Welcome to Locally Grown, where we introduce you to a business that was started and grown in Lake County. This month it is our pleasure to introduce you to Heather Ryan, owner of Cruise Planners, an individually owned and operated part of the American Express Travel Representative network and the nation’s largest home-based travel agent franchise company in the travel industry. Cruise Planners’ travel professionals independently book amazing vacation and travel experiences for their clients around the world.
Heather is based in Lindenhurst, IL and lives with her husband of 10 adventuresome years, her “amazing seven-year-old son and eccentric six-year old daughter.” Heather specializes in family, special needs, and group travel.
Heather doesn’t have the typical resume of a travel planner, yet after years of working in federal law enforcement with her husband – including many moves and international travels – the stars aligned and this new adventure began.
“When we were first married we worked ridiculous hours in precarious situations, often in far-off countries, and believed we were invincible. After turning 30 years old, something inside me switched. I started thinking about having kids and slowing down. Eventually our son came and changed our lives and then our daughter came into the world. They remind us everyday how incredibly lucky we are. Thank goodness we have nine lives!”
Long hours that seeped into family time and some medical issues caused Heather to reevaluate her priorities and her life. She started to think about making some major changes that would allow her to spend more time with her family while doing something that made both herself and others happy.
“I didn’t see the ocean until I was 19 years old, so I would never have guessed that I would travel the world! I love seeing how other cultures live, trying the food, being a witness to amazing historical monuments. A light bulb went off! I was going to help others see what I’ve seen. I started my research and came across Cruise Planners, and in January 2015 I bought the franchise. After years of education, graduate school, and working in law enforcement, I was ready to jump into a new adventure.”
Why should a family use a travel planner?
“Booking a vacation can be extremely stressful if you approach it the DIY way. With so much information available on the internet, you can spend hours in front of a computer jumping from one site to another, to only end up frustrated with more unanswered questions. Travelers can save time, money and headaches by using a travel advisor. Cruise Planners can provide everything you need to book a perfect vacation: packing necessities, various modes of transportation, early booking discounts, special fares, hotel deals and most importantly, we can be your personal advocate.”
Cruise Planners books both cruise and land programs, and thinks both choices can be a seamless vacation experience with the right planning and help.
What makes cruising a great family vacation?
“Cruise lines have realized that families want to travel together. They have implemented kids programs with their staff’s sole purpose to keep your children safe and entertained. While you are relaxing by the pool, they can be in the kids club having exciting adventures! Then the next day you can all be together exploring the beautiful waters of Aruba or watching whales in Alaska.”
How does your business stand out?
“I’m a certified Special Needs Travel and Special Needs at Sea travel agent. I focus on helping families who have children with special needs experience the world. Many parents are nervous about taking their children on vacation and parents of special needs children have additional concerns as well. With my help, they can be steered in the right direction
towards cruise lines and land programs that have trained staff prepared to deal with all types of special needs, providing them with accessible facilities and alleviating the physical limitations that may exist.”
Although finding balance is difficult, Heather says hers came in the form of believing that she is able to take control of her own life. “At some point I’ll get there. I firmly believe that balance is different for every mom and that’s ok.”
Get to know Heather Ryan next week as she sits in as our guest editor and brigs you her picks for the week on our Facebook Page and in our Newsletter.