A Social Impact Cruise for Non-Cruisers
I have to be honest. We have never been drawn to cruising. We had this unappealing image of being stuck on a boat for days on end with nothing to do but eat and drink and sit by the pool. For us, travel is about the journey, but also about the destination. We feared that a cruise meant missing out on key elements of both. The journey would be stagnant, predictable. The destination would be limited by time and the difficulties of being a captive audience for vendors of overpriced, quickie tours from an isolated port. Enter Fathom Travel. Fathom is travel with a purpose, based on the belief that “person-to-person connection is among the strongest catalysts for transformation.” What we read about their philosophy and goals was right in line with what we believe about having a positive effect on the places we visit. Fathom’s Impact Travel trips aim to combine fun and adventure with sustainable social impact. In addition, the boat is smaller than the typical mega-ship, carrying just 704 passengers maximum. Fellow-travelers would be like-minded folks, interested in making a difference. When we were given the opportunity to travel with Fathom on their second-ever sailing to the Dominican Republic, we couldn’t wait to get on board!
What is Impact Travel?
It’s human nature to want to give back. Who doesn’t want to have a positive influence and do their part to make the world a little better? But how can we achieve both personal growth and benefit the communities we visit? You can read about voluntourism for days; it’s kind of a buzzword. Combining travel with volunteer opportunities sounds like a great idea. On the surface it is, but there are some aspects that lend themselves to programs becoming more about the self-satisfaction on the tourist, or the profits of the company than actual benefit to the local community served. Uncornered Market has an excellent overview of the topic, and ideas of the right questions to ask when researching a project. It can be hard to strike the right balance, but Fathom Travel manages to do just that. Removing that typical voluntourism label, Fathom Travel differentiates its program from many others in a number of key areas.
Fathom has developed a relationship with several established, local NGOs on the ground in Puerto Plata, the area where they dock in the Dominican Republic. They asked about the real needs of the community in Puerto Plata, and how travelers might be able to help reach those goals. The education-focused Impact Activity partners are the folks from Entrena, while Concrete Floors and Reforestation projects are facilitated by IDDI (Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral/Dominican Institute for Integral Development). Partnering with these community development organizations, Fathom’s on-the-ground impact activities are designed to empower the local community in a long-term, sustainable way.
The jobs done by travelers are not things that could be easily done by community members alone. Sometimes it’s a financial matter: no means for local workers to be paid to do jobs that need to be done, while sometimes it’s hands that are needed. Other needs are as simple as hearing a native English speaker pronounce words with a group of students. Travelers work alongside representatives of the local, partner organizations, but also together with members of the local community. Everyone is there with a common goal.
The goal of Fathom Travel’s programs is for travelers to no longer be needed. Fathom wants to empower community members to run programs for themselves, being able to hire and train local community members. In time, Fathom Travel will no longer be needed, and they will be able to move on to other destinations in need of a boost.
One of the first things we noticed when we boarded the Adonia was that Fathom Travel’s efforts at building community and forming connections were always present. There were fun, team-building activities like the Super-Hero Party (discover your unique super-power), scavenger hunt and karaoke. All passengers become part of a “cohort” group, led by an Impact Guide to facilitate and lead participants on their journeys. These groups provide a sense of belonging and act as a forum to discuss ideas and feelings before, during and after the experience in the Dominican Republic. At the end of the trip, the larger community comes together to share stories and plans for how to continue having an impact once back home. From the beginning, spending time with like-minded individuals has a way of setting you at ease and putting you in the right state of mind to begin sharing openly and making connections with those around you.
Impact Guides are the core of the Fathom Travel program. They come from unique backgrounds and all have fascinating stories. One thing is clear, though: they share a common purpose and a passion for Fathom’s mission. They have a genuine desire to learn your story too. In doing so, they can better understand both what you hope to discover through the experience, as well as how to best use your unique talents to contribute to the Impact Activities. On-board Workshops prepare travelers for Impact Activities ashore. Some are practical, like “Empowering English Tutoring,” and “Spanish Phrases.” Others, like dance classes and dominoes use pure fun to gain insight into local culture.
From Fair Trade shampoo in bathrooms to the products carried in the shops, Fathom Travel’s mission is present. Bajalia sells fair-trade jewelry, and has a goal of alleviating poverty and empowering women through creating jobs. Krochet Kids intl. shares a common mission, working with communities in Uganda and Peru. Organic, Dominican coffee is available in the café. Biodynamic, organic wines are featured at the wine bar. On-board programming ties it all together under topics like Social Innovation, Health & Wellness, Storytelling and Discovery. Then there’s the library . . . Oh, the library! Impact Guides have helped select the books that stock Adonia with an excellent and eclectic collection. There are sections on the Dominican Republic and Cuba, the rest of Latin America, self-discovery, reference books and dictionaries, among more typical light cruise reading options. I could stay on board for years making my way through the shelves, which already included many from my ever-growing “must-read” list. The library also contains an array of board games!
There are a number of Impact Activities offered on Fathom Travel cruises to the Dominican Republic. There is enough time to comfortably participate in three or possibly four. Activities are generally scheduled in a morning or afternoon session. Potentially, there is time to combine an activity with a shore excursion (from historical tours to deep-sea fishing or a catamaran adventure) on a single day, but remember that some of the activities may be physically intense, so know your capacities/ limits and don’t spread yourself too thin. We’ll discuss more details about individual activities in a follow-up post.
- Concrete Floors in Community Homes
- Recycled Paper and Crafts Entrepreneurship
- Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
- Water Filter Production
- Reforestation and Nursery
- Student English Conversation and Learning
- Community English Conversation and Learning
Know Before You Go
First, you need to board the ship with an open heart and mind. The more actively you participate in the available workshops and community-building activities, the more fulfilling your journey will be. Being better prepared also means you will be able to make more of a contribution once on the ground in the Dominican Republic. Choose Impact Activities that strike a chord with goals that you feel passionate about. Different activities require different levels of fitness, so check out those guidelines as well. Fathom’s trips are a great opportunity to share, serve and grow as a family, but kids must be 8 or older by the time of sailing.
Our trip was only the second week’s sailing, so programming and other systems and details are still being tweaked. The impact that shore activities have on individuals and within the community is easy to see. There is joy on the kids’ faces as they learn new words in English, a skill that will help them find jobs and build confidence to interact with others from different backgrounds in the future. With the Concrete Floors project, a local family can go from a home with dirt floors in the morning, to one with safe, permanent concrete by late afternoon. While these things may seem small, each interaction, each connection is powerful, and taken together they add up to something big. As Tara Russell, President of Fathom Travel said in a sit-down with the blogger group on board, “We’re all a tiny drop in an ocean of impact.” Taking part in a Fathom trip is a unique experience. It’s one that will not only have a lasting effect on the community in Puerto Plata, but it just may lead you to leading a more intentional life yourself back home.
We’ll be posting more specific details on Fathom’s on the ground Impact Activities soon. If you want to learn more in the meantime, check out Fathom Travel on the web and follow their social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You’ll be seeing more of Fathom in the news as they launch immersive, cultural cruises to Cuba, which began on May 1, the day we returned to Miami!
Current Fathom Travel Booking Specials
If you’re ready to get on board, there are some fantastic specials going on. We are excited to offer our readers a special Insiders’ Code which means a $50, $100 or $150 off your trip, per person, depending on your booking/sailing date. Use this code, and we’ll get credit for friends and family who join in the fun as well. Here’s how it works: click the link above, and you’ll be taken to a special Fathom Insiders page. The code Insider1524 should be already visible in the “Insider Code” section. If not, you can also manually enter this code into the “Insider Code” field. Once you have added the rest of your details and completed the registration you will be emailed a discount code you can use when booking a trip. Be sure to use your Insider Code when calling 855-932-8466 to book your trip.
You can score even more savings if you’re planning to cruise before the end of August! Fathom is currently running a BOGO deal for 7-day sailings to the Dominican Republic booked by June 30. To take advantage of this additional deal, mention the code FA after telling them your Insider Code. THESE TWO SPECIALS CAN BE COMBINED! The BOGO rate applies only applies to sailings May 8 or 22, June 5 or 19, July 3, 17, 31 or August 14 or 20. The Insiders Code will work for sailings at least through the end of the November. If you use both codes, you can end up paying as little as $478 per person (for an inside cabin in the May shoulder season)!