Collette unwraps first Cajun Christmas tour

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Collette Vacations, based here, beefed up its roster of products to New Orleans this year with two new programs, bringing the total from five to seven.

"New Orleans always sells," said Edie Silva, product manager for the Deep South and the eastern U.S. for Collette.

"It's the food, the festivities, the music. It's easygoing. It's the Big Easy," Silva said. "It gets a lot of publicity as a fun city with many things to do."

Although Collette had packaged New Orleans in several ways in past years, none ever captured the city in its holiday splendor. That has been remedied for 2002 with the Cajun Holiday Celebration.

The new motorcoach tour is a four-night visit timed to take place during the Christmas season. It will be offered Dec. 2 to Dec. 14. Accommodations are at the Ramada Inn on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.

The tour kicks off with dinner at the New Orleans School of Cooking, where Creole and Cajun chefs demonstrate Louisiana-style cooking.

Collette Vacations introduced an independent city tour of New Orleans that includes three nights' accommodations in the French Quarter. The second day includes a walking tour of the French Quarter that visits the St. Louis Cathedral, the French Marketplace and Pirate's Alley, which was Jean Lafitte's meeting place. The itinerary includes Cafe Du Monde and the Christmas lights display at City Park.

The third day features a walk along the garden and home district of St. Charles Avenue and a visit to Bellingrath Gardens decked out in holiday displays.

The last full day is set aside for independent exploration of New Orleans, until evening, when a farewell dinner is held at the Court of Two Sisters, a well-known local restaurant.

The land price for the tour is $659 per person, double.

Collette also introduced an independent city package to New Orleans for 2002.

The package includes three nights at one of four hotels: the Best Western French Quarter Landmark Hotel; the Fairmont Hotel; the New Orleans Marriott Hotel; or the Monaco Hotel.

Prices start at $199, land only, or $429 with air from Dallas to New Orleans. Included are accommodations; one dinner at one of many dine-around restaurants; and a steamboat river cruise.

Specials now are being offered with the city package. A room upgrade and a fourth night is available free with a three-night booking at the Monaco Hotel from May 23 through Sept. 7 or from Dec. 8 to 28.

The same offer applies to a three-night booking at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel, July 2 through Sept. 15 or Dec. 16 to 31.

A room upgrade is given with bookings at the Best Western French Quarter Landmark Hotel through March, from May 28 through Aug. 30 or Nov. 18 through Jan. 23, 2003.

A room upgrade also is offered for booking the Fairmont Hotel from May 23 through Sept. 7 or Dec. 8 to 28.

Meanwhile, Collette's other New Orleans tours remain popular, according to Edie Silva, product manager for the Deep South and eastern U.S. for Collette. The most popular, Silva said, is the four-night New Orleans Getaway.

The tour, priced from $559 per person, double, includes many of the components of the holiday tour, plus a jazz cruise on the Mississippi aboard the paddle wheeler SS Natchez, dinner at the Two Sisters restaurant and a jazz revue.

Collette includes New Orleans in its Music Cities Tour, an eight-night itinerary that groups the city with other destinations known for their musical histories and cultures: Branson, Mo., and Memphis and Nashville, Tenn. The land price starts at $1,559 per person, double.

The New Orleans and the Deep South tour concentrates on Southern culture. It includes the French Quarter, the New Orleans School of Cooking, a paddle-wheeler ride, the Antebellum Museum, Cajun Country and the Jean Lafitte Cultural Center. The seven-night tour is priced from $1,079 per person, double.

Meanwhile, two of Collette's programs that include New Orleans also feature major cruise components.

Battle and Cottonfield Steamboatin Adventures is an eight-night trip that includes a cruise aboard the American Queen beginning in New Orleans and including Baton Rouge, La.; Natchez, Miss.; Helena, Ark.; and ending in Memphis. It's priced from $1,999 per person, double.

Collette pays travel agents 10% commissions on air and land. For more information or to make reservations, call (800) 340-5158.

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