By Steve Jermanok
Originally appeared in February 2015 issue of Virtuoso Traveler
Ever wonder how travel advisors plan their own vacations? As a writer married to Boston-based advisor Lisa Leavitt
, I was asked by Virtuoso Traveler
to observe my wife at work during our family trip to Hawaii last summer.
I’m the beneficiary of having someone research our options, tailor each trip to our family’s every whim, secure special pricing and perks such as complimentary room upgrades and private shore excursions, and create indelible moments
– like a dinner on a secluded beach beneath the stars. Fortunately, though, you don’t need to have a spouse who’s a Virtuoso advisor to enjoy those benefits. Here’s what you can expect when you call on one to craft your next vacation.
When crafting a trip for multiple people, it’s essential to take into account everyone’s different interests and personalities. In our family, my son Jake, age 18, likes relaxation and fine dining. Daughter Melanie, age 16, prefers shopping and snorkeling. Yours truly cherishes the outdoors and downtime with my wife and kids, who are rarely in the same place at the same time these days. Lisa enjoys healthy food, yoga, and making lasting memories for the whole family.
To accommodate all of our desires, Lisa suggested Hawaii
, a classic destination we’d always wanted to show the kids. She investigated, and presented three options: a weeklong Norwegian Cruise Line voyage that sailed to four of the Hawaiian islands, a six-day multisport tour with Backroads, or a seven-day vacation staying at two of the Big Island’s best resorts, the 243-room Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka’upulehu
and the 540-room Fairmont Orchid
. Our family had cruised the Galápagos Islands the previous summer and I’d biked around the Big Island with Backroads on a prior visit, so we selected the third option.
Lisa booked the two properties, with flights and our car rental – a process that sounds simple, but which involved a lot of thought and attention to detail. “We chose Hawaii after long discussions about other locales, including Greece and Tanzania,” she explains. “I arranged flights with an overnight hotel stay in San Francisco to lessen our jet lag. And I didn’t just book those hotels – I was able to secure the best, and most economical, rooms for our budget, thanks to complimentary upgrades and Virtuoso-exclusive amenities.”
Ah yes, the advantages of using a travel advisor. They know the perfect places to visit based on your personal interests and design vacations suited to your budget, all while saving you that most precious modern commodity: time.
When we got to the Kona airport, we picked up our rental car without waiting in line – thanks to a VIP booking arranged by Lisa – our excitement building on the 20-minute drive to our hotel alongside the island’s ubiquitous black lava rock. We arrived to an emerald oasis of towering palms, lush ferns, and vibrant orange flame trees leading up to the beachfront Four Seasons Hualalai. In the lobby, an attendant greeted us with cool towels and mai tais for mom and dad, along with fresh guava juice for the kids. Then we strolled to our lodging: two spacious adjoining rooms overlooking King’s Pond, an ancient fishing hole where you can snorkel amid spotted eagle rays and 75 varieties of tropical fish. The highlight for me was our room’s outdoor shower, brought to life with live orchids, a fitting welcome to the Big Island.
Lisa has a personal relationship with Hualalai’s director of sales, having reserved rooms and suites for numerous clients there. So I expected the rooms to be exceptional – and they were. Virtuoso travel advisors ensure that all their clientele receive VIP service by contacting the resort before their arrival. Unlike online travel consortia such as Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, and Orbitz, Virtuoso uses its person-to-person relationships to its full advantage.
“If you’re celebrating a special occasion such as an anniversary or birthday, or have special needs like a food allergy, your advisor will also share this important information with the resort, only enhancing your stay,” adds Lisa.
Perks and Privileges
At The Fairmont Orchid, where we later concluded our vacation, we stayed in an executive suite on the sixth floor, an exclusive “hotel within a hotel” where a complimentary breakfast is served every morning in a large lounge next to a dedicated concierge. While the kids ate fresh papaya and pineapple on an outdoor balcony overlooking swaying palms, Lisa and I reviewed our plans – which included exploring the North Kohala coast and visiting the art galleries and ukulele shops in the village of Hawi – with our concierge to ensure the day would be seamless.
Our upgrade to this enclave, known as the Fairmont Gold Floor, is just one perk the hotel provides guests who book their stay through a Virtuoso travel advisor. (Other resorts in the Virtuoso network also provide free upgrades, as well as amenities such as spa treatments, dining credits, and tickets to local museums.) Lisa notes that VIP benefits for Virtuoso travelers “also include exclusive access to sites and events, insider tours, and special Voyager Club cruise itineraries
, which feature small-group shore excursions or a private car and driver for independent exploration in port. Depending on the situation, we know how to secure special treatment for our clients.”
While at Four Seasons Hualalai, we enjoyed a special evening where family and friends can sip cocktails and then tuck into a private dinner overlooking the sea. This proved to be the most memorable outing of our vacation. A golf cart took us to a secluded stretch of sand, where a ukulele player was strumming Hawaiian tunes. Sitting on cushy sofas, Lisa and I drank Champagne while the kids downed coconut lemonades. As the red orb of the sun started to set, I reveled in this magical scene and the opportunity to share it with my family. Soon we were dining on grilled lobster tails and rib eye, cooked by a personal chef. The stars twinkled, the service was stellar, and I felt blessed.
Lisa learned of this experience during her last trip to the resort and vowed that if she ever returned with her family, she’d splurge and give us this opportunity. It’s just one example of how Virtuoso travel advisors do the research in person to garner firsthand knowledge about the hotels, cruises, and tours they recommend.
On our last morning at Four Seasons Hualalai, we had to be in the lobby by 7:30 am for a guided paddle on a Polynesian-style outrigger canoe. The kids weren’t thrilled to rise so early on vacation, and for a moment we considered sleeping in, but Lisa wouldn’t let us, because the paddle was part of our dream itinerary, a detailed daily trip plan she’d crafted for us after visiting the Big Island on three previous occasions. This included touring the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Papaikou, visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park at night to see the expansive Kilauea Caldera glow a vibrant red, swimming with honu (green sea turtles) in the lagoon at The Fairmont Orchid, dining on steak at Merriman’s in the Wyoming-like cowboy town of Waimea, and going on this outrigger ride.
Five minutes into our paddle, heading to a sheltered bay, we spotted dolphins leaping out of the water. “They almost never come this close to shore,” said our guide, a local who seemed just as amazed as we were. He handed us snorkeling gear, and the next thing you know, we were swimming next to a pod of dolphins. One zipped right by Melanie and me. When we lifted our heads, the dolphins were flying above the water, doing flips in the air. Incredible! The moral of the story? Virtuoso travel advisors are among the best-traveled people in the world, which helps them craft a perfect itinerary that’s uniquely tailored to each client.
Lasting Relationships and Peace of Mind
Virtuoso travel advisors form enduring friendships with their clients. This means that their job isn’t over when your vacation begins – or even after it ends. Instead, they are available 24/7 before and during your trip to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Just as important, they check-in with you afterwards to see what worked, what didn’t, and how they can refine their planning for future vacations. For us, it’s on to Turkey to see Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, Cappadocia’s underground cities, and the Roman ruins at Ephesus. My trusted travel advisor is already busy at work so that our family can reap the rewards.