Local woman named travel advisor of the year, remembers coming to America as a child.
National Hispanic Heritage Month was special this year for Marisel Aleman, co-owner of Cruise Elite Inc., a full-service travel agency at 270 N. U.S. 1.
She was named the 2019 ASTA Travel Advisor of the Year, recognized for going above and beyond in providing exceptional service for clients. She also thinks of her parents during the month, who escaped Castro’s Cuba in 1966, bringing her to America as a four-year-old.
Aleman learned her work ethic by watching her parents learn a new language and build a new life in New York, taking any jobs they could.
“Hard work is part of the American dream,” said Aleman, who owns the travel company along with her husband, Marc Hayes.
The family was helped by Catholic Charities to leave Cuba and move to New York after completing a lengthy application process. Getting approval was not easy, and her parents were afraid something might go wrong until the day they left.
Her mother allowed her to take only two dolls to America. A seamstress, her mother dressed one of the dolls in clothes exactly like the clothes Marisel was wearing.
Her parents got factory jobs and acquired a studio apartment filled with furniture they found on the street. She said her first bedroom was a walk-in closet and her parents slept on a sleeper sofa.
“My parents felt fortunate to be in this country,” she said. “We kept our traditions but considered ourselves American.”
She said her father placed much importance on learning, believing a person can make their way anywhere as long as they have an education. She attended Mary Louis Academy in New York, then went on to earn her B.A. in accounting at St. John University.
The American Society of Travel Advisors is an international professional group with 12,000 members, and she was elected by the board of directors from those nominated.
“I’m humbled by my award. It’s because of the dedication of my crew,” she said. “I’m extremely lucky to have a crew that has a passion for the travel industry.”
Hayes agrees that the staff deserves a lot of credit.
“They say behind every great man is great woman,” he said. “Well, in this case, behind this great woman is a great crew and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated each year from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The day of Sept. 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries.
100 CRUISES AND COUNTING
Hayes, an Ormond Beach resident since 1975, met Aleman on a cruise in 2003 when they both were traveling with friends and family.
Hayes introduced himself in the disco, and they sat talking for four hours. They married in 2007 and started Cruise Elite after realizing they both had a passion for travel.
Aleman’s family had moved to Miami, and she first gained her love of travel on an airplane between the two cities.
The couple had their wedding on a cruise and say they have now been on more than 100. They still enjoy traveling with family and say that’s a current trend, with multi-generations traveling together.
Their travel experience helps them plan trips for customers, arranging connections, etc., and also stepping in when things go wrong.
“That’s why she won,” Hayes said. “She does it all.”
Aleman received the 2017 Beyond Boundaries Award from Ensemble Travel, the consortia which Cruise Elite is a member.
ONE CHOICE OF POTATO CHIPS
During Hispanic Heritage Month, Aleman thinks about how grateful she is that her parents made the decision to come to America.
“My life would be much different,” she said. “Life is still controlled there.”
A relative was able to visit from Cuba, because of her job, and was amazed when she saw the variety and amount of food in the grocery store.
“They have one brand of potato chips in Cuba and you take it or leave it,” Aleman said.
She also took her relative to Wal-Mart, where she stocked up on light bulbs, apparently a rare item in Cuba.
Travel to Cuba was more open for a while, but the Trump administration clamped down.
“That was a mistake, because they were learning capitalism,” Hayes said.
Aleman enjoys sharing her love for travel.
“It’s nicer to invest in memories than buying things,” Aleman said.
“My parents felt fortunate to be in this country.”
MARISEL ALEMAN, Cruise Elite Inc.