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Fathom Wants to Make a Difference One Cruise at a Time

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Carnival Corporation has debuted a cruise line with a conscience that sails to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. We got the scoop from Fathom’s president Tara Russell.

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Most cruises are in and out of a port in hours. But passengers on Fathom’s ship the Adonia spend three full days in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic—and there’s much more than zip lining on the itinerary.

Immersive activities like creating water filters alongside locals are part of Fathom’s commitment to impact travel, developed by president Tara Russell.

“Building a new category of travel has challenges, and one is that people may not fully realize what that means for their trip; it’s not voluntourism, and it’s not a traditional cruise,” says Russell. “What it is, is an immersive opportunity to connect with people in the places we are visiting in ways that you feel comfortable. So that could be teaching English to the local kids or planting trees as part of a reforestation project. You can do as much or as little as you want. And if what you need most is complete rest, our newly built port offers plenty of fun water sports and island activities.”

Read on to learn more what makes the Fathom experience unique and how Russell hopes to woo skeptics and make a lasting social impact in the Dominican Republic and beyond.

There are cruise devotees but also plenty of skeptics. What about Fathom might change the minds of the latter group?
Fathom is a journey that uses a ship to take you on that journey. We have combined some elements of ocean cruising with immersive touring, river cruising, and adventure travel to build a truly unique way to connect with our world. So if you don’t love cruising, you may still want to try Fathom.

I’ve found that one of the most magical elements of being on a ship is being in the middle of the wonder of the ocean and disconnecting in a way only the ocean can provide. On Fathom, we’ve repurposed a small ship that we call “our neighborhood.” It’s cozy, and people begin to get to know each other immediately in a way that’s real and genuine. And they begin to engage in workshops where they can learn more about the places we are about to visit—and it all becomes very contextual.

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How does Fathom cultivate this community of travelers?
One way we do this is by offering choice. On the ship there are multiple ways to discover and engage to craft your own personalized vacation. On the ground, every traveler has option to join three impact activities. We want people to experience the remarkable beauty of the northern Dominican Republic in a way that speaks to their soul. It’s very different from what most people think about the Dominican. Northern DR is not a land of all-inclusive resorts. It’s lush and spectacular, and the people are among the friendliest, most gentle I’ve ever known. So whether that is through participating in every impact activity we offer or doing one impact in the morning and then heading to the waterfalls or sitting by the pool, our travelers feel like they get closer. 

Another thing is that Fathom appeals to all ages and cultures. I took my parents and grandparents, my husband, and kids—a group from ages 8 to 92—and some experiences we shared together and others that were individualized.

My daughter enjoyed working with the women of RePapel, a paper recycling co-op, while my son loved building ceramic water filters and concrete floors.

80% of the homes in one of small communities of the DR have no floor, which creates all kinds of challenges. You meet a family in the morning, and by the end of the day, the entire house has flooring. It’s awesome to think, wow, I just put floors in someone’s house. And it’s something you do in a group, it’s an assembly line of passing buckets of concrete—I can’t even explain the beauty and the impact it has on the life of the traveler as well as on the lives of those in the DR. I know how this experience has affected my own family and the fact that we have this shared experience as part of our diversity of memories is truly extraordinary and enduring. 

How did you choose the Dominican Republic and what do you hope to accomplish there?
When you say Dominican Republic, most travelers think of heading south to the resorts around Punta Cana.

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 After a massive amount of research and collaborative work with locals in the northern DR, we believed that if we built support and brought a volume of travelers, it could change the opportunities for people in the north. We want to help this region achieve its vision in a way that’s sincere and authentic while connecting travelers to Dominican people.

We’ve had the privilege to co-develop experiences on the ground with Dominican partners. We’ve created jobs, improved the economy, assisted in economic development, and worked with children to improve their language skills—all of that is supremely important to us and rewarding.

What we’re doing in the DR is powerful, but what is potentially more powerful is the impact that our thousands of travelers have when they go back home—how they better connect with their workplace, family, community, and live their best lives.

You’re expanding to Cuba. How is that going and how do you see Fathom evolving?
The possibilities are endless! Any part of the world could be ripe for these beautiful partnerships. What impact travel looks like in every country is different, and while we may have high hopes for a region or country, it really depends on the local partners and the demand from travelers.

We’re just starting to get to know the Cuban people, and our trips to Cuba are different, more of a rich cultural experience with person-to-person activities.

 We’ve known the DR for many years, and Carnival has nine other brands that visit the Caribbean. So beginning this winter, we’ll be looking at ways that other cruisers on the ground in the DR can experience Fathom.

What advice would you give a first-time Fathom cruiser?
Be open to possibilities—again. When we were children, we were all filled with possibilities. Most of us believed we could be or do anything we wanted. But as we get older, we are bombarded with negative news that feels very divisive. It stops us from dreaming and getting involved. At Fathom, we are trying to invite people to once again get involved, imagine the possibilities, and be a part of something bigger. So bring your open mind, your playful self, and get ready to connect, be inspired, relax, rejuvenate, and share a joyfully abundant experience with new friends and neighbors of our world.

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