Going on a cruise is always something I’ve shied away from. To me, it seemed that it just dropped you off for a little bit at different ports each day, not giving you a chance to soak up the culture. When I heard Fathom Travel had a new cruise to just the Dominican Republic that focused on working side-by-side with the locals instead of lounging on the beach the whole time, I was intrigued. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Miami about to head out on my first cruise on the Adonia.
Fathom’s cruise is completely different from anything else out there. Their focus is on impact travel. What is that you might ask? They offer a variety of activities where you’ll actually be working alongside the locals in the community and helping them out with whatever it is they might need. Some of us went to a cacao factory to help the women make chocolate, while others put concrete floors in houses.
On Board the Adonia
To prepare us for these activities, Fathom offered a multitude of classes to choose from for the two days we were at sea. I took Spanish lessons so I could interact with the locals better, while others focused on storytelling or communication lessons. They also had fun classes offered at night such as wine and painting, as well as dance lessons – I can now say I know how to do the salsa and meringue!
Fathom’s cruise is quite small compared to the typical ships – we only had about 700 passengers on board. While there were some downsides to this, such as a very small pool or only a few restaurants available, I thought it was great. People weren’t fighting over loungers on the deck or waiting forever to get seated at dinner due to much fewer passengers than normal. Also, the point of this cruise was to prepare ourselves to help the community, so guests were encouraged to attend classes during the day to prepare for the Dominican.
My experience on board was phenomenal. Every single person on staff said hello when you walked by and were quick to help with any questions. There was a variety of food at the buffet every day and multiple lounges to get a drink at when you got tired of your room. Several shops were available, as well as a library, spa, and health club. I even took a spinning class on day while we were en route to the Dominican!
Once you get to port, you’re in Amber Cove, which is rather touristy. There’s a giant water park available, a few bars and restaurants, and about a dozen shops. Security is very tight in the area, so it’s actually a gated community you’re staying in. To get out, you need to hire a taxi to go to Puerto Plata, the closest town. They’re a bit pricey, but if you meet other people to split it with it’s fine.
Amber Cove was nice due to the convenience of a duty-free shop (daily rum tastings!) and wi-fi in select areas, but I wanted to meet the actual locals. This is exactly where the impact activities came in, as they called them. Every morning that you were signed up for an activity, a bus would drive you out to where the impact activity was taking place.
My favorite activity was helping out at Chocal, the cacao farm. We drove to a rural part of town to a very small factory, where we were greeted by the beaming faces of middle-aged to elderly women. After being split into four different groups, we started to participate in different activities, from sorting the beans out to wrapping the chocolate bars.
While I thought the cruise was a great idea, I was honestly worried about how the locals would perceive it. Would they think we Americans thought we were high and mighty for helping them for one day? Would we actually make an impact in their lives? Did they even want our help?
My fears were for nothing. Through an interpreter, they told us how grateful they were that we came to help everyday. These women own and run the business all on their own, and had to take out a loan to continue to keep it running. This means there’s no extra money to hire new workers or increase the wages of the current workers. When we came to help them, we were more than doubling their productivity in the week we were there, getting them that much closer to paying off their loan and allowing the women to get paid more.
The stories of these women were incredible. One of the original ones who started it was in her 70s and still came to work every day so her family could have a good life. Many of them were single mothers or widowers who had to be the only source of income now in order for them to survive. The average wage there was only 8000 pesos a month, or roughly $200 USD. Considering some people in America easily spend that at one store during a shopping trip, I think it will definitely make some of us think the next time we complain about not having enough money for something.
As far as worrying about not actually making an impact from our day there, our guide gave us some numbers on our way back. Just in our one day there, we:
-cleaned 50 lbs of cacao beans
-sorted through 87 lbs of nibs
-wrapped 1336 bars and bon bond
-purchased $378 from the gift shop
Considering that Fathom is in port for four days and does impact activities during each one, that’s a huge impact that can be made in just one week from travelers.
A New Way to Travel
I reflected back on this trip as the Dominican was slowly getting smaller and smaller as the ship headed back to Miami, and I don’t think I would have wanted to do a cruise here any other way. We not only talked to the locals but went to their neighborhoods, went to their work, and helped them increase their profit for the future. Going out to the sites each day, we did pass through a lot of dilapidated houses and shacks, and the poverty was obvious. Helping these people as Fathom does gives them a better chance to beat that and have a better quality of life.
I came away from this experience with so much more appreciation for life. I’m not only grateful for the life I have, but in awe of how happy these locals still were even in their living situations. They say happiness is a state of mind, and after this trip I do believe that’s true. There are basics in life that are needed to survive such as food and water, but you’re only as happy as you decide to be. I’ve seen people who “have it all” be absolutely miserable, and here were these women with so little but singing and smiling with us.
This cruise was in partnership with Fathom Travel, but all opinions are my own as always.
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