The newest cruise trend: Going on vacation and “giving back” at the same time

By Cynthia Boal Janssens, Editor-In-Chief

We all know that cruising is fun. It is a great vacation. It is a superb value. But what we sometimes don’t realize is that cruising can also be the opportunity to do some real good.

So don’t be surprised if on your next cruise you have the chance to help out a charity, whether by volunteering, participating in event or by direct donation. Here are some examples of how you can “do good” on your next cruise:

Non-profit groups like museums, orchestras and university alumni groups frequently charter small ships or blocks of cabins on larger ships. They then sell the cabins to their patrons for the full (or even a higher rate) and keep the difference in prices as profit for their cause.

“Sailings dedicated to supporting a single charity often come with the added perk of being partially tax deductible,” explains Brad Ball, director of media relations for Silversea Cruises. “Silversea is offering two such trips this year, including a 12-night voyage in July from a remote Norwegian outpost on the rim of the Arctic Circle on the Prince Albert II expedition ship…

“And, since a portion of the hefty cruise fare (prices range from $3,697 to $16,077 per person) benefits the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation — a supporter of environmental initiatives like renewable energy — up to 30 percent of cost of the trip is tax-deductible.”

The line also hosted a seven-night October sailing from Venice to Rome, led by celebrity chef Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. The trip benefits the James Beard Foundation, which supports culinary education and scholarship programs (among other foodie initiatives) and is 35 percent tax deductible.

Reality television star Amy Roloff (“Little People Big World” on TLC) hosted a group cruise in June (2010) aboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines’ new Oasis of the Seas to raise money for her foundation which supports a number of charities, many of those devoted to helping children (she is the mother of four). (

Another way cruise lines support charities is by donating cruises to charity’s live auctions. “This is most popular at black-tie galas and balls,” says Adrienne d’Annunzio, manager of guest relations and charity programs for SeaDream Yacht Club. “There is a small reserve on the voyage (which goes to the cruise line), however, it allows the charity to make thousands of dollars profit when selling the voyage.”

On-board programs are gaining popularity

A number of cruise lines now offered on-board programs whereby passengers can participate in an activity and raise money for a cause. Holland America’s “On Deck for the Cure” program began in 2006 and has raised more than $1.8 million in support of breast cancer research.

While the ships are at sea, guests make donations for walking laps around the deck benefiting the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Each participant receives an On Deck for the Cure t-shirt and a “Sharing the Promise” pink wrist band. Aboard the entire 14-ship fleet HAL estimates more than 120,000 guests have participated in more than 1,500 walks since the program began with walks occurring on more than 500 cruises annually.

Carnival Cruise Lines has partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to launch a fundraising initiative with a goal of raising $3 million over the next three years. The program, called Care to Play: Carnival For St. Jude Kids, kicked off in March, 2010, aboard all 22 Carnival ships.

Care to Play activities include the “Groove for St. Jude,” held once each cruise that allows guests to make a $10 donation and “groove to the music” in one of the ship’s dance clubs. Guests receive a Care to Play t-shirt and wristband. There is also a Teddy Bear Workshop in which children in the Camp Carnival program can build their own cuddly St. Jude keepsake bear. Additionally, copies of the “The Dream Plucker of Perrysport,” a children’s book based on stories and illustrations submitted by Camp Carnival participants, are sold on the ships for $5.95. All profits go to St. Jude’s.

Crystal Cruises is a founding partner of the Five & Alive Fund, a global program with projects in more than 30 countries providing children with safe drinking water, malaria prevention and good nutrition. To raise money for Five & Alive, guests may make donations on board, may buy specific items in the retail shops or purchase unique and exclusive events at live auction.

Such events might be co-hosting the morning television show with the cruise director, a private dinner in the galley served by the executive chef, a cameo appearance in a production show, including a rehearsal and extensive backstage tour and a DVD of the performance or a private bridge tour with the captian including caviar service and the opportunity to blow the ship’s whistle as the ship arrives or depart.

Helping out in ports

Another way to be help others is to participate in a volunteer project on land in conjunction with your cruise. Gap Adventures/Planeterra offers several such opportunities. One example is “Project Galapagos” where you can add an eight-day volunteer land stay to a cruise through the islands. You would spend eight days working alongside locals and other volunteers to build an eco-playground in Santa Cruz. You can locate such trips by searching for “volunteer cruise vacations” on the internet.

Or you can help out independently when in port. Nancy Schretter, managing editor of the Family Travel Network founded Together for Good ( to inform travelers on how they can make a difference in the lives of those in the countries they visit.

“There are many schools, orphanages and other organizations that could use your help in popular cruise ports such as Costa Maya, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras and Ocho Rios, Jamaica,” she explains. In January she organized a NCL Tweet Up for Good Caribbean cruise aboard the Norwegian Spirit. Her group brought over 400 pounds of school supplies, children’s clothing, shoes, personal care items and medicines to schools, orphanages and disadvantaged communities in Mexico, Guatamala and Belize…and they tweeted about that (and the cruise, of course) to all of their friends. She has done about ten of these cruises on various ships over the last few years and noted that many passengers aboard the ships joined her visits when they learned of their purpose.

She stresses that families can do this independently and her website tells you how. Here are some of its tips:

Determine your cruise schedule and decide when and where you want to help. It is often quite easy to visit schools and orphanages in ports by planning your own independent shore excursions. Together for Good’s website lists such facilities by island. For example, the Roatan page lists 12 facilities and their needs and gives the name of companies to contact for reliable drivers.

Contact the organization in advance 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. Contact orphanages at least two to three weeks in advance to find out their visiting policies, current needs and mutually decide on the time it would be best for you to visit. Also, be sure to check your ship’s shore excursions as some tour operators are now offering the opportunity to visit a local school or orphanage as part of an organized day-trip.

Customs is an important consideration if you are planning to bring along donations such as school supplies, medicine or clothing. It is suggested to bring along large backpacks/duffle bags of items and carry them off the ship yourself. If you have a large quantity of donations, alert the purser’s office several months in advance and let them know you are donating items and then they can notify customs in the port of call if that is needed. Many let donations go through but you might be charged duty. Go to to check on customs regulations in various countries.

So the next time you go to sea you might want to think a bit on how you, too, could make a difference in the countries you visit.


Mercy Ships ( is a global charity that has operated hospital ships in developing nations since 1978. Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the forgotten poor by mobilizing people and resources worldwide.

Short-term crew can volunteer from two weeks to two years depending on the position and typically fill service roles or very specialized medical or technical positions. The ability to utilize professional volunteers as crew allows Mercy Ships to maximize its donor support and serve those who need help the most.

The 499-foot Africa Mercy is the world’s largest charity hospital ship. The purpose-built hospital includes six state of the art operating rooms, intensive care and ward bed space for up to 78 patients. Originally built in Denmark in 1980, the newest Mercy Ship has a berth capacity for 484. Volunteers from more than 30 nations serve on board. Those interested in volunteering may apply online at

– This article first appeared in the  July/August 2010 issue of Porthole magazine.

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