Featured Traveler: Jonathan, from Memphis

We just spent almost Two weeks with Jonathan in Morocco, and it is safe to say that he is simply always in a good mood.  Always smiling, immersed in Morocco, full of mirth and laughter-- this is Johnathan.

Zoom: What was your highlight from the trip?

Jonathan: The night we spent in the Sahara Desert was really unforgettable and just incredible.  That night and the days before and after were the most unique part of the trip, and they were the most memorable.  Everything from the camel rides to the dinner, and even the accommodations, came together to create a really special experience.  

Zoom: How were the hotels?

Jonathan: The hotels made a big difference, especially the ones in Casablanca, Fes and Marrakech.  The Four Seasons, Palais Faraj and La Mamounia were all spectacular, and we particularly enjoyed the three nights at La Mamounia.  The riads in Chefchaouen were not the luxury accommodations we enjoyed in some of the other cities, but they were great choices that fit the city perfectly and we really enjoyed the intimacy and local color they provided.  In Tangier the unforeseen circumstances were unfortunate {last minute hotel change due to a power outage}, but we nonetheless enjoyed the hotel and the change did nothing to diminish the experience.  And I cannot mention hotels without including another very sincere note about how much we loved the desert camp - it was really a fantastic experience!     

Zoom: Did you feel comfortable to be traveling as part of a gay group through Morocco?

Jonathan: Yes, without any exceptions.  And that was a great surprise given some of the things I incorrectly assumed about Morocco.  There was not a single incident where I felt like being identified as a gay tour made a difference. 

Zoom: What were the benefits of traveling as part of a group?

Jonathan: The access - we never waited in lines, we never waited on tables, and we never encountered the "red tape" that is usually an unavoidable part of traveling on your own.  The group instead moved from place to place like a well-oiled machine, and that allowed us to see so much more without the time loss that accompanies waiting in lines and figuring things out as you experience them.  I also liked meeting the rest of the group and enjoyed the development of those relationships. 

Zoom: We traveled some long distances through Morocco. How were these journeys for you?

Jonathan: I sort of dreaded those trips after seeing them on the agenda, and I filled my IPad and backpack with things I thought would be needed to pass the time.  The bus trips ended up being relaxing, and because the bus was comfortable and had wireless access these trips also offered a chance to unwind, communicate with the outside world some, and even spend a little time quizzing Nabil (Morocco's best guide ever).  Plus we traveled through some incredibly beautiful landscapes, so these trips even ended up being something far closer to a positive part of the journey.       

Zoom: How do you think things would have been different had you organized this on your own?

Jonathan: We would have seen half as much, at best, and we would have learned a lot less about the culture and history.  Plus, we would have waited in lines, made mistakes about restaurants, been without a clue which merchants should be visited or avoided, and generally experienced the trials and errors that are part of traveling on your own.  Sometimes those things can be a fun part of the adventure, but with Morocco we really enjoyed being able to focus on the country and the culture without the homework and planning we would have been saddled with had we attempted this without Zoom.     

Zoom: You mentioned that you usually are a planner and organizer of your vacations. What was it like to allow us to handle things?

Jonathan: It was interesting.  We initially had to resist the urge to overthink details like timing, meals, and even things like the impacts from changes in the weather.  But we very quickly realized that the beauty of being part of a tour with a group like Zoom is that you can focus on enjoying the experience without worrying about all the planning - and that made the trip really become stress free and far more relaxing.  Knowing that someone else was taking care of these things made a big difference - and because these things are handled so well it really added a whole new element to the trip as the hassle of traveling is converted to excitement over what comes next!

Zoom: What do you think your friends would appreciate from the Zoom Vacations experience?

Jonathan: Lots, but most of all the level of preparedness.  We managed to spend eleven easy nights in Morocco, and while our group did hit a snag or two with hotels, weather and other unavoidable circumstances, none of these lessened the experience because Bryan and Nabil were able to figure out an alternative plan before we ever knew there was even a need.  The fact that this much effort goes into the planning was obvious to those on the trip, and I think our friends and others joining Zoom's tours would all appreciate these efforts, too.   

Zoom: Did this trip give you the opportunity to expand your comfort zone?

Jonathan: Yes and no.  We have a pretty broad comfort zone when it comes to traveling, and while Morocco was definitely a country where the experiences were all new and immersive, the realities that we did not have to worry about safety, logistics, or even finding food all kept us in a pretty comfortable mindset the whole trip.

Zoom: During the trip, you took a lot of photos. Are you the type who always takes a lot of pictures, or was there something special about the scenery or lighting?

Jonathan: Morocco is really a photographers dream, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of editing and enjoying those images now that we are back.  That always kind of extends the trip, and like everything else with Morocco, it has been a great experience.  I definitely take a lot of pictures on trips, but there is no question about it - Morocco was special in every way and the colors, lights, sights and other elements made it all memorably unique.     

Zoom: How do you think our group was received by local people we met?

Jonathan: Very well, and that seemed to be both because we had our guide, Nabil, with us - and he is the most liked person in the country - and because the Moroccans are so accommodating with tourists.  I cannot think of an example where we were not received with open arms.   

 Zoom: Did you feel you had things in common with your fellow travelers? Did you make any new friendships?

Jonathan: This was our first organized multi-day tour, and one thing we took away from it is the acknowledgment that these tours generally attract others who enjoy getting off the beaten path and exploring the world.  We made several friends on the trip that I am confident will remain part of our lives for years, and maybe even more trips, to come.        

Zoom: How was the SHOPPING?

Jonathan: I admittedly had no idea what to expect from the Moroccan marketplaces, and they are one aspect of the country we could have added days and days exploring.  Rather than popping in and out of an assortment of shops, Bryan and Nabil guided us to several more established and legitimate places, which meant that we often got to not only see and purchase high quality stuff, but we also were often able to see the goods being made and hear about the process.  Morocco offers endless opportunities to shop for really unique items, and I cannot imagine a more fun and exciting place to buy just about any handmade item you can imagine.

Zoom: What is on your next Zoom bucket list?

Jonathan: Laos, Sri Lanka, or Vietnam & Cambodia.  It's tough to pick!

Featured Traveler: Kent, from Emmitsburg, MD

This was Kent and Will's first Zoom Vacation, and they were so much fun to have on the trip, we certainly hope it will not be their last.  Kent shared with us his thoughts on gay travel and Peru.

Zoom:  Why did you decide to take this trip with Zoom Vacations?

Kent:  It was a kind of last minute decision to go to Peru after our trip to Puerto Rico was cancelled because of the hurricane. Peru is someplace we had wanted to visit and we liked the idea of a pre-planned trip.

Zoom:  Was this your first time in Peru?

Kent:  Yes it was - we have a good friend who had fallen in love with the country years ago and he had really piqued our interest in a visit.

Zoom:  Was coming during American Thanksgiving a good choice?  Why?

Kent:  For us, we were not loving the idea of spending Thanksgiving in the U.S. - we typically host a big event so the idea of NOT doing that and letting someone else worry about it was an appealing change from our routine.

Zoom:  Did having a Zoom Concierge (Bryan) make a difference in your trip?

Kent:  Bryan was really fun to travel with and he was a great resource during the trip if any problems came up and we needed help with something. Having made the trip before, he was a great source of information and in addition, he was charming and funny too.

Zoom:  Did the hotels live up to your expectations?

Kent:  We found all the hotels to be really nice and definitely the kind of places we would look for when we travel. They were all a little different but definitely comfortable and luxurious. 

Zoom:  How about Machu Picchu?

Kent:  We found it to be a wondrous place and really enjoyed the trip, although I have to say I enjoyed some of the other sites we visited just as much. I feel like we would have missed a lot of out-of-the-way spots if it wasn’t for our Zoom guides. Everything was really effortless and I didn’t really find it to be too much - there were plenty of opportunities to skip excursions or stops if the mood struck you.

Zoom:  What were your favorite parts of the trip?

Kent:  We enjoyed Cusco very much and definitely the food - I had heard that Peruvian food was good and I was not disappointed. Very good quality and lots of opportunities to try things that featured local ingredients and traditions. The coco and muna tea was really refreshing and kind of nice change from coffee drinking.

Zoom:  What were some of your biggest “wow” moments?

Kent:  We found the whole sacred valley was pretty amazing with lots of incredible vistas of cities built on the tops and hanging off the sides of mountains, and so on. Personally, being a little afraid of heights, it was a little dizzying at times but that could have been the altitude.

Zoom:  How were the other people on the trip?

Kent:  We met some very interesting and charming people in our group and I really enjoyed the size - we only had 12 on our tour and it was a good number. I definitely met some interesting people that I wouldn’t have an opportunity to meet at home.

Zoom:  Will you be taking another trip with Zoom Vacations?  To where?

Kent:  For us, I think Zoom is the perfect trip to make to places where the logistics of travel might be a little daunting. We both have busy jobs and getting time off is always a challenge, so having everything pre-arranged with so much attention to detail is a real luxury and well worth the money. 

I like the fact that the company is a 'pop&pop’ operation and we like supporting gay businesses.  I also felt confident that Bryan would keep us out of trouble.  We’d like to try a trip to Africa and India in the future.

Our Favorites List, by Zoom Owners, Bryan Herb and Joel Cabrera

Our Favorites List, by Zoom Owners, Bryan Herb and Joel Cabrera

With 30 years of combined international travel experience, Joel Cabrera and Bryan Herb, Zoom Vacations’ co-founders and Tour Leaders, have traveled to the ends of the Earth gaining invaluable travel information that they happily share with others.  Here are a few of their favorite things

Featured Traveler: Rick, from NYC. Part TWO

We interviewed our feature traveler a little bit differently this time around. Last month, we interviewed Rick before his Zoom Vacations Southern Africa trip.  Rick has now returned home from his southern African adventure and below are his thoughts as he reflects on the tour.

Zoom: Did this tour live up to your expectations?

Rick: The tour surpassed my expectations.  I was ready for fabulous hotels, and informative tours.  What I also got, was an engaging and enthusiastic tour guide in Cape Town (Tim), who was informative, engaging, and with whom the group easily established a rapport, an over-the-top safari experience beyond anything I could have imagined, from the 5+ star lodge to the fabulous meals (oh, those 8 course lunches!), incredibly friendly staff, unforgettable walks with well behaved lions and cheetah, and an exciting ride with Mary the elephant!  In addition to the safari at Krueger, the activities in Livingstone / Victoria Falls were thrilling!  Not to mention the fabulous property with wildlife walking on the grounds freely!!!  I could easily have added an extra night or two on my own there.

 

Zoom: You said you were hoping to have an incredible and unforgettable cultural experience, and appreciation for the miracle that is the animal kingdom and nature.  Did this happen?

Rick: From the unique fauna in Hermanus and the Cape Town botanical gardens we got to see, the baby elephant in Krueger mocking a charge to our jeep only to be frightened at the sound of the engine starting up and running to its mother, the giraffes staring at us with curiosity as we drove by, and the exciting close encounters with lions and cheetah, I can certainly answer yes!

 

Zoom: What was your highlight of the trip?

Rick: For me, the entire safari experience.  The luxurious 5+ star lodge in the middle of Krueger National Park, where equally wonderful meals were served along with excellent South African wines, our knowledgeable, friendly, and welcoming safari guides, who took us on twice daily game drives, the two swimming pools for afternoon cool downs, all made for an experience I will always remember.

 

Zoom: There were some other Zoom Vacations travelers with whom you have traveled in the past, did you enjoy seeing them again?

Rick: I loved seeing Bob, my roomie for this trip, and John again.  They made the trip that much more fun and special, as I consider them my friends.

 

Zoom: You said you were anticipating making new friends on this trip  Did that happen, and in the way you expected?

Rick: I absolutely loved meeting the other travelers.  Several reside in the NYC area, and I look forward to keeping in touch with them, as well as those who reside in other states.

 

Zoom: Did you do as much shopping as you planned?

Rick: No.  Now I have to go shopping in NYC to make up for it. I still have availability on my credit cards.

 

Zoom: How do you think that Zoom vacations tours are different from going on your own? How are they different from other companies?

Rick: For one thing, I could never have organized such an ambitious itinerary on my own, and thus, would have missed out on several activities.  I think Zoom selects the activities it knows are interesting, and must-sees!  All of our activities were coordinated efficiently to make the best use of our time.

I think Zoom differentiates itself from other companies by limiting group sizes, which allows for a very personal touch, and through the final product it markets.  Tours are designed for travelers who want to experience their time away from home in style.  The fact that there is a Zoom escort on the trip to ensure all is going smoothly is also a plus. 

 

Zoom: Zoom Vacations owners, Joel and Bryan accompany almost every tour. Does this have an impact?  How?

Rick: Yes.  For me, it is comforting to know that a Zoom escort is on the trips to ensure the itinerary is being followed, to handle any changes to the itinerary that might arise, or other unforeseen situations.  It also adds the very personal touch to the travel experience.

 

Zoom: Was the tour better, worse, or as you expected it would be?

Rick: Much better.  The group of 19 were a delight to be with; logistically, there weren't any hiccups; and we had great weather each and every day!

 

Zoom: During the trip, you decided to sign up for Zoom Vacations’ India tour, 2017.  What made you decide to sign up for this trip?

Rick: India has been on the bucket list for several years now.  For one reason or another, I've postponed it, but 2017 will be the year!  It is also nice to know that a fellow traveler on this trip plans to book the Zoom India 2017, as well.