It's rare to hear "cruise" and "voluntourism" -- a contemporary buzzword for trips in which tourists travel to work for a cause -- in the same sentence, especially compared to other types of vacations. But Cruise Critic contributor Georgina Cruz tells us that Cruise West, one of the few family-owned and -operated cruise lines based in the United States, actually has a history of incorporating voluntourism into its voyages.

The latest chance to cruise and volunteer is an end-of-voyage option available to passengers who sail on the line's January 12 "Whales & Wildlife" sailing in Mexico's Sea of Cortez. While the Cabo San Lucas-based cruise actually ends on January 20, folks who opt for this special post-cruise experience will disembark in La Paz -- the last port stop -- for a "La Paz Paint Party" experience.

There, passengers will head to the Ciudad de los Ninos y las Ninas de La Paz (a home for orphaned children) and spend a day painting dormitories and classrooms -- and enjoying a barbecue lunch with the kids.

The La Paz volunteering experience is part of Cruise West's Our Bear Cares program. Through the program, for example, Cruise West passengers, crew and staffers painted the village school and presented teachers with donated supplies (ranging from desks and chairs to pens and rulers) on two different Panama and Costa Rica voyages in 2006.

These efforts, says Cruise West President Jeff Krida, are "an absolutely natural progression for us as our guests are very well educated, very well traveled and keen on being participants not just observers. Our passengers want to really learn about a place -- not from a lecture or a video but with hands-on activities."

Cruise West is the only line to offer this type of program. Cruise Critic asked all major U.S.-based cruise lines if they provided passengers with similar opportunities and absolutely none of them did.

That isn't to say that cruise travelers themselves aren't philanthropically minded. After Hurricane Wilma flattened much of Grand Cayman in 2005, many cruisers visiting there after ships resumed calls donated items -- particularly for kids and for schools. And while a few cruise lines have participated in such coordinated efforts, Cruise West has established a tradition in line with this kind of contribution. Dick West, the company's chairman, and his family brought a suitcase full of toys to the children at La Paz's Ciudad de los Ninos y las Ninas de La Paz in 1999, during the line's first series of Sea of Cortez cruises.

Other efforts in La Paz include donations of toothbrushes, individual toothpastes and silverware for all children. Proceeds from the sale of photo CD's onboard were given to build a small chapel at the orphanage. And each time a Cruise West ship calls at La Paz, its crew gives all surplus food onboard to the orphanage.