The Best Voluntourism Cruises

The Best Voluntourism Cruises

It was a simple but stark photograph that caught our eye this week. Just a cruise ship captain picking up trash on a beach in Indonesia.

The photo came courtesy of specialist small-ship operator Variety Cruises, and it highlighted a very real and growing area of interest for the cruising industry, namely helping to do their bit for the environment and the places they visit.

Captain Antoniou Leontios, master of Variety’s 49-passenger Panorama II ship, had steered his vessel to Flores Island when he noticed a nearby beach with more than its share of regular maritime flotsam, and he decided to do something about it.

Capt Leontios Beach Clean Variety Cruises

“It seemed the right thing to do,” Captain Leontios explained. “The sea and the natural beauty of beaches and islands are the livelihood for myself and my crew. We need to respect and protect them and, whilst our passengers were off sight-seeing, we thought we’d do our bit.”

Only it didn’t stop at just the crew. “When the passengers discovered what we were doing, they too wanted to get involved,” the captain added. “News soon got around and, next time we planned a stop, we were joined by eight guests. It’s now become a feature of our week, so much so we’re going to print beach clean-up T-shirts to give to anybody who joins us.”

From filling a few bin-bags with beach trash (which are disposed of properly at the next port of call), it has now become another signpost along the way to eco-awareness, something Variety Cruises are also keen to highlight

UK managing director Chris Lorenzo insisted: “We have already started eliminating single-use plastics from our fleet. As for the beach clean-up programme, our vessels are uniquely placed to do something practical. We only have small ships of 50-70 passengers, so we can get close up to beaches and moor anywhere. Our overall philosophy is ‘Small is beautiful’ and that’s not just about the size of our ships but about doing the small things that can add up to a big difference.”

Captain Leontios’ initiative certainly got us thinking about other opportunities and ideas for helping out in an eco-friendly way whenever we’re on our travels, and the whole genre of Voluntourism is gaining serious traction. It’s probably not for everyone, but we thought it was worth highlighting some of the best ideas to cruise and save (the planet):

Holland America

This long distinguished line has been an avid proponent of helping out along its many routes for almost a decade, with its Cruise With Purpose programme, or “Improving our planet one voyage at a time,” as they say. Options range from touring with marine scientists in Alaska to planting coffee seedlings in Dominica, as well as celebrating ecologically important moments, such as Earth Day each April.

Crystal Cruises

Equally well established for almost 10 years, Crystal introduced their “You Care, We Care” initiative as part of a carefully-planned series of Crystal Adventures shore excursions, introducing a wide variety of philanthropic activities that vary from year to year. In 2019, some of their excursions included assisting at a San Francisco food bank, helping to care for the animals at Samui Animal Shelter in Thailand, and tree-planting conservation efforts in New Zealand.

Princess Cruises

In conjunction with parent company Carnival’s Fathom programme of socially aware programmes in the Caribbean, Princess debuted a series of Travel Deep concepts in 2018 that have been extended this year, from beach clean-ups in St Maarten to repairing boys and girls club facilities on St Thomas. Carnival spokesperson Tara Russell said: “These Travel Deep group sailings allow us to offer Princess Cruises guests more opportunities to make an impact within communities in need while adding meaning and a deeper connection during their travels.”

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Not to be outdone by their bigger, ocean-going brethren, Uniworld has a unique programme in India called WE to ME that acts as an extension, pre or post-cruise, to some of their voyages, combining volunteering with sight-seeing. It works side by side with local communities on a variety of development projects and is, potentially, one of the most satisfying and rewarding options anywhere.

Royal Caribbean

Slightly more limited but equally valuable in fund-raising terms, Royal Caribbean International promotes partner organisation the World Wildlife Fund across its fleet. The onboard choices range from gift shop items, with all proceeds going to the WWF and its conservation efforts, to charity walks and swims, for a set donation per person.

HopeFloats

This isn’t a cruise line but it IS a Caribbean based non-profit organization that offers a series of opportunities for cruise ship passengers to help out local underprivileged communities in the region. Excursions are created with partner charities who have good long-term track records of safety and genuine impact in the areas they serve, such as The Salvation Army, Red Cross and Humane Society. The current islands where HopeFloats operate are Antigua, Barbados, Belize, Cozumel (Mexico), St Lucia, St Thomas and Tortola (British Virgin Islands). So, if you have a voyage that includes any of those destinations, you can look up in advance at www.hopefloats.org and book accordingly. They promise that all trips are family-friendly, with low physical involvement, safe environments, and affordable pricing (around $30/person for groups of six).

That’s the current list, but there may be more in due course. And, if your favourite cruise line doesn’t offer any voluntourism excursions or opportunities to help out, then why not have a word with the Cruise Director and ask if there’s any local organisation they can put you in touch with? Who knows, you might even be the start of something new yourself!

Would you be interested in a Volun-tourism cruise? Is it something you’ve already tried? Tell us your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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Simon Veness

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