Participants visit a small school or orphanage where they get to interact with the children. They stop at a church and eat authentic local dishes at a small restaurant. In Cozumel, they also stroll through a market that's not frequented by tourists and see how schoolchildren buy ingredients to make their tortillas for lunch, while in Puerto Plata near Amber Cove they learn how a traditional dietary staple, cassava bread, is made.
'It's not a tour. It's an experience,' said Carnival's Erika Tache, director, product development - tour operations, who has been developing the program for more than a year.
'What's most important,' she added, 'is how the locals connect with the guests and how the guests learn and connect with the community.'
There's 'a lot of emotion,' she said. 'People really connect.'
The 'Give Back With Purpose Community Tour' started one month ago in Cozumel and in recent days at Amber Cove. It lasts about five hours and costs $69.99, with a portion of the money going to the schools. The groups are small—no more than eight people in Cozumel and 12 in Amber Cove.
During the school visit, the principal leads a tour and introduces the children. There's free time for participants to interact with them, the principal and guide serving as translators. On a monthly basis the principal and tour operator decide how the money from the tour is used—in Cozumel, where the school has just one aging laptop that's carried from class to class, it's going toward a multimedia project.
Tache said the communities welcome the visits, which are once or twice a week: 'Everyone gets involved and explains their local traditions. Even the chef comes out in the restaurant and explains how the food is prepared.'
The Cozumel lunch features chicken with molé, a complex sauce of cocoa, chile peppers and spices. In the Dominican Republic, the meal highlights sancocho, a traditional stew of meats, root vegetables and plantains.
The experiences have been 'very, very well-received,' Tache said. In Cozumel, where Carnival has many repeat cruisers, the participants love the destination, make friends there and want to give back. When the first community tour operated in Amber Cove, Tache followed it by phone and cried with the participants as she heard what a difference their visit made.
'Today people are searching for ways to empower themselves to change the world and this tour gives a way for them to make their actions count,' she said.
Carnival wants to offer a community tour in every port it visits. Tache is currently working with Jamaica and Belize to develop programs.
She credited tour operators Tripping Cool in Cozumel and Iberoservice in Amber Cove for their passion in shaping the experiences. They aren't making money from these tours, just covering expenses, but are driven by wanting to help the communities.