Thought some of you might be interested in this.
----- Original Message -----
From: VacationsToGo.com I apologize in advance to my readers who subscribed to
this newsletter for cruise news and deals only--you may wish to skip straight
to the bottom. I want to begin today with what is happening here in Houston,
in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
It's 4:45 a.m. on Friday, September 2nd, and tension is rising at the
Astrodome in Houston.
The governor of Texas and the mayor of Houston have opened the Astrodome to
evacuees from Louisiana. The enormous ground level of the Astrodome has
already filled to absolute capacity with thousands of small cots, and every
one is taken. There are not enough to go around, and some hold mother and
child or two children. Many others sleep on blankets in the hallways that ring
every level of the dome, and hundreds more try to sleep in the hard wooden
chairs meant to house sports fans for three hours at a time.
Against this surreal backdrop, a lonely figure trudges the uneven aisles
holding a cardboard sign aloft with the names of loved ones who are missing.
Our small group of volunteers has just arrived to help serve breakfast in the
Astrodome, but we quickly learn that the plan has changed. For the safety of
the untold thousands already here, the fire marshal has closed the Astrodome
to new arrivals, but the evacuation is chaotic, and the buses just keep
"All those buses still have people on them," someone with a walkie-talkie
tells us, pointing to a line of darkened motor coaches stretching out of sight
around the dome. "We're opening Reliant Arena (a separate building nearby),
but the situation there is tense. We need you over there."
We load tables and supplies into two trucks and walk from the Astrodome to
Reliant Arena, where we pass an impromptu medical "clinic" filled with sick
and injured evacuees and bleary-eyed doctors, nurses, paramedics and police
On the far side of the building, we arrive at a room where we will serve
breakfast, and through a long wall of glass, we get our first glimpse of the
new arrivals outside. Standing ten deep, in lines that run the length of our
large room and stretch out of sight, these are the first who arrived after the
Astrodome's closing. Out there in the darkness, thousands more are still in
their buses. No one on this side of the glass knows what they have already
endured to get here. Many have spent the prior four days in the sweltering
heat and stench of the Superdome, the closest thing to hell on earth.
Now they have heard that the Astrodome is full and do not know whether they
will be allowed to stay or be bused to another city, or to another state. They
are at their wits' end. Tempers have flared, emotions are high.
Within an hour we are ready to serve and the doors are opened. As evacuees
enter the building, their identities are recorded, and they proceed
immediately to our three serving lines for their first hot meal in days: two
waffles, two sausage patties, one pat of butter, one serving of syrup, one box
of juice and one big spoonful of grits.
During the next five hours the line moves continuously. Word filters in that
Houston has opened its convention center to evacuees as well, and some of the
volunteers leave our building and the Astrodome to help out downtown. Hundreds
of other volunteers pour in to replace them, including at least 25 travel
counselors and the top management from Vacations To Go.
I've never volunteered in such an enormous operation coming together on the
fly, but I have only good things to say about the supervisor from food service
company Aramark, and the people I could not see behind the scenes. We knew the
folks on the other side of the glass were desperately hungry, and we worried
among ourselves whether the food would last. None of us knew how much food
there was, or how many waited outside, but we did know that no one had
expected this huge new group for breakfast. We ran out of some things, for a
while, but we never ran out of everything at the same time, and the food line
By 11:15, every one of our neighbors from New Orleans had entered the facility
and received a hot meal.
I will not soon forget the faces of the people as they came through the line.
Many were dazed or grieving, and some still wore the clothes they had on when
Katrina struck. Some wore bandages and struggled to hold their plates steady.
Others tried to smile, and made a point of expressing their gratitude and
shaking our hands in the midst of having lost everything.
The little old ladies, with their sugary Nawlins drawls of "Thank you,
darlin'," were truly a sign of Amazing Grace.
But this was just the first meal of the day, in the first week of the first
month that evacuees will need help. It's a scenario that is playing out across
Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
The Deep South is in trouble, and the need is as wide and as deep as the
Vacations To Go has joined hundreds of other businesses in matching the Red
Cross contributions of its employees (click here for the Red Cross Hurricane
Relief page). In addition to volunteering at the Astrodome and Reliant Arena,
our employees are collecting food, clothes, water, toiletries, disposable
diapers, blankets and sheets, toys and games at both of our Houston
offices--5851 San Felipe, Suite 500, and 1502 Augusta Drive, Suite 400--for
delivery to the evacuees.
We're also working to re-accommodate the growing number of our customers--well
over one thousand now--whose vacations have been cancelled or rerouted. All
cruises from New Orleans and Mobile have been cancelled, and the Carnival
ships Holiday, Sensation and Ecstasy have been leased to the government for
six months starting this week, to house evacuees. All cruises during this
period on the Holiday and Sensation have been cancelled. The Carnival Elation
will be redeployed to operate Ecstasy's schedule during this period, so
everyone booked on the Ecstasy will now sail the same itinerary on the
Elation, and all scheduled cruises for the Elation have been cancelled.
Carnival has released the following statement:
"We sincerely apologize to those guests whose vacations have been impacted by
these voyage cancellations," said Bob Dickinson, Carnival president and CEO.
"However, given that Hurricane Katrina is the worst natural disaster in U.S.
history, we trust our guests will understand that the decision to enter into
these charters was the right one. This inconvenience to our guests will
provide desperately needed housing for thousands of individuals affected by
this tragedy," he added.
If you are holding a reservation booked through Vacations To Go, on any
cancelled sailing, we also apologize for the disappointment and inconvenience
and ask that you call us in the coming week. You will receive a full refund
for your cruise, and we can offer new options with similar itineraries out of
Galveston or Tampa.
Also, if you are holding a hotel reservation in New Orleans or along the
Mississippi or Alabama coast, booked through Vacations To Go, please call us
as soon as you can.
cruiselines. Click the FastDeal # for details.
1) Bahamas, 7 days on Norwegian, departs New York City Sep 25, starting at
$449, save 66%, FastDeal # 12493
2) Caribbean, 7 days on Carnival, departs Miami Dec 4, starting at $479, save
71%, FastDeal # 10111
3) Bermuda, 7 days on Celebrity, departs Philadelphia Sep 17, starting at
$550, save 75%, FastDeal # 13418
4) Caribbean, 9 days on Royal Caribbean, departs Bayonne Oct 7, starting at
$649, save 71%, FastDeal # 12730
5) Mexico, 7 days on Princess, departs Los Angeles Nov 26, starting at $549,
save 55%, FastDeal # 12264
6) Caribbean, 7 days on Royal Caribbean, departs San Juan Sep 18, starting at
$649, save 60%, FastDeal # 10808
7) Mediterranean, 7 days on Costa, departs Savona Oct 23, starting at $699,
save 55%, FastDeal # 15484
8) Transatlantic, 16 days on Princess, departs Rome Nov 10, starting at $1199,
save 72%, FastDeal # 10963 (Princess will not allow this rate to be shown on
the Internet - please call us at the number below for information or
9) Hawaii, 15 days on Holland America, departs San Diego Oct 18 starting at
$1599, save 63%, FastDeal # 11877
10) Caribbean, 7 days on Seabourn, departs Fort Lauderdale Nov 13, starting at
$2488, save 57%, FastDeal # 12612
To see our entire listing of specials departing in the next 90 days, click
here. To search for deep discounts on cruises departing more than 90 days from
now, click here. For hosted Singles Cruises, click here. For escorted tours
worldwide, or air/hotel packages to London or Paris, click here. For hotels
and resorts in the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Europe
Once you've found a FASTDEAL, call us toll free at 800-338-4962 (US and
Canada) and a cruise counselor will attend to your needs. International
customers, please e-mail or call us at 001-713-974-2121.
Please email me your comments, suggestions and questions at
firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond the same day.
R. Alan Fox
Chairman & CEO
Vacations To Go
1502 Augusta Drive, Suite 415
Houston, TX 77057
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