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Think you know Michelle Fee, think again…

There’s more to Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, than meets the eye, so we decided to ask her those comical, personal and telling questions to reveal the woman behind the suit.

From travel agent to CEO and co-founder of the nation’s largest network of home-based travel franchises, Michelle has had quite the journey to success. And to think she barely made it through the cruise due to seasickness.

Thankfully her husband convinced her to stay another day because together they won an onboard drinking contest by the pool and Michelle got hooked on cruising. He may have helped spark her interest in the travel business, but Michelle’s favorite travel companion is another special person in her life. Who is that? We’ll let her explain in this installment of our Coffee Time With Industry Vets Q&A series.

Where did you go on your first trip?
I grew up in Florida and at that time parents didn’t take their kids on exotic trips, they did however, take us to Disney World…a lot! In those days, you had to buy a book of tickets and the best rides required an E-Ticket.

What is your most vivid travel memory?
We took an African safari for my daughter’s 16th birthday—it was spectacular and magnificent for so many reasons. It was amazing to see the “Big Five” and see nature at its finest, it was godlike.

What was the “Aha” moment that led you into the travel industry?
My first cruise—it was a small ship and I barely made it through the cruise due to seasickness. My husband convinced me to stay on another day and we even won the drinking contest at the pool. To say I was changed by taking my first cruise would be an understatement. I was hooked and it helped me develop into a travel agent and now the owner of the nation’s top home-based travel franchise. He gets full credit for sparking my love in cruising. 

Michelle and her husband Mark on their honeymoon.
Michelle and her husband Mark on their honeymoon.

What was your favorite trip you took last year and why?
Last year’s big trip was to India. I had never been before and it didn’t disappoint. The best part of traveling is being able to see how other cultures live. Seeing the Taj Mahal, riding an elephant and tasting the spicy food certainly lived up to this bucket-list destination’s hype.

Where would you like to go that you have yet to visit?
Iceland is at the top of the bucket list. I’ve traveled extensively, so I love finding somewhere unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. Iceland appeals to me because of its unique landscape is filled with adventure and I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights. 

Do you always buy a souvenir the first time you visit a destination?
I consider myself a travel shopper, so I’m really good for the local economy in countries that I visit. I like to grab a keepsake or two for the memory box.

You can tell us – do you collect magnets from the destinations you’ve visited?
No, I’m not a magnet collector. I usually like to buy something a bit more authentic from each destination. 

What do you do to pass the time on the plane ride to your destination?
Traveling can be exhausting, especially on a long plane ride. I consider myself a professional traveler at this point. I upload videos and music to my iPad and books on my e-reader, pack my comfy socks and I’m ready for the long haul.

Who is your favorite travel companion?
My daughter, Montana, is my favorite traveling companion because I love traveling to places and experiencing everything with her. I have incredible wanderlust and she definitely got the travel gene as well.

Michelle and the Cruise Planners family.
Michelle and the Cruise Planners family.

If you were a destination, which would it be and why?
Italy—I am part Italian, so that probably has something to do with it. I love the food, the people, the setting. It’s all just so beautiful and stunning.

What is the best food you’ve had on a trip? The strangest?
We recently made homemade pasta at a villa in Italy with the locals there to help show us how. This authentic experience was the highlight of our trip.

The strangest thing I ever had on a trip was on an African safari. Think about it, there are no cows or chickens in the bush! We ate caribu and ostrich and surprisingly, it was tasty!

What can’t you travel without?
My cell phone—it helps me stay connected to the office, our travel agents and my family through e-mails and social media. It is also my handy camera, and I love to capture my travels.

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met while traveling?
I love to meet the locals. I usually opt for a tour where you mingle with locals, go to their homes to see how they live and talk about their way of life. I always say, you learn more about a destination by talking with its people than you do from any regular tour bus guide.

Tropical beach or snowy mountain?
I love the beach—being a Florida girl it’s in my genes. Also, I love warm weather because you don’t have to pack so many clothes. But, I have had amazing trips to cold-weather destinations too. I love them all!

City or countryside?
I’m definitely a city girl! I love to sit at a cafe and people watch or walk the streets and window shop. I love the thrill of the city—the restaurants, the shows, the excitement, but when I am ready to unwind, I love coming home to my little oasis in the suburbs. We also have a home in North Carolina, which is a perfect family retreat.