ShoreTrips, which offers 5,500 tours in 435 ports around the world, has introduced ShoreTrips Give, a selection of volunteer activities that cruisers can book as shore excursions.
The volunteering opportunities, which can be booked by groups or individuals, are usually three or four hours long. They are currently available on six islands, and ShoreTrips is adding programs in three more Caribbean destinations. Options range from community projects to working with children or the elderly.
ShoreTrips has booked volunteer activities for groups in the past but not as an FIT product.
Offering volunteer work as an FIT had long been a dream of Julie Karp, co-owner of ShoreTrips, but volunteer projects, their scheduling and needs vary greatly. Karp could not guarantee that there would be a volunteer opportunity for a person making a booking in July for a trip that would take place in January.
ShoreTrips is now working with Hope Floats, the brainchild of Bill and Cathleen Huckaby. Five years ago, the cruise enthusiasts started Hope Floats, which connects cruise passengers to island-based organizations that need volunteers; participating cruisers can choose the charity or organization that works best for them.
Hope Floats has relationships with 13 varied island organizations.
"Together, we've come up with a formula, and now we are using that formula to expand," Karp said.
Cathleen Huckaby, a registered nurse by profession, said, "We will build together for the future."
She and her husband, a health care professional, have worked with every volunteer group they use, just as the Karps have gone on the shore excursions of all the providers with whom they work.
Huckaby reached out to Karp because she had taken one of Karp's ShoreTrips excursions.
"We had done ShoreTrips on a girlfriends' getaway, and, gosh, we had such a good time," Huckaby said. "I liked the way they treated us, and I liked their niche of being something different."
ShoreTrips will continue to book volunteer projects for large groups. Earlier this year, it created its largest volunteer event, on Aruba, for an incentive group of 350 people.
It chose Aruba because that was the port of call at which the group would be spending the most time, about 12 hours.
Since there was no one volunteer project that could use 350 people, ShoreTrips broke the group down into several smaller groups.
The group decided it wanted to work on a project that would benefit young people.
"We did a lot of research, said Kelli Heritsch, an excursion coordinator with ShoreTrips. Heritsch found five locations for volunteer activities.
"We broke people out depending on their skill level and what they wanted to do," Heritsch said.
Some worked on landscaping around schools. Others helped paint schools, and a few helped entertain children. The incentive group purchased many of the materials needed for the projects it worked on and since returning home has maintained contact with the groups with which they worked.
Among the types of volunteer work ShoreTrips Give offers are recycling projects, day care for seniors, meal service, community cleanup, child care and animal care.
ShoreTrips currently offers volunteer projects on Antigua, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Thomas, Tortola and Aruba. It is developing programs in Belize, Roatan and Jamaica. The volunteer shore excursions are available year-round and can be included in ShoreTrips' three-port discount package.
ShoreTrips will give 2% of the gross amount back to the Caribbean Tourism Organization annually.
Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.