We have been counting down to the launch of Fathom since the announcement of the line, and have been interested to find out what this new style of "social impact cruising" is really all about. In a stroke of luck, our general manager Ryan Posa was invited to join the line's inaugural cruise to the Dominican Republic so we could get the lowdown right from the beginning.
Here's what Ryan had to say about his time on a Fathom cruise. He sailed from Miami on the Adonia, Fathom's sole vessel, to spend three nights in Amber Cove, Puerto Plata, where he had the opportunity to serve and get to know the local community.
The big question: What made your Fathom cruise different to a "normal" cruise?
It's really an entirely different experience, and it's designed that way. There was no cruise director, no glitzy shows every evening, no casino or nightclub. The focus is instead on connection and interaction with people you know and also people you don't.
Once onboard we were all put into a cohort group with a random selection of other passengers, which was intended to become our "tribe" for the journey. Together we attended three of the core programming sessions which helped us to learn about and prepare for our destination. This was definitely something I have never come across on a cruise!
There was a great sense of community that you won't always find onboard. Fathom really does this well. One great little touch were the whiteboard markers on each cabin door where people were encouraged to write their name, superpower, spirit animal and something they hoped to do someday - an interesting way to get passengers to open up a little.
Were there typical cruise aspects?
Yes, there were some of those too. It is still a holiday, and there are opportunities to relax like you'd find on any cruise. There's a pool, bars, the usual dining setup with a main restaurant, buffet and specialty option.
On the sea days, while many of the activities and classes are focused on connection, preparation and immersion, there is also live music, exercise classes, cocktail classes, quizzes and other normal cruise fun.
Overall, I wouldn't recommend a Fathom cruise to anyone looking for a typical cruise, but there are definitely parts of it which have that familiar holiday feeling as a nice addition to the social impact travel aspect.
Which activities did you participate in onboard?
On the ship, there were many seminars and classes which were aimed at helping people connect with each other and also equipping passengers with the skills needed for the work they'd be doing on the ground.
For example, there were "Being a Fathom Traveler" sessions which we attended with our cohort groups, and self-help style classes with titles like "Curiosity Advantage" and "The Story of You." More practical were the "Spanish Phrases" classes and "Empowering English Tutoring" session which were a prerequisite for those taking part in English education activities onshore.
The evenings were probably more low-key than your typical cruise, although there was still scope to have a great night out in the bars! It was often related to the destination, such as salsa dancing or dominoes games - apparently these are huge in the DR!
Tell us about your experiences onshore.
The ship docks at Amber Cove, a Carnival-owned cruise port facility near Puerto Plata. It's a gated community and although it's a little separate from the "real" DR, has created many jobs in the region. Excursions depart from there in shuttle buses, and when people explored of their own accord they generally got taxis into town.
My first activity onshore was community English teaching. A group of 20 or so passengers headed out to teach some conversational English to locals who wanted to learn. Many of these were women aged 50 plus who were very happy to have the opportunity to learn. We worked through a basic English workbook, and it was a touching experience. There were tears between students and passengers, and I realised that there really could be a positive influence coming out of Fathom - this was more than just a token visit.
I did more English teaching in a different trip, this time at a school. It was amazing to interact with the kids, who are fed breakfast and lunch at school in order to ensure attendance. Another volunteer activity in which I took part was a little more physical: laying concrete floors in houses which needed them. I felt like I was making a tangible difference with this one, which was nice. It was a very cool activity - and it had a $20 cost which went towards buying the materials which to be honest was what they needed the most. I'm sure our physical labour was a small help too!
Did you feel more connected to your destination on this cruise?
Yes I did. And that's what Fathom is all about - as well as helping out in the places they visit. It's not about snorkelling, sunbathing and sitting on the beach, those are things that you could do anywhere. It was all aimed at connection! Both with fellow travelers and the community at Puerto Plata.
What was your favourite part of the Fathom experience?
Probably what sticks out in my mind the most was a family who came to our community English class. It was a mother with her five boys, and she was so excited to see them taking part. Witnessing that family was one of my favourite experiences for sure. The mum was so proud at the way they responded to the experience, even more so than the fact that they were learning a new skill. Also, I think she was happy they were exposed to such an amazing life experience.
I also connected with some of the kids at the school-based English class, and made two little friends called Benjy and Kelvin. One of the other boys there got up in front of the class to say "thank you for coming and thank you for giving me a notebook." That was hugely touching - it was a plain notebook, something we would take for granted, and he was so grateful for it.
To whom would you recommend a Fathom cruise?
I would definitely say that a solo cruiser would benefit from Fathom's way of doing things. The cohort groups, interactive activities and other such programs mean there is plenty of opportunity and encouragement to meet other cruisers. Even sociable couples will benefit from this - anyone who likes to meet new people.
Of course, anyone who is interested in more immersive travel would benefit from a Fathom cruise. It mixes the relaxing and all-inclusive nature of cruising, typically a very hands-off way of travel when it comes to destinations, with the experiences you might enjoy during a backpacking adventure or other more intrepid trip.
There were kids onboard but not many, and there were no kids programs, so it's probably not the best cruise for those with very young children.
Might we expect to see any "Fathom effects" in the South Pacific?
While I don't imagine we'll be getting any Fathom cruises Down Under anytime soon, I would say it's possible there might be some trickle-down in the Carnival brands which regularly operate here.
Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia, was on this cruise and seems to be invested in the Fathom concept. I am envisaging immersion-focused or volunteering shore tours offered by one or more of the Carnival brands - but who knows!
If you are interested in social impact travel for yourself, you can check out the Fathom cruises we have available.