This past week I went on a unique adventure—my first cruise, my first time to the Dominican Republic, and my first impact travel adventure.
I set sail with Fathom on June 19th from the Port of Miami, Florida on my one week adventure that would take me to the Dominican Republic. But Fathom isn’t just like every other cruise line, and that’s the reason I decided to try it out for myself.
Fathom was developed to combine impact and travel in a way to give back to the places you are visiting. The cruise line provides passengers with the opportunity to build community with other passengers on board, as well as immerse yourself in another culture and country. They do this by working alongside people and on ground partners in the community to create a social impact with each visit of their ship to the Dominican Republic.
Here is an overview of my experience traveling with Fathom:
Fathom’s ship, the Adonia is a small ship in comparison to the most commonly known cruise ships like Disney or Carnival. The ship only holds around 700 passengers, and on my voyage, there was only around 400-500 people on board. To me, this sounded like a lot, but it wasn’t until I saw our ship parked next to a Carnival vessel that had 4,000+ passengers on board that I realized this was in fact, a small ship.
I grew to love the small size of our ship as it did in fact build a sense of community among the passengers. I did get to know passengers a lot more than I probably would at an all-inclusive resort or on a larger ship, and you found yourself running into the same people, and getting to know passengers better than you normally would.
On top of the mini community we had on board among passengers, the staff on the ship were phenomenal. To the point that on the last days of my journey, I was actually thinking how much I’d miss the smiling faces of the over 300 staff that were on board. Everyone on board the Adonia seemed to love what they did, and went above and beyond to make travelers happy. From the impact guides that were with us on the boat and on ground to teach us about the communities we were visiting and the impact we were making, our cabin steward that made us smile every day we saw him, to the waiters in the Pacific Restaurant who always were there to ask you about your day and recommend the best food to try. The staff definitely made the experience on the boat feel more like home than anything else, and I can’t say I’ve ever stayed many places that every staff member seemed to be on the ball and genuinely happy to be there.
The ship itself I found to be a bit dated in the décor, in the sense that everything reminded me of the Titanic in a much smaller scale. The walls had cheesy and old school paintings of things like horses, portraits of random people, and bowls of fruit, and the carpeting, and overall ambience just didn’t seem to go hand-in-hand with the modern and refreshing Fathom brand. Although the ship did have splashes of Fathom here and there, from quotes and travel photos on certain walls, modernly designed collateral like the welcome package, do not disturb signs, and table toppers that helped spark discussions at the dinner table, this stuff felt swallowed and out of place next to the old school décor that lined the rest of the ship.
The Pool & Amenities
The Adonia offers several amenities like a spa, a gym with regular fitness classes, and a pool with hot tubs. I managed to go to the morning sunrise yoga sessions which were great, but asides from that, I’m not one to hit the gym at home, so I’m definitely not going to start on vacation.
The prices for spa treatments seemed to be a bit overpriced for me (close to $100+ USD for a 25 minute massage) but if you’re looking to splurge, the facilities seemed nice!
The pool however was exceptionally small. The deck seemed to have so much room, so I was surprised that they didn’t expand the pool to be bigger. When you combine kids and adults in their tiny pool, it felt more like a hot tub than a pool that you were able to swim around in. Although I’m not a huge swimmer, it would’ve been nice to be able to hop in the pool without having to stay almost completely still in fear that you will kick or hit someone by accident.
For more on the amenities, click here.
The Food & Drinks
The food on board the Adonia was great. For me, all-inclusive food is never going to “wow” anyone, because at the end of the day, it is all-inclusive, but I did find they had a wide selection and food available that would satisfy almost anyone.
The Pacific Restaurant is the restaurant that was included in our all-inclusive package and served a different menu each day. I was impressed with almost all my meals at this restaurant, for an all-inclusive I found it was above and beyond what they could be giving you.
The Conservatory buffet was your typical buffet that served everything from eggs, pancakes, fruit and cereal for breakfast, to curries, fries, and stir-fry for lunch and dinner. I found the buffet great for breakfast and lunch when you didn’t feel like having a more formal sit down meal at the Pacific Restaurant.
I did not try The Ocean Grill while on board, as it was an additional charge (around $15 for lunch, and $25 for dinner), but I heard nothing but rave reviews about the food and service in this restaurant for those looking for something a little fancier on the boat.
The poolside snack bar served up tasty burgers (try the Dominican chimichurri), fries, salad, and hot dogs throughout the bulk of the afternoon.
The drinks on the boat were yummy, and the drink menu was pages on pages long. I even managed to get a classic Canadian Caesar (our version of a bloody Mary) made for me which was a surprise! The only thing I wasn’t a fan of was the prices, and drinks not being included within the all-inclusive packages. This was definitely something I missed in comparison to resorts, but thankfully you could bring your own alcohol on board or buy it in their gift shop.
For more on the places to eat, click here.
Located in the province or Puerto Plata in Dominican Republic, Amber Cove is the recently renovated/built port that we docked in. The port merges the historical colonial architecture you’ll see in Puerto Plata with the modern contemporary amenities of a typical cruise port. When you pull up into Amber Cove, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the sprawling greenery that encompasses the nearby scenery and mountains.
The port was absolutely beautiful and had all the amenities that one would need such as souvenir and local stores, a mini market selling crafts and souvenirs, a shore excursion desk, rental cars and restaurants and bars. Cabanas both along the back of the pool, and in the ocean are available for rent starting at around $250 USD to $1,700 USD for the day, and rentals of equipment like kayaks, and paddle boards are also available. A zipline hangs over the pool which is only $10 USD a day and great for kids, and the pool itself is large, with lots of seating options, a swim-up bar, and two water slides!
The taxi service available in the port is also great! Although it is a bit higher priced than you’ll find if you leave the port for a taxi, we found it totally worth it. You can negotiate the price with the taxi dispatcher and your taxi and driver will stay with you the entire time. They won’t act as a guide, but if you for example head into the city of Puerto Plata, they’ll wait at a meeting spot until you’re finished. The cabs have AC, are clean, the drivers are trustworthy, plus the cabs also have Wi-Fi!
The Impact Activities
The whole point of Fathom cruises is to take part in the impact activities they provide to their passengers. Although there were definitely passengers that opted out of these activities, which to be honest, made me wonder why they were even on this cruise, there are several activities for you to choose from, and most are included or only have a small fee to cover supplies.
How the impact activities work is that Fathom works with on-the-ground partners like Entrena and IDDI, which were pre-existing organizations that work on a variety of projects focused on education, environment and community in the Dominican Republic. Fathom is focused on alongsidedness, which means that they work alongside pre-existing organizations to help the Dominican and its people, instead of coming in as outsiders in attempts to make an impact. All passengers can pick a maximum of three impact activities to participate in and they have a choice between the following:
Reforestation and environmental education: Deforestation has contributed to an increased runoff, dangerous flooding, depleted soil nutrients and overall climate change. In this activity, you will help prepare seedlings and plant trees in different areas of Puerto Plata to help combat this.
Clean water access: Waterborne illness is common in the Dominican and access to clean drinking water is sparse. In this activity you will help create ceramic water filters that will be distributed in communities in need to help provide them with safe and clean drinking water.
Student English learning: English proficiency is important for employment success in the Dominican and in this activity, you will go into local schools to work with kids to improve and practice their English skills. Note: This is only available during the school year and not available during summer break.
Creative arts, music and sports: The Dominican’s school system currently offers limited creative outlets for students. In this activity you’ll work with them on their English through crafts and play, and help them develop better creative thinking capabilities.
RePapel: A women’s entrepreneurship initiative which turns wasted paper from the local community into recycled paper products that are sold to consumers. In this activity, you’ll work with the women of RePapel to create more product which will in turn help their families generate more income.
Chocal: This women’s cooperative is involved in the cultivation of organic chocolate plants which are an important source of income for the region. In this activity you help in the production cycle of chocolate making to help free the women’s hands to work on the most important part, making the chocolate.
Concrete Floors: In poorer communities, basic dirt floors are a major health risk that pick up dust and retain dampness or puddles, and are impossible to clean. In this activity, you will help lay concrete floors in local homes to help give these families a safer, and healthier place to live.
Community English: There is an increased demand for English speakers in the growing tourism industry in the Dominican. In this activity, you’ll teach local families English to help them improve their language skills.
I participated in the community English, water filter production, and Chocal, which all were amazing in their own ways. I also talked to several other travelers who tried the other activities, including my sister, and I heard nothing but positive experiences. Even the people who seemed hesitant in volunteering and helping out were so happy that they took the time to get off the ship and put themselves out of their comfort zones. So make sure if you’re on a Fathom cruise to at least give one activity a try!
The one downside of these activities was that they fill up fast! We booked ours online before arriving, but some people who waited until the day of had issues getting on the activities they wanted, or any activities at all. So book online in advance, or visit the Explorers desk as soon as you get on the ship!
Overall my experience was great traveling with Fathom! I wasn’t sure what to expect at all, and was concerned that I would participate in impact activities only to feel like I wasn’t actually genuinely helping anyone, but that wasn’t the case. Each activity had me craving more and feeling great at the end of the day.
But saying that, nobody is perfect, and there was definitely room for Fathom to improve.
For starters, it felt odd working with the poor in the day, only to go back to endless amounts of food, drinks and a cozy cruise ship at the end of the day, but I guess that is also a benefit, as it’s getting people out there that wouldn’t normally think to give back. On top of that, cruise ships are infamous for being not environmentally friendly, which makes it seem odd that you go to participate in projects like tree planting, only to go back to a ship that’s idling 24/7 and dumping waste into the ocean. I think Fathom should do more to innovate above all other cruise ships in this area, and also be transparent about it since it’s something that many people on this kind of trip would want to know about.
On the environmental conscious topic, I would also try and implement the whole “giving back” and “making an impact” mission on board in everything Fathom does. For example, more locally produced foods, instead of printing newsletters every day for passengers, broadcast it on the TVs or through their app, have better waste programs on board, etc. I think that if you are going to talk the talk in one sense, you have to do it across the board.
Lastly, I would love to see the old school décor ripped out and a more innovative, modern look to the cruise ship. Although cruises are famous to appealing to mainly families and older people, Millennials are a huge demographic for impact travel and giving back, and I think by making the whole experience feel in line with Fathom’s mission and brand would make the world of a difference.
Like I said, although there is room for improvement, my one week on board the Adonia and in the Dominican Republic was incredible. I loved all the impact activities, amenities and felt it was the perfect mix of relaxation, giving back, and adventure.