NatGeo Travel: Best trip ever, totally inspiring and worth every penny!!

IMG_3738

Just back from this remarkable Trip Around The World with NatGeo. Jan Nijman, one of our experts, called us Post-Modern Circum-Navigators because we did in 24 days what it took the original navigators 3 years to do.  Am beyond sad that it’s over – I could easily have continued for another week.

What made it so remarkable is the level of hospitality, and the attention to detail. It was above and beyond anything I have ever experienced. Every single person I spoke to mentioned that this was a trip unlike any other (and this was an extremely well-traveled group). It was pricey but we all felt we got our money’s worth – and then some!!

Read on below for my recap (with pics) of what made the trip so exceptional.

1. The overall hospitality experience was superb and included these four crucial elements:

Our private jet. “The mothership,” as we lovingly referred to it, served as our home away from home for many long travel days and was always a welcome sight. The Thomson Airways cabin crew was outstanding – professional, attentive and extremely creative and fun. The crew is specifically recruited for NatGeo and they accompanied us for the full 24 days.

IMG_3476 (1)

 

The NatGeo experts who accompanied us on the trip provided top-notch pre-arrival lectures and included an art historian (Jack Daulton), professional photographer (Michael Melford), and geographer (Jan Nijman). Big shoutout also to all of our local guides – they added immeasurably to our experience and gave us uncommon insights into the culture and background of each country. We also had an expedition doctor on board – Dr. Brett Nelson – and he certainly earned his keep as most of us came down with one malady or another along the way (I had a 24-hour bug that knocked me for a loop after China).

IMG_2966 (1)

Michael Melford (left) and Jan Nijman (R). Michael looks a bit grumpy but believe me he is anything but!!

 

Our Expedition Team. Johanne Gordon, expedition leader, was phenomenal. Other enormously helpful expedition staff members included Jill Wilkins (lovingly referred to as our “bag lady” since she oversaw the pick-up and delivery of our luggage at each location) and Emily Sharp who saw to a million details each and every day. Kudos to all for taking such good care of us.

IMG_2967 (1)

Johanne (R) and Emily (L)

IMG_2964

Jill (front left) with our engineers and chef and catering team in back row

 

My fellow travelers. Of course, the trip would not have been as amazing without my fellow travelers – special gratitude to Alice and Bob Jepson, Jim Matson, Sue Kane, Janet and Jim Crowle, Dottye and Hardy Graham, Bill and Lia Poorvu, Smitty and Gail Smith, Sherri and Ray Spear, Donna Griffin and MaryAnn Vitiello, Christopher and Shonnie Beach and Andrew Nance and Jim Maloney.

IMG_4595

Alice and Bob Jepson in Agra

IMG_4614

Dinner in Agra with my special peeps. From left: Jim, MaryAnn, Andrew, Donna, Christopher, me, Shonnie

IMG_5584 (1)

Smitty and Gail – farewell dinner in Marrakech

 

2. Incredible Hotels

Especially the five mentioned below.  If you ever get a chance to stay at any of them, do it!  Each of these hotels provides extraordinary architecture and design and the guest experience is unparalleled. All have been updated and provide contemporary amenities (altho all could stand to improve their wifi and simplify their light switches!).

 

Belmond Hotel Monasterio, Cusco, Peru – a great start to our trip!

IMG_2992

Lobby

IMG_2984

Beautiful garden for breakfast

 

Raffles Hotel, Siem Riep, Cambodia

IMG_3797

 

Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra, India – rooms overlook the Taj Mahal (and if you get your laundry done, you’ll love the beautiful wicker basket it comes back in). Service at this hotel is above and beyond – including private butlers just a press of a button away.

IMG_4307

Hallways

IMG_4462

One of the bars

 

Four Seasons Safari Lodge, Serengeti, Tanzania – incredible views, Masai Warriors to escort you to your room, great service

IMG_4921

Sunset overlooking the pool

FullSizeRender 45

View of the Serengeti Plain from my room

IMG_4862

Picnic in the bush catered by our hotel

 

La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco – absolutely divine!! That’s all.

IMG_5321 (2)

Living room of my suite

IMG_5522 (1)

Poolside

IMG_5332

Indoor/Outdoor living

3. My favorite destinations and trip experiences – these 7 spots topped the list for me:

Agra India:
Diwali – so fortunate to have been here for the festival of light – LOVED the crazy street life!!!
Agra Fort – much more impactful and historically important than the Taj – IMHO – but not many people agreed with me on this.
Taj Mahal – while not as blown away as others, it is definitely a must-see at sunrise.
Mosque at the Taj Mahal – totally beautiful!
Monkeys!! – But watchout because they can be rabid and also have been known to attack tourists.

IMG_4338

Diwali festivities

IMG_4511

Agra Fort

IMG_4581 (1)

At Agra Fort with the Taj in the background

IMG_4367

Taj at sunrise

IMG_4396

Mosque at the Taj

IMG_4418

Mosque interior

IMG_4394 (1)

Monkeys everywhere

Tanzania/Serengeti National Park:
We managed to get in 4 Serengeti game drives – we saw lions, elephants,wildebeest migrations, giraffes, zebras, hippos, cape buffalo, leopards, baboons, fantastic birds. All who had been here before indicated it was an unusually high level of game sightings.

IMG_4775

Lion done feeding

IMG_4662

Giraffes

IMG_4679

Elephants

IMG_4870

Leopards in trees

IMG_4816

Wildebeest migration

Marrakech, Morocco:
The Medina – is so great to explore on foot. Make sure you check out the Bahia Palace and the Ben Youssef Madrasa.
Souks – I bought a Berber carpet!!
Majorelle Gardens – just fabulous and of course the Yves St. Laurent connection makes it even more great. We got there by horse-drawn carriage.

IMG_5427

Walking thru the Medina (walled city)

IMG_5339

Bread for sale

IMG_5373

Bahia palace

IMG_5381

Madrasa

IMG_5485

Madrasa

IMG_5417

Walking the souks

IMG_5572

Vast array of olives available at the souk

IMG_5538 (2)

Majorelle Garden

IMG_5534

Majorelle Gardens

IMG_5532

Jim and Andrew in our horse-drawn wagon

IMG_5562

Selfie in the garden – LOVE the Majorelle blue

Cambodia:
Angkor Wat at sunrise – such a beautiful temple – and the monks’ blessing was the icing on the cake!
Tonle Sap floating village – not particularly pleasant but essential to see

IMG_3812

Angkor Wat at sunrise

IMG_3922

Monks

IMG_3983 (1)

IMG_4030

Church serving floating village

IMG_4025

Floating village

FullSizeRender 26

Traffic on the river is brisk

Easter Island – make sure you catch the giant moai at sunrise.

IMG_3407

Sunrise

IMG_3481 (1)

And suddenly there is a 16th moai

Hiram Bingham Train to Macchu Picchu:

NatGeo had booked the train exclusively for us that day which made it even more fabulous.  This  gorgeous old world charmer is run by the Belmond Hotel Monasterio so food and service was  great. The spontaneous dance parties that broke out along the way were also fun!!

IMG_3170

Setting off for Machu Picchu

Vaialimo, Samoa – the tour of the Robert Louis Stevenson’s home (now a museum) is a must! We didn’t have the time to climb the mountain behind the house to see his gravesite but I would highly recommend you do that if you get to Samoa.

IMG_3690

Robert Louis Stevenson’s house in Samoa

IMG_3637

Beautiful porches around the house

IMG_3632

Well-informed guide showing us his living and working quarters

Share this post on: