Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

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

by Wendy Perrin | July 16, 2024

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.


Arizona and Utah national parks: off-roading, hiking, canyoning…


We had a wonderful experience with Melissa, and recommend her without reservation. We were a family of four traveling with two teens. Melissa was informative, friendly, and available to us from start to finish. We had several phone conversations before the trip, adjusting the itinerary based on our preferences and budget. Melissa patiently answered all of our questions, and even helped us when our rental car broke down. We started our trip in Sedona, AZ, continued to the Grand Canyon, then to Page, AZ, Bryce Canyon, UT, Zion, and Las Vegas, NV.

Highlights of the trip were: the exciting Pink Jeep tour in Sedona, exploring the hoodoos of Bryce, the spectacular beauty of Antelope Canyon, and canyoning in Zion, a new experience for us. We enjoyed hiking the Narrows in Zion, though would recommend an earlier start, since it was crowded while we were there. Melissa thoughtfully chose accommodations to maximize space and privacy, while keeping costs down. We especially loved the accommodations in Sedona and in Bryce, both adorable cottages. This trip was an amazing adventure.

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

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Lisbon & Mallorca: hip guide, navigating Taylor Swift crowds, beachside lounging…


Elizabeth Crawford and her family at a waterfront restaurant featured in The Night Manager mini-series in Mallorca, Spain.

Elizabeth Crawford and family at a waterfront restaurant featured in The Night Manager mini-series.

We recently enjoyed a 2-week trip to Lisbon and Mallorca beautifully planned by WOW expert Ivan. Ivan took the time to really understand our goals in the trip, and created an itinerary that prized creating memories with our kids. My daughter and I arrived separately from my husband and son, so it was very reassuring to be met and escorted by a driver in a very nice Mercedes minivan upon arrival to Lisbon. The hotel Ivan arranged for us was a “postcard-perfect” palace in a central location perfect for mom and daughter to explore from for a few days.

Once the rest of the family arrived, Ivan arranged a Foodie tour with local guide AnnElise. She spoke excellent English, was a history expert, but was also young and fun so our kids felt like she was just hanging out with us. As we explored, AnnElise used her personal connections with the culinary community to guide us to memorable experiences more authentic than touristy: We tasted Iberian ham from a small grocer, Bifana sandwiches from a lunch counter, pastries from a historic baker, and cherry liqueur from the “original” maker. We even shared beer from a horn in an old tavern. We were ultimately in Lisbon to see the Taylor Swift concert. Ivan arranged for an experienced driver, who provided invaluable white-glove treatment in the midst of huge crowds. Our driver was able to drive us right to the stadium, and then waited for us to escort us home after the concert. We felt secure and really enjoyed his company as he navigated the crowds and entertained us with stories of his celebrity driving experiences.

When we transferred to Palma de Mallorca, Ivan again made sure we had a local guide to introduce us to the city. Laura was charming and well connected to the local restaurants. While winding us through the narrow streets, pointing out landmarks and helping us learn our way around, Laura introduced us to local tapas bars and wines. The food was excellent and we had our favorite wine of the trip in an exclusive wine bar that we would’ve never been able to get into on our own.

Ivan was in constant contact with us throughout our trip, making sure we knew what to expect as well as checking in daily to make sure our experiences had gone well. At Ivan’s suggestion, we took the opportunity to explore the historic inland towns with our local guide, Laura. My husband had asked to see the scenic restaurant featured in the mini-series The Night Manager along our route. Much to our surprise, Laura spoke to the restaurant matriarch, and we were able to have lunch in this gorgeous, exclusive setting—yet another restaurant we would never have been able to get into on our own.

And when we finally arrived at our spectacular hotel on the cliffs of Port de Soller, we felt like movie stars. We reveled in luxurious lounging at our hotel. Then later in the week, Ivan arranged for a private sailboat excursion with a very experienced captain for us. We appreciated that we actually sailed (not something you can always count on) along the stunning coastline, and loved swimming in the crystal-clear waters. Our trip was spectacular, and Ivan succeeded in making it feel personally tailored to us, with local access and expertise that only a WOW specialist can provide.

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Hawaii: city and beach from a “serene home base”…


Jennifer Cheng's family with a dinosaur puppet that the guide brought during their UTV raptor tour at Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii.

A smart private guide (like the one who surprised Jennifer Cheng’s family with a dinosaur puppet) know how to keep kids entertained.

We decided in early May to take a summer family trip to Hawaii for our son’s graduation. We’re a family of 5, and the kids had never been to Hawaii but my husband wanted a city vacation, so I picked Waikiki, which I hadn’t visited since college. It was a busy time of the year for us and I was overwhelmed with all the choices, so I filled out the trip questionnaire and started the process with Dani and Jen. We traveled at the end of June/early July for a week, so we had less than 6 weeks to plan. It was such a relief to not have to research everything and know that I was getting vetted recommendations and a thoughtful itinerary. I’m so glad I had their bookings, guidance, and their app with all the details and documents.

Based on what I told them, they recommended the Halekulani, which I marveled at as the right choice every time we returned to the hotel — so beautiful and calm and pampering in the middle of hectic Waikiki. The kids loved all the shopping and food options right outside the hotel, and it was so nice to have a serene home base with amazing service. Dani and Jen’s booking included room upgrades and daily breakfast for 5. I was also able to enjoy the hotel’s morning fitness class a few times.

We had a mix of busy days and relaxing days, and Jen made sure we had dinner reservations each night. The teens took surf lessons and we did the Kualoa ranch UTV raptor tour, all arranged by Jen. They also made the arrangements for a fantastic Diamond Head sunrise hike. When we visited the North Shore, we ate at the shrimp trucks and did the Haleiwa stand up paddleboarding on their recommendations. Overall, a memorable and wonderful family vacation. Everyone loved it. Thank you!

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Azores: outdoor adventures, fascinating geology, easy logistics…


Susan Crandell and her family on the coast of São Jorge Island in the Azores, Portugal.

Susan Crandell and family near a tide pool on the coast of São Jorge Island in the Azores.

Just back from 11 days in the Azores. That’s more time than many tourists spend, because the islands are often an add-on to mainland Portugal. I am so glad my family invested more time to explore this archipelago, rich in geology and history. A skillfully drawn itinerary by travel planner Gonçalo allowed us to see four islands with only two changes of lodging. We stayed at two hotels on the main island, São Miguel, and in a spacious two-bedroom villa on the vineyard-rich island of Pico. Ferry rides so pretty they made transportation an event in itself took us to Faial, where a dramatic lava formation soars into the sky, from an eruption in the 1950s, and to São Jorge, where lava flows and landslides have created fajãs—level land at the foot of volcanic cliffs that support small seaside communities. The volcanoes that shaped this archipelago gave each island a different geography, every one beautiful in a unique way.

Our itinerary had us outdoors every day, hiking, kayaking and mountain biking, tasting local wines and cheeses, even cooking our dinner underground in the geothermal area of an inactive volcano. We visited a town inside a caldera, did an off-road Jeep tour, and spotted two species of whales, three species of dolphins, and an elusive hammerhead shark on a private boat tour. Most of our guides were locals who conveyed deep knowledge and even deeper passion for their islands. We soothed jet-lagged bones in geothermally heated pools on our first day; on our last full day, I had one of the top massages of my life (ask for Andre at the Octant Hotel in Ponta Delgada). I encourage anybody to mimic our extended itinerary and give the Azores their due.

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

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Tanzania: cheetah and lion sightings, meeting photographers and conservationists…


A female lion rebuffs the approach of a male, Tanzania.

A female lion rebuffs the approach of a male. Photo: Traveler Elane Zelcer

Having returned from East & Southern Africa yesterday, I’m still reliving those wonderful moments that come from having excellent guides that ensure extraordinary experiences alongside deep knowledge.

Cherri’ team, Katie and Yaqana, set this all in place knowing that I wanted to see and photograph big cats and elephants in the Serengeti Plains, Tanzania from 7-14 June. I’d been to Namibia, Botswana & Zambia, but not Tanzania. And this time I was travelling alone.

Namiri Plains, my first stop, was amazing — a really glorious lodge. My guide, Hatibu, met me at the Seronera airstrip, and over 4 days we were close to cheetah including a coalition of three males; a coalition of three lions that were pursuing a single male; a mother cheetah with five very young babies, fur-balls that romped & played in the deep grass while she called them as they disappeared & reappeared; and a young curious elephant that was comfortable with us being close by.

My last night included dinner with Kelvin Munisi, Project Manager with the Cheetah Conservation Initiative in Tanzania — this is an important program that is ensuring survival of cheetah in various African countries. It was good to learn about this.

Flying to Grumeti Airstrip, I saw more of Tanzania from the air — my next location was Mila Tented Camp, with “tents” that provided excellent accommodation and where I was looked after superbly. My guide Isack met me at the airstrip and soon we were watching three lions with 15 young cubs, then ostrich displaying their feathers, and we found two cheetah hiding in the deep grass. The next morning we spent several hours with a big male lion who was pursuing a disinterested female — even when she lashed out and her cubs appeared, he continued. All sightings were fascinating and provided great learnings and photo opportunities.

And to top it all off, my WOW Moment was an afternoon with Stanley Raymond, a fantastic photographer. We tried to photograph Mt Kilimanjaro, but the weather wasn’t helpful, so we had a great several hours photographing other sights and talking all things photography.

A big thank you to all those who helped make this trip so enjoyable — there is no doubt that your knowledge and guidance helped make this safe, fascinating and definitely unforgettable.

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Galapagos: small-yacht cruise plus a boutique hotel stay…


Travelers Claire, Andrea, Rachel and Dave Phillips bonding with sea lions at Gardner Bay on Espanola Island, Galapagos.

Claire, Andrea, Rachel and Dave Phillips bonding with sea lions at Gardner Bay on Espanola Island. Photo: Gideon Kleinman

Standing in LAX on a delayed departure morning with 2 phones in hand—one connected with the airline agent and one with Allie—made me realize the true value of having a Trusted Travel Expert. This was our 7th Wendy Perrin trip, but who would have thought that engine trouble on our first flight would make us miss our connecting flight and almost ruin a trip to the Galapagos Islands planned a year in advance?! Thanks to Allie’s quick thinking, we were rerouted to a different city in Ecuador, on the only available flight over the weekend. She was able to alter our migration cards and flights to ensure we made it for our full 7-night cruise, saving us from missing out on the incredible first stops! Fortunately, this was our only hiccup and the rest of the trip went smoothly under Allie’s exceptional care. And by securing our trip with travel insurance from Travelex, another Wendy Perrin recommendation, we will also get a good portion of reimbursement back on the services lost and the extra services paid for.

As travelers who love adventures with animals, the Galapagos Islands were an ideal pick for a special trip for our graduating senior. With Allie’s help, we selected to sail on the Endemic on June 9th on Itinerary 8B. We picked this route for the specific island stops and the types of animals and unique environments we could possibly see. We’re not typically fans of cruising, so we were initially nervous about spending a week on a cruise. However, with so many daily excursions and visits to new islands—sometimes 2-3 in a day—the time on board felt necessary and well-balanced. The islands are simply breathtaking: pristine, unspoiled, and teeming with wildlife at every turn! You had to carefully watch your step, as baby and adult sea lions, blue-footed boobies nesting with their chicks, and land and marine iguanas sprawled across the pathways, eagerly inviting your admiration. The entire experience felt like stepping into a living, breathing nature documentary!

The Endemic, a double-hulled catamaran, has the charm of a modern boutique hotel that transports you from island to island with 8 large staterooms (only 16 passengers max), each with its own balcony, Wifi, and was very stable, minus a few rough nights on some longer crossings! It was lovely getting to know our fellow passengers quite well, being on a small ship, as we were always with the same group for excursions and meals. Our naturalist guide and crew of 11 were friendly and knowledgeable, always ready with warm towels, fresh drinks, and smiles. The meals were delicious and plentiful with many special meal requests being honored. The weather at this time was warm without being too hot and the water was only chilly at first entry, as we had nice wetsuits provided by the Endemic to wear while snorkeling.

My older daughter and I embarked on a special side trip to scuba dive at Kicker Rock near San Cristobal on our first full day. It was an unforgettable experience, especially when a group of curious sea lions joined us, playfully diving alongside. They truly are the stars of the islands! Our sailing route was filled with incredible highlights: On Española Island, we frolicked with sea lions at Gardner Bay’s beautiful beach and hiked to Suarez Point to witness the mesmerizing albatross mating dance; on Santa Cruz Island, we marveled at the massive Highland Tortoises in their natural habitat; on Bartolomé, we snorkeled with penguins and hiked up for a breathtaking view of Pinnacle Rock; on Floreana, we snorkeled at Devil’s Crown, visited Post Office Bay, and kayaked around mangroves with marine iguanas and sea turtles; and near Sombrero Chino, we snorkeled with numerous sharks and sea lions.

For the second part of our trip, we stayed at the relaxing Finch Bay Hotel on Santa Cruz Island. This wonderful hotel boasts a serene pool area frequented by amusing local ducks and a beach that feels like a hidden paradise. Our days were a mix of exploring the charming town of Puerto Ayora, hiking to secluded beaches and breathtaking lava rock formations, and biking through the island landscape. We indulged in spa treatments, enjoyed ocean kayaking, and experienced another unforgettable day of scuba diving at Gordon Rocks, where we encountered majestic hammerheads and other sharks. Allie also arranged for a family photo shoot at Tortuga Bay, giving us lasting memories of our trip. The combination of a week-long luxurious cruise and a few days of a tranquil island stay gave us a truly immersive Galapagos experience, one that we will cherish forever.

Without Allie’s expertise in planning our route and saving our trip, our experience wouldn’t have been nearly as incredible. For anyone planning a journey to the Galapagos, know it can be challenging and her advice is invaluable: allow yourself 2-3 days (preferably on weekdays) to arrive in Quito or Guayaquil to ensure you catch the limited island flights. Allie is a true Galapagos expert, and we couldn’t imagine trusting anyone else with our adventure. Thanks to her, our trip was unforgettable!

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Spain: art and architecture, landscapes, smart pacing…

MARY ARZT | JULY 7, 2024

Travelers Mary Arzt and her husband Len seized a photo op during the annual Cordoba Fair in Spain.

Mary Arzt and her husband Len seized a photo op during the annual Cordoba Fair.

After decades-long procrastination, we were finally ready to visit the many places in Spain that had accumulated over the years. Since it would be a complex trip in a new country with several stops, we turned to Wendy’s WOW List for guidance. Virginia and her staff were the obvious choice and they created a trip well beyond our already high expectations.

Since both my husband and I are on the older side, we needed to pace ourselves and still see everything we wanted to see. Virginia helped us accomplish this by pacing the trip perfectly, giving us plenty of downtime and moving the trip along when it was time.

Lifetime memories of our trip include the view of the Summer Palace from our room at the Alhambra, the timeless Granada Hammam, the shady garden courtyard outside our room in Cordoba during an otherwise hot afternoon, the overwhelmingly huge Mosque, an amazing three-hour jewel-like lunch in Seville, multiple delicious tapas tours with gracious guides showing us where the locals go, a delightful tutorial on Cervantes in the neighborhood where he lived and worked, seeing Velazquez’s Las Meninas at the Prado in Madrid and Picasso’s multiple deconstruction at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona (!), visiting the amazing Guggenheim in Bilbao, seeing San Sebastian’s bay for the first time, and drinking in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona — to name just a few.

What made all these memories even better were each of Virginia’s tour guides. They were knowledgeable, thoughtful, intelligent, and to a person excellent ambassadors of their respective regions and areas of expertise. All of what they shared with us, the evocative art work, stunning historic and modern architecture, amazing geographical vistas, and the extraordinary meals spoke to our hearts, souls — and stomachs!

Unfortunately, during our trip my husband fell quite ill and Virginia’s team shone during these challenging times. They helped us get medical service in multiple hotel rooms, navigate the medical system in a foreign country (no small thing), and guided us in the use of our travel insurance policy in order to have him get well as quickly as possible. Their ongoing check-ins and authentic concern helped us feel supported and cared for while we were far away from home. It also allowed my husband to feel better more quickly and get back to enjoying our trip.

We unreservedly recommend Virginia and her team to anyone who is interested in having a quintessential Spanish experience customized to their unique interests.

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Japan: exquisite ryokans, flawless logistics…


A trip of a lifetime! Andrea’s office exceeded our expectations in planning and executing our trip to Japan while staying within our budget. The team went above and beyond in terms of accommodating our needs and dreams. We can’t say enough about the time and attention put in to planning this trip. In fact, at the last minute they were able to add our cousins to the trip, making sure we would be following the exact same itinerary.

Andrea and his team made sure that all aspects of the trip ran like a well-oiled machine. As a result, we were able to see far more of Japan in 15 days than we expected. We were able to visit Tokyo, Matsumoto, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Nara, Naoshima (Art Island) & Hakone. We had a private car and driver with informative guides leading us on our tours of museums, temples, shrines and gardens. Most of our accommodations were at exquisite Ryokans. The surrounding beauty and quality of the food was amazing. All of our transportation was flawlessly planned, and we even had a guide traveling with us on the bullet trains for all but one leg of our trip. Additionally, Andrea’s office created a WhatsApp chat which allowed the four of us to have 24/7 access to his team, giving us tremendous peace of mind in case of an emergency. We are very grateful to have been introduced to Andrea and will certainly keep him in mind for future trips.

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London & Paris: great introduction to both cities in a week…


We just returned from a 6-day trip to London (3 nights) and Paris (3 nights). Was a fabulous introductory trip to both countries, as we traveled abroad with our two youngest children (13 and 18 years old) for their first time. Jennifer and staff were terrific at arranging transportation, hotel and guides. Every plan was smooth, and we never had a moment’s worry. The itinerary was full, but we were able to truly see the iconic sights and places of interest for our first time in London and Paris. Both hotels we stayed in were excellent, with connecting rooms that allowed us to be “with” each other while keeping a little privacy. The Rubens at the Palace hotel in London was especially fun for us, with a porter greeting all guests at the door in full palace costume. Both hotels also had delicious, included breakfast which made for an easy start to each day.

Highlights in London included the Churchill War Rooms and museum which was probably everyone’s favorite place we visited, dinner at the Shard (we chose to eat at Oblix West and Jennifer made sure we had pre-booked a window table during sunset…amazing!), and the Borough Market for their famous chocolate-covered strawberries (they did not disappoint!).

Highlights in Paris included a dinner boat cruise on the Seine, seeing the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night and strolling along the Champs-Élysées toward the Arc (which we climbed up to a spectacular view of Paris).

This was truly a seamless, memorable and fantastic trip! Many thanks to Jennifer and her team for the effort they put in to make our vacation wonderful.

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Malta: crowd-free experiences, insider access to local people and places…


We traveled to Malta with another couple in May. Damon Allan did an outstanding job of planning our 6-day trip for us. It was clear from the beginning that he truly loves Malta and wants his clients to love it as much as he does. We worked with Damon for several months, planning and tweaking our itinerary, and at one point ended up with a potential package that exceeded our budget. When we asked him to pare it back a bit Damon graciously and quickly came up with suggestions and options to bring it back in line.

We knew we were in good hands when we landed in Malta and were met on the (hot) tarmac and whisked to our (cool) private car whilst fellow travelers were herded onto (hot) buses to be driven to the terminal to collect luggage. We’re very committed to carry-on luggage only and this commitment, along with Damon’s organization and planning, resulted in us being driven directly to our hotel without stepping foot inside the airport terminal. This likely pared at least an hour off of what was already a very long travel day.

We stayed at the Iniala hotel in Valletta and, as a benefit of being Damon’s clients, received a food and beverage credit and a welcome gift of wine and snacks in our room. The hotel is lovely and the view of the harbor is even lovelier. We can’t imagine staying anywhere else in Valletta. In the fascinating old walled city of Mdina we stayed at the Xara Palace and had the delightful experience of walking through the streets after dark, when it seemed as though we were the only people in the city.

Damon arranged for us to have a driver and a guide for our entire week in Malta. This was crucial to the success of our trip as our itinerary was very full and we certainly couldn’t have seen and done as much as we did had we not had transportation arranged to and from — and between — each excursion. Our guide Pierre is hands-down the best guide we’ve ever had. He is extremely knowledgeable about Malta’s very complex military and political history and is equally well versed in architectural and art history. We simply would not have had as rich an experience in Malta had we not had the benefit of his wonderful story-telling style of explaining what we were seeing and experiencing. Pierre is not only an incredibly well informed guide, he’s also very good at assessing his clients’ needs and interests and adapting to same. When we started to lag a bit on a very hot day he sensed our need for a rest and quickly found us a shady spot for a drink. When he noted we were starting to overdose on church artifacts he suggested a change of pace. And on one occasion when a scheduled car didn’t show up as planned he quickly ushered us to an interesting shopping street while he sorted things out. The delay wasn’t a big issue and certainly wasn’t a problem for us, but his handling of the situation speaks to his commitment to customer service and his desire to shield his clients from any inconvenience. Similarly, he accompanied us with our driver back to the front door of our hotel at the end of every day, even though some days our activities ended close to his own home. His insistence on escorting us to our hotel likely added another hour or so to his work day but he wanted to ensure that all went well for us.

The food in Malta was great. Damon booked reservations for us at very good restaurants and we unfailingly had the best tables.

Everything we saw and did in Malta was interesting and enjoyable. Some of the more unique experiences (lunch in an olive grove with a surprise presentation — thank you Damon — by a scholar/maker of traditional Maltese musical instruments, a picnic on the beach in Gozo, a visit to a private palazzo hosted by the owner) were possible because of Damon’s personal connections in Malta. These experiences simply wouldn’t have been available to tourists traveling/booking on their own and were a huge part of the value in working with Damon. Similarly, tourists traveling on their own would likely not have ended up with a guide of Pierre’s calibre.

We’ve not previously worked with a travel planner to the extent that we worked with Damon. Having done so, we’ll likely never travel again without dealing with someone on Wendy’s WOW List. We’re converts. Our trip to Malta was not inexpensive but we came away knowing we received incredible value for our expenditure. As noted, we believe we had unique experiences due to Damon’s personal connections. While we were in Pierre’s very capable hands every day, we also had the benefit of Damon’s long-distance involvement while we were in Malta. When it looked like the weather was not going to be favorable for a boat trip to the island of Gozo, he and Pierre worked their magic to juggle things and postpone the trip to the following day. This is something we could not have done on our own without considerable stress and without sacrificing other parts of our itinerary. As it was, everything was seamlessly reorganized for us such that we didn’t miss out on anything. It’s difficult to put a price tag on that kind of service/attention.

We’ve been home from our trip for just over a month and are still digesting all that we saw and learned. Now when we run into any kind of a day-to-day glitch (a lineup at the grocery store, an inability to get reservations at a favourite restaurant, difficulty finding a parking spot) we look at each other and say “Where are Damon and Pierre? Surely they could sort this out for us!“ Does this tell you how much Damon deserves to be on Wendy Perrin’s WOW List?

Read more reviews of Jason and Damon. Or request your own trip.

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Switzerland: hiking, chocolate, making family memories…


Travelers hiking with St. Bernards in Switzerland.

Jennifer, David, Veronica, and Reed Datwyler hiking with St. Bernards.

My daughter recently graduated from high school. She chose a family trip to Switzerland as a celebration of her accomplishments. My husband and I, along with our 18-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son, left home May 25, 2024 for a ten-day trip to three distinct regions of Switzerland. This trip was expertly planned by Nina and Annina.

We flew direct from San Francisco to Zurich. The afternoon of our arrival, we toured the city of Zurich in a Tuk Tuk, where we were welcomed with chocolate fondue en route. The next day, we took a short train ride to the town of Appenzell, where we visited with a local bell maker who demonstrated the art of forging cow bells. My daughter even got to participate in the forging process! From there we visited an organic farm. The farmer, Sep, prepared an incredible lunch from products harvested on his farm.

From Zurich we traveled by train to Interlaken. We stayed in a beautiful wellness hotel right on the water outside of town. Our time in Interlaken included a private chocolate-making workshop and the highlight of the trip for my daughter, a hike with Konstantine’s St. Bernard dogs.

The third stop on our trip was to the Italian region of Switzerland, where we stayed in the town of Ascona. Here we rode E-bikes to a small family-run grotto where we learned to make risotto. We spent another day exploring the Bavona valley. We enjoyed a hike through the most beautiful terrain we have ever seen. My son commented that he felt as if he were in “middle-earth” and was expecting to encounter a hobbit at any moment.

The entire trip was flawless. All the details were handled expertly. We will never forget this time together as a family.

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Sicily: private lunches, illuminated temples, birthday surprises…


We had a wonderful trip to Sicily at the end of May with Matteo. We booked the trip after reading the reviews on I had some reservations about booking the trip completely online, but after disappointing vacations with personal travel agents, I figured why not. I have to say everything written about their tours is 100% true. They are meticulous planners and they know each guide personally, which makes the experience even better!

While in Palermo, in addition to seeing the city and the markets, we had a marvelous trip to Monreale—the mosaics are incredible—followed by a private lunch at a winery.

On to Agrigento, where we celebrated my 70th birthday. Matteo advised us to stay at Villa Athena in the National Park. It was fabulous—especially dinner on the hotel terrace overlooking the illuminated temples. Following dinner, there was a knock at our door. Matteo sent me a birthday cake! Our second night was special as well—spending it in a small local town with a culinary guide, and a private dinner as per her suggestions in a local restaurant.

Finally, on to Sircusa—we stayed in the historic island of Ortigia. We visited Mount Etna with a geologist followed by another fabulous lunch at a Mount Etna winery—with a celebrity guide who has actually published books about the vineyards there. Our last day was spent on a trip to Noto and Noto Antica followed by lunch at an incredible self-sustaining slow-food farm.

BTW—we actually got to meet Matteo when he surprised us at a gelato cafe in Ortigia.

This really was a fantastic trip with a great mix of culture, outdoor excursions and fabulous food. I just wish they had other tours in the rest of Italy!

Read more reviews of Marcello and Matteo. Or request your own trip.

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The Cotswolds: scenic villages, hands-on experiences like foraging with a chef…


When my husband and I wanted to plan a week in the Cotswolds, we knew Jonathan and Katie and their group were the ones to contact. We had utilized them previously for a trip to Ireland, and trusted their knowledge and professionalism.

As before, they excelled in every facet of this trip. We explained that we wanted to spend days with cultural activities, hands-on experiences, plus have downtime just to be. The accommodations and itinerary they put together suited us perfectly (thanks, Jonathan, for encouraging us to stay at the Whatley Manor; it is a VERY special place).

From visits to a cheese-making factory, a trip to a brewery that uses the same equipment and techniques it has for hundreds of years, to a tasting at the wonderful Cotswold Distillery (the first full-scale distillery in the Cotswolds), to visiting Bath and the myriad of beautiful villages in the area, everything worked perfectly. The drivers and guides who took us on these adventures were second to none, and provided us with so much information on the area.

As if that were not enough, Wendy and Jonathan’s staff arranged for an incredible WOW Moment during our stay at Whatley Manor. We spent a day with Ricki Weston, their Executive Chef, foraging in his favorite places and then returned to his kitchen where he gave us a lesson in cooking, and even prepared a meal for us. What a special experience; thanks to you both, Wendy & Jonathan!

Jonathan’s team made our vacation a smooth and seamless experience, and we will not hesitate to call on them again.

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Norway expedition cruise: fjords, villages, polar bears…


Passengers and a photography guide from the National Geographic Endurance in Spitsbergen capturing a group of short reindeer were hanging out on a steep grassy slope.

Passengers and a photography guide from the National Geographic Endurance in Spitsbergen. Photo: Traveler Tom Redburn

We enjoyed a wonderful expedition trip on the National Geographic Endurance along the Norway coast, continuing above the Arctic Circle to Svalbard. The trip ran from May 31 to June 15, starting in Bergen and ending in Oslo, after a charter flight from Longyearbyen. We already had a good idea of what we wanted to do, but Ashton Palmer helped confirm that we had made the right choice in choosing a Lindblad/Nat Geo ship over any of the other possible ways of visiting Norway and Svalbard. Lindblad/Nat Geo created the perfect itinerary for us and the friends we were traveling with, poking in and out of fjords, visiting picturesque villages and incredible scenery along the coast for 9 days before heading to Svalbard and its rugged landscape, where we were fortunate to see about 10 polar bears, dozens of walruses, hundreds of thousands of birds and more, from our ship, Zodiac expeditions, kayaking, and walks on land.

I can’t imagine a better way of traveling to this part of the world than on the Endurance, which can take no more than 128 passengers (we had 110), with the large majority of cabins having balconies for private viewing, while also providing terrific public spaces, fantastic meals, an excellent gym and spa, and absolutely first-rate guides, wonderful daily presentations, and a staff that met all our needs — and more. It’s not inexpensive, but I thought the value was worth the money.

The schedule is somewhat flexible, depending on weather and other factors, but among the highlights were viewing Briksdal Glacier, enjoying waffles and jam at a couple of charming restaurants set on a lake and one of the Lofoten islands, visiting a husky farm for training dogs for racing, kayaking along a cliff with roosts for thousands of birds, and spotting polar bears along the coast of Svalbard that the captain and expedition leader found along the route. There are no guarantees and the rules forbid getting too close to the bears (I think 200 meters is the minimum distance) but every time we saw a bear and were able to photograph it or view through binoculars, it was a thrill. It was late spring/early summer and most days the sun never went down. The weather was usually right around freezing, and we had everything from brilliant sunshine to cloud bursts of rain, even some snowflakes, and bitter wind. We were given heavy coats as part of the trip and rented waterproof boots and always felt well protected despite the constantly changing conditions.

At the same time, what made the trip special was the amazing experience and background of the guides, the two photography experts: Tim Laman, a NatGeo photographer, took some terrific pictures and showed off some of his even more stunning photos (many of birds) from his other adventures around the world.

We did have a couple of hiccups along the way. Both Lisa and I, along with two of our friends, came down with Covid fairly early in the trip. But that barely put a crimp in what we were able to enjoy. The doctor on board prescribed Paxlovid and our symptoms were mild. We were required to eat in our room for five days, but otherwise were able to wander the ship as long as we were wearing masks and managed to see just about everything the other passengers witnessed (we missed a couple of hikes and a Zodiac trip but that’s about it.). And the final day in Longyearbyen when we disembarked before flying to Oslo was poorly planned and should be rethought by Lindblad.

This is the kind of trip where the WOW List planner is not as deeply involved as on most trips, but we were grateful that Ashton and his team suggested a cabin on the starboard side for better viewing, advised us to sign up early for the night on deck in a clear dome, and gave us several other options so that we could feel extremely pleased by our choice of going on the top-of-the-line Nat Geo Endurance. I really can’t imagine a more luxurious, more beautiful, more stable and more accommodating ship for expedition cruising. I dont think I’ll ever go on a conventional cruise (I simply can’t imagine traveling in one of those mega ships) but we feel confident with Ashton so that I plan on consulting with him again on a future small-boat trip we hope to take in 2026 to the South Pacific.

Finally, I’d like to offer a shout-out for Torunn Trosvang, another WOW travel advisor. We planned five days in Norway at the end of our cruise, with 3 days in Oslo and 2 we expected to spend in Flam. But I noticed in Torunn’s Insider’s Guide that she recommended not staying in Flan and instead going to the nearby 29/2 Aurland, a truly special small inn with a fascinating history in one family for several generations, and an excellent young chef (22!) who happens to be the son of the owner. We never would have found it without that mention on Wendy’s website, and highly recommend reading the helpful advice that most of her recommended local advisers offer — for free!

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Zambia: three generations on safari, at Victoria Falls…


Tracy Goble and her family enjoying lunch on a sandbar of the Zambezi River, Zambia.

Tracy Goble and family enjoying lunch on a sandbar of the Zambezi River.

WOW!! We just returned from Zambia and had a fabulous experience, planned by Daniel! We normally travel to Zambia for work with a university in Ndola, but this year we brought our oldest kids and grandkids with us and wanted a special safari experience. Daniel found an amazing safari camp and arranged a seamless trip for us! First, we did our work in Ndola. We had a great deal of luggage, and knew before we left it would be a problem for the small plane we were on for safari. Daniel went to work in a WOW way, and found a tour group in Lusaka that could store our hard-sided bags for 4 days!! I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but he found a way to get us to safari and still be able to carry everything we needed for our trip.

On to safari in the Lower Zambezi…we arrived in Sausage Tree Camp and had an absolutely fantastic experience!! Henry met us at the Jeki airport on the dirt air strip. We climbed into the open jeep for our transport to camp, but Henry asked a question. “Would you like to get settled in your rooms, or would you prefer we go find the wild dogs we just had spotted in the park?” We knew how hard it was to see wild dogs, so we said, “Let’s go!” and off we went on safari!! Henry was amazing, and my grandchildren were so happy they could understand him since many who speak English in Zambia have accents that are hard for Americans to understand. Our time at Sausage Tree Camp was definitely special, with surprise lunches on a sandbar with our feet in the water, unexpected sundown cocktail parties set up on the river bank, and dinner under the stars one night! The resort is staffed with amazing people who cared for us like family!! I would never have found this safari camp by myself, but Daniel knew all about it.

When we left the camp (after seeing so many amazing things, like lionesses eating a water buck, a leopard retrieving a kill out of a tree, fishing on the Zambezi River, 2-week-old elephants surrounded by protective parents, and so much more), we headed to Livingstone to experience Victoria Falls! We stayed at the Royal Livingstone Resort, which is an experience every traveler needs in their lifetime!! My favorite place in the world is sitting on the deck by the river at sunset, listening to the nearby Falls thundering with hippos calling in the distance. The breakfast at the Royal Livingstone is an epic buffet, and most likely you will see zebras and giraffes walking by on the grass. Daniel also arranged for us to visit the nearby park to see White Rhinos. They are heavily protected, but you still get to drive near them, and then get out of the jeep to walk near them for photo ops!! What a wild experience!! Our trip as a family was a dream come true, and we cannot thank Daniel and his team enough for this great adventure!!

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Peru: far more than just Machu Picchu…

TIM TRICHE | JUNE 21, 2024

A woman weaving in Lamay, Peru.

A woman weaving in Lamay, Peru. Photo: Tim Triche

Despite a disastrous beginning due to airline travel delays and cancelled flights, Mark and Jessica rose to the occasion and successfully rearranged our itinerary so that despite over two lost days of travel we were nonetheless able to do almost everything that was originally scheduled. Kudos to them for dealing with a very difficult situation. The trip itinerary they arranged was truly exceptional; I have never had a better travel experience. They arranged all the things we requested and added many more that enriched our experience far beyond our expectations.

Our guides were absolutely top notch; Claudio in particular deserves a shout-out. He accompanied us for most of the trip and was the consummate travel guide—knowledgeable, engaging, experienced, and a truly nice guy. And, an accomplished photographer who identified some fantastic photo ops for us that resulted in many keepers that will enable us to remember this trip for years. I have done photography as a serious hobby for decades, and another shout-out to Adriana, the photographer who took us around Cusco at the end of our trip. I learned a great deal from her, and took some creative photos that would otherwise never have occurred to me. All in all, the trip couldn’t have been better, and my entire family will never forget the experience.

Everyone thinks of Machu Picchu when thinking of a trip to Peru, as we did, but we now realize it is much, more more than that. Cusco and the Sacred Valley were the heart of the Inca civilization; Machu Picchu just epitomizes that lost culture, but it lives on in many ways in the people you meet along the way. In contrast, Lima is a cosmopolitan urban city with fantastic food and art, and hotels to match, a delightful contrast to Cusco and the Sacred Valley. And lest you consider bypassing the Sanctuary Lodge at the entrance gate to Machu Picchu: don’t. It is worth every penny, and such a pleasure to simply walk to your hotel from the gates of Machu Picchu after hiking up and down all day long.

And a word to photographers: Be sure to use a polarizing filter on your camera; the light is harsh and unforgiving. And, a wide-angle lens is a must; many views in the cities and in Machu Picchu are in tight spaces or benefit from a wide-angle view of things, like street photography in the cities and the panoramic views from Huayna Picchu and Huchuy Picchu (the smaller of the two peaks overlooking Machu Picchu). And finally, a note about hotels: They were all great, but Sol y Luna in the Sacred Valley and Monasterio in Cusco were unforgettable; truly remarkable hotels. And worth noting: All of this was put together on rather short notice at high season by the folks in Marisol’s office. We couldn’t have been more pleased with our trip, thanks to their efforts.

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French Polynesia: cruising the Marquesas on a unique ship with local flavor…

ANNE HALL | JUNE 19, 2024

The view of Taioha'e Bay seen from Nuku Hiva, the largest island of the Marquesas, French Polynesia.

Taioha’e Bay as seen from Nuku Hiva, the largest island of the Marquesas. Photo: Anne Hall

I’ve wanted to travel to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific since I first heard the Crosby, Stills & Nash song Southern Cross. To do so, my husband and I contacted WOW Lister Kleon for advice. Kleon set us up on the Aranui 5, a hybrid cargo and passenger ship that sails to the six inhabited Marquesas Islands twice a month. The Aranui has less than 200 passengers of all nationalities, has some of the amenities of a cruise ship but was an experience beyond—three-course lunch and dinner with wine, all-passenger trips ashore to wander the islands, Marquesan meals in secluded areas of the islands, access to cultural dancing and art and music, and several opportunities to experience the Marquesans’ quest to return to their language, traditions, and culture. We went to the village where Herman Melville jumped ship (and wrote about it in his book Typee), to the island where Paul Gaugin painted, and to the island where Thor Heyerdahl developed his theory of Pacific Ocean migration. The staff was made up of people who are natives of the Marquesas. They were delightful, solicitous about the needs of the passengers, and so friendly. It felt like there was no divide between crew and passengers.

Kleon suggested we spend a week afterward on Vahine Island, a very small resort on a small island several miles to the south of Bora Bora. We flew from Papeete to Raiatea, where the resort boatsman picked us up for the 45-minute trip to the island. We stayed in one of 6 bungalows along the lagoon where black-tip reef sharks and rays swim every day. The food (we had 1/2 board of breakfast and dinner) was luscious. We couldn’t be more sincere in describing the staff as warm, kind, and generous. We urge everyone interested in the most idyllic place in the world to go to Vahine Island.

Our hats are off to Kleon. He knows the South Pacific very, very, very well. He guided us in the best, most gentle way to devise a trip that we would enjoy. Certainly this trip was one of our top ten experiences of a lifetime. Thank you, Kleon.

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Morocco: personal touches, guides who go the extra mile…

SARA BENDA | JUNE 19, 2024

Sara Benda and her family riding camels in the Sahara, Morocco.

Sara Benda and family rode camels from their luxury camp in the Sahara.

Our trip organized by Hicham’s office was everything we hoped for and more to help us discover the beautiful country of Morocco. Every little detail was arranged to make the whole experience seamless. The lodging and restaurants they chose for us based on our preferences were wonderful, and there is absolutely no way we would have known how to find them otherwise. There were personal touches that went above and beyond, like providing us with Moroccan cash when we arrived, knowing it would be difficult to obtain right away, or always having fresh water bottles and snacks available. They connected us with fabulous local people. Best of all, they provided us with an absolutely amazing guide, Mustapha Asri, who was with us the entire trip. He provided us such a rich education about the history and culture of Morocco, through his itinerary and guidance, with such a warm personality. He made sure every element of our experience was exactly how we liked it. If that weren’t enough, we were provided with a fantastic driver and very comfortable van for the whole trip as well. The entire experience was flawless and perfect—everything we could have hoped for and more. This was a trip of a lifetime for our family.

There was nothing about our trip we would avoid. Every stop along the way was special and shouldn’t be missed. Casablanca, Fes, camping in the Sahara, Ouarzazate/Benhaddou, Marrakesh, and hiking in the Atlas mountains. I wouldn’t give up any of those experiences.

The most unusual experience we had was having our Berber hiking guide take us into his own home for tea and to meet his wife and young boy. It was precious. The luxury camping in the Sahara was an out-of-this-world experience.

This trip was worth every penny. Thank you!

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Montana & Wyoming, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Paradise Valley…

AMY STERN | JUNE 19, 2024

My husband and I just returned from a 10-day trip to Montana’s Paradise Valley and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, expertly arranged by Melissa. It was an amazing trip! Melissa was a joy to work with, always responding quickly and cheerfully with great advice and recommendations. She is so knowledgeable about Montana and Wyoming, and especially with our US national parks. She was able to easily make hard-to-get reservations at national park lodges, particularly at Jenny Lake Lodge. The hotels she reserved outside the parks were incredible! She also arranged private tours of the parks with excellent guides. Throughout the trip process, she was always available to answer questions, and the written trip material she provided was specific, thorough and helpful. I highly recommend working with Melissa if you are planning to visit the US national parks and western states.

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Southern Africa: Cape Town, safaris, Victoria Falls…


We recently returned from a remarkable 16-day vacation in Africa, meticulously planned by Julian, and I couldn’t wait to share our incredible experience.

Planning and Preparation:
We began planning our dream safari trip a year in advance with Julian, which turned out to be a wise decision as many of the safari camps and lodges get booked well in advance. Julian’s expertise and attention to detail were evident from the start. He took the time to understand our preferences and crafted an itinerary that perfectly matched our interests and expectations.

Throughout our journey, we stayed in a variety of accommodations, ranging from luxurious lodges to intimate tented camps. Each place was unique and provided a different experience of Africa’s stunning landscapes and wildlife. The lodgings were not only comfortable but also strategically located to offer the best wildlife viewing opportunities. The staff at each camp was incredibly welcoming, making us feel at home in the heart of the wilderness.

Cape Town Adventures:
Our first stop was Cape Town, where we stayed at the beautiful Table Bay Hotel on the waterfront. The hotel offered stunning views, luxurious accommodations, and convenient access to all the city’s attractions. We were greeted by Stephen, our driver and guide for this portion of our trip. Stephen’s knowledge and enthusiasm made our time in Cape Town truly special.

With Stephen as our guide, we enjoyed three amazing day trips:

Table Mountain and Cape Town Tour: On our first day, we took a breathtaking trip up Table Mountain, which offered panoramic views of the city and the surrounding landscape. This was followed by a comprehensive tour of Cape Town, including a visit to the historic Castle of Good Hope. Stephen’s insights into the city’s history and culture were invaluable.

Cape Point: Our second day was dedicated to exploring Cape Point. The scenic drive down the peninsula was filled with stunning coastal views, and the experience of standing at the tip of Africa was unforgettable. We took in the rugged beauty of the area, enjoyed the local wildlife, and marveled at the dramatic landscapes.

Wine Region Tour: The last day in Cape Town was a delightful tour of the renowned wine region. We visited several vineyards, tasted exquisite wines, and had a delicious lunch at Sir Richard Branson’s vineyard. The picturesque scenery and the quality of the wines made this day a highlight of our stay in Cape Town.

Botswana Safari:
After our wonderful time in Cape Town, we were off to Botswana for the safari portion of our trip. Julian planned for us to stay in three different camps, each offering a unique and immersive experience.

Sable Alley: Our first camp in Botswana was Sable Alley, which provided us with breathtaking views of the hippo pond right from our comfortable deck. The accommodations were luxurious yet perfectly blended into the natural surroundings. Watching hippos from the deck was an incredible way to start our safari adventure. The game drives were exciting, offering sightings of a wide range of wildlife, including elephants, lions, and an abundance of bird species.

Dukes Camp: Our second camp was Dukes Camp, situated right on the Okavango Delta. The daily game drives were wonderful, allowing us to see all the animals we had hoped for, but the highlight of our stay was the sunset power boat ride and our sundowner on the delta. The serene beauty of the delta at sunset, combined with the thrill of the boat ride, made for an unforgettable experience. The Okavango Delta is truly a magical place, and our time there was a perfect blend of adventure and beautiful landscapes.

Savuti Elephant Lodge: Our third camp was the Savuti Elephant Lodge in Chobe National Park. Although this camp had fewer animals due to the lower water levels, it was our favorite. The people here were exceptional—not only were they great guides, hosts, cooks, and servers, but one night they all got together to sing, dance, and put on a show for the seven guests. Their warmth, hospitality, and talent made this an unforgettable experience. Simply the best!

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe:
Lastly, we traveled to Zimbabwe to visit the breathtaking Victoria Falls. This natural wonder is not to be missed on any trip to southern Africa. The sheer power and beauty of the falls were awe-inspiring. We enjoyed a guided tour, learning about the history and geology of the area, and took in the spectacular views from various vantage points. The experience of seeing Victoria Falls was a fantastic way to conclude our African adventure.

Safari Experience:
The safaris were the highlight of our trip. Thanks to Julian’s thoughtful planning, we were able to visit several renowned national parks and reserves. We had the chance to see the Big Five up close and personal, as well as countless other animals in their natural habitats. Our guides were knowledgeable, passionate, and truly enhanced our understanding and appreciation of the wildlife and ecosystems we were exploring.

Standout Experiences:
Several moments stood out during our trip, thanks to Julian’s careful planning. A surprise lunch in the bush, arranged by one of our lodges, was an unforgettable highlight.

Special Thanks:
Lastly, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Julian, Lisa, and their entire team for a perfectly planned trip. Our itinerary included 10 flights, 5 different lodgings, and countless connections that had to be just right—and they were. It truly was the trip of a lifetime.

We wholeheartedly recommend Julian to anyone looking to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in Africa. This trip was more than just a vacation; it was a journey that created lasting memories and deepened our love for this extraordinary continent.

Thank you, Julian and team, for making our African dream come true!

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Switzerland: farm visits, hikes, all local guides…


We visited Switzerland for the first time from May 29-Jun 10 and had Nina & Karolina make our arrangements. They put together an itinerary that gave us a great cross-section of the country. We started in Ascona and ended in Zurich, with Zermatt, Lausanne and Gstaad in between…it was a fabulous trip!

Our experiences focused on the natural beauty of Switzerland and local experiences. We especially enjoyed the farm visits, cheese making, hikes, restaurants and Swiss wine. It’s hard to pick a favorite when pretty much every day and every event was well planned and mostly unique to Swiss culture.

There is no way we could have made all the plans that Nina’s office did and experienced as much of the country as their efforts allowed us. We especially appreciated that all of the guides were local and very much part of the fabric of their community.

Karolina was great at responding to our requests and adjusting our itinerary many times to accommodate our wishes.

All in all, it was a great experience, and we look forward to visiting Switzerland again with the help of Nina and team!

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Italy: back-of-the-house theater tour, private boat trips in the Lakes region…


Traveler Jeannie Mullen approaching Isola dei Pescatori by boat, Italy.

Approaching Isola dei Pescatori by boat. Photo: Traveler Jeannie Mullen

I had a short window of opportunity to squeeze in a trip to Milano and the Lake District in northern Italy recently and turned to Wendy for advice on how best to approach a private trip with local guides and drivers that worked with my schedule. With very short notice (three weeks) during what is a very busy season in Europe in general and northern Italy in particular, Andrea and Creta put together a lovely and well-balanced itinerary that met all of my particulars. They were prompt, detailed, responsive to all of my questions and delivered in spades.

The trip started with two days of guided walking tours in Milano…on day one, we visited Basilica di Santa Maria Delle Grazie, San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, and the canals, shops and neighborhoods in the Berra district…afternoon food stops included saffron risotto, charcuterie, limoncello AND the obligatory gelato. Molto bene! The second day started with a back-of-the-house tour of Teatro alla Scala or La Scala (the opera house), followed by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and the Duomo (too many flying buttresses to count!).

I had been to most other parts of Italy on previous trips but never the Lake District, so the rest of the short time that I had available was spent enjoying Lago Como and then Lago Maggiore. They were similar in beauty, but very different in feel (Como was a good bit busier and suffered a little more from the traffic on narrow, winding lakefront roads). I spent my first afternoon on Lago Como investigating the shops and restaurants in Mennagio. It is such a photogenic area, particularly along the lakeside promenade. The following day was spent with a private boat tour of the villages, gardens (Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo was stunning) and villas around Como. Everything looks better from a boat! And, no joke, our boat captain’s name was George (just not THAT George!). I took the ferry across Como to Bellagio on my second full day, met with a darling local guide, Emanuele, who proudly introduced me to and shared stories about the numerous Bellagio hamlets that we passed through on our way to lunch at a local restaurant which boasted a gorgeous view of the upper end of the lake. On our way to the top (5K in total with a 1,400 ft elevation change which took place mostly in the last 1/3 of what started out as a walk and ended up being a “hike”), we walked through the hamlet where he, his parents and grandparents live. We also shared fresh black cherries from a tree in his grandmother’s garden! On our return by car to the city center Emanuele helped me find a local shop to purchase local olive and truffle oils before I boarded the local ferry back to Mennagio. The weather had been threatening each afternoon of the trip and unfortunately did not cooperate for the WOW Moment that had been scheduled for later that evening, a sunset cruise around the lake.

My next three days were spent on Lago Maggiore in Stresa, another beautiful lakeside village where every photo fairly jumps into your camera by itself. I explored the shops and narrow alleys of Stresa on my own the first afternoon and took a long walk along the lakefront the following morning. I met Kate, a local guide, that afternoon for a tour of two of the three Borromean Islands on Maggiore…Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori. The Baroque palace (complete with underground grottos) and Italian gardens on Isola Bella were stunning despite threatening weather. After a short boat transfer we had Isola dei Pescatori basically to ourselves. It was a lovely and picturesque island, where a small number of fishermen still live and work to supply the local eateries. The small church on the island, the Church of San Vittori, dates back to the 11th century. Headstones in the local cemetery just around the corner had some wonderful stories to tell. The next day we drove to the opposite side of Lago Maggiore for a walk through the botanical gardens of Villa Taranto in Verbania. Kate brought Taranto alive with her many stories behind the history and development of the gardens. Afterward we walked to the next lakeside village, Sintra, and enjoyed a tasty charcuterie lunch before returning to Stresa for the evening.

In sum, this trip which was planned on short notice at a very busy time during the travel season, turned out to be just the ticket for an 8-day getaway to what has now become my new favorite part of Italy. Andrea and Creta listened closely to my stated trip goals and came through brilliantly. All of the logistics were taken care of in great detail. And, in a very nice touch before my departure…Giulio contacted me directly and reviewed the details of the itinerary (and how to access it through their portal) to be sure that I was content with the final itinerary and logistics before I headed to the the airport the next morning. I was also contacted multiple times during the trip by the local tour coordinator to be sure that everything was going according to plan. Each of the local guides and drivers were well chosen and ensured that the logistics were seamless. Last but not least, the fast-track arrival and departure services in Milano were perfect given the long lines I witnessed at immigration and security.

Grazie mille, Wendy, Andrea, Creta and Giulio!

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Italy: finding off-season gems and avoiding crowds in the busy spots…


Travelers Deb and John Wente in their private boat tour on Lake Como, Itlay.

Deb and John Wente in their private boat on Lake Como.

We just returned from a trip to northern Italy planned by Andrea’s office (May 28-June 8, 2024). The primary destination was lake country, but we started with a few days in Cogne in the Aosta Valley. It was off season, many shops and restaurants were closed, and we loved it! Hotel Bellevue was wonderful, and there were hiking trails accessible just out the front door. We had a guided hike into Gran Paradiso Valley complete with a wonderful picnic lunch.

Next we traveled to Lake Country. We visited Lake Orta, Lake Mergozza, Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. At times we hit crowds, but mostly we were able to escape into the surrounding countryside thanks to our guides. We were lucky and the weather was beautiful. Andrea and her team planned a number of hikes around the lakes which gave us an opportunity for solitude, and the chance to chat with the local guides.

We explored the Borromean Islands in southern Lake Maggiore — very interesting. We stayed on one of the islands, Isola Bella. It was lovely but it’s important to be prepared for the closing of all shops, bars, and restaurants after the last ferry leaves around 6:30 pm.

A stop in Lugano for lunch and shopping was fun, then on to Lake Como. We loved Hotel du Lac in Varenna. Our terrace looked out over the lake with the smell of jasmine in the air. It was magical. We took a couple of hikes, explored Bellagio, had an amazing lunch at Baita Belvedere and explored the lake by boat. Staff at the hotel told us we had to go home to rest because we did “everything” while we were there.

Then, our WOW Moment! We pulled up to a dock and there was a musical group founded in 1807 from the village of Lezzeno waiting on the shore to entertain us. We even waltzed a bit! One of the members made focaccia and pizza for our snack and we toasted with sparkling wine with our guide Rita. Family and friends of the group waved us off as we got back on our boat.

Friends ask me how I find these destinations and experiences and I explained it is the expertise of the Trusted Travel Experts recommended by Wendy Perrin. Andrea lives in Bellagio on Lake Como and personally knows the guides she recommends. They were fantastic. It makes all the difference to have good, local guides and interesting, hospitable places to stay.

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Japan: hands-on with artisans, ryokan stays, farm visit…


Travelers Barbara and Robert Fierman at Senbon Torii in Kyoto, Japan.

Barbara and Robert Fierman at Senbon Torii in Kyoto.

Andrea planned the trip of a lifetime for my husband Bob and me and our friends as a joint anniversary celebration. The trip was well-paced and balanced, but also so exciting. Our guides were outstanding—they were well-prepared to share history and culture with us as we navigated through the trip. They went above and beyond each day to maximize our experience.

I expected to visit impressive shrines and temples, and beautiful gardens, but wow! They exceeded all of our expectations. Each of our special activities was a blast! My favorites included taiko drumming, where our drumming expert got us to perform a brief but lively routine and then performed for us; having a private tea ceremony with a geisha; and attending a sumo wrestling tournament. We also enjoyed learning from the youngest of many generations who have practiced pottery, candy, and soba noodle-making.

We stayed in an outstanding array of accommodations. The Capitol Hotel in Tokyo was perfect for our introduction to a new, foreign city; at the boutique Hiramatsu Kyoto we experienced the height of service and elegance. The three ryokans—one each in Kaga, Naoshima, and Kawaguchiko—were beautiful and Zen. Our favorite was Fu Fu Kawaguchiko, where we had spectacular views of Mt. Fuji. The location was accessible to many sites, and it was in an idyllic setting.

In addition to the cities, we visited an organic tea farm in Uji where we learned about the industry, picked tea leaves, and were treated to a delicious lunch which included tea leaves prepared a la tempura-style. We spent a day in Nikko where we hiked along a massive waterfall to a lake and then visited the magnificent Toshogu Shrine, set in a beautiful forest. Our overnight on the island of Naoshima provided a glimpse of restored homes turned museums as well as state-of-the-art museums designed by famed architect Tadao Ando and outdoor installations, including the pumpkin, created by Yauyoi Kusama.

Andrea and his team did an amazing job of coordinating the multitude of details this experience involved. We can’t thank him and his team enough.

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France: deliciously slow travel via canal barge…


Bill Fisher and his wife in the garden before dinner at the home of their barge captain's parents, France.

Bill Fisher and his wife in the garden before dinner at the home of their barge captain’s parents.

If you want a super-relaxing weeklong vacation in France and love to sample a wide variety of wines and cheeses, look no further than a barge cruise through Burgundy. We spent a week on the Magnolia arranged by Caroline. Choosing a canal cruise can be somewhat overwhelming but Carloline’s insight made the process seamless and her recommendation was perfect. The crew on the Magnolia was wonderful (5 crew for 6 guests) and the food and wine pairings were spot-on. The daily excursions were intimate with such a small group and our visits to local markets, truffle hunting, and dinner with one of the crew members’ parents in their own home were truly memorable. A typical day included bike rides on the path next to the canal (the boat goes REALLY slow) and leisurely four-course meals at the end of the day. This is a great way to unwind and sample the food and wine while cruising the canals of France. If you want to investigate opportunities, make sure and give Caroline a call.

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Italy: “treated like royalty” on 50th-anniversary trip


As we sit alone on chaise lounges after swimming at the indoor pool at our final hotel (we already lounged at their private beach in total solitude), we are looking out at a cloudless sky and the beautiful blue waters of the Tyrrhenian sea. We have been treated like royalty for 10 days, with wonderful drivers and incredible guides giving us the experience of a lifetime. Although we still enjoy planning our trips sometimes, there is something to be said for having everything done for you by a first-class tour agency. Spoiled? Just a bit!

Andrea’s team planned our 50th wedding anniversary trip to Italy with ease and professionalism. After speaking with Andrea via zoom, she planned a wonderful 10 days to Florence, Tuscany and Cinque Terre for our celebration. She recommended hotels, tours, and restaurants for us to decide upon as well as guides and drivers to take us around. Stefano and Alessandra followed up with us before and during the trip, making us feel like we were always being taken care of behind the scenes. We wouldn’t change a thing and only wish we had extended the trip a little longer! We loved all the hotels, which were in perfect locations, had wonderful breakfasts and were planned in the perfect order of the trip. The guides were outstanding, especially Chiara (Florence) and Andrea (Cinque Terre). The drivers were also outstanding, especially Mauro (beginning of the trip) and Gianni (towards the end of the trip). The food, the people, and of course the scenery was amazing and we can’t wait to return to Italy again.

Finding Andrea and her agency through The WOW List was easy and we would absolutely do it again in the future. Thank you everyone for our trip of a lifetime as we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary!

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Egypt and Jordan: “We felt safe throughout our journey…”


I recently planned a trip with a friend to Egypt and Jordan from April 21 through May 5, 2024 with the help of Arlene. Given the recent events in the Middle East, we had many concerns about our trip, but with Arlene’s and her team’s help, we embarked on our journey with a high degree of confidence that we would have good support during our trip and were prepared with options if the conflict widened.

Everyone we interacted with in both countries were well trained and experienced professionals. We were greeted by members of the local management teams when we arrived in the airports to guide us through security and to our hotels. All of our guides were highly educated and fluent in English and each of the three guides we worked with gave us deep insight into the history, culture, and people from past civilizations. They are all among the best guides I’ve had the pleasure of working with and would highly recommend all three of them. The drivers were experienced and very pleasant to travel with and we always felt safe driving with them. We felt safe throughout our journey and would highly recommend traveling to Egypt and Jordan now.

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Mediterranean cruise: private touring in Greece, Turkey, Italy…


Travelers Tom Philbrick and Susan Ketchum in front of Ephesus in Turkey.

Tom Philbrick and Susan Ketchum at Ephesus.

We recently returned from a Seabourn cruise from Athens to Venice booked through Cheri on Mary Jean’s team. This is the second time we had Cheri book a Seabourn cruise for us and she makes it so much easier than booking directly with the cruise line.

When we cruise we prefer to book private land tours and drivers so Cheri referred us to Gavin Crawford, also in Mary Jean’s office. We had an initial call with Gavin and knew immediately he was the right person for us. We landed in Athens and stayed 3 nights prior to our cruise at Amanzoe in the Peloponnese. This Aman property is outstanding and was a great beginning to our trip. From there, we returned to Athens for one day before embarking on Seabourn Quest. While in Athens, Gavin arranged for a private tour of the Acropolis with a guide who knew how to get around the crowds that were already there in early May.

Gavin has traveled extensively, including to the ports on our cruise, and also understands Seabourn and when we would tender and when we would dock at the ports. He was so helpful in guiding us about whether to hire a guide and driver or skip it and explore on our own at some ports. At one point, close to the start of our trip, Seabourn adjusted the itinerary to go to Turkey first and stop in Greece after, the reverse of the original route. Gavin was quick to contact the guides and rearranged our schedule. As a result, in Bodrum, Turkey our private cooking class at a vineyard was changed to a private class at the home of the chef, with her 87-year-old mother, Ila, instructing instead. It could not have been more perfect! Ila had us prepare 5 dishes using fresh ingredients from her garden. It was a special treat to sit outside on her terrace overlooking the hills and ocean as we worked, all the while listening to Ila’s fascinating life story. We will never forget this special day and personal connection.

Another great memory was the evening in the amphitheater at Ephesus that Seabourn arranged with a concert by the very talented Aegean Chamber Orchestra. Enchanting!

The cruise ended in Venice and as we had been several times we wanted to stay somewhere we had not in the past. Gavin recommended the Belmond Cipriani and it was the perfect choice for us. Far from the crowds (already packed in May!), yet only a 7-minute water shuttle compliments of Cipriani to St. Mark’s Square. We loved our room and the service.

All of our guides were first class, very knowledgeable, pleasant and flexible. Because it was just the 2 of us, we were free to adjust our schedule during the tours. In addition, we were able to leave later in the morning from the ship than the passengers going on the bus tours that Seabourn arranged and return when we wanted. The drivers were excellent, all professional in very clean, comfortable, Mercedes vehicles. We felt very cared for. Gavin arranged for VIP airport assistance in Athens at the start of our trip and in Venice at the end. We use this service whenever possible traveling internationally as it saves us so much time.

We have had so many wonderful experiences on our travels thanks to Wendy and her list of trusted advisors. Although this trip went off without any issues, I know we had backup if we needed it. We have already planned another vacation, in August, to Scotland. And of course we are planning it with another expert from Wendy’s WOW List!

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Greece: hotel rooms with a view, prime restaurant seats, private sunset cruise…


The happy couple, Connor and Coyann Whisenant on their honeymoon trip at the Acropolis, Greece.

The happy couple, Connor and Coyann Whisenant, at the Acropolis.

A honeymoon HAS to be PERFECT as you cannot do them over. I booked a honeymoon trip for my son and daughter-in-law with Maria’s office. Eleni and her team are THE BEST!!! Eleni worked with my son, daughter-in-law and me to discuss what the couple wanted in a perfect honeymoon. The happy couple picked from amazing choices for excursions, sites, cooking classes, boating adventures, wine tastings, etc. Eleni delivered BEYOND their wildest expectations!!! From the moment they were picked up at the Athens airport until they boarded their flight to go home in Santorini, Eleni had it planned to perfection. She handled any special requests with ease and made them happen…at one location wine was offered but my son likes beer so she had Greek beer ready, cold and waiting for him. She also was a huge help with dinner reservations. She gave the couple an extensive and descriptive list of different restaurants in each of their honeymoon locations (Athens, Mykonos and Santorini) and made suggestions as well. She made the reservations as requested. One restaurant location in Mykonos was in a cave along the water. My daughter-in-law said she felt like a VIP as the best table in the restaurant was ready and waiting for them when they arrived.

Eleni was also very good at explaining why some excursions were priced higher than I initially thought they should be…i.e. the boating excursions. Once she explained more detail regarding the type of boat, that the couple would have the entire boat to themselves for the sunset cruise, and the private dinner that was cooked and served on the boat for them, I happily booked the boating excursion. This turned out to be one of the couple’s favorite things they did on their honeymoon. They said it was the perfect way to end their honeymoon…a private sunset cruise in Santorini with a fantastic dinner…just the two of them. The crew even played their song that they first danced to at their wedding for them!!!

Other things they enjoyed were the cooking class which was at a farm. My son is not an adventurous eater but he loved the different cheeses made on the farm and tried everything. The hotels that Eleni booked were amazing. In Athens, they had a view of the Acropolis at night, and in Mykonos and Santorini she booked rooms with a hot tub and another with a plunge pool.

When they returned, I asked them what they would change and the answer was “absolutely nothing!!! We loved our honeymoon and thanks so much!!!” This is exactly what you want to hear as a parent, because as I stated at the beginning, a honeymoon HAS to be perfect because you only have one! I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Eleni and her crew!!!!!!

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

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Norway: RIB boating, helicopter tour, mountain climbing…


Barbara Lich's son climbing in Norway's mountaineering capital of Andelsnes.

Barbara Lich’s son climbing in Norway’s mountaineering capital of Andelsnes.

Our trip (planned by Torunn and Karin) exceeded expectations! Wow! Norway. My husband and I wanted to take our four children on a graduation trip to Norway. When we first talked with Torunn, she listened to what worked for my family in previous trips, what we were looking for (an active trip to see and experience as much as possible). And she delivered!

Our children are ages 25, 22, 18 and 14. Our trip started in Oslo where we dined at the amazing Solsiden Restaurant. My family has a multitude of food allergies and Torunn’s office managed this expertly by advising the restaurants ahead of time and helping select restaurants that could manage them. We ate very well! The hotel selections were perfect for my family. When Torunn heard that our daughter is a competitive figure skater and wanted to see sights near the 1994 Olympic venue in Lillehammer, she arranged that we would stop in Lillehammer and even set up bobsledding (!) at the Olympic Training site! That was an experience to remember.

We next enjoyed a beautiful train ride to Andelsnes! Our historic hotel was so beautiful! We felt like we were sitting in the middle of a postcard. Andelsnes is near the most gorgeous mountains and a top destination for mountain climbers. Our oldest son is a climber and has earned some certifications for climbing. Karin arranged the most expert mountaineering guide with international certification and amazing demeanor for my oldest son—it was the highlight of his trip. They climbed for 12 hours and the Alpine Hike was one of the most difficult. It was an experience he will never forget…and the lovely staff at Hotel Aak held his dinner for him to enjoy when he returned at 11 pm at night! The hotel was not only beautiful but the staff was so helpful and kind. From Hotel Aak we went to Nikkahuset, a villa owned and run by Leif. My family enjoyed two days with him preparing outstanding meals and he took us to see Trollsvegen since it was closed near Andalsnes. We loved to sleep listening to the running river and seeing the adorable sheep across the way.

From Valldall and Nikkahuset, we took a very long and scenic drive through the mountains to Hotel Walaker in the Lusterfjord. What a beautiful place. Here we enjoyed a RIB boat ride and gorgeous waterfall hike! Not to mention the outstanding meals we ate at the hotel. Friendly and helpful staff. Gorgeous location on the fjord. Karin arranged for us to end our trip in Bergen. There my daughter and I had a great morning horseback ride with the most friendly and kind trainer. That afternoon, my husband and children took a 90-minute helicopter tour over Hardangerfjord. Karin called and confirmed that morning that the weather was good for the helicopter and that it might be a bit windy. My family loved that helicopter experience. Sadly it was time to depart the next morning. What a beautiful country and special family time! We really loved every minute and would recommend Torunn’s team to everyone.

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Thailand: taking advantage of rainy season, with clear skies and off-peak rates…


Tony Ford-Hutchinson and his wife Jane having a drink in Bangkok, with Wat Arun aglow in the background.

Tony Ford-Hutchinson and wife Jane in Bangkok, with Wat Arun aglow in the background.

Despite having visited all the surrounding countries, for some reason we have never got beyond Bangkok airport! A two-day board meeting in Bangkok gave us the opportunity to combine this with a two-week trip to Thailand. The beginning of May is not peak tourist season and was hot. However, we lucked out as a bit of rain up north reduced the air pollution levels and the real rains started just after we left. We worked with Dan to figure out where to go and what we liked and did not like, and decided to start with Bangkok and then spend time in Northern Thailand at Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

The key to a personalized trip like this is the guides. We had two exceptional guides, Kob in Bangkok and Berm in Northern Thailand. Both were extremely flexible, very knowledgeable and took us to all sorts of interesting restaurants to try all the different Thai cuisines. In Bangkok on Day 1 we toured the creative district (Jane got two dresses made using a contact from a friend) and explored the waterways of Bangkok with a private longboat. Day 2 we explored all the key sites in Bangkok and on Day 3 we drove out to Ayutthaya, the ancient Siamese capital. Other highlights of Bangkok were a foodie’s tour around Chinatown, a cooking experience for Jane while I was in meetings and dining at two of the top 50 restaurants in the world, Gaggan Annand and Le Du.

We then flew up in the evening to Chiang Mai and stayed at the wonderful 137 Pillars House. On our first day we went up Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai, and explored the temples around there. The weather had cleared as a result of rains and we actually had great views. In the evening we drove around Chiang Mai in an electric Tuk Tuk and ate local specialties in the night market. We had specifically requested to learn about some of the textile weavings for which Northern Thailand is famous. Dan arranged for us to go to Studio Naena to meet Patricia Cheeseman, a renowned textile expert and author, where we had hands-on experience with tie-dying with natural indigo dye. The next day took us north of Chiang Mai for hiking and bamboo rafting down the Mae Tang river.

Our road trip to Chiang Rai was no ordinary road trip as we skirted the Myanmar border, stopping at various points including cooking lunch in bamboo containers with the Lahu hill tribe. In Chiang Rai we stayed at Pa Sak Tong (at very off-season rates!) where we had a whole 3-bedroom villa to ourselves complete with exercise room, steam room, private pool etc. To look after our every need, we had two excellent cooks, Nid and Kwanjai, and three outstanding butlers, Tai, Benny and Pleaw, all this on 28 acres looked after by 13 gardeners and overseen by the estate manager, John Dunbar! Needless to say, we tried to maximize our stay on the villa, although we did make a day trip to the Golden Triangle where we set foot in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand all on the same day. Another bonus for this location is that the dining experience at Native Food Lab is a short walk from the Villa. All in all, an amazing trip and thank you to Dan and his staff for organizing everything.

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Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro: farm visit, beach time, living history…


We just returned from a wonderful trip to Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro that was planned for us by Ala. With her in-depth and firsthand knowledge of this part of the world, she was able to help us sequence and plan the trip in a way that made it interesting, educational and fun. This is the third trip we’ve taken with Ala’s company. We also traveled with them to Russia and to Austria and Poland, and have been impressed with their attention to detail, selection of hotels and restaurants, and the quality of their guides and drivers.

Ala recommended that we start the trip in Sarajevo, which turned out to be an excellent suggestion. History came alive through the talks we had with our fabulous guide who had been a child at the time of the siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996). One of the highlights of our time in Split, Croatia, was a tour of the beautiful Mestrovic Gallery with the curator, who had worked there for 15 years. We loved the cooking class Ala arranged for us at a farm just outside Dubrovnik. So fun to harvest the vegetables we had for lunch and collect the eggs for the cake we made!

We had shared with Ala that we also like some down time on our vacations. We spent two nights at the stunning Maslina Resort on Hvar with its gorgeous views of the Adriatic Sea. The staff at the hotel could not have been nicer or more accommodating. In Montenegro, we stayed in a beautiful hotel right on the Bay of Kotor. All in all, this was a well planned trip that we greatly enjoyed!

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Malta: touring palazzos, being guided by a knight…


When we were trying to decide where to go next, we looked at some of the reviews from Wendy Perrin for inspiration. We were immediately drawn to Malta with Damon and Jason. This was our 109th country (we’re old). We wanted to do something a little different instead of just walking around old cities and visiting churches. We were intrigued with the many different activities we could choose from that were so different from anything we had done in the past.

I can’t even put into words how great it was. Unfortunately, we had to reschedule the trip 3 separate times. Damon remained the incredible professional, and changed everything repeatedly. I just wouldn’t give up. I was determined we were going to Malta.

Where to start? Damon. Never have I worked with someone who is so kind and great at his job. We were even lucky enough to meet him. He now lives in London, but obviously he spends time in Malta. He timed his trip so he could surprise us. We just adore him.

Hotel. He put us at the Domus Zamittello on the pedestrian street in Valletta. We loved it. Great location, great room, and wonderful staff. Damon booked us dinner reservations every night that were only a short distance from the hotel.

Guide and driver. We had Martin, who is a Knight of Malta. We were just fascinated with the knight history. He knows his stuff, and it was a pleasure to have him. Manwell was our driver and I just loved him. What a sweet unassuming man. I have some mobility issues, and he took such good care of me. (Damon even bought a foldable seat for me so I could sit down.)

Sights. Loved everything. Damon worked really hard to make sure our itinerary didn’t have a ton of steps and too much walking. Martin took it from there and adapted when necessary.

I loved all the unusual activities like the sheep farm, lunch in the olive grove, the picnic on the beach, the tour of the palazzo, the guilder, etc. We could go back and pick all different activities and be just as happy. Everything could have been our WOW Moment. That’s how special it all was.

I really can’t think of one thing I would change. It was just perfect, and I’m not the easiest to please. I suggest if you’re looking for something a little different, book Malta immediately.

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Italy: exclusive winery visits, private boat in Portofino…


Elaine and Gregg Patterson on the rooftop of the Marrone Winery in La Morra, Piedmont, Italy after a lunch in their restaurant and before the private tour of the winery.

Elaine and Gregg Patterson on the rooftop of the Marrone Winery in La Morra, Piedmont, where they had lunch and a private tour.

My husband and I just returned from our fifth trip to Italy with Maria and Brian. We had been to different parts of Italy about a dozen times before we started working with Maria and Brian and quickly learned that they can deliver itineraries and experiences that we could never arrange on our own. (And I say that even though I love doing travel research and have planned dozens of trips for us over 40 years.)

For this trip, we gave Maria our wish list of Turin, Piedmont wine region, Genoa, Portofino and Lake Maggiore. Having worked with her before, she knows our favorite kind of hotel, activities, and restaurants and her recommended itinerary checked every box. Wonderful hotels with spacious rooms and beautiful views, private vineyard/winery visits (most with amazing lunches), and the best tour guides who were great travel companions and also helped us plan our free days. I think great guides help you fall in love with a place, because they love it, and that’s exactly what happened to us in every location.

Maria’s recommendation for a day on a private boat in Portofino was magical in every way, the restaurants she suggested were all local, delicious, and down to earth, and all the transportation arrangements (excellent drivers, comfortable vehicles) were totally seamless. Our WOW Moment—a private lesson making cocktails at Martini headquarters near Turin—was completely unexpected and completely fun! We learned so much and have so many unforgettable memories from this trip thanks to Maria & Brian and their network of exceptional people on the ground. We’re already thinking about where to go next with their help.

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Puglia, Italy: family-run farms, olive groves, historic villages…


Travelers Isabel, Mario, Julia, and Martha Queiroz in the town of Alberobello, Puglia, Italy.

Isabel, Mario, Julia, and Martha Queiroz in the town of Alberobello.

Alison and Elisa prepared an excellent itinerary for our eight days in Puglia. We’re a family of four, with two adult daughters in their 20s. We had a fantastic experience in this beautiful and authentic part of Italy. We’ve been to the more classic Italian tourist destinations and to multiple Mediterranean spots in other countries, and we strongly recommend a visit to this less explored region near the heel of the Italian boot. Alison and Elisa were professional, detailed, creative, and responsive in understanding our travel interests to select accommodations and experiences for our itinerary. They really know Puglia!

All of the hotels were upscale and welcoming, with excellent service. The boutique hotel in Ostuni (Paragon 700) was perfectly located for exploring the northern part of Puglia, where we stayed for four nights. My wife is a relatively discerning interior designer and loved the Paragon 700. While in Ostuni, we went on an e-bike tour of the countryside through the endless olive groves, past numerous trullis, and visited the towns of Locorotondo, Martina Franca, and Alberobello, the old town of the latter being composed entirely of trullis. On the bike tour, we stopped at a family-run farm, where our girls (and mom and dad!) marveled at the site of a day-old litter of 12 piglets and 1-month old little calves. We experienced mozzarella making, including burrata, and then had an amazing meal — the ultimate farm-to-table experience. Our guide on the bike tour, Silvia, was knowledgeable, interesting, and super pleasant to be with. The two support vans were key to getting the most out of the day (biking, walking around in the towns, carrying some of our stuff, safety, etc). Our favorite restaurant for dinner during this first part of our trip was Taverna della Gelosia in Ostuni, recommended and reserved for us by Alison’s office. While in Ostuni, Alison stopped by our hotel to greet us and have a drink. It was a nice, genuine touch for Alison to drop by.

The second part of our Puglia trip was in the south, near Lecce, where we stayed at Masseria Trapana for three nights. The Masseria was fabulous, with fewer than 10 suites and everything we needed for relaxing in luxury. One of the coolest things was the underground hot tub, literally a cave, with an opening on the roof for natural light. Alison’s team prepared two experiences for us on this part of the trip which were also fabulous: A private visit to the Duca Carlo Guarini winery which has been in the same family for nearly 1,000 years, or 24 generations! The visit to the winery was supposed to last 2 ½ hours and we were there for more than four hours, including another excellent meal and a tour of the town palace where the adult sons of Don Giovanni (the patriarch who runs the wine business) are building their own winery and wine business.

The day after the winery we went on a private boat tour of the beautiful coast to see the idyllic Lecce limestone cliffs, turquoise waters, and lots of little bays and coves for swimming. Fabbrizio, the captain of the Tortuga, was pleasant, competent, and did a great job taking care of us, including serving a meal which his mother had prepared. The Tortuga is docked in the port of the ancient town of Otronto. Going in and out of Otronto felt like being in a small, undiscovered San Tropez. Somewhat surprisingly, Lecce was probably our favorite town of all of the Puglian towns we visited, and that’s a pretty high bar. I guess there’s a reason they call it the Florence of the South.

Alison and Elisa were available at all times for our questions and for a few last-minute itinerary and restaurant changes, and they always got things done with immediacy and with the most pleasant attitude. We strongly recommend a visit to Puglia, in partnership with Alison’s team to make it special.

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India: exploring way off the beaten path…

DALE HAYES | MAY 18, 2024

I had long heard about the Forbidden Frontier of India, tucked away in the Northeast part of the country between Bhutan, Burma, and Tibet in the Highlands. Arunachal Pradesh is India’s newest state and difficult to visit, but Sanjay and his team made it happen for me. They took care of all the permits, even as an election threatened to undo my itinerary, found great hotels in this remote part of the world, and made sure I had fabulous guides, drivers and vehicles. I did not see another non-national person as I explored remote villages, monasteries, and breathtaking scenery unlike anywhere else in India.

Sanjay also recommended some time in another part of India — Gangtok, Pelling and Darjeeling — to balance the trip. The places he recommended provided great opportunities to see the Himalaya and experience yet another very different way of life. Sanjay knows India!!!

But Sanjay really saved the trip when the airline cancelled my flight from Newark to Delhi while I was in flight to Newark! Within minutes of landing, Sanjay was on the phone giving me options, and one got me to Delhi on a different airline at about the same time I was scheduled to arrive. The airline that cancelled my flight did not give me the option Sanjay found, as they wanted to keep me “in the family,” but using the information Sanjay provided the airline agreed to transfer my ticket at no additional cost!! I knew I was in safe hands for the next month.

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Paris: family-friendly experiences, assistance with a medical emergency…


Traveler Jan Heininger and her family in Paris, France.

Jan Heininger and family enjoying Paris.

This is a two-part review because there were two trips during the ten days my husband Jamie Reuter and I spent in Paris in April 2024 on a trip designed by Jennifer. The first was a wonderful week of Paris with kids — a trip with grandparents (us), our daughter and son-in-law and their three kids ages 2, almost 4 and almost 7. The other trip is how Jamie actually spent the entire time in a Paris hospital having broken his leg/hip the first day. Jennifer’s role and assistance for both was essential. The former is why you should use Wendy’s experts because they design creative and wonderful itineraries executed to perfection; the latter is why when calamity strikes, you need the kind of assistance that no regular travel agent or group-trip company can provide.

Jennifer knew exactly how to design a trip geared towards introducing three very young children to foreign travel and Paris in particular. She had us go up the Eiffel Tower (something I’d never done in seven previous trips to Paris), thoroughly exciting the two older kids, take a boat trip on the Seine so we could see the Tower from the river, have a personal guide take us around for a “Paris with Kids” tour that included Notre Dame (nearly four-year-old Simon made me go over every single board around Notre Dame that detailed the post-fire reconstruction process — budding engineer here), sailing boats in Luxembourg gardens, sample chocolates and much more. Jennifer sent us to the Science and Industry Museum that has a wonderful kids’ section, to Musée des Forains, a terrific museum of historical carnival exhibits with three historic carousels we all rode, Le Jardin d’Acclimatation, Paris’ answer to Disney World but far more manageable and enjoyable even for adults, l’Atelier des Lumières, a surround-sound and light show now focusing on Ancient Egypt that even the two-year-old was enthralled by, and an excellent food tour. The highlight was a cooking class my husband and I were supposed to do but instead I took six-year-old Oliver, who proceeded to make the entire dinner under the wonderful chef’s direction, including making and piping pâte à choux for profiteroles, making, rolling and cutting fresh pasta, making chicken roulades with the stuffing he’d made and piped into them plus individual cheese soufflés he piped into ramekins. My contribution was to cut ½ an onion and four mushrooms. Oliver beamed when Simon announced it was such a wonderful dinner Oliver should make dinner for the family every night! Jennifer had us stay in a lovely three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment with daily service in Marais. We went everywhere by metro and probably walked 5-6 miles a day. FYI: With young kids, be prepared to stop and ride every carousel you come across — there are a LOT of carousels in Paris.

While the rest of us were doing these wonderful activities, an ambulance had taken poor Jamie, who’d fallen along the Seine just seven hours after our arrival in Paris, to the emergency room where it was found he’d broken his leg badly next to his artificial hip. Suffice it to say we could not have managed without Jennifer. While I erred in not immediately calling her directly but her emergency number instead, once Jennifer found out, she dispatched her head of French and UK operations Albin Fady-Bonnet who devoted his already busy week to shepherding us through a very frustrating ten days of dealing with a vastly different medical system from ours. My husband languished in hospital for six days before he finally had surgery. He was in Hôpitaux Universitaires Pitié Salpêtrière, France’s best hospital with the best doctors. But as this is Paris’s trauma hospital (where Princess Diana was taken), my husband kept getting bumped by other more traumatic cases. My French is passable but insufficient for medical nuances. In a medical system where doctors rule all and feel little need to communicate with patients and not at all with their families, I was constantly scrambling to get information, try to arrange for medical evacuation, set up matters for our US doctors to operate if necessary when we got back, negotiate with our health insurance company and deal with our financial adviser. There is no way I could have handled it all without the assistance (multiple times daily) of Jennifer and French-speaking Albin, who intervened repeatedly with the hospital on our behalf to get information we could not get ourselves. It involved much more than I’m going into. Suffice it to say, we were the nightmare clients that no one ever wants to be (or have) and Jennifer and Albin handled it with grace and aplomb, rearranging our itinerary at the drop of a hat and getting me a (wonderful) hotel to stay in after the kids departed. We were to go to London afterwards, which obviously wasn’t possible. That entailed a great deal of effort for Jennifer in canceling pre-paid reservations and negotiating refunds where possible.

We’ve taken at least twenty trips with Wendy’s experts because they listen carefully to what their clients want, design itineraries with excellent and unusual activities, many of which we could not arrange on our own, and then execute them flawlessly. For rare glitches, they jump in to fix things immediately. We know our expert is monitoring everything. Seldom have we had to call upon our trip organizer while traveling for anything. This time we did. I had confidence that Jennifer, just like every one of Wendy’s carefully vetted specialists, would jump in to do whatever was needed to get us safely home. Even Wendy herself helped out and checked in to see how Jamie was doing.

I cannot praise Jennifer highly enough. She is a delight to work with — and she’s smart enough to hire such superb staff as Albin Fady-Bonnet. Our trip could have been a disaster. It wasn’t and we had a wonderful time in Paris with kids. We never could have gotten the assistance we did in dealing with Jamie’s medical situation had we not had them by our side.

FYI: Follow Wendy’s advice and get trip insurance even for easy trips to places like Paris. I had not as this wasn’t Sri Lanka (our most recent trip), Africa or Bhutan. I should have. No one wants to have to put up what I was asked for to medically evacuate my husband — 140,000 Euros in cash up front. Fortunately we were able to avoid the medical evacuation route. We flew home five days after the surgery in business class (the only way the French doctors would let him go) with Jennifer having arranged a car and driver and a person who expedited our way with wheelchairs through to the airport to the plane.

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Spain: meeting farmers, winemakers, restaurateurs…

SALLY BELL | MAY 6, 2024

The view of Alhambra in Granada,Spain on a sunny day.

The Alhambra in Granada. Photo: Traveler Sally Bell

Wow! Just Wow! When Wendy indicates her travel fixers can plan a “WOW trip” for you, you can absolutely believe it!

Our group (3 couples) had an incredible 19-day trip to Spain—all of it planned perfectly and expertly by Ivan. After our initial Facetime meeting, Ivan put a sensational itinerary together which catered to our interests in culture, history, architecture and food. Through his knowledge, dedication and carefully cultivated contacts and friends throughout Spain, every detail was handled.

All of our drivers were prompt, courteous & efficient. Every single one of our guides were bright, friendly, well-versed and quick-witted. We enjoyed getting to know them & came away from each tour or experience with increased knowledge of the history and culture of Spain.

In addition to city walking tours and seeing the historic sights in Seville, Cordoba, Cadiz, Ronda, Vejer de la Frontera, Granada, Nerja, Frigiliana, Barcelona, Toledo & Madrid, we hiked in the natural park of the straits of Gibraltar, the valley of the Genal River visiting Benadalid & Benalauria, and in the nature reserve of el Torcal de Antequera along with a visit to the dolmens.

Our favorite days were when we had the opportunity to immerse ourselves into the lives of farmers of brave bulls, Spanish horses, and tropical fruits—along with owners of vineyards and family-owned restaurants. We enjoyed delicious home-cooked meals, wonderful sherry and wine, and had our “best days” learning about their lives and their work.

Ivan was in contact with us daily—making sure we enjoyed our day & the hotel in which we were staying, as well as providing details for the following day. He and his office staff handled every question promptly.

We loved visiting Spain. Not only is it a beautiful country with so much history and tradition, the people are welcoming and kind. This was one of those trips you hope to experience when you travel. And thanks to Ivan, his team and all the wonderful people we met along the way, our trip far exceeded our dreams!

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France: barge cruise in Burgundy…


Caroline suggested a week-long cruise in North Burgundy aboard La Belle Epoque, a 12-passenger barge to ply the inland waterways of wine country; she was spot on. Caroline got me an upgrade to a suite and I was ready to cast off. Captain Craig, Pilot Luke and Matalo Brice safely and SLOWLY (at 2 to 4 knots) ferried myself and 6 other vacationers around the farmlands southeast of Paris. Chef Jan and his hostesses Ola and Emma kept plying us with wines from the region, cheeses made from the cows we passed on our cruise, and fresh baguettes and croissants every morning (and tasty fish and beef entrees)!!

We visited chateaus, churches, abbeys and vineyards…sampled (more) local fares and were entertained by amazing people. Imagine being buzzed by an eagle during a falconry demonstration or dining with the baron and baroness (friends with the former Queen Mother and Diana), tasting their family’s latest champagne vintage!!

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Ecuador & the Galapagos: meeting artisans, cruise on a small yacht…


This trip—to Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos—was my husband and my 5th WOW List professional experience, and like all of our previous trips, it was exceptional. We worked with Allie Almario, and Allie and her team guided and supported us start to finish, planning the perfect, individualized itinerary for us exploring Quito and then placing us on the fabulous Horizon trimaran ship for a 5-day cruise in the Galapagos. Our charming hotel in Quito—Casa El Eden—was delightful. The owners treated us like family and we lacked for nothing. Our guide and driver took us to places and activities that we never would have been able to research and discover on our own, translating effortlessly so we missed nothing from the local artisans we met.

The Horizon was so much more than what we requested: a small and stable ship. We had a crew of 13 for 8 passengers. Our naturalist was incredible. All of the equipment—snorkeling and hiking gear—was top flight; the food was sensational and the accommodations luxurious and so comfortable. I had tears when it was time to leave.

Allie made sure that we had EVERY conceivable detail and information that we needed before we departed the U.S. and she always answered any of my questions or concerns with crazy-fast speed and thoroughness. Also with a wonderful sense of humor.

I can’t imagine EVER planning a bucket list trip without the aid and assistance of a WOW specialist. Next June we’re off to the Maldives—thank you beyond words Wendy and team!

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Paris: private access at the Eiffel Tower, Palais Garnier…


On my first evening in the city, I was given a private tour of the Eiffel Tower (no waiting in lines for me!!) and got to see everything from the underground operations to the recently-restored office of Eiffel on the summit. Dalida provided amazing insights of what it took to build such a structure and what it takes to keep it running—with millions of visitors each year. The evening was topped by a 7-course dinner (with wine, of course) at the Michelin two-star restaurant Jules Verne on the second level of the tower.

Jennifer also got me a private tour of the Palais Garnier—one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. Sophie led me through the many practice rooms, the massive stage and scenery storage (5 floors above and five floors below the stage!!). And for those aficionados of the Phantom of the Opera, do NOT reserve Box 5—it comes with bad luck….and yes, there IS a lake under the opera house, complete with live fish and small boats.

Finally, I was paired with a fellow historian—Frederic—who guided me through the city for 5 days. I revisited some old haunts—Montmarte, Rodin Museum, Saint Chapelle, the Concierge, the Marais and Les Invalides, and ventured to Giverny and Versailles to get my fill of Louis XIV and Monet. When it was time to return to reality, Jennifer’s team whisked me to the airport, through security and customs to my waiting aircraft. I am so grateful to Jennifer, all of her local experts, and to Walid and Camille for keeping me on schedule for this amazing journey.

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New Zealand: heli-hiking, boating with dolphins, meal with a Maori family…


My husband and I just returned from an amazing 3-week trip to New Zealand, thanks in large part to the tireless help of Sara and Sarah. They listened closely to the way we like to travel, our interests, and what we were hoping for on this special trip to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, and curated an itinerary that ended up exceeding all of our expectations. Highlights included a private half-day tour with a Maori family in Rotorua, sharing stories, traditions, and a hangi meal prepared for us in their home and shared with other family members (something that we could never have arranged on our own), touring Connells Bay Sculpture Park on Waiheke Island (unexpected and remarkable), E-bike riding on the Great Taste Trail and beyond in Nelson, boating with dolphins in Abel Tasman National Park, hiking the Hooker Valley Track and heli-hiking on the Mt. Cook/Tasman Glacier, staying at the Wilderness Lodge in the Southern Alps and enjoying all the activities — from sheep shearing to nature hikes with Jonathan — that they offered each day, and finally, in Queenstown, the awe-inspiring airplane ride from Queenstown to Milford Sound and the boat excursion through the fiord, and the Dart River boat adventure. And these were just the highlights…there was so much more we enjoyed. We were very pleased with all the accommodations that were recommended by Sarah’s team, especially the Pihopa Retreat in Nelson — a very special place run by an incredible hostess, Sarah, and her wonderful staff. It’s a place not to be missed.

It is clear to us, as we reflect back on our trip, what a benefit it was to use a travel agency that was actually located in New Zealand. Sara and Sarah were very easy to work with, and always responsive to emails, questions, and changes. And it turns out they also keep track of how everything is going while you are on your trip, checking with drivers and accommodations to make sure everything is perfect. Thank you once again, Sara and Sarah!

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Morocco: perfect logistics for a group of 10


Traveler Rich Rediker and friends on a sunset camel ride in the Sahara, Morocco.

Rich Rediker and friends on a sunset camel ride in the Sahara

10 of us (5 couples in our 60’s and 70’s) just returned from an amazing 2 weeks spent in Morocco. While I normally plan these group trips myself, I decided to save time and try using Wendy’s WOW List Moroccan supplier. We were not disappointed. In fact, everything promised turned out to be nicer and better than expected.

I started working with Radia last September on a Zoom call. I told her the kinds of activities we liked and then worked tweaking her suggestions.

Around the first of the year, Radia said she was leaving for a while and turned us over to her colleagues Nassim and Amal. While we never heard from Radia again, her colleagues didn’t miss a beat.

The key to a successful trip is a great guide and bus driver and we had the best in guide Mohamed and driver Khalid. We were promised a 12-seat bus plus 2 seats in the front for the driver and guide. Instead, we received a very comfortable 16-seat (plus 2) bus allowing us to spread out.

Our entire trip was during Ramadan, which we thought was a benefit. There were fewer tourists, people didn’t smoke in the crowded medinas, and we participated in delicious Iftar dinners. It was also interesting walking through the markets in the late afternoon as everyone was scurrying to buy food for their Iftar meal.

All 5 couples arrived in Casablanca at different times and everyone’s pickup went smoothly. In fact, for the 2 weeks, every event took place right on time without a hitch.

On many days, our itinerary said, “picnic lunch included.” This was an amazing understatement as these lunches were often feasts in unique and incredible locations.

We are active travelers and our trip used excellent local guides for our activities including hikes, e-bike biking, a cooking class, wine tasting and a gorgeous sunset camel ride in the Sahara.

We chose our lodging together and each place was unique and comfortable without being too expensive. At many riads, the 10 of us occupied almost every room and we had the place to ourselves.

Our favorite riad was Dar Rihana in Dades. It is owned by 3 brothers who are amazing gourmet cooks. After dinner, they led us in local music and dances.

After our 2-week tour from Casablanca to Fes, the Sahara, Dades, Marrakech, and the Atlas Mountains, we were dropped off in Essaouira where we spent another 4 days making our own arrangements. We stayed at the excellent Riad Chbanate, who booked us a great local guide and a ride back to Marrakech.

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Vietnam & Cambodia: biking through rice paddies, blessed by a monk…


Travelers Mike and Lindsay Lanaux during sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Mike and Lindsay Lanaux—and no one else—at Angkor Wat at sunrise.

My husband and I took an incredible 3-week trip to Vietnam and Cambodia in March. After listening to the way that we like to travel, Sandy and Ethan planned a trip that catered to our interests in history, architecture, culture and food. Each of our guides was knowledgeable, friendly and flexible. All of the hotels were outstanding.

We started in Hanoi where we stayed at the Metropole. We really appreciated the history and architecture of the Metropole as well as the bunker tour of the hotel suggested by our guide. In Hue, we were simply awed by the Imperial Palace and the Tombs of the Emperors. Lunch at the home of a local family was one of the highlights of the trip. It was fascinating to see the kitchen where they cooked and to talk to the host about his family history. It truly was one of the best meals of the trip.

In Hoi An, we loved our hotel situated on the river. Watching the boat traffic at night was magical. We also enjoyed our eco tour where we got to ride bikes through the rice paddies and try farming and fishing Vietnamese style. In Saigon, we loved the rooftop bar at our hotel and the history associated with it. The powerboat ride down the Mekong River to the Cu Chi tunnels was fascinating. But the highlight had to be the nighttime Vespa tour exploring the back alleys of Saigon and eating some great street food.

Ending the trip in Siem Reap was a dream come true. The Jaya House River Park Hotel is an excellent mix of luxury and intimacy. Another rooftop bar and spa treatments every day. Our guide was able to time our sunrise visit to Angkor Wat so well that we thought we had the temple complex to ourselves. But the most outstanding experience was being blessed by a 19-year-old monk at his temple and being able to talk with him afterwards.

It was truly an exceptional trip that we will always remember. Thank you so much Sandy and Ethan.

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Egypt: quick trip to see Cairo’s antiquities


We traveled to Cairo for a short, 5-day trip February 29-March 5 since we were going to be in the region after an event. We had a great trip orchestrated by James Berkeley’s team. We were able to see all the highlights of Cairo and the surrounding environment—the pyramids and various museums—in just a few days. Despite the unrest in Israel and Gaza, we felt no tension in Cairo. Our team on the ground in Cairo were helpful, smart, and attentive. We couldn’t have done the trip without a guide and driver to get around. We stayed at the Kempinski Nile, where the team was able to get us a room facing the Nile with a small balcony. The hotel felt safe due to the security staff checking all bags as well as all cars dropping off and picking up passengers. The rooms were comfortable with good service at the restaurants, and we loved the pool on the rooftop where we could have a drink and a meal and enjoy the view of the Nile.

A highlight of the trip was the visit to the Great Egyptian Museum (GEM) outside Cairo near the Giza Pyramids. It was not yet fully open, but even so it was spectacular to see and to spend a couple of hours in it. It’s a beautiful building—open air, multi-story inside featuring a 35 ft tall statue of Rames II in the lobby area, and a large staircase full of statues that leads to a huge picture window with the Great Pyramid in the distance. When the museum is fully opened there will be many individual rooms to investigate, but they aren’t yet accessible.

We visited the pyramids in Giza and the Sphinx nearby, and in the next few days visited the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities where we were able to see King Tut’s mask up close, and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization where we were able to see many mummies of Pharaohs—including their faces—because their heads were unwrapped. It was really interesting to see these larger-than-life characters as people, including their hair styles, all intact due to mummification.

Another highlight was visiting a couple of tombs of high-ranking officials in Sakkara. The colors and detail on the tomb walls were breath-taking. We were the only people in one of the tombs which was truly special compared to the large number of visitors we saw in Giza at the pyramids.

This was a great time of year to go weather-wise. One word of caution is to check the timing of Ramadan. It was about ten days away when we were there. As a result, we got stuck in a few traffic jams and had to scrap a plan to visit a market and restaurant since so many residents were out shopping for their Ramadan supplies, we just wouldn’t be able to get in and out easily.

There is so much to absorb in Egypt. The immense history over the millennia is hard to grasp. We’re already thinking about the potential of a future trip where we would be able to visit Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.

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Philippines: scuba diving, cultural immersion, swimming with sharks…


Traveler Andrea Phillips and daughter Rachel underwater, diving off Balicasag Island, Bohol, Philippines.

Andrea Phillips and daughter Rachel diving off Balicasag Island. Photo: Sander

Taking advantage of the time left before my 18-year-old daughter leaves to start college, the two of us jetted off on a 10-day scuba diving trip to the Philippines from late March to April. After in-depth planning with Andrea, an expert on unique travel in Asia, we chose the Dauin coast and Panglao Island, off Bohol, for our trip, as this was an excellent time to visit for great weather and diving conditions. Our goals were simple: level up our scuba certifications, immerse ourselves in welcoming cultures, and, finally, cross off swimming with whale sharks from our bucket list! Andrea and his team planned it perfectly, starting with a special airport welcome that whisked us from the arrival gate and quickly through a chaotic Manila airport.

Our first stop was Atmosphere Resort, where my daughter earned her Advanced Open Water Diver certification under the guidance of their skilled dive masters. We explored local dive spots and Apo Island, a beautiful marine reserve. The relaxing resort was wonderful after diving, with its refreshing pools, delicious food, a sanctuary spa, all while being cared for as Andrea’s VIP guest by the warm and friendly Filipino staff. It all brought back memories of doing my own AOW certification in Asia 25 years ago.

Moving on to Amorita Resort, we spent our days diving at Balicasag & Pamilacan Islands with another great dive team recommended by Andrea and earned our Enriched Air Diver certifications. Andrea also surprised us by sending an underwater photographer along on our first dive to capture a forever moment on our mother-daughter adventure under the sea. Saving one of the best days for last, our Bohol countryside tour was incredible, from swimming with a group of large whale sharks to cruising on a private Lomboc River boat with live music, hanging out with Tarsier and macaque monkeys, admiring the famous Chocolate Hills of Bohol and even enjoying coconut wine at a local’s home. It was a perfect conclusion to our unforgettable journey in the Philippines.

One of the best aspects of traveling with Andrea was his responsive support team, always just a WhatsApp message away. They swiftly resolved any questions or issues we encountered, such as when there was a mix-up with our room at Amorita, and they went the extra mile to secure a complimentary upgrade for us. Their extensive network within the local communities demonstrated their dedication to ensuring a memorable experience for us.

This trip was tailored-made for our needs, combining the best dive resort locations for our goals, avoiding crowded tourist spots for the whale shark encounter, and adding in authentic cultural stops and touches to make each day unforgettable, including celebrating my birthday. Even though initially I had some reservations about taking this trip, as sometimes it’s difficult to find the right time to travel, it ended up being a wonderful experience and one that will hold memories for us that we will always treasure. Pushing ourselves to try somewhere new and doing it together, made it even more thrilling and well worth the efforts, especially with Andrea, Pablo, Lauren, Michael and the rest of the team to support us along the way.

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

When Maria recommended making restaurant reservations in the weeks before our trip, I was too overwhelmed to even begin to choose, so asked her if she could just book for us. We had wonderful meals every night (not a tourist trap in sight), and not having to stress about where to go was priceless.

Also notable was that a number of our (amazing!) guides mentioned that they typically have their own businesses etc, and they currently will only do tours for Maria, a true testament to her relationships in the area.

The details:

We started off with 5 days in Umbria — based out of Montefalco at the Palazzo Bontadosi. We all fell in love with this intimate hotel right on the piazza. It was quiet (but not too quiet), intimate (but not awkwardly so) — and we often felt like the only ones there, while still having attentive service whenever we needed it. The staff was so lovely, helpful, and incredibly kind to my son.

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

Standout moments were:

– A truffle hunt in the hills above Spoleto. We loved getting to hike thru the hills of this beautiful farm, trailing behind the truffle dogs. It was the perfect antidote for a child who was getting sick of churches and history tours…. He frolicked in the hills following the dogs, watching the sheep, horses and cows. After the hike, we sat down to lunch with the farmers and enjoyed an incredible 6-course meal with food from their farm and local area.

– A wine tasting + meal at an Enoteca in Spello. One of those absolutely perfect evenings (which happened to be my husband’s birthday)… We had the place to ourselves, dined outside, a perfect temperature…and a truly incredible menu that paired perfectly with the wine poured for us by a master sommelier and his sommelier son. Unforgettable.

We then moved on to Rome, where we stayed at another lovely hotel — away from the crush of tourists, but just minutes away from the action.

We were worried about how our son would handle the Vatican tour, but thank gosh we kept it on the itinerary b/c the guide was AMAZING. She was so passionate and turned the whole experience into a game to keep him engaged, giving him things to seek out and assigning points when he succeeded.

Maria was also able to get us (very hard to come by) soccer tickets for the Rome vs. Lazio derby — and even better, had a lovely local fan accompany us to make sure we stayed safe during this emotionally-charged match!

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

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

Can’t wait to plan our next one!

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Southeast Asia: eating and praying with locals…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Traveler Lauren Schor and family ventured into the desert outside Dubai via vintage Land Rovers.

Lauren Schor and family ventured into the desert outside Dubai via vintage Land Rovers.

Justin planned an amazing spring-break week for our family of three in Dubai and Oman. We spent four nights in Dubai and three nights at a beach resort in Oman. There are so many areas to stay in Dubai, but he suggested staying downtown (at the Armani Hotel) as first-time visitors, and because he thought our teenage daughter would like being in close proximity to the Dubai mall, and he was right! Justin arranged a private yacht cruise around the harbor one morning, which was amazing as we got to see so much of the city from the water (vs sitting in traffic to drive around and see everything). We took a full-day tour of the city (both the old city and the newer city) which was completely customizable as the day went on. We really got to see and do most of the city in one day.

The next day, after a morning on our own (Dubai Gardens and the mall), we went on a luxury desert excursion for the afternoon and evening. Having been to the Sahara in Morocco, we were skeptical about doing something so similar and Justin was confident that it would be a completely different experience than we had in Morocco and again, he was correct! We loved it, definitely one of the highlights of our trip! We also did a day trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai which was great! Again, we got to see most of the major sites in the one day and while we could have stayed by the beach here for a few days, Justin instead suggested we take the two-hour drive to the Six Senses resort at Zighy Bay in Oman. Once again, Justin was right!

We have traveled a lot all over the world and this was one of the most special and amazing resorts in the most gorgeous setting that we have ever been to. As soon as we arrived we wished we were staying longer! The resort offers incredible activities such as paragliding which I would highly recommend—an unforgettable and bucket-list experience! Justin also arranged our WOW Moment here, which was an Arabic cooking class that we loved! Justin knew that we love to do cooking classes and food tours when we travel, but Dubai didn’t really have much to offer us. So he set up a private experience for us in Oman which was really special!

But, the biggest thing that Justin helped with was jumping into action when our international flight from the States got canceled at the last minute and we couldn’t get onto another flight for 48 hours. Justin communicated with me over a holiday weekend and at all hours of the night so that we could get everything pushed back by two days on our itinerary, and in the end it was seamless and everything worked out perfectly! We also traveled during Ramadan which I was concerned about, but it really had very little to no impact on our trip at all! And a lot of people have asked if we felt safe being in the Middle East and I can say, without hesitation, that we felt 100% safe 100% of the time.

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Italy: Venice, Tuscany, Florence, Rome…


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

Sarah Cohen with her husband and guide Salvatore in Rome.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Our family (with two 17-year-olds) spent an amazing spring break (March 23-April 1, 2024) in Oman! It offers varied landscapes, warm/friendly people, interesting culture and very few Americans. Dan Waters did a great job planning a family trip that included a bit of everything Oman offers. We explored the capital of Muscat, visited mosques/forts/small towns/abandoned towns, snorkeled with turtles, dined with a local family, spent a night at a tent camp in the desert and hiked in wadis and mountains.

Our guide, Fahad, was superb and really added to our trip. We spent a good amount of time driving around the northern part of the country and had many interesting conversations about religion, daily life, challenges of our respective countries, history of Oman and Sultan Qaboos. This is the main reason we use Wendy Perrin and the travel specialists. You get built-in access to locals and closer to the local culture and way of life. Fahad was fine with our eating and drinking in the car despite his fasting during Ramadan and even stopped at grocery stores for us to get mid-day snacks, allowing us to eat despite many restaurants being closed during the day. Our one regret is that we didn’t get to meet his family as we thought there wouldn’t be time before our departure. We were thrilled to see him one last time as he chose to handle our transfer from hotel to airport.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Barcelona: cooking class, vineyard visit, Gaudi tour…


The corpinnat sparkling wine vineyard Recaredo in Spain.

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

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

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

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Denmark: private canal cruise, modern art & design…


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Chile: short visit to the wine region and coast…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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Australia: cities, wildlife, autumn sun…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Zealand: stargazing, glaciers, Maori culture…


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

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

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

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

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Ecuador: Quito, countryside hacienda, Galapagos cruise…


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

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

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

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

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Bhutan: festival rehearsals, scenic hikes…


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

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

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

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

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Belize: a culture welcoming of special needs


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

Jeremy Silverman and family on their favorite day in Belize.

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

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

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

In terms of specific vacation highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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Norway: reindeer herding, snowshoeing, northern lights…


Traveler Julie Silbermann feeding reindeer in Norway.

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

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

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Costa Rica: beach and rainforest from one location


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

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Norway: northern lights, dogsledding, farm visit…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Chile: wine tasting, Atacama Desert wildlife…


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

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

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

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Costa Rica: misty hikes, kayaking, chocolate making…

Mary Ann Smith | MARCH 13, 2024

A waterfall in the Nectandra Cloud Forest, Costa Rica.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARY KO | MARCH 11, 2024

Girls tasting jalebi, a traditional Indian sweet.

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing adventure!!

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Norway: reindeer herding, dogsledding, northern lights…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sri Lanka: cave temples, leopards, tea plantations…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brazil: cities, coast, Amazon, Iguazu Falls…


Travelers at Iguazu Falls in Brazil.

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

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

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

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

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


Taj Mahal, India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Norway: reindeer herding, husky sledding, northern lights…


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Antarctica: hiking, kayaking, scenic helicopter flight…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Panama: 25th anniversary at a private-island resort


My husband and I had a fabulous 25th anniversary trip to Panama planned by Pierre and his team. We started out with one night staying in the old city in Panama City. At Pierre’s suggestion, we stayed at the American Trade Hotel. It was fabulous. It was like a throwback in time but with all the modern luxuries. And the location was perfect for exploring the old city and going out to eat. Pierre arranged a dinner reservation at a nearby restaurant that could accommodate all of my husband’s dietary restrictions. To our surprise they seated us at a secluded table on a balcony overlooking a plaza.

The next day was on to Isla Palenque. Absolute paradise. Pierre arranged all of the travel from the car to the airport to the pickup at the airport in David and the boat ride then to Paradise. I never would have found this hotel on my own. I have never been to such a fabulous hotel. It is on a private island. 400 acres. Eight casitas and one villa. There are nearly 50 staff members for less than 20 guests. The water was 85°. The sand was soft as silk. The restaurant was excellent and very accommodating to our dietary restrictions. We went snorkeling, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and dolphin watching. We still had plenty of time to do nothing on the private beach. I really cannot recommend this place and Pierre’s company enough.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kenya: a safari experience “above and beyond”


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

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

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

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Ecuador: two lodges connected to the local communities and environments


A frog clinging on the traveler's glasses frame.

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

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

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

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

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Cuba: guiding an author’s book research


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

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

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

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Belize & Guatemala: beach, jungle, Mayan ruins…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Zealand: jet boating that impresses even a repeat visitor


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Ecuador: “we actually felt safer” despite the unrest


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Antarctica: top-deck igloo, unique peninsula access…


Travelers in Antarctica

Jeff and Lisa Wellen having a ball on Antarctica.

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

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

Ashton’s team also listened to special requests and knocked it out of the ballpark with execution. On this trip, we were celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and I asked if there could be something special I could do to surprise my wife on the trip. They took care of everything. They first surprised us with an anniversary bottle of Champagne and a cake at our hotel in Santiago.

One of the things you can do on the ship is sleep in an igloo on the top deck. It was first come, first serve. We were able to get the igloo reserved for one night. When we entered the igloo, the ship’s crew had it decorated with anniversary décor along with Champagne and treats. It was so emotional that it brought my wife and I to tears.

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

Also, this ship’s capabilities allowed us to go to the eastern side of the peninsula. Not one of the other sixty ships in the area had the capabilities to do that. It allowed us to sail through the Weddell Sea and see enormous tabular icebergs the size of three or four football stadiums, 100’s of Emperor Penguin chicks, thousands of penguins, pods of killer whales and watched pods of humpbacks eating fifty yards from the ship.

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

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

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Chile: Patagonia, Atacama Desert, wine country…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Barcelona & Lisbon: no crowds, comfortable weather…


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Sicily: archaeology hikes, food and wine…


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

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

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Peru: Machu Picchu, Cusco, Sacred Valley…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Panama: colonial charm, cloud forest, the canal…


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

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

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

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Thailand & Laos: biking, elephants, local festival…


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copenhagen & Norway: city sights and northern lights


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

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

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

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

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Ecuador: Galapagos, Andes, Amazon…


Travelers on Bartolomé island in the Galapagos.

Lauren Schor and family on Bartolomé island in the Galapagos.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Colombia: history, adventure, culture, fun…


Sliding in Medellin's hilly Comuna 13 neighborhood.

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

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

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

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Australia: Christmas trip with 3 generations


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Travelers on a camel ride near the Pyramids of Giza.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Oman is a fascinating country. Huge variety of scenery, from lush date and coconut plantations on the coast to quite high mountains to deserts with lots of sand dunes. The history is interesting—the country has made huge strides in the past 60 years, from an underdeveloped 3rd world country in 1970 to a modern prosperous environment. Travelling is easy—roads are great, there are lots of hiking trails and camping facilities, Oman Air was on time, etc. The government has spent a lot of effort preserving old forts and castles (there are many of both). Our touring included many of these historical structures, hikes through old towns, visits to several mosques, 2 stays in the desert, a visit to a Bedouin household and stays in 3 of the most luxurious hotels we have ever seen (and some not so great but quite acceptable). This is a beautiful country, with long white sand beaches, that is just being discovered, mostly by travellers from Europe. I highly recommend it for people who have an interest in the history and culture, or just want to enjoy the warm weather and beaches.

Daniel and crew did a great job of the arrangements in Oman, everything unfolded exactly as planned.

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Norway: winter wonderland with northern lights


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

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

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British Virgin Islands: yacht charter over New Year’s


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask Wendy

Egypt: Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Nile cruise…


Travelers at the pyramids of Giza all by themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ecuador: historic haciendas, artisans, birding…


Travelers at Ingapirca, Inca ruins in Ecuador.

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

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

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

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

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

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New Zealand: hiking, kayaking, mountaintop whisky bar…


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

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

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

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Australia: Sydney, outback, Great Barrier Reef…


The Schildmeyer family exploring Lockyer Valley, Australia.

The Schildmeyer family exploring Australia’s Lockyer Valley.

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

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Egypt: Cairo & the Nile for a special birthday


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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India: food tours, artisan visits, elephants…


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

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

Our trip was wonderful! I have now visited 52 countries and I don’t know why it’s taken this long to get to India. We loved it. This trip was with my husband, 2 kids (ages 12 & 13), my mother-in-law and I. We all loved it. Victoria and Diggi did a wonderful job planning a trip that would cater to all of our interests and abilities. I had a long call with Victoria in the beginning to get the process started and for her to get a better idea of what we wanted out of this trip. She took this to heart and knocked it out of the park. November was a perfect month to visit, highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s in Rajasthan.

Harsh, our guide, was one of the best! He is knowledgable, flexible, agreeable, capable of dealing with the trials of siblings, liked by all, patient, etc, etc. I’ve had good guides and I’ve had bad guides. He’s a great guide!

Dinesh, our driver, was wonderful too. We always felt safe with him at the wheel. He always greeted us with a smile. The vehicle was clean and roomy and perfect for our group.

We loved the tuktuk rides. Yes, at times, they were chaotic, but that just added to the adventure. The rickshaw ride got a special mention from my daughter. Our modes of transportation were perfect.

All of our accommodations were beautiful and unique. I honestly don’t have any complaints about any of them. My mother-in-law was able to do yoga 2 mornings at one of them, which made her very happy.

I don’t think there were any activities that we didn’t like, but the things that received special mentions by the group are:

-Food tour in Delhi. Everyone pushed themselves out of their comfort zones just a bit.
-Jaipur by dawn tour, including a very authentic experience at an active Hindu temple.
-Impromptu walking tour in Udaipur, resulting in feeding a random elephant walking down the road.
-Block printing workshop, a fascinating village visit and a hands-on creative experience.
-Elephant experience. Who doesn’t love spending close time with elephants?
-Jain temple visit and lunch with the pilgrims.
-Astrologer reading. My kids thought this was spectacular.
-Street food Indian breakfast.

Ultimately this was just the cultural and fun trip I was hoping my kids would have. We learned so much about various religions, culture and history. My kids truly are catching the travel bug and this trip has definitely contributed! I have no doubt that my husband and I will be back to India, maybe several more times, and we will definitely be contacting Victoria’s office again!

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket…


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

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

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

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

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Brazil: Rio, Paraty, Iguazu Falls…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen, Denmark.

Jeannie Mullen at Frederiksborg Castle, outside Copenhagen.

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

Copenhagen is a gorgeous and engaging city, as are the ‘burbs and towns the further away from the city center one goes. What I did not appreciate ahead of my arrival was just how much of a kick start to the Christmas season this trip would be. Copenhagen was already decorated for the “Jul” season and a number of Christmas markets had already opened on the day of my arrival. The hotel that Jan chose had everything that I was looking for and was perfectly located on Kongens Nytorv (the King’s New Square) for the market on the square, harbor walks and for great shopping in general.

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

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

Last, but in no way least, Jan alerted me early on in our trip planning that Copenhagen is a city known for its food and in particular, its Michelin-star restaurants. When I expressed my interest, he used his “fixer” to secure a table at Geranium (ranked the best restaurant in the world in 2022), one of the two 3-star Michelin restaurants in Copenhagen. It was an experience more than a meal, which included a private tour of the wine cellar and the kitchen. From beginning to end, a visual as well as gastronomic experience. I am so very glad that I followed Jan’s lead on that.

A word about the temperatures and the crowds.… I’m always looking to get away from crowds, lines and traffic and I don’t mind traveling in the off season to do so (as Wendy so often suggests). The weather in Copenhagen at this time of year alternates between cool and crisp with gorgeous, blue skies to heavy and overcast, with occasional rain. No worries if one packs with that in mind.

I cannot say enough about the lengths to which Jan, his staff, the local guides and drivers went to make this trip seamless. Not one detail was missed. It was a terrific and different Thanksgiving getaway that has me prepped for Christmas earlier than usual. Thank you Wendy and Jan!

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Switzerland: cheese, chocolate, watches…


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

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Morocco: “We felt completely safe”


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morocco: felt safe despite current events…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Cuba: local connections make all the difference…


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

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

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

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

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Italy: Puglia, Naples, the Amalfi Coast…


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo of Angkor Wat temple complex taken by the traveler.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Greece: Athens, Santorini, Sifnos…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tanzania: the Big Five & the Great Migration


Traveler gets close to a tusker on safari in Tanzania.

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

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

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

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

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

I can recommend Cherri’s team without hesitation.

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Portugal: port tasting, food tours, medieval towns…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ireland: parents, adult kids & their spouses reconnect


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Morocco: the Sahara, the coast, the medinas…


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

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

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

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

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

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Galapagos: quick thinking saves an anniversary trip


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

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

The trip was wonderful. Celeste, our mainland guide, met us at the airport and checked us in at the Hilton Colon Guayaquil. Our room, on the executive floor, was decorated with rose petals covering the bed and an assortment of chocolates in celebration of our anniversary (thanks Allie). The following day Celeste showed us the culture and history of Guayaquil.

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

Carlos, a native of the Galapagos Islands, was our naturalist guide. Carlos was a terrific and very knowledgeable guide who reveled in sharing his knowledge and experiences of the Galapagos. We visited the islands of Santa Cruz, Santiago, Bartolome, Isabella, Fernandina, and Rabida. We snorkeled with marine iguanas, crabs, sharks, penguins, green Pacific turtles, flightless cormorants, and sea lions. We also saw land iguanas, flamingos, blue-footed and Nazca boobies, giant tortoises, pelicans, hawks, frigatebirds and many other endemic species. We took numerous hikes learning about the geology and geography of the Islands and viewing wildlife. Carlos kept us very busy with four planned activities each day, including hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and panga rides. Guests were welcome to stay and relax onboard if they wanted to skip an activity.

Celeste escorted us from the Guayaquil airport to the Hotel del Parque on our return to the mainland. We were greeted in our suite with a bouquet of five dozen roses and a bottle of wine in celebration of our Anniversary (thanks again Allie).

With Allie’s advice and help, this a was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Iceland: hot springs, ice cave, northern lights…


Travelers at Go∂afoss Waterfall in northern Iceland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Greece: the Acropolis, organic farm, catamaran sailing…


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

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

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

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

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

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Turkey: Istanbul & a private yacht on the Aegean


Sailing the Turquoise Coast on a private gulet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Camels in Morocco's desert.

Camels in the Sahara. Photo: Traveler Yehuda Schmidt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We most definitely recommend Radia and her team!

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Italy: private boat off Capri, Palio di Siena…


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

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

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

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

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

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Croatia: food, wine, swimming in the Adriatic…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morocco: traveling after the earthquake


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

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

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

We went and are very glad we did.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Jeannie Mullen | OCTOBER 11, 2023

Crab fishing in Alta Fjord, Norway

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

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

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

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

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

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Ireland: “stunning and rugged” coastlines, Belfast…


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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* Although we have compiled and reviewed these reviews for trip planners to earn a spot on The  WOW List, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or truthfulness of the reviews we receive and cannot assure that all travelers will have the same experience.



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  1. Sue Wallsh

    My husband and I just returned from Morocco with another couple on a 12 day trip. Michael Diamond , recommended by Wendy Perrin had exceeded our expectations. Our tour guide Redouane and our driver Aziz were better than we could’ve expected. We loved every part of our trip and would not only recommend his services but would definitely consider another trip from Wendy Perrin’s recommendation.list.

    1. Carolyn Spencer Brown

      Thanks, Sue, for sharing your experience! Glad it was such a good trip….

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