Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

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

by Wendy Perrin | May 26, 2023

How to minimize your risk and maximize your travel experience?  Know the right local fixer.  What will the right fixer do for you?  Read on.  Below is a continually updated sampling of the trip reviews that your fellow readers are submitting after using Wendy’s WOW approach.

Your feedback about the local fixers on Wendy’s WOW List is more important now than ever. That’s because the world has restarted, travel-wise, and what matters is not the WOW that these trip-planning experts delivered pre-pandemic, but the WOW that they’re able to deliver now.  So please, for the sake of your fellow travelers, send us your trip review as soon as you receive Wendy’s post-trip survey!

Thailand, Laos, Cambodia: elephants, private island, Angkor Wat…


I traveled to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia in May 2023 with an itinerary designed by Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley, and the trip truly surpassed my expectations. I specifically visited the cities of Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh, and the private Cambodian island of Song Saa. For years, I’d wanted to visit Angkor Wat and surrounding archeological sites, and that was the standout that I expected it to be. An unexpected highlight was visiting the MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary in Laos, where I got face-to-face with the enormous gentle animals and spent time feeding them and walking through the forest with them. This was a recommendation from Sandy and Ethan, not something I envisioned doing. Another highlight was attending an all-day Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai where I surprised myself by learning to cook 5 excellent Thai dishes. We made everything from scratch under the direction of an expert Thai chef whose English was excellent. Lastly, I loved spending five nights of luxurious relaxation at a private island resort, Song Saa, off the coast of Cambodia. In planning my trip, I asked Sandy and Ethan for a stop at a resort in southern Thailand, simply because I was more familiar with them, but the logistics of getting me there given the rest of my itinerary made Song Saa a more convenient choice. I can’t imagine that I missed anything by not going to a Thai beach resort. Song Saa was everything I was looking for: quiet, private, tranquil and luxurious. And because I visited during the low season it felt as if I had the island all to myself. I never would have known about it had it not been for Sandy and Ethan. I would happily spend another week there. At each stop (except for Song Saa), I had a private local tour guide (personally vetted by their office) and driver who handled all the logistics of permits and entry to the various sites. Each spoke English remarkably well and treated me like a family member. Each was eager to show me the best of what their city had to offer but allowed me to adjust the schedule and itinerary to suit my own needs. They never forgot that it was my vacation, not theirs. I would definitely recommend this team for anyone planning to travel to Southeast Asia. I suggest contacting them as far in advance of your planned dates as possible, even if you’re unsure of exactly everything you’d like to see and do. I found the communication from them clear and consistent with reminders, for example, about passports and visas and international flights (which they do not arrange). They were also in touch during the trip when one of my intra-country flights was cancelled and I had to adjust my itinerary slightly—the only hiccup in the entire 18-day trip. Overall, I couldn’t be more satisfied with Sandy and Ethan, and my trip.

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Spain: family trip to Barcelona & Madrid


We recently had the pleasure of working with Pablo as our trip planner for a 7-day family vacation in Barcelona and Madrid, Spain. From our initial teleconference via Zoom, Pablo displayed exceptional professionalism and attentiveness to our needs. He took the time to understand our budget, expectations, and interests, ensuring that our trip would be tailored to our preferences.

Pablo’s expertise became evident as he meticulously arranged every aspect of our trip. He secured hotel reservations for us at the exquisite Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Barcelona and the luxurious The Principal Madrid hotel, providing us with unforgettable accommodations. Additionally, he organized our high-speed rail tickets from Barcelona to Madrid, ensuring a seamless and convenient travel experience.

One of the highlights of our trip was the selection of private tours and guides that Pablo arranged for us. We had a fantastic time exploring Barcelona’s Gaudi monuments, savoring an evening tapas tour in Madrid, and embarking on a memorable day trip to Montserrat. Our favorite experience in Barcelona was the paella experience where chef Josh helped us and our kids create a beautiful meal.

In Madrid, we were fortunate to have Alfonso as our guide for three days, and he truly exceeded our expectations. His knowledge, enthusiasm, and attention to detail made each excursion an enriching experience. We particularly enjoyed his guidance during our visit to the Prado museum and the captivating side trip to the beautiful city of Toledo.

Throughout our journey, Pablo remained highly responsive and available. He promptly addressed any questions or concerns that arose, ensuring a smooth and stress-free experience for our family. His dedication was exemplified when he coordinated with our hotel concierge to provide crutches for my wife when she unexpectedly injured her foot. This level of care and attention truly went above and beyond our expectations.

In summary, Pablo’s expertise and meticulous planning made our trip to Spain an unforgettable experience. His attention to detail, selection of exceptional accommodations, and organization of private tours and transportation were outstanding. We wholeheartedly recommend Pablo and his company, and Wendy Perrin, to anyone seeking an exceptional travel planning experience. Thanks to Pablo, our family created cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

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French Polynesia: marine life, delicious cuisine, no mosquitoes…


Michael Ruma

Tahiti, French Polynesia. Photo: Michael Ruma

We traveled to Tahiti on April 22, visiting 3 different islands, and returned on May 5.

I have held off on the faraway, remote beach destinations for decades, under the notion of value for your money and the ease of travel to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. Given the trip was meant to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, I threw caution to the winds and went all in. I’m not sure how we would’ve found or moved forward with the choices we made without the help of Kleon. Getting to Tahiti is not the hard part. The adventure starts as soon as you begin booking your inter-island air travel, boat transfers, a sundry of activities and actually coordinate all of the above to achieve a relaxing visit to the islands. We did not have to worry about any of this with Kleon at the helm. He artfully curated our trip, calmly asked important questions about our likes and dislikes and then crafted an itinerary which slowly evolved into a spectacular journey with three ever-better chapters in a jaw-droppingly beautiful region.

Our first stop was Vahine Island Resort and Spa. With 9 acres and only a handful of rooms, this small island stop helped us relax, reset and realize what truly is Tahitian beauty and calm. No noise other than the wind, the waves and the coconut trees. No thinking about meal choices with simple but elegant prix fixe dinner menus. No people (there were a few other couples which we visited with over meals and activities), but a private tranquil island where my wife and I watched the sunset on the dock with baby blacktip reef sharks swimming underneath, cracked open fresh coconuts when thirsty and went paddle boarding in the large bay between Vahine and Tahaa…all alone. The privacy, intimacy and peace on this island with such a limited number of guests began to open my eyes to why we made the long journey to this beach.

We travelled to Bora Bora next. A water taxi with an impromptu stop to see over a hundred blacktip reef sharks in pristinely clear water was an unexpected highlight during our ride to the airport. No airport security made the trip even better. Upon arrival to Bora Bora, another boat awaited to transfer us to the St. Regis. While significantly more tourists visit this island, the number of hotels and additional guests did not diminish the striking beauty of Mount Otemanu. We enjoyed our overwater bungalow immensely, in particular leaping off the deck into the refreshing turquoise lagoon water. While in Bora Bora, we partook in the French influence on the local cuisine, dining at Villa Mahana, which offered a delicious multi-course dinner with wine pairing and was one of our favorite meals. We chose to refresh our diving skills and were incredibly fortunate to have two massive reef mantas swim two feet over our heads while we gazed upward from 40 feet below on the white-sand bottom.

Immensely relaxed, in beach mode and thrilled with our first two hotel stays, we topped off our travel with our final nights at the Brando in Tetiaroa. Uncertain what one of the top hotels in the world would offer, we were immediately impressed by the impeccable service, manicured grounds, and natural beauty. Lunch at your private pool, scuba diving outside amongst a mountain of colorful coral, cocktails at sunset at the bar above the treeline…simply ask and your wish is their command. Getting to the hotel is equally spectacular, using a singular private charter which whisked us to and from paradise without a worry and with ease. And for my wife who seems to attract mosquito bites wherever we may be, the hotel has an answer for that as well. Their island scientists eradicated the pest from the island without the use of any chemicals, allowing for outdoor enjoyment unlike any other experience where you may encounter the often annoying bugs. The experience at the Brando can only be described as sublime perfection, where any of your needs or desires instantly come to fruition.

While I had delayed a foray into long distance travel to a beach vacation, I must admit Tahiti is burned into our memories with its unforgettably blue waters, tranquil relaxing days, vivid and abundant sea life and unique island vibes. Now home, we daydream daily of when we will return.

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Turkey: sailing the Aegean, balloon over Cappadocia…


Turkey is a gem. We did just over 2 weeks April 29-May 15, 2023 with an itinerary of Istanbul-Ankara-Cappadocia-Alacati-Bodrum (4 night Gulet). Karen is really good — I first contacted almost a year in advance, but she advised that they were really swamped (I think we know this is true for all travel arrangers right now) and if I could wait until September to dig into the details — which I could. I really liked all her hotel suggestions and we received upgrades at every property she booked. It’s really tricky to do the hot-air balloon in Cappadocia due to the weather and our first reservation was cancelled, but we were seamlessly rebooked for the next day and were able to go! Great drivers and guides and escorts and vehicles throughout. An added perk was the restaurant reservations they made throughout — all great! They also very kindly made arrangements for another couple (our friends) to join us on a number of excursions and transfers. Karen had welcome gifts that were such a thoughtful touch. She called us upon arrival in Istanbul and on the Gulet (Mustafa) to check in on us. We highly recommend Karen and Turkey — really good food, surprisingly great wine, excellent shopping and the kindest people!

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Israel: classical & modern sights, meeting locals…

ELLEN HEARD | MAY 19, 2023

We have just returned from 12 days in Israel. What an experience! Jonathan listened carefully to us in planning our trip. From start to finish, Jonathan and his staff put together an itinerary rich in history, visits to classical and modern sites, and encounters with Israelis of many different backgrounds. Zvi Geva, our guide throughout, was wonderful—knowledgeable, friendly and full of energy. Special guides and various experts provided additional depth of knowledge and insight. It’s hard to believe that we could do so much, and learn so much, in less than two weeks. We are thankful to everyone in Jonathan’s office for helping to make this a trip of a lifetime.

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French Polynesia: WOW Moment with a private sunset cruise


Words cannot express the wonderful trip that Kleon put together for the three of us. This was a trip I had been thinking about for many years and finally decided to not put it off any further. From our stay at The Four Seasons Bora Bora to The Brando, our 8 days of paradise were stunning, fun, relaxing, and so much more. Kleon listened to all my questions and desires and put together the perfect itinerary for our trip. Loved talking with him during all the planning of the trip in the beginning and getting his feel for the 2 resorts in Bora Bora. I knew from the start that The Brando was a must and bucket-list item. He listened and advised me from the start to the day before we left. He was awesome!!

Our WOW Moment in Bora Bora with the sunset cruise was stunning and such a beautiful evening on the water, seeing the sun go down and having the boat to ourselves. Our captain was outstanding!! He sang and made drinks and had snacks for us, but most importantly he sat and answered all the questions my friends were asking about life in French Polynesia and told us all about his family! He was so sweet and stayed out past all the other boats and we had a wonderful time with him that evening!

One of the biggest things that we all commented on was how wonderful all the local Polynesians were and so genuine and happy to have visitors and talk or help us in any way. They were happy, helpful and so friendly any time we talked with staff at either resort. The love for their island really showed through!
Kleon’s staff on-island and all our connection flights in Tahiti went off seamlessly. We had one small hiccup for one passenger on the way to Tahiti, but between myself and Kleon we had her there the next morning, only missing 24 hrs. He quickly got a room overnight and had someone meet her and transport to and from the small airport in Papeete for her overnight stay there, and changed her flight to Bora Bora seamlessly.

One of the treasures we will remember is the early wake-up call to see the baby turtles at The Brando being released into the ocean after being born overnight. We were so lucky to be able to see this beautiful and unique experience.

At The Brando, we took the Ultimate tour and our tour leader was the bomb. He knew all about the island and could answer any questions. He was also part of the Tahitian Dance at dinner the night we arrived, which I highly recommend guests attending if they are there on a Friday night.

Kleon totally added value to all that we did. Between planning and answering all my questions and setting up our inter-island flights and the changes we had at the last minute, I would recommend or use him any time I go again. I have already given 1 person his name and contact info, as her family was thinking of going to Tahiti in the next 2 years.

As always I look forward to planning future trips with people on your WOW List!

Thank you for making this trip a perfect experience for all three of us!

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Ireland: food tours, whiskey tutorial, falconry…

ROBIN STONE | MAY 15, 2023

Robin Stone

Hayden and Robin Stone at the Cliffs of Moher.

Having used Wendy Perrin’s WOW List last year to travel to Greece, we chose Jonathan to book our trip to Ireland and his team made the entire process extremely easy and valued our input every step of the way. This was a mother and adult daughter trip that was supposed to happen 3 years ago. My daughter was studying abroad in Ireland and my trip to visit was cancelled and she had to come home due to Covid-19. She never travelled around Ireland because she was waiting on me to get there. She has since graduated, but we still wanted to see Ireland, so booked the trip on a whim one night while talking! I had planned this trip once before on my own and really didn’t want to do that again, so I looked at Wendy’s list and contacted Jonathan. I had a lot of specifics I wanted to do and see and even some specific places I wanted to stay. Jonathon and his team (Katie and Katie) were more than willing to plan the trip — they were incredibly accommodating and included everything we wanted and more.

We started our trip by flying into Dublin and then heading straight toward the west coast to stay in the historic Dromoland Castle in County Clare. Upon arrival in Dublin, we had a driver and tour guide, Donal, waiting for us and he would be with us for the duration of our trip. Donal was absolutely fantastic, and we cannot rave about him enough. He was extremely nice, accommodating and very knowledgeable about the history of Ireland and about each area and town we visited. He gave us great recommendations and was very flexible with our schedule and adapted it to the weather.

Speaking of weather, the weather on our first day in Ireland was less than desirable. Originally, we had a falconry lesson scheduled when we arrived at the castle. Unfortunately, due to weather we had to cancel and had afternoon tea instead. The tea was really lovely and I’m glad we got to experience it. The staff at Dromoland was wonderful and worked to rebook the falconry lesson around our schedule two days later, and it was a fascinating experience. The falconry guide, Dave, was very knowledgeable both about the magnificent animals we were interacting with and the grounds of the castle. Dromoland Castle was an extraordinary experience all around!

While staying at Dromoland Castle, we took day trips to go explore the west coast of Ireland. Our first full day was spent in Galway doing a food tour through the city and experiencing the best food the city had to offer. Our guide Regina was great. She was a chef herself and you could tell she thoroughly enjoyed sharing the amazing food that Ireland, and Galway specifically, had to offer. During this tour, we had the best raspberry croissant with red striping and a delicious raspberry puree center. We also had a whiskey tasting where we tried Irish Poitin, which is Ireland’s version of American Moonshine, and it definitely made you cough on the smallest sip. The other highlight for me of the food tour was at lunch when we had local oysters. I am not usually a fan of oysters, but Regina described them as a little burst of fresh saltwater, and that’s exactly what it was!

Our next day was spent sightseeing. We went to the Cliffs of Moher, Burren National Park, and went to a sheepdog demonstration at Caherconnell Sheepdogs. The weather this day was stormy, so Donal had us skip the cliffs in the morning and circle back to them in the afternoon in hopes of better weather. This ended up being a great decision and I’m glad Donal was looking out for us. We ended up having the clearest blue sky and were able to see the cliffs perfectly and it was definitely a top highlight of our trip. The Burren National Park was also very cool to see; with the dreary weather it was giving futuristic doomsday vibes. In the Burren, there is a perfumery that uses the wildflowers in the park to make perfumes. Both my daughter and I found one that we like and treated ourselves to a new scent. The sheepdog demonstration was interesting; I was not really sure what to expect going into it but it was really fascinating and we saw two lambs being born, which was beautiful.

On our third day, we checked out of Dromoland Castle and headed over to Limerick City to stop and visit King John’s Castle and the Hunt Museum. We then continued on to Killarney, and checked into the Killarney Park Hotel. This hotel was so beautiful, and our room was perfect. That evening we had a very interesting whiskey tutorial and tasting with the head of spirits at the hotel. The next day was spent driving the Dingle Peninsula and exploring Dingle. Here, we went to Louis Mulcahy’s pottery shop and local art galleries. We also had to get some more Murphy’s ice cream. Thursday was spent exploring part of the Ring of Kerry. We started with visiting Muckross House and Gardens and each got a scarf from the Muckross weavers. I got to watch as mine was getting finishing touches from the weavers and is one of the coolest souvenirs I’ve gotten during all my travels. We also explored the town of Kenmare and took a chocolate-making class at Lorge Chocolates. Neither of us had ever done a chocolate-making class or anything of the sort before, and it was very fun and educational. Benoit Lorge ran the private lesson with the 2 of us and he was so enthusiastic and passionate about his chocolate and the quality of chocolate that he creates.

Friday was Saint Patrick’s Day and we left Killarney and headed to Dublin. This was also our last day with Donal, and we were sad to part with him. He truly was one of the best things about our trip. We stayed at The Shelbourne while in Dublin, and it was gorgeous. While we were in Dublin, there was also a big rugby match between Ireland and England and the Irish Rugby players were staying at The Shelbourne as well. It was quite fun to be in the middle of everything going on! For Saint Patrick’s Day, we walked over to see a bit of the parade and then went and had a pint and a bite to eat at a pub close to our hotel.

On our last day, we did a walking tour of Dublin in the morning and got a history lesson on St Stephen’s Green, Georgian Dublin, Dublin Art Museum and the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Our tour guide, Kate, was very personable and entertaining. She did not have us down to go to the Book of Kells, but found out that we were supposed to based on what we were told, so she worked with her boss to make sure we were able to go that afternoon. That evening we took a private cooking class with Alix Gardner’s Cookery School and there we learned how to make all the essentials for a true Irish feast. We made scones, soda bread, shepherd’s pie with lamb, and a Guinness cake. My daughter and I both cook a lot and consider ourselves to be decent cooks, but I think we both learned new techniques that we’ve applied to our cooking since. The food was delicious and we got to take home our leftovers. We managed to bring a whole Guinness cake on the plane home with us to the States! A slice of Guinness cake after a full day of traveling was well worth the trouble of packing it.

Overall, our trip was absolutely fantastic and we both had such a good time. All the activities we did were great and the food was amazing. Ireland will always hold a special place in our hearts.

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Sicily: jewelry maker, olive oil producer, Phoenician ruins…


We recently spent two glorious weeks in Sicily with the help of Maria and Brian. We had visited Sicily 20+ years ago and always wanted to go back, so when I contacted Maria, I had a list of places that we wanted to visit a second time. Otherwise, we put ourselves in Maria’s hands for recommended sites, experiences and overall itinerary. This was our 4th trip with Maria, so we didn’t need quite as much time to discuss likes and dislikes — she knows us! All we can say is that Sicily is now one of our favorite parts of Italy. Maria set up a perfectly paced trip, including all the major sites, and adding all kinds of places and activities we would never have found on our own, from a coral jewelry maker in Sciaccia to Phoenician ruins in Mozia, to fantastic private winery and olive oil visits with the most delicious lunches. We experienced so much of what makes Sicily special — major cities, beautiful smaller towns, lovely countryside, ancient history and the melting-pot mix of cultures over the centuries, all in one trip. Every guide and driver was excellent, enhancing our trip with both their knowledge, personalities, and willingness to talk with us about any and every topic, both personal and professional. And of course, every hotel was uniquely wonderful. All we have to do now is pick the next part of Italy we want to explore and then put ourselves back in Maria and Brian’s hands again!

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Jordan: Petra, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea…


We especially wanted to spend some time in Amman, have at least three days hiking throughout the country, visit Petra and Wadi Rum, and end up with a soak in the Dead Sea. Dan planned the perfect itinerary for April 2023.

My favorite part was when we were off the beaten path, hiking Wadi Dana to the Feynan Ecoreserve. We never would have known about this wonderful place if not for Dan.

At Petra, we were able to avoid the crowds and were treated to an outstanding hike led by both our English-speaking guide and a local Bedouin friend. We traversed the trails and canyons that the locals use to navigate the site without seeing any tourists. One day, we came to a spot that overlooked the Treasury and had it all to ourselves.

For the entire journey, the hotels were perfect, the activities just right for us, and best of all, the driver and guide worked hard to ensure we met locals all along the way. This is the part we will treasure the most, learning about the local customs and meeting friendly people. Thanks so much.

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Argentina: hiking, wine tasting, indigenous culture…


We traveled to Argentina in April 2023 on our second trip with Jordan’s office (first was to Chile in 2018) and once again, the company provided a trip that surpassed our expectations! All the accommodations, activities and food recommendations were top-notch. In 2012, we traveled on our own to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, so we were eager to use the company’s expertise to explore other parts of the country. We chose Bariloche and the Salta region to see a wide range of landscapes as well as to have exposure to indigenous culture in the NW. Both were wise selections for our interests. We stayed 4 nights in Bariloche and enjoyed terrific hiking and a variety of lake views. We loved staying at The Aldebaran, away from town and in a beautiful setting. Flying north to Salta for 11 nights, we stayed in four different communities (Purmamarca in Jujuy province and Salta, Cachi and Cafayate in Salta Province). Although the trip involved some long drives, the scenery was unbelievably gorgeous and the landscapes totally engaging. Our guide in the NW made a few wonderful itinerary changes, in consultation with Jordan’s office, based on weather conditions and assessing our interests. We had a fabulous evening in Salta enjoying a local peña (not a typical tourist show); visited three different weavers (including a very special visit at Tejedores Andinos); indulged in three lunches at different vineyards; had other amazing meals and wines in beautiful settings; and visited three museums that are among the most unique we’ve ever seen. We were treated to 2 wonderful WOW Moments that were great surprises. Working with Jordan’s team is an absolute pleasure: Krista (and Jordan) were always responsive to our interests when planning and adjusting the itinerary. They have fabulous local contacts and each of our two guides greatly enhanced our understanding of Argentina as well as making certain we were always comfortable and pleased with our activities. We’re grateful that Jordan’s office made this trip happen after having to postpone it in 2020 and 2021 — we highly recommend the company for any trip to South America!

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Ireland: stress-free experience with a private driver/guide


We were lucky enough to travel to Ireland from May 1-9, 2023. Our trip planner, Katie, helped us to plan an extraordinary trip. Because we had limited time (7 days, excluding travel to and from) she took the time with us prior to our trip to make sure we got the most out of our time. She suggested we fly into Shannon and out of Dublin so that we didn’t waste time doubling back to airports. She asked us about our goals and then provided us with options to finalize our itinerary.

We started off at Dromoland Castle, and that was an experience we will never forget. Not just because of the attentive and impeccable service, but also because of the grounds, the time we spent with a Falconer on the estate and the live music in the bar area at night.

We hired a personal driver/guide and this was the absolute BEST THING WE COULD HAVE DONE. This took all of the stress out of having to rent a car, navigate directions and drive on the opposite side of the street. We were able to relax, take in the sights and enjoy our time while Peter, our driver/guide, took us to our destinations in a luxurious executive stretch BMW. This was all set up by Katie.

Peter, our guide from Pro Bus, is now considered family. He was respectful, fun and informative. We highly recommend talking to Katie about hiring a driver/guide.

In Dublin, Katie set up a 3+ hour tour with an historian and professional tour guide. This was lots of fun and informative. If you want to see something specific that may require reservations and/or timed entrance — make sure to let Katie know so you can get those tickets ahead of time to avoid lines and also to ensure you are able to get in.

We did visit the Guinness Storehouse and although we weren’t sad that we went, it was not what we expected. We are from Bourbon Country and are used to guided Bourbon distillery tours and thought this would be similar. It isn’t a guided tour that shows the production facilities or brewing process. It is more of a self-guided museum. with placards and a tasting room. They push a lot of people through on a daily basis and it is crowded and somewhat commercialized. Unless you feel like your trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Guinness, there are many other places you could spend a few hours in Dublin.

While in Dublin, we stayed at the Shelbourne and it was lovely. Attentive service, beautiful rooms and great location. While in Killarney, we stayed at The Killarney Park hotel. It is a locally-owned hotel and the staff were some of the best we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. It is also centrally located and we were able to walk to and from bars/restaurants very easily. Our desire to walk to places and interact with local people was all discussed ahead of time with Katie and she made suggestions for hotels based on these talks.

We highly recommend Katie and will use her for future trips.

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Athens: WOW Moment with Greek foods & fortune telling


The trip Mina prepared for us in Athens (April 26-28) was spectacular. Unfortunately, once the schedule was set and everything was ready, we all realized we would be arriving a day later than planned. Panic set in on all sides. Mina’s staff, however, rose to the challenge and rearranged everything so that what we thought we would do in four days was now done in three. Kudos to everyone who made that happen. Mina and her staff were absolutely the best.

First, our WOW Moment. Shortly after our arrival in Athens, we were mysteriously picked up at our hotel and driven to a residential area. We looked at each other but trusted Wendy. Imagine our delight when we were greeted by our host, Dionysia, who prepared a meal fit for kings and queens but which represented everyday food in a typical Greek household. Dionysia prepares custom meals for groups of individuals, mostly corporate requests, so we felt so special she had cooked just for us. We started with Greek wines (delicious), tzatziki and a spicy feta spread which we coupled with delicious homemade beautiful bread. We then had two salads: damos salad and, of course, Greek salad. Then came homemade sausage and kleftiko (a mix of lamb, chicken and beef). Then we MADE sweet phyllo rolls which we enjoyed together with a Greek-style cheesecake. Last of all, we had wonderful Greek coffee and when we finished it, imagine our surprise when Dyonisia asked us to turn our cups over and let the leftover coffee drain to the bottom. Of course, everyone’s designs which appeared on the cups were quite interesting and she then “interpreted” what each design meant, something similar to fortune-telling according to Greek customs. It was a fun (and most filling) afternoon and evening. I asked Dyonisia whether Greeks really had that much food every day and they do! However, a meal like that lasts two meals. Thank you Wendy so much!

The next day we took off to see the Greek ruins outside of Athens. We had an incredible guide who was an encyclopedia of knowledge. We went to the Corinth Canal, Athens’ version of the Suez Canal (fantastic) and then to the Mycenaen ruins, the Great Theatre of Epidaurus and the unforgettable healing center.

The next day we experienced a walking tour of Athens to introduce us to the five districts of Athens, did some good shopping at unique places disceovered by our guide, and had a tasting tour as well. Once again, our guide was great and delighted to be able to introduce us to her city. We loved it.

On our last day we went to the Acropolis, of course, and enjoyed the Parthenon and surrounding ruins, as well as the Acropolis Museum, a sight not to be missed.

This wonderful trip was nonstop and, as we soothed our tired feet, we marveled at all we had seen and done in such a short time! Thank you, Wendy and Mina, for an unforgettable trip. It was so much more than we expected and would do it again and again.

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Belgium & Holland: spring flowers without the crowds


The trip Tom designed for us was fabulous. The hotels were outstanding. They were perfectly located, unique and charming, and had great service. The guides were excellent. They clearly knew their stuff and could explain it clearly, were professional and also established a personal relationship with us. The sights and activities were superb. We could describe many examples of superb sights and activities, but here we highlight just one. Our primary initial reason for the trip was to see the spring flowers. Tom’s plan and our driver’s skill got us to Keukenhof a few minutes before it opened. We were among the first few people to enter the park. For almost 90 minutes we had the park to ourselves (plus a few of our flower-loving friends). We spent almost three hours there and our souls were filled up. (NOTE: When we left there was a sea of people entering the park, and traffic jams all around the site.) We also had a wonderful morning at La Floralia, just outside Brussels. This has been called a mini-Keukenhof and in some ways it is. However, it is wonderful in its own right.

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Dubai & Abu Dhabi: city sights, camel trekking, Islamic culture…


We had a wonderful time during our trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi that was planned by Justin. The trip was very professionally arranged, from picking us up at the airport to all activities and transportation. We stayed at Jumeirah Beach hotel, which has beautiful views of the ocean and you can see the Burj Al Arab from it as well. Over the next few days we had our personal guide, who gave us a comprehensive tour of Dubai. We learnt about the city’s Bedouin heritage, bold architecture, Emirati culture, politics/sheiks. We got to see all the major attractions, the gold souk, Atlantis, and of course the Burj Khalifa. The guide had our tickets ready for us, which was nice. It took us 60 seconds in the lift to get to the top of the world’s tallest building. The views from there were spectacular. Once you exit the Burj Khalifa you end up in Dubai Mall (one of the world’s largest shopping malls), so we ended up walking around the mall and ate at the food court. Our kids had to try the McArabia from McDonald’s, which they thought was pretty good.

After a few days in Dubai we went to the desert. The highlight of our trip was the desert/Qasr Al Sarab Resort. It was a magical place, absolutely breathtaking. The desert sand is so soft, fine and has multicolored hues of khaki and orange. We all enjoyed rolling around in the sand dunes, and seeing the magical sunsets. Getting from Dubai to Qasr Al Sarab was flawlessly planned. We had our own private driver who was flexible in case we needed to make stops, as we were traveling with two kids (ages 6 & 7). Arriving there felt like arriving at a Arabian palace, the kind you see in Aladdin. They greeted us with some dates and a yogurt drink which was cooling in the hot weather. The breakfast was amazing, a lavish buffet having a mix of local delights. We enjoyed the dates, local jams, omelettes, and fresh juices. All the excursions were prefectly organized. We went on a camel trek, which was a great experience and felt like something out of a movie. In the evenings we got a chance to have some fine Arabic cuisine set in a beautiful ambiance amidst the desert lit up by lanterns, fire pits and the stars above. Certainly a dream. We dined amidst the desert dunes, a Bedouin set-up of plush carpets and cushions serving lamb, cherry rice, variety of dips/hummus, and breads. Another highlight of our trip was dune bashing. My oldest son loved it and said he would do it again, while my youngest said it was terrible. I would say it was exhilarating, however not for everyone. I would recommend not eating an hour before doing it.

Our next stop was Abu Dhabi. It was a quick two-hour drive from the desert. We only spent a day in Abu Dhabi, and then went back to Dubai. Abu Dhabi’s highlight was the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. We were greeted by our tour guide, who was well prepared. She had an extra head scarf for my wife, as the dress code is very strictly enforced. She was a wealth of information and was able to get us into the mosque the most efficient way. The architecture and design of the mosque is something quite special. It has intricate designs of flowers and geometric designs carved on the walls and exquisite carpets and chandeliers inside. After the mosque our guide gave us a tour of Abu Dhabi. We requested to go to some local markets, as we needed to get some souvenirs. She took us to a quaint market where they had camel key chains, local embroidered pillowcases, Aladdin lamps which my kids loved. Overall we really enjoyed our visit to the UAE. The tour guides, hotels, and recommended sightseeing spots were on point and made everything super-easy and stress-free.

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Switzerland: 8 nights covering French, German & Italian regions


Just returned from an 8-night trip to Switzerland. Wow! It was fantastic from start to finish. Every driver and guide was waiting for us on time, and we easily found them. The transportation was high-end, beautiful vans with 4 captains chairs facing each other so that my husband and two adult daughters could enjoy our transfers along the way. Every driver had their car immaculately clean and stocked with waters and hand sanitizer too! Our travels took us from Geneva to Zurich to Ascona; what we did not know but learned on our adventure was that Switzerland has 3 distinct cultural regions and we got to explore them all. First, in Geneva (specifically in Lausanne), we experienced the French part of Switzerland. Here we enjoyed the gorgeous views of Lake Geneva from our lovely hotel, visited local wineries up in the mountain/countryside with our fantastic guide Nicolas, took a daytrip to Geneva and enjoyed the nearby towns of Montreux and Vevey. After a marvelous panoramic train ride, a stop in Gstaad and a visit to an authentic cheese grotto, our next stay was Zurich where we experienced the German part of Switzerland. Here we enjoyed the gorgeous views of Lake Zurich, a day trip to Lucern which was lovely and so charming, a visit to Appenzellerland including lunch on a farm and local beer tasting, several museums and delicious food. The highlight was the visit to the farm, where we met the farmer and his livestock and had the most fabulous lunch in his farmhouse overlooking the valley…breathtaking! After another panoramic train ride and a stop in Bellinzona to visit and have lunch at an historic castle, we came to our last stay in Asocna where we experienced the Italian part of Switzerland. Here we enjoyed the gorgeous views of Lake Maggiore, the ascent via tramway up to Cardada and the feeling that we were on the Italian Riviera. We especially loved the charming boutique hotel where we stayed which was a close walk to the promenade. Though sad to leave, we truly felt that we experienced a lot of Switzerland (though you would need a couple of weeks to see it all!) We were so pleased with the travel planning from start to finish, as well as all of the guides, tours, drivers and adventures that were arranged for us. Highly recommend everything that we did!

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Iceland: smart logistics for a spring trip


Chris did an amazing job planning our trip. We were three “active” adult couples, and we had an incredible variety of appropriate and fun activities for our week in Iceland. We were in the shoulder season, traveling from 4/17-4/24, so not all activities were available. We spent the first day overcoming jet lag with an easy tour of Reykavik and then started our tour around the southeastern part of Iceland. Chris recommended we hire a guide/driver instead of renting our own car, as 6 of us would require a large vehicle and the weather can be very iffy during April. Our guide/driver Borgia was amazing, very informative and flexible, and made the trip so enjoyable and easy. We spent a day with River Adventures, where our guide made a “hot tub” from hot springs. We walked through ice caves, rode Icelandic horses and drove ATVs on the black beaches. And of course, we saw amazing scenery including glaciers and waterfalls. All of the restaurants and accommodations were perfect for our group. I also mentioned our interest in bakeries and ice cream, and a bakery was our first and one of our last stops. Chris really did a great job of listening to the interests of the group and then putting together the perfect tour. He was easy to work with and responsive, and even gave the most comprehensive “things to think about/packing list” that I’ve ever seen. I would highly recommend Chris for any Iceland tour. I’m only sorry he doesn’t specialize in other countries!

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Morocco: hiking, Berber villages, city medinas…


I just came back from 10 days in Morocco. I planned the trip with Hicham and Radia’s office. They did an excellent job at finding exquisite hotels and providing super guides. Our focus was on hiking in the Middle and High Atlas Mountains. The hiking specialists led us on terrific hikes. In the High Atlas Mountains we hiked from guest house to guest house through ancient Berber villages and mountain passes. The trip was fascinating, challenging and exhilarating. We also found time to wander the medinas of Fes and Marrakech with local guides. Morocco is an otherworldly experience. I highly recommend a visit here for those curious about non-Western cities or hiking. The people were very kind and welcoming (eg, when hiking through Berber villages we were invited in for dinners and tea by a few local residents). 10 days was not enough to cover all that Morocco offered.

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U.K. & Italy: London to Venice via the Orient-Express


Once again, Jennifer and her team of WOW experts created an amazing adventure in the U.K. and Italy for me. Starting with a meet-and-greet at Heathrow, we bypassed the LONG passport-control lines, picked up bags and were off to Dorset. We explored and investigated the last home of T.E. Lawrence—and finally located the marker of his fatal crash site near Bovington—and paid our respects at memorials in Moreton and Waresham. Off to my old stomping grounds in Portsmouth for an amazing hands-on refresher on pre-WWII D-Day happenings and a stop to see the Mary Rose (after a 31-year restoration effort). Finally to London for the Ceremony of the Keys in the Tower at night—quite eerie if you think about what went on in the Tower—and an amazing cruise up and down the Thames (HIGHLY recommended for all). In Greenwich, we got to stand in two hemispheres at once and see the original clocks that helped ships at sea navigate.

Boarding the British Pullman, we could see how the “other half” lived in the early 20th century, the luxury (and great food!!) were still awe-inspiring. Then came another bucket-list highlight, an overnight on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express to Venice. A few martinis in the Bar Car and you could imagine sitting with Agatha Christie as she writes another “who-dunnit.” Again, the food, champagne and atmosphere were stunning and the craftmanship of these luxury hotels on wheels could never be matched by today’s trains. There is simply too much history embedded in the wood inlays and thick woolen carpets.

Arriving in Venice gave us time to wind down and relax—it’s another great walking city, one in which you should get lost and then discover a hidden gem. It was off to Milan for the last few days of this tour. Seeing daVinci’s “Last Supper” for the second time in 53 years took my breath away…the 20+ years of restoration have helped to improve the masterpiece (and ask about Leonardo’s secret trick for maintaining perfect perspective in the mural). Walking up to the roof of the Duomo was perfect to catch a glimpse of the fashion capital below you (as long as you are not afraid of heights). The culmination of this experience was Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor being sung in La Scala….we could have sat through the performance again, if possible.

The trip was fabulous, the attention to detail and support was flawless and the experiences eternal….I’m starting to plan my next excursion already!!

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New Zealand: hiking, wine tasting, jet boating…


My grandfather was in the Dutch Navy and spent time in New Zealand many years ago. He always spoke about how beautiful it was and how it was his favorite place he had ever visited. So when we asked my dad where he would like to go for his 80th birthday — he said New Zealand!

We just got back from the most incredible trip planned by Jean-Michel and his team. We were traveling with 6 people from 13 to 80 years old, and Jean-Michel did a great job finding activities that we would all love.

We had only 9 days so we stayed on the west coast of the South Island and there was plenty to explore. We started in Te Anu at the Fiordland Lodge and loved the beautiful lodge and surroundings. We hiked, went fishing, and explored Milford Sound by boat. The scenery was beyond breathtaking everywhere we went! Our next stop was Queenstown and we stayed at the historic Eichardt’s Private Hotel. We had a lovely wine tasting day in Central Otago with the best guide and driver (Beau Rapley) and our daughter even went bungee jumping from the Kawarau Bridge. She loved it!! The city of Queenstown & surroundings were great – plenty of walking trails, gardens, gorgeous lake and mountain views. Not to mention great food and wine!

The last place we visited was Wild Earth Lodge in Makarora. It was the most serene and beautiful little inn run from the home of Pete and Janine. They took great care of our whole family & cooked the most delicious meals! We spent our days there hiking to the Blue Pools and having some relaxing down time. We also had our most exciting day – a helicopter tour over Mt Aspiring National Park, a hike through Siberia Valley, and a thrilling jet boat ride back down the Wilkin River. The whole trip was outstanding and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without Jean-Michel.

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Paris: baking, boating & museums with kids


My daughter and I took my 10-year-old twin granddaughters to Paris for their first trip overseas during spring break. We had a wonderful time on our “girls’ trip” from New York City. Although my daughter and I have both been to Paris many times, Jennifer’s group suggested activities geared to the girls, which included several activities we had never done before.

We did a private walking tour through Montmartre with tastings. Nicolas indulged us in tastings including “meringue et de crème fouettés,” chocolates, crepes, and macarons. Our tour concluded at the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur. A private cruise on the River Seine gave us splendid views of many places, including the Eiffel Tower.

Who would have thought that a private macaron making with a professional chef could be so much fun for everyone! We had plenty of macarons to eat and take back with us. The game at the Louvre was an excellent way to learn about the paintings and artwork by finding hidden clues in them and answering questions. The 2-hour guided game was a perfect introduction to the Louvre for the girls.

Finally, the sidecar tour with drivers in sidecar motorcycles gave us a view of Paris from the street. It was an absolute blast!

Our guides were very professional, prompt and engaged with all of us easily.

We especially appreciated the text messages each evening with the details for the following day. What a wonderful introduction to Paris for the granddaughters!

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Romania: local craftspeople, charming inns, Easter celebrations…


We had begun planning our trip to Romania several years ago but it was postponed because of Covid. When we were able to depart this spring we found the trip to be even better than we hoped for. Raluca had worked very diligently, with frequent emails and an initial Zoom, to plan our trip around Orthodox Easter celebrations, small village and town stays, and the chance to see spring flowers in the countryside. We knew the latter would be limited somewhat because of early Orthodox Easter.

After landing in Bucharest we left the next morning for Brasov, stopping at Peles Castle on the way. The castle visit was the only crowded time of our whole 2-week trip but very interesting inside and out, and we began learning the complicated history of Romania from our excellent guide Andrei. Our accommodations in boutique inns in Brasov, Sighisoara, and Cluj were all excellent, with a unique combination of traditional furnishing and modern amenities and excellent breakfasts in all. One of our highlights near Sighisoara was an afternoon and evening in a small village with Emese and family, touring her herb gardens, good conversations about her familiy’s history, and having a delicious traditional Easter meal.

Our first small village stay was in Breb, in the beautiful Maramures region, with green fields with haystacks, and distant snow-covered mountains. Our stay in The Village Hotel, a small group of restored traditional cottages, was wonderful with the help of the owner Penny and assistant Andrada. Dinners in a villager’s home were excellent with everything self-sourced. We did not overall visit museums but the Museum of Communism in Sighetu was very powerful and worthwhile.

Next stop was Bucovina area for Orthodox Easter celebrations. We attended midnight service, which involved passing lit candles, walking in and out and around the beautiful painted monastery, and responsive singing, all very moving. Easter Day included more services, with traditional dress, and tradition of cracking painted eggs at breakfast with the words “Christ has risen” and response “He has truly risen,” along with traditional Easter morning and Easter dinner lamb dishes. Our stay was again in an individual restored cottage at Casa Cu Cerbi with unique traditional bed arrangements and furnishings. The painted monasteries including Voronet were another highlight.

Back in Transylvania we stayed in the very remote village of Valea Zanalui in King Charles’ cottage. A very informative walk with a local biologist to look for flowers and discuss the area’s natural history had been set up ahead and very worthwhile. Communication was more difficult here because of the small staff primarily Hungarian, not Romanian, speaking and without our guide and preplanning we would have been unaware of potential available activities in the area.

In our last village Viscri, where we stayed at the very comfortable Viscri 125, we had our best chances to meet local craftsmen including watching a Roma woman making boiled woolen slippers, a blacksmith visit, and a very educational time with a beekeeper who supplies King Charles with his honey.

Lastly Bucharest surprised us with its vitality, green spaces and wonderful old buildings.

Each area we visited was unique with differences in architecture, language, food, and dress due to the complicated ethnic and political history of the country. Because of this and the beautiful landscape, churches, cleanliness, and friendliness our visit was very rewarding and enjoyable.

We would not have been able to appreciate any of this if we had attempted to plan and drive ourselves or been part of a large group staying in nondescript hotels on the edge of town. All of our accommodations were exceptional and we know that Raluca visits them all regularly to reassess. Monica checked once or more daily to adjust the schedule for weather changes, restaurant closings, etc. and made sure everything ran smoothly. Our wonderful guide Andrei was able to determine our interests, physical limitations, and schedule very easily and was always pleasant, reliable, easy to talk to, and extremely knowledgeable about Romanian history and culture. He was also flexible so we could easily add or subtract activities not on our planned list.

We would without question recommend planning a visit to Romania with Raluca.

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Chile: Patagonia with a photographer guide


Tom worked with my wife and I for over a year to organize the best trip possible based on some of our special needs and desires. He was an absolute pleasure to work with and was able to provide extraordinary detail and service during the long planning sessions. Our goal was to go to Patagonia in Chile, without rushing around all over the place, guided privately, and have a pampered feeling with good food and accommodations. He actually listened to our requests and followed through with them! Tom truly excelled in this regard. He set us up to spend the entire trip in or next to Torres del Paine National Park. Our first week was spent in an Awasi villa with an incredible view of the tower side of the Massif. Awasi was a terrific place that proved that it REALLY cares about its clients. My wife and I are wildlife and landscape photographers and Tom arranged for us to have a photographer and nature lover for our private guide for the entire week at Awasi. Awesome. For the second week he set us up in a great room at Explora Salto Chico with an even more stunning view of the Massif — horns side. Explora was just OK but the amazing view made up for some of the negative aspects of the hotel. We will never forget that view! While there was some dysfunction in the airline travel (no fault of Tom’s), Tom was with us all the way making sure we were clear about our options. We have traveled to many places (this was our 4th WOW person trip) and I feel that no one could have done a more efficient job at getting us to a hard place to reach like Patagonia, Chile. Kudos all around to Tom. We would not hesitate to benefit from his expertise again. WOW!

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London & Paris: mother/daughter trip for a 16th birthday


Jennifer (and her wonderful team) helped me plan our recent mother/daughter trip to London and Paris. I wanted to create an unforgettable experience for my daughter’s 16th birthday. Words cannot express how perfect this trip was… I could never have created this epic trip on my own (and don’t think I will ever try). I spoke with Jennifer before we even began the process, and she asked questions about my daughter to help tailor the trip around her preferences and interests. We traveled during spring break ahead of her June birthday, as per Jennifer’s recommendations to avoid the summer crowds. My daughter had some specific requests, which Jennifer did a fabulous job of delivering! She also suggested other activities, hotel options, made dinner reservations, arranged train transportation, private guides and drivers, and transfers. She even helped me with my request to have flowers delivered to each hotel room upon our arrival. I did not have to worry about anything but my airline reservations. She and her team allowed me the opportunity to simply enjoy 10 glorious days with my daughter…priceless.

We stayed at the Reubens on the Palace in London, which was a beautiful hotel and very well located for walking to shopping, theater, Buckingham Palace and the Underground. The hotel provided a lovely gift and note to my daughter upon our arrival for her birthday and left a variety of treats for turndown each night. The staff was friendly, and the doormen were very kind and helpful. We had a very busy itinerary which included horseback riding in Hyde Park, a private guide for a full day in London, Windsor Castle, East End, theater tickets, a visit to Harry Potter studios, and even a day train trip to Harry Styles’ hometown (specific request). I will not regret my decision to secure private guides and drivers. Russell was our guide for all of our tours in London. He was so knowledgeable, personable and did a wonderful job considering my daughter’s interests. We truly enjoyed our time together with him. I would highly recommend requesting him if you are considering a trip to London, as you will find yourself seeing, doing and learning things that you might miss if touring on your own. Having a private driver also allows you to sit back, relax, enjoy the scenery and once again experience more than you would if you are trying to navigate the Underground, maps or hailing taxis.

Our travel from London to Paris was very organized and uncomplicated. I purchased business-class tickets on the Eurostar, which allows you entrance to a wonderful waiting area that has a lovely display of food, drinks, and magazines.

Jennifer arranged a VIP Meet and Greet for us when we arrived in Paris, which was quite helpful to navigate our luggage through the train station and out to our transfer driver.

We stayed at Hotel Madame Reve in Paris, after exploring many options with Jennifer. We were very happy with our choice. The staff was very friendly and helpful. Our room had a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower and a large outdoor terrace. There was a bottle of champagne and macarons waiting upon our arrival with a nice note for my daughter. They even made the king-size bed with 2 separate sets of sheets for us since they do not have twin rooms. We have visited Paris many times, so Jennifer provided excellent activities for us including a Perfume Workshop, Pastry Making Class, private Louvre tour, the Moulin Rouge and a day trip out to Chateau de Chantilly to ride horses and tour the chateau with a private guide/driver. Our guide, Tatiana, took us through the Louvre and did an exemplary job of showing us the highlights and also pointing out artistic styles, providing pertinent art history and keeping my daughter engaged. I felt as if we walked away from the Louvre with a much better experience and understanding of what we saw.

Our departure was a welcome surprise. The driver was timely, friendly, helpful and dropped us off at the airport to another VIP Meet and Greet. This gentleman took our luggage, walked us through the airport, helped complete tax refunds, took us to VIP check-in and escorted us to the boarding gate. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of this, I think you will find that you will never do without again! We loved it.

Throughout our stay, I was receiving texts with reminders and information on the following day. If we had any concerns or problems, (which we didn’t), I knew that I could reach out to someone for assistance at any time.

I would never have been able to provide such a memorable vacation without Jennifer’s help! I assure you that you will not be disappointed.

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Egypt: Cairo and a dahabiya on the Nile


My daughter and I just came back from an amazing week in Egypt! This was one of those trips that we will truly never forget. Arlene Santos (we did not communicate with James directly) did such a fantastic job of giving us a week filled with visits to all the major highlights of this fantastic country. The end of April was a great time to go as the weather was really lovely. It was Ramadan during our time there, but this really did not impact any parts of the trip (certain attractions closed earlier in the afternoon, but this really worked well for us as it gave us time to relax after a full morning/afternoon).

Someone asked what our favorite parts of the trip were and to be perfectly honest, it is impossible to pick one thing. The local trip leaders and guides were so friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Our guide, Abdullah, on our 4-night trip on the Nile was so passionate about hieroglyphics—we really got such a detailed instruction on how to “read” these stories within temples and tombs. The days on the dahabiya on the Nile were so relaxing. It was nice to only have 12 tourists on the boat (which was the maximal number); this allowed for nice conversations, particularly during meal time. The meals were pretty amazing, with plenty of options for any dietary limitation/restriction. Eman, with whom we spent 3 days in Cairo, was so informative. My daughter and I really bonded with her. We would love to have her again on another trip into Egypt!

This trip was really perfect from beginning to end. Arlene really made this trip successful from our arrival (very late) into Cairo until our departure (in the middle of the night) out of Cairo. We were so well taken care of by the drivers, trip leaders, and guides. We felt safe throughout. Definitely think of a trip to Egypt with Jim and Arlene as a “must-do”!

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Italy: Venice, Bologna, Florence for a milestone birthday

AMY COX | APRIL 25, 2023

We had an amazing trip to Venice, Bologna, and Florence, courtesy of Luisa and Katrina. Luisa’s in-depth knowledge of the locations, restaurants, hotels, tour guides, and walking times (so important in these crazy walking cities) was instrumental in our celebration trip. We had vetted other agents, but Luisa was so personable and listened to our wants and desires so well, that we were able to have as much (or as little) to do as we needed. We were able to go to Murano with a person who grew up there, even met his mother from her window, and saw his uncle’s Murano glass showroom/storage facility. We also did a day trip to Bassano del Grappa (Luisa’s hometown), where we had a guide from the US who had been local to Bassano for at least 20 years. In Bologna, we had a free day (which was a tad difficult since we didn’t know the area well), but had a great dinner and foodie tour the next day prior to departure. In Florence, we had several guided private tours, including an artisan tour and a tour through the towns of Greve, Castellino di Chianti, and Siena. That’s a show-stopping trip, minus the slight backroad weaving (take some Bonine if you do this tour). Our guides were phenomenal and taught us so much about the culture, history, and food and wine scenes. We even did an olive-oil tasting in Greve, which was extremely interesting.

I had some aggravated back pain while in Italy, but Luisa was on it and had some docs on standby in both Venice and Florence if we needed them. She also did an exceptional job of selecting hotels and restaurants for us — we gave some guidance and made final selections, but all hotels were A+ and each had something special and unique about them. I’d highly recommend staying in the smaller, boutique hotels that we did because the service is so excellent.

Luisa curated an amazing trip for us, and we were able to enjoy, relax, and know that we were well taken care of at all times. We even met another group in our hotel who was utilizing Luisa’s office, and they were on their 3rd or 4th journey with them. I can’t imagine having done this trip without Luisa’s help and guidance, which made for an exceptional milestone birthday trip for my mom.

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

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Belize: Snorkeling, birding, Mayan culture…


We travelled to Belize from March 28th to April 4th. A short time but filled with memorable people and experiences. Patricia was our customized trip organizer and Dave was our personal, well-educated, and super-friendly guide. Providentially, Dave is a birder and so are we! He was also our travel photo/video journalist. What a gem we found in Dave as he showed us around the Cayo district of Belize. My husband and 2 of our grown children accompanied me on this amazing journey. We stayed at Gaia River Lodge, where the staff were authentically friendly and engaging. Starting with a day of Mayan cultural immersion, we learned so much from local Mayan people about their culture, farming, cooking, artistic, and chocolate-making traditions and were honored to actually use their tools and techniques to try our own hand. The exploration of ancient Mayan ruins was amazing in itself, but added to the sights and climbing was Dave’s knowledge of the ruins, local flora and fauna, and the birds! We spotted toucan and Dave took pictures of Montezuma oropendola with his telephoto lens and shared them with us. We went cave tubing and zip lining and swam in the pools made by the falls. And this wasn’t all! We then travelled to Ambergris Caye. So sad to say goodbye to Dave. We snorkeled in the beautiful turquoise waters, up close and personal with sea turtles, rays and sharks. We spent a fantastic day fishing and the crew made delicious ceviche and fed us the fish we caught, bbq’ed on a secluded beach. Carlos, Sayid, Soup, and everyone at Amigos del Mar were wonderful. So sad to have to leave.

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Costa Rica: adventure and relaxation with kids


Irene did a fantastic job planning our family of 6’s trip to Costa Rica (kids ages 15, 14, 12, 8). Everything was seamless and she was extremely available during our trip, even for a very last-minute travel change on the day of our departure. We wanted adventure mixed with relaxation and that’s exactly what she gave us. We stayed at La Paloma in Drake Bay and I highly recommend (even though the a/c is not reliable). Even my picky-eater 8yo loved the food, and they were so accommodating to the kids. From there we stayed at Arenas Del Mar in Manual Antonio, and that was also amazing. You can’t find a nicer staff anywhere, especially the golf-cart drivers!

Highly recommend Irene and a Costa Rica vacation — I would do it again if there weren’t so many other places in the world to visit.

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The Galapagos: wildlife galore from a stable catamaran


My family of four (two parents, 10yr old, 12yr old) took a one-week Galapagos cruise in early April aboard the Elite. Allie Almario planned the trip. EVERY aspect of the journey was incredible and none of us wanted to leave.

We plan 90% of our travel on our own, but with a trip like this, which we thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, we wanted to be 100% sure we got it right. We are so happy Wendy linked us up with Allie. Allie was essential to helping us sort through the blizzard of options (Land-based or boat-based? Which of a hundred boats? Large or small? Monohull or cat? Four day or longer, etc.). She helped us make it perfect. So perfect that maybe it won’t be a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

With Allie’s guidance we chose a small boat (the Elite has a 16-person max). Small boats can be rocky, so she steered us toward a catamaran for more stability to minimize the risk of seasickness. The water was generally smooth, but on one or two nights with bigger waves, we were very happy to have two hulls, especially while watching how tippy the monohulls were. We didn’t really think about it beforehand, but being aboard a catamaran allowed for a wider beam and more spacious rooms on board.

The reason to go to the Galapagos is the geological and natural history, so I’ll start there. We saw blue-footed boobies, courting frigate birds, gulls, Galapagos hawks (hunting and eating marine iguanas!), a few types of marine and land iguanas, and more. We encountered a number of Galapagos tortoises in the wild. In the water, on numerous snorkeling activities we saw more types of reef fish than I could name, from little gobis and half-inch baby puffers, up to tuna. Small sharks skimmed the bottom, oblivious of us. Penguins flashed by, within a few feet, as they hunted, and we actually saw them catching fish. We never sought out sea lions, because as soon as we hit the water, they found us, swimming within inches of us in circles and loops trying to get us to play with them. Pods of sea turtles munched on algae as we floated above, swimming so close to us at times, that we actually had to struggle to swim away in order not to contact or disturb them. It was simply mind-boggling how many amazing animals we saw up close.

Our guide Carlos was amazing. Having grown up in the Galapagos, he knew the islands, flora and fauna inside out. He had a great sense of humor, limitless patience with the guests (not that anyone was difficult, but the age range of guests was 7 to 85, with a similarly wide range of interests and physical stamina), and seemed to truly enjoy sharing his home with us.

Due to the small number of passengers, we quickly got to know everyone aboard and also rapidly were on a first-name basis with the crew. Very friendly atmosphere. We thought ours might be the only kids aboard, but among the other guests were two other families with kids, so that was a big bonus. While motoring from one island to another the kids played tournament after tournament of soccer in one of the cabins using a stuffed animal as a ball. The other guests were engaging, and we all had a good time sharing stories of what we saw, enjoying cocktails, watching sunsets, etc.

The crew was top-notch. Every single one was very helpful, very friendly. My 12yr old was captivated by being on a boat, and got to know Marcello, the captain, and Rey, the first mate. They let him take the wheel a few times. Both were great with the kids aboard. On the zodiac boats that took us from the Elite to the shore, the guys who drove those boats also let our kids take the helm a couple times. The whole crew was super friendly and seemed committed to sharing their beautiful islands and making sure everyone left having had an extraordinary experience. They all had their specific jobs which they took seriously (it was a boat, after all, so it’s all serious at some point), but when they had time, they stepped outside their appointed roles to help guests or to point out interesting things. For example, one of the crew, Francis, snorkeled whenever he could, and did a great job enhancing our experience, pointing out hard-to-spot creatures like sea cucumbers or rays camouflaged on the ocean bottom.

One unexpected aspect of the trip was the beauty of the islands. Had we never stepped ashore, the trip would have been memorable just for the gorgeous islands, striking sunsets, impressive vistas, and stunning beaches.

As far as boat details, the food was excellent. The rooms were spacious and clean. I’ve never slept in a more comfortable bed. Jose, the bartender/server, was ever-ready with juices and snacks after every expedition, and his warm personality made cocktail hour a pleasure.

I genuinely cannot think of anything that could be improved upon. We badly want to go again, bringing aunts, uncles, and cousins to share this exceptional experience.

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Israel, Jordan, Egypt: maximizing 2 weeks with a family of 8


We recently travelled to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt with extended family on a trip planned by Dan Waters. It was an amazing trip, and he made all our requests happen despite Passover, Ramadan, and Easter all taking place during our travel. With great planning, we were able to see all the major sites and packed many interesting experiences into our two weeks. Having a private guide and driver took the stress out of managing travel during our family vacation and created an experience where we were able to do and see a lot more than a typical tour. Our guides were truly experts in each region and connected us with friendly locals and great restaurants.

With the situation changing in Israel shortly before our trip, Dan was in contact with the local guides right up to our departure, and proposed alternative locations and timing to ensure we did not experience any disruption. Dan and our guides made sure every border crossing was smooth, airport transfers were easy, and had people waiting for us in each location to ensure we never had to worry.

Highlights of our trip included traveling from Tel Aviv to the Sea of Galilee (Cesarea, Akko, Haifa, Tiberias), time exploring Jerusalem, and time in Bethlehem. We visited Amman and Jerash, stayed in Bubble tents in Wadi Rum, and experienced the wonder of Petra. Finally, we travelled to Egypt where we visited the Pyramids of Giza and Saqqara, and visited Islamic and Coptic Cairo. Our guides timed each experience so that we missed the crowds, and used their expertise to bring each site to life. I highly recommend working with Dan and his office.

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Chile: wine country, seaside Valparaiso…


Marsha Friedli

Marsha Friedli and husband, Craig, in front of the Moai statue in Vina Del Mar.

Wendy Perrin and her travel experts knocked it out of the park! We, my husband and I, were finally taking a COVID-delayed cruise around Cape Horn starting in Santiago, Chile. We wanted to spend several pre-cruise days, February 16-19, in the Maipo wine region, and visit Valparaiso. Wendy put us in touch with Maita’s office, and our major contact was Eva.

Eva listened to what we wanted to see and visit and made wonderful recommendations. It was hard to choose what to visit and see. So many things to explore, so little time on this trip.

In the Maipo wine region our hotel recommendation by Eva was Casa Real Santa Rita, 2 nights. It was delightfully restful after our long flight and staying here was perfect. Our hostess at the hotel was also our guide and wine steward for the historic property. We had a wonderful afternoon wine tasting on the veranda which overlooked the gardens and pond. We also enjoyed the food and wine pairings that were offered. This is a property to return to again.

In Valparaiso we had a wonderful day enjoying the amazing graffiti that decorates the city. Thanks to Franco, our guide, we had a private showing at an art gallery and were able to see the city and its unusual architecture from 3-4 stories up. Valparaiso is a city of stairs and narrow streets and twists and turns. Fortunately our guide, Franco, knew where to go and when to avoid the crowds on the funiculars. He maximized our limited time visiting. He also had a wonderful way to impart the information so it was not a lecture but a very nice conversational style and sense of humor too!

One of my must-see items on this trip was to visit the Moai statue gifted to Chile that is located in Viña del Mar. And we did! We were also able to walk along the beautiful beach and enjoy the art and the people out and about. Franco also had lunch reservations at a lovely castle-looking restaurant that had a tasty menu of Chilean seafood dishes. As an added plus, our table overlooked the harbor. Delightful!

In Valparaiso, our hotel, Casa Higueras, was a place you wanted to stay and linger longer. Our room had a wonderful view of the harbor and Pacific Ocean. We decided to have dinner at the hotel and were very pleased when another couple we had met in Santiago at Santa Rita walked in and joined us.

This trip was made memorable with the talents of Eva and Maita’s team, along with our guide Franco, and the drivers. They made this a great way to start our cruise and gain a better understanding and appreciation for the beautiful country of Chile.

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Poland: WWII history, gingerbread & pierogi classes, an ancestor’s village…


Our family of four (two boys, 17 and 15) did two weeks from Gdansk to Torun to Warsaw to Krakow. Gwen suggested Torun, a medieval city known for its gingerbread—which we loved and highly recommend. She also encouraged the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, and we are so happy she did—it was one of our favorites. In Warsaw a must-see is the museum POLIN (Jews in Poland). It is hands-down one of the best history museums we have ever visited and a can’t-miss in Warsaw. Gwen arranged a gingerbread-making class in Torun and a pierogi-making class in Krakow—these were both incredibly unique and memorable.

The most special part of our trip was Gwen arranging a driver and guide to take us to the small village two hours east of Krakow to the cemetery where my great-great grandparents were buried—and all we had to go on was an old print with a few sentences of my great-grandfather’s handwriting on the back.

Gwen’s guides made all the difference: At the Solidarity Museum in Gdansk, our guide Kasha shared how she remembered the day martial law was imposed because her son had an earache that day and she had to go out and get medicine—you can’t get that from a wall placard! And at the Schindler Museum in Krakow, Marta was able to navigate us through the throngs (like hundreds!) of people at the entrance. Similarly, at Auschwitz, our guide was able to get us quickly through the crowds and confusion.

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Italy: castle accommodations, truffle hunting, farm lunch…


Jennifer’s office is hands-down amazing!

My husband and I have been working with Jennifer since 2020. We planned a summer family trip to Paris that was cancelled due to Covid. We had a credit towards an apartment, so we planned a Paris trip for 30th wedding anniversary arriving March 29, 2023. Jennifer and her staff found a beautiful apartment, planned a magnificent, detailed, fun-filled trip but then The Garbage Strike, in its 20th day, turned violent 5 days prior to our departure. We decided to cancel Paris. (Buy trip insurance!!!) After some quick thinking and needing to travel, we moved our trip to Tuscany. Thankfully Jennifer’s Italy team had Giulia. Jennifer & Giulia sent suggestions for hotels, I checked the map and a new itinerary formed within hours via WhatsApp and it was superb!!!

The most helpful and best expense was the VIP Meet & Greet at Charles de Gaulle as we were transferring airlines and don’t speak French. Brice, our greeter, was on the jet bridge as soon as we deplaned, whisked us thru passport check, carried our bags and assisted our transfer to Terminal 1, checked us in, whisked us again thru security & showed us our gate. Priceless!!!

We loved how Jennifer’s office communicated daily with text messages for the itinerary for the next day. We woke up knowing where we were going, how long it would take us to drive there, special notes, and who we were meeting, contact numbers, then give us details to our next location! It was so nice to know that they were available!

The castles recommended where Jennifer has solid relationships were priceless too! We were greeted with baskets of fruit, bottles of champagne and other treats. The suites we stayed in were beautifully appointed at Castello di Reschio and Castello di Casole. The staff at both properties were personable, friendly, informative and classy. Every meal we had was divine, whether is was a tasting menu or a simple buffet breakfast!

The drivers/transfers/car service were clean, professional and knowledgable, so much better than taking your chances with an Uber/taxi.

Our most memorable moments that Jennifer’s team arranged were the Truffle Hunting/Lunch and the Organic Farm Tour/Lunch. Both experiences had us with locals who educated us, then prepared meals using their products. Over-the-top fresh food made right in front of you. We loved it and felt at home with both “families.”

Highly recommend using Jennifer’s team! Trust their choices and years’ experience.

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New Zealand: private Māori experience, hidden-gem fjord…


Our foursome has traveled extensively and frequently do not utilize the services of a travel agent, preferring to spend weeks together, studying guidebooks and maps, hammering out an itinerary and familiarizing ourselves with the history and culture of our intended destination. However, this time we decided to put ourselves in the hands of Sara’s office, after being directed by Wendy Perrin, and it was the best decision we could have made!

Sarah and Sara (or as we called them, The Saras), arranged our 2 1/2-week stay in New Zealand from 2/12 to 3/1. Before even departing from the USA, we felt assured we had made the right choice. Through a combination of phone calls and emails, with return communications always occurring without delay, the Saras helped us to put together a FOMO’s dream vacation. Whenever we wanted to add additional sites, we never heard the word No, always being told that it could be worked out, even if it meant revamping plans already made. The Saras listened carefully to our interests and prioritizations and put together a trip that exceeded our specifications.

It is easy to give praise when everything works out exactly as planned, but the true worth and value of your travel advisor is tested when conditions go awry. This is where we cannot give enough high praise to The Saras.

The day we arrived, we were one of the last flights into Auckland before the airport (and everything else) closed in anticipation of the arrival of a Category 3 cyclone. While we were still in the transportation van from the airport, we began to receive information from Sara Devenie regarding mass evacuation orders issued for the Coromandel, our first planned stop, bridge closings and expected transportation problems made worse by 3 weeks of rain and epic flooding which preceded our arrival. She preemptively presented suggestions to reroute our trip, giving us options and suggestions, and was able to extend our Auckland reservations and add additional nights to another reservation, so that our trip could continue with relatively minor inconvenience. She also provided us with a 24/7 hotline phone number should we need any assistance and texted us daily to ensure everything was going smoothly.

After that rocky start, the trip went seamlessly. On the North Island we explored the geothermal parks of Rotorua, relaxed in the hot springs of a day spa, hiked the trails at Tongariro National Park, and enjoyed the Te Papa museum, botanical gardens and Aucklandia Reserve at night in Wellington, to name a few of our activities. A unique experience was a private walk with a guide through her husband’s Māori village. She shared tribal history, culture, and traditions to give us a deeper understanding of New Zealand’s history. This is exactly the kind of experience we requested, rather than attending a tribal “show” along with busloads of other tourists.

Crossing by ferry to the South Island also required some readjustments, as the cyclone had affected shipping in the channel as well. But again, Sara made all the needed arrangements and communicated these changes quickly and clearly.

Thankfully, the weather improved and our South Island activities were all as planned. The only hitch was a weather-enforced cancellation of a heli-hike on the Franz Joseph glacier. When we called Sara and apprised her of the situation, she again jumped in and was able to schedule a similar excursion on Mount Cook the next day! This was above and beyond! Our other activities included a private daylong boating excursion at Abel Tasman, wine tasting and lunch at a vineyard in Marlborough, whale watching in Kaikoura, glow worm caves in Te Anau, jet boating in Queenstown, and a most spectacular night of astronomy and star viewing of the Southern Hemisphere sky—at the Dark Zone at Lake Takepo, while comfortably floating in a large, hot springs pool. There was even a spectacular showing of the aurora australis on our night in Queensland.

While most tourists find themselves visiting Milford Sound, with many day visitors and large boats plying the waters, we were directed by Sara to Doubtful Sound, an equally stunning location in Fiordland of towering cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and local wildlife. The difference was, we spent our overnight boat trip on a 5-cabin small vessel and never saw another boat during our 24-hour stay. This was the trip’s highlight for me—seeing incredible vistas, accompanied by a large, playful group of bottle-nosed dolphins following our vessel, eating fresh lobster taken from traps set the day before and fishing and catching our dinner of blue cod straight from the water. The tranquility, splendor and induced awe could not be matched.

I could go on about the beauty of New Zealand, the friendliness of its people, and the many opportunities afforded for hiking, boating, biking, and just rounding a corner to see jaw-dropping vistas at every turn, but I know that we wouldn’t have seen half as much, or been better directed and cared for than by the team of Sarah and Sara. We have never had a better experience with any travel consultant, large or small, anywhere else in the world. I have already referred 2 of my friends to their company and will continue to do so in the future. Thank you, thank you to The Saras!

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Ecuador: Galapagos, Quito, and a working hacienda with three generations


Allie was essential in making our 10-day trip possible (March 18 to 27, 2023). Most importantly, the trip was a huge success! Our planning with Allie started about a year prior to our actual journey.

We were a group that included 6 adults (parents and grandparents) and 4 children (ranging in ages from ten to thirteen). We started our trip by visiting Guayaquil and the relatively nearby Hacienda La Danesa, a fabulous working farm with over-the-top accommodations, excellent and creative food, and activities that included: tubing down a river, actually making chocolate from cacao beans grown on the farm, and milking cows. For a bunch of city-slickers, the farm experience was a real treat.

In our group we had one child with food allergies and several of us had food preferences (or more particularly, non-food preferences!). All the various food issues were communicated in advance by Allie to every place we visited, and they were ready for us!

After Guayaquil we spent 4 nights and 5 days on the Horizon, a trimaran vessel, touring the Galapagos Islands. The Horizon accommodates a maximum of 16 guests. The staff was excellent and the food quite tasty. As Allie suggested, four nights and five days was just the right length for our group.

Something to be aware of is a large part of the Galapagos experience is snorkeling. Visitors to the Galapagos should fully understand this. If visitors planning a trip to the Galapagos are not fans of snorkeling, much of the value of the trip would be “lost.”

After the Galapagos we flew to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The altitude of Quito is 9,300 feet and visitors should avoid alcohol for at least the first two days to give your body time to adjust to the thinner air and to mitigate possible altitude sickness. Do not be overly concerned about altitude sickness, but read up on it and be smart by not over-doing activities.

In Quito we visited Cuicocha Lake (a 2-mile-wide caldera and volcano crater lake), Otavalo Market, the Andean Condor Park, and the Intinan Museum (a family-friendly Equator park). In reading the suggested itinerary prior to our actual trip, these Quito activities seemed “hokey” to a few in our group. They were definitely not and were very much enjoyed by all ten of us!

Our Quito guide, Henry, was one of the best guides I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve traveled the world!

Ecuador has two seasons. Wet and less-wet. If possible, I’d recommend traveling during the “less-wet” season. We traveled at the end of the wet season and lucked out with a lack of rain. The week before our trip was apparently quite rainy, which would have been rather unpleasant.

Some other recommendations:
Prior to leaving for your trip, ask Allie to provide a simplified itinerary that recaps, by day, each activity you will experience. Also on the simplified itinerary, ask Allie to list the recommended gratuity to be provided to each guide, driver, or other service provider you will encounter. Print the simplified itinerary and bring it with you. The “fancy” online color itinerary provided by Allie may be interesting to look at while at home, however it does not print well (formatting issues) and is difficult to view while on your trip.

Bring quick-drying clothing which would include long pants, long-sleeve shirts and water shoes that dry quickly (look on Amazon). The long sleeves and long pants are for sun protection.

None of the toilets anywhere in Ecuador allow the flushing of toilet paper. After you “do your business,” the toilet paper is placed in a plastic-lined trash can. You might consider bringing single-use “tushy” wipes with you. You can find these on Amazon. Be certain to bring a wide-brim sun hat and sunscreen. As there is no cell service or Internet available on a ship, be sure to bring plenty of reading material with you (or a Kindle), as you will not be able to download anything while on the ship.

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Malta: 3 generations playing bocci, making pastry…


William Fisher

Nancy Fisher and family making pastizzi with Gulinu in Malta. Photo: William Fisher

Our family group of nine just returned from a week-long spring break trip to the Maltese Islands, organized by Damon and Denise. The trip included grandparents, children, and grandchildren ages 16 to 10. The trip was exceptionally well organized due to the time Damon spent prior to the trip determining what our interests were and how to maximize time spent making memories with our grandchildren.

The itinerary was heavy on outdoor activities to keep the grandkids engaged. Our activities included quad-biking on Gozo; a multi-course picnic lunch with wine on a secluded bay, followed by bocce ball with local players; touring the ruins of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra temples; and an amazing afternoon with the local falconer, who brought an owl, Harris hawk, and Maltese falcon to share with the entire group. We took a private tour of Underground Valletta and a private Dghajsa boat ride across the Valletta harbor for more exploration. We visited a baker and his wife where we made a local pastry called pastizzi, spent time with a local artisan who made musical instruments, visited a honey farm, and ended the day with a visit to a sheep farm where we sampled some delicious cheeses.

We stayed in a beautiful villa in Gozo that included a heated indoor swimming pool! You can imagine how excited the grandkids were when they walked in the front door and saw an indoor pool. Our lodging in Valletta was equally impressive, but in a different way. It was a castle-like structure built in the late 1500s that had been updated to include all the amenities of the current day. Our driver throughout our adventure was Super Mario. He was absolutely delightful! Always on time, always helpful, and always attentive to everyone’s needs, which were often a challenge. The entire experience was exceptional.

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Oman: climbing sand dunes, walking through ancient villages…


We can’t say enough good things about the two-week Oman trip Dan and his team planned for us over spring break. Dan was responsive and thoughtful, putting together a trip that balanced immersion in a completely different culture with enough outdoor adventure for us while not daunting our 7-year-old. From bustling Muscat with an incredible home-stay dinner where our kid spent the night playing and laughing with our hosts’ children, to being way off the grid climbing sand dunes for a technicolor sunset in the desert, and walking through ancient villages in the mountains, it was an unforgettable adventure.

Our guides on the ground were flawless: knowledgeable, kind, and adaptable, with real substantive contacts and knowledge. They set up coffee and dates with a Bedouin family, showed our kiddo how to pet and meet camels, and adjusted plans seamlessly when a sandstorm blew up. Our WOW Moment from Wendy was a special surprise: a glorious five-course dinner under the stars looking over an enormous mountainside canyon. It was an amazing trip and wouldn’t have happened without Dan.

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Ecuador: Galapagos & jungle with 3 generations


Peggy Schuemann

The Schuemann Family at Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador. Photo: Peggy Schuemann

When we went to the Galapagos ten years ago with our daughter and her family, we were sorry to leave behind our son’s family. They were just too young for the trip, and one grandson hadn’t even been born. But, never fear, ten years later, and Allie made all of our dreams come true. With Jennifer’s family we spent time in Quito. This time, however, we asked about Mashpi Lodge, and Allie highly recommended this as a destination prior to boarding our ship in the Galapagos.

Well, Mashpi is an amazing destination. The 3.5-hour drive is a bit daunting, but the destination is well worth the travel time. We traveled with our son, his wife, and their three boys, ages 13, 11, and 7. We asked Allie to arrange for a private guide for our family of 7, and she was very happy to set this up. We totally appreciated the continuity this afforded. Mashpi is in the cloud forest, which proved to be a wonderful experience for each of us. The lodge is beautiful and fits seamlessly into the area, while providing lovely, spacious rooms and an extremely comfortable experience. The food was outstanding. Anderson, our guide, is a former researcher at Mashpi who changed his focus to guiding several years ago and was knowledgable about the entire area. Our first hike took us to the Life Center, where we were mesmerized by the bird life, including beautiful toucans and parrots. Soon, a tayra showed up and we watched this weasel-type animal. Our oldest grandson is not fond of butterflies. But Anderson took him aside and gradually introduced him to the butterfly enclosure. Returning to our rooms, our ever-observant 11-year-old grandson noticed a sloth outside his window. Some of the lodge staff came running to see this slow-moving animal. When Anderson asked if we would like to hike in a river, we pictured a calm stream. However, we have wonderful memories of hiking in a fast-moving river where our son and his family swam under a waterfall. The highlight was when Anderson decided to venture out our last night during a heavy rain to fulfill our grandson’s dream of seeing a glass frog. At the last minute Anderson located this elusive frog, and everyone got to hold it.

We only had two nights at Mashpi, and would perhaps suggest another night, but we were busy every minute and have lasting memories of Anderson and the lodge. Soon we were back in Quito and boarding our flight for the Galapagos.

Our last trip to these amazing islands was aboard a ship that accommodated 100 guests. This time, we were on the Theory, with a capacity of 20 passengers. Traveling with 3 active grandsons, I was a bit apprehensive about this smaller ship. Would our grandsons have enough room to expend their energy? Never fear, Theory met and surpassed every expectation. Our trip was during spring-break time, and there were three other families on board, two of which were multi-generational, like ours. There were an additional three children, all within our boys’ age range. We saw all of the highlights, blue- and red-footed boobies, frigate birds, marine and land iguanas, and the huge tortoises. We snorkeled with the sea lions as we looked down to see our guides, and the ship captain, swimming behind white-tipped sharks and using their video cameras to take photos. One highlight was when our guide spotted orcas from our panga (zodiac) and we followed them, along with the other pangas, for about half an hour, racing through the blue waters of the Pacific. Hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, and just relaxing on the beaches of the Galapagos archipelago filled our days. Again, Allie arranged for Pepe, our private guide, and he made sure we “did it all.” Our son is trained as a chef, and he raved about the delicious food, asking the Theory chef for several recipes. The six children on board quickly befriended one another, and one night declared there would be a “kid’s table” at dinner.

I have used WOW travel planners for Spain, Morocco, Australia, South America, Montana and Wyoming, Norway, and other destinations. All have been very approachable, great listeners, and planned trips for us down to the last detail. Allie did the same for Ecuador, with Mashpi and the Galapagos. Thanks for the memories, Allie!

By the way, since I had used a number of WOW travel planners, we were eligible for a WOW Moment. It was so exciting when the captain invited us to the bridge for a special visit. There were appetizers and a toast. The captain had some props for the children to wear and captain’s gear for the rest of us.

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Costa Rica: wildlife, water adventures, happy kids…


My wife and I, along with our three children (elementary, high school, and college age), worked with Priscilla in the planning of a trip to Costa Rica in March. We were able to mix in plenty of activities with some relaxation.

Our first stay was at The Springs Resort and Spa in the Arenal Volcano area. The hotel offered plenty for the children to do beyond swimming. The waterfall rappelling excursion Priscilla recommended was very fun. At the hotel we spotted sloths and toucans, and the view of the volcano from the hotel room was spectacular.

Our next stop was La Paloma Lodge in Drake Bay, on the Osa Peninsula. The Sunset Rancho offered a fantastic view of the ocean, and the meals were great. Our excursion to Corcovado National Park was a highlight and we were able to see Howler Monkeys and troops of both White Faced Capuchin and Spider Monkeys. We also saw an arboreal anteater, Coatimundis, and a saltwater crocodile. Priscilla set up a wonderful night tour where we were able to see snakes, frogs, spiders, a scorpion, and even a fleeting glimpse of a Kinkajou. Cocolito Beach by the lodge offered some great waves for boogie boarding and never felt crowded. From beginning to end, Priscilla and the team provided a lot of details/organization so we could just enjoy the trip.

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Thailand and Cambodia: biking, hiking, tasting local delicacies…


Floating Market near Bangkok

Floating Market near Bangkok. Photo: Jeffrey Lonsinger

In February, several friends and I volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. After our week there we wanted to spend more time traveling on our own, so we called Dan.

Our instructions were minimal… a leisurely pace with some hiking and biking and small, beautifully designed hotels.

Taking it from there, Dan and his experience planner, Bank, put together a perfect itinerary with just the right amount of activity. They suggested three nights in Chiang Rai, three nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and the last three nights in Bangkok.

In northern Thailand, we hiked through coffee and tea plantations, through rice paddies and cherry orchards. A highlight was a visit to the Royal Villa and Gardens In Doi Tung. Learning about Mae Fah Luang, the princess mother who developed this area, was fascinating as well.

Next, it was on to Siem Reap, where we visited the UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat, along with several other temples. The town itself was a surprise, with upscale hotels and sophisticated restaurants. We really enjoyed our visit to Theam’s Gallery, where Cambodian artist Lim Muy Theam and apprentices are reestablishing Khmer art and culture.

In Bangkok we stayed at a lovely small hotel right on the Chao Phraya River that was in walking distance of the royal palace.

We loved our morning bike ride through neighborhoods and temples in an area of the city not often frequented by tourists. In the evening we enjoyed a tour of the local food scene with many opportunities to try unusual fare! Fermented fish, water beetles, and live shrimp if you are brave enough!

Our last morning was spent at a Floating Market about an hour outside of Bangkok. This was very touristy, but a lot of fun… a way of life that we couldn’t have imagined!

That evening we celebrated our wonderful adventure with drinks and dinner on the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. It was the perfect ending to a great trip.

More important than anything we saw were our guides, who made each destination come alive for us. Moon, Woodsey, and Tee were incredibly knowledgeable and a joy to be with! We enjoyed getting to know each one of them, and always felt so well cared for.

Dan and Bank created the perfect trip and kept in touch with us throughout our visit. We would highly recommend Dan’s team for your next Southeast Asian adventure!

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French Polynesia: romance, boating, meeting locals…


It was a trip of a lifetime, and Kleon made it happen for us!

My husband and I went to French Polynesia, specifically the islands Taha’a and Bora Bora, in March of 2023. We felt taken care of after our first phone call with Kleon.

Kleon is personable, knowledgeable, patient, calm, inquisitive, and a great listener. Kleon spent our initial phone call getting to know us. His questions focused on our likes, dislikes, preferences, must-haves and nice-to-haves. Kleon has a unique expertise of asking pertinent questions efficiently enough to craft a amazing trip, paying keen attention to details.

We had the most relaxing and enjoyable time together, because Kleon managed all the details. Kleon arranged all the transfers, all the reservations not only for resorts but the helicopter ride, boat tour, and dinners, which allowed us to just focus on each other.

Kleon set up the most romantic, private dinner on the beach with live Polynesian music. The table was set up with linen, flowers, a bottle of champagne chilling all surrounded by tiki torches. It was picture-perfect.

Kleon’s relationships with French Polynesian locals gave us a unique opportunity to meet many of the extraordinary people; the family-owned vanilla plantation, the operation of a pearl farm, etc.

Kleon also arranged a boat tour around one of the islands; which was one of the highlights of our trip. The captain and his first mate were so personable, engaging, caring and we thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them. It was fun listening to them talk about their backgrounds, the knowledge of the area and ocean life. It was a perfect day on a beautiful boat with snorkeling, swimming with sharks, seeing a huge, beautiful manta ray, spinner dolphins who gave us quite a show, and enjoying coconut water and snacks. Kleon shared that it was our anniversary and the captain surprised us with real wine glasses and a bottle of chilled wine for a truly special day!

Kleon gets the highest compliments from us, as he exceeded our expectations and gave us memories we will cherish and talk about for years to come!

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Portugal: off-the-beaten-path medieval towns, a WOW Moment chef’s dinner…


Goncalo and Patricia planned a wonderful and varied 9-day itinerary for us and were absolutely delightful to work with. This was our third trip to Portugal, so we wanted to visit places we had previously missed. Within and close to Lisbon, these included Belem and Sintra. After Lisbon we drove to Belmonte and explored the medieval towns of east central Portugal, including Sortelha and Trancoso. This is a beautiful, less travelled part of the country where we were often the only tourists walking the narrow, winding streets and eating our bacalhau (cod stew) beside local families in tiny cafes. We stayed in Belmonte’s Pousada and ate one of the best meals of our trip – an unexpected discovery in a fairly isolated location. Next we spent three days in the Douro Valley, where we enjoyed a private cruise down the Douro river and wine tastings at two quintas. At Bomfim 1896, Goncalo and Patricia surprised us a with a WOW Moment dinner accompanied by wines from the adjacent quinta. Given the choice of ordering a la carte or giving Chef Pedro Lemos free rein to create whatever inspired him, we chose the latter. The evening was so much fun, as the chef and serving staff brought us a sequence of small plates that were as artistic as they were delicious. We spent the last two days in Porto, which is charming but in mid-March already overrun with tourists. We look forward to working with Goncalo and Patricia on a trip to the Azores.

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Southern Africa: safari, Victoria Falls, wine country…


Beautiful Southern Africa for our 30th Wedding Anniversary

It was deep in the dark days of the pandemic, trapped in our townhome, that I began to dream of traveling again in the future. Our 30th wedding anniversary was coming up in a little over a year, so going down my bucket list I landed on an African safari as the perfect way to celebrate. My husband on board, I reached out to Wendy Perrin in January of 2022, who referred us to Julian and his trusty sidekick Lisa Cara. From our first call, Julian put me at ease with his expert knowledge on African safaris and I knew I was working with the exact right person. We spoke about our goals for the trip, he made great suggestions, and within a few days I had an itinerary. Double-checking on the accommodations – all very well reviewed – and validating the plan, we were in!!

Julian and Lisa took great care of us during the year we waited to head out, answering all our questions promptly. They booked local flights, provided advice on luggage for the safari planes, made suggestions for restaurants in Cape Town, guided us on what to expect regarding tipping, etc.

We’ve just returned from this spectacular trip. Four days in Cape Town visiting Table Mountain, Boulders Beach, the Cape of Good Hope, the Victoria & Alfred waterfront, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and of course the Winelands, along with a fantastic lunch at Glen Carlou; two nights at Victoria Falls in the lovely Old Drift Lodge; and 6 nights in Botswana: 2 nights in Savute, 2 nights in Camp Moremi, and 2 nights in Shinde. Fabulous. All the accommodations were outstanding, and the transport between camps was flawless. At each stop we were made to feel so special, with an incredible “sundowner” experience at Old Drift, along with cakes and celebrations at each safari camp for our anniversary. It was clear that Julian and team had taken exceptional effort to ensure all the camps were aware of our special event, which was a wonderful surprise that we really appreciated.

For anyone like me not familiar with safari travel – everything at the camps is included: food, drinks, activities. Think of a very small cruise ship on land. To me, this is a very cost-effective way to experience luxury travel. Plus, two weeks later, eating healthy food and staying active, I came home feeling better than ever (despite terrible allergies that started in the bush – take your meds!!) and would absolutely love to do another trip to other areas in Africa in this same manner.

This complicated trip was made so easy! We had the flexibility to choose our own restaurants in Cape Town yet were expertly navigated to the best attractions by our own personal guide, Jacqui Van Rensburg, who was such a joy with whom to work. We were met at each airport and guided through the processes for entry in Zimbabwe and Botswana. All the arrangements for safari plane movements between camps worked perfectly. While I often plan trips myself, I can highly recommend arranging a trip like this through an expert. Julian’s services took all the stress out and we were left with nothing but fantastic fun and great memories. Thank you to Wendy, Julian, and Lisa for making this a dream trip – one of more we hope to arrange with you.

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Italy: cooking class, artisan workshops, truffle hunting…


Our trip to Italy was nothing less than perfect! We traveled 3/11/23-3/22/23 to Rome, Florence and Venice with our 2 adult children (ages 21 and 25) and then a few days in Milan on our own. We worked with Jennifer…she was amazing to work with and we couldn’t have been happier with our trip. The hotels that she selected were top-notch, service was incredible and unbelievably located. Each tour/tour guide was unique…filled with information, history, culture and more. Our cooking class in Rome with Marco was surprisingly a highlight for my 25-year-old son. My husband has not stopped talking about our day in the Tuscan countryside, where we visited a cheese farm, tasted wine and olive oil, had the most incredible lunch at one of the wineries, and then ended our day with truffle hunting in the woods with the cutest truffle hunter ever, Dora. Other highlights were an artisan tour of Florence where we met local artisans who have been continuing their family traditions for generations, glass blowing in Murano, and our trip to the beautiful Burano with its beautiful colorful houses along the canals. We had great tour guides every step of the way who were incredibly knowledgeable, kind, fun and gave us a taste of the wonderful people of Italy. The food was spectacular!! Every restaurant recommendation was spot-on and when we wanted to make a change (because we needed to get one more portion of cacio e pepe), help was easily accessible, quick to respond and extremely helpful. Jennifer planned an amazing trip that we will never forget. We highly recommend and will use again for sure! Thank you!

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Oman: Muscat’s souks, interactions with locals…


Our trip to Oman (March 9 – 20) was an amazing experience. Dan did an amazing job of putting a diverse itinerary together using his knowledge of traveling in the country years ago. He truly nailed it!

Highlight of the trip was immersion into Omani culture through being welcomed into private homes for lunch, dinner and a pre-wedding women’s gathering. A real treat! The Omani folks are welcoming, gracious, a peaceful people and accepting of all cultures and faiths.

The country is beautiful — from the amazingly pristine capital of Muscat with souks, fish, fruit and vegetable markets, to the Grand Mosque and Sultan’s Palace, along with glimpses of his two mega yachts at the Marina, to the mountains with donkeys and goats freely roaming, to the desert with camels — to name just a few of the unique experiences. Always something new to see and locals to meet. And the boat excursion to the Daymaniyat Islands is not to be missed!

Fahad was a wonderful, “all-inclusive” guide. Couldn’t have been more pleasant, respectful and interesting with a willingness to share about his culture, religion and love of Oman, as much as he was interested in our life in America.

Oman is called “The Pearl of Arabia.” So true! A definite bucket-list destination for the adventurous traveler.

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Mexico City: historic strolls, private chefs, local boutiques…


Loved Mexico City and loved the help from Zach. From the start, Zach listened and provided options based on what we wanted. We wanted to explore neighborhoods and culture and avoid crowded museums and other tourist sites. Zach and his team delivered right on point. We were able to visit the historic downtown, stroll through neighborhoods like Roma, Condessa and Polanca in the heart of Mexico City, and visit the district of Coyoacan with the charming Colonia del Carmen neighborhood and village center with our guide Amalia. If you are a foodie you will love your options. We had a wonderful taco tour with Fredrico and 2 wonderful meals with private chefs Alfredo and Graciela. Everything was absoluteley delicious. Another highlight was a shopping afternoon with Cristina, who took us to wonderful off-the-beaten-path shops where we were able to purchase items we will cherish forever, and a beautiful selection of clothing for my wife. We had a wonderful time and will definitely use Zach next time we go to Mexico.

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Belize: snorkeling, chocolate farm, Mayan drumming…


We travel a lot but generally to the beaten-track destinations, so Belize was a bit exciting and scary when we were planning! But with Patricia’s help it was an amazing trip that was an unforgettable experience for the whole family—everyone (6 people ranging in age from 17 to 60) loved it (which is rare) and Patricia’s help was just invaluable—so thank you!

In Ambergris Cay we stayed at the Alaia—loved this resort and our villa! Obviously the seaweed situation now is unfortunate, but nothing anyone can do and it affects many Caribbean and Mexican destinations. Loved our snorkeling trip—the reef here is amazing!

Then we moved on to the jungle and Ka-Ana resort—the rooms were very nice and the people were lovely and the special birthday dinner they put together for two members of our party who had a birthday while there was just amazing! This was our favorite part of the trip. All of the activities with Darryl of Unbelizable Adventures were amazing and we all loved Darryl as a guide—just the right balance for us of adventure and caution, of educating us but not droning on or being boring! The Caracol and Xunantunich Mayan ruin tours were amazing (lots of monkeys and wildlife too!), but the pontoon boat trip was an amazing highlight—I don’t think the description in the brochure does it justice! We all had the most amazing day.

Finally we stayed in Placencia at Itzana—loved the resort and the villa and the location. Adored the snorkeling trip to that amazing small island (bird something?); such a fun day in the Caribbean. We enjoyed the spice-farm and chocolate-farm tours as well as a Mayan cooking and drumming demonstration. We also all loved the boat tour of the bioluminescent lagoon and are very glad we added it!

All the flights and arrangements went very smoothly and we had a great trip and loved Belize!

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“The full beauty of Scotland,” even in low season


Jonathan and Katie planned our March trip to the UK (Scotland/England).

I fully expected the weather to work against our itinerary, but the weather was surprisingly mild, which enabled us to experience the full beauty of Scotland. Our guide, John, was a true difference maker the five days we were together. He eagerly shared his knowledge of Scotland and moved us through the country, with high-speed internet available to us for the inevitable interruption. John also has a vast knowledge of the whisky industry and its history in Scotland. We had a great introduction to the whisky industry during our WOW Moment at The Pot Still in Glasgow. It was a great way to start our journey through Scotland. The hotels we used were all top-notch and we will look forward to returning to Gleneagles to take advantage of all the activities they have to offer. Unfortuntely we did experience a day of bad weather during our time at Gleneagles. The American Bar at Gleneagles is a must-visit if you are a hotel guest.

Our guide in Edinburgh was Val, and she had an incredible knowledge of the city and pointed out many out-of-the-way places that truly brought the city to life for us. Neil toured us through Stonehenge and Oxford, providing a lifetime of knowledge about that part of England. Our experiences were greatly enhanced by the services of these people. We were able to see and learn so much more by not wasting time being lost or trying to figure out which side of the road to drive on. Thanks to Katie and Jonathan for planning this great experience and for connecting us with such outstanding people.

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Egypt and Jordan: iconic monuments with smart logistics


My trip to Jordan and Egypt over the holidays was fantastic! While there were a couple of times in planning that communication seemed a bit delayed, Jim and his colleague Arlene planned a great trip. All of our guides were absolutely top-notch and super knowledgeable, and everything was organized perfectly — we were met and escorted through airports, there were cars waiting with A/C and cold water, etc.

Even though my friend and I are both experienced travelers, it was nice to be able to relax and not worry about where we were going next or how we were going to get there — for example, when we did the fly-in excursion from Aswan to Abu Simbel (which I highly recommend!), we were escorted past the rest of the people on our flight who were waiting for shuttle buses and directly to a private minivan, making us the first ones to the site with our guide).

We felt like we were able to see all of the must-sees/highlights, but also, despite being there at a very crowded time of year, were able to get off the beaten path a bit to visit places with few if any other visitors. We only had a few days in Jordan, so our time going to/from Petra was a whirlwind, though we packed in as much as we could and our guide and driver were great about replanning our route and stops on the fly when some protests closed the main road. We didn’t love the Movenpick in Petra (we had rooms on opposite sides of the building but the dozens of barking dogs outside kept us both up all night, despite noise-canceling headphones), but understand there really aren’t any better options in the area and it was super-convenient to the site.

All of our other hotels were wonderful. We absolutely loved the Old Cataract in Aswan, where we had great spa treatments and only wished we could’ve had a few more days to laze around on their terraces and explore the grounds. Our Nile cruise was very comfortable, and the Four Seasons in Cairo was lovely — our rooms were upgraded and mine had a balcony overlooking the Nile with views of the city (and even the pyramids!). Our day visiting Giza and Saqqara I think really perfectly illustrated the benefits of using a WOW list professional – our Egyptologist guide knew exactly when to get there, and where within the complex to start, the benefit being that we were able to experience the Sphinx and the side of the Great Pyramid with virtually no one else around. Similarly, in Saqqara we visited a few stunning tombs that had few, if any, visitors. And our lunch stop was for delicious, traditional Egyptian food served in a beautiful garden; it felt like eating at someone’s home. We also loved our food tour in Cairo.

Egypt had been on my bucket list for years and I’m so glad to have finally made it. The only disappointment was that the Grand Egyptian Museum had not opened as planned by the time of our trip, which I suppose just means I’ll have to go back in a few years!

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England: London, Oxford, Stonehenge…


Wynne Wages and family

Wynne Wages and family in front of Windsor Castle.

Our trip to London and Oxford planned by Jennifer was absolutely amazing. She listened to our desires, planned a wonderful trip which checked all of the boxes for our various family members, and was incredibly patient and kind throughout the entire process. We felt very secure with Jennifer’s team and with the guides and drivers that they secured for us. This was our best family vacation by far and I would highly recommend Jennifer for anyone traveling to the U.K.

My “royalist” daughter was in literal tears when we walked up to Buckingham Palace…and her enthusiasm didn’t wane throughout the entire trip. Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London…so many places were thrilling for her (and for all of us!).

Our London guide, Mark, was fantastic. He truly let our desires lead the way. For instance, Tanner wanted to go by the Lindo Wing steps if we had time. Mark and our driver made the time…and made her day! He said that was a new request for him, but that he aimed to please. He was patient and knowledgeable and we loved our days in London with him. Trey was absolutely enthralled with the BTS tour of the Churchill War Rooms. We all were, actually.

Elizabeth in Oxford was a breath of fresh air. Such grace, knowledge and love for Oxford. She was wonderful as well. Not only do I want to be her best friend, but I want to be in her book club! If I could change anything about the trip, we would have spent an additional day in Oxford…we absolutely loved it.

David was so nice and had so much information to share. He was less flexible than the other two guides…keeping us on track!…but we had a lot of sites to see during his two days with us. Stonehenge was a true sight to behold…truly amazing. All of us were disappointed with Bath. It felt very commercialized and the Jane Austen Centre was fairly juvenile. I wish we had gone into Bath Abbey instead. My next trip will be the cathedrals, chapels and churches…we loved them all so much! Stratford-Upon-Avon was great; unfortunately Anne Hathaway’s cottage was closed so we missed going there. But we had added a stop to Holy Trinity Church and Shakespeare’s grave, so that eased the pain!

Both hotels were amazing, especially The Chesterfield Mayfair. The staff was extremely helpful, kind and gracious. The Old Bank was lovely, too. We just had less interaction with the staff. The locations of each were perfect and I’m so glad that we selected those two.

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Malta and Sardinia: fascinating people, insider access, delicious food…


The nine-day itinerary Jason created for us to Malta and Sardinia in March was crammed with memorable experiences: entrance to the 4000 BC Hypogeum underground burial complex (tickets difficult to come by); a fascinating visit with a sixth-generation gilder; the tastiest private tour of a food market I’ve ever been on; a walk in the Sardinian countryside to see the island’s wild four-foot-tall horses; and—my favorite—a fabulous multi-course lunch set up just for us on an isolated cliff in Gozo above the crashing waves. Jason’s ground teams were as interesting as the sights and scenery—our Malta guide, Martin, is a practicing Knight of Malta whose title goes back generations, as well as a professional photographer and former coach of Australia’s Olympic bobsled team (go figure); our driver there, Mario, is a former comptroller and auditor in addition to being an all-around great guy; guide Paola got her start translating for Tony Ryan when he was setting up his Ryanair empire in Sardinia; Marcello, our driver in Sardinia, had recently returned from the Polish border as a volunteer transporting Ukrainian orphans by bus to safety. And if you ever want to feel like Bill Gates, now is your moment: Thanks to the VIP service Jason arranges at the airport, you wait in a private lounge before being escorted past the frenzied crowds to a town car on the tarmac that drives you to your plane, all before boarding officially begins.

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Spain: spring break with college-age kids


We took two weeks through southern and central Spain, thanks to Pablo and his team. My wife and my daughter about to graduate from college spent the first week hitting Seville, Cordoba, Jerez de la Frontera, Ronda and Granada. It would be hard to pick a favorite, but the highlights were the bull ring and views in Ronda, the equestrian show and mini food tour in Jerez, the old town in Seville and the Alhambra in Granada. The tour guides were excellent, the hotels we stayed in were just what we asked for — small, boutique hotels with charm to spare.

Or second week saw us drop our oldest at the airport and meet our youngest, who is studying in Madrid for the spring. The highlight was being able to work with Alfonso, who guided us through the Prado and on all-day tours hitting Toledo, the El Escorial and Segovia. Alfonso was incredibly accommodating, super-knowledgable and set us up with reservations at incredible restaurants for lunch in both Toledo and Segovia. We stayed at the Totem Hotel in Madrid, which was absolutely fabulous. A sneaky favorite for us in Madrid was an unplanned visit to Alfredo di Stéfano stadium to see the Real Madrid Femeninos play a match. The best double-secret favorite was the impromptu visit to an Arab bath in the lower part of a privately owned building in Toledo. This was only possible because of the incredible connections of Alfonso.

Pablo and Patricia were great to work with, extremely accommodating, very well connected and really delivered on what we asked for and more.

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Chile: history, biking, wine tasting…


We initially booked our Chile travel organized by Jordan for April 2020, and then rebooked for April 2021. Neither happened, of course. While Jordan tried to move our trip to 2022, it was not possible, so Jordan provided a credit for the entire amount we had paid, good for a year. When travel restrictions began to loosen, we decided to revisit our Chile trip and contacted Jordan in June 2022. We knew our credit had expired, but to our surprise and delight, Jordan was able to provide us credit for 2/3s of what we had paid for the 2020 trip. It was much appreciated.

We worked with Jordan and completely revised our itinerary, removing Easter Island and the Atacama Desert segments and replacing them with more time in the wine country and a 5-night stay at Tierra Chiloe, in the Chiloe archipelago. This halved the internal flights and avoided the still-present Covid-related travel requirements for Easter Island. While the travel to and from Tierra Chiloe consumed two days of our trip, it was a beautiful place, which, despite the long rides for our hiking and biking excursions, was most definitely worth the journey.

Tierra Chiloe is in an isolated but absolutely beautiful location. Jordan recommended a visit to the Chiloe archipelago (and Tierra Chiloe in particular), as it would provide an introduction to indigenous peoples of Chile and offer opportunities for hiking and biking. He was right. We loved it. Our room at Tierra Chiloe was very comfortable, with a great view of the wetlands and the migratory birds. The food and drink were very good, with the dinner menu changing daily. There are magnificent views from the dining and adjacent lounging area, and each area has fireplaces that kept the area very comfortable, even when the wind and rain were lashing the building. The staff were all pleasant and helpful. The grounds of Tierra Chiloe include a “backyard trail” that is not to be missed. Weather is temperamental on Chiloe but adds much to the charm. Our first excursion, the day after a heavy rain, was a 5-mile difficult hike through the woods, over streams, up and down sand dunes, and on a beach. We had light rain, mud, and wind. We passed close by cows and steers. The guide took time to identify trees, plants, flowers, and birds. The hike was one of the highlights of our trip. Our companions on the hike were native Chileans from Santiago. We loved meeting them, and we had many enjoyable conversations with them while we were at the resort. The other highlight in Chiloe was meeting Sandria. This occurred during an excursion to another island in the archipelago that required a short ferry ride. Our lunch that day was at Sandria’s farm. Sandria’s story is amazing. She is a single woman who, after working 20 years in the salmon-farming industry, bought 7 hectares of land (about 14 acres) and started an organic vegetable farm. She has been recognized as one of the best organic farmers in Chile by the Chilean government. She works the farm by herself – building fences and greenhouses, planting a multitude of vegetables (including the giant garlic that is her top income generator), raising chickens, sheep, and pigs, and picking fruit and making jellies and jams. In the winter, she keeps busy not only with maintenance chores, but by using the wool from her sheep to make socks that she sells to venders. Just an amazing and inspirational woman.

Backing up, we started our Chilean journey with a 3-night stay at Jordan’s recommendation — the Matetic Vineyards. It was a beautiful and quiet setting. We enjoyed guided morning bike rides around the property (it is quite a large property) of 26 and 31 kilometers, and an afternoon hike. Our guide for each of these adventures was a pleasant and engaging young man who shared much about life in Chile, from the educational system to the job market. Our journeys took us past not only vineyards and fields of organic blueberries, but also fields where cows, sheep, and alpaca were grazing. We saw the original, no-longer-used winery on the property, and ovens where charcoal was produced. Our room was very comfortable. The food was very good, with a different menu every night for dinner. The wine was excellent. All the staff and guides were pleasant and helpful. We could have stayed longer.

We then ventured to Santiago for two nights at Jordan’s recommended lodging — the Hotel Magnolia – a very nice boutique hotel in a restored palace. We ate dinner at the hotel’s rooftop terrace restaurant. The food and service were very good. In response to our desire to learn about Chilean history, Jordan arranged a tour of the city that included a visit to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, a tour of the downtown area, a visit to the park, and rides on the funicular and cable car. The museum provided an in-depth look at the Pinochet years. On our second day in Santiago, we went to the Aconcagua Valley for wine tasting. Our itinerary called for a visit to two wineries, with lunch. We visited only one of those wineries in the itinerary, with two others being visited instead of the historic winery listed. We did not know about the change in advance. One of the substituted wineries was a great experience – Flaherty. The wines were excellent, including a wonderful Tempranillo which the Flahertys grow on in their tiny vineyard. We very much enjoyed seeing and learning about their winemaking process. This visit was another highlight of the trip.

We ended our Chilean journey in Valparaiso. Quite an impressive city on the coast with a working waterfront, lots of hills, funiculars to assist with getting up the hills, and, as Jordan told us, amazing street art. We enjoyed our walking tour of the city, during which our hunger for history was fed. The hotel Jordan recommended — Casa Higueras – was small and tucked away at the end of a street. Our room with a balcony had a marvelous view of the working waterfront. The room was comfortable and the views spectacular. We ate dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, sitting outside on the balcony with its wonderful views.

Addressing our desire to learn about Chilean wine, Jordan planned another day of visiting wineries while we were located in Valparaiso. We went to three wineries in the Casablanca Valley. We did not know the names of the wineries in advance and there was some confusion, as our guide did not have the specifics of what was happening at each winery, but our experience at the second winery – Kingston — was another highlight of the trip. We were given a private tour of the winemaking process with the winemaker, as well as for a wine tasting. Andy explained his philosophy of winemaking (every winemaker has one!). He had us dipping into the plastic vats of fermenting grapes and tasting the juice from 1, 2, and 4 days of fermenting for both pinot noir grapes for their top wines and the Chardonnay grapes for their sparkling wine. We got to see, and hear, the fermenting up close! This was one of our best wine experiences in 20 years.

Our driver for the trip, excluding Chiloe, was fantastic. He was not only an excellent driver but a wonderful person. His English was about the level of our Spanish, but we were always able to understand each other. We enjoyed the guide Jordan arranged, who was with us except in Chiloe and the city tour of Valparaiso. He was friendly and helpful. We appreciated his willingness to talk about life under Pinochet and what is going on in Chile from a political standpoint – again allowing us, as we had expressed to Jordan we wanted, to learn some history and understand the country better.

Jordan provided a local contact in Chile for emergency situations. We had to call them in connection with flight issues. First to let them know our international flight was delayed leaving the U.S. (4-hour delay) so the driver and guide picking us up could be alerted. Second was to alert them and obtain assistance in regards to our delayed and then diverted flight from Castro to Santiago. The two individuals we spoke with were competent, understanding, and helpful.

Jordan provided great recommendations and put together a wonderful itinerary. In hindsight, I realize we should have been a bit more specific with respect to what we wanted in connection with wine, but our experiences at the Flaherty and Kingston wineries were top-notch and we would recommend those wineries to all who have a lot of experience with private wine tours. They put Chile into the countries with our top private wine exploration experiences.

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Ireland: spring break with teens


My friend and I took our four teenage sons on a March spring break trip to Ireland arranged by Jonathan. It was a mix of sightseeing, adventure, and downtime that was perfect for all of us. I can’t speak highly enough about our time with our private drive-guide, Frank. Frank got to know the boys and their interests and went out of his way to add to the itinerary with activities such as Gaelic Games and time with a local club soccer team. Our boys loved getting to spend time with other teens from Ireland.

Some favorite activities were our boat ride in Killarney National Park followed by a seven-mile jaunting cart ride. The Galway food walking tour was a hit for all. While the rest of our group did Gaelic games, I did a walking tour of Dublin and had a wonderful time learning about Dublin past and present.

This is my second trip that I have done going through your WOW List. Your trip planners make vacations memorable and special. I will never plan a trip without going through Wendy Perrin—and I freely share this advice with others.

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Mexico: after-hours museum visit, tequila tasting, a WOW Moment…


This was our second time using the services of Zach’s team, this time for travels to Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende and, yet again, they excelled.

The tours and activities they planned in Mexico City (historical city tour, visit to San Angel, Coyoacan, and Casa Azul, etc.) were exactly what we wanted. They even arranged a private after-hours visit to the National Museum of Anthropology–we had the entire museum to ourselves! Wandering through the galleries with an expert was definitely a magical experience, and brought the cultures to life. Our guide, Victor, was excellent throughout, always finding something extraordinary for us to see, including the fantastic murals at the Ministry of Public Education (a truly overlooked site). Before leaving Mexico City, we were treated to a WOW Moment with a special lunch at Los Danzantes, including our own personal mariachis (thanks, Wendy).

San Miguel was the “downtime” part of our trip, however, Zach’s office did arrange a marvelous tour of the city, a tequila tasting, and tour of the Botanical Gardens. They even managed to squeeze in a tour of Queretaro before we boarded our flight home.

As before, the efficiency and knowledge of the people at Zach’s office made the trip effortless for us. Other parts of Mexico are on our travel list, and we will definitely call on them again for their help.

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Egypt: iconic sights & off-the-beaten-path locales


Jeannie Mullen enjoying her WOW Moment - a dinner cruise in Aswan with friends

Jeannie Mullen enjoying her WOW Moment – a dinner cruise in Aswan with friends.

Two friends and I just returned from a private three-week trip to Egypt planned by Jim and his staff. Jim started working with me over a year ago on the details and did a great job planning a very interesting, educational, diverse and fun trip for us, and Arlene and Glenda fine-tuned the details as we got closer to our departure date. The hotels, the Oberoi Philae cruise ship, the private guides and Egyptologists and drivers were all top-notch. The local reps they used were fastidious about details/logistics and kept in close contact with us at each location to ensure that they were meeting our expectations.

We started in Cairo on the Giza plateau with a private tour of the Sphinx, then moved on to the pyramids, temples and tombs that we all see in our dreams when we think of Egypt. On the first day of what turned out to be a very diverse 21-day tour…we had a lovely random encounter (and photo op) with Zawi Hawass, the very engaging, world-famous archeologist, who was exiting the Sphinx as we were entering. Other highlights in Cairo were the Egyptian Museum, a preview of the new GEM, a walking “bellies” food tour (which was fantastic and a great introduction to Egyptian cuisine in the trendy Heliopolis neighborhood) and Tahrir Square.

From the hustle and bustle of Cairo (where driving rules are considered mere suggestions) we moved on to the tranquility and beauty of an eco lodge in Siwa, a desert oasis west of Cairo and about 250 miles from the Libyan border. What an unexpected treat. Adrere Almallal is a stunning lodge which offers guests an opportunity to unplug (no electricity and no wifi) and experience the life and pace that the desert affords. The tranquility, the staff, the FOOD, the candlelit rooms with wood-burning fireplaces and the night sky bursting with stars was such a gift. Highlights in Siwa were a trip into town to tour the Temple of the Oracle of Amun and the Spring of Juba (Cleopatra’s pool), a visit to an all-women’s workshop, shopping and sharing tea with the local Siwa merchants, and a 4×4 trip into the desert to ride the dunes, dune surf, hunt for fossils and watch a stunning sunset. The lodge also had a very nice gift shop where we all bought locally made table linens.

Leaving the tranquility of Siwa, we transferred to Luxor, where we were met by Michael Samir Shaker, a delightful and intelligent young man who has a terrific personality and gives a highly informative and interesting tour of the Valleys of the Kings, Queens and Nobles. He also gave us great insider advice about where to shop for jewelry and spices (wait ‘til Aswan).… Before getting on the Oberoi Philae for a four-night Nile cruise, we enjoyed a sunrise balloon ride over the same valleys that we had toured with Michael the day before.

The Nile cruise was a true delight. With just 22 cabins, the crew/passenger ratio on the Oberoi Philae was perfect for us and the service was impeccable. Between the three of us, we made use of the spa and the workout room when not out on an excursion. We were also pleased to be able to make arrangements for Michael to continue on with us for the daily excursions.

When we arrived in Aswan, Michael took us on a wonderful day tour of the High Dam, Philae Temple and the Nubian Museum, and at our request, took us on a shopping spree (jewelry, linens and spices) at the end of the day before returning us to the boat. The spice shop he suggested was quite an experience. In addition to spices which included Iranian saffron, we walked out with bags of dates, coffee and tea. Michael also left with a few bags of spices to take to his mother in Luxor. Our WOW Moment came in Aswan after we disembarked the next morning and checked into the famous Old Cataract Hotel on the Nile. Wendy arranged for a private sunset dinner cruise that night which was just stunning. Thank you again, Wendy!

From Aswan we flew over and back in the same day to Abu Simbel, to tour the two massive rock relief temples of Ramesses II and Nefertari located on the banks of Lake Nasser. Very much worth the effort as these temples, particularly Ramesses II, were very impressive.

The next morning we flew from Aswan to Sharm el Sheikh on the Sinai peninsula for the final four days of our trip. Highlights in Sharm included a day trip to St. Catherine’s Monastery (a day full of biblical history…the story of Moses, the burning bush and the 10 commandments…which was fascinating). On our last day, our local guide, Islam Wahba, chartered a boat for snorkeling in Ras Mohammed National Park, a stunning underwater coral reef. Islam arranged for a diving instructor to be on board, so in addition to snorkeling, we were treated to a personal diving lesson and our first “dive” to see the coral up close. Our dive instructor, Luca, was patient, encouraging and adventurous. It was an unexpected and exhilarating experience for each of us.

On our last night in Cairo before heading stateside, our very first guide, Ayman, met us one last time for dinner at our hotel and brought us each a box of “sweets.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, among the many, many experiences we had, the thing that stood out to each of us the most was the warm and welcoming spirits of the Egyptian people…to a person they greeted us with a smile, volunteered to help us navigate the traffic in Cairo, gave us directions and generally chatted with us happily. This trip was made all the more special by the lovely Egyptians that we crossed paths with along the way. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience this beautiful country.

Egypt has a variety of police forces, all very visible, one of which is the Tourism Police. Travelers to Egypt who are going to Siwa (in the Libyan Desert) and to St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, three hours north of Sharm el Sheikh, should not be surprised to be accompanied by either a police escort (as in the case of Siwa) or private security (as in the case of St. Catherine’s Monastery).

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Southeast Asia: food, local connections, uncrowded sights…


We just returned from a fabulous three-week plus trip to Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, and Cambodia organized for us by Sandy. While we have traveled a great deal, this trip was among the best, if not THE, best trip we’ve taken. The diversity and specialness of our experiences made it stand out.

Like Napoleon’s army, we travel on our stomachs and the food we had on this trip was extraordinary. One evening in Laos we went to the home of our guide who Sandy has worked closely with for years. We helped prepare dinner, were blessed by the family elders in a baci ceremony for success on our journey, ate the delicious food we had helped cook, and danced and sang with the family. Another night in Cambodia, we ate at a local village restaurant. With travel to Cambodia down due to the pandemic, it’s a great time to visit and we were the only people at the restaurant. After a foot massage and passion fruit mojito, we were escorted to our table overlooking vibrant green rice fields while being serenaded by lovely music. In Hanoi, we went to Bun Cha Sinh Tu and had the famous soup it’s known for. It was table-pounding good. And our Vespa food tour of Saigon which Sandy had strongly suggested was both delicious and terrifying. Driving a motorbike in Saigon should be an Olympic sport and we just rode!

Our excellent guides in Laos and Viet Nam shared with us the experiences of their families during the War and recounted working with American veterans who returned years later as well as a reporter who had covered it. These personal and moving stories touched us and helped us better understand the profound effect of the War on the people who lived through it.

In Cambodia, we went to a Buddhist temple at 5:30 in the morning and meditated. Afterwards, we were showered with lotus petals as part of a blessing ceremony and had breakfast at the monastery as the sun rose. Early one morning in Laos, we gave sticky rice to saffron-robed monks who extended their begging bowls to us. Through this daily ritual, the monks demonstrate their vows of poverty and humility. Our guide took us to a quiet place where her family normally gives alms, avoiding other tourists.

It’s hard to encapsulate all we saw and did because there was so much — seeing the temples of Angkor, kayaking in Halong Bay, boating on the Saigon River, biking through Hoi An. Part of what made this trip so good was the flexibility we had in determining what we would do and not do each day. We had great guidance and suggestions from Sandy but he emphasized this was our trip. We did make last-minute adjustments. For example, on the spur of the moment we decided we wanted to see the Bamboo Circus in Saigon and our guide helped us get tickets four hours before the performance. (I would, however, recommend booking earlier.) Thoughtful planning and flexibility helped make this the trip of a lifetime.

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Rwanda and Tanzania: gorillas, rhinos, a community-owned lodge…


We had a great trip arranged by Katie and Cherri, to Rwanda for mountain gorilla trekking and then to the Serengeti in Tanzania for more wildlife viewing. The experience of being able to get so close to and observe elephants, giraffes, lions, gazelle, zebras, cheetah, wildebeest, Cape buffalo, leopard, hippos, golden and vervet monkeys, not to mention gorillas, in their natural habitat, is incomparable. Also incredible were the gorgeous birds including storks and flamingos. We were also lucky to see black rhinos both in the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater.

The Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge was outstanding. The cottages were lovely. A wood-burning fire was lit every evening in our room, and sometimes on very cold mornings as well, by Felicien, our butler, who also brought coffee to the room. He helped us gear up for the gorilla treks, and assisted with hiking boot and leg gaiter removal when we were done. The treks themselves were physically demanding at high altitude but well worth it, and we were completely pampered when we got back to the lodge.

The lodge is community owned, and many staff members are from the nearby village. Felicien gave us a great tour and we were delighted to meet many of the people, including the beekeeper, the doctor/herbalist, and some charming women who showed me how to grind flour from sorghum. Easier than it looks!

We stayed at two different camps in Tanzania and our guides were outstanding. The game drives were amazing and the guides well informed. Our favorite was the Namiri Plains Camp, where you could look out your deck and watch elephants stroll by.

Cherri and Katie arranged a very smooth and varied trip, arranging and navigating smooth entry and exit and Covid testing for each country. I highly recommend them!

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South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania: wildlife, wine, delightful people…


We have just returned from three FABULOUS weeks in Africa (February 8 – 27) — we visited Cape Town, Rwanda, and Tanzania. As I said to Frankie in Cherri’s office — who planned the most stellar adventure for us and was BEYOND accommodating of our crazy scheduling issues — I thought a visit to Africa would be a one-and-done. My was I wrong — thanks to her recommendations, we officially have the safari “bug” and can’t wait for the opportunity to return!

My first call to Cherri’s office took place last September when I shared my destination wish list: Cape Town to meet our son who was sailing there in The Ocean Race, Rwanda to visit the gorillas, and Tanzania to enjoy a safari. EVERYTHING we did was guided by Frankie’s stellar advice, every detail was covered, every highlight touched, every special moment experienced, every gourmet meal enjoyed — truly, everything we did far exceeded our expectations. I could NEVER have planned this adventure on my own. Kudos to her and the rest of Cherri’s team!

It is impossible to identify a single moment that stood out amongst the others — they were all spectacular!….

Cape Town, the drive “down south” to Cape Point, the PENGUINS, the dinner recommendations, the people, our FABULOUS guide, Chantal, from Chalan Africa and the South African wines were all a delight! We were presented with varied opportunities to observe the cultural issues that still penetrate every day living in South Africa — simply by being there. To say that history is alive and — almost well — in South Africa is an understatement! On a unique note, I must say I never expected there to be rolling blackouts throughout the country — or to have a schedule announcing the timing of the blackouts posted in the Cape Grace Hotel each morning!

Rwanda was a delight to experience and Joseph, our guide from Uber Luxe Safaris, could not have been more perfect for our visit. His knowledge about Rwanda’s history and culture and his willingness to share was a treat for all of us. We soaked up every word he said, learned so much about its history, its people and their lifestyle, their future, were dazzled by the climb up to see two separate gorilla families on two separate days, admired the hard work ethic of the people (the women — WOW…farmers extraordinaire!!!) , and absolutely melted at the many, many, many smiles we saw along the way. We left Rwanda filled with much more than we EVER expected, which was simply a visit to gorillas :-)! If you go, do not miss a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial — it was our first stop after we landed and it set the tone for the remainder of our time in a beautiful country filled with beautiful, kind people — oh, and some very cool gorilla families!

And then…there was Tanzania! I grew up watching Born Free over and over again. And absolutely sobbed over Out of Africa. My kids — and we — all saw The Lion King on Broadway three times and watched the movie countless times. While much of each of these stories take place in Kenya, every wild animal, beautiful vista, expansive landscape are alive, well, and SPECTACULAR in Tanzania! We stayed at Singita Faru Faru in the Grumeti Game Reserve in the Serengeti, at Nyasi Migrational Camp with 1.4 million wildebeest and their zebra friends in the Southern Serengeti, and Little Chem Chem Lodge on Lake Burunge in north-central Tanzania. Each lodge was a sight to behold and an experience like no other. Each of our guides brought a different perspective to wildlife watching AND each had fascinating histories growing up in Tanzania. We loved listening to their childhood stories of a very traditional Tanzanian lifestyle! Frankie’s recommendations to experience these three separate lodges gave us the unique opportunity to experience so many different safari elements! We were filled with awe and gratitude that so much open space has been protected to benefit the zillions of species who inhabit this beautiful country and were treated royally at each lodge located in the middle of nowhere!

As the dust begins to settle from this very epic adventure, we will relive our very vivid and fond memories of each country and each experience with enormous smiles on our faces! Cherri’s team made it all happen and we look forward to making our next call to them for our next adventure. Thank you for directing us to them!!!

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Egypt: savvy logistics, sneak peak of the GEM…


We just returned from a terrific 2-week trip to Egypt that was planned with the help of Jim and Arlene. Egypt has been on our bucket list for a decade, so with the pandemic winding down and the new Grand Egyptian Museum (“GEM”) set to open in November 2022, we figured early 2023 was a great time to go. Setting up a trip like this requires great planners that can provide expert guidance and adjust quickly as circumstances change, and Jim’s team worked with us interactively to plan the itinerary before we left and adjust it as things happened during it.

As one example, our plane to Cairo connecting through Europe left 7 hours late! That meant that we missed the last flight to Cairo from Frankfurt. We had engaged the flight advisor that Jim’s office recommended and were so glad that we did! She quickly responded to us on a Saturday night (!) and re-routed us Frankfurt-Munich-Cairo the same day. Jim’s office then had their Cairo team meet us at the plane with an electric cart (at 1:30 am), sped us through not only the airport but the immigrationeprocess, got us to our hotel and arranged for our next day to start a bit later. We woke up to see the Pyramids and Sphinx and visit the GEM that day as planned and didn’t miss a beat!

The story on visiting the GEM continued to morph for months as the opening was pushed back from 2022 to an indefinite 2023 date. Right before we left, Jim found a way for us to walk inside to see the fabulous architecture of this museum, which is spectacular! While we didn’t get to see it fully open with its acclaimed exhibits, seeing the building up close with the enormous statue of Ramses II was terrific. Once it is open, it will be spectacular!

Our ambitious itinerary covered Cairo, Aswan and an Abu Simbel side trip, a Nile cruise and Luxor. The only way to see everything we did is through careful planning with people on the ground who know the intricacies of how to put it together. For example, we are not sure how anyone in one day can see the key tombs in Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens without the help of experts, given the landscape and the ticketing system. Jim’s team helped us to plan so we had the tickets to everything we wanted to see there and a guide and driver to get us to each. We are convinced that there is no way to see these major sites without proper guidance.

We also recommend taking a dahabiya boat to cruise the Nile rather than a large cruise boat, as you get the opportunity to stop at sites along the Nile where the bigger boats can’t dock. With only 4 couples on our boat, it truly was an intimate and interesting experience and the food was amazing! And lastly, the value of a team on the ground was proven once again when one of us got food poisoning. Jim’s team sent a doctor to the hotel at night with necessary medication. That allowed us to continue the tour as planned the next day.

We highly recommend seeing Egypt now, as it is not overwhelmed with visitors, and also highly recommend employing Jim’s office to help plan it. Some trips can be planned independently, but in a destination like this, a knowledgeable team with great connections both on the ground and for flights is invaluable, as our experience proves!

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Norway: Northern Lights, herding reindeer with the Sami…


I first heard about Jan Sortland and his company through the Wendy Perrin WOW List. He deserves the accolades. Seeing the Northern Lights was on my bucket list and Jan helped me plan every detail of the trip. When the original estimate was more than I had budgeted, Jan figured it out so we could still go. And he did it graciously. From start to finish he was responsive and every question was answered thoroughly and quickly.

Our trip was planned impeccably. The hotels were excellent and we received many upgrades. Our hotel in Alta was particularly lovely and our dinners there were incredible.

Knowing how much we wanted to see the Lights, and being disappointed twice before in Iceland, Jan steered us to Alta, in the northernmost part of Norway. He said it would give us the best shot. How right he was! We saw them 3 out of 3 nights! Much of this is due to the incredible guides Jan arranged. Despite the fact that it was cloudy and snowing the first two nights, our guides looked at all the weather maps and found the area that had the most potential to clear up. It was a real drive, but the clouds disappeared and the Lights danced.

Jan also suggested a day trip, a visit to the area where the Sami live and herd reindeer. It was the best advice! These indigenous people live the same way their ancestors did and it was a privilege to spend the day with them. Mathis, a Sami elder, met us and drove us over 30 miles on snowmobiles to watch the Sami move a herd of 2,500+ reindeer to higher terrain. After that, we snowmobiled back to his home where he had prepared a delicious lunch of salmon and Arctic char. He generously and patiently answered all our questions and made us feel like welcomed guests. Our day with this incredible gentleman was truly the highlight of our trip and it is an experience that will not be forgotten.

Jan, my husband and I were the beneficiaries of your many years of experience. Thank you. Thank you!

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Florence: local artisans, private palazzo tour…


Nancy and I were fortunate to have spent a wonderful week in Florence, Italy that was planned with Jennifer and her team. The trip went smoothly and more than met our high expectations, which we had from our previous experiences with trips that Jennifer has helped plan.

We had not even left the US when we realized how using a WOW expert like Jennifer is beneficial to a smooth and seamless travel experience. Our plane out of Denver was 6 hours late in leaving because of a mechanical issue and thus we were going to miss our scheduled connection in Frankfurt. However, because of the daily texts sent by Jennifer and her team describing the next day’s schedule, all we had to do was alert them as to the change in times and they took it from there so that our airport greeter was there to meet us and that our transportation into Florence was rescheduled to the appropriate time.

Jennifer arranged for us to have Veronica as our tour guide while we were in Florence. Veronica was so warm and friendly. She had a fantastic knowledge of the area and was able to explain things in a fun and educational way. We would definitely recommend Veronica as a guide if you are in Florence.

A highlight of the trip was a private visit to Palazzo Corsini where we not only had Veronica’s expertise but we also had the privilege of Countess Francesca, who grew up and still lives there, conduct the tour. We had such a wonderful afternoon. Another highlight was spending an afternoon visiting with local artisans of Florence. Veronica took us to places which we never would have found on our own. We also spent a morning going to various churches in Florence and saw some amazing artwork still in the churches; Veronica especially shined during this tour as she was able to put the art and the church into proper context so that you understood and appreciated the art you were seeing.

As we noted above, Jennifer and her office did a great job in planning and executing our Florence trip. We have only the highest praise for the services they provide and will undoubtedly utilize them again on a trip to Europe.

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Vietnam and Cambodia: best hotel rooms, tour guides, drivers…


This trip was exceptional. Sandy and staff made everything easy for us, down to his guide to Southeast Asia that answered all our how-to questions. Sandy guided us before the trip to make sure we had trip insurance and visas to both countries to save time, and that we brought the right items with us, while also discouraging lots of luggage.

We had the best rooms in each hotel and knowledgeable (and kindest) tour guides, drivers that took care to ensure we had water and a cold washcloth every time we returned to the car, as well as navigating the motorbikes and cars in busy cities. Our guides met us without any hitches at the airport and were always on time to pick us up. They took us to local restaurants that we would never have found and explained the history of the location to us, as well as being very willing to tell us about their lives and how they lived. It was an immersion that we could not have done on our own. Each guide confirmed our air reservations, which was helpful.

The itinerary was well-planned, with the ability to change anything at any time to meet with our interests. We were able to see much more than we anticipated and fit in so many things, while also having some down time to go to the beach in Hoi An and a few-day cruise.

We could not have taken such an awesome trip without Sandy’s guidance and we appreciate his staff for a flawless trip.

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Vietnam: history, lunch with locals, sunset cruise…


My husband Armand and I just returned from a truly memorable trip to Vietnam, planned by Sandy. This was our first journey in Vietnam, and Sandy and his colleagues took the time to carefully plan a flexible itinerary that was exciting as well as comfortable.

First, our guide. Aster, a young, kind, lively, and intelligent woman who introduced us to the religous, political, and economic history of Vietnam in a marvelous, storytelling fashion. Aster was a delight, and always offered us options to add or subtract activities from the day. She introduced us to delicious “street food” at casual restaurants and secured the best tables (balcony tables with views) at more upscale restaurants. We learned about Vietnamese family life too, and Aster shared her own family’s history.

One particular highlight: a delicious homemade lunch with a Vietnamese couple in their home. They were in their 60s (my age) and in one of our conversations they talked about their experiences during the “American war.”

Another highlight: our own private sunset boat cruise in a lovely boat down the Perfume River in Hue. Seeing sights from the water always gives a different perspective and the cruise was romantic as well.

Sandy also secured the best rooms in our room category in each of the hotels we stayed: the Azerai La Residence in Hue, and the Four Seasons (heavenly!) outside Hoi An. Our rooms had great views, were quiet, and were in the primo locations at each hotel. Both had pools, which we made good use of.

In the COVID era I find myself worrying more about diseases of all kinds. Rest assured, Aster and Sandy’s team made sure that every place we visited had high health and cleanliness standards. When, at times during drives between the cities, we needed to use a rest room, Aster and our driver always found us a clean bathroom.

In a country where one doesn’t speak the language, a guide is essential. Aster and Sandy gave us an introduction to Vietnam that makes us want to return to this beautiful country–and turn to Sandy’s office again for an unforgettable trip.

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Argentina and Chile: Buenos Aires, Santiago, Patagonia


Hiking in Argentina.

Argentina. Photo: Kathye Faries

Maita’s office did a terrific job of helping plan our trip to Buenos Aires, Santiago and Patagonia. I initially worked with Maita to frame the trip and she zeroed in on exactly what would be perfect for us. She suggested outstanding lodges in Patagonia, as well as excellent restaurants all over South America. We are foodies and we were not disappointed. I worked extensively with Malena Feijoo, who is on Maita’s team, to plan every detail of the trip.

Malena listened carefully to our needs and put together wonderful itineraries for us. One of the highlights when we were in Buenos Aires was a trip to a neighboring town for a cooking demonstration and fabulous lunch with a well-known chef. It was a fantastic experience! Maita recommended a tango show in Buenos Aires which I thought might be too touristy but it was just perfect—a small, intimate dinner club and amazing, skilled dancers. When we were in Santiago we headed out to Valparaiso for a day and were wowed by the art murals all over this wonderful, funky seaside town.

We had a complicated itinerary with several flights between various cities and the need for lots of transfers to and from airports, hotels and lodges. We had total peace of mind from the first day — every guide and every transfer was on time (or early) to greet us. The tour guides in both Buenos Aires and Santiago were knowledgeable, flexible and fun. They altered the itinerary a few times en route at our request and we appreciated the flexibility. Maita’s team “followed” us via WhatApp throughout the trip to check in, make sure all was going well and to inform us of what to expect next. It was nice to have someone watching over us.

The biggest surprise was the beauty of Patagonia. We were awed by the spectacular scenery. At one of the lodges we had our own guide and 4×4 for the 5 days and we were able to tailor the exploration to our desires. During our drives and hikes in and around Torres del Paine National Park we saw pumas, condors, guanacos (like llamas) and lots of other birds. Pure air, pure water and nature’s majesty. It was perfect.

I give this trip a 12 on a scale of 10 and highly recommend Maita if you are going to South America. Without her team’s guidance and suggestions we would not have had the wonderful experience that we did.

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Cambodia and Vietnam: history, street food, Angkor Wat at sunrise…


Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Photo: David Wertheimer

Our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam from January 21st to February 6th was spectacular. We started in Phnom Penh, and traveled from there to Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat temple complex, Saigon, Cu Chi, Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. Sopisith Oun, from Andy’s team, prepared our itinerary and arranged for personal guides at each of our stops. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly, and provided both historical information and personal stories that placed the horrors of the eras of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the U.S. military activities in Vietnam within the context of our visit and our understanding of current life in both nations. Our guides also provided us with street food tours that allowed us to sample some of the most unusual dishes we’ve ever eaten. (The sand worm pancakes were delicious!) We had postponed our trip for three years because of COVID, and felt safe and comfortable traveling, especially because the tourist crowds are still minimal. There were multiple “wow,” bucket-list moments, including Angkor Wat at sunrise (get there early!) and Ha Long Bay, to name just two of them.

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Colombia: contemporary art, colonial charm, coffee country…


Boris and his team put together a fantastic trip to Colombia for my wife and me, a country we had not yet visited. Contrary to what people may think based on past history, Colombia was very safe, but very busy, and we were well looked after by excellent guides. Our trip started in Bogota with an easy direct day flight from New York. Three nights there allowed us to explore the city, its food and the amazing gold museum. Boris’ office arranged a private art tour which included access to a private opening of the works of the famous Colombian artist Jim Almaral, where we met him and his more famous wife Olga de Amaral. For a change in pace we then spent a night in Villa de Leyva, a national heritage site with a stop in Zipaquira to see the spectacular underground salt cathedral. Next stop was Medellin with visits to Communa 13, with an understanding of conflict and cacao, and a visit to a large orchid collection. Four nights in the coffee country, staying in a wonderful hacienda, allowed us to explore that area, including a rafting trip, a visit to a coffee plantation and a day out with an excellent birding guide. The final stop was Cartagena, where we stayed in the Casa San Augustin in the middle of the old city; great for walking around the old areas with activities such as a rum and chocolate tasting, a private cooking class in one of the best restaurants and a salsa dancing lesson. An easy 5 hr direct day flight took us back to New York. Colombia is a country well worth a visit, even though it does not seem to be on the radar screens of many of our acquaintances, and Boris and his team are a great asset for organizing a diverse and interesting trip.

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Argentina: vineyards, colonial architecture, Iguassu Falls…


Maita and Florencia gave us a truly memorable week in Argentina that began 4 hours after the World Cup-winning soccer team arrived home at EZE airport! I had many concerns about traveling over the Christmas holiday: the crowds, extra expense and pent-up travel demand from Covid. Despite all these obstacles, we had 4 great internal flights that Florencia booked and checked us in for all along the way, 5 terrific hotels and our guides were superlative. We saw such varied things, from the sun-kissed vineyards of Mendoza to the grand colonial architecture in Salta to the whole area around Purmamarca, a real discovery area for us. Ending at Iguassu falls was just perfect. We had to throw Maita and team some curve balls at the last minute: such as securing my husband and his 80-year-old mother last-minute back-up plane reservations and transfers from Ushuaia to meet me in BA on 12/20. They were able to help them on the run. We just loved our trip and we can’t wait to go back and discover more of remarkable Argentina! Next time: Lake district, glaciers and Patagonia! And maybe even more Purmamarca!

Travelers really should book all the internal air through Maita. The Aerolineas site does not work from the USA. Also, the private driver for crossing over to the Brazil side of Iguassu Falls is a must, the crowds were crazy there and we could not wait to get back to the relative calm of the Argentina side. Our driver Alex did a great job in tough conditions. Staying at the Melia right there is worth the extra money times 10!

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Morocco: wine tasting, Roman ruins, motorcycle sidecar tour…


Our trip planned by Radia was absolutely fantastic! The planning process with Radia was easy. I had a general idea of the cities and sites that we wished to visit ,which Radia developed into a thoughtful and exciting itinerary, including such highlights as a gourmet lunch and wine tasting in a beautiful vineyard near Fez, an excursion to the Roman ruins of Volubilis, a motorcycle and vintage sidecar tour through Marrakech’s medina and a sunset camel ride in the desert. Radia’s office helped us choose excellent restaurants for all our meals and handled all the reservations. Radia also arranged a very fun market tour and cooking lesson in Fez, where we learned to make chicken tagine in a rooftop kitchen overlooking the city. Our guide and driver chosen for us by Radia were both a perfect fit for our family, and they went out of their way to make sure we were having a wonderful vacation. We cannot wait to return to Morocco in the future.

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Southeast Asia: Angkor Wat, mountaintop temples, monk’s blessing…


Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Photo: Seng Sophea

Our two-week trip in December to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia was a wonderful first visit to the region. There were so many highlights! Starting in Chiang Rai, our favorite stops were the White Temple, any food from street vendors, Golden Triangle and Princess Mother’s chalet-style villa and garden. And then sunset at a tea plantation was so picturesque. In Chiang Mai I highly recommend 137 Pillar House hotel. It is a beautiful oasis in the center of town. The street food, markets, cooking school, mountaintop temples and hikes there were all amazing in Chiang Mai. Northern Thailand has so much to offer we could have spent our whole two weeks there.

During our incredible two nights in the UNESCO city of Luang Prabang we enjoyed a dance performance, an up-close walk in the woods with the elephants at the MandaLao sanctuary and then swimming in the crystal blue Kuang Si waterfalls. The visit was then topped off with a special dinner and blessing ceremony with our guide’s family and making merit with the monks before daybreak.

Angkor Wat was our next stop and did not disappoint. The vast grounds were impressive and our guide did an excellent job sharing the art and history of that site as well as the culture and livelihood of the surrounding area. We ended our stay with a few nights in Bangkok, with a spontaneous visit to an outdoor high-rise rooftop bar at sunset, and the hotel along the river with a balcony was an ideal spot to stay.

Sandy’s guides, who have all been with him for many years, truly made this visit come to life. Their adeptness at crafting exciting, varied activities each day, sharing their own stories, and imparting the countries’ history and culture made for an excellent trip. When I look back at our itinerary, I am amazed at how many experiences we enjoyed and it never felt rushed or harried. We would have never been able to craft such a rewarding itinerary on our own. Highly recommend Sandy’s team and scheduling no shorter than two weeks to capture it all.

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Colombia: snorkeling, cacao farms, street art…


Our trip to Colombia in January 2023 was so well-planned by Boris and his team! It was an adventurous choice for us, and we were rewarded with a vast array of experiences from deep countryside to wonderful cities. Colombia had apparently ended its rainy season—we enjoyed beautiful weather throughout. Boris and his team were so responsive, made itinerary adjustments easily, and always kept in touch. We felt safe, cared for. Our guides were excellent—knowledgeable, well-spoken, and easy-going while hosting us through many varied activities. Colombia is a diverse land, with incredible mountains, coffee plantations, small colonial towns and vibrant cities. Art, culture, and of course a notorious history abound! The Colombians are a welcoming, friendly people, and quite diverse. Our lodgings were lovely. Highlights ranged from orchid farms to art museums, from floating along a river in a bamboo raft, to a fascinating day on a small cacao farm with local farmers. The exotic fruits and juices are memorable, and many local cuisines. Our boat trip in Cartagena was first-class, and snorkeling was wonderful. Art has transformed many areas, especially with street art, and another highlight was our private art tour in Bogota! Thank you, Boris and team, for guiding us through a rich, multidimensional experience in Colombia!

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New Zealand: intimate lodges, wine tastings, helicopters…


We just returned from 10 days in New Zealand at the end of January and Jean-Michel and his team planned an absolutely amazing trip for us. Jean-Michel quickly helped us hone in on a plan and some key properties, then Fabienne worked with us to get all of the details in place and arrange amazing activities. Both of them helped us secure some of the last rooms available at stunning intimate lodges, and put together helicopter adventures, wine tastings, and phenomenal local guides that really made the trip special for us. There’s no way we would have been able to find all of the locations and activities that Fabienne lined up for us, and we felt like we saw a lot more of the South Island than we would have on our own. We’re already plotting when we can return, and fully intend to let Jean-Michel and Fabienne help us again when we’re back in New Zealand.

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Portugal: oceanfront pousadas, city tours…


Pousada de Sagres

Sunset. Pousada de Sagres. Photo: Benjamin Lowe

My husband and I went to Portugal for a week in mid-January 2023, spending two nights in Cascais (near Lisbon), then 4 nights in Sagres in the Algarve, and the last night in Lisbon. We spoke with Gonçalo, who gave us good suggestions of where to go. We told him we were interested in photographing land and seascapes, especially during sunrise and sunsets. After the Zoom conversation, his colleague Patrícia Gomes took over and I mostly communicated with her.

She drew up an initial itinerary and we went over it and emailed questions and answers back and forth etc. We paid a deposit after she secured the reservations and then paid the balance a few weeks before the trip began.

She booked pousadas for us because we like the historic nature of the accommodations and our rooms overlooked the ocean and we could see sunsets from our rooms in Cascais and Sagres. Free breakfasts were included in all our lodgings. She arranged a rental car and accommodated our request for a hybrid car. She also booked a full day of palace and castle tours in Sintra with a private driver and guide. In Lisbon we also did a private half-day walking/food tour, which she arranged.

I felt assured that if anything unexpected happened, it was a comfort to know that the travel advisor and team would help us. In fact, we got lost trying to find the Lisbon hotel (GPS failed) and I called them up and they were able to walk us calmly through where we were and direct us to the hotel. I highly recommend Gonçalo, Patricia and their team to help plan vacations in Portugal. We hope to use them again for another Portugal trip, maybe to the Azores and the eastern side of the Algarve, which we didn’t get a chance to see.

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Chile: Patagonia, Atacama, stargazing WOW Moment…


Alain Maury’s SPACE Observatory, Chile.

Alain Maury’s SPACE Observatory, Chile. Photo: Barbara Schoenfeld

Tom designed a Christmas/New Year’s trip to Chile for our family of six. He rose to the challenge of transporting us down and back up half the length of the continent. He organized visits to both Patagonia and the Atacama desert, securing rooms at Hotel Las Torres in Patagonia and Explora Atacama. Both were excellent choices for their top-notch adventure staff and boutique experience. He pretty much had to plan three trips because we originated in San Francisco, New York and New England, and we had three different time frames. He and his staff handled the transportation logistics smoothly. And, I’m not just saying this because I’m writing a review for Wendy’s WOW List, but the best part of the trip was the Wendy WOW Moment. We had a private stargazing evening hosted by French astronomer Alain Maury, at his observatory called SPACE (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations). We have a video he recorded on my son’s cell phone where he described what we were seeing on the Sea of Tranquility on the moon — particularly the smudge where the U.S. Apollo 11 landed.

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Egypt: urban & rural, iconic sites & hidden gems…


The plan put together for our trip by Arlene Santos (Jim was in the process of moving to Nashville, so he was not directly available) was ultimately just perfect. The accommodation choices were spot-on-amazing properties that, while luxurious, were also good value, and the service of the local team was great. All that said, it was the pace of the 2 weeks that really made the trip a pleasure. I’ve wanted to go to Egypt for about 20 years and between my schedule and their revolutions, it’s not worked out. Our trip was even better than I’d imagined or hoped for and worth the wait.

What we loved was the perfect mix of seeing “the sights” that you’ve read about and seen in photos and getting a sense of contemporary life in Egypt—both urban and rural. Our notable highlights included Sakkara, Luxor and environs (tombs), the Old Cataract Hotel Nile View suite and the amazing Abu Simbel temples.

But hands down, the most special part of our experience was our 4 days and 4 nights on the Dahabiya Orient. We are SO glad we did this rather than a larger standard river cruise boat. From the moment we boarded to the moment we stepped off, we felt well cared for by the crew, who treated us both like honored guests and close friends. We opted for the “Terrace Suite,” which was at the stern of the boat and had a large private deck at water level. Honestly, we did not use it much, since the main deck space was so large and lovely and the other couples on the cruise were delightful. That said, it was a treat to have a 180-degree view of the river from our room (as opposed to the other cabins with only a standard window looking either starboard OR port). And had the other guests been less compatible, it would have been a nice space to escape for privacy. The food was Egyptian and extraordinary, and we, as vegetarians, were seamlessly accommodated. We were amazed what the chef was able to create in the tiny on-board kitchen.

Our guide on the cruise, Dr. Abdulla, was much more than a guide. He was the boat host and the English (and other languages) interface between guests and crew. He was not only extremely knowledgeable, but a gifted storyteller, bringing to life the history, geology, stories—and the stories behind the stories. He seemed genuinely to enjoy sharing the perspective of the life along the Nile. All the shore stops were great, but our sunset walk through a farming village one evening was special and our visit to the huge camel/livestock market and local market in Daraw was an exciting, novel and sensory-overloaded experience. We saw all manner of 4-legged animal sales, including camels. We would have NEVER even known about that as an opportunity, much less ventured to something like that on our own. And it was clear that not many tourists ventured there, since we seemed to be quite interesting to locals, some of whom had traveled from far away in even more rural areas and we were asked to pose with them for THEIR travel photos!

Other observations: Coordination by the team on the ground was excellent, although sometimes it was not completely clear what the role some of the people we interfaced with played. Also, we would suggest guides ASK if clients in advance want to go on “factory tours.” In Cairo, this happened twice without notice/asking. For instance, we were dropped off in front of a papyrus vendor and guided inside, having not been even told in advance where we were headed, much less given the option to pass on it. Even when we told the guide on arrival (as the driver drove away) that David had actually been to that VERY store on a previous trip, we were shepherded in and then obliged to watch the demo and (unless we wanted to make a scene or seem ungracious) view the wares. In Luxor and Aswan the guides gave us options to skip these “tours,” which we appreciated.

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Costa Rica: beach, wildlife, cloud forest…


We spent a week in Costa Rica from Dec 31 to Jan 6, planned by Irene. Since this was our first time, we wanted to spend time both on the water and in the mountains. We started our trip with a charter flight to the Osa Peninsula and spent 4 amazing days in Copa de Arbol. The staff at the resort is top-notch and we really enjoyed getting to know several of them as they took great care of us. The food and drinks are incredible — we looked forward to every meal in the open-air restaurant. The accommodations were very comfortable. We went for a day trip to the Corcovado forest and saw many colorful birds and animals. The highlight was getting to see a tapir (a rare large animal). Our guide was very knowledgeable and very good at spotting birds and setting up the scope quickly. We also did a snorkeling tour to the Cano island in Drake bay. Would highly recommend Copa de Arbol — it is remote and quiet, which appealed to us. The boat rides to the forest (an hour) and Cano (45 min) were choppy because of the windy weather.

From Osa, we went to Monteverde to see the cloud forest. We were picked up at the San Jose airport by Jonathan, who was our guide and driver for the next 3 days. Jonathan took us for a walk through the cloud forest (primarily flora versus fauna) and on another day for a hike through several sky bridges in the trees. He had arranged a night hike, which ended up being one of our favorite things — we saw 2 green vipers, a tarantula, owls, monkeys, tucan. Jonathan had also arranged a special surprise for us, with a sunset on a hill with absolutely incredible 360 views for miles and no one around. It was very magical watching the sunset with wine and cheese, as the full moon rose behind us. A very memorable evening! Jonathan took excellent care of us during the entire time.

In Monteverde, we stayed at the Senda Hotel with beautiful grounds. We saw many beautiful birds and animals right on the property during our morning walks. The small town of Monteverde is a 15 min walk away and we enjoyed a couple of great meals and shopping for a couple of art pieces. All in all, we really enjoyed our trip and look forward to going back and exploring new areas of this immensely diverse country.

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Belize: horseback riding, Mayan ruins, beach time…


It was a long trip from San Francisco, but once we arrived in Belize it was all worth the effort. We chose two destinations: the Lodge at Chaa Creek, in the jungle, and the Phoenix Resort in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye.

We used Patricia’s team to book the hotels and the experiences. We booked the flights ourselves with points. It was a pleasure to work with Patricia’s staff. They were professional, timely, and always available. In fact, they rescued us when the FAA fiasco occurred on January 10th, which delayed our trip two days. Miraculously within hours, they successfully rebooked our entire trip. We were amazed and very appreciative. If we had planned this trip without them, who knows what would have happened. We would highly recommend them to anyone traveling to Belize.

We loved the horseback riding, Mayan ruins visit, the cave tube-riding that we did while staying at the Lodge at Chaa Creek. The stay at the Lodge at Chaa Creek was wonderful and the meals were delicious. We would definitely stay there again.

We really enjoyed the Phoenix Resort. The room was beautiful and the staff was awesome. We liked being in the middle of San Pedro with all of the activities and restaurants that are available there. We rented a golf cart to spend a delightful day at Secret Beach.

All in all, we loved our Belize vacation.

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London: multigenerational Christmas trip


We recently returned from a trip to London with our family of 10 people that we had planned with Jonathan. We traveled over the Christmas holidays with our children and 4 grandchildren, aged 10-13. Jonathan and Katie’s attention to detail was superb! We stayed at the One Aldywich Hotel in Covent Garden. The hotel was amazing in every way! Our kids each had a 2-bedroom suite to accommodate their families of 4. We arrived the day after Christmas, and the kids had gifts waiting for them in each room with their names on them. The adults all had Christmas stockings filled with treats. All of the rooms were beautiful, and it was a perfect choice for people traveling with families. Our guide, Alex, was with us for 4 days. He and Olivia, our driver, exceeded all of our expectations. Alex was great with the kids and his scavenger hunt in The British Museum was a real blast! A highlight of the trip was traveling to Hampton Court to learn all about Henry VIII and his six wives. Later that same evening, we went to the theater to see Six, which is about all of the wives. The kids also loved their visit to the Chelsea Stadium. Everything went like clockwork, from our arrival in London to the time we left for home.

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Paris: wine tasting, front-row concert seats…


Jennifer and team knocked it out of the park again! After several trips to Paris in the past, my husband and I were looking to have a few special experiences organized by Jennifer’s team and leave the rest of our time open. From a seamless airport pick-up and departure experience, to a delightful private wine tasting, to front-row seats at the most magical harpsichord quintet performance in Saint-Chapelle after-hours, Jennifer made sure that no detail was overlooked and we were well taken care of every step along the way. When traveling to France, Jennifer has become my first point of contact (after Wendy, of course :)) and has never failed to delight!

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Egypt: beyond the usual tourist sites


Long before Covid 19 stopped the world in its tracks, Jim planned a three+ week trip for us to Egypt and Jordan for October-November 2020. In November 2022, after several one-year delays caused by COVID, we finally completed an expanded five-week version of this trip. Throughout, Jim consistently looked out for us, patiently dealing with our questions and requests for modifications. However, the long delay made us vulnerable to certain unrelated factors. During the six months prior to the trip, I developed a back problem that required surgery as soon as possible after our return. As a practical matter, I couldn’t walk far or stand long without risking stabbing pains. If you’ve been to Egypt, you know that a trip there requires lots of walking and standing. As just one example, parking lots can be over a quarter- to half-mile from the site. Fortunately, Egypt has its own version of handicapped access. If your guide and driver are firm and persistent, the police/military barricades can be opened and you can drive right up to the entrance. In some places, electric golf carts are available. My new physical limitations also necessitated a lot of attention from Jim and his on-the-ground team to find ad hoc ways to accommodate my needs. In the end, Jim was successful in finding and implementing adjustments. We are extremely grateful to him and his team. What we ended up with was far more than expected. With their help, I not only got through the trip, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had previously been to Egypt under highly unusual circumstances. Due to regional political issues, tourism was non-existent and I had the pleasure of seeing many of the “standard” tourist sites without a single other tourist present. But my husband, Jamie, had never visited Egypt. Jim did a superb job of planning a trip to meet Jamie’s needs but added things even in places I’d already visited that gave me a deeper understanding of Egypt’s past and today. He had us go far beyond the standard tourist circuit by adding multiple days at Siwa Oasis in western Egypt, near the Libyan border, and multiple days at Fayoum Oasis, three hours south of Cairo. What so impressed us is that Jim found ways to continually surprise and educate us, even in the usual places. While at Fayoum Oasis, we went way out in the desert to Wadi-Al-Hitan (Valley of the Whales)—a UNESCO World Heritage Site I’d never heard of that contains the world’s greatest number, concentration and quality of fossils that demonstrate how the whale evolved to an ocean-going mammal from its earlier life as a land-based mammal. The fossils here are of those mammals in the last stage of losing their hind legs and feet. Who knew? It was extraordinary. While at Fayoum, Jim’s team also linked us up with an excellent birding guide for an extraordinary bird walk that included many life birds. These two oases were just two of the places we visited that went far beyond what we’d expected of this trip. Similarly, besides going to Petra, as do most tourists to Jordan (and oh, is it worth it), our guide stopped off to visit his friend Abu Ali, a local “character” who lives in a cave below the Crusader-era Shawbuk Castle. He runs the world’s tiniest hotel (a VW bug). Abu Ali apparently took a shine to me, because he gave me a genuine and valuable Nabatean coin from the reign of Arestes IV. At Siwa Oasis in Egypt, we stayed at an eco-resort with no electricity lit only by candles and lanterns and built in traditional Egyptian mud and salt-brick style. We were the only guests for our four-night stay. We got to see the suite where Prince (now King) Charles had stayed for his visit. We also were treated to the best food and service of the entire trip.

We sailed up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan for five days on a traditional dahabiya that allowed us to see sites along the Upper Nile not available to those who take typical Nile cruises. We also had a relaxing interlude with only 18 other guests. It was a memorable week. Did you know you can swim in the Nile? We did. (Note: the crocodiles are all south of the Aswan dam.) It was amazing.

In addition to Petra in Jordan, we visited the amazing Roman ruins of the city of Jerash. I’ve been to lots of Roman ruins but these blew me away. Built on the edge of the Roman Empire, the city was massive and had surprising details both large and small. So, too, were the Roman mosaic floors that had been uncovered and were displayed on the walls of a simple but impressive church at Mount Nebo, reportedly near where Moses was buried. It is a pilgrimage site and I now understand why. Overall, Jordan was a far more interesting country to visit than we had expected.

Virtually any reputable travel agency can plan a nice trip to Egypt hitting the standard sites most tourists want to see. What you get with Jim is something different. Oh, you’ll see the Giza Pyramids, but if you give him the time, you’ll see how the pyramids evolved in Egypt’s Old Kingdom. Giza is only the most famous. At Saqqara we saw early attempts (including the “Bent” Pyramid, where the angle was wrong and had to be changed midway.) But we also visited some out-of-the-way pyramids with nary a tourist in sight – but lots of military and police in residence to stop looters. These included Meidum Pyramid outside Fayoum Oasis, a key interim step between the earliest (Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara) and the pinnacle (The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza) that helps fill in the gaps of the evolution of Egypt’s pyramids. We also saw the 12th-dynasty Pyramid of Hawara to see how Romans and local inhabitants stripped the exterior limestone coating and reused its blocks for local projects.

Other highlights included seeing Abu Simbel from the air. Thanks to Jim and his team, we had seat assignments on the “right side” of the plane (that is the left side) to get good photos. Sometimes, it’s the little details that make huge differences. The art in Ramses II’s famous temple is superb, naturalistic and not to be missed. The neighboring temple to his wife Nefertari gets far less attention but is almost as impressive (if only for his recognition of his Great Wife’s importance). Discovering a just-completed Avenue of the Sphinxes linking the Temple of Karnak and the Temple of Luxor, lined with 1,200 sphinxes, was a delight for me. It had not existed on my previous trip. Gorgeously lit by night, it has reconnected the temples as they had been in antiquity. For me, the trip’s most moving moment was my tour of the Royal Mummies in the new Museum of Egyptian Civilization (not to be confused with the grand, yet-to-be-opened Egyptian Museum.) Seeing these 3,000-4,000 year-old New Kingdom royal mummies brought to life historical figures I’d read so much about and touched me by their individuality. Seeing the best-of-the best tombs in the Valley of the Kings, Queens and Nobles (especially Nefertari’s stunning tomb) was worth every extra penny. Jim’s recommendations were right-on. Tour bus groups do not include the extra-cost tombs, so we saw them with almost no other visitors.

If you are a thrill-seeker as I am, head to Siwa Oasis to surf the dunes of The Grand Sand Sea with a driver as enthralled as we were zooming up, over and down the steep dunes of the vast eastern edge of the Sahara in a 4-wheel-drive SUV. Then stop on what looks like a rocky cliff amidst this vast sea of sand to discover below you the evidence that this was once truly a marine sea and now is covered with millions of marine fossils. Thanks to Jim, his excellent logistics staffer Arlene Santos, our guides on the ground and excellent drivers, this was a trip worth the long wait.

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Australia: eco-friendly villas, Sydney for New Year’s Eve…


Just returned from a 3-week Australian vacation and can’t wait to return! A big shout-out to Jacki and Stuart for making our trip a seamless dream. Jacki planned not one, but two Australian vacations for us, as our first trip had to be cancelled a few weeks before our travel date due to the pandemic. Stuart’s office took the time to listen to what type of travel experience we were looking for and planned our trip accordingly. Hotel options were wonderful, including both classic city properties and isolated eco-friendly villas. Our private guides throughout were top-notch and flexible. It was wonderful getting to meet Jacki in Sydney upon our arrival! She was even able to make changes and schedule new excursions for us during our trip at the last minute!

With only 3 weeks to visit, we made the choice to concentrate our time in the southeastern portion of the country. Do not try and cover too much ground when visiting Australia. Remember, the country is truly a continent and traveling between cities can take up a good portion of your time if you aren’t careful! Dont underestimate travel distances! Make sure to visit small towns and rural areas to really get a flavor of the country!

New Year’s Eve in Sydney is an amazing experience, but the crowds are huge, locals tend to leave the city, and hotel prices skyrocket as you might expect. Also, many restaurants will close over the holiday, as this is prime summer vacation time Down Under. Make dining reservations ahead of time if there are any restaurants on your bucket list!

Finally, make sure to build in some down time in the places you visit!

Thanks to Stuart’s team for helping us plan this amazing Australian vacation! Thanks to Wendy for another amazing referral!!!

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Sicily: family trip in January


Matteo did a wonderful job of planning our Sicily family trip! He had many great tour suggestions, as he lives there, so he knows the area very well. We were there on a Holiday week in January, so some restaurants and stores were closed. Matteo found great restaurants that were open and even made some restaurant reservations for us. We had private tours every day. Our tour guides were very knowledgeable and very friendly. The driver we had was exactly on time every morning. He knew our itinerary to have us to each location as scheduled. Every day ran so smoothly.

A highlight of the trip was having a wine-tasting luncheon at the winery owner’s home by Mount Etna. They were such gracious hosts. Matteo was always available with responses right away from many emails of planning the trip AND during the trip. He even surprised us and met up with us at a cafe in one of the towns.

I would definitely recommend Matteo! Our vacation was absolutely, perfectly enjoyable and worry-free because of his expertise and patience in planning!

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Australia & New Zealand: monthlong grand tour


Our family of four, parents and two late-20-year-old daughters, traveled to Australia and New Zealand in December 2022 for a 3+ week trip. Quite frankly, it would have been impossible to have put together such a wonderful trip without the guidance, counseling and bookings of our travel consultants. The itinerary that was proposed, the activities that were planned, the guides that were enlisted, and the hotel and travel logistics were perfect. Everything went without a hitch, which is saying a lot for an almost 4-week itinerary. We had initially thought we would only visit Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, but Jackie persuaded us to tour Queensland and the rainforests, snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, fly to Uluru to ride camels and experience the deep Outback, and take tours out of the cities to spots we know most tourists miss. The same held true in New Zealand, where Sara and Sarah staged a helicopter tour, kayaking, a day at a 36,000-hectare sheep station (including an elegant lunch with the owners at their home on the station), and a three-night stay at a beautiful two-bedroom cottage on a private estate winery on the North Island. We are most appreciative and know that our trip would not have been nearly as enjoyable without this team.

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Costa Rica: jungle and beach with teens


Thanksgiving Break, Costa Rica

Thanksgiving Break, Costa Rica. Photo: Shelby Willets

Priscilla planned a weeklong, adventure-packed vacation for two families traveling with 4 teenage boys! She was exceptional in working with both families to ensure each family’s preferences were met. Our private guide, William, was priceless and a perfect match! He made the trip amazing—I can’t imagine visiting Costa Rica without him! By visiting two distinctly different areas of Costa Rica as well as our quick stop in San Jose, we feel like Priscilla planned and William guided a comprehensive tour of their country. Thanks so much, the Willets and Yarmus families!

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Paris: making macarons, New Year’s fireworks…


We had a wonderful trip planned by Jennifer. She and her team planned some really great activities that our kids would enjoy, including the Retro Sidecar tour and the macaron-making class. I loved how her team texted our itinerary with addresses, phone numbers, and any museum/attraction tickets each day, so that we had everything handy. The dinners that were suggested were yummy. And our suite and adjoining room at the Hotel Grand Powers were absolutely perfect for celebrating New Year’s in Paris. We had a front-row seat to the Eiffel Tower and the fireworks over the Arc de Triomphe. It was an incredibly smooth experience in Paris, which is what we needed for such a short trip.

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Portugal & Spain: 3 generations over Christmas


Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal. Photo: Michelle Bodine

Our family just returned from the most magical and well-planned trip to Portugal and Spain for Christmas and New Year’s! We were thrilled to have traveled at this time of year, and especially in Europe where the Christmas lights, trees and markets made it even better. We took our four children and their spouses and four grandchildren, so fourteen all together. Wendy lined us up with the perfect people to help us plan and then succeed on a 14-day excursion with 14 people, big and small, in Portugal and Spain. Gonçalo and Patrícia were phenomenal with their hotel accommodations, food and restaurant recommendations, tour guides that fit our needs of grandchildren ages 6, 3, 1 1/2 and 3 months, and activities that enriched our trip. The itinerary was just what we wanted! It truly was perfect in every way. There was even flexibility, so if we needed to cancel a restaurant because we were going on a food tour and would not be hungry, we could. The amount of scheduled activities and free time to explore more was perfect. Gonçalo and Patricia are experts in what they do, and I would trust them again to plan the most satisfying travel experience for my family! They both took the precautions necessary to help us feel safe with Covid and continued to help us along our journey with lost luggage and further restaurant recommendations. We could not have done this trip without our trip planners, Gonçalo and Patricia. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for planning a Christmas to remember forever and ever!

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Morocco: Marrakech, Fes, the Sahara…


Radia and her team put together a trip of a lifetime for our multi-generational family of eight. Our 10-day trip to Morocco over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays was one of the best we have ever taken together. It was the perfect combination of cultural experiences, food experiences, sightseeing, shopping and adventure! We spent three nights in Fes, one night in the Sahara and six nights in Marrakech (due to the holiday season some of the Riads had minimum stays, but there was plenty to do for the 5 days!). Radia suggested the perfect Riads for us (Palais Amani and La Masion Arabe), along with a luxury tented camp in the desert. Each day was a new adventure and our incredible guide, Bouch, really made the trip that much better. We have taken a lot of trips with a lot of different guides around the world, and Bouch really topped them all! He made sure everyone was always happy, from the kids to the grandparents, and changed things last-minute where he saw fit. We always seek out unique, local experiences when we travel and Radia and Bouch really made sure we had plenty of them! Highlights included a hike in the Atlas Mountains followed by a cooking class at a local Berber family’s home in the mountain village. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience we will not soon forget! There were even mules to help carry some of us up the mountain! We also loved the sidecar tour around Marrakech—such a fun and different way to see the city beyond the medina, where most tourists spend all their time. But, everyone’s favorite day of the trip was the time we spent in the Sahara. We felt like we were in the pages of National Geographic as we drove ATVs over the gorgeous sand dunes—so fun and thrilling with the most unbelievable scenery. And we drove the ATVs right to where our camels were waiting to take us on an unforgettable sunset ride and then on to our luxury tented camp for the evening, where our belongings were waiting for us. It was truly a dream come true. We also had another surreal experience in the Sahara when we had tea with a nomadic Berber family who lives in tents without electricity or running water. We were able to talk to them and ask them questions about their life (through our guide, who translated for us)—it was a very educational and eye-opening experience, especially for our teenagers. It is not easy to get to the Sahara, but it is most definitely worth it and there are different options for how to make the journey that can be discussed. Morocco is a feast for the senses. Even just walking around the medina and souks, the sights, sounds, tastes and smells you will experience will leave a lasting impression on you. It is such a special country, I could go on and on. My only regret is not seeing other parts of Morocco, but it is definitely a place I plan to return to and I will definitely be contacting Radia when I do (and requesting Bouch as our guide!).

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Chile: heli-hiking, rafting, cultural visits…


Traveler Jeannie inside the helicopter.

Traveler Jeannie inside the helicopter. The Lake District, Chile. Photo: Jeannie Mullen

Tom planned a fantastic two-week holiday hiking trip to a part of Chile that I had never been to … the Lake District south of Santiago … an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Of the many activities offered (hiking, floating, white water rafting, cultural visits among others), I would say that the heli-hiking in Pucon with my guide, Patricio, who is also a professional photographer, was a standout. Our pilot, Benjamin, was great fun and anxious to show us private spots, tucked away in the mountains, that had phenomenal views and absolutely no other foot traffic. What a phenomenal experience. It’s like we had the world to ourselves for the day. This was the third time that I have used Tom for trip planning in South America. He chose terrific properties which offered impeccable service and every possible amenity. Vira Vira, an AndBeyond property, was exquisite.

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Australia: wine, beaches, behind-the-scenes tours…


We just returned from an Australian holiday trip with our 2 teenage daughters. Stuart and Jacki put together a phenomenal itinerary with something for everyone! We began our trip in Melbourne, where Liz picked us up at the airport and we were on our way to tour, hoping to see some of the city before things shut down for Christmas, the following day. On Christmas Day, we drove the Great Ocean Road outside of the city and were completely surprised with a WOW Moment of a helicopter ride over the 12 Apostles. It was breathtaking! The next day, we drove through the wine country of the Yarra Valley with tastings, lots of animal sightings and delicious food, followed by a 2-night stay at the Jackalope Hotel in the Mornington Peninsula area, about an hour-and-a-half from Melbourne. The Mornington Peninsula was also filled with award-winning wine and food, along with charming little beachside towns. After a few days of the relaxed area and beautiful hotel, we flew up north to Cairns and stayed in the coastal town of Port Douglas, about an hour north of the airport. This is an ideal location to anchor a trip to both the Great Barrier Reef along with the Daintree Rainforest. We had a magical first day snorkeling around the reef, followed by a day in the rainforest with our guide, Guy. Both days were incredibly special, where we created memories that will never be forgotten. Our last stop was Sydney. After a 3-hour flight from Cairns, we checked into the incredible new Crown Sydney Hotel. The 3 full days in Sydney were action-packed with sightseeing, behind-the-scenes private tour of the famous fish market, climbing the Sydney Bridge, shopping and a private opera house tour along with a show. My kids even got to see one of their favorite American singers in concert while we were in town. Jacki made sure that we had dinner reservations booked every night of our trip since it was the busy holiday time. After our 12-day trip, we are exhausted but definitely feel like this was a trip of a lifetime!

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Turkey: sunny and uncrowded in Istanbul


Karen and her team did an excellent job planning our trip to Turkey. Every transfer and tour pick-up was prompt. The drivers and guides were excellent. We loved the hotels—The Four Seasons on the Bosporus was elegant and comfortable and the view spectacular.

Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey. It was chilly (although luckily for us, it was a few degrees above normal, at least in Istanbul) but the sun was shining. In addition, there weren’t large crowds even at the most frequently visited sites.

We enjoyed the restaurants that Karen recommended, and appreciate that she switched restaurants between two evenings to avoid a traffic jam due to a soccer game being played along the route from our hotel to one restaurant. The tour plan was perfect and we maximized our time sightseeing. I would definitely recommend Karen to anyone going to Turkey.

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Chile: wine region, Santiago, Atacama…


My husband and I had a great trip to Chile over the holidays 2022. Tom did an excellent job planning and executing every detail of our travel. We visited the beautiful wine region, Santiago, and the amazing Atacama desert. We enjoyed so many activities from horseback riding, a cooking class and wine tasting at the Vik Chile to hiking sand dunes, photographing flamingos and the salt flats while at the Alto Atacama resort. Our guides and transfers were flawless, and Tom was even able to step in and negotiate a late checkout on our last day so we could have time at the spa before our long journey home. Next time we hope to make it to Patagonia and would definitely work with Tom again.

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Ecuador and Galapagos: family Christmas trip


We just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Allie was our true partner in the planning of this special experience. Allie is a great listener. She really learned the kind of trip we wanted and the diversity of activities and pacing we needed with three teenagers (ages 19, 16 and 16). As a consequence, Allie made great selections for us. We loved all of our hotels on the trip, including Hotel Mama Cuchara in Quito and Golden Bay Galapagos hotel in San Cristobal. She also made practical restaurant recommendations.

One of Allie’s best decisions was selecting Gustavo Cabezas as our guide on the mainland of Ecuador. He was the perfect guide for our family – deeply informative, fun, and energetic. Gustavo’s special connections enabled us to have special and unique experiences and his love of his country was contagious. Highlights of our time on the mainland include a visit to La Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world at the equator line) and taking the TeleferiQo cable car up the Pichincha volcano.

Our time in the Galapagos Islands was flat-out incredible. We saw sea lions (including hundreds of newborns), giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, iguanas, sally lightfoot crabs, parrot fish, sharks, sting rays, eagle rays, sergeant fish, sharks and green turtles. We really enjoyed our hikes, snorkeling and kayaking. We also enjoyed the Coral I, the 35-passenger ship, selected by Allie. We met wonderful people from all over the world and our teenagers made friends.

One area in which Allie and her team really shine is logistics. Every pick-up and drop-off ran perfectly, including one pick-up at 3:15 a.m. The help at the airport at numerous points of the trip was outstanding too. The airport in Quito is strangely confusing and we were happy for the assistance. At one point, we decided to change a scheduled activity and Allie was responsive at 6 a.m. in the morning and helped us make some adjustments. Overall, the trip was an A+. We will be forever grateful to Allie and her team for a priceless experience.

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Panama: cloud forest, city sights, a WOW Moment…


Our family of three decided in November we wanted to travel somewhere for the New Year holidays and chose Central America for our general location. We contacted Pierre, a travel expert on The WOW List, for his help with travel options. We had used Pierre in 2017 for a fabulous trip to Nicaragua that we still fondly remember today. He suggested Panama and the trip planning began! Given that this was short notice and over the holidays, Pierre still put together another memorable trip for us.

We started out the first two days in Panama City and had an awesome guide, Rebecca, for our city tour. Rebecca showed us all the key city sights, but just as important was that she was very attuned to our interests and conversed rather than lectured. We had such a lovely day. One of my favorite stops was her recommended coffee shop, which we ended up going back to at least four more times!

The evening after the tour, we were given our WOW Moment — and what a Moment it was!! We were picked up in a Panama school bus — Diablo Rojo — with all the neon lights flashing and the salsa music playing! It took us from the hotel to the Historic Old City, where we had a great typical Panamanian dinner at a local restaurant, then enjoyed the view from a rooftop bar with a glass of wine. Finally, back to the hotel on Diablo Rojo! What a fun outing!!

Our next two locations were in the mountains of Panama — spending three nights at each place. Pierre did a phenomenal job getting rooms and guides arranged for us at these places. The first was in Boquete, at Hotel Hacienda Los Molinos. It was very charming with a gorgeous view of the area. We did two all-day tours. First was to an agro-organic farm called Hacienda Mamecillo. The family was such a gracious host, especially considering this was on Christmas Day. They produce all their food organically, as well as a special coffee. It was so interesting and impressive. The meal they served was, honestly, one of the best meals we have ever had — worthy of any fine dining anywhere.

The next day was spent with a well-known local expert birding guide, Raul, and we were rewarded with many sightings to add to our “life list.” But more than that, it was a pleasant day spent with Raul and learning about the local nature there in the cloud forest. We will request him again if we are able to return in the future.

Finally, we headed to our last destination at the Mount Totumas Ecolodge. Jeff, the owner, and his staff could not have been nicer. Panoramic views of the cloud forest from the main lodge deck were amazing and the variety of birds spectacular, all at arm’s reach. The local expert birding guide, Reinaldo, is highly skilled with sharp eyes. During our nature walks, we were again rewarded with many sightings added to our life list. Each day Alma, the head chef, prepared tasty meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was fine dining in a remote cloud forest retreat. It was wonderful!

Even though we planned this trip on such short notice, and over the holidays, Pierre was able to put together a really wonderful and memorable trip for all of us. We couldn’t be happier! Its only been 5 days since we have been back — and we are still missing Panama!!

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Portugal: cooking class, VIP access…


Goncalo and Patricia planned the perfect four days in Lisbon for our multi-generational family of eight. Right from the start they were super responsive, and we traded over 100 emails finalizing all of the details up until the week before we left. This was a stopover for us en route to another destination, so we really focused on Lisbon and immediate surrounding areas. Spending a day in Sintra was a must on our list, and after being told that we would likely have to wait hours to get into Pena Palace even with advance tickets, they planned a private evening visit after the castle was closed and we had the entire place to ourselves! This was a true VIP experience and a very memorable one for all of us! Our guide, Tiego, was so knowledgeable about everything and he really related to everyone in our group, even the kids. We love trying all different local cuisines when we travel, so we did a food tour/food shopping in the morning that evolved into a cooking class in the afternoon, which everyone enjoyed—this was a highlight! All of the restaurants they recommended were perfect, from the casual places while were still fighting jet lag to the amazing dinner and Fado music show experience. And visiting Lisbon around the holidays, we had the added bonus of all of the beautiful lights and decorations around the city! I can’t wait to plan another trip to see the rest of Portugal and when we do, I will most certainly be reaching out to Goncalo and his team!

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Vietnam: private experiences with local families…


We worked with Dan’s office based on your recommendation, and they were terrific. They were flexible when we needed to postpone our planned trip to Vietnam in April 2020 due to COVID, and on several subsequent potential dates, until we actually got to go with our adult daughter in early December 2022. The two-week trip went without a hitch and included some truly special private experiences with local families. Each guide had a high level of expertise, spoke English well and brought something unique to the table for each of us. We feel like we really got to cover the country from north to south and never felt we were not in safe hands — even when hanging onto the back of a motor bike in Hanoi or Saigon. There were several times when our domestic flights were delayed or canceled and Dan’s office handled the logistics professionally. After action-packed days, we ended the trip at a Six Senses resort for some R&R, which exceeded expectations!

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Mexico: Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta


Thanks to Zach, Gabriela and Amalia, my husband Kenn and I enjoyed an incredible trip to Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta over the Christmas holidays. We have been to multiple locations throughout Mexico, but knowing little about all of the available options in Mexico City and PV, we again went to Wendy’s WOW List for guidance. As always, our high expectations were surpassed at every step of our vacation. In both locations, Zach and his team put together a personalized itinerary that matched our entire wish list. The Orchid House in Mexico City had the charm and location we’d requested, and our driver and guide—Joel and Javier—took us to sights and places that we never would have found on our own with a knowledge, love and fluency that only native residents would have. The same for our five-star resort—Garza Blanca—just south of Puerto Vallarta. We utilized Zach’s referrals for all of our activities and restaurants and were never disappointed. Reservations were made and confirmed for us in Spanish, and Zach’s team greeted us at both airports to assure smooth passage during the crazy, busy holiday time. We truly would have been lost without these helpful people to guide us to the proper airline windows. Even when I requested information about a workout space in Mexico City, Gabi came through with a reservation and easy walking directions. We enjoyed a WOW Moment at a lovely restaurant in Puerto Vallarta where our table was located literally next to the ocean. Amalia actually showed up in person to make sure all elements of our wonderful surprise came to pass. We have never enjoyed that kind of personalized service! Communication with the team was immediate and nothing was left to chance. Even when we requested changes, there was never any hesitation or sense that I was “bothering” our team. The main focus and mission from Zach and every member of his team seemed to have one purpose: to ensure a WOW vacation for us, which they exceeded in every way. Zach also now covers Costa Rica, which we can’t wait to experience. Muchas gracias to his team.

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Belize: 50th anniversary with kids & grandkids


To plan for our 50th anniversary family celebration adventure in Belize, Wendy introduced us to Patricia, a native Belizean with a passion for introducing her country to the world. A year of planning with Patricia and Juliannie culminated in a 10-day trip, five days in the jungle and five days on an island. With us were four grandchildren, ages 9-12, so a lot of thought went into making sure we had lots of kid-oriented things to do. We truly wanted to hear lots of “WOWs” from them and we weren’t disappointed.

Imagine four kids flying into Belize City airport and being escorted across the tarmac and realizing they were about to jump into two helicopters and fly to their jungle resort, or their excitement of being whisked from the jungle, via private plane, over to Placencia, then jumping on a boat and arriving on an island? Their reactions when they walked into their luxurious accommodations, complete with plunge pools, were priceless.

Chaa Creek Resort in the jungle didn’t disappoint, upping the “WOWs” to new levels each day. Our butler, Candi, and her trainee Ryan spoiled us with private dinners for 10, breakfast deliveries early in the morning, fresh fruit drinks when we returned from a day of touring, even babysitting so the adults could dine together. At 4:00 a.m. one morning Candi was helping decorate an outdoor pavilion so our granddaughter could have a fun 9th birthday celebration that night. The surprises never stopped, the staff was so generous and kind, the accommodations top-notch, and the food delicious. Our granddaughter with celiac even got special gluten-free desserts every day!

We had a dedicated driver and guide, Darryl, throughout our 5 days of touring the jungle, and when rising water closed the ATM cave tour, Darryl seamlessly changed plans. Darryl introduced us to the Mayan world, helped us explore their temples, took us to a local coffee plantation and to a women’s local co-op where the grandchildren were able to hand-grind coffee beans, fresh corn for our tortillas, and try their hands at ancient pottery making. A trip deep into the jungle delivered us to zip-lining at the end of our cultural immersion day!

Ray Caye Resort beach days were spent in total relaxation mode so snorkeling, jumping off the two-story diving platform, kayaking, canoeing, sailing the Hobie cat, and even scuba diving kept us engaged. But enjoying gourmet meals, sipping drinks around the pool in the near-perfect weather, and playing family volleyball and puzzle games brought us together after far too many years of separation. The island was magical, the staff always ready to help us, anticipating our every need, and on our last night there, they surprised us with a 50th anniversary family meal on the beach. The resort covered the whole island and at one point there were only 16 vacationers on it. Talk about a private and perfect post-pandemic place to be! Leaving “paradise” the last morning was difficult, to say the least!

Patricia ensured that the whole trip worked seamlessly and not once did we have a glitch! She also chose the very best people to support us throughout the trip. We couldn’t have asked for a better family celebration of our 50th!

Read more reviews of Patricia and Rachael. Or request your own trip.

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Belize: snorkeling, day with a local family…


We recently returned from an 8-day trip to Belize planned by Patricia and Julianie. We are a family of four with 17- and 21-year-olds. We wanted a mix of activities and relaxation. We wanted to explore Belize but also stay in only one hotel. Snorkeling was our first priority, and because we had recently been to Guatemala, seeing Mayan ruins and coffee and chocolate plantations were not important, because we did those in Guatemala. Patricia recommended we stay in the Placencia region at Naia Resort and Spa. It was the perfect location. The rooms are beautiful and well appointed, the staff is very attentive, the beach is very large and the food outstanding. We were able to do both land and water excursions, with nothing being more than 45 minutes from Naia. Patricia and Julianie were in constant contact with us during our stay, including making some last-minute changes to our itinerary due to unexpected rain. In addition to a private, full-day snorkeling excursion, we did a tour of the Monkey River, a hike and river tubing in the Jaguar Preserve and spent a day with a local Garifuna family. We loved every excursion and only wish we could have stayed a few days longer.

Read more reviews of Patricia and Rachael. Or request your own trip.

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* Although we have compiled and reviewed these reviews for trip planners to earn a spot on The  WOW List, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or truthfulness of the reviews we receive and cannot assure that all travelers will have the same experience.


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  1. Sue Wallsh

    My husband and I just returned from Morocco with another couple on a 12 day trip. Michael Diamond , recommended by Wendy Perrin had exceeded our expectations. Our tour guide Redouane and our driver Aziz were better than we could’ve expected. We loved every part of our trip and would not only recommend his services but would definitely consider another trip from Wendy Perrin’s recommendation.list.

    1. Carolyn Spencer Brown

      Thanks, Sue, for sharing your experience! Glad it was such a good trip….

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