Cruise Critic member harbormaster was on Crystal Serenity for the program's January 8 debut and posts, "Just wanted to add that we took the first ever Crystal 'Volunteer' excursion yesterday in Cartagena. This was one of the best excursions we have ever taken. It was with the Foundacion Granitos de Paz, which serves one of the barrios in the city…. There were 7 of us on this first time volunteer excursion. We had a great time interacting with the children, and the elderly, and visiting the homes and gardens. There also was the possibility of helping with the gardening, craft-making and painting. The children and residents were wonderful and it gave us a great chance to interact on a cultural basis with the people of the city."
Upcoming excursions include weeding and learning about geology at the Makapu'u Beach Native Coastal Plant Preserve in Honolulu; cookie-baking, painting or gardening at the SOS Children's Village in Santa Lucia, Uruguay; painting a school or community center in St. Martin; engaging orphans in games and play time in Rio de Janeiro; and assisting with restoration efforts at Fort Stevens State Park in Astoria, Oregon.
Space on these volunteer excursions is limited, with maximum group sizes averaging about 25 people.
Crystal isn't the only line appealing to travelers' social consciences. Other cruise lines do engage in voluntourism opportunities, but most seem to be on a smaller scale.
For instance, on select itineraries, Holland America offers "Cruise With Purpose" excursions that combine typical tour activities with chances to meet locals and learn about village life or regional conservation efforts; these tend to be less participatory, with proceeds from the tour sales benefiting the host organizations. Lindblad Expeditions, which supports a variety of conservation programs, partners with Oceanites (a research group studying penguins) in Antarctica and gives passengers the opportunity to help out with basic scientific research during their cruise.
Bottom line: If you've been meaning to become more socially responsible, a cruise with a volunteer component may be just the thing to let you achieve your 2011 goals.
--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
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