinner every evening before leaving us at the end of the day.
I don’t often use travel agencies as I like to research and figure things out on my own. Because of the enormity of Istanbul though, I decided to use Wendy Perrin (referred by a friend). I am so thankful that I did. Karen’s team made excellent recommendations and arrangements throughout our stay. The hotel and our cruise were two of my highlights. The Bank Hotel was fabulous and had the boutique feel we wanted. It’s a beautiful, clean hotel with supreme service. Another highlight is the private yacht cruise we took. It was a great way to view the city and was certainly not something I would have known was an option without them. Karen added to our trip in so many wonderful ways and Esin was the perfect guide for us. We are so thankful!
Bahamas cruise on Crystal Serenity
LORRAINE VICTOR | JULY 28, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We were so happy to hear from Tom about Crystal Cruises’ Bahamas itinerary. Like many, we have not taken any vacation since the pandemic, but felt completely safe with the required vaccinations and pre-testing requirements on this trip. We understood from Tom that this was essentially a trip to nowhere, which actually sounded pretty perfect for just getting out of our own living room! So glad that we took advantage of the offer and had a wonderful and relaxing time onboard Crystal Serenity. The restaurants, spa treatments and all onboard amenities were great, and in spite of the “small” ship, we kept wondering where all the other people were! My husband wanted to stay on board for another week, but alas, other obligations prevented it. Tom was available and in contact throughout the trip, and I always felt like there was someone to call in the event of any issue, which happily there were none.
Mother/daughter trip to Turkey
ANDREA HUBER | JULY 28, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My daughter and I traveled to Turkey on July 5 – July 14th. We visited Istanbul for 4 days and then flew to Izmir and spent 2 nights in Alacati and 2 nights in Sirince. We worked with Karen Fedorko. Everything was very smooth and we felt really very taken care of from the minute we stepped off of the plane. Karen listened to my ideas for what I wanted from the trip and translated them perfectly into a special trip for my 18-year-old and me. Our guides were top notch and both of us liked them very much. I would strongly recommend Karen to anyone thinking of heading to Turkey and why not go while most people are not traveling there at this time.
Hawaii: Three generations, three islands
ALBERT CEMEL | JULY 27, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Dani Johnson planned a fabulous trip to the Hawaiian Islands for my wife and I, our three children and their spouses/partners, and our six granddaughters. Although our family of 14 had taken many yearly vacations to the Florida Panhandle, we had never planned a trip this ambitious and complex. Selecting accommodations, restaurants, and activities on each of three islands (Kauai, Big Island of Hawaii, and Maui) we visited, while keeping within our budget, was a formidable challenge. The entire process was made so much easier by Dani’s vast experience with the islands, and the fact that she had personal experience with every suggestion she made. Although we changed our minds several times, particularly with the accommodations, Dani showed great patience and worked hard to come up with selections we all loved and ultimately met the needs of the entire family.
With regard to activities, Dani provided an extensive list of choices for each island and spent a lot of time on the phone working with us to select ones that could be enjoyed by everyone in the family, regardless of age (excluding our one year old granddaughter). Several excursions that Dani made sure we went on turned out to be experiences of a lifetime. A nighttime snorkelling trip with manta rays was one of the most exciting experiences any of us had ever had. Having these magnificent 8-12 ft wide creatures swim by right in front of your eyes was absolutely incredible. Another experience we will never forget is a helicopter trip around the Big Island. In addition to getting incredible views of the diverse landscape on Hawaii, including the gigantic volcanoes on the island, several flights into canyons as tall as 3000 ft and lined with lush vegetation and some of the tallest waterfalls on earth, was absolutely jaw droppingly stunning. We’ve seen some beautiful scenery around the world, but this was something that just took our breath away. I’m really not sure we would have chosen these experiences had Dani not encouraged us. I would advise travelers to Hawaii to put these on their must do list.
In addition to trip planning, Dani sent all of us information on the Covid requirements for visiting the islands, documents we had to download beforehand, and stressing things like getting tested within 72 hours of departing for our first destination. Not having the correct information would cause major delays when you arrive.
I would also add that Dani readily handled several last minute changes we requested, in addition to a couple of requests and questions that came up during the trip. One example is an issue we encountered at the car rental in Hawaii, where cars are very scarce due to the large number of tourists. There was a mixup with who in the family would get which sized car, and they would not make the changes as it would require new reservations and risk losing one or more cars. One phone call to Dani and the issue was resolved in minutes.
Another thing we appreciated was Dani’s warning that traveling to the peak of their tallest volcano, at nearly 14,000 ft, results in altitude sickness for about 20% of those who attempt it. At our advanced age, my wife and I chose to err on the safe side.
All in all, this trip turned out to be a trip of a lifetime for everyone in the family, and we are very grateful to Dani for making it so.
Outdoor adventures in Iceland
JENNIFER ANDREWS | JULY 26, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Chris planned a wonderful 2 week stay in Iceland for us. We wanted longer stays in fewer places – which proved a challenge – but Chris came up with a great itinerary that fit our wants and needs. We kayaked in a glacier lagoon, went on ATVs on black beaches and had some amazing hikes with really beautiful weather. Chris sent a package with day-to-day itineraries for us that had lots of ideas for stops and sites to see. He also planned really great restaurants for us in Reykjavik that we loved. Chris took lots of time to plan just want we wanted and our first trip to Iceland was perfect. We had an easy covid test before we left – we were in and out in 20 minutes. I can’t imagine not using a planner like Chris for our trip. We would have floundered. I can’t recommend him highly enough.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Family road trip in the American Southwest
KARL MATTSON-BOZE | JULY 26, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Many thanks to Melissa Ladvala and her team. We took a custom private tour starting in Albuquerque, NM and ending in Salt Lake City, UT, and the team set up a fantastic trip that brought us through the history and geology from Mesa Verde to Canyonlands, from the dinosaurs to the “Wild West,” while providing fantastic activities for the kids (9 and 11). Melissa connected us to a phenomenal guide in Moab, private 3 hour horseback riding, an archaeologist guide in Mesa Verde and a fantastic itinerary that minimized driving and maximized family time.
Iceland trip with unusual experiences
DOROTHY WHELAN | JULY 26, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My husband and I traveled to Iceland from 7/8/21 to 7/18/21. Chris Gordon arranged our trip. He was great. Chris really knows Iceland. The activities he chose for us were spot-on based on our interests. He also recommended things to do (glacier ice cream stop, artisan collective) that we never would have found on our own. Importantly, he allowed us to optimize our time by skipping more commonplace activities like the Golden Circle. We also liked our hotels, which aren’t easy to find once you get outside of Reykjavik. Re. COVID, Iceland is pretty straightforward if you’ve been vaccinated. His suggestions, coupled with our independent research, enabled us to navigate testing and entry requirements.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Mainland Greece: Villages away from the crowds
JENN TABB | JULY 24, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Jacoline Vinke put together a magical trip for us in mid-July. We had been to “beachy” Greece and wanted to experience something different and go somewhere that was not crowded with tourists as countries opened back up for travel. Jacoline recommended the mountainous region of northern Greece, Zagori. The Pindos Mountains are absolutely stunning, and there is a lot to do. We hiked to ancient monasteries, floated down rivers, hiked to the Beloi viewpoint where we admired an incredible view of the Vikos gorge, met wonderful people, and ate the most delicious Greek food. We visited many different villages and stayed in 3: Kastraki, Ano Pedina, and Aristi. Our hotels and tour guides were a cut above—Jacoline really knows her stuff! One thing I really appreciated was a small binder of our itinerary day-by-day. It fit into my purse/backpack easily and came in handy many times.
I think what makes Jacoline stand out is that she really listened to what we wanted and made it all happen, right down to me having a private guided tour of a winery (Metsovo) and its vineyards with the owner, and my husband being able to cycle in a remote region (near Verdeto) with an expert guide. Jacoline knew we were interested in history, so she arranged for a very special guide who was able to teach us so much about the history of Greece and the region which was awesome—like taking a class on Greece.
It is very rare for me to say this but I can’t wait to go back and explore other villages and meet more exceptional people. And of course, Jacoline will be my first call!
Italy: Milan and Venice without the crowds
JOSEPH KASS | JULY 21, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My 17-year-old daughter and I recently returned from a father-daughter trip to Italy, expertly arranged by Jill Taylor. This was the second of two trips I asked Jill to help me with for the month of June, and she literally put this fabulous experience together in under 10 days.
We have been to Italy several times, but since my daughter is studying Italian and the idea of a crowd free, cruise free Venice seemed like a once-in-lifetime opportunity, we decided to spend our 8 days in Italy divided between Milan, which my daughter had never visited, and Venice, where we last visited for New Years when my daughter was in late elementary school. Jill planned the perfect trip for us. She made the effort to get to know our travel style and our range of interests, which made a difference in terms of hotel choices and tour recommendations. We were Jill’s first post-quarantine travelers to Europe, but because we are seasoned travelers (and can get by in Italian), we were comfortable being at the vanguard.
We toured privately throughout, and the guides adhered scrupulously to the safety precautions in place at the time. The crew Jill uses in Italy is top notch. Jill has lived in Italy and returns there often, so her advice reflects her extensive on-the-ground experience. She also anticipated logistical issues for us.
For example, we had reservations at a one Michelin star vegan restaurant (my daughter is vegetarian) in Milan the day we transferred to Venice by train. Jill timed the transfers like clockwork, anticipating the amount of time we would be at lunch with amazing accuracy and arranging for a driver to pick us up from the restaurant to take us to the hotel to get our luggage before continuing to the train station. Although that may sound minor, not having to scramble for our own taxi in a residential area that afternoon eliminated any risk of our missing the train. We hadn’t talked about that arrangement ahead of time, but anticipating that issue by arranging that transfer demonstrated an attention to detail I sincerely appreciated.
Jill arranged all our tours, and an especially memorable one was spending half a day on a design tour in Milan.
This tour included meeting an up-and-coming fashion designer and also a young shoe designer. My daughter and I are both art fans, and we toured the Academia in Venice with an art historian. When her usual contacts in Milan could not obtain tickets to the Last Supper (we finalized arrangements the day before departure so with reduced access I hadn’t expected to be able to visit the masterpiece), Jill reached out to a contact she has at the Milan Chamber of Commerce, and presented us with two coveted tickets as a present to us.
In both Milan and Venice we were the first Americans that our guides had in over a year, and everyone was happy to have us back. Venice was magical without the crowds, and Jill’s experience in Venice paid off for us there too. I must also compliment Jill for making it easy to say that something was out of my price range. She also was perfectly fine with my using my Marriott Bonvoy points for my stay at the St Regis in Venice (which is a wonderful hotel, by the way).
Given how expensive hotels in Venice can be, she is used to working with people who want to redeem points in that city.
Her recommendation of the Vik Galleria in Milan was spot on in terms of location, design, and service. She suggested this property rather than another one I initially considered, and I’m so happy she did. We could not have asked for a more central location with very interesting design and a wonderful staff.
Jill is approachable, easily reachable, and extremely knowledgeable. She was great to work with.
Hawaii: Three generations, from 12 to 70
PATTI RIVES | JULY 19, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Dani Johnson helped my husband and I plan a fabulous Hawaii vacation in July 2021 for our extended family of 9 people…age range from “almost” 70 to 12! There were “Covid hurdles” to jump, even though we were all vaccinated, and Dani made suggestions for the best way to find the correct testing and also kept us updated on changes being made weekly by the Hawaiian government. We arrived on Maui with no glitches along the way. Our accommodations were fantastic. Dani was “spot on” with the perfect place for our 8 night stay. She arranged all private excursions for our group with the best of the best! The kids and grandkids could not pick just one favorite excursion as all were rated a 10++++ by them. Dani helped us plan dining reservations around our excursions so we kept driving time around the island to a minimum…what a great suggestion and restaurants were fantastic! After our time on Maui, we flew to Honolulu for a private tour arranged by Dani of Pearl Harbor, the Battleship Missouri, and a drive around Punchbowl Cemetery. She suggested a couple of days at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore to relax and regain our “zen” before heading home. Perfect, again! Beautiful property, newly remodeled during Covid and very recently reopened, July 1 to be exact. All transfers in Honolulu were arranged by Dani. We were treated like royalty. Needless to say, our family Hawaii vacation was THE BEST possible because of Dani’s assistance, suggestions, conference calls with me many times, emails, and on and on. We will definitely use her again and would highly recommend Dani to our friends, family, or anyone wanting to plan a Hawaiian vacation.
Outdoor adventures on Iceland’s Ring Road
RITA SOLOMON | JULY 19, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Planning an eleven day driving trip around Iceland’s Ring Road is a major undertaking. There are so many possible destinations, stops and detours – Chris does all the work for you. First, he sent a multi-page exhaustive list of every activity, adventure or experience to determine our interests and plan the perfect trip for our family. Every activity he booked, such as ice climbing on a glacier, ATVs on a black sand beach and other beautiful landscapes, a whale watching tour from Husavik in which we saw the most humpbacks and minke whales we’ve ever seen in one day, hot spring/spa visits, kayaking among icebergs, visits to stunning waterfalls and valleys, among others, was great. He even surprised us by adding a private ice cave tour to the itinerary at no extra cost. It was one of our favorite experiences, especially because of the terrific Icelandic guide. Chris provides maps to every single destination and descriptions of every stop (of which there are many), and notes places to get gas/ stop for bathrooms etc. He even made all of our restaurant reservations for us – no other adviser has done so, and we greatly appreciated having reservations set up each night. Many hotels are small and have limited seatings for dinner and limited hours. Most towns are very small and there may not be many (any?) other options. We also loved the restaurants he reserved for us in Reykjavik.
Luckily, Chris provided as part of the extensive materials that were organized by day, letters listing the confirmation number for every single reservation. He knows that many hospitality workers in Iceland are young and inexperienced (many told us it was their first or second day at work). On every occasion but one, the employees were able to locate our reservation using the confirmation number. On one occasion, the hotel receptionist insisted (nicely) that we had no reservations and that the confirmation number didn’t have the right number of digits and was therefore not theirs. I texted Chris on the special number he provides for issues while in Iceland. He responded immediately, called the hotel, and sent them the email chain in which they confirmed the reservation. The receptionist then admitted the error was the hotel’s. Chris obtained a refund for one of our three rooms, since the hotel had given away the nice room we booked.
From a Covid standpoint, Iceland is ideal. It has experienced 0 (not a typo) cases since late May. It’s easy to obtain the required covid test for returning to the US (despite a line we were out of the testing site within about 10 minutes; of course, Chris told us where to go). Also, Iceland is the most stunning country we’ve visited, and right now you can safely visit an erupting volcano only 45 minutes from Reykjavik.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan: culture, history, hiking
SALLY LEE | JULY 19, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I traveled to Uzbekistan w/ Zulya in late May/June of this year. Here are the highlights:
* the country was fully open as was Tajikistan. I had originally planned to also travel to Turkmenistan (this trip was originally planned for last year but COVID made it untenable) but it was still closed due to COVID.
* My itinerary was the same as the original one, minus Turkmenistan. It included a week and a half or so in UZB and 3 days of hiking in the Fann Mountains in TJK.
* The logistics were flawless — was smooth and well though out. My guide, Faikhridden, was also great and was w/ me for the entire trip. I also had two drivers as I covered a lot of territory. However, this was unique as I have typically had multiple guides and drivers — often one in each city that I visit as it is more economical. This was a plus for me — it was great to get to know both Faikhridden and the drivers — they were all kind, helpful, and knowledgeable.
* UZB is fully open, despite COVID. I felt very comfortable throughout as I am vaccinated, although I mostly wore a mask b/c of the testing requirement to return to the U.S.
*I traveled to Tashkent, Nukus (Savitsky Museum), Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and the Tien Shan mountains. The sites were all great and I learned a lot of history about this part of the world that is often overlooked in American schools! In particular, i enjoyed the Savitsky Museum in Nukus. Zulya set up a private tour w/ the Museum exhibition director who is also an art history professor at the local university. She was terrific and spent over 2 hours w/ me. Her explanations of the history in both Russia and Nukus/UZB during the 1920s – 1940s gave me a great perspective on the art. Her descriptions of the artists and their art was also terrific. While it’s not on many itineraries b/c of its remote location and lack of other things to see (although we visited a very interesting cemetery outside of town w/ a beautiful underground mausoleum), people who enjoy art should make the effort!
*Another highlight was Zulya setting up a lunch w/ her parents/family in her hometown of Bukara. It was a real treat to meet her parents as well as many of her siblings and nieces, nephews. The lunch was really tasty and bountiful — they demonstrated how they make plov, the national dish, and also had many other tasty dishes, bread, and homemade fruit juices. After lunch, the children put on a dance show, first the boys and then the girls. I was asked to join them — I am NOT a dancer but gave it a go! Their warm hospitality was much appreciated and I had a wonderful time.
* The ancient cities of Khiva, Bukara, and Samarkand are all wonderful — the architecture is breathtaking, perhaps some of the best preserved Islamic architecture in the world.
* The only disappointment was that the Tajikistan border inexplicably closed a day before I was to travel to TJK!! I don’t think Zulya or her team were able to figure out why (it was only for a short period of dates). So my hiking had to be canceled, a big disappointment. However, Zulya and her team pivoted and were able to organize hiking in the Tian Shan mountains just outside of Tashkent w/in 24 hours, complete w/ a guest house and a local hiking guide. I did 3 hikes and the scenery was great. While I would have preferred to see the Fann Mountains/Seven Lakes, it was great to still be able to do some hiking on such short notice. I appreciated Zulya’s ability to arrange this w/in less than 24 hours’ notice!
*My COVID test was arranged at my hotel 3 days before my departure — very easy and results were provided w/in 24 hours.
Paris: private Versailles tour without the crowds
SUE HILTON | JULY 16, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our trip to Paris was such a welcome return to pre-pandemic life. We worked with Jennifer and her team to arrange a private half day tour of Versailles and a private tour of the Kings stables and Equestrian center. Both were fantastic. The stables tour was absolutely a once in a lifetime treat. I wasn’t even aware of the riding academy and am so grateful to Jennifer for suggesting it when I inquired about a private guide for Versailles. I have already recommended that part of our experience to all of our Francophile friends. After the stables we went to the palace where we were delighted to to be among the few who were out enjoying a beautiful day. It was so wonderful to tour the palace without the usual massive crowds. Having such a knowledgeable guide added so much to our enjoyment of that exquisite building. Gigliola’s style felt like being with a really good friend who just happens to know the answer all your questions about the art, the rooms, the history and the courts of the many kings. Thank you again for another WOW trip.
Croatia: Medieval cities, food, wine, yachting…
JENNIFER MANN | JULY 13, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We want to thank Ala and Natasa for putting together an amazing 9 days on the Dalmation Coast and thank Wendy for a very special WOW Moment!!! After a VERY long and frustrating flight into Split, we were welcomed with big smiles, cool face towels and yummy ginger lemonades at the Maslina in Hvar. This hotel quickly became one of our favorites! The general manager greeted us daily, the entire staff not only knew our names, but would continue conversations with us from the day before. We ate at the restaurant every morning and a few times for dinner. Top notch food and service every time! One of our excursions was supposed to be a half day boat ride and swim around the local islands. As we were speaking to our skipper and learning about the area, we asked if we could extend to a full day and visit Vis and the Blue Caves off of Vis. Within moments, he called Natasa and the new plan was in place. The last minute change was seamless. We later learned that the Blue Caves often get up to 2000 boats a day and sometimes people wait in an hours-long line to have a brief visit inside. We had no reservation, pulled up and hopped in a waiting dingy to enter. Our caves guide allowed us to stay as long as we wanted, as we were the only people around!!! It was unbelievable!
After several amazing days on Hvar, we headed to Split. The Judita Palace hotel could not have been better situated for touring. With the extreme heat going on, we loved being able to pop into the room for a break during our days. Our guide on the first day got into a car accident on her way to meet us….she was not hurt but couldn’t give us the tour. A replacement guide arrived within minutes of our scheduled time and gave us a comprehensive city tour. She was filled with personality.
Split was an excellent juxtaposition from a few days in Hvar. As we headed down to Dubrovnik, we stopped for a detour in Ston. I was a bit skeptical because I don’t eat mussels or oysters but was assured by Ala that the experience is worth the visit even if you don’t eat the local delicacies. Dennis and his daughter greeted us and took us by boat to their tiny island. They had a magnificent set up of an outdoor kitchen and picnic tables. We learned all about oyster farming and the family history in the area. Eric had the best oysters and mussels of his life! Dennis grilled up vegetables with homemade olive oil, bread, grandpa’s wine and cheese. We had big smiles and filled bellies! After the experience with Dennis, our driver knew that Eric loved wine and he took us to his favorite wine maker in the area. This was not a planned stop, but we spontaneously had a wine tasting and tour with the owner. It ended up being our favorite and they were able to ship to the States. We never felt that our driver was in a rush to get us from point A to point B. He genuinely wanted to share the beauty of his country with us and even told us about his days of living in Dubrovnik during the war in the 90’s.
We arrived at The Excelsior in Dubrovnik and were at a loss for words when we stepped out onto our balcony in the room with a breathtaking view of the old city. It doesn’t get better!! Once again, we had an excellent city tour and wonderful meals. On our second-to-last night, we met our driver in the lobby at 7pm for our WOW Moment. We obviously had no idea what we were doing. The private sunset cruise was magical!! We have seen many beautiful sunsets, but this sunset was unbelievable!! You could literally see rays of light coming out of the multicolor sun. The boat went in and out of the barrier island inlets and caves. It was an experience we will never forget.
Yesterday we flew home and were very sad to leave. As we were told by Ala months ago, this is the summer to visit Croatia without the crowds…..we are so glad we did!
Zambia and Botswana safari: private camps and experiences
JENNIFER OLSON| JULY 12, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned from an unforgettable trip to Zambia and Botswana in June! Cherri Briggs and her team were wonderful to deal with and helped us to plan a trip we had not considered for this year until listening to the WOW Week list of speakers in May. Taking a safari trip was on our bucket list, and we know that one is generally planned months if not years in advance. We left one month after first speaking with Cherri’s team based on what we learned.
Africa is the definition of uncrowded at this time, and, as all activities and dining are outside, it could not be more Covid friendly. We had many camps and experiences almost totally to ourselves…something we know we will never be able to replicate in the future! From helicopter flights to romantic dinners in the wild, our trip was the definition of fabulous! The team listened to what we wanted to do, helped us to coordinate all needed Covid tests both here in Chicago and during the trip, connected us to a wonderful flight coordinator, made sure we had all necessary paperwork, travel insurance and plans that ensured that the trip could be managed in a more challenging time. Travelers now truly must have people to “watch their backs”…our return flights were cancelled by our carrier on the day we were due to leave, and our flight coordinator and Cherri’s team went to work to make sure the problem was solved before we left. The coordination for each leg of our trip was flawlessly planned, went off without a hitch, and our trip was beyond memorable!
Adventure, culture, and relaxation with two teens in Costa Rica
KARYN SALLUS | JULY 8, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Wendy, once again your WOW experts did not disappoint. My daughters (ages 15 and 16) and I went to Costa Rica at the end of May and the trip was perfect. Irene arranged a trip exactly to my specifications. We had adventure, culture, relaxation, and beautiful accommodations. We had a wonderful guide throughout our trip who was patient, knowledgeable, and entertaining. Irene and Edgar were there to solve the few catastrophes were had along the way, including forgetting our laundry bag when we left Arenal/La Fortuna heading to Nosara. They called the hotel picked the bag up and flew it to the local airport and delivered it to our hotel in two days. They didnt even charge us for the effort. Edgar was very knowledgeable about the country, wildlife, and food. He was sooooo patient with my teenage daughters who could often be more interested in their phones than what he was showing us.
We enjoyed so many experiences from hiking, zip lining, ATV tour, a private cooking class, a chocolate farm tour and tasting…. we were busy from the start of our day until the end.
My daughter had her birthday while we were in Costa Rica and they were so great in helping us celebrate. The hotel had a cake at breakfast. Edgar had the van decorated with balloons and a gift basket, the chocolate tour gave her chocolate bars to take home and the cooking class had a cake for her as well. The entire day a celebration for her!
We also had our special WOW moment which was really something special. Edgar picked us up in the late afternoon and we drove to the lake where a boat was waiting. There was a three piece band and dance teacher aboard. We were serenaded and taught to dance salsa (or at least they tried to teach us the Salsa). As the sun went down we toasted our great stay in La Fortuna. After we arrived back on shore we were taken to the private home of a chef in town. He and his wife prepared a delicious 4 course dinner and we could see the prep as the kitchen was outside by the table. The food was fantastic. Little did we know our guide Edgar had been observing our food preferences throughout our trip and dinner was chosen from his recommendations. So much thought was put into the experience. My daughters and I will remember the night fondly.
We ended our trip in Nosara, a small beach town were we could unwind and relax before heading home. My only complaint was the hotel was not anything special. It was a very low key, beachy hotel with minimal bells and whistles. Once we got settled in it was fine and we could walk to the beach and surf as they provided surf boards and boogie boards. We definitely got to relax after or jam packed time in La Fortuna.
I would recommend Irene for planning a fun filled trip to Costa Rica. And Edgar was the bomb….patient, kind and knowledgeable.
Thanks once again for an outstanding vacation.
Greece with a teen: Athens and islands
CHRISTINE DAUDELIN | JULY 7, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Travel to Greece June 21 – July 3, 2021
Athens, Oia, Santorini, Sifnos
I have nothing but rave reviews for Jacoline Vinke in planning an amazing trip to Greece! Delayed from last year, we were thrilled that we would be able to make the journey this June. Everything from the pacing of trip, to all the wonderful unique experiences, restaurants and hotels were nothing short of top notch. Because of covid, and the difficulty in knowing ferry routes, internal air flights, and which restaurants are open, etc, it was essential to have somebody on the ground in Greece. We were able to keep in touch the past year, and decide together that it was safe and welcoming to visit Greece this June.
A trip to celebrate my daughter’s sweet 16, which became “sweet seventeen”, we had lots of activities planned, a must when traveling with an easily bored teen. Jacoline arranged everything with the best guides – a private tour of the Acropolis (a huge bonus to traveling now – we shared the view with only a handful of people!, an e-bike tour that turned out to be so much fun, and a food tour through “Old Athens”. Onto Santorini where we had a great day with tour guide Kostas, in which we saw the whole of Santorini, had an amazing sunset cruise and kayaking tour. Jacoline planned a pottery/kiln session with an artist on the island for our budding artist – a fantastic experience! We ended our trip in Sifnos, a lovely laid back island with great food, and amazing scenery. We had another awesome private boat charter, as well as a fun cooking visit to an organic farm.
Because of the locale, having pretty much everything outdoors due to covid was easy. Masks remain required in all indoor spaces. We felt very safe being vaccinated – and Jacoline reccomended bring covid self-tests along for reentry into the states. So glad we did this! Process was smooth and so easy – we could do the testing right in our hotel room!
Having Jacoline as our travel specialist was the best thing we could have done. She spent time on the phone with me going through our priorities, likes and desires for this trip and came up with an amazing itinerary that was tailor made for our needs and wants. Every experience we did, every hotel we stayed at, every restaurant, shopping, and spa were perfect for us! Adding in the complications of covid delays and rebookings, Jacoline was invaluable. I would use her again in a heartbeat – here’s hoping our next trip is soon!
Family-friendly Greece: mythology and beaches
ANGELA WONG | JULY 7, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We took an amazing trip to mainland Greece and the Peloponnese with Jacoline Vinke as our planner – June 16 – June 29th, right as Greece was opening to American tourists. First – Jacoline’s team was amazing to work with in general – our original trip was planned for March 2020, and because they have such good relationships with their vendors, we were able to reserve the majority of our paid trip towards this year’s trip in credits. More importantly, working with Jacoline is like having a family member with exceptional taste at your side. We traveled as a family of four (two 12 year old kids), and shared that we wanted to make “real” their interest in Greek Mythology (Percy Jackson fans of course!) The guides were all very professional, knowledgeable and patient with our children. We come from San Francisco – so are foodies, and we found that the restaurants that Jacoline reserved for us, as well as the ones recommended in her team’s guide – were all of excellent quality and value – not a single tourist trap in the mix. It was the most varied trip – with wonderful boat trips to beautiful beaches off the southern tip of the Peloponesse, an E bike tour through Athens, a guided tour through the nearly empty site of the Byzantine city of Mystras, and a visit to a biodynamic wine / olive oil producer outside of Nafplio. We cant wait to go back and definitely will look up Jacoline for our next trip!
Kid-friendly villa and activities in Cabo, Mexico
CHRIS KLOES | JULY 6, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL What a wonderful trip! We flew for the first time in almost 2 years and rented a beautiful home near San Jose del Cabo. The home was very private and we felt completely safe during our trip. Julie helped us all along the way, from deciding whether to rent a house or stay in a hotel, to helping with activities, to a COVID test prior to departure. Oh, and we also had our WOW Moment, which Julie planned. It was fantastic, more below.
Julie helped us decide to stay closer to San Jose Del Cabo than to the more touristy Cabo San Lucas, and that turned out to be a great decision. We were traveling with our small family of 3, including our young son, and so wanted to find a villa that was smaller, rather than a larger party-style house. Julie had great suggestions and detailed personal knowledge of the housing options. We ended up with a lovely home in La Quinceria, which was perfect for us, with a gorgeous outdoor living space and pool.
We also got super helpful advice on activities and logistics. We arranged for transportation from the airport, to have some basic groceries stocked in the house fridge, and for a rental car to be delivered to the house upon our arrival. We spent a lot of time enjoying the house but we also had a few fun activities. One highlight was Flora Farms, a beautiful organic farm and restaurant that is a must-do for foodies. Julie helped us set up a private tour, which was so fun and informative, as well as a great breakfast. Julie’s team also helped us set up a golf outing for my husband at Puerto los Cabos, which he really loved. And, we planned a driving trip to the lovely town of Todos Santos, through the desert.
We were also lucky enough to have a WOW Moment on this trip as we’ve taken several trips using great planners suggested by Wendy and team. We were picked up at our house by our guide, Oscar, who is a lovely man with a great knowledge of the local area, its geology, history, traditions, culture, and food. Oscar took us to the marina in Cabo San Lucas, where we took a private boat to a secluded cove for a private snorkel. We were so happy with the location, especially as we saw how crowded the other snorkel locations were. Oscar helped our 10-year old son learn how to snorkel and helped him spot puffer fish, angel fish, and other cool wildlife. And then Oscar made us the most amazing gourmet lunch on the boat! We had some delicious local fish, sashimi style, and a ridiculously amazing guacamole. He loves food almost as much as I do! :-). And to top it off, Oscar helped us find a local fishmonger on the way back. I bought marlin and bonito, both caught that day, and cleaned and cut to my specs, with a friendly pelican who enjoyed eating the fish scraps. We grilled the fish over the next 2 days and they were amazing! A total home run and we were so grateful for this outing from Julie and team Wendy. THANK YOU!
We had a 24/7 concierge named Hector the whole time we were there and he was amazing! Hector did a great job with questions about the house, activities, grocery stores (I recommend Selecto), restaurants (try Don Sanchez, Agave, and tacos at La Lupita Tacos and Mezcal), and the like. He was really spectacularly good and we appreciated this as a touch that a great travel planner can help provide. He even arranged for a local doctor to come to our house for a required COVID test to re-enter the US. Simply unparalleled service!
So, a fabulous trip from beginning to end. We felt so safe and were so grateful to be in a beautiful place with such lovely people. Julie, Wendy and team – sincere Thank You!! We can’t wait for our next adventure, wherever it might be.
Belize with grandparents, parents, and kids
RHONDA MCCUNE | JULY 6, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We visited Belize in June 2021 with our extended family. Patricia Johnson found the perfect place for us – Sofia’s Beach House at the fabulous Turtle Inn in Placencia. The resort is luxurious, but not pretentious. Patricia planned day trips of snorkeling and island hopping which we all enjoyed immensely. We also did the ATM cave tour – which was an incredible adventure for our family. The staff at the Turtle Inn wore masks, but because of the open air environment, we felt perfectly safe. We would definitely go back!
Istanbul, Turkey with young kids
BRAD WELDON | JULY 5, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our family of four traveled to Istanbul in June of 2021 with the help of Karen Fedorko and her team. We had a phenomenal trip.
My wife and I were vaccinated; our two kids (ages 9 and 3) were not, and so we really wanted a trip that would be safe and easy to control (with respect to social distancing and covid protocols) as well as exciting and fun and everything else a trip should be. In researching potential destinations, we got comfortable and excited about Turkey because it was more likely to be open (including for our unvaccinated but safe and covid-negative kids) than EU destinations and because the country had prioritized the tourism industry in its vaccination roll-out (so that most everyone we would come into contact with at hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites would be vaccinated). Karen was wonderfully helpful in providing us all the information we needed (from primary sources like the Turkish health authorities) and making arrangements for private and covid-safe activities throughout the trip. Of course Istanbul is also a fascinating city and one that we’d always wanted to visit.
We decided on just under a week in Istanbul—and left other locations in Turkey for a future trip. Staying in one place and avoiding extra flights made sense for a shorter trip, especially with our kids.
The trip was incredible, and we couldn’t be happier with the planning. Karen’s team arranged for sightseeing visits where we practically had the sites to ourselves (one benefit of reduced tourist traffic during covid) and set up great activities (including a private cruise on the Bosphorus and a cooking class). Our guide Tülay was wonderful and understood the pace we needed to keep the sometimes short-attention-spanned kids engaged. Everyone we met was warm and friendly and couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. We felt entirely safe from a covid perspective and can’t wait to get back!
Pacific Northwest for a 3-generation family
RONNA COE | JULY 3, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I normally plan all our trips and enjoy the process. We wanted to take our 3-generation family of 7 for a week in the San Juan Islands and Seattle but were concerned about how to coordinate our airfare with the ferry schedules and how to decide which island was best for us. I turned to Sheri Doyle, who planned our entire itinerary. Her suggestions were clear, spot on, and she always looked for best pricing for us. She made our hotel and ferry reservations and gave us suggestions where to eat, shop, hike, tour, etc. She responded to my inquiries within hours. She made our first vacation in 20 months less stressful and way more productive. We will use her again – she is so knowledgeable about the Pacific Northwest.
Active Greece: Peloponnese and Santorini
MICHAEL KELBERMAN | JULY 3, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We traveled to Greece June 9-26 2021. My wife and I accompanied by our son, started our trip in the Peloponnese. We were joined a week later in Athens by my 2 single adult daughters. We finished up with 6 days in Santorini. Jacoline was our WOW expert for our trip.
We had a great trip which met all our needs, and provided special memories for us as a family. Our trip had been delayed a year due to COVID, and Jacoline was able to keep the majority of our payment for the delayed trip, about 90% I would say. Going to Greece after it opened up May 14th was actually pretty easy…..if you are vaccinated! We just had to show our vaccine card, fill out a “locator” form for the Greek government, and we were good to go. Most of the activities and eating were outdoors, and masking was therefore minimal. Indoors, such as at museums, required masks of course. We needed a COVID test to return to the US, which Jacoline arranged to take place right at our hotel room. There was a cost (120 euros X 5) but it was simple. We had the results emailed to us later that day.
Jacoline is a delight, and specializes in unique experiences and smaller boutique-style accommodations. We were very happy with our various hotels and guesthouses. We loved all the guides (some of them archeologists), especially their kindness and enthusiasm. We like being active, and Jacoline arranged sea kayaking, a private catamaran sunset cruise with snorkeling-type activities with a fabulous dinner on board, and pottery class with a Santorini master. Everything exceeded our expectations. There were a couple of schedule glitches along the way, handled easily with a few emails.
I think Jacoline deserves all the accolades one can throw her way, and I would certainly love to use her again in that area of the world. I can’t speak for other countries, but happily COVID had minimal impact on our enjoyment of a memorable family vacation.
Mexico’s Riviera Maya: diving, snorkeling, and a private villa
DEBBIE DESANTIS | JULY 3, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL What a great trip our group of eight all had! Everyone agreed that the Rosewood Mayakoba is absolutely lovely, as is the entire resort property with all four Mayakoba hotels available to guests. All of our planned offsite activities as well as our spontaneous ones were lots of fun and very memorable…. swimming with the whale sharks and manta rays with marine biologist, Rafa!!!; Cozumel diving and snorkeling with a ceviche lunch on a floating table; Dos Ojos cenote dive/snorkel exploration and private-guided Tulum tour; private cooking lesson at the beautiful Ceiba Garden; archery lessons; tennis; cycling daily through the resort; running on the nature trail throughout the property; lounging at our pool and hot tub at our beautiful villa; dinner at a different restaurant every night. And most especially, we loved the wonderful people of Mexico …. all were so very friendly, gracious, and kind. Mirsa, our private guide, scuba and snorkeling leader, and logistics expert extraordinaire was the star of our Riviera Maya trip. She is a true gem, always laughing and engaging, while watching out for us at the same time. The entire staff at the Mayakoba resort was amazing in every respect and also surprised us with gifts most every day. All of these wonderful experiences lead back to our super WOW list travel specialist, Meg. She planned this really wonderful adventure and getaway in truly difficult times. Her experience and network allowed us to re-enter the realm of international travel with relaxed smiles and a feeling that the world is hopefully on the mend.
Iceland for outdoor adventuring
BETH MINICK | JULY 3, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Iceland booking by Chris was covid appropriate. We had an initial phone call with our family of 4 so Chris could learn about our desires and help determine the best activities and itineraries. A few days later, he called to discuss choices in more detail as well as discuss each hotel option. After the first draft of the itinerary, we had another discussion to fine tune it. He was so enthusiastic and put together a great trip for us. That is standard in the industry. Where he stands out is his customer service and “extras”. When he said he was available for us during the trip 24/7 he was not kidding. When we checked into our first hotel after 14 hours of travel, they had the wrong room type for us. They agreed to let us nap there while they found another room. Before we took a nap, I emailed Chris to let him know. When we woke up, everything was straightened out and he bought us box lunches to make up for the inconvenience. Another extra was the dairy free birthday cake he gifted us for our daughter’s birthday! Another dairy free extra was when we realized the special bread they bake in the ground at the Fontana spa had milk in it, he called the bakery and asked them to provide a special dairy free one for us. They had never done this before and did it especially for us. We were in contact with Chris in real time by email throughout the trip with logistical questions which he answered immediately. We had a problem at one hotel (room was not as advertised) and by morning he had arranged for us to move to an “apartment” on the property and negotiated free breakfast for us which was not included in the apartment price. These things added so much value to our trip. Chris was genuinely pleased to be helping us and always made us feel so well cared for. The trip was a breeze as he provided an inch thick packet filled with vouchers, detailed maps and even photos of where we were going. The restaurant choices were all excellent and each activity was fun. We especially loved the private retreat at the Blue Lagoon, the Ice cave adventure, the kayaking in the glacier lagoon with Icebergs, the Feather Canyon hike and the town of Reykjavik. We decided not to do what was planned for the last day and Chris came up with an excellent alternative immediately without blinking an eye. The only advice I can share to avoid any unpleasant surprises during the trip is to communicate each day with the activity provider about the expected weather and plan for the worst case. We had a worse case weather experience at the river bathing and were not as prepared as we should have been. We were safe but it was a challenge. Iceland is beautiful and a relatively covid safe trip being outdoor for most activities. Everyone is covid tested at the airport on arrival even if they are vaccinated. The only time I saw people in masks were on the tour buses. The restaurants and hotels are pretty well staffed and there are not too many crowds of tourists yet. Everyone speaks perfect English and the food is excellent. Chris did a wonderful job for us on very short notice. Beth Minick
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Road trip through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts
LISA GOODMAN | JUNE 29, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL In mid-June, we went on our first family trip since the pandemic started, and it was exceptional. It exceeded our expectations from beginning to end. We wanted to combine a college tour trip for our son who is 17 with a family vacation including our daughter who is 14, so we went on a road trip along the east coast. With the wonderful itinerary from Sam and his team, we all loved the trip! After flying into New York, we drove along the coast of Connecticut to Newport, RI (where we spent 3 days) and then we spent a day in Cape Cod and a day in Boston before heading to western MA for a few days in the Berkshires. Sam and his colleague Lisa took into account everything we were looking for in our trip, and they did not miss a detail. Lisa was our primary contact, and was wonderful to work with from the planning phase all the way through the trip. She created a detailed itinerary (which was easy to follow) telling us the best routes to take and where to stop along the road. She planned two excursions, sailing in Newport and biking in the Berkshires, which were the highlights of the trip. The guides were terrific. I was a bit anxious that I would have some trouble biking 20 miles in the mountains, but she arranged for us to have e bikes which allowed my whole family to access the biking in a fun way. All of her hotel and restaurant suggestions were perfect for our family as well.
When we were initially planning the trip, there were still more restrictions due to COVID in some states along the east coast, and Lisa was able to guide us where would be best to go given the unknown at the time. As it turned out, the states had opened up by the time of our trip. She planned for outside dining at all restaurants because that is how we felt most comfortable. The college tours were still closed, which we knew going into the trip, but we were able to walk around the areas and outside the campuses to get a feel.
When we travel, we like a combination of activities and tours that are best with a guide and also plenty of time to explore on our own. This trip provided the perfect combination of support and planned special activities with unstructured time for us to explore. I would definitely use Sam and his team again to plan another road trip.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast without the crowds
JONATHAN TSAI | JUNE 28, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Ala planned the perfect trip for us with guides and drivers for 12 days through Croatia. We started in Istria and down the Dalmatian coast to end in Dubrovnik. Throughout the planning process, she was thoughtful and curious about our interest and planned an itinerary that suited our personality. We had very knowledgeable guides who were passionate about the history and culture of their towns and regions. The hotels that she recommended were relaxing and a wonderful way to start and end your day. Everything happened seamlessly – luxurious smooth transfers, dinner reservations – everything worked without a hitch. Something for everyone – a lazy day on the beach or balcony, hiking through national parks, truffle hunting, oyster/mussel tasting, kayaking, to a few hours cycling through the rustic towns, vineyards and lavender fields. With not the usual crowds – now is the best time to soak in all Croatia has to offer.
Ala was also up to date on the COVID requirements and we were able to go through the bureaucracy of travel without any incidents.
Multigenerational family trip to Alaska
JUDY APTEKAR | JUNE 28, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Judith’s team did a great job helping us plan our family trip to Alaska. The lodges were wonderful and the excursions were just what we wanted. All 9 members of our family, from 12 to 77, had a great time. I highly recommend Judith!
Family-friendly trip to Croatia
LESLIE MANNING | JUNE 22, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Ala Osmond planned a wonderful 10 day trip to Croatia in June for me, my husband, and my 9 year old son. We started in Istria and wound our way down the Dalmatian coast to Split. We spent a couple nights on the island of Hvar in the most peaceful and elegant hotel overlooking the Adriatic. Ala included activities that were exciting for my child: truffle hunting with dogs in Istria, a boat ride with swimming around the Pakleni Islands, and a fresco painting workshop. My husband and I loved our tour of Split and the Diocletian Palace. Ala found us a hotel right next to the Palace and our tour of the Palace was fascinating. In Istria we visited medieval hill towns with our wonderful tour guide Jasmina. All the tour guides were exceptional, informative, and personable. Ala was up to date on what Covid tests we needed, turns out we only needed to get tested for our return to the States. She suggested an at home Covid test that we packed in our suitcase and was super easy and convenient to take. We felt completely safe traveling around Croatia, most of our activities were outside and all of our guides wore masks. The hotels were very conscious of Covid safety. Every restaurant Ala recommended was amazing. I would not have been able to plan a trip like this on my own. We saw so much and learned so much in 10 days! I felt safe and that my family was very well taken care of.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks without crowds
JANIS MARCUS | JUNE 19, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Yellowstone/Tetons and Montana
The trip was so well planned – we were busy as much as we wanted to be .. the guides were incredible- each offering a different flavor. All our guides knew the exclusive places (without crowds). The expertise they offered included wildlife, plants, terrain, geology, and climate — loved the float down the snake river and breakfast at the campsite. Loved the kayaking company and the triple creek ranch. The trip planner suggested all of our accommodations and restaurants!! So well planned – Would not change anything.
Safari in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Uganda
JUDY CALVERT| JUNE 19, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Zimbabwe, Botswana, Johannesburg and Uganda during Covid
Trip dates May 18-June 9, 2021
We booked this trip for 2 back in March 2019 for May 2020, and then we all know what happened – Covid! Luckily for us, we booked with Cherri Briggs (conception with Cherri and hands on operation with Elizabeth Rand), and it was very smoothly rebooked (and even slightly tweaked with money returned) for May 2021. Honestly, it couldn’t have been easier, and I know this, because I had a couple of pre elements I had booked myself that were not that easy to deal with. Coming from the Tourism Industry, I understand how incredibly terrible this time was for all of Tourism worldwide, and of course, the loss of life and horribleness of Covid. Because of these two opposing themes – Help Tourism and Don’t Contribute To More Covid – we really struggled as May 2021 grew closer… do we go? 1 month out we received our 1st Astrazeneca Shot and prior to our departure, no flights, camps or any details cancelled on us, making us believe that we were doing the right thing. Obviously, we really wanted to go, and we realize how incredibly privileged we were to actually be able to go.
The most challenging part, that Elizabeth expertly figured out for us, was all the Covid testing. We had to get a Covid test in Vancouver 48 hours prior to our flight, then a Covid test at our home that was 48 hours before arriving in Zimbabwe (which we received while in the air), a Covid test in Zimbabwe that would get us into Botswana and a nurse was flown into our camp in Botswana for a covid test to get us into Johannesburg – which lasted us through to our arrival in Uganda, a test in Uganda to get home and our final two tests when we were home.
Prior to our departure, we received a package from Elizabeth – shirts, hats, luggage tags, masks with filters and most importantly a small bound book in a beautiful leather case, that was ALL of our information, including a TIP GUIDE! I cannot stress enough how much I LOVED this….it provided the exact amount to tip for each and every interaction. It allowed me to get the exact amount in denominations of US currency, etc and alleviated so much stress that I usually feel when travelling. We never had to worry about getting more cash or change during the entire 3.5 week trip.
The true mark of how amazing Elizabeth was, is that we had zero issues during our trip and no reason to contact her (other than her checking in that all was great) as all ran according to her plan. Including being met just off the plane by a greeter to smooth our arrival process in Entebbe!
Our itinerary was Victoria Falls – Batonka Lodge, 4 nights / Linkwasha Camp Hwange Zimbabwe, 4 nights / Lagoon Camp Botswana, 3 nights / Kwara Camp Botswana, 3 nights / Johannesburg Fairlawns Hotel, 2 nights / Entebbe Uganda Hotel No 5, 2 nights / Primate Lodge Uganda, 2 nights / Buhoma Lodge Uganda, 2 nights.
We felt safe everywhere. In many places, tourism had been a focus of their vaccination program, but everyone still wore masks (Victoria Falls and Uganda weren’t the best at wearing their masks properly, but they did have them on their faces!) All of the camps were really into hand sanitizing. The Botswana camps even took everyone’s temperatures 2x daily. There really wasn’t a need to social distance as we were often THE ONLY ONES IN CAMP! Linkwasha it was just us for 2 nights, Lagoon for all 3 nights and Kwara for 1 night. In Uganda, there were 2 to 5 rooms in house during our stays. How special and guilty did we feel? Is this how billionaires who do a camp buyout feel? Of course, we LOVED the over-the-top VIP treatment and the bonus of having PRIVATE GAME DRIVES! The guilt came from knowing that the Tourism Industry is so important and so many people’s livelihoods were affected, BUT they all kept telling us how happy they were that we decided to travel and could we please spread the word. The only slight downside, that pains me to admit publicly, and I know makes us sound like unappreciative, privileged A-holes, is that we were slightly over serviced! When does that happen! When you are the only guests!
We LOVED all 3 camps in Zimbabwe and Botswana, each for different reasons, which was great. And overall, our game viewing was OUTSTANDING! Our driver/guide Livingstone at Linkwasha, our guide/tracker Spencer and James at Lagoon and at Kwara our guide/tracker Carter and Luke. They found us everything we asked for and more – we ran with wild dogs and lions, we searched hard and found not one but two cheetahs! We had an amazing walking safari in Hwange. I could go on and on. The photos and videos are beyond amazing, we saw so much. Everyone was so happy we were there, and they were super excited to get back out and find all the game as well.
In Uganda, the big draw was the Gorillas, which we saw at the very end of our trip. Elizabeth had arranged for us to do two days and we can’t thank her enough – just one would never have been satisfying. Our only slight change is that my husband thinks we should have done the gorillas at the beginning of our trip as he was a bit concerned about physical factors (getting a cold, previously injuring ourselves) and I really did not enjoy the 8.5 hour drive from the Primate Lodge to Buhoma Lodge – Uganda roads are terrible. I would suggest if people want to do the Chimp treks (which were very easy and it was super to see the chimps in the wild) that they fly.
At the beginning of our trip, flights and airports were not very busy, and a month later, on our return, you could see the uptick – people are travelling again!
Coastline and countryside in Croatia
DEBORAH WENTE | JUNE 16, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I traveled to the Istrian peninsula in Croatia in June, 2021 with my husband.
We planned this trip at the last minute, inspired by the fact that Croatia was open to Americans. It was a long trip to northern Croatia, about 24 hours from our home in Wisconsin to our hotel. Most of that time was masked. I was nervous about the requirements to transfer through Germany, but we were able to pass through with our vaccine card. I would highly recommend leaving more time at the airport for travel to Europe, the document control (verifying vaccine status and/or negative tests) is ever-changing, confusing and very slow.
We had traveled to the Dalmation Coast 2 years ago and wanted to experience a different part of Croatia. It was wonderful, rolling hills, hill top towns and very few people. One of our favorite experiences was renting a Porsche for a day and driving around the countryside. The wine and olive oil are wonderful, our suitcases were pretty heavy with bottles on the way home! After our time in the interior we spent a few days on the coast in Rovinj. We rented a boat and captain for one day and loved seeing the coastline from the water.
We had a wonderful guide, Jasmina, with whom we very much enjoyed spending time. She knew just how much to educate us to keep us interested. A pasta making class at a small Konoba was entertaining and delicious.
It is wonderful to have a trip planner such as Ala. We were met at our plane, fast tracked through and driven right to our hotel. Ala arranged for the Covid test that was required to reenter the US, and it was an easy, seamless process. The hotels were very different and very well chosen. Having a local contact just helps with any small glitches and gives a feeling of confidence.
Trip of a lifetime in French Polynesia
REBECCA BARTLETT | JUNE 14, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Kleon was absolutely fantastic to work with! He was very responsive to questions and emails and I always felt like he had time for us and our questions or needs. We didn’t call often, but especially when we were getting our covid tests, he always answered our calls. I don’t remember ever needing to leave him a voicemail. He has a really calm and easy going demeanor that was so helpful with all the changes and restrictions due to covid. With covid, he was so helpful in making sure we had everything we needed to get in. He even filled out our paperwork online with us on the phone so that he would know how it worked for future clients (we were his first clients to go since the second closure). I am so so grateful we had Kleon to help us get through all the covid stuff, it was so helpful and he was just amazing.
We absolutely loved the trip he planned for us! I have never been on a trip where every guide was great, but that happened on this trip. There was not a single activity we scheduled that wasn’t amazing. He even helped make sure that I could go on a food tour with my dietary restrictions, and even though he never got verbal confirmation before the tour (and he offered to refund us my portion if it was not acceptable), the tour went off without a hitch. At the end of the tour, our guide told us that whoever we had hired was amazing and persistent, so clearly Kleon had really been making a huge effort for me.
I think in my mind, I always thought there was a good chance this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip because it’s just far. Our return trip was 23 hours or so, thanks to an awful 7 hour layover in LAX. But after being there, I’m quite confident we’ll be going again, it was just too amazing. And when we go, we’ll be hiring Kleon again, no question.
Customized adventure in Costa Rica
JILL BOERGER | JUNE 11, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I used Irene and her team to coordinate our first trip to Costa Rica. Irene provided us with an itinerary that focused on our interests. Her hotel recommendations were great but more importantly she took us to areas of Costa Rica that we probably wouldn’t have found on our own. Once in Costa Rica her team of drivers and activity guides were excellent. Overall it was a great trip and we would recommend Irene to others planning a trip to CR.
May 22-30, 2021
Local experiences and resort downtime in Greece
JULIE BAKER | JUNE 9, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My husband and I and our three young adult children traveled to Greece from May 29th to June 6th. Our flight from JFK to Athens was Delta’s first direct flight since the beginning of the pandemic! Jacoline did a great job planning this trip for us, on very short notice, and under uncertain circumstances as to what would be open etc. Rather than spending time in Athens, she recommended that we go to the small town of Nafplio where there would be fewer crowds. She arranged a local guide group that put together three days of wonderful excursions for just our family. We went to a small mountain village and met some of the local residents. We had dinner one night at the home of a very small vintner, which included a tour of their beautiful garden guided by the husband and their 26 year old daughter who translated, dinner prepared by the wife, and then Greek dancing with a local teacher and four of her young adult students. We all ended up dancing together in the driveway! The evening closed out with the grandfather sitting with us and singing some old Greek songs. It was a wonderful evening.
After Nafplio we went to a resort in Kranida which was beautiful and a real escape. Jacoline was smart to plan the first part of the trip with real “authentic” Greek experiences as a sort of balance to our time at the resort which was more about the downtime. All the plans were made with Covid and Covid restrictions in mind — doing things outdoors and in settings where it would just be our family and the guides. Jacoline added value by picking a small hotel that she knew would be up and running. There was a bigger, slightly more elegant hotel that she did not select for us and we learned later from friends who stayed there that that hotel was not fully staffed up and a big disappointment.
Overall, I would highly recommend using Jacoline. She has a great take on the country and her recommendations for guides, activities, hotels, and restaurants were terrific.
Stress-free trip to Costa Rica
DAENA CRAVEN | JUNE 8, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We just returned from an amazing trip to Costa Rica designed by Pierre and his colleague Michael. We couldn’t be happier with the entire experience, start to finish. In our initial phone conversation, Pierre understood that we were looking for a stress-free balance of activities and relaxation. We also needed a bit of assurance that it was a good time to travel to Costa Rica. Pierre shared information and gently reassured me that Costa Rica is eager to welcome back tourists and that Covid protocols are being followed and respected. He couldn’t have been more correct. Costa Ricans are incredibly friendly and lovely people, and we felt Covid-safe in every hotel, on every activity, and in all situations. Pierre and Michael ensured that our trip was stress-free by arranging everything – private transportation, wonderful activities, professional guides, and beautiful lodging. They even arranged for our Covid tests to be taken in San Jose the night before returning to the US. The trip was flawless, and they exceeded our expectations. Thank you, Pierre and Michael!!
Nature and wildlife in Costa Rica
REBEL RICE | JUNE 7, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Priscilla Jimenez and her team assembled a magical trip to Costa Rica for our family in May 2021. Pre-pandemic my husband and I were travelling without our 20-year old daughter and on a shorter trip. Rescheduling the trip to a date 14 months later worked out well, as we were able to include her and spend time in places like Monteverde, that were usually filled with tourists. We were relieved that all of our previous payments were still in place. Only one company had gone under we were told, but it did not seem to change our costs. Adding the daughter and additional days increased the cost!
Covid-19 prevention was always top of mind for all the people that we encountered in our travels, especially those connected with Priscilla’s team. We are fully vaccinated so we had few concerns but were happy to comply with their requirements. Their operations group send us a daily email with the next days or days activities and timing. What a nice luxury! One day I even wrote back and asked for a dinner recommendation in La Fortuna and they made us a reservation in a fantastic restaurant. The other positive aspect for us, the travelers, is that no place was crowded. At all.
We visited the Osa Peninsula, Arenal and Monteverde and found each to be fascinating in its own right. We flew into Pt. Jimenez on the Osa Peninisula and then stayed at Bosque del Cabo, a somewhat remote eco-lodge in the heart of the rainforest. The variety of wildlife was remarkable. The lodge has an outstanding tropical biologist on staff who took us on two amazing guided hikes that the planner recommended. We learned so much. The only drawback is that their birding guide was not available because so few people were visiting, but Priscilla’s team did not know that. It wasn’t until later in the trip that I realized just how much we missed. The food was outstanding as well!!
From there we went to Arenal and were provided excellent shuttle service by Priscilla’s company. Turns out that the shared shuttle was private. That happened several times. We are so glad that the company chose to honor their commitment rather than just make us wait until more people showed up. We heard about other companies doing that to other tourists.
The activities that our planner recommended were all enjoyable and interesting. Importantly, the guides are terrific, knowledgeable and enthusiastic and they help make the experience. At Arenal we visited the Sky Park for the Nature hike and the zip line – so much fun. We went white water rafting on the Sarapiqui, which is only an hours drive away. The guide was skilled and fun and the water was wonderful. She booked the twilight tour for Mistico Hanging Bridges and we did not even realize it would turn into a night tour. Amazing. Great surprise! She also worked in a Chocolate tour (Rainforest Chocolate) that was so much fun.
In Monteverde we had guided hikes at Monteverde Cloud Forest and at Curi Canche Reserve. The latter may have been the highlight of the trip in part because they booked the best guide imaginable. His enthusiasm and engagement with us was fantastic. We also visited the Orchid Garden on our own at their recommendation and loved it. Kinda surprised about that one.
I also want to give a shout out to our shuttle driver on almost every drive, Mauricio. Terrific driver, extremely knowledgeable about all things Costa Rican from plants to history, and a real pleasure to spend several hours with in the van.
The paperwork and insurance to go to Costa Rica can be confusing. We used Trawick for that specific insurance requirement. To return to the US, we found the lab paperwork to get the required Covid test was also a bit frustrating and it seems to be changing. Priscilla’s team organized a very convenient lab testing site and helped us sign up for the antigen rather than the PCR, saving us money.
All in all we hope to go back someday and will surely work with this group as well!
Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita in Mexico
CHRISTINE DAUDELIN | MAY 26, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We recently used Zach Rabinor and his staff for a wonderful trip to The Four Seasons Punta Mita. This was a pretty straightforward trip, but due to covid concerns I felt more comfortable using a travel planner who was on the ground in Mexico. After chatting with Zach, and determining our main goal was time on a beautiful beach, he recommended the Four Seasons and it was the perfect resort. Trip was very low financial risk – as if the trip needed to be canceled due to covid it would be completely refundable. Four Seasons was taking alot of health precautions, and we felt completely comfortable (turned out we were fully vaccinated before traveling so perhaps not as much of an issue when we traveled but still was great to see).
This was a trip to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from her master’s program, and while Zach offered up a slew of wonderful ideas for tours, surf classes, etc., in the end we decided to do one tour of the Marietta Islands and swim to the hidden beach, and the rest staying at resort. The boat tour was alot of fun and we were glad we did it. Carlos from Zach’s team was in touch with us on the ground in Mexico which was so sweet and great to have in case we had any issues (which we had none). A nice touch was a piece of congratulatory cake in the room when we arrived – so thoughtful! We had a great room and location, and everything including their restaurant recommendations were excellent! (Definitely worth staying oceanfront at this resort – views to die for!). We loved our stay and was as close to perfection as one could get!
Road trip in Washington and Oregon
PHYLLIS BOSSIN | MAY 24, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Sheri yet again planned a fabulous trip for my husband and me. She had previously planned a trip for us to the Canadian Rockies, which was amazing so of course we wanted to work with her again. We moved around quite a bit on this trip and every place we stayed was wonderful. We had to change things around at the last minute when there were COVID shutdowns in the Portland and Willamette Valley areas. She re-routed us to Seattle where we had a wonderful stay. We were happily able to have dinner with Sheri in Seattle, which was a real treat!
We also had a fantastic WOW moment during our trip. We spent 5 hours with an AMAZING naturalist guide exploring Olympic National Park. He was a great guide and a great person.
Sheri’s detailed notes and suggestions on places to go, things to see, restaurants, etc. are enormously helpful and very personal. It is like chatting with a friend. I cannot say enough great things about Sheri and would recommend her to anyone and everyone!
Resort-hopping in the Maldives
KIM PRATER | MAY 24, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Justin was fantastic! We planned the trip to the Maldives to split time between two resorts- half was at St Regis on points so Justin didn’t play a specific role there. However- he was excellent at helping us narrow down choices for the other resort & when there was Covid at the one we chose, he was very proactive at getting us into another resort (if there has been Covid you can’t switch from one resort to another in the Maldives). I can’t imagine dealing with the nightmare of finding a new place 8 days before arrival without someone to work through the logistics. He was quite right in discouraging two seaplane distance resorts given our short time (8 days) in the country and the unscheduled nature of seaplanes in the Maldives- it would have taken a day away from enjoying a day! His recommendations for restaurants to prioritize at both resorts was spot on and he was very helpful with plans for scuba, advising on better house reefs etc. While Justin didn’t make the St Regis reservation, he was very willing to help with recommendations for the resort and I’m quite certain would have stepped in to help had any issues arisen. He dealt with us personally throughout the planning process.
Our WOW Moment was such fun! We and the dive master and two naturalists headed out and we had a fantastic dive. Then we headed across the atoll to use a drone to try to find whale sharks and manta rays. While none were to be found it was still a blast to watch the naturalists use the drone to hunt for them!
We have nothing but praise for Justin, who put together a great trip!
Family trip to the Grand Canyon
LINDA STAPF | May 16, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Arizona – Grand Canyon May 2021
We had a wonderful time and were able to do everything we wanted plus more! I had already booked hotels and flights, but Melissa’s colleague Mindy was able to add some great experiences. She booked Lowell observatory, guided hike to Grand Canyon, a helicopter ride and a desert dusk tour. We even swapped one of our hotel nights for a cool glamping night in the desert.
There were less people around, our tour in the Grand Canyon with All Star Grand Canyon Tours and the helicopter ride at Maverick were both private, just our family. Our guide Ben took great care of us at the Grand Canyon and was able to give us some off-road driving directions. The kids had the best day ever – everyday and want to go back.
The helicopter ride was great fun, but in the middle of the day it did interfere a bit with our hiking, I would recommend putting that in another day if at all possible.
Three-month exploration of Colombia
DANIEL WILE | MAY 14, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Colombia trip January 15-April 21.
WOW memory: Standing on my balcony on my suite in Cartagena in the late afternoon and watching the golden waves striking the shore below the colonial era walls. This would be true at any time, but was sensory overload after a year without travel.
There are some important features of travel in Colombia that are independent of the pandemic. Perhaps because Colombia has no obvious famous tourist destinations such as the Galapagos or Machu Picchu, and because it just emerged from a fifty year civil war, it doesn’t get many foreign tourists in most parts. As a result, very few people in the travel infrastructure speak English. That is true for check in agents at airports, and flight attendants even on Avianca, Colombia’s premium airline, and in five star, international class hotels such as the Four Seasons Casa Medina Bogota.
A person should go to Colombia because of the spectacular variety of intimate, beautiful experiences in one country.
In what was an often challenging travel environment, Marc and Boris performed heroically and with the complete finesse of an expert kayaker on the most challenging whitewater. After the pandemic, anyone on a trip with them will find working with them even more of a total joy. Without them, my trip would have been impossible.
To address the questions Wendy asked:
“How did this trip differ from one you might have taken before the pandemic?”
Because of the possibility of a national lockdown or travel ban in the US, I arrived three weeks earlier than in the original itinerary, namely, before January 20. I switched hotels at the end so that I could stay in a hotel with a room more tolerable in a two week quarantine. Historically important churches everywhere and some museums and restaurants were closed because of the pandemic. One region was closed that I would have otherwise visited. Airline travel at every stage was always awkward. Covid procedures were different at each airport.
“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 answer is yes to every part of the first question. With regard to the second, Marc and Boris’ team wrote letters that enabled the guide to enter airline terminals generally restricted to passengers in order to help me check in with airline agents who spoke only locally accented Spanish. Their team over the phone helped me fill in very confusing forms for pre-registration for arrival and departure and for extending my visa. The outfitter arranged for the hotel to have a doctor test me for Covid in my room within the required three days before departure. To deal with the closure of the region in the previous section, the outfitter rescheduled and expanded visits to other places to fill the gap. The outfitter and the local partners were able to adapt airport transfers to accommodate local lockdowns and curfews. They were always accommodating to my uniquely personal wishes and interests, requests for itinerary changes, and inherent way of doing things. They were easily reachable over the phone and responded quickly to emails
“What did the trip planner do, or not do, to minimize your health risk or financial risk?”
Because my trip was always going to be private and in luxury accommodations and private cars, the health risk was reduced substantially. There really wasn’t any financial risk.
“Did the trip planner add value to your trip? If so, how?”
Being able to negotiate the often changing or confusing or difficult procedures described earlier, being willing to make frequent changes, and knowing the fine details of which rooms in a particular hotel were suitable to my tastes added immense value.
“Did you have certain trip experiences that other travelers should either seek out or avoid?”
In Cartagena, do stay at Sofitel Leyenda Santa Clara. Don’t stay at the Four Seasons Casa Medina in Bogota because they didn’t observe the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the room and because the hotel has restaurant staff who don’t understand menus that are printed in English, and don’t stay at Gitana Del Mar on the Caribbean coast because the receptionists were rude or indifferent and because their kitchen staff did not observe basic Covid rules. Marc and Boris do not deserve a scintilla of responsibility for these bad experiences; the hotel staffs do completely. No travel company can be around a client every minute of every day.
Trip to Costa Rica with no crowds
DOMINIQUE TRAN | MAY 11, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We (Dominique Tran and William Parr) just returned from a 17 days trip to Costa Rica (April 2021). Very good food, very nice people, and wonderful sites to see, how can you not have a wonderful time? At the start of the trip, we missed our flight, Pierre managed to rearrange everything so that we did not miss anything on our itinerary. All the places that we stayed were very nice. We felt very safe eating inside the hotel and also eating out, because it seems everyone followed COVID-19 protocol (mask/hand sanitizing). All of our transfers were always on time. Pierre/Michael’s team always checked on us every two or three days to see if everything went well. For the excursions, we did have options to wear or not to wear mask because the groups were very small (from 2 to 6 persons). Most of the time, it is only two of us. However, all drivers and guides wore their masks. The crowds are not there, so it is very nice. On our last night at Arenas del Mar hotel in Manuel Antonio, on one of our PCR test (required for returning to US) they used middle name as the last name, but the hotel were able to call the lab around 6 in the afternoon and fixed it right away. I would highly recommended Pierre/Michael’s team, they are the best.
Multi-generational trip to Disney World
CLAIRE STROUSE | MAY 9, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Michelle Allen assisted me to put together a trip to Disney World for my son, grandson, my husband and myself with just a couple of months’ notice. Since we are not big fans of Disney World, I knew there were just too many insider tips I would just not have time to figure out and Michelle quickly determined what would best suit us. Michelle suggested the Beach Club Villas and our unit was perfect for this stay including that I think we had the biggest deck in our building. Our grandson loved it! Michelle also suggested two evening workshops and they were perfect for us and my son and grandson have some wonderful Star Wars workshop products! Michelle kept us up to date on the covid regulations in the event we needed to cancel. I certainly would not have known where to stay to allow us to go to the parks we wanted to without having to wait in long transportation lines. My family walked back from Hollywood Studios twice and it took just 15 minutes and a beautiful walk. Very good decision for hotel location. Because we had a condo with kitchen, we did not require dining reservations, but Michelle did suggest a couple of things for our stay in addition to providing a motorized cart for me, which I was really thankful for. They were long days of walking. I would definitely choose to use Michelle Allen again and would highly recommend her for Disney World.
Private-island villa and magical jungle lodge in Belize
ANTHONY FORD-HUTCHINSON | MAY 5, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL The big question was where to go once we had been vaccinated. Belize seemed a great choice with a level 2 rating, easy entry with a vaccination certificate and direct flights from Newark airport which by definition would have passengers on board who had either been tested or vaccinated. We immediately contacted Wendy’s recommended travel agent, Patricia Johnson, and set up zoom calls. She could not have been more helpful and we ended up staying in three places.
Her first recommendation was Cayo Espanto, a private island with a few luxury villas and with two butlers assigned to each villa. It could not have been a better choice, with great private snorkeling trips, bone fishing and water sports at the island. She then arranged a charter flight on Tropic Air to take us over the Blue Hole (well worth doing) and then to fly us out to Hidden Valley. A highlight there was a WOW Moment when we were driven to a pool by a waterfall where lunch had been set up with table and chairs, sparkling wine in an ice bucket, a hammock, and towels for bathing. We transferred from there via the Mayan site of Caracol to the Lodge at Chaa Creek, a magical place we last visited 25 years ago. It may be more modern, but it is still magical with the same owners who live on site. There Patricia organized a birding trip for us with a local expert, we canoed on the Macal River, lounged in our private plunge pool and hiked throughout the property.
Patricia kept in touch with us by text throughout the trip and met us at Chaa Creek. It was a great 8 day trip and we felt very safe there with all the staff we interacted with being either vaccinated or in the process of being vaccinated. Finally we flew home on a plane with 13 passengers on board!
Tony & Jane Ford-Hutchinson trip from April 17th-24th 2021
A second trip to Croatia during Covid
JENNIFER ANDREWS | MAY 2, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our second trip to Croatia was even better than the first. Ala took what we loved about our last trip and made this one even more tailored to what we wanted to do. We did not have to worry about a single thing–Ala took care of everything including organizing our covid test for our flight home. All the restaurants we went to were informed of my no meat/no dairy so I didn’t have to explain it over and over. We had an amazing driver/guide who suggested several stops so we could walk around some different towns and we loved that–so much so that we are going to stay in one of the towns we asked about (Opatija). The Istrian Coast has had very few cases of covid but all the hotels and restaurants were very cautious and strict about following guidelines. We felt very comfortable everywhere. Ala really does plan the most perfect visit to Croatia and you have local numbers for anything that comes up during your trip so I never had to worry about anything. She knew the hotels really well and is really good about knowing what we would like or didn’t like. I cannot recommend her highly enough.
Disney World with VIP tour
GINA MELTON | MAY 2, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had the best Disney trip for 3 days in April 2021 thanks to Michelle’s advice and counsel. She scheduled a VIP tour for us that allowed us to experience much more from the Parks than we could have on our own. She was also able to guide us on where to get the best bang for our buck since not all of Disney is fully functioning during the pandemic. For example, for our family’s needs it didn’t make sense to stay on property and Michelle didn’t hesitate to tell us this even if it was in her interest to book on property for us. I wouldn’t hesitate to contact Michelle to assist with any Disney related travel. We had the best trip yet to Orlando!
Four Seasons Resort on Maui
SUSAN CUNNEEN | MAY 1, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL If you are like me, and would never have considered using a travel specialist for a domestic trip, please think again! I decided that I wanted to go to Maui, and booked my flight and hotel in advance. Then, I happened to read a Wendy Perrin traveler review about Dani Johnson and was intrigued- should I consider using a planner for Hawaii? Again, I almost always use a travel planner for ex-US travel but not for travel in the US. However, I was excited by the review I read, and out of curiosity, I reached out to Dani. WOW- I will use her again! She basically took over my trip, and, like all great travel specialists, spent a considerable amount of time asking me questions to understand what I was looking for, and how I wanted to spend my time.
We discussed sticking with my planned hotel versus renting a condo or going to a different hotel property. Ultimately, I ended up staying with the Four Seasons which I had booked on my own, but when she “took over” the reservation, I received a lot more perks than I would have received with my reservation, saving me quite a bit of money. Dani also thoroughly went through all of the activities I had considered, gave me excellent feedback and advice, and then booked everything for me after our discussion. She also suggested and reserved hotels, a car and driver when I could not get an auto reservation as well as restaurants, and pretty much took care of every little detail in an extremely thoughtful way.
Everything Dani suggested and ultimately scheduled, felt completely safe from a COVID-19 perspective, and I, a nurse, never once felt any discomfort or concern in that regard. Before, during and after, Dani checked in to make sure that everything was perfect, and when I experienced one snafu completely unrelated to Dani, she immediately jumped into action and took care of it.
Bottom line: I felt like I had my cake and was able to eat it, too! I look forward to booking another trip through Dani, and will work with her right at the beginning of my planning.
Honeymoon in Los Cabos, Mexico
DEBORAH WENTE | APRIL 29, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Julie and Amber planned a honeymoon for my daughter and her husband that was a perfect getaway after the busy wedding weekend. They arranged for all transfers and the process was seamless. The resort recognized their honeymoon with some special touches. About 1/2 during the trip, they invited my husband and I to join them! Amber was able to help us book at the same resort and also arranged for transfers. It was a wonderful chance for us to celebrate with them.
Staying in a “vacation bubble” on Anguilla
RON KLAUSNER | APRIL 28, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I went to Cap Jaluca in Anguilla April 14-21.
I called Meg because I wanted to get away and really didn’t care where I went in the Caribbean. I wanted someplace that was safe, even though my wife and I have been vaccinated, and offered a choice of dining experiences. Meg advised us Anguilla would be perfect as they have a dining “bubble” of restaurants available and they take Covid very seriously.
We had been to Cap Jaluca 15 years ago and loved it. Mind you, we very rarely go anywhere a second time as there are so many places to explore in this world. However, Cap Jaluca, with its wonderful beach and excellent service, fit the bill.
We had a wonderful time. Meg negotiated an upgrade and free breakfast delivered to our room every morning. We certainly recharged.
Island getaway on Maui
BHARATH VENKATARAMAN | APRIL 27, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Dani did a great job planning our trip to Maui, especially with all the worries about Covid. It was great to have her guide us on our first trip. Her suggestion that we stay on Maui and not travel this time around was well thought out. Her hotel suggestions were great too, and her activity and dining arrangements were spot-on. Upon our return, she also took time to ask for feedback on her suggestions. We do plan to do another trip back and will gladly ask her to plan it again for us.
Ecuador: the Galapagos, Amazon, and Andes
JULIE HEIMARK | APRIL 18, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We planned our trip with Allie to Ecuador pre-pandemic, in 2019, for March 2020. We actually took our trip post-pandemic, in March 2021. Back in those halcyon pre-pandemic days of 2019/20 when we planned the trip, Allie was fantastic at accommodating our complicated schedules (kids and I flying in from West Coast, my husband joining us later in the trip from the East Coast). It’s rueful to look back on those days when our busy lives meant we “had” to leave on a certain day and could “only” make certain sailings. How naive we were! Nevertheless, Allie was able to put together an amazing trip on limited notice even with our (now laughable) schedule demands – demands we now know were so artificial and that we will probably never see again for a long time (“we have to be back for school”; “I have to attend this industry conference with five thousand other people and will join you later”).
The pandemic hit two weeks before our departure. We thought we had lost everything as we had already paid for the entire trip. Amazingly, Allie was able to retain ALL of our bookings. Honestly, I don’t know how she did that. And it’s not something I could have ever navigated. This is exactly why you use a talented and experienced agent. The only thing we lost was our international airfare — which I had handled. (Note to others — use only legacy carriers for the foreseeable future. I often used small, budget carriers pre-pandemic. For the next few years, I will only use legacy carriers. It was impossible to recover my $7K of international airfare with the low-cost carrier. By contrast, I was able to secure a $12K credit of international airfare with a legacy carrier for my cancelled summer 2020 Europe trip.)
In March 2021, we actually took the trip. Allie was even more amazing in this post-Covid world. A week before our departure, Ecuador changed the rules, allowing vaccinated people to skip Covid testing. Allie informed us within the hour of this happening — although it was still news to the airline desk agent when we checked in! Travel in the post-Covid era is challenging. Flight schedules seem to change daily, even during our trip! Allie was always there to make the necessary adjustments. Our international arrival and departure changed, our domestic flights changed repeatedly (with one even being cancelled), our ship changed. Allie handled it all. We never could have done any of this on our own. And most importantly, we never had to worry or fret about it, because we knew Allie was taking care of it all.
It was incredibly reassuring to know that we had Allie watching our back during the trip, to troubleshoot for us. During our trip, one of my sons was ill, which, to put it mildly, is distressing during pandemic travel — Allie knew via the lodge and texted us immediately. (He was fine.) The details on one of the PCR tests for our US return was incorrect — Allie was able to immediately contact the lab and get a corrected report emailed to us. Her calm and grounded demeanor gave us great comfort, especially with pre-trip jitters and generalized low-level anxiety during the trip. I knew that if anything went sideways in Ecuador that we weren’t alone.
Travel is unpredictable in this post-Covid world. A WOW List planner is vital to ensuring a successful, enjoyable trip no matter your travel history or expertise. We are experienced travelers, have lived abroad, and, pre-pandemic, travelled internationally five to six times a year. But we absolutely could not have done this trip without Allie.
It goes without saying that Allies hotel picks, scheduling, transfers etc. were top-notch. She recommended a few days in the Highlands at Hacienda Zuleta, which wasn’t on our radar at all and ended up being one of the highlights and my kids’ favorite hotel. And her recommendation of La Selva Jungle Lodge was spot-on. This was our second time in the Amazon. La Selva blew our last experience (Brazil) out of the water. I felt I was taking a collegiate level tropical ecology/biology course. It was everything that I dreamed the Amazon would be. The Galapagos are as fantastic as reported, you feel like you are living in a National Geographic special (I could almost hear Sir David Attenborough’s voice).
We don’t know why it took us so long to visit Ecuador — it is an amazing destination and should be at the top of everyone’s bucket list.
Hawaii resort trip
MARY HOAK | APRIL 17, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Once again Dani put together a nice trip for us during the pandemic. We have had to “pivot” during our travels this last year due to my wife’s work travel policy. Dani was able to make changes to our trip at the last minute, the day before we were planning to depart, so we could adhere to the policy. She was able to change everything and was able to book all our dining at the last minute, so that we never had to search for a meal. With the perks you receive through her travel agency, we were able to get included breakfast everyday, an upgrade in the room category and a credit to use during our stay. She is great and really knows what kind of room we want and the kind of resort we will enjoy. Thanks Dani!
Jungle and Caribbean yacht charter in Belize
KATE RADER | APRIL 13, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We can’t say enough good about our recent trip to Belize. Patricia was amazing to work with and her recommendations of the Lodge at Chaa Creek and a private yacht charter were the perfect combination for our family of five.
We were scheduled to begin on the water but due to some unforeseen flight changes, Patricia recommended that we start on land and made all arrangements for us.
The experience at Chaa Creek was incredible… from our outing to the ATM caves (one of the most amazing things we’ve ever done) to a very special horseback riding morning and WOW Moment overlooking the entire property along with an outdoor cooking experience, we couldn’t have asked for anything more. The horseback ride and gourmet feast set in a truly stunning locale was an experience we won’t soon forget. We are truly appreciative of this incredible experience and all of your help in planning a memorable vacation for our family of five.
From the jungle, we headed back towards town to meet our catamaran and crew. As new “sailors” we can’t say enough about this adventure. Our chef Ellen fed us better than we could have imagined all while giving us a taste of local flavor including conch ceviche and conch fritters. Our Captain made the adventure especially fun for our 11 year old son by allowing him the chance to help on the boat with the anchor, fishing rods, etc…
We are truly appreciative to Patricia and her team for this wonderful introduction to Belize. We can’t imagine a more perfect pandemic getaway.
Family getaway on the Big Island, Hawaii
KATHY WOEBER GARDNER | APRIL 13, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Hawaii expert Dani Johnson planned a fabulous vacation to the Big Island for our family and kindly included my sister and her family in our plans/reservations at the almost last minute. We really enjoyed the Fairmont Orchid, which Dani highly recommended. It was perfect for our families (parents and teens). She ensured we had lovely rooms with wonderful views and fantastic, attentive service. Dani recommended a snorkeling trip just for our two families. Thanks to Wendy, our WOW Moment, a fantastic hike to Pololu Valley and Beach, was delightful. Dani engaged Derek Stuart, of Active Families Hawaii, as a personal guide, including visiting the Waimea Market, a stunning drive to the northeast of the Big Island and the above mentioned hike and picnic on the black sand beach. Dani made excellent recommendations with respect to dining, surfing and golfing: our family could not have been happier. We appreciated her very detailed advice re: Covid testing in advance of the trip. We highly recommend Dani and her team.
Family trip to Utah and Arizona’s national parks
BETH NURY | APRIL 12, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Melissa and Mindi moved quickly to plan a fabulous Southwest trip within seven days of my first email to them. Our ten day trip (March 19, 2021 – March 29, 2021) took us to four National Parks (Arches, Capitol Reef, Zion & Grand Canyon), Esclanante (National Monument) and Sedona, AZ.
Guides: Melissa did a great job of securing day trips with guides in all of our stops. We have two kids, ages 16 and 13, and found that going with a guide makes the trip much more efficient and enjoyable for all! We particularly enjoyed the guides in Capitol Reef (Shawn/Fremont River Guides), Escalante (Sage/Earth-Tours), Zion (Tonya/Zion Guru) and Grand Canyon (Donnie/All Star Tours). The guides know which trails are less crowded than others, where to spot wildlife, etc.
Accommodations: Melissa was spot-on with the Hoodoo Moab Hilton, Cliffrose Lodge (also Hilton) and El Tovar. Hoodoo and Cliffrose locations could not be beat, as they are located within a 5-8 minute drive to Arches and Zion. In addition, these hotels are within walking distance to restaurants, coffee shops, etc. As for El Tovar, the history and grandeur of this hotel took our breath away. Even though we could only stay for one night, it was well worth the detour from Zion on our way to our final stop, Sedona. In addition, the time spent in the Grand Canyon was short, but undoubtedly some of the best time spent on our trip. (Who would have ever guessed we would not be able to see the canyon due to a blizzard in March!!)
Overall, despite our concerns about anticipated COVID restrictions, Melissa and Mindi organized a trip that allowed us to enjoy the national parks/monuments without COVID limitations.
When we returned home, I noticed a double charge on my credit card for a hotel and immediately reached out to Mindi. Within 30 minutes, she contacted the hotel and the charges were reversed. I was impressed with how quickly I saw the credit appear on my statement!
I would recommend Melissa and Mindi for future Southwestern USA travelers. Thanks again for a wonderful trip.
Beach resort and private yacht charter in Belize
BRYAN GORSIRA | APRIL 7, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL It is difficult to put into words how wonderful this vacation was. We thoroughly enjoyed both Matachica and our private yacht charter! My daughter and I both teared up at various times, shaking our heads and looking at each other as we were just overwhelmed at how special the whole trip was for us.
I also feel like we got some insight into the Belize people and culture along the way, and both were enjoyed and admired.
We are already in talks with another couple to try and find a way back for another go at it.
Things that stood out to us at Matachica were:
The attentiveness of the staff. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, and always willing to help out or offer suggestions.
Soup, our tour guide to shark alley was enjoyable and was helpful and informative.
The nice quiet atmosphere and the condition of the grounds, it was clear that upkeep was important, the place looked lovely!
Breakfasts were our favorite meal, they were very good!
Azul South…we loved our accommodations, beds were comfortable!
Visiting the Myan ruins. They were fascinating to see, and our guide was very informative and kind. In fact we really enjoyed our guide! Yet another nice person.
Stopping at a roadside restaurant that our guide had arranged after we had mentioned that we had not had breakfast and were hungry. The food was awesome and he had actually called ahead to ask if they could open early for us!!
The yacht charter…..
Our captain Ruben and cook Kainie were beyond expectations. They both were clearly very competent, but even more pleasing was the personality of each. We enjoyed their company very much, and yet they also allowed us our space for family chat, a difficult road to navigate I think, but they did it expertly. They were attentive without smothering. On the downside, … we found it very difficult to say goodbye to them, after 4 days at sea, we all had become very attached to them. They were clearly just very good people, which is no small thing.
Things that stood out to us during our sailing:
Food, of course. Kainies cooking was so good, I am quite sure we all gained weight!
The small islands, especially rendezvous key. The best snorkeling of my life.
Playing volleyball on a remote island
sailing and seeing the ocean… there is nothing like it.
Mornings with a cup of coffee watching the sun rise.
Playing liars dice with Ruben and Kainie.
Watching Ruben and his expertise with the boat.
Family safari in Kenya
JONAS BEAN | APRIL 7, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL What a wonderful trip! Julian utilizes some amazing people and companies for his Kenya bookings!
We (family of four with two children, ages 11 & 13) have extensive international travel experience pre-covid and wanted to travel mid-covid as well. We had never used a travel specialist before and had some hesitations. We were hesitant to lose our control over our daily plans and freedom to roam. Our main reason for using a travel specialist was because travel can be unpredictable in today’s travel climate. Julian eased our minds with his grounded approach during the very first phone conversation we had with him. Let the planning process begin! In a very short amount of time, Julian had put together a robust and adventurous itinerary for us.
Julian created a travel product that is unmatched (adventure, culture immersion, conservation, a human approach). If you are looking for an unforgettable and meaningful Kenyan experience, Julian is your guy.
Everything was seamless from the airport transfers, hotels/lodges, guides/drivers, domestic flights, Covid testing, meals, freedom to create our day’s plans to our liking, etc. Julian will listen to what his travelers want, their comfort levels, budget limitations, etc and create a magical African experience. Our children’s eyes were wide open from the moment we landed in Nairobi until the moment we left. We made a lifetime of memories in Kenya.
Perhaps the test of any travel specialist is when things go sideways. During our time in Kenya, the government altered their Covid regulations and locked down the counties surrounding Nairobi. Julian stepped in and handled the whole situation. In the end we had to make some changes to our plans but the end goal remained the same (our goal of an amazing trip that was safe). If we would have had to handle all the changes, within a very dynamic situation, on our own it would have ruined a full day of our trip and would have caused massive stress. Julian handled it all and we were able to continue enjoying the Masai Mara knowing that it was being handled with our safety and interests in mind. We, as a family, said to one another on numerous occasions that it was wonderful that we used Julian and had someone taking care of the tough yet important tasks to sort out these issues that were out of our control.
Our trip may be over but we have memory cards full of pictures, endless stories to relive around the table, mental images of endless African beauty, new perspectives that will guide us through our lives, and new contacts in our phones of friends we met in Kenya.
If Africa is on your list of places to experience, call Julian!
Family adventures and beach time in Belize
MARY KO | MARCH 30, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL So many amazing things to mention on our recent trip (March 2021) to Belize! Maybe I will start with empty airplanes so each of us had our own row…. and customs being empty too! I am already trying to book my next trip before things pick up!!! We were near San Ignacio at chaa creek and portofino on San Pedro island and both were amazing! We had a portable service come to us to do our covid test prior to leaving the United States and they were so sweet with my 2, 6, and 8 year old! The truly amazing parts were seeing my girls ride horses, hold iguanas, attempt to snorkel for their first time, and at the butterfly house at chaa creek when hundreds of butterflies landed on them. My husband and I swam with sharks, Eric and Carlos were so sweet with the kids! They let them feed the sharks because they were too afraid to jump in. The glass bottom boat was perfect. Portofino’s food was awesome and I think I gained 5 lbs on this trip. We had a tour cancellation and the concierge at chaa creek booked chocolate making instead. Mayan chocolate is amazing! The whole trip was incredibly amazing! I can not say enough good things! We went to the Mayan ruins and we had the whole place to ourselves! It was unreal. Usually it is shoulder to shoulder with tourists! I can’t wait for our next adventure!
Private condo on Maui for spring break
SHEILA MCCLURE | MARCH 23, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My family traveled to Maui for Spring Break 2021 (3.13.21 – 3.20.21) and it was perfect. We decided to make the trip at the last minute as we really wanted to get away. We reached out to Wendy and her team and they put us in contact with Dani Johnson. We connected with Dani quickly and on the initial call we booked an amazing condo with a breathtaking view of the ocean. Dani did say the unit we got was most likely due to a cancellation but her quick action made it happen.
While we are usually a resort family the condo was perfect during these pandemic times and also because we brought along our teenage daughter’s friend. Dani handled all our dining reservations, recommended personal chefs – we did take advantage of one and it was fantastic, booked the girls a couple experiences and provided recommendations for a couple day trips. She made the trip stress-free from a planning perspective and everyone had a wonderful time.
One of the reasons we selected Hawaii was because the state mandates a negative Covid test 72 hours prior to travel if you wanted to bypass a 10 day quarantine. Getting this complete can be a little stressful but the State of Hawaii has an easy to use website where all travelers over 18 need to register their trip, individuals under 18 are logged under one of the adults. We are a United Airlines family and their website also provides a lot of detail on traveling to Hawaii. We used United’s “trusted partner”, ADL Health, for an at home – zoom conducted Covid test. Order the test online, it is shipped to your home, you set up an appointment to administer the test, send it back UPS overnight. We had the results the next day. Easy and quick. The State of Hawaii also has a list of “trusted” partners.
We would recommend travel to Hawaii at this time and we would definitely recommend Dani. She got this trip done for us in record time, followed up with us during the trip and made Maui 2021 the best!!! – Sheila and Rob McClure
Family trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando
BETH NELSON | MARCH 21, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We, the Nelson family, went to Disney World in March 2021 for spring break. While normally we would have taken an international trip, we decided it would be easier to stay in the U.S. and skip the unknowns with covid and covid testing. The trip Michelle planned for us was very covid-appropriate and fun! Disney does a great job with covid management. They take masks, social distancing and hotel housekeeping very seriously. We never felt at high risk of covid exposure.
Michelle is very knowledgeable about everything Disney and took the time to get to know what we wanted out of our trip. She then recommended a resort and theme park activities that best suited us. She found some deals and then re-looked at prices near the departure date. She gave us insider tips to help us have the best experience possible. Using her tips I was able to get on the Rise of Resistance twice!
I highly recommend using Michelle and her team for a great Disney World trip!
Month-long ski trip to Aspen, Colorado
CAROL COZEN | MARCH 15, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL There aren’t enough superlatives to describe our experience with Meg. Our daughter and a friend wanted to ski/work remotely for a month anywhere out west. The problem was there were no season lift passes and weekly passes, if available, were cost prohibitive. With nowhere to turn, I emailed Meg from Wendy’s WOW List to see if she could help.
Meg was able to secure terrific accommodations in Aspen which came with 30 day lift passes. Additionally, when an issue came up with their original condo prior to arrival, Meg had them upgraded to a beautiful unit at no charge.
All along the way, Meg provided useful advice about ski rentals, restaurants and happenings in Aspen. She clearly understood this was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity and was genuinely excited to be part of the planning process. She was responsive and terrific to work with and I would highly recommend her!
Birthday trip to South Beach, Miami
BENOY BENNY | FEBRUARY 27, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Feb 2021 trip to Miami South Beach for a special landmark birthday for my wife. Meg Austin did a great job walking me through the options and chose the best place for this special occasion and equally as important set things up where the experience was a special one. She added her own special touches to the special trip that added up to making it extra special.
Private villa in Tulum, Mexico
GARRETT BANDY | FEBRUARY 25, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We rented a private home in Tulum. Honestly, we couldn’t have found the home ourselves. We were fully staffed and had the best price for private chefs to accommodate our food wishes. We weren’t comfortable going elsewhere to get a COVID test to travel. Dani, our agent, was able to easily organize health techs to come to the house to administer the test.
Dani added great value to our trip by not only providing services like in home COVID tests but by working with the home owner to to extend the cancelling policy (which, we fortunately decided not to use). I don’t believe this request would have been successful without Dani’s assistance.
Dani steered us in the right direction for the perfect home in the perfect location. We would not have wanted to be in the busyness of downtown Tulum but rather in the park, closer to the ruins and also have access to staff serving us drinks on the beach from the neighboring hotel. This service alone was worth everything.
I understand the home will be updating its kitchen soon. The pool was ok for the adults and great for the kids. I came to understand that being in the reserve, it’s difficult to update a home with many permits and hoops to jump through. The main draw is the beautiful beach, the service and home. We traveled from 2/12/21-2/22/21.
Family ski trip to Park City, Utah
ADRIENNE WHALEY | FEBRUARY 23, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Meg was the greatest. Patient with us while we figured out dates and flights and destination. She gave us places to choose from and once we had it down she handled everything. She pulled it off in 3 weeks time. Absolutely we will use her again when planning a ski trip and probably a spring break trip as well. With all the changes in 2021 she guided us through hurdles we would have had to figure out the hard way as well as saved us time in research. Even checked in with us each day and sent me an email at 430 in the morning after checking the status of our 6am flight!!! I can not recommend her enough.
Kid-friendly trip to Mexico’s Caribbean coast
MATTHEW GAMBLE | FEBRUARY 23, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Meg Austin is a magician, miracle worker, and a hero to the people!
I called Meg to try to get us a safe, on budget, and kid friendly trip to the Caribbean for our family of 6 (including kids ages 9, 7, 4, and 1 1/2) – Certainly not the easiest task in the middle of spiking COVID cases here in the US and changes in policy for travelers returning to the US. To be honest, I was about to give up on this trip due to uncertainty regarding evolving COVID issues and other agents’ difficulties coming in at our budget.
I decided to call Meg as a bit of a “Hail Mary.”
That Hail Mary was a winning touchdown pass for our family. Meg nailed it – nailed it – and nailed it:
Kids had an absolute blast.
And our itinerary was to us quick as a flash. Did I mention I gave her only about 5 weeks of notice?
She’s a kick to work with, enthusiastic and fun, and put us in just the right spot. She was super fast with responses to questions, concerns, and followed up with us on the days of travel and while we were on our trip to make sure things went smoothly with return COVID testing/airline requirements/and all things pandemic related.
Very highly recommended! Call Meg Austin.
Matthew D. Gamble, M.D.
Active adventures and sun in Costa Rica
CINDY FRANCIES | FEBRUARY 15, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We went to two wonderful locations in Costa Rica with the assistance of Pierre Gedeon in January of this year. Initially, we were supposed to go to Panama but because of Covid, we had to change our itinerary quickly. They proved the worth of a good travel agent because our flights were delayed repeatedly and they handled adjusting our hotel reservations quickly and efficiently. (Along with transfers, etc.) All of this was done from WhatsApp! The activities that were planned were terrific. A great mix of active events and time at leisure to soak in the sun. In short, when you are going on vacation you don’t want to worry about getting things right. Pierre’s team got everything right. Questions were encouraged and answered quickly. We have already started planning our next trip with them.
Kenya safari, with private lodges
JENNIFER ANDREWS | FEBRUARY 4, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We were in Kenya from January 13 until February 2nd. It was our first trip to Kenya and it was one of my favorite trips to date. Kenya was remarkably safe and very Covid aware (better than the US) and we could not have felt more comfortable. Because Julian picked really incredible lodges with a small amount of rooms, we had two of the lodges all to ourselves. Since it was our first trip there, I don’t have any comparison to non Covid times but I do know it was remarkable to be on the Masai Mara and see no other cars all day. It was like our own private Kenya in lots of ways.
We started in Nairobi at Hemingways for 2 nights to get over jet lag. We then flew bush planes to the other lodges and we usually flew alone but 2 of the flights we had a few others. We relied completely on Julian for our lodges, our itinerary and his experience. We had to have a test before we got on the plane home and Julian had a doctor fly to us in the bush and give us our tests while we had breakfast. Because Kenya put a new form in place while we were there, Julian’s point person in Nairobi spent all day tracking down the specifics and got us the needed TT Code a few hours before our flight so it was seamless for us.
Our lodges were incredible. We had amazing food and wine, the best guides, the most exclusive lodges and such a high level of service– we were completely spoiled. We really put ourselves in Julian’s hands and let him do all the work and we could not be happier with our trip. I was really excited but I had no idea how amazing it would be and how much we loved Kenya. Julian organized all our flights, all our transportation and all our requests had been pre-sent so we just had to show up and have this incredible trip.
We flew Emirates to Dubai and then to Nairobi and they could not have been safer or more careful. When we arrived back in Dubai on the way home, they whisked us through another PCR test because we had to stay overnight due to weather in Boston and it was all handled for us. It’s my favorite airline already but to see how they are handling the pandemic and testing with such efficiency is amazing. We never felt nervous for a second — on the flight or the trip.
I would recommend going to Kenya and having Julian plan it for you ASAP because it is truly remarkable to have all the animals, land and incredible Kenyans show off their country right now.
Places stayed: Ol Donyo Lodge, Sasaab, Salas Camp, Mara Nyika, Hemingways.
Asante sana, Julian.
Kid-friendly trip to Fairmont Mayakoba and Tulum, Mexico
MARY KO | JANUARY 12, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We went to the Fairmont Mayakoba Dec 28-Jan 3rd. We saw Tulum and swam in a cenote and enjoyed the resort. It was the perfect family friendly resort. The service was great. My 2 year old is particularly difficult and she loved seeing the turtles at the grand cenote and my older girls loved swimming and seeing the bats above our heads. In Tulum they loved running around exploring. Franc was so helpful and kind he picked a delicious restaurant for us to eat at for lunch and helped us skip the wait. He totally didn’t mind having kids around. The resort was the perfect way to relax but escaping to see some of the beauty and history of Mexico was great. Traveling with 3 kids is always tricky but we use Wendy Perrin’s list to make it easy.
Ski trip to Park City, Utah, for Christmas
LISA MANNING | JANUARY 6, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Meg planned a trip for my family of 3 to Canyons/Park City, Utah over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. It was perfectly planned. She suggested great restaurants (although due to covid, we mostly got take out in our lovely suite that she found with amazing views of the mountains). When we arrived at our suite, we had a stocked fridge, a bottle of wine, and a decorated Christmas tree all coordinated by Meg! She found ways to minimize risk on the airplane by getting us first class seats (at a good rate) on the first row of the plane. She had the skis delivered to the lobby of our hotel, no waiting in line!
Meg suggested we ski at Canyons/Park City because we could use our season passes from our local ski resort in Pennsylvania there. This saved us money. We did not have to wait in long lines for lift tickets because we had our season passes already. We went right outside from our hotel and there was the lift. Our flight was delayed on return and Meg was on it immediately, making sure we could get a late check out at our hotel and rearranging the car service to the airport. It was the smoothest family trip we have taken. My husband, who isn’t a big skier, said it was the best ski trip he’s been on! I appreciated her knowledge and feedback in finding the right ski resort for us!
Last-minute Arizona road trip
CHARLIE MYERS | JANUARY 6, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My family and I were so lucky to have had the opportunity to have worked with Melissa, Mindy and their team on our last minute vacation to Arizona. They could not have been more thoughtful and professional in organizing all aspects of the trip, during a really challenging time.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Villa vacation in Cabo, Mexico over the holidays
ANGELA SPRAU | JANUARY 6, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL The trip was wonderful. Our travel specialist helped alleviate all concerns regarding COVID precautions, and encouraged travel insurance, which I gladly purchased. The villa, and staff were superb, and made traveling during the pandemic seamless. We hope to go back soon, cannot say enough about Villa Penasco and Los Cabos.
Family ski trip to Beaver Creek, Colorado
MARY POWERS | JANUARY 6, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Meg Austin planned and coordinated a ski trip for us that far exceeded our expectations and took the angst out of all the details. We traveled to Beaver Creek the week before Christmas 2020. Being veteran travelers and a party of 9 we wanted the guidance and expertise of a seasoned travel expert with the ever evolving COVID pandemic. Having used Wendy Perrin for a trip a year and half ago, we knew this was our best way to go.
As Richard Branson says, “When making experiences, attention to detail matters.” Meg made sure every detail was covered from arranging a party of nine arriving from three different states to two different airports to finding accommodations where we could all be together. Our equipment was even delivered to our lodging in stages as members of our group arrived at different times. She found beautiful, perfectly located accommodations with amenities that fit our needs. Her demeanor was so positive and enthusiastic! She was very respectful of our budget and made sure to stay within it or find a way to make it work. We take pride in making our own travel plans, however, we do not think we could have even made it work within our budget with the quality of accommodations, location, reservations and services we received.
Meg is very focused and never pushy which we truly appreciated. We threw her curveballs when our son had hand surgery 2 weeks before the trip and our daughter developed a back condition that sidelined their skiing plans and she responded with home run alternative ideas. We often wondered if Meg ever slept as emails and texts were almost always answered within minutes. If you want top notch travel advice with a plethora of options to choose from, we highly recommend her for your next travel experience. We guarantee you will not be disappointed!
We are immensely grateful to Meg for making our family holiday trip truly extraordinary and look forward to using her again in the very near future!
Private yacht charter in the Caribbean, off Belize
SHELBY WILLETS | JANUARY 5, 2021
PANDEMIC TRAVEL An un-BELIZE-able family vacation
Choosing to travel internationally as a family during the pandemic was not an easy decision, but after hearing Rachael Wilson discuss the health and safety measures she was taking during one of Wendy Perrin’s Zoom sessions, we decided to explore the possibility further.
The attraction to us was being socially distanced by miles versus feet. The yacht would serve as our accommodation, dining venue and entertainment for our 10-day vacation.
Another reassuring factor is that the country of Belize requires a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours to enter. American Airlines offers PCR Covid testing through a partnership with Let’s Get Checked. Passengers booked on AA flights are “guaranteed” results within 72 hours. We were pleased with the Let’s Get Checked process and liked that they require you to take the sample while on a video chat with a health care professional.
Traveling during the pandemic does take additional planning. There were no last-minute trips to the store to pick up items as we self-quarantined for 2 weeks prior to our trip. In addition to the Let’s Get Checked test, we took several local PCR Covid tests in the weeks prior to our travels. To minimize transportation exposure, we drove ourselves to the airport and parked in the short-term parking lot. My husband parked the car and walked across the street to enter the airport – well worth the additional cost. We chose flight times early in the morning and late in the evening to avoid the crowds at the airport. Wendy’s seat selection recommendations were greatly appreciated. In our opinion, American Airlines did a wonderful job ensuring everyone was wearing their face mask properly.
If for some reason we would have been unable to travel, we had the option to reschedule the vacation within a year. A very generous offer that put our minds at ease when booking. Rachael and Patricia were very prompt in replying to our e-mails and providing additional information. They even tracked down poker chips at the last minute to add to our yacht – remember, I couldn’t go to the store.
Joining us in our yacht bubble, were 2 wonderful crew members, Eric, the captain and Andrea 1st mate/chef. Whether it was playing silly reindeer games on a rainy Christmas day, spending extra time fishing for the prize catch or cooking up the prized catch, their dedication and attention really made the trip special. They covertly decorated the yacht for our 25th wedding anniversary while we were out kayaking. Andrea even found time to stealthy make a cake from scratch.
We are a SCUBA diving family and diving in Belize has been on our wish list for a while. Rachael and Patricia worked closely with us to arrange private dives and diving equipment that we could procure at the beginning of the trip and keep for the duration. The Amigos Del Mar dive shop in San Pedro were top notch!! We had 7 wonderful SCUBA dives with Carlos and Alex. Having private SCUBA diving excursions limited our exposure to others and ensured we were typically the only boat at the location. Also, it afforded us the opportunity to feel comfortable taking our 12-year-old son to the Great Blue Hole! An amazing experience and bucket list worthy location that not many young divers can say they have accomplished. The juvenile nurse sharks were quite playful and joined us on several of our dives. They showed us around their swim throughs ensuring we all stayed together. In our many years of SCUBA diving, we have never had the wildlife engage with us so much – I think they were feeling neglected with the lack of tourists.
In addition to SCUBA diving, we enjoyed the yacht activities of paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, exploring deserted islands, spotting the rare red-footed boobie bird, star gazing and quality family time. My 12-year-old and I had an engaging conversation for 2 hours one evening while we gazed at the galaxies – a moment in time that I will treasure.
We will be talking about this vacation for years to come! Thank you to Rachael and Patricia for helping us feel safe while traveling during the Covid pandemic and making family memories that we will forever cherish.
Safari in Kenya with private game drives
JEREMY LYNCH | DECEMBER 28, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL As an avid traveler, I knew that planning an African Safari was beyond my own abilities. After reading about Julian’s recent trip to Kenya with his son in Billie Cohen’s article Dispatch from Kenya: What a Safari Looks Like Now, I knew that Julian could plan the right trip for me.
I first made contact with Julian on October 19, 2020. Julian was patient, informative, and knowledgeable. Julian’s patience and planning were immediately tested when everyone in my travel group backed-out of this trip as soon as Julian had it completely planned and ready to go. Instead of complaining about these travelers backing-out, Julian sensed how much I wanted to take this tour to Africa, and he planned a solo trip just for me. As an added bonus, Julian was going to accompany me on this trip. As Wendy would say, WOW!
By November 12, 2020, Julian had modified a multi-person itinerary to a solo itinerary just for me. From December 4-14, in less than four weeks, I would be traveling to Kenya and the Maasai Mara.
I only had a few requests for Julian regarding this trip:
1. I wanted the best opportunity to see as much game and birds as possible (no checklist, just opportunity);
2. I wanted as much of the trip to be inclusive as possible, so that I did not have to incur additional costs during the trip;
3. I wanted private game drives so that my time searching for game would not be determined by others; and
4. I wanted to “go with the flow once in the Mara”–get up early, go to bed at a reasonable time, but see what the day and conditions dictated, rather than having a set time-table and schedule of things to do.
not only delivered on each of these requirements, but he exceeded them. For most of this trip, I felt and believed I was the only person in the Mara. From his selection of camps, Instinct of the Mara and Entim Camp, to knowing what to look for and ask for, Julian’s knowledge was invaluable. Notable, unexpected highlights included:
1. Traditional fire-roasted lamb prepared by Maasai men, accompanied by sundowners high on a hill in the Mara;
2. Persuading Richard and staff at Instinct of the Mara to prepare and serve an impromptu three-course-meal on a sandbar in the middle of the Sand River;
3. Assisting me with adding over 70 new bird species to my bird knowledge and inventory;
4. Innumerable animal encounters; and
5. An unexpected, secluded waterfall and resulting pool in the Mara.
Covid-19 protocols were evident at every step of the trip planning process and the trip itself. Admission to Kenya required a negative PCR test and answers to a Kenyan Government internet health questionnaire, which resulted in a QR code to be submitted upon arrival in Nairobi. The most stressful part of this trip was awaiting the results of my PCR test, which required that the test results be no older than 96 hours upon arrival in Kenya. I received my results at 10:30 PM, the night before my departure flight. (That was too close for comfort for me—outside the “cancel for any reason” window. In hindsight, when I plan another trip of this magnitude and expense, I am going to have a second, “back-up” Covid-19 test conducted through the mail.) Julian pointed out all of the Covid-19 testing requirements early in the planning process, and he continually followed-up with me to ensure that I had what I needed for arrival in Kenya, including satisfactory trip insurance.
During the trip, every person in Kenya with whom I made contact was wearing a mask. Before entering any Camp or establishment, each time I was required to wash my hands, and hand sanitizer was present at all locations. In addition, all camps conducted temperature screenings prior to entering, and all eating establishments practiced social distancing by keeping patrons and guests separated. I felt each Camp did everything it could to ensure the most safety for its guests.
Even though a negative Covid-19 test was not required for my return trip to Georgia, Julian assisted me and was able to schedule a Covid-19 test prior to leaving Kenya so that I could have a high degree of assurance that I was not infected prior to returning home.
The most people I encountered at one time during my Kenyan Safari was at the major international airports—Atlanta, Amsterdam, and Nairobi. Everyone wore masks, and I kept my distance, finding a seat away from groups. I had never seen Atlanta’s international terminal so empty, but Amsterdam and Nairobi were busy but not crowded. The international airports were the only places where my thoughts returned to Covid.
I look forward to another experience just like this one, and I will ask Julian for his assistance and planning when I do.
Asante sana, Julian.
Turkey: sightseeing, boating, ballooning…
KATIE STINER | DECEMBER 4, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL What a spectacular trip! I was desperate to go anywhere this fall after a long quarantine in New York. Earl was incredibly responsive and after just one phone call, our itinerary for Turkey was quickly assembled. Our amazing guide Riza and our lovely drivers could not have been more thoughtful and careful given the pandemic, and our itinerary was constantly being tweaked to avoid crowds, maximize time outdoors, while not missing a single sight! All our hotels had rigorous pandemic protocols that made us feel safe as we enjoyed the magical cities we explored. Earl also helped us adapt our itinerary throughout the trip. We booked the Bosphorus cruise while in Turkey after initially opting out and it turned out to be a true highlight. We appreciated all the helpful guidance from Riza, who blended tremendous historical knowledge, with incredible recommendations for restaurants, quick bites, and quality vendors for souvenir purchases. He made sure we missed absolutely nothing while making sure we weren’t exhausted. I don’t know how he did it, but his guidance truly made the trip. It was incredible having him as a constant presence throughout our trip. This was a truly remarkable trip and I strongly encourage anyone who feels comfortable traveling to take the opportunity to visit Turkey without the crowds.
One word of warning, no one in the Cappadocia balloon ride apart from us wore their mask and there was little enforcement although the pilot did try. Most tourists were from Russia and showed an utter lack of regard for the pandemic. Warn any guests that might be sensitive. I don’t want to recommend against the balloon company though because they objectively were excellent pilots and got down into the canyons in a way that other companies did not.
Greece with kids: culture, history, hiking, food…
ELENA LYTKINA | NOVEMBER 30, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL So grateful for both Faye and Stella who arranged a fabulous experience to Greece from 10/24/2020 to 11/1/2020 for our family of four on super short notice. Stella was incredibly helpful in arranging a great experience every step of the way and was a joy to work with. She graciously and promptly handled lots of last minute questions and change requests which made all the difference. Our trip was full of special experiences, knowledgeable guides, special hikes, tastings and more – All your partners were great and the activities were well planned and very enjoyable. Thank you for everything!
5-star resort and nature activities in Arizona
MARY HOAK | NOVEMBER 15, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Once again Dani did such a fantastic job for us in her role as travel specialist! During the pandemic, we have found that it helps to have 2 sets of plans. Dani helped us set these plans up and made sure that when we had to pivot to plan B, we were able to get deposits refunded. Dani helped us with dinner reservation, even getting us outdoor seating where available. With the perks that her travel agency provides, we also have a credit and breakfast every day. She also help us with upgrades and late checkout if needed or available. We loved all the hiking in Scottsdale AZ. We spent hours hiking the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Dani knows that we like to have a suite with a separate area and an outdoor space as well and she knows how to pick a great room for us. Thanks again!!!
Adventures and thrills in Utah’s national parks, plus a canyoneering WOW Moment
AMY EVERS | NOVEMBER 7, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Melissa and her colleague Mindy put together (in just a couple of weeks) an amazing trip for my husband and I! Like many others, we were supposed to be somewhere else (Zimbabwe for us) but were unable to go secondary to covid. Instead we opted to stay in the country and visit the southwest. We were NOT disappointed. We flew into Phoenix and out of Salt Lake City, but rented a car and drove between.
Our trip was filled with incredible, fun, and active ventures. We started things on the relaxing side with golf for my husband (which he did again later in the trip), a massage for me, and a bit of pool time. We then moved on to a lot of very active experiences until the end when we relaxed again. We went mountain biking twice and white water rafting. We went on a hot air balloon flight. We hiked in many gorgeous locales. We did a cooking class (the food was out of this world), a sunset tour in the desert, a UTV tour, a stargazing experience, and jeep tours. We had some time to explore on our own as well. Our two favorite experiences were exploring the very narrow slot canyons in Escalante with a guide that took us off the tourist grid (we didn’t see anyone else!) and a WOW Moment of canyoneering near Zion. No doubt we are slight adrenaline junkies, but this trip really fulfilled our desires!
We had booked a half-day of canyoneering, but the WOW Moment surprise turned it into a full day of elevated canyoneering with a special picnic along the way. And we had a photographer with us to take pictures of us all day! I am elated that we had more time to go further into the canyon and do more repels and obstacles. There was even one small section that got me out of my comfort zone and that is usually what I’m looking for! I know that type of thing is not for everyone, but that’s where it’s up to an intuitive and knowledgeable travel agent to find those things that make the trip really shine. I definitely feel like our travel agent “got us” in planning this trip. Our guides were all amazing too. They were personable, knowledgeable and good at what they do. My husband and I are both fit individuals and our guides were able to tailor our activities to our physical abilities, allowing us to get the most out of each day. I know the guides also had a heads up on expectations even before we met them, thanks to our travel agent! We ended our trip with some much needed, relaxing spa time in a gorgeous mountain resort.
Our hotels were all perfectly chosen for us. We ate like kings and queens. We even had some amazing meals in some very small towns. Melissa & Mindy made us feel very special throughout, leaving treats and champagne at hotels for us, as well as during excursions or sunsets. We truly were blown away by the beauty we have here in our own country! We felt safe throughout the trip. Nearly all our excursions were outside. We also ate outside for the majority of our meals. We wore masks anytime we weren’t outside and distanced and others did too.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Croatia: culture, history, food, wine…
JENNIFER ANDREWS | OCTOBER 31, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Our trip to Croatia could not have been better planned by Ala. She thought of absolutely everything and made it so easy for us. Every single aspect was planned out perfectly- our fast track services, our drivers, our experiences, the restaurants— every detail was thought of. From the moment I talked to her she was on top of all Covid issues and gave us options on how to best handle them. She came up with experiences for us that were even better than they sounded on our itinerary and she clearly spent a lot of time and thought bc everyone mentioned they had read our itinerary – which was nice bc we didn’t have to tell each person where we had been or what we had done- they already knew so there was no repeating all the time.
This was my first trip through Wendy Perrin. I chose it bc of the emails I got that sounded so well versed in Covid issues. I will never try to plan alone or use anyone else for now on bc of how detail oriented our trip was. I said it before but Ala thought of everything. We never worried about Covid bc we were well prepared and did everything private. She was really good about giving her opinion rather than just planning what I thought we wanted to do and we would have had a far less experience had she not planned our trip. She really listened to our preferences and then ran with them. We got to spend a day with a vintner in Hvar and then have a really special meal and wine tasting at the end of the day that was such a highlight for us. The websites for the hotels made it a bit hard to gauge but she knew the hotels personally and was able to address any questions. It was so nice to be traveling and Ala made sure we felt safe and comfortable – and aware of what we needed to do and she had a backup plan had things gone south.
If anyone is thinking of going to Croatia, it felt so safe. They have not been hit hard at all yet they are following all the guidelines and safety measures. We are going to go back in April (if covid allows). It was not crowded at all but it also did not feel deserted so it was perfect. Had it not been for Covid, we would have just booked some hotels and drivers on our own and I cannot fathom how much we would have missed by doing that. Ala didn’t plan too much (we didn’t want every minute planned) but she planned our activities perfectly and they were not things I could have found online and booked myself so we are so grateful for her amazing planning- and she has great taste in restaurants so that was a plus too!
Editor’s note: You can read a full interview with Jennifer Andrews here.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Escape to Tahiti, including The Brando
JEFF GOBLE | SEPTEMBER 30, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL There were three areas where Kleon provided super value in French Polynesia.
First, I would have passed on The Brando if it wasn’t for Kleon, and that would have been a mistake. Why? The price—it’s expensive. But it was well worth it. … It’s the finest resort we’ve ever stayed at anywhere in the world, in terms of service, privacy, and attention to detail.
Second, I don’t think we could have found testing, if it were not for Kleon.
And third, not huge, but we made a decision while at The Brando that we wanted to visit a pearl market, and he made those arrangements for us on the fly and organized the transportation for us.
Without Kleon, the trip would have been a much less enjoyable experience—or we might not have been able to go at all. That’s because French Polynesia’s entry requirements changed while we were going through the planning process. Just having Kleon hold our hand through it and make sure we did it correctly was very reassuring.
Editor’s note: You can read a full interview with the Gobles here.
Island hopping in the U.S. Pacific Northwest
KATHY WOEBER GARDNER | AUGUST 20, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Sheri is the consummate professional: she gave us excellent guidance on planning our trip to the Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands and superb and detailed advice as to where to stay and what to do; she truly tailored the trip to our interests and was “with us” throughout the trip (even assisting when we made a silly mistake with a ferry (notwithstanding her detailed written instructions to the contrary). We would work with her again in a heartbeat.
Renting our own places was a criterion for us and, interestingly, hard to do. Houses were very booked up. So Sheri was hugely helpful in piecing together our places to stay.
We rented a house close to Olympic National Park, but not in it. It was on the water, super pretty and an easy drive into the park. Then we spent three days on San Juan Island in another rental home, and a week on Lopez Island in another.… We loved it. We had really beautiful weather, and it was easy to be completely by ourselves.
Sheri knows that anyone who wants to travel right now needs to be careful, so she has great ideas. Before we could even ask our questions, she gave us great advice about how to navigate the process… she had the answers about socially distancing, about the ferries, about where to stay. Sheri could not have been better.
Editor’s note: You can read a full interview with Kathy Woeber Gardner here.
Alaska: wilderness lodges and outdoor adventures
JANETTE GILL | AUGUST 11, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Judith made sure I understood what was required. She let us know that we had to have a negative Covid test within 72 hours of travel. She sent me information on where I could go in Houston for the Covid test and walked me through the worst-case scenario if we didn’t get our results. This is the exact reason why we use travel specialists from WendyPerrin.com—for situations like this.…
The Lodge at Whale Pass is an amazing remote upscale adventure lodge. Mainly the focus there for us was fishing. We wanted to get remote because I love remote Alaska, away from cruise-ship passengers. Judith recommended it for the food too. Only one other family was there when we were, and for dining we sat spaced out, but we had just gotten our negative test results and the other family obviously had too, so our masks came off the minute we arrived.
Tutka Bay Lodge in Homer was everything I imagined it would be…and we were the only family there. At about 6 a.m., we headed out on a bear-viewing adventure. We saw seven bears, a mom with her cubs, a red fox, and a couple of eagles in their nests with babies inside. It was just a fantastic day.
We got back to Homer at about 2:30 in the afternoon and there was somebody waiting for us. They said, There’s some bad news: There’s an issue with the restaurant you dined at Sunday night [in Anchorage]: It has shut down because an employee has tested positive. They didn’t yet know which employee or whether that employee was even working when we were there. But the lodge made the safety decision that we would not be returning.
I was very disappointed but, when you travel in a pandemic, you take that risk that things may change. It turned out that the employee who had tested positive wasn’t even working on the day that we were there Tutka Bay Lodge very graciously offered to let us come back later for the unused portion of our stay, and Judith credited us back for the unused portion of the chartered flight that we didn’t use on the return to Anchorage.
Editor’s note: You can read a full interview with the Gills here.
Wildlife, rafting, horseback riding, rock climbing, paragliding in South Dakota and Wyoming
AMY EVERS | JULY 31, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We had such an amazing trip! Melissa was wonderful to work with during the planning stages. She really listened to what I was hoping to get from this trip and did all she could to accommodate that. We made several changes in the initial planning. I wanted to see wildlife in the Lamar Valley so we switched the location of our accommodation the night before entering Yellowstone so we would enter through the northeast entrance which is the closest to the Lamar Valley. And we lucked out! We saw several wolves, foxes, bison, and a bear! We wanted to go paragliding, which Melissa did not book for us, but she adjusted the schedule so we had a morning available to do it. We down graded a few nights of accommodation to save a bit of money as well. Then, just as I was about to book the trip (which was somewhat last minute given the covid-19 situation), my sister and her 2 girls decided to join us on the trip. This required some more manipulation of accommodation and switching a few activities around. Melissa took this all in stride with grace and had the new itinerary to us in no time! I was very impressed!
On to the execution of the trip… very well done indeed! We had a nice mix of independent time and guided activities. On arrival in South Dakota, it was arranged for our guide to meet us at an unusual location to make it more convenient for us given where we had just driven from. We had one hiccup on checking into the hotel in Rapid City but Melissa was available via phone and took care of it immediately.
Our time in Yellowstone, Tetons, and Jackson Hole went very smoothly. We did so many activities (learning about the geothermal features, wild life viewing, white water rafting, horse back riding, rock climbing, fly fishing, paragliding, etc.)! We brought our bikes with us and were able to tootle around at Under Canvas in Yellowstone as well as on all the pathways out of Teton Village. We loved our stay at Under Canvas, especially the kids, and really loved being all in one suite in Teton Village.
We are so grateful that we were able to see and experience an incredible part of our country during a very difficult time and feel safe while doing it! Thank you Melissa!
Editor’s note: You can read a full interview with Dr. Amy Evers here.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Mexico: luxury resorts with stand-alone villas
CHARLIE MYERS | JULY 30, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My family enjoyed a wonderful trip to Mexico during this very challenging moment. Zach was extremely helpful in recommending and securing the perfect accommodation and experiences for my family.
My concerns were: Will my family be safe? Are we taking unnecessary risks by traveling? Will we be in certain situations that will be beyond our control? In terms of meeting those concerns, the recommendations that the travel specialists made helped—especially the first resort, Chablé, because it’s such a large property and the accommodations were stand-alone villas. It felt 100% safe. The safety protocols at both resorts and both airports, and even with the car rental, made me feel like they were taking it very seriously.
During the trip, Zach’s staff were on-top of every detail and stayed in contact via SMS, which was just the right level of touch. They even sent someone to assist at the airport on our outbound journey, which was above and beyond. We were thrilled with the level of care and attention they gave us.
Editor’s note: You can read a full interview with Charlie Myers here.
The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, Florida
SUSAN NETHERO | JULY 16, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL We started out over a year ago to plan and subsequently book a week at the Amanjara resort in Turks and Caicos but then COVID hit. Lindsey did a great job getting our $9K deposit back and canceling the trip for us. After things settled down we called Lindsey to see if there were some attractive driving trips we could take on the SE Coast. Within literally 72 hours we explored several options and they booked us at the Ritz at Amelia Island. Lindsey’s team was amazing!
And even though it was Fourth of July and it was last minute, they were able to get us an oceanfront suite. You would have thought the whole place would be filled, given it was Fourth of July weekend, but it was not full. At the hotel everybody wore masks. We felt completely safe… They had activities for the kids that were really cute, and overall we felt like the social distancing was pretty good, except it was hard at the pool. We had chocolate on our pillow every night, and another time the GM came over and talked to us about what it’s been like for them. The people at the Ritz can’t do enough for you. There wasn’t anything we asked where they weren’t like, “Sure, we can work that out.”
Editor’s note: You can read a full interview with the Netheros here.
Historic beachfront hotel in Rhode Island
JANE KASEY | JULY 13, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL Becca Clark and her associate, Olivia, both did a great job with our very last-minute planning process for a summer trip amid COVID-19. We knew nothing about Rhode Island’s beautiful beaches and had never even heard of the Ocean House before they recommended it! It suited our needs for this trip perfectly–close by, on a gorgeous beach, and with a high level of service, despite COVID restrictions. We enjoyed the croquet clinics, the beautiful views from our porch, and, of course, the beautiful beach. Most of all, we enjoyed the change of scene and indulgence of staying at a luxury resort after 3.5 months on lockdown at home! We approached Becca with some overall parameters to find something on water with some available services within a few hours’ drive. She returned with multiple options. We quickly narrowed in on Ocean House as our top choice for type of room, dates, short drive from our home in New York, and safety of the state in terms of low transmission rates. We enjoyed our trip! Thank you!
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Southeast Asia: temples, markets, villages…
GINGER WILCOX | MAY 12, 2020
This review is long overdue. In December of 2019, I left a job and had a small break before starting my next gig. My husband and I decided we should take a last-minute trip. We have traveled extensively but had never traveled to SE Asia. I’m particular, so I’ve always planned our vacations to ensure I could control the experience. Unlike previous trips, I did not have months of time to plan or perfect my trip, and I knew that I needed to call in a pro. As a matter of fact, we only had three weeks from the date we started planning the trip, to the date we wanted to leave.
I started researching online and found Sandy mentioned by Wendy Perrin. After doing my research and reading all of his reviews, I was intrigued. We had a call with Sandy, he was (miraculously) willing and able to work with us, and we decided to hire him.
Sandy worked miracles to not only plan a great vacation in three weeks, he truly planned the trip of a lifetime. We already had round trip flights from San Francisco to Singapore when we called Sandy. He booked the rest of our trip. Our itinerary was:
San Francisco to Chiang Mai, Thailand (via Singapore)
Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang to Siam Reap, Cambodia
Siam Reap to Phuket
Phuket to Singapore
Singapore to San Francisco
Every part of this trip was memorable. Sandy set us up with knowledgeable local guides in each location. He took care of every detail on the trip and constantly surprised us along the way. I travel for work, so I’ve been fortunate to stay in some of the nicest places in the world. Sandy gave us options at multiple prices and his hotel choices are now some of my absolute favorites.
In Chiang Mai, we explored temples, visited local markets, and did shopping away from the tourist zones with our guide, a local artist in Chiang Mai. She was very knowledgeable and a joy to be around. We received a monk blessing, cooked with local farmers, visited the hill villages, and hiked to waterfalls. We took a meditation class with a Buddhist monk at a royal temple built in the 14th century. This class will forever change our meditation practice and our lives. We had amazing food, stayed at a world-class hotel, and soaked up the local history, religion, and culture. This city is fabulous and our guide was best-in-class.
After Chiang Mai, we flew to Laos. The scenery is stunning and despite the devastation caused by the Vietnam War, the people are warm and welcoming, We visited an elephant rescue center and did a half-day hike in the jungle with elephants. We also visited temples, markets, and local villages. We participated in Alms giving at dawn and had a blessing with monks. We climbed caves and swam in waterfalls. We took a three-hour boat ride and watched the sunset over the Mekong River. We visited the Hmong tribe, spontaneously attended a Hmong funeral (no joke!), and attended a Baci ceremony that was given in our honor at the family home of our fantastic local guides. I cried when I left Laos. Our guides, a husband and wife team, were amazing. They welcome us into their home like family. I wish I could give them a hug today, as we sit worlds away.
After Laos, we headed to Siem Reap. It was hot and dusty when we arrived, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. And then, we arrived in our new home, the Jaya House River Park. This may be my new favorite hotel in the world. It is casually elegant, sustainable, and staffed with the most amazing people I have ever met. During our stay, we saw the sunrise over Angkor Wat, one of the wonders of the world and the largest religious monument in the world. We visited the circus and saw many temples. They are all spectacular. It was hot, but our exceptional guide knew the right time to maximize our visit without ever getting overheated.
We had many magical moments in Siem Reap, but on our last night, we had one of the most unique dates I’ve ever experienced. It included a local village tour, a private palm frond weaving class, and an ox cart through local villages and through the countryside. We hiked to a local lake and took a boat across the lake at sunset. After the sunset, we feasted on a candlelit five-course dinner in a beautiful garden by the rice paddies. I’m so grateful we had this experience – it was truly once in a lifetime.
If you have a chance to work with Sandy, he is the best in the business. He created memories that will forever change our lives. As I write this, most of us are not able to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I can’t wait to travel again. And when I can take my next adventure, Sandy will be the very first person I call.
Incredible experiences last a lifetime. Sandy – we thank you for making our dreams come true.
Australia and Tasmania when Covid hit
JAN HEININGER | MAY 6, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL I have waited to write this review to reflect on what this trip meant to us. There is no need to go over the trip in detail because the couple we traveled with did a superb job in David Macdonald’s review dated March 27, 2020. We arrived in Australia on February 21, 2020, for our second trip planned by Stuart Rigg and the first trip for David and Francine Macdonald. We arrived home on March 17 just as the COVID-19 pandemic was exploding across America. Until the day we left Australia, normal life had been in full force everywhere we went. The day we left Australia imposed a 14-day quarantine on all incoming visitors; it subsequently banned all visitors. Yet the day we left, my husband and I had had a wonderful time exploring the Museum of Sydney. The streets were crowded and restaurants were full. Decamped cruise ship passengers had just started to infiltrated Sydney. As far as we are concerned, our month in Australia is the last semblance of normality in our lives for the foreseeable future.
We are inveterate travelers. I’ve done it all–from post-college backpacking across Europe to demanding overseas work trips, carting our kids all over the place, and many, many trips planned by Wendy Perrin’s experts. I’m really good at trip planning. So why use one of Wendy Perrin’s experts? Because I can’t do what they can. I’m quite fond of Stuart Rigg as he is one of the very best. The itineraries for our two trips have been very complicated and filled with off-the-beaten-path destinations and adventures only a true expert can put together. Stuart really listens to what his clients are interested in and then designs trips that not only meet those expectations but exceed them. His advice is canny and spot on. His guides are superb; the accommodations he recommends are top notch. I do a great deal of back and forth during the planning process tweaking and refining itineraries. What I need – and highly value – is the advice I get. He really figures out not only what his clients say they want but what they are likely to need and not even know it. In David Macdonald’s review, he touts the wonderful experience we had at Arkaba Station in the South Australian outback. When I talked with Stuart and told him how much we had loved it, he told me he doesn’t send many people there—only the right kind of people—the ones like us he knows will love it. When we talked about the afternoon- long cruise we did on a private yacht around Sydney harbor, he apologized for the weather (driving rain the entire afternoon) but knew we’d love it because of the couple who run the trip. And we did. In the planning process, I’d suggested we go to the Whitsunday Islands; he nixed it as the wrong season and suggested Lord Howe Island instead, about which I knew nothing except that Capella Lodge was a member of Luxury Lodges of Australia. Our experience there was far beyond anything we’d expected. Listening to clients matters; intuiting what will most satisfy them is even better.
Many of Wendy’s trip specialists have assistants to coordinate logistics. Debbie Bollen who handled our first trip (now in the New Zealand office) and Jacki Lang who handled this one were both superb. As David mentioned in his review, we knew our trip was being closely followed (and it wasn’t just the Diet Coke and black licorice that routinely showed up). My husband and I loved Karen Dick of Inala Nature Tours, our fabulous birding guide on Bruny Island off Tasmania’s south coast. Karen asked us early that morning whether we wanted lunch at a winery or a picnic lunch where we could continue to bird. We opted for the picnic lunch and were glad we did. As Karen unpacked an amazing lunch (with champagne for me and two other wines for my husband), and tons of salads, cheeses, meats, pickles, desserts – and her own glass wine glasses—she mentioned that “you wouldn’t believe how much back and forth there was with Jacki over this lunch to make sure you’d like it.” The attention to detail was evident in every step of our trip. Places we especially loved: Saffire Freycinet in Tasmania, Lord Howe Island, Tasmania in general and Arkaba Station. David mentioned our favorite guides and our terrific driver Gail Lynch.
I cannot recommend Stuart Rigg highly enough. He is not a travel agent; he’s a trip expert. He knows personally about all the places, destinations, guides, accommodations and experiences he recommends. He coordinated two superb trips for us to Australia, the second of which will forever be linked in our memory as the last semblance of normality we’ll have for quite some time. Good on ya, Australia. And good on ya, Stuart and Jacki.
Patagonia: last-minute private villa at Awasi
JASON COVIENSKY | APRIL 27, 2020
We had a phenomenal experience with Nikki and Jena on Jordan’s team. Patagonia has been on our bucket list for years and originally where we wanted to honeymoon – I was due to be in Chile on business for a few weeks in January and once we could book flights on points for my wife to join me, we decided to plan a 7-10 day trip at the end of that. This was all done about a month in advance and around the holiday season. Despite that, they were able to secure a room at the Awasi Patagonia which was our dream hotel and which we heard usually reserves up almost a year early. It was a complicated itinerary since I had to build in some flexibility for work meetings during our time in Santiago since the schedule was only due to be finalized at the end. They were able to accommodate everything and fully understood our needs. We received candid advice at the beginning on whether to visit Patagonia or the Lake District or the Atacama desert. We never felt pushed, they were always very informative and knowledgeable.
Throughout the process we always received quick replies to our emails or calls. The guides were all excellent – they tried to manage it so we had the same driver for our multiple transfers which was great too. We were a bit nervous booking the trip considering the social unrest in November – they explained all the ways they manage around this, including recommendations on areas to go, avoiding downtown Santiago on Fridays when the protests are still ongoing, etc. I appreciated all of this even more when hearing from a colleague who had recently been to Chile and all the issues they had encountered.
Our final itinerary was really perfect and stress-free. We started a little earlier than we would’ve liked but appreciated the full days and ended up napping in the car on the daily drives back to the hotel. The Awasi hotel was truly incredible and a once in a lifetime experience.
I would definitely work with Jordan’s team again.
Patagonia, with a WOW Moment in an artist’s studio in Buenos Aires
LESLIE AND RICHARD MORGENTHAL | MARCH 31, 2020
Maita and her staff were fantastic to work with. She/they covered all aspects of the planning and execution of our trip and made valuable suggestions along the way. Maita spoke with us at length on the phone several times prior to our departure and really understood who we were. Her professionalism was evident personally and within her staff as well.
Maita was able to logically plan our trip around a cruise we had booked thru Ashton — approx 2 weeks before and after. She stayed attuned to us as we were apprehensive about starting in Chile as the riots were going on there. She gave intuitive advice on our concerns and all was well. Also at one lodge we experienced mold in the villa and we were able to change villas for the remaining nights, without bothering Maita. However when they refused to credit part of that night’s stay I asked Maita to intervene. She did successfully and we are expecting a credit shortly.
The level of resorts we stayed in would be attractive to anyone who wanted comfort along with truly daring experiences. The excursions were customized to our needs and we felt very fulfilled.
Also, the WOW Moment in Buenos Aires was well curated beforehand and the attention to detail was superb. As we are both artists the experience of being in the studio of a renowned silversmith, which was as much a gallery as it was a workspace, was certainly appreciated. Also being picked up in a beautifully preserved antique auto and being served an immaculate dinner within the artist’s space was a tribute to the thoughtfulness of Maita and her staff. It was certainly a WOW event! Beyond a doubt we would not have had the same experience without this superb guidance.
Four weeks on safari in Africa, with a WOW Moment at Sundowner Rock
PAUL BENNETT AND CATHERINE OLSEN| MARCH 29, 2020
Thanks again for recommending we use the services of Cherri and Katie to help us create our extraordinary 4 week trip to South & East Africa (Botswana, Tanzania, & Rwanda). After Katie talked with us extensively by phone, their recommendations for routing, lodges & camps were superb. Every travel connection, including transfers on some very remote airstrips in East Africa went perfectly. And after I had the misfortune of injuring my ankle in the Kalahari on our very first day, (a pathway collapsed that had been eroded by rain) both Katie & Cherri checked in regularly to help us get the medical assistance I needed, and made arrangements with various camps & guides to assist me so that I could continue the trip and not miss out on anything, including seeing the gorillas in Rwanda.
I have previously worked as a journalist and photographer, and spent much of my life working in documentaries at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. While we wanted to have the big game experience on the Serengeti, Katie also listened to my husband & my strong desire to interact with people and helped make that happen in a way that did not feel touristy.
Seeing the thousands of wildebeest on the Serengeti plains, the mothers giving birth & the wild dogs stalking their newborns…. the Silverback gorillas & their mates looking deeply into our eyes during a tropical rainstorm in the jungle… the bull elephant pinning back its ears & giving us a warning when we got too close…. all of these are vivid memories that we will never forget, but it was the people we met that made our trip so exceptional… both the local guides and opportunities to meet and interact with locals (including Kalahari Bushmen, Maasai and their families). We spent a lot of time in markets, and small villages, and on several occasions had the opportunity to visit our guides’ families and friends. All truly special, including one morning in the Southern Serengeti where the day began with a visit to our Maasai guide’s uncle’s traditional boma. We were invited inside his grandmother’s mud & dung hut for a tour of her humble home, but only after she’d carefully swept the mud floor, and cleared a seat for us on her husband’s simple cot. Her son, who spoke fairly good English explained how he was responsible for inoculating their cattle against various diseases, and why they’d moved up into the hills until the wildebeests and the tourists left the area. We continued for a bush walk through the hills, accompanied by more Maasai , and a park ranger with an AK 47. Our “security” team. The hike culminated with breakfast, cooked over the fire, at a stunning cliff edge perch overlooking the Rift Valley.
You’d think the day couldn’t get much better, but we still had our WOW Moment ahead of us.
In the late afternoon, after another game drive witnessing herds of wildebeests, zebras, their predators, and the sometimes brutal cycle of life, we were taken to a very special quite spiritual escarpment called Sundowner Rock.
After the guides and Maasai pushed and pulled me & my injured ankle up the rock face, we not only experienced a spectacular sunset and sundowner shared with about a dozen local Maasai, we were then led around the back side of the rock where a surprise dinner was being cooked for us in a cave over an open fire. Two fires actually. One with local goat roasting on sticks for the Maasai (which Paul also ate), and the other grilling chicken & beef for us. After we’d all feasted, the Maasai sang and danced and entertained themselves (and us) by the campfire, and we reveled in how lucky we all were. It was Truly magical!! And the African night sky was extraordinary. One of the most memorable evenings of our lives! Thank you Wendy for a once in a lifetime WOW Moment!
A month in Egypt and Jordan, as the pandemic began
SANDRA SOUTHWICK | MARCH 22, 2020
My husband and I traveled to Egypt and Jordan – just barely ahead of the corona virus! We were in Egypt for three weeks and in Jordan for one week. Being in our seventies, we don’t like to pack and unpack often nor do we like to have too many days in a row of activities. Jim did an excellent job of scheduling our trip to accommodate our needs. We had personable, knowledgeable guides who let us choose how much to see and do.
Not only did the guides have encyclopedic knowledge about the ancient sites but they also knew the patterns of the masses of tourists. Often, they got us to places before or after the crowds. We saw too many amazing places to list here. We learned something new (often a lot) every day.
Our accommodations were excellent with one exception. The Nile cruise was very nice and the activities, food and staff were very good. The rooms were acceptable but our bathroom was in serious need of repair.
Overall Jim created a fantastic, well planned month of touring for us.
An unusual experience of Japan during Covid
BILL SCHIERL | MARCH 18, 2020
PANDEMIC TRAVEL My wife, Sarena Melotte, and I traveled with Grant’s company from March 8 – 16th to Japan. Though traveling during a very difficult time with Covid-19, we had a wonderful experience based on a very good itinerary put together by Grant. We had several excellent guides on the ground; however, structurally we would have preferred the review of an existing itinerary rather than having the conversation feel like we were building one in real time. Understanding flexibility is a valued option in touring, we realize finding a happy balance can be difficult.
Our accommodations were right on the mark and provided a true Japanese experience while meeting a level of luxury equivalent to global brands. All of our meal reservations made by Grant’s team were extra special and made the trip very memorable.
Editor’s note: You can read a full interview with Bill Schierl and Sarena Melotte here.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Peru: Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley
LEEANN FAIRFIELD | MARCH 15, 2020
From the very first moment we began planning our trip to Peru with Marisol’s team to the very last moment they walked us to security at the Lima airport to bid us farewell, our trip was exceptional. Mark Green did a fantastic job of planning our itinerary based on our interests. The hotels were incredible and we enjoyed immensely each day’s schedule and activities, This trip was beyond our expectations and I highly recommend it. A big thank you to our guide and driver, Juan and Loriano, who were with us from the Sacred Valley, Cusco and Machu Picchu. They were professional, attentive and a delight to share our time with, we also enjoyed Jorge while in Lima. This is our second Wendy Perrin trip and we look forward to our next one with great anticipation. Thank you to all!
Panama, with VIP access to the Panama Canal
ERICA ANKENY | MARCH 11, 2020
Eric Sheets’ team created an amazing itinerary and trip for me and my husband. We had no idea how much of a comfort it would be to have personal transportation for all of our adventures. We are not fluent in Spanish and felt more relaxed with our guides and driver.
The extra attention we received was unimaginable. The VIP tour at the Panama Canal was incredible. The curious /envious looks we received proved this was a very special perk we never would have gotten on our own.
We were also supplied a phone number for a local rep in Panama who could be contacted 24/7. Desiree was extremely helpful and even called to see if she could get me anything when I unfortunately got food poisoning during the trip.
I can’t imagine finding all of the locations we visited on our own. My husband and I agreed that this as well as the service we received were priceless.
Gorillas in Rwanda, luxe safari camps in Kenya
CANDACE CHIARUTTINI | MARCH 9, 2020
Linda Friedman helped us plan the most wonderful safari. Our first stop was Rwanda to see the gorillas. That was definitely a magical experience! We also spent a night in Kilgali and we were surprised what a beautiful city it was. We visited the genocide museum which was sad, of course, but also very informative. Our guide team that Linda arranged were fabulous. Then we went to Kenya where we stayed in two different camps. But first we had a one night stay in Nairobi where John and David from Linda’s company met us. We also met Linda’s colleague Kathy Obbish, who happened to be visiting from Chicago. We had a delightful lunch with her! Our two Kenyan camps were exactly what we were looking for and we were treated like royalty. The staff at both camps (Sirikoi and andBeyond Bateleur) knew her personally and it was quite obvious that they are very fond of her. Our guide David who works with Linda, met us in the second camp and he was such a pleasure. He is an expert – especially with birds. He is actually a Silver rated guide and is working to become Gold. We felt fortunate to have him as our guide! We left our second camp via private air transfer to Nairobi at Linda’s recommendation and we are so glad we did. Worth every penny. Thanks Linda, John, David and Kathy. It was truly the most wonderful trip!
Chile: Explora lodge in Patagonia AND Explora lodge on Easter Island
TERESA PACKARD | MARCH 6, 2020
Tom did an excellent job putting together our trip to Santiago, Patagonia and Easter Island. Tom kept up with the current political environment in Santiago, and at the last minute changed our hotel destination to keep us safely away from the demonstrations. Our guide Brenda, and our driver Marcos, did an outstanding job. The day trip to Valparaiso was definitely worth it. The Explora lodge in Patagonia is amazing. The scenery is so beautiful that it almost looks fake. Make sure you take advantage of the horseback riding. And the Explora lodge on Easter Island is equally amazing. The food at both locations was great.
India: Golden Triangle, palaces, PhD guide…
SUSAN NETHERO | MARCH 3, 2020
With very short notice—less than 2 weeks—Sanjay orchestrated a very detailed agenda and accommodations in one of a kind palaces, hotels and country retreat. To be sure, we had the trip of a lifetime in the Golden Triangle, he walked us through every step and also recommended activities to match our interests. He also recommended a travel guide who traveled with us 8 days. He was so personable, very knowledgeable about the culture and history of all the areas we visited, and he led us through each step with grace and helpfulness- tipping key people along the way to facilitate our travel and make us feel special. He even bought us insect repellent, supplied drinks and snacks, and made sure we stopped at clean and hygienic restrooms along the travel. We visited a country retreat where they taught us cricket, planned a dinner with cultural dances and we had time to visit with local children at their library. Sanjay orchestrated the agenda and the guide made sure we were treated like maha (kings)! Dinner accommodations at top restaurants and even a book to read to enhance the trip about Jaipur’s royal family! It was an amazing experience! We also had a driver who was terrific and a second guide for one day of touring as we returned to Delhi before our departure home– he was PhD in history of Islamic culture also incredibly knowledgeable about life in India! The travel agency he used in India met with twice for dinner to welcome us in the beginning of our travels and at the end to send us home! They co-ordinated and worked together throughout the trip! A fabulous trip we will always remember! Thank you to Sanjay, Shaitan and Sandeep our guides, the drivers Umi and Ravi, and Anjali, Rajat and Pankaj, who oversaw our entire experience in country!
Silversea cruise in Antarctica just before Covid hit
ROBYN WHITTINGHAM | MARCH 2, 2020
I had a family tragedy occur–a family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given max. of a year to live, so I had to postpone my planned 2019 Silverseas Antarctica trip to 2020. I had prepaid for the trip in full, also paying a 25% single supplement as part of the total cost.
Ashton was on it immediately. He assured me that he would do his utmost to move my trip forward by a year, with hopefully minimal financial impact. He contacted Silverseas to start the change process. Even though Silverseas had changed their single supplement policy and were charging a 50% supplement for 2020 cruises, Ashton was able to plead my case and have Silverseas waive the addtl 25% single supplement.
He and his team also worked closely with me to ensure my cabin choice (they guided my process since I’ve never cruised before), and they took meticulous care of the details of my trip, presenting me with a final packet containing all of the details of my cruise.
I had the time of my life, made many new friends, and am still astounded at the otherworldly and amazing experience I had, exploring the Antarctic continent.
Ashton made my trip effortless and truly stepped up in my time of need. Top-notch customer service and responsiveness for this first-time cruiser.
Christmas in London, with a WOW Moment in a WW2 air-raid-shelter-turned-wine-cellar
SUSAN KETCHUM | FEBRUARY 22, 2020
It has become our practice to consult Wendy Perrin’s WOW list whenever we plan a trip. This time our goal was to spend Christmas in London.
Although we have been to London several times, we know that the holidays can be a challenge due to closures on the holiday.
Wendy suggested Jonathan Epstein and he certainly came through for us. We had an initial phone conversation with Jonathan and Nicole, his associate. This is an important step when planning a trip with a WOW advisor. We were able to discuss our previous visits to London and our desire to see and do something new. They asked us a lot of questions, which was beneficial.
We had a hotel in mind that we stayed in on a previous visit. Jonathan, however, strongly advised us to select another hotel, The Stafford. We are so happy we took his advice. It is a much smaller hotel than the one we were thinking of and that proved to be a big factor in feeling like we were “going home’ at the end of each day of touring London. The friendly and efficient staff quickly knew our names and treated us royally. The hotel was first class and it was decorated beautifully for the holidays. There was even a small Christmas tree in our room.
As we had already seen most of the highlights of London on previous visits, Jonathan suggested other tours we would not have thought of. One was a Charles Dickens walking tour. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. We understand now how London during Dickens’ time influenced his writing.
Another highlight was a private “Behind the Glass” after hours tour of The Churchill Cabinet War Rooms. We had seen the War Rooms before, however, nothing can compare to actually going into the rooms not accessible to the public in the evening when it is closed. Our guide was passionate about the history of this place and she made it come alive for us with the many stories and facts.
These are tours we would not have discovered on our own.
Jonathan and Nicole executed a WOW Moment for us during our stay. It was a surprise private tour and tasting of the amazing wine cellar at our hotel. It was built in the 17th century and used as an air raid shelter during WWII! The Master Sommelier, Gino, gave us the tour and impressed us with his knowledge. It was very special!
Given the shorter time period of this trip, we feel Jonathan was able to help us plan the perfect amount of activity and also allow time to walk about London and enjoy the beauty of the lights and amazing window displays and decorations everywhere.
Jonathan and Nicole certainly added value to our holiday in London and we would not hesitate to call upon them again.
Costa Rica: flora, fauna, flawless logistics…
JULES GOODMAN | FEBRUARY 21, 2020
We just got back from our 9 day vacation in Costa Rica which was organized by Irene and of course, my husband. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Irene’s people were ALL amazing. Very knowledgeable, courteous, attentive to all details, prompt, pleasant, and everyone made it clear that we were their priority. Transportation went smoothly; guides were excellent (in particular-huge shout out for Gerardo Gutierrez)! He drove carefully and was still able to point out and scope amazing wildlife out of the van and while we were driving. He never compromised safety, but his outstanding understanding and knowledge of the flora and fauna was so impressive! He was able to perfectly explain everything in perfect English. He always made us feel like we were his priority). Irene’s team picked fabulous hotels, restaurants, and arranged amazing excursions. I cannot adequately express how very pleased and satisfied we were with them!
Thoroughly appreciated their planning and attention to detail.
Total positive recommendations and praise for Irene and Selena!
Thanks once again for an outstanding vacation.
Disney cruise to the Bahamas
ANDREA REED | FEBRUARY 19, 2020
We used Michelle and her team to plan a family Disney Cruise trip to the Bahamas. I really appreciated the reminders along the way of deadlines we had to make and when each of our group’s different excursion booking windows opened. When it comes to Disney cruising, little things like this can make a big difference. I felt that the team was available at any point if we needed assist before and during the trip ( we did not luckily) and that afforded piece of mind. Once we got “back in range” after the ship docked, we were promptly contacted to make sure that all was well. I would for sure use Michelle again when planning our next Disney adventure.
Southeast Asia: culture, history, fascinating local people…
MUKI FAIRCHILD AND CHARLIE KEITH | FEBRUARY 12, 2020
April arranged a 24 day journey in Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Saigon), Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap), and Luang Prabang in Laos for me – aged 73, and my 87 year old husband. She was absolutely invaluable in helping us decide where to go in SE Asia as we had never been there before and what to pass up. We are in good health, and relatively agile, but had several requests: smooth transfers at airports, excellent guides that could assist us in learning about the culture and history of each country, and experiences that would involve our own interests in the arts as well as my husbands in plants and trees and mine in animals.
There is absolutely no way that I, the usual travel planner in the family, could have constructed and developed the trip that April and the excellent ground team in SE Asia (Naida, Narla, et. al.) came up with. From the very beginning, when we were fast tracked and whisked through immigration and passport control in the Hanoi airport after 3 long flights from the U.S., the transfers went perfectly. The activities were amazing: in Vietnam – from a musical evening in Saigon at the home of a world famous mother/son performing duo to crawling into the Cu Chi Tunnels used by the VietCong when no other tourists were around followed by a home cooked dinner at the home of a former North Vietnam war veteran. In Battambang, we rode the bamboo train, and then spent a glorious day relaxing on a private boat taking us along the upper Sanke River to Siem Reap to learn about Angkor Wat, gliding first past the floating villages. My birthday occurred while we were in Siem Reap and April, Naida, and Narla made sure it was properly celebrated. The itinerary already called for a night out Cambodian style, but to that was added drinks, dinner, and a cake and flowers delivered to the hotel room when I returned! The experiences in Laos (a private tour of the botanical garden, giving alms to the monks at sunrise, receiving a baci blessing from the elders of a village, walking with rescued elephants in a sanctuary) were equally memorable.
There is only one trip experience that both my husband and I did not enjoy as much as we thought we would. We wanted to spend some time on boats, and for the most part, were happy that we did with the exception of the Halong Bay cruise. It took too long to drive back and forth (2 hours each way) for too little time on board (less than 24 hours) to enjoy the time at sea. We were only interested in the scenery and not the activities on board. Perhaps a day cruise might have been better for us as I think the younger passengers seemed quite happy with the cruise.
Aside from the Halong Bay cruise, we would do it all over again, do and see more, and stay even longer. And of course, have April do all the arranging.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Thailand: markets, villages, biking, boating, spectacular hotels…
KATHRYN BARDEN | FEBRUARY 11, 2020
Kae on Dan’s team planned a wonderful adventure for my husband and I. We traveled through Thailand, including Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Yao Noi, and island near Phuket. The trip planning was so easy as right away the hotels and activities fit exactly what we asked for. I tried to give as much info as possible about us and what we like to do and this proved to work well and our expectations were exceeded. Each hotel was an oasis. Our guides were very engaging and so enthusiastic about showing us their cities.
Ms. Ann in Bangkok was a delight. Not only did we see all the major sites but she adjusted on the fly to help us find some intriguing contemporary art galleries. We had a very memorable food and dinner tour through the streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown.
In Chiang Mai, Mr. Ack was equally fun and took us on a bike tour through his village. We saw flower fields and tried our hand at rice planting. As well, he took us to a favorite place for coffee, lunch, foot massages and a super interesting fresh market tour tasting new foods and delicious exotic fruits. In both cities my husband enjoyed some impromptu jam sessions with local pop music enthusiasts. They were so happy to have a guitar-playing visitor. It’s those unexpected moments that make for such a memorable trip.
The Six Senses Yao Noi was a luxurious spot to finish our trip. We had an exciting day boating to the local islands, enjoyed wonderful massages and a cooking class where I was the sole student. The food was delicious and staff so kind.
Thank you Wendy, Dan and Kae!
New Zealand: sheep farms, Maori natives, fishing excursions, helicopters…
CAROL COZEN | FEBRUARY 6, 2020
Our 2019 trip to New Zealand was postponed a full year after a family member accident 4 weeks before our planned departure. Kim on Jean-Michel’s team successfully secured re-bookings for 2020 without any cancellation fees – this was not easy and involved tireless effort on her part.
We couldn’t have been more pleased with our vacation, albeit one year later. It is not easy planning for New Zealand, as there are so many places to go and not nearly enough time. And, of course, it’s not easy to take a trip back due to the long distance involved.
Kim provided excellent guidance so that each stop and property were unique, with varying activities and vistas. Activities included a special hands-on day with a Maori native, a wonderful boat trip in Abel Tasman park, a fabulous ATV excursion to a sheep farm outside of Queenstown and a fishing excursion in Te Anau. When the weather didn’t go our way and our helicopter ride was cancelled (twice) Ahipara was totally connected.
During the planning process (extra long due to the re-scheduling) Kim left on a year-long maternity leave and Lizzy assumed responsibility for our itinerary. Like Kim, she was knowledgeable, responsive and a delight to work with.
India: rural backroads, flower markets, the Taj Mahal at sunset…
SANDRA HODGE | FEBRUARY 5, 2020
We spent 10 days in India with the trip planned by Victoria and her team to celebrate Sandy’s 70th birthday. We greatly appreciated her professional manner, her timely responses to our questions and her suggestions for various routes. It was a wonderful trip. This was our second trip in a year to India, albeit a different route this time. We had a couple of changes in our schedule, such as driving to Rathambore National Park, instead of taking the train (was a great drive!) and some of the things we saw. Flexibility was key and all changes were handled efficiently.
We were met on 2/25 by Vikram and Mr. “Ragu” our guide and driver for the duration. Both turned out to be excellent with respect to their roles. Vikram was a great conversationalist and guide with regard to what we were seeing. He made every attempt to meet our requests and was flexible with our schedule when the need arose. We appreciated his handling tips, logistics and getting things done expeditiously that we are sure we could not have done without him.
OUr driver was the BEST. We always felt safe and his driving was excellent. Driving in India is no small feat!
Highlights of our trip included driving rural backroads, going to small cafes and restaurants off the beaten path, a morning trip to the milk market, flower market and vegetable market in Jaipur, watching the sunset over the Taj Mahal and a FABULOUS 70th birthday picnic on a small lake near Udaipur. What a treat! With Vikram things ran very smoothly and seamlessly.
Israel, from star gazing in the Negev desert to lunch with a Druze family
LAURA LEWIS MANTELL | JANUARY 30, 2020
If you’re thinking of visiting Israel, work with Joe and Jonathan to create a trip of a lifetime. We’ve just returned from two incredible weeks traveling the country with an extraordinary guide. Any high-end tour operation provides a logistically seamless experience and of course we experienced that. But Joe and Jonathan’s operation prides itself on getting to know what you care about – the geopolitical landscape, culinary experiences, ancient history, contemporary history, religion, natural beauty, astronomy, being active – and customizing a trip around your interests. For example, we explored an underground archeological site in Jerusalem not yet open to the public; we toured the market and prepared our dinner with an amazing chef, but more than that, it was an intimate evening with delicious food and conversation about life; We spent an evening star-gazing in the Negev desert, magical and informative; we met with several IDF officers who took us to the borders with Syria and Lebanon, and provided in-depth analyses of the geo-political situation in the Middle East and patiently answered our naive questions; we met with an Arab-Israeli journalist and ate lunch with a Druze family.
Our particular experiences reflect our personal interests but what was clear was that extreme attention to detail had been paid in order to create a carefully planned itinerary that was also flexible. It was further honed to our in-the-moment-preferences by our guide. And that’s the next thing: our guide. Phenomenal. Bena is an archeologist, an expert in Israeli studies, and a former Yeshiva student, so he knows everything you would want to know about where you are traveling and understands perspectives other than his own secular views. Beyond that, he is a joy to travel with; energetic, fun, caring, smart and experienced only begins to describe our experience. Initially we thought he must know everyone in Israel because of the immediate rapport he has with everyone he approaches. But no, he just has that effect on people. He opened lots of doors, literally, for us (including a site that was closed, opened for us). We loved the off-the-beaten-path restaurants he took us to and the unbelievable patience he had.
It was truly sad to leave but we’ll be back.
“Vacation of a lifetime” in Sri Lanka
JAN AND GARY WILLIAMS | JANUARY 29, 2020
Miguel and his team planned our trip to Sri Lanka perfectly. His deputy, Andrea, asked us what we liked to do, what we wanted to see, and helped pick activities that were interesting, exciting, and very special. We met people and experienced activities we wouldn’t have known about or had access to without Andrea’s help. When we decided not to participate in an activity later in our trip, she cancelled it with no problem. Our driver Daminda was friendly, competent, and made us feel safe and confident everywhere we went. It was truly a vacation of a lifetime.
Ecuador’s highlands, including Hacienda Zuleta, and a Galapagos Islands cruise
DEBORAH WENTE | JANUARY 29, 2020
We had a wonderful trip to the highlands of Ecuador, then an 8 day/7 night cruise on Theory, a Relais and Chateaux boat touring the Galapagos. There were no particular problems or issues, but whenever I had a question, no matter how minor, Allie replied within an hour or so! We spent two days in Quito, then two days at Hacienda Zuleta. What a wonderful find! It’s a working dairy farm owned by the family of two former Ecuadorean presidents. The daughter/granddaughter Marguerita joined us both evenings for cocktails and shared stories of growing up on the farm with her family. Our rooms were heated by wood burning stoves with hot water bottles in our beds. Wonderful food, great hiking – it was a wonderful way to spend a couple of days.
Allie was very helpful in choosing the boat for the Galapagos. We were on Theory with no more than 20 guests. Each guide can have a maximum of 16 guests, as a result there were two for the boat making for smaller groups touring the islands. The crew was wonderful! We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Galapagos. Our group was my husband and I, our two adult daughters and their boyfriends. There were a lot of activities, and plenty of space on the boat to relax.
Bhutan: culture, hiking, “first-class adventure”…
FRANK AND CATHY GOLD | JANUARY 28, 2020
Toni and her team did a superb job planning and executing our trip to Bhutan. We pretty much gave them carte blanche and we followed their recommendations based on our likes and dislikes and they gave us a first-class adventure trip. Everything and everyone we interacted with both here and there were first class and everything met and exceeded our expectations. We highly recommend Bhutan as a hiking/adventure/cultural destination and recommend Toni and her team to plan and implement it!
Provence dream trip, including Baumaniere Les Baux and WOW breakfasts
GREG BROUGHTON | JANUARY 26, 2020
Luxury, luxury, luxury. That’s all I need to say about Philip Haslett and his team’s approach to our trip to France. It was amazing from start to finish. Everything we did and everywhere we went in our week in Paris and Provence was characterized by luxury. The Baumaniere in Les Baux de Provence was one of the finest hotels at which we’ve ever stayed (the breakfasts alone will WOW you) and even little details like S-class Mercedes transfers were the epitome of French luxury. Cheers, Phillip!
Paris: food tours, cooking class, a WOW Moment in the city’s oldest wine shop…
TINA SARAFA | JANUARY 20, 2020
Jennifer and her team are magical! Jennifer and I communicated a ton prior to the trip and she had a great feel for what kind of trip my husband and I desired. We wanted a boutique hotel that was charming, intimate and quiet. She gave us numerous ideas and helped us select the perfect hotel for our needs. We wanted a combination of expected sites in Paris and then more off the beaten path activities. Our guide to the Louvre for the Da Vinci exhibit was A plus! One of the most informative and knowledgable guides ever. Equally outstanding was our guide to Versaille. Personally I didn’t want to go back to Versaille as I was there 2 years ago, but my husband had not been. Jennifer was aware of that and chose for us with the most outstanding guide who made the day so pleasurable and ultra informative. We learned some fun facts and it felt totally new to me. We had an incredible food tour in St Germaine and a private cooking class with a chef that taught us how to prepare the most amazing duck recipes per our request He also took us food shopping prior to the class and seeing all of the little stores in Paris for bread, wine, cheese, our duck and vegetables was a treat! . All of our guides for our tours and experiences were informative, interesting, personable and really a joy to be with. In addition she was able to secure some very hard to get dinner reservations and we were able to dine every where on my wish list. Each day her team checked in with updates, and any time we needed anything at all they came through. Last minute we wanted to add a tour in Montmartre and again they came through with one of our previous guides we loved and transportation even though the strike was going on. Jennifer and her team are amazing and very deserving to be on your list!
Lastly, thank you for an incredible WOW Moment! It exceeded our imaginations. Jennifer knew how much we love food and wine and our WOW Moment was at the oldest wine shop in Paris. First the shop is beautiful! And in the most charming area. We were guided to a private room and the sommelier said he was opening bottles he was actually never able to taste himself as they were that rare. He was thrilled with our WOW Moment too! Thank you Wendy for making it possible. The wine, setting, and getting to share this on a special trip with my husband made for some wonderful memories.
Colombia: boutique haciendas, country hikes, birdwatching, street art, private boats…
JARVIS WELD | JANUARY 15, 2020
My family of two adults and three teens, ages 12 to 18, traveled to Colombia over New Year’s, spending seven days in country. We visited Bogotá, Quindío (the coffee region), and Cartagena. As we were completely unfamiliar with South America, we planned guides, drivers, and activities for most of every day. We have not traveled with so much support in the past, and it was extremely helpful and rewarding. Emily and a few other associates from Marc and Boris’ office were a fantastic help, both during the planning and the trip. They made great choices about which regions we should visit and for how long, what activities we should do, and where we should stay. They even got us into a wonderful boutique hacienda in the coffee region at a very busy time of year. Each of our guides was friendly and attentive, and very knowledgeable about their area. We had Juliana, an artist, in Bogotá share her perspective on museums and the graffiti district. Camilo, a biologist and ornithologist, took us on a hike in the countryside and helped my husband with his birdwatching. Tavo is a musician, and gave us a great perspective on Cartagena. All the tours and activities were fabulous, and the lodging and dining reservations the team set up were perfect for us. We ran into some flight delays on one of our internal flights, and Marc and Boris’ office was very helpful and supportive. Also, the guides mentioned that the company was checking in with them regularly each day, which was so supportive in such an unobtrusive manner. We did so many wonderful activities, but a big highlight was our last day, when we took a private boat trip out to the Rosario Islands and spent some time at a beach club. The kids got so much out of every day of the trip, and continue to rave about it to everyone, a real accomplishment with teens, and the parents accomplished our goal of family time and exposing everyone to a new continent. We want to thank Wendy Perrin for suggesting Columbia as a destination in the first place, based on our parameters, and setting us up with this team. We also would like to thank Marc and Boris’ team for helping us through some initial qualms about the political situation and supporting us splendidly through the planning and the whole trip. It was definitely a trip to remember for a lifetime. In addition, we all plan to return to Columbia, and are evangelizing it as a destination for other Americans.
Abu Dhabi and Oman, two days after a drone strike killed Soleimani
PRISCILLA EAKELEY | JANUARY 13, 2020
We never could have done this trip on our own. The guides in both Abu Dhabi and Oman provided an excellent overview of the regions past and present, and we saw way more of each country than did independent travelers we met along the way. Even more important, we had complete confidence that the ground operators would ensure our safety if the conflict between the U.S. and Iran (we arrived in Abu Dhabi two days before a drone strike killed Soleimani) spiraled out of control. Not surprising that George W. Bush used them to set up his trip to Oman back in October.
Norway: northern lights, dog mushing, ice fishing, snowmobiling…
LOIS CHESS | JANUARY 11, 2020
We contacted Jan almost too late to put a trip together that would include the Northern Lights over the Christmas New Year’s holiday, but he put it all together seamlessly! Everything was like clockwork. All flowed together to visit three locations — Oslo and Alta in Norway’s Arctic Circle, and Stockholm. All hotels, restaurants, guides and drivers in the cities were spot on. Our experience in Alta was way beyond what we expected. Jan told us that in 30 years if his clients stayed in the Arctic Circle four nights, 100% of them saw the Lights. We saw the Lights 3 of the 4 nights, and the experience was illuminating! But we also had wonderful experiences during the day. Dog mushing was a highlight, as was snowshoeing and ice fishing and snowmobiling. Every person we dealt with was kind, warm, and made us feel relaxed and refreshed as we experienced these new to us activities. They all knew Jan and praised him highly. Jan is terrific.
Cambodia and Vietnam: a milestone birthday trip for a small group of friends
DAVIS BERGMANN AND RON PEDERSON | JANUARY 10, 2020
We have recently returned from our first trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Traveling as a small group of friends (one celebrating a milestone birthday), having never been to either country, we knew we needed assistance in planning and executing a great trip. We worked with Josh on Andy’s team for several months in advance of our trip as he carefully listened and guided us through the planning stages (not always an easy task getting consensus from a group of seasoned travelers). Josh was extremely patient and informative throughout and ultimately came up with an itinerary that suited us perfectly.
These countries are amazing on their own, but we soon realized that many of the excursions on our itinerary included experiences we simply would have never known about or been able to arrange on our own: a Hanoi food tour that got us behind the storefront and into the “real” local experience, a sunset cycling tour in HoiAn through rice paddies and organic farms featuring a visit with a local family who prepared the most beautiful, fresh food, a private recital of traditional Vietnamese music followed by dinner in the stunning riverside home of a classically trained vocalist and her husband in Hue, a sunset boat ride on the moat of Angkor Thom in Siem Reap where we were serenaded by gondoliers (?) with the most brilliant red sunset as our backdrop, and a very memorable ride on the back of an oxcart through the beautiful Cambodian countryside to the private villa owned by Andy’s company, where we were treated to an amazing evening with local food accompanied by local musicians. I honestly believe we would never have had these enriching additions without the help of Josh and his colleagues.
The level of service and expertise of our guides and drivers who met us at every point were beyond compare. They made every transfer, pickup, excursion, so effortless and easy and were very open to our special requests or last-minute changes we might have made. All of our guides were not only extremely knowledgeable, but also funny, engaging and people you actually WANT to spend the day with. Every one of them went above and beyond the standard explanations of “tourism” and were open to sharing insight into the local culture and contemporary lives of the people.
Finally, every accommodation was perfectly suited to what we were looking for. I attribute much of this to Josh’s intuition and in guiding us towards the best places where he knew we would be comfortable hanging out either after a full day of touring or a day off. We truly appreciated that.
I would highly recommend Josh for anyone planning a trip to this part of the world. A trip we will forever remember.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Christmas trip to Fiji despite a tropical cyclone
JULIE HEIMARK | JANUARY 8, 2020
Working with Lynette on our trip to Fiji was very easy and her recommendation — Savasi Island Resort — was fantastic. We loved Savasi Island and are already contemplating our return visit. But what catapults Lynette to the top of our list was her support and responsiveness when our trip was derailed by Tropical Cyclone Sarai. Tropical Cyclone Sarai was not on our radar at all. And then it was all over the radar! As we sat at home and obsessively followed the hour to hour meteorological reports to see if our holiday would still happen (a Christmas surprise to our kids), Lynette worked through the Christmas holiday and the cyclone to keep us informed. The airline eventually canceled our flight to Fiji at the last minute and told us they couldn’t rebook us for at least another 5 days. Lynette, however, and her fabulous team (thanks Linda!) got us on one of the first flights out once the planes were flying to Fiji again, thereby saving our vacation. And she was able to keep our group together and secured us seats on the transfer to Savusavu. This was only possible due to her relationships. If we had not used Lynette, there is no way we would have made it. Highly recommend Lynette and Im looking forward to our next trip with her.
A safe, spectacular time in Jordan
LAUREN GREEN | JANUARY 7, 2020
Our trip to Jordan was planned with Dan on Jonny’s team. He was available immediately during the entire planning stage and was responsive to all my concerns and requests. He knew I was a bit concerned about the issues in the Middle East and right before the trip suggested we have the same guide during the entire trip. This was a perfect solution and ended up being really important when my husband got sick while we were beginning our hike at Dana.
Our guide, Tehar and driver, George were phenomenal and we consider them our friends and hope to visit them again.
They were both so knowledgeable and answered all our questions about the country, the people etc. We found Jordan and the people to be warm., welcoming and every part of the trip was spectacular.
Family of 10 in Costa Rica for the grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary
KRISTEN EBNER | JANUARY 6, 2020
I can’t say enough about the trip Priscilla helped me plan for my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. We were traveling with 10 people, 4 active, teenagers who are up for any adventure and my Father who has PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy) a neurological brain disease. My father did not want his disability to stop the adventure or fun for his Grandchildren. Priscilla found us the perfect home, Stu Casa located in Las Catalinas located on an amazing beach where we could watch the sunset daily, take day trips scuba diving, surfing and fishing. After 5 days, we moved to The Monteverde Cloud Forest staying at Hotel Senda where we explored the sky walk, did zip lining and went on endless hikes.
The house, hotel, restaurants and activities were amazing, but what really made this trip special for us was the planning that Priscilla did in finding us the perfect Naturalist/Guide (Eddie R) and Physical Therapist (Alonso V.) to travel with us for the 10 days we were away. Alonso provided my father with the best care possible and had the knowledge and ability to help my father do things he has not been able to do like taking short walks on the beach, and working with him in the pool. Having Alonso with us allowed my mom to get the vacation she so needed and allowed my Dad to enjoy himself and took all the daily stress away from PSP.
Eddie, the Naturalist Guide was so knowledgeable and personable. From the moment we met him at the airport the kids were engaged and interested in learning about Costa Rica. Eddie made sure everything was just perfect all week and when we were out hiking he not only helped us find the monkeys, Quetzals and sloth but educated the kids on the Cloud Forest and environment.
Thank you again for helping us plan such an amazing trip!
Mainland Greece in low season (late November, early December)
JAMES LOUGHHEAD | DECEMBER 23, 2019
Jacoline prepared a wonderful itinerary of the mainland of Greece over 2 weeks for us in late November and December. We travelled with 2 of our young adult children. The itinerary that Jacoline prepared for us was a great reflection of the discussions we had leading up to our trip, from the tour guides through to the accommodation, suggestions for where to eat and places of interest.
The entire holiday went smoothly and we felt very comfortable with the way that the itinerary worked and the timing for the activities.
A particular highlight for us was the quality of the guides and their personal attention as well as the opportunity to share in the lives of Greek families and individuals during our time who we found to be the most generous hosts.
Our time in Greece has left a with great memories and experiences that were made possible because of Jacoline’s planning of our trip.
Switzerland, from e-biking to absinthe tasting
STAN FRY AND JAY SISCO | DECEMBER 12, 2019
We couldn’t have asked for a better Swiss holiday after working with Nina and David. Nina kicked off the planning by initially asking about our travel preferences (both likes and dislikes). David fine-tuned them and suggested multiple and varied itineraries that hit upon our requested combination of 5-star and Swiss-charm accommodations; top tourist and off the beaten path towns–and all at our chosen slow-ish pace. Neuchatel (e-biking around the lake and a private Absinthe distillery tasting with the owner) and Ascona (Bavona Valley guided walking tour and two surprise birthday celebrations, one on the lake and the other a mountainside 4-course lunch were beyond memorable) stand out. David is the ultimate listener and logistics master. Everything ran like clockwork and we took great comfort knowing he was working his magic–sometimes in the foreground (securing a reservation at a top restaurant on short notice), but mostly in the background. And we never would have predicted how much we would learn from and bond with the private guides he selected for us. They were extremely knowledgeable, flexible and friendly. This was our first custom trip and it was well worth it. We experienced Switzerland like we never would have on our own. David spoiled us and we are grateful!
Morocco to the max
RUTH ANNE LAWSON | DECEMBER 6, 2019
Our Moroccan adventure was incredible. It was perfectly planned: the hotels and riads were destinations in and of themselves and the restaurants Michael chose for us were fabulous. Michael even handled our dinner reservations. Every experience and place visited was well thought out: we never felt that a moment was wasted. Michael was very accommodating of our requests for changes, even working out a change I asked him to make less than a week before we left home! Our guide and driver were just great and we learned so much from them about their culture. Michael arranged experiences that put us in touch with many wonderful people in the country. That is so very important to us because we want our travel to mean something on a personal level. We are not going just for push pins in a map. We want to connect with people when we travel.
I think that many people might assume that using a travel planner like Michael is too expensive, but we found that our time and travel dollars were maximized by not making a bunch of blunders as we surely would have done if we had planned this trip ourselves. Michael has a wealth of knowledge about the country and he made every minute count. Looking back, it is hard to believe how much we squeezed into our time there. Sounds crazy, but I feel sorry for anyone who goes to Morocco without Michael’s guidance.
Insider’s China, from cooking in a traditional courtyard home to tai chi class at the Temple of Heaven
KATIE BUSH | DECEMBER 4, 2019
Mei and her team provided an unforgettable view into both ancient and modern China from the Ancient Terracotta Warriors of XiAn to the Olympic Green and 798 Art District in Beijing. Upon our request, Mei arranged for a very special Chinese cooking class in a traditional courtyard home inside one of Beijing’s surviving hutongs with a local chef and a very special local foodie and entrepreneur. Each of the experiences were truly tailored to our interests, but gave us an authentic view into the culture, traditions and history of a quickly evolving country. With Mei’s help, we traveled to the ancient city of XiAn, the Longmen Grottos of Louyong, and spent many days in Beijing. Highlights of the trip included lunch in the shadows of the Great Wall, a private taiji lesson on the grounds of the Temple of Heaven and tea at the Aman in the Summer Palace. My only advice would be to ensure you speak with your guide about local customs and restrictions (for example, on technology use, VPNs, etc.) prior to your trip.
Italian villa vacation with a dedicated concierge
RICHARD KOFKOFF | DECEMBER 2, 2019
My siblings and our spouses decided to plan a trip to Italy but I was at some loss as to where to turn to plan the trip. Fortunately, I was introduced to the WOW list and contacted Mara. She and her team were very responsive to my initial inquiry and it was obvious during our first phone call, which lasted perhaps one hour, and subsequent calls, that not only did Mara know her stuff but she cared deeply that she understand our desires and priorities. Her knowledge of Italy is encyclopedic and she has a feel for the intangibles such as the best rhythm for a relaxing and rewarding villa vacation. Mara’s entire team is very professional and the attention to detail is outstanding. Mara knows the best tour guides and makes sure the staff at the villa is talented and professional. She also has a concierge on the ground in Italy to help with any problems (there were none) and to handle any last minute change in plans that we wanted to make (restaurant reservations, etc.). I was particularly impressed by the scheduled “debriefing” phone call after we returned to hear about our experience and to hear if we had any suggestions for future travelers. I would definitely utilize the talents of Mara, Kristen and Anne again when planning an Italian villa vacation.
Sicily: market tours, cooking classes, cycling, boating…
JASON COVIENSKY | NOVEMBER 27, 2019
We worked with Matteo to plan a mini honeymoon in Eastern Sicily following our wedding in Canada the week prior. I really appreciated his honest recommendations and approach to travel while in the planning stages. Exactly our approach to touring – he made sure we avoided the most “touristy” areas and were able to experience some really special and unique places. We stayed in Siracusa for 4 nights and on Mt. Etna for 2, with activities planned with guides each day. It was a good pace – we felt busy the whole time, but never exhausted. The guides were all excellent with good English and different personalities. We were never rushed and everybody worked around our timeline; they were flexible too as we were running late, or wanted to extend certain portions. We particularly liked the market tour and cooking class with Maurizio, our cycling day to the nature reserve, and our sunset boat cruise. We met Matteo in Syracusa and he showed us some of his favourite shops; he checked in throughout the trip and we heard from our guides that he was in constant communication with them making sure everything went smoothly. Food recommendations were excellent throughout. Communication was prompt and easy. The hotels were amazing; in Siracusa we stayed at the Musciara – the photos really don’t do it justice at all. I’m used to planning and organizing all of our trips, so it was a really special treat here where Matteo was on top of everything and we didn’t have to worry at all, and were pampered throughout.
A “perfect” month in Italy
DAVID HALE AND JIM MORI | NOVEMBER 22, 2019
Maria certainly warrants a very high place on the WOW List ! In a word, in addition to WOW!, our trip was perfect. We were in Italy for the month of October, extending into the first week of November, Maria and her team worked out a great itinerary for us, incorporating a week in the middle of the month for an event previously planned by my university in Veneto. After our week in Venice and Vicenza, we resumed our itinerary prepared by Maria. To help explain how impressive Maria’s team is, I will start at the outset of our trip. They have a monitoring service (called Cranky Concierge) which assisted us throughout the trip when we needed it. For example, Cranky Concierge arranged for our airline to give us limousine service upon arrival at Heathrow Airport to transfer us to another terminal at Heathrow for our connecting flight to Milan. It was a short connection time so the special attention was much appreciated when the British Airways Customer Services representative came to our seat on the airplane to arrange for the special transportation. It was this type of accommodation that we enjoyed throughout the trip. Guides met us at every new city. Transportation from the airport to our hotel as well as transportation from city to city was always punctual and the drivers could all speak English. Another impressive fact in this regard is the beauty of the vehicles transporting us throughout our tour. We always felt very special (if not regal) being transported in those big black beautiful vehicles. I could go on and on with details about the perfection of the itinerary, but I will not make this review too lengthy. Some of the most memorable parts of the trip were the knowledge and communications of the guides Maria provided us, the unusual events she planned, the cities she chose for us to experience, the quality of the hotels where we stayed, and the excellent weather she provided for us ! I want to underscore my comment about our guides. Every one of our guides was very impressive in their knowledge of the area and their ability to communicate. They all spoke very good English and they were all very charming. This is the second trip that we have taken following recommendations of Wendy Perrin (with the first one being with Marisol’s team in Peru) and we now look forward to getting recommendations for another part of the world soon.
Costa Rica: “a balanced mix of real relaxation and interesting activities”
JULIE BUYON | NOVEMBER 18, 2019
We had a wonderful 7 night trip in Costa Rica planned by Pierre and his team. They really listened to what we wanted and delivered! Our goal was to have a balanced mix of real relaxation and interesting activities. The two resorts recommended, Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa near the Arenal Volcano and Hotel Arenas del Mar in Manuel Antonia were both superb choices for us – among the best hotels I have stayed in. All three of the excursions arranged by Pierre were also top notch in every way. All of our drivers were prompt, knowledgable and friendly. I would not hesitate to recommend Pierre to anyone contemplating a trip to Costa Rica. Pierre’s team checked in with us throughout the trip to make sure all was well and to remind us when we had an upcoming excursion. There was a lovely gift bag filled with Costa Rican candies, cocoa and coffee in our first hotel to welcome us, along with an extra copy of our itinerary. So thoughtful and appreciated! The only downside to our trip was the amount of travel time involved, because the places we visited were at least 3 hours from the international airports in Liberia and San Jose, and there was a 6 hour drive from Arenal Volcano area to the gorgeous beach at Manuel Antonio. Consequently, our 7 day trip really included 2 complete days of travel (12 hours going and 16 hours returning as we had to change planes in Miami) plus a half day’s travel between our two hotels. If you are uncomfortable during a long car ride or traveling with children, I suggest exploring all the options with Pierre to ensure that everyone is comfortable.
Russia with “exclusive experiences” and “magic moments”
CATHLEEN GLENN | NOVEMBER 17, 2019
We’re grateful to Greg for a memorable trip to ever-fascinating Russia. There were too many highlights, exclusive experiences, and magic moments to recount.
We’d end each day thinking it couldn’t get any better only to have our expectations surpassed.
Our carefully curated itinerary together with our personable, expert guides gave us the historic and cultural context to see the heart and soul of Russia.
We leave with a deep affection for Russia.
Thank you, Greg and Stella, for an unforgettable trip!
A month in Japan that was “worth every cent”
LINDA AND JOE ROTHMAN | NOVEMBER 6, 2019
We read the fabulous reviews Scott received and wondered whether we would have the same experience. The short answer is an unequivocal “yes.” We have enjoyed using many (over 15 at last count) of Wendy’s TTEs over the years but this experience has to rate at or close to the top of our “trips of a lifetime.” Thank you Wendy and team.
Scott listened to our interests and the items we wished to downplay or avoid. He quickly outlined a fabulous 4 week itinerary that enabled us to experience many of the highlights in Japan. Expensive? Yes, but worth every cent. Scott booked us into excellent hotels situated in outstanding locations. He secured a wonderful guide (Emiko Sakaoka) who ensured we saw and did everything worth doing. She answered our questions which helped us to learn a great deal about the Japanese culture. While we aren’t fans of sushi we managed to eat very well. Every restaurant recommendation recognized our food interests and the special birthday dinner for Linda was a real treat.
We are grateful to Philip (the firm’s co-founder and located in Japan) for altering our itinerary to avoid the impact of Typhoon Hagibis. As the storm shut down the Tokyo airport and headed north Philip quickly and seamlessly arranged for us to travel south via the train. Alternate accommodations were excellent and the touring continued without skipping a beat.
As for trip highlights there are many. They include the friendly & interesting people we met, the exciting food markets we toured, the beautiful parks &/gardens we walked through, the huge castles we toured, the inspiring temples & shrines we visited, the many and varied museums we saw, the efficient transportation system we used, the peacefulness of a stay in a ryokan or a Buddhist Temple we experienced. Yes, we loved the private dinner with the geishas, the private tour and/discussion with the multi-generational lacquerware owner and the kimono maker, a private origami-making session, the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery Tour, the Mt. Koya cemetery walk/experience and the Sumo practice session. However, our lasting memory will be of the marvelous and unusual Japanese culture and the gracious people we met.
Our thanks to Scott, Philip, Miho, Emiko and the many folks behind the scenes who made our memorable trip possible….Linda & Joe Rothman – Stamford, Ct.
Danube River cruise, with extra time in Budapest and Prague
ANNETTE STANFORD | NOVEMBER 1, 2019
We decided to plan a river cruise for our 30th anniversary. I read so many great reviews of Wendy and her WOW team, so I decided to reach out for planning help. We were NOT disappointed! Tom did an outstanding job guiding us and planning our cruise on Viking down the Danube. This was our first river cruise, but will definitely not be our last.
The cruise was an amazing experience, but we also decided to spend additional time in Budapest before the cruise, and in Prague after the cruise. Tom encouraged us to do this because these two cities require additional touring time. And he was right! Tom recommended two fabulous hotels in Budapest and Prague. He also set up personal tour guides in each city. Both guides were knowledgeable and a joy to spend time with, exploring their beloved cities.
We have planned trips on our own, but the service Tom provided far exceeded any planning we could have accomplished. A big thanks, and we look forward to planning more cruises with you.
Brazil: wildlife, waterfalls, diving, helicopters…
AMY EVERS | OCTOBER 30, 2019
Our trip to Brazil was fantastic! Bobby did an incredible job putting it all together and making it run smoothly. Miraculously, even all of our flights went on time for the entire trip! Our goal for the trip was wildlife focused with some adventure as well. They came through! We really, really wanted to see jaguars and we didn’t want to be one of many boats watching them on the side of a river! The suggestion to stay at Caiman Ecological Refuge and spend 3 days with the Oncafari team was spot on! It was everything we’d hoped…jaguars! We actually saw 8 different jaguars and some of them we saw more than once. The wildlife viewing in the Pantanal in general was incredible! We saw way too many birds to count. We saw tapirs, many capybara, lots of caiman, and many other animals. The only thing we didn’t see was an anteater, which our driver to the airport in Campo Grande helped us with the last morning, when we saw several! This amazing experience happened even though there was a massive fire on the Caiman property just a few weeks before. We were moved to a different accommodation but everything was great. Our guide, Joao and driver, Chipa were fun, informative, and excellent at spotting animals! We also visited an under the radar place called Bonito where we enjoyed wildlife with snorkeling in the crystal clear water amongst the many fish and visited the macaw hole where I was on a mission to get the perfect shot. We also had some real adventure by repelling 72 meters into a cave and SCUBA diving to see the giant columns- so much fun! We ate great food and were well cared for by Marcos, who was also a wealth of knowledge. With the help of Marcos, Marc even discovered the local craft beer scene which he loved. Wow… Iguassu Falls! We had so much fun and what surprises! We had a WOW moment from Wendy here, a helicopter ride over the falls! This was fabulous not only because getting a bird’s eye view over Iguassu Falls is incredible, but also because it was our first time in a helicopter! What a treat! Seeing the falls by foot on both the Argentinian and Brazilian side was also beautiful. Who knew one could see something from so many vantage points. We are so glad we stuck with the suggestion of staying at the Belmond because if we didn’t we wouldn’t have been able to see the Brazilian side before the park opened which allowed us to see it practically alone. This was significant because there are massive numbers of tourists at this site. One of the evenings we had a surprise Cachaca tasting from Bobby’s team. I was hesitant because I’m not one who can typically “taste” hard alcohol, but this was really good and so informative. Marc and I each had a different favorite. We loved it and of course we brought some home! Alex was an amazing guide! Yet again, we were so well cared for and he was also a wealth of knowledge! We were also able to get a late check out at the Belmond, which was very convenient! Though we organized our time in Rio on our own, Bobby’s staff took care of our transfers and chose our hotel. I was hoping to save some money here so requested down grades in the hotel. The chosen hotel was not on the beach, which we didn’t care about, but instead had a spectacular view of Sugar Loaf from our room! Our stay in the Amazon was very relaxing! We learned a lot about this important ecosystem. We saw quite a lot of pink dolphins as well as a few giant otters! The plane ride back to Manaus was worth it to see the meeting of the waters! In Manaus we had a short time with another excellent guide to see a few sites. Bobby’s staff also made dinner reservations at an amazing restaurant here before our departure home. All in all, this was one of the smoothest run trips we’ve ever been on. No doubt some of this was luck, but clearly Bobby did his job and did it very well! We would without question, use them again and recommend them to others.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Prague, Austria, and Germany, from historic museums to alpine trails
PAT HUGGINS | OCTOBER 30, 2019
My husband and I recently traveled to Prague, Austria, and southern Germany for 24 days using Gwen’s services. I reached out to Gwen over a year before we planned to go after winning an auction for a short stay at a Munich hotel. We used that as a starting point. After extensive email interaction we got to know each other well enough to really nail the itinerary and come up with a wonderful experience.
Part of the excitement of any trip I take comes from reading and learning about the places I intend to visit. With a year of potential planning time I came up with quite a dream list. It included renown museums and historic sites, but also alpine trails we wanted to hike and restaurants we wanted to dine at. Gwen had her own list of special activities, led by guides with unique knowledge, to add to the mix. Some sounded very familiar – a Food Tour or Wine Tour. I admit to being reluctant to spend time on these since we have taken dozens of such tours. She assured me they were special, tailored to our particular interests, and encouraged me to give them a try. They turned out to be some of our most memorable activities. We really learned invaluable information that helped navigate restaurant menus and wine lists throughout our trip.
All of the private guides we used were outstanding. Without exception they were knowledgeable, friendly, punctual and flexible, answering all of our questions and providing local insight into the places we visited. I most likely would never have found them without working with Gwen. Her professional relationship with these guides, the transfer/driving companies, and local support people was the significant difference from any trip I planned on my own. The logistics were flawless and the management of our time, having full days but not overwhelming ones, very much was due to her assistance. I also appreciated Exeter’s ability to expedite access to several venues.
You asked to comment on any local support we had while traveling. Because of bad weather we at one point considered changing hotels and reworking the itinerary. The local Exeter representatives helped run the numbers and provide alternatives. In addition, my husband needed a quick trip to a local ear, nose, and throat doctor. Our guide helped negotiate everything and he was able to enjoy the following days. This medical visit would have been much more difficult on our own.
One more general thought – I have used several of your recommended specialists. Gwen was one of the easiest to work with. She gave me choices among hotels including a range of styles and price points. I consider us to be pretty independent when traveling. We have lived both in Europe and Asia. We often chose to use public transportation and eliminate a private car and driver to hold down costs. She was fine with this. I appreciated her flexibility and willingness to accommodate.
Bali: traditional villages, music and dancing, cooking lessons, authentic resorts…
MARTHA LAZARAKIS | OCTOBER 27, 2019
Diane found us a wonderful guide (Ngoorah) and driver (Agus) to usher us around the island of Bali. Our week included a small village where we visited a family temple and compound, and listened to a musical performance by the village’s traditional Gamelan orchestra. We were even able to play the instruments with the musicians, and try the dancing. It was a unique invitation into their community. We also enjoyed a cooking lesson in a traditional outdoor kitchen, cooking over an open fire, where we prepared a lavish lunch. Our accommodations were at resorts which embraced the Balinese culture and design and included outstanding food, full service spas, and incredible service.
A jam-packed three weeks in Spain and Portugal that “never felt rushed”
JOE LYLE | OCTOBER 27, 2019
Virginia’s team organized a great introduction to the Iberian Peninsula for my wife and I. In three weeks we visited Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, and Granada in Spain, then Evora, Lisbon, Sintra, Estoril, Obidos and Porto in Portugal. After Porto, we went to La Rioja wine region, then Barcelona and back to Madrid. There was a lot to see and do, but we never felt rushed. With the exception of Estoril, we were able to stay three nights per hotel to limit hotel hopping. All the guides were knowledgable, helpful, concerned and fun people to be with for several hours. The drivers were also excellent and good company. All transfers and in-county travel (by car, train and plane) went smoothly as planned. We liked all the hotels except one, but thanks to Paloma in Customer Care, we were able to quickly change to another, much better, hotel the same day. Also, thanks to Paloma for the last minute difficulties with some of the restaurant reservations (which apparently were caused by the restaurants).
As I mentioned, all the guides were great and knowledgeable, but two experiences really stood out for us. On the first night our guide provided a tapas experience, hopping from tapas bar to tapas bar to taste the best tapas, wine and vermouth that Madrid has to offer. We were made to feel like locals out on a night. The other experience was seeing Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in the late afternoon. Our guide knew exactly when to take us when the light helped to make the Sagrada Familia truly awe-inspiring.
Romania’s medieval towns, plus a WOW Moment in Bran Castle
DAVID LUSIGNAN | OCTOBER 24, 2019
Ralucagave us invaluable assistance in the development of our 2 week trip to visit 3 regions of Romania…Bucovina, Maramures and Transylvania. Our objective was to see the beautiful country-side, visit small villages/medieval towns and meet/engage with the local people and their daily life/customs. Raluca was always responsive and worked collaboratively and patiently with us to iterate a final itinerary that met these desires and the trip did not disappoint! Our stay in 3 small village guest houses provided direct interaction with the owner families over home cooked(and delicious) breakfasts and dinners; the boutique hotels recommended in the old towns of Cluj, Sibiu and Brasov provided exemplary service and gave us quick and direct access to the historic centers(and, again, delicious breakfasts!). Our guide/driver for the entire trip(Ilona) was terrific! Ilona was pleasant always and patient as we juggled each day’s travel; and her extensive knowledge of Romanian history coupled with her art history background provided excellent insights to all we did. Ilona had also cultivated personal relationships with many of the people we met throughout our journey which greatly enhanced our experiences These people were genuinely pleased to see her and meet us. We had our WOW moment on this trip as well. An after hours visit with private guide of Bran Castle with access to the tower was superb…..no crowds, no rush, unlimited photo opportunities and personal attention from an excellent guide. Raluca’s team produced 2 other surprises as well. They were able to arrange access for us to William Blacker’s Transylvanian village house which is not open to tourists. William left the UK and spent several years living in this village in the late 1990s with a local family which he chronicled in his book “Along the Enchanted Way”. Since we had read his book before we left, this was a special connection for us. They also arranged a birthday surprise for me while we were in the village of Breb…. our dinner host baked me a cake and, with her niece/nephew dressed in traditional garb, sang me happy birthday. Thoughtful and special. So a 5 out of 5 for Raluca and her team from planning, to delivery, to choice of guide and accommodations!
40th wedding anniversary on Italy’s Amalfi Coast
CARRIE HADDEN | OCTOBER 23, 2019
Andrea fulfilled our wishes beyond our expectations. Starting with the introductory phone call. She listened carefully to the things we said we enjoyed and we had no specific things we wanted to do. When we got the packet we were so pleased with the itinerary, but we had no idea how perfect the trip would become. Every driver and guide were so professional yet personable and were on time. They all mention Andrea’s team and you could tell the respect that they hold in the area.
We had two standout experiences. The first being an entire day on the sea to cruise the Amalfi coast. We did not know what to expect when we went to the wharf, there were so many tour boats. We were a little confused when a very large beautiful yacht pulled up. I was joking with my husband and told him that would be amazing, my husband said you should have seen your face when they held up a sign with our name on it. Captain Beni and his hand Salvatori gave us an experience we will never forget. We stopped at a restaurant high above sea only accessible by boat and had a delicious meal with great staff. Perfect day!
The second amazing experience was with our driver taking us from Positano to Ravello. We had a 3 hour stopover in the town of Amalfi but it was grey drizzly day and he asked us if we would rather go to his friend’s winery. The owner gave a very personal tour and the joined us for lunch that his wife had prepared. It was so unexpected and right out of a romance movie.
Her staff was right on top of things. We needed to change the dated of our Rome guide (my error) and they worked hard to accommodate us. We loved the hotel in Rome.
They stuck to our budget. That being said we did not like our hotel Villa Marie in Ravello and wish we could of upgraded to nicer hotel but the view was amazing. They also let people know that it was our 40th wedding anniversary and we were greeted with Prosecco at the Palazzo Murat. This was the best and most detailed trip we have taken using your WOW list.
That you very much.
Mongolia for the Golden Eagle Festival
JONATHAN TSAI | OCTOBER 22, 2019
The trip provided a diversity of experiences although we were mainly there for the Golden Eagle Festival. Jalsa has a great team working with him, from the administrative staff, ground crew to guides – they all gave their best so we could have the full Mongolian experience (from sights, cuisine to traffic!). The team who supported our group were responsive and adaptive, we also had access to many wonderful cultural performances and Chai Murat himself at the festival! One thing to consider is a visit to the Khustain National Park – there is more wildlife to see and seemed to be less touristy (some on our group had an extension there); on our itinerary was instead Gorkhi-Terelj National Park which is highly touristy and we encountered no wildlife during our visit. Regardless, Jalsa’s passion for Mongolia was clearly articulated during our trip – his company makes great lengths to help develop and also preserve the real Mongolia and this is another reason we use a WOW List specialist.
A Baltic cruise with “outstanding local tour guides”
DIANA PUSCH | OCTOBER 16, 2019
1. Preplanning with Mary Jean’s team was fabulous. We worked with teleconferences to include other travelers, their (outstanding) land specialist Ralph & cruise specialist Cheri.
2. We did have a tour guide problem which we worked to solve as it was an immediate issue (a substituted tour guide in Germany spoke Spanish, so we used my daughter as translator that day). Ralph was on it when we notified him, and he was proactive in making sure remaining destinations were well coordinated & had no problems.
3. Cheri did an outstanding job with our cruise rooms, meeting the individual needs of each traveler. I brag about her work and have recommended her to my friends looking to create a cruise experience.
4. This team was responsive to each of our questions, desires in the trip, provided outstanding local tour guides who enhanced our knowledge & enjoyment of each city and were a pleasure to work with.
Portugal and Spain for travelers who have been there and done that
LEN AND CINDY BOGORAD | OCTOBER 10, 2019
Gonçalo and Joana planned and executed a fabulous trip for us to central and northern Portugal, along with Santiago de Compostela and Salamanca in NW Spain. They listened carefully to what we were interested in, taking account of our previous travels in Portugal and Spain. For example, when Gonçalo heard that we were interested in prehistoric art, he suggested that we visit the Coa Valley, accompanied on a private tour conducted by a fascinating archeologist, which turned out to be a highlight of the trip.
Each of the private guides that Gonçalo and Joana arranged for eight tours (in the Coa Valley, in each of the cities we visited, and on Madeira) was fabulous. This contributed tremendously to the success of the trip. It was great to have the full attention of each of the guides, given all of the questions that we have, and because of health constraints one of us had (walking up stairs or steep slopes was very difficult) it was invaluable to have guides who were totally flexible about adapting the itineraries and pace appropriately.
The hotels Gonçalo and Joana selected for us were excellent, and in particular were interesting in their own ways. Hotel breakfasts were wonderful throughout.
70th-birthday blowout in Cape Town and a South African safari
ROBIN & JOEL GLOBUS | OCTOBER 2, 2019
We wanted this trip to be special as it was our 70th Birthdays. We wanted it to be “a trip of a lifetime”. Nina and Dan far exceeded our expectations in South Africa.
Nina and Dan planned our trip after discussing what we would like to see and do. We wanted to go to Cape Town and a safari to see Leopards and hopefully the Big Five.
It’s difficult to put into words how fantastic our trip was. We had asked for a special room at The Silo hotel and they made sure we got it! The two Safari camps also exceeded our expectations.
The people at all of the places we went were so fabulous. We were hugged and fussed over and made to feel so at home at all three accommodations. We did see all of the animals and witnessed a lion kill which was extremely rare. The guides and trackers that we spent 6 hours a day with are now friends. They were amazing as well. We will have these wonderful memories for our lifetime and yes, it was “a trip of a lifetime ” thanks to Nina and Dan and Wendy Perrin’s WOW List.
Barge trip in France with a group of friends
KIMBERLY PRATER | SEPTEMBER 30, 2019
Ellen and Lori helped our group pick the ideal barge for our group- The Gran Cru. This phenomenal barge is only in its second season, has a fantastic staff that works well together and created a very convivial atmosphere- as well as lots of wonderful food and wine. A Gran Cru wine and 3 cheeses were served at every meal and Chef Joe was outstanding. In addition to cooking our meals, he held a couple of cooking classes for us. Boat manager, guide and wine expert Anna- superb! Without the input of Ellen and Lori we likely would have chosen another barge and not had the same experience.
I also appreciated the heads up from Ellen that because of no rain, we would not be on canals but rather on the Saône. In reality it mattered little as our itinerary remained the same and the scenery remained beautiful. This is our second barge trip through Ellen and I will use her again for future trips.
Canada: backcountry lodges in British Columbia
JIM VAHEY | SEPTEMBER 30, 2019
We wanted a vacation with a focus on the outdoors. We came across a number of interesting options in British Columbia and contacted Marc to help us sort it out. Marc personally gave us much time helping us plan our trip to British Columbia. He provided thoughtful advice on the pros and cons of the various lodges and resorts we were interested in and worked to keep us within our budget. Marc and his staff remained in touch with us before we had left and during our trip: answering questions, making additional reservations and handling glitches as they arose. Marc and his staff’s advice was spot on and we had a fantastic time.
Malta, from its private palaces to a WOW Moment in St. Johns Co-Cathedral
KATHERINE MONTGOMERY | SEPTEMBER 28, 2019
Jason and Damon made our trip extraordinary!!!! Every tour and recommendation was beyond our expectations… we had a fabulous day cooking with Chef George Borg in Gozo, private palace tours with warm and welcoming royalty, delicious meals and knowledge, personable guides!
Our WOW Moment was a private tour of St Johns Cathedral…… breathtaking decor and up close viewing of the Caravaggios! Every detail was perfect and we were treated like VIPs. I can not recommend them highly enough!! Delightful to deal with!! Can’t wait to return!
Nova Scotia and the Canadian Maritimes, plus a WOW Moment oyster feast
SONJA & BRIAN HAGGERT | SEPTEMBER 20, 2019
I’m not sure I even know where to start telling you about Jill. She planned a fabulous trip, taking our likes into consideration and even including some daring adventures that we absolutely loved. We were in the Canadian Maritimes during Hurricane Dorian, which landed on their shores. She called us on a Friday night to check on us and had made arrangements for us to stay in our hotel if we didn’t want to risk heading out to our next destination, This was indicative of the entire trip. She was always there, checking up on us and our itinerary without being overbearing. We knew we were well taken care of right from the start.
There are so many great parts of the trip to point out-Wofville and eating at Le Caveau. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten Brant Beef. Staying at a Distillery (Glenmore) and meeting Jill’s other travelers, having dinner overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Panorama at the Cabot Links Golf Course. Of course the piece-de-resistance was our WOW Moment. Jill recommended The Inn at Bay Fortune as a dining EXPERIENCE and it truly was. A farmer who regaled us with their farm and some of what we would be eating, a feast of oysters (my husband LOVES oysters and a meal that lasted the entire evening. Everything was cooked over an open flame and it was terrific! Wendy was kind enough to make this unbelievable meal our WOW Moment. Little did she know there would be another WOW Moment the next morning when we met the Chef, Michael Smith, carving up a 322 pound tuna in the kitchen.
You will not find a more caring, lovely person to deal with on a trip. We are looking forward to having her plan another trip, probably to her home province of Newfoundland so we can meet.
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, including a local family wedding in Bukhara
SHARON NATHAN | SEPTEMBER 9, 2019
Zulya was with me every step of the way in planning my trip and her sister Dilia in Bukhara was there with me once I arrived in the Stans. I consider guides the most important part of any trip because I am even more interested in life in the places I visit than I am in the sights, and Zulya found me great ones in both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Not only did they speak excellent English and know all about the monuments we visited; they were also open about their own experiences. Certainly the highlight of the trip was attending a family wedding in Bukhara; the openness and generosity of Zulya’s family was above and beyond.
Scotland and London for opera and history buffs
AMY KALES | AUGUST 31, 2019
Philip is a good listener. The itinerary he planned for my husband, Arthur, and me who are opera lovers and history buffs in Edinburgh, the Highlands and London filled our hearts’ delight.
The centerpiece of our trip was a performance of Rusalka at the Glyndebourne Opera festival. Philip was able to procure the best seats, train tickets to Lewes and a dinner reservation, which despite the rain, made the evening easy and memorable. He also reserved excellent seats at plays and concerts of our choice at the Edinburgh International Festival as well as the Royal Tattoo. We could not have enjoyed ourselves more.
Philip also planned a sightseeing itinerary which focused on Churchill and World War II. All of our guides , who were Blue Badge guides, were knowledgeable and personable. We spent two memorable days with Mark King discovering the Churchill and the Imperial War Museums. A highlight was the privately guided tour of the Churchill War Rooms before opening hours arranged by Philip. In addition, Mark took us on a tour of the historic East End where he the shared experiences of Jewish and other immigrants to the area as well as his parents during World War II. We could not have asked for a more in depth program.
Arthur and I can recommend Phillip to anyone visiting the U.K. The hotels he chose, the guides he selected and the itinerary, which took our interests into account, was excellent. We plan to use another travel specialist on Wendy’s WOW list for our next trip
Spain: beaches, farmland, “amazing meals”
AMANDA MANDEL | JULY 24, 2019
Pablo was very responsive and flexible during the process of planning our trip. He listened well to what we wanted (an adult trip with lots of time to wander on our own), and booked us a lovely small hotel in Barcelona (The Mercer) and at the amazing Torrent del Mas in Costa Brava. All logistics went very smoothly, and Pablo was quick to answer the few questions we had during our trip. They gave us good restaurant choices in Barcelona (Bar Canete is a must go) and in Costa Brava (Pais del Mas). We can’t say enough positive things about Costa Brava – gorgeous beaches and farmland, amazing meals everywhere, not overly touristy…and Torrent del Mas was one of the most beautiful hotels we have been to. It was a bit challenging to leave each day to go sightseeing! We would go back to these parts of Spain in a heartbeat, and would definitely recommend Pablo as a travel planner.
Soaking up the art and culture of Istanbul
LEE SAMUELS | JUNE 25, 2019
Beginning with the Istanbul-based tour managers, Ugur, Merve, Ekin and, of course, Karen Fedeorko Sefer, and extending to our professional guide, Esin, our excellent driver, and our evening “chaperone,” Mary, Karen’s group provided a carefully planned and flexible custom itinerary. I found the staff was prompt in returning emails and I received exemplary advice. Their arranged services were fairly priced and included a centrally located boutique hotel (House Hotel Karakoy) and cutting edge restaurants (must go-to: Mikla Restaurant). Representatives readily made themselves available during the initial travel planning phase, our arrival into Istanbul International Airport, tour throughout Istanbul and our departure from Turkey. Arrival and departure customs, passport and luggage handling were expedited at the new Istanbul International Airport via the company’s arranged transfer service.
For us, the face of Karen’s team was our professional guide, driver and other assigned attendants. At no time did we ever feel endangered (although Istanbul drivers and pedestrians should be “commended” for synchronized on-road gymnastics/ choreography). Esin is a gem: an incredible asset/representative for both Karen and Turkey. At once, a valuable resource and fount of insider information and worldly anecdotes, she always maintained a vital, kind, warm and very human (sincere and humanistic) side that she freely exhibited. Esin is so very passionate about Istanbul and its citizens, the attractions visited, its present, past and future. As a world traveler, I felt as though I experienced cosmopolitan Istanbul on an intimate human scale coming away with an appreciation for its history, culture, and, most of all, its people. As a former high school art instructor, I was beyond thrilled when Esin arranged a most special one-on-one meeting with internationally renowned Turkish artist, Ms. Gulay Semercioglu whose artworks have been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC). This would not have been possible without Esin as our guide. I am eternally grateful.
Thank you for creating a journey of a lifetime.
Italy and Greece in 16 days…with a teenager
PAUL MYERS | JUNE 24, 2019
My wife, my 13-year-old daughter and I just returned from 16 days in Italy and Greece. We had a wonderful trip. Jill, our travel specialist, picked the perfect hotels for us, lined up the best local tour guides and coordinated a good mix of sightseeing and down time. We were blown away that she thought of every detail. We were greeted at every transfer location by a nicely dressed, English-speaking professional who helped us with baggage, navigating customs and transfer to our next destination. Jill was patient with all my questions, which were many, and she knew each destination because she had personally visited each location. She, and her colleague, Peter, made sure we were able to relax and enjoy. (They even gave me a great tip on the best shoes to wear while touring Rome – Allbirds. So helpful!)
If we could have done anything different, I would have taken Jill’s advice and only visited one country this trip. She warned me that the additional travel to go from one country to another would take time away from relaxing. She was more than right! I will heed that advice going forward!
All-in-all, it was a wonderful trip in large measure because of Jill and Peter’s careful planning and thoughtful itinerary design!
Thank you, Jill and thank you, Peter!
Paris and Normandy’s Landing Beaches for the 75th Commemoration of D-Day
CHRISTINA NESTER | JUNE 12, 2019
Our trip of a lifetime to France and to attend the 75th Commemoration of D-Day was a spectacular, mind-blowing experience and one we will never forget. Jack, Michael, and the team designed an outstanding travel itinerary that met every request we made for our trip and then went beyond.
First, the places we stayed in Paris and Normandy were exceptional. The hotels in Paris, the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal and the Hotel Relais Christine were beautiful, well located and very welcoming. Our very favorite was a charming find, Les Lilas de Bellefontaine. A charming B&B located in Bayeaux. The owners, Catherine and Serge were so very welcoming, gracious and generous that it was hard to leave because they became family.
The guides arranged for us in Paris, and Normandy were so valuable to showing us around and maximizing our experience with their incredible knowledge and insights that brought every experience more life and color. Caroline is a treasure and felt like family when she saw us off to Honfleur. Damien showed us a wonderful time as we sampled Camembert cheese and Calvedos wines. The true highlight was Vanessa and Geert who toured us the landing beaches, especially Omaha Beach. Gerrt took the time to add his research of my father’s movements on June 6th, 1944 adding color and dimension to the facts.
I want to add that we were not notified until June 5th that we had tickets to attend the 75th Commemoration and I emailed Marcello and a driver was arranged with a pick up time to get us to the shuttle pick up area the very next morning.
Michael and Marcello listened to what we wanted from the trip, listened to our feedback as the trip took form and went well beyond our expectations to create a purely magical and moving experience that we will never forget. Gratitude beyond measure to them. And thank you for the flower to welcome us home. Gratitude and respect to each of you for creating a trip of a lifetime.
50th birthday celebration on St. Barts
LILLIAN CHUNG | JUNE 4, 2019
Peg and Julia were excellent in every way! Their professionalism and genuine care helped to make planning a very memorable 50th birthday celebration! We had people flying into St. Barth’s from NYC, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles, so it was quite a complicated process! There were so many highlights…a private chef dinner, hike to the natural pools, numerous gourmet restaurants….everyone in the party was already calling it the “trip of a lifetime”. Thank you so much for this amazing memory!
* 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.