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Cruise News: A New Cruise Line with a Focus on Volunteering

Plus: New Alaskan cruise-tours and scuba diving with giant tortoises

A new cruise line focused on providing volunteer opportunities—and improving the communities it visits—is about to set sail. Fathom is "a different kind of cruise that combines your love of travel with your desire to make a difference." This one-ship brand, part of the giant Carnival Corporation, will carry travelers from Miami to the Dominican Republic, where they can take part in an array of projects and activities over a three-day stay. 

The company’s focus is "travel with purpose." Fathom’s founding president, Tara Russell, has a background in business and social impact projects and hopes the line will provide the scale to foster social change by sending tens of thousands of people a year to work on a select number of community-led development projects. 

Fathom’s first trips will be to the Dominican Republic, where travelers will have a choice of volunteer experiences. For example, they might help a rural women's cooperative that produces artisan chocolates for sale from locally grown cacao. Fathom volunteers can pitch in to help at every stage, from cultivating cacao seedlings to cleaning and fermenting the seeds, roasting them, separating the nibs, mixing and pouring the chocolate, wrapping the finished bars in foil, and packaging them in paper labels. Or they might make natural clay water filters for local homes, gathering the materials, shaping the filters, firing the clay, and distributing the finished products. Other opportunities include helping schoolchildren practice their English, improving local housing by painting or pouring concrete floors, assisting arts and crafts entrepreneurs, and helping special needs therapy patients.

When not volunteering, cruisers can relax on beaches, windsurf, snorkel, sail, or explore historic and cultural sites including a colonial fort, a museum dedicated to locally mined amber, and rum and cigar factories. The cruise port itself, Amber Cove, also offers a large pool with swim-up bar, a zip line, and overwater cabanas.

The Dominican Republic cruises are set to begin April 10th. All trips will take place on the 704-passenger Adonia, which will sail Sundays from Miami, arriving at Puerto Plata on Tuesday afternoons. Travelers will be able to participate in projects until Friday afternoon, then the ship heads back to Miami, arriving Sunday morning. The training, materials, and transportation for the volunteer activities are included in the cruise fare, while recreational activities like sightseeing excursions cost extra.

Starting in May, Fathom also hopes to sail from Miami to Cuba for people-to-people programs sanctioned under new U.S. rules (pending approval from Cuban authorities). Unlike the Dominican Republic cruises, the Cuba program does not focus on volunteering and has a set schedule. Travelers will spend eight hours a day in structured people-to-people activities such as taking a walking tour of Old Havana, visiting an organic farm, and interacting with artists and musicians. Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba are the scheduled ports.

Fares for low season (September 11–25) for the Dominican Republic trips start at $974 per person, double occupancy, while shoulder season (April 10 to May 22 and from August 28) starts at $1,256, and peak season (June 5 to August 14) starts at $1,465. The Cuba program starts at $1,800 in low season (September 18 to November 13), $2,320 in shoulder season (May 1–22 and August 21 to September 4), and $2,710 in peak season (May 29 to August 7). Taxes, fees, and port charges for both destinations are an additional $208.

Also in Cruise News

Two new ways to explore Alaska

This week Royal Caribbean International announced two new cruise-tours scheduled for 2017 that will get guests hiking, kayaking, and biking in the Alaska wilderness. Each itinerary is a 12-night tour that pairs a seven-night cruise with a land program. The first, called "Kantishna Select Wilderness & Wildlife," lets guests explore Denali with local experts. Participants can hike the Exit Glacier, go on a kayak and bike adventure at Eklutna Lake, and travel by rail from the Denali National Park and Preserve to Fairbanks. Two nights at a Kantishna backcountry lodge are included. The second, the "Katmai Bear Trek & Kantishna Fly Over," offers travelers the potential to get an extraordinarily close and unobstructed view of American brown bears hunting in Katmai Park and Preserve. Participants will have two nights in Denali or Anchorage before or after the cruise.

 Cruises for Scuba Enthusiasts

Silversea Expeditions' scuba diving voyages take adventurers to remote destinations and top diving sites in the western Pacific and Indian oceans. In 2016 and 2017 the 120-passenger Silver Discoverer offers 20 different cruises for experienced divers. Itineraries include "Australia (Great Barrier Reef) & Indonesia," a 14-day program from Cairns, Australia, to Balikpapan, Borneo, and “Myanmar & Andaman Islands," a 15-day voyage from Phuket, Thailand, to the Maldives. Perhaps the most intriguing, however, is the 17-day "Maldives, Seychelles (Aldabra) & Africa" trip, which features a rare chance to visit the remote coral atoll of Aldabra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site teeming with marine life as well as thousands of giant tortoises. Passengers who plan to dive need an Advanced Open Water Diver license or equivalent and must bring their own buoyancy control device (vest) and regulator. Silversea will provide weight belts, tanks, masks, and fins free of charge.

 Anne Kalosh doesn't count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she's on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.