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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