"Voluncruising" Options to Consider When Booking Your Next Vacation

By Budget Travel
October 3, 2012
A sunset cruise. (Courtesy <a href="http://mybt.budgettravel.com/_Sunset-Cruise/photo/7743499/21864.html" target="_blank">whymsyj/myBudgetTravel</a>

This week is National Cruise Vacation Week, a time for special offers and big discounts in the cruise industry. This year, it's especially fitting that Make A Difference Day (the fourth Saturday in October) closes out Cruise Week, because, as of late, increased social awareness has sparked a number of opportunities for cruisers to contribute to the communities they visit—and the volunteer options are still wide open for the last few months of 2011.

Last January, Crystal Cruises began offering complimentary Crystal Cruises Voluntourism Adventure excursions as part of their "You Care, We Care" program. Projects still available in 2011 include grooming and feeding donkeys in the Donkey Sanctuary at the Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society, picking fruit for Israel's largest food bank to help feed the hungry, and assisting with daily care of turtles at the Turtle Rescue Center in Greece. Availability is extremely limited, so advance booking is highly recommended.

Holland America has a similar program called Cruise With Purpose, which promotes environmental responsibility through tours and excursions. For visitors hoping to get their hands dirty (literally), the trip through Brisbane's Koala Sanctuary gives volunteers the chance to plant gum trees and to hand-feed kangaroos. Prices and availability vary, although their site indicates that several Holland ships through the end of the year will dock at Cruise With Purpose sites. Their Mexico excursion, departing from Acapulco, is from $50 for a four-hour tour that includes snacks, a drink, and the release of a baby turtle back into the ocean.

A start-up called Hope Floats will make volunteer excursion arrangements for any visitor from any cruise line docking in Tortola, Antigua, St. Thomas, Barbados and St. Lucia. Activities range from cooking to beach clean-up, collaborating with 13 different charities including the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and the Salvation Army. The administrative fee for many of their excursions is only $25 per group (up to six people), plus transportation. Founder Cathleen Huckaby has said that their website will be revamped before the end of the month, but online booking is still available.

For more experienced cruise vacationers, there are plenty of resources to help volunteers design their own excursions. Together For Good has a list of organizations in popular cruise destinations all over the Caribbean—but recommend that visitors contact their chosen organization well in advance when planning their trip. —Chabli Bravo

Have inside information on other voluncruising options? Tell us about it below.


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How to Avoid Flights That May Get Canceled

Anyone who says it's about the journey, not just the destination, has never stood at an airport gate and learned that their flight is canceled. Last month, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report about whether airlines are canceling more flights now than before. The answer: Yes. Federal number crunchers looked at airline cancellation records for the heavy travel months of May through September of 2010 and compared them with the records for May through September 2009. The GAO findings: Cancellations have been becoming more frequent. Last summer, flights parked at the gate were 24 percent more likely to be canceled than during the previous summer. Even worse, flights stuck on the tarmac for about one hour were 31 percent more likely to be canceled. 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Shoulder season, n. 1. A brief period when weather conditions and travel costs fall between the highs of high season and the lows of low season. 2. In other words: nice weather, fewer crowds, great prices. 3. Start packing. There is no off-season in the cruise world, at least there's not supposed to be. That's why twice a year, in early spring and late fall, cruise lines move their fleets&mdash;from Alaska to the Caribbean, say, or from the Mediterranean to the Middle East&mdash;to ensure that it's always sunny (or at least warm) on deck. Ten years ago, these "deadhead" sailings rushed from one high-season destination to another, often without passengers. Now slowed down and known as repositioning cruises, they have become a leisurely genre for folks in search of unusual itineraries. You'll spend fewer days in port than on a traditional cruise&mdash;speed is still paramount, after all&mdash;but the trips are hardly bare bones. Lines often add special guest lectures and performers to keep passengers from going stir-crazy&mdash;Carol Channing sang on a Royal Caribbean repositioning cruise in 2009. And the reduced rates will give you a warm feeling, even if it is a tad chilly outside. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Your Top 5 Money-Saving Cruise Questions&mdash;Answered! Introducing the New "All You Can Drink" Cruise Confessions of...A Cruise Ship Musician


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This month you're probably thinking foliage and Halloween, not cruises. But the cruise lines are hoping to change that, declaring this month National Cruise Vacation Month. Yes, that's a marketing effort, so why do we care? Because during National Cruise Vacation Week, Oct. 17 to 23, a whole bunch of fare deals will be offered through travel agents in what's being billed as "The World's Largest Cruise Sale." If this sounds familiar, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry's main marketing group, used to promote with a 24-hour sale. Last year the agents sold $47 million in cruises during the month-long promotion, according to Bob Sharak, executive vice president of CLIA. This year the sale may be tougher with cruise passengers, like other travelers, tightening their belts due to economic uncertainty. But there will be temptations during the sale week including discounted fares, two-for-one deals, onboard spending credits (that you can use for things like drinks), spa credits (that you can use for a massage) and more. The offers apply to both ocean and river cruises in 2012, and in some cases beyond. So what kind of savings are we talking about? As a sampling, those booking a Celebrity cruise will receive a $50 to $150 onboard credit, the offering applying to nearly every sailing between Jan. 1, 2012 and Apr. 30, 2013. Italian line Costa is promoting fares from $749 for select 10-day sailings and from $399 for weeklong cruises. And Avalon Waterways is discounting select European river cruises by up to $1,000 per person on some dates. More than 4,900 agencies have signed on to do physical events during the sale week such as cruise nights &mdash; your agent invites you to a party to hear about cruises &mdash; and virtual events online, according to CLIA. A special CLIA web page has been set up to help those who don't have an agent find one. More from Budget Travel: News for Solo Cruisers Is Cruising All-Inclusive? Would You Prefer an Unlimited Drinks Package on a Cruise?


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