An avid traveler, Eva Greenwald decided to open Best Cruise and Travel Now in Westport because she wanted to share her passion -- and her extensive knowledge -- for domestic and foreign places with the community.

Launching a local arm of the popular travel franchise seemed a great way to offer her Westport clientele steep discounts on group travel.

"I always heard that if you could make a career out of what you love, it's not work," she said. "However, I knew that this is definitely not the economy to do a start-up."

After investigating several possible travel business franchises, Greenwald established Best Cruise and Travel Now, a franchise of Cruise Planners/American Express.

She explained that with 750 franchises, its "tremendous buying power" would result in low fares for cruises, land tours, river boats and all-inclusive resorts. Best Cruise and Travel Now offers its guests free upgrades, on-board credit and other attractive amenities. There is also the option of joining the American Express Mariners Club, which provides access to guided tours and pre- and post-cruise hotel stays, Greenwald added.

Another perk that comes with booking a vacation through Best Cruise and Travel Now is the personal touch that comes with every itinerary that Greenwald manages.

"I am giving you my travel expertise as well as customized and personalized travel," she said. "You do not have to do any research. You call and tell me where you want to go and when and I do all of the work for you. This is what I like to do, and you can't get that kind of personal, one-on-one service online."

Greenwald has heard many "horror stories" about travelers who learn once they're onboard a ship and ready to sail that their room doesn't have the view that they were promised or it is in an undesirable location near the elevator, discothèque or restaurant.

"You could be paying a lot of money and you will be very disappointed," Greenwald said.

Moreover, she added, when you call an online travel company to complain, there is no one available to help you. Conversely, Greenwald noted, "We provide 24/7 service."

One of the best parts of her job, she noted, is being required to travel. "I'm absolutely passionate about travel," she explained.

All franchise owners of Best Cruise and Travel Now are required to maintain professional certifications and to become familiar with popular destinations.

"I love languages, food, culture and history and it all comes together when you are traveling," Greenwald said.

This April she and her family enjoyed a cruise which stopped at several islands in the Bahamas, and this summer they have plans to tour Italy and the Greek islands. She said that visiting the Caribbean islands continues to be the "No. 1" travel destination for those living in the U.S.

"The Greek islands, Mediterranean and Baltics are becoming more popular, though," Greenwald said. "Also, Alaska is beautiful. It's very special and unlike anything you've ever seen."

River boat cruises in Asia and European countries is a segment of travel that is increasingly growing, too, she added. "It's like watching floating scenery as you sail from town to town," Greenwald explained. "Riverboat cruising also provides a great way to learn about local customs and to travel on smaller ships."

Because of its smaller scale, it's easier for people to become acquainted with their fellow travelers, too.

Best Cruise and Travel Now frequently hosts family reunions, fundraiser travel trips and destination weddings. Greenwald explained that the wedding ceremony and reception could be held at the port before sailing. "At a certain time, anyone who is sailing on the ship says their `goodbyes' and gets onboard and the other guests go home," she said. Greenwald also noted that many weddings, especially for people who are getting married for the second time, take place at all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, Mexico and Bermuda. It's perfect, she said, for blended families to get to know each other.

Lisa Thygerson, executive director of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce, was excited to welcome Best Cruise and Travel Now to the local business community.

"It shows people in the community that even in this economy, people can start new businesses," Thygerson said.

Greenwald joined the chamber early in January and ever since has been an active participant, she added.

"She was part of our business expo and her table was constantly busy," Thygerson said. "People loved her. Not only has the chamber been a good lead generator for Eva, but she has been good for us, too."

Greenwald can be reached at 203-221-3171 or egreenwald@cruiseplanners.com