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Fathom’s Dominican Republic Cruise, Part 1

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You’ve probably seen the Fathom Adonia in the news lately as the first ship to travel directly from the US to Cuba in over 50 years. Two weeks per month, you have an opportunity to take advantage of that incredible new itinerary. But during the other weeks, this innovative new cruise line is taking a different kind of journey. On a seven night cruise to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, you can sun yourself, go ziplining, or whatever you like, but you can also leave the Dominican Republic a little better off than you found it. You have opportunities to do volunteer work while you’re there. It’s called Impact Travel, and I just returned a few weeks ago from their second such sailing in the history of this new company.
Take a good portion of what you know about cruising and forget it. Impact Travel is a new category of travel, unto itself.
Sure, you still have an elegant, beautiful ship with lovely staterooms, outstanding service, fine dining, and a pool. It was a P&O ship in its past life.

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But this is so much more than vacation. This is life-changing. It’s important. And I’ll venture so far as to say it’s not for everyone. I thought I was going down there to check out this new cruise experience for the sake of my travel agency, and I was even excited about the prospect of helping people in a third world country. But what I received was unexpected. I have never felt such appreciation and love from perfect strangers. Sure, you get “all the feels,” as they say nowadays, from doing something good for someone else. But this went beyond that in the gratitude I felt from the beautiful Dominican people.
If you’ve ever wanted to see more than the plastic-peddling tourist shops and really get inside the local experience, you will love this. All those things you might normally like to do in a cruise port are available. You have plenty of time to visit a museum or go snorkeling. But there’s also time to explore the deeper experience that is offered here. Get beside the locals and communicate with them. Go into a local home, or visit a classroom in a local school. See what life is really like, and be a part of it. I’ll go more into the impact activities in my next post. Some of the choices include: making water filters for families with no access to clean water, pouring a concrete floor in a home with a dirt floor, helping children with their English so they can get a better job when they graduate, helping local business women meet demand for their products so that they can afford to hire more Dominican workers, creating more local jobs.

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Fathom operates on this concept of alongsidedness. It may not be a real word (yet), but it’s a very real concept. They asked the people of the DR what they needed most. The answer was help with education, the economy, and environment. It’s not a handout, though. In fact, handouts are not permitted. Some well-meaning person on my ship took a bag full of school supplies and was told she couldn’t take them to the school she was visiting to help children with their English. What Fathom is doing is better than just giving stuff: you’re helping the people build the resources that will enable them to get things for themselves. And they are so thankful.
Now, up to the point where you get on the ship, the experience feels pretty much like a traditional cruise. Once on the ship, you meet your Impact Guide, who is going to help you learn about the Dominican customs and essential facts. Your Impact Guide will lead your cohort group, where you can share things before and after your stay in DR: your expectations, what you learn about yourself and others, and how to move forward in your own life with this new information.
If you’re rolling your eyes about what sounds too touchy-feely for you, please know that nothing is mandatory! You are welcome to lie on the pool deck and have a drink or read in the gorgeously-appointed library instead of going to the sessions. Nothing on the ship is mandatory, even impact activities. But if you just want to go on a 7 night cruise, you might just want to choose another cruise line. I heard some folks complaining last week about things like, “There’s no soft serve ice cream machine in the buffet restaurant.” Really, that’s not why we’re here. And you can still get ice cream in a couple of other places on the ship. If you’re looking for the casino or the video arcade, you might feel a bit lost. Those are things which are not exactly in keeping with what Fathom is doing. 99% of the passengers I encountered were ready to go do some good and were excited about sharing that with other passengers.
As DR grows in tourism, there will be more and more jobs created for Dominicans who can speak English. The only problem is that not many of them do. Another one of the projects you can participate in is to go to someone’s home and help a family with their English, so they can be better equipped to work in tourism. You don’t have to speak Spanish, and the curriculum is provided for you. It’s the same curriculum we used in the classroom experience. All you need is provided. You just have to show up and have a heart open to helping.
In my next post, I will go more into detail about the projects in which I participated, and the impact we had. Rest assured, this has the potential to be a life changing trip. This is not simply a marketing gimmick. Fathom travelers are truly going to do some good in DR, and they already have. After spending four days in Puerto Plata, I told my rickshaw driver that I loved his beautiful country and its beautiful people, and that I hoped to come back again and again. I really meant it. I came away feeling a special bond to this country that I had never thought about visiting before.

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I also left this place a tiny bit better than I found it. If you want to feel this way about a trip, call me. I can help you get there.
Azalea Travel

Click here to see Part 2 of my Fathom experience!

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Choo-Choo-Choose Chattanooga for Family Fun

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Pardon me, boys. Is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?  Well, if it’s not, it’s one that looks just like it.  And you can stay overnight in it, if you like. The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel is located in an old train depot, Terminal Station, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Pullman cars in the courtyard aren’t just for show, either. Yes, I meant it when I said you can stay in one. They have guest rooms so you can pretend you’re a luxury-style traveler on a long journey in the late 1800s. There are restaurants and events in the hotel making it easy to enjoy yourself without going too very far. But, you’ll want to venture out, even if you do stay there, because there’s plenty to see in this town.

If trains aren’t your thing, another unusual place to stay is the Delta Queen Hotel, which is actually an old steamboat. Moored at the shore, the boat never cruises anywhere, but just allows you the unique experience of staying on a steamboat instead of a regular hotel. Sure, the cabins are a little small compared to a regular room, but it gives you a taste of how travelers in 1925 made their way down the river.  Accommodations range from upper and lower bunks to luxurious suites.

Now, what to do?

  1. Tennessee Aquarium: Voted as a Top 10 US Aquarium on TripAdvisor, this one is a must-see. You can spend a morning there enjoying the fish, alligators, penguins, and other species. This is the kind of learning that happens when you don’t even realize it, because you’re having fun. From mountains to coral reef, see what lives in each habitat.
  2. Steamboat tour: Just a stone’s throw away, you can pick up a riverboat cruise, if you’d rather ride than stay on one. Catch lunch, dinner, or a sightseeing cruise aboard the Southern Belle Riverboat. There are also special events for the season, and the boat is available for private parties. This would make a great spot for a family reunion or celebration.
  3. Incline Railway: A slightly tense but fun ride up the side of the mountain on one of these rail cars will allow some fantastic scenery. While you’re up there at the top, you are within walking distance of some Civil War attractions. After you make your way back down, you can enjoy the restaurants and shops at the base on the railway.
  4. Ruby Falls: Now, this is really something. If you’re claustrophobic, you may want to skip this attraction, but almost everyone seems to be able to handle this one.  Ride an elevator over a thousand feet down into the inside of a mountain and take a short hike with your tour guide to see something you’ve probably otherwise not seen before – a waterfall inside a mountain. The water isn’t actually red, as the name would indicate, but rather named after the wife of the spelunker who discovered this fascinating place. At one point while getting to and from the falls, there’s a rather short portion where folks need to duck a bit to walk under the rock. But it’s not uncomfortable.  Be advised that this is not a great activity for people with physical handicaps. Allot a couple of hours for this.
  5. Rock City: You must see it! That’s what the roofs of red barns have always told us. Now it’s mostly just the birdhouses, which I find delightfully campy and fun. Sad to say, this is one big Chattanooga attraction I have actually missed on my previous trips, but I do plan to hit it next time. See seven states from atop Lover’s Leap, let the kids mine for gems, amuse yourself in the Fairyland Gardens, or make your way across the Swing-a-Long Bridge. This attraction is another that will take roughly a couple of hours.

Don’t hesitate to call me at Azalea Travel for more information, or to plan your next trip to Chattanooga.