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.
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.
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.
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.