Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Featured

Fathom Travel: Making an Impact in the Dominican Republic & Beyond

May 2, 2016
Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Carnival Cruise Puerto Plata

A year ago I launched my travel blog as an outlet to share my travel experiences around the world in hopes of inspiring others to travel. It’s been a lot of work but relatively “easy” to write my posts to date — until now. As I sit here struggling to describe my latest adventure, tears welling up in my eyes, I fear that words won’t capture the magic that was my Fathom Travel experience to the Dominican Republic. No matter what I say or which photos I post, my hope is to breathe life into how Fathom Travel has embraced Jackie Robinson’s words:

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

Around the World with Justin
Recently I was blessed and honored to join fellow travel writers and social media influencers on the inaugural sailing of Carnival Cruise’s new brand called Fathom Travel which offers cruises to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Unlike anything available in the travel industry, Fathom Travel President Tara Russell has remarkably revolutionized the traditional cruise experience by combining it with social impact travel.

So what does this mean? Through Fathom Travel, passengers on this 7-day cruise sail to the Dominican Republic and have the opportunity to participate in “impact activities” aimed at creating systematic, sustainable and long-term change in a country where over 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. The trip is not just about giving back, it’s also about cultural immersion, discovering the beauty of the Dominican people/land, personal growth and yes, having fun!

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Carnival Cruise Justin Walter

Before going on what I referred to as a “service trip cruise,” I had my doubts. Having cruised before in the Caribbean, I wondered if something like this could actually work. I worried that the impact activities had the potential to be intrusive rather than transformative. I questioned if a cruise could provide the environment necessary for travelers to actually care about serving others. My list of concerns continued: Would we be welcomed? Dismissed as privileged? Challenged? Taken advantage of?

Reflecting back on my initial concerns now, I realize Fathom Travel designed the trip to address any imaginable doubts I had. With intention behind every single element of Fathom’s design on both micro and macro levels, I stepped off the ship truly confident that this venture will have a positive impact in the Dominican Republic and on travelers that take the journey.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Adonia Amber Cove Puerto Plata Carnival Cruise aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Around the World with Justin
Embarking on this trip as a solo traveler, I headed from Los Angeles to Miami where I boarded the Adonia in the Port of Miami. The ship departs on Sundays at 4pm (guests must be on the ship by 3:30pm) and returns the following Sunday around 8am. Below is the Dominican Republic itinerary as of April 2016.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic ItineraryFathom Travel Dominican Republic Adonia Port of Miami aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

As a sponsored member of the media, one of the first things I did was attend a “media briefing” to learn more about the week ahead. Within minutes I was lucky enough to meet Spencer Spellman, Rachel Rudwall, Laura Lawson Visconti, Jessica Blotter and Sean Krejci. Fate brought us together. From that moment forward we became a small tribe within a larger family on the ship. Tied by our common love for adventure travel, deep conversations, Settlers of Catan, LOST, the perfect fried egg, living outside our comfort zones, questioning the purpose of life, Dominican rum and laughter I never knew I could love a group of people so much in such a short period of time.

The close bonds strangers developed with one another on the cruise is a testament to the way Fathom Travel designed the trip. During our first two days on board, we got to know each other through meals, workshops, activities and free time. After building a solid foundation, we then strengthened those bonds through impact activities, excursions, thoughtful conversations, late night games, drinking and dancing. Sailing back to Miami we then had time to decompress and let loose. Over seven days I was able to connect with so many incredible travelers from all over the globe who collectively have inspired me to be the best version of myself, a kinder traveler and a harder worker – and that’s just from being ON the ship!

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

After a day and a half of sailing to the Dominican Republic we finally arrived at Amber Cove where our ship docked for four days. At a press conference on the ship with Carnival Cruise CEO Arnold Donald we learned that the company invested over $80 million in building the Puerto Plata port for Fathom Travel and its other brands. Walking around, I was stunned — I hadn’t imagined that Amber Cove would be a gorgeous, resort-like destination. Similar to a Disneyland-esque gated community, this highly commercialized port offers a traditional cruise vacation, but serves as the gateway to a completely atypical experience.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Around the World with Justin
The heart of Fathom Travel lies in its “impact activities.” It’s standard in the cruise industry for ships to offer a variety of excursions for passengers when they arrive at their port destinations. What makes Fathom Travel unique (and frankly, groundbreaking) is in addition to standard “shore excursions” like museum tours, ziplining, snorkeling and deep sea fishing, passengers have the opportunity to spend their time serving those in need. The company has actually (and impressively) partnered up with two local community development organization in the Dominican Republic, Entrena and IDDI, to create and facilitate the impact activities aimed at making changes in 1) Education 2) Environment & 3) Economic Development. Currently the DR Impact Activities include:Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

  • Reforestation & Nursery
  • Recycled Paper & Crafts Entrepreneurship
  • Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
  • Community English Conversation & Learning
  • Student English Conversation & Learning
  • Water Filtration Production
  • Concrete Floors in Community Homes
  • Creative Arts, Music & Sports

One of the best things about Fathom Travel is it’s really up to you to decide what you want your experience to look like. My friend Spencer Spellman said it perfectly — it’s a DIY Cruise. You can spend every day serving others through impact activities or split your time between them and other excursions – it’s completely up to you! For my experience, I chose to spend my time doing four impact activities and one personal excursion.

Concrete Floors in Community Homes

In this impact activity a group of about 25 of us traveled to the El Javillar community in Puerto Plata where roughly 3,000 people live in poverty. On the bus ride to El Javillar our IDDI guide Lawrence told us that many of the homes in the community have dirt floors. When building their homes, families can only afford to construct them piece-by-piece – a wall, a room, a roof and, if they’re lucky, concrete floors. Families living without concrete floors are often plagued by illness caused by unsanitary living environments. Lawrence shared that providing a family with a concrete floor dramatically improves health, but also pride. For an in-depth look at this experience, click here.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic concrete floors impact activity Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Water Filtration Production

Today over 663 million people around the world lack access to clean drinking water. In the Dominican Republic, over 3 million residents have no access to piped water at all. Recognizing that access to clean, drinkable water is a crisis around the world, Fathom Travel and Entrena have partnered with the non-profit organization Wine To Water to create clay water filtration systems in the DR. For an in-depth look at this experience, click here.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Wine To Water

Community English Conversation & Learning

The ability to speak English opens up many doors for Dominicans, especially for higher education and job opportunities. During this impact activity Entrena guides brought us to a local community where we were given English lesson plans, paired up with members of the community and taken to their actual homes to teach English. For an in-depth look at this experience, click here.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Community English Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Reforestation & Nursery

Together Fathom Travel and IDDI are working together to restore land in the DR that has been degraded largely due to agricultural deforestation. Depending on the day, this impact activity gives Fathom Travelers the opportunity to plant seeds at a nursery or trees throughout the region. For an in-depth look at this experience, click here.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic

27 Waterfalls & More

As an adventure traveler who loves exploring the outdoors, in addition to my impact activities I wanted to do something unique to the DR. That’s exactly the experience I got exploring 27 Waterfalls just 20 minutes from Amber Cove. My three hours of hiking through the jungle, jumping off cliffs and sliding down waterfalls was an adrenaline filled way to enjoy the beauty of the DR. For an in-depth look at this experience, click here

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic 27 Waterfalls Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic 27 Waterfalls Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

My time in Puerto Plata was marked by four impact activities and one personal excursion. The best part is these just scratch the surface — Fathom Travel provides so many impactful, unique and interesting opportunities for travelers to explore, understand and appreciate the Dominican Republic.

Around the World with Justin
Our home for the week was Adonia, a smaller ship that can hold up to about 700 passengers, a fraction of the size of the ships I had been on in the past. Despite its smaller size, it still has all the same amenities of larger ships – restaurants, bars, outdoor pool, gym, spa, interior rooms to suites and on-board activities.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

I absolutely loved having a cruise ship as our home base throughout our DR journey. In a lot of ways it felt like an adult, family-friendly summer camp. Participating in activities on and off the ship, it was always nice to come home to the same group of people who were excited to open up with one another about their shared and different experiences. Sure, Fathom Travel has some kinks to work out (like any new company), but overall they did a phenomenal job of using Adonia as a vehicle to establish a sense of community and greater purpose among travelers. By the end of the trip, I recognized so many faces, created lasting friendships and walked around the hallways as if I were attending my 10 year college reunion. We truly established a “Fathom Family” unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in all of my travels.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Amber Cove Puerto Plata aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic aroundtheworldwithjustin.comFathom Travel Dominican Republic Adonia Amber Cove Puerto Plata Carnival Cruise aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

If you’re interested in booking a trip with Fathom Travel (which I hope you are!) below is the pricing as of April 2016. Click here to book your trip now!

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic rates prices aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Adonia Amber Cove Puerto Plata Carnival Cruise aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

Around the World with Justin
When I’m commonly asked the question, “Why do you love to travel?” I’m guilty of usually rattling off a list of selfish reasons. For a majority of my life, my love for travel has been centered on personal growth — experiencing the world through adventures that offer me a deeper understanding of humanity in hopes of becoming a more well-rounded and educated global citizen. When it comes down to it, most people travel for selfish reasons and that’s ok.

Fathom Travel challenged me to go beyond my selfish love for travel by giving me the opportunity to be selfless through travel. It’s a company that is truly changing the travel narrative by making impact travel accessible and mainstream, while at the same time still tapping into the core of why we love travel. Through a cruise, let me say that again, a cruise, I have reignited my passion to live a life of importance by having a positive impact on the world. My service in the Dominican Republic may have been finite, but its impact on my life (and the DR) will be infinite.

“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

Thank you Fathom Travel for being important. Your impact on the world will #TravelDeep.

Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Adonia Amber Cove Puerto Plata Carnival Cruise aroundtheworldwithjustin.com Fathom Travel Dominican Republic Adonia Amber Cove Puerto Plata Carnival Cruise sunset aroundtheworldwithjustin.com

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19 Comments

  • Reply Spencer Spellman May 2, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    Dude, really love this. You rounded out the entire experience nicely, and tied it all together so well.

    • Reply Justin Walter May 3, 2016 at 7:55 am

      Thank you Spencer! Means a lot coming from such a pro and someone who was there experiencing it with me. I’m so happy we met through Fathom Travel and excited for more adventures to come.

  • Reply Amy May 5, 2016 at 6:24 am

    Thanks for this great account! I am booked in June to head to the DR with my two teen sons, and we’re even more excited after reading this. My main concern is that the impact activities might be intrusive instead of helpful. Sounds like you didn’t feel this happened, which is encouraging!

    • Reply Justin Walter May 5, 2016 at 5:07 pm

      Hi Amy! Thank you for the positive feedback. I’m so excited for you and your sons!! Such a great family experience. As I mentioned, I think Fathom teaming up with the local non-profits really helps in the effort to have impact activities that aren’t intrusive. In every activity I did the Dominicans were beyond grateful. I’d love to hear how your trip goes, please keep in touch.

  • Reply Beth Meyer May 5, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    This was so great to read all about y’all’s trip! Great meeting you and look forward to seeing you around LA soon! 🙂

    • Reply Justin Walter May 5, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      Thanks Beth! So great to meet you too. Excited to come check out your pastries (so yummy!) and to hang more in LA!

  • Reply ANNE HERLOCHER May 9, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    Im even more sure this trip was in Gods plans for my life right now, Im booked for May 22 and going Solo worried maybe I wouldnt want to go alone but after reading your accounts Im sure it will be fine. I am SO looking forward to it even more now reading your account.
    THANKS for sharing

    • Reply Justin Walter May 10, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      Hi Anne! I’m so excited for you!! I’m a huge fan of traveling solo and think you’ll have an amazing experience. Fathom Travel is all about living outside your comfort zone and going alone you’re going to meet so many amazing people. If you haven’t traveled solo often just put yourself out there – sit with different people at meals, introduce yourself to strangers on excursions, talk to someone you otherwise may never cross paths with, etc. Have such a fun time learning about yourself, the DR and social impact travel. Let me know if you have any question and how your trip goes.

  • Reply Janet Engel May 10, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Fantastic post – I will be sailing to the DR with fathom on June 5 – this post is so helpful and well written ! I am more excited than ever !

    • Reply Justin Walter May 11, 2016 at 3:21 pm

      Hi Janet! I’m pumped that you’re going on the June 5th sailing to the DR and that my post got you excited. Definitely let me know if you have any questions. Have an awesome trip, step outside your comfort zone, meet incredible people and learn a lot. Cheers!

      • Reply Janet Engel May 11, 2016 at 5:43 pm

        Hi Justin- tell me more about the hike and waterfall adventure! Did you do that on your own, or was that a Fathom paid “excursion”? I want to do the impact activities but want to hike and explore also!

        • Reply Justin Walter May 11, 2016 at 6:09 pm

          It was AWESOME! It is not a Fathom excursion, but you can easily do it on your own. I’m currently writing my blog post about it! Look up “27 Waterfalls” near Puerto Plata. It’s only about a 20 min ride from Amber Cove and is a 2.5 – 4 hour adventure that takes you hiking, jumping and swimming in waterfalls. I highly recommend it!

          • Janet Engel May 13, 2016 at 6:26 am

            thanks! Also- I have heard that it is about a $35 taxi ride each way from Amber Cove into POP? is that true? Is it just a matter of negotiating that down?

          • Justin Walter May 13, 2016 at 1:20 pm

            Of course! Happy to help. I’m not exactly sure on that specific rate, but how it works is Amber Cove has one taxi area that has standard prices to different locations. The prices are a little high and you can try negotiating down. Since it’s one company and there really aren’t alternative options its tough. We were able to get some lower rates. I recommend going with other people to split costs.

  • Reply Diosiris Dipré May 27, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    Thank you very much for this article about our country, there is much joy and enthusiasm and this motivates us to provide the best ever. Thank you JUSTIN WALTER.

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  • Reply Kristin Luna November 28, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Awww, fun. You were on that trip with my pals Rachel and Spence. Bet y’all had a blast!

    • Reply Justin Walter November 28, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      A friend of Rachel and Spencer is a friend of mine! They were the first people I met on the ship and we became fast, best friends. I LOVE them so much! #TheCruisables

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