I didn’t go for the cruise.
I was on a cruise a decade ago with someone who I never should have traveled with. He was more interested in staying in the room and watching Transformers than in exploring the ports where we docked. The cruise itself wasn’t that great either, as it was the cheapest one we could find. It only docked in Key West and Cozumel, each for just a few hours.
I didn’t imagine myself cruising again. Part of the fun of a trip is planning and before I go anywhere I ask friends for recommendations and spend hours perusing guidebooks and blogs. But then I went on a pilot trip with Fathom Travel in March to the Dominican Republic and it quite frankly, changed my life. I’d wanted to volunteer abroad for a long time and the experience verified that I need to build as much of this into my travels as possible.
Fathom is a new cruiseline that connects travelers with impact activities on the ground once docked in port. The cruise had not yet started in March so my group flew from the States to the Dominican Republic for four days to test out some of the impact activities. We planted trees on a beach, worked with children on their English lessons, and worked at a women’s cooperative, recycling paper.
On our last dinner in the Dominican, I listened to my friend Ambra, who works for Fathom, talk about the additional impact activities that are offered. When I heard how passionately she spoke about the opportunities to build concrete floors for families who live with dirt floors and to make water filters for families so they can have clean water, I had the strongest urge to come back to the Dominican Republic as soon as I could. I loved the projects we worked on in March, but I also liked the idea of making a different type of impact, something that would affect peoples’ everyday lives a little more significantly and immediately.
So I returned. On a full cruise this time, bringing my sister, Katie, along with me. We flew into Miami separately from JFK (though she was supposed to fly out of Newark and got a last-minute bamboozle from American Airlines). She had a very stressful morning while I was living large having been upgraded to first by my friends at Delta. We met up at baggage claim and took a quick cab ride to the Miami Port.
On the Sunday of the cruise, the ship, the Adonia, opens for boarding around 1 PM. It’s close enough to the port that we had plenty of time landing in MIA around 11. Many on our trip had spent some time in Miami before and after the cruise and I’d do that if I were to repeat this visit. I haven’t been in Miami since I was in high school and a lot has changed since then. The ship docks in the port of Amber Cove in Puerto Plata on Tuesday morning, where it stays until Friday early afternoon and returns to Miami on Sunday morning, where you leave the ship around the 8 o’clock hour.
There were definitely some normal cruise activities onboard, including afternoons at the pool, live music, movie nights, dancing lessons, and a fun karaoke night. But there were also some very atypical cruise activities. We were separated into “cohorts” and encouraged to attend additional programming that would help enhance our experience once we were on the ground in the Dominican Republic. My sister and I attended a few of them – “Being a Fathom Traveler”, “Getting to Know the DR”, and “Empowering English Tutoring”, which would help while we were teaching our English lessons. We skipped the Spanish lessons since we are both pretty solid en Español, but I’d recommend if you have no background.
In addition to the courses to help us while on the ground, there were some unique wellness and life workshops, including “Discover your Super Power”, “Design your Life”, and “Tongue and Pulse Analysis”. We did wake up for a yoga class the first day, but Katie and I skipped the rest of these in order to worship the sun for as many hours as possible on the decks of the Adonia.
There are also excursions you can purchase from Fathom, including “Top 10 of Puerto Plata”, “Deep Sea Fishing Tour,” and “Museums, Arts, and Fort San Felipe.” While these make it easy to see a lot of Puerto Plata all at once, many of us forewent the organized excursions to do activities of our own. Katie and I joined Adventure Mom’s family on a trip to 27 Waterfalls (which I will write about in an upcoming post), while many of our friends went to the Cable Car (which I did in March and will also write about soon) and explored downtown Puerto Plata.
The onboard activities and the excursions are great, but what you come on Fathom for are the Impact Activities. Fathom partners with local organizations IDDI and Entrena to connect travelers with do-good, feel-good impact activities on the ground where you can work alongside members of the local community. Three impact activities are included in the cost of your Fathom journey, though two require an extra $20 to help pay for supplies. The linked activities below are activities I did in March. The asterisked activities are those I did on this last trip and will write about over the next couple months.
- Student English Conversation and Learning
- Community English Conversation and Learning *
- Creative Arts, Music, and Sports
- Water Filter Production (+ $20)
- Reforestation and Nursery
Economic Development Activities:
- Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative *
- Recycled Paper and Crafts Entrepreneurship
- Concrete Floors in Community Homes (+ $20) *
While the programming and activities fit into the theme of an impact cruise, some of the dining options were confusing, although delicious. While the coffee bar used local Dominican beans and the winebar, Glasshouse, offered organic wines exclusively, there was less local and sustainable influence elsewhere in the dining areas. I see some opportunity here.
For convenience and speed, we ate at the Conservatory buffet all mornings. Eating in the sunshine on the deck was a great way to start the day and the food was good – aside from the morning I grabbed regular Mini Wheats instead of Frosted Mini Wheats – blech.
For dinners, we mostly ate in the Pacific Grill with friends, though we didn’t discover it immediately. It was a sit-down, three-course, semi-fancy meal. The food was beautiful and rich and you could absolutely order more than one choice with a smile. The foccacia bread was straight-up bomb.
The fancy restaurant onboard, the Ocean Grill, was Dominican-inspired but also cost $25 a person extra. We ate there one night and were brought extra appetizers and desserts which we hadn’t ordered and couldn’t finish. The hospitality was nice, but I felt guilty wasting so much food, especially on an impact trip.
In my experience, the best thing to do after a hot morning of installing concrete floors in three families’ homes is to relax poolside at Amber Cove. There’s a salt water pool and two hot tubs on the Adonia, but the pool at Amber Cove is an estimated 50 times bigger with maybe 1,000 chairs. There are water slides, ziplines, hammocks, and cabanas in the ocean that you can rent for the day ($$$). In the port itself, there are stores you might find in any Caribbean port, but also an impact center to learn about the activities, a marketplace where you can buy local products, including the chocolate from the women’s cooperative, and a nursery for the seedlings collected during the reforestation project.
On the Thursday of our trip, a ginormous Carnival cruiseship rolled in for six hours and took over, but it was the day we’d planned to do the waterfalls, so we were not so bothered by it. Something to keep in mind if you find yourself booking – avoid the pool on Thursday afternoon!
I’m still not sure I’ll ever be a passenger on a ship like that Carnival one that invaded Amber Cove. I still don’t know if I’m a cruise person, but I *am* a Fathom person.
Muchas gracias to Fathom for hosting us on the cruise. Opinions are always my own. Stay tuned for more posts about each impact activity and excursion!