cruise voluntourism

Attention cruisers: Grab that piña colada and relax on the sun deck, but don’t get too comfortable.

Carnival Cruises is now joining in a new trend in the cruise industry of giving passengers a chance to give back on a variety of onboard activities and shorexs.  For many people, cruising takes on new meaning when they can hit the dance floor to help raise money for children’s disease research or join fellow passengers on a walk to raise money for cancer organizations during a port stop.


The ultimate do-good, feel-good experience may be on Fathom, a cruise line created specifically for people who love to travel and want to make a difference in the world. On the 704-passenger Adonia, set to debut on cruises from Miami to the Dominican Republic in April, passengers will have opportunity to spend up to three days helping locals. And starting May 1, Carnival Corporation is planning to launch Fathom cruises to Cuba with guests participating in specially designed cultural exchange activities.

Included are on-the-ship seminars and organized experiences on land. In the Dominican Republic, for instance, Fathom travelers will volunteer to teach conversational English to kids in nearby schools, assist local entrepreneurs at, for instance, a chocolate cooperative, and make water filters out of locally sourced clay and other materials, help with forestation projects and participate in other one-on-one activities – with time, if a traveler chooses, to spend on the beach or in cultural pursuits.

While Fathom is one end of the spectrum, cruise passengers of all ages have long shown an interest in cruising for a cause whether they put in muscle or put in some hard-earned touring time. On ultra-luxury line Seabourn, for instance, cruisers can take a ship-organized tour to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, such as the World of Gaudi (including Sagrada Familia Cathedral) in Barcelona, and the line will make a small donation on your behalf to the UNESCO World Heritage Fund.

In Germany, AIDA Cruises passengers can participate in New Year’s Eve fundraising raffles to raise money for the German-based SOS Children’s Villages, in support of refugee and disaster relief. Through the non-profit Association of AIDA Friends of the Ocean, guests and cruise line employees also have opportunity to assist environmental and marine conservation efforts including beach cleanups.

On the “Born to Knit” program aboard P&O Cruises Australia ships passengers socializing while they knit blankets for newborn babies on the island nation of Vanuatu, one of the destinations the line’s ships visit. For $10, passengers can purchase a knitting kit and instructions. Hundreds of blankets have been completed and donated to the maternity ward of the Vila Central Hospital in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

P&O Cruises also supports Save the Children’s efforts on Vanuatu. A $1 donation is added to every adult passenger’s shipboard account. Guests can choose to opt out or up the amount. The line is on track to raise $1 million by the end of the year – donations so far going to building kindergartens as well as an aid posts and health dispensaries on remote islands.

dance-cruise-on ship

Passengers on Carnival Cruise Line ships in the Caribbean can “Groove for St. Jude” — dance parties where a $10 donation raises money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. The program has raised more than $8 million for St. Jude since 2010, and has set a fundraising goal of $15 million by 2020. Kids onboard can do their part by building a stuffed bear, with proceeds going to St. Jude.

With “On Deck for a Cause,” Holland America Line passengers and employees have raised more than $4.7 million since 2006, for six cancer organizations in the U.S., Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany and the U.K. On each sailing, passengers donate $20 to join the walk and receive a t-shirt, wristband and post-walk reception. In 2016, the line’s ships will host more than 500 such events.

Princess Cruises’ shipboard “On Deck for a Cure” raises money for the fight against breast cancer via the Susan G. Komen Foundation, passengers participating in organized 5k deck walks (for a donation of $15). On each voyage, a nautical chart of the cruise, signed by the captain and senior officers, is auctioned off with the proceeds benefiting the non-profit Princess Cruises Community Foundation, which supports worldwide charities and disaster relief.

There are also ways to volunteer off the ship. Holland America passengers can book “Cruise With Purpose” shore excursions, small-group outings where passengers can, for instance, board a research boat in Juneau, Alaska, and assist scientists by drawing plankton samples or using a GPS camera to identify whales and record their behaviors.

Why do cruise vacations and volunteering go hand in hand?

“For me it’s simple. Life is not complete unless you are helping others,” said Michelle Sutter, a long-time volunteer in such activities as mentoring single mother refugees from Africa and now a staffer for the new social impact-focused cruise line Fathom from Carnival Corporation. “Fun is an understatement. The experience of volunteering feeds your soul.”


Related Stories:

Travel as the New Philanthropy

Cruising for a Cause: Happiness Guaranteed


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