Fathom is a new company that is paving the way in impact travel. The cruise company is all about making positive social and environmental impacts in the countries they cruise to. Currently, their ship the Adonia sets sail from Miami to either Cuba or the Dominican Republic. Like-minded cruisers are brought into local communities to volunteer with regional organizations and cooperatives.
I recently had the pleasure of joining a Fathom cruise on its third sailing into the Dominican Republic. I boarded this cruise having not done a whole lot of research and with very few expectations. Now having experienced Fathom firsthand, here are 10 tips I learned to help you navigate your first cruise with them!
1. Call ahead to reserve impact activities and tours
Being a new company, Fathom is still working out a few kinks along the way. One of the biggest complications was with their online Journey Planner — where passengers input their information and reserve impact activities and tours. Many passengers booked these things online only to arrive and discover that their reservations hadn’t been saved by the program. Fathom is now working quickly to fix this issue. I’d recommend calling the company prior to your cruise to ensure you’ve booked the impact activities and tours of your choosing.
2. Break up your volunteering days with adventuring days
During the Dominican Republic cruise, the Adonia is docked in one port for four days, allowing plenty of time to both volunteer with impact activities and see the country you’ve sailed to. I highly suggest volunteering with at least two or three activities, and dedicating at least one day to adventuring. This will both give you experience in giving back (which is the reason you’re on a Fathom cruise) and an opportunity to explore (which will remind you that it is still a vacation). During the Cuba cruise the Adonia visits three ports, making it easier to break up your volunteer time with your adventuring time.
3. Most events onboard will happen more than once
If you miss out on an activity or event onboard, don’t stress. It’ll more than likely be offered again later in the week (and if you’re unsure, just ask Reception). There were two superhero parties, about four different scavenger hunts, and multiple time slots offered for workshops. At first I felt the repetitive events were unnecessary. That is, until I sadly realized we missed out on Wine & Paint Night only to discover it was being offered again a couple days later. Cue the happy dance — and don’t miss this fun activity! Space is limited and it fills up quickly!
4. Expect to sometimes be split up from your travel partner
During a lot of the workshops and onboard events, you’ll be asked to get into groups for different activities. This means temporarily breaking away from anyone you’re traveling with. Fathom is all about making connections, and a lot of this is started through socializing with the other passengers around you. But don’t worry — these strangers easily become fast friends. With a ship that only holds a maximum of 704 cruisers and with Fathom’s focus on bringing people together, you’ll soon forget all about the temporary time apart. I’m typically a quiet person who likes to sit back and observe rather than jump in and participate right away. But the way Fathom empowers everyone and gently encourages interaction, I was chatting up everyone in sight by the end of the cruise! Mostly because I had been meeting them, volunteering alongside them, and eating communal dinners with them all week. So even though you’re feeling awkward about being split up, both you and your travel partner wind up meeting a lot more people this way and gaining friends that feel like you’ve known each other forever!
5. Come with an open mind
The quote I heard the most while sailing with Fathom was “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” All of the impact guides (who lead the workshops and activities) quoted this phrase throughout the week. It was their way of encouraging everyone to be open to new experiences — while either onboard, volunteering, or exploring the country. And it really had me thinking. Loads of other cruise ships bring thousands of people into touristy cities where they’ve flooded the area with company owned & operated excursions and storefronts. Working seasonally on these large cruise ships myself, I always see passengers flocking to chain restaurants and warning each other against wandering too far outside of town. Fathom takes passengers directly into local communities and not only exposes them to poverty, but gives them hands on experience in serving the people that live there! You’re encouraged to interact with the locals and to engage in the culture. This is a very different kind of vacation and your typical cruiser will need to have an open mind.
6. Schedule down time
My first few days aboard the Adonia, I attempted to do and see everything possible. I was rushing back and forth between our cabin and a plethora of workshops, cohort group meetings, games, bands, and activities. This cruise was my very first cruise as a passenger instead of a cruise staff, so that may have been a contributing factor to my overzealousness. It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t actually relaxing on my own vacation. These events are fun and interesting, but a lot of them require you to really engage and socialize. Many of the workshops are almost like classes and involve a lot of thinking and absorbing. For example, one workshop called “Design Your Life” had you map out your interests and figure out a way to use them to help others. Another workshop I went to, called “Visual Storytelling”, was all about how you can use visually-based social media to tell your story or to better resonate an idea or a cause with others. You don’t have to attend everything. Only go to the events that sound beneficial to you and skip the rest to chill by the pool or watch the water. Your brain will thank you in the end!
Bring along a notebook and pen! You’ll be attending optional workshops onboard where it could come in handy (for example, the Spanish Phrases class) and you’ll also want it to write down the numbers of your impact while volunteering! These numbers are given to your group by your impact guide or facilitator at the end of the day once they’ve done the calculations behind your groups work (for example, how many water filters you all made that day versus how many are typically made, and how many people will now have access to clean drinking water based on your number of created filters). Trust me, you’ll want to keep track of all the numbers so you can physically see what a difference you’re making! A notebook and pen will also come in handy for writing down all your new friends’ contact info! Other good things to bring? Bug spray and clothes/shoes you don’t mind getting dirty.
8. Don’t bring…
Don’t bring formal wear! Again, Fathom is very different from your typical cruise. There is no formal night and the dress code ranges from borderline hobo (if you’ve just come back from dirty-work volunteering) to smart casual (dining room attire). Also, don’t bring your poker face. Or poker anything. There is no casino onboard. They make up for that by having a card room, a library with free games, and a handful of quirky activities scattered around the ship (such as hidden “curiosity boxes” and a video booth for storytelling)!
9. Practice the local language
Spanish is the spoken language in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Many locals can speak conversational English, however it’s less common in small towns and rural communities. If you don’t speak Spanish, consider taking the Spanish Phrases workshop onboard prior to arriving! This is an hour long class teaching you basic Spanish through various exercises and games. You practice speaking and pronunciation, and you come away with a packet of vocab words and phrases for reference (bring it with you ashore!). You might feel dumb or you might worry about messing up, but practice really does make perfect. Plus, the locals will love and appreciate the fact that you’re trying!
10. Try the local food
I mean, how could you not?! Sweet fried plantains, savory seafood, rich coffee. Rice and beans are also a major staple in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic — only they aren’t bland like they are in the US. Whatever sauce, spice, or cooking method they use with their rice and beans is just pure magic. Some of the volunteer activities provide lunch, and it’s a great introduction to the delicious food. You can also try the local food while on the ship! The Lido Grill offers Cuban sandwiches, Dominican-inspired burgers, and Caribbean jerk chicken. For a more “upscale” eating experience, the Ocean Grill (cover charge) offers plates such as ceviche, lobster tail, Dominican stew, Cuban bistec, and a Caribbean-inspired dessert menu! Insert drool here.
If you’re considering a Fathom cruise, I hope you take these tips to heart and have the greatest experience ever! This alternative cruise is best for anyone with limited vacation time who is looking to volunteer or give back. Families or groups looking to teach their children or students the value of serving will also enjoy this trip. Single travelers would especially benefit from a Fathom cruise with all the opportunity to mingle and socialize with others.
Do you think a Fathom cruise is for you? Tell me why or why not in the comments!
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