The world is full of people who want to help others. Many travelers can be especially wired that way. Carnival Corp.'s new cruise line Fathom Travel is hoping to connect these world explorers who strive to make an impact with the destinations and people around the globe who could use a helping hand.
Fathom's method of delivering these kind souls who seek to travel with a purpose is a cruise. If this sounds a little different, that's because it is. Cruising has not been the usual means of getting from place to place for the "voluntourist." But Carnival and Fathom are looking to change the perception of what a cruise experience can be, giving you a new sense of how you might want to spend your vacation.
I went with Fathom Travel on its very first voyage, to the Dominican Republic, to see how it all works. We departed from Miami on April 17 for the weeklong itinerary on the cruise ship Adonia.
Adonia has lived a long life as a traditional cruise ship among several lines before it became Fathom's vessel. The 704-passenger ship came straight to Miami from Europe and is distinctly British in its decor, with Fathom accents and features now retrofitted into the spaces. If you're a regular cruiser and are especially familiar with the 3,000- to 4,000-passenger mega-ships on the seas these days, Fathom Adonia is not likely to impress you with its size or other typical wow factors, but all the basics are there that you need. Plus, I find the size nice for the purpose, and makes it easy to navigate all 11 decks.
If you've never been on a cruise before, you'll be fully impressed by almost everything, I suppose. That's just how it goes for first-time cruisers. This ship will seem large and impressive. There is one pool and two hot tubs. We had about 400-plus people onboard and there was always plenty of space to grab a poolside lounger and take a dip whenever you wanted during the week.
The fitness center is adequate, with treadmills, dumbbells, bikes, ellipticals and resistance-training stations and classes like yoga and spinning. Next to the gym is the spa, where you can get a massage to work out the kinks in your back after days spent pouring concrete floors or planting trees in the forest. A small running track is on Deck 10 overlooking the pool below (14.5 laps/mile).
I found the food to be mostly adequate and sometimes fantastic. The buffet on Deck 9 didn't have enough variety for my tastes. I tended to grab an omelet there and a few strips of bacon each morning for breakfast. I packed my Nutribullet blender and protein powder so that I could supplement my meals. I grabbed a couple bananas, pumpkin seeds, skim milk, oats, honey and ice from the buffet, and I had a tasty and satisfying shake each day.
The Lido Grill out by the pool on Deck 9 offers juicy burgers, Cuban sandwiches, hot dogs, french fries, small salads and a delicious spicy red bean burger. We ate lunch outside there when we were on the ship in the afternoon.
The first two days of your Fathom cruise are spent sailing south toward Puerto Plata, where Carnival's brand-new Amber Cove private resort sits on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. During these days, you are assigned a cohort group and attend orientation sessions led by impact guides to discuss what you will be seeing and doing once you arrive. When you book your Fathom cruise, you are asked to pick your "impact activities" online ahead of time. You might be able to change around some of the activities once onboard, but some of these excursions have limited space.
Entertainment onboard consists of live music in the lounges or dance parties and games on the pool deck in the evenings after dinner. You also can attend sessions that focus on storytelling, personal enrichment through philanthropy or building a new business. Other activities include trivia games and scavenger hunts.
The main theme for many of the activities around the ship are meant to prod you into thinking about what you want to get out of your travel experience and how you will grow. Yes, it can seem like very touchy-feely stuff, but it aims to get you out of your comfort zone. You are free to participate in as much or as little of these types of things as you like.
Amber Cove is a spectacular private port area and will be used by all of the Carnival brand ships, so it's typical of a luxury resort that you might see on a typical vacation getaway in the Caribbean. The sprawling area features over-water bungalows for rent in the lagoon, a swimup bar area in a winding lazy-river-style pool, ziplines, waterslides and shops and restaurants. Even if you don't hang out on a lounger and racing on the ziplines ($12 all-day use) and waterslides (free) all day, make sure to walk up to the Sky Bar rising above the resort for a cocktail and stunning views of your ship at sunset. Also, drop by the "Mercado" shopping facility to make a deal with the vendors selling hand-made jewelry, organic chocolate and other goodies.
You pass through Amber Cove each day on the way out into the villages and towns for your impact activities. This is where the Fathom Travel program shines. On the ground, helping people. You can choose projects that work with youth sports or teaching English at a children's school or to community members in general. How about helping to put in concrete floors so a family doesn't have to live on dirt and mud in their home? Or you can plant mangrove trees in the reforestation program or construct clay water filters to provide clean drinking water. Other fun impact activities include making paper from recycled materials alongside 16 women who run the co-op or whipping up batches of organic chocolate bars with a different women's co-op.
All of this work "alongside" the residents can have a significant impact in their lives, Fathom believes. Here are the numbers we were given from our journey.
Fathom's inaugural voyage was a major success as hundreds of guests joined Fathom for a unique weeklong journey that left a lasting impact on each of them, as well as an immediate impact on people in need in the Dominican Republic. Fathom and its guests in less than one week's time, made an immediate impact including:
Student English Conversation and Learning / Community English Conversation and Learning
Impact: Nearly 650 students and community members benefited from effective foreign language interaction with native English speakers.
Why It Matters: English proficiency is the largest driver of employment success in the Dominican Republic economy.
Reforestation and Nursery
Impact: Planted more than 2,400 trees.
Why It Matters: With time, this will lead to more nutrient-rich soil, reduction in soil loss, improved localized air and water quality, an increase in localized biodiversity, and higher agricultural yields.
Water Filter Production
Impact: Produced 50 water filters.
Why It Matters: In the Dominican Republic, more than 3 million residents do not have access to piped water. This access provides a significant reduction in waterborne illness instances, and indirect benefits include better work and school attendance.
Cacao and Womenâs Chocolate Cooperative
Impact: Cleaned more than 200 pounds of cacao nibs and wrapped more than 6,000 chocolate bars.
Why It Matters: By helping improve production and increase sales, it allows the organization to hire more local women, and provide critical income in a region with limited employment opportunities.
Recycled Paper and Crafts Entrepreneurship
Impact: Nearly 600 sheets of paper produced.
Why It Matters: Support helps provide critical income to the women and ultimately allows them to expand their business. It also helps overall employee morale.
Concrete Floors in Community Homes
Impact: Poured concrete floors for two homes directly positively affecting 20 people.
Why It Matters: In the homes of poorer communities, the common basic dirt floors are a genuine health risk. The new floors provided a healthier and safer living environment for families."
The Bottom Line
A Fathom Travel cruise is a true hybrid experience, and the company says it is still getting feedback from passengers and media to discover what works and what doesn't and what improvements can be made. The voyage is not the typical cruise (of course) and not a your standard vacation. You will feel like you have made a difference for the Dominicans you meet and work alongside, but you won't really be sure how much.
You feel like you are having a vacation but not as carefree as most of your previous getaways. The impact activities are important â this is why you picked this type of vacation, right? -- but you'll find plenty of other excursions available to try, too. You can go on tours of the city, snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, beach days, horseback riding, deep-sea fishing, catamaran rides and more.
I think the best part of the whole adventure was how much you will continue to think about the people you meet and the activities you have done. You will wonder how the life will turn out for that smiling teenager you met who greeted you with songs and smiles and even a hug.
You will gain perspective on how fortunate you might be compared with some others around the world. And you might even learn a thing or two about what is truly important, like friends and family and health and happiness and having experiences instead of things. Well, those are just some of the things Colleen and I have been thinking about, and I think it makes this type of travel a winner just for that. Fathom wants to get travelers to think more deeply about the destinations they visit and about how the interactions can positively affect both us and the residents we aim to help. Now, that's impact.
INTERESTED?: Use this discount code from Fathom that gives you savings of up to $150 off of cruises to the Dominican Republic with Fathom. Click here to book the discounts, which can be combined with other offers and discounts on these cruises. If you are interested in this type of "impact cruising," this is a good way to save a few bucks and help me out a little too. As an affiliate, I get a commission for any bookings you make at this page. Thanks and always travel happy!