One of the first steps in giving back to others on a cruise vacation is to determine what kind of activities youre interested in doing and why. Then, take a look at your schedule and decide when and where you want to help. Its quite easy to give back to schools and orphanages in ports as part of your own independent shore excursions, either by getting your own driver or by working it into other plans. If you are participating in a large group tour or ship shore excursion in a particular port, doing a community service visit there might be more difficult. I expect volunteer-oriented shore excursions to be offered by more cruise lines in the near future.
If you want to including giving back on your next cruise, choose your ports and organizations before your visit, contact the organization well in advance to determine what is needed and the best times to come by on the day you are in port, and make arrangements for transportation ahead of time if possible. Do not just show up at their door. For cruise ship passengers, contacting organizations in advance is critical because of the limited time available on shore. Its highly likely that with a little research, you will be able to find a school, orphanage or other community organization that would appreciate your help. The Together for Good website provides information on over 90 humanitarian opportunities in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
In some locations, such as Jamaica and Guatemala, local tour operators catering to cruise passengers include visits a local school or community organization as part of their shore excursions. These tour operators have spent time with these individual organizations and understand their needs. Typically, passengers bring along school supplies and other in-kind donations with them on their trips. Contact the tour operator in advance to find out what types of school supplies, OTC medicines or other items are most needed.
Working with Together for Good, I have been in touch with many of the cruise lines about how cruise passengers can help others while on vacation. Cruise line staff members continually point out that customs is an important consideration when bringing along donations on your trip. Here are a few recommendations based on personal experience and cruise line input:
- Make sure each person can carry the items off the ship by themselves. A backpack or duffle bag generally works well.
- If you are planning to donate a large amount of items, contact the ship at least two months in advance to let them know. The ships staff can then notify Customs in the port of call if needed. Ask them to advise you on what documents you will need and what issues you might face in bringing your items ashore. It is helpful to have an acceptance letter from the organization(s) that will be receiving your donations.
- Customs in each port may be different. Some ports will just let donations go, others may charge duty. Customs approaches may change from week to week, so keep a flexible attitude.
The Tips for Traveling Abroad section of the U.S. State Department website is a good source of information on Customs laws and rules. Customs laws are different for each country and knowing some of the nuances might be helpful. It is important to be aware of these when planning your cruise. Some ports, such as Costa Maya, Mexico, do not have customs available and therefore the countrys laws and rules do not apply.
By special arrangement, cruise lines have taken larger donations into ports, such as computers, large quantities of books, and other items. Notify the cruise line at least 2 months in advance if you are planning to bring along along large quantities or bulky items. In addition, many airlines provide extra baggage weight allowances for charitable donations. If you are interested, check with your airline to see if they need a letter from the organization to which you are donating in order to give you a luggage waiver. Most organizations will be happy to give you a letter if you let them know in advance.
If you’re looking for specific ideas about places to give back on land or at sea, take a look at the Together for Good website. It covers humanitarian opportunities in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, but we are now expanding to the United States and Latin America as well.
Don`t forget to read the other article on this topic Cruising with a purpose by the same Guest Blogger: Nancy Schretter.