Now, That Was a Vacation

Cayo Espanto in BelizePhoto: Courtesy of Cayo Espanto

Who: Carla Landry, 31, national sales manager, and Jeffrey Knowlton, 33, account executive
What: One week in March 2011 on $15,000 to $20,000
How: “We picked Cayo Espanto (from $1,295; even though it was over our budget; the allure of being on a five-star private island with only seven villas reeled us in. We had two butlers who knew everything about the island, and there was never a moment that my husband didn’t have a small beer chest by his side.”
Highlights: “We took a small flight to Belize City, and a tour guide drove us through the Belizean country; we were then transported by a hand-cranked ferry to Mayan ruins. We also went cave-tubing, which was mind-blowing. We were floating down turquoise water through caves with bats, stalactites, and crystal formations.”
Take their advice: “Eat and drink like the locals. Our favorites were the conch and tamales. Also try the [hotel’s] Espanto Wave, not your average fruity beach drink.”

Who: Julie, 28, global recognition manager, and Jordan Viray, 36, graphic designer
What: Two weeks in June 2011 on $5,000 to $10,000
How: “We took a three-hour ferry ( from Venice to Porec and stayed at the beautiful Valamar Riviera (from $215; Our room had two balconies overlooking the sea and a bottle of Champagne waiting for us. Another favorite hotel was in Split: the Peristil (from $175; It’s built into the walls of Diocletian’s Palace and sits minutes from the beach.”
Highlights: “Driving. We were able to travel at our own pace and stop at roadside booths selling grappa and honey, and at konobas, restaurants roasting pigs and fish in brick ovens. We met a woman in Dubrovnik who used to run a gallery but lost most of her things in the [1991] bombings; now she sells her collection of Croatian textiles from her home. We bought a rug and shared plum wine with her.”
Take their advice: “Skip Pula on the Verudela peninsula. It felt like Reno in the eighties.”

Who: Mary Hawkins, 33, broadcast designer, and Brian Stillman, 36, writer
What: Six days in April 2011 on $2,000
How: “We stayed at Le Petit Hôtel (; from $160). The neighborhood was walkable and picturesque, with a lot of museums and cathedrals.”
Highlights: “We walked around, ate macarons and crêpes, and went to thrift shops and bookstores; it was like the longest Sunday afternoon ever. Our favorite restaurant was this all-you-can-eat Chinese-vegetarian place, Yuan (514-848-0513). There was a great row of thrift stores on Boulevard St. Laurent, and we found a cool gallery with screen prints by local artists (Monastiraki, We also saw Beast of the East, a tournament thrown by Montreal Roller Derby (, which was awesome—totally DIY and local.”
Take their advice: “Indulge in French desserts. We liked local chain Juliette & Chocolat ( and Une Crêpe Mont Royal (514-849-0836).”

Hotel Caruso Belvedere in Ravello, ItalyPhoto: Courtesy of Hotel Caruso Belvedere

Who: Dean, 31, animator, and Vishaka Robinson, 31, journalist
What: Two weeks in August 2009 on $5,000 to $10,000
How: “We got a first-class sixteen-day rail pass ($805;; the trains were clean, comfortable, and on time. We had culture in Venice, pizza in Naples, great views along the Amalfi coast, galleries and gardens in Paris, and everything else in Amsterdam.”
Highlights: “When you stay on overnight trains, you get breakfast brought to your cabin by the conductor. We loved drinking coffee in bed while the landscape whizzed by. The view from the pool at the Hotel Caruso Belvedere (from $640;, which overlooks the Amalfi coastline, was another highlight; it’s gobsmackingly beautiful and looks even better when you order a Bellini made with freshly crushed peaches.”
Take their advice: “Check out It makes the whole idea of train travel much less daunting, and it’s packed with tips, like how to label your luggage properly.”

Singita Boulders Lodge in South AfricaPhoto: Courtesy of Singita Boulders Lodge

Who: Carolyn Montrose, 33, creative-development director, and Adam Dub, 36, executive account director
What: Three weeks in April 2010 on $35,000
How: “We arrived at Vilanculos airport in Mozambique and were transferred to Benguerra Island via helicopter; the views of the Indian Ocean atolls were incredible. Azura at Gabriel’s (from $1,390; had beautifully appointed villas with plunge pools, and we had a butler who set up private dinners for us on the beach. In Cape Town, we stayed at farmhouse turned boutique hotel Cape Cadogan (from $230; and went on safari in Sabi Sand Game Reserve. There, we stayed in two camps: Kirkman’s Kamp, where we woke up to white-faced monkeys at our door every morning, and Singita Boulders Lodge (from $1,700; The guides were super-passionate about wildlife, and the game drives were adventurous.”
Highlights: “We loved touring the sites in Cape Town, including Table Mountain and the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. And restaurant La Petite Ferme ( in Franschhoek had gorgeous vineyard views and even better wine.”
Take their advice: “April was a great time to visit: There’s no rain, which means you’re less likely to get malaria; it’s also easier to spot animals because the grass is lower.”

Who: Loren Chidoni, 30, associate editor, and Brian Naylor, 30, risk analyst
What: Two weeks in June 2011 on $10,000 to $15,000
How: “We stayed at the new Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong (from $520; in a junior suite with floor-to-ceiling windows. One of our hotels in Bali—the Amankila (from $850;—sat right on the beach; with no TVs, all you hear is the ocean.”
Highlights: “The dark-sand beaches in Bali were so peaceful it was hard to leave. We took a private tour of Beijing with Orient Flexi-Pax Tours (, which was totally worth the $1,400; it included accomodations plus tickets to all the attractions and lunch for three days. And you can customize it: Our guide took us wherever we wanted to go and handled all the logistics.”
Take their advice: “Bali is famous for its wood carvings, and between Manggis and Ubud there is this great place called IB Marka Gallery to buy them. You even get to see the artists working.”

EME Catedral Hotel in Seville, SpainPhoto: Courtesy of EME Catedral Hotel

Who: Lori Bergamotto, 33, style editor, and Nicholas Barnhorst, 33, attorney
What: Three weeks in October 2010 on $5,000 to $10,000
How: “We spent two days in Madrid, then stayed at the gorgeous Gran Hotel Guadalpin(from $350; in Puerto Banus. Our suite had more room than our New York apartment. We also spent two nights at Seville’s EME Catedral Hotel (from $225; before catching the 30-minute ferry ( from Tarifa to Tangier. In Morocco, we were greeted by our driver, Ahmed, from Marrakesh Voyage (; we drove through Rabat, Ouarzazate, the High Atlas mountains, and more in his Mercedes SUV, spending time in different riads.”
Highlights: “Riding camels into the Sahara, where we slept in tents pitched by a Berber family. We could have drowned ourselves in vats of Moroccan kaab el ghazal, a pastry stuffed with almond paste.”
Take their advice: “Learn the term Rod balak. It means ‘Look out!’ They use this all the time in Morocco’s labyrinth of souks when a donkey is coming through. We saw a few people get knocked down who didn’t heed the call.”

Who: Courtney Woods Teska, 26, apparel merchandiser, and Jamie Teska, 26, graphic designer
What: One week in September 2010 on $5,000
How: “We flew into San Francisco, rented a convertible, and drove up the coast. We started at the Carneros Inn in Napa (from $395;, which was incredible—we had our own little cottage with an outdoor shower. Then we went to the rustic Ventana Inn & Spa in Big Sur (from $550; Every day we did morning hikes.”
Highlights: “We zip-lined through the Redwoods at Mount Hermon ( and rode in a hot-air balloon in Napa with Balloons Above the Valley ( Our dinner at Napa’s Culinary Institute of America ( was also a highlight. The wine flight was incredible and the location gorgeous. We drove there with the top down and could smell grapes the whole ride; we still talk about that aroma.”
Take their advice: “Hit Big Sur’s Nepenthe restaurant ( on a sunny day. It is built on a cliff on the coast, and the views are incredible.”

La Montaña y el Valle in Boquete, PanamaPhoto: Courtesy of La Montaña y el Valle

Who: Carolina Kim, 36, industrial designer, and Damon Zucca, 37, editorial director
What: Two weeks in August 2009 on $5,000 to $10,000
How: “We began in Panama City at the deserted Hotel DeVille (from $175; From there we rented a car and drove toward Santa Catalina—an area known for surfing, snorkeling, and diving—and stayed at the cabana-style La Buena Vida (from $55; Next, we drove through the Boquete area to La Montaña y el Valle (from $160;, a B&B run by Canadian expats. It’s an orchard and coffee farm; owner Barry took us on a tour of the grounds. We also stayed at an ecoresort on the island of Bastimentos(from $220; and at Dolphin Lodge (from $250; in the remote San Blas islands.”
Highlights: “The mountains of Boquete were so verdant, and the beaches and diving in Santa Catalina were some of the best we’ve ever experienced. Also, Casco Viejo in Panama City was such a pleasant surprise. It’s the old colonial section but still very vibrant.”
Take their advice: “When booking your accommodations, many hotels ask you to wire transfer money in advance, which kind of freaked us out. It ended up being okay—very few places accept credit cards outside Panama City.”

Moorea InterContinental in French PolynesiaPhoto: Courtesy of Moorea InterContinental Hotels & Resorts

Who: Courtney Dunlop, 31, web editor, and Kevin Grasmann, 31, sound-and-film editor
What: Two weeks in September 2010 on $10,000 to $15,000
How: “In Moorea, we stayed in a little hut at the InterContinental (from $340; There were two pools and a private beach, and the area around the hotel was great for snorkeling. In Bora Bora, we stayed at Sofitel (from $323; in one of those iconic overwater bungalows; it’s pretty cool jumping from your deck directly into the turquoise water.”
Highlights: “Swimming with giant whales [an outing arranged through the InterContinental] was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We also swam near a reef where crazy manta rays jump all over you and sharks circle around the edge. The Bora Bora hike [arranged through Sofitel] was something we didn’t expect to do but were so glad we did. Our guide showed us edible jungle plants and told us about the history of Bora Bora.”
Take their advice: “There are no umbrellas at the InterContinental; if you’re fair, bring a long-sleeved SPF swim shirt and a hat.”

Who: Avital Greener, 32, photojournalist, and Gregory Smith, 39, reporter
What: Two weeks in August 2010 on $5,000
How: “We stayed with family in Tel Aviv and then spent two nights in Ein Bokek, a resort town on the Dead Sea. We flew into Heraklion, Crete, stayed at the Lato Hotel (from $110;, and drove to the ruins of the Minoan city Knossos, following winding roads through minuscule villages and olive groves. We went to Matala to explore caves and hiked Samaria Gorge before heading to Athens for a few days.”
Highlights: “Our day trip to Gramvousa, a small island off Crete. The ferry ( was uncrowded with plenty of beer, and the island had beaches, hiking, ruins, and spectacular views. The whole trip cost about 40 euros. The best meal was in Matala at the Mystical View fish taverna; it didn’t look like much, but we stayed for hours drinking tsikoudia, described by locals as ‘Cretan moonshine.’ ”
Take their advice: “Go to Jaffa, the old port of Tel Aviv. It’s a maze of cobblestone paths lined with galleries and historical ruins.”

Who: Sara, 31, management supervisor, and Lawrence Weiner, 40, attorney
What: Two weeks in March 2011 on $15,000 to $20,000
How: “In Buenos Aires, we stayed at the boutique hotel Mine (from $160; in Palermo Soho, a very cool area with great stores and cafés. Then we flew to Uruguay for four nights at the Playa Vik (from $1,050; in José Ignacio, which just opened in December—it was five-star all the way. We also stayed at the Cavas Wine Lodge (from $325; in Mendoza; it had a roof deck with views of the Andes.”
Highlights: “We took a private tango lesson at Mansion Dandi Royal (; by the end of the class, we could complete the first sequence of moves. It enhanced the experience of seeing a tango show at the Faena Hotel ( Our favorite restaurant in Buenos Aires was Osaka (, a Peruvian-Japanese-fusion spot; we’ve never had better ceviche or sushi.”
Take their advice: “Hire a private driver to take you around Mendoza. Ours, Mauricio Molina, made all the winery reservations and planned out our days, which included five-course lunches with wine pairings.

Junks in Halong Bay, VietnamPhoto: Courtesy of Halong Bay

Who: Kaajia, 30, PR manager, and Chris Cassin, 31, consultant
What: Three weeks in January 2011 on $10,000 to $15,000
How: “We picked nicer hotels in the places we were staying longer, such as the Rachamankha (from $250; in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the Nakamanda (from $225; in Krabi, Thailand. In Vietnam, we stayed on the junks: old-fashioned, thirties Indochine-style boats with orange sails ( Ours had sixteen people aboard plus crew; the cabins were comfortable and the dining was top-notch.”
Highlights: “Halong Bay was breathtaking, like stepping into the pages of National Geographic. Exploring the caves via a little bamboo boat reminded us of an Indiana Jones movie; we felt so far away from home, but in the best way possible. We also loved riding elephants in Chiang Mai and visiting the ruins of Angkor Wat.”
Take their advice: “Avoid the advertised speedboats from Krabi to Ko Phi Phi; they’re a tourist trap. Hire a longboat instead. We spent an afternoon on an island with a beach the size of a studio apartment, and it was just the two of us.”

Now, That Was a Vacation