I have an iPhone, I have an iPad, said Fernandez, 32. Its crazy, the apps they have created. I can work from anywhere. Theyve made it so easy.
Thats a huge leap from the companys early days, when one agent remembers the only computers were devoted to booking airline tickets.
The company got its start in 1994 when Fee and competing travel agents Marvin Davis and Lynn Korn joined forces on cruise sales.
Mike Gelman, a franchise owner in Flowery Branch, Ga. was the first agent to work with the newly formed company back in 1994.
When we started, its like comparing the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk to traveling to Mars now, he said. Thats what the difference is.
While the technology has changed, he said, one thing has not: What they told me originally when I joined, Mike, we want to run this like a family company. We are all family, and thats how were going to treat everybody. And if youre successful, were successful, he recalled. Thats the way they run the company.
The companys first cruise-sales training class had just five people in it; by the end of the year, there were 45. Cruise Planners began selling franchises in 1998.
The affiliation with American Express Travel came in 2004, a perk that franchise owners say lends their businesses instant credibility. Cruise Planners buys a franchise from the travel giant, which gives the company the ability to take advantage of deals American Express Travel has negotiated and to allow customers to pay with credit card points.
This year, Cruise Planners - American Express Travel rose 10 spots to be ranked No. 34 in Entrepreneur Magazines list of top 500 franchises. Its closest competitor, Fort Lauderdale-based CruiseOne, was No. 55 on the list.
The company has a good reputation with cruise lines as well, earning partner or franchise of the year awards from some of the worlds top brands.
Late last week, Royal Caribbean International surprised the company with news that it was the winner of the top honor of the 2012 Presidents Award for Overall Achievement after being named home-based partner of the year for five years.
These are very bright, smart businesspeople that are running Cruise Planners, said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service for Royal Caribbean International.
New franchise owner L.J. Boothe, 29, said the companys reputation was one reason he chose Cruise Planners in realizing a longtime goal to go into business for himself even though hes never been on a multi-day cruise.
Theyre consistently ranked the top in the industry, said Boothe, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An accountant with an MBA and father of two from Bristol, Tenn., Boothe said he plans to keep his day job at a federal accounting software company while he gets the cruise business up and running.
He was one of more than 100 agents, mostly new franchisees, attending a recent training session at the Broward County Convention Center. Jahner was there too, and confessed to some information overload late in the week.
What Ive tried to focus on is just picking a couple of cruise lines that I want to learn really well and the things I know in my demographic that are going to sell really well, she said.