I’ve been a travel journalist for 25 years. I’ve travelled just about everywhere, and I’ve been on plenty of planes. I never want a flight to last longer.
But I quickly learned that being on the Four Seasons Private Jet is like no other flying experience, even if you’ve flown private. The Jet itself is dazzling: a sleek black Boeing 757 outfitted with just 52 white Italian leather flat-bed seats. As I boarded, the staff was waiting to escort me to my seat. And what a seat it was, topped with a plush orange cashmere blanket and throw pillow. The Jet’s comfort and style were just two of the many (wonderful) surprises during my 19-day journey around the world.
The pampering began before I even arrived in London. Global Guest Services Manager Ashley Peterson had been in close touch before my departure from New York City, arranging every detail. When I landed at Heathrow, a driver was waiting to whisk me away in a Mercedes to Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane.
On my arrival, it looked as though the entire Hotel staff had turned out to greet me. Journey Manager Jill came to the room and tagged my bags. She promised that I would never have to lift or check in a suitcase over the next 19 days.
I could get used to this. And it turns out that some people do.
On the first night of the trip, I met two couples who were on their second private jet journey. Jean and her husband, Sal, raved about their previous experience – the friends they had met, the food, the indelible memories. Jean admitted that before their first trip, she had thought of it as something to do once in a lifetime. But she quickly realized that there was no better way to see the world.
I can see why they’re repeat travellers – it’s easy to make yourself at home on the Jet. With six-and-a-half feet of space, I could stretch out forever. A fluffy down blanket and pillow, along with a pair of silk eyeshades, were ready in case I wanted to sleep. There were enough amenities to keep me entertained for hours on end. Stacks of magazines. An iPad loaded with movies and music. A pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones. As it turned out, I never could find the time to read all the magazines and watch all the movies. That was a good problem.
Being on the Jet was relaxing in the most profound way possible. Perhaps it was partly the highly calibrated LED lighting system that was programmed to regulate your mood by emitting calming shades of violet and blue. But it was also the gracious staff. They seemed to anticipate my every need. Just when I was feeling a little pang of hunger, there they were with snacks.
The pilots made the flights amazing, too. I will never forget flying from Arusha, Tanzania – the gateway to the Serengeti – to Pisa, Italy. The pilot decided to circle over the peak of Kilimanjaro, once for the passengers on the left side of the plane, another time for the people on the right side, allowing everyone a glimpse of this majestic mountain from the air.
Javier Loureiro, the Director of Guest Experience and Onboard Concierge, is the master of ceremonies on this very special journey. Javier used to be the top Concierge at Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, where he ran the Hotel with a charming iron fist and surely helped out his share of diplomats.
Whatever you want, Javier and his team, and the staffs at the hotels and resorts you visit along the way, can make it happen. Would you rather take a helicopter to Cinque Terre than explore the artisanal shops and galleries of Florence? No problem – they’ll take care of it.
I encountered a small but perfect example of this make-it-happen-in-a-minute approach in London. I realized that I had forgotten to bring a converter, and happened to mention it to Ashley. No problem, she said, and immediately sent one to my room. In fact, no matter what the other passengers or I needed, no matter when we needed it, the staff would appear, snap their fingers, and . . . presto! It was like having your own personal genie always on hand.
Heading into the journey, I was daunted by the idea of travelling with a group. Would I get tired of being with the other passengers? And what would they be like? Snooty and unfriendly? Affable but clingy?
It turns out that I wasn’t alone in having these concerns.
“I have to admit, before we took our first trip, we were worried that the other people would be aloof,” admitted Robert, a passenger from Virginia. But that wasn’t the case. He and his partner Michael ended up liking the experience and the group so much that they returned for a second trip in less than a year. This fall, they’ll take another one.
Indeed, I discovered that sharing experiences with the other people enriched the journey. I think my sides still hurt from laughing so hard over cocktails with one couple at Four Seasons London. I was invited to another guest’s birthday party in Italy. And seeing a ballerina do a private performance of the exquisite “Dying Swan Ballet” brought tears to my eyes — and did the same for many of my fellow travellers. We all shared a very moving moment that we will remember forever.
Before the trip, I fretted endlessly about what I would pack for three weeks away in six places with radically different climates and activities: snow, tropics, safari and so on.
I started strategizing and put together mood boards for the various experiences. I packed, I repacked. I went shopping. I ordered online. I did some more shopping. I thought about what I could buy on the road. (I knew in advance, for instance, that a kaftan would be coming home with me from Dubai.) At one point, I considered hiring a stylist to help me put together my travel wardrobe.
And I’ll admit that I even did some last-minute panic shopping when I arrived in London and saw a very sophisticated woman breezing through the Hotel lobby, clad head to toe in white cashmere. I had the Hotel’s Rolls-Royce chauffeur me to Bond Street, where I spent a pretty penny on last-minute wardrobe additions in order to keep up with the group – or at least what I thought the group would be like.
I soon discovered that the cashmere-clad woman wasn’t on the trip — and the rest of the Jet travellers were dressed just like me.
Looking back, I have to laugh. The packing that I initially thought of as simply stressful turned out to be a meaningful part of the journey. It was a way to start the journey long before the jet actually took off.
Sure, there’s a private chef who caters to your every need. Sure, there are gala evenings, like the one we spent in Florence, dining with nobility in the villa that their family has owned since 1489. But we didn’t sit down to fine dining, serenaded by violinists and opera singers, twice a day. In fact, some of the simplest meals turned out to be the most memorable.
In Dubai, a group of us toured a residential neighbourhood with Arva Ahmed, an entrepreneurial foodie who owns a cool company called Frying Pan Adventures. She led us through the colourful pathways of her hometown, taking us to Middle Eastern street food spots. One of the highlights was going to an Emirati restaurant where the locals sit on the floor and eat with their hands. She taught us how to use our hands, too – turns out there are several techniques.
In the Serengeti, we went on a walk with the Maasai guides and tasted herbs picked from the ground. We went hunting for truffles in Italy and sampled them fresh from the woods. In the Seychelles, the chefs prepared a traditional Creole rum dinner on the beach where some of the braver passengers and I tried local delicacies, like bat. (Tasted like chicken!)
The beauty of mixing in experiences like this is that they allowed us to immerse ourselves deeply in the culture — and to get to know a country through its unique tastes and flavours.
When I first saw the list of activities, I wanted to do them all. And I worried I would be disappointed every time I skipped something. Luckily, the Four Seasons team encouraged me to avoid overscheduling and to let the experience unfold. As the days went on, I came to realize that each adventure on this journey is orchestrated to be just as dazzling as the others. As for what I missed, it didn’t matter to me because catching up with my fellow passengers and hearing what they did was part of the fun.
Heading into this trip, I knew that I would have extraordinary experiences, like going on safari in the Serengeti, driving a Formula One race car in Dubai, or having a private viewing of Michelangelo’s David in Florence. They delivered – and then some – with thrilling, exhilarating, send-chills-up-your-spine memories that will last a lifetime.
But I was also moved by the unscheduled moments along the way: In the Seychelles, I went to the gallery of an artist who has been called the modern-day Paul Gauguin. I didn’t expect him to invite me to see his private studio and works in progress.
Indeed, another guest told me that some of her favourite moments on this journey were the ones that weren’t in the fine print.
I’ve come to realize that moments of “doing nothing” were just as valuable as the exciting adventures. Watching elephants stroll by the room while I was in the soaking tub at Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti. Sitting in the lobby at Four Seasons Dubai at Jumeirah Beach, having tea and chatting with a staffer about why she moved to UAE. Floating in the infinity pool at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles while the sun sank below the horizon.
As with life itself, some of the most powerful experiences were the unscripted ones, the moments I took with me and will remember forever.