After a few dozen big ship cruises as a guest lecturer (mostly travel photography) and crafts instructor, I was ready for a different cruising experience. Back in 2002, my mom had wanted to take a river cruise on the waterways of Belgium and Holland, so we paired up for a non-working cruise and headed to Europe. One time on an intimate riverboat was all it took; I was hooked and never thought I would return to the big ships again.
That all changed when some friends bounced an idea off us that was different than the typical big ship cruising experience: impact travel. I had never heard of the concept in cruising, but Fathom, a one-ship cruise line launched by Carnival Cruises last April, had done just that.
Fathom’s 704-passenger former Renaissance ship, Adonia, made headlines by being the first cruise ship to take American passengers to Cuba; but, what I didn’t know was that the ship sails to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic for one-week impact travel cruises on alternate weeks.
Puerto Plata wasn’t on the top of my bucket list for destinations—I had been there before as a teenager on a family cruise—but this opportunity intrigued me. After hearing David and Melody’s excitement about the concept and their idea of having us experience it together, I did some further research. Bruce and I both loved what we discovered, so we signed on. After visiting them in Vero Beach, we’ll drive down to Miami and hop aboard Adonia together.
Now, before I explain further and (possibly) get you excited about the concept of impact travel, I recently learned from two different USA Today articles that Fathom will cease operations in spring of this year. The ship has been sailing far under capacity, and the cruise line is losing money. Unless you book your cruise and travel soon, you will be out of luck.
We got an affordable deal– $850 for BOTH of us, including port fees and taxes, for a one-week cruise. Even at this great price, it is doubtful the ship will sail anywhere near capacity.
On our day of departure, we will set sail from Miami to Puerto Plata. During our transit, we will participate in workshops to learn about the culture and prepare us for our chosen volunteer activities. While the ship stays docked at Amber Cove in Puerto Plata, passengers will have the option of being tourists, volunteering, or both. Those of us who will be volunteers will spend three days immersing ourselves in the local culture and collaborating with local volunteers on community projects that will have an impact on education, environment, economy, and more.
The need in Dominican Republic is tremendous. The poorest half of their population receives less than one-fifth of the country’s annual GDP, and most of them live below the poverty line. Job prospects for women are especially scarce.
While looking over the various choices of how we could help make an impact, one option stood out above and beyond the rest: Chocal, a women’s cooperative that cultivates organic cacao plants and produces chocolate from bean to bar.
Under the guidance of Dominican Institute for Integral Development (IDDI), Chocal has been successful in creating jobs, providing local cacao growers with an outlet to sell their plants, and generating income from the sales of their organic chocolate. Along the way, the women have learned new skills and have been afforded the opportunity to continue their education. Flexible work hours have allowed the women to do all this while still caring for their families.
As volunteers, we will participate in the complete cacao production cycle: from planting and cultivating the organic cacao trees, to sorting cacao beans, to molding chocolate, and packaging the final product for sale in their gift shop and aboard Adonia.
According to Fathom’s website, by helping to improve production and increase sales, we will be helping Chocal to thrive, so it can hire more local women and provide more income to the region.
This is a win-win! Visiting a full-production cacao plantation was on my bucket list; however, trying to incorporate it as part of a vacation with my husband was proving to be difficult. Bruce is totally on board with this and has even enthusiastically agreed with my idea of volunteering all three available days at Chocal rather than choosing two other activities. Our friends will also be joining us on one of the days at Chocal, and then spending another day making clay water filters. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of stories to share that evening over dinner back onboard ship!
Stay tuned for more on this upcoming adventure!*
*Unfortunately, thieves have gotten smarter and figured out how to prey on travel bloggers, so for security reasons (even though we live in a guarded community and have a house sitter), our travel dates will not be noted, and future posts will not be published until after we return.