Launched by Carnival Corporation in April 2016, Fathom is a totally new concept: Caribbean cruises that focus more on getting to know the local community than days at the beach.
The line’s sole ship, the 704-passenger Adonia, made history in May 2016 when it was the first passenger ship to cruise from the U.S. to Cuba in 40 years. The ship cruises out of Miami year-round, alternating between sailings to the Dominican Republic for volunteer tourism and sailings to Cuba for cultural immersion.
Adonia previously sailed as part of the U.K.-based line P&O, and while it was refit when it joined the line, the focus on these cruises is much more on the enrichment than on the ship itself, or even the onboard activities. Adonia does not have a lot of bells and whistles — you won’t find a casino or stage productions, and there is just one pool and a small spa — but it’s also the only ship that has an onboard storytelling booth and workshops on curiosity and social innovation.
And while the travel restrictions to Cuba have eased in the last year, U.S. citizens still need to visit the island via a “people-to-people” exchange program — you can’t just go and, say, stretch out on the beach the way many Europeans do there. Fathom’s itineraries and excursions satisfy the requirement and make it easy to get around the island. The activities come on board as well, with Latin dance lessons and concerts by local musicians at the pool during sea days and in the evenings.
What We Love
Making a Difference: In the Dominican Republic, passengers can choose from a variety of activities designed to help out in the local community, from delivering clean-water filters to families in remote villages to pouring concrete floors in private homes. Some of the projects are hard work, but they also offer a feeling of accomplishment.
Cultural Exchanges: Fathom's trips to Cuba focus on educational interactions with the Cuban people, including artists and community leaders. From walking tours to meals at traditional paladares (family-owned restaurants), passengers are encouraged to learn about Cuba and get to know the locals.
Best Known For
Workshops: Sea days are spent attending lectures and workshops put together by the Impact Guides (Fathom’s version of cruise directors), many of whom have backgrounds with organizations like the Peace Corps. Their enthusiasm gives these sailings an air of summer camp, which seems to appeal more to the volunteer-focused crowd on Dominican Republic sailings than on trips to Cuba. For example, on our Cuba cruise, a storytelling workshop cleared out before it was even over, while the cocktail-making class was enthusiastically attended.
Making Cuba Easy: Travel to Cuba is still new for Americans, and you won’t find the same variety of hotel options or basic infrastructure of other Caribbean islands. These cruises make it simple to see multiple cities without much planning.
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Who It's Best For
Do-Gooders: There is no obligation to do the volunteer activities, but be aware that many of your fellow passengers are there to make a difference, and may be offended by “slackers” who are less interested in participating.
Families with Older Kids: The Dominican Republic sailings attract multigenerational groups who are interested in bonding while volunteering. Children need to be at least 8 to cruise on Adonia, and some of the activities may be too difficult physically for younger passengers.
Deal Hunters: Dominican Republic sailings are a fraction of the cost of Cuba sailings, with prices as low as $200 a person for a week-long itinerary.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
The Ship Is Continental: Even after a full renovation there is still an English country-house vibe to the ship — a look that is at odds with the ship’s sunny Caribbean location. The British-trained crew was also kept, meaning you’ll find a high level of service despite the relative newness of the line.
This Isn’t a Beach Trip: The Dominican Republic cruises only make one stop, spending four days docked at Amber Cove on the northern coast of the island. The port was created by Carnival to serve their ships, and it has a pool and waterslides — but no beach. If you aren’t doing one of the volunteer activities, you are better off arranging for transportation to the larger Puerto Plata, a 15-minute drive away.
The Food Isn’t Great: While the Ocean Grill specialty restaurant is worth the extra charge, the main dining room and buffet leave a lot to be desired. The attempts at Latin dishes were particularly disappointing on our sailing. (The arroz con pollo, for example, tasted more like tandoori chicken.)
The Line Is Still Working on Its Identity: The line is still making adjustments to hit the right marks for the audience — which varies greatly depending on the itinerary. While passengers to the Dominican Republic may bond over the volunteer activities, those on the Cuba cruises are more likely to be looking to relax and immerse themselves in a new culture. For the Cuba sailings, programming both onshore and on board is in flux. The line has already revamped onboard programming to include lighter yet informative activities, such as architecture bingo and presentations on Cuban coffee.
Kristen Boatright is the New York City-based senior video editor of ShermansCruise.com.