No one knows better than those who have endured hardship that travel can be a transformative experience. Leaving your life behind, even if only for a little while, can be a unique opportunity for reflection, providing a sense of peace that can be elusive when dealing with the routines and cares of everyday life. Visiting a foreign land can even give those who need it a chance to heal.
This is the goal of the Vantage Heroes Cruises, a unique program established by Vantage Deluxe World Travel in 2012 to provide all-expense paid trips to the everyday heroes among us. Since then, the program has given back to many groups, from wounded Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, to Gold Star family members, to Boston Marathon Bombing survivors, and most recently, to the families of fallen first responders who served at the West, Texas Fertilizer Plant explosion in 2013. The program was the brainchild of Vantage Chairman and founder Henry Lewis, who was inspired by the plight of many returning veterans to give something back to those whose bravery and selflessness touch us all. The program has since expanded to also honor heroes outside the military.
The most recent Vantage Heroes Cruise departed on November 12, 2014, with guests who were family members of 12 first-responders who perished in the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, in 2013. These responders were volunteers who paid the ultimate price to help keep their communities safe. Joining them was a second group of Boston Marathon Bombing survivors (a larger group of survivors embarked on a cruise in late 2013). All the passengers experienced the spectacular French Waterways River Cruise on the deluxe ms River Discovery II. They explored Avignon, Viviers, Vienne and Lyon along the Rhône River, immersing themselves in the culture of the region with local vineyard wine tastings and historical tours.
In addition to the therapeutic benefits of a cruise, many passengers found comfort in forging new bonds and friendships with others who, like them, were dealing with the aftermath of life-changing events.
Before leaving for France, Boston Marathon bombing survivor Katie Timura spoke to a Fox25 news crew, essentially summing up the mission of Vantage Heroes Cruises: “Something like this trip brings you back to life,” she said. “It reminds you that the community around the Marathon really pulled together and is constantly helping the survivors.”
In December, another Vantage Heroes Cruise will depart with families of fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots (the elite firefighters who perished during the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona) and family members of fallen first responders from the World Trade Center attacks of 2001.