Wondering what a WOW trip looks like? Read the trip reviews below, all written in your fellow travelers’ own words. WOW trips are custom-tailored exactly to your interests, maximizing your experience, minimizing logistics, whisking you past lines, and avoiding crowds (yes, even this summer in Europe—read on to see how that’s possible).
Learn how to get your own WOW trip. Then, browse our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts to find the right specialist for the trip you’re dreaming of. If you’d like help figuring out where to go or how to plan it, write to Ask Wendy. And you’ll find lots of other ideas in our other compilations of traveler reviews.
Croatia, Herzegovina, Montenegro: kid-friendly experiences, private boat charter…
KIM SEGAL | SEPTEMBER 14, 2023
My husband, two children (ages 4 and 6) and I just returned from a 2.5-week trip through Croatia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro, coordinated by Ala and her fabulous team. The trip was, in a word, perfection—so thoughtfully planned out and orchestrated, with amazing guides, fabulous restaurant recommendations, and superb on-the-ground service. It was the first large international trip we’ve taken with our two kids, and it ended up surpassing all our expectations. My older child kept exclaiming, “Mom, Croatia is paradise!” They’re not wrong.
Ala did a wonderful job of recommending hotels that were family-friendly, given the constraints she was working with (some areas in Croatia really just don’t have true luxury hotels yet like I am used to). One highlight was the Relais & Chateaux property Maslina, on the island of Hvar, which is a true gem—everyone should splurge and stay there. It’s located a 20-minute walk from Stari Grad (there’s a beautiful paved path that winds along the coast), had exceptional food, great rooms with gorgeous views, a truly attentive staff who took care of everything, and two great pools for the kids to enjoy—along with a kids’ club which my two children loved. While on the island we also had an incredible full-day private boat charter to the Pakleni Islands, fully arranged by Ala, and it was magical—we swam in beautiful azure waters, saw fish (it was my older child’s first time donning goggles to “snorkel” and they loved it!); and took in incredible views. Many times, we were one of only a few boats located in our swimming area. We also enjoyed an amazing meal at a restaurant in Hvar town with a beautiful, quaint outdoor terrace area, which was easy to settle on as Ala’s team provided a full suite of restaurant recommendations in each area we visited.
One of the things our family most appreciated about Ala was her ability to pivot on the fly and suggest plans that would work best for our younger children, as we were not sure what would and wouldn’t work for our kids. In Split, for example, Ala put us in a charming hotel right in the historic palace area, but its size and location meant it lacked the amenities my kids like (think pools, beach access, etc.). When I inquired about a good public beach to visit, knowing my kids would want some beach time on this stop, Ala was quick to help us set up an afternoon at Le Meridien outside of town (and coordinate transportation for us as well)—all on an hour’s notice. While not a traditional activity that most would plan—and not something I would have found on my own—it was perfect for my family, as the kids spent the day being fishes and I spent the afternoon reading a book seaside.
As I mentioned above, this was our first large, multi-country trip with our children and we didn’t know exactly what to expect—we were learning as we went. Ala made herself and her team available at all times—via WhatsApp or phone—to pivot and make changes as I requested. And, while I didn’t expect to, I ended up making multiple change requests! We were able to shift tour start times to better align with our schedule once we ended up on-continent, and we added / subtracted items as we realized what worked best for our family. On our drive to Herzegovina, Ala was happy to flex our schedule on a day’s notice so that we could stop at Kravica waterfall, where one can swim at the base of the falls—something that our two kids really enjoyed! We bought small nets from the vendor at the base of the waterfall and one of my kids “caught” their first fish—a huge moment for them! Our tour guides flexed their schedules to accommodate our children’s interests (or lack of interest in history), and were quick to share advice with us about local restaurants, things to see or do, etc.—in Mostar we ended up attending a Bosnian Street Food festival one evening, complete with a DJ and a bouncy house (something my kids were thrilled about!) because our guide made sure to mention it to us and show us where it was set up—it wasn’t something we ever would have found on our own. Our guide in Mostar also took us back down the residential streets to our hotel, passing a huge street art installation she knew was being worked on that day, simply because I mentioned how much I was enjoying the street art we passed.
The level of attention to detail and full-service offerings from Ala and team just made this trip such a dream. Our family had the best time and our two children are already asking to go back (especially to Maslina and the One&Only in Montenegro!). While there are many other places on the planet I long to visit, I am sure that we will return to Croatia in the future and when we do, Ala will be the first person I reach out to. If you’re considering a trip to Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, or Montenegro, do yourself a favor and contact Ala—she will ensure it is the trip of a lifetime.
Hawaii: private villa for three generations
JEREMY SILVERMAN | SEPTEMBER 14, 2023
With expert help from Dani and Jen, we had a wonderful multi-generational family vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii in June. A visit to Hawaii had been on our son’s wish list, so that was our destination to celebrate his high school graduation. In addition to our core family of four (including our 16-year-old daughter), my parents joined, making this an extra-special family getaway.
Given the primary goal of being together, along with different levels of activity and mobility of our group, our lodging was particularly important. We needed a house big enough for all of us that would be a great home base and enjoyable place for my mother to spend time when others were venturing out for more active days. With that, Dani and Jen recommended the Villas at Mauna Kea resort on the Kona coast. We had a spectacular house with a large pool and amazing views of the beach and sunsets. The house was just a 5 or so minute walk down to the hotel’s great beach (best on the island, including one very friendly turtle), which made it easy for different members of the group to peel off for beach time while others stayed “at home.” With a gourmet kitchen we generally had breakfast at home together, as well as a number of dinners — and sunset cocktails was a can’t-miss, every-night event. The villa was the most expensive place we’ve stayed on any vacation to anywhere, but also one of the nicest and worth it for this special family vacation.
Before Kona, we spent a few days at Volcano House in Volcanoes National Park. The park is like no place on earth and the hotel is steps away from one of the largest volcanic craters. The hotel itself is fine, but we were glad we started in Volcanoes because it would have been very hard to go there after the luxury splendor of Mauna Kea.
Other highlights included an amazing helicopter trip for me and my son with Blue Hawaii and driving the Chain of Craters Road in Volcanoes Park — both are must-do activities on the island — as well as the Waimea Saturday farmers’ market, snorkeling in Puako Bay (nearby to Mauna Kea) and eating shaved ice at every opportunity! We capped the trip off with an amazing dinner at Canoe House at the Mauni Lani hotel — Dani used her inside connections to get us a perfectly timed reservation for our last night, which was the perfect send-off for our vacation.
France: Provence, Paris, Rhone Valley…
JULIE HOLDER | SEPTEMBER 13, 2023
Michael planned a trip for our family of 6, two adult children couples and my husband and I in September 2023. It was a wonderful experience from the planning to the execution. The communication and attention to detail was excellent. Michael was also able to be flexible when we wanted to make some minor changes to our day. We wanted to visit the Rhone wine valley in France, because my husband loves the wine, and we wanted both a wine-tasting experience while exploring historical and cultural sites there. Michael did not disappoint. We stayed at La Maison Papillon with our hosts Caroline and Olivier, who made us feel like family. The rooms were lovely, Caroline prepared delicious meals and we had a cooking class where we made our own dinner one night. It was wonderful. Our second stop was at La Bastide de Marie, which was an upscale boutique hotel in the middle of a winery in Provence—a beautiful property. The food and service was excellent. We had excellent guides and a variety of activities: wine tasting, visiting ancient caves, kayaking, cooking classes, etc. A highlight was our last night in Paris before our trip home. Michael planned a private cruise on the Seine to see the sites of Paris. It was a great way to use a small bit of time to give us a feel for the city and included champagne! It was a great way end to a marvelous 10-day vacation.
Tanzania: Great Migration river crossings, cats galore…
SCOTT RIFKIN | SEPTEMBER 11, 2023
When I hired Cherri and Katie to plan this trip, I had one major goal – put us in a good position to see the Great Migration crossing the Mara River. The other goals were to give us a first-class trip with great camps and great guiding. Cherri and Katie succeeded in every aspect.
Trip dates – Aug 13 – 25 – perfect for Mara River crossings.
This is my fourth trip to Africa for safari. I was accompanied by my wife, another couple, and an individual who runs a major US zoo. I saw several river crossings in 2013. My wife has been to Africa three times but in her previous trip near the Mara, we missed seeing a crossing. The other three folks had never been to the continent.
First stop – Sanctuary Kichikani – Great Camp – Great wildlife – Great hosting. This is a mobile camp so bucket showers, tent, etc. However, the camp was beautiful, the staff was amazing, and the guiding was excellent. We saw a great variety of mammals and birds. The vastness of the great herd was everywhere. The predators had full bellies. We saw a leopard on day 1 – what a rare amazement. Our guide got us to a crossing of the herd that was in progress when we arrived on day 2. Wonderful to see but it was a bit crowded with vehicles. All in all an excellent experience.
Second Stop – Sayari – also in the northern Serengeti. Fantastic fixed camp. Again great accommodations with very good internet, great food, great staff, etc. Again we saw all the animals that you hope to see including Leopards, Cheetah, Lions, Giraffe, Wart Hogs, Zebras, etc. Great variety of birds. Here we had a wonderful guide who got us to a crossing of the Mara by the herd just minutes before it began. We were the first vehicle on site and had a fantastic position to appreciate the chaos and the magnificence of one of the most amazing natural events. We even saw a croc strike out trying to grab a young zebra.
Stop 3 – Namiri Planes – Cats, Cats, Cats!! Great camp, great hosting, wonderful food, etc. Good internet. This is the camp to see the cats – cheetah, lions, leopards. The short grasses and the flat planes make sighting easy. We saw the drama of failed hunts. A cheetah jumped on the front hood of our vehicle. He stood there for several moments staring at us. The guide started the engine and he jumped off.
Stop 4 – Chem Chem – We left the Serengeti and headed to Lake Manyara. Lovely camp with a great location at a watering hole. The zebras and giraffes and wildebeast would walk and run toward the watering hole in clear close view to our bed in the tent. A large herd of male elephants was nearby but less predators or female elephants. Great staff and guiding. Great food. Lovely walking safari ending with a beautiful meal under an immense baobab tree. We also visited a local Masai home and met the chief and his wives and children. This was very real and not touristy. We had drinks down by the lake and saw a small group of flamingos up fairly close. This is a private concession and one needs to drive across the highway into the main park. This isn’t a big issue. I think this camp would be perfect for a family with young kids – the close interaction with the prey animals was astounding. We actually got delayed from dinner one night by a group of five zebra munching away on the path between our tent and the main walkway to the dining hall.
All in all a phenomenal trip. Katie did a great job getting us where we needed to be. The only issue is the logistics between camps was at times a bit difficult as we need to go to hub airstrips and change planes a few times. The waits at the hubs can be a few hours. I suspect this is just a result of how Tanzania has set up its safari transportation system.
The trip was an A+. Our friends were stunned and amazed by the beauty and miracles of the parks.
Spain: food tours, cooking class, biking Barcelona…
JOANNA BUCKNER | SEPTEMBER 8, 2023
Our trip was excellent and we were very happy with Pablo’s suggestions! The best part of our trip were the private food tours and the cooking class, which I had never thought to do before, and we covered so much ground in every way. I’d highly recommend these experiences, which felt very personal and not touristy. Our only negative was that I’d think twice about a bike tour in Barcelona for an 8 year old. But half of us continued with that same bike tour and loved it. The trip planner absolutely added value by booking fantastic, charming, perfectly located hotels and booking such incredible unique experiences like our cooking class and our tapas and pintxos tours that make a short trip feel SO full of culture, new experiences, new tastes, new friends. Bravo!!
Costa Rica: rafting, rappelling, chocolate workshop…
JASON GRAPSKI | SEPTEMBER 8, 2023
My family of five spent 10 days in Costa Rica at the end of August, 2023. Our trip was planned by Irene (and her team) who lives locally in the region. We were looking for engaging adventure while staying in higher-end hotels that could easily accommodate a setup for a family (villas or adjoining rooms). Our trip was an amazing, wonderful family event that we’ll remember for a lifetime. The overall experience with Irene, from the initial scoping of a potential trip, to the selection of regions and hotels, to the detailed planning of daily activities, and the real-time adjustments during the trip, was top-notch. Our family includes three teenage children, so we were looking for adventure. Irene delivered. My wife has several dietary restrictions, so we needed hotels and restaurants that would accommodate us. Irene delivered. We had heard from several friends that Costa Rica provided the best family vacation their family ever experienced. We now feel exactly the same way.
For those interested in more specifics, please continue to read. We spent 5 days in La Fortuna, residing at the Nayara Tented Camp, in a family tent that easily accommodated the five of us comfortably (no bed sharing for the kids!). The hotel was absolutely magical, and we want to go back. We did a chocolate workshop at Two Little Monkeys, which was a highlight for us, and well worth the drive out of town. Irene organized our excursions to the Hanging Bridges, the zip lines that rip down a mountain and a canyoning tour that had us rappelling down waterfalls. All were amazing, with the rappelling being the family’s collective favorite. We also had a dedicated driver and larger van that accompanied us for our entire chapter in Arenal (hola Jonathan!), which we highly recommend.
We hopped a short flight and spent the last 5 days in the Manuel Antonio region. The hotel, Arenas del Mar, had a fantastic beach and wonderful restaurant. The wildlife was very active, including the white-faced monkeys that were a permanent fixture on the hotel grounds. For adventure, we got to paddle class III and IV rapids and we had a epic day surfing.
Some final random thoughts: The flights in and out of San Jose were easy. The short-hop domestic flights were incredibly convenient and worth the small extra cost vs. driving for 4-5 hours between destinations. I can’t emphasize enough how much we appreciated the dedicated travel van and driver in La Fortuna.
We will partner with Wendy Perrin/Irene for any future trip to Costa Rica (we will be back). And given the strength of our experience with our Costa Rica adventure, we will certainly turn to Wendy Perrin to help us explore other parts of the world.
Azores: hot springs, volcano hikes, food & wine tours…
TONY FORD-HUTCHINSON | SEPTEMBER 6, 2023
For those of us who live on the East Coast of the USA, the Azores are the closest point to somewhere with a European and Portuguese feel. One of our guides (an American ex-pat) described them as a cross between Iceland (they are so volcanic), Ireland (they are so green) and Hawaii (a holiday destination in the middle of an ocean). Our trip with our daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters (aged 9 and 11) started with a direct 5.5 h flight from Newark airport. Flights arrive in San Miguel Island, the most populated, and we spent the first three nights in the luxurious Octant Furnas Hotel in Furnas, The hotel is surrounded by hot springs bringing boiling water to the surface. Highlights there were the food, including preparing and cooking a traditional stew which is buried in the hot ground for several hours, the hotel’s super warm, mineral swimming pool and a hike up a mountain side to Lagoa de Fogo (a lake in a former volcanic cone) followed by a swim on the beach. We then took a short flight to the volcanic Island of Pico famous for its mountain (a former volcano of course) and its outstanding white wine. During 5 nights in Pico, we took two day trips on ferries to the neighboring islands of Faial and Sao Jorge. Highlights were a trip through the lava tubes on Pico, visits to wineries and a hike around the Caldera on Faial. After flying back to San Miguel for our last 3 nights we were driven to our hotel on the Ponta Delgada harbor front (Octant Ponta Delgada). Highlights included a private whale watching trip with great sightings of three female sperm whales (one with a calf), an evening wine and food tasting tour, a morning food tour, a Jeep tour of the Lagoa das Sete Cidades and finally a tour of the tea plantations with an opportunity to make our own ice cream. Throughout the trip we had excellent local food and wine, including ultra-fresh seafood and excellent beef (cows outnumber people on the islands). A 5-hour flight home took us back to Newark with the realization that we still had 5 more islands to explore! Thank you to Goncalo and his co-workers for a great trip that left a multi-generational family very happy.
Ecuador: hotel stay in the Galapagos, hacienda on the mainland…
JUDY WIMPFHEIMER | SEPTEMBER 6, 2023
Another fantastic trip thanks to our travel planner, Allie, found through the Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. We just returned from The Galapagos Islands with our adult children, our 6-year old granddaughter and our adult nephew and his partner. It was a trip we will all remember.
Working with Allie was a pleasure. She responded quickly and thoroughly to every question asked and, whenever we threw her a curveball (i.e. we’d like to add two more people to our group; or could this trip be done more economically), she just made it happen. At each stop, we were met at the airport by local guides and escorted to our destination. Allie fully prepared us for what we would need at the airports, and her people on the ground negotiated the airport transfers smoothly.
Our trip started in Guayaquil, where we had one day before heading to The Galapagos Islands. Allie sent us to La Danesa, a gorgeous, working hacienda! We visited the cacao plantation and participated in making chocolate from start to finish. Delicious! We also milked cows, went horseback riding and bicycling, and had a wonderful lunch. The grounds are beautiful and luxurious and we could have spent much more time there.
We traveled to The Galapagos the next day, where we met our wonderful guide, Viviana. She was truly one of the highlights of the trip. As a native of The Galapagos, she was knowledgeable and could share information in a way that was interesting to all of us. Even our 6-year-old peppered her with questions! We stayed on land at the Ikala Hotel, which had nice rooms, a lovely breakfast and restaurant area and a pool and lounge area which we all enjoyed. In our five days on the islands, our time was filled with varied and fascinating activities. We went to the Giant Tortoise Reserve; saw the lava caves and tubes; spent an incredible day walking along the beach at Tortuga Bay and snorkeling in the calmer area. We were met there by a photographer who spent an hour taking photos, which will be made into an album. We had days of boating to areas where we could go snorkeling and there we saw turtles, sea lions, blue-footed boobies, iguanas, pelicans, baby sharks and schools and schools of fish. One of the standout activities was a morning at Las Grietas, which is a swimming hole at the bottom of a lava-created crevasse. It was completely private and truly one of the highlights of our trip. On our last day, three scuba-certified family members went diving and they absolutely loved their day! I could go on and on because every activity that was planned for us was incredible. My only regret – we should have stayed longer!
Iceland: adventuring with teenage grandsons…
BARBARA FIERMAN | SEPTEMBER 6, 2023
From our first conversation with Chris, my husband Bob and I were “wowed” by his enthusiasm for Iceland travel. That, and his preference for a trip in which we did the driving and much of the touring on our own, with specialized guides at key sites, made choosing Chris’ operation an easy decision.
The timing, both time of year and number of days, was perfect for a trip with our two 14-year-old grandsons. We had plenty of time to explore the south coast, spending more time where we chose to. We knew that the boys would love adventure and Chris provided ample opportunity for that. We explored caves, a geyser, and many waterfalls, hiked in national parks and in an ice cave, and kayaked at sunset through a glacial lagoon.
Most visitors to Iceland have opportunities to soak in thermal baths, such as the famous Blue Lagoon. But I doubt if many get to hike to a heated river, where the guide blocks the water flow, thereby creating a pool for private soaking, and cooks your meal over the heated rocks.
Chris provided top-notch guides and special, unusual experiences. His restaurant recommendations were excellent (especially in Reykjavik) and hotel choices were perfect for us. He was available to trouble-shoot if needed.
Bob, Tyler, Ben and I give Chris a thumbs-up across the board.
Southern Africa: Victoria Falls, Cape Town, safari…
DAVID WEINSTEIN | SEPTEMBER 5, 2023
Cherri and Frankie were excellent! We told them our requirements were Victoria Falls, Cape Town, and animals at any time of the year they thought best. They put together a three-week trip in August to three different environments — wooded along the river at Anabezi Camp in Lower Zambezi, Zambia, the Okavango Delta, Bostwana at Shinde Camp, and the Camp Kalahari in the Kalahari desert, Botswana. I had not considered visiting the Kalahari, but Cherri highly recommended it and she was right. All were excellent — comfortable, well run, with top-notch guides, and very good food. We saw many lions, elephants, hippos, wild dogs, beautiful birds, and many other animals up close.
Most importantly, Frankie cheerfully answered our many questions and all the accommodations and guides they recommended were terrific. The planning was excellent and we felt comfortable and well taken care of every step of the way. My wife’s dietary issues were easily and well handled at each camp.
I would like to mention a couple highlights, but every day was a highlight — meerkats on our head, up close with a lion chowing down on a kudu, leopards seemingly posing for us atop a termite mound, twice watching packs of wild dogs hunt, boat rides, etc., etc, . . .
We thought going on a safari would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience literally and figuratively. However, we already agreed to do another one, and will not hesitate to contact Cherri and Frankie when we do.
Bali: holiday festivities, village visit, snorkeling…
BRENDON LEWIS | SEPTEMBER 4, 2023
Our family of four, including 11- and 14-year-old sons, traveled to Bali in early August 2023. During our 10 days in Bali, we felt like we learned a lot about the Balinese culture. We arrived during the Galungan holiday and were amazed by the penjors decorating every street and the processions of worshippers walking in the street as we drove around the island. A highlight from our itinerary was the visit to a local village where we learned about rice farming, ate a delicious home-cooked meal, and played gamelan with the villagers. We also enjoyed our snorkeling trip to Menjangan Island and exploring the city of Ubud. All of the people we met in Bali were very kind and welcoming to us. Our guides Agung and Made, and driver Agus, took great care of us during our stay and taught us about the Balinese culture. We were sad to say goodbye when they dropped us off at the airport at the end of our stay.
Diane was extremely helpful in the planning of our trip. After a phonecall to discuss our family’s interests, she put together an excellent itinerary. Over the months leading up to our trip, she was exceptionally responsive to our questions and provided us with lots of information to help with the planning of our trip. It was a pleasure working with her.
Dubai & Abu Dhabi: beating the heat in summer
DIANE THORMODSGARD | AUGUST 28, 2023
My husband and I took our grandsons (ages 14 and 13) to UAE at the end of July for 10 days. We told our grandchildren many years ago they could pick any place in the world for a trip. Dubai was the choice! Although we were skeptical about going there during the summer when it is very hot, Nicholas designed an itinerary that suited all of us perfectly. He listened to our desire to give the boys an unforgettable experience and delivered.
We started in Dubai with a stay at Atlantis the Palm, including exclusive Imperial Club access, after being met with VIP service at the airport. The boys enjoyed Aquaventure and the pool. We also had a Dubai historical tour, visited Museum of the Future, went to the “top of the Burj Khalifa,” had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise with a crew of four that provided excellent service.
After leaving Dubai, we ventured to Al Maha, a luxury desert resort. What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite (boys had their own Bedouin suite), a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset, early morning falconry presentation for the grandparents, and excellent food. Our only regret is we wished we would have spent more than one night there so we could have enjoyed other activities like archery, more time in the pool and watching the many gazelles and rare Arabian Oryx on the property. As the boys said, “this is really cool!”
The next stop was Abu Dhabi, where we stayed at the WB Hotel by Hilton, which is conveniently located near many of the theme parks. After touring Abu Dhabi, which included a tour of the Grand Mosque, we finished our trip with visits to Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and the recently opened (May) Sea World. All of the parks are covered so the hot weather was not an issue. The new Sea World is absolutely incredible. Ferrari World was the highlight, however, with an individual Ferrari car ride on nearby roads with a professional driver for each grandson.
The trip was a nice mix of history, amazing architecture, and entertainment. The guides and drivers were always early, very professional and top-notch. They readily adjusted our tours (like less shopping time) to cater to our interests. Nicholas was available during the trip for any issues or questions we had. He started working with us to plan the trip 7 months before we traveled and never hesitated to make himself available.
I would highly recommend Nicholas and staff if you are planning a trip to UAE. It was very obvious he has strong relationships with local service providers and is very knowledgeable about the area. We were definitely able to experience a “trip of our lifetime” for our grandsons and us!
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Italy: private villa on Lake Como
ADAM AMSTERDAM | AUGUST 25, 2023
We worked with Andrea and her excellent team to rent a wonderful villa for three weeks in Ossuccio, a small comune on the western shore of Lake Como (about 12 miles northeast of the city of Como). Andrea’s team found the perfect villa for us and our two adult children and made all the necessary arrangements with the owner and property manager. They even made sure that any groceries and household items we wanted were ordered and stocked for our arrival. Andrea arranged a day trip to Bergamo with a great English-speaking guide. If you’re within a two-hour drive I highly recommend visiting Bergamo. She also arranged a cooking class for us in Bellagio with an award-winning celebrity chef. We made beautiful tri-color pasta and feasted on a delicious lunch. Andrea also arranged a boat with an English-speaking captain to take us to several towns along the western and eastern shores of Lake Como where we stopped for lunch, shopping, and gelato. I also must mention that we had a WOW Moment, which was a romantic dinner for my wife and me on the terrace of the Grand Hotel Tremezzo overlooking Lake Como and the twinkling lights of Bellagio, all framed by the pre-Alps in the distance. This was our third trip to Italy planned by Andrea and her team as our travel experts and I wouldn’t think of planning anything in Italy without them.
Southern Africa: safari, Cape Town, Victoria Falls…
MILINDA MARTIN | AUGUST 20, 2023
My daughter and I had the most incredible trip to South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, as organized by Cherri, Katie and Sara. They were all outstanding and so easy to work with. One thing I always appreciate about your specialists is their desire to understand my particular travel needs and desires. We started with 5 days in Cape Town and Cherri kindly said that we would be best served by working with a local specialist, so she introduced us to Chantell McBain at Chalan Africa. Chantell did an excellent job of organizing our time in Cape Town, mixing up our need for outdoor activities — hiking and biking — with cultural and historical highlights. Her local guides were so willing to share information on the past and present challenges in South Africa, and we really felt we made new friends.
Then, off to Camp Moremi in Botswana, where we did 7 jeep drives that brought us so close to all the animals. Having been in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater before, I really appreciated the small and intimate camps in Botswana. When we found animals, there were only 2-3 jeeps and we did not crowd them. This allowed us to see animals mating, feeding, nursing, fighting, and other activities that are just part of life. Both Camp Moremi and Camp Okavango were beautiful, with kind staff members and great food. At Camp Okavango, which is surrounded by water, our safaris were by boat, canoe and on foot. We loved this — the quiet, the birds, the alarm calls! Once, on walking safari, we encountered a male elephant at close range. Our guide Taps quickly advised us on how to act and proceed. We felt entirely safe, and at the same time, were within 10 feet of the elephant. He even sniffed us!
We dearly loved Botswana, a beautiful place with charming people, but it was time to head to Victoria Falls. The land border crossing was a challenge, but we knew that would be the case in advance. Thankfully, the Palm River Hotel was excellent and we truly enjoyed the waterfalls. People recommended spending 2 hours on the walk along the falls. We were so captivated, we were there for 6, and especially enjoyed watching some slack-liners making their way across the gorge.
Our final stop was at Dulini Leadwood in Sabi Sands, and I have to say, this was beyond fantastic. The camp is beautifully designed and ever-so-comfortable. Our guide Mac and tracker Prince were so knowledgeable and within one day, we saw all of the Big 5 animals! Again, we were able to watch animal behaviors that are so rare, such as a leopard with her 3-month-old cub, playing. The family at Dulini are beyond service-oriented and the food is, quite simply, Michelin-star quality.
While we moved around a lot on this trip, every transfer was perfectly organized. We never had to worry about the timing or if we were in the right place. I was always confident knowing Cherri’s team were ensuring all went smoothly. While an African safari is never inexpensive, this one surely met all the criteria of “trip of a lifetime.” My daughter and I were profoundly affected by the emphasis on sustainability and respect/harmony with nature. She has some special dietary needs, and Cherri’s office ensured that she had options everywhere we want. Truly, we were pampered!
This is my 5th trip with one of Wendy’s experts, and we have 2 more coming up. I love doing my own travel planning, but when going somewhere that has myriad options and connections, it’s just so much easier with one of your travel planners. Thanks so much.
Greece: Athens, Paros, Santorini…
AMANDA MANDEL | AUGUST 17, 2023
We had one of our best family trips in years, thanks to Maria’s colleague, Irene.
Irene was attentive to our needs and interests from the very start, and always available to answer a question or provide excellent recommendations. She was also highly available and responsive during our trip, on the occasions we needed a quick activity change to meet the needs of our two teens, or for a meal and activity out of the heat.
We started in Athens, where Irene booked us in a spacious, modern “apartment” at The Dolli, which had excellent service and food. The rooftop pool overlooking the Acropolis was a huge plus given the heat, and the day trip to the ruins at Delphi was a family favorite.
Then it was on to Paros, where we enjoyed the beautiful accommodations and staff attention at the Minois Hotel. Our teens loved the amazing outdoor space with our own small pool, as well as the resident cats. Our most favorite day of the trip was on a speed boat, where we traveled to the Blue Lagoon, went cliff jumping, and visited remote beaches in Antiparos and Despatiko. Nikos, our driver/guide, was fabulous, and we had a delicious lunch on board.
We then ferried to Santorini, where we stayed in the breathtaking Grace Hotel. The geology, ruins, and small towns in Santorini didn’t disappoint, and we enjoyed special attention at dinners that Irene arranged and various recommended restaurants, some off the “beaten path.” We also loved our fascinating guided tour to Akrotiri, a town even older than Pompeii that was also destroyed — and then preserved — due to a massive volcanic explosion.
Our meals, guides, and hotels were all impeccable, and even with the heat and crowds, we always felt supported and well taken care of. We would highly recommend Irene and the team to anyone planning a trip to Greece.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Mexico City and Oaxaca: A grandmother-granddaughter adventure
HELEN BLUMEN | AUGUST 17, 2023
My 16-year-old granddaughter and I spent 10 days in Mexico City and Oaxaca in August 2023, and we had a wonderful time! We especially loved the cooking lesson with a wonderful Zapotec lady, and the menu was adjusted for teenager tastes so that we ate quesadillas and chiles rellenos. Another highlight was the balloon ride to see the pyramids at Teotihuacan. We are grateful for Zach’s team’s flexibility when our original flight was delayed.
Italy: history in Florence, food & wine in Tuscany…
ANDY ROBINSON | AUGUST 17, 2023
We just returned from a 12-day trip to Florence (2 days) and various other parts of Tuscany (8 days). This was a hybrid trip for us, as we planned some minor excursions on our own, but Andrea and her team worked with us and set up some great tours in Florence (despite our short stay) and experiences around Greve-in-Chianti, where we were based. While we had been to Florence before (also arranged by Andrea), the other couple we were with had not, so Stefano arranged separate tours on the same day for each of us which culminated in a private sunset cruise on the Arno (thank you Sylvia for your animated and attentive commentary—lots of fun). Our enthusiastic and passionate guides, Chiara, Sarah and Sylvia, brought Florence’s history and culture to life making the tours of the city, the Academy, Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens and the Oltrarno District both informative and entertaining. The Brunelleschi Hotel, where we stayed, is a beautifully appointed property, centrally located with great service and amenities. The staff was very professional and accommodating. Highly recommended.
On to Greve-in-Chianti. We stayed at the Borgo del Cabreo, another beautiful property located on a vineyard high above the town offering a 360-degree view of the Tuscan countryside. Breathtaking, especially while sipping our morning coffee or enjoying an aperitivo by the pool at sunset. Rooms are big and the beds are very comfortable. Staff is very friendly but do be aware that you must have a car to get down to the village and there is no on-site shuttle but taxis are available. We had a car so it was not an issue for us. The breakfast spread is outstanding.
Our excursion to Montalcino and Pienza was sensational as was our driver Giovanni. We are big Brunello fans and Andrea’s team arranged a great experience for us at the small, family-owned Poggio Rubino vineyard. What a great day—we got the the tour of the winemaking operations and then sat down for a homemade Tuscan lunch (thank you Nonna) to accompany our very generous and expertly paced Brunello tasting. A great experience. Do it, but make sure you have Giovanni there to take you home. Since we probably overstayed our welcome at Poggio Rubino, our time in Pienza was brief but still worthwhile—even if just for the aroma of the cheese and truffles that surrounded us as we wandered down the streets.
The following day we drove to the Antinori-owned Fonte de Medici estate, where we took a pasta-making class with Ellis followed by a 5-course tasting menu at the Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria Passignano just down the road. Wow. Both experiences were eye-opening and a treat for all the senses. Not enough room to really give these experiences their due but the meal was a show-stopper and the pasta class was revelatory. Ellis is a great teacher with a sharp sense of humor. We loved him. Our only advice is don’t drive there and maybe don’t do them back-to-back. A must-do experience. Thank you, Stefano and Andrea.
All in all, this was another fantastic trip arranged by Andrea and her team. Thank you to the guides and the hosts at all of the properties. Looking forward to our next adventure.
Kenya: safari for 3 generations…
DAVID MAGDANZ | AUGUST 13, 2023
To celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, we decided we wanted to take our two daughters and their families on an African safari. The trip Daniel planned for us was fantastic. Since we and our daughters live in 3 different U.S. cities, we met in Nairobi and stayed for 2 nights. The accommodations at the House of Waine were outstanding and the staff very accommodating, given two of our arrivals were very late and the 4 grandkids varied in age from 6 to 13. This gave us time to get over some jet lag and see some of Nairobi. We then flew via private charter for 4 nights to a Saruni camp in Samburu, followed by another private charter to a Saruni camp in Maasai Mara for 4 nights, before returning to Nairobi for our flights home. Daniel made all these arrangements.
The staff and guides at the camps were friendly and went out of their way to please us. The facilities were spacious and first-rate. The food was outstanding and the kitchen staff worked hard to accommodate the kids that were somewhat picky eaters. They had a special celebration for our anniversary at all three locations. They also celebrated one of our son-in-law’s birthdays while we were on the trip with a cake and singing at each location..
Samburu is semi-arid and Maasai Mara lush and green. It was great to see the two different areas and experience the different as well as similar animals in each. Daniel is the one that recommended the two different areas and we are quite happy he did. The pace of the trip which he planned was good; having 4 days at each camp gave us the time to truly experience and appreciate each area.
Our experience suggests that other travelers should pace their trip similar to ours. Two of our international flights were extremely late and having 2 nights in Nairobi before going to the safari camps allowed us to catch our breath. Also spending 4 nights at a camp allows you to settle in and appreciate the uniqueness of the location.
Seeing all the animals with our extended family at each location made this a special travel experience. Some of the most outstanding were seeing the 5 animals unique to the Samburu area, lions along with some cubs, leopards, cheetah, elephants, giraffes and hippos. The sundowners and meals in the bush also were very special times. Of these, the most memorable was having a bush dinner with an open bonfire and full moon celebrating our anniversary. Local folks came in their native dress, danced and sang. They encouraged the kids and adults to participate and we all had a grand time.
We would not have had all these wonderful experiences if it had not been for Daniel. After listening to what we wanted for the trip, he put it together recognizing our unique situation with 3 families and 4 children. When we had questions, he responded within a day and often sooner. He guided us through the procedures to get a Kenya visa as well as medical requirements and considerations, what to bring and packing limitations for the private small-plane air charters. When we go on safari again, Daniel will be our planner.
Disney World & Universal: Room upgrade, VIP guide…
ADAM LEWIS | AUGUST 13, 2023
Our entire family had an AMAZING Disney and Universal Trip — we are very thankful to Michelle and the rest of her team. My wife and I have three daughters — 14, 13 & 10. We planned 4 of our own previous trips to Disney, but we knew we wanted to have a new/different experience so we contacted Michelle. We spent 7 nights at the Yacht and Beach Club, with 5 days at Disney parks and 2 days at Universal — July 31st – August 7th. The original planning call included a 60-minute Zoom with Michelle and team where we shared what we have enjoyed on previous trips but learned from Michelle how we could enjoy new and unique experiences. Some of the unique experiences for us were an upgraded room to Club Level at the Beach Club, which included access to an exclusive lounge with staff, small plates, coffee and drinks. They also secured a VIP guide on the day of our daughter’s birthday and our last day at Universal. My wife and I were busy with family things leading up to the vacation, but we hardly had to do anything because Michelle and team took care of the personalized itinerary and all reservations. They also provided stellar intra-travel support when I threw them a couple of audibles — they were very gracious and responsive.
We will always use Michelle’s office for future family Disney trips, as they are indispensable. The girls are already talking me into a trip to Disney in Anaheim and given we have never been, I’m confident Michelle’s team will make it a breeze and a slam-dunk.
Mexico: after-hours museum tour, mezcal tasting…
KENNETH BOHAN | AUGUST 12, 2023
Special thanks to Zach and his team for an extraordinary tour! We decided to engage Zach based on the recommendations of good friends and Wendy Perrin advocates who visited Mexico last year. I appreciate the time that they spent curating such a unique experience! Simply put, Zach and his team listened.
Our plan was to explore Mexico City after attending a conference and finishing up in Oaxaca. Our guide Jaime, a professor at the University, introduced us to the highlights and historical center of Mexico City. He provided us cultural, social and historical background which made our visit all the more relevant and personal. The conference had some last-minute schedule changes which affected our itinerary. In short, we had to actually flip days and tour on a Sunday rather than the originally planned Saturday. Senior Coordinator Ileana handled the switch with grace and was able to make everything work seamlessly! This is what working with a pro is all about! Jaime made us feel like locals by accompanying us to Lucha Libre, the freestyle Mexican wrestling which was an immersion in culture! The next morning came very early with an exhilarating, not-to-be-missed balloon ride over the pyramids, followed by a delicious breakfast and tour of the Teotihuacan sight! Finally, I must mention a true highlight of Mexico City, our private after-hours tour of the Anthropology Museum. The stunning expanse of structure filled with artistic treasures could have been overwhelming. Our knowledgeable guide provided us with just enough detail to allow us to walk away with a sense of awe for the culture of Mexico.
Off to Oaxaca where we met our first guide Juan. After checking into our hotel that started as a 16th-century convent, we were treated to a mezcal tasting to learn about the spirit that is taking the world by storm. Afterwards we had dinner of grilled Tlayuda, the traditional tortilla that falls into the category of ultimate comfort food! For the next few days, our skilled guide Gabriel immersed us in the culture and history of Oaxaca. From churches, art galleries, museums and historic sights Monte Alban and Mitla, Gabriel’s impressive knowledge of so many subjects became apparent. I must mention that Zach’s restaurant choices in Oaxaca were fantastic! Each restaurant was unique and charming on their own merit, a perfect complement to our stay. Oaxaca is one of the most sought-after travel destinations and it is certainly apparent why. Thank you, Zach and team, for such an incredible experience!
Canada: New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia…
PHIL HOCH | AUGUST 12, 2023
We just returned from a trip to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and could not be happier that we chose Jill Curran as our travel expert. Jill was always accessible, even during high season and during both the massive fires and floods the area experienced. With her first-priority travelers on the ground, she always had time for us and our concerns about impact on our trip.
Jill was excellent at listening to our thoughts and wishes and crafted a beautiful itinerary that kept us mostly focused on smaller towns and areas for walking/hiking. From St Andrews to Saint Martin we could not have had a better introduction to the Bay of Fundy and life outside the big cities. Of particular note were our guides. Genny was fabulous in St Andrews and got us on Ministers Island, which you can only drive to at low tide. In St Martin, Mike, Jordan and Joe from Bay of Fundy Adventures took us hiking/walking, kayaking in the Bay, and best of all—our WOW Moment. We were treated to a private lobster dinner on the Bay of Fundy, watching the tide disappear, with enough scallops, lobster and more to feed us for a week. We tried to eat it all and failed!
Just prior to our starting the trip, one of the guide companies closed and Jill seamlessly found Bay of Fundy Adventures as a substitute and was able to get us a room at the quaint and lovely St Martin Inn. We felt incredibly lucky to stay there, hosted by Lynnette and served by Maggie. I would suggest everyone put this town and these suppliers on their itinerary.
We enjoyed walking the dunes at Greenwich beach on PEI and seeing the East Point lighthouse. On Nova Scotia, the grave site of Titanic victims, the boardwalk along the Halifax waterfront, and stops at Peggy’s Cove, Lunenburg and Mahone Bay were part of the final days of a trip we loved from start to finish.
Italy: Tuscan coast, Rome, prime seats for Andrea Bocelli…
SUSAN KETCHUM | AUGUST 8, 2023
My husband and I just returned from Italy. Our travel dates were July 21-31.
Jennifer planned this amazing trip for us. Normally we would not travel to Italy in July…too hot and too crowded. However, our goal was to see Andrea Bocelli perform at the amphitheater he built in Tuscany called Teatro del Silenzio in Lajatico, his hometown. The theater is “silent” except for the one concert he performs there each year in July, and we felt it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The concert was taking place during the middle of our time in Italy, so we needed an agenda before and after.
We have planned other trips with Jennifer’s expert advice over the years in France and Italy and knew she would be the one to make this happen for us.
She suggested we start our trip on the Tuscan coast, staying 4 nights at the Hotel Il Pellicano. This gorgeous, iconic property overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea providing cool breezes throughout the day and evening, a welcome relief from the heat in Europe this summer. Heaven in July! We then traveled inland to the countryside of Tuscany for the next 4 nights, where we would be closer to the Bocelli concert. Borgo Pignano is an elegant country estate close to the hill towns of Volterra and San Gimignano. A perfect location that we would never have found on our own. Again the temperature dropped in the mornings and evenings, making it very pleasant for al fresco dining and touring.
While at these locations, Jennifer arranged for driver/guides to transport us to several wineries. A standout was Ornellaia. Not an easy tour to arrange, and Jennifer managed it!
The Bocelli concert was beyond our expectations. The tickets that Jennifer and her team secured were front and center, 5 rows back from the stage. We will never forget it. It was more than a concert, it was a masterful production with a full orchestra, ballet company, chorus and guest artists, from opera to pop. Magical.
Because we were flying home from Rome, we stayed 2 nights at the Six Senses Hotel in Rome, which just opened in March. Another superb recommendation.
We trust Jennifer and her team to ensure all the details are taken care of, from the meet-and-greets at the airport, the professional drivers, and the knowledgeable guides. A member of her team is in constant contact with texts each day giving all the details of the next day’s itinerary, including the names of the drivers and guides. It takes away any anxiety…we just have to show up!
Jennifer’s advice is invaluable to us and we consider her a friend. We will definitely call on Jennifer again!
We have used other WOW List advisors with the same excellent results and will continue to use Wendy Perrin’s great resources when we travel.
South Africa & Botswana: whale-watching, ancient caves, safari…
LYNN CASPER | AUGUST 7, 2023
Just back from South Africa and Botswana! My two children and I celebrated my son’s college graduation by taking a trip for the ages! We worked with Christian from Julian’s office, who put together an itinerary that included places we had not even considered. Five days in South Africa included the awe-inspiring Grootbos Nature Preserve at the bottom of the continent. We explored ancient caves, went whale watching, hiking and thoroughly enjoyed the unforgettable cuisine at Grootbos! We loved our guide Hosea who gave us such in-depth history and cultural insight on the area. It was a small gesture, but my kids really appreciated Hosea taking them into a local market in Cape Town’s Bo-Kapp neighborhood to enjoy a mid-day snack.
After a day touring and hiking on the magnificent Table Mountain, we set off to Botswana for 6 days at 3 different safari camps. Each camp was in a different ecosystem, which was something we never would have considered and were so appreciative of Christian to plan in that manner. I knew I would see the animals but did not expect to learn so much from the guides at each camp. The magnificent birds were also an unexpected surprise. The delicious food and lovely staff will never be forgotten and really made the trip our favorite so far!
Kudos to Christian Harrison for setting up this amazing experience!
Newfoundland & Nova Scotia: hikes, history, wildlife…
CHRISTINA BROWN | AUGUST 7, 2023
My husband and I just got back from a marvelous trip to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia planned by Jill, July 9 – July 24. We told Jill we liked comfort but valued friendliness and expertise over all else, and she really delivered. In St John’s, she got the author of a well-known history of Newfoundland to give us a long walking tour, including a stop into an officers’ private club from WW2 perfectly preserved. We saw amazing whales and puffins on a boat tour. We drove to the Bonavista Peninsula where we stayed at the amazing Fishers Loft Inn (what a view) and hiked the Skerwink trail. I thought the height of the trail might intimidate but it was fantastic.
From there we drove to the trip’s highlight, Fogo Island and the Fogo Island Inn, which is honestly the nicest, most comfortable place I ever stayed. The Inn was created by a not-for-profit foundation to employ the local community and keep its economy alive. The service is unbeatable—as though your cousins were keeping an eye out for you. The food was great too, and there were more awesome hikes. Don’t miss the boat ride to Little Fogo Island; we saw icebergs and dozens of whales.
The second week, we moved on to Nova Scotia, starting out with two great days in Halifax—don’t miss the boardwalk along the waterfront! We visited Prince Edward Island (lovely drive), but ran into difficulty driving back as there was terrible flooding between us and our next destination. On a moment’s notice, Jill nabbed the last hotel room in little Truro, Nova Scotia, so we stayed safe and dry despite unforeseen circumstances. I cannot say enough good things about Jill’s responsiveness. Newfoundland should be on everyone’s bucket list!
Southern Africa: city life & safari…
THERESA SANDOVAL | AUGUST 6, 2023
We just returned from a remarkable trip to Southern Africa, as planned Dan. Our guides (along with the animals, of course!) were incredible, with each day bringing a new, exciting adventure. We met artists, designers, and entrepreneurs in Johannesburg and Cape Town who we would not have met without our well-connected guides. And then we went on safari! The animals did not disappoint, and neither did the lodges. Our seasoned rangers taught us so much about the wildlife and helped us to feel more connected to the experience. Every driver and guide provided our family excellent service from beginning to end. We would love to visit again someday soon!
Vietnam: 12 days for a solo traveler
KATHERINE ALBERT | AUGUST 5, 2023
In my 85 years, I have seen a lot of the world. This trip to Vietnam was among the most wonderful journeys I have undertaken. It was eventful, enlightening, and altogether happy. I am very grateful to Wendy for referring me to Ethan and Sandy. They meticulously coordinated every detail of a packed agenda. They had wonderful ideas about how an older person like me could get the most out of the trip. As a result, it went off without a hitch—smooth sailing all the way. The hotels were all excellent, with an array of amenities. The food was an adventure in and of itself. It varied slightly from region to region but was pretty phenomenal everywhere. The weather was hot but tolerable, with almost no rain.
All my guides were great. Each brought their own perspectives and personal style to the job, which made things interesting; but they were uniformly competent, knowledgeable, accommodating, resourceful—even funny. From them, I learned things I did not know about Vietnam. For example, I did not realize that Vietnam is in some ways still a divided nation. I was very glad that my guides were candid about the contradictions and tensions between North and South. It was important to learn from them both how far the country has come in its long struggle for peace and independence and how much still needs to be done. I came away richer for that knowledge.
The beauty of the country is simply astonishing—water everywhere; flowers in abundance; the grandeur of Ha Long Bay; the backdrop of mountains and the natural grace of the landscape. The richness and diversity of Vietnamese culture and its history were evident everywhere, from the old city of Hanoi to Chinatown in Saigon. Bustling markets, temple after beautiful temple. And then the Maison Centrale (aka the Hanoi Hilton), a quaint name given by the French to a horribly brutal prison. On the other end of the spectrum, Ho’s tomb was uplifting. Though it was closed for renovation, it was moving to see the changing of the guard and the grounds surrounding the tomb where Ho lived and worked.
In the beautiful city of Hue, my guide did a good job of keeping the WOW Moment secret until we arrived at the home of Bon and Tchi (I’m sure I am misspelling their names—doing it from phonetic memory). Their hospitality was amazing, and the meal we shared was really good! Their grandson proved to be an excellent waiter; and their son was a pleasure to talk to. I very much enjoyed exploring their overgrown backyard, which contained everything from chickens to the elaborate tomb of Bon’s father. What a trip, in the 60s sense of the word. Thanks a million for setting that up!
There were unexpected “off-road” moments. In Hanoi, a visit to a gallery of (very impressive) contemporary Vietnamese painting; in Hoi An, a dinner at home with my guide, his wife and two boys; in Saigon, a serendipitous trip through back alleys to an orthodox Jewish Chabad, on the sabbath no less. Though I was not able to do any daredevil Vespa-riding, I did have a spin on the back of a bike in small villages on the Mekong. I even managed to cross the street all by myself—six times if my recollection is correct.
These are just some of the most memorable experiences I had. I have bored many friends and colleagues with reams of detail. I have also sung your praises. Again, my thanks to Wendy, Ethan and Sandy for a memorable trip. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Switzerland: hiking, raclette, local mountain festival…
LAURA ROBERTS | AUGUST 3, 2023
We traveled to Switzerland for 16 days in late June with the help of Ana Marquez. I asked a lot of her because we were traveling with our 4 grown children, our daughter-in-law, and our 10-month-old granddaughter. She did a great job of finding interesting activities that all 8 of us could enjoy! We hiked, had a raclette lunch in a candlelit cave, rafted, mountain-biked, wine-tasted, and much more! We had 3 major destinations—Zurich, Wengen and Ascona. Wengen was our favorite—beautiful views of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, accessible only by train and no cars in town. However, the true highlight was in the mountains near Ascona. There was a local alpine festival for the opening of a cattle-grazing area high in the mountains. Ana arranged for us to go by helicopter and see the local traditions — cheese making, eating polenta and alpine horns. We were the only foreigners there and the people were very welcoming! We loved this trip!!
Portugal: Lisbon, the Alentejo, beach time…
GINA SCHULMAN | JULY 30, 2023
We wanted to take a family trip for 2 weeks in July to Portugal with our two young children 7 and 2 years old. I had an idea of the areas I wanted to go but was unsure how to route it. We asked Goncalo and Joana Silva to plan an authentic, off-the-beaten-path look into the south of Portugal and the Alentejo and Lisbon, and we had a perfect time. Portugal is incredible! And it’s possible to beat the summer crowds. Everything was planned and executed perfectly from the minute we landed. We loved our day in Sintra and the coast at Azenas Do Mar with our guide Luís, and my son loved spending the day with our cooking teacher Claudia. We loved our apartment at Lumiares in Lisbon and the breakfasts on the rooftop. One of the highlights was our Costa Caparica beach day at Irmao. We felt like we were one of the only tourists and it felt like a slice of life for young Lisboans. Joana also got us a reservation at Belcanto, a very special experience for a parents’ night out. Another highlight of the trip were the people we met and the food at Craveiral Farmhouse. The kids loved to roam on their bikes and we found our favorite beach and fish shack on the beach on the quiet coastline of Costa Vincentina. We didn’t hear any English at these beaches and the water and coves were so unique. The most spectacular property we stayed at was Sao Lorrenco Borrocal in the Alentenjo. We had such a special time there, with delicious food and hospitality. We are so grateful to Joana for making sure we had large rooms at each of our hotels giving our family lots of space, and ease of rental car and drivers made everything stress-free. Portugal has quickly become one of our favorite places to visit and we plan on returning to see more of this beautiful country!
France: wine trip to Bordeaux, Champagne, & the Loire Valley
MICHELLE PRICE | JULY 29, 2023
Jennifer planned a glorious 14-day girls’ wine trip in France. Our itinerary was completely planned around our focus on wine. Every hotel, tour guide, driver, wine tasting, and dinner recommendation was perfection.
Our trip started with being met on the jet bridge by Sofiane, who was literally waiting outside the airplane door. He whisked us through passport control, helped with baggage and escorted us to the awaiting car. This was the first time utilizing the service for passport control, and I am a big fan!
We had a wonderful day in Bordeaux visiting three Grand Cru Classe chateaux with private tours and wine tasting. Our driver, Remy, was full of wine knowledge and helped us with our French. The tasting in the cellar at Chateau Pichon-Longueville was incredibly memorable.
In the Loire Valley our highlight was learning about the powerful women who owned Chenonceau castle. The highlight in Paris was a private cooking class in Veronique’s home (Cuisine Elegante). And dinner at Le Tout Paris was delicious, with an incredible view of the city—including the Eiffel Tower.
My personal favorite part of the trip was Champagne. Domaine Les Crayères was an outstanding hotel, and both meals were amazing (Le Jardin and Le Parc). We toured Reims Cathedral, Veuve Clicquot, and a small Champagne house, La Maison Penet, where we had a delightful lunch.
Italy: Tuscany, Florence & Sicily
JESSICA TOLMACH | JULY 29, 2023
Maria handled a multi-region, multi-person, multi-interest trip to Sicily, Florence and Tuscany wonderfully. Her attention to detail was particularly appreciated as we tend to squeeze into our trips just about as much as each day can handle.
We initially were doing just a week at a villa in Tuscany (with our 5 adult kids and their significant others), then expanded to include an additional week in Sicily with stays in 3 different regions—including a few days on an Aeolian island—and a weekend in Florence in between. All our transfers, ferries, small planes, cars, drivers, and guides were organized flawlessly and pulled off without a hitch. The guides were all knowledgable about art, architecture and history, which are our main interests. In addition, Maria acknowledged that large villa-renting was not her forte, so she collaborated with Patrice Salezze to find our dream spot—which she did! Patrice then secured a private chef for us and pointed us in the direction of some fabulous local spots in the area. Maria handled all the day activities, Patrice handled the villa. It was a great partnership.
Four special highlights that Maria secured for our group during our Tuscany stay: a spectacularly situated apartment in Siena overlooking the town square for perfect viewing of the wild, medieval, spectacular Palio horse race and dinner with the family who graciously opened their home, and shared wine, food and stories of the history of the races over the centuries. Another highlight was an outing with a truffle hunter and his dog into the hills and woods where the dog found truffles, and after we were hosted at their farmhouse overlooking the valley while they served us a multi-course lunch of truffle-focused dishes that were scrumptious, along with their own wines. We also adored a private tour and lunch prepared for us at a little-known but spectacular vineyard in Chianti with tastings paired with each course. And last but not least we will all remember forever our lunch at an agritourismo farm with a most generous host and chef that happily went on for hours on a glorious afternoon on their patio on the edge of their fields where we were served mind-blowing grilled meats and the best lasagna and tiramisu any of us has ever tasted. (My boys wanted to stay and work on the farm and never come home! And I got his grandmother’s recipes!) This trip in Tuscany was a first introduction to Italy for most of our kids and a 65th birthday celebration for Bruce and we wanted it to be memorable—it was just that!
P.S. Maria treated us to a WOW Moment that was truly WOW. We had a private tour of a villa in Noto, owned and lived in currently by a rare antiques collector who had refurbished and renovated this exquisite and over the top 100+ room villa unlike anything we’d ever seen. Most of the villa is not open to the public, by invitation only, so we felt we were peeking into a rarified world of fresco ceilings, breathtaking tiles, and hand-painted furniture that would be a museum by any other name. But it was a private, lived-in home where we were treated to a cocktail hour in the owner’s dining room with prosecco and appetizers. A treat! Thank you Maria.
Peru: Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Amazon…
APRIL DWORETZ | JULY 27, 2023
We travelled to Peru with the help of Mark. From beginning of planning to the last day of our trip (July 11-23, 2023) we had an incredibly great experience. Mark listened to our preferences and concerns, which resulted in an ideal trip for us. We stayed in hotels of our liking, ate amazing food, and stayed busy with one amazing activity after another. Our guide in the Sacred Valley and Cusco, Adriana, was knowledgeable, fun, flexible, and kind. In the Amazon, Mark snagged the best guide at the Inkaterra Amazonica Reserva, Javier, who shared the secrets of the Amazon. I can’t imagine a better birthday trip.
Indonesia: snorkeling, horseback riding, Buddhist relics…
CHRIS KLOES | JULY 26, 2023
Our trip to Indonesia vastly exceeded our high expectations! We thought Indonesia was an exceptionally beautiful country, with interesting history, gorgeous art and relics, and incredible food. And the people were unfailingly kind everywhere we went. We are grateful for Diane’s help. She helped shape this trip from the initial concept to the finished itinerary and also deftly managed a curveball along the way. She’s deeply knowledgeable and unflappable, exactly what you want from a travel planner. Highly, highly recommend her!
Our family trip (me, my husband, and my 12-year-old son) was 3 weeks long and had 4 distinct chapters, which flowed very well.
Diane helped us navigate a curveball at a destination we had initially planned to visit after the hotel was hit by lightning and had limited electricity as a result. Diane suggested a couple of alternatives and we decided to change that leg of the trip entirely. We are so glad we did and are so happy we went to Mt. Bromo! The Plataran Bromo was one of the best hotels we’ve stayed at in the world (and we’ve been to fabulous hotels in over 50 countries), both the facility, but especially the exceptional level of service. We met so many kind people there and ate truly delicious food. The staff went over-the-top to help our son, even going as far as to take him horseback riding while we enjoyed a massage. This was definitely our favorite of all of the lovely hotels and places we stayed. Our excursions were also very memorable. I mean, we rode horses across a sea of sand and climbed an active volcano! We especially appreciated the sunset tour of Mt. Bromo and the caldera. We were virtually alone to watch the sunset and had some unparalleled views.
Diane connected us to a local guide, Emmanuel, who was amazing. His English was excellent and he had a wealth of interesting info to share with us. We loved the sunrise breakfast at the hotel overlooking Borobudur, and especially appreciated the talk by the local guide who ran the breakfast. That guide had a deep knowledge of Borobudur and shared details about the history and importance of the temple. We also loved visiting the temple — it is truly amazing and so beautiful. We had an excursion and our son really enjoyed learning how to make batik. The people who worked at the batik shop were all very patient and sweet to him as they showed him the multi-step process. Plataran Bromo was again an exceptional property. We lucked into an incredible room, with a private pool overlooking Borobudur. It was incredible to look out as the sun set, the bats dipped in and out of our pool, and the numerous calls to prayer competed in a hypnotic melody. The villa was excellent, with our master bedroom and a comfy large cot in the adjoining room for our son. We enjoyed seeing Yogyakarta, touring the Water Castle and Sultan’s Palace — we took local rickshaws, which was a ton of fun and a great way to see the area.
Diane helped us with the overview of this island, but we managed most of the details here ourselves, as we had a rental home. We are glad that we stayed at the north end of the island, close to Turtle Beach. It was stunningly beautiful and much quieter than the east side, which is more of a party area. Being able to snorkel at the beach right across from our villa was amazing, and we saw many sea turtles, which was a magical experience.
This felt like the most authentic leg of our stay. Diane recommended the gorgeous Hotel Tugu Lombok, which is rich with antiques and local art. We had a magical room, with the private pool overlooking the beach. The location is fairly remote, but we took advantage of the hotel’s bikes to explore the local area. Everyone was so welcoming!! My husband and son took a walk down the beach by the local public beach area, which was cute as they met some local girls who were especially interested in talking with our son. Our local guide was able to help us pivot after we decided we wanted some changes to the planned activities, and we visited a fantastic local market that was only about 1 hour from the Tugu. We also took a cooking class arranged by the hotel, which we all really enjoyed. We cooked local specialties and then ate our creations at a feast of a lunch.
Overall, this was an incredible trip and we highly recommend going to Indonesia and using Diane to help plan your trip!
Australia: Sydney, Northern Territory, Uluru…
MARSHA FRIEDLI | JULY 26, 2023
After waiting for over 2 years for COVID restrictions to be lifted and rules and regulations to be decided, we were finally able to travel to Australia. Hurray!!! And throughout this process, Kylie was with us. From planning in the beginning, September of 2019, to finally accomplishing the trip, May/June 2023, Kylie was with us. She worked with vendors to ensure we could still book with them and our deposits/payments would be safe and carried forward; she ensured prices either remained the same or had small increases. And the trip turned out to be the trip of a lifetime!
This was our 4th trip to the wonderful country of Australia. And we decided to visit Queensland and the Northern Territory. Kylie was invaluable with regards to arranging travel partners and visiting the natural and historic aboriginal sites. We started our adventure with 3 days in Sydney, having been to Australia before but never had time allotted for enjoying Sydney. This time we made sure we did. Such a wonderful city to walk and we enjoyed the hop-on-off bus. We also completed a desire of mine — Sydney Bridge Climb! Fantastic. We did it on a blustery and chilly day. It was worth it!
After Sydney, we stayed in the lovely town of Port Douglas. Several good walk/hiking paths and 4-Mile beach both were steps from our hotel. We could hear the surf at night, delightful. And many good restaurants in the very walkable town. Then on to a lovely lodge in the rainforest. We went river rafting, drift snorkeling in the Mosman River. Visited the Great Barrier Reef for more snorkeling and a sunset cruise. After leaving the very relaxing Port Douglas area we traveled to Darwin for our next adventure. And it was!
This is where we traveled by heavy-duty, all-terrain transport to the aboriginal parks of Kakadu and Arnhem Land. The wildlife we saw — flying foxes chattering in the trees and also flying overhead; crocs sunning on the banks of the billabong and swimming; too many birds to keep track of, all delightful! We went hiking in the parks to reach very old aboriginal rock artwork. Our guide, Damon, of Venture North, was a wealth of information.
Since we were in the north country, safety was paramount as we were in some very remote areas, no cell service or even people for miles and miles around. Once at the camp we were welcomed with champagne and canapes. There were many activities/tours to enjoy or not, your choice. We went fishing. And we had to be mindful of crocs — no hands over the side of the boat. As one of our fellow travelers was reeling in a fish and ready to take it off the hook a shark came and bit the fish clean off, only leaving the head! That was an eye opener!! We also went mud crabbing — delicious to eat! Our camp was quite nice for being in the very top end of the Coburgh Peninsula. And our travel companions for this part of our adventure were a delight!
And an added bonus was being able to fly from Coburgh to Darwin, by 5-seat private plane. This flight was totally unexpected! It was so interesting to see the terrain we had traveled by SUV from the air. After our Venture North adventure it was back to Darwin for some relaxing down time, exploring the town of Darwin and enjoying sitting beside the pool and not having to worry about crocs being in the water!
The next part of the trip was getting from Darwin to Uluru. Before COVID there were several flying options of getting to Uluru from Darwin, after COVID nothing direct or time-efficient. Having a travel agent like Kylie was invaluable! Kylie was able to secure private air travel for us between Alice Springs and Uluru. And what a delightful way to travel! Such a beautiful and interesting country!
Staying at Uluru at the end of our trip was really a highlight! Our all-inclusive hotel lived up to its reputation! From the arranged hikes, to the meals with wine, and dinner under the stars with an astronomer who was able to tell the aboriginal stories and point out the constellations — a magical night under the Milky Way!
Without Kylie’s knowledge of Australia and knowledge of the various vendors and listening to the places/things we wanted to see and experience, this trip would not have happened! And thank you Wendy Perrin and company for the resources of The WOW List!
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Ireland & Northern Ireland: Irish sports, farm visit, castle stay…
MICHAEL KELBERMAN | JULY 22, 2023
My wife and I traveled with our 3 adult children to Northern Ireland and Ireland July 1-12, 2023. Jonathan and his team planned and executed our entire trip for us from beginning to end. The logistics of the trip were essentially flawless. The itinerary was a combination of the typical tourist agenda with some unique and more personalized experiences thrown in, and most importantly, a cadre of guides whose authenticity was only exceeded by their graciousness.
We were delighted that Jonathan got on the phone with us for our first meeting, which he assured us is only a certainty with clients referred through Wendy. Indeed, when this came up in conversation during our trip, one of the experienced guides remarked that it was distinctly unusual to speak directly with him! It was Jonathan’s strong suggestion that we include Northern Ireland in our itinerary instead of just Ireland, and we are glad that we did. Our experience in N. Ireland was the soul of our trip, and we could never have understood the country without that experience and the help of our guide for 3 days while there, Mark Murphy. His authenticity was palpable, in addition to being a consummate professional. For example, he not only took us through a small Catholic village to watch children learning the Irish sport of hurling on a field surrounded by Irish national flags, but then took out his equipment so we could all give the game a try on an adjacent field. Every experience with Mark was like that, including his lessons on tasting Irish Whiskey at Bushmills and getting me the opportunity to hold the great N. Irish golfer Rory McIlroy’s PGA championship trophy at his home golf club in Belfast! We also spent a morning at Tracey’s Farmhouse Kitchen, making (and eating) delicious soda bread along with other delectables. Like all the folks we encountered, Tracey was an absolute delight, and we loved getting to go out to the countryside and spend some quality time with people who were so happy to share their lives with us.
We then went on to spend 3 days in Dublin, staying at a classic property called The Shelbourne. This gorgeous masterpiece offered impeccable service and a perfect location. One of the benefits of working through Jonathan’s office are some small perks offered to you at each of the hotels, and we enjoyed oysters and Guinness in the beautiful lobby bar at the Shelbourne one early evening before heading to dinner. We had less time than we thought in Dublin, and probably only did about half of what we intended, but we really enjoyed the city.
Galway was our next stop, and we used that as the base for our exploration of the Connemara National Park and the Cliffs of Moher. Once again, our guide for 3 days, Anne Marie Lally, was lovely and extremely accommodating. She made sure we found the shopping that we needed, and the restaurants that would satisfy us. Another absolute highlight of the trip is the Killary Sheepfarm. It’s on an absolutely beautiful fjord, and it’s fascinating to watch the sheepdogs in action and to participate in shearing the wool off the sheep. Tom, a 3rd generation proprietor, is eager to share his place, and it helps keep the lights on for these family businesses.
Our last stop was Dromoland Castle. At this point we had been on the move constantly for 10 days, and I think it was brilliant planning to let us decompress at this gorgeous castle for a few days before returning home. They do make you feel special there, although it is an expensive treat during the peak season.
As you can see, we left the planning and logistics entirely up to Jonathan, Katie and their team. We are glad we did, and I don’t think we would have changed a thing. As Wendy has written about before, the real difference maker is the quality of the guides and their gracious attitude and terrific knowledge and pride in their homeland. Perhaps the only thing I would do differently is giving a bit more guidance on special or unusually good restaurants or places to eat. We were told to rely on the concierge at the respective hotels, and they were fine for the most part, but it was a mixed bag. We did get shut out of one place since we made no reservations ahead of time, and another restaurant we tried was fairly pedestrian. Restaurants change from time to time, and it’s hard to predict individual tastes, but perhaps a few “classics” should be suggested in each area that capture something unique about that particular place.
It’s always hard to decide on the “value” of any trip. From our perspective, having Jonathan and his team create our trip for us was “invaluable”! Most of the cost was not the guides and extra experiences, which really made the whole trip! It was more the hotels, airfare, etc in peak season and there is only so much you can do about that. We chose not to, but I’m sure you can be guided to less expensive hotels and shoulder-season prices to make an experience more affordable. We rarely travel anymore without using Wendy’s WOW List planners, because you really do get spoiled. Thanks again to Wendy and Jonathan!
Turkey: Istanbul, Ephesus, Cappadocia, a private gulet…
TINA HUNT | JULY 21, 2023
If you like to travel and experience diverse culture, food, history, and enjoy meeting welcoming people, then Turkey is not to be missed! We worked with Karen to curate and customize our adventure. We started with a three-day gulet voyage on the Prima Donna. We were welcomed aboard to a gorgeous Turkish spread of nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and vegetables as a light afternoon snack. Captain Nihat and deckhand Mesuit had us quickly underway for our first-ever overnighting on a sailing vessel. Our chef, Zekai, was a wonder as he quietly turned out fantastic food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Just over-the-top fun. Every meal was a delicious surprise and felt extra special with incorporation of local fresh items….
After the relaxing gulet, we did a whirlwind tour of Ephesus, which was not to be missed if you enjoy ancient history and beautiful ruins. Cappadocia was a place of pure joy for us. The fairy landscape with the “mushroom”-capped chimneys and cave churches and dwellings provided a much needed bit of exercise with short hikes. Our sunrise balloon experience was pure early morning magic. The-8 person gondola was piloted expertly over the otherworldly landscape. Even after seeing photos of how beautiful it could be, in-person was jaw-dropping.
All too soon it was time to head back to Istanbul for our last three nights of our adventure. We typically aren’t much for big cities and were surprised by the playfulness and welcome vibe of Istanbul. Our guide Cenk helped make this very memorable with his quick wit, fast pace, and love of the city that shined through his every story. Our foodie tour was a blast, with a mix of local tasty bits, drinks, and followed up with some sweets from one of his favorite shops. The history just permeates the entire vibe of the city and feels vibrant and modern while mixing seamlessly into structures that are thousands of years old…. Our WOW Moment was extra special—reminiscent of Skyfall on the roof of the Grand Bazaar. We found ourselves wishing for more time at almost every stop in Turkey and can’t wait to return!
Italy: hiking, boating, riding Vespas…
MARK MAZZATTA | JULY 20, 2023
We recently returned from an extraordinary 15-day introductory touring trip of Italy for my family, arranged by Maria. After an initial discussion of objectives, Maria did an excellent job of planning a balanced trip of cultural sightseeing and fun activities inside, outside and on the water. During the planning phase, Maria was especially helpful (and patient) to decide where to travel and the duration of each stay. Execution was flawless, and it was huge value having a digital personal itinerary (w/contacts and maps) and Cristina, our local operations manager, a text away for any last-minute needed changes.
After the overnight flight to Milan, we literally hit the ground hiking from Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino, keeping our active boys moving while acclimating to the new time zone. Although a little risky with potential jet lag, this was a highlight, hiking through the high serene hills for a couple of hours, with only the sounds of birds and a young wild boar, and descending upon Portofino on foot. Portofino was a treat, and the next full day at sea on a captained 40-foot boat to swim and visit the coastline at our leisure was awesome! Having lunch and snorkeling at San Fruttuoso was fantastic.
Additional memorable experiences included:
– Visiting the Ferrari museum and test driving Ferraris on the streets of Maranello
– Touring the Accademia sculptures, the Uffizi and cruising the Arno with a renaioli and our private guide Elvira
– Leisurely driving through Tuscany with our lively driver Francesco, stopping for a wonderful private tour and lunch at a vineyard with its owner Diana
– Staying at a palazzo in Montefalco: Maria was right — this is the balcony of Umbria and the views are unforgettable!
– Fly fishing (and catching/releasing brown trout!) in tranquil Borgo Cerreto with a very fun guide named Luca
– Sightseeing through ancient Rome including the Forum, Colosseum and Vatican museums with very knowledgeable private guides (Valerie) and no lines!
– Riding on the back of Vespas, seeing unique neighborhoods and parks in Roma
– Learning to row a Batela in Venice w/our own rowing instructor and having cicchetti (appetizers) and wine
– Touring and climbing to the top of the Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco
Maria chose excellent hotels for our stays, and the rooftop bar lounge and pool in Florence was a great way to end every fun day. We thought having private guides and transportation (car and water) made the trip much more memorable, as we received personal attention/treatment and allowed for personal interaction with locals to better understand the culture and way of life.
South of Rome, Sicily and the Lake region are next!
Italy: Tuscany, Umbria, Milan, Lake Como…
ANDREA PHILLIPS | JULY 18, 2023
My family of four, with two teen girls, had a wonderful and action-packed trip to Italy in mid to late June covering Umbria, Tuscany, Florence, Bologna, Lake Como and Milan, planned with Maria. We stayed at hotels that were the perfect fit (like the one in Florence that had a rooftop pool to beat the heat!), had the best rooms and locations and such personal service, all due to Maria’s connections. Our transportation coordination around the country was flawless and that had to be a challenge with the many, many day trips we had planned and the 6 stops to transfer to! Maria’s local ground support, Cristina, was absolutely amazing throughout the entire trip and very accommodating to help out if we needed something altered. Plus she was our fabulous guide on our day trips in Umbria. The many other guides along the trip were also very friendly, passionate about sharing their knowledge, and did their best to keep our teenagers engaged on the tours. We had another family with three teenagers join us for parts of our trip and Maria and Cristina helped coordinate our joint stays, activities & reservations. Italy was busy with travelers while we were there, but I can honestly say that it did not affect our plans at all as Maria had it coordinated and timed out so perfectly.
This trip was also to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary and Maria had suggested two stops along the way that were very special. Wow, were they ever! Borgo Santo Pietro, a working farm & wellness resort in west Tuscany, and Grand Hotel Tremezzo, near Bellagio in Lake Como. Both resorts resembled something made out of a dream. Beautiful landscapes, amazing service, delicious food, gorgeous rooms, and so many amenities. At Borgo Santo Pietro, you had the feeling of being in a fairy garden wherever you went and around every corner, there was something new to discover. The staff was amazing and there was so much to explore and do. Bicycles & e-bikes, animal-tending sessions, exploring the gardens and farm, tennis courts, the spa & classes, eating the farm-to-table food in their lovely restaurants, all set in a serene oasis in the heart of Tuscany. We did not want to leave! The other amazing stop was the Hotel Grand Tremezzo, which is a standout feature on any Lake Como ferry ride with its striking architecture, gardens and in-lake floating pool in front, so actually staying there was quite a treat! The inner decor of the hotel and outer gardens were magical and so were the concierges and staff that were always ready to help. We enjoyed the spa, the many pools and casual restaurants and even had a private wakeboarding session one morning on the Lake! That is a memory that will never be forgotten and made this stop my girls’ favorite! Maria also arranged a great private boat tour to visit Bellagio and the famous villas of the lake with a lovely private guide, who had access to go inside the villas and educate us on all of the historic collections and stories. It was fascinating!
We were surprised with our WOW Moment early in this trip. We were given a special opportunity to be dressed up for the night in the Foligno Quintana traditional costumes for their festival later in the week. That was a unique experience and one that we would never have been able to arrange or even be allowed to do without Maria’s network in Italy. Thank you Wendy and Maria!
We had many other activities that were also highlights. In Umbria, we went canyoning through a roaring mountain river, had an in-depth local cooking class, a gelato-making class, and went truffle hunting with the cutest, yet very talented dogs. In Siena, we had lunch on the exact alleyway where the Mille Miglia Race of Classic Cars were driving through to enter the Il Campo (definitely because of Maria’s connections in Italy!). In Florence, we climbed the Brunelleschi Duomo, took a lively pizza-making class, saw the awe-inspiring David & the Uffizi Gallery, and took a relaxing Arno River boat ride. In Lucca, we rode bikes around the medieval walls where we crossed paths with a special parade of classic Fiat 500’s. In Bologna, we visited one of the world’s oldest universities, and in nearby Maranello, drove Ferraris through the streets of the town where they are made! In Milan, we had the privilege of being able to see the Last Supper, which was breathtaking. Needless to say, we were very busy on this trip!
It was a trip full of variety, which I had specifically asked Maria for when planning this vacation last fall, and she delivered! My family (and the friends who joined us) were thrilled with our stops and most of the planned activities. When we needed to change a pick-up time, tour length, or cancel a nice dinner reservation for something more causal, Maria’s team was more than happy to help out to make this a wonderful trip catered to us. When we head to Italy again, I will definitely have Maria help me plan our route around the country, but next time, we will stay longer than 3 nights at each stop to really experience the culture and have some more free time to explore on our own!
Indonesia: Bali & Komodo National Park
KAREN DALTON | JULY 17, 2023
Overall, our trip to Bali and Komodo was absolutely amazing and I can’t thank Diane enough for her guidance in planning. All the hotels were beautiful, activities were incredible experiences and the logistics on point. A few highlights/comments:
– Guide Agung and driver Agus were fantastic. Very sweet, lovely people and we really enjoyed spending time with them. We appreciated the level of detail that Agung shared about the history of the island, culture, religion and more, including on-the-spot explanations of activities and ceremonies we saw along the way as we drove around the island. A very special day was spent at their home village, eating lunch with their families, preparing flower offerings, watching local farmers work in the rice fields and playing with the village gamelan orchestra.
– We also really enjoyed the cooking class in Munduk, overlooking the sea and beautiful valleys. This came after a morning hike to several stunning waterfalls.
– Our daily schedule in Ubud was quite busy—visitors should understand that distances are long and traffic can be challenging when getting around Bali. Not a surprise, as Diane had advised on this, but something to consider when planning your itinerary and length of stay.
FLORES ISLAND/KOMODO NATIONAL PARK (1-hour flight from Bali):
As special as Bali is, this stop was the highlight of the trip for our family. The experience of trekking around Rinca and Komodo Islands to see the Komodo dragons was incredible. And very little trekking needed to view them, really—there were several of the giant lizards cruising the pier and beaches when we arrived by speedboat at Komodo! Later on, snorkeling at a beautiful pink-sand beach was literally like diving into the world of Finding Nemo, and we also marveled at the giant fruit bats, emerging from their roost in the mangroves at sunset. Truly magical and I only wished we had allotted more time to explore this beautiful area, which is about to explode with tourism, given the Indonesian government’s plan to promote the region. Several new hotels are under construction—go now while it’s still somewhat quiet!
We chose this location for our last few nights back in Bali specifically for the sunset views, but unseasonably heavy rains took that away. Luckily, Diane had recommended the Oberoi hotel, which was an absolutely beautiful oasis away from the congested and highly touristed streets of Seminyak. We stayed on the grounds pretty much the entire time to get massages, enjoy the restaurant (which featured Balinese dancers at dinner) and gorgeous bar, all in view of the ocean.
Denmark: Copenhagen, castles, seaside…
LYNN HERRICK | JULY 17, 2023
Just back from Denmark! We rarely travel to Europe in the summer because of the heat and crowds, but we needed to be in Berlin in mid-July this year and wanted to add a week to another destination prior to reaching Berlin. Denmark was the PERFECT choice. Not too hot (even chilly some days!), reasonable crowds, not too expensive, and very enjoyable. Mads arranged our trip for us and he made it very easy. We did not mind driving in Denmark, so he arranged for a private car and put together an itinerary that gave us a flavor of the country. Our college-age kids traveled with us and there was enough to keep everyone engaged. We loved, loved, loved Copenhagen. Our hotel was in the middle of all the action and the city is extremely walkable and public transportation easy to navigate. Our first morning in town was our WOW Moment, and it was perfect. We sailed (electric boat) around the city with a private tour guide and lots of fun snacks. It was a great introduction to the city and the guide gave us lots of ideas for the rest of our trip. We traveled to several cities after Copenhagen, visited castles, stayed at an inn that has been hosting guests since 1744, learned all about Hans Christian Andersen, visited museums, enjoyed a ferry ride, and stayed in a charming Danish seaside town with a great spa. We finished the trip with one more fun night in Copenhagen and stayed up late, as the sun seems to last forever. The only part of our trip that was frustrating was the voucher system that really did not work well, but hopefully, with the feedback we provided, Mads and his team will update that system! Highly recommend Mads and Denmark for a special summer trip.
Tanzania & Rwanda: safari & gorilla trekking
DAN FRIEDMAN | JULY 13, 2023
Dan arranged the trip of a lifetime for me, my wife and our son and daughter-in-law. It was a private safari in Tanzania and then a few days in Rwanda and Nairobi. Every detail was taken care of—basically all we had to do was show up. The safaris, camps and guides were amazing and his recommendations were invaluable in making our trip absolutely wonderful.
We began our adventure in Arusha on July 26, 2023, where we met our guide at the airport and spent the first night at a local hotel (the Mt. Meru). The next morning our guide picked us up we were off on safari. It was private—just the 4 of us plus our driver/guide in a 7-passenger safari vehicle with a pop-up-roof. After a couple of hours getting out of Arusha, Tanzania, we entered Tarangire National Park and saw elephants, zebras, and—the list is too long to include here, but it was incredible. The “camp” we stayed at for the next 2 nights, the Maramboi, was a delight—spectacular views, great food, terrific pool and very comfortable tented chalet. We had never stayed at a safari “camp” before and, frankly, it’s nothing like camping—more like a luxury getaway with all your needs taken care of.
All of the accommodations arranged by Dan while on safari were terrific:
Maramboi Tented Lodge on Lake Manyara. Fabulous view and GREAT pool!
Acacia Farm Lodge, in Karatu. You’ll have your own butler. Pure luxury.
Mbalageti Tented Challets in the Serengeti: Watch herds of animals right from your porch.
In Rwanda, I’ve got to make special mention of the Virunga Lodge. Possibly the most spectacular, elegant and wonderful place we’ve ever stayed.
We began each day very early to catch the animals when they’re most active. Some days we went out for a few hours in the morning, then relaxed at the camp, then a few hours in the evening—again when the animals are the most active. Our guide knew where to look and every game drive was filled with sightings of new species.
As we headed west in Tanzania we went into the Ngorongoro Crater (you need layers for the drive over the rim) and encountered the rare Rhino, many lions and beautiful scenery. Continuing west, we spent 3 full days in Serengeti National Park.
Dan selected great guides for our trip. In Tanzania, our guide, Vienney, was with us the entire 9 days we were there. He was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about the animals and their habits. With his deep knowledge he was able to predict where we were most likely to see the rare cats—cheetahs and leopards—and we saw them all. Often we were the only safari vehicle at the site. While in the Serengeti we witnessed the Great Migration where thousands of wildebeest and zebras head east to areas with more water—an amazing sight. In my lifetime I never expected to see and experience a trip like this.
From the Serengeti we flew to Rwanda, where Dan had arranged treks to see the mountain gorillas. The treks are arduous, but very worthwhile. It’s an effort, but once you encounter a gorilla family, the experience will amaze you. Their behavior is so much more human-like than I imagined. Dan will advise you to always hire a porter to help you on these treks. Great advice and, frankly, essential. I hired 2 porters and they made it their mission to see to it that I both made it to the gorilla site, but also never slipped or fell. This is a breathtaking experience that you will never forget.
The planning process for our East Africa journey began before the Covid shutdown and then resumed last year. Throughout it all, Dan was patient and very responsive to the myriad of questions I threw at him—constantly! His communications were always timely and contained the answers that we needed. His advice was spot on and every detail—minor or major—was taken care of.
Every step of the way there was someone there to help us. When we got off a plane, there was someone with a sign with our name who whisked us through immigration and customs. As I wrote above, all we had to do was show up. Thank you Dan and his team for the exceptional service that truly made this a trip of a lifetime.
France: Paris & Provence
JULIE SCHULMAN | JULY 11, 2023
We recently returned from a 9-night trip to Paris and the South of France with our family of 4. This was the second trip we took through a Wendy Perrin recommended travel agent and it was, again, a wonderful adventure! The team in Philip’s office helped us book an active and engaging itinerary for 2 adults and 2 teenagers.
We spent 5 nights in Paris and Sarah, our local representative, connected us with an outstanding private tour guide for 3 separate excursions, including a scavenger hunt at the Louvre, a driving tour of all the city highlights and a day trip to Versailles. She also shared walking directions to explore Paris on our own, excellent dinner recommendations and tickets to a fun Seine river cruise. We took some time to find the right hotel at a very busy and expensive time (during the French Open) and it was perfect – accessible location in a walkable area, outstanding service and delicious breakfasts.
Particularly important was navigating an unexpected strike while visiting the city and expertly re-arranging our plans so that we didn’t miss anything that we wanted to see. Sarah was on-hand throughout our time in Paris to help with any needs that arose.
After our time in Paris, we took a high-speed train to Avignon, where we picked up a rental car. With recommendations from Philip and Julie, we spent 2 nights in Aix-en-Provence and 2 nights in Cap D’Antibes. Our drive included exploring several small villages of interest including Gordes, Mougins, Rousillon and St. Paul de Vence. We enjoyed a half-day tour in Aix-en-Provence and a full-day tour of Nice, Eze and Monaco. Our private guides provided engaging information to our teens and shared out-of-the way spots known to locals.
France was definitely busy during our travel, but with the guidance of the team and the knowledge and access of our tour guides, we had very little waiting time at any of our stops. It was an active and engaging vacation and a lot of ground covered during the 9 days.
French Polynesia: Bora Bora & a private catamaran
VANESSA HULME | JULY 10, 2023
Our family enlisted Kleon to plan our trip to French Polynesia, where we spent a week on a catamaran sailing between the islands and a stop in Bora Bora for several days.
Because there were 6 of us, and 3 generations, Kleon suggested a number of activities that would suit us all. We snorkeled with manta rays and sharks, kayaked and paddle boarded. There were also visits to a pearl farm, vanilla farm and rum factory, all of which we truly enjoyed.
The catamaran was a perfect choice for us. Tere was a very professional and cordial captain, and Virginie a perfect hostess and incredible cook. Because of them, we enjoyed spending time on the cat just relaxing, reading, snoozing, etc. as much as we enjoyed our excursions.
On Bora Bora, Kleon suggested the Pearl Resort, which suited us fine. We all had overwater bungalows with patios and direct lagoon access. It was also interesting to be able to feed the myriad of fish from an opening at the bottom of the bed!
Kleon’s efforts and organization made this trip very easy, seamless and special for us!
Hawaii: three generations, two islands
VANESSA HULME | JULY 10, 2023
This was our second time using Dani for a vacation to Hawaii, except this time instead of 2 people she was tasked with planning for 3 generations (6 people) and two islands. As before, she worked her magic and provided us with an exceptional experience.
Because of the number of people, she suggested a villa on the Big Island and found one that suited us perfectly. It was furnished with everything necessary, including its own pool, several outdoor spaces for dining and lounging, room for us all to have our own space, and spectacular views. Everyone is still talking about all the fantastic activities she planned for us — a helicopter flight over the island included flying over Kilauea, which was erupting (providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience), a visit to see sunset at the summit of Mauna Kea, and snorkeling with manta rays (something our grandchildren thought was the BEST!). Our grandchildren experienced their first luau, with best seats in the house courtesy of Dani. It was also very special as they had the opportunity to take the stage with the dancers for a hula lesson.
It was then on to Oahu for 2 days, where because of Dani’s connections, we had some of the best rooms at the Royal Hawaiian. This was a short stop, and our only request was a visit to Pearl Harbor; although there was some confusion about this tour, Dani once again pulled a rabbit out of the hat and ensured we experienced the expected tour, including basically making the lines disappear! It was very special to visit both the Arizona and the Missouri.
We will return to Hawaii again, and once again Dani will be our first call.
Spain: food, history, culture of Andalusia
LINDA AND TOM UHLER | JULY 10, 2023
Ivan promises a memorable private trip to Spain and he delivered just that to help us explore Andalusia. We met Ivan via Zoom and immediately felt that we were in good hands. He got to know us and learned what our interests are. Taking that information, he crafted the perfect 14-day itinerary for us. Each day touched on at least one of the elements that are important to us when we travel — food, wine, history, culture. We learned about the production of Iberico ham, olive oil, cheese, bread and salt. Our education on sherry included a visit to a vineyard with a tasting in the private bodega of the owner, and a multi-course traditional lunch. We were fascinated with the culture surrounding the brave bulls. We were immersed in the history of each of the towns we visited. What tied all of this together was the interaction we had with everyone we met, from our hosts to our guides to our driver. We were warmly welcomed by everyone, saw Andalusia through their eyes and came away with a better understanding of this region and its people. Thanks to Ivan and his planning, this was one of the best trips we’ve taken. His attention to detail, his care in making sure that everything went well during our stay, and his love for his country was a winning combination. We are so happy that we had the chance to meet and work with Ivan and give him our highest recommendation.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Turkey: Istanbul & sailing a private yacht
VANESSA HULME | JULY 10, 2023
Karen and her team planned an absolutely flawless vacation for my husband and me for 3 days in Istanbul and a 6-day cruise on a gulet along the Turkish coast. From our initial contact, they listened to our likes/dislikes and put together an itinerary that suited us perfectly.
Our incredible guide in Istanbul, Sinan, not only showed us the tourist highlights, but out-of-the ordinary places we would never have found on our own. He also introduced us to real Turkish food, even going so far as booking a dinner reservation and pre-ordering a menu that suited us perfectly. It was also very nice that Karen and her associates took time from their schedule to come speak with us personally.
From Istanbul, we flew to Bodrum and boarded our private gulet. We had never toured via a gulet, but it certainly exceeded our expectations. The crew was professional, accommodating, and went out of their way to make the trip special. The stops were beautiful and the food amazing. We also had the pleasure of our most memorable WOW Moment in Datca, being the first and only guests at a hotel just prior to the opening! We had the facility to ourselves, were served a gourmet dinner that was overseen by the General Manager and Food Service Manager, and offered a gorgeous suite for an overnight stay; to say this was very, very special is an understatement (thank you Wendy, Karen & Mustafa).
They even made our departure seamless, with assistance at the airport with check-in, security and ensuring we had access to the Club.
Karen and those that work with her obviously have an in-depth knowledge of Turkey. This certainly made our trip both exciting and relaxing, both of which we requested. We would absolutely give Karen our highest marks, and would definitely use her office again.
Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Hiroshima…
ANDY KAPLAN | JULY 9, 2023
Our family of 6 (mom, dad, and four 20-something kids) recently got home from a 16-day trip in Japan created by Jason. Jason helped us shape a trip that worked well for our family and really took into account our interests and preferences. We went through many iterations of our itinerary until the pacing and the sites made us all happy.
We started in Tokyo with our guide Narumi, who stayed with us for the whole trip. Our guide met us the first day and suggested we go “off itinerary” for a special local event – the Kanda Myojin Shrine Parade – and we watched hundreds of people from many neighborhoods celebrate and dance with their shrines. We also saw all the major sites and also had a few special and memorable experiences – our favorites in and near Tokyo were a cooking class at the home of a chef with an amazing history, visiting a sword maker, and a sake (actually nihon shu) tasting class. For the rest of our trip we had fun finding and ordering sakes of different types.
We next visited Kanazawa to see several UNESCO World Heritage sites that were beautiful and interesting and stayed in a fantastic onsen ryokan that gave us a taste of hot-spring bathing and provided more of a Japanese feeling than traditional western hotels.
In Kyoto, we visited temples – some with amazing views, a bamboo forest, a building housing 1000 Buddha statues from the 1200s, and some terrific shrines. We had a Taiko drum class – a real hoot for the whole family – and had a moving and relaxing Zen Buddhism experience. We saw many gorgeous meditative gardens where we could have spent hours. Our daughter also found a “Pig Café” (think “Cat Café” but with little pigs) which was…different and fun.
En route to Kyoto, one of our kids left a phone on the train and our guide did a great job of working the (impressive) Japanese systems for finding and reclaiming lost items – far, far different than it would have been in the U.S. And yes, we got it back three days later before leaving the area.
The deer in Nara are really cute (but carefully, one bit me in the butt – no damage done) and we spoke with a group of schoolchildren that wanted to practice their English.
We specifically requested a stop in Hiroshima, which we found particularly moving and profound and such a testament to the evil of nuclear weapons and resilience of the Japanese people. A local specialty, an Okonomiyaki dinner, was a real treat – never had anything like it.
Another favorite location was Naoshima, which was completely Jason’s suggestion. We’d never heard of it. We’ve told several friends about “the art islands” since we’ve been back. We could have easily spent an extra day or two, and the art and experience was truly memorable.
Jason created a logical circuit for us to follow and included bonus stops along the way to make our longer travel days easier. He was very helpful at identifying “must-see” sites and helped us fill, but not over fill, our days. Narumi our guide was knowledgeable and lovely. She was our private tour guide and kept track of the details and managed our time such that the trains, planes, automobiles, restaurants, activities, reservations, tickets, etc. were nearly invisible to us. Even with all we had scheduled, she sometimes suggested a change in a daily itinerary if there was a special local event, weather concerns, or a newly discovered activity we wanted to add.
Thank you to Narumi, Jason, and the entire team for a wonderful Japan trip.
Switzerland: Lake Lucerne, Zermatt, Ascona…
WESLEY BRAY | JULY 9, 2023
My wife and I have recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Switzerland, planned and coordinated by Simon Kessler from Nina’s office. We are so glad that this agency was recommended to us by Wendy.
The process began with a video-call with Simon about 10 months ago, where we discussed our travel likes and dislikes, and described what we wanted to see during our time in Switzerland. Simon and his team did an excellent job of taking the information we gave him, and orchestrating a 10-day itinerary, allowing us to see three distinct and different parts of this beautiful country.
We spent the first couple of days in the Lake Lucerne area, touring the historic areas of the city, and taking a cog-wheel tour to the top of Mt Pilatus. We stayed at a great hotel, with beautiful views of the lake and city.
We then spent 3 days in Zermatt, at a lovely, small boutique-type hotel with a view of the Matterhorn. The service at this hotel (and all our hotels) was personalized and first-rate. While in Zermatt, Simon arranged for a private tour to a remote farm in the mountains, where we were able to meet the local farmers and watch the process of cheese-making. We were treated to a wine and cheese tasting at the farm. We also took a tour to the top of Mt Gornergrat, allowing us to see some of the multiple glaciers and mountain ranges that Switzerland is famous for.
Our last stop was in the southern portion of the country, in Ascona, near the Italian border. This area had a distinct Mediterranean flare, an excellent contrast from our previous stops. Here, we also had some private tours with Anna, allowing us to see and hike thru some of the non-touristy areas in the nearby valleys, and explore some historic castles. Of course, excellent lunches and wine/cheese tastings were a part of these tours.
Throughout the trip, the arrangements made by Simon (travel, hotels, meals) were all spot-on, and everything went as smoothly as could be expected. We had one glitch, early in the trip, where we missed a connecting flight, and therefore had to rearrange our first day’s plans. After a quick text to Simon, we received an immediate response, and all the arrangements were immediately redone for us. It was so reassuring to have that all handled for us.
We will definitely recommend this type of travel arrangement to Switzerland to our friends, and can’t wait to schedule our next travel dates with another part of Wendy’s team.
France: Provence & Monet’s gardens in Giverny
VIRGINIA SOCOLOF | JULY 7, 2023
I recently returned from a FABULOUS trip to France with my mother, sister, and 17-year-old daughter. This was a real bucket list item for my mother—she is 80 and wanted to see both Monet’s gardens at Giverny and Provence. Philip and his team planned and executed a wonderful itinerary that perfectly satisfied my mother’s wishes—a special shout-out to Marion, who successfully navigated a few challenges in the planning process. I love the Axus app, which constantly updated our itinerary and provided a way for us to quickly communicate with Philip’s team. From the moment we landed in Paris until the day we flew out of Marseille, the drivers, excursions, and hotels exceeded our expectations. On the day we were going to Giverny our van had a flat tire in the middle of the countryside, and within 30 minutes my family was in an Uber called by our heroic guide Paul, headed to Giverny with our tickets and lunch reservation in hand. Paul had the tire repaired and met us after lunch for the rest of our trip to Auvers sur Oise, but we didn’t miss a thing. Giverny was the most eagerly anticipated moment of the trip for my mother, and what could have been a disappointing travel disaster is now one of our funniest trip memories, involving aggressive strawberry buyers and a tiny blue car. Cedric, our guide in Provence, was a gem—my whole family loved him and both his hilarious stories and historic insights. The Hotel du Pigeonnet in Aix was so very lovely, and Philip’s team also provided us with some wonderful restaurant recommendations and reservations. I began the planning process for this trip with concerns about how we could manage an experience that would make all of us happy and be comfortable enough for my mother, but Philip and his team pulled it off. Their advice about transportation (private cars and high speed train), luxurious hotel choices, creative excursion ideas, and flawless execution of our busy itinerary delivered a once-in-a-lifetime family experience that the women of my family will always remember. Merci beaucoup, Philip!
Norway: meeting locals, exploring fjords & villages…
BILL MARTIN | JULY 6, 2023
Torunn quickly grasped our interests, desires, travel style, and preferences. She promised to connect us to the “real Norway.” This came to mean experiencing the spectacular environment, meeting people of all kinds, and learning about the Norwegian way of life. Our trip accomplished these goals in ways far beyond our expectations.
Norway is profoundly beautiful. The scope and diversity of our itinerary proved valuable. We could not stop taking pictures of the majestic fjords, omnipresent waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, the troll wall, and charming fishing villages. We also enjoyed cruise ports like Bergen, Alesund, and Oslo with their varied attractions and vibrant harbors.
Our interaction with the natural beauty of Norway was enhanced by Torunn’s clever use of variable forms of transportation. Targeted for just the right places, they included ferries, cars/drivers, fjord shuttles, buses, rental cars, and trains. Highlights were time spent on the water in fjords and the breathtaking Rauma train ride along the troll wall toward Dombas.
Weatherwise, we were lucky. No one could believe it but mid-June 2023 was unexpectedly sunny and warm. The hats, gloves, sweaters, jackets, and raingear Torunn had thoughtfully recommended packing remained in our suitcases the whole trip.
The people Torunn arranged for us to meet at various venues are special and memorable. They were warm, welcoming, informative, and above all, interesting. Among them is Sven, the entrepreneurial owner of Knutholmen in Kalvag who works harder to please his clients than anyone we have met. He became an instant friend. Fjord skipper Roy taught us about commercial fishing and graciously shared much of his life story, helping us learn what growing up in remote Norway is all about. Driver Per delighted in taking us to see a replica Viking ship. Dinner with Edith and Jon at their hilltop “summer pasture” cabin near Oye was a memorable experience filled with stories about Jon’s longtime mink business and special Norwegian delicacies to try, topped off with Edith’s handmade chocolates. Fjord skipper Daniel took us to his family guest house at Trandal where we were thrilled by the famous swing and braved deer-burgers and brown cheese ice cream, both delicious. Guide Britt, also an osteopath, was unusually informative and interesting. She took us on a delightful hike, showed us around the Tafjord village where she grew up, described her annual reindeer hunt, and escorted us to a friend’s guest house for a delicious lunch of deer lasagna.
Introductions to persons like these added immeasurable pleasure to our trip. But we also met many wonderful Norwegians while traveling, in shops, and even just seeking directions in the street.
Our hotels were superb and often historical. Without exception, they were situated in gorgeous surroundings and well managed with great service. The room types Torunn chose for us were perfect. Breakfast buffets were exquisite, and our included welcome dinners were delicious. Remarkable hotel staffers came from all over Norway and beyond. Each hotel was unique and memorable but our favorites were Knutholmen in Kalvag, Hotel Union Oye, and the amazing Storfjord Hotel.
The new-to-us comprehensive Trip Planner web app used by Torunn’s office made managing trip logistics remarkably simple. All the details and tickets were in one place. Thanks to Torunn’s colleagues Anja, Karin, and Mari, the chat feature made it easy to get questions answered and quickly resolve several minor hiccups.
As is evident, Torunn did indeed connect us to the “real Norway.” We will long remember this spectacular trip and the special people we met.
Panama: mountain adventures & a private-island resort
LAURA JORDAN | JULY 5, 2023
We’re back from beautiful Panama and had an awesome trip! We worked with Pierre to plan a trip for our family of two adults and two teens that would include both plenty of adventure and activity along with great food and some relaxation, and he successfully hit all of our asks for a memorable vacation! We started off in Panama City, where we immediately went to the canal to view ships that stick to a strict schedule. After that we did a half-day tour of Panama City, where we learned about the very interesting history of the country and the Canal. After a stay at the gorgeous Hotel La Compania and an incredible dinner at Fondo Lo Que Hay, we flew up to Boquete for some mountain adventures! Our kids loved the swinging bridges hike and the afternoon of zip lines. Our driver that day was a local who gave us the tip to order our lunch in advance so that it would be ready in time (Panama enjoys a relaxed dining pace). The zip line adventure was awesome and we were so lucky with the weather — no rain, common in the afternoons this time of year. All four of us decided to flip upside down and it was just so much fun! The family also enjoyed the selected hotel in Boquete, where we loved the breakfasts, enjoyed the pool and fitness center, and had a very competitive round of mini golf. After a second night in Boquete, we headed to our next (and favorite) destination, Isla Palenque. Wow, where do I start? We were taken by boat to the island resort where each of the staff knew us by name. We were treated to fantastic meals — every single one of our family was happy, including one very picky eater. The seafood was delicious and the fresh farm-to-table produce, homemade pasta, homemade ice creams (new flavors daily), fresh eggs, etc. were all so wonderful. The guided adventures and tours were so much fun! We tried them all…bird watching, hikes, snorkeling and island-hopping adventure with a picnic, rock fishing, kayaking, bracelet making, and a cooking class! We also SUP’ed multiple times and swam every day. I’d be remiss not to mention the howler monkeys on the island; how fun. While the entire island experience was memorable, I particularly enjoyed the empanada-making class that I took with my 15-yr-old son, the island-hopping adventure picnic and snorkel, and the beautiful sunsets with my daughter. Finally, I cannot compliment the resort staff enough — they treated us so well. They even made a custom birthday cake for my husband with one day’s notice. After Isla Palenque we headed back to Panama City for one final night before flying back to Los Angeles. It’s rare that I want to go back to a particular resort as I love exploring new places, but I think I would be happy to vacation to Isla Palenque every year (the kids liked it better than Hawaii because it was so relaxing and NOT CROWDED!).
A couple things to note: June/early July is shoulder season, heading into Panama’s rainy season. This worked out well for us as we only had one really rainy day. However, I think we were pretty lucky, as the next week looked really rainy. Also, I loved that there weren’t as many tourists around, it felt like a nice change after our last trip to Europe where we were shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone. Also, please exit Panama City’s new airport terminal 2, this is important as that’s where all of the passenger pickups are now. Because it was shoulder season we had no problem getting into the top restaurants in Boquete and Panama City, but you may want to reserve in advance.
Pierre really added a lot of value on this trip for us. He steered me away from Bocas del Toro due to the rainy season and introduced us to the amazing Isla Palenque. All of the tours and transfers would have been much more difficult to arrange, and everything he picked was top-notch. He checked in with us ahead of each of our location changes to make sure all was well. Please follow the packing list and suggestions, too — Boquete was chilly and we all needed our extra layers. Bug spray and sunscreen are a must! And bring a lot of smaller dollar bills ($1s, 5s, 10s) — tipping is expected and everything runs on USD.
Thanks for a great trip!
Croatia: Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik…
ANDREA SHAVER | JULY 5, 2023
We had a lovely, romantic trip down the coast of Croatia from May 28th to June 6th planned by Ala. Since my husband loves Roman and medieval history, and it was his first trip to Europe, we asked for a mixture of knowledgeable guides and fun activities. Our itinerary did not disappoint.
We started in Split. Ala recommended that we should see the Roman ruins at Salona in addition to the tour of Diocletian’s Palace. This escape from the city and the crowds turned out to be the highlight of our time in Split! After a couple of days in Split, we took the ferry to the island of Hvar. Every touchpoint in our transfers from location to location was carefully orchestrated by Ala and her team. We felt extremely taken care of.
Hvar was the definite highlight of our trip. I’d love to come back and just spend a week at the Maslina Resort. Our room and private patio had gorgeous views, the resort was quiet, and the service was excellent! After hearing that we love (casually) biking, Ala put together a 22-mile custom bike tour for us on Hvar. My husband and I agree that the bike ride through the island’s small towns, followed by a picnic lunch cooked by a local farmer on her coastal olive farm before we rode back along the coast, was an absolutely unbeatable experience.
We wrapped up the trip in Dubrovnik, immersing ourselves back in the history of Croatia. We especially liked the immaculate breakfast on the terrace at the Hotel Excelsior. Throughout the entire vacation, Ala and her local team were very responsive to our feedback. They also went above and beyond to make up for an unfortunate error on one excursion that was in no way their fault by offering us a sailing trip on our last day. It was a lovely way to end an excellent trip.
Portugal: hiking, on-the-ground support, “exceptional accommodations”…
ANITA GARFAGNOLI | JULY 5, 2023
We were a family of six (three couples) traveling to Portugal in May/June 2023 to celebrate some milestone life events.
We were extremely impressed with the exemplary level of service we received from Goncalo and his team. While Goncalo and his team flawlessly executed on a travel plan to Lisbon, Porto, Douro Valley, Alentejo, and Algarve, the times that really had us appreciate his expertise as a travel consultant were:
—finding us exceptional accommodations: we especially loved, loved, loved the serviced apartments he arranged for us in Lisbon and Porto. Who wouldn’t love a chic, top-floor, 3 br, 3ba space with a balcony and a view of the Tagus river, the Christo Rei monument, and the infamous bridge in the Chiado neighborhood in Lisbon?
—recommending unforgettable places to visit: he listened when we articulated that we were interested in seeing some of Portugal’s natural wonders, so he arranged for us to hike in the wondrous Paiva Walkways outside of Porto.
—having someone to call when something goes wrong: when I forgot an entry ticket in the hotel, I was able to connect with the on-call agent and get replacement tickets texted to me within minutes. I felt so relieved to have had someone I could contact to help me resolve my problem.
Goncalo and his team listened attentively when we were planning the trip and created an itinerary that was perfectly attuned to how we wanted to travel and to what we wanted to see and do.
Morocco: Atlas mountains, desert, seashore…
GERI KRAUSS | JULY 5, 2023
My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Morocco planned by Michael. The trip was superb. To begin with, we had a wonderful guide who stayed with us throughout the two-plus-week trip. He was not only a talented guide—sharing with us his deep knowledge of the country and its culture—but a kind, thoughtful and devout person who truly cared about our enjoyment, well-being and how we experienced Morocco. The trip itself spanned much of the country—from the cities of Marrakesh and Fes to the Atlas mountains, the Sahara desert and the seashore. While we had to drive long distances to cover everything we wanted to see, the time passed quickly, as the scenery throughout the country was gorgeous and dramatic. The drivers were careful and great—accommodating many requests to stop for photos. The hotels Michael recommended were each special in their own way (riads in the cities, kasbahs in the mountains and a tent in the desert) and the experiences he planned for us—cooking classes, dinner with a university professor to speak to us about the Sufis, walks through villages, markets and the old cities—were truly special. Wendy treated us to a WOW Moment in the desert—a camel ride up the dunes with hors d’oeuvres and champagne as the sun set—which was truly WOW! We did, unfortunately, suffer some health issues during the trip, but Michael and our guide were very accommodating to adjust our schedule as necessary. The country itself is fascinating—and we learned so much about its history, politics, culture and role in the world. We have traveled extensively with Wendy’s experts and every trip has been great. We heartily recommend both Morocco, Michael and Wendy!
Botswana & South Africa: once-in-a-lifetime safari
KAREN COMBS | JULY 5, 2023
An African safari has been at the top of my bucket list for a really long time. My daughter and I started researching and planning a trip for this year, but quickly became overwhelmed with all the decisions and choices to make with no real knowledge of the area. As longtime readers of Wendy’s website, we quickly realized where to turn for advice. We reached out to Julian, listed as one of the Africa specialists, gave him our dates, completed an interest questionnaire, corresponded by email and eventually spoke on the phone to confirm all our information. We gave him our budget range with trip experience priorities, other pertinent information and a few days later a beautiful travel booklet complete with daily itineraries, camp descriptions, transportation details and, well, all kinds of great information and advice arrived in my email inbox. We literally took Julian’s advice about our entire itinerary choices and it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime and more than we could ever have imagined. We started with a few days in Cape Town and despite the terrible weather had a wonderful time. Our driver, Jacques, was a fantastic guide and had some great advice for things to do despite the weather. We are in the healthcare industry and the Heart of Cape Town Museum was a fabulous, unplanned stop for us. The Four Rosmead Boutique Guesthouse was the perfect choice for our stay, so central and convenient to all our outings. The staff went above and beyond, the room was comfortable and breakfast each morning was amazing. Julian suggested we visit two safari camps at two different locations in Botswana, and this gave us an opportunity to explore different ecosystems. Both camps, Lebala and Sable Alley, were uniquely special, perfectly furnished, ideally located and staffed with the most welcoming and friendly people that we have ever met. The food was amazing and we especially loved the uncrowded, unhurried mood at camp as well as on the safari drives. We were able to see every animal on our bucket list, including the leopard family who are often well hidden and easy to miss. So many wonderful pictures and videos that our terrific guides were able to help us capture. Mr. G, Akeem, and Mario gave us a glimpse of animal life as we have never seen before, an up close, intimate view of a sometimes harsh reality. A mokoro excursion is definitely a do-not-miss adventure as well. Julian arranged all transportation between camps and airport pickups, which were exactly as described in our brochure and executed flawlessly. There are not enough words to express how grateful we are that he planned such a perfect trip for us. It was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for our family. Botswana and South Africa are truly special and amazing places. Many thanks to Julian for an unforgettable experience.
Newfoundland: Whales, icebergs, music…
BONNIE WARTON | JULY 4, 2023
We visited Newfoundland in June to celebrate my birthday. Jill made sure that it was a special trip that would generate the best of memories. She was attentive to my requests and texted me throughout the trip to ensure that all was going well. When she came to meet us for tea, it felt like we were visiting with a friend. The activities that she planned for us checked off all of the boxes that we had requested and then some. We enjoyed the boat and zodiac tours that checked off the puffins, whales and iceberg boxes. Foraging and cooking with Alex was a plus! She was able to get us last-minute tickets to both Sullivan’s Song House and Anchors Aweigh. Our biggest request of Jill came at the end of the trip. We had planned 3 days in Montreal but because of the air-quality issues there, we had to make a last-minute decision. I spoke to Jill and she was able to extend our car rental and book us accommodations. She arranged for us to see the sold-out performance of Anchors Aweigh. We called her our miracle worker.
Montreal & Quebec: valuable hotel intel, hard-to-get reservations…
MIRIAM MORRIS | JULY 1, 2023
Just returned from a fantastic trip to Montreal and Quebec City orchestrated by Yoann. The trip was June 9 thru June 17. We were meeting friends in Montreal for four nights and then we all went to Quebec City. Yoann listened to me and delivered a spectacular trip. In Montreal, he recommended that we go to the new show of Cirque de Soleil and arranged wonderful seats for us. Everyone loved it and it was a highlight of the whole trip. Our friends had been trying to snag a reservation for Joe Beef in Montreal and in a flash, Yoann got us a Saturday night reservation.
By the time I first spoke to Yoann we had already reserved hotels. He strongly discouraged me from staying at the hotel in Quebec and steered us to the absolutely charming Le Germain Hotel. This was a wonderful choice in every way. Staff, room and breakfast were great. But, as Yoann said, we really should be in lower Quebec not higher Quebec. I was so happy we listened to him as we did go to higher Quebec, of course, but found it too crowded, too touristy and too much. In contrast, we could walk out the door of our hotel and be in the most charming area filled with incredible restaurants and shops. It also was just a short walk to the funicular which takes you to the upper part.
Per Yoann’s recommendation, we also spent an idyllic day on the Isle d’Orleans just off of Quebec. All four of us were in heaven stopping at various farms and outlooks and having a very tasty meal. This was certainly another highlight for all of us.
Yoann made our trip much better. He was attentive and always available. Easy to communicate with and a real pleasure. I could not recommend him highly enough and am already planning to do another trip with him next year.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Iceland: glaciers, horses, volcanoes…
SUSAN CRANDELL | JUNE 29, 2023
Chris must live on Iceland time at his home in upstate New York. Far as I can figure, there is no time you cannot reach him. He boasts concierge service for his travelers, and he delivers. When we texted at 2 a.m. East Coast time with a query, Chris was on it immediately.
Not only did he create a well-planned self-driving itinerary for us with action-packed days, but he was available throughout our trip, whether we needed to sort out a glitch or decide where to eat dinner.
There were so many highlights: transiting a glacier cave via criss-crossing planks above roaring glacial runoff; a private sanctuary tour that had us inches from two beluga whales; experiencing tolt, a unique gait of the flowing-maned Icelandic horses; Zodiac-ing among icebergs to the face of a glacier.
I would encourage anybody who loves the outdoors to visit Iceland. There are hikes galore: you can transit behind a towering waterfall, ascend to the rim of an active volcano, or visit an extraordinary black-pebble beach. We boated by Surtsey, the newest island on earth, a dozen years younger than I am.
England & Scotland: London, the Cotswolds, Edinburgh…
CANDICE WOODWORTH | JUNE 29, 2023
In 2019, when we promised our daughter a trip to Great Britain as a 40th birthday gift, we expected to give that gift in 2020. Our daughter is an avid devotee of Harry Potter, Downton Abbey and many facets of British life. She is also a passionate, amateur photographer and author of fan fiction, with an abiding desire to be accurate in her writing. She felt that she had reached a plateau in her research of British times and places, and could refine her work if she could experience the sights, smells, sounds, flavors and textures of the places where her stories take place.
The pandemic postponed our trip until 2023 and during that interval we were able to refine our list of goals and fortuitously become aware of Wendy Perrin’s team and The WOW List. Wendy’s team put us in contact with Jonathan’s team. What a blessing!
Unfortunately, the delay also tempted us to compile a list of desired experiences that far exceeded the time and resources we had available for the trip. Jonathan was wonderful, and gentle, in helping us refine and organize our list to maximize the success of our journey.
What we wanted most of all was a sensory experience of Great Britain, bringing to life a broad sampling of the different historical, regional and hierarchical offerings of the island. Our wish list included castles, abbeys, manor houses, local foods and gardens. We wanted to visit the big cities, small villages and rural farmlands. We wanted to minimize the barriers between us, as visitors, and the people of England and Scotland.
By the time we had honed our wish list, Jonathan’s team had a real sense of who we were and what we wanted. We divided our time around four major centers: London and surroundings; Bath and the Cotswolds; York and northeastern England; and Edinburgh and rural Scotland. In each of these locations we had one or more walking or driver guides, who was a resident in the selected area and extremely well versed in the many facets of the location. Our guides, Angus, Adge, Howard, Val, and Davaidh, were surprisingly well informed about who we were, our itinerary and what we were hoping to experience.
Many of our desires were predictable (to name a few): Hyde Park, Kensington Palace and Gardens, Green Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Big Ben, Parliament, Highclere Castle, Bampton, Castle Combe, Broadway, York Minster, the Shambles and the Jorvik center, the Cotswolds and Moors, Salisbury, Magna Carta, Alnwick Castle, Bamburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, Inverary Castle, and, of course, fish and chips and other local cuisine.
Other “must haves” were less predictable: Camden Market, Abney Park Cemetery, Avebury Henge, Haggis, All Butter Eccles Cakes, the Alnwick Castle Poison Garden, a coin shop, and the Costco in Stevenage. In every case, our guides were able to help us satisfy our desires.
Beyond that, the guides were able to suggest modifications to our schedule, suggesting experiences we had not thought of, adjusting our schedule to be more efficient or carving out time for desires we had given up on. Several of our favorite stops had not been on our list of desires, such as the Two Chairmen Pub, Castle Howard, Writer’s Museum in Old Town Edinburgh, up close and personal with Highland Coos, Eilean Donan Castle, Dalmally-Lochawe, Whitby-Goathland train station, a Tartan factory and Inverary Jail.
Our history lessons were of the usual kinds: names; dates; and events. Our visceral learnings were all through our senses: the incredible accommodations that provided us a glimpse into a life of luxury and privilege — Roseate Hotel in London, The Manor House at Castle Combe, The Grand in York, Intercontinental The George in Edinburgh, Inverlochy Castle and Cromlix; the peaceful and rich openness of the moors; the smell of salt air, sound of waves, beauty of dunes and beaches of the North Sea; the sights and sounds of Morris Men in Bampton; the timeless cry of bagpipes near the ancient walls of Edinburgh Castle; calm, clear waters of the many Lochs reflecting sky and mountains; and the feel of cobbles underfoot in the early-morning and late-at-night walks.
Perhaps the greatest parts of our trip were the personal reflections of our guides. Each in his or her own way expressed a deep love of their land, their nation and their people. The social hierarchy was expressed in ways that reflected a candid acceptance and pride of their system. The history was related in ways that honored and respected each culture’s contribution to the current nation. Their gift of many stories was priceless. Special thanks to Jordi, the Concierge at The Grand in York, who went above and beyond to help make our time in York relaxing and memorable.
One guide assured us that the “Seashell of Lisson Grove” had the best fish and chips in London. Another assured us that the “Oyster House” in Scotland had the best fish and chips in Britain. We tried both. However, we cannot agree with either, only because we haven’t tested the fish in every other restaurant. What we can agree on is that they were both so wonderful that we would love to return and test the fish in every place, so that we can know for certain.
Turkey: private yacht along the coast
LISA MANNING | JUNE 28, 2023
Karen and her team planned a 9-day trip for me and my family to Istanbul and the Turkish Coast. We spent 2 full days in Istanbul touring all the major sites with Karen’s most informative and pleasurable-to-be-around guide Saleem. Istanbul is busy and overwhelming and Saleem navigated us seamlessly throughout and we learned so much from him too! Next, we flew to Bodrum for a 5-night cruise aboard a Turkish gulet. The excitement and joy on my 11-year-old son’s face when he saw the cruise we were about to embark on was a memory I wish to cherish. Captain Nihat and the rest of the crew on the boat were professional and the service was high-level. It is rare to get service like this in the States, or anywhere we travel. The cruise was gorgeous, the food was amazing, and we had the best time. Karen checked in with us throughout the trip, left of goodie bags of lovely gifts at every new destination we arrived at. It was a trip we won’t forget!
Ecuador: Galapagos, the Amazon, Otavalo…
MARTHA RUBENSTEIN | JUNE 27, 2023
We typically have planned our own trips and after reading the posts on this website for many years, we decided we would use a Wendy Perrin specialist for our bucket-list trip to Ecuador, the Galapagos and the Ecuadorian Amazon in late spring. We could not have made a better decision than working with Allie. Our trip was perfect and we did not have a single hiccup despite several flights and transitions. Every guide, driver, flight, restaurant, lodging were excellent as were the ship Allie suggested (Endemic) and the lodge in the Amazon (La Selva). Knowing someone else (Allie) had planned this trip, trusted the guides/lodgings and that we had a contact if needed for any issues took away the various concerns of making your own arrangements.
Allie recommended we base our trip dates on the Galapagos dates. For us, there was no question that we would do a water-based trip vs land-based. We initially had difficulty settling on a sail date and boat due to availability (we planned the trip 5 months out) and our request for a boat with a balcony off the room. Following Allie’s advice, we also wanted a two-hulled catamaran to help minimize potential seasickness. Allie was patient and continued to come up with suggestions until we found a boat and itinerary that worked.
Once the boat was selected we were able to plan the rest of the trip around those dates. If you are headed to the Galapagos, most travel planners suggest allowing at least a day in Quito in case of any travel issues, and we decided to add on a 2nd day in Otavalo before heading to the islands. Allie arranged our day in Quito (altho we could have made changes of course with our guide) visiting the Teleferico, Old Town, the Equator and a lovely restaurant on the edge of a volcanic crater. In Otavalo, we visited a number of locations with the guide and on our own including the fruit market, the craft market, a family that designs and makes their crafts in their home and a sacred waterfall that we were able to walk to from the hotel and felt very safe. We were concerned about the elevation at Cotopaxi or we may have gone there instead, altho we loved our overnight in Otavalo which gave us a bit more time to explore on our own.
Our guide (Henry) and drivers (Patricio and sons) the first 2 days were gems. Our guide shared interesting and relevant information non-stop about Ecuador, Quito and Otavalo and the driver drove expertly thru the narrow and crowded streets and windy highways of Quito and its environs. Our lodging in Quito, Mama Cuchara, was a beautiful restored Spanish Colonial home with great staff, a fun rooftop bar area, an incredible breakfast buffet and delicious, traditional dinner items. In Otavalo we stayed in a sister hotel, equally as beautiful with dedicated staff, serving another round of tasty meals.
The date for the Galapagos we ended up with was a bit later than we had planned to go and we were a bit concerned about the weather/water temperature but ultimately the timing was right. The weather in the Galapagos in early June was a perfect temperature (high 70’s/low 80’s). The water temperature was warm enough that some fellow passengers chose not to wear the full-length wetsuits we were given. Most of us wore them to aid in the buoyancy that they provide. Every member of our crew on the Endemic were excellent and very attentive. The bed was very comfortable and the rooms were very spacious due I guess to having a wide double hull, as were the communal areas, allowing us to relax and share stories with fellow, friendly travelers ages 32-75. The ship was immaculate and the chefs and crew worked extremely hard to make sure everyone was happy. The post-excursion refreshing juice, treats and washcloths for cooling off provided were a delight.
Our Naturalist guide, Harry, born and bred in the Galapagos, was very knowledgeable, very patient and made each excursion entertaining. You can’t go wrong with any itinerary. We had been told that but now that we have experienced it, I would agree. We swam with sea turtles, penguins, sea lions, sharks and an array of fish. On our hikes, we observed tortoises, flamingoes, iguanas, sea lions and several varieties of boobies and birds. We were briefed the night before so we knew what to expect the next day.
Our next stop was La Selva Lodge in the Amazon. We had done our own research and decided if we were going to visit the Amazon, we would like to do so in Ecuador. Allie helped us decide where to stay. This was a fascinating adventure from the moment we landed. The transportation to the lodge, a motorized large canoe (water taxi) on the Napo River followed by a smaller canoe, is an adventure in itself. The accommodations and food were excellent, including the box lunch we were given on our way to the lodge from Coca. The staff at the Lodge as well as our Naturalist Guide (Danny), who was from the local indigenous community along with his uncle who worked with him, were all amazing. They could spot the smallest of creatures even in the dark of the jungle.
The Amazon is naturally hot and humid and you definitely have the feeling of being in the jungle. We rarely saw a mosquito as Ecuador is working with other countries to eradicate malaria. Unlike the Galapagos, it is much more hit-or-miss with wildlife and somewhat dependent on time of year but we were lucky to see diverse selection of flora and fauna including a sloth, caimans, spiders, several varieties of monkeys, birds, tree frogs as well as a large variety of interesting plant life and trees. A highlight was visiting the local indigenous community and seeing a snapshot of their life.
As with most wildlife excursions, you are up early almost every day both in the Galapagos and the Amazon. In both locations we had time midday when the sun is at its strongest to read, rest (or have an amazing massage at La Selva). We both have a gluten intolerance and at every location, we were expertly and tastefully accommodated. Allie made sure our hotels, the Endemic as well as La Selva, were made aware in advance. The clothing lists suggested are essential – quick dry, long sleeves, long pants, sun hats etc as well as hiking shoes, water shoes and a pair of flip flops and you are set. Enjoy!
Italy: hidden gem in the Lake Region
MIKE BRENNAN | JUNE 26, 2023
We worked with Emanuela to plan our trip from Venice to Verona to the Lake Region. We had planned to go to Lake Como or Lake Garda. After our initial Zoom call and emails asking about our particular likes and dislikes and goals for our trip, Emanuela suggested we skip the crowds that are visiting Italy this year and instead go to Lake Orta, a smaller jewel of a lake located just west of Lake Maggiore. The hotel Emanuela recommended was delightful and our tour guides everywhere we went (from Venice to the Lakes) were outstanding. The personalized approach and private touring each step of the way made our trip very special and exactly what we had hoped for. We could never have planned a trip like this on our own, which included tours of historical interest, culinary interest and hiking. We look forward to working with Wendy’s recommended tour planner for our next trip.
New Zealand: an adventurous honeymoon
ANA CHRISTA BOKSAY | JUNE 25, 2023
Our honeymoon in New Zealand was amazing. We worked with Gillian, and she and her team put together a great itinerary full of unforgettable experiences on both the North and South Islands.
The most memorable place we stayed was Mahu Whenua, a large private conservation area with a small, exquisite, full-service lodge overlooking Lake Wanaka, just perfect for a honeymoon. We also went scuba diving with Dive Tutukaka where we saw beautiful sea life and unique formations, we packrafted on Rees River (hiking in with rafts in backpacks and then floating out), we got a private 4×4 tour of Skipper’s Canyon, and we rode a helicopter through the Southern Alps from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
Gillian also arranged dinner reservations in each area and provided recommendations for pack lunches, taking into account some challenging dietary restrictions. Our favorite meal might have been at Sage Restaurant at Paroa Bay Winery, looking out over the Bay of Islands. In Paihia we also quite liked Charlotte’s Kitchen, and Third Wheel Coffee Company was the perfect place to pick up tasty, fresh sandwiches and hearty salads before multiple days’ activities.
Gillian was very responsive both before and during the trip, including day-of confirmations about weather and activity availability. The weather in late March was generally good but there were a couple of rainy days which required shuffling plans. During some of our downtime we got to satisfy some of our curiosity: about New Zealand’s history at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, and about kiwi birds and other local wildlife at Kiwi Park Queenstown.
In two short weeks there’s only so much of New Zealand we could really explore, but without a doubt we saw more and enjoyed it more thanks to Gillian and all her local knowledge and creativity. Thanks Gillian!
Turkey: Istanbul, Ephesus, Cappadocia…
JOE COCO | JUNE 25, 2023
Our trip to Turkey this past May, planned by Karen’s office, went extremely well. My wife, 22-year-old daughter and I visited Istanbul, Ephesus/Izmir, and Cappadocia, and then back to Istanbul for 2 days to relax at the Four Seasons Bosphorus. Late May was a nice time of year to visit. All of our guides and drivers were very good and provided some nice personal touches along the way. The airport transfer assistance, especially in Istanbul where it was most beneficial, was exceptionally helpful and made things much easier — truly VIP service. Highlights/pleasant surprises included: In Istanbul, while the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace are impressive and important to see, pleasant surprises that we really enjoyed were the Basilica Cistern, Bosphorus boat ride, and just relaxing on the patio along the water at the Four Seasons at the end of the trip. Our guide did a very sweet thing by noticing that our daughter was interested in some small bowls in a market but didn’t end up purchasing them. So, unbeknownst to us, our guide purchased the bowls on her own time and money and surprised our daughter the next day with them. Very thoughtful! Also special was that Karen met up with us and treated us to lunch one day. The Terrace Houses at Ephesus were also a pleasant surprise. Most of the tourists didn’t visit these, even though they are at the same location in Ephesus, because it’s an extra ticket so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. The sunrise hot-air balloon ride in Cappadocia was amazing and worth getting up at 3:30 am. The entire hot-air balloon experience is just great, from the scale and professionalism of the operation to the natural beauty as the light changed from dark to light. Beyond just the balloon ride, whether it’s hiking or driving around, Cappadocia’s incredible natural beauty, calmer feel and cave residences make it a must-see. Our guide in Cappadocia (who was wonderful) also treated us to some very local experiences. For example, we passed by a very small farm as we hiked into a valley around the fairy chimneys, and our guide just started chatting with the farmer and asked if he could show us what crops he was growing as well as his beehives. The farmer then generously carved off chunks of honeycomb dripping with honey for us to enjoy. In addition, by that point in the trip we were looking for simpler, mostly vegetarian food for lunch, and our guide took us to his favorite local “home-cooked food” restaurants, which was just what we wanted.
France: Burgundy, Loire Valley, Paris…
MARY LAMALFA | JUNE 25, 2023
Our group of four travelled to France in mid-May. We stayed one night in Paris on each end of the trip but wanted to focus on areas we hadn’t visited before. Our first day in Paris, Jennifer planned a trip around the city in an open-top vintage Citroen car. This was so much fun and the highlight was stopping in Montmartre for a Champagne toast with a gorgeous view overlooking the city. The next day we were off to Burgundy for 4 nights. Jennifer suggested using Beaune as our base and we were so happy that we did, as we prefer the smaller towns and villages. We stayed at the Hostellerie Cedre, which we highly recommend. It is within walking distance to the center of town with many wonderful restaurants. We did eat one night at the Michelin-starred restaurant at the hotel but actually preferred our dinners in town at the local eateries. Each day we had wonderful guides who led us through local markets, wine tastings, village tours and vineyards.
We were then off to the Loire Valley for 3 nights. We stayed in Blois at the Fleur de Loire. It was a beautiful, fairly new hotel opened by a famous French chef. You can walk across the bridge to the old town of Blois for shopping, restaurants and to tour the Chateau Royal de Blois. As nice as the hotel was, we would not recommend it. There were numerous staff members always on duty but they never seemed to be very helpful. The concierge dropped the ball several times on dinner reservations for us and one of our local guides was able to help us in a more timely and efficient manner. We had a very relaxing boat ride on the river in Blois with local guides who brought snacks and wine. One of the highlights of the Loire Valley for us was the cooking class we took with 2 wonderful ladies. We made an incredible lunch of asparagus soup, cheese souffle, salad and chocolate tart. Then we all enjoyed our lunch with more wine of course. The Loire Valley is known for its chateaus and we loved visiting the Chambord Castle and the Chateau de Chenonceau. Another favorite experience was a visit to a small family-owned winery in Ange called Clos Roussely. The day we visited was a holiday in France and the owner had given his staff the day off, so he spent the afternoon with us himself. We enjoyed a picnic lunch, all foods the owner had procured from local delis and bakeries, with our wine tasting. We loved the wine and ordered a case to send back to the U.S.
Then it was back to Paris for our final day. We had a guided visit to the Musee d’Orsay (skipping the long lines) and a wonderful dinner that Jennifer booked for us. That evening we had a private boat ride on the Seine on a beautiful old Venetian boat. The highlight was stopping in front of the twinkling Eiffel Tower at the end of the evening.
I would highly recommend Jennifer as a trip planner. She was very detail-oriented and planned a thoughtful trip after listening to all our requests. The greeters at the airport both coming and going were worth every penny. We were whisked through the airport in record times and it just eliminates so much stress. Each night of the trip we received a text about the next day’s itinerary and who our guides and drivers would be. Our trip was amazing but be aware that France is a very expensive place to travel right now. Last year we used Wendy to book a trip to Portugal and it was half the price of France but just as amazing.
Thailand: Koh Samui, Bangkok, Golden Triangle…
ANDREW SHAPIRO | JUNE 23, 2023
Dan, our WOW List contact, his associate Bank and Dan’s whole team named our 15-night trip from June 4th through June 18th, 2023 the “Thailand Grand Slam.” After my wife, 26-year-old son and 23-year-old daughter and I experienced this long-time bucket list Thailand adventure, the only word I’d add is…Perfection!
Briefly, things we loved about our experience with Dan’s office…
1) The most comprehensive, informative and interesting pre-trip package we’ve ever received.
2) “Fast Track” International Airport arrival and departure service enabling us to skip the long immigration lines and expediting us through customs was fantastic! Moreover, all domestic airport transfers were an absolute pleasure and so easy (I didn’t have to think! Lol!).
3) Incredibly well planned and, equally important, paced trip.
4) Amazing guides who understood and applied the “art” of being an effective guide.
5) Extremely comfortable air-conditioned vans with excellent, safe drivers and always well supplied with cold waters, cold towels and snacks.
6) The suggested hotels and our ultimate choices were some of the best we’ve stayed anywhere in the world.
7) The food recommendations from “street food” to Michelin restaurants were all delicious. Moreover, those meals, all breakfasts as well as several lunches and dinners, included as part of our paid itinerary, were exceedingly generous.
8) Flexibility — Due to how we were feeling at certain times we wanted to make some last-minute itinerary changes and Dan’s office made it easy for us and was always very accommodating.
9) Our son needed to go to the hospital in Bangkok. He’s fine and thank God his issue ultimately turned out to be minor than major, but until we knew we were scared. Dan’s team, our amazing guide, the Hotel Manager, the Dr. who came to the Hotel and the Dr.s who were waiting for us when we arrived at the hospital exhibited a Master Class in poise under pressure, responsiveness, sensitivity, calming and reassurance. We will always be grateful and never forget how Dan’s office handled this very stressful situation.
10) The pricing for everything (i.e. Hotels, room choices, breakfasts, several lunches and dinners, private guides, drivers, tours, transfers, Fast Track, tickets, internal flights, etc.) we received per our itinerary we thought was extremely fair and in fact lower than what we expected. Bravo!
Bottom line, we LOVED our Thailand experience that Dan orchestrated and executed on our behalf. We HIGHLY recommend them and no doubt will work with them again.
For those who like more detail, hotels and highlights, is below…
We stayed 3 nights each at 5 different locations. Our first 3 nights per Dan’s smart suggestion were in KOH SAMUI island at the Four Seasons, enabling us to rest and recover from our long journey, 2 flights and 20 hours of flying, from New York City to Thailand. Moreover, it gave us ample time to acclimate to the 11-hour time zone difference. The Four Seasons was one of the nicest we’ve ever stayed at, dramatically built into a mountain and offering incredible views of the Gulf of Thailand. If a room with a view is very important to you, as it is to my wife and me, the Panoramic Ocean Pool Villa room, there are only 3 of them, was absolutely amazing and arguably the nicest hotel room we’ve stayed anywhere. Those first 3 days of leisure were just what we needed to start the trip.
BANGKOK was next for 3 nights, where we stayed at The Siam, a stunningly beautiful boutique Thai-themed hotel on the Chao Praya River. The River View Suite here was perfect. Highlights include but are not limited to an amazing “street food” experience; a private longtail boat ride exploring the very diverse and fascinating riverside neighborhoods; learning about Buddhism from our outstanding guide through some significant temple visits; tuk tuk rides; ringside seats to Muay Thai fights at the famous, historic and modernized Rajadamnern Stadium; and a Ladyboy Show (the “Hava Nagila” number had our entire family hysterically laughing and was unforgettable!). We had a blast in Bangkok with long days and nights by design.
It was a welcome reprieve to then go to the northernmost part of Thailand, CHIANG RAI, beautifully nestled in the misty mountains bordering the countries of Laos & Myanmar (Burma) at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers. We stayed at the Anantara Resort Golden Triangle. We loved our Three Country View Suite. Everyday we all enjoyed the expansive, heated and inviting infinity pool overlooking the 120-acre elephant reserve. One of our absolute favorite experiences during our entire Thailand trip was our 90 minutes with Anantara’s elephants — “Walking with Giants.” Our family has done a lot of memorable animal experiences over the years (i.e. Big 5 in Africa; Tigers in India; Gorillas in Rwanda; Chimpanzees in Mahali; Penguins in Antarctica; Polar Bears in the Arctic; Migration in Tanzania; Giraffes at Giraffe Manor; Kangaroos on Kangaroo Island; Whales in Alaska & Mexico; et al) but this 90 minutes with the elephants at Anantara was especially special. A must!
We took a 7-hour relaxed scenic road trip with some memorable experiences along the way from Chiang Rai to our next 3-night stay in CHIANG MAI. The most of which was our visit and lunch with a remote (and primitive) Lahu hill tribe village comprised of 200 members who literally live off the land. They prepared from scratch one of the best meals we had in Thailand. From start to finish this hill tribe village visit was fascinating and fun for us…and them.
We arrived at the Four Seasons CHIANG MAI. Simply exquisite. We’ve stayed at many Four Seasons all over the world and we all agreed the Four Seasons in Chiang Mai & Koh Samui are #1 and #2 on our list, in no particular order. Our Upper Rice Terrace Pavilion rooms overlooking the stunningly beautiful resort and the Four Seasons’ own rice paddies was phenomenal. Highlights were a 30-kilometer bike ride with our amazing guide through the beautiful countryside; visiting the Old City; seeing and learning about some unique and historical temples, but perhaps most of all a private session we had with an English-speaking Buddhist monk where we could ask him anything…and we did. Truly enlightening.
Our final 3 nights and also per Dan’s smart recommendation we stayed in the Phuket area, to relax and recover from the past touring and to rest up for the long journey home. Dan suggested several hotel recommendations, one of which, The Six Senses, was located on the nearby island of KOH YAO NOI in Phang Nga Bay. Dan described it as “sublime.” After spending 3 nights I could not agree more. The Six Senses built into a mountain with incredible, dramatic and awe-inspiring views of Phang Nga Bay and the limestone islands felt surreal. Their infinity pool at the very top of the resort has the best views and is the nicest infinity pool we’ve ever experienced. We loved our Panoramic Ocean Pool Villa. All in all, mesmerizing! Dan’s team also arranged a half-day private longtail boat and sea kayaking tour in Phang Nga Bay; exploring the islands, visiting “James Bond Island” and sea kayaking through caves was an awesome highlight.
On our final night dinner our kids remarked to my wife and me, “This was an EPIC trip! You guys did a GREAT job planning it!” We replied, “We love hearing that and greatly appreciate it but…Dan & his team did ALL the planning!”
THANK YOU Dan & team!
Norway: from Oslo to beyond the Arctic Circle
GEORGE STEPHENS | JUNE 22, 2023
Torunn planned a wonderful 3-week trip to Norway for us that we finished in June. We traveled from Oslo to Nesseby, which is past the Arctic Circle near the Russian border, spending 3 nights each in 7 venues. Torunn tailored the trip to our preferences, which lean toward a bit of adventure and agri-tourism. In the north we stayed at a 2-room lodge run by a Sami fisherman and spent a morning crab fishing on his boat and an afternoon on an archaeological walk with his wife. He was an excellent cook and served foods he and his wife had caught, shot, or foraged from the landscape. He served the crab we caught in 3 different preparations, each of which was excellent.
The next day we toured the area with a Sami reindeer herder. We also spent time on a small island well out in the Atlantic where we kayaked along the seashore to a lighthouse; foraged in Trondheim with a professional forager picking plants for our lunch; visited a dairy near Oslo producing a unique cheese product and advocating a more humane way to treat dairy cattle; and spent 3 nights at a farm with a gourmet chef specializing in dishes featuring fruit and vegetables from the farm. We received very personal treatment from the hosts at our smaller venues and each of them indicated how much they valued their relationship with Torunn.
Our wedding anniversary occurred during the trip and Torunn arranged a WOW Moment for us that was great fun. We were in Aurland at a farm set in a stunningly beautiful valley with steep mountainsides and many waterfalls. We were serenaded by a musician playing a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, a type of double-strung violin. The venue was a small shelter with a magnificent view, and we toasted ourselves and the trip with homemade pear Kombucha made by the chef. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Portugal: cities, beaches, a local festival…
RICHARD CARVOLTH | JUNE 21, 2023
Noreen and Rick Carvolth here—just returning from an amazing trip to Portugal, along with our good friends Ivan and Carolyn Gowan. We cannot say enough about Goncalo and his team, especially Sofia! Goncalo’s planning process was super-friendly, easy and thorough, resulting in a trip that perfectly met all our goals and expectations. We gathered in Porto in late May and over three days got to know the city and its historic sites with the help of two private tour guides. A highlight was a tour and wine tasting at Taylor’s beautiful lodge. Our next leg was an incredible drive in our rental car into the magnificent Duoro valley. In addition to private winery tours, a highlight was an afternoon cruise on the Duoro River. Then we were off to Coimbra with a stay at the historic Quinta das Lagrimas, an 18th century palace in the heart of the city. The renowned University and Library did not disappoint! For those of us who are antiquities fans, the Roman ruins of Conimbriga were eye-opening with their detailed mosiacs and preserved peristyles. We then drove through the beautiful Alentejo country, stopping in the little medieval towns of Belmonte and Marvao with the Castles panoramic views into Southern Spain. At the Torre de Palma Hotel we lunched in an olive grove amid its own Roman ruin. Then we were on to the Algarve region, stopping in Evora and Mertola on the way, two ancient but vibrant cities. Next stop came the town of Tavira, with its charming beachside hustle and bustle. Out of the port of Portimao we took an all-day sailing cruise complete with sightseeing, swimming, and exquisite cuisine. Finally, June 12-15 we were on to Lisbon and Sintra for three days. We were fortunate to visit during the Festival of St. Anthony. The city was alive with revelers, music, and many friendly people—natives and visitors alike.
It’s safe to say that with this trip we experienced a slice of almost all that Portugal has to offer—old and new, urban and rural, coast, mountains, rivers, and countryside. We found the people to be warm, encouraging, and helpful and the accommodations, dining and tour experiences fantastic without exception. Our hats are off to Goncalo and his team. The logistics, connections, guidance, reservations, and experiences were all just—WOW!!
Israel: iconic spots, little-known UNESCO sites…
KEN GERBER | JUNE 21, 2023
Our tour in Israel put together by Joe was terrific. He was very patient and helpful in working with us to develop an itinerary that met our objectives in terms of cost, accommodations, and points of interest. Most importantly, the guide we had for our tour (Gil Haran) was absolutely the best! (Probably, the best guide we have ever had.) He was very knowledgeable, personable and helpful. We learned a lot from him and enjoyed our conversations with him concerning a wide variety of topics. The arrangements made for touring the Mahane Yehuda Market, the Western Wall tunnels, and Maktesh Ramon all were top-quality, very informative, and worked out very well. The highlight of our trip was exploring little-known UNESCO sites that many Israelis don’t even know about, where we were literally the only ones there. Joe and Gil delivered top-quality services. We had a great trip and will certainly recommend Joe, Gil and their team highly to anyone who asks our advice about planning a trip to Israel.
Greece: hiking, sailing, family-run vineyard…
KAREN BAESMAN | JUNE 20, 2023
We just returned from an amazing trip to Greece! We were a group of six — my husband, two of our children and their spouses (ages 29 and 27), and me. My husband had been to Greece for a week in 1986 when he was studying abroad and my daughter-in-law had been on a high school trip, but it was the first time for the rest of us. Our travel planner was Jacoline and I would enthusiastically recommend her! My daughter-in-law is in medical school and doesn’t always know when she will have breaks, so when I found out she had two weeks off in June, we were quite short on time to plan the trip, especially given the post-Covid demand. Normally, I research a place thoroughly before reaching out to a travel planner so that I can make sure we are seeing and doing what I know we enjoy. Due to the time crunch I wasn’t able to do this, so I had to trust Jacoline to take what I told her about our interests and preferences and come up with the perfect itinerary. She listened well and designed a trip with the right amount of active time and down time and the correct amount of history and cultural experiences. One of the things that stood out was her food recommendations. I don’t think I have ever had a vacation where almost every meal was reserved in advance, and we so enjoyed all of her recommendations! I had read on her WOW profile that she has written a book on small hotels in Greece, and that showed in the choices she gave us for our accommodations. Also, after we started planning the trip, we found out that our daughter was pregnant, so she had to make a few modifications (no biking!).
We spent two nights. Highlights were the guided tour of the Acropolis Museum and Acropolis, dinner at Aleria, and a performance of Madame Butterfly in the Herodeon!
We spent two nights. This was our favorite hotel of the trip, the Hydrea, because they had a terrace which was the perfect gathering place for our group and it had the perfect view of the town and harbor. We did a nine-mile hike with a trail runner as our guide. Part of the fun of traveling is meeting the people and he was an interesting one.
We spent two nights. We learned about past civilizations at Epidavros and Mycenae and had cultural experiences of visiting a family-run creamery and a family-run vineyard. The highlight was the family vineyard visit. We learned about how they grow the grapes, saw their olive groves and garden and then (the best part) we ate lunch with them. The food was prepared by the mom and it was all delicious! Of course we had wine with our food. What a great experience — laughing, eating and enjoying one another!
We spent four nights. We went sailing, kayaking, wine tasting, and had an island tour (the ruins at Akrotiri were fascinating). We are into wine (we built our current house around our first-floor wine cellar), but we had no idea how they grow grapes on Santorini (spoiler alert — they weave the vines into baskets). One of the highlights from this portion of the trip was our visit to a pottery shop. What made it so fun was the artist. Not only were his skills unbelievable, but he was quite the character!
Again, I highly recommend Jacoline and her assistant, Evan, if you are planning to travel to Greece.
Switzerland: off-the-beaten-track locations, a WOW Moment…
DEBORAH WENTE | JUNE 20, 2023
We just returned from a fabulous trip to Switzerland. There is so much talk of the crowds this summer, but we had many experiences that were intimate and uncrowded. We stayed in 3 different locations, first was Ascona on Lake Maggiore. What a lovely small town. We were so happy that we were not in a bigger city. We ate at the same restaurant 3 times because the service was so great (Restaurant Easy) and there was so much variety. One day our guide took us into the Bavona Valley, where we hiked to the top of a waterfall, then had a picnic lunch at a spluia (a living space built under a boulder). We may have seen a dozen other hikers and all were Swiss Italian. It was extraordinary.
On our drive from Ascona we arrived to the top of Gotthard Pass where we had our WOW Moment. The mountains are hollowed out with tunnels and bunkers from WWII. One bunker has been turned into a hotel/restaurant, La Clavstra. It was opened especially for us for a tour, then a lovely meal 70 meters underground. It was fascinating.
Our next stop was Zermatt, where the skies cleared up for a beautiful view of the Matterhorn. We took the cog railway up to the Gornergrat. Zermatt and the railway were a bit more crowded, but as we hiked down the mountain with our guide we were able to spread out and felt as though we had the mountain to ourselves.
Our last stop was Vevey on the shores of Lake Geneva. Another incredibly special experience awaited us the afternoon of our arrival. We met our guide at our hotel, walked across the street and hopped in a 1966 Riva wooden boat. We drove along the Swiss Riviera, docked and were driven to a vineyard in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lavaux. Wine and fondue with the winemaker, it was magical. Thank you Nicolas and Swiss Riviera Wine Tours.
We had rented a car for a couple of days to explore, but then decided that we would prefer a driver. David on Nina’s team took it in stride, arranged for us to return the car that day and set up drivers and guides on very short notice. This is the value of a TTE, thank you David.
We are so pleased with the choices of cities and accommodations. Switzerland is breathtakingly beautiful, and we really appreciate the experiences off the beaten track.
Greece: Athens, Hydra, Santorini…
KARRIE EVANS | JUNE 16, 2023
We had the privilege of working with Jacoline on our trip to Greece on 5/3/2023-5/13/2023. Our trip included Athens, Hydra and Santorini. She made the most of our short trip and somehow turned every single day into a highlight. I never thought I could say that about a vacation! There were 5 adults on this trip and we all had our favorites, which is a credit to her. Jacoline created experiences that we would have never done on our own, like spending time with a wonderful family on their farm feeding their animals and making spanakopita as part of a huge feast on their terrace, as well as private wine tours, personal guides to archeological sites, pottery classes, and a private cooking lesson on more amazing Greek food. We loved really getting to meet the people and understanding the culture. That is something that we would have never experienced on our own. Everyone worked together: drivers, guides, hosts…. It was truly an honor to meet them all and a testament to Jacoline’s vetting process and who she chooses to use. We loved the unique boutique hotels especially on Hydra, an island we never knew existed but quickly became our favorite. We never felt like a “tourist” but more of students in history class which we found fascinating. The biggest testament for Jacoline came from the guides who all sang her praises and listened to the stories, how she vetted them posing as a tourist. They were quite humorous! All of our guides/experiences were excellent and not the average tourist experience.
Jacoline is also gifted in providing us with balance. We pushed hard upon our arrival in Athens to make the most of the few days we were there before heading off to the island of Hydra. We had never heard of this island but after talking with Jacoline, she booked us in a wonderful mansion turned boutique hotel (Hydrea) that served us breakfast each morning on the terrace overlooking the water/town. Staff was very personable and allowed us to wander the property to look at the historic home. There are no cars or motorcycles so we enjoyed the peace and quiet, especially after a few days in Athens. If you get a chance, don’t miss this gem! We left Hydra to spend our last days in Oia (Santorini). Our pace picked back up for a grand finale day, touring vineyards before boarding our own catamaran for a half-day excursion which concluded with chasing the sunset. It pulled up and I said to my daughter “Wow, look at how big that one is. Wouldn’t it be awesome if it were ours?” She replied that it was ours. I almost cried because it was beautiful, not marked to get tourists’ attention, and huge! It was the perfect ending to the perfect vacation!!
Before our trip, we received our “play book,” otherwise know as the Piglet. It’s a very detailed day-by-day itinerary that includes where to be, what time, who our guide is, how to reach them, etc. It also included recommendations for shopping, dining, what to expect, etc. If you are not comfortable traveling in a foreign country by yourselves, this is for you! She and her assistant, Evan, stayed in contact with us during the trip as well and kept us updated on ferry changes, etc. They were in contact with us every step of the way.
This was our third trip using Wendy Perrin’s services. We have had great experiences on each trip and they just keep getting better!
P.S. I didn’t understand what the big deal was about sunsets in Santorini. Now I know!!
Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos: three-week solo adventure
JEANNIE MULLEN | JUNE 14, 2023
On a lark, and with spot-on advice and counsel from Wendy about where to go on short notice, I booked a three-week trip to Southeast Asia. Most of my travel is solo and private, so I rely on travel planners to make everything seamless and as problem-free as possible. I also like a lot of detail in advance. Wendy put me in touch with Sandy and Ethan, and just as she said they would, they were able to turn on a dime. They put together a very detailed, interesting and diverse trip for me with just a little over three weeks’ notice (and that included securing expedited travel visas). I don’t think I’ve been to that many UNESCO sites in one single trip, ever. I cannot say enough about this part of the world, the food, the people and the culture. So different than what I am used to and so very interesting. Every planning detail, including Fast Track airport service (where available) for arrivals and departures, was taken care of with great care and attention. There was also an extended layover in Seoul, South Korea at the beginning and end of the trip for which they helped arrange hotel and transport. And I can say the same thing for the guides, drivers and logistics while in each of the three countries … there was always great attention to detail, a willingness to be flexible, and prompt responses to each and every request.
Vietnam was so special and different … Hanoi and Saigon such busy, eclectic places with great food, shopping, museums and live evening performances … lots of war history, which I found fascinating. I got the biggest kick out of enjoying a street-food tour on the back of a Vespa scooter in rush-hour traffic … being at street level and driving through the backstreets, alleys and neighborhoods added an entire new level to the experience … Contrast these experiences with very different low-key rural locations and experiences in areas like Ninh Minh (a hike and a relaxing float trip), a relaxing one-night cruise on Halong Bay among gorgeous limestone islands, several nights in the provincial town of Hue to explore the Citadel, garden houses and quiet streets and a boat ride on the Perfume River, followed by several days in the ancient town of Hoi An to discover the distinctive blend of cultures and architecture in the old quarter.
Siem Reap, Cambodia … the place around which the entire trip was planned … was phenomenal … traipsing in and around the temple complexes and experiencing sunrise at Ankor Wat was a major bucket-list item. Major shout out to Silen, my guide and Ethan’s friend, for her attention to every detail and working our way into and out of the temple complexes in such a way as to avoid other tourists. She was also a master at pacing the day so as to provide relief from the heat and humidity. Surpassing those experiences was the day that I flew by helicopter to the even more remote and off-the-radar locations of Preah Vihear and Prasat Banteay Chhmar with Po-Thai Khan, a renowned Cambodian archaeologist. Walking these temple complexes with Thai was one of those pinch-me experiences … he was so interesting, engaging and affirming. And the temples were totally without tourists. Something I will never forget. On the way back to Siem Reap, as we skirted a massive thunderstorm, we flew through a full-circle rainbow … how did Wendy manage THAT WOW moment? I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention an idyllic outdoor candlelit dinner that I enjoyed that same evening at Villa Chandara.
Luang Prabang, Laos … another UNESCO site … was its own kind of special. My guide, Ek, who considers Sandy family, was born and raised in the community and was known by everyone we encountered. In addition to knowing Luang Prabang like the back of his hand, he is also a wonderful cook who puts homemade sweets in your hand every time you turn around. Highlights of this portion of the trip included communing with elephants at Mandalao Sanctuary, visiting ethnic minority villages on the outskirts of town, wandering through the many local morning markets, being hosted at Ek’s home with his extended family for a baci ceremony and giving alms the following morning at Ek’s local temple.
These were just some of the highlights. Looking back, I cannot believe that I did so many things and saw so many sights in three weeks. Thank you so much to Sandy and Ethan, and all of their family and friends in SE Asia, for turning a spur-of-the-moment trip idea into a reality for this solo wanderer.
Italy: Tuscany, Venice, Amalfi…
GERI SMITH | JUNE 13, 2023
We’ve just returned from an April-May trip to Italy planned by Maria, and WOW! The trip was spectacular! We typically plan our own trips — to be honest, it was an act of faith that we did not for our Italy trip, and we were a bit uncomfortable during the planning process since we are such hands-on planners. But… We are so grateful that we engaged Maria! Maria was able to squeeze in most of the many items on our desired list of experiences and sites, mitigated hiccups seamlessly (re-arranging in-country travel plans), and provided an incredibly memorable trip. We enjoyed all aspects of our visits to Tuscany, Florence, Venice, Rome, Sorrento and Amalfi. The team of in-country contacts, guides, captain were exceptional — knowledgeable, kind, fun! We especially enjoyed our driver, truffle hunt and wine excursions in Tuscany, the garden tour in Florence, the Secret Rooms and glass tours in Venice and our tour of Capri, although we thoroughly enjoyed all the activities. When we return to Italy, Maria will be planning our trip!
Japan: Tokyo, Kanazawa, the Japanese Alps…
ROSEANNE HORN | JUNE 13, 2023
I recently returned from an extraordinary trip to Japan, planned by the extraordinary Scott. I traveled with a dear friend. We were meant to go two years ago, but like everyone else, our trip was delayed until this past May. Planning a trip to Japan can be overwhelming. As I delved into my research, there were so many areas and experiences that I wanted to indulge in, but how to choose for a two-week trip? Scott helped me tremendously here. The way Scott describes a place or experience is so evocative and rich, you can almost imagine it in your mind. After telling him of my interests, he helped shape the trip that would become truly special and specifically designed to what I was looking for in my first visit to Japan.
I wanted a mix of urban and rural life, so Scott made a number of recommendations that would fulfill my desires. Besides vibrant Tokyo and Kyoto, we included a trip thru the Japanese Alps, thru the Kiso Valley and its enchanting post towns and fairytale villages untouched by time, to the charming towns of Takayama and Kanazawa. The trip was topped off with a two-day stay in the beautiful Hakone. What made our trip particularly memorable was our choice in traveling with the same guide throughout our 13-day trip. Scott’s expertise has led him to believe that this is an essential element of the trip. I can’t express how incredible it was to have Makiko with us the entire duration of the trip, immersing us in her knowledge of Japan, whether it be a historic site with great significance or a stunning garden laid out based on age-old tradition.
Makiko was the most knowledgeable and compassionate guide, and truly became our cherished friend by the end of the trip.
And the WOW Moment! Made even more special by the happy coincidence of Scott being in Kyoto for business. So he was able to join us at the incredible multi-course dinner at the Michelin-star French/Japanese restaurant, Motoi, a beautifully atmospheric restaurant with divine food, made extra-special by the talented chef visiting us at our table.
It can’t be helped when waiting two years, that you build up expectations based on what you read and by Scott’s insights. This trip exceeded my wildest imagination due in great part to Scott’s magnificent knowledge and love of Japan and our incredible guide, Makiko.
I feel so fortunate to have found Scott, thru Wendy. It would never have been the same without him. A truly priceless experience.
Greece: private Acropolis tour, coffee with the “town Grandma”…
JENNIFER ROSENBERG | JUNE 11, 2023
Jacoline and her associates planned the absolutely perfect trip for our family of four (two late-teen daughters, my husband and I) to Greece. We planned to travel to Greece at the request of my daughter when she graduated from high school and began college as a classical archeology major, but we didn’t know much about Greece or which areas to visit. Given the length of our visit (11 days), Jacoline suggested a couple days in Athens, and then on to Nafplio and Santorini. We were very happy with these selections, as it gave us some variety but with enough time to really explore and get to know each area.
In Athens, we had a private tour of the Acropolis and the associated museum, and a fantastic food tour with an Athens native who took through the meat and fish markets and to several non-touristy but locally-owned cafes, restaurants and small shops. In Nafplio, we saw the known archaeological sites, but also hiked to a remote monastery up in the cliffs (straight out of Game of Thrones) and visited a remote village where we met the “town Grandma,” who invited us into her home and served us coffee and fresh-baked treats on her porch overlooking the town, followed by lunch at a local tavern that my husband and daughter have declared the “best meal of their lives.” In Santorini, we had a wine-tasting at a vineyard overlooking the Caldera, kayaked to Santorini’s various red, white and black beaches, had a pottery lesson with a 5th generation potter, and finished our visit with a private sunset cruise on a catamaran. Each experience was unique and memorable and every guide was professional, knowledgeable and friendly.
Jacoline also helped us choose our various accommodations, which were all beautiful and enjoyed by our families. She helped us make restaurant selections and reservations, and we constantly commented that we felt like at each restaurant we were sitting at the best table in the house.
We had a couple of very, very minor hiccups and questions during our trip, and we emailed our questions to Jacoline’s office. I always got a response within minutes that they were looking for a solution or answer, and each time the problem was solved or question was answered within a couple hours.
All in all, we are so glad we relied on Jacoline and team to plan this trip, as we could never have planned this for ourselves. Everyone in my family agrees that this was a bucket-list trip and an absolutely fabulous experience. I would highly recommend Jacoline.
Greece: Santorini, Naxos, Paros…
LAURIE RICHTER | JUNE 11, 2023
This was a pretty flawless trip. I’ve been to the Greek Islands several times at different points in my life. I was bringing someone new to Greece as a celebration of her retirement. Mina and I debated Santorini (because of the insufferable crowds) and decided everyone has to see it once so we went. Her choice of a small, 4-room mini-hotel on the Caldera in Fira was perfect. The view was breathtaking and they brought us fresh breakfast to be eaten on our porch every morning. We never wanted to leave.
We also wanted a nice mix of free time and planned touring to see beyond the main harbor town or commercial area of the island. Again, home runs. The tours we had of the villages in Naxos and Paros and the cooking class were really well done and our guides were all interesting, insightful and willing to talk about anything.
Basic logistics were beautifully handled. There was always someone there to meet us for the various transfers. Tickets always appeared at our hotels the day before we needed them. The in-airport assistance they arranged in Athens was something I’d never had, never thought I needed, and will never live without again. They smoothed over so many details that are just complicated and anxiety-producing for the average traveler.
My only complaint was that we asked for a few restaurant reservations and they were typically in VERY expensive restaurants that were far from where we were staying, requiring an expensive cab ride. We ended up canceling two of them and going locally. In the Greek islands, you can’t get a bad meal so a local taverna is 100% acceptable.
Finally, they were very responsive. Our last day we had to be picked up at 4:30 AM and staying on the Caldera meant dragging our luggage to the place where a cab could get to us—up and over a lot of stairs. I sent a note the day before and immediately they got back to let me know our driver would meet us at our hotel and help with the luggage. And sure enough, he did.
France: access to sold-out hotels and restaurants…
LARRY BRIDGE | JUNE 11, 2023
Kudos and thanks to Philip and his entire team for a fantastic 2-week trip to France! We started in the South, staying at the world renowned Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc—unavailable if you try to book it yourself, but available if you have Philip’s team working with you. One of the best, if not the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at. The facility, restaurants, service and grounds were all top-notch! We spent four days touring Southern France with expert driver guides arranged for by Philip’s office, having the opportunity to compare places like Cannes, Nice and Monaco—all excellent, yet each very unique. We enjoyed a personal glass-blowing experience where we made our own sculpture (I can’t believe we were shaping 1000-degree glass by hand, with only a wet newspaper to insulate us) and ate at some of the best restaurants on the French Riviera. The Picasso museum in Antibes, the hilltop villages of Eze and St. Paul de Vence were all amazing experiences. From the South of France, we moved on to Aix-en-Provence, where we stayed for three nights at the superb Villa Gallici—a beautiful hotel tucked into the hillside above Aix with an easy walk into town. Wonderful tours of Provence including a stop at the weekly markets in Cucuron (highly recommend!) and St. Remy, along with a Vincent van Gogh tour. Our driver guides helped us compare and contrast the various villages and markets that were touristy vs. those that were frequented more by the locals—both were great and yet very different. An excellent way to get a feel for the uniqueness of Provence and the people that live there. From Provence, we took the 3 hr. bullet-train ride from Aix to Paris—absolutely the best way to travel from the South of France to the North—takes less than half the time that driving would take. In Paris we spent four nights at the new and very nice Madame Reve hotel—small, but elegant rooms with a great location—and toured every site you could imagine over the next four days with excellent guides that really helped us understand the history of the city and the stories behind each of the sites that we visited. Our “croissant, chocolate and cheese tour” of the Left Bank was an excellent experience and dinner at the 3-Michelin-star Epicure restaurant (again, arranged by Philip’s office when no reservations were available) was an absolute highlight of the trip! On our final night in Paris, Wendy surprised us with a WOW Moment—a tour of the Paris monuments by night in an open-top deux chevaux. What an amazing way to see the city on uncrowded streets and with all of the famous landmarks lit up at night! We ended the trip with a visit to Giverny to visit the Monet Gardens (absolutely beautiful!) as well as a stop in Auvers-sur-Oise to see where van Gogh spent his final days and is now buried. Both incredible experiences if you are admirers of the works of either artist.
Overall the trip was everything we had hoped for and more. The Hotel du Cap, dinner at Epicure, glass-blowing experience, Vincent van Gogh tour, visit to Giverny Garden and the Paris monuments at night were the absolute highlights. The only disappointment was the skip-the-line Eiffel Tower tour, which still entailed a 45-minute wait in line. If I were to visit the Eiffel Tower again, I would absolutely make reservations at the Restaurant Jules Verne, which has its own private elevator to access the second level of the tower.
This was our sixth time using Wendy’s WOW List and the trips have never disappointed. Thanks to Philip and his team for putting together a great experience. I will note that having the team available via text on every day of our tour made adjustments to the itinerary almost effortless. A special thanks to Sarah and Sofia for being available and helping us to accommodate schedule and reservation changes along the way.
France: Normandy, D-Day sites, Mont Saint-Michel…
LISA NEWMARK | JUNE 11, 2023
My husband and I just returned from a great 10-day/8-night trip to France organized by Michael and his staff. We are lucky enough to say that this was our second trip organized by Michael and the team—we visited Provence for the same amount of time in May 2019, and that trip was so well done, we naturally turned to them when, in January 2020, we decided to try Normandy as our next trip to France. You all know how that turned out—we began the planning process and Covid 19 caused us to put the trip on hold. But when we contacted their office in the fall of 2022 and said we were ready to commit to a trip in May 2023, they seamlessly picked up where we left off.
Our goal was to see the Normandy/D-Day sights and Mont Saint-Michel, and asked Michael to design a trip around those sights and work with the amount of time we had. We wanted to travel by way of private drivers to avoid the hassle of having to navigate unfamiliar roads and deal with parking, etc. The team already understood that we enjoy staying in lovely, interesting, well-located hotels and prefer private guides to enhance (and often expedite) our experience.
The itinerary they developed was perfect for us. First stop was the Loire Valley, were we toured several amazing chateaux (Chambord, Chenonceau, and Clos Luce, which was a place we probably would have skipped but Michael’s team said it was worth seeing and it was amazing, especially the gardens) and stayed in a lovely hotel in Amboise, a charming town. Next stop was St. Malo, where we got a great feel for the lovely region of Brittany and a hotel room overlooking the English Channel. Then on to Mont Saint-Michel, which was a highlight (and surprisingly crowded for May, good thing we had an excellent guide to get us around the crowds!). Then on to Bayeau, our base for the Normandy/D-Day beaches tour, also a highlight were we had an amazing guide who spent a full 8 1/2 hours with us and would have spent longer if we didn’t have dinner to get to! Next stop was an amazing hotel in Honflour after a guided tour of the highlights of the Pays d’Auge region—and stops at a cheese factory and a picnic at a cider/calvados producer. The final stop was in Giverny, where we saw the Monet sites in all their springtime glory and had an amazing final dinner at our small but beautiful hotel.
All of our drivers were professional, prompt and interesting. Our guides were absolutely first-rate—highly knowledgeable, passionate about their work and their love for the places we were lucky enough to have them guide us through was obvious. They were all a pleasure to spend time with! All of our dinner reservations were made by Michael’s office as well, after consultation with us, and every meal was excellent. We requested “non-tourist” places that were within walking distance from our hotels, and they delivered in every location. They also arranged greeters for us at CDG who whisked us through the airport and worked their magic so that we avoided the very long lines at passport control and customs. We were through the airport in no time, and that was amazing.
All in all, we had a great trip. We are convinced that the value provided by local travel planners on The WOW List is absolutely worth it. Seamless transportation and transfers, no worries about luggage security, amazing guides, and great attention to detail throughout our time in France made the trip extra special. We were provided with an amazingly detailed booklet outlining every day of our trip, complete with all contact information, meeting locations of guides, hotel and restaurant info, background info on all regions and sites—what we thought was all the information we could ask for. But after a conversation with one of our drivers about local wines, the driver reported in to our team, and in our email a detailed article about local wines appeared from Michael’s office! Totally unexpected, but a great example of why if we find ourselves heading to France again, our first call will be to Michael!
Iceland: ice caves, hot springs, snorkeling…
JONATHAN HARRIS | JUNE 11, 2023
We just came back from an amazing week in Iceland, organized by Chris. Chris did a detailed intake with us, in order to customize the trip—we were a family of 4 (ages 51, 50, 21, 18), and everyone loved it! We were active every day, ate really well (we had heard the food in Iceland wasn’t great, but Chris guided us extremely well), and stayed in beautiful hotels. He set us up with two great private tours, which were our highlights—an ice-cave tour and a secluded hot springs trip, both of which had super knowledgeable and friendly guides. We rode ATVs, hiked, and snorkeled in the tectonic rift. Besides Chris’ insider knowledge of great tour companies, restaurants, and hotels, he was also in regular contact with us all week—one day was too windy to do anything outside, and he had great ideas for how to handle this and other inevitable travel hiccups. Chris is ideal, especially for a traveler who wants help with all of the planning and booking, as his company did it all. Everywhere we went, our reservations were set, including all of our dinners. The only downside with that is his pricing is somewhat opaque—he cannot share his rates, so that can be a tradeoff for some folks. For us, Chris added tremendous value to the trip, and I would strongly recommend him for your trip!
Ireland: pubs, castles, a WOW Moment…
NANCY MAZARIN | JUNE 9, 2023
My husband and I (Nancy and Guy Mazarin) just returned from a fabulous two-week vacation in Ireland (May 18 – June 1). We worked with our tour operator Jonathan to develop our trip. We agreed not to try to see all of Ireland, electing a more leisurely pace by spending time at some spectacular locations, particularly Ballyfin and Ashford Castle, where we enjoyed the extensive onsite activities and amenities. The food at Ballyfin and Ashford, as well as the restaurants selected, was delicious and the pubs were as much fun as expected. My husband started drinking Guinness and I tried a different gin every night. One of the most memorable moments of the trip occurred at Ashford Castle, where we were treated to a special WOW Moment, a wine and cheese tasting in the wine vault of Ashford Castle.
Jonathan coordinated our entire trip down to the smallest detail, providing expert advice about where to stay, what to see, and even when to visit. Jonathan’s team of guides and drivers were extremely professional, knowledgeable, and personable. We toured and were delivered from place to place in comfort and style.
Anyone planning a trip to Ireland can depend upon Jonathan to personalize and execute a wonderful trip.
France: Normandy, Paris, the Riviera…
LAURA DUNPHY | JUNE 8, 2023
We had a wonderful two weeks in France planned by Jennifer and her team.
Hotel Tardiff in Bayeux was a great home base for exploring Normandy, and our guide Jonathan was so knowledgeable about WWII history and very patiently answered our tween history buff’s many questions. In Paris, we adored Pavillon Faubourg St Germain, where the staff was lovely, and we were welcomed with gifts of champagne and treats and an upgrade to a suite for my parents (lucky them!). If you plan to visit the Louvre, a guide is so worth it. Our guide Camilla knew her stuff when it came to art, but even more importantly, she was able to zip us around to see the pieces we were interested in while limiting our exposure to the crowds, which are as substantial and suffocating as you can imagine. A private cruise on the Seine was so pleasant and relaxing, but as for the most fun we had, we laughed pretty much non-stop during a three-hour tour on a retro sidecar motorcycle. Léo and Clement took us past major landmarks all over the city, unfazed by the traffic and the many people who stopped to ask us questions while we waited at lights. In Cannes, we were given an upgrade to a lovely room with balcony at Hotel Barrière Le Majestic. (Note: the construction in Cannes is significant as of spring 2023.) If you will be doing any touring in the south, request Fatou as your guide. She took us on a day tour to several nearby villages, and we cannot express how amazing she was. She knew everything: history, geography, pop culture, local quirks, little-known facts, she gave book recommendations, and, wow, can she drive. And even though the tour was in English, I’d like to give her extra credit and gratitude for speaking French with me for so much of the day.
Due to our children being on different school break schedules, we had a lot of moving pieces for this trip. My husband and our younger child and I arrived first and went to Normandy, our eldest came over with my parents and the six of us all met in Paris, and then my parents returned to the States with our younger one while my husband and I took our eldest to the south. Daily messages from Jennifer’s team confirming the next day’s details, including contact info when relevant, were extremely useful. There were so many places there could have been hiccups, and most things went absolutely beautifully. There was a little blip or two along the way, which happens through the fault of no one. In those rare situations, Jennifer and her team were extremely responsive and immediately went out of their way to try to make it right and then some. We greatly appreciate how seriously they took their commitment to service in those moments.
A final note: We must recommend one service that is pricey but beyond worth it, dare I say essential: the VIP Airport Meet-and-Greet, especially for departure flights. You will be taken to the front of every line and whisked through the airport in mere moments. I don’t know how we will ever endure waiting at the airport again. We are utterly spoiled now.
Paris: food tour, cooking class, boutique accommodations…
ELLEN WEINER | JUNE 8, 2023
We recently returned from a trip to Paris and London which Jennifer and her team helped us plan. We were extremely lucky to meet with Jennifer in person, while we were in London over Christmastime with our family. We took an immediate liking to Jennifer and knew we would be in good hands planning a trip to Paris in May and then back to London to attend our niece’s wedding in May. Jennifer recommended the JK Place for our stay and it met all of our expectations for a small, luxury, boutique hotel on the Left Bank. It was a beautiful hotel, and the staff was truly extraordinary! We felt like we were guests in someone’s beautiful home! Since we had been to Paris several times prior to this trip, we asked Jennifer for some ideas of different things to do instead of the usual sightseeing. She sent us a variety of activities to choose from and we picked something each day, which also allowed for us to have free time. A food tour in the Marais was our first stop and it was delicious!! Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and we tried everything from cheeses, wines, charcuterie and desserts. The highlight of our trip was a cooking class with Veronique! We went to the local food market to shop for all of our ingredients and then back to her apartment to cook an authentic and delicious French meal. Everything that Jennifer arranged for us was top-notch. Her team sent us a daily text message confirming our plans for the day with all contact numbers in case we needed anything. All of our arrangements went according to plan from the moment we stepped off the plane in Paris until we departed from the airport in London! Her team of drivers, and greeters at airport and train stations were great and so helpful. We cannot say enough about how helpful Jennifer was, and we highly recommend using Jennifer and her team for a trip to France!
Croatia: Dubrovnik, Hvar, Stari Grad…
LIANE MACMILLAN | JUNE 8, 2023
Our 8-day Croatian getaway can be summed up in 3 words: breathtaking, relaxing, and luxurious. This was our family’s first time using Wendy Perrin and a travel advisor, and we will undoubtedly use them again. With limited time to explore, Ala curated a perfect experience, combining beautiful scenery, convenient transport, knowledgeable guides, and time for relaxation. Our stay at the Maslina resort in Stari Grad was particularly notable and was the perfect destination for zen and to soak up some sun. Our on-site contact, Natasha, was equally impressive. She maintained regular contact with our drivers, guides, and hotel to ensure that any issue was resolved immediately, even coordinating a room change when we ran into issues at the Excelsior hotel in Dubrovnik. Our drivers and guides were top-notch. Milenka showcased the human-side of history in Split, making for a fun and engaging tour. Likewise our Dubrovnik tour guide Petra relayed the historical gossip and was easygoing and funny. John, our Hvar island driver, was exceptional. He was prompt, courteous, and engaging. He went out of his way to show us the breathtaking views of Hvar and to make sure we had everything we needed when our ferry was unexpectedly delayed. Lastly, our captain Sergio took us on a stunning sailboat ride through the islands surrounding Dubrovnik. He was calm, capable, and welcoming and ensured that we made the most of the last day of our vacation. Overall, I can’t say enough good things about the trip and I have a tremendous amount of gratitude for all the hard work that went into planning it. I will surely be using Wendy Perrin and Ala in the future!
France: Provence, Verdon Gorge, the Riviera…
SARAH EATON | JUNE 3, 2023
Just over two months before we were scheduled to fly to Nice, my husband and I decided to try a WOW trip for the first time. We only had four days in the south of France before we were scheduled to board our ship in Avignon for a river cruise, but Philip accepted the challenge of putting together a brief, last-minute trip for us.
We had a great Zoom call with Philip, and he listened carefully to our thoughts, as well as our budget. We had only two “must-sees,” and asked him to make suggestions for the remainder of our short time. Within a day, we received a proposed itinerary with several choices, all of which sounded perfect. We made our selections, and Manon followed through with arranging everything for us.
After our long flight, it was wonderful to see Romuald waiting for us. He drove us to our hotel in Cagnes-sur-Mer and apologized profusely when he could drive no farther on a street that was much too narrow for his van. Since the hotel was only a block away and the hotel valet came to us, our only concern was how Romuald was going to back up that narrow street. We never did find out how he managed to get out, but the episode provided us with a great story to tell!
Chateau Le Cagnard is a charming hotel, and we had a wonderful dinner on the terrace with an amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea.
The next morning, the hotel’s valet walked us to a main street where we were picked up by our driver-guide for the next three days. Cecile was a delight, as well as a fabulous and knowledgeable guide, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with her. A walking tour through Vieux Nice and its flower market, a breathtaking drive along the Mediterranean, and a tour of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and its gardens in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat gave us a wonderful introduction to the beauty of the French Riviera.
Philip had suggested that we spend the next morning in Antibes, another amazing town, and here Cecile led us on another walking tour, as well as a visit to the Picasso Museum. We wandered through the small market here, and I loved looking at all the displays. Visiting local markets had quickly become one of our favorite experiences, and we admired the beautiful presentations of local produce, cheese, sausages, and olives.
In the afternoon, we drove to the quaint village of Mougins, where we enjoyed another walking tour and a visit to the Museé d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM). Here, we were treated to a private tour of one of the most interesting museums we would visit on our trip. Philip had recommended this stop, and I’m so glad we took his suggestion.
One of our “must-see” destinations was the Verdon Gorge, and Cecile drove us from Cagnes-sur-Mer into the mountains on a scenic road that reached the most beautiful canyon in Europe. Although we had loved our time on the Riviera, it was nice to leave the cities and traffic behind and enjoy the stunning beauty of the French countryside.
A short visit to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the most beautiful village in the area, was followed by our destination for the evening, La Bastide De Moustiers. We were sad to say good-bye to Cecile, but we were excited to check into this amazing small inn that was created by Alain Ducasse. We are so glad that Manon encouraged us to dine in the restaurant here, and this meal turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of our trip. Not only was the food outstanding, but the service reminded me of watching a ballet. Everything was done to perfection!
Patrick picked us up the next morning to drive us to Avignon, where we would board our ship. On our way through the Luberon region, we stopped at a small village market, and then continued through the beautiful countryside. I had been admiring the red poppies along the roadside, when we suddenly saw a small field that was a solid red mass of poppies. Patrick was more than willing to pull off on the side of the road so we could get out and walk among this amazing profusion of flowers. I had never seen anything like this, and the memory of this serendipitous stop was one of the most memorable from our trip.
Our only recommendation for other travelers is to look closely at any proposed itinerary and be realistic about your stamina and any physical limitations. In hindsight, we should have realized ahead of time that eight hours of touring each day would be too tiring for us. However, we were excited about the itinerary that Philip proposed and wanted to see as much as possible in our short time, so we didn’t admit to ourselves that we’re not as young as we once were! Despite this, we had a fabulous time.
Vietnam & Cambodia: crowd-free trip during shoulder season
KRIS NAGLICH | JUNE 1, 2023
My husband and I traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia from May 3 to 21 with the help of trip planners Sandy and Ethan. This was our first trip through Wendy so we are not eligible for a “WOW Moment,” yet we felt like we had one amazing moment after another on this trip. Traveling so far was stepping out of the box for us and Sandy and Ethan really made us feel comfortable. They helped us plan where we might want to visit. The hotels they suggested we choose from were all amazing, so we knew we couldn’t go wrong. They let you pick what level hotel room in each hotel but I said to them, you know our budget, so can you please pick the appropriate room to fit that. All of our hotel rooms were amazing and perfect. The Zoom meeting we had with them shortly before our trip made us feel very confident. We were able to ask all of our questions and they gave us great advice.
We chose to go in a shoulder season, so it was not crowded but it was very hot. Our guides, who spoke very highly of Sandy and how he takes care them, always made sure we had cold water and the air-conditioned cars were wonderful. Though it was hot and humid we thought this was the perfect time to be there, because nothing was crowded and our pictures are tourist-free. Some of our favorite memories are visiting Train Street and walking around the Old Quarter sampling amazing food in Hanoi with our guide. Kayaking and having lunch, just the two of us, on a floating “pirates club” in Halong Bay. Having lunch cooked for us by a lovely family in Hue and enjoying rice wine with Mr. Bo. Riding on the back of a Vespa in Saigon. Riding through alleys and seeing families sitting outside enjoying the night. Sitting in a boat in Cambodia and our guide making us gin and tonics. On our last day in Siem Reap we walked through a village and talked with an 82 yr old woman making a basket. She was so sweet and interesting to talk with. We were blessed by a monk in a pagoda, we rode a boat across a reservoir as the sun went down, and then we ate dinner at a beautiful farm with candles burning all around us. Don’t these all sound like WOW Moments?
I can’t leave out the food. The food we ate everywhere was amazing. Our guides made sure we tried all of the area specialties and we ate at some amazing restaurants. We really enjoyed when our guides took us to different street-food places. We also liked when they gave us a name of a restaurant and we made our way there on our own. Our guides were all available to us at any time. Sandy makes sure he has the best guides and they are able to pivot and change things to fit what you want to do. We told our guide in Saigon that we didn’t want to go to the War Remnants museum and she understood and ended up taking us to a natural medicine museum because we are both in science, and it was great. In Siem Reap we were supposed to go to Angkor Wat for the sunrise but I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t sleep enough to be up at 5. We let our guide know at 4:30 am and decided we would meet at 8. We still were able to see everything and we had an amazing day. We highly recommend Sandy and Ethan. We hope to go back someday and we will be calling them.
Spain: flamenco, tapas, Gaudi’s architecture…
KENNETH REMPELL | MAY 30, 2023
We traveled to Spain from 4/28/23 and returned home on 5/6/23. This was our first trip with Wendy so we didn’t know what to expect. Wendy hooked us up with Ivan, specializing in Southern Spain. Ivan was terrific, from the moment we met on a one-hour meet-and-greet Zoom call. Ivan listened to what our wishes were—to see cultural, historical, and architectural highlights as well as obscure places, enjoy nature, walk a lot, meander, and eat well. As a result of several subsequent correspondences, Ivan crafted a terrific itinerary that nailed our wishes.
We ought say by way of an overall description, we have A LOT of energy and love packing a lot into a day, and also don’t mind covering a lot of territory staying in several hotels. (Packing cubes were a must; basically never unpacked and it was just fine.)
We visited Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Granada, Barcelona, Figueres, Besalu, and Gerona. It sounds ambitious, but Ivan seamlessly arranged transportation, including drivers, high-speed train tickets, and an airline flight. All drivers arrived early.
The guides were all just plain terrific. They were professional, knowledgeable, warm, responsive and easy to be with. All were exceptionally educated, with specialties ranging from history and architecture to landscaping and cuisine. All were raised in the city or town in which they offered tours. Just wonderful. Easy to be with.
We had a terrific variety of experiences—from a sherry bar in Madrid, numerous extraordinary cathedrals and mosques, a flamenco show, tapas bars, Gaudi’s blend of nature and architecture, Dali’s whimsy, and finally, to a medieval village, to offer just some of what we saw. We loved every moment.
We should also mention Ivan checked in with us each and every evening for feedback on the drivers, guides and experiences. We felt very taken care of.
If you can’t tell by now, let us say straight out, we would unequivocally recommend Ivan as a trip planner.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
Botswana & Zimbabwe: safari during a cruise
CONRAD EHRLICH | MAY 30, 2023
How was our safari to Duba Plains Camp in the heart of the Okavango Delta of Botswana and to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, arranged by Cherri and Frankie Janssen? Everything about it just blew us away. We took our first safari as an overland excursion while on the Silversea 2023 World Cruise, which created unique logistical demands since we departed on April 9th from Durban on the east coast of Africa and had to meet up with ship on April 13th in Cape Town on the southwest coast. That entailed multiple complicated flight and ground arrangements that became the envy of other passengers taking safaris to Botswana arranged by other planners. At every connection we were met by smiling, knowledgeable local representatives who sped us past long lines and processes which would have been very difficult and time-consuming to navigate otherwise. This involved traveling from Port Durban to King Shaka International Airport to the Johannesburg International Airport to the Maun, Botswana International Airport and finally in a six-seater to the Omdop Airstrip, a simple sand runway in the Okavango Delta.
When we arrived at the Duba Plains Camp in the afternoon it was clear that we had entered another world and another time. The camp is actually a 5-suite luxurious Relais & Châteaux 1920s African safari-style 81,000-acre private reserve without borders. Each raised platform “tent” has multiple beautifully appointed air-conditioned rooms with a private verandah and plunge pool overlooking the floodplain. We were warmly greeted by the staff with local songs and refreshments and promptly set out on our first evening game drive where we were surrounded by antelope herds, warthogs, hippos, rhinos, and many other beautiful creatures. Plus, we experienced one of the most beautiful sunsets we had ever seen while sharing a glass of wine with our charming, knowledgeable guide Carlos, who grew up in a nearby village.
Over the next three days we were wowed by early morning and evening game drives, and even more so by the hospitality and culinary skills of our hosts. We saw lions every day, not by luck alone, but by the tracking skills of our guide. Each game drive turned into a grand adventure, as if we were in an episode of Storm Chasers, but in our case chasing madly off-road in our tank-like Jeep across bumpy grassland, over bushes, and through muddy marshes to witness the action that our guide knew was about to unfold. One day our guide spotted two new young lions that had entered the reserve looking to take over the pride of the existing lion king. Our guide heard a distant roar from the lion king, as did the two young lions who immediately shifted into high gear in the direction of the roar to go on the attack and meet an uncertain fate. We raced after them the best we could for quite a while until they swam across a river through which we couldn’t pass. Our guide said that the lion king was very experienced and was wise enough not to fight the two young lions at once. What he has done on similar occasions is temporarily abandon the pride so that he could fight on his own terms and kill each young lion separately when he got one alone. Another one of our favorite experiences was doing an evening game drive by boat on a beautiful river lined by papyrus and filled with families of hippos. It got a little scary when we were returning, and the guide astutely spotted the bow wave of an underwater hippo charging us. We quickly zigged and zagged just in time as he surfaced and roared next to us.
One of the most surprising things about Duba Plains Camp was the astoundingly good food. And it wasn’t a matter of the food being better than could be expected in the middle of nowhere. The food was better than could be expected anywhere. The chef had trained at the Culinary Institute in Botswana and produced masterpieces for every meal. Her soups were to die for. Because each of the guests had their own schedule, we ended up dining alone and the chef had to prepare each meal separately. It was very romantic.
The logistics of our trip to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe were equally well orchestrated. While other passengers on our cruise had to return to Cape Town by taking multiple flights, Cherri was able to arrange for us to take a nonstop flight. Cherri and Frankie were also aware that there was a newly constructed 5-star luxury resort, the Palm River Hotel, on the Zambezi River, with deluxe rooms all facing the river. It was just beautiful. The other passengers staying at older, more established hotels with limited views were jealous when they heard about our accommodations.
It is safe to say that the folks on Cherri’s team are experts at what they do, and they are great at execution. We were very fortunate to have learned about them from Wendy Perrin.
Japan: meetings with artisans, gallery owner…
DIANE STONE | MAY 30, 2023
I worked with Scott to plan our itinerary. After 2 COVID postponements we finally went on this trip to Japan. It was amazing! All the logistics were flawlessly executed. Because Ian, the man I have lived with for 35 years, is a furniture designer and maker, with Scott’s help meetings were set up with Japanese “makers” as well as an architect who took us on a tour through Tokyo’s incredible streetscape. These meetings were phenomenal. We met 5th-generation kimono silk artists, indigo dyers and gold leaf artisans, plus a gallery owner who is an authority on artisanal pottery. We visited the museums, temples, shrines and quaint historic areas that deepened our connection to Japanese culture. Scott even made reservations for us for wonderful and authentic dinners. We had two excellent guides, Grace and Miho, each for half the trip and they quickly became our Japanese friends. Our drivers were terrific as well. Working with Scott was an absolute pleasure and I would enthusiastically recommend his office to anyone wanting to take a spectacular trip to the amazing country that is Japan.
Italy: e-biking and burrata in Puglia…
BARBARA SCHOENFELD | MAY 27, 2023
A highlight of our slow and “smell the poppies” week in Puglia was the day we biked and made burrata. We passed by brilliant fields of red flowers and lush grasses on quiet roads. The outfitter supplied us with e-bikes and a van following behind. Couldn’t have been a more delightful afternoon gliding between the trulli houses — the round white limestone structures capped with interlocking stones for roofs. People in Puglia have lived in them for centuries and still do today. Our route took us to Itria Bonta, an organic dairy farm. There, we watched the owner stretch out the mozzarella he had made hours earlier and stuff it with stracciatella to make balls of buratta. He let us make some too. I can testify that it’s delicious because at the end of the visit we had a “snack” of cheeses, bread, sausage, olives and wine. Everything except the water and the salt was produced on the farm. Alison is an excellent trip advisor and designer. Insist on working only with her.
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
France: Provence with a WOW Moment
BILL HIATT | MAY 27, 2023
We had a short time in Provence and are so glad we were able to work with Laurie to get the most out of our time. She arranged for a couple of amazing hotels in Les Baux and Aix en Provence. I think we could have taken up residency in either one! Our driver/guide Cedric showed us beautiful villages and introduced us to the wonderful culture and people of Provence. A couple of highlights for us were walking through a Roman aquaduct at Pont du Gard and taking part in a Roman wine tasting that gave us a sense of what wines may have tasted like in Roman times. Another special treat was spending a day with Gilles Conchy, first shopping in the market in Aix en Provence and then cooking a fantastic meal at his home. Lastly, we received a WOW Moment during our stay. One morning, we found our van had been replaced by a 60-year-old bright green convertible Citroen. We had a chance to ride through the countryside from Les Baux to Aix in style. It was so much fun.
Sicily: slow travel at its best
DANA PERRY | MAY 24, 2023
I wanted to give an enthusiastic review of Matteo for his services in planning the trip we just took in May of 2023. We used Matteo for a trip to Sicily in May of 22 and loved it but also realized that there was so much more to do in Sicily, so we arranged trip #2 to Sicily for this year in May.
We spent two full weeks in Sicily, the first near Noto (east) and the second in the southwest (near Menfi). We stayed at houses we rented through an agency (given that we wanted to rent places instead of staying in hotels, Matteo worked with us on picking out the property we chose near Noto, and that was very helpful).
The first week, we had a wide variety of historic, cultural and food-centered activities in the east near Noto. Matteo kept the geographic range of each day’s activities pretty tight so we were not in the car all day. We enjoyed everything, and sometimes the unexpected delighted. For instance, I had to persuade my husband to do the experience with a chef in Siracusa, where the chef took us through the food market, then we went back to his restaurant and helped him prepare a meal for us. My husband (and I) really enjoyed that activity. Some of the best activities were out in the countryside, like a visit to a sustainable family farm and lunch of home cooking, and the discussions we had with the farmer about his way of life (through our guide translating). On another day, we visited an ancient chapel site and site of ancient olive trees and nearby small villages. Memories of that day I’ll carry with me are the beautiful black horse being walked down the main street of one of the villages, and the friendly reception from the residents…and of course, the wonderful food we had every day.
The second week, we saw various historic and cultural sites in the west, including Agrigento/Valley of the Temples, Trapani, and Salemi, a beautiful small village on a hilltop. We had several relaxation days built into that week. The only place that was crowded was Valley of the Temples, but the ancient temples and ruins were about the best I’ve seen anywhere, including Athens.
We opted to have Matteo arrange drivers, and are so glad we did. Driving in Sicily is challenging and there are very few 4-lanes like in the States. The drivers were all excellent.
We’re glad we built in some rest days to the trip with no scheduled activities.
Matteo wisely did not try to cram too much into one day or have us go too far away from where we were staying (aka “slow travel”).
The guides Matteo found for us were all top-notch—very professional and knew their topics and areas. Plus, they were all good sports putting up with all our questions.
Between the trip last year and the trip this year, we’ve spent 4 weeks in Sicily, and still haven’t seen all the major locations. It was so much fun and so relaxing to take it slow in Sicily—I felt like we gained a better appreciation for the culture, history and people. Sicily has gotten into our blood—it’s our happy place, and it’s likely we will return!!
Bolivia & Chile: salt flats, La Paz, Atacama desert…
PEGGY MURPHY | MAY 23, 2023
We just returned from our amazing adventure in Bolivia and the Atacama Desert. We have been dreaming and planning this trip with Mark since 2019 (a little thing called COVID postponed our original trip). It was such a pleasure to work with Mark as we revised our original itinerary. He was easy to work with and very inspirational. He listened to what we wanted from this trip (learning about the culture, place, and people of Bolivia), shared his insights, gave suggestions for experiences we did not even know we wanted, and created an itinerary that exceeded our expectations. He created a 14-day adventure that catered to each of our individual interests from hiking, food, tapestries, and photo opportunities. He was very responsive to questions and concerns during the planning of this trip and while we were on our trip. Of course, our trip would not have been as enjoyable without our amazing drivers — who somehow got us to each of our destinations and who spotted and stopped so we could photograph foxes, llamas, vicunas, guanacos, viscacha, flamingos, ducks, Suri alpacas, and was always on the ready to stop for an armadillo) — AND our guide, Amara, who shared her love and knowledgeable for her country and language and made sure we learned something new each day.
All the accommodations Mark chose were clean, comfortable, and conveniently located. We especially enjoyed ATIX in La Paz, which showcased the artwork of Gaston Ugalde, and Explora in San Pedro de Atacama, which was luxurious and catered to our every need. The reservations Mark made for our lunch and dinners highlighted the Bolivian food culture in La Paz — we especially enjoyed Gustu (WOW!), Ancestral (DELICIOUS!), and Ali Pacha (AMAZING! — and this coming from an “anti” vegetable person!)
Although not all our itinerary was executed, we had many highlights on our adventure! It was fascinating to learn about traditional indigenous life not only through food, but by visiting the Tarabuco market, visiting master weavers in their homes, and visiting Elizabeth’s (our Sucre guide) hacienda in Candelaria, where we helped to make a traditional countryside lunch (we are looking forward to making the Sunday soup for our families). We also enjoyed the stunning views of the Uyuni salt flats — we had a delicious lunch alongside a small patch of water with flamingos; hiked a small island; were mesmerized by the reflections on the water at sunset where we enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine and some treats; and were awed at seeing the sky full of stars twinkling over the salt flats!
Our final stay at Explora Atacama was the perfect ending to a wonderful trip. We enjoyed full-day and half-day hikes, hot springs, and delicious drinks and food! A beautiful setting, fantastic staff, and many types of different adventures and excursions — there was something for everyone!!!!
THANKS Wendy and team for connecting us to Mark. We would highly recommend Mark to anyone traveling to Bolivia.
Thailand, Laos, Cambodia: elephants, private island, Angkor Wat…
HENRY TOBLES | MAY 22, 2023
I traveled to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia in May 2023 with an itinerary designed by Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley, and the trip truly surpassed my expectations. I specifically visited the cities of Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh, and the private Cambodian island of Song Saa. For years, I’d wanted to visit Angkor Wat and surrounding archeological sites, and that was the standout that I expected it to be. An unexpected highlight was visiting the MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary in Laos, where I got face-to-face with the enormous gentle animals and spent time feeding them and walking through the forest with them. This was a recommendation from Sandy and Ethan, not something I envisioned doing. Another highlight was attending an all-day Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai where I surprised myself by learning to cook 5 excellent Thai dishes. We made everything from scratch under the direction of an expert Thai chef whose English was excellent. Lastly, I loved spending five nights of luxurious relaxation at a private island resort, Song Saa, off the coast of Cambodia. In planning my trip, I asked Sandy and Ethan for a stop at a resort in southern Thailand, simply because I was more familiar with them, but the logistics of getting me there given the rest of my itinerary made Song Saa a more convenient choice. I can’t imagine that I missed anything by not going to a Thai beach resort. Song Saa was everything I was looking for: quiet, private, tranquil and luxurious. And because I visited during the low season it felt as if I had the island all to myself. I never would have known about it had it not been for Sandy and Ethan. I would happily spend another week there. At each stop (except for Song Saa), I had a private local tour guide (personally vetted by their office) and driver who handled all the logistics of permits and entry to the various sites. Each spoke English remarkably well and treated me like a family member. Each was eager to show me the best of what their city had to offer but allowed me to adjust the schedule and itinerary to suit my own needs. They never forgot that it was my vacation, not theirs. I would definitely recommend this team for anyone planning to travel to Southeast Asia. I suggest contacting them as far in advance of your planned dates as possible, even if you’re unsure of exactly everything you’d like to see and do. I found the communication from them clear and consistent with reminders, for example, about passports and visas and international flights (which they do not arrange). They were also in touch during the trip when one of my intra-country flights was cancelled and I had to adjust my itinerary slightly—the only hiccup in the entire 18-day trip. Overall, I couldn’t be more satisfied with Sandy and Ethan, and my trip.
Spain: family trip to Barcelona & Madrid
NICK DEBNATH | MAY 21, 2023
We recently had the pleasure of working with Pablo as our trip planner for a 7-day family vacation in Barcelona and Madrid, Spain. From our initial teleconference via Zoom, Pablo displayed exceptional professionalism and attentiveness to our needs. He took the time to understand our budget, expectations, and interests, ensuring that our trip would be tailored to our preferences.
Pablo’s expertise became evident as he meticulously arranged every aspect of our trip. He secured hotel reservations for us at the exquisite Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Barcelona and the luxurious The Principal Madrid hotel, providing us with unforgettable accommodations. Additionally, he organized our high-speed rail tickets from Barcelona to Madrid, ensuring a seamless and convenient travel experience.
One of the highlights of our trip was the selection of private tours and guides that Pablo arranged for us. We had a fantastic time exploring Barcelona’s Gaudi monuments, savoring an evening tapas tour in Madrid, and embarking on a memorable day trip to Montserrat. Our favorite experience in Barcelona was the paella experience where chef Josh helped us and our kids create a beautiful meal.
In Madrid, we were fortunate to have Alfonso as our guide for three days, and he truly exceeded our expectations. His knowledge, enthusiasm, and attention to detail made each excursion an enriching experience. We particularly enjoyed his guidance during our visit to the Prado museum and the captivating side trip to the beautiful city of Toledo.
Throughout our journey, Pablo remained highly responsive and available. He promptly addressed any questions or concerns that arose, ensuring a smooth and stress-free experience for our family. His dedication was exemplified when he coordinated with our hotel concierge to provide crutches for my wife when she unexpectedly injured her foot. This level of care and attention truly went above and beyond our expectations.
In summary, Pablo’s expertise and meticulous planning made our trip to Spain an unforgettable experience. His attention to detail, selection of exceptional accommodations, and organization of private tours and transportation were outstanding. We wholeheartedly recommend Pablo and his company, and Wendy Perrin, to anyone seeking an exceptional travel planning experience. Thanks to Pablo, our family created cherished memories that will last a lifetime.
French Polynesia: marine life, delicious cuisine, no mosquitoes…
MICHAEL RUMA | MAY 21, 2023
We traveled to Tahiti on April 22, visiting 3 different islands, and returned on May 5.
I have held off on the faraway, remote beach destinations for decades, under the notion of value for your money and the ease of travel to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. Given the trip was meant to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, I threw caution to the winds and went all in. I’m not sure how we would’ve found or moved forward with the choices we made without the help of Kleon. Getting to Tahiti is not the hard part. The adventure starts as soon as you begin booking your inter-island air travel, boat transfers, a sundry of activities and actually coordinate all of the above to achieve a relaxing visit to the islands. We did not have to worry about any of this with Kleon at the helm. He artfully curated our trip, calmly asked important questions about our likes and dislikes and then crafted an itinerary which slowly evolved into a spectacular journey with three ever-better chapters in a jaw-droppingly beautiful region.
Our first stop was Vahine Island Resort and Spa. With 9 acres and only a handful of rooms, this small island stop helped us relax, reset and realize what truly is Tahitian beauty and calm. No noise other than the wind, the waves and the coconut trees. No thinking about meal choices with simple but elegant prix fixe dinner menus. No people (there were a few other couples which we visited with over meals and activities), but a private tranquil island where my wife and I watched the sunset on the dock with baby blacktip reef sharks swimming underneath, cracked open fresh coconuts when thirsty and went paddle boarding in the large bay between Vahine and Tahaa…all alone. The privacy, intimacy and peace on this island with such a limited number of guests began to open my eyes to why we made the long journey to this beach.
We travelled to Bora Bora next. A water taxi with an impromptu stop to see over a hundred blacktip reef sharks in pristinely clear water was an unexpected highlight during our ride to the airport. No airport security made the trip even better. Upon arrival to Bora Bora, another boat awaited to transfer us to the St. Regis. While significantly more tourists visit this island, the number of hotels and additional guests did not diminish the striking beauty of Mount Otemanu. We enjoyed our overwater bungalow immensely, in particular leaping off the deck into the refreshing turquoise lagoon water. While in Bora Bora, we partook in the French influence on the local cuisine, dining at Villa Mahana, which offered a delicious multi-course dinner with wine pairing and was one of our favorite meals. We chose to refresh our diving skills and were incredibly fortunate to have two massive reef mantas swim two feet over our heads while we gazed upward from 40 feet below on the white-sand bottom.
Immensely relaxed, in beach mode and thrilled with our first two hotel stays, we topped off our travel with our final nights at the Brando in Tetiaroa. Uncertain what one of the top hotels in the world would offer, we were immediately impressed by the impeccable service, manicured grounds, and natural beauty. Lunch at your private pool, scuba diving outside amongst a mountain of colorful coral, cocktails at sunset at the bar above the treeline…simply ask and your wish is their command. Getting to the hotel is equally spectacular, using a singular private charter which whisked us to and from paradise without a worry and with ease. And for my wife who seems to attract mosquito bites wherever we may be, the hotel has an answer for that as well. Their island scientists eradicated the pest from the island without the use of any chemicals, allowing for outdoor enjoyment unlike any other experience where you may encounter the often annoying bugs. The experience at the Brando can only be described as sublime perfection, where any of your needs or desires instantly come to fruition.
While I had delayed a foray into long distance travel to a beach vacation, I must admit Tahiti is burned into our memories with its unforgettably blue waters, tranquil relaxing days, vivid and abundant sea life and unique island vibes. Now home, we daydream daily of when we will return.
Turkey: sailing the Aegean, balloon over Cappadocia…
JUDY CALVERT | MAY 20, 2023
Turkey is a gem. We did just over 2 weeks April 29-May 15, 2023 with an itinerary of Istanbul-Ankara-Cappadocia-Alacati-Bodrum (4 night Gulet). Karen is really good — I first contacted almost a year in advance, but she advised that they were really swamped (I think we know this is true for all travel arrangers right now) and if I could wait until September to dig into the details — which I could. I really liked all her hotel suggestions and we received upgrades at every property she booked. It’s really tricky to do the hot-air balloon in Cappadocia due to the weather and our first reservation was cancelled, but we were seamlessly rebooked for the next day and were able to go! Great drivers and guides and escorts and vehicles throughout. An added perk was the restaurant reservations they made throughout — all great! They also very kindly made arrangements for another couple (our friends) to join us on a number of excursions and transfers. Karen had welcome gifts that were such a thoughtful touch. She called us upon arrival in Istanbul and on the Gulet (Mustafa) to check in on us. We highly recommend Karen and Turkey — really good food, surprisingly great wine, excellent shopping and the kindest people!
Israel: classical & modern sights, meeting locals…
ELLEN HEARD | MAY 19, 2023
We have just returned from 12 days in Israel. What an experience! Jonathan listened carefully to us in planning our trip. From start to finish, Jonathan and his staff put together an itinerary rich in history, visits to classical and modern sites, and encounters with Israelis of many different backgrounds. Zvi Geva, our guide throughout, was wonderful—knowledgeable, friendly and full of energy. Special guides and various experts provided additional depth of knowledge and insight. It’s hard to believe that we could do so much, and learn so much, in less than two weeks. We are thankful to everyone in Jonathan’s office for helping to make this a trip of a lifetime.
French Polynesia: WOW Moment with a private sunset cruise
MARY FRANCES | MAY 17, 2023
Words cannot express the wonderful trip that Kleon put together for the three of us. This was a trip I had been thinking about for many years and finally decided to not put it off any further. From our stay at The Four Seasons Bora Bora to The Brando, our 8 days of paradise were stunning, fun, relaxing, and so much more. Kleon listened to all my questions and desires and put together the perfect itinerary for our trip. Loved talking with him during all the planning of the trip in the beginning and getting his feel for the 2 resorts in Bora Bora. I knew from the start that The Brando was a must and bucket-list item. He listened and advised me from the start to the day before we left. He was awesome!!
Our WOW Moment in Bora Bora with the sunset cruise was stunning and such a beautiful evening on the water, seeing the sun go down and having the boat to ourselves. Our captain was outstanding!! He sang and made drinks and had snacks for us, but most importantly he sat and answered all the questions my friends were asking about life in French Polynesia and told us all about his family! He was so sweet and stayed out past all the other boats and we had a wonderful time with him that evening!
One of the biggest things that we all commented on was how wonderful all the local Polynesians were and so genuine and happy to have visitors and talk or help us in any way. They were happy, helpful and so friendly any time we talked with staff at either resort. The love for their island really showed through!
Kleon’s staff on-island and all our connection flights in Tahiti went off seamlessly. We had one small hiccup for one passenger on the way to Tahiti, but between myself and Kleon we had her there the next morning, only missing 24 hrs. He quickly got a room overnight and had someone meet her and transport to and from the small airport in Papeete for her overnight stay there, and changed her flight to Bora Bora seamlessly.
One of the treasures we will remember is the early wake-up call to see the baby turtles at The Brando being released into the ocean after being born overnight. We were so lucky to be able to see this beautiful and unique experience.
At The Brando, we took the Ultimate tour and our tour leader was the bomb. He knew all about the island and could answer any questions. He was also part of the Tahitian Dance at dinner the night we arrived, which I highly recommend guests attending if they are there on a Friday night.
Kleon totally added value to all that we did. Between planning and answering all my questions and setting up our inter-island flights and the changes we had at the last minute, I would recommend or use him any time I go again. I have already given 1 person his name and contact info, as her family was thinking of going to Tahiti in the next 2 years.
As always I look forward to planning future trips with people on your WOW List!
Thank you for making this trip a perfect experience for all three of us!
Ireland: food tours, whiskey tutorial, falconry…
ROBIN STONE | MAY 15, 2023
Having used Wendy Perrin’s WOW List last year to travel to Greece, we chose Jonathan to book our trip to Ireland and his team made the entire process extremely easy and valued our input every step of the way. This was a mother and adult daughter trip that was supposed to happen 3 years ago. My daughter was studying abroad in Ireland and my trip to visit was cancelled and she had to come home due to Covid-19. She never travelled around Ireland because she was waiting on me to get there. She has since graduated, but we still wanted to see Ireland, so booked the trip on a whim one night while talking! I had planned this trip once before on my own and really didn’t want to do that again, so I looked at Wendy’s list and contacted Jonathan. I had a lot of specifics I wanted to do and see and even some specific places I wanted to stay. Jonathon and his team (Katie and Katie) were more than willing to plan the trip — they were incredibly accommodating and included everything we wanted and more.
We started our trip by flying into Dublin and then heading straight toward the west coast to stay in the historic Dromoland Castle in County Clare. Upon arrival in Dublin, we had a driver and tour guide, Donal, waiting for us and he would be with us for the duration of our trip. Donal was absolutely fantastic, and we cannot rave about him enough. He was extremely nice, accommodating and very knowledgeable about the history of Ireland and about each area and town we visited. He gave us great recommendations and was very flexible with our schedule and adapted it to the weather.
Speaking of weather, the weather on our first day in Ireland was less than desirable. Originally, we had a falconry lesson scheduled when we arrived at the castle. Unfortunately, due to weather we had to cancel and had afternoon tea instead. The tea was really lovely and I’m glad we got to experience it. The staff at Dromoland was wonderful and worked to rebook the falconry lesson around our schedule two days later, and it was a fascinating experience. The falconry guide, Dave, was very knowledgeable both about the magnificent animals we were interacting with and the grounds of the castle. Dromoland Castle was an extraordinary experience all around!
While staying at Dromoland Castle, we took day trips to go explore the west coast of Ireland. Our first full day was spent in Galway doing a food tour through the city and experiencing the best food the city had to offer. Our guide Regina was great. She was a chef herself and you could tell she thoroughly enjoyed sharing the amazing food that Ireland, and Galway specifically, had to offer. During this tour, we had the best raspberry croissant with red striping and a delicious raspberry puree center. We also had a whiskey tasting where we tried Irish Poitin, which is Ireland’s version of American Moonshine, and it definitely made you cough on the smallest sip. The other highlight for me of the food tour was at lunch when we had local oysters. I am not usually a fan of oysters, but Regina described them as a little burst of fresh saltwater, and that’s exactly what it was!
Our next day was spent sightseeing. We went to the Cliffs of Moher, Burren National Park, and went to a sheepdog demonstration at Caherconnell Sheepdogs. The weather this day was stormy, so Donal had us skip the cliffs in the morning and circle back to them in the afternoon in hopes of better weather. This ended up being a great decision and I’m glad Donal was looking out for us. We ended up having the clearest blue sky and were able to see the cliffs perfectly and it was definitely a top highlight of our trip. The Burren National Park was also very cool to see; with the dreary weather it was giving futuristic doomsday vibes. In the Burren, there is a perfumery that uses the wildflowers in the park to make perfumes. Both my daughter and I found one that we like and treated ourselves to a new scent. The sheepdog demonstration was interesting; I was not really sure what to expect going into it but it was really fascinating and we saw two lambs being born, which was beautiful.
On our third day, we checked out of Dromoland Castle and headed over to Limerick City to stop and visit King John’s Castle and the Hunt Museum. We then continued on to Killarney, and checked into the Killarney Park Hotel. This hotel was so beautiful, and our room was perfect. That evening we had a very interesting whiskey tutorial and tasting with the head of spirits at the hotel. The next day was spent driving the Dingle Peninsula and exploring Dingle. Here, we went to Louis Mulcahy’s pottery shop and local art galleries. We also had to get some more Murphy’s ice cream. Thursday was spent exploring part of the Ring of Kerry. We started with visiting Muckross House and Gardens and each got a scarf from the Muckross weavers. I got to watch as mine was getting finishing touches from the weavers and is one of the coolest souvenirs I’ve gotten during all my travels. We also explored the town of Kenmare and took a chocolate-making class at Lorge Chocolates. Neither of us had ever done a chocolate-making class or anything of the sort before, and it was very fun and educational. Benoit Lorge ran the private lesson with the 2 of us and he was so enthusiastic and passionate about his chocolate and the quality of chocolate that he creates.
Friday was Saint Patrick’s Day and we left Killarney and headed to Dublin. This was also our last day with Donal, and we were sad to part with him. He truly was one of the best things about our trip. We stayed at The Shelbourne while in Dublin, and it was gorgeous. While we were in Dublin, there was also a big rugby match between Ireland and England and the Irish Rugby players were staying at The Shelbourne as well. It was quite fun to be in the middle of everything going on! For Saint Patrick’s Day, we walked over to see a bit of the parade and then went and had a pint and a bite to eat at a pub close to our hotel.
On our last day, we did a walking tour of Dublin in the morning and got a history lesson on St Stephen’s Green, Georgian Dublin, Dublin Art Museum and the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Our tour guide, Kate, was very personable and entertaining. She did not have us down to go to the Book of Kells, but found out that we were supposed to based on what we were told, so she worked with her boss to make sure we were able to go that afternoon. That evening we took a private cooking class with Alix Gardner’s Cookery School and there we learned how to make all the essentials for a true Irish feast. We made scones, soda bread, shepherd’s pie with lamb, and a Guinness cake. My daughter and I both cook a lot and consider ourselves to be decent cooks, but I think we both learned new techniques that we’ve applied to our cooking since. The food was delicious and we got to take home our leftovers. We managed to bring a whole Guinness cake on the plane home with us to the States! A slice of Guinness cake after a full day of traveling was well worth the trouble of packing it.
Overall, our trip was absolutely fantastic and we both had such a good time. All the activities we did were great and the food was amazing. Ireland will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Sicily: jewelry maker, olive oil producer, Phoenician ruins…
ELAINE PATTERSON | MAY 15, 2023
We recently spent two glorious weeks in Sicily with the help of Maria and Brian. We had visited Sicily 20+ years ago and always wanted to go back, so when I contacted Maria, I had a list of places that we wanted to visit a second time. Otherwise, we put ourselves in Maria’s hands for recommended sites, experiences and overall itinerary. This was our 4th trip with Maria, so we didn’t need quite as much time to discuss likes and dislikes — she knows us! All we can say is that Sicily is now one of our favorite parts of Italy. Maria set up a perfectly paced trip, including all the major sites, and adding all kinds of places and activities we would never have found on our own, from a coral jewelry maker in Sciaccia to Phoenician ruins in Mozia, to fantastic private winery and olive oil visits with the most delicious lunches. We experienced so much of what makes Sicily special — major cities, beautiful smaller towns, lovely countryside, ancient history and the melting-pot mix of cultures over the centuries, all in one trip. Every guide and driver was excellent, enhancing our trip with both their knowledge, personalities, and willingness to talk with us about any and every topic, both personal and professional. And of course, every hotel was uniquely wonderful. All we have to do now is pick the next part of Italy we want to explore and then put ourselves back in Maria and Brian’s hands again!
Jordan: Petra, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea…
MILINDA MARTIN | MAY 13, 2023
We especially wanted to spend some time in Amman, have at least three days hiking throughout the country, visit Petra and Wadi Rum, and end up with a soak in the Dead Sea. Dan planned the perfect itinerary for April 2023.
My favorite part was when we were off the beaten path, hiking Wadi Dana to the Feynan Ecoreserve. We never would have known about this wonderful place if not for Dan.
At Petra, we were able to avoid the crowds and were treated to an outstanding hike led by both our English-speaking guide and a local Bedouin friend. We traversed the trails and canyons that the locals use to navigate the site without seeing any tourists. One day, we came to a spot that overlooked the Treasury and had it all to ourselves.
For the entire journey, the hotels were perfect, the activities just right for us, and best of all, the driver and guide worked hard to ensure we met locals all along the way. This is the part we will treasure the most, learning about the local customs and meeting friendly people. Thanks so much.
Argentina: hiking, wine tasting, indigenous culture…
RHODA SCHULZINGER | MAY 13, 2023
We traveled to Argentina in April 2023 on our second trip with Jordan’s office (first was to Chile in 2018) and once again, the company provided a trip that surpassed our expectations! All the accommodations, activities and food recommendations were top-notch. In 2012, we traveled on our own to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, so we were eager to use the company’s expertise to explore other parts of the country. We chose Bariloche and the Salta region to see a wide range of landscapes as well as to have exposure to indigenous culture in the NW. Both were wise selections for our interests. We stayed 4 nights in Bariloche and enjoyed terrific hiking and a variety of lake views. We loved staying at The Aldebaran, away from town and in a beautiful setting. Flying north to Salta for 11 nights, we stayed in four different communities (Purmamarca in Jujuy province and Salta, Cachi and Cafayate in Salta Province). Although the trip involved some long drives, the scenery was unbelievably gorgeous and the landscapes totally engaging. Our guide in the NW made a few wonderful itinerary changes, in consultation with Jordan’s office, based on weather conditions and assessing our interests. We had a fabulous evening in Salta enjoying a local peña (not a typical tourist show); visited three different weavers (including a very special visit at Tejedores Andinos); indulged in three lunches at different vineyards; had other amazing meals and wines in beautiful settings; and visited three museums that are among the most unique we’ve ever seen. We were treated to 2 wonderful WOW Moments that were great surprises. Working with Jordan’s team is an absolute pleasure: Krista (and Jordan) were always responsive to our interests when planning and adjusting the itinerary. They have fabulous local contacts and each of our two guides greatly enhanced our understanding of Argentina as well as making certain we were always comfortable and pleased with our activities. We’re grateful that Jordan’s office made this trip happen after having to postpone it in 2020 and 2021 — we highly recommend the company for any trip to South America!
Ireland: stress-free experience with a private driver/guide
PETER O’CONNOR | MAY 12, 2023
We were lucky enough to travel to Ireland from May 1-9, 2023. Our trip planner, Katie, helped us to plan an extraordinary trip. Because we had limited time (7 days, excluding travel to and from) she took the time with us prior to our trip to make sure we got the most out of our time. She suggested we fly into Shannon and out of Dublin so that we didn’t waste time doubling back to airports. She asked us about our goals and then provided us with options to finalize our itinerary.
We started off at Dromoland Castle, and that was an experience we will never forget. Not just because of the attentive and impeccable service, but also because of the grounds, the time we spent with a Falconer on the estate and the live music in the bar area at night.
We hired a personal driver/guide and this was the absolute BEST THING WE COULD HAVE DONE. This took all of the stress out of having to rent a car, navigate directions and drive on the opposite side of the street. We were able to relax, take in the sights and enjoy our time while Peter, our driver/guide, took us to our destinations in a luxurious executive stretch BMW. This was all set up by Katie.
Peter, our guide from Pro Bus, is now considered family. He was respectful, fun and informative. We highly recommend talking to Katie about hiring a driver/guide.
In Dublin, Katie set up a 3+ hour tour with an historian and professional tour guide. This was lots of fun and informative. If you want to see something specific that may require reservations and/or timed entrance — make sure to let Katie know so you can get those tickets ahead of time to avoid lines and also to ensure you are able to get in.
We did visit the Guinness Storehouse and although we weren’t sad that we went, it was not what we expected. We are from Bourbon Country and are used to guided Bourbon distillery tours and thought this would be similar. It isn’t a guided tour that shows the production facilities or brewing process. It is more of a self-guided museum. with placards and a tasting room. They push a lot of people through on a daily basis and it is crowded and somewhat commercialized. Unless you feel like your trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Guinness, there are many other places you could spend a few hours in Dublin.
While in Dublin, we stayed at the Shelbourne and it was lovely. Attentive service, beautiful rooms and great location. While in Killarney, we stayed at The Killarney Park hotel. It is a locally-owned hotel and the staff were some of the best we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. It is also centrally located and we were able to walk to and from bars/restaurants very easily. Our desire to walk to places and interact with local people was all discussed ahead of time with Katie and she made suggestions for hotels based on these talks.
We highly recommend Katie and will use her for future trips.
Athens: WOW Moment with Greek foods & fortune telling
VICTORIA JONES | MAY 10, 2023
The trip Mina prepared for us in Athens (April 26-28) was spectacular. Unfortunately, once the schedule was set and everything was ready, we all realized we would be arriving a day later than planned. Panic set in on all sides. Mina’s staff, however, rose to the challenge and rearranged everything so that what we thought we would do in four days was now done in three. Kudos to everyone who made that happen. Mina and her staff were absolutely the best.
First, our WOW Moment. Shortly after our arrival in Athens, we were mysteriously picked up at our hotel and driven to a residential area. We looked at each other but trusted Wendy. Imagine our delight when we were greeted by our host, Dionysia, who prepared a meal fit for kings and queens but which represented everyday food in a typical Greek household. Dionysia prepares custom meals for groups of individuals, mostly corporate requests, so we felt so special she had cooked just for us. We started with Greek wines (delicious), tzatziki and a spicy feta spread which we coupled with delicious homemade beautiful bread. We then had two salads: damos salad and, of course, Greek salad. Then came homemade sausage and kleftiko (a mix of lamb, chicken and beef). Then we MADE sweet phyllo rolls which we enjoyed together with a Greek-style cheesecake. Last of all, we had wonderful Greek coffee and when we finished it, imagine our surprise when Dyonisia asked us to turn our cups over and let the leftover coffee drain to the bottom. Of course, everyone’s designs which appeared on the cups were quite interesting and she then “interpreted” what each design meant, something similar to fortune-telling according to Greek customs. It was a fun (and most filling) afternoon and evening. I asked Dyonisia whether Greeks really had that much food every day and they do! However, a meal like that lasts two meals. Thank you Wendy so much!
The next day we took off to see the Greek ruins outside of Athens. We had an incredible guide who was an encyclopedia of knowledge. We went to the Corinth Canal, Athens’ version of the Suez Canal (fantastic) and then to the Mycenaen ruins, the Great Theatre of Epidaurus and the unforgettable healing center.
The next day we experienced a walking tour of Athens to introduce us to the five districts of Athens, did some good shopping at unique places disceovered by our guide, and had a tasting tour as well. Once again, our guide was great and delighted to be able to introduce us to her city. We loved it.
On our last day we went to the Acropolis, of course, and enjoyed the Parthenon and surrounding ruins, as well as the Acropolis Museum, a sight not to be missed.
This wonderful trip was nonstop and, as we soothed our tired feet, we marveled at all we had seen and done in such a short time! Thank you, Wendy and Mina, for an unforgettable trip. It was so much more than we expected and would do it again and again.
Belgium & Holland: spring flowers without the crowds
RICHARD ASHMORE | MAY 9, 2023
The trip Tom designed for us was fabulous. The hotels were outstanding. They were perfectly located, unique and charming, and had great service. The guides were excellent. They clearly knew their stuff and could explain it clearly, were professional and also established a personal relationship with us. The sights and activities were superb. We could describe many examples of superb sights and activities, but here we highlight just one. Our primary initial reason for the trip was to see the spring flowers. Tom’s plan and our driver’s skill got us to Keukenhof a few minutes before it opened. We were among the first few people to enter the park. For almost 90 minutes we had the park to ourselves (plus a few of our flower-loving friends). We spent almost three hours there and our souls were filled up. (NOTE: When we left there was a sea of people entering the park, and traffic jams all around the site.) We also had a wonderful morning at La Floralia, just outside Brussels. This has been called a mini-Keukenhof and in some ways it is. However, it is wonderful in its own right.
Dubai & Abu Dhabi: city sights, camel trekking, Islamic culture…
ADI DERASARI | MAY 8, 2023
We had a wonderful time during our trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi that was planned by Justin. The trip was very professionally arranged, from picking us up at the airport to all activities and transportation. We stayed at Jumeirah Beach hotel, which has beautiful views of the ocean and you can see the Burj Al Arab from it as well. Over the next few days we had our personal guide, who gave us a comprehensive tour of Dubai. We learnt about the city’s Bedouin heritage, bold architecture, Emirati culture, politics/sheiks. We got to see all the major attractions, the gold souk, Atlantis, and of course the Burj Khalifa. The guide had our tickets ready for us, which was nice. It took us 60 seconds in the lift to get to the top of the world’s tallest building. The views from there were spectacular. Once you exit the Burj Khalifa you end up in Dubai Mall (one of the world’s largest shopping malls), so we ended up walking around the mall and ate at the food court. Our kids had to try the McArabia from McDonald’s, which they thought was pretty good.
After a few days in Dubai we went to the desert. The highlight of our trip was the desert/Qasr Al Sarab Resort. It was a magical place, absolutely breathtaking. The desert sand is so soft, fine and has multicolored hues of khaki and orange. We all enjoyed rolling around in the sand dunes, and seeing the magical sunsets. Getting from Dubai to Qasr Al Sarab was flawlessly planned. We had our own private driver who was flexible in case we needed to make stops, as we were traveling with two kids (ages 6 & 7). Arriving there felt like arriving at a Arabian palace, the kind you see in Aladdin. They greeted us with some dates and a yogurt drink which was cooling in the hot weather. The breakfast was amazing, a lavish buffet having a mix of local delights. We enjoyed the dates, local jams, omelettes, and fresh juices. All the excursions were prefectly organized. We went on a camel trek, which was a great experience and felt like something out of a movie. In the evenings we got a chance to have some fine Arabic cuisine set in a beautiful ambiance amidst the desert lit up by lanterns, fire pits and the stars above. Certainly a dream. We dined amidst the desert dunes, a Bedouin set-up of plush carpets and cushions serving lamb, cherry rice, variety of dips/hummus, and breads. Another highlight of our trip was dune bashing. My oldest son loved it and said he would do it again, while my youngest said it was terrible. I would say it was exhilarating, however not for everyone. I would recommend not eating an hour before doing it.
Our next stop was Abu Dhabi. It was a quick two-hour drive from the desert. We only spent a day in Abu Dhabi, and then went back to Dubai. Abu Dhabi’s highlight was the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. We were greeted by our tour guide, who was well prepared. She had an extra head scarf for my wife, as the dress code is very strictly enforced. She was a wealth of information and was able to get us into the mosque the most efficient way. The architecture and design of the mosque is something quite special. It has intricate designs of flowers and geometric designs carved on the walls and exquisite carpets and chandeliers inside. After the mosque our guide gave us a tour of Abu Dhabi. We requested to go to some local markets, as we needed to get some souvenirs. She took us to a quaint market where they had camel key chains, local embroidered pillowcases, Aladdin lamps which my kids loved. Overall we really enjoyed our visit to the UAE. The tour guides, hotels, and recommended sightseeing spots were on point and made everything super-easy and stress-free.
Switzerland: 8 nights covering French, German & Italian regions
LAURA MCDERMOTT | MAY 8, 2023
Just returned from an 8-night trip to Switzerland. Wow! It was fantastic from start to finish. Every driver and guide was waiting for us on time, and we easily found them. The transportation was high-end, beautiful vans with 4 captains chairs facing each other so that my husband and two adult daughters could enjoy our transfers along the way. Every driver had their car immaculately clean and stocked with waters and hand sanitizer too! Our travels took us from Geneva to Zurich to Ascona; what we did not know but learned on our adventure was that Switzerland has 3 distinct cultural regions and we got to explore them all. First, in Geneva (specifically in Lausanne), we experienced the French part of Switzerland. Here we enjoyed the gorgeous views of Lake Geneva from our lovely hotel, visited local wineries up in the mountain/countryside with our fantastic guide Nicolas, took a daytrip to Geneva and enjoyed the nearby towns of Montreux and Vevey. After a marvelous panoramic train ride, a stop in Gstaad and a visit to an authentic cheese grotto, our next stay was Zurich where we experienced the German part of Switzerland. Here we enjoyed the gorgeous views of Lake Zurich, a day trip to Lucern which was lovely and so charming, a visit to Appenzellerland including lunch on a farm and local beer tasting, several museums and delicious food. The highlight was the visit to the farm, where we met the farmer and his livestock and had the most fabulous lunch in his farmhouse overlooking the valley…breathtaking! After another panoramic train ride and a stop in Bellinzona to visit and have lunch at an historic castle, we came to our last stay in Asocna where we experienced the Italian part of Switzerland. Here we enjoyed the gorgeous views of Lake Maggiore, the ascent via tramway up to Cardada and the feeling that we were on the Italian Riviera. We especially loved the charming boutique hotel where we stayed which was a close walk to the promenade. Though sad to leave, we truly felt that we experienced a lot of Switzerland (though you would need a couple of weeks to see it all!) We were so pleased with the travel planning from start to finish, as well as all of the guides, tours, drivers and adventures that were arranged for us. Highly recommend everything that we did!
Iceland: smart logistics for a spring trip
STACEY MEYER | MAY 8, 2023
Chris did an amazing job planning our trip. We were three “active” adult couples, and we had an incredible variety of appropriate and fun activities for our week in Iceland. We were in the shoulder season, traveling from 4/17-4/24, so not all activities were available. We spent the first day overcoming jet lag with an easy tour of Reykavik and then started our tour around the southeastern part of Iceland. Chris recommended we hire a guide/driver instead of renting our own car, as 6 of us would require a large vehicle and the weather can be very iffy during April. Our guide/driver Borgia was amazing, very informative and flexible, and made the trip so enjoyable and easy. We spent a day with River Adventures, where our guide made a “hot tub” from hot springs. We walked through ice caves, rode Icelandic horses and drove ATVs on the black beaches. And of course, we saw amazing scenery including glaciers and waterfalls. All of the restaurants and accommodations were perfect for our group. I also mentioned our interest in bakeries and ice cream, and a bakery was our first and one of our last stops. Chris really did a great job of listening to the interests of the group and then putting together the perfect tour. He was easy to work with and responsive, and even gave the most comprehensive “things to think about/packing list” that I’ve ever seen. I would highly recommend Chris for any Iceland tour. I’m only sorry he doesn’t specialize in other countries!
Morocco: hiking, Berber villages, city medinas…
ROBERT BERMAN | MAY 7, 2023
I just came back from 10 days in Morocco. I planned the trip with Hicham and Radia’s office. They did an excellent job at finding exquisite hotels and providing super guides. Our focus was on hiking in the Middle and High Atlas Mountains. The hiking specialists led us on terrific hikes. In the High Atlas Mountains we hiked from guest house to guest house through ancient Berber villages and mountain passes. The trip was fascinating, challenging and exhilarating. We also found time to wander the medinas of Fes and Marrakech with local guides. Morocco is an otherworldly experience. I highly recommend a visit here for those curious about non-Western cities or hiking. The people were very kind and welcoming (eg, when hiking through Berber villages we were invited in for dinners and tea by a few local residents). 10 days was not enough to cover all that Morocco offered.
U.K. & Italy: London to Venice via the Orient-Express
JOHN BRADUNAS | MAY 5, 2023
Once again, Jennifer and her team of WOW experts created an amazing adventure in the U.K. and Italy for me. Starting with a meet-and-greet at Heathrow, we bypassed the LONG passport-control lines, picked up bags and were off to Dorset. We explored and investigated the last home of T.E. Lawrence—and finally located the marker of his fatal crash site near Bovington—and paid our respects at memorials in Moreton and Waresham. Off to my old stomping grounds in Portsmouth for an amazing hands-on refresher on pre-WWII D-Day happenings and a stop to see the Mary Rose (after a 31-year restoration effort). Finally to London for the Ceremony of the Keys in the Tower at night—quite eerie if you think about what went on in the Tower—and an amazing cruise up and down the Thames (HIGHLY recommended for all). In Greenwich, we got to stand in two hemispheres at once and see the original clocks that helped ships at sea navigate.
Boarding the British Pullman, we could see how the “other half” lived in the early 20th century, the luxury (and great food!!) were still awe-inspiring. Then came another bucket-list highlight, an overnight on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to Venice. A few martinis in the Bar Car and you could imagine sitting with Agatha Christie as she writes another “who-dunnit.” Again, the food, champagne and atmosphere were stunning and the craftmanship of these luxury hotels on wheels could never be matched by today’s trains. There is simply too much history embedded in the wood inlays and thick woolen carpets.
Arriving in Venice gave us time to wind down and relax—it’s another great walking city, one in which you should get lost and then discover a hidden gem. It was off to Milan for the last few days of this tour. Seeing daVinci’s “Last Supper” for the second time in 53 years took my breath away…the 20+ years of restoration have helped to improve the masterpiece (and ask about Leonardo’s secret trick for maintaining perfect perspective in the mural). Walking up to the roof of the Duomo was perfect to catch a glimpse of the fashion capital below you (as long as you are not afraid of heights). The culmination of this experience was Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor being sung in La Scala….we could have sat through the performance again, if possible.
The trip was fabulous, the attention to detail and support was flawless and the experiences eternal….I’m starting to plan my next excursion already!!
New Zealand: hiking, wine tasting, jet boating…
ALANA JACOBSON | MAY 3, 2023
My grandfather was in the Dutch Navy and spent time in New Zealand many years ago. He always spoke about how beautiful it was and how it was his favorite place he had ever visited. So when we asked my dad where he would like to go for his 80th birthday — he said New Zealand!
We just got back from the most incredible trip planned by Jean-Michel and his team. We were traveling with 6 people from 13 to 80 years old, and Jean-Michel did a great job finding activities that we would all love.
We had only 9 days so we stayed on the west coast of the South Island and there was plenty to explore. We started in Te Anu at the Fiordland Lodge and loved the beautiful lodge and surroundings. We hiked, went fishing, and explored Milford Sound by boat. The scenery was beyond breathtaking everywhere we went! Our next stop was Queenstown and we stayed at the historic Eichardt’s Private Hotel. We had a lovely wine tasting day in Central Otago with the best guide and driver (Beau Rapley) and our daughter even went bungee jumping from the Kawarau Bridge. She loved it!! The city of Queenstown & surroundings were great – plenty of walking trails, gardens, gorgeous lake and mountain views. Not to mention great food and wine!
The last place we visited was Wild Earth Lodge in Makarora. It was the most serene and beautiful little inn run from the home of Pete and Janine. They took great care of our whole family & cooked the most delicious meals! We spent our days there hiking to the Blue Pools and having some relaxing down time. We also had our most exciting day – a helicopter tour over Mt Aspiring National Park, a hike through Siberia Valley, and a thrilling jet boat ride back down the Wilkin River. The whole trip was outstanding and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without Jean-Michel.
Paris: baking, boating & museums with kids
DIANE THORMODSGARD | MAY 3, 2023
My daughter and I took my 10-year-old twin granddaughters to Paris for their first trip overseas during spring break. We had a wonderful time on our “girls’ trip” from New York City. Although my daughter and I have both been to Paris many times, Jennifer’s group suggested activities geared to the girls, which included several activities we had never done before.
We did a private walking tour through Montmartre with tastings. Nicolas indulged us in tastings including “meringue et de crème fouettés,” chocolates, crepes, and macarons. Our tour concluded at the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur. A private cruise on the River Seine gave us splendid views of many places, including the Eiffel Tower.
Who would have thought that a private macaron making with a professional chef could be so much fun for everyone! We had plenty of macarons to eat and take back with us. The game at the Louvre was an excellent way to learn about the paintings and artwork by finding hidden clues in them and answering questions. The 2-hour guided game was a perfect introduction to the Louvre for the girls.
Finally, the sidecar tour with drivers in sidecar motorcycles gave us a view of Paris from the street. It was an absolute blast!
Our guides were very professional, prompt and engaged with all of us easily.
We especially appreciated the text messages each evening with the details for the following day. What a wonderful introduction to Paris for the granddaughters!
Romania: local craftspeople, charming inns, Easter celebrations…
RODERICK AND PATRICIA HINES | MAY 2, 2023
We had begun planning our trip to Romania several years ago but it was postponed because of Covid. When we were able to depart this spring we found the trip to be even better than we hoped for. Raluca had worked very diligently, with frequent emails and an initial Zoom, to plan our trip around Orthodox Easter celebrations, small village and town stays, and the chance to see spring flowers in the countryside. We knew the latter would be limited somewhat because of early Orthodox Easter.
After landing in Bucharest we left the next morning for Brasov, stopping at Peles Castle on the way. The castle visit was the only crowded time of our whole 2-week trip but very interesting inside and out, and we began learning the complicated history of Romania from our excellent guide Andrei. Our accommodations in boutique inns in Brasov, Sighisoara, and Cluj were all excellent, with a unique combination of traditional furnishing and modern amenities and excellent breakfasts in all. One of our highlights near Sighisoara was an afternoon and evening in a small village with Emese and family, touring her herb gardens, good conversations about her familiy’s history, and having a delicious traditional Easter meal.
Our first small village stay was in Breb, in the beautiful Maramures region, with green fields with haystacks, and distant snow-covered mountains. Our stay in The Village Hotel, a small group of restored traditional cottages, was wonderful with the help of the owner Penny and assistant Andrada. Dinners in a villager’s home were excellent with everything self-sourced. We did not overall visit museums but the Museum of Communism in Sighetu was very powerful and worthwhile.
Next stop was Bucovina area for Orthodox Easter celebrations. We attended midnight service, which involved passing lit candles, walking in and out and around the beautiful painted monastery, and responsive singing, all very moving. Easter Day included more services, with traditional dress, and tradition of cracking painted eggs at breakfast with the words “Christ has risen” and response “He has truly risen,” along with traditional Easter morning and Easter dinner lamb dishes. Our stay was again in an individual restored cottage at Casa Cu Cerbi with unique traditional bed arrangements and furnishings. The painted monasteries including Voronet were another highlight.
Back in Transylvania we stayed in the very remote village of Valea Zanalui in King Charles’ cottage. A very informative walk with a local biologist to look for flowers and discuss the area’s natural history had been set up ahead and very worthwhile. Communication was more difficult here because of the small staff primarily Hungarian, not Romanian, speaking and without our guide and preplanning we would have been unaware of potential available activities in the area.
In our last village Viscri, where we stayed at the very comfortable Viscri 125, we had our best chances to meet local craftsmen including watching a Roma woman making boiled woolen slippers, a blacksmith visit, and a very educational time with a beekeeper who supplies King Charles with his honey.
Lastly Bucharest surprised us with its vitality, green spaces and wonderful old buildings.
Each area we visited was unique with differences in architecture, language, food, and dress due to the complicated ethnic and political history of the country. Because of this and the beautiful landscape, churches, cleanliness, and friendliness our visit was very rewarding and enjoyable.
We would not have been able to appreciate any of this if we had attempted to plan and drive ourselves or been part of a large group staying in nondescript hotels on the edge of town. All of our accommodations were exceptional and we know that Raluca visits them all regularly to reassess. Monica checked once or more daily to adjust the schedule for weather changes, restaurant closings, etc. and made sure everything ran smoothly. Our wonderful guide Andrei was able to determine our interests, physical limitations, and schedule very easily and was always pleasant, reliable, easy to talk to, and extremely knowledgeable about Romanian history and culture. He was also flexible so we could easily add or subtract activities not on our planned list.
We would without question recommend planning a visit to Romania with Raluca.
Chile: Patagonia with a photographer guide
BRAD KNIGHT | MAY 1, 2023
Tom worked with my wife and I for over a year to organize the best trip possible based on some of our special needs and desires. He was an absolute pleasure to work with and was able to provide extraordinary detail and service during the long planning sessions. Our goal was to go to Patagonia in Chile, without rushing around all over the place, guided privately, and have a pampered feeling with good food and accommodations. He actually listened to our requests and followed through with them! Tom truly excelled in this regard. He set us up to spend the entire trip in or next to Torres del Paine National Park. Our first week was spent in an Awasi villa with an incredible view of the tower side of the Massif. Awasi was a terrific place that proved that it REALLY cares about its clients. My wife and I are wildlife and landscape photographers and Tom arranged for us to have a photographer and nature lover for our private guide for the entire week at Awasi. Awesome. For the second week he set us up in a great room at Explora Salto Chico with an even more stunning view of the Massif — horns side. Explora was just OK but the amazing view made up for some of the negative aspects of the hotel. We will never forget that view! While there was some dysfunction in the airline travel (no fault of Tom’s), Tom was with us all the way making sure we were clear about our options. We have traveled to many places (this was our 4th WOW person trip) and I feel that no one could have done a more efficient job at getting us to a hard place to reach like Patagonia, Chile. Kudos all around to Tom. We would not hesitate to benefit from his expertise again. WOW!
* 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.