When we started Classic Journeys 20 years ago, our not-so-humble mission was to make sure every guest had the trip of a lifetime. In our hearts, we were sure we could do it because we knew how much we loved to travel…and the STYLE in which we liked to travel. And we were just crazy and ambitious enough to think that if we could bottle that, we’d succeed. In 2004, at our 10th anniversary, we landed for the first time on the Travel + Leisure World’s Best list. A decade later, we’re #1. And I can honestly say that we still look at our trips and ask what else we can do to make it the best of the best. “Is there a hotel with even a slightly better sunset view?” “Who knows a farmer near that village who would cook lunch for us?” “What strings can I pull to never share a Galápagos beach with a cruise ship crowd?” And on and on.
To arrive at the World’s Best rankings, Travel + Leisure invites guests who have traveled with a company to rate it based on seven criteria. Happily for us, they are all areas where we really shine. I listed them below. I looked back at things guests say to us all the time on the subjects. And I couldn’t resist adding my take on each of the guidelines. The official results say that our guests awarded us 97.09 out of 100 possible points. I’m already trying to figure out how to earn that last 2.91 points next year!
“With our guides we never got that ‘who-are-you-and-what-are-you-doing-in-my-village’ look from the locals. They knew them by name, treated us as their friends, and let us see a side of life we’d have missed otherwise.” – Bruce & Theresa R., Kentfield, CA
The easy intimacy that our guides have with our small groups is awesome to see. There’s an openness and cordiality that’s not at all typical of group travel. No question is off limits. The big difference is that all of our fulltime guides live where they work. We don’t helicopter outsiders in. When we call our guides friends, we don’t use the word lightly. A lot of them have been part of the Classic Journeys family for up to 20 years. Several have been named the best guides in countries from Croatia to Cambodia.
“I studied your detailed itinerary with a fine-toothed comb, and still you surprised us again and again with wonderful moments and walks and people that made this the most exceptional vacation we can remember. I’ve planned a lot of trips myself so I know what goes into it. The Classic Journeys ‘gnomes’ are clearly the best there are!” – Perry & Monica S., Sudbury, MA
“Me-too” has never floated our boat. In well-traveled spots like Tuscany or emerging destinations like Montenegro or Myanmar, we start by asking, “How can we give this our own spin?” It’s a real rush to find a farmer who’ll welcome us into his house or an archeologist who can take an afternoon off to walk us through her working site. We build around the cultural experiences so that they are the focus, rather than planning trips that are more worried about getting from Monument A to Cathedral B.
“Your trips are a perfect combination of adventure, exercise, self-indulgence, learning experience and just plain fun.” – Lorraine M
I guess you’d have to say we’re not very good spectators. We’re a lot happier being “in the game”. That means we learn to roll spring rolls instead of just eating them. We sway through a salsa lesson in Havana. We hunt truffles in Italy. We take some well-planned walks instead of riding everywhere. The ultimate is our multi-sport Family Journeys. (And we intentionally leave some activities out of our written itineraries, because nothing is better than a surprise!)
“I just saw a magazine article that featured three of the hotels where we’ve stayed with Classic Journeys. I was impressed enough that we seem to travel in some pretty exclusive circles. But what a shock when I saw the rates. I don’t know how you do it, but I’m ecstatic that you do!” – Red & Terry P., Boston, MA
Cookie-cutter doesn’t cut it for me. Give me a farmhouse/monastery/Turkish cave dwelling-turned hotel any day. If it boasts a string of five stars, I’m there. (From Asia to South America and plenty of spots in between, we stay in a lot of World’s Best hotels.) And everywhere we go, we pull up to the lodgings that other travelers only wish they were staying in. As far as we’re concerned, it’s the best – and ONLY – way to go!
“We ate Michelin-starred meals. We bought pizza by the inch in neighborhood shops. We took a taste of capicola from the man who cured it and ate pasta 79 ways. You showed us what life is like in food heaven.” – Larry J., Potomac, MD
We. Love. To. Eat. At street food stalls. In secret vest-pocket restaurants. The haute-est cuisine to the humblest shepherd’s lunch. Not to mention a picnic grazed from a village market and once in a while a meal we prepare with a chef. We intend for every meal on a Classic Journey – and we include the majority of them – to be a culinary AND cultural treat that connects you to local life in the most fundamental way there is.
“I’ve enjoyed two Classic Journeys trips and am looking forward to my third one. I recently took two tours with other companies, and they could not compare to my travels with you. I realized that I have become spoiled by Classic Journeys in terms of value and experience.” – Jean F., Ontario, Canada
Your vacation time is really precious. When you’re unpacking your bags after it’s all over, we want you to feel like your trip was the best investment you ever made. That means that we have to exceed our promises…and do it at a price that makes sense. I’m really proud of how well we do that. A lot of other companies charge a premium of 20% or more over Classic Journeys for trips that you would logically compare to ours.
“Every time, we come home from a Classic Journey with the feel and taste of where we’ve been. The way you balance walks and more leisurely activities like meeting the locals is just perfect. And when it comes to great inns and amazing food, you people are our soul mates. Thanks for helping us rediscover how exciting (and relaxing) travel can be.” – Lowell & Barbara A., Warrenville, IL
The folks we quoted here have taken 13 trips with us. Lots of our guests have come back multiple times. And that’s the final test for us. If we never ended up on a World’s Best list, we’d be proud of the trust they show us. Knowing that they think we’re #1 is just the best feeling ever.
Edward Piegza is the President and Founder of Classic Journeys. For more information about Classic Journeys and the 75 destinations in 35 countries that we visit, go to www.classicjourneys.com or call 1-800-200-3887 to speak with a Guest Services Coordinator.