President Obama—Day 4 Post Irene—Where Is The Aid?

Dear Mr. President,

Please Help Us! I’m following up on yesterday’s post. On behalf of those living in Virginia’s Northern Neck, demand that you act and become involved in Hurricane Irene’s impact  Your conspicuous inaction is intolerable.

Here, where I’m traveling in the Northern Neck of Virginia and often spend much of a   summer, it’s day 4 after Hurricane Irene. We’re still waiting for the assistance you personally promised either Friday or Saturday. Considering the power went out in this area on Saturday—5 days ago—the lack of ice has caused many locals without power to throw a lot of their food away.

If they had a gas grill or a gas stove—and their huge gas tank cylinder didn’t float away in the storm waves as they typically do—they have been able to cook the food before it spoiled…but how could they store it without power—and without ice?  Where is your FEMA response?  This inaction must surpass far beyond Hurricane Katrina and FEMA’s response there.

Ice still today cannot be purchased in much of Northumberland County and certainly nowhere near Callao or Heathsville, which according to the National Weather Service as quoted in today’s edition of the weekly Northumberland Echo, endured the worst circumstances in all of Virginia. Not New Kent County (8 feet above water) and highlighted on TV that it  had a drive-though for ice and water brought in from as far as Florida, but nothing here in the Northern Neck for the farmers, fishermen and everyone else who is here.

This is what Northumberland Echo reported, with the italics my addition for perspective: “Irene’s greatest impact was along a swath from Roanoke Rapids (NC) to Richmond (an area far inland not subject to tidal surge) and over to the Middle Peninsula—Gloucester and Northern Neck. The winds were more prolonged, if not more powerful at their peak, than those that affected Eastern Virginia, according to the National Weather Service, and the area is more heavily wooded.”

The fact that an area is more heavily wooded is critical—falling trees are what bring down the power lines.

And make it impossible to keep food cold in ice chests unless ice is delivered by what—FEMA? Assuming there is any FEMA effort—which I have not noticed on any TV news show—it must be concentrated in the high profile areas that news media can easily reach.

Especially the Northeast, which the majority of media cover and the area where they also live.

So much for us in one of Virginia’s worst impacted areas. As my post of yesterday noted, this is the worst response ever experienced here (none) compared to 2003 Hurricane Irene and 2006 Tropical Storm Ernesto (which caused more severe damage in some areas here).

Mr. President, why don’t you ever deliver? Especially when you give your word? This could be a first opportunity to do so. Essex, Westmoreland, Northumberland and Lancaster counties are receiving nothing. If there is help/aid you have sent here, it hasn’t arrived.

Neither is the so-called aid being sent by the State of Virginia (Maybe since FEMA is incapable of doing so?). Actually, what we have here is a failure to accommodate. The Northumberland Echo also reported that “late Monday pallets of water destined for Northumberland (my county) were located at Al Pugh Distributing Co. in Warsaw (VA), a central location where supplies were sent from Virginia emergency operations for the Northern Neck localities.

They must still be there. No announcement on the radio I’ve heard of. And certainly no ice available from FEMA (Futile Emergency Mishap Activity) or the State of Virginia, still stuck in the past and under the delusion that celebrating the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War would be a tourist attraction.

Mr. President, surely you saw that even the esteemed Washington Post was belaboring/celebrating that event earlier this summer.


Or were you too offended by this Virginia-Washington celebration? There were no such observances here. These are real Americans dealing with day-to-day crises and the lack of ice is the item on their minds. We’d happily buy it but it is not available anywhere!

Barack, actually, I don’t believe I’ve heard of any FEMA response ANYWHERE  on the news. Have you broken yet one more unbreakable  vow?

President Obama, Where Is the Ice, Water & Food You Promised After Hurricane Irene?

?  ?  ?  ?  ?  ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?   

Hurricane Irene is my third natural disaster here on the Potomac River in Virginia’s Northern Neck, which was under a “hurricane warning” with Irene, the highest level of hurricane risk according to NOAA: “An announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are expected somewhere within the specified coastal area.”

So, President Obama—known for sounding good but never delivering–where is the Ice, Water and Help you personally promised would be provided? It’s Tuesday, 3 days since Hurricane Irene visited our region with its storm damage and taking out electrical power for virtually everyone.

Which means Water, Ice and Help (food!)should have been readily available here by Sunday afternoon—all of daylight Sunday was quiet and tranquil and there sure was plenty of advance warning, as you told us—but nothing provided Sunday. A very different scenario compared to the aftermath following Hurricane Isabel and Tropical Storm Ernesto which actually delivered more damage to our area.

FEMA and the Red Cross were available in both prior instances (2003 & 2006 under President G.W. Bush) would have been available by at least Monday. Not here! President Obama, where was the Water, Ice and Help (food!) you personally promised after interrupting your vacation early only because Martha’s Vineyard( summer colony for high-profile residents, movie stars, writers, artists and politicians) also was threatened.

President Obama, your promise for Water, Ice and Help (food!)via FEMA or whatever is typical of all your promises—full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. Some examples:

My wife and I evacuated to ride out Hurricane Irene and follow the voluntary evacuation order that a shelter for us was open, that the road to our area would be closed from noon Saturday until Sunday morning, that we should expect hurricane force winds and expect a 5-foot storm surge and 8 inches of rain. Only one aspect of the advisory was incorrect. We had 14 inches of rain.

We received that printed warning personally delivered by a Sheriff’s deputy and signed by Northumerland’s County Administrator Kenneth D. Eades. He’s a person most of who have been here for anytime have come to trust. It’s not up to him to provide the Water, Ice and Help (food!)that you, President Obama, promised in your Saturday speech of “concern.”

On Monday, near the Best Western in Warsaw, VA, we evacuated to, we saw EMS vehicles setting up a huge staging area in a huge nearby parking lot. There were porta-toilets, a mobile home for showers and several huge revival-style tents with what appeared to be red picnic-style tables. Since most of the parking lot was marked off with yellow crime scene-type ribbon, the space was being saved for a lot of people. Since Linda noted one of tents said “Mess Tent,” it was probably for the huge crew of bucket truck drivers who had suddenly arrived in the area. Give them whatever they need!

Ironically, the Exxon station next to this staging area still had no power. As for the rest of us, there was no Water, Ice and Help (food!)

No mention on radio or TV as in the past where President’s Obama promise of Water, Ice and Help (food!)would be available. The American Red Cross, also a prominent presence in previous disasters, this week has been prominent by its absence.

President Obama, it’s now Tuesday and we here in Northumberland County fared better with help in 2003 and 2006. Churches are the only ones I hear on radio providing food for those without power or whose private wells were flooded (that would be anyone on the coast). Some YMCAs are offering free showersto those needing them. All the assistance is local.

As for FEMA or any other form of promised federal presence, that aid is nowhere in sight. Or ever mentioned on the radio about where Water, Ice and Help (food!)might be found.

In Heathsville, VA, the only major supermarket for miles around—a Food Lion— regained its power just today.

You can’t buy Iceanywhere around here. If it’s available from FEMA, it’s a well kept secret.

President Obama, your promise of Water, Ice and Help (food!)is like all of your others. Impotent words by an ineffective President.

We had far more help following Hurricane Isabel and Tropical Storm Ernesto. Once again you’ve proven you can’t deliver. We might fare better if you would just butt out.

You’ve certainly confirmed (once again) you cannot be relied upon. Your words, while well spoken, are empty and meaningless. Always . . .

Groupon Expands Orlando Offerings In Big Ways


By now, most web savvy users should be familiar with Groupon and its online daily deals for local goods and services offering discounts between 25%-90%. If you’re interested in the daily deal, you simply purchase it online and print out a coupon for redeeming a restaurant meal deal or attraction discounts.

Orlando’s daily deals, which can be tracked on your computer regardless of where you live, should be monitored by anyone planning a trip there since they can be good for as long as 6 months after purchase.

Groupon Now!

Groupon has expanded it daily offerings with a new service called Groupon Now! At the moment it’s being offered in only one city in each state, and Orlando is its first choice Florida pick.

Instead of a single daily deal, Groupon Now! describes scores of local deals—not 200 of them as its Orlando Groupon Now! website currently claims. Give them a few months since Orlando’s Groupon Now! service started only last week.

Groupon Now! divides the savings into more than a half-dozen categories (some definitely of more interest than others, as you will see). The Groupon Now! offerings are supposed to change regularly, according to this time schedule: 6am-10am; 10-am-2pm; 2pm-6pm; 6pm-10pm; 10pm-6am. Besides looking at Today’s Deals, you can also look at tomorrow’s for the same time periods.

Here’s the current category listing with current examples. Suspect these categories are likely to change since several seem of minimal interest to locals and visitors.

Here’s the current Orlando Groupon Now! category listing with current examples. Suspect these categories are likely to change since several seem of minimal interest to locals and visitors.

Eat Something — Restaurant discounts, the largest category often providing some excellent deals.

Get Pampered Spas, salons, massage

Go Shopping — Merchants in Orlando seem resistant to offering much of anything this early

Have Fun — Another category with slim pickings

— Pole dancing, boxing classes and normal fitness training

Take Care of Myself — Teeth whitening, eye exam, massage

Get Pictures Taken — Family photos or personal portfolios

Take a Class — Flash mob cardio class is the only current offering though it seems like pole dancing could fit here as well

Featured Deal, All Deals and Getaways are also listed at the top of the page in the header list. Featured Deal is the original featured daily deal and often the best of the best. All Deals includes the Featured Deal and other Daily Deals that may not have sold out. Getaways contains resorts from all over the world, including Florida, as well as rental car companies.

Live Entertainment is a new Groupon venture, so new that it does not yet have a web site (as of today). You provide your email address and emails for your location are sent whenever something is available. I’m still waiting for my first. For Orlando, this could be a very popular category.

Free Groupon mobile apps for both Apple and Android products.  Including Groupon Now!, making it easier to keep track when you’re on the move.

Until next Monday!

Tim O’Keefe

Cruise Insurance—Yes or No?

No Bahamas cruises this weekend!

THIS WEEKEND will be an unhappy one for many cruisers. They will be traveling to destinations they didn’t intend—or want—to visit, thanks to Hurricane Irene. Some cruisers will be able to cancel with no penalties, while perhaps the majority will have to put up with a cruise to not-where-they-wanted.

Now is a good time for anyone planning a cruise to consider the need for cruise insurance. Because of more than just Hurricane Irene.

This week has been a bizarre series of natural events no one could forecast. Just as last summer–who could have predicted that the eruption of an Icelandic volcano would make air travel to Northern Europe impossible for lengthy periods. (Which also made it impossible for countless cruise passengers to leave port on time.)

The 5.8 earthquake that originated in Virginia was felt from Atlanta to Maine. And it closed JFK airport for a short period of time. (As one who is in Virginia in an old river cottage 8 feet above the ground, the cautious JFK delay is understandable. Our cottage swayed right and left and the chair I was sitting in started tap dancing. It was like a simulator ride at one of the theme parks, only it was real.)

Now, Hurricane Irene is in the process of plowing through the Bahamas after visiting its destruction on the Turks & Caicos as well as parts of the Dominican Republic. Based on the latest forecast, Irene will spend its next few days bordering the U.S. Atlantic coast with its final destination near Boston. Irene will close many of these airports, making it impossible to fly out.

Airlines are waiving rebooking fees for travelers where Irene caused havoc and made a decent vacation impossible.

Cruise ships, on the other hand, normally depart come hell or high water because of their high overhead. For one, they can’t be as tolerant because each vessel has hundreds, if not thousands, of waiters, stateroom staff, cooks and other crew most other cruisers never know about who receive their main income—not from the cruise line—but from the tips they receive from passengers. And, there are other factors.

Back to cruise insurance: Anyone booking a Bermuda, Bahamas or Caribbean cruise between Aug. 15-Oct. 15 is gambling they won’t have to worry about a tropical storm or hurricane. Cruises normally offer discounts during this time for a good reason.

Beyond seasonal weather problems, there always is the chance of accidents while on a cruise. In Greece, I once watched a family left behind at the cruise dock (they had been waiting for their luggage to be unloaded) because the father had decided to rent a scooter. He was an M.D., who probably thought he could handle any of the family’s medical problems. Normally, he would have been correct. Only, this time he was the problem.

All cruise lines offer their own insurance. Travel agents do, too. And there are other independent insurance companies, too. Many exclude “acts of god” which would include storms, volcanoes and earthquakes. None that I know of state you can cancel because your cruise ship changed its itinerary due to a storm.

Fortunately, more companies are offering the option of Cancel for Any Reason, and that would include your cruise ship deviating from its scheduled itinerary—but only if you know this in advance. Here are the normal requirements for Cancel for Any Reason.

To qualify for this coverage, typically you must buy the of insurance within two weeks after your booking or your first trip payment. This type of policy allows you to cancel your trip for any reason not on the list of “named perils or otherwise covered.”

To insure your trip, you must buy coverage for the cruise’s full pre-paid price. Also, to cancel a trip for a reason that is “not otherwise covered” or in the list of “named perils” you must cancel at least 2 or 3 days prior to departure. 

Cancel for any Reason could require a “co-payment” on your part covering between 10 to 50 per cent of your trip cost, depending on the plan. Or the policy could require none. That’s why you truly need to read the fine print when considering any policy.

A web site I like is one not sponsored by a travel insurance provider. To rely on one insurance company to compare the policies of its competition for you seems like inviting the fox into the hen house.

With over 50 plans from leading insurers to choose from, QuoteWright was voted “Best of the Web” by The Washington Post for its quality comparisons. In their comparison of  Cancel for Any Reason policies from different companies, the links spell out whether the coverage is 100% or 50%, which helps to cut down the time needed to study coverage and policy prices.

In addition, don’t overlook the coverage that you may already have through the credit card you used to book and pay for your cruise.  You did use a credit card and not a debit card or a check, right?

The end of September in 2009.

SeaWorld Orlando Offers Free 3rd Hotel Night, Free Meals

Also Free Front Line Access, Until Dec. 22

Shamu show -- tongue

INTRO: This is the first of a weekly update for those who have purchased my app, Orlando Essential Travel Guide.  If you have stumbled across this site because of the relevant info, Welcome! You might consider purchasing my best-selling app, too.

WHY: The current financial fiasco co-created by President Obama (who had no economic plan and whose staff has characterized him as “leading by following”) and Congress (where both parties displayed spectacular ineptness bordering on delusional).  Together, they managed to do what never had been done before: Cost the U.S. its AAA rating, which sent the U.S. stock market into a downward spiral and made many people wary of vacation travel. 

WHO: SeaWorld Orlando and its parent company SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment had such impressive gains this year–until the government-created crisis in August, which has made many people afraid to travel because of their stock market losses. Rather than wait until fall, a season of traditional Orlando discounts due to fewer visitors, SeaWorld Orlando is acting now to offer steep discounts to attract guests with some truly special specials that end Dec. 25.

WHAT: Buy 2 Nights, Get a 3rd Night Free!  Book a vacation package at least 48 hours ahead of time at one of SeaWorld Orlando’s participating Partner hotels or in one of the Official Hotels of SeaWorld, and your 3rd night is free as long as the stay is completed before December 25. In addition, at least 2 park admission tickets must be purchased with each package. Admission not required for children under 3.

A very significant bonus is that the $29 All-Day Dining Deal is free with each paid admission. And you can add the popular Aquatica water park (or Busch Gardens Tampa) at a special rate of $39, where you can dine there free all day, too.

SeaWorld Orlando’s has 6 official on-site hotels. Three are part of the Marriott chain and offering several new guest services, are the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, SpringHill Suites Orlando at SeaWorld and Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando at SeaWorld. The 3 Hilton brand hotels are Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld, Hilton Garden Inn Orlando at SeaWorld and Hilton Grand Vacations at SeaWorld.

MORE WHAT: The new bonuses for staying in any of these hotels include:

Free transportation to SeaWorld, Aquatica, Discovery Cove and Universal Orlando.

Free Quick Queue Unlimited (front-of-the-line access) at SeaWorld

Early entry to SeaWorld and Aquatica during designated summer and Christmas holidays, which may not fall during this package special.

Exclusive access to the “SeaWorld Rescue Tour” at SeaWorld on early entry dates, which do not occur in the fall (see above).

Also, check to see if you can arrange your vacation through Southwest Airlines and receive free air fare as well as 2 free checked bags per person. Their vacation search form allows you to put together a package that includes flight, hotel, car and SeaWorld admission tickets.  

WHY: Aren’t there more free nights if you want to stay longer at SeaWorld Orlando? SeaWorld is making itself attractive for only 3 days, passively accepting its 3rd place behind Disney World and Universal Orlando. Based on the world-wide data from the Apple store app buyers of my Orlando Essential Travel Guide, SeaWorld Orlando has no  clue about the international interest in Aquatica. Neither do the other Orlando theme parks.

But that’s another blog.

Until next Monday (if not before).

Tim O’Keefe

Orlando Essential Travel Guide App Updates To Debut


So many things happen so quickly between revisions of the Orlando *Essential* Guide that in order to get info out to you  faster when something new happens, it will be posted here on my blog site. This will happen on a weekly basis, not a daily one, because this app is not my life (most 0f the time).  iPhone Screenshot 1

As this is written , Version 1.8 of the Orlando *Essential* Guide is at Apple. With updates and new entries, it contains 25 percent new material, 242 total; entries and photos now number over 2,100.  Because of the amount of work involved, the app is increasing from $2.99 to $3.99 to match what already has been charged by some other Sutro apps since the beginning of the year.  If you already own the app, you won’t notice the price change because your update is free.

This is the first price increase ever for this app.  Moreover, Essential Orlando also is the first Sutro app to provide scheduled content updates between revisions.

Orlando Updates should appear every Monday on this blog.  Since other articles may have appeared related to different travel destinations, under Categories on the right side of the page click on Orlando, FL . That will take you to the latest posting.

If you are not linking to the blog from the Essential Orlando app but decide to type in the name Travels with Tim O’Keefe, make sure you add “/” or you’ll end up elsewhere, on my website Guide To Caribbean Vacations. You’re certainly welcome to browse there but that’s not where you were headed.

BEST OF ALL It’s now easy to tell me what you want to see added in the next revision. With so little feedback, it’s hard for me to know for certain what you’re looking for that might not be covered. I’m making educated guesses based on what I want to know when I travel somewhere.  Meaningful comments and suggestions are more than welcome.

For instance, someone wrote asking if there were zip line locations in or near Orlando. I answered her and then in the new revision added a zip line category covering the four major zip line attractions, two new just this year. Most visitors probably don’t know about them yet.  You will because someone asked a question.

The massive addition of area beaches (3,300 words of beaches coverage, that’s massive for any category) resulted from a suggestion I received in the app’s comments section. Since Central Florida beaches are not close to the theme park area, beaches was a topic I was planning for down the road.  But someone asked for it and beaches from Flagler to Cocoa went into the March revision.

This blog should allow for more suggestions. If you have one, or if you found a new restaurant you want to tell others about, Leave A Reply at the bottom of a post.  Unlike Facebook and some other social media, this blog is open to everyone.  Tell a friend, and tell them about the app.

I can’t promise to answer personally more than a few questions a week and sometimes not even that. The main purpose of this page is to post Essential Orlando Travel Updates.

Hope you like the new feature! If you found this page early, look for the first update post next Monday, August 22.