Serge Bloch

Our A-List experts share the trips on their radar.

Travel + Leisure
September 16, 2009

Train Travel

“Traveling by train is an amazing way to see the hinterland of a destination, withouthaving to stay there,” says Diane Hilliard. And more remote areas are now accessible vialuxury trains. Coober Pedy, the Australian outback mining town, is reached by Great Southern Rail,which has inaugurated first-class service. Other trips include the Red Arrow from St. Petersburg toMoscow; Kenya’s “Iron Snake of Africa” from Mombasa to Nairobi, through TsavoNational Park; and seeing the Canadian Rockies from one of Royal Canadian Pacific’sbeautifully restored 1920’s sleeper cars.

Multigenerational Vacations

“Grandparents are traveling with their adult children and grandchildren,”super-agent Mary Ann Ramsey says. Pallavi Shah concurs: her clients want to be together in“offbeat, meaningful” destinations such as Africa; villa rentals in southern Europe(Tuscany and Provence) and farther afield (Greece and Turkey) are also popular. Barbara Gallay believes that travelers are willing to make a certain investment in these trips despite theeconomic downturn: “Families still really want to create these once-in-alifetimeexperiences.”

River Cruising

The Oberoi’s new ship on the Nile, along with Viking River Cruises’ two Nileitineraries aboard the Royal Lotus and the Prince Abbas, account for a spike in Nile cruising, saysRuth Turpin, who is also seeing increased interest in travel between Moscow and St. Petersburg viaa Volga River cruise. Betsy Patton says, “It’s all about the Rhine, the Main, and theDanube, on Tauck’s new river cruise boats.”

Betsy Patton

Hurley Direct Travel, Naples, Fla.
Phone: 800-874-1743
Email: bpatton@dt.com

No matter the ship, Patton can recommend the best quiet corners for reading, where to watch the sunset over particular ports, and the top tables to book for a romantic dinner. Worried about getting a good night’s rest? She can even tell you which rooms have hard beds, and how to remedy the problem (ask the ship to provide egg-crate pads!). Since clients are now booking pre- and post-cruise trips, Patton has also become an expert in creating seamless land-and-water combination packages.

Top Tip: When picking an ocean-liner cabin, keep in mind that there are more noises to consider than when booking a hotel room. You not only want to stay away from elevators and stairs, but also take note of where the anchor drops and where the gym and pool are located.

Specialties: Small ships, luxury cruising and celebrations

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Ruth Turpin

Cruises Etc., Fort Worth, Tex.
Phone: 817-732-6991
Email: ruth@cruisesetctravel.com

Since founding her luxury-cruise-focused agency some 36 years ago, Turpin has taken more than 180 ocean voyages, giving her a strong understanding of the crucial differences among ships and lines. And when clients come to her with no idea of what they’re looking for, she has a knack for matching them with just the right cruise.

New Favorite: Crystal Serenity’s Tastes Restaurant. Located on the Lido deck near the top of the ship, you can pair lovely views with tapas such as a California street tacos or ahi-tuna poke.

Specialty: Luxury cruising

Barbara Gallay

The travel agent of choice for a who's who of notables, including Fortune 100 companies, members of European royalty, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are all clients, Barbara Gallay has a four-decade legacy in the travel industry that's put her on a first-name basis with top hotel general managers worldwide. (When the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company needs advice on its hotels, it's this travel insider they call.) She can get upgrades at the most sought-after properties, secure spots on popular excursions, and book top guides in situations where few can. Trend watch Sri Lanka is back on travelers’ radars thanks to new hotels (Shangri-La and Six Senses are building here) and culture-rich locations. Fee Varies.

Diane Hilliard

Excited about: The Seychelles. The breadth of nature and growing number of luxury resorts make it a destination to satisfy many agendas. Known for: Totally custom itineraries, with a pronounced cultural aspect—architectural, culinary, sociopolitical. Hilliard has lived in Israel, Jordan, and all over Southeast Asia; her understanding of the immersion experience is her secret weapon (as is her large Rolodex of top guides and historians, personal chefs and boutique winemakers, private drivers and pilots, and much more). Years as agent: 40. Specialties: Asia, South Pacific. Consulting fee: $750.

T+L's Travel Advisory Board Member, 2010

Mary Ann Ramsey

Betty Maclean Travel, Naples, Fla.
Phone: 800-865-8111
Email: maryann@bettymacleantravel.com

Ramsey, who celebrates her 40th year in the travel industry this year, approaches her work with the mind-set of a financial planner, meeting with clients to discuss their long-term travel objectives and develop an execution strategy. She maintains a master list of their goals and dream trips, and uses her frequent travels to vet destinations and experiences. Ramsey cruises regularly, and creating personalized shore excursions is one of her specialties. She also makes a point of flying various airlines to stay on top of new cabin layouts and designs.

Trend watch: 2016 is going to be an exciting year for cruising, Ramsey says. The Regent Seven Seas Explorer debuts in July with a maiden voyage (from Monte Carlo to Venice) that’s already sold out, and Seabourn is set to launch two new ships, the Encore and Ovation.

Mary Ann Ramsey is a Super Agent and specializes in cruising.

Back to the A-List 2015 database >>

Pallavi Shah

Our Personal Guest, New York City
Phone: 646-284-2454
Email: opgny@ourpersonalguest.com

When Shah evaluates a destination, she goes beyond simply checking out hotels and restaurants. She dives into historical context and cultural background. She is especially drawn to experiences that connect travelers with locals. In India, for example, she asks her favorite designers and craftspeople to open up their houses and studios and show guests the artistic process behind their textiles, clothes, and jewelry. Her clients have also taken part in temple ceremonies and learned to play traditional musical instruments.

Trend watch: Shah is seeing more boutique hotels in remote regions of India. One of her favorites is Jawai, a tented camp where travelers can go on game drives to see Rajasthan’s leopards. At the fortlike Mihir Garh, located in a scrub desert outside of Jodhpur, ground-floor suites have plunge pools and private courtyards, while first-floor suites have jacuzzis and private terraces. And close to the medieval town of Jaisalmer, the Serai has 21 tents and a pool modeled after a Rajasthani stepwell.

Pallavi Shah is a Super Agent and specializes in India.

Back to the A-List 2015 database >>

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