An obituary for the young, well-intended project
Fathom, a voluntourism-focused cruise line that represented the first brand created by parent company Carnival Corp. since the 1990s, was killed Wednesday after reportedly sagging sales to certain destinations. It was 17 months old.
According to a statement from Carnival released just before the Thanksgiving holiday, the one-ship cruise line, which operated week-long voyages to the Dominican Republic and Cuba since late April, will continue sailings through May 2017, but will cease to exist after that. The Adonia, the 704-passenger ship, will return to the fleet of Carnival’s P&O Cruises in June 2017.
In an article on Skift, a Carnival spokesperson said the Fathom name will live on through the experience of volunteer activities as shore excursions and will expand to other cruise lines in the Carnival family.
“We feel this is a strategy to evolve Fathom from a single ship to have even more of our guests experience Fathom through all of our brands,” Roger Frizzell, Carnival’s chief communications officer, told the travel news site.
This news was foreshadowed earlier in November when Carnival noted it would roll out Fathom-branded shore excursions on lines that visit Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic.
Whatever happens to Fathom from here, the line provided entree to Cuba before any other cruise ship received authorization. Fathom started trips from Miami to Havana in May, and, as of this writing, it remains the only cruise line with permission from Cuba to sail from the United States. (A number of other cruise lines are awaiting approval from the Cuban government.)
Fathom also was the first-ever cruise line specifically dedicated to doing good through what brand president Tara Russell described to AFAR as “social impact cruising.” These activities included teaching English, planting trees, and building shelters.
Some experts wondered if this emphasis on making a difference ultimately contributed to the cruise line’s undoing. Fathom originally said cruises would cost $1,500 per person, but the Skift article noted that the brand was advertising rates as low as $249 per person as recently as September.
While the line seemed to track well with a subset of conscience-driven millennial travelers—when it launched, Fathom took a preponderance of travel bloggers on trips to generate buzz among the target audience—it stumbled with others. Reports surfaced recently of the cruise line making special direct appeals to service groups, churches, and private schools.
From the very beginning, the Cuba trips performed better than the ones to the Dominican Republic. Earlier this year, Fathom actually switched a few Dominican itineraries to Cuba. Carnival has asked officials in Cuba for permission to sail there with other brands starting in June 2017.
Fathom is survived by Carnival Corp.’s eight other cruise lines, including P&O, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, and Cunard Line.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.