Fathom Travel – Making an Impact

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Fathom Travel – Making an Impact

By Cruises-N-More Guest Cruise Travel Blogger Kay Showker

Although Fathom’s historic cruise to Cuba has dominated the headlines, the new company’s alternate cruises to the Dominican Republic, launched two weeks earlier, more closely reflect the Fathom experience.

CNM Fathom

Fathom Impact Travel or travel-with-a-purpose, as it defines itself, is a new kind of travel, offered as a cruise for the first time ever. If, as many surveys indicate, travelers are looking for an “experience,” for authenticity in their travels, than Fathom certainly fits the bill. Creating significant “impact” on both the country visited and the traveler participating is its goal with the potential to transform lives.

The newest and tenth brand of Carnival Corporation, Fathom is well described by its name and logo, now emblazoned on its ship, the Adonia.  Among its several meanings – “seeking depth” and “outstretched arms” – Fathom offers depth in travel by enabling passengers to work alongside local people, becoming immersed in their culture, making personal connections, building community with like-minded travelers, thus making a lasting impact.

There are, of course, many volunteer-travel opportunities but most are usually for only one or two weeks’ duration, once a year. What sets Fathom apart from these is its long-term, sustained commitment, working in cooperation with local partners already deeply involved in the Impact activities which the cruise offers.

The Ship

The seven-day cruises on the 704-passenger Adonia, formerly with P&O, another Carnival cruise line, depart on alternate Sundays from Miami to Amber Cove, a new $85 million port with shops, pools and other recreational facilities, developed by Carnival Cruise Line, six miles from Puerto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic.

At the Port of Miami, Adonia’s docking area, “J” which is designated for small ship, seems quite a distance from the terminals of Carnival and other cruise lines with large ships. Boarding was very smooth and we sailed at 4:00 pm as scheduled. The ship offered a Fathom Launch/sail-away party on the top decks and some music and dancing events in the evening. Since there weren’t specific activities to attend, it was a good time for me to get familiar with the ten-deck ship.

Originally built in 2001, as the last of eight ‘R’ class ships for Renaissance Cruises, Adonis will feel like home to those who have sailed on the former “R” ships of Oceania or Azamara Cruises or Minerva II of Swan Hellenic. Before she entered service for Fathom, the 30,277-ton Adonis was completely refurbished with more contemporary décor while retaining her classic ambience and features like its wood paneling and grand staircase. It also has the amenities, services, spa and fitness center, and onboard activities of modern cruise ships but with the coziness and friendly charm of a small vessel.

After a leisurely Sunday departure from Miami, Monday is spent at sea with an onboard schedule filled with workshops by Fathom’s Impact staff (called cohorts) to introduce passengers to the programs available during the three days the ship is docked at Amber Cove. There are also introductory Spanish lessons and a host of games and enrichment activities to break the ice among the Impact passengers. The Fathom cohorts are enthusiastic, bilingual young men and women, who come from all over the U.S. and have been in the Peace Corp or had similar experiences.

Two Years in the Making

Fathom initially identified as Impact partners two organizations with long-established programs and strong social connections in the northern region of the Dominican Republic: Entrena and Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral (IDDI). Fathom consulted with them and with local teachers, businesses and others to learn the needs of local communities. Their trained, bilingual staffs worked alongside Fathom’s Impact staff,  who serve as instructors on board; jointly, they accompany participants during impact activities. The two years of detail planning and cooperation account to a great extent for Fathom’s success coming out of the gate.

Fathom Impact programs fall in three groups: educational, environmental, and economic; all are designed to have either an immediate or a long term impact or both. Suitable for a wide range of ages, skill levels and physical exertion, participants can choose from the following projects.

EDUCATIONAL IMPACT: Student English Conversation (Entrena) One skill most in demand by local employers is basic English. During school months, Impact participants work with young students in small-groups teaching English (See description below) Community English Conversation (Entrena) addresses the need of the growing Dominican tourism industry for bilingual speakers by teaching English to lower income adults to help bolster their employment opportunities. Small group sessions are held in community centers and homes; in addition to English instruction and one-on-one conversation, participants enjoy preparing food and sharing a meal. Another option, offered in summer only, is Creative Arts, Music, and Sports (Entrena), an innovative three-day camp designed to develop children’s creativity, athletic ability, and life skills. Located in a mountain community above Puerto Plata, Impact participants help to create videos, drama presentations, hands-on arts and crafts, and sports.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT: Water Filter Production (Entrena) recognizes that three million Dominicans have no access to piped water. Working alongside local artisans, participants assist in the filter-making process from mixing the raw materials, working and shaping the clay to firing the filters, testing the product, and distributing the clay filters to needy families. Reforestation and Nursery (IDDI)  Reforestation near mountain villages is designed to restore degraded land, frequently washed away by heavy rains and landslides, and improve the livelihoods of Dominican families, as well as contribute to forest and wildlife conservation in the region. Working with small local groups, participants learn firsthand to pot tree seedlings, assist in establishing and managing tree nurseries, transporting plants, and hiking to mountain sites to plant the tiny trees.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IMPACT: Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative (IDDI)   A local women’s cooperative cultivates organic cacao (chocolate) plants, an important source of income for the Puerto Plata region. Impact participants assist in the complete production cycle — from planting and cultivating cacao trees, to preparing the raw materials and producing and packaging the final product of organic artisan chocolates for sale. Helping to increase production leads to greater sales, thus enabling the cooperative to hire more women, who can gain income in a region with limited employment opportunities. Recycled Paper and Crafts Entrepreneurship  (IDDI) Another group of Dominican women with IDDI support formed an association, RePapel, to recycle paper and create products to sell. Impact participants assist in the six-step process of paper recycling, as well as make eco-friendly products for sale from the paper and local natural fibers, seeds and shells, such as jewelry, candles and coasters.

UNUSUAL IMPACT OPPORTUNITIES: Concrete Floors in Community Homes (IDDI)  In a country where forty percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and the average household annual income is less than US$6,000, it is not uncommon for homes in impoverished communities to have dirt floors — a genuine health risk. The Impact goal is to help improve the health of Dominicans living in these homes as these floors can be dusty during the dry season and damp and wet in the rainy season — and, impossible to clean. Homes in a different small area are chosen to be upgraded with concrete floors. Since not all participants are able to pour concrete, other tasks are done, such as painting, fixing broken furniture, improving the home’s surroundings, and planting fruit trees for their beauty and long-term nutritional benefits, working alongside homeowners and community members, including children.

Fathom cruises are not meant to be all work and no play. On board, passengers can choose from a variety of diversions from yoga and meditation to dominos. On shore, there are city tours, deep sea fishing, sailing and snorkeling, zipling and beach excursions or they might enjoy the sports facilities at Amber Cove.

Fathom is banking on the accumulative effect of its efforts, anticipating that by bringing up to 700 passengers  every other week to work on Fathom projects — with each new group picking up where the last group left off — after six month or a year, the impact can be measured, adjustments made as needed, and new projects added.

Regarding the Cuba cruises, unlike in the Dominican Republic ones, where travelers work side by side with local people on existing programs aimed at improving the lives of families and communities, in Cuba, passengers participate in cultural exchange programs approved by the Cuban government. Although Fathom would like to offer programs in Cuba similar to those in the DR, it may be a long time before the Cuba government would sanction such activity.

Prices for seven-day Dominican Republic cruises start at $974 per person, plus taxes and port fees; prices vary by season. Included are the usual cruise features such as all meals aboard ship, Impact workshop and activities, and three onshore Impact activities. Cuba itineraries start at $1,800 per person.

A Fathom Sample Program in Action

One of the workshops I attended on the full day at sea en route to the Dominican Republic, was for those enrolled in teaching English to Dominican students. We were shown a richly illustrated teaching manual prepared by Fathom. The excellent guide was too extensive for participants to absorb in one day, however, Fathom plans to send in advance material to passengers who sign up for the program to give them a head start.

The next day, we took a short bus ride from Amber Cove to the school we would be visiting in the Puerto Plata suburb of San Marcos. The building housing the school was previously a sugar mill and donated by Brugal, one of the DR’s leading rum makers whose founder, Ing. George Arzeno Brugal, created a foundation of semi-private/public schools for poor children, Fey y Alegaria (Faith and Happiness) which has 48 schools in the Dominican Republic and Latin America. Our school had 640 students, ages 7 to 14, and three levels of instruction with two classes for each level in the building housing 20 classrooms.

After a quick tour of the school, its library and cafeteria, we had a short pep rally to introduce us and break the ice with the kids who looked at us with eyes of wonder as though we had come from another planet. [Note: We were the first Fathom group these children had ever encountered.]   We were broken up into small groups, each to teach two or three students who knew no English. In a 45 minute session we covered basic phrases like, What’s your name? and basic words from the Teaching Guide along with colorful cards printed with an English word or phrase on one side and in Spanish on the other. After a short break for simple refreshments, we went to a different class and again, teamed up with two or three students.

Clearly, the students and their teachers were pleased to see us. Since we were the first to launch the program, we probably learned more Spanish than the children learned English. But after a year, when Fathom has brought up to 700 passengers every other week to the DR and participants teach students – picking up from the Teaching Guide where the last group left off – the effort is bound to have made an impact. Hopefully, over time, the students will learn enough English to land good jobs where a working knowledge of the language is required.

What at first blush seems like pie-in-the-sky, when passengers experienced any of the programs in action, they become convinced. At sessions later on board, passengers expressed their joy and how much the experience had meant to them. Even the most skeptical – myself included – were converted. Credit goes to the Fathom organization and its Dominican partners for being so well prepared. Their two years of planning is paying off.

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Fathom™ is the newest brand in the Carnival Corporation & plc family, which carries nearly 11 million passengers every year to ports around the world. As part of the Carnival family, Fathom is supported by its sister brand, P&O Cruises, in bringing impact travel to life aboard the 704-passengerAdonia, the smallest ship in the P&O fleet. The Adonia is the heir to over 175 years of P&O maritime tradition. And now, in Fathom’s inaugural year, it’s about to establish a new tradition of its own.

If you would like to know more about a Fathom cruise, please contact us so that we can help you find and book a Fathom cruise that suites your lifestyle! Please contact us at 800-733-2048 (toll-free USA/Canada), 0-808-189-1292 (toll-free U.K.), 800-076-002 (toll-free Australia) or +1-407-771-4454 or email us at service@cruises-n-more.com.

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