A photo of Venice used in promotional materials for Carlson Maritime Travel.
TARPON SPRINGS – A few months ago, Carlson Maritime Travel sent a group around the world without getting on an airplane. They took a train to New York City, the QE2 Cunard Cruise to London, and various cruises, trains and cabs everywhere from Amsterdam to Nova Scotia.
“We called it the Thelma and Louise tour,” said Suzanne Carlson, the president of Carlson Maritime Travel. “It was a masterpiece.”
A nearly $19,000 masterpiece, but a masterpiece nonetheless. And those specialized tours are what Carlson Maritime Travel focus on: giving customers exactly what they want in a vacation.
“People are looking to do more meaningful, cultural exchanges on their trips,” Carlson said. “They want more than 23 cities in 22 days.”
Carlson and her partner, John Lulias, the director of sales, have worked in travel estate for more than 30 years each, and have continued to change their approach to suit the economy and vacation trends. Recently, fuel surcharges on airplane tickets have caused many prospective travelers to put off flights until costs lower. But for the most part, Carlson said, extra charges haven’t kept people from their vacations.
In 2012, Carlson Maritime Travel became licensed through the Office of Foreign Assets Control for travel to, from and within Cuba, one of just two travel agencies with that ability in Pinellas County. Since then, they’ve arranged about a dozen tours, including charter air tickets, visas, hotels and car rentals.
Other specialized programs include a 12-day cruise for Greeks to Greece in June 2014, a trip arranged by Lulias that included over 100 travelers last time, and work with Road Scholar, a not-for-profit company that arranges educational vacations around the world. Carlson Maritime Travel is the only travel agency working with Road Scholar, which typically focuses on people-to-people travel plans rather than through agencies. The agency also works with the Leepa-Ratner Museum, the Dali Museum and the Appleton Museum of Art, as well as serves as the approved vendor for the Pinellas County School Board and international studies at St. Petersburg College.
Recently, Carlson Maritime Travel has begun working on more honeymoons, a travel industry that Carlson said will never die.
“There’s always a business for things that are going to happen anyway,” she said. “If I’m taking $8,000 from you for a honeymoon, it better be worth it.”
A couple planning their honeymoon were looking for a Parisian culinary focus, and were sent on a wine tasting, a gourmet walking tour, dinner at the Eiffel Tower and a dessert cooking class.
“We have to keep recreating ourselves,” Carlson said. “We’re inventing new niches.”
The travel agency also offers gift certificates, which can be set with a specific dollar amount (like $100 toward a cruise) or an abstract offer (two plane tickets to Paris).
For more information, visit Carlson Maritime Travel at 623 E. Tarpon Ave. Suite T, Tarpon Springs, FL 34688, go to www.scarlstontvl.com or call 945-1930.