If you have kids over age 8, and are ready to dive into some form of volun-tourism while you vacation, a Fathom cruise to the Dominican Republic may be a great place to start. Fathom cruises combine the fun of a cruise vacation with a meaningful way to give back, and, perhaps even more importantly, a way to connect with local people in a meaningful way, getting to understand local issues, customs, and dynamics.
Fathom, a child company of Carnival Cruise Lines, is the first cruise line to dedicate itself to this type of ‘impact travel’, with week-long routes to the Dominican Republic, and (currently without impact activities), to Cuba. The ship, Adonia, docks in the new Amber Cove port by Puerto Plata, far from the all-inclusive resorts of touristy Punta Cana, and focuses on the under-developed side of the island.
The concept is a simple one: bring in cruise passengers on a regular basis who can 1. impact the economic situation of northern Dominican Republic, 2. come alongside Dominicans to add manpower (and woman and child power) to their current, established projects, classrooms, and businesses, and 3. make meaningful interpersonal connections in the process.
The regular, scheduled shiploads of volunteers give your week-long effort a bigger impact, and your tourism dollars help a part of the country that otherwise is often overlooked.
I took my 17-year-old and 14-year-old on the Adonia to the Dominican Republic in June, to see exactly how it all works and how much impact we felt we had. I’ve taken part in ‘mission trip’ type vacations before, and the level of actual usefulness of such trips vary greatly. I wanted to know whether Fathom’s formula was different, how much good was being done, and how it actually felt to go on their ‘impact activities’ with my teens. And because the ship and cruise line is so new, I wanted to share the scoop on what to expect from embarkation to disembarkation.
What to expect pre-trip:
When you book a Fathom cruise (which, by the way, is a bargain compared to other Caribbean cruises…see pricing here), you’ll be sent an informational email with information about your boarding date and disembarkation date. The Fathom’s home port is Miami. It’s important to note the exact time on the dates, because like any cruise, the ship won’t wait for you. Be sure to book a flight that allows plenty of time to get to the port, even taking possible delays into account. From the west coast, we opted to take a flight an entire day early.
You’ll also get access to the Fathom Trip Planner, which you can log onto online at Fathom.com once you have a booking number. Get onto your trip planner as soon as possible, because this is where you sign up for your impact activities…the activities you’ll do in the Dominican Republic alongside locals. Examples of impact activities include laying concrete flooring, building water filters, planting trees, helping in a chocolate production facility, and teaching English. Alongside these activities are also ‘recreational’ activities you can book through Fathom, which are essentially organized cruise excursions such as snorkeling, city tours, catamaran sailings, and the like. You can book up to six activities total per person, and impact activities DO fill up fast.
- Some things to note when deciding on impact activities:
- Kids need to be on the same impact activity as at least one parent
- Impact activities are all free, apart from a small supply fee for a few of them ($10 range)
- Most impact activities are half a day (either before lunch or after), then a few take 3/4 a day
- If the impact activity you want is full, try again a few more times before your cruise (people drop things as their schedules change)
I recommend picking your impact activities first, then filling in the rest of the space with ‘for fun’ activities. The offered port excursions are solid, but pretty expensive, like all cruise excursions. We actually only did one of them, the power-assisted snorkeling afternoon. The other things we were interested, which included a city tour of Puerto Plata and a hike to the 27 Waterfalls, we opted to book on our own.
It’s easy to book excursions on your own, either before your trip (recommended) or at Amber Cove. For a private tour of Puerto Plata and the surrounding area for less cost than the big group bus tour offered by Fathom, we hired a private guide (basically a taxi) through Marysol Tours.
We booked our hike and swim at the 27 Waterfalls through Iguana Mama, a local company that now operates tours out of Amber Cove. We went with other cruise passengers, but booked this on our own because Fathom did not yet offer it officially.
Up next, packing advice for a Fathom cruise! Click on the button below to continue.