It offers sailings to Cuba and the Dominican Republic
Fathom is a cruise to Cuba with a social purpose
Fathom is Carnival’s new social-impact cruise line
It offers sailings to Cuba and the Dominican Republic
The Dominican itinerary emphasizes volunteer tourism; the Cuban one
focuses on people-to-people exchanges
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
After the Madrigalista Choir finished a performance for a group of
American travelers in this Cuban city, they answered questions about
their lives, then cajoled the Americans onto their feet to the
syncopated beat of a conga Santiaguera.
The American travelers, who were circumnavigating Cuba on the Adonia,
also chatted with the operators of El Fígaro, a private restaurant in
Havana. They then climbed 52 marble steps to visit a private barbershop
— an enterprise that has spurred neighbors all along the street to go
into business for themselves.
Two weeks prior and some 335 miles to the east near Puerto Plata,
Dominican Republic, Adonia passenger Joy Steinberg of North Carolina
planted seedlings in compost, learned to make paper from recycled
materials and worked on hands-on with volunteer projects.
Two different countries, two different approaches to social-impact
tourism. Both itineraries are being offered by Carnival Corp.’s Fathom
line as it tries to provide an experience that brings cruisers closer to
the people and places they are visiting. Fathom’s single ship, the
704-passenger Adonia, alternates between week-long cruises from Port
Miami to Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
In Cuba, where the Adonia made its maiden voyage May 1, the emphasis is
on deep cultural immersion and people-to-people connections. The ship
calls in three cities: Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago, allowing
passengers to see different regions of the country without unpacking
Most passengers on the Cuba cruise were in the 40-65 age group. Fathom
officials said that those on the Dominican cruise were much younger,
about half the age of the Cuba cruisers, and the majority of them had
never cruised before.
The Dominican itinerary offers more hands-on activities, with cruisers
working alongside Dominicans on sustainable projects that focus on
education, the environment and economic development. Projects include
installing home water filters, replacing dirt floors with more sanitary
concrete, and helping a women’s cooperative mold and package chocolate bars.
Once the Adonia reaches the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, it
remains anchored at Amber Cove. Passengers use it as their base as they
fan out into the neighboring region to participate in projects from
Tuesday to Friday when the ship is in port.
While the Dominicans welcome volunteer tourism, or voluntourism, the
Cuban government isn’t interested in such hands-on involvement in its
social institutions, so the programs on the island have been structured
differently. “The Cuban government is not saying to the world ‘come and
help us,’ ” said Arnold Donald, Carnival Corp.’s chief executive.
Tara Russell, president of Fathom, said she wants to make a difference
in the world. While the Dominican projects may be small-scale, the hope
is that month after month, working alongside Dominicans in the same
projects, slowly lives will begin to improve, she said. With continued
English lessons, for example, students may eventually be able to land
jobs in the tourism industry, she said.
“Travel is a really incredible form of connection and transformation,”
The tally of accomplishments for the first two weeks of Fathom sailings
to the Dominican Republic: 100 water filters installed in homes, more
than 4,700 seedlings planted, concrete floors installed in five homes,
10,300 chocolate bars wrapped and more than 1,530 sheets of recycled
paper produced, putting more money in the pockets of the women who form
an arts-and-crafts enterprise and ultimately allowing them to expand
“We’re about a holistic experience; we’re not just a ship,” Russell said.
The experience extends to selling products aboard ship made by Cuban and
Dominican artisans. Cabins are stocked with fair-trade toiletries such
as Brazil nut oil body lotion and cane sugar shampoo and a special
Cuban-Dominican menu at the Ocean Grill, the ship’s fine-dining restaurant.
It includes selections such as mofongo, fish in a coconut sauce, an
upscale sancocho, and very good beans and rice for an upcharge of $25
“We really wanted to source products for the cabins, the food and wines,
and for the stores, from companies that had a sustainability story,”
said Ted Howes, Fathom’s director of product/experience.
The ship, which was previously positioned for British cruises, has the
feel of an English country manor rather than a cruise ship plying
Caribbean waters. Think lots of dark wood, a paneled lending library, a
faux fireplace in one of the lounges and electric teapots in the cabins.
The Adonia has a swimming pool, spa and gym. An added perk are the
chimichurri burgers that are served poolside during afternoon barbecues.
But there are no elaborate stage shows, a casino, or frills like
ice-skating rinks or rock-climbing walls found on larger ships.
There’s a New Age feeling to the shipboard experience with
social-innovation workshops, message boards outside each cabin that
encourage passengers to list their super heroes and spirit animals, dawn
meditation sessions, and early-morning yoga if you’re interested.
Workshops where passengers are encouraged to tell their own stories and
learn the elements of great storytelling also are part of the experience.
On the Cuba cruise, salsa and Spanish lessons were offered. Two Cuban
bands entertained. Activities even included a domino throw-down.
Working on a vacation might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Steinberg,
a market researcher from Chapel Hill, N.C., is so enthusiastic about
voluntourism that the Fathom cruise was her eighth international
While cruisers are in port in the Dominican Republic, they can take part
in as many or as few volunteer activities as they want. Steinberg signed
on for a full schedule of four activities but also had time to snorkel
and go on a catamaran excursion.
Unlike her previous vacations, she said, where she had to pick service
or leisure, the Fathom cruise combined the two.
Her favorite activity was working at RePapel, a women’s recycling co-op
where she not only learned the process of making recycled paper but also
worked with women making jewelry from coffee beans and candles from
recycled products. “The music was going, and we had an opportunity to
really talk with the women about their vision for growing the business
and helping their families,” she said.
The highpoint for Lynette Standley and her husband, Patrick, was a few
hours in a classroom teaching a group of kids basic English phrases and
greetings and working with them on flash cards. “They were so excited to
see us. I could have stayed all day,” said Lynette Standley. “My husband
is an engineer and kind of a black-and-white type of guy, so it was nice
to see him interact with the kids and get outside his comfort zone.”
The couple, who are from Boise, Idaho, also volunteered at the chocolate
factory and planted seedlings.
In the past, Standley said she and her husband have been to beautiful
places but often felt the tourism experience was disconnected from the
lives of the people in the destinations. “This program acts as bridge.
You’re going out with the locals and really experiencing the Dominican
Republic. There’s a much deeper connection,” she said.
Standley also liked being able to return to the comfort and amenities of
the ship after a day of volunteer work. “It really is the best of both
worlds,” she said.
While the Dominican program has been developed over several months in
conjunction with two established Dominican development partners, Entrena
and the Dominican Institute for Integral Development, Fathom’s Cuban
program is still very much a work in progress. Its maiden voyage to Cuba
on May 1 was the first cruise by a U.S.-home-ported ship directly to
Cuba in more than 50 years.
Some of the passengers said the onshore programs in Cuba still felt too
much like conventional tours and didn’t provide enough opportunities for
exchanges with Cubans. “I felt like I could learn more about Cuba if I
went on my own,” said Michael Rolfes, 25, of Newport Beach, Calif. “I
would have liked to free-range more.”
To comply with U.S. regulations, Fathom must offer passengers a
full-time schedule of activities that promote people-to-people
engagements in Cuba.
Many of the Cuba passengers said they enjoyed the musical performances
they experienced everywhere from concert halls and restaurants to street
corners, but it left them hungering for more personal contacts.
Among the problems is trying to create intimate encounters for 700
people while juggling the logistics of ferrying them around ports of call.
“We’ve had a short amount of time since we got Cuban approval for the
cruise [March 21],” Russell said. “We have a lot of work to do on the
Cuba product.” Over time, she said, Fathom hopes to develop more
customized tours with its Cuban partner, Havanatur, that might feature
conversations with artists, a classic car experience, and visits to the
shops and workshops of more private entrepreneurs.
Source: Fathom is a cruise to Cuba with a social purpose | Miami Herald