FIRST PORT OF CALL: PUERTO PLATA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC ON FATHOM’S FIRST SOCIAL IMPACT CRUISE, APRIL 2016

I was lucky enough to be invited on Fathom’s one-week inaugural cruise to the Dominican Republic in late April. Fathom is one of the dozen or so cruise lines owned by Carnival, which as you probably know is the biggest cruise line in the world. What sets Fathom apart is that it is the brainchild of its president Tara Russell, a new breed of executive that not only has great new ideas for making cruises fun but thinks that it is important to give back no matter who you are.

The one-week Fathom cruise to the DR starts at a super-reasonable $750 per person double occupancy in a standard size inside cabin and there was a two-for-one special running in March that was probably the most outstanding value in the cruise business. All meals are provided (mainly in three restos with one upscale added fee restaurant called The Ocean Grill that costs only $15 extra for dinner and $20 extra for lunch with a menu designed a top chef from Santo Domingo named Emil Vega). There is no liquor or soda package offered so it is a “pay as you go” deal for any beverage that is not ice tea, lemonade or water. (Coffee and tea are complimentary with every sit-down meals.)

​The ship used for Fathom Voyages is the Adonia which was purchased from the famous UK line Renaissance Cruises so thet ship is distinctly Euro-flavored with a lot of dark wood and overall, not overwhelmingly as big as what you would expect from a line like Carnival. There are no casinos or flashy shows and the cabins seem a little more spacious that the standard 325 square feet most lines provide. I was lucky enough to get an outside cabin with a cute balcony. Wifi is available for $62.50 for 250 minutes and does not have to be used in one block. Your normal service resumes when you are at the starting point (the Port Of Miami) and then again when  you reach Amber Cove.

The “stars of the show” on Fathom’s voyage to the DR is truly two things: Amber Cove, a 90 million dollar ship dock, shopping center, dining and pool area that cost over $90 million to build and the social impact activities themselves. Social impact activities are part of the cruise and not required–and of course, they are not charged for as say snorkeling or waterskiing.

You can do anything from teach English to northern DR residents who desperately need it to help them score jobs (it is a big plus in a country with such a high unemployment rate) to laying concrete. I chose to teach English in a cute town called San Antonio inside a Pentocostal church community center as well as private homes and it really seemed that each and every member of the community appreciated having Americans coming to their town to help out. Each activity is about five hours with travel time included and all activities are within an hour of where the Adonia is docked at Amber Cove. If you think about the fact that there are about 30 guests giving in at least three man hours apiece during each activity, you know that it’s a tremendous help to the business and organizations in the social impact program!

I totally loved hanging with the locals in their adorable primarily single story colorful stucco homes and roaming the streets nearby to check out the local stores. It was fun to teach both kids and adults basic English and get to learn some Spanish for myself in the process, but it is hard for me to pick the favorite out of my three social impact activities chosen. I totally adored getting to “work the line” at the local ladies cocoa commune in Puerto Plata. About 13 local ladies decided to make artisanal chocolate with the brand name Chocol sold in the larger supermarket chains of the DR. It’s basically made in two houses right next door to each other and a few extra bucks are made by selling some of the local beans to a Canadian chocolate company. They are not ready to branch out into international business in a major way yet and still sell their goods in a storefront to the locals who drop in. Guests from Fathom get to do it all except roasting the beans; I had a blast throwing out the bad beans out of large batches, putting melted chocolate in molds and even putting wrappers on the final product with a hot glue gun!

I loved visiting a local recycled paper craft community where I spent a three hours ripping up paper that went into a washing machine, then a blender, and then into screens to make the final product. On the way in, the Fathom guests were given a round of applause and a standing ovation as we walked into the cute rural community near Puerto Plata. All 30 or 40 of us loved the fact that we not only got to work on paper recycling which was turned into greeting cards and tags, but on candle making (I got to pour the hot wax into molds), making seashell and jute rope napkin holders, coffee bean jewelry and coasters with photos of local scenery and the Fathom logo.

Would I recommend this cruise as a family vacation? Positively! I would recommend Fathom’s impact cruise to the DR to anyone who wants to really get to know the locals and help them out. it definitely beats the usual type of cruise that focuses on hanging by the pool and ship activities like movie night and karaoke (although you can definitely do those things if you like). The bottom line is that Fathom puts a new fourth dimension on cruises. Their cruises are promoted as life-changing and that is true. You get to see unbelievable natural beauty as you travel to and from your social impact activity destinations and the guides and drivers thoroughly explain about locations and activity demands as you travel. A lot of new friendships are struck up during the activities–probably some that will last lifetimes.

For more info on Fathom’s trips to both the Dominican Republic and Cuba, go tohttp://www.fathomtravel.com. I promise you that there will be plenty of surprises both on and off the ship, some that I do not want to give away here! But I will tell you that there are classes on board that have a slant on wellness which I enjoyed. Class themes included everything from how to alleviate foot and knee pain to yoga. And the food–which I only touched on briefly, brings together Dominican, American, Indian and UK classics due to the great diversity of the cooking staff! I loved that I could get ginger beer with every meal (something in every British pub but nowhere to be found in the US) and the fact that I got to know all about the wait staff as I saw them each night. It was great to go to sleep with the sliding glass door open outside to the balcony, and awake to the gorgeous sunset over Amber Cover for a few days

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