Vacations to Order Showcase, October 2001
Vacations to Order by Sandra Miller
ECI Communications owner Bob Crozer is a busy man, so when he
has downtime he does not waste any of it arranging the details of a vacation.
He calls Doug Turner, owner of Miami-based Millionaire’s Concierge, a one-stop
travel and entertainment service adept at arranging everything from hot air balloon
rides to villa stays, flights on a fighter jet to a swim with the dolphins. (The
sea mammals, not the football team, though Doug may be able to pull that off,
“We needed a seaplane to get to Little Palm Island, a five-star
resort in the Keys, which you can only reach by seaplane or boat,” says Crozer
“trying to find a seaplane was really difficult, but Doug had a guy, and I was
all set, at a great price.”
Some of Turner’s services may be unique, but there are plenty
of businesses that offer to take care of your particular vacation needs and preferences.
And some do it better than others. There are ways to find out who is worthwhile
before you are greeted by locked doors on your medieval fresco tour; you realize
the herd of exotic animals on view is outnumbered by the herd of tourists you
are in; or your seaside villa lists uncomfortably toward the sea.
Aside from word of mouth, articles like this one, or the luck
of just running into a guy like Doug Turner, travel facilitators can be found
through advertisements or by searching the internet. A quick check with the Better
Business Bureau can help establish confidence with a service unknown to colleagues
Some people are willing to go with a company as long as it specializes
in the type of vacation they are interested in , has been in business for a reasonable
amount of time, and provides them with a positive experience during their initial
Hallmarks of the best are an obvious zeal for accommodating your
special interests, the infrequent use of the words no and can’t, and a willingness
to be travel agent, tour operator, and troubleshooter all rolled into one.
Gloria Sweeney wanted to visit Sicily with her husband and two
grown sons, but because they had only a week to travel in, she felt overwhelmed
by the amount of necessary planning to get the best out of it. They also wanted
to visit her father’s hometown in central Sicily and the church her grandfather
had helped restore.
“When you have limited time, you waste a lot of it making connections,
and none of us speaks Italian,” said Sweeney of the obstacles she faced.
Browsing through magazines, she spotted an ad for Caravella Italia,
which arranges custom tours of Italy. She called and quickly felt at ease with
the level of service. “They were extremely obliging and creative,” Sweeney says.
“Our guide, Roberta, went out of her way to find the church we were looking for,
and then she called the bishop’s office so they could come out and meet us. Now
Caravella has also performed miracles such as arranging a private
tour of the Sistine Chapel, a place normally packed with hundreds of tourists.
“You just have to know the right person at the Vatican museums,” says Caravella
President David Diliberto. He often calls clients himself to assure them that
he knows the Italian guide they will meet or the quality of the hotel they will
stay in. “We put everything together for our clients – hotels, transportation,
meals, hot air ballooning. They are totally pampered.”
Availability is a necessary quality in a great travel provider.
One travel representative interrupted her wedding day to take a call from a client.
But that singular devotion was part of her training at Camper & Nicholsons International,
whose megayachts come with antiques, art, recording studios, cinema rooms, a mini-hospital,
and a helipad.
The company is used to handling unique requests: it has provided
a private helicopter to pick up a passenger at a moment’s notice; a yellow and
a red Ferrari Testa Rossa were waiting at the dock for a party’s arrival; and
a special mineral water ice-cube maker, a Tiffany nutcracker, a water skiing instructor,
and a favorite brand of shower gel have all been flown in per clients’ wishes.
Apart from the Herd
John and Alison Boothroyd of Cambridge, England, have been to
Africa many times. It became important to them early on to find an agency that
could customize their trips. They are now stanch fans of Eco-resorts, based in
East Africa, because their needs – customized itineraries and stays at child-free
resorts – are always met by the agency.
In May, the Boothroyds rented a private vehicle so they could
search for particular wild animals. “We waited an hour for two rhinos to cross
the road,” he says happily. “We watched a herd of hippos for an hour. We had total
freedom.” Eco-resorts even arranged for a tiny beach resort, Che Shale in Kenya,
to open just for them during the off-season.
It Takes a Villa
Bonnie Monte, artistic director at the New Jersey Shakespeare
Company, travels to Sifnos, a Greek island, every year. When she decided to try
a villa stay last May, a friend recommended InternetVillas.com. She browsed through
the crème de la crème of the site’s offerings in the world-class section and became
intrigued by a tiny volcanic island near Sicily called Pantelleria, where celebrities
such as Madonna and Sting go for refuge.
Because it was offered through a web site, she exercised caution
– finding and consulting colleagues who had used the service and talking to a
customer service representative at length before committing. “They turned out
to be fabulous,” she says.
She enjoyed a stay at the Dammuso Zighidi, a 300-year-old architecturally
idiosyncratic villa with hand-painted murals and views of tended gardens and the
African mainland across the water.
Bob Brennan, CEO of Connected Corp., also found satisfaction via
the Internet. He rented the Leamington Pavilion villa in Barbados from CaribbeanWay.com,
a 2-year-old island resource provider that showed up in an Internet search. The
villa, an elegant building with pergola, a large pool, and a roof terrace with
coastal views, came equipped with eight staffers including a butler, cook, gardener,
three maids, and night watchman.
“I have been fortunate to stay in the top-rated hotels in the
world, and the experience in Leamington Pavilion exceeded even the Four Seasons
and the Ritz-Carlton,” says Brennan. “It had all the amenities of such a facility,
but it was yours alone, including the well-trained staff.”
The web site villa rental service also books private islands.
“Venture capitalists rent a private island for a few days and do a nice deal,’
says CaribbeanWay.com President Jonathan Poulin. “They’re looking to get away
from it all. A lot of glove-trotters who aren’t shocked by much are just blown
away at the staffing.”
Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks have stayed at the service’s Musha
Cay villa in the Bahamas. “Celebrities book up the place like crazy. If you area
a celebrity in a hotel, there’s the privacy issue. Privacy on your own island
is not too hard to get,” notes Poulin,.
A Word in Your Ear
Judie Balcerzak, director of the Institute for Private Investors
in New York City, requires safety and privacy in hr vacation accommodations. Through
word of mouth, she found out about the 18th-century Palace of Devi Garh in the
village of Delawara, India, as well as Myths and Mountains Inc., the Nevada-based
company that rents it out.
“I was swimming in a green marble pool, with birds diving in
and monkeys running around,” says Balcerzak of the special environment she found
herself in, carved from marble. The deluxe rooms provided beds on marble platforms,
huge marble bathtubs, and large marble bowls filled with fragrant, floating flowers.
“It was a part of heaven. You sense history there.”
Although Balcerzak would not compare the service to a top hotel
(getting a phone connection could take up to 45 minutes), the secluded location
and uniqueness of the property more than compensated.
“We thought about the nearby Palace Hotel,” she says, “but we
fell in love with Devi Garh. We rented the whole place.”
Marylee Stephenson of Vancouver, author of a guidebook on the
Galapagos Islands, heard about Myths and Mountains and Lammer Law, a spacious
and elegant Galapagos-based trimaran, while on one of here many visits to the
“You use the boat as a base camp, and go out every morning and
afternoon to walk, hike, swim, sightsee, and then return to the boat for meals,
rest, and sleep,” says Stephenson of her trip that was arranged by Myths and Mountains.
“Luxurious accommodations and a welcoming staff, however, won’t
keep away the occasional storm.”