It's a new idea by Carnival Cruises. Fathom Cruise Lines asks the question, “Can cruiser types do good when visiting ports in the Caribbean?”
We've never been huge fans of regular cruises. Masses of people descend upon a port town, buy jewellery at the duty-free stores lining the terminal and take part in organized tours owned and operated by the corporate cruise line itself. Cruises are overcrowding prime destinations and taking away from authentic travel experiences.
We weren't sure if our opinion could ever be changed.
So when our friend Fathom Cruises designed a volunteer cruise to the Dominican Republic, we were intrigued? I think it is our duty to research companies that are trying to make the world a better place.
A Fathom Cruise preaches impactful travel. Passengers choose Fathom for a chance to make a difference during their vacation by volunteering at their ports of call.
The Fathom Cruise Experience
We boarded the Adonia from Miami and set sail for a two day trip at sea to our destination; Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Unlike other cruise lines, we stayed in one place for three nights and four days giving us a chance to explore the area. Puerto Plata has a brand new shiny port where Fathom and other Carnival Cruises set up anchor giving passengers a chance to delve deeper into travel around the island.
From what we saw of Puerto Plata, it is in desperate need of tourism dollars and if handled properly, this port may be just what the area needs to kick start the economy.
During our time in Puerto Plata, we had the chance to volunteer, choosing from many different impact activities. Passengers can volunteer to plant trees, help out at a water filtration centre, or work at a paper factory. We chose to teach English to primary school students and volunteer at a women's chocolate factory. Each opportunity gave us a chance to interact with locals, ask questions, and do a little good during our trip.
The Fathom Cruise Experience: Cacao Chocolate Factory
Our first excursion from the ship was volunteering at a chocolate factory. I didn't quite know what to expect and after a long introduction, we were finally put to work. We helped separate cocoa beans from the good and the unusable, we sifted through shells and kernels getting rid of the bad “stuff” that you wouldn't want in your chocolate, and we even put hot melted chocolate into moulds.
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I wasn't sure what impact we had on the community while working at the factory. It was a steady afternoon of working at different stations that I felt it was simply giving me a taste of what the work was like. It was soothing and almost meditative as we sat around tables focusing on our task.
It wasn't until we were driving in the bus back to the ship that I realized the impact we had. Our guide told us that we sorted 59 pounds of cocoa beans doing nearly a week's worth of work for the 20 women who work at the factory supporting 120 families in the community.
She said that if this continues, perhaps one day the factory will be able to expand their business and even export their chocolate.
Okay, now you have my attention!
During our week on the cruise, Dave and I discussed amongst ourselves and other journalists who filled the cruise, mainly put on for media, about what type of tourist this would attract. I often said, “won't people who truly want to volunteer simply go to the destination, live there and immerse in the culture?” I would think that people wanting to volunteer would want to do more than a half day excursion?”
But then a travel agent had a very good point. She stated that school groups, church groups and families wanting to teach their children values would flock to a cruise like Fathom.
A Fathom Cruise bridges the gap between the die hard volunteer and the avid package tour traveller. This is a chance for to people to dip their toes into the volunteer world while still having the comforts and luxuries of a cruise line.
Often people want to make a difference, but they have limited time and funds. Fathom Cruises is a way to have your cake and eat it too. You can have a vacation, but you can take a day or two to give back.
The cruise lets you participate as much or as little as you please. There are on board activities where you can learn about how to volunteer, how to tell stories, and there are sessions to learn about the Dominican Republic. If you are looking to work on making yourself a better human being, you may love a Fathom Cruise.
There is morning meditation, yoga classes, self empowerment sessions, and cultural immersion activities. Combine all that great self help with some good old fashioned volunteering and you've got yourself a ship filled with people feeling really good about life.
I was thinking a lot about my sister during my Fathom Cruise. She has done missionary work in Ecuador yet doesn't travel outside the country often. My brother-in-law died last year and I think a Fathom Cruise would be perfect for her. This is a way for her to travel solo while feeling safe and having the opportunity to take empowerment classes with like minded people.
While Dave and I remain skeptics of cruise lines, we do think Fathom may find a market of people who are casual vacationers that still care about the world.
The English Class
Our time at the primary school was just as cute as a button. The kids were eager and excited to see us. We were given our lesson books to continue where the last cruise passengers left off and we sat in groups talking to children in English.
I must admit, I wasn't sure how much we could possibly help them. We simply kept repeating numbers and the alphabet.
But then when I sat back to think about it, I realized that any exposure to English is good exposure. The program goes on regardless of if we are there or not. It's the Fathom Cruise passengers who pop in a couple of times a week and give children the chance to listen to English and learn from people who speak English as their first language.
It is these interactions that will give children the confidence in the future to pursue a better life.
The story of one of the impact guide was most touching when she told us the reason why she chose to lead these tours. As a native Dominican, she was pregnant at 16 and didn't have much of a future. But she learned English and found work. She wants to give these kids the opportunities that she didn't have.
Fathom Cruise round Up
In the end, I came out of my Fathom Cruise curious. I still couldn't see myself doing one of these cruises again, but I could see others taking one. There is a market out there. As far as other cruises we've taken, it was interesting. I enjoyed it more than a European River Cruise and definitely liked it more than a Carnival Party Cruise.
Being at port for three nights allowed Dave and I the chance to take a taxi into town to explore on our own.
We loved hanging out one day by the large pool on land taking an actual vacation day for the first time in years.
And we felt good about helping the community in our own small way.
Cruise lines are still not our first choice for travel. We would prefer to spend time in a destination and step away from organized tours, but if you are going to do a cruise, I think a Fathom Cruise is the best choice out there. Having three nights at port really lets you see and experience a lot and doing good wherever you go can never be a bad thing.
- Our Fathom cruise did not offer drink packages. There was no alcohol, coffee, or soda package. So drinks do add up quickly.
- Water, lemonade and iced tea are free and included. Cranberry juice was included at breakfast.
- Fathom impact tours are included in the price of the cruise.
- Adventure and scenic tours like snorkelling, sailing, ziplining etc. Are extra.
- The pool on land is free to use and chairs are included. If you want a beach house or umbrella, that is an extra cost.
- Waterslides are free
- Ziplining over the pool is $6 for one zip or $12 for unlimited runs.
- Yoga, gym and fathom team building and community building programs are included.
- Certain classes like wine tasting, pilates, painting and spin classes are an extra charge.