Ditch the bus. Take the helicopter. Stay in the 5-star castle. What may sound like fantasy was reality for Gerry and her husband John in September 2017.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Like many good stories, this one starts with two people wanting to set off and see some of the world. Ireland, to be more specific.
It’s all about who you know, as the saying goes. The same can be said for planning a trip abroad. As the couple sat with maps and books sprawled out on the table, Gerry discovered John knew someone that would be a bit of a game changer.
“My husband remembered he knows a guy whose family owns a travel agency,” Gerry said. “I did a little bit of Googling and found the Crystal Travel website. It was great to see the Kelly family and make that connection.”
After reviewing the website, Gerry was intrigued. She looked at various tour samples and gained insight on the company’s 30 years of experience building customized vacations. She decided to instant message Crystal Travel to find out more information. Before she knew it, Gerry was in touch with Travel Expert, Ann.
Every trip is unique in its own way, and this was no exception. Gerry and John wanted to spend three weeks touring the Emerald Isle at their leisure. They hoped to fit in sightseeing, get good doses of history and research a bit of John’s Irish ancestry.
“We wanted the ability to leisurely travel and see how much we could explore without feeling pressured. That was important to us.” Gerry said.
The couple didn’t want to have days that were overbooked. They also didn’t want to get on a tour bus with a large group of people. Through conversations, Gerry explained this to Ann who happily took that into consideration.
Among their activities planned, Gerry and John wanted to visit areas where John has ancestry. They also wanted to explore on their own and take in the sights of both the city and countryside. From cultural hubs like Dublin and Galway to gems like Cobh and Connemara, Gerry and John wanted to see it all.
But how to get around? They didn’t want to worry about Irish roads or getting lost. So, Gerry and John told Ann they wanted a driver to navigate their journey.
“We didn’t want to get on a tour bus with 30 other people,” Gerry said. “That’s just not for us.”
Just as every trip is unique, so is every chauffeur. Ann took this into consideration after the couple told her they were really interested in history. She recommended Kennedy Coaches and asked for Dave to be their driver during the journey. It was, in many ways, the perfect fit for Gerry and John’s vacation.
With a great personality and a willingness to go the extra mile, Dave did more than get them from point A to point B.
“Ann listened to everything we were interested in and found a way to fit it into the trip,” Gerry said. “We’re not big on getting up early. I only had to say that to Ann once. She didn’t schedule anything early. That gave us time to get up, get organized and then be on our way.”
“Dave took us to the village where John’s great-grandparents once lived, ” Gerry said. “They were farmers. So, he drove us to this extremely remote place. It looked like we were never going to find it. He just got out of the car and knocked on the door, not knowing the people, and said, ‘I’m looking for this particular place…’ The people knew my husband’s family! They knew exactly where to go. It was beyond anything we could imagine.”
Their chauffeur also had a knack for leading them to the best places for souvenirs.
“I wanted to get a small harp as a souvenir,” Gerry said. “I mentioned it to Dave. He took me to a store in Connemara that sells marble, and I bought a Connemara marble harp.”
But Gerry and John also learned that some souvenirs come as surprises. One of those occurred during a visit to Kilkenny. Ann set up a tour for the couple at Nowlan Park where John’s grandfather played on a championship winning hurling team.
“The tour guide gave John his own hurlie and sliotar!” Gerry said. “The best aspect of travel is the unexpected, like receiving those sorts of gifts. It was so amazing.”
The couple took advantage of the chance to learn more about John’s Irish heritage during their trip across the pond. Gerry asked Ann what she might recommend in terms of tracing ancestry. Ann put them in touch with a company called Ancestor Network, and she set up tours in Cobh where many Irish emigrants left.
A rather moving highlight of their trip was visiting the 9/11 Memorial in Kinsale. Gerry recalls it as quite an emotional experience. They discovered the memorial has 343 trees planted for each firefighter lost on that day, as well as Father Judge.
While Gerry and John might not have known what they wanted to see without Ann’s guidance, they certainly knew what they didn’t want.
“We told her we weren’t interested in going to the Jameson Factory or kissing the Blarney Stone or things like that,” Gerry said. “When Ann heard that the first time, that was it. We never had to remind her. That’s so important.
In terms of accommodation (something Ann really enjoys when planning vacations) Gerry and John were quite impressed.
“Ann didn’t know this, but John was in the Marine Corps,” Gerry said. “Our hotel in Derry happened to be a 1942 outpost for the United States Marines in Northern Ireland. It was like staying in a museum!”
Best by far was staying at Ashford Castle in County Mayo. The couple rented a helicopter for five hours to show them the sights from the skies. During the journey, they took in stunning scenery of places like the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry.
But they didn’t want to just keep the fun to themselves. They were so grateful to their new friend Dave, they wanted him to join, too.
“We had Ann ask the helicopter company if Dave could come along on the helicopter ride, too. He already had the day off and wasn’t taking us anywhere, so it worked out perfectly. They agreed to it.”
Special touches like this made all the difference in turning a trip into an incredible memory. This type of guidance and communication was exactly what Gerry and John were hoping to find when planning their trip.
“I never felt like Ann was pushing us to do something we weren’t interested in or telling us to go somewhere we didn’t want to go,” Gerry said. “It wasn’t her trip, and she understood that. She definitely listened, and that’s important to us.”
“When I first started out with the tour books and maps, I didn’t know many of the places,” Gerry said. “So, if it isn’t in the book, how would I know it’s there?”
The couple appreciated Ann’s insight into places that weren’t typical but important and of interest to them. Without Ann’s direction and advice, they said they wouldn’t have found half the things they did.
“Ann’s ability to listen, her responsiveness, her knowledge,” Gerry said. “I mean, if she didn’t hook us up with the Ancestry people or Kennedy Coaches, our trip would have been so different.”
Though Gerry and John’s travel story had to come to an end sometime, we’re willing to bet there are plenty more to be written in their future.
“If we ever are lucky enough to go back, I would ask for Ann to help us,” Gerry said. “We would definitely have Crystal Travel. It was great. Great, great, great!”