In April this year, Carnival Corporation launched Fathom, a one-ship line whose passengers travel to the Dominican Republic and Cuba to give practical, hands-on assistance to local projects. Many cruise lines support charitable causes but Fathom is the first one to offer cruises specifically dedicated to "making a difference". And Fathom cruisers have done just that – giving 17,500 hours of English lessons, planting 16,000 trees in a reforestation project, pouring 40 concrete floors in family homes and installing 730 water filters to help prevent waterborne disease.
If you'd like to get involved with a cause on your next cruise, several cruise lines operate volunteering shore excursions. Check out Crystal Cruises' You Care, We Care program, Holland America Line's Cruise With Purpose shore excursions in Alaska or Royal Caribbean's clean-up tours on the Caribbean island of St John that help maintain and preserve the Virgin Islands National Park.
River cruise company Uniworld recently announced that next year it is offering voluntourism pre-cruise trips on its Ganges River itineraries in India. Uniworld, and all its sister travel brands under the Travel Corporation umbrella, have partnered with ME to WE, a company that specialises in sustainable development projects all over the world.
You can book the four-day Me to We trip in conjunction with the 13-night Golden Triangle and the Sacred Ganges cruise, which runs from January to March and September to December. You spend four days in the beautiful mountains of Rajasthan, staying in luxury tents or private cottages in the Aravali resort – doing good works doesn't have to mean doing it tough – while taking part in community projects. These include helping women collect water for their families, learning to make chapatti bread or helping build a classroom for future generations. There's also the opportunity to learn traditional crafts, join morning yoga classes and visit the 15th-century Kumbhalgarth Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
"What makes ME to WE Trips unique is that travellers have the opportunity to contribute to sustainable development work, which has a 20-year history impact," said Craig Kielburger, co-founder of WE. "The work of the WE Villages development program has been able to build more than 1000 schools and school rooms in our partner communities, giving 200,000 children the opportunity to gain an education, has provided more than 1 million people with access to clean water, and our immersive volunteer trips have been a huge part of making that happen."
MEET THE CREW
NAME Adam Cropp, from Australia
POSITION Expedition leader and naturalist, Lindblad Expeditions National Geographic Orion
MY JOB … primarily consists of organising logistics but I also get to spend a lot of time photographing and telling our guests about the fascinating natural history of our destinations.
A TYPICAL DAY … in Antarctica might consist of a Zodiac cruise with icebergs and whales in the morning, followed by a hike up to a glacier in the afternoon. After dinner we might have a cocktail party on the sea ice with the penguins and the seals as additional guests!
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT Last year in Antarctica a chinstrap penguin leapt into my Zodiac while I was driving to shore. I spent the next 45 minutes chauffeuring this penguin to all the surrounding beaches until eventually we found its home and it jumped out of the Zodiac and rejoined its friends on the beach.
FAVOURITE CRUISE PORT If I had to pick one destination it would have to be South Georgia. Exploring a beach with more than half a million King Penguins inhabiting it is an awe-inspiring experience like no other.
INSIDER TIPS If you want to visit Antarctica and South Georgia make sure you travel on a small expedition ship. Antarctic regulations allow no more than 100 passengers ashore at any one time to minimise the impact on this pristine environment. Travelling on a small expedition ship ensures you will have ample time ashore and have the best experience possible.
Most ships now ban powerboards (because of fire risks), so check with the cruise line what their policy is before you go; some lines supply them onboard.
Cape York and beyond
Cruise Express has combined a nine-night APT four-wheel-drive wilderness tour from Cairns to the tip of Cape York with an ocean cruise to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in an exciting 22-night cruise-road trip package. Departing in September 2017, the Great Northern Adventure offers remote destinations in far north Queensland and the Coral Sea, including the most northerly point in Australia and idyllic coral atolls and villages in PNG where traditional, indigenous cultures remain intact. This part of the tour ends with ferry trips to nearby Thursday Island for an overnight stay and on to Horn Island, where guests will fly back to Cairns for the 10-night round-trip PNG and Solomon Islands cruise on Pacific Eden. See cruiseexpress.com.au.
There's still time to join P&O Cruises' Rock n Roll cruise, a three-day outing from Brisbane starring famed Aussie singer-songwriter Ross Wilson. The former front man for Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock will perform in two dedicated concerts, supported by Hullabaloo, while a Q&A session hosted by radio presenter Rosie Beaton will give guests a fascinating insight into the rock legend whose hits Eagle Rock and Come Said the Boy rocked the nation in the '70s and '80s. Also starring in the lineup are performances by rugby league's Eric Grothe and his band The Gurus and Danny Black. Guests can channel their inner rock star in songwriting workshops with musician Peter Grose as well as rock karaoke and music trivia sessions with Rosie Beaton. Pacific Jewel departs on November 26. See pocruises.com.au.
Nile River open for business
Sanctuary Retreats has been operating luxury river cruises on Egypt's Nile River for almost two decades, with a choice of four vessels offering a range of cruise itineraries and bespoke charters. Despite political upheavals over the past few years, the company remains passionate about – and confident in, the destination. Michael McCall, Sanctuary Retreats' director of sales Australia, NZ and Asia, says, "The Egyptian government has taken significant steps to up security around tourism hotspots in recent months. This means that there is a reassuring security presence at Luxor, Aswan and other areas of interest." McCall adds that as tourist numbers are low it's an ideal time to cruise the Nile and visitors are treated like "pop stars" by welcoming locals. See sanctuaryretreats.com.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Queensland's Cruise Traveller is now partnering with British company Riviera Travel River Cruises, and this new 18-night fly/cruise/stay deal is terrific value. It includes a 14-night cruise from Budapest to Cologne onboard the new 169-passenger MS Thomas Hardy, three nights' accommodation in Budapest, one night in Cologne and return airfares from Australia. Fares for the October 11, 2017 departure start from $8575 when booked by January 31. Phone 1800 507 777; see cruisetraveller.com.au.
PRINCESS CRUISES Enjoy up to $300 onboard credit per stateroom when you book an interior or oceanview stateroom, or make it a double with twice the onboard credit when you book a balcony stateroom, mini-suite or suite.There are also big savings across a range of cruises; for example, Australian itineraries starting at $749. Offers valid until December 15; phone 1300 550 748; see princess.com.
ACTIVE TRAVEL is offering 20 per cent off its 18-day In Shackleton's Footsteps Antarctica Expedition, saving up to $US6880 ($9000) per couple when booked by November 16. Departing March 8, 2017, the voyage will begin in Ushuaia, Argentina, where guests will board the Polar Pioneer and set sail along the Beagle Channel bound for Antarctica. The ship will then retrace Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1917 expedition. From $US13,760; phone 1300 783 188; see activetravel.com.au.