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Fathom Cruises Blends Sightseeing and Service

Tara Russell calls her new cruise line, Fathom, “unlike anything that has ever been done before.” From what I have experienced, she is onto something.

This spring I sailed with Adonia on its second cruise to the Dominican Republic as a guest of Fathom and Islands in the Sun Cruises and Tours.

Aboard a Fathom cruise, travelers to the Dominican Republic have the opportunity to take part in people-to-people experiences, volunteer in what Fathom calls “impact activities” or get out and enjoy exploring Amber Cove and Puerto Plata, the capital of the Dominican province of the same name.

Fathom focuses on “alongsidedness,” wherein the cruise line works in partnership with Dominican-based organizations Entrena and IDDI to improve conditions and achieve goals set by the community.

When booking an impact cruise with Fathom, guests can choose to take part in various volunteer activities, including working at Chocal, a local cacao factory, or Repapel, a women’s recycling co-op; making water filters to help local families gain access to clean water; doing reforestation activities; teaching English; or pouring cement floors to help build houses in the community.

While there, my husband, Graham, and I volunteered to teach English in San Marcos. The impact activity focuses on this community in particular because it is the poorest area in the province, and much of the student population is considered at risk because of the level of poverty.

When we got to the school, we were introduced to the English teacher, Elberto, who welcomed us and brought us to the library where we would be interacting with the students. We worked alongside Susan Evenson, another member of our group, with two fourth-grade girls, Zola and Chelina. The five of us practiced pronouncing and singing the alphabet.

Between teaching sessions, everyone took a break for the kids to have recess. We went outside only to be swarmed by children running up to us, wanting us to take pictures and play games. At one point, I felt something crash full-force into my leg. When I looked down to see what it was, I found that a sweet little girl, who was maybe 5 years old, had run into me to give me a hug, only to dash over to Graham and all the other members of our group to do the same. It was amazing to me how excited the kids were to have us helping them. It didn’t matter to them that we were in a school with no electricity or air conditioning; they were excited to learn and to meet new people.

In addition to the impact activities, Fathom offers a wide variety of shore excursions. Graham was able to go deep-sea fishing our first day in port, while I explored the ruins at La Isabela, the first European settlement in the New World, which Christopher Columbus established in 1493. It was so powerful to me, a historian, to see a site that had such a huge impact on history. For good or ill, Columbus opened large-scale relations between the Old World and New World. I was amazed to stand at the site of his house on a bluff overlooking the sea and imagine what it was like for this man to have such an influence on the world.

Working with the Dominican students was, hands down, our favorite part of the trip. But a close second was taking a cab into the city and spending the day discovering the city with our new friends, Randy Calaguas and Lori Osterman. The great part about the cab ride is that for one price, up to four people can spend as long as they want exploring all over the town. The taxi drivers are experts on their city and can share some of the best places to go. Our driver, Carlos, took us to lunch at an oceanfront restaurant across from his family’s favorite beach, found a street vendor for us to try fresh coconuts and even helped me try to catch a pigeon in Independence Park, an experience that did not turn out so well for me — much to the amusement of my group.

Unlike with a typical cruise itinerary, Adonia spent three days in the same city. By doing so, we were able to develop a connection and enjoy a deeper experience with the people and the culture than if we had sailed from port to port. We returned home feeling enriched and as if we had made a difference with the work we did while on our trip.

A Fathom cruise to the Dominican Republic provides a distinctive combination of volunteer activities, accessibility and flexibility. By allowing travelers to give back in a developing country while staying and eating aboard a modern cruise ship, Fathom represents a viable alternative for travelers for whom a more traditional mission trip may not be the best fit. 

On May 2, the Adonia was also the first American ship to dock in Cuba in more than 50 years. Fathom will continue to offer cruises to Cuba on alternating weeks along with impact cruises to the Dominican Republic.