• Kevin Lowe

Advice On Cruising from Uncle Tom

I began my business venture into the world of the “long lost travel agent” at the age of 26 years old. Just to give you a bit of context, I’ll also share that the doors to my home-based travel agency opened just over 9 years after becoming completely blind. Breaking into an industry which in my area relied heavily on attracting the business of the senior population I found it to be quite difficult to get this older generation to take this “young whipper-snapper” seriously. Add in the fact that I was completely blind and had not yet discovered that my “disability” is in fact what makes me the amazing travel advisor that I am, pretty much equaled a less than stellar start to my new career. I spent a very long time trying to hide the fact that I was blind, afraid that people would look at me as someone certainly not capable of being trusted with their dream vacation. But all it takes sometimes is for just one person to believe in you.

Tommy Cates was the kind of man who you couldn’t have been happier for when the news came out that he hit the jackpot on the Florida Lottery. He would play his cards right, making the absolute most he could out of his winnings; and what better way to utilize these winnings than by traveling… He and his wife began traveling in all sorts of ways, but quickly realized that there was no better way to travel than by cruise! I knew just how much they loved to cruise since I’d get to hear all about their latest luxurious vacations over the dinner table at every Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Tommy Cates was better known to me and my family as good ol’ Uncle Tom.

Uncle Tom relied heavily upon his travel agent to book all of his travel arrangements, so I was honestly surprised when he told me that he’d gladly start using me as his new travel agent. I didn’t take this offer lightly as I knew that he relied on his travel agent just as much as he relied on his financial advisor.

When I got the call from Uncle Tom with news that they were ready to start planning their next cruise I was excited, to say the least! Twice a year Uncle Tom and his wife would take a 7-night Caribbean cruise with at least four other couples made up of family members and close friends. At what I would ordinarily call the initial Vacation Consultation, made a bit different from any other client I have ever worked with as we met over chicken wings at my Uncle Tom’s sports bar I was taken by surprise once again. Uncle Tom felt there to be no better idea than to go ahead and bring along their new travel agent with them on this upcoming cruise!

I create once in a lifetime vacations all the time for my clients and always tease that I do offer an additional service of being their own personal tour guide if they would like me to come along. But I didn’t even have to bust out this joke. Uncle Tom beat me to the punch!

Now, I want to tell you a bit more about Uncle Tom and what I refer to as his “Travel Profile”. He is one of those who although wants the Grand Suite on nothing less than a 7-night cruise won’t even consider going on another cruise line than Carnival. He may have won the lottery, but he isn’t about to play anything else in the casino than the penny slots. He may sit in the VIP lounge awaiting word that it’s time to board the ship at the start of his cruise, but don’t expect to find him in the dining room come formal night since he isn’t about to get dressed up in no suit and tie.

Uncle Tom absolutely loved Carnival’s Fahrenheit Steak House and had his cruising pegged to the tee. He explained to me that he takes advantage of the masses flocking to the main dining room come formal night for that much sought-after lobster and prime rib, which in turn leaves the ship’s specialty restaurant empty. He would say,

“Why get all dressed up with we can go to the steakhouse wearing comfortable clothes and get as much lobster and prime rib as we want.”

Well, he knew what he was talking about! Our group was the only table in the restaurant. The service was absolutely impeccable, the lobsters plentiful, and the prime rib juicy and delicious! But what made the evening so memorable, was getting to sit at the end of the table next to Uncle Tom where we sat through the entire meal talking and laughing. As a family that has only ever gathered together for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I never really got a chance to talk to Uncle Tom. Plus, he wasn’t really the most talkative fellow either. When I picture him in my mind all I see is him sitting in the corner just quietly laughing away. Taking that into account made this moment that much more special.

The entire cruise was absolutely perfect. Uncle Tom hit it big on the penny slots, my grandmother won the Blackjack tournament, and the rest of us made sure to enjoy each port of call. We all came home with memories that will last forever.

Unfortunately, this would not only be the first cruise I got to book for Uncle Tom and his group but would also be the last. While in the process of planning the group’s next cruising adventure Uncle Tom became extremely sick. No one saw it coming… He would pass away not long after coming home from the hospital.

If you have worked with me on a vacation of your own, please don’t take it the wrong way, but Uncle Tom was the greatest client I have ever had. To this day I don’t understand why Uncle Tom had to leave his family so suddenly. I don’t understand why I only got to work with my favorite client on one trip. I don’t understand why any terrible things have to happen. But that is why I instead choose to focus on the gifts that God blesses us with. That cruise was nothing less than a beautiful gift from God.

If you don’t remember a single thing I’ve just said, please remember this… In this life, every single moment is precious. Every life is beautiful. And in memory of Uncle Tom, skip the Captain’s Dinner and go to the specialty steakhouse instead.



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