Jo Ann Buening

La Crosse, WI
Alaska Destination Specialist and Travel Expert

Alaska became a state of the union on January 3, 1959, the same day I was born. I must have been destined to make this my specialty and over the years, I have developed a passion for Alaska! My first visit to ‘The Great Land’ was in the mid ‘80s. ...
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Worldwide Cruise Expert

Reflecting on the beauty of Alaska!
Reflecting on the beauty of Alaska!

More than twenty-five cruises taken, well over 1,500 happy cruise passengers booked (and returned!), referrals from across the country, plus the highest cruise specialist and ‘counsellor’ designation earned give me more knowledge and personal experience in cruising than many travel agents in North America. However, it wasn’t always that way! I encourage you to read ‘my story’ of how I conquered a fear and became an Elite Cruise Counsellor. Many years ago I needed to be encouraged to take my first cruise. My fear of water, plus fear of the unknown took over; however, with a gentle nudge from one of the owners of the agency where I am employed, I decided to give it a try. My first cruise experience was to travel to Vancouver, BC to attend a CLIA (Cruise Line International Association) training event, featuring ship inspections. My goal (for that trip) was to be able to merely walk down the gangway, board the ship, and enjoy lunch and the sales seminar. While this may seem like a very simple task to some, it was not to me. With my fear of water, I knew I would really have to build my courage to ‘walk that plank’. With the help of a colleague who extended her arm for support, I was able to board the ship. While onboard I found the environment of a cruise ship to be very elegant. My brain said “I like that.” The food was very good (brain said “I like that, too”) and listening to the information during the seminar certainly painted a picture of a wonderful way to travel – cruising. So, as I boarded one ship after another during the event, inspecting each to see what the inside of their ship looked like, I already had decided to try cruising!! A few months later I was given the opportunity to cruise for the first time. While the weather was less than I would have wished for, the cruising experience was something I knew I wanted to do more of. That experience was 13 years ago and here’s what has happened in the meantime. “Knowledge is power.” I decided that if I was going to be able to help my clients experience the travel segment of cruising, I needed to become as knowledgeable as possible. So, that is exactly what I did. Every cruise opportunity that presented itself in the form of a training cruise, I would take. In the past I had escorted land-based groups, however I decided with my expanding cruise experience, I could escort groups on a cruise ship as well and found it to be a wonderful type of trip to escort. My onboard responsibility was to ensure my travelers were taken care of and having a good time. With all of the entertainment and fabulous options, plus great destinations all over the world, this would be a good way for me to introduce several of my existing clients to cruising. And, for those who may have had some of the same fears of water that I do, seeing how I overcame my basic fear of cruising encouraged them to try a cruise themselves. CLIA is the educational arm of the cruise industry and while there are online seminars that must be completed and classes attended, we must also show proof that we have traveled on the ships ourselves. While it may sound glamorous, it is not an easy task; it is labor and time-intensive. My first level in cruise training to complete was the ACC – Accredited Cruise Counsellor – I completed this in 2003. My second level in cruise training to complete was the MCC – Master Cruise Counsellor – I completed this in 2005. The next level in cruise training (and highest level) to complete was the ECC – Elite Cruise Counsellor … a very difficult goal to achieve in a short period of time and I completed this in 2007. When that certification was earned, CLIA advised me I was only the 200th agent (of all the travel agents in the CLIA program) to achieve this status in the US/Puerto Rico and Canada. In addition, in 2014, I achieved my LCS – Luxury Cruise Specialist. While there was specific training on the luxury cruise line segment and selling luxury travel in general, I also needed to show proof of traveling on a luxury cruise line. In July of 2014 my husband and I sailed on Regent Seven Seas’ Navigator in Alaska in a Penthouse suite (complete with a Butler) to celebrate our anniversary … something that I now recommend to clients who come to me wanting a special milestone event with a vacation. What a wonderful cruise experience that was! In addition to having earned my ACC, MCC, ECC and LCS, I’ve now completed more than 25 cruises, including ocean liners as well as river cruises. With that firsthand experience in cruising, both from a ‘having-sailed’ and specialist designations earned, I am well qualified to help my clients choose the right cruise line, itinerary, cabin type and shore excursions. Selling cruises and cruisetours is the largest portion of my annual sales and I have gained referrals from all over the country.

My Travel Albums

Jo Ann Buening - Alaska
Aboard Regent Seven Seas in Alaska

My Travel Stories

Viking Ocean Cruising – the Best of Both Worlds!

My opportunity to experience a Viking Ocean ship came recently, from December 7-17, 2016 as I sailed the beautiful 930-passenger ship, Viking Star, round trip from San Juan.  This was my 25th cruise and once I stepped aboard, I could already tell this was going to be a great experience.  The service...Read more.

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My Reviews

19 of 29 people found this review helpful
A Great Partnership!
After more than 7 years in partnering with Jo Ann Buening from Travel Leaders in LaCrosse, WI for Carroll University’s Alumni Travel Program, Carroll’s Office of Alumni Engagement is appreciative of all of Jo Ann’s diligent work, superior service, keen attention to detail to Carroll’s needs and in serving our constituents, contribution in helping to re-build Carroll’s Alumni Travel Program, and her trust and friendship. She is a top notch travel agent who we would recommend to any individual seeking a reliable travel agent and group that is looking for someone to manage group travel and many logistics. Jo Ann helped us plan group alumni trips to Alaska, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Greece (although this one was cancelled due to the pandemic). We will miss working with you Jo Ann and will always appreciate your expertise in the travel industry, and the imprint that you have left with us, with many adventures and memories around the world that speak to it. Thank you Jo Ann!
By  Carroll University's Alumni Travel Program  from  Waukesha, WI
Traveled to  Alaska ~ USA
I would recommend this agent to my family and friends
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38 of 69 people found this review helpful
The advise and recommendations were excellent
I appreciate the thorough and attentive attention I have received. Jo Ann's support has been very timely and professional. I am looking forward to my next trip which she has provided a great deal of information and support.
By  Skip  from  Onalaska, WI
Traveled to  Alaska ~ USA
I would recommend this agent to my family and friends
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41 of 77 people found this review helpful
Viking Grand European River cruise
We have been working with Jo Ann for 9 years, and her assistance with ALL our travel needs, and even a couple Crisis situations, has been stellar!! She makes a serious effort to really know her clients- their interests, preferences, special needs, and comfort level with traveling within the USA and abroad.
She is excellent in searching out the answers to all questions, and providing good advice, both from a personal and a professional perspective. We absolutely would not travel without Jo Ann's knowledge and expertise to guide us. We cannot speak more highly of her!
By  JM  from  Tomah , WI
Traveled to  Prague ~ Czech Republic ~ Europe
I would recommend this agent to my family and friends

Jo Ann Buening responded:
Clients like you are why I LOVE my job!!

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35 of 66 people found this review helpful
Great trip
Great person to work with
By  Jerry  from  Onalaska Wisconsin
Traveled to  Vietnam ~ East and Southeast Asia
I would recommend this agent to my family and friends
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26 of 52 people found this review helpful
Great Travel Guide!
Joann was extremely knowledgeable and trustworthy with our group of 8. Her experience really helped guide us to a perfect vacation. She KNOWS Alaska inside and out! We were exptremeky pleased with her services and she took the time to deal with all of our requests!!
By  MommaLouie   from  Winona MN
Traveled to  Alaska ~ USA
I would recommend this agent to my family and friends
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Destination Expert:

  • World Cruise
  • Mediterranean
  • On the River
  • Vancouver
  • Glacier Bay

Travel Specialist:

  • Cruises
  • Luxury Cruises
  • Small Ship Cruises
  • Culinary & Foodie
  • Groups

Top Travel Partners:

  • Princess Cruises®
  • Holland America Line
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • Oceania Cruises
  • Viking


  • Alaska Destination Specialist
  • Elite Cruise Counsellor/Luxury Cruise Specialist
  • Princess Cruises Commodore
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises Specialist
  • Travel Leaders Certified Travel Specialist

Industry Affiliations:

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