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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
Raffles Hotel, Siem Riep, Cambodia
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.
Four Seasons Safari Lodge, Serengeti, Tanzania – incredible views, Masai Warriors to escort you to your room, great service
La Mamounia, Marrakech, Morocco – absolutely divine!! That’s all.
3. My favorite destinations and trip experiences – these 7 spots topped the list for me:
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.
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.
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.
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
Easter Island – make sure you catch the giant moai at sunrise.
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!!
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.