How to maximize your experience of a destination? Know the right fixer. What will the right fixer do for you? Read on.
Here is a continually updated sampling of the reviews that your fellow readers have posted after returning from trips that were arranged by Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts and monitored by Wendy. These reviews illustrate how the right fixer transforms a trip from average to extraordinary.
South and East Africa, orchestrated by Cherri Briggs
PAUL BENNETT | MARCH 29, 2020
Thanks again for recommending we use the services of Cherri Briggs and her partner Katie McDonough to help us create our extraordinary 4 week trip to South & East Africa (Botswana, Tanzania, & Rwanda). After Katie talked with us extensively by phone, their recommendations for routing, lodges & camps were superb. Every travel connection, including transfers on some very remote airstrips in East Africa went perfectly. And after I had the misfortune of injuring my ankle in the Kalahari on our very first day, (a pathway collapsed that had been eroded by rain) both Katie & Cherri checked in regularly to help us get the medical assistance I needed, and made arrangements with various camps & guides to assist me so that I could continue the trip and not miss out on anything, including seeing the gorillas in Rwanda.
I have previously worked as a journalist and photographer, and spent much of my life working in documentaries at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. While we wanted to have the big game experience on the Serengeti, Katie also listened to my husband & my strong desire to interact with people and helped make that happen in a way that did not feel touristy.
Seeing the thousands of wildebeest on the Serengeti plains, the mothers giving birth & the wild dogs stalking their newborns…. the Silverback gorillas & their mates looking deeply into our eyes during a tropical rainstorm in the jungle… the bull elephant pinning back its ears & giving us a warning when we got too close…. all of these are vivid memories that we will never forget, but it was the people we met that made our trip so exceptional… both the local guides and opportunities to meet and interact with locals (including Kalahari Bushmen, Masai and their families). We spent a lot of time in markets, and small villages, and on several occasions had the opportunity to visit our guides’ families and friends. All truly special, including one morning in the Southern Serengeti where the day began with a visit to our Masai guide’s uncle’s traditional boma. We were invited inside his grandmother’s mud & dung hut for a tour of her humble home, but only after she’d carefully swept the mud floor, and cleared a seat for us on her husband’s simple cot. Her son, who spoke fairly good English explained how he was responsible for inoculating their cattle against various diseases, and why they’d moved up into the hills until the wildebeests and the tourists left the area. We continued for a bush walk through the hills, accompanied by more Masai , and a park ranger with an AK 47. Our “security” team. The hike culminated with breakfast, cooked over the fire, at a stunning cliff edge perch overlooking the Rift Valley.
You’d think the day couldn’t get much better, but we still had our WOW Moment ahead of us.
In the late afternoon, after another game drive witnessing herds of wildebeests, zebras, their predators, and the sometimes brutal cycle of life, we were taken to a very special quite spiritual escarpment called Sundowner Rock.
After the guides and Masai pushed and pulled me & my injured ankle up the rock face, we not only experienced a spectacular sunset and sundowner shared with about a dozen local Masai, we were then led around the back side of the rock where a surprise dinner was being cooked for us in a cave over an open fire. Two fires actually. One with local goat roasting on sticks for the Masai (which Paul also ate), and the other grilling chicken & beef for us. After we’d all feasted, the Masai sang and danced and entertained themselves (and us) by the campfire, and we reveled in how lucky we all were. It was Truly magical!! And the African night sky was extraordinary. One of the most memorable evenings of our lives! Thank you Wendy for a once in a lifetime WOW Moment!
Australia, orchestrated by Stuart Rigg
DAVID MACDONALD | MARCH 27, 2020
As my skills at being a travel writer are limited, rather than attempting to create an elegant travelogue of our excellent visit to Australia, I thought it would be best to simply share my post-trip thoughts and reflections on what stood out to me, upon recalling our experiences, and reviewing my photos – to jog my memory of our many action-packed days of discovery.
• Stuart and his team put together an itinerary that filled each day with experiential discovery, in a manner that I, or any other amateur travel-planner, could not have assembled from afar. It is clear to me that no amount of website research, guide-reading or over-the-fence hearsay can match the knowledge and logistical know-how of a local expert.
• Was it expensive? Yup. Do I regret committing to that expense? Nope. Are we wealthy? Nope. Will I mind not eating for a few months, given the money spent? Nope – we could stand to lose a few pounds, post-trip.
• As far as those photos are concerned, I used two cameras on our trip – an iPhone X for the quick shots, and a Panasonic Lumix for better resolution and telephoto-lens shots. Transferring photo files from the latter was easy. Transferring photo files from an Apple product to a Windows 10 PC is a torment far more painful than not eating for the next few months. So that puts the trip expense into a more favorable light.
• I found it interesting that as the itinerary unfolded, and we sequentially described our visited/planned destinations to each new guide, or in chatting up a local resident, it was not unusual to hear the response “You’re seeing, and will get to truly know more places than most Australians do – good on ya!” That speaks to the richness of Stuart’s planning.
• Australians are justifiably very proud of their nation, delighted to share its wealth of fun and beauty, and so pleased when visitors come so far to discover that.
• Stuart Rigg and his colleague Jacki Lang made it all work — in both the obvious and behind-the-scenes ways. What do I mean by that? The planning process was easy and flowing. We were travelling with another couple and Jacki and Stuart grasped that we were friends but nonetheless had separate interests. Our travelling partners are avid bird-watching experts. To an unskilled observer like myself, it more or less all tastes like chicken, so to speak. Thus, our itineraries were largely joint, but also featured segments reflective of individual interests. Nice planning flexibility by Jacki and Stuart. In a less apparent manner, we could also sense that they were shadowing our progress through the itinerary. Our second, and every subsequent guide, came fully stocked with plentiful supplies of Diet Coke and black licorice – indulgences that were picked up by our initial guide, Paul Murray, in Melbourne. And as the COVID-19 threat mounted, Jacki checked in to inquire if we wanted to change our flights and head home early. We stayed with our plan, but it was thoughtful of her to measure our level of concern and offer assistance, unsolicited. Beginning-to-end travel planning.
• Without exception, the cadre of guides and hosts that Jacki and Stuart enlisted were no less than superb. Friendly, knowledgeable, anticipatory and never stale. I hesitate to name any individually, as all were beyond expectations. But that being said, we all agreed that at least two personalities really were much beyond exceptional. Our Arkaba Station host/guide Anna Teneggi has few equals when it comes to energy levels, graciousness, table manners, adjusting to the visitor’s level of sophistication, local knowledge, bird-spotting and identification, lust for the outdoors, attentiveness, rough-trail driving skills, giving a sense of genuine welcoming, and did I mention energy levels? She had us out and walking the trails on the evening of our 5 p.m. arrival. Well done, Anna…!!! Despite having been born in Italy, Anna is perhaps more Australian and proud of it than most, in her adopted country. Makes the experience even richer. And our driver in Sydney, Gail Lynch, was a hoot. Always on time, despite the vagaries of Sydney traffic, Gail was far more than just a driver. Despite having spent many hours on the road in Gail’s van, the time flew. Gail gave us the sense of true Australian hospitality, more as a caring and knowledge-sharing new friend, not just as a means from A to B. As with all the guides, they welcomed us with local pride, injected us with knowledge and warmth, and left me feeling in all cases as if I‘d like to independently be personal friends with that individual.
• It should not be overlooked that anomalies were solved flawlessly. Stuart’s team stepped in without solicitation by us, and secured alternate reservations immediately upon learning that bushfires had destroyed Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, an originally-planned destination. I can only imagine that without such timely intervention, we would not have been able to fill in the gap as well as was arranged at Emirate’s One-And-Only Resort in the Wolgan Valley. Mid-trip, Jacki checked in with me and I described that I felt the Crown Towers had incorrectly charged me for a Boxed Breakfast on departure. She took ownership of the issue and a credit was issued same day. Again, the value of having a local expert with foresight was very evident and appreciated.
• Upon check-in in Melbourne and Sydney, I detected that that desk agent pulled up our reservations, saw the notes, and subsequently reacted as if we were more VIP than simply a bus-tour guest. Jacki and Stuart clearly know how to book a reservation.
• We loved Tasmania, Arkaba and Lord Howe Island. Sydney, Melbourne, the wine regions – not to be missed and each very much impressed us in their own, individual ways. But they are what an outsider might initially contemplate when thinking of Australia. Still, very much must-sees. But beyond them, the charm of Hobart’s coziness and superb gastronomy made us fans. The luxury, staff-attentiveness and tours at Saffire Resort were spoiling. Time spent at Arkaba Station in the Flinder’s Ranges served to educate us as to the diversity of Australia’s many geographies. And while we were the only 4 guests at this remote lodge, the level of Arkaba’s dining rivalled any menu elsewhere. Lord Howe Island is one of those places, similar to our South Georgia Island Antarctic experience in 2015 where you come away and think: “I was not familiar with that place, but I’d go back in a heartbeat, mostly because it’s largely undiscovered and thus a gem to savour for its empirical and unique beauty.” I know…… nobody talks like that but I was trying to paint a suitable picture….
• Stuart’s team wait-listed us and were successful in getting us a table at the highly-regarded Attica restaurant in Melbourne. A unique experience and thank you. But we were even more pleased with the tasting menu at Templo in Hobart. At one quarter the price. In Sydney, Mr. Wong’s served up an easy and delicious casual dinner, at a very reasonable cost.
• For those of us who prefer only carry-on rather than checked baggage, their pre-trip advisories as to laundry facilities in various destinations was critical and much appreciated.
• As a US resident, it was refreshing to visit a country where investment in infrastructure is not viewed merely as a tax-generating burden to be enthusiastically avoided. The quality of the airports and roads in Australia, even in smaller locales impressed. Perhaps a more telling observation – even in small one-intersection towns, just as in the larger cities, there are clean, free and plentiful public rest rooms for use by all, including those of us of a certain age This educational dividend of travelling to other countries provides a benefit that I wish was more enjoyed by some of our standout political leaders But I digress…
• All in all, a great trip. As I tried to provide balance in this feedback and mention an area of improvement, I find myself at a loss to come up with anything negative of substance. Nothing more than being caught in a shower while walking around Sydney. I can only blame myself for passing on the offered umbrella at the InterContinental. I should have the heeded the corollary of that old and oft-repeated Australian saw – “If you don’t like the weather here, just wait 10 minutes.”
Egypt and Jordan, orchestrated by Jim Berkeley
SANDRA SOUTHWICK | MARCH 22, 2020
My husband and I traveled to Egypt and Jordan – just barely ahead of the corona virus! We were in Egypt for three weeks and in Jordan for one week. Being in our seventies, we don’t like to pack and unpack often nor do we like to have too many days in a row of activities. Jim did an excellent job of scheduling our trip to accommodate our needs. We had personable, knowledgeable guides who let us choose how much to see and do.
Not only did the guides have encyclopedic knowledge about the ancient sites but they also knew the patterns of the masses of tourists. Often, they got us to places before or after the crowds. We saw too many amazing places to list here. We learned something new (often a lot) every day.
Our accommodations were excellent with one exception. The Nile cruise was very nice and the activities, food and staff were very good. The rooms were acceptable but our bathroom was in serious need of repair.
Overall Jim created a fantastic, well planned month of touring for us.
Belize, orchestrated by Patricia Johnson and Rachael Wilson
REAGAN BUTTS | MARCH 20, 2020
We recently worked with Patricia Johnson and Rachael Wilson. They both did an excellent job. We wanted to have a trip that included sailing and some time at a beach resort. They were able to find the perfect itinerary, sailing vessel, and crew. I would not hesitate to use Patricia Johnson and Rachael Wilson again.
Here are a couple specific examples of the service we received from Patricia Johnson and Rachael Wilson:
– While we were on our vacation, the coronavirus/COVID-19 dramatically struck the United States. Patricia Johnson emailed me during our vacation to check on the status of the resort where we were staying, and to help alleviate any concerns about our trip back to the United States. This level of service – and individual attention to clients who were in Belize during a global pandemic – was very welcome and helpful.
– One member of our travel group has mobility issues, and we were concerned about boarding the sailboat. Patricia and Rachael were very knowledgeable about the vessels, and they were able to specifically explain features on the sailboats to help access. We were very thankful for their knowledge of Belize and knowledge of the charter vessel we reserved.
Overall, they did an excellent job.
Peru orchestrated by Marisol Mosquera
LEEANN FAIRFIELD | MARCH 15, 2020
From the very first moment we began planning our trip to Peru with Marisol’s team to the very last moment they walked us to security at the Lima airport to bid us farewell, our trip was exceptional. Mark Green did a fantastic job of planning ur itinerary based on our interests. The hotels were incredible and we enjoyed immensely each day’s schedule and activities, This trip was beyond our expectations and I highly recommend it. A big thank you to our guide and driver, Juan and Loriano, who were with us from the Sacred Valley, Cusco and Machu Picchu. They were professional, attentive and a delight to share our time with, we also enjoyed Jorge while in Lima. This is our second Wendy Perrin trip and we look forward to our next one with great anticipation. Thank you to all!
Panama, orchestrated by Eric Sheets
ERICA ANKENY | MARCH 11, 2020
Eric Sheets’ team created an amazing itinerary and trip for me and my husband. We had no idea how much of a comfort it would be to have personal transportation for all of our adventures. We are not fluent in Spanish and felt more relaxed with our guides and driver.
The extra attention we received was unimaginable. The VIP tour at the Panama Canal was incredible. The curious /envious looks we received proved this was a very special perk we never would have gotten on our own.
We were also supplied a phone number for a local rep in Panama who could be contacted 24/7. Desiree was extremely helpful and even called to see if she could get me anything when I unfortunately got food poisoning during the trip.
I can’t imagine finding all of the locations we visited on our own. My husband and I agreed that this as well as the service we received were priceless.
Scandinavia, orchestrated by Leigh Landis
JANETTE GILL | MARCH 11, 2020
Thanks to Leigh Landis, my daughter and I were fortunate enough to to the check off two activities on our bucket list for both a polar plunge and hunting for the Northern Lights during our recent trip to Norway. Leigh customized our trip to the Arctic to include both the quaint seaside city of Tromsø and the winter wonderland of Kirkenes. She was prompt to respond when I had questions/requests and she sent a very detailed itinerary complete with activity and restaurant suggestions, local contact information, and a very important packing list for our outdoor activities.
Our first three days in Tromsø were spent eating local reindeer, moose, and cod (the best I’ve ever had), visiting the Artic Cathedral & tram to the top for stunning views of the city, and a trip outside of the city to ride/feed reindeer and learn about the indigenous Sami culture. The highlight of our time in Tromsø included a one of a kind spa experience aboard the refurbished Vulkana whaling boat complete with steam room, sauna with picture window, hot tub on deck followed by an optional “polar plunge”, and delicious lunch. Leigh’s recommendations for great restaurants/bars (Bardus was our favorite) and our hotel (Scandic Ishavshotel) were spot on and our drivers to/from airport were curious and on-time.
The next three nights we spent at the remote Snowhotel in Kirkenes where Mother Nature put on a spectacular display of the Northern Lights during our husky safari. We also feasted on GIANT king crab pulled directly from the Barent Sea after snowmobiling over the frozen fjord (I ate 5 legs alone). The Gamme cabins were warm & cozy with a fantastic view and the staff were friendly and very accommodating. We opted not to stay in the Snowhotel for the evening (made completely out of ice/snow) but we did walk through and admire the amazing artwork made from ice in each room. Don’t miss out on an after dinner drink at the Snow Bar where you can smash your glass made out of ice after your shot.
This is the 9th time that I have used a specialist from Wendy’s list to customize a vacation with very unique experiences. I look forward to many, many more!
African safari, orchestrated by Linda Friedman
CANDACE CHIARUTTINI | MARCH 9, 2020
Linda Friedman helped us plan the most wonderful safari. Our first stop was Rwanda to see the gorillas. That was definitely a magical experience! We also spent a night in Kilgali and we were surprised what a beautiful city it was. We visited the genocide museum which was sad, of course, but also very informative. Our guide team that Linda arranged were fabulous. Then we went to Kenya where we stayed in two different camps. But first we had a one night stay in Nairobi where John and David from Linda’s company met us. We also met Linda’s colleague Kathy Obbish, who happened to be visiting from Chicago. We had a delightful lunch with her! Our two Kenyan camps were exactly what we were looking for and we were treated like royalty. The staff at both camps (Sirikoi and andBeyond Bateleur) knew her personally and it was quite obvious that they are very fond of her. Our guide David who works with Linda, met us in the second camp and he was such a pleasure. He is an expert – especially with birds. He is actually a Silver rated guide and is working to become Gold. We felt fortunate to have him as our guide! We left our second camp via private air transfer to Nairobi at Linda’s recommendation and we are so glad we did. Worth every penny. Thanks Linda, John, David and Kathy. It was truly the most wonderful trip!
Santiago, Patagonia, and Easter Island, orchestrated by Tom Damon
TERESA PACKARD | MARCH 6, 2020
Tom did an excellent job putting together our trip to Santiago, Patagonia and Easter Island. Tom kept up with the current political environment in Santiago, and at the last minute changed our hotel destination to keep us safely away from the demonstrations. Our guide Brenda, and our driver Marcos, did an outstanding job. The day trip to Valparaiso was definitely worth it. The Explora lodge in Patagonia is amazing. The scenery is so beautiful that it almost looks fake. Make sure you take advantage of the horseback riding. And the Explora lodge on Easter Island is equally amazing. The food at both locations was great.
South America, orchestrated by Maita Barrenechea
LESLIE GOLDENBERG | MARCH 5, 2020
This was our first trip to South America, specifically, Chile and Argentina. I had some ideas of where I wanted to go but Maita embellished expanded on my thoughts. She sent us to places I could never have planned on my own. The diverse natural beauty in each location took your breath away and the physical challenges pushed us beyond what we thought we could do. The guides were outstanding and helped make the trip memorable. In addition to a wonderful itinerary, her staff was always there if we had a question or a problem.
We are in love with South America and hope to return soon.
Florida, orchestrated by Lindsey Epperly Sulek
JOHN ARNDT | MARCH 4, 2020
We enjoyed a long weekend in Ft. Lauderdale over Presidents’ Day that happened to overlap Valentine’s Day as well. When planning a quick getaway, Lindsey’s team was super helpful. Due to the overlapping holidays, most places we were interested in were at a higher price point than what we wanted to spend, or didn’t have the accomodations we wanted. But they worked to find a 5 Star resort, the Conrad, that met our price and features we were looking for, Their upfront communication with the resort and especially the Concierge team is always a plus. It’s like having a good friend connect you with one of their good friends. We’ve become so accustomed to this type of service from Lindsey’s team, we almost take it for granted. I know the Concierge team works closely with all the resort’s guests, but the early communication from them to me to coordinate dinner, spa or activity reservations just makes planning the whole trip so easy. We got in very late on Friday evening, and didn’t think we were hungry until we saw what awaited us in our suite. Upon entering, we found a martini setup and an incredible hummus snack that we really enjoyed, compliments of Lindsey. It really hit the spot and was super thoughtful. I continue to find trips for them to plan because they are just so easy to work with and by far do an outstanding job, as have all of the WOW travel specialists weve used over the years. Can’t wait for the next trip, I know they will make it awesome.
Antarctica cruise, orchestrated by Ashton Palmer
ROBYN WHITTINGHAM | MARCH 2, 2020
I had a family tragedy occur–a family member was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given max. of a year to live, so I had to postpone my planned 2019 Silverseas Antarctica trip to 2020. I had prepaid for the trip in full, also paying a 25% single supplement as part of the total cost.
Ashton was on it immediately. He assured me that he would do his utmost to move my trip forward by a year, with hopefully minimal financial impact. He contacted Silverseas to start the change process. Even though Silverseas had changed their single supplement policy and were charging a 50% supplement for 2020 cruises, Ashton was able to plead my case and have Silverseas waive the addtl 25% single supplement.
He and his team also worked closely with me to ensure my cabin choice (they guided my process since I’ve never cruised before), and they took meticulous care of the details of my trip, presenting me with a final packet containing all of the details of my cruise.
I had the time of my life, made many new friends, and am still astounded at the otherworldly and amazing experience I had, exploring the Antarctic continent.
Ashton made my trip effortless and truly stepped up in my time of need. Top-notch customer service and responsiveness for this first-time cruiser.
London, orchestrated by Jonathan Epstein
SUSAN KETCHUM | FEBRUARY 22, 2020
It has become our practice to consult Wendy Perrin’s WOW list whenever we plan a trip. This time our goal was to spend Christmas in London.
Although we have been to London several times, we know that the holidays can be a challenge due to closures on the holiday.
Wendy suggested Jonathan Epstein and he certainly came through for us. We had an initial phone conversation with Jonathan and Nicole, his associate. This is an important step when planning a trip with a WOW advisor. We were able to discuss our previous visits to London and our desire to see and do something new. They asked us a lot of questions, which was beneficial.
We had a hotel in mind that we stayed in on a previous visit. Jonathan, however, strongly advised us to select another hotel, The Stafford. We are so happy we took his advice. It is a much smaller hotel than the one we were thinking of and that proved to be a big factor in feeling like we were “going home’ at the end of each day of touring London. The friendly and efficient staff quickly knew our names and treated us royally. The hotel was first class and it was decorated beautifully for the holidays. There was even a small Christmas tree in our room.
As we had already seen most of the highlights of London on previous visits, Jonathan suggested other tours we would not have thought of. One was a Charles Dickens walking tour. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. We understand now how London during Dickens’ time influenced his writing.
Another highlight was a private “Behind the Glass” after hours tour of The Churchill Cabinet War Rooms. We had seen the War Rooms before, however, nothing can compare to actually going into the rooms not accessible to the public in the evening when it is closed. Our guide was passionate about the history of this place and she made it come alive for us with the many stories and facts.
These are tours we would not have discovered on our own.
Jonathan and Nicole executed a WOW Moment for us during our stay. It was a surprise private tour and tasting of the amazing wine cellar at our hotel. It was built in the 17th century and used as an air raid shelter during WWII! The Master Sommelier, Gino, gave us the tour and impressed us with his knowledge. It was very special!
Given the shorter time period of this trip, we feel Jonathan was able to help us plan the perfect amount of activity and also allow time to walk about London and enjoy the beauty of the lights and amazing window displays and decorations everywhere.
Jonathan and Nicole certainly added value to our holiday in London and we would not hesitate to call upon them again.
Disney cruise, orchestrated by Michelle Allen
ANDREA REED | FEBRUARY 19, 2020
We used Michelle and her team to plan a family Disney Cruise trip to the Bahamas. I really appreciated the reminders along the way of deadlines we had to make and when each of our group’s different excursion booking windows opened. When it comes to Disney cruising, little things like this can make a big difference. I felt that the team was available at any point if we needed assist before and during the trip ( we did not luckily) and that afforded piece of mind. Once we got “back in range” after the ship docked, we were promptly contacted to make sure that all was well. I would for sure use Michelle again when planning our next Disney adventure.
Southeast Asia, orchestrated by Sandy Ferguson
JERRY SMYTH | FEBRUARY 17, 2020
Sandy Ferguson and his team exceeded our high expectations from our first communication to our departing flight from Viet Nam.
We travelled as three couples. We outlined for Sandy in a conference call what we enjoy in travel and what we hoped to experience in Viet Nam. He considered our conversations and proposed an itinerary with detailed descriptions and multiple options if we decided to revise any proposed daily event or activity.
Our local guides, who accompanied us with drivers everywhere, were outstanding: knowledgeable, interesting, flexible and responsive. One learned of our love of flowers and suggested that we visit the Hanoi market, open from 2:00-6:00 am. He slept in the van outside our hotel so he would be ready for us at the agreed 4:00 am meeting! Others arranged meetings with tailors, provided deep personal perspectives on various cultural practices and traditions, learned our tastes in art and directed us to the perfect studios.
Our itinerary was extensive and varied. We visited cultural monuments and museums, ate on sidewalks and in 5 star restaurants, immersed ourselves in Tet preparations, enjoyed Viet Nams finest hotels, experienced rural living in fields, rice paddies and local dwellings, biked, hiked, rode Jeeps and Vespas, speed boats and a yacht–all in memorable settings.
Our days and most evenings were filled with interesting activities. We enjoyed Viet Nam’s stunning landscape from Hanoi to Saigon, learned much about Viet Nam’s reverence for ancestors and its history, particularly its experience during the Viet Nam war, marveled at the local peoples ingenuity, work ethic and capitalist drive, reveled in the colorful and festive week leading to the Tet celebration.
Viet Nam is a bountiful country filled with peaceful, hardworking people. The country has virtually no crime, every meal was made with the freshest ingredients which are ubiquitous and plentiful.
Go to Viet Nam. If you want to ride bikes in the countryside and enjoy hidden gems everywhere, if you want to relax and learn, if you enjoy delicious food or studying history, if local markets and varying religious histories and practices fascinate you, if you want the perfect vacation without hassle, then contact Sandy Ferguson. We intend to return soon, and would not consider doing so without involving Sandy for every detail.
SE Asia, orchestrated by Andrea Ross and April Cole
MUKI FAIRCHILD AND CHARLIE KEITH | FEBRUARY 12, 2020
April Cole arranged a 24 day journey in Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Saigon), Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap), and Luang Prabang in Laos for me – aged 73, and my 87 year old husband. She was absolutely invaluable in helping us decide where to go in SE Asia as we had never been there before and what to pass up. We are in good health, and relatively agile, but had several requests: smooth transfers at airports, excellent guides that could assist us in learning about the culture and history of each country, and experiences that would involve our own interests in the arts as well as my husbands in plants and trees and mine in animals.
There is absolutely no way that I, the usual travel planner in the family, could have constructed and developed the trip that April and the excellent ground team in SE Asia (Naida, Narla, et. al.) came up with. From the very beginning, when we were fast tracked and whisked through immigration and passport control in the Hanoi airport after 3 long flights from the U.S., the transfers went perfectly. The activities were amazing: in Vietnam – from a musical evening in Saigon at the home of a world famous mother/son performing duo to crawling into the Cu Chi Tunnels used by the VietCong when no other tourists were around followed by a home cooked dinner at the home of a former North Vietnam war veteran. In Battambang, we rode the bamboo train, and then spent a glorious day relaxing on a private boat taking us along the upper Sanke River to Siem Reap to learn about Angkor Wat, gliding first past the floating villages. My birthday occurred while we were in Siem Reap and April, Naida, and Narla made sure it was properly celebrated. The itinerary already called for a night out Cambodian style, but to that was added drinks, dinner, and a cake and flowers delivered to the hotel room when I returned! The experiences in Laos (a private tour of the botanical garden, giving alms to the monks at sunrise, receiving a baci blessing from the elders of a village, walking with rescued elephants in a sanctuary) were equally memorable.
There is only one trip experience that both my husband and I did not enjoy as much as we thought we would. We wanted to spend some time on boats, and for the most part, were happy that we did with the exception of the Halong Bay cruise. It took too long to drive back and forth (2 hours each way) for too little time on board (less than 24 hours) to enjoy the time at sea. We were only interested in the scenery and not the activities on board. Perhaps a day cruise might have been better for us as I think the younger passengers seemed quite happy with the cruise.
Aside from the Halong Bay cruise, we would do it all over again, do and see more, and stay even longer. And of course, have April and her team do all the arranging.
Cuba, orchestrated by David Lee
LAUREN VENEZIA | FEBRUARY 11, 2020
David Lee did a superb job planning our birthday celebration trip to Cuba. From itinerary and trip planning, to selection of our outstanding tour guide and fantastic driver, and getting us seats at the best restaurants in Havana, everything went smoothly. Above all, David’s team provided us with incredibly unique and fascinating local experiences, experiences that were only available from them. These included working with a local chef in his kitchen, attending a private percussion group rehearsal, and a photography “safari” of the stunning architecture of Havana. Our trip exceeded our expectations in all respects; we would not hesitate to recommend them and to travel with them again.
Thailand, orchestrated by Daniel Fraser
KATHRYN BARDEN | FEBRUARY 11, 2020
Kae on Dan’s team planned a wonderful adventure for my husband and I. We traveled through Thailand, including Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Yao Noi, and island near Phuket. The trip planning was so easy as right away the hotels and activities fit exactly what we asked for. I tried to give as much info as possible about us and what we like to do and this proved to work well and our expectations were exceeded. Each hotel was an oasis. Our guides were very engaging and so enthusiastic about showing us their cities.
Ms. Ann in Bangkok was a delight. Not only did we see all the major sites but she adjusted on the fly to help us find some intriguing contemporary art galleries. We had a very memorable food and dinner tour through the streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown.
In Chiang Mai, Mr. Ack was equally fun and took us on a bike tour through his village. We saw flower fields and tried our hand at rice planting. As well, he took us to a favorite place for coffee, lunch, foot massages and a super interesting fresh market tour tasting new foods and delicious exotic fruits. In both cities my husband enjoyed some impromptu jam sessions with local pop music enthusiasts. They were so happy to have a guitar-playing visitor. It’s those unexpected moments that make for such a memorable trip.
The Six Senses Yao Noi was a luxurious spot to finish our trip. We had an exciting day boating to the local islands, enjoyed wonderful massages and a cooking class where I was the sole student. The food was delicious and staff so kind.
Thank you Wendy, Dan and Kae!
New Zealand, orchestrated by Jean-Michel Jefferson
CAROL COZEN | FEBRUARY 6, 2020
Our 2019 trip to New Zealand was postponed a full year after a family member accident 4 weeks before our planned departure. Kim on Jean-Michel’s team successfully secured re-bookings for 2020 without any cancellation fees – this was not easy and involved tireless effort on her part.
We couldn’t have been more pleased with our vacation, albeit one year later. It is not easy planning for New Zealand, as there are so many places to go and not nearly enough time. And, of course, it’s not easy to take a trip back due to the long distance involved.
Kim provided excellent guidance so that each stop and property were unique, with varying activities and vistas. Activities included a special hands-on day with a Maori native, a wonderful boat trip in Abel Tasman park, a fabulous ATV excursion to a sheep farm outside of Queenstown and a fishing excursion in Te Anau. When the weather didn’t go our way and our helicopter ride was cancelled (twice) Ahipara was totally connected.
During the planning process (extra long due to the re-scheduling) Kim left on a year-long maternity leave and Lizzy assumed responsibility for our itinerary. Like Kim, she was knowledgeable, responsive and a delight to work with.
India, orchestrated by Bertie and Victoria Dyer
SANDRA HODGE | FEBRUARY 5, 2020
We spent 10 days in India with the trip planned by Victoria and her team to celebrate Sandy’s 70th birthday. We greatly appreciated her professional manner, her timely responses to our questions and her suggestions for various routes. It was a wonderful trip. This was our second trip in a year to India, albeit a different route this time. We had a cuple of changes in our schedule, such as driving to Rathambore National Park, instead of taking the train (was a great drive!) and some of the things we saw. Flexibility was key and all changes were handled efficiently.
We were met on 2/25 by Vikram and Mr. “Ragu” our guide and driver for the duration. Both turned out to be excellent with respect to their roles. Vikram was a great conversationalist and guide with regard to what we were seeing. He made every attempt to meet our requests and was flexible with our schedule when the need arose. We appreciated his handling tips, logistics and getting things done expeditiously that we are sure we could not have done without him.
OUr driver was the BEST. We always felt safe and his driving was excellent. Driving in India is no small feat!
Highlights of our trip included driving rural backroads, going to small cafes and restaurants off the beaten path, a morning trip to the milk market, flower market and vegetable market in Jaipur, watching the sunset over the Taj Mahal and a FABULOUS 70th birthday picnic on a small lake near Udaipur. What a treat! With Vikram things ran very smoothly and seamlessly.
Israel orchestrated by Joe Yudin and Jonathan Rose
LAURA LEWIS MANTELL | JANUARY 30, 2020
If you’re thinking of visiting Israel, work with Joe and Jonathan to create a trip of a lifetime. We’ve just returned from two incredible weeks traveling the country with an extraordinary guide. Any high-end tour operation provides a logistically seamless experience and of course we experienced that. But Joe and Jonathan’s operation prides itself on getting to know what you care about – the geopolitical landscape, culinary experiences, ancient history, contemporary history, religion, natural beauty, astronomy, being active – and customizing a trip around your interests. For example, we explored an underground archeological site in Jerusalem not yet open to the public; we toured the market and prepared our dinner with an amazing chef, but more than that, it was an intimate evening with delicious food and conversation about life; We spent an evening star-gazing in the Negev desert, magical and informative; we met with several IDF officers who took us to the borders with Syria and Lebanon, and provided in-depth analyses of the geo-political situation in the Middle East and patiently answered our naive questions; we met with an Arab-Israeli journalist and ate lunch with a Druze family.
Our particular experiences reflect our personal interests but what was clear was that extreme attention to detail had been paid in order to create a carefully planned itinerary that was also flexible. It was further honed to our in-the-moment-preferences by our guide. And that’s the next thing: our guide. Phenomenal. Bena is an archeologist, an expert in Israeli studies, and a former Yeshiva student, so he knows everything you would want to know about where you are traveling and understands perspectives other than his own secular views. Beyond that, he is a joy to travel with; energetic, fun, caring, smart and experienced only begins to describe our experience. Initially we thought he must know everyone in Israel because of the immediate rapport he has with everyone he approaches. But no, he just has that effect on people. He opened lots of doors, literally, for us (including a site that was closed, opened for us). We loved the off-the-beaten-path restaurants he took us to and the unbelievable patience he had.
It was truly sad to leave but we’ll be back.
Sri Lanka, orchestrated by Miguel Cunat
JAN AND GARY WILLIAMS | JANUARY 29, 2020
Miguel’s deputy Andrea Goonesekera planned our trip to Sri Lanka perfectly. She asked us what we liked to do, what we wanted to see, and helped pick activities that were interesting, exciting, and very special. We met people and experienced activities we wouldn’t have known about or had access to without Andrea’s help. When we decided not to participate in an activity later in our trip, she cancelled it with no problem. Our driver Daminda was friendly, competent, and made us feel safe and confident everywhere we went. It was truly a vacation of a lifetime.
Ecuador, orchestrated by Allie Almario
DEBORAH WENTE | JANUARY 29, 2020
We had a wonderful trip to the highlands of Ecuador, then an 8 day/7 night cruise on Theory, a Relais and Chateaux boat touring the Galapagos. There were no particular problems or issues, but whenever I had a question, no matter how minor, Allie replied within an hour or so! We spent two days in Quito, then two days at Hacienda Zuleta. What a wonderful find! It’s a working dairy farm owned by the family of two former Ecuadorean presidents. The daughter/granddaughter Marguerita joined us both evenings for cocktails and shared stories of growing up on the farm with her family. Our rooms were heated by wood burning stoves with hot water bottles in our beds. Wonderful food, great hiking – it was a wonderful way to spend a couple of days.
Allie was very helpful in choosing the boat for the Galapagos. We were on Theory with no more than 20 guests. Each guide can have a maximum of 16 guests, as a result there were two for the boat making for smaller groups touring the islands. The crew was wonderful! We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Galapagos. Our group was my husband and I, our two adult daughters and their boyfriends. There were a lot of activities, and plenty of space on the boat to relax.
Bhutan, orchestrated by Antonia Neubauer
FRANK AND CATHY GOLD | JANUARY 28, 2020
Toni and her team did a superb job planning and executing our trip to Bhutan. We pretty much gave them carte blanche and we followed their recommendations based on our likes and dislikes and they gave us a first-class adventure trip. Everything and everyone we interacted with both here and there were first class and everything met and exceeded our expectations. We highly recommend Bhutan as a hiking/adventure/cultural destination and recommend Toni and her team to plan and implement it!
Provence and Paris, orchestrated by Philip Haslett
GREG BROUGHTON | JANUARY 26, 2020
Luxury, luxury, luxury. That’s all I need to say about Philip Haslett and his team’s approach to our trip. It was amazing from start to finish. Everything we did and everywhere we went in our week in Paris and Provence was characterized by luxury. The Bauminere in Les Baux de Provence was one of the finest hotels at which we’ve ever stayed (the breakfasts alone will WOW you) and even little details like S-class Mercedes transfers were the epitome of French luxury. Cheers, Phillip!
New Zealand, orchestrated by Donna Thomas
BARBARA AND GARY MAXWELL | JANUARY 26, 2020
Donna Thomas and her team were a delight to work with and a comfort to have at our side while traveling in New Zealand! All of our private guides and location hosts knew Donna personally and kept her updated as we traveled. Donna also gave us a local New Zealand contact to reach out to in case of emergency because of the time difference with the US. Donna with her local knowledge of the beautiful country of New Zealand listened and crafted a perfect balance of adventure and relaxation for us. Every place we stayed was a unique experience and and we felt completely immersed into New Zealand. She and her team were very prompt and thorough in answering our countless questions, emails and phone calls during the planning and pre departure phases. They equipped us with all the detailed maps, guides and information as well as insider tips and recommendations. What a wonderful trip and enjoyable experience from start to finish!
Hawaii, orchestrated by Jay and Dani Johnson
BARBARA MAXWELL | JANUARY 21, 2020
Dani Johnson found a perfect spot for us to take our children and grandchildren for vacation the busy week after Christmas. The activities that she recommended were just right for our family and we were so impressed by the them all. Such as the private guide for a hike that knew how to get away from the crowds, and a snorkel sail company that operates with such integrity that they issued a full refund after being out for two hours and felt the conditions did not meet their standards. The trip organizational app she uses was a wonderful tool for our large family and helped to keep everyone informed and aware of what was happening each day. Dani always responded promptly and patiently to our never ending questions. She was easy to reach by phone, text or email and always had a positive attitude and a great sense of humor. She was a joy to work with!
France, orchestrated by Jennifer Virgilio
TINA SARAFA | JANUARY 20, 2020
Jennifer and her team are magical! Jennifer and I communicated a ton prior to the trip and she had a great feel for what kind of trip my husband and I desired. We wanted a boutique hotel that was charming, intimate and quiet. She gave us numerous ideas and helped us select the perfect hotel for our needs. We wanted a combination of expected sites in Paris and then more off the beaten path activities. Our guide to the Lourve for the Da Vinci exhibit was A plus! One of the most informative and knowledgable guides ever. Equally outstanding was our guide to Versaille. Personally I didn’t want to go back to Versaille as I was there 2 years ago, but my husband had not been. Jennifer was aware of that and chose for us with the most outstanding guide who made the day so pleasurable and ultra informative. We learned some fun facts and it felt totally new to me. We had an incredible food tour in St Germaine and a private cooking class with a chef that taught us how to prepare the most amazing duck recipes per our request He also took us food shopping prior to the class and seeing all of the little stores in Paris for bread, wine, cheese, our duck and vegetables was a treat! . All of our guides for our tours and experiences were informative, interesting, personable and really a joy to be with. In addition she was able to secure some very hard to get dinner reservations and we were able to dine every where on my wish list. Each day her team checked in with updates, and any time we needed anything at all they came through. Last minute we wanted to add a tour in Montmartre and again they came through with one of our previous guides we loved and transportation even though the strike was going on. Jennifer and her team are amazing and very deserving to be on your list!
Lastly, thank you for an incredible WOW Moment! It exceeded our imaginations. Jennifer knew how much we love food and wine and our WOW Moment was at the oldest wine shop in Paris. First the shop is beautiful! And in the most charming area. We were guided to a private room and the sommelier said he was opening bottles he was actually never able to taste himself as they were that rare. He was thrilled with our WOW Moment too! Thank you Wendy for making it possible. The wine, setting, and getting to share this on a special trip with my husband made for some wonderful memories.
Patagonia, orchestrated by Jordan Harvey
JUDY CALVERT | JANUARY 20, 2020
Highlights of Southern Patagonia – trip of a lifetime!
I’m a detail person and planner by nature and have always planned my own vacations, and some have been quite complicated. I don’t mind pouring over websites and figuring out all the options. Therefore, this was a big step for me to use a travel specialist – mainly because I’ve read Wendy’s work for years and really wanted to give it a try. So for sure, the big question is… “was it worth it to use a travel specialist, and potentially pay more money?”. The answer is “Yes!”.
We chose to go to Argentina and Chile over this past Christmas. Wendy recommended Jordan, and we started with him and then worked all details out until departure with Amanda. It was an excellent trip and we had the best time. Everything went smoothly and we had no issues. Our itinerary was Buenos Aries for 2 nights, Ushuaia for 2 nights, Australis Stella explorer cruise for 4 nights, Patagonia for 4 nights, Santiago 1 night, Easter Island 4 nights, Santiago 1 night.
The benefits of this travel specialist:
-to start, I don’t think I would have found/known about Australis and I don’t know if I would have figured out an itinerary to also get Easter Island in
-I had friends who were in BA last May and there was an airport rotating strike, and I knew going through a Travel Specialist, who hooked me up with Exito for air, would totally be on it, if something like that happened to us – the peace of mind over the holidays knowing we would be taken care of, is priceless
-we had a lot of flights, and moving, and knowing that at each airport/arrival would be a sign with our names to ensure we got to the next spot – no figuring out taxis on our own
-I feel like because of their relationships, we were secured the best rooms in our categories, everywhere we went
-it was our honeymoon #3 (we got married in February) and everyone knew and presented us with a token, including a bottle of wine and personalized note on Jordan’s company letter head at Easter Island
-due to the ongoing “unrest” in Santiago, they pre empted any possible situation and moved us from a potential hot bed area to the Ritz Carlton Santiago, club floor (we shared this with other travelers, who had used travel agencies, but none of those took care of their people in this manner as ours had)
-overall, we felt special, and taken care of and relaxed and isn’t that how everyone wants to feel on vacation!
Special shout out to:
1. Australis Stella, Ushuaia to Puerto Natales
-we loved this mini cruise, and the zodiac excursions, and seeing the glaciers, and getting to go to Cape Horn (a bucket list item for my husband), and penquins
-the staff were excellent, the excursions great, and the food and wine REALLY good
-Christmas dates are not full, and we were only 120 on a ship that could do 180, so it felt very personal and intimate
2. Patagonia Camp
-although we were not looking forward to a 5 hour drive transfer, it really was only 4 hours each way, with a bathroom stop, and went by really fast, we also were picked up where the cruise docked, immediately and did not have to wait, it turned out to be a private transfer as we were the only ones
-the food and wine were outstanding
-Jordan had really stressed getting a yurt with the jacuzzi and he was so right, it was awesome, and not all of them have, and other people were sad they had not booked one
3. Easter Island
-we cannot rave enough about the ceviche on this island, during our stay it was tuna, huge, glorious chunks of tuna! overall, the food was very good on island, all the restaurants were good, who knew?
-seeing the Moai was also a bucket list
4. Los Cauqueness Resort, Ushuaia
-we loved it here, our room, 101 was awesome, the large picture window with the full on ocean view was unbelievable, we even had an amazing sunrise from our bed
-the dinner in their restaurant was our favorite meal from our entire trip
-we loved their sheep skin throws over the chairs décor, that we bought 4 from their gift shop and managed to squeeze into our luggage
-we also enjoyed their outdoor jacuzzies in their spa and would have had massages had we had time
5. Ritz Carlton Santiago – Club Floor
-we didn’t really care about going to BA or Santiago, we just had to for the flights, BUT this hotel’s club floor is fabulous! We spent a lot of time and really enjoyed ourselves – wine, beer, full breakfast, full lunch, appies – even ordered room service dinner to be delivered there on our late arrival night and they gave us a late checkout complimentary
Notes to just know:
-Jordan had suggested a twin bed cabin on Australis in a certain category (versus the 1 bed) as it cost less but the same great location (mid ship, 3rd deck) – he was right
-Australis is very international, out of 120ppl there were 19 countries represented, we were the only Canadians
-Patagonia Camp is majority US travelers, with us Canadians and some British
-Santiago airport is a bit disjointed, for business class to Easter Island there is a separate check-in on the 4th floor, tucked away, and then you join everyone else for security
-BA, Palermo area felt very safe to walk around
-people poo pood Ushuaia, but we really liked it there, in their own right – great scenery and excursions and good food, we did a little bit of trinket/souvenir shopping but didn’t have much time
-the weather in Southern Patagonia and Easter Island were everything every day – windy, sunny, rainy, grey, humid – the saying was “if you don’t like the weather right now, wait 20 minutes and it will change” and all the advice for layered clothing is true
-Patagonia camp, you are hiking every day that you are there, and you need to decide on your way back from your current hike, what you are going to hike the next day, as you need two yurts to want the same hike, so you may not always get the hike/excursion you want
-friends had said take US, Amanda said take local currency… Amanda was more right, although we did have to dip into US for our Easter Island tipping as we had run out of Chilean
-speaking of tipping, it’s still my biggest pain when travelling – it’s the sneaky “service charge” that is sometimes on a bill that sometimes goes to the server and sometimes not, I felt that we way over tipped sometimes and unfortunately under when I tried to figure out the exchange of Canadian to US to their currency :-(
-Eastern Island basically has 3 tours that all tour companies offer, 2 x 1/2 days and 1 full day, the only thing they didn’t seem to cover was sunrise / sunset and nighttime, which you can get with a separate company (we did not do), BUT we did pay a taxi 40,000 Chilean (around $70 Canadian) to take us to the 15 moai for sunrise one morning – unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and it was too cloudy to get the amazing photo we’ve all seen, so we recommend trying the first morning you are there and keep going until you get – it was also very easy to rent a car for the day if you preferred, we were just lazy
-it wasn’t an inexpensive trip, and the destinations were on par with Vancouver Canada (where we live) pricing, which was surprising for me as I thought it would be less, BUT we are doing touristy things, so they get you ;-)
Many thanks to Wendy,Jordan and Amanda! PS the lovely touch of sending our final itinerary with luggage tags and lip balm was great and we used and thank you for the matcha tea set!
Colombia, orchestrated by Marc Beale and Boris Seckovic
JARVIS WELD | JANUARY 15, 2020
My family of two adults and three teens, ages 12 to 18, traveled to Colombia over New Year’s, spending seven days in country. We visited Bogotá, Quindío (the coffee region), and Cartagena. As we were completely unfamiliar with South America, we planned guides, drivers, and activities for most of every day. We have not traveled with so much support in the past, and it was extremely helpful and rewarding. Emily and a few other associates from Marc and Boris’ office were a fantastic help, both during the planning and the trip. They made great choices about which regions we should visit and for how long, what activities we should do, and where we should stay. They even got us into a wonderful boutique hacienda in the coffee region at a very busy time of year. Each of our guides was friendly and attentive, and very knowledgeable about their area. We had Juliana, an artist, in Bogotá share her perspective on museums and the graffiti district. Camilo, a biologist and ornithologist, took us on a hike in the countryside and helped my husband with his birdwatching. Tavo is a musician, and gave us a great perspective on Cartagena. All the tours and activities were fabulous, and the lodging and dining reservations the team set up were perfect for us. We ran into some flight delays on one of our internal flights, and Marc and Boris’ office was very helpful and supportive. Also, the guides mentioned that the company was checking in with them regularly each day, which was so supportive in such an unobtrusive manner. We did so many wonderful activities, but a big highlight was our last day, when we took a private boat trip out to the Rosario Islands and spent some time at a beach club. The kids got so much out of every day of the trip, and continue to rave about it to everyone, a real accomplishment with teens, and the parents accomplished our goal of family time and exposing everyone to a new continent. We want to thank Wendy Perrin for suggesting Columbia as a destination in the first place, based on our parameters, and setting us up with this team. We also would like to thank Marc and Boris’ team for helping us through some initial qualms about the political situation and supporting us splendidly through the planning and the whole trip. It was definitely a trip to remember for a lifetime. In addition, we all plan to return to Columbia, and are evangelizing it as a destination for other Americans.
Mexico, orchestrated by Zachary Rabinor and Brady Binstadt
KRISTEN MACLEOD | JANUARY 15, 2020
Our family just returned from a magical, eye-opening Christmas trip to Central Mexico, orchestrated by Brady Binstadt and his experts, such as Gerardo Tovar. My husband and I traveled with our 18 year old daughter and 16 year old twin boys for 10 days over Christmas. There was no shortage of challenges to planning a last minute trip at one of the busiest times of the year. The beaches were expensive and jam-packed. We emailed several times trying to come up with an itinerary that worked. Brady was very patient and transparent about the advantages and disadvantages of each option. The result was fantastic! Together with Brady we outlined a trip to Mexico City and two truly magical colonial cites, Puebla and San Miguel de Allende. Brady and his staff handled all of the logistical details. Truly, we didn’t have to worry about a single thing from travel, to accommodations, to activities to personal comfort. and safety. They did it all, and they did it beautifully. Our guides and our driver were absolutely top-notch. We put our trust in them completely and by the end of the trip, they were like family to us. Our accommodations were beautiful and were outstanding in location and customer service. There was a small issue with the apartment in Mexico City but due to our 24 hr access to assistance from Brady and his contacts, the problem was fixed immediately. We are a very active family and always want to be doing and learning. Brady and his team really understood this and designed a wonderful itinerary that opened our eyes to this complex, beautiful, sophisticated and culturally rich country. From our private cooking class with a renown chef in Puebla to our historical and cultural bike tour down Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma and through the Bosque de Chapultepec to our completely private guided tour through the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City – they opened the museum just for us! -we were always learning, exploring and connecting with such knowledgable and fascinating local people. The result was a trip that left us with great respect and affection for our southern neighbor and helped us see the history of our continent from a completely different perspective. This is truly the best of travel.
We will be WOW listers for life!
Abu Dhabi and Oman, orchestrated by Lindsey Wallace
PRISCILLA EAKELEY | JANUARY 13, 2020
We never could have done this trip on our own. The guides in both Abu Dhabi and Oman provided an excellent overview of the regions past and present, and we saw way more of each country than did independent travelers we met along the way. Even more important, we had complete confidence that the ground operators would ensure our safety if the conflict between the U.S. and Iran (we arrived in Abu Dhabi two days before a drone strike killed Soleimani) spiraled out of control. Not surprising that George W. Bush used them to set up his trip to Oman back in October.
Norway and Sweden, orchestrated by Jan Sortland
LOIS CHESS | JANUARY 11, 2020
We contacted Jan almost too late to put a trip together that would include the Northern Lights over the Christmas New Year’s holiday, but he put it all together seamlessly! Everything was like clockwork. All flowed together to visit three locations — Oslo, Alta in the Arctic Circle, and Stockholm. All hotels, restaurants, guides and drivers in the cities were spot on. Our experience in Alta was way beyond what we expected. Jan told us that in 30 years if his clients stayed in the Arctic Circle four nights, 100% of them saw the Lights. We saw the Lights 3 f the 4 nights, and the experience was illuminating! But we also had wonderful experiences during the day. Dog mushing was a highlight, as was snowshoeing and ice fishing and snowmobiling. Every person we dealt with was kind, warm, and made us feel relaxed and refreshed as we experienced these new to us activities. They all knew Jan and praised him highly. Jan is terrific.
Southeast Asia, orchestrated by Andy Booth
DAVIS BERGMANN AND RON PEDERSON | JANUARY 10, 2020
We have recently returned from our first trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Travelling as a small group of friends (one celebrating a milestone birthday), having never been to either country, we knew we needed assistance in planning and executing a great trip. We worked with Josh (Clayton) on Andy’s team for several months in advance of our trip as he carefully listened and guided us through the planning stages (not always an easy task getting consensus from a group of seasoned travelers). Josh was extremely patient and informative throughout and ultimately came up with an itinerary that suited us perfectly.
These countries are amazing on their own, but we soon realized that many of the excursions on our itinerary included experiences we simply would have never known about or been able to arrange on our own: a Hanoi food tour that got us behind the storefront and into the “real” local experience, a sunset cycling tour in HoiAn through rice paddies and organic farms featuring a visit with a local family who prepared the most beautiful, fresh food, a private recital of traditional Vietnamese music followed by dinner in the stunning riverside home of a classically trained vocalist and her husband in Hue, a sunset boat ride on the moat of Angkor Thom in Siem Reap where we were serenaded by gondoliers (?) with the most brilliant red sunset as our backdrop, and a very memorable ride on the back of an oxcart through the beautiful Cambodian countryside to the private villa owned by Andy’s company, where we were treated to an amazing evening with local food accompanied by local musicians. I honestly believe we would never have had these enriching additions without the help of Josh and his colleagues.
The level of service and expertise of our guides and drivers who met us at every point were beyond compare. They made every transfer, pickup, excursion, so effortless and easy and were very open to our special requests or last-minute changes we might have made. All of our guides were not only extremely knowledgeable, but also funny, engaging and people you actually WANT to spend the day with. Every one of them went above and beyond the standard explanations of “tourism” and were open to sharing insight into the local culture and contemporary lives of the people.
Finally, every accommodation was perfectly suited to what we were looking for. I attribute much of this to Josh’s intuition and in guiding us towards the best places where he knew we would be comfortable hanging out either after a full day of touring or a day off. We truly appreciated that.
I would highly recommend Josh Clayton for anyone planning a trip to this part of the world. A trip we will forever remember.
French Polynesia, orchestrated by Kleon Howe
RICH AND JAMIE PEARSON | JANUARY 8, 2020
Kleon is extremely knowledgeable about French Polynesia and the options available to explore the islands. With his guidance, our family of 4 chose an amazing 9 night catamaran charter followed by a luxurious 5 night stay at the Intercontinental Thalasso in Bora Bora. At the Intercontinental, we received special treatment that can be attributed to Kleon’s influence.
Thanks to Kleon, each portion of our trip surpassed our expectations, and we will remember it forever.
Kleon is very easy to work with and is great about clearly sharing the rationale for his recommendations. We only made a few tweaks to his original recommendations, In retrospect, I could have been clearer with about our family’s willingness to get up early – we had one connection that required a 5:40 am wake-up – but this was a minor glitch in what was otherwise an awesome trip.
Fiji, orchestrated by Lynette Wilson
JULIE HEIMARK | JANUARY 8, 2020
Working with Lynette on our trip to Fiji was very easy and her recommendation — Savasi Island Resort — was fantastic. We loved Savasi Island and are already contemplating our return visit. But what catapults Lynette to the top of our list was her support and responsiveness when our trip was derailed by Tropical Cyclone Sarai. Tropical Cyclone Sarai was not on our radar at all. And then it was all over the radar! As we sat at home and obsessively followed the hour to hour meteorological reports to see if our holiday would still happen (a Christmas surprise to our kids), Lynette worked through the Christmas holiday and the cyclone to keep us informed. The airline eventually canceled our flight to Fiji at the last minute and told us they couldn’t rebook us for at least another 5 days. Lynette, however, and her fabulous team (thanks Linda!) got us on one of the first flights out once the planes were flying to Fiji again, thereby saving our vacation. And she was able to keep our group together and secured us seats on the transfer to Savusavu. This was only possible due to her relationships. If we had not used Lynette, there is no way we would have made it. Highly recommend Lynette and Im looking forward to our next trip with her.
Jordan, orchestrated by Jonny Bealby
LAUREN GREEN | JANUARY 7, 2020
Our trip to Jordan was planned with Daniel Waters who is on Jonny’s team. He was available immediately during the entire planning stage and was responsive to all my concerns and requests. He knew I was a bit concerned about the issues in the Middle East and right before the trip suggested we have the same guide during the entire trip. This was a perfect solution and ended up being really important when my husband got sick while we were beginning our hike at Dana.
Our guide, Tehar and driver, George were phenomenal and we consider them our friends and hope to visit them again.
They were both so knowledgeable and answered all our questions about the country, the people etc. We found Jordan and the people to be warm., welcoming and every part of the trip was spectacular.
Costa Rica, orchestrated by Priscilla Jimenez
KRISTEN EBNER | JANUARY 6, 2020
I can’t say enough about the trip Priscilla helped me plan for my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary. We were traveling with 10 people, 4 active, teenagers who are up for any adventure and my Father who has PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy) a neurological brain disease. My father did not want his disability to stop the adventure or fun for his Grandchildren. Priscilla found us the perfect home, Stu Casa located in Las Catalinas located on an amazing beach where we could watch the sunset daily, take day trips scuba diving, surfing and fishing. After 5 days, we moved to The Monteverde Cloud Forest staying at Hotel Senda where we explored the sky walk, did zip lining and went on endless hikes.
The house, hotel, restaurants and activities were amazing, but what really made this trip special for us was the planning that Priscilla did in finding us the perfect Naturalist/Guide (Eddie R) and Physical Therapist (Alonso V.) to travel with us for the 10 days we were away. Alonso provided my father with the best care possible and had the knowledge and ability to help my father do things he has not been able to do like taking short walks on the beach, and working with him in the pool. Having Alonso with us allowed my mom to get the vacation she so needed and allowed my Dad to enjoy himself and took all the daily stress away from PSP.
Eddie, the Naturalist Guide was so knowledgeable and personable. From the moment we met him at the airport the kids were engaged and interested in learning about Costa Rica. Eddie made sure everything was just perfect all week and when we were out hiking he not only helped us find the monkeys, Quetzals and sloth but educated the kids on the Cloud Forest and environment.
Thank you again for helping us plan such an amazing trip!
Greece, orchestrated by Jacoline Vinke
JAMES LOUGHHEAD | DECEMBER 23, 2019
Jacoline prepared a wonderful itinerary of the mainland of Greece over 2 weeks for us in late November and December. We travelled with 2 of our young adult children. The itinerary that Jacoline prepared for us was a great reflection of the discussions we had leading up to our trip, from the tour guides through to the accommodation, suggestions for where to eat and places of interest.
The entire holiday went smoothly and we felt very comfortable with the way that the itinerary worked and the timing for the activities.
A particular highlight for us was the quality of the guides and their personal attention as well as the opportunity to share in the lives of Greek families and individuals during our time who we found to be the most generous hosts.
Our time in Greece has left a with great memories and experiences that were made possible because of Jacoline’s planning of our trip.
London apartment rental, orchestrated by Madelyn Byrne
LINDSAY RICHMAN | DECEMBER 14, 2019
Madelyn and her team provided us with a wonderful trip to London. Madelyn helped choose a perfect apartment in Kensington for our family of 3. She was particularly helpful in providing ideas for our ten year old son who has a love of Harry Potter and architecture.
This was our second time using Madelyn (we have also stayed in Paris at one of her apartments). The apartments are lovely and in the best locations. The service during our stay was impressive. Our greeter helped us settle in and I received multiple emails during the week checking that all was well. I will absolutely use Madelyn and her team on future trips.
Switzerland, orchestrated by Nina Müller
STAN FRY AND JAY SISCO | DECEMBER 12, 2019
We couldn’t have asked for a better Swiss holiday after working with Nina Muller and David Zingler. Nina kicked off the planning by initially asking about our travel preferences (both likes and dislikes). David fine-tuned them and suggested multiple and varied itineraries that hit upon our requested combination of 5-star and Swiss charm accommodations; top tourist and off the beaten path towns–and all at our chosen slow-ish pace. Neuchatel (e-biking around the lake and a private Absinthe distillery tasting with the owner) and Ascona (Bavona Valley guided walking tour and two surprise birthday celebrations, one on the lake and the other a mountainside 4-course lunch were beyond memorable) stand out. David is the ultimate listener and logistics master. Everything ran like clockwork and we took great comfort knowing he was working his magic–sometimes in the foreground (securing a reservation at a top restaurant on short notice), but mostly in the background. And we never would have predicted how much we would learn from and bond with the private guides he selected for us. They were extremely knowledgeable, flexible and friendly. This was our first custom trip and it was well worth it. We experienced Switzerland like we never would have on our own. David spoiled us and we are grateful!
Rome and Florence walking tours, orchestrated by Emily Izer
MARK LINDSTROM | DECEMBER 11, 2019
Traveling to Rome and Florence for the first time, my wife and I wanted to absorb as much as we could of the art and culture of each of the cities. Wendy Perrin had us get in touch with Emily Izer, who set us up with our tours in Rome and Florence.
We had outstanding cultural tours in Rome exploring Vatican City, a Food Tour in Rome, Night tour through local neighborhoods, and then the Forum, Coliseum and Palatine Hill tour. We had the same tour guide (Alessandra) for the Vatican and Forum tours who was an art history teacher with a Phd and was incredible with the wealth of knowledge she was able to bring to our group and also maintained a reasonable pace through a time capsule of Roman history. We did experience a bit of trouble personally going from one tour (Vatican) to the Food Tour because a Taxi driver took us to the wrong church (many have similar names) although we showed him the address and a picture. It happens but Emily’s local contact (Nathaniel) called us several times to get us back on track to meet our group at their first stop so that the tour was not lost even though we were a bit. We eventually caught up with the group only because Nathaniel worked the situation to get us back onboard. If you read the legalise, he could have easily said, “Oh well, sorry” but he didn’t. That was impressive.
We again took several tours in Florence; Uffizi Gallery, Michelangelo and the Night tour of Florence. We had the same guide for the Uffizi Gallery and Michelangelo who had Phd and helped guide the tours through the museums (total of 4) and concentrated on the most important works and definitely taught us more about Renaissance art than we could ever had expected. By concentrating on the key works we were able to dial down and really understand the history and art of the period. Incredible tour. Now, on the night tour, another Phd tour guide who was also a sculptor. Allen took us to sites that we would not have found on our own so that we could view the city including the Duomo at night and along with the other stops made the night tour fun and relaxed while passing along the fascinating history of Florence.
Our tours were either just my wife and I or up to six people. Small, intimate and fun groups. We even picked up places to eat in Florence from one of the couples on our Rome tour, and they were right, it was an incredible food experience. Plus, the guides gave us some great local eating recommendations that we tried and definitely enjoyed. Places we would have probably missed on our own.
Morocco, orchestrated by Michael Diamond
RUTH ANNE LAWSON | DECEMBER 6, 2019
Our Moroccan adventure was incredible. It was perfectly planned: the hotels and riads were destinations in and of themselves and the restaurants Michael chose for us were fabulous. Michael even handled our dinner reservations. Every experience and place visited was well thought out: we never felt that a moment was wasted. Michael was very accommodating of our requests for changes, even working out a change I asked him to make less than a week before we left home! Our guide and driver were just great and we learned so much from them about their culture. Michael arranged experiences that put us in touch with many wonderful people in the country. That is so very important to us because we want our travel to mean something on a personal level. We are not going just for push pins in a map. We want to connect with people when we travel.
I think that many people might assume that using a travel planner like Michael Diamond is too expensive, but we found that our time and travel dollars were maximized by not making a bunch of blunders as we surely would have done if we had planned this trip ourselves. Michael has a wealth of knowledge about the country and he made every minute count. Looking back, it is hard to believe how much we squeezed into our time there. Sounds crazy, but I feel sorry for anyone who goes to Morocco without Michael’s guidance.
China, orchestrated by Mei Zhang
KATIE BUSH | DECEMBER 4, 2019
Mei and her team provided an unforgettable view into both ancient and modern China from the Ancient Terracotta Warriors of XiAn to the Olympic Green and 798 Art District in Beijing. Upon our request, Mei arranged for a very special Chinese cooking class in a traditional courtyard home inside one of Beijing’s surviving hutongs with a local chef and a very special local foodie and entrepreneur. Each of the experiences were truly tailored to our interests, but gave us an authentic view into the culture, traditions and history of a quickly evolving country. With Mei’s help, we traveled to the ancient city of XiAn, the Longmen Grottos of Louyong, and spent many days in Beijing. Highlights of the trip included lunch in the shadows of the Great Wall, a private taiji lesson on the grounds of the Temple of Heaven and tea at the Aman in the Summer Palace. My only advice would be to ensure you speak with your guide about local customs and restrictions (for example, on technology use, VPNs, etc.) prior to your trip.
Cabo, orchestrated by Julie Byrd
KENNETH SIMON | DECEMBER 3, 2019
Casa Bellamar is a fabulous house on the Sea of Cortez near San Jose Del Cabo. It is ideal for a small groups. We were a three-generation family of 12 (ages 2-67) and had a very memorable visit. The ad is accurate – the Villa has abundant bedrooms with spectacular views, many bathrooms, a very nice pool with a swim up bar and a pool house, a jacuzzi, a tennis couurt and a good small gym. The staff was terrific — the chefs, butlers and maids all were first rate. Even the gardner was very helpful. The master bedroom suite is astounding — including a large walk-in closet, two full baths, a huge master bedroom and a five-seat hair and make-up salon. The electronics in the house are first class: good wifi, sonos throuought the house, and TVs everywhere (US Dish TV, with local Cincinatti stations), Be sure to check out what is already stocked in the house before ordering additional food and drink. We enjoyed a well-stocked bar and kitchen. Also consider renting a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you want to visit the spectacular reef at Cabo Pulmo. Golf at nearby Puerto Los Cabos was excellent — a nice, well-maintained layout, and a fairly difficult course. Other activities (at Cabo San Lucas) that family members enjoyed were para-sailing, swimming with dolphins, diving, whale watching (including seeing a whale jump entirely out of the ocean) and snorkiling. We hated to leave.
Italy villa vacation, orchestrated by Mara Solomon
RICHARD KOFKOFF | DECEMBER 2, 2019
My siblings and our spouses decided to plan a trip to Italy but I was at some loss as to where to turn to plan the trip. Fortunately, I was introduced to the WOW list and contacted Mara Solomon. She and her team were very responsive to my initial inquiry and it was obvious during our first phone call, which lasted perhaps one hour, and subsequent calls, that not only did Mara know her stuff but she cared deeply that she understand our desires and priorities. Her knowledge of Italy is encyclopedic and she has a feel for the intangibles such as the best rhythm for a relaxing and rewarding villa vacation. Mara’s entire team is very professional and the attention to detail is outstanding. Mara knows the best tour guides and makes sure the staff at the villa is talented and professional. She also has a concierge on the ground in Italy to help with any problems (there were none) and to handle any last minute change in plans that we wanted to make (restaurant reservations, etc.). I was particularly impressed by the scheduled “debriefing” phone call after we returned to hear about our experience and to hear if we had any suggestions for future travelers. I would definitely utilize the talents of Mara, Kristen and Anne again when planning an Italian villa vacation.
Sicily, orchestrated by Marcello Baglioni
JASON COVIENSKY | NOVEMBER 27, 2019
We worked with Matteo to plan a mini honeymoon in Eastern Sicily following our wedding in Canada the week prior. I really appreciated his honest recommendations and approach to travel while in the planning stages. Exactly our approach to touring – he made sure we avoided the most “touristy” areas and were able to experience some really special and unique places. We stayed in Siracusa for 4 nights and on Mt. Etna for 2, with activities planned with guides each day. It was a good pace – we felt busy the whole time, but never exhausted. The guides were all excellent with good English and different personalities. We were never rushed and everybody worked around our timeline; they were flexible too as we were running late, or wanted to extend certain portions. We particularly liked the market tour and cooking class with Maurizio, our cycling day to the nature reserve, and our sunset boat cruise. We met Matteo in Syracusa and he showed us some of his favourite shops; he checked in throughout the trip and we heard from our guides that he was in constant communication with them making sure everything went smoothly. Food recommendations were excellent throughout. Communication was prompt and easy. The hotels were amazing; in Siracusa we stayed at the Musciara – the photos really don’t do it justice at all. I’m used to planning and organizing all of our trips, so it was a really special treat here where Matteo was on top of everything and we didn’t have to worry at all, and were pampered throughout.
Italy, orchestrated by Maria Landers and Brian Dore
DAVID HALE AND JIM MORI | NOVEMBER 22, 2019
Maria Gabriella Landers certainly warrants a very high place on the WOW List ! In a word, in addition to WOW!, our trip was perfect. We were in Italy for the month of October, extending into the first week of November, Maria and her team worked out a great itinerary for us, incorporating a week in the middle of the month for an event previously planned by my university in Veneto. After our week in Venice and Vicenza, we resumed our itinerary prepared by Maria. To help explain how impressive Maria’s team is, I will start at the outset of our trip. They have a monitoring service (called Cranky Concierge) which assisted us throughout the trip when we needed it. For example, Cranky Concierge arranged for our airline to give us limousine service upon arrival at Heathrow Airport to transfer us to another terminal at Heathrow for our connecting flight to Milan. It was a short connection time so the special attention was much appreciated when the British Airways Customer Services representative came to our seat on the airplane to arrange for the special transportation. It was this type of accommodation that we enjoyed throughout the trip. Guides met us at every new city. Transportation from the airport to our hotel as well as transportation from city to city was always punctual and the drivers could all speak English. Another impressive fact in this regard is the beauty of the vehicles transporting us throughout our tour. We always felt very special (if not regal) being transported in those big black beautiful vehicles. I could go on and on with details about the perfection of the itinerary, but I will not make this review too lengthy. Some of the most memorable parts of the trip were the knowledge and communications of the guides Maria provided us, the unusual events she planned, the cities she chose for us to experience, the quality of the hotels where we stayed, and the excellent weather she provided for us ! I want to underscore my comment about our guides. Every one of our guides was very impressive in their knowledge of the area and their ability to communicate. They all spoke very good English and they were all very charming. This is the second trip that we have taken following recommendations of Wendy Perrin (with the first one being with Marisol Mosquera’s team in Peru) and we now look forward to getting recommendations for another part of the world soon.
Costa Rica, orchestrated by Pierre Gédéon
JULIE BUYON | NOVEMBER 18, 2019
We had a wonderful 7 night trip in Costa Rica planned by Pierre and his team. They really listened to what we wanted and delivered! Our goal was to have a balanced mix of real relaxation and interesting activities. The two resorts recommended, Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa near the Arenal Volcano and Hotel Arenas del Mar in Manuel Antonia were both superb choices for us – among the best hotels I have stayed in. All three of the excursions arranged by Pierre were also top notch in every way. All of our drivers were prompt, knowledgable and friendly. I would not hesitate to recommend Pierre to anyone contemplating a trip to Costa Rica. Pierre’s team checked in with us throughout the trip to make sure all was well and to remind us when we had an upcoming excursion. There was a lovely gift bag filled with Costa Rican candies, cocoa and coffee in our first hotel to welcome us, along with an extra copy of our itinerary. So thoughtful and appreciated! The only downside to our trip was the amount of travel time involved, because the places we visited were at least 3 hours from the international airports in Liberia and San Jose, and there was a 6 hour drive from Arenal Volcano area to the gorgeous beach at Manuel Antonio. Consequently, our 7 day trip really included 2 complete days of travel (12 hours going and 16 hours returning as we had to change planes in Miami) plus a half day’s travel between our two hotels. If you are uncomfortable during a long car ride or traveling with children, I suggest exploring all the options with Pierre to ensure that everyone is comfortable.
Russia, orchestrated by Greg Tepper
CATHLEEN GLENN | NOVEMBER 17, 2019
We’re grateful to Greg for a memorable trip to ever-fascinating Russia. There were too many highlights, exclusive experiences, and magic moments to recount.
We’d end each day thinking it couldn’t get any better only to have our expectations surpassed.
Our carefully curated itinerary together with our personable, expert guides gave us the historic and cultural context to see the heart and soul of Russia.
We leave with a deep affection for Russia.
Thank you, Greg and Stella, for an unforgettable trip!
Japan, orchestrated by Scott Gilman
LINDA AND JOE ROTHMAN | NOVEMBER 6, 2019
We read the fabulous reviews Scott received and wondered whether we would have the same experience. The short answer is an unequivocal “yes.” We have enjoyed using many (over 15 at last count) of Wendy’s TTEs over the years but this experience has to rate at or close to the top of our “trips of a lifetime.” Thank you Wendy and team.
Scott listened to our interests and the items we wished to downplay or avoid. He quickly outlined a fabulous 4 week itinerary that enabled us to experience many of the highlights in Japan. Expensive? Yes, but worth every cent. Scott booked us into excellent hotels situated in outstanding locations. He secured a wonderful guide (Emiko Sakaoka) who ensured we saw and did everything worth doing. She answered our questions which helped us to learn a great deal about the Japanese culture. While we aren’t fans of sushi we managed to eat very well. Every restaurant recommendation recognized our food interests and the special birthday dinner for Linda was a real treat.
We are grateful to Philip (the firm’s co-founder and located in Japan) for altering our itinerary to avoid the impact of Typhoon Hagibis. As the storm shut down the Tokyo airport and headed north Philip quickly and seamlessly arranged for us to travel south via the train. Alternate accommodations were excellent and the touring continued without skipping a beat.
As for trip highlights there are many. They include the friendly & interesting people we met, the exciting food markets we toured, the beautiful parks &/gardens we walked through, the huge castles we toured, the inspiring temples & shrines we visited, the many and varied museums we saw, the efficient transportation system we used, the peacefulness of a stay in a ryokan or a Buddhist Temple we experienced. Yes, we loved the private dinner with the geishas, the private tour and/discussion with the multi-generational lacquerware owner and the kimono maker, a private origami-making session, the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery Tour, the Mt. Koya cemetery walk/experience and the Sumo practice session. However, our lasting memory will be of the marvelous and unusual Japanese culture and the gracious people we met.
Our thanks to Scott, Philip, Miho, Emiko and the many folks behind the scenes who made our memorable trip possible….Linda & Joe Rothman – Stamford, Ct.
Danube River cruise, orchestrated by Tom Baker
ANNETTE STANFORD | NOVEMBER 1, 2019
We decided to plan a river cruise for our 30th anniversary. I read so many great reviews of Wendy and her WOW team, so I decided to reach out for planning help. We were NOT disappointed! Tom Baker and Ian Lazarus did an outstanding job guiding us and planning our cruise on Viking down the Danube. This was our first river cruise, but will definitely not be our last.
The cruise was an amazing experience, but we also decided to spend additional time in Budapest before the cruise, and in Prague after the cruise. Tom encouraged us to do this because these two cities require additional touring time. And he was right! Tom recommended two fabulous hotels in Budapest and Prague. He also set up personal tour guides in each city. Both guides were knowledgeable and a joy to spend time with, exploring their beloved cities.
We have planned trips on our own, but the service Tom and Ian provided far exceeded any planning we could have accomplished. A big thanks, and we look forward to planning more cruises with you.
Brazil, orchestrated by Martin Frankenberg
AMY EVERS | OCTOBER 30, 2019
Our trip to Brazil was fantastic! Martin, Charline & their team did an incredible job putting it all together and making it run smoothly. Miraculously, even all of our flights went on time for the entire trip! Our goal for the trip was wildlife focused with some adventure as well. They came through! We really, really wanted to see jaguars and we didn’t want to be one of many boats watching them on the side of a river! Martin’s suggestion to stay at Caiman Ecological Refuge and spend 3 days with the Oncafari team was spot on! It was everything we’d hoped…jaguars! We actually saw 8 different jaguars and some of them we saw more than once. The wildlife viewing in the Pantanal in general was incredible! We saw way too many birds to count. We saw tapirs, many capybara, lots of caiman, and many other animals. The only thing we didn’t see was an anteater, which our driver to the airport in Campo Grande helped us with the last morning, when we saw several! This amazing experience happened even though there was a massive fire on the Caiman property just a few weeks before. We were moved to a different accommodation but everything was great. Our guide, Joao and driver, Chipa were fun, informative, and excellent at spotting animals! We also visited an under the radar place called Bonito where we enjoyed wildlife with snorkeling in the crystal clear water amongst the many fish and visited the macaw hole where I was on a mission to get the perfect shot. We also had some real adventure by repelling 72 meters into a cave and SCUBA diving to see the giant columns- so much fun! We ate great food and were well cared for by Marcos, who was also a wealth of knowledge. With the help of Marcos, Marc even discovered the local craft beer scene which he loved. Wow… Iguassu Falls! We had so much fun and what surprises! We had a WOW moment from Wendy here, a helicopter ride over the falls! This was fabulous not only because getting a bird’s eye view over Iguassu Falls is incredible, but also because it was our first time in a helicopter! What a treat! Seeing the falls by foot on both the Argentinian and Brazilian side was also beautiful. Who knew one could see something from so many vantage points. We are so glad we stuck with Martin’s suggestion of staying at the Belmond because if we didn’t we wouldn’t have been able to see the Brazilian side before the park opened which allowed us to see it practically alone. This was significant because there are massive numbers of tourists at this site. One of the evenings we had a surprise Cachaca tasting from Martin’s team. I was hesitant because I’m not one who can typically “taste” hard alcohol, but this was really good and so informative. Marc and I each had a different favorite. We loved it and of course we brought some home! Alex was an amazing guide! Yet again, we were so well cared for and he was also a wealth of knowledge! We were also able to get a late check out at the Belmond, which was very convenient! Though we organized our time in Rio on our own, Martin’s staff took care of our transfers and chose our hotel. I was hoping to save some money here so requested down grades in the hotel. The chosen hotel was not on the beach, which we didn’t care about, but instead had a spectacular view of Sugar Loaf from our room! Our stay in the Amazon was very relaxing! We learned a lot about this important ecosystem. We saw quite a lot of pink dolphins as well as a few giant otters! The plane ride back to Manaus was worth it to see the meeting of the waters! In Manaus we had a short time with another excellent guide to see a few sites. Martin’s staff also made dinner reservations at an amazing restaurant here before our departure home. All in all, this was one of the smoothest run trips we’ve ever been on. No doubt some of this was luck, but clearly Martin did his job and did it very well! We would without question, use them again and recommend them to others.
Central Europe, orchestrated by Gwen Kozlowski
PAT HUGGINS | OCTOBER 30, 2019
My husband and I recently traveled to Prague, Austria, and southern Germany for 24 days using the services of Gwen Kozlowski and Exeter International. I reached out to Gwen over a year before we planned to go after winning an auction for a short stay at a Munich hotel. We used that as a starting point. After extensive email interaction we got to know each other well enough to really nail the itinerary and come up with a wonderful experience.
Part of the excitement of any trip I take comes from reading and learning about the places I intend to visit. With a year of potential planning time I came up with quite a dream list. It included renown museums and historic sites, but also alpine trails we wanted to hike and restaurants we wanted to dine at. Gwen had her own list of special activities, led by guides with unique knowledge, to add to the mix. Some sounded very familiar – a Food Tour or Wine Tour. I admit to being reluctant to spend time on these since we have taken dozens of such tours. She assured me they were special, tailored to our particular interests, and encouraged me to give them a try. They turned out to be some of our most memorable activities. We really learned invaluable information that helped navigate restaurant menus and wine lists throughout our trip.
All of the private guides we used were outstanding. Without exception they were knowledgeable, friendly, punctual and flexible, answering all of our questions and providing local insight into the places we visited. I most likely would never have found them without working with Gwen. Her professional relationship with these guides, the transfer/driving companies, and local support people was the significant difference from any trip I planned on my own. The logistics were flawless and the management of our time, having full days but not overwhelming ones, very much was due to her assistance. I also appreciated Exeter’s ability to expedite access to several venues.
You asked to comment on any local support we had while traveling. Because of bad weather we at one point considered changing hotels and reworking the itinerary. The local Exeter representatives helped run the numbers and provide alternatives. In addition, my husband needed a quick trip to a local ear, nose, and throat doctor. Our guide helped negotiate everything and he was able to enjoy the following days. This medical visit would have been much more difficult on our own.
One more general thought – I have used several of your recommended specialists. Gwen was one of the easiest to work with. She gave me choices among hotels including a range of styles and price points. I consider us to be pretty independent when traveling. We have lived both in Europe and Asia. We often chose to use public transportation and eliminate a private car and driver to hold down costs. She was fine with this. I appreciated her flexibility and willingness to accommodate.
Indonesia, orchestrated by Diane Embree
MARTHA LAZARAKIS | OCTOBER 27, 2019
Diane found us a wonderful guide (Ngoorah) and driver (Agus) to usher us around the island of Bali. Our week included a small village where we visited a family temple and compound, and listened to a musical performance by the village’s traditional Gamelan orchestra. We were even able to play the instruments with the musicians, and try the dancing. It was a unique invitation into their community. We also enjoyed a cooking lesson in a traditional outdoor kitchen, cooking over an open fire, where we prepared a lavish lunch. Our accommodations were at resorts which embraced the Balinese culture and design and included outstanding food, full service spas, and incredible service.
Spain and Portugal, orchestrated by Virginia Irurita
JOE LYLE | OCTOBER 27, 2019
Virginia’s team organized a great introduction to the Iberian Peninsula for my wife and I. In three weeks we visited Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, and Granada in Spain, then Evora, Lisbon, Sintra, Estoril, Obidos and Porto in Portugal. After Porto, we went to La Rioja wine region, then Barcelona and back to Madrid. There was a lot to see and do, but we never felt rushed. With the exception of Estoril, we were able to stay three nights per hotel to limit hotel hopping. All the guides were knowledgable, helpful, concerned and fun people to be with for several hours. The drivers were also excellent and good company. All transfers and in-county travel (by car, train and plane) went smoothly as planned. We liked all the hotels except one, but thanks to Paloma in Customer Care, we were able to quickly change to another, much better, hotel the same day. Also, thanks to Paloma for the last minute difficulties with some of the restaurant reservations (which apparently were caused by the restaurants).
As I mentioned, all the guides were great and knowledgeable, but two experiences really stood out for us. On the first night our guide provided a tapas experience, hopping from tapas bar to tapas bar to taste the best tapas, wine and vermouth that Madrid has to offer. We were made to feel like locals out on a night. The other experience was seeing Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in the late afternoon. Our guide knew exactly when to take us when the light helped to make the Sagrada Familia truly awe-inspiring.
Romania, orchestrated by Raluca Spiac
DAVID LUSIGNAN | OCTOBER 24, 2019
Raluca and her team gave us invaluable assistance in the development of our 2 week trip to visit 3 regions of Romania…Bucovina, Maramures and Transylvania. Our objective was to see the beautiful country-side, visit small villages/medieval towns and meet/engage with the local people and their daily life/customs. Raluca was always responsive and worked collaboratively and patiently with us to iterate a final itinerary that met these desires and the trip did not disappoint! Our stay in 3 small village guest houses provided direct interaction with the owner families over home cooked(and delicious) breakfasts and dinners; the boutique hotels recommended in the old towns of Cluj, Sibiu and Brasov provided exemplary service and gave us quick and direct access to the historic centers(and, again, delicious breakfasts!). Our guide/driver for the entire trip(Ilona) was terrific! Ilona was pleasant always and patient as we juggled each day’s travel; and her extensive knowledge of Romanian history coupled with her art history background provided excellent insights to all we did. Ilona had also cultivated personal relationships with many of the people we met throughout our journey which greatly enhanced our experiences These people were genuinely pleased to see her and meet us. We had our WOW moment on this trip as well. An after hours visit with private guide of Bran Castle with access to the tower was superb…..no crowds, no rush, unlimited photo opportunities and personal attention from an excellent guide. Raluca’s team produced 2 other surprises as well. They were able to arrange access for us to William Blacker’s Transylvanian village house which is not open to tourists. William left the UK and spent several years living in this village in the late 1990s with a local family which he chronicled in his book “Along the Enchanted Way”. Since we had read his book before we left, this was a special connection for us. They also arranged a birthday surprise for me while we were in the village of Breb…. our dinner host baked me a cake and, with her niece/nephew dressed in traditional garb, sang me happy birthday. Thoughtful and special. So a 5 out of 5 for Raluca and her team from planning, to delivery, to choice of guide and accommodations!
Italy, orchestrated by Andrea Grisdale
CARRIE HADDEN | OCTOBER 23, 2019
the packet we were so pleased with the itinerary, but we had no idea how perfect the trip would become. Every driver and guide were so professional yet personable and were on time. They all mention Andrea’s team and you could tell the respect that they hold in the area.
We had two standout experiences. The first being an entire day on the sea to cruise the Amalfi coast. We did not know what to expect when we went to the wharf, there were so many tour boats. We were a little confused when a very large beautiful yacht pulled up. I was joking with my husband and told him that would be amazing, my husband said you should have seen your face when they held up a sign with our name on it. Captain Beni and his hand Salvatori gave us an experience we will never forget. We stopped at a restaurant high above sea only accessible by boat and had a delicious meal with great staff. Perfect day!
The second amazing experience was with our driver taking us from Positano to Ravello. We had a 3 hour stopover in the town of Amalfi but it was grey drizzly day and he asked us if we would rather go to his friend’s winery. The owner gave a very personal tour and the joined us for lunch that his wife had prepared. It was so unexpected and right out of a romance movie.
Her staff was right on top of things. We needed to change the dated of our Rome guide (my error) and they worked hard to accommodate us. We loved the hotel in Rome.
They stuck to our budget. That being said we did not like our hotel Villa Marie in Ravello and wish we could of upgraded to nicer hotel but the view was amazing. They also let people know that it was our 40th wedding anniversary and we were greeted with Prosecco at the Palazzo Murat. This was the best and most detailed trip we have taken using your WOW list.
That you very much.
Transatlantic cruise, orchestrated by Mary Jean Tully
DIANA PUSCH | OCTOBER 16, 2019
1. Preplanning was fabulous. We worked with teleconferences to include other travelers, their (outstanding) land specialist Ralph & cruise specialist Cheri.
2. We did have a tour guide problem which we worked to solve as it was an immediate issue (a substituted tour guide in Germany spoke Spanish, so we used my daughter as translator that day). Ralph was on it when we notified him, and he was proactive in making sure remaining destinations were well coordinated & had no problems.
3. Cheri did an outstanding job with our cruise rooms, meeting the individual needs of each traveler. I brag about her work and have recommended her to my friends looking to create a cruise experience.
4. This team was responsive to each of our questions, desires in the trip, provided outstanding local tour guides who enhanced our knowledge & enjoyment of each city and were a pleasure to work with.
Portugal and Spain, orchestrated by Gonçalo Correia
LEN AND CINDY BOGORAD | OCTOBER 10, 2019
Gonçalo Correia and Joana Silva planned and executed a fabulous trip for us to central and northern Portugal, along with Santiago de Compostela and Salamanca in NW Spain. They listened carefully to what we were interested in, taking account of our previous travels in Portugal and Spain. For example, when Gonçalo heard that we were interested in prehistoric art, he suggested that we visit the Coa Valley, accompanied on a private tour conducted by a fascinating archeologist, which turned out to be a highlight of the trip.
Each of the private guides that Gonçalo and Silva arranged for eight tours (in the Coa Valley, in each of the cities we visited, and on Madeira) was fabulous. This contributed tremendously to the success of the trip. It was great to have the full attention of each of the guides, given all of the questions that we have, and because of health constraints one of us had (walking up stairs or steep slopes was very difficult) it was invaluable to have guides who were totally flexible about adapting the itineraries and pace appropriately.
The hotels Gonçalo and Joana selected for us were excellent, and in particular were interesting in their own ways. Hotel breakfasts were wonderful throughout.
South Africa, orchestrated by Nina Wennersten and Dan Saperstein
ROBIN & JOEL GLOBUS | OCTOBER 2, 2019
We wanted this trip to be special as it was our 70th Birthdays. We wanted it to be “a trip of a lifetime”. Nina and Dan far exceeded our expectations in South Africa.
Nina and Dan planned our trip after discussing what we would like to see and do. We wanted to go to Cape Town and a safari to see Leopards and hopefully the Big Five.
It’s difficult to put into words how fantastic our trip was. We had asked for a special room at The Silo hotel and they made sure we got it! The two Safari camps also exceeded our expectations.
The people at all of the places we went were so fabulous. We were hugged and fussed over and made to feel so at home at all three accommodations. We did see all of the animals and witnessed a lion kill which was extremely rare. The guides and trackers that we spent 6 hours a day with are now friends. They were amazing as well. We will have these wonderful memories for our lifetime and yes, it was “a trip of a lifetime ” thanks to Nina and Dan and Wendy Perrin’s Wow list.
Barge cruise, orchestrated by Ellen Sack
KIMBERLY PRATER | SEPTEMBER 30, 2019
Ellen and Lori helped our group pick the ideal barge for our group- The Gran Cru. This phenomenal barge is only in its second season, has a fantastic staff that works well together and created a very convivial atmosphere- as well as lots of wonderful food and wine. A Gran Cru wine and 3 cheeses were served at every meal and Chef Joe was outstanding. In addition to cooking our meals, he held a couple of cooking classes for us. Boat manager, guide and wine expert Anna- superb! Without the input of Ellen and Lori we likely would have chosen another barge and not had the same experience.
I also appreciated the heads up from Ellen that because of no rain, we would not be on canals but rather on the Saône. In reality it mattered little as our itinerary remained the same and the scenery remained beautiful. This is our second barge trip through Ellen and I will use her again for future trips.
British Columbia, orchestrated by Marc Telio
JIM VAHEY | SEPTEMBER 30, 2019
We wanted a vacation with a focus on the outdoors. We came across a number of interesting options in British Columbia and contacted Marc to help us sort it out. Marc personally gave us much time helping us plan our trip to British Columbia. He provided thoughtful advice on the pros and cons of the various lodges and resorts we were interested in and worked to keep us within our budget. Marc and his staff remained in touch with us before we had left and during our trip: answering questions, making additional reservations and handling glitches as they arose. Marc and his staff’s advice was spot on and we had a fantastic time.
Malta, orchestrated by Jason and Damon Camilleri Allan
KATHERINE MONTGOMERY | SEPTEMBER 28, 2019
Jason and Damon made our trip extraordinary!!!! Every tour and recommendation was beyond our expectations… we had a fabulous day cooking with Chef George Borg in Gozo, private palace tours with warm and welcoming royalty, delicious meals and knowledge, personable guides!
Our WOW Moment was a private tour of St Johns Cathedral…… breathtaking decor and up close viewing of the Caravaggios! Every detail was perfect and we were treated like VIPs. I can not recommend them highly enough!! Delightful to deal with!! Can’t wait to return!
Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, orchestrated by Jill Curran
SONJA & BRIAN HAGGERT | SEPTEMBER 20, 2019
I’m not sure I even know where to start telling you about Jill Curran. She planned a fabulous trip, taking our likes into consideration and even including some daring adventures that we absolutely loved. We were in the Canadian Maritimes during Hurricane Dorian, which landed on their shores. She called us on a Friday night to check on us and had made arrangements for us to stay in our hotel if we didn’t want to risk heading out to our next destination, This was indicative of the entire trip. She was always there, checking up on us and our itinerary without being overbearing. We knew we were well taken care of right from the start.
There are so many great parts of the trip to point out-Wofville and eating at Le Caveau. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten Brant Beef. Staying at a Distillery (Glenmore) and meeting Jill’s other travelers, having dinner overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Panorama at the Cabot Links Golf Course. Of course the piece-de-resistance was our WOW Moment. Jill recommended The Inn at Bay Fortune as a dining EXPERIENCE and it truly was. A farmer who regaled us with their farm and some of what we would be eating, a feast of oysters (my husband LOVES oysters and a meal that lasted the entire evening. Everything was cooked over an open flame and it was terrific! Wendy was kind enough to make this unbelievable meal our WOW Moment. Little did she know there would be another WOW Moment the next morning when we met the Chef, Michael Smith, carving up a 322 pound tuna in the kitchen.
You will not find a more caring, lovely person to deal with on a trip. We are looking forward to having her plan another trip, probably to her home province of Newfoundland so we can meet.
Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, orchestrated by Zulya Rajabova
SHARON NATHAN | SEPTEMBER 9, 2019
Zulya was with me every step of the way in planning my trip and her sister Dilia in Bukhara was there with me once I arrived in the Stans. I consider guides the most important part of any trip because I am even more interested in life in the places I visit than I am in the sights, and Zulya found me great ones in both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Not only did they speak excellent English and know all about the monuments we visited; they were also open about their own experiences. Certainly the highlight of the trip was attending a family wedding in Bukhara; the openness and generosity of Zulya’s family was above and beyond.
England, orchestrated by Jane and Philip McCrum
AMY KALES | AUGUST 31, 2019
Philip is a good listener. The itinerary he planned for my husband, Arthur, and me who are opera lovers and history buffs in Edinburgh, the Highlands and London filled our hearts’ delight.
The centerpiece of our trip was a performance of Rusalka at the Glyndebourne Opera festival. Philip was able to procure the best seats, train tickets to Lewes and a dinner reservation, which despite the rain, made the evening easy and memorable. He also reserved excellent seats at plays and concerts of our choice at the Edinburgh International Festival as well as the Royal Tattoo. We could not have enjoyed ourselves more.
Philip also planned a sightseeing itinerary which focused on Churchill and World War II. All of our guides , who were Blue Badge guides, were knowledgeable and personable. We spent two memorable days with Mark King discovering the Churchill and the Imperial War Museums. A highlight was the privately guided tour of the Churchill War Rooms before opening hours arranged by Philip. In addition, Mark took us on a tour of the historic East End where he the shared experiences of Jewish and other immigrants to the area as well as his parents during World War II. We could not have asked for a more in depth program.
Arthur and I can recommend Phillip to anyone visiting the U.K. The hotels he chose, the guides he selected and the itinerary, which took our interests into account, was excellent. We plan to use another travel specialist on Wendy’s WOW list for our next trip
Pacific Northwest, orchestrated by Sheri Doyle
SHARON STENSON | AUGUST 12, 2019
Sheri did a great job helping us plan our recent trip to The San Juan Islands! She gave us some great options on places to stay and had a lot of “insider knowledge” on things like the ferry schedules and a local annual chamber music production that happened to be going on while we were on Orcas that were very helpful. She had great recommendations for all the things we told her we wanted to do: which included hiking, kayaking, e-bike riding on Lopez and whale watching. The outfit she recommended on San Juan Island for whale watching was fabulous! We were on a boat with only 15 people, two really good naturalists and they took us out on a beautiful early evening to see lots of birds and track an orca pod as the sun went down in a spectacular setting out among the islands! She even helped me find a local photographer to take some pictures when our son got engaged during the trip! I would highly recommend Sheri if you’re planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest.
Spain, orchestrated by Pablo Calvo
AMANDA MANDEL | JULY 24, 2019
Pablo was very responsive and flexible during the process of planning our trip. He listened well to what we wanted (an adult trip with lots of time to wander on our own), and booked us a lovely small hotel in Barcelona (The Mercer) and at the amazing Torrent del Mas in Costa Brava. All logistics went very smoothly, and Pablo was quick to answer the few questions we had during our trip. They gave us good restaurant choices in Barcelona (Bar Canete is a must go) and in Costa Brava (Pais del Mas). We can’t say enough positive things about Costa Brava – gorgeous beaches and farmland, amazing meals everywhere, not overly touristy…and Torrent del Mas was one of the most beautiful hotels we have been to. It was a bit challenging to leave each day to go sightseeing! We would go back to these parts of Spain in a heartbeat, and would definitely recommend Pablo as a travel planner.
Turkey, orchestrated by Karen Fedorko Sefer
LEE SAMUELS | JUNE 25, 2019
Beginning with the Istanbul-based tour managers, Ugur, Merve, Ekin and, of course, Karen Fedeorko Sefer, and extending to our professional guide, Esin, our excellent driver, and our evening “chaperone,” Mary, Karen’s group provided a carefully planned and flexible custom itinerary. I found the staff was prompt in returning emails and I received exemplary advice. Their arranged services were fairly priced and included a centrally located boutique hotel (House Hotel Karakoy) and cutting edge restaurants (must go-to: Mikla Restaurant). Representatives readily made themselves available during the initial travel planning phase, our arrival into Istanbul International Airport, tour throughout Istanbul and our departure from Turkey. Arrival and departure customs, passport and luggage handling were expedited at the new Istanbul International Airport via the company’s arranged transfer service.
For us, the face of Karen’s team was our professional guide, driver and other assigned attendants. At no time did we ever feel endangered (although Istanbul drivers and pedestrians should be “commended” for synchronized on-road gymnastics/ choreography). Esin is a gem: an incredible asset/representative for both Karen and Turkey. At once, a valuable resource and fount of insider information and worldly anecdotes, she always maintained a vital, kind, warm and very human (sincere and humanistic) side that she freely exhibited. Esin is so very passionate about Istanbul and its citizens, the attractions visited, its present, past and future. As a world traveler, I felt as though I experienced cosmopolitan Istanbul on an intimate human scale coming away with an appreciation for its history, culture, and, most of all, its people. As a former high school art instructor, I was beyond thrilled when Esin arranged a most special one-on-one meeting with internationally renowned Turkish artist, Ms. Gulay Semercioglu whose artworks have been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC). This would not have been possible without Esin as our guide. I am eternally grateful.
Thank you for creating a journey of a lifetime.
Italy and Greece, orchestrated by Jill Taylor
PAUL MYERS | JUNE 24, 2019
My wife, my 13-year-old daughter and I just returned from 16 days in Italy and Greece. We had a wonderful trip. Jill, our travel specialist, picked the perfect hotels for us, lined up the best local tour guides and coordinated a good mix of sightseeing and down time. We were blown away that she thought of every detail. We were greeted at every transfer location by a nicely dressed, English-speaking professional who helped us with baggage, navigating customs and transfer to our next destination. Jill was patient with all my questions, which were many, and she knew each destination because she had personally visited each location. She, and her colleague, Peter, made sure we were able to relax and enjoy. (They even gave me a great tip on the best shoes to wear while touring Rome – Allbirds. So helpful!)
If we could have done anything different, I would have taken Jill’s advice and only visited one country this trip. She warned me that the additional travel to go from one country to another would take time away from relaxing. She was more than right! I will heed that advice going forward!
All-in-all, it was a wonderful trip in large measure because of Jill and Peter’s careful planning and thoughtful itinerary design!
Thank you, Jill and thank you, Peter!
Alaska, orchestrated by Judith Root
HENRY SOSINSKI | JUNE 19, 2019
We were put in contact with Judith Root via Wendy Perrin. We travel quite a bit and with a few exceptions have always did our own itinerary planning. We know that there are travel agents and then there are travel experts. Judith is a travel expert specifically for Alaska. You can buy a nice package deal off of a travel agent, get a cruise, take some side tours and perhaps and extension to Anchorage, Katmai, Talkeetna, Denali or Fairbanks. You will see a lot of great places, but you will be part of a crowd. We wanted to see what a travel expert would do to customize a trip to meet our desires. Our main objective was to see one of the wildest areas of North America, the back country of Denali National Park and Preserve. There are very few travel agent packages that take you this deep.
A travel expert like Judith (and her associate, Andrea Clarke) will book you in place that is off the grid, 92 miles inside Denali in the only back country lodge permitted to conduct guided hikes within the Park and Preserve. Despite the location, this lodge is a first class operation. They will connect you with a knowledgeable local guide in Fairbanks and a behind the scenes tour with a native Alaskan. They will note your love of birding and will set up a first rate guide in Talkeetna for a relaxing day in nature at your own pace.
We usually do our own driving, but Judith convinced us to try the Alaska Railroad Goldstar Service between Fairbanks, Denali Park, Talkeetna and Anchorage. Good move, with wonderful travel on each leg of the trip. The views from the train were spectacular and meeting other train travelers was a fascinating experience.
Judith’s itinerary was very detailed, covering all accommodations transfers, transportation, included meals, guides, projected gratuity costs, packing lists and reading lists. It was readable and thorough. We had one potentially major problem at a critical point on our trip. Judith and her team were just a phone call away and were very responsive to meeting our needs. It was nice to have them there for support.
Warning: Alaska is expensive. Judith will provide a first class experience of a life time. Only about 30% of the people visiting Denali get to see “The Great One”. Judith, Andrea and the rest of the team gave us an excellent shot of seeing the highest mountain in North America. We succeeded and now are part of the lucky 30%.
France, orchestrated by Michael Eloy and Alex Zlinski
CHRISTINA NESTER | JUNE 12, 2019
Our trip of a lifetime to France and to attend the 75th Commemoration of D-Day was a spectacular, mind-blowing experience and one we will never forget. Jack and Michael’s team designed an outstanding travel itinerary that met every request we made for our trip and then went beyond.
First, the places we stayed in Paris and Normandy were exceptional. The hotels in Paris, the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal and the Hotel Relais Christine were beautiful, well located and very welcoming. Our very favorite was a charming find, Les Lilas de Bellefontaine. A charming B&B located in Bayeaux. The owners, Catherine and Serge were so very welcoming, gracious and generous that it was hard to leave because they became family.
The guides arranged for us in Paris, and Normandy were so valuable to showing us around and maximizing our experience with their incredible knowledge and insights that brought every experience more life and color. Caroline is a treasure and felt like family when she saw us off to Honfleur. Damien showed us a wonderful time as we sampled Camembert cheese and Calvedos wines. The true highlight was Vanessa and Geert who toured us the landing beaches, especially Omaha Beach. Gerrt took the time to add his research of my father’s movements on June 6th, 1944 adding color and dimension to the facts.
I want to add that we were not notified until June 5th that we had tickets to attend the 75th Commemoration and I emailed Marcello and a driver was arranged with a pick up time to get us to the shuttle pick up area the very next morning.
Jack, Michael and Marcello, listened to what we wanted from the trip, listened to our feedback as the trip took form and went well beyond our expectations to create a purely magical and moving experience that we will never forget. Gratitude beyond measure to them. And thank you for the flower to welcome us home. Gratitude and respect to each of you for creating a trip of a lifetime.
South Africa and Botswana, orchestrated by Julian Harrison
PAM GRANGE | APRIL 18, 2019
Julian set up the most amazing trip for us! He listened to what I wanted and the amount I wanted to pay and set everything up perfectly. He even gave me the best advice as to when to go. March was perfect!
Botswana, especially, was the place of my dreams. The camps (Tau Pan, Splash, and Lagoon) exceeded all my expectations and there were no hiccups along the way. Everything was perfect.
At Tau Pan, Dimbo (guide) and P.K. (tracker) were unbelievable! We even saw a leopard and a very rare wild cat! We also loved the walking tour the last day where P.K. showed us a small hut and how they built fires at home.
At Splash, Dave (guide) and K.B. (scout) were more than amazing! They followed lion tracks forever and we got to see 10 lions in one day – two males and then two lionesses with six cubs. Also lots of wild dogs!
I can’t even begin to describe how much we learned about the country, the animals. The “tents” and the meals (6 a day!) were fabulous. Best trip EVER!
If I’m ever lucky enough to go back to Botswana, I’d call Julian in a heartbeat. Thank you for giving me the trip of a lifetime!
Panama, orchestrated by Eric Sheets
ROBERT KOENIG | FEBRUARY 25, 2019
We hired Eric’s team to plan a custom two week trip to Panama. Nils listened to us and drafted an itinerary that met our expectations exactly. We are a senior couple so we tailored the trip to be a relaxing visit and according the activities at a moderate pace. All the local providers performed well. The trip was 6 nights in Panama City, 4 nights in Boquete, and 3 nights in El Otro Lado Portobelo.
Some very positives – we had the same guide for all our 6 days of activities in Panama City and it worked because of the familiarity, since our activities were different it did not overlap and the familiarity made it more relaxing for us, more like traveling with a friend. The average time for driver arrival during the trip was 10-15 min early, the latest (one time) exactly on time.
Every one we dealt with — guides drivers hotel personnel — were engaging. Panama likes tourists and the way our trip was planned we never felt we were crowded or rushed.
We did have a specific in-Panama contact number but had no need to call because the trip executed exactly as planned. That’s what you expect from a travel planner, everything planned perfectly in advance so that on the trip it just executes flawlessly. We did send back some pictures during the trip and always got a quick response from Nils and Filomena. You could tell they care that their clients enjoy their trip. Also they worked with us to help with our budget given Paquita is a native Spanish speaker.
In Panama certain activities are best on certain days of the week and Eric’s team knew that and the planning worked. Also they steered us clear of the Pope’s visit (our timing was flexible) and that was great because we would not have enjoyed being in Panama during that time.
We saw the canal 4 different ways… Viewed from our walk to the top of Alcon Hill. Half day transit thru the Miraflores locks on a “ferry” not overcrowded and you could almost touch the side of the wall. On a private nature boat in Gatun Lake in the middle of the canal — we were right next to wildlife looking at the cruise ships in the center of the lake. And the Agua Clara locks on the Caribbean side where we watched a supertanker pass thru the new locks.
This trip was so much more up close and personal than sitting on the deck of a cruise ship and I’d totally recommend seeing Panama at ground level. We really did have a great time.
Nils and Filomena (his detail planner) were in tune with what we wanted and we would use them again in a region they specialize in. All our expectations were met we were completely satisfied with their performance.
Brazil, orchestrated by Paul Irvine
PAM AND JERRY SMYTH | FEBRUARY 9, 2019
Paul is outstanding from first contact to final post-trip communication. Rarely have we had less need to revise what an agent proposed for our travel. Paul listened carefully to what my wife and I enjoy in travel, and planned the perfect blend of big city (BA), including two outstanding guides, wine country with two guided private bodega experiences, private terrace dinners in the shadows of the Andes mountains, then complete relaxation in eastern Uruguay with its endless beaches, world-class gastronomy, private winery tour with the head sommelier, dinners at the top locations… Paul updated our itinerary for some dinner enhancements, communicated every step of our trip, answered various questions en route (tipping protocol, e.g.), and really made our entire experience exceptional. NOTHING was missed. Paul is the consummate pro. We will return to South America many more times, but only if and where Paul can provide his comprehensive service.
Costa Rica, orchestrated by Irene Edwards
PHYLLIS BOSSIN | JANUARY 27, 2019
Irene Edwards and her team were fantastic. First of all, the itinerary was perfect. We loved all three places we stayed and we had the right amount of time in each. I am certain that we would never have found the Kura Villas on our own. This might be the most beautiful place I have ever been, rivaling the Il San Pietro in Positano. Just gorgeous. In terms of during the trip, the people on the ground were wonderful. All of the guides and drivers were friendly, really nice and very knowledgeable. Everybody was perfectly on time and extremely accommodating. Most important, we realized that we had left our camera battery charger and spare batteries at home and the battery in the camera was dead. Before we realized that we could charge it on a mini SB port, we contacted Selena Solis and she was incredible about contacting camera shops to find a replacement charger and battery and was going to deliver it to us at the airport and, if we didn’t connect there, to send it on the next flight to Osa. We were very relieved to realize that we didn’t have to put her to all of that trouble but she was completely on top of it and was going to make it happen. We were very impressed. I would definitely use Irene and her team for our next trip to Costa Rica.
India, orchestrated by Sanjay Saxena
MILINDA MARTIN | JANUARY 12, 2019
This is my third WOW trip specialist — Egypt and Turkey before, and this time India. Sanjay Saxena did an excellent job of listening to what we wanted in a trip, and customized our itinerary for our specific needs, including some out-of-the-box ideas like going zip-lining around the Red Fort in Jodhpur, getting henna tattoos, and going to a Bollywood movie. Everything was well-run once we were in India, and we felt 100% supported. India isn’t the easiest country to visit, but Sanjay ensured we saw the highlights; everything was beautifully arranged and the trip was magical. The guides were outstanding.
Mongolia, orchestrated by Jalsa Urubshurow
DEVAN ULLMAN | JANUARY 6, 2019
I can’t imagine using anyone else to plan such an amazing trip to Mongolia. We booked our trip so last minute and in no way did Nikhita make us feel bad for all the extra work we probably made them do. It was if they planned the most perfect trip at the snap of a finger. If you are looking to plan a trip extremely last minute without any type of headache and all the help you could ever want/need then Jalsa’s team is your go to. It was one for the books. The Gobi desert was by far the most memorable and I have no idea how we would’ve gotten from point A to B without our amazing driver. Another amazing memory that they surprised us with was the dinner at the Flaming Cliffs. Our guide, Undrakh, told us we were going to hike a little further and to our surprise as we turned the corner there was the most beautiful dinner set up to watch the sunset on the Flaming Cliffs. The weather is extreme and unpredictable so it was so nice to have an experienced and knowledgable guide switch our itinerary around if necessary. Even with snow one day and t-shirt weather the next, everything went flawlessly and it was the most relaxing vacation. We would do the trip all over again with our entire family because we can’t think of a more ideal vacation than our trip to Mongolia.
Austria and northern Italy, orchestrated by Claudia Schwenger
SHERRI JOHNSON | NOVEMBER 3, 2018
When I reached out to Claudia and Mirium to help plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip for my Mother, I had high expectations. Not only did they knock it out of the park, but they made this trip to Austria and northern Italy truly a lifetime memory for which we will always be grateful. The hotels were hand-picked and exceptional, the guides were knowledgeable and personable, and the activities were well-timed and exactly what we asked for. We were working with specific cruise dates and were looking for a 10-day pre-cruise trip that would give us mountains, water, beautiful scenery and culture in destinations that were easy to get around. When I contacted them two weeks prior to the departure to let them know that Mom had a medical issue that could limit some of her mobility, they were immediately responsive. They discretely shared this information with the guides such that they were able to route the day trips and tours for routes requiring less walking without sacrificing the original itinerary and plan (and without Mom knowing!). The hotel in Lago d’Iseo was a hidden gem, literally. The apple strudel cooking class in Salzburg was super fun and engaging. The Piglet they provided was a thoroughly detailed day to day guide that covered every potential question. Mom is still smiling from ear to ear and already talking about planning her next adventure. I cannot say enough great things about Claudia and her team and would hire them again. Not only because they are clearly experts in this region, but because they cared about our experience from the minute I sent them the email to initiate the trip to the minute Mom returned home where she found a beautiful floral arrangement thanking her for letting them be part of her trip. 10-star service every step of the way.
South Pacific cruise, orchestrated by Meg Austin
BONNIE RASKIN | JANUARY 2, 2018
I have worked with travel agents and travel specialists throughout my adult life on trips spanning several continents and complicated itineraries. In short, Meg Austin is THE best in every aspect of planning a trip from start to finish. I’m not sure if I’d be classified as “high maintenance”—you’d have to ask Meg that—but I ask a lot of questions and require a lot of information and guidance in every step of planning a BIG trip like the one my husband, daughter and myself planned through Meg. It was our first cruise and Meg guided me through every aspect patiently and expertly. Meg knew exactly which cabins to book for us, which flights to put us on, when and how to reserve our excursions and dining options so there would be no FOMO. Meg is incredibly well connected with insiders, so she was able to pull strings to get us everything SHE wanted us to have in our tour package—items I didn’t even know to ask for, but thank goodness Meg did. She handled me with humor, grace, zip-quick responses, and was always one step ahead of me.
It will take a long time to fully process and digest the breathtaking beauty of Tahiti, the graciousness of its people—including every crew member on the Paul Gauguin—and how perfectly Meg took care of my family through every step. This was a trip of a lifetime, and it’s going to take a lot to top this week.
No hitches or hiccups at all, anytime, period. Once onboard the ship, I followed Meg’s guidelines to a tee and booked our dinner, diving, and excursion reservations—which were all about timing, as the ship was fully booked. No problem for us—we had Meg Austin as our travel guru.
Meg could not have picked out a better cabin for us and our daughter. It was everything she said it would be—fantastic location for viewing breathtaking scenery, and the cabin amenities were wonderful. Cabin service twice daily! Fresh towels and stocked refrigerator throughout the day!
The food throughout the cruise was only exceeded by the professionalism and warmth of the Paul Gauguin staff. We made fast friends with the ship’s captain, so we were treated to tours of the bridge and engine room, and of the galley with the executive chef. The only way I didn’t roll home was due to all of the activities and excursions I went on that were so well organized and staffed. The snorkeling was excellent, as were the guides. My husband and daughter enjoyed terrific dives—four divers to a divemaster, unheard of on a non-liveaboard diving trip. Nothing was lacking. Everything exceeded all of our expectations. We met lovely guests from around the world. Yes, the ship was fully booked, and there were a lot of kids and family reunions, but we did our thing and they did theirs. Maybe next cruise I’d opt for adults only, but that’s just me. Even my previously Cruise-Averse Husband was completely won over by this Paul Gauguin cruise experience. You’d have to be insane not to have felt this way. It was luxurious beyond words.
We are Meg Austin lifers—if she’ll continue to have us. I actually helped some of the guests with information that Meg gave me that they didn’t know! I guess that makes me a Meg Austin protegee!
I tell everyone about the Wendy Perrin website and WOW List… and I suppose I also have to now share Meg Austin as well. I have not had one iota of disappointment with either.
Turkey, orchestrated by Earl Starkey
SUZANNE ILGUN | OCTOBER 18, 2016
This is the 2nd time I have used Earl Starkey and his team to plan our vacation in Turkey with my Turkish husband and in-laws. Earl and his team exceeded our expectations in planning and executing our itinerary. Earl is gracious, quick to respond when contacted, knowledgeable, and well connected. We switched some of the itinerary around at the last minute which Earl and his team handled seamlessly.
The hotel we stayed at was a perfect match for our likes. We had the best room location in the hotel.
The driver, Ali, did small extra touches for us without us asking. The guide, Burju, was excellent. She is well versed in ancient history, modern history, as well as open and willing to talk about any question we asked. She shared with us local cultural highlights. When we went to a restaurant that did not have the menu items we were looking for, Burju and Ali were able to quickly take us to another that was exactly what we were looking for. In addition, I asked Burju to simultaneously translate for me stories being told by a native Turk at one of the sights we were visiting which she did flawlessly. This enabled me to participate in the conversation as if I was a native speaker and part of the group. I felt like a local. This was a priceless experience that can only be done with a top-tier guide.
Traveling in Turkey with native Turks provides an extra challenge for any travel expert as Turks are very discerning clients. As they are native speakers as well as familiar with the country and culture, a travel expert, driver, guide, or hotelier will be quickly spotted if anything less than top-notch service is provided. My Turkish family raved about all facets of our trip. We will be contacting Earl again for our next family vacation in Turkey.
If you want to have a wonderful trip to Turkey, feel well cared for with all your desires met, then without a moments hesitation contact Earl Starkey to plan your trip.
St. Barts, orchestrated by Peg Walsh
JEANNE GIBBONS | MARCH 4, 2015
I have rented from Peg many times and have never been disappointed. Our last trip was this past year during the Christmas/New Year holidays. Her staff, both in the U.S. and in Gustavia, answered all of my questions and were very helpful. I especially like that St. Barts is the only island where they rent villas. They know the owners and all of the areas of the island. They constantly update their helpful hints. I have recommended St Barth Properties to friends with no qualms. I will continue to rent a villa from them in the future.