Setting Sail to Serve
This past April, travel buffs Ellen Gray and Missy Dumler cruised to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic aboard Carnival Corporation’s maiden voyage of the Fathom Adonia. This innovative excursion combines vacation with volunteerism, a concept designed to make travel purposeful and to impact the lives of others on a global scale.
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Planting seedlings for reforestation efforts helps prevent erosion and replenishes natural resources to sustain the Dominican Republic’s environment and economy.
They’d cruised before and knew what to expect, but this trip was different. Instead of packing for a night on the town, they stuffed their suitcases with work clothes and worn-out shoes. Instead of an exotic destination, they docked in a poverty-stricken province of the Dominican Republic. And instead of relaxing on the beach, Ellen Gray and Missy Dumler rolled up their sleeves and got dirty. This past April, the Springfield pair set sail on a new Carnival Corporation cruise called Fathom Impact Travel, a weeklong journey that combines the luxuries of a sea vacation with several opportunities to help others. Aboard the ship, Gray and Dumler enjoyed some of the same amenities of a traditional cruise—gourmet food and drink, spa pampering and Instagram-worthy views of the Caribbean—but when they disembarked, they worked alongside and empowered locals by completing service projects, such as upgrading a home with concrete flooring and gathering tree seedlings to bolster reforestation efforts. There was still downtime for shore excursions and lounging by the ocean, but they gained perspective and empathy and learned that putting others first is more important than planning a dream getaway where the only person who matters is you. After hearing about this new way to travel, we sat down with Gray to learn the details. Read on as she tells about the experience in her own words, and then find out how you can cruise with a purpose.
We’re used to going on big cruises that hold 6,000 people. This was about a quarter the size. It’s not over-the-top. There are a few small shows with singers, and a local band comes on when we’re at port. The food was pretty good, but this is different because they have a cafeteria area, and you have to know when it’s open. There’s no room service. You can hang out by the pool, and we went to the library. There are also fun activities. The one with painting and wine was our favorite. They also have giant outdoor games. You can go to karaoke night. You don’t have the fancy stuff, but you lack nothing.
Once we got to this beautiful port called Amber Cove, you could see jungle on one side and beach on the other. They just park the ship there, and it’s your hotel while you’re there. Because it was the first cruise, they had a big to-do for everybody. The president of Carnival Corporation and the president of Fathom Travel were there. They had a band, food and drinks and a welcome party. Officials from the local community were there. So that’s the first thing we did when we got off, and then we just kind of looked around. There were probably 30 different shops where you could buy anything from coffee to T-shirts to crafts, and they have a couple of nice restaurants. There’s a huge pool with a lazy river around it. They have cabana rentals on the beach and kayaks. We spent some time at the pool just relaxing and reading because that’s what we like to do, but you could also take shore excursions. Snorkeling was one of the options, and we did do that.
The Fathom Adonia anchors in Amber Cove in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (top). Passengers then disembark and volunteer with the residents to help improve the community (bottom).
We traveled out of Springfield down to Miami on Saturday, and then we overnighted because we didn’t want to fly the day of the cruise. It’s about a day-and-a-half [cruise to Amber Cove]. We left around 4:30 or 5 [p.m.] and had one full day at sea and got there the following morning. But this is not your normal cruise where you hang out with your family or your friends. The day you’re at sea they have lots of classes where you learn what you can and can’t do in the Dominican Republic, about their culture.
They also have these little workbooks you can fill out that just make you think about what you can do to help your community when you get home. And they put you in cohorts, so you get to know the people. Normally on a cruise, you would not talk to that person or that person, but everyone’s there to do the same thing, to help others, to socially impact the Dominican Republic. Young adults from all over the United States and other countries are impact guide leaders. They’re scattered throughout the ship and lead the classes. They’re super energetic and keep you pumped up.
We were there for three and a half days. You get this itinerary in your cabin every night that explains what’s offered the next day, so we marked everything we wanted to do. On a typical day, we got up, had breakfast on the ship and then went about our day based on our schedule. And we knew where and when we needed to be somewhere to do our volunteering. There were buses that took us to each volunteer opportunity. The volunteer things, you sign up for those at home online. By signing up in advance, you don’t have to worry about them being full when you get onboard. [Options include] a chocolate factory, recycling of paper, water filtration, putting concrete floors in people’s homes, teaching English and reforestation. We did reforestation and concrete floors.
Participants on the Fathom cruise enjoy the breathtaking views of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic in between volunteer efforts.
When you go through these things, I mean, it’s a lot of work. When we were doing the cement floors, they’d put the cement in the bucket and give it to us, but the bucket’s really heavy. We did a bucket brigade, so if you were lucky, you’d get on the empty bucket coming back. We were sweaty, our backs were sore, our hands were sore, and it wasn’t comfortable by any means. But just seeing the people gather around, and they were so happy, so excited about something as simple as a cement floor that this woman had been waiting seven years for. And they didn’t act like, you know, poor pitiful me. They were just happy we were there. She didn’t speak English, but you could just tell that she thought it was awesome, and we thought it was awesome. With the reforestation, we went to the forest and dug up seedlings, then wrapped them in palm leaves, then hiked back to the nursery and planted them in small bags of topsoil and manure. Some of the more mature seedlings were taken out to be planted in the mucky hillsides.
We met one of the locals in charge of reforestation, and he said, as there are tears in his eyes, “You guys have made such an impact on our community. Most people like you from the U.S. are coming to us and saying, ‘This is my vacation, and I want you to take care of all my needs.’ You guys are coming to help us with our needs, and this is so neat.”
If someone was on the fence about going on a regular cruise or this cruise, I’d say with a regular cruise, you’re going to have fun, but you’re not going to get anything out of it. With this, you invest in that local community, make local contacts, and you really make some friends on the ship, too. If you’re coming in wanting to learn about what volunteering means and change your life, this is a good option for you.