Helping Others on Cruise Vacations
Cruise vacations are perfectly suited for giving back to others. Some cruises, such as those offered by Fathom, are social impact travel experiences that are primarily focused on making a difference in local communities and cultural exchange. Several cruise lines offer voluntourism-oriented and humanitarian-focused shore excursions, such as Crystal Cruises, Holland America, Hurtigruten, Peace Boat, AIDA Cruises and others. Onboard fundraising and giving back activities for charitable causes regularly takes place on many cruise lines including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and more. On many individual cruises, guests can also take a social impact shore excursion with a local tour operator in selected ports of call.
Cruise guests can create their own voluntourism-related experience in port with some advance research. We have found many opportunities to assist with education, the needs of children, community initiatives, animal welfare, healthcare, nature and the environment, and a variety of other activities in popular U.S. home ports and international ports of call such as:
- Belize City, Belize
- Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
- Castries, St. Lucia
- Cozumel, Mexico
- Ixtapa, Mexico
- Maui, Hawaii
- Montego Bay, Jamaica
- Nassau, Bahamas
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Ocho Rios, Jamaica
- Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
- Roatan, Honduras
and many others. See the Destinations Directory for more details on opportunities in these ports of call.
One of the first steps in giving back to others on an individual cruise vacation is to determine your schedule and figure out when and where you want to help. We’ve found it to be quite easy to volunteer and drop off in-kind items when we have planned our own independent shore excursions, either by getting our own driver if we’re planning to be there for the day or just working the visit into our other plans if we’re making a short stop. Taking a voluntourism-oriented shore excursion run by the ship or a local tour operator makes it even easier.
If you’re taking a large group tour or ship shore excursion in a particular port, doing a community service visit there might be more difficult. After having done this a number of times, our suggestion would be to choose your ports and organizations in advance of your visit, contact the organization to determine the best times to come by on the day you are in port, and then make arrangements for transportation ahead of time if possible. For cruise ship passengers, contacting organizations in advance is particularly important because of the limited time available on shore. It is strongly suggested that first contact be made at least two weeks in advance of your visit.
In our Together for Good work, we have been in touch with many of the major cruise lines about the possibility of helping others while on a cruise vacation. We have had considerable experience with this as well. It's very important to think about customs when bringing donations along on your trip. We have often brought along a large backpack of items for each organization that we’ve visited, and that has worked out well. It's even better if you can purchase in-kind donations locally, though.
Here are a few recommendations that have been supplied by the cruise lines:
- Make sure you can carry the items off the ship by yourself. A backpack or duffle bag generally works well.
- If you are planning to donate items, stop at the purser’s office on the ship and let them know. The purser’s office can then notify Customs in the port of call if that is needed. We have always found the purser’s office to be very helpful.
- Customs in each port may be different. Some ports will just let donations go, others may charge duty. Bring receipts as well as information on the organization receiving donations.
- Research the possibility of purchasing in-kind donations once in port. Some ports, such as Cozumel, have several large stores located nearby.
By special arrangement, cruise lines such as Carnival Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean have taken larger donations into ports, such as computers, large quantities of books, and other items. Notify the cruise line well in advance if you are bringing along large quantities or bulky items. In addition, many airlines provide extra baggage weight allowances for charitable donations. If you are interested, check with your airline to see if they need a letter from the organization to which you are donating in order to give you a luggage waiver. Most organizations will be happy to give you a letter if you let them know in advance.
Have a great time! Some of our most rewarding social impact trips have been aboard cruise ships. Each place that you go will be different, but they are all very appreciative of your help.
“Life’s most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”
-- Martin Luther King
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