Business plans shift after Katrina

Passenger ships were rerouted, and the world's largest cruise line chartered three of its vessels to the federal government after Hurricane Katrina devastated coastal areas in three states. The parent company of another cruise line reached out to hundreds of displaced employees.

At the Travel section's deadline Tuesday, the Port of New Orleans, although accepting relief shipments, remained closed to commercial cargo and passenger traffic. It was not clear when it would reopen. Damage to the cruise terminal, including missing sections of the roof, was reported in the industry press. Cruise ships shifted plans accordingly.

In a statement, Carnival Corp. said two of its ships, the Conquest and Sensation, whose home port is New Orleans, were not expected to operate from there "for an extended period of time."

Conquest was to begin sailing out of Galveston, Texas, Sunday on its original itinerary to Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. The ship was in dry dock when Katrina hit.

Carnival was making arrangements for affected customers.

"If they purchased their air [ticket] through Carnival, we'll help them adjust their air to Houston without penalty," said Carnival Cruise Lines spokesman Vance Gulliksen. "We've been trying to notify everyone we can."

Conquest passengers who booked their flights separately should contact their airline or Carnival for advice, Gulliksen said. He said the airlines were "fairly flexible." Affected passengers also would get a shipboard credit of $50 per person.

The Sensation was among three ships that Carnival took out of regular service and chartered to the federal government to house thousands of hurricane refugees. But at the Travel Section's press time Tuesday, the plan was delayed, emergency officials said, because evacuees in Houston wanted to focus on locating lost families and were reluctant to move on to the ships. It was unclear how the delay might eventually affect the charter.

"As far as we are concerned, we plan to operate the charter as per [Federal Emergency Management Agency] instructions," Gulliksen said Tuesday.

Under the original plan, Carnival would keep the Ecstasy and Sensation in Galveston and the Holiday in Mobile, Ala., for six months to house evacuees. In the meantime, the three ships' regular cruises would be canceled.

Effective Saturday, Ecstasy's four- and five-day western Caribbean cruises from Galveston were to have been taken over by the Elation, which normally sails weeklong cruises from that city.

Guests booked on the Ecstasy were to be shifted to identical cabins on the Elation, its sister ship, which can hold more than 2,600 passengers.

Customers booked on the Elation's original seven-day cruises would receive full refunds, Carnival said. If they paid for an affected cruise by Sept. 3 and rebook by Dec. 31 they will receive $100 in shipboard credit, Gulliksen said.

Similar policies were in effect for affected passengers on Sensation and Holiday. For details and updates, contact your travel agent or Carnival at (800) CARNIVAL (227-6482), .

The Delta Queen Steamboat Co., based in New Orleans, said its boats weathered the storm safely upriver. It temporarily relocated its reservations department to the headquarters of its parent, Delaware North Cos., in Buffalo, N.Y., and also made changes to its itineraries.

In a statement, Delaware North said hundreds of its employees at the steamboat company and the New Orleans airport had lost their homes or were searching for family members and friends. It set up a toll-free hotline for its displaced employees who need assistance; it also urged them to register online. For details, visit .

Delta Queen representatives could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but a reservations agent said information on re-routings was to be released Friday.

Among the itinerary changes announced earlier:

•  The American Queen's Sept. 3 cruise from Memphis, Tenn., would end in Memphis instead of New Orleans.

•  The Delta Queen's Sept. 3 cruise would depart from Clarksville, Tenn., instead of Nashville, and end in Cincinnati, instead of Mobile. The voyage to Chattanooga, Tenn., which was scheduled to begin Sunday in Mobile, will instead depart from Cincinnati.

The company did not announce any changes to the schedules of the Mississippi Queen. For information: (800) 543-1949,