In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Travel Maestro is pleased to have Jonathan Epstein for our March interview. Jonathan is president of Celebrated Experiences, a family business that specializes in hotels and touring in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and has an intense knowledge of all the best in Ireland.
1) Celebrated Experiences was founded by your father, Preston, over 20 years ago. What made you choose to join the family travel business as a career?
Mom and Dad started the business over 20 years ago. I grew up seeing how passionate they were about listening and then personalizing special experiences for clients. They treated a one-night stay in London with the same care as a two-week trip to Ireland. Also, we all share a passion for detail, and I am honored and fortunate to be able to continue the tradition my parents started.
2) Ireland is a perennial favorite with travelers and has a broad appeal for many different interests. Is there one must-not-miss Ireland experience that everyone enjoys?
Getting lost! This may sound crazy, but I think meeting up with locals and getting help in Ireland is every bit as iconic as a pint of Guinness in a pub or 40 shades of green. The experience of meeting new friends on a country road and getting directions is a fun one in Ireland. In other countries, it’s a stressful situation but the scenic adventure from one hotel to the next is very special in Ireland.
3) I’ve always loved the Irish toast, “May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.” Do you have a favorite Irish Limerick or quote?
It’s just one word: Sláinte. It is Irish and means “Health.” It’s the traditional toast in Ireland, and if I’m saying it, it means I’m with Irish friends and business partners…and that can only mean a good time.
4) Celebrated Experiences represents a variety of hotels, country house estates and even castles. What criteria do you use to include a property in your portfolio?
Great question. Our Collection of Celebrated Hotels has become the benchmark for quality in the UK and Ireland. Each hotel that we recommend must pass an annual inspection. Unfortunately in the past few years we have dropped quite a few hotels that have not kept up with the times in terms of reinvestment. That said, there are always great new hotels popping up, such as Ballyfin in Ireland, and hotels that are reinvesting and are better than ever. Generally all of our properties from city hotels to small inns would have these things in common: They feel like the destination…why travel to Ireland to stay in a hotel where you could be anywhere; While our hotels are charming they have the facilities and amenities that most moderate to luxury North American travelers seek in a hotel; They also all have a soul, a uniqueness and are full of stories…guests will come home telling warm, fun tales about their experiences at a Celebrated Hotel, from meeting the owners to the art work on the walls, to learning how to pour a pint of Guinness.
5) What are Celebrated Perks and how do our travelers get them?
Because of our close relationships at each Celebrated Hotel, we are able to get great extras. When a Travel Advisor calls us to book, they immediately access these very special amenities. For example: at Sheen Falls guests get a guaranteed Falls View; at Mount Juliet Estate guests receive a private tour of the Ballylinch Stud Farm; at Killarney Park and many other hotels guest receive a complimentary upgrade at time of booking. Also, every time a Travel Advisor books a Celebrated Hotel with us, they receive complimentary breakfast. This is all in addition to any other consortia amenities you might receive.
6) Many times travelers have a theme to their vacation such as golf, romance or culinary focus. Can Celebrated give suggestions or help plan an itinerary around a particular interest, beyond just accommodations?
We love personalizing these types of experiences. Our favorite types are honeymoons (Ireland is such a romantic – and well priced – destination); golf trips (we really love when it’s spouses playing!); people in search of their Irish ancestry (it’s easier than you think!); but I think the best trips combine multiple elements. For example, this could be an 8-night trip that combines a few rounds of golf with culinary experiences such as visits to cheese makers, chocolate makers, whiskey distillers and maybe visits to Ireland’s famous craftsmen and artisans.
7) You travel a lot educating travel consultants about Celebrated products and visiting properties. What are a couple of your favorite cities to visit in the U.S. or abroad and what makes them special?
I do spend a lot of time on the road promoting the UK and Ireland. I am just so passionate about it. We are lucky to live in such a diverse country, and I do enjoy my road trips. My favorite 5 cities are New York, Chicago, Washington DC, San Francisco (including Wine Country), and Miami. All of these cities are their own…you couldn’t be anywhere else.
8) You know all the hidden gems of the Emerald Isle. If you had to pick just one, what is your personal favorite off-the-beaten-path experience?
I would say the Cliff Walk in Ardmore. There is a very special hotel right on the southern coast of Ireland called the Cliff House. It is located on an ancient monastic settlement founded by St. Declan. The walk combines stunning coastal scenery with Ireland’s vibrant cultural history. And when you are finished with the walk, you can dine at the Cliff House’s Michelin Star Restaurant.
9) When is the best time to visit Ireland for optimal weather and fewer crowds?
The bottom line is that it can rain anytime in Ireland. I have been there for 10 days and only had rain once, but you just can’t bet on that. Because it can rain anytime and Ireland is fairly temperate…never gets too hot or too bitter cold, I like April, May, September and October. That said, there are so many amazing festivals in the summertime and days last so long because of Ireland’s location. Ireland really never gets too crowded compared to other destinations I’ve visited. Also, more and more Americans are traveling over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It really is a magical time in Ireland…picture yourself sipping a whiskey or glass of wine by a roasting fire in an Irish Castle or Manor House.
10) Twitter followers know that @EpsteinTravels is fun to follow and quite influential in that social space. Tell us about the #FriFotos chat group that you host on Twitter.
Awwww…Thanks! I love #FriFotos…is there a better way to start a weekend? It’s simple really. Each week a group of cohosts join me and we select a theme. We announce the theme each Tuesday at Noon. Then people spend the next few days finding pictures they have taken that match the theme and share these images by tweeting them all day Friday. Thousands of people around the world participate, including National Geographic.
11) I happen to know that you have an adorable son who you clearly cherish. Are you grooming him for the family business?
Very cute. I am so fortunate to have joined the “family business” 6 years ago, but while my parents often asked me to join, they never pressured me. My 3-year old son means so much to me, and we’ve been traveling to places since he was an infant. The thing I care most about is that he has the confidence and love to do whatever he wants to do. But he’s already on track to be one of the world’s best hotel inspectors! I do hope he is as passionate about travel as I am. Here’s a picture from Multnomah Falls in Oregon. We traveled there for New Years when he was 2.
Thanks, Jonathan, for sharing your insider knowledge and personal favorites about Ireland!
Photo credit: Jonathan Epstein