A Different Kind of Cruise – #traveldeep
#Traveldeep is the hashtag of a different kind of travel experience. Last week, I returned from a cruise to the Dominican Republic with Fathom Travel. Yes, they are the ones that were recently in the news after being the first US-based cruise ship to travel to Cuba. That all sounds pretty cool, but how can a cruise and #traveldeep in one sentence make any sense? Why would Fathom choose this hashtag? For me, traveling deep means that I have the time to immerse myself into a culture, learn about its cultures and traditions, live like a local and pick up at least a little bit of the language. A cruise, or so I thought, would be the exact opposite of that. But Fathom doesn’t offer a regular, same old, same old cruise. They offer something different. Let me show you, how this was a different kind of cruise and you can decide for yourself, if #traveldeep makes sense.
#traveldeep(er) and Make an Impact
Fathom Travel combines two of my passions: Travel and helping others. Their 7 day cruise to the Dominican Republic only takes you to one port: Amber Cove, on the North side of the island, close to Puerto Plata. You will stay there from Tuesday afternoon to Friday afternoon, so you have 3 days compared to the 8-10 hours you get on a regular cruise stop. While 3 days in a country still does not allow you to really get to know a country, it is more than just the few hours you usually get.
The other most notable difference that sets Fathom apart from the other cruise offers are their off-shore activities. In addition to the regular fun stuff like snorkeling trips and beach club getaways, they offer so-called Impact activities. Those are volunteering activities that support local NGOs and try to make a difference in the local economy. You can sign up for things like:
- Water Filtration System (I did that and it was great. We made 30 water filters that now provide 150 people with clean drinking water. Blog post coming soon)
- Chocolate Factory
- Pouring concrete slaps in local houses
- Teaching English in a local community
- Teaching English in a school (This was my second impact activity and I loved it. Can’t wait to share my blog post with you!)
- Paper Factory and Crafts
I have to admit that I was very skeptical at first in regards to those impact activities. Don’t get me wrong, I love volunteering and I have done it quite a bit here in the US, but never abroad. I also heard horror stories about volunteering companies that do more harm than good in the communities they promised to support. How could we as volunteers make an actual difference in just a few hours? Would we be more in the way than be helpful? Would they have to “re-do” our work after we leave and start over?
When we left Wednesday morning for our first activity, I decided to keep an open mind, and wrote down some probing questions that I wanted to find answers to. I don’t want to take away too much from my upcoming blog posts about the Impact activities, but I can tell you this: I was really surprised on how well organized the activities were and how much work we actually got done. The tasks themselves were simple, so we didn’t have to waste much time with explanation. I also spoke to the impact guides as well as the people working in the factory and school and they seemed genuinely thankful for the extra sets of hands helping out. We worked together with locals, laughing, communicating in a mix of Spanish, English and French (ups) and learning little glimpses about each other and our lives. Fathom also works with NGOs that are based in the Dominican Republic, so they are more in touch with what kind of help is most useful for the communities.
Did we make a difference? I don’t know yet. I think time will tell and I am looking forward to following the stories of other Fathom travelers and their observations about their experience in the Dominican Republic.
#traveldeep in Your Spare Time
Aside from the impact activities, we also had about a day and a half to explore on our own. When you travel, you have a choice on what kind of experience you want to have. Do you want to relax in your resort and enjoy modern and western standards, have a cocktail by the pool and write some postcards to your friends at home? There is nothing wrong with that. But I imagine that after a while, all those resorts start looking the same. Is there really that much difference between a resort vacation in Thailand or the Caribbean? If the only locals you meet are your waiter and maid, are you really experiencing the country, learning about its culture and get a feel for what matters to its people? When you arrive at Amber Cove, the designated cruise port for Fathom, you can do just that. There is a resort, where you can do some zip lining, relax by the pool and rent a cabana. You can hop on a bus tour and look at the locals from behind the passenger window. You can eat at touristy places, where, when you look around, you find yourself among a bunch of other tourists and expats.
Or you can take the hike outside the Amber Cove compound and hop on a local bus or a Publicar and travel like the locals do. It’ll cost you about $1/person instead of $35 if you take the taxi within the Amber Cove compound. You can check of the sights on your list, or you can get lost in the city, its meandering streets and colorful buildings. How deep you travel depends on how much you are willing to push yourself outside your comfort zone. In my opinion, you can only understand a country and its people, if you live like them. During our time in the Dominican Republic, we still lived in our tourist bubble, because we spent our nights on the ship. But we spent as much time off the ship and immersed in the culture as possible. 3 days was not enought time to even scratch the surface, but you can get a first taste, depending on how deep you want to dive into the country.
#traveldeep on a Small Ship
The last Fathom Cruise #traveldeep experience was something I didn’t expect. It was the feeling of community on the ship. We met as fellow travelers, but we formed friendships and bonded much deeper than I have ever experienced on any of my travels before. By day 3, you walked into the dining room and you would stop at 3-4 tables, chitchatting with other travelers, asking them about their day and impact activities. By day 7, it took you half an hour or more to make it to your table. I met some amazing people on this cruise from all over the United States and abroad. We would share our stories and experiences, tips and anecdotes when we returned to the ship. Sharing our experiences traveling and volunteering together really had an impact on us and how we interacted with each other.
It almost felt like back in High School. There were the Fathom Five, the Fathom Family and some other groups that started to hang out together, yet always welcoming and inclusive rather than exclusive. You’d always run into a familiar face on board the ship. That wasn’t hard because the Adonia is a rather small ship, with only a capacity of 700 passengers. So if you are a solo traveler, this is a cruise that I would highly recommend. The feeling is hard to put into words. You have experience it yourself. Some of my fellow Fathom peeps compared it how they felt after Summer Camp, when they were children. When we left the ship on Sunday morning, we hugged and connected on Facebook, exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. If you have been on another cruise, you know this usually doesn’t happen.
Maybe it was because people had some common ground, a shared interest in volunteering abroad? Maybe it was that we had a shared topic to talk about, like the impact activities? Maybe it was the size of the ship or the open seating during dinner that encouraged us to get to know each other. Whatever it was, it was an amazing experience. I am thankful for meeting some amazing people who are kind and open minded, have an interest in helping others and learning about the world.
Fathom was a different kind of cruise and in this case I have to agree that #traveldeep and cruise in one sentence actually does make sense!
Would you consider a cruise that combines travel and volunteering? Have you ever had a feeling of community or #traveldeep moments during your travels? I would love to hear them in the comments!
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Disclosure: Fathom Travel invited me on this cruise, yet these opinions are 100% my own.
I agree fully about the people you meet on Fathom – we got to meet you! Can’t wait to see your future posts? -David and Veronica
It was so great to meet you two as well. Thank you for all the tips and insights you shared with me!
This made me smile! Glad to hear you had a great trip, I look forward to reading about your impact activities!
Yes, it was a great trip! A bit different from what I expected, but in a good way 🙂
I’ve heard so much about Fathom lately! It seems a number of bloggers are choosing to experience this unique cruise. After reading your post, I have to say I am very interested in hopping on one of these ships myself, despite my distaste for cruises. Great post, Maria!
Thank you Ivana. It is not your regular cruise, that is for sure. But what I loved the most was the fact that I was with a group of people with a similar mindset and we had a common objective: to help people and learn about a different country. It was a great experience and I highly recommend it!
This is wonderful Maria! I JUST read another post that reiterated the same thing: sometimes you go on these voluntourism things and end up doing more harm than good. Love the way this was done to give you 3 nights and plenty of time to do good for the community. I don’t particularly like cruises because of the inflexibility, but this I can do 🙂
Thank you for your comment Hung. Obviously, three days is not as good as three months or even longer, but I think Fathom really sat down and found impact activities that can benefit from the sheer manpower that a cruise like that has to offer, instead of doing things that would make the passengers feel good, but would be a waste of resources or even harmful for the locals. I had a great time and I am very happy I got to experience it!
I’m so excited to read more about Fathom and I’m glad to hear you felt you made an impact. What is more surprising is the camaraderie you got from this cruise. That makes it even more worthwhile!
Yes, it was very different from my other (regular) cruise experience. It was a great experience and I met even greater people to share this with.
Thanks Maria! I’ve been considering this trip myself and wondered what the experience is like. I know that your detailed post will factor into my decision in the future!
Hi Carlie, this cruise was really something special. I’ve heard a lot of people on board say that they are not the cruise type (I am usually not either), but they really enjoyed this cruise.
I loved reading this! I’m taking my two boys on this trip in June and really looking forward to the experience. I can’t wait. Thank you for sharing!
I am sure that you and your family will have a great time. It will be a great opportunity for your boys to get to experience other cultures and you can do good no matter where you are, even on vacation!
Good to know that it was obvious that you were making a difference and actually helping with the volunteer work. I wonder what you would have done if you did the Chocolate option. That would definitely be the one that I do if I went!
I also LOVE the idea that you are there for more than just 8 hours. On the one cruise that I did in the Caribbean that was the worst thing about it. We would arrive at 8am then be puling out by 3 ro 4pm but you would be back on the ship by at least 2pm for fear of missing it! More cruises should stay docked longer, at least overnight. Thanks for sharing!
Yes, I would have loved to have done the chocolate factory, but the tour was already booked out. A fellow blogger wrote an article about the chocolate factory activity here, if you like to check it out: http://mamalikestocook.com/a-day-at-the-chocal-cacao-factory-altamira-dominican-republic/
And you are so right. I did a cruise last year and the short time off the ship was really a bummer. At least we had from Tuesday afternoon to Friday afternoon to check out the island.
This sounds absolutely incredible and something I would be so much more likely to do rather than a normal cruise. Helping NGOs is such a fantastic initiative and forming like minded communities even more worthwhile.
It was a great experience and I met a lot of really cool people, on the ship and off the ship. It definitely was a different kind of cruise!
I think this is such a fabulous concept, and I’ve been hearing a lot about Fathom recently and their new push towards Impact Travel, so I’m glad that there seems to be a big movement behind it!
I think that the biggest difference through this kind of travel is breaking down barriers in people’s mindsets and allowing travelers access to a local, authentic experience, and a chance to interact with those who actually live there. I think local interactions and authentic experiences are the biggest key to fostering a more welcoming, hospitable and caring world.
Hey Meg, thank you for your comment. I love your point about how this kind of travel and interaction connects people from different cultures and backgrounds. You are right. The more you travel and get exposed to different cultures immerse yourself, the more likely you are to become open. The experiences abroad will open your mind and heart, as you learn about the daily lives and struggles of the people in this world. You stop taking things for granted and start appreciating how lucky you were to be born at the place and time you were born. And after a while, you realize that despite the differences, we aren’t all that different after all.
Very interesting experience. I think this is a cruise ship I could get on board with! 😉
Hehe, nice pun 😉 But I agree! This is a cruise, even if you are someone, who normally wouldn’t consider a cruise.
Glad to hear about your experiences. I was in Miami for the Fathom launch that was cancelled and looked forward to the #traveldeeper experience and the on-board community. Unfortunately my schedule doesn’t allow me to re-book.
I’ve heard about the cancelled first trip and I am so sorry that your plans didn’t allow you to reschedule. It has been a great experience and I am sure you would have enjoyed the trip!
Glad you got to go since I heard the first trip they tried to do was a fail. Nice honest overview.
Thank you Holly. I am trying my best to be honest and open in my reviews. As this was only their third run to the Dominican Republic, I think they did a great job.
I had no idea these even existed and I love the idea. It’s hard to find a good place to volunteer and when you only have a limited time I love the idea of being able to do some good and have a small vacation. Looks like a beautiful spot as well! Thanks so much for sharing. I haven’t been on a cruise yet but if I do this is the type I would aim for. I wonder if they take kids?
You should definitely consider this cruise, Mary. They do allow kids, but some of the activities have age limitations. If your kids are a bit older, I think it could be such a valuable lesson that you can do good, even while you are on vacation.
What a great experience! I would 100% do this. Thanks so much for sharing!
Happy travels 🙂
It was a great experience and I didn’t hear any negative feedback from my fellow Fathom travelers as well.
I’ve been hearing a lot about Fathom Cruises lately–I really love the concept of the trips and the fact that they have really help people out. Looks like you had a great time and made quite an impact! Will be interesting to follow the various cruises that set said to see how their impact activities grow down the line!
You are so right, Jenna! I was thinking of coming back in a year or two and see the longterm impact of the projects that Fathom volunteers are involved with.
I actually haven’t heard of Fathom but thanks to you, I’m actually going to look into it and probably also into doing volunteer work when I travel. It seems like a great way to enjoy and help others at the same time. Great work!
Janna, I think you will really love this cruise. It is such a great opportunity for people who do not have the time and resources to do both. Fathom lets you have a great time during your vacation, but at the same time, they give you the opportunity to make an impact and improve the lives of others. It’s a win-win situation!
I thought that the empowering activities on the ship were a PERFECT compliment to the overall experience! The world is ready for this new brand!
YES, Lynn, absolutely. I am so happy that Fathom came up with this concept and I applaud them for how well this was implemented.
Wow, this sounds incredible! Going on a cruise is an amazing experience that everyone should have at least once. It’s a great way to explore the world and make a difference, especially when opportunities like this arise. Good work! Thanks for sharing!
That sounds so awesome! I love the idea of volunteering while traveling! I’ll have to look into this for myself 🙂
Thank you for sharing your experience with Fathom cruises. I have only been on one cruise in my life, and afterward, I more or less wrote them off. Not my style of travel at all! I tend to enjoy spending more time in a place and not having everything so planned out. It’s nice to hear that Fathom takes some of what I like about travel and incorporates them into their cruise! I would love to see more cruise companies begin to include some of these features in the future.
I took this cruise last week and loved it. I was impressed with the organization and thought that went into the on ground activities and programs. I think as a group (past and future travelers) we are making an impact, but I too will be following the progress to see how it goes. I too loved the sense of community on the ship. Overall a wonderful (and transforming) experience. My own post about the different kind of cruise will be published in a couple of days.
I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed your Fathom cruise as well. I am looking forward to reading your post 🙂