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Fathom Travel: A Tug At Your Heart and Your Head and An Experience for the Generations

A Fathom Travel Experience to the Dominican Republic or Cuba is different; different in ways that try to make you think about yourself and the world differently.  It is, in reality, a “holistic experience” presented through a team of “impact guides”, messaging, interactive workshop experiences (both subtle and “in your face”), sophisticated scavenger hunts, wine and paint parties (extremely popular!), cuisine and more.  
In other words, while there are many elements that are similar to your typical cruise, the thing that strikes you…if you look…is that Fathom Travel tries to make the Experience less about you when you booked the trip and more about you leaving a better person after your seven-day journey from Miami, Florida to Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic (or Cuba) and back.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself!
To be sure, Fathom Travel is not about answering the question of whether a “cruise” actually is “travel”, but a prelude to the reality that just because you are on a cruise ship does not mean a Fathom Travel Experience is a cruise.  Rather, you should consider the Adonia as a “mobile retreat” that transports you both physically and intellectually to a different place.
Fathom Travel’s Adonia:  Your Mobile Retreat
Fear not if such things make you uncomfortable…or if you think you are willing to try, but when on board you may not be coaxed into entering your Discomfort Zone!  If you want Fathom Travel to be more of a cruise surrounding some “social impact” experiences, it can easily be that.  And, if you simply want it to be a more typical cruise with some fun and sun, you can even make it that (though I think you will be missing out on some great stuff!).  Personally, I think the design of the Experience – which I promise you will be dynamic and every changing – is far more elegant and sophisticated than you might think.
You may recall that I piloted some of Fathom Travel’s social impact programs in the Dominican Republic in January with my 16-year-old daughter, which you can read about here, so I will not be detailing each of the social impact programs again.  However, now I have just finished the full Fathom Experience with my girlfriend and her twin 14-year-old boys.  I knew how my well-traveled daughter would immerse herself in the experience, but I wasn’t sure how other teenagers would react to “Think Good and Do Better” travel.  They, and the other children I saw, boarded the ship enthusiastic and engaged…and they stayed that way for the entire cruise.  It was almost as if the youth were communicating:
“Hey, someone thought about young people and how we want the world to be!
One really cool thing about a Fathom Travel Experience is that with its ability to be so many things…it can easily make a wonderful Multigenerational Experience with grandparents, parents and younger travelers (teenagers, college students and Millennials) enjoying a shared experience without requiring compromise.  (Of note, I am planning on taking my 83-year-old mother and my two children, ages 20 and 17, on a Fathom Travel experience to Cuba at the end of June.  My mother’s concern was that she might hold us back.  I confidently assured her she can do what she can or wants and we all be perfectly content because Fathom Travel is that kind of experience.)
Enough of the theory, what is the reality? 
To start with, the Adonia (your “mobile retreat”) is a beautiful ship; one of the original R ships with lots of wood, intimate areas and great flow.  It is, at least for now, still owned by P&O Cruises (another Carnival brand), but a lot of money has been expended bringing Adonia up to standard with significant upgrades to furniture, furnishings, carpets and other soft goods…and while on board I observed a significant amount of exterior painting and interior varnishing going on. The staterooms (there are only a few suites) are in excellent, virtually “like new” condition.  For a one week journey they are more than adequate; though the bathrooms are tiny…especially the showers.  (I dropped a washcloth and smacked my head on the faucet trying to pick it up small!)  My girlfriend commented that her initial impression is that the ship is almost too upscale for the experience!  (Who ever said doing good –for yourself or others – means you must endure a “roughing it” experience?)
Speaking of the staterooms, you know things are different before you even enter them. Rather than the ordinary message holders outside your door, Fathom Travel has placed dry ink boards and asks you to write down your Name, Spirit Animal, Special Power and Someday….  The purpose is really two-fold, open you up to yourself and to others.  (On a cruise, who lives behind the door is usually a mystery.)
Ya Gotta Have Fun!
When you enter your stateroom all is as you would expect, but I noticed two things:  The bath amenities are all Fair Trade and more eco-friendly (and are of good quality) and, because the ship has been British, there are tea kettles with teas, instant coffees and real creamers.  Both are really nice touches.  Also, the balcony furniture is new, good quality, aluminum and mesh.  You will also find plenty of storage for a one-week warm weather cruise (though storage in the bathroom is a challenge).
Fathom Travel’s Adonia Standard Balcony Stateroom
Comfortable and more than adequate for a seven day warm weather cruise
Soundings, the daily paper, has the tagline “There’s always more to discover” sets out the day’s schedule in a simple four-page format.  And, thankfully, you will not find flyers for sales in the shops (there are two), tournaments in the casino (there is none) or spa specials (though there is one). 
You will also receive in your stateroom an excellent Programming Guide which explains each Workshop and Tour, including appropriate clothing and precautions (activity level, length of activity, clothing, if you will get dirty, etc.)  It would be great if this was available on the website when you are considering a Fathom Travel Experience and when you are making your choices pre-cruise.
Internet is available in a variety of packages which you can sign up for on your laptop.  There are reasonable charges while at sea and, notably, internet is complimentary for your entire time while in port in the Dominican Republic.  I found the internet to be quite fast and reliable.
Fathom Travel Ever-Changing Curiosity Boxes
Before the sail away, a wander around the ship shows there are many subtle and not-so-subtle things to explore from curiosity boxes scattered about with ever-changing messages to a “confessional” (where you can make a short video answering the day’s question, which can be emailed to you) to a wall of postcards where you can send yourself a message (mailed by Fathom Travel) to be received in the future.  There are more surprises and more to come as the product is rolled out and developed in Fathom Travel’s constant drive to be better and more relevant.
Fathom Travel’s interesting Note to (Future) Self Wall
The Launch Party (a/k/a sailaway) is a real high energy experience combining things to open you up (like writing on the Library’s windows what your next adventure will be or what your superpower is) or sending messages via a wire from the upper deck to the hot tubs to your more typical Carnival-eque group dances.  Complimentary hot and cold appetizers, as well as desserts, were passed; noting that overall they were really tasty!  (This is also where you are introduced to your Impact Guides –there are no cruise directors or assistant cruise directors – but more on that in a bit.)  You may not engage in all of it, but honestly the vibe is contagious. 
After too many appetizers, for the first night we opted for the buffet in The Conservatory (which I find to be a very interesting name for the venue that generally is known for wasting the most food on a ship).  We also dined there for lunch, having boarded fairly early, at noon.  Knowing there would be Dominican and other Caribbean cuisine rather than just the typical cruise ship food, it was interesting to see how Fathom mixed it in without pointing it out.  Subtle…which is not how Fathom does everything.  I was pleasantly surprised by how high quality the cuisine was.  Yes, I used the word “cuisine” rather than food.  An excellent thick cut pork chop, delicious liver and onions, jerked chicken, mushroom risotto, red beans and rice, plantains, and more were available.  While I passed on dessert, reports (and multiple trips by my girlfriends twin 14-year-old boys) established they were of good variety and tasty. Cheese plates are also available…which I did enjoy.
Note: Fathom does not have any beverage packages.  There is a limited, but certainly acceptable, menu of beer, wine and spirits; again with a number of Caribbean original available including the Dominican’s ubiquitous El Presidente beer.  Still being British, gratuities are not added to your beverage purchases so there is no 18% vig (but be kind to your servers, please).  One complaint:  Wines available in one venue are not available in another and/or cannot be purchased by the bottle…or only by the bottle.  This is frustrating, unnecessary, and should be an easy fix.
But then it was time for the Scavenger Hunt.  I figured it would be more for the boys, but it was truly an adult event that teenagers could also enjoy.  I won’t ruin it for you, but a couple of examples are “Go to the Library, find an inspirational quotation and post it on the Question of the Day board in the Conservatory” and “Find a Curiosity Box and take a photo of what you find inside”.  (Oh, yes, they place you into groups so you are coaxed into more interaction with your fellow travelers.  Great idea!)
After a long day, it was time head back to the stateroom and enjoy the sounds of the ship’s wash and look back fondly on the first day of what should be a great “experience” over the week to come.
Your first full day onboard is one where you can “engage”, “relax” or both.  After very early morning meditation and yoga classes (not for me!), there are workshops for learning some Spanish phrases and English tutoring, but the primary workshop is “Being a Fathom Traveler” where you will come to understand that you are not a passenger, or a guest, but a “traveler” …and what that means.  (When you board you are placed into Cohort Groups for these primary workshops.)  I was really impressed at how well Gil, our Impact Guide, was able to engage and make comfortable all different personality types…with everyone eventually really engaging in this 45-minute experience. 
Gil, one of Fathom Travel’s fantastic Impact Guides,
leading a workshop on why getting out of your comfort zone is so important
With plenty of time to swim, lie out, have a cocktail or explore, a nice Deck BBQ was followed by many other activities and workshops ranging from “Curiosity Advantage” to “Social Innovation in Action” to a cocktail making class, Merengue dance classes, and Wine & Paint Night.  (Also, each night there is a movie by the pool and this night there was also a Super Power Party.)
Another Enthusiastic Impact Guide
leading the Curiosity Advantage Workshop
We dined in the open seating, curiously named, main Pacific Restaurant which has very liberal 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm dining hours (and is open for breakfast as well as lunch on sea days).  We were, again, pleasantly surprised at how good the food was and the variety was more than sufficient.  You should note, however, that there is a very limited amount of beef offered throughout the cruise.  Chicken, pork and fish, as well as a vegetarian option, are really the focus.
Your third day has workshops and free time to sun and soak until you dock at Amber Cove, in Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic (which I will describe in a bit).  There is a second workshop for your Cohort Group this morning, “Getting to Know the Dominican Republic”.  Your Impact Guide answers all of “those” questions about what to wear, to never drink the water or ice, logistics, etc.  It is quite helpful.
Amber Cove, Puerta Plata, Dominican Republic
With everyone quite excited to engage in their social impact activities or more typical shore excursions the various groups meet up in the lounge before heading off.  I will not fully explain each of the activities, but invite you to read my description of a number of them in my prior article.  Heading off the ship that first afternoon was something for just about everyone:
  • Community English Conversation and Learning
  • Recycled Paper and Crafts Entrepreneurship
  • Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
  • Reforestation and Nursery
  • Deep Sea Fishing 
  • La Isabella Columbus History & Folklore
  • Playa Dorado Beach Escape

On this first afternoon, both the types of activities and what you will do during them is a bit modified due to there being a slightly shorter timeframe.  So, for example, in our activity:  Reforestation and Nursery, if you choose Tuesday you definitely will go to the nursery to prepare and plant seedlings rather than reforestation.  Other activities, like creating Water Filter Production (one of my favorites!) is not offered because it is a full day social impact activity.
Note:  For those with limited mobility or even just a lesser desire to engage, but are still curious, Fathom Travel has created an Impact Center at Amber Cove where mini-experiences can be had.
Our experience at the nursery was great.  We mixed compost, made up planting bags, planted sea grape, royal palm and orange seedlings and scavenged the forest near the nursery for royal palm seedlings.  Unfortunately, when it was time for our 20-minute hike through the rainforest, the rainforest did what it does best:  Rain!  And I mean really rain.  But there was not a single person who expressed any disappointment (unlike those you can generally find on a cruise).  We all had a great day even though we were tired, soaked and muddy.

That night we dined at The Ocean Grill (the $25 per person extra cost) specialty restaurant which focuses on Dominican and Cuban cuisine.  With two very hungry teenagers (especially after working so hard) we wound up ordering every appetizer, all but two main courses and every dessert.  The food was delicious and nothing was left…nothing!  I really enjoyed watching the boys trying and loving the new cuisine.  New favorite for them is one of my all-time loves:  Black Bean Soup.  Done well (and it was) it is a little bit of heaven with a wonderful blend of flavors, textures and spices.
In between mouthfuls, the boys, their mother and I talked about the Fathom Travel Experience so far and how much they were looking forward to more of it.  (The next day we chose Student English…which resulted in the boys asking if they could do it again…wanting to do a fourth social impact experience…after Thursday’s installing of Concrete Floors in a family’s home!)
By working with this Dominican woman and her family to install concrete floors
there will significantly reduced flooding, insects and dirt…
leading to less sick days missing school and work,
resulting in a better life. 
Literally working hand-in-hand with the locals installing concrete floors.
Great teamwork mixing concrete
I would be remiss if I did not address this point directly:  
          I have heard a number of ignorant travel agents rather emphatically say that Fathom Travel’s Adonia needs more activities and amenities for younger people.  I found their comments to be offensive and wildly inaccurate.  Today’s youth are not so detached from reality that they “need” waterslides and discos.  Without being too preachy, parents need to listen a bit more and understand that the next generation is far more aware and concerned about the frailties of our world and wanting to make it a better place.  Dare I say those travel agents don’t know your children or how a Fathom Travel Experience will be appreciated by them.  Is this an experience for a six-year-old?  Not really.  I would say that most 12 year and older children would be able to enjoyably (both mentally and physically) engage in this experience.
A locally prepared authentic Dominican lunch:
Delicious and well-deserved after a hard morning’s work! 
          These were the same travel agents saying they weren’t comfortable having a local lunch prepared in the Dominican Republic due to some sort of fictitious health concern. I have dined locally in the Dominican Republic on numerous occasions with Fathom Travel and each meal has been wonderful.  (Fathom Travel goes to great lengths to assure this!)  My daughter now loves Okra…but only as the Dominican’s make it.  And the boys have a second new favorite food:  Red Beans and Rice.  They, in fact, compared the quality of each…but regardless of which was their favorite, they went back for heaping second helpings!
Student English was a lot of fun and the children were so enthusiastic!
Now a bit about Amber Cove.  This brand new facility is not my favorite.  It is simply another cruise line created port with a number of shops and dining venues with a large pool and a zip-line.  During our time in port, two Carnival ships came for a day and really used it.  We, frankly, were pretty much too busy to use Amber Cove much, though on Friday before departing we did have a bite and a drink.  
A drink at Amber Cove.  Did I mention there is a pool????
What Amber Cove does do well is give you a very clean, safe and secure port in a pretty setting for your stay over the four-day period.
Power Snorkeling is a typical shore excursion during a
Fathom Travel Experience
After a power snorkeling shore excursion on Thursday afternoon it was free time to engage in more Fathom Travel workshops such as “Lifehack Bootcamp” and “The Story of You” and/or enjoying some really flavorful Dominican Burgers from the Patio Grill with a margarita.  On Friday we also took a long walk trying to get to a gazebo at the end of a point you will see.  Let me save you the 2+ mile walk:  You cannot get there unless you pay $65 per person for a day pass to the resort that owns it.
Baseball is extremely popular in the Dominican Republic
so I don’t think this is what they mean by the phrase Duck On The Pond
(seen during our walk to find the gazebo)!
With a day and a half at sea as we returned to Miami, Fathom Travel continues your experience with yet more workshops and activities.  On Saturday morning (but not too early) there is the final workshop for your Cohort Group “Fathom What’s Next”.  It was a really nice way to have some small group discussions about what inspired you, what stories did you gain, what you felt you accomplished and more.  And, once again, Gil our Impact Guide did a great job of, well, guiding us through the process.
Overall the Fathom Travel Experience was a great experience for me, my 16 year old daughter, my girlfriend and her two 14-year old sons.  Each one of us came away feeling just a bit better about not only what we did, but what we can do.  And Fathom Travel has, quite extraordinarily, done this by putting together an incredibly friendly and soft, but extraordinarily complicated, combination of many different options and activities.
Trust me on this:  

Disney may seem like a great gift to your children or grandchildren, 
but Fathom Travel is an extraordinary one that will tug at both of your hearts 
long after those Mickey ears are tossed in the trash.  
Interested in a Fathom Travel Experience to Cuba or the Dominican Republic?  Please give me a call:

United States:        (877) 2GO-LUXURY
United Kingdom:  020 8133 3450
Australia:               (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 732 578 8585

Or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

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