When it comes to 25th wedding anniversary celebrations, not much can top a 13-day tour of Italy with family, and Paramus, N.J., resident Franca Eleftheriades could hardly wait to experience the sights, cuisine and culture.
She wanted to add one more event to the packed guided tour – she told AAA Travel Counselor Claudete Fujikawa in the Hackensack, N.J., office that she and her husband Anthony wanted to renew their wedding vows in a church in Italy.
“I figured there was no better place; my parents were born, raised and married in Italy before they came to the U.S.,” Eleftheriades said.
The Right Choice
This was the first time Eleftheriades arranged a trip through AAA, when she stopped in at the AAA branch next to her gym. “I met Claudete, we just hit it off, and she helped me with all of it,” she said. “She is easy to work with, patient, knowledgeable and went out of her way. I was a little nervous; we don’t travel much, and she helped with transfers and she helped reassure us. She took the extra step.”
The family booked the AAA Member Choice Vacations Italy’s Treasures: Art, Food and Wine of Italy for July. Squeezing a church service into a tight tour schedule sounded challenging, but Fujikawa did not hesitate to start planning. “I researched what day and time would be best to attend services at a local church,” she said. “Everything had to be coordinated with the itinerary as they were on an escorted tour. I advised the family to bring nice outfits to suit the occasion, such as a white summer dress.”
A travel advisor for 27 years, Fujikawa personifies what it means to go above and beyond. While all the trips she plans are special to her, “this was really one of the top,” she said.
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From Hope to Reality
Eleftheriades mentioned in a pre-trip email to tour manager Giulio Passariello that she and her husband wanted to renew their vows during the tour but understood the complex logistics involved.
“She told me any day during the vacation would work, and only if it was possible. She wasn’t expecting anything exceptional,” Passariello said in an email. “If not, she said, ‘absolutely no problem.’ It was simply her dream, but she understood they were traveling with a group. I replied that I would try to do my best, very sincerely!”
With no firm plans when the trip began, Passariello went to work, and he came up with the perfect event.
Creating a Memory
“Considering the itinerary, pacing and timing, I planned to organize something in the evening, before dinner, while staying at the Hotel Villa Lecchi, a beautiful Tuscan villa immersed in the Tuscan countryside. That would give time to everyone to get prepared for the function and then go to dinner in the garden of the villa,” said Passariello. “The idea came to me not only because of the beauty of the place but also because in the park of the villa itself. Adjacent to the entrance, there is also an old chapel that is still consecrated that belongs to the villa itself. All the ancient noble families had a private chapel and a family priest in their summer residences and villas.”
The owner of the villa is a longtime friend, added Passariello, and he was willing to let the group use the chapel. He also knew an English-speaking priest in a nearby town.
A number of tour members joined the couple, along with their 24-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter, for the ceremony, and then for dinner at the villa. A woman from the villa even assembled a bouquet of herbs from the garden for Franca Eleftheriades. The finishing touch was musical accompaniment from a traveling choir that also was staying at the villa. It performed during the service and serenaded the Eleftheriades and guests during dinner.
“It was just meant to be,” Eleftheriades said of the impromptu celebration, adding she was grateful to all involved. She already has recommended AAA Travel to other friends planning trips.
A Lifelong Connection
Passariello and the Eleftheriades have remained in touch. “I have wonderful memories of the sensations I felt seeing and realizing that we managed to make their dream come true,” Passariello said. “I was also in tears, along with the entire group who cooperated as if we were one family. It all went well and even more … like when everything aligns perfectly, even exceeding expectations. It seemed like a fairy tale.”
The couple visited the AAA branch after they returned to show Fujikawa pictures. “She told me stories and I remember how she was all smiles,” said Fujikawa.
“And they booked another vacation.”
She encourages her clients to share with her any special reason for the vacation they are planning. “Based on the occasion, I try my best to make it memorable, whenever possible.”
Talk to a AAA travel advisor to plan your destination wedding or dream honeymoon. Find your Agent of Honor today.
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