CNN Travel

A concierge for once-in-a-lifetime trips  Florida (AP)

— Gina Pellini wanted to arrange something outrageous for her husband’s birthday, so she called a company that specializes in over-the-top surprises.

Her contact at Bluefish, a luxury concierge firm that plans trips for the rich, famous and adventurous, rattled off ideas: Pellini’s husband could take a ride in a supersonic jet over the mountains and coastline of Cape Town, South Africa. Or he could take a MiG-25 from Russia to the edge of space, traveling at more than 2-1/2 times the speed of sound. He could even take a flight lesson from a professional fighter pilot and grab the controls of an aerobatic L-39 military jet. Pellini opted for the lesson, and in the three weeks since the big day, she has listened to her husband recount how the jet performed 360-degree flips and broke 3 G’s to countless friends. “He has always wanted to do something like that but I never could figure out how to arrange something so out of the ordinary,” Pellini said. “He said it was the most amazing thing you ever felt, like your face is going to fall off.” Bluefish will arrange just about anything a client can dream up, and if the client’s dreams are a bit hazy, they’ll fill in the details.

Owner Steve Sims and his team can put you in a submarine to explore the Titanic, or in scuba gear under ice at a lake in Austria. They can set you up to chase disastrous tornadoes and hurricanes, or to watch sharks from a cage in the Pacific Ocean. They can also put you in a red-carpet worthy dress picked out by a Hollywood stylist and get you a seat at the Oscars, or tie the customary red scarf around your neck and put you in Pamplona, Spain, with all those running bulls. “We’ve done it so many times that if clients come to us with something that’s legal, we’re going to do it. We’re going to push it as far as we can,” Sims said. Sitting in his new loft office overlooking a trendy downtown street in West Palm Beach, Florida, Sims excitedly shares the stories of his clients’ adventures as if he had gone along on each trip.

One woman, a respected scientist, smashed up a car at the U.S. Demolition Derby; a father arranged for his daughter to strut down a cat walk with professional models; another guy filled a yacht with his boss’ favorite adult film stars and soon got a promotion as a reward. Sims seems to know all the right people, or at least how to reach them through a few well-placed phone calls. Then, he’ll charm them with his Irish wit to get his way. “You need to be that little boy or that little girl that can’t take ‘No’ for an answer. You try to break the plan down into pieces and everything will fall into place,” Sims said. Sims unofficially started his business 11 years ago when he started arranging for his banking clients in Bangkok to get invites to the hottest parties. He would give the clients a password to get past the suits at the door, borrowing silly words from Dr. Seuss, like redfish and bluefish. The latter name stuck. He now has 18 offices worldwide, including the new headquarters here, and a team of concierges who respond to every whim of their clients.

Michael Auriemma wanted to take a Formula One race car for a spin around a track in France and to attend the Grand Prix, but he also wanted a trip that his wife would enjoy. His Bluefish concierge arranged for them to travel to Monte Carlo for the Grand Prix, where they watched a practice from a restaurant that sat 10 feet from the cars. For the race day, the couple watched from a balcony in a private apartment that overlooked the track. When Auriemma got behind the wheel of one of Fernando Alonso’s championship Renaults, his wife, Sue, snapped pictures of the 650-horsepower car speeding around the track. Later, they had a romantic dinner at a hilltop restaurant overlooking Monte Carlo. “She loved it. She wants to go again next year,” Auriemma said.

Another client, Dana LeMarr, called up Bluefish earlier this year and told them she wanted to be stranded on a deserted island. She had the dream since she was 10 years old and read about a boy taming a horse on an untouched beach in “The Black Stallion.” A few months later, she and her fiance were standing on a glass floor in a hut in the middle of the bluest water she’d ever seen. The hut sat on stilts on an island off Bora Bora in French Polynesia. “I had no idea that water like that really existed,” LeMarr said. “It was amazing to be somewhere like that. We walked out onto the deck of this thatched hut and you don’t see a single human being anywhere.” LeMarr swam with manta rays and fed a piece of toast to schools of fish each morning. On her last day, she watched a 6-foot blacktip shark swimming under the glass floor of her hut. “I think it must be what this county was like hundreds of years ago when everything was an adventure and everything was kind of dangerous,” LeMarr said. The experience allowed LeMarr, 37, to briefly live the life of a billionaire on her preschool teacher’s salary.

The cost of many of the trips planned by Bluefish fall into the “If you have to ask…” category. An adventure that lets you play the part of James Bond for a week starts at $75,000. That price could easily quadruple if one chooses a few extra options, such as a mock kidnapping to a day of torturous spa treatments on a replica of the “Octopussy” yacht. Sims said he hired 60 actors to make the James Bond fantasy a reality for one client. “It keeps life entertaining,” Sims said. In the past two weeks, he’s been to the Hamptons three times, New York twice, Miami for the Video Music Awards and Los Angeles, where he met with representatives for an actor he’ll identify only by saying he was in the movie “Ocean’s Eleven.” “When we’re dealing with people’s imaginations, life can never be boring,” Sims said. “I’ve always got a bag packed.” CNN.Com, Tuesday, October 4, 2005

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