By Margo Vallone
Many people don’t know that the Big Canoe Travel Club did not exist until 2013. It was actually launched as a result of Mike Ziegenbalg, owner of a Cruise-One Dream Vacations franchise in Big Canoe, suggesting that the then Homeowners Association (HOA) should consider establishing a free travel club for Big Canoe residents. Ziegenbalg was well aware that a large number of Big Canoers were travel afficionados. Many had expressed a desire to meet others who loved travel, and to have an opportunity to join group trips, with possible group discounts.
Obviously, a travel club would require a local licensed travel agent with the necessary connections to bring multiple vendors here to present individual and group domestic and international travel packages. It took several discussions to lead to a tentative approval from the POA Board to begin a six-month “trial” Travel Club to see how it would be received by the community, and whether it was a good fit with the HOA mission of “Enriching Life in Big Canoe.”
The initial gathering at The Chimneys to share information about the new club and ascertain interest was a blow-out! A standing-room only turnout of about 150 people demonstrated the appetite and enthusiasm for such a club within our gates. The Big Canoe Travel Club was officially launched in Aug. 2013, and the location was moved to the Sconti Club Mountains View room that could accommodate an attendance of 100 or more at monthly meetings. Not only did the Travel Club pass its six-month trial period with flying colors, but when the HOA and POA merged a few months later, the Travel Club became the largest new club to be fully sanctioned, and it has since been cited by the POA as the “ideal” model for other clubs to follow.
The Club selected a Planning and Advisory Committee and created a governing Charter. The Committee holds quarterly planning meetings and organizes a members’ theme dinner celebration every October. Current Advisory Committee members are: Margo Vallone, Chairman, Chuck Fulton, Vee Thompson, Diane Barker, Nancy Thurman, Bonnie Hanley, Mike Ziegenbalg and Linda Malgeri.
Now, over nine years later, the Travel Club has over 500 people on the mailing list, who automatically become members when they attend their first meeting. Monthly presentations are given by world-wide travel and cruise vendors, who describe their travel offerings with compelling videos, pamphlets and slick magazines depicting the latest state-of-the-art ships and unique land tour itineraries. The number of Big Canoe Travel Club members who have taken individual and group trips has increased to the point that international travel companies contact Mike to ask if they can please come and help sponsor a meeting! Not only do they want to present their products in Big Canoe, but companies including Viking, Globus Tours, Celebrity Cruises, AMA Waterways and others volunteer to hold a drawing to give away a free trip for two at the end of the year. You may have seen my December Smoke Signals article announcing that Mary and Bill Porter just won a Viking River 8-day cruise for two at the Travel Club annual October drawing.
On Nov. 30, Mike Ziegenbalg and I represented the Travel Club at the Big Canoe Clubs and Organizations Fair held at the Clubhouse. Attendees wandered from table to table speaking with representatives and collecting information about the participating groups. Our table was one that had a steady flow of people, many of them relative newcomers who were excited to discover that a travel club existed in Big Canoe and can’t wait to attend their first meeting.
Travel Club meetings are held the fourth Wednesday of each month. Carl Crews from Celebrity Cruises will host the Jan. 18 meeting. Celebrity will sponsor the free trip drawing this year, and Travel Club members may enter a ticket for the drawing at each meeting they attend between now and September. The drawing will be held at the October celebration event. CIE Tours will host the Feb. 22 meeting, and the Mar. 22 meeting will be presented by Iberostar All-Inclusive Resorts. Meetings begin at 6 p.m., but come early to meet fellow travelers and enjoy a complimentary beverage. Members may choose to book their travel with Mike at Dream Vacations, or with any other travel agency, or directly with the cruise or tour companies. You can be assured that any way you do it, travel with enrich your life.