My review of the Fathom Adonia impact cruise to the Dominican Republic
By ,Kate Blake
I spent a fantastic week earlier this month on the new impact cruise with the new cruise line Fathom on the Adonia. Below is my Fathom Adonia Cruise review.
The Adonia was most recently part of the P&O Cruises fleet and retains much of her British charm and heritage along with her crew. She is classified as a small ship with a maximum number of guests being about 700. This is the same size as many of the Regent and Oceania ships. Her compact size means you can get from one end of the ship to the other without getting lost which is a nice change of pace!
The atmosphere is casual, the ship’s decor elegant but understated with a lot of classic design elements. There are plenty of activities and things to do on board. The ship has a nice pool deck which was always busy, a beautiful spa, a nice workout area and a jogging track up top.
There are no waterslides or kids’ clubs but the programming provided plenty to keep youngsters busy. There is no casino but the bars, card room and assorted activities kept like-minded adults occupied.
Movies were shown in the large Curzon Lounge each evening. These were mainly newer releases – a lot of the families headed down here to enjoy this entertainment. I generally had dinner late then went to my room to spend a little time on the computer then read some before going to sleep. My travel companion was a good friend who I hadn’t seen in some time so we spent a lot of time just catching up and talking, either on our balcony or up on the Lido deck so she could smoke.
For those worried that a small ship means a rough ride – my room was toward the front of the ship, but the Adonia was built in 2001 and has modern stabilizers so even when the seas were rough only a handful of the most sensitive people had any motion sickness issues. I am not prone to being seasick and had no difficulties.
Dining on Fathom Adonia
You had three choices for dining – the buffet on the lido deck at the back of the ship had the best views during sail-aways and at sea. Food was very European in flavor. Plenty of cheese, meats, fish and crackers for cold breakfast and lunch, a good salad bar and there were always hot food options. I found breakfast in the main dining room to be better than in the buffet if you had the time for it. The main dining room featured a variety of dishes from around the world including Caribbean inspired options. I liked the goat curry served at lunch on the last day at sea. Lamb was on the dining menu regularly.
The first night of the cruise I had the biggest and best prepared beef tenderloin I have ever had on a cruise – this includes in a premium steakhouse. My tenderloin was a good 10 oz and prepared perfectly to order – rare but warm all the way through and not bloody – delicious! Other meals of note – prime rib (though I think you had to get in to dinner earlier to get a better cut). The second to last night I had an impressive lobster thermidor which was a big hit. There were a variety of Indian inspired entrees and side dishes along with items like callilou (collard greens Jamaican style) and other nice greens. Hard boiled eggs made appearances as appetizers which was a little odd but tasty. I liked the hard ice cream and sorbets available for desserts every night.
I heard other guests complaining they really wanted just a good burger or a piece of chicken – the international menu was not for everyone. There was pizza in the buffet but sometimes those were a bit odd. I have a feeling the menus will settle in over time as the crew gets to know the taste of the American guests.
Dining was open seating every night and casual. Nobody dressed up. My one knit black skirt was paired with a variety of t-shirts and I was good to go for dinner each night. The third dining option was the Ocean Grill the one premium restaurant on board. I didn’t manage to make it to the Ocean Grill this time – will have to report on it next time!
Passengers on Fathom Adonia
My cruise was one of the first to the Dominican Republic and it was at about half capacity with around 300 total guests. Many of these were travel agents. There were about 30 people onboard who had just done the inaugural Cuba cruise, who had been offered a great deal if they stayed on for a week so they did. The remainder were paying guests including quite a few who were scouting out the trip with plans of setting up big group cruises.
The people who came on with a desire to experience the Impact Activities and make the most of them had the best experience. There were travel agents onboard who were not motivated by wanting to participate and they complained a lot comparing the cruise to regular cruises – which it is not.
There were quite a few families on board with kids from ages 7-17 The families on board really took advantage of the provided programming and activities – I saw a lot of kids running around and taking part in the scavenger hunts and boning up for the trivia and other activities provided.
We had an ethnically diverse passenger base. One of the women in my cohort group was from the Dominican Republic and she provided tremendous insight into her people. I had a lovely couple in my group – he is a retired Air Force Colonel and his wife was a retired school teacher and is a pastor. The two of them run a program to help military families kids get ahead. They are planning to bring a bunch on this trip next year as part of a community service and outreach program for the kids.
Impact Programming on Fathom Cruises
Every guest is assigned to a cohort group. This is your discussion group and team. You have an Impact guide who is your teacher and resource for the trip. My guide was Amber. She is American, very young and has spent several years living abroad. She came to the Fathom experience wanting to give back and do something different. This is a recurring theme with the guides. Most did not have cruise experience and many did not even come from the hospitality industry. This was good and bad as I had a couple of times when other guides did not manage to keep their cool the way a seasoned professional would.
Your guide’s primary job is to get you ready for the cultural journey you are embarking on. Your first day on the cruise you get a crash course in history, culture and how to greet people. I did use the kissing greeting we were taught and appreciated the quick history lesson. In your cohort you also spend time getting to know your other guests and their motivation for the trip. I had a great team of people who pretty much all showed up for our meetings over the course of the week – not everyone did this.
There are seminars and ongoing activities onboard regarding storytelling, making sense of your life, meditation and yoga classes, and fun activities too, like an evening of wine and painting where you get to drink and play with paint. The yoga and meditation classes were a hit with the early risers. The gourmet coffees were more my speed.
Preparation for Impact Activities
There are several impact activities you can do on land and you prep for them on the ship. The water filter and concrete floors projects require a small fee – like $25 per person to participate – but the other activities are all taken care of with your cruise fare. The chocolate factory and recycled paper projects are no-fee activities.
I participated in the Chocolate Factory experience and Student English. Next time I will double down on the English activities as the folks who did the Community English program loved it. To prepare for the English programs, you take a class on the ship where they show you the teaching materials and go over the lesson being taught that week. I speak rudimentary Spanish fairly well but for those who do not they offer a quick primer on basic Spanish on board the ship throughout the week with plenty of opportunities to take a crash course.
The Impact Activies – Why You Are Here
My first impact activity was the Chocolate Factory experience. This was fun! We drove about an hour outside of the cruise port up into the mountains to the buidings where the women’s co-op Chocal has their factory. On the way up, our program managers on the island from the group IDDI – a local aid group (www.iddi.org) – gave us a lot of information about the communities we were visiting and how people lived. They pointed out the cacao trees which grow the pods which chocolate comes from.
At the factory we met a number of the ladies at the co-op who welcomed us. They work with their families to produce organic, locally grown chocolate primarily for the Dominican markets and they sell some on site and at the cruise port.
This played out like a really good shore excursion – we saw the machines they used to roast the beans, we got to pick through the roast beans sorting good from bad, then the roasted beans are crushed releasing the nibs from the shells. We then picked shells from the chocolate nibs, we also got to try our hands at molding chocolate and wrapping it. We also helped sort out roasted corn as they also make a local favorite corn mash drink along with the chocolate.
After this we walked down the road to a processing center where they had a nursery for cacao trees, big trays where raw beans were drying and a smelly room where the beans go through a fermentation process before being roasted. After all of this we had a lovely traditional lunch of morro (a local red beans and rice), rum and sugared plantains, a hot salad (cabbage with peppers), and a delish stewed chicken.
After lunch the gift shop opened and then we were done. The locals like us coming because all of the leftovers are shared as lunch for everyone else. One thing to note – not only does the co-op provide income to the 18 women who started it and their families but it provides much needed job experience. There were a lot of young men working at the co-op – most relatives of the founders and owners. These young men work there for a year or two, usually while still in school. When they leave their mountain town and head into the city, they can say they have real experience and get a better job at a factory because Chocal is well known through the region.
My second impact activity was Student English. I did this on my last day in the DR and it was wonderful. We took a bus ride up into the hills through lush farmland and one of the most primitive roads I have been on in a bus. At one point we had to go around a cow which had decided to lie down in the middle of the road.
After a bumpy hour we arrived at the elementary school high in the hills and it was down to business. The guides with us today were with Entrena (www.fathom.org/wp-content/uploads/media-assets/Fact-Sheet-Entrena.pdf) – another local aid organization. We learned a song to use in our teaching and when we arrived at the school the kids were well prepped for us.
Our class was a group of 11-12 year olds and we were paired off with 1-2 kids per volunteer. My charge was an 11 year old named Manuela who lived an hour from the school and her father took her everyday on his motorbike. She is one of 8 children – and she is the only girl! Her bff Veronica was never far away and the two giggled and whispered back and forth quite a bit. I imagine they keep their teachers busy.
We followed the lessons, then each of us tutors went off book and worked with our tools to get things going a little deeper. My week we were working on numbers and my charge had a tough time with two numbers – thirty and fifty. She wanted to call them threety and fivety – we had to work on that quite a bit. My friend had to work with her charge and his difficulty with the v sound. Anyone who speaks Spanish knows they say v as a b – and learning the v is a whole new thing. You do not have to know Spanish to teach your own language; it is your ability as a native speaker which comes in so handy. A lot of time was purely pronunciation.
The kids were really cute and I know they had to enjoy spending an hour with the volunteers instead of their regular school work. For summer cruises the student English will be done at big summer camps in the mountains.
The Dominican Republic
Prior to my trip I knew very little about the Dominican Republic. Thanks to a recent two-part special on the Travel Channel series Expedition Unknown, where host Josh Gates explored the real history of Christopher Columbus, I knew that the Dominican people lay claim that Columbus’s bones rest in the capital of Santo Domingo – which is on the other side of the island from where my trip was going.
The DR, which shares its island Hispaniola with Haiti, was the first place to be settled by Europeans in the new world with the first settlement by Columbus being made in 1494 at La Isabella, only an hour or so from Puerto Plata where we were staying. The original inhabitants of the island were the Taino people – of whom only a few stone carved tools and weapons remain. Europeans brought slaves to Hispaniola to farm the rich lands and mine it for its resources. The island was one of the first to throw off slavery after a series of bloody revolts in the late 1700’s which led to the exodus of colonial rule by the French who had taken over the island after the Spanish discovered more riches in south America.
The history of Haiti and the Dominican Republic has been rocky. The 20th century saw the DR ruled by a dictactor, Trujillo, who was very good at making those who opposed him disappear. Since he was assassinated in the 1960’s they have moved to a Democracy. Today they have a government that is working to lift their people up and forward.
The locals admit there is a lot of corruption. The country is known as a drug smuggling way-station and they are trying to build up enough local businesses and opportunities so that the kids can see other ways forward than drug money. This year they have had a pilot program which will be rolled out eventually to all schools. Kids 7-17 will attend school from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM and while at school will get breakfast, lunch, snacks and if they need it, a dinner will be provided. The government wants kids busy and learning so they will not be tempted to get into trouble
The island is rich in food resources – a lot of fresh fruit growing everywhere and. English is a big focus in the schools including the most rural ones – tourism is a big part of the growing economy.
Everywhere we went, when people learned we were with the Fathom group, they said: “Thank you, we appreciate you coming to help our country. We are happy you are here and hope you spread good news about us.”
The other side of the island is home to the big resorts around Punta Cana and is well known. The Puerto Plata side, not so much, and this is where Carnival and the Fathom efforts are being focused and the populace seems to be embracing it.
The Cruise Port of Amber Cove
The Carnival Corporation built Amber Cove with an eye toward the future. The other side of the island, Samana, had been the port of choice for many years in the DR. It is on the other side of the island and still frequented by cruise ships. The port at Amber Cove has an amazing pool for those not wanting to get out and venture into the country – lots of shops including plenty of local goods and goodies are there too.
Amber Cove is only minutes from Ocean World, the local water park where you can swim with dolphins. About a half hour away is the bustling city of Puerto Plata, and a little further is Sousua with gorgeous beaches. If you do not want to leave the port – you can rent an over-water bungalow or villa for the day and enjoy swimming in the bay where the ships dock.
Shore Excursions and Activities in the Dominican Republic
I did three different ship-sponsored shore excursions: an art and history tour into Puerto Plata, a history tour to La Isabella and the ruins of the original Columbus settlement, and a fantastic snorkeling tour with a catamaran ride.
A number of the younger, more adventurous guests did tours with local drivers and went to the famous 27 waterfalls. Not for the faint of heart or those not in really good shape, it is a full day of hiking, rock climbing and jumping off of cliffs. Others went diving as there are plenty of good dive shops in the area.
There is a local restaurant area where you can get great seafood. My colleague Angie had a tour driver take her all the way to Santo Domingo to see the city and more of the island.
With 3 nights and really 4 days in port you have time to really get out and experience the Dominican Republic on this cruise more than any other cruise you will take in the Caribbean, other than the Cuba itinerary also offered on this same vessel.
Our trip did not go to Cuba but I spoke to several folks who did. Some took the tours provided by the cruise line and enjoyed them very much – others signed special waivers and had private tours that they did. All agreed that the people were lovely and they appreciated having their ship to come back to at night.
I had folks tell me they were initially not keen on the day at sea after Havanna – until they did two full days in Havanna with non-stop activities and decided that a day to rest up was fine. All agreed that the people on our Dominican trip seemed to be more relaxed and friendly than on the Cuba trip. I think the two different kinds of cultural experiences lend themselves to different audiences.
Final Thoughts on My Fathom Adonia Cruise Review
I really enjoyed myself on this trip. I usually find that the best places you visit are the ones you never thought you wanted to visit. I liked seeing so many people that were so hopeful. Today our world is so focused on fear and people go on and on about what they hate – it was really refreshing and invigorating to me on a personal level to be some place and do something where people with so little are so hopeful.
When I was much younger I had the same feeling when I worked in medical sales and spent time on the Indian reservations. I loved spending time with the people who worked at the clinics and hospitals on the reservations. They were not there for the money but to sincerely help others and try to bring a better life to those who really need it.
The people-to-people experience that Fathom delivers was inspiring. Is this for everyone? No. But if you want to take a great trip to a beautiful island and come away with more than a tan – consider an Impact Journey.
Click here to view my video from the Fathom Adonia cruise.