When we think of cruising we instantly think pina coladas, the dings of slot machines in over-the-top casinos, and most notably, relaxation. However, Carnival Corps. new line, fathom (with a fashionable lowercase f), is looking to change the way the world views cruising.
With this nontraditional vacation, cruisers forgo the usual dilemmas of which chaise lounge to park in for the day, and instead survey options for how they can help the residents of their destination, the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Cruisers can pick from a handful of impact excursions including teaching residents English, learning to cultivate plants, working on a production line, or helping to purify water.
In a country where the per-capita income is about $11,680 a year, and many homes in the countryside lack certain luxuries like electricity and running water, and wood fires are the norm for cooking, the need for this social impact cruise is growing. David Drier, fathom’s vice president of sales hopes to make the case to cruisers that combining travel and social impact activities can be its own kind of fun.
“It’s a meshing of what in many households would be two different spheres of their lives,” said Drier. He said a simple way of thinking about fathom is that people usually budget different time and money for travel and charity each year. “Now, we’re melding those two buckets together.”
Cruising to Cuba
The relatively small fathom ship, Adonia, is a 710-passenger ship that will alternate between weekly visits to Amber Cove in the D.R., and a second itinerary in Cuba. Cuba is the more expensive of the two destinations, with prices starting at $1,800 per person for an inside cabin. Comparable to spots on the Dominican itinerary for about $975.
While prices are much higher, and the fathom program is less developed there, Cuba seems to be outselling the Dominican Republic. fathom president, Tara Russell explained that the appeal for Cuba is simple: until very recently, Americans were banned to travel there for decades. They’re understandably curious about the destination.
The fathom impact projects are currently more developed within the Dominican Republic itineraries. One activity will take place in Altamira, 20 miles from the Amber Cove port in the hills above Puerto Plata. Once there, fathom passengers will help out at Chocal. Chocal is a cooperative born out of desperation by 30 local women who didn’t want to move to bigger cities to find work, in turn having to leave their families.
The cooperative makes artisanal chocolate out of the abundant cacao trees that thrive in the tropical area. The U.S. Agency for International Development has loaned Chocal money for equipment, but the pay the loans and keep expenses down, none of the ladies of the cooperative take a salary. “They can’t afford to hire more people now until they pay off their loans, so this volunteer program is just amazing,” said Dominican Republic consultant for fathom, Caroline Bucher.
Do-gooders who choose to spend their time at Chocal will help separate cacao beans from their shells, a tedious process that cannot fully be mechanized. Others have the opportunity to assist with cutting, folding and gluing wrappers to the finished product, or make fertilizer for a nearby nursery that produces budding cacao trees.
Other impact projects include visiting schools to help instruct English, which in particular, helps Dominicans get jobs in tourism. Another day, the same cruiser could work at a factory helping to sift clay and mix materials to craft inexpensive water filters that can make river water 99% pure. After making the filters, visitors will deliver them to villages the following day and get to see how their hard work improves families and communities. The programs were designed to offer travelers a variety of activities, so that they can get a different experience each day, explained Russell.
Spread the Word
To help get the word out for such a unique product, fathom is offering a 15% commission through Oct. 15 for agencies that register as fathom Founder’s Circle members. In the D.R., fathom is also offering a 1-for-9 tour conductor credit. For those who just can’t get enough social impact, a 10% discount for bookings of back-to-back cruises to Cuba and the D.R. will be offered.