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If you head over to any of the sites by cruise experts – like our friends from Cruise Fever or CruiseLine.com – you’ll notice there are a wide range of types and styles of cruises as well as different classifications: from adventure to family, river to ocean. There are a myriad of different types of cruises and different combinations and it can be tricky figuring out which one is best for you.

Types of Cruises To Know

To help in the decision making process, we’ve put together a list of five different styles of cruises, some of which we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, the others we’re just waiting to try!

River Cruise

Deck on Viking River Cruise

Our very first type of cruise we went on was a river cruise. In fact, our second cruise was one as well and we enjoyed both so much, we fell in love with cruising altogether. Both of our cruises were with Viking River Cruises and with two different itineraries – one on the Danube visiting Christmas Markets in Hungary, Austria and Germany and one through Provence, France – we had a chance to really tap into River Cruising life and enjoy all that it’s about. And boy did we fall in love with it and with Viking!

We often find the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when the term “cruise” arises is a large ocean liner with pools and a casino, large masses of people and buffet dinners… at least that was the main image that was created whenever anyone talked about their experience. A river cruise however, is a much different type of cruise.

When asked, we usually explain the largest difference as this: Whereas an ocean cruise uses ships that can serve as a destination all on their own, a river cruise offers ships that take you, in comfort and style, to each destination and serve to help enhance those experiences.

You have small, intimate numbers onboard with a staff you come to know, almost wholly, should you choose. Because of the small numbers you’ll have a few dining options and for our Viking experience, onboard dining was spectacular! The food was some of the best we’ve ever eaten and the service was impeccable.

River Cruises also often travel short distances and mostly at night so you’ll generally wake up in a new destination ready to start the day exploring and chances are you’ll have some beautiful scenery waiting for you right from your stateroom window.

You’ll also find that entertainment ends early in the evening. Days are often filled with excursions or self-guided exploration and tend to start earlier in the day resulting in quieter nights as most people file off to bed. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in each stop as the focus of the cruise is really about each individual destination, rather than onboard activities – though there are those available too in the event you’d rather stay on board during the day.

River cruising is really great for those who are looking for more intimate, social settings where you have the opportunity to really interact with fellow passengers (should you choose), where you’re on land everyday as opposed to having days at sea, where most costs are already included in the price and where there is a calmer vibe, not to mention calmer waters, as amenities and entertainment aren’t available 24/7.

Luxury Yacht Cruise

ponant cruise in Brazil

This is one of the types of cruise we only recently learned more about. While looking at the itinerary for Ponant Cruises’ Ten Days At The Heart Of Brazil cruise, we made our way to learn more about the ships and became intrigued by what we found.

This is a style of cruise that seems to be part river cruise, part ocean cruise and all luxury. For instance, some of the amenities that Ponant yachts have include a well-being centre with spa and salon treatments, a pool and sun deck, lounges and bars, a theatre, a shop and leisure areas. While this is reminiscent of an ocean liner, the smaller numbers of passengers, fewer (but 5-star) restaurant options and overall feel seem to be more in line with a river cruise. It sounds like a pretty perfect combination to us!

Like ocean cruises, you’ll also have the benefit of both days at port and days at sea, allowing you to enjoy each destination while also offering time to fully explore the ship itself. For instance, with the “At The Heart of Brazil” cruise, stops are made in Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia and Recife while the rest of the time the ship is at sea. With this cruise, Ponant takes passengers on an exploration of various regions in Brazil, visiting historical and cultural sites, observing stunning landscapes and delving into the heart of the country while on land and offers a luxury travel experience while on the water.

Luxury yacht cruises give the feeling as though you are sailing on your own private yacht to incredible destinations in comfort and luxury… and that sounds pretty fantastic to us! We’ll definitely be looking into Ponant cruises for a cruise itinerary to go on next!

Ocean Cruise

MSC Divina Ship

As we’ve already mentioned, ocean cruises are often the most common cruise that comes to mind and while the large ships we often see exist, there are a range of sizes to be found cruising the ocean.

Ocean cruises, especially those with larger ships, offer a variety of amenities you probably won’t see in the other styles mentioned. It’s on these ships that you’ll find casinos and clubs, a host of restaurants and bars, game areas, many shops and activities galore. Our cruise on the MSC Divina had us experiencing this first hand and gave us the itch to ocean cruise more!

With often 24/7 dining options and entertainment, you’ll be able to find something to do at any time. These ships are a destination on their own. Vegas style shows, multiple restaurants to choose from, movie nights and dance classes and with so much going on, you never really have to leave the ship to have a good time!

You’ll also find that larger ocean cruises come with larger crowds of people so you’ll experience a different style of socializing as well then if you were on a smaller sized ship.

Ocean cruises offer a taste of each destination you visit with the convenience of an entire destination of a ship at your fingertips.

Impact Cruise

Fathom Adonia Cruise Ship

NOTE: Fathom will cease operation in 2017 though Carnival operated cruises that dock at Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic may still offer impact excursions like the ones we’ve described.

We were able to experience an impact cruise first hand when we went on a Fathom Cruise to the Dominican Republic. A volunteer-based cruise line, Fathom passengers can experience a different side of travel.

Rather than cruising from port to port, we headed straight for the Dominican where we docked for the duration of the trip until we headed out to sea to return. While docked, we were able to participate in the typical shore excursions or be part of one of the activities meant to help facilitate growth and development in the local community.

Taking part in these impact activities, like teaching English, working in a cacao factory and planting trees, allowed cruisers to learn more about the economic, sociological and cultural factors that are found deeper than what you’d see just visiting the tourist destinations.

There has been much talk, for and against, this type of cruise. For us, we’re pretty sure the impact was more on ourselves and the understanding we have of the country and its people but that’s a pretty great thing to bring home and can make passengers more understanding and compassionate as they travel in the future. We definitely weighed the pros and cons of a Fathom Cruise before and after, and came out with a positive outlook overall!

Though a smaller size ship, The Fathom Adonia still had amenities like a pool and deck, spa and fitness room, restaurants and bars, lounges and regular entertainment. It is definitely a different style of cruise and it will be interesting to see if additional cruise lines pop up offering similar experiences.

Tall Ship Cruises

Tall ship Toronto

We’ve seen tall ships before. In fact, you’ll probably see one if you’re walking around harbourfront in Toronto as there are daily cruises during the warm season. But those are a couple hours, not a couple days. So when we heard that one of our friends went on a food cruise in Maine on a tall ship, we knew we had to find out more about this type of cruise!

What we’ve learned is that they take the term “intimate’ cruise to the next level compared to the rest of the styles we’ve mentioned. With small numbers, typically under 30, the setting is private and service can be incredibly personalized.

These cruises are remarkably unique and seem to bring some adventure to the experience as you’re getting really up close and personal with the waters.

It’s definitely a more hands on experience as you can really interact with passengers and crew, most often climb a mast, learn about the ship, involve yourself in the sailing itself and enjoy the open air and views.

It’s a cruise for those who want to travel the seas as we did in the past – travelling long distances, conquering new territory and navigating our way around the world – all while enjoying a personalized, often luxury, cruise experience.

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After two river cruises in Europe and a Caribbean cruise on a small ship focused on impact travel, we were anxious to experience a large ocean cruise line for the first time. When we confirmed our booking with MSC Cruises for a 4-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, we were excited and eagerly anticipated what a ship, with a max capacity of 4,000 people, would be like! Here’s our MSC Divina review with a look at what to expect while on board.

The MSC Divina: Mediterranean Luxury in The Caribbean

From everything we were told before we boarded, the MSC Divina was not going to be the average cruise experience – something MSC Cruises prides themselves on. We were told we would be getting a unique experience, that it wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill corporate, commercial cruise. They were right.

The MSC Divina is obviously a ship that has sailed the Mediterranean. In fact, before it ventured to Miami to set sail in the Caribbean it was a regular throughout the area. With strong Italian influences on food, decor and design, the MSC Divina has been called one of the most beautiful cruise ships you’ll see on the water. We can believe it. From our cabin to the outdoor decks, to the public spaces in between, we were blown away by the stunning appearance and style of it all. It may have been our first large ocean-cruise but it definitely exceeded our expectations when it came to visual aesthetics!




The ship also boasts a unique Yacht Club with private access to members only, a butler service and amenities and dining options reserved only for that section. The experience must be something else as security is tight and you won’t find any non-Yacht Club members finding their way into that section of the ship!

Cabins

We stayed in a balcony cabin on the 11th deck of the MSC Divina. We were surprised by the size of the room which was incredibly large and spacious. The decor was fitting with the rest of the feel of the ship – clean and elegant with rich colours. There was even an elaborate towel animal waiting for us!

The room came equipped with a TV, desk, minibar, safe, hair dryer and outlets for both 110V and 220V. There was a seating area where the desk and TV was, with a couch and table and the sliding glass doors beside which opened up to a nice sized balcony.

The bed was double, or two twins if you preferred, and was pretty comfortable. There was plenty of space to store luggage under the bed and enough room in the wardrobe and drawers for all our stuff to be put away neatly.

The bathroom was also spacious, clean and elegantly designed with a larger than expected shower and soap provided in a dispenser in the shower itself.

Dining

Food on board the MSC Divina

You have a few options for dining on the MSC Divina. For formal dining, you can choose between the two main dining rooms –  The Black Crab or Villa Rossa. These have open seatings for lunch and dinner but assigned seating for dinners, which means you’ll be given your dining area and table for the duration of the trip. We were assigned a table in The Black Crab. With two levels, and beautiful decor, it really does feel like dining at an upscale restaurant. Menus are provided in a number of languages and options change each day.

The great thing about these menus? You can choose whatever you want and however many of it! That’s one of our favourite things about cruising and it was no different on the MSC Divina.

For less formal dining, there are two buffets – which are attached and essentially become one giant buffet space. We honestly couldn’t tell when we were leaving one and entering another but that may be because our attention was often focused on the food! Calumet and Manitou are open early and close late so they are open for all meals and late-night snacking. We found this buffet had quite the variety and very enjoyable. Though the European cuisine is what the ship specializes in, their burgers are ridiculously good. You’ll also want to head over to the pizza station for some spectacular pies!

In addition to these included restaurants, the Divina offers additional restaurants which passengers can dine at and pay for separately, including an Eataly Steakhouse and an Eataly Pizzeria inspired by the famous, largest Italian marketplace in the world by the same name. Other areas where passengers can order food at an extra cost include the Galaxy Restaurant (which turns into a club at night) and the Sports Bar.

The Eataly Pizzeria was RIDICULOUS! A metre long pizza with various different toppings made it like several different pizzas in one! We shared it between six people and it was more than enough for all of us to feel full at the end. At a reasonable price, it was one of our favourite meals!

The Piazza del Doge & Aqua Park both have gelato bars at reasonable prices, if you didn’t buy a package with gelato included. Pastries can also be bought from $1 USD or more at the Piazza del Doge and enjoyed in a setting reminiscent of an Italian piazza.

Onboard Activities & Entertainment

MSC Divina shows on board

We really thought the activities onboard were fantastic! The daily schedule is filled with a variety of different activities to choose from (or not) and, if you wanted, you could make sure you were busy at any point of the cruise. There are poolside games and dance classes, poolside bingo (which was held twice during the four day cruise we were on!) movie nights and trivia and musical entertainment around the ship, just to name a few.

There is also a full-scale production nightly that takes place in the giant Pantheon Theatre. Each day offers a different show, performed twice nightly, which are Vegas-esque variety shows with singing, dancing, acrobatics and magic! It was pretty spectacular that this same group of performers put on a different large production each night. The final night we saw their big show – the Michael Jackson Tribute – which was phenomenal and a great show whether you’re a huge Michael fan or not!

MSC Divina entertainment staff

We were fortunate to be onboard for one of the special entertainment events. Murray Hockridge, a contestant from The Voice UK, was the guest performer one evening. Incredibly talented, he was truly entertaining and added a special something to the whole experience. The great thing? You never know what can happen while on the ship! On the last night, Murray and some of the other onboard entertainment crew got together to put on an impromptu jam session in the Piazza del Doge, complete with piano, violin, guitar and drums! There was even an opportunity for talented passengers to take the stage… and let us tell you, they were impressive!

Really and truly, the entertainment staff are all incredible – really engaging and fun and you’ll definitely notice their presence, in a positive way, all over the ship.

Ship & Amenities

MSC Divina Pool Deck

As we had mentioned, the ship is truly stunning and feels like you are staying in a luxury hotel complex. Decadent and elegant, sophisticated and refined, the MSC Divina pays true homage to Sophia Loren, whom the ship was named after and dedicated to – upon request by Sophia herself!

There’s the Swarovski crystal staircases in the atrium which itself is beautifully decorated and adorned. The elevators, with glass walls looking out onto the atrium, even look gem-like as they move up and down shuttling passengers. Chandeliers and artwork, sculptures and furniture add to the Italian feel and elegant style.

The ship also boasts quite a few additional amenities that add to the experience. As in most large cruise ships, there is a casino available for those that like to place a few bets while cruising on the waters. There is the Aurea Spa which offers a variety of services to cater to your every relaxation, massage or facial need! We both got a facial and massage at the beginning of the cruise and came out feeling so incredibly relaxed and refreshed, ready to enjoy the rest of the cruise.

Some extra paid activities onboard are also available. We participated in the wine blending activity – The Wine Maker Experience – and had a one-of-a-kind experience learning about wines and the process of combining different varietals to create flavour profiles. We even got to make a bottle of our own to bring home!

There are common areas like a library, disco (Galaxy Bar at night), the Aqua Park with a pool and whirlpools, an infinity pool and indoor pool, foosball, bowling lanes and ping pong tables. There are also a variety of bars and lounges offering different kinds of atmosphere in each as well as entertainment options in many of them throughout the cruise.

An incredibly unique feature is the 4D cinema and F1 racecar simulator! At an extra cost, you can try either of these for an exciting activity!

Cozumel Cruise Excursions

cozumel mexico beach MSC Divina excursion

There are a variety of shore excursions to choose from if you’re looking to get off the boat and have a tour planned for you. While we often like to explore on our own, the options were so appealing we decided to take one of the Mayan ruins and beach day combinations for our Cozumel cruise excursions.  We were only in port for one day, as it was a four-day cruise, so we wanted to maximize our time which meant a full day of activity.

We chose to visit the San Gervasio Mayan Archaeological Site followed by some beach time at a local beach on the island. Since Macrae had always wanted to see some Mayan ruins, and since we love the beach, it seemed like a perfect option – and it was!

Our guide was funny and knowledgeable and we learned a lot about Mayan history and what information archaeologists have unearthed (literally) about the ancient Mayans who built these structures.

San Gervasio Ruins Cozumel MexicoAfter a thorough exploration of the site and many stories about the Mayans, we headed to a local beach. We were the only ones there when we pulled up and with a couple restaurants right on the beach, had an easy time finding a seat and ordering some food quickly. We went with chicken fajitas and man, oh man, were they good! We discovered there’s little better than authentic Mexican cuisine in Mexico.

After satisfying our hunger, we walked along the pristine beach, finding ourselves in an area with only a few others around. The water was crystal blue, the sky was clear and the sand was soft as we strolled, taking in this paradise that was ours for a moment.

Our MSC Divina Review

MSC Divina Review by One Modern Couple

We had a fantastic time onboard the MSC Divina! It was a great option for a first large cruise and an option we would definitely choose again! We found it to be a wonderful experience being surrounded by European style, and in fact many European passengers, and the ship was just a beautiful setting and environment. Here is our concise MSC Divina review of the pros and cons we saw onboard!

Our Likes

  • Embarkation/Debarkation was fast! We had next to no wait time to board or deboard the ship. It was a seamless process and took out any of the added stress normally associated with checking in and out of any accommodation or trip!
  • There was a large amount of activities, included and at an additional cost, that ensured we were entertained when we wanted to be and added to the overall experience. We particularly loved the Wine Maker Experience and haven’t found anything like it elsewhere.
  • The nightly entertainment in the Pantheon Theatre was impressive! There’s a reason they received a standing ovation after every single performance!
  • There were quite a number of bars and lounges on the ship to choose from. Our favourite was the Golden Jazz Bar. We loved the vibe and atmosphere, the ridiculously comfortable seats and enjoying live music as we sipped our drinks, usually a ginger beer, and listened.
  • The Eataly options were fantastic dining experiences. We particularly enjoyed the pizzeria with foot long pizzas at an incredibly reasonable price. It was one of the best pizzas we’ve tasted!MSC Divina Eataly Pizzeria
  • For us, the prices seemed super reasonable. Gelato was sold for around $4 USD, the coffee and drinks were what you’d expect at a bar or coffee shop in a downtown core and the shops sold toiletries and gifts at comparable prices to those in the stores on land. We never felt like they took advantage of the fact that we were surrounded by water and had no other option but to buy something onboard – and that is a significant thing.
  • The coffee was spectacular! Our favourite place to enjoy the coffee options onboard was Caffe Italia. A whole menu of coffee and tea options that would please even the most critical of coffee lovers. Their drinks packages are also pretty reasonable and have many options to choose from so you can have all the coffee you desire based on what package you choose, or pay by the cup!
  • The buffet burgers and pizza. Though their European dishes are great, we heard the burgers and pizza were really good and we learned that “really good” is an understatement. They are two of our memorable choices and definitely recommended!
  • One word: GELATO! Not only one but TWO gelato bars are present on the MSC Divina. With rotating flavours, we made sure to get any flavour we saw and wanted each day – just in case it didn’t make it back into the rotation during the rest of the cruise! Again, with some of the packages, gelato is included which means you’ll probably be dodging the included soft-serve ice cream area and making your way to one of these displays of deliciousness! Though we love the fresh fruit flavours, we found a flavour combination on the last day that made us eager to get back onboard – one scoop of their milk chocolate and one scoop of their hazelnut. It’s like Nutella or a Ferrero Rocher!

Some Room For Improvement

  • Though choosing a large cruise ship (almost 4000 max capacity) means you’ll be expecting to see a lot of people, we really didn’t feel the crowds as much as when we were at the buffet. Things felt a bit crowded and chaotic but the food was good enough to compensate.
  • In all we read about MSC prior to cruising with them, we consistently heard that they were steadily improving their service and continue to work on improving in this area. We did notice that there were some gaps that need to be filled as they cater to more and more North American travellers who have a different expectation for service than the European travellers that were primarily seen while the MSC Divina cruised the Mediterranean.

Tips For Your Trip & Things To Pack for the MSC Divina

MSC Divina Ship At Dock in Mexico

We found a few tips for those new to the MSC Divina including those new to cruising in general looking to take their first one onboard this gorgeous ship!

  • Self-Assist is essentially choosing to carry your own luggage off the ship rather than setting it outside of your room on the last evening for someone to take it off for you. The benefits of doing this is an early debarkation time and no wait for your luggage. You’ll be the first to get off the ship and you’ll already have your bags with you! If you do check your bags with the ship’s staff, you’ll be assigned a debarkation time and will have to wait until that time to leave and grab your luggage.
  • Drinks Packages are a great idea if you plan on drinking alcohol or coffee. MSC Divina actually has some pretty great options and reasonable prices for the packages and, if you think you’ll only want a coffee in the mornings, you can purchase a ticket package with only a set number of beverages at a cheaper price. We definitely recommend one if you’re looking for more than just the buffet beverages. The packages also often include all-you-can-eat gelato which was a huge bonus for us!
  • If you’re planning on going to the spa, book early! You’ll probably want to make sure you get a primetime, or any time, for your spa appointment so the earlier you book, the better options that will be available. We chose to have our massage and facial early in the morning of the second day which left us refreshed and relaxed, ready to enjoy the rest of the cruise. If you’re the kind that stresses out the closer a trip comes to an end, you may want to leave it until one of the last days!
  • Onboard spending accounts are kept for those that make any additional purchases onboard – whether it is drinks for those that don’t have a package or items from a gift shop or store. Unless you are opposed to using a credit card, the easiest way to handle this account is to link up a credit card when you board. Upon debarkation, the account will automatically be closed and you won’t need to head to the front desk to sign or close out the account.
  • Loyalty matches are something that MSC Cruises will do for you if you are a loyalty card member at another cruise lines or even hotels, MSC will match your loyalty status and offer you the benefits reserved for their loyalty members at that status level! It’s a great way to try something new without loosing the perks you are used to receiving!
  • We recommend bringing a water bottle or canteen to carry around your water or other beverages as you explore the ship. It’s also great for any excursions you may go on.
  • Pillows are something we recommend you bring. Though the beds were incredibly comfortable, we found our sleep would have greatly benefitted by better pillows. Since you don’t have to lug your suitcase around once you check-in, it’s not that great of an inconvenience to pack one when you go.

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NOTE: Fathom is no longer in operation though Carnival operated cruises that dock at Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic may still offer impact excursions like the ones we’ve described.

What do you get when you combine a Caribbean cruise with a desire for social impact? Seven days of immersive travel and an opportunity to connect with locals. That is the goal Fathom, a brand under Carnival Corporation, has set out for the cruise line when it started this Spring of 2016, with cruises heading to the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

We were fortunate to be able to cruise on one of the first handful of trips to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and had an experience quite unlike other cruises, or trips, we’ve had in the past. With the cruises here, the idea was that travellers looking to do more for the destinations they visit can work alongside locals in the community in an attempt to improve the lives and living conditions of the people in the area. Their purpose is not voluntourism, it’s not to work for people, but instead to work with them to build something sustainable and lasting.

Fathom Cruises & Impact Travel

Fathom Cruise Ship Adonia In Dominican

The concept of “impact travel” then, is not to simply volunteer time or donate money, but to leave as much of an impact on the people in the community as they leave on the travellers in return. It is about working with the locals to incrementally build on, improve and grow their resources – as each new set of passengers roll in, their efforts are added to the fold and each group builds on the last. Although it is a cruise, it is also supposed to be travel with a purpose.

A huge part of Fathom is focused on the growth of each individual traveller on board. Not only are there excursions available – or impact activities – in order to contribute to the community but there are also on board activities designed to facilitate personal growth, inspiration and community building with fellow passengers. The activities prepare passengers for their time on the ground with the people of the Dominican and often offer valuable take-home messages and skills.

Fathom Itinerary to Dominican

Fathom Ship Adonia Fathom Cruise




The Fathom journey starts at the port of Miami on a Sunday. For us, it continued on to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. Setting sail in the afternoon after boarding, it sails until midday on Tuesday, docking at port in the Dominican where it stays until it departs again for Miami. From there, passengers have the rest of the afternoon, the following two whole days and the morning of the sixth day (Friday) docked and able to participate in shore excursions, enjoy the newly built Amber Cove – the port that was built for Carnival’s cruise lines – or venture out into Puerto Plata and discover the city, and island, on their own.

While At Sea on A Fathom Cruise

During those sea days, there are a variety of options for how to spend time on board the ship. The key to getting around and not missing any of the activities or workshops is making sure to check the daily ‘Soundings’. These itineraries for the day are great for finding out what is going on all day and where, whether docked or at sea.

First things first though. You’ll be assigned a cohort number when you board. This separates everyone into groups that you can meet with each morning at a designated time to discuss various topics related to Fathom: the Dominican Republic, reflecting on the Impact Activities completed and next steps for travellers looking to continue making an impact.

The rest of the activities are open, no matter your cohort number, and include free activities like latin dance classes, meditation, trivia and musical entertainment as well as activities with a fee like cocktail classes and wine and paint nights. The on board band has regular appearances providing entertainment throughout the cruise.

The best part for us was that everything is completely optional. Prefer to sunbathe by the pool? Looking to sleep in and make your way to eat when you please? Looking to focus on personal growth or, maybe, develop skills that will help you when you hit the ground with the impact activities? You can pretty much take a look at the itinerary and plan your day the way that suits you and your reasons for booking a Fathom Cruise.

While At Port on A Fathom Cruise

Amber Cove Fathom Cruises

While at port, your schedule is very much still your own. It’s here however that impact activities and shore excursions come into play. Your experience while docked depends on what impact activities you’ve signed up for, what shore excursions you’ve purchased and what exactly you want to get out of your time in the Dominican.

Onboard activities still run throughout the day but passengers are able to leave the boat as they please. There are also a few activities that take place at the port. As long as you have your room key, you’re allowed access on and off the ship. In addition to the impact activities, there are a variety of shore excursions like tours of Puerto Plata, snorkeling, and ziplining.

Amber Cove

The Fathom ship, Adonia, docks at Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic and this complex, built exclusively for Carnival’s passengers, is a destination in itself. Restaurant and bar, a coffee shop, clothing and jewelry shops as well as gift shops and many more still to come, the area is an open space for finding souvenirs and gifts and enjoying food and sun without ever leaving port. Perhaps the most popular part is the pool, a large area to sunbathe or swim, it also has ziplining, watersports and cabanas for a fee.

Here you’ll find a mini getaway, free WiFi, and the first stop in the Dominican before you get a real look into the country and culture.

What is the Fathom Adonia Like?

Fathom Adonia Deck

With a max capacity of around 700 people, Adonia is considered a small ship. This smaller passenger count allows for a more intimate experience where you will have the opportunity to get to know fellow passengers and join smaller groups in impact and onboard activities. The ship’s size also doesn’t lend itself to some of the amenities of the larger cruise ships but, with a focus on community involvement, extras like a casino, are typically not at the forefront of many passengers’ minds.  It also allows for quick embarkment and disembarkment and little by way of lines or crowding while on the ship.

Staterooms

Fathom Adonia has four different types of staterooms or cabins: Inside cabins, outside cabins, balcony cabins and suites.

The inside cabins are, as the name suggests, on the inside of the ship and offer no window or porthole. The outside cabins are similar to the inside ones but all have a window or porthole.

The balcony cabins, which is the style we stayed in, also have full-length sliding glass doors opening to a balcony with chairs and a table. In addition, there is a sofa and table that make a seating area as well as a refrigerator – all of which are not present in the inside or outside cabins.

The suites come with all the amenities of the balcony cabins but also have a whirlpool bath in the bathrooms, a separate lounge area with a mini-stereo, magazine and newspaper service, a fruit bowl, mineral water, flowers and daily canapes.

We found our balcony room to be very spacious and comfortable and enjoyed our time relaxing in the room. Having the balcony was great for watching sunrises and sunsets, stepping out for some fresh air and just resting in between activities.

Dining

Fathom Cruise Food

There are several dining options on board. The conservatory is open breakfast, lunch and dinner and also has late-night snacks for those who are feeling a little hungry after a night of enjoying the onboard entertainment. It is buffet style with indoor and outdoor seating.

The Pacific Restaurant, on the other hand, offers a sit-down meal served to your table for all meals (note that some meals are not served here while docked). We found that although there was crossover in the type of food served at the Conservatory and the Pacific Restaurant, the plating at Pacific was so well done we didn’t want to miss eating with our eyes first! It was also a great place to meet new people or meet up with friends you’ve made along the way.

The Lido Grill is located on the pool deck and offers BBQ-style fare like Cuban sandwiches, Dominican-style burgers and jerk chicken. It’s great for an alternative lunch or dinner by the pool.

The last option is the Ocean Grill which had an additional cost and serves Caribbean fare.

Entertainment

Though different then what is offered on larger cruise ships, there is a good amount of onboard entertainment and variety starting with the launch party on the first day. There are activities throughout the day like a lunchtime BBQ and music by the onboard band, scavenger hunts, poolside games and dance classes. Nighttime brings additional dance classes, musical entertainment at a number of the bars and lounges on board, trivia, movies under the stars, a karaoke night and a gameshow with passengers as contestants.

We found something to entertain us whether it was simply sitting and chatting with fellow passengers while listening to live music or joining in on one of the other activities.

Ship & Amenities

Though not as diverse and numerous as larger ships, the Fathom Adonia still has some amenities on board that add to the experience including a fitness room and outdoor track, a spa with massages, facials and acupuncture, a library with board games and computers, a swimming pool, shops and a variety of bars. Unique to Fathom, there are added components that work into the concept of growth, community involvement and travel with an impact like quotes throughout the ship, curiosity boxes spread out in various areas with different finds each day and a photogallery where you can look at pictures taken throughout the journey.

Fathom Impact Activities

Fathom Cacao Cooperative

 

There are several options for impact activities to participate in and it looks like they are actively assessing these during this first season to perhaps improve on the existing ones or include additional opportunities.

At the writing of this article, there are the following activities:

  • Student English – Assisting in teaching English to young students
  • Community English – Assisting in English learning for adults in the community
  • Creative Arts, Music & Sports (CAMS) – an interactive program for students attending a summer program
  • Water Filtration Production – For an extra fee, this project allows you to create water filtration systems and help deliver them to members of the community in need of clean water
  • Reforestation & Nursery – Assisting in local reforestation efforts (note that some days are more physically demanding than others and you should confirm which you’d prefer before booking)
  • Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative – Working side-by-side with women in the community at a Cacao facility as well as assisting in the nursery, planting seeds
  • Recycled Paper & Crafts – Working side-by-side with locals in the community to create arts & crafts from locally recycled paper which will later be sold
  • Concrete Floors – For an extra fee, this project allows you to aid in the effort to improve the living conditions of members of the community by pouring concrete floors in their homes. (note that there are tasks at various activity and fitness levels and participants will be assigned accordingly)

We were able to participate in two impact activities while docked in the Dominican Republic (It seemed that 2-3 was the average for most passengers).

The Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative

This activity was an interesting look into an effort by local women to create productive and sustainable employment for women in the local communities. Here, cacao beans are sorted, cleaned, and chocolate bars and goods are moulded and made. Working with local cacao farmers, they are able to create products to be sold across the country and some of their products are also exported though they are looking to the future when more of their goods can be sold internationally.

During the first part of our visit, we worked in small groups switching between workstations to work in the different aspects involved cacao processing – we sorted the cacao beans looking for bad ones to remove, we sorted cacao nibs from shells, we helped pour chocolate moulds and package chocolate bars. We worked with each other and the ladies of the cacao cooperative and learned a lot about the business of cacao processing and chocolate production.

The second part of our visit involved working in the nursery. Here we helped mix soil, create plastic bag potters for the seeds and put them in the nursery where seeds were added. It was a bit more physically demanding for those that really wanted to get in there and help but it was a rewarding experience.

CAMS – Creative Arts, Music & Sports

Perhaps our favourite part of the cruise was the CAMS impact activity. Here we went to a summer program for students and participated with one of the classrooms. We gave a mini-english lesson, sang songs, made crafts and played baseball. We were split into smaller groups which allowed us to bond with the kids and really interact on an individual level. Though our group of children didn’t speak much english, it was incredibly moving to connect to them through communication other than the English or Spanish languages – smiles, high fives, nods and laughter – though they did seem eager to learn English as we spoke with them.

It was a wonderful day and when one of the kids in our group kept asking us a question in Spanish that we couldn’t understand, we finally called over one of the facilitators and asked her to translate. The question? “When are you coming back?” It was heartbreaking and heartwarming at once especially when her little face fell as the organizer explained that we wouldn’t be coming back again.

We left feeling like we had made a connection to the Dominican Republic that was deeper than beaches and cuisine but feeling like we needed to do more.

Does Fathom Actually Help People?

Fathom Impact Activities

This is the big question and what has made Fathom a bit of a controversial endeavour. It is one of the reasons we wanted to go on a Fathom cruise – to see if we could really make a difference. Our answer? We believe so. It’s not so black and white but then, what volunteer activity is? There is always a fine line between helping and hurting, aiding and injuring, but what we found with Fathom is that it seems like their every intention is to be a leading force in making a difference in the lives of the locals in the Dominican Republic.

Their partnership with local organizations like Entrena and IDDI allows them a deeper understanding of what is needed on the ground and the many ways they can provide assistance through their passengers. They work closely with both groups to maximize impact for locals and passengers alike. They also employ a team on the ground to be present at the activities and assess their effectiveness. It seems as though they are committed to improving, not only the lives of locals, but also the impact activities themselves as it is only the first season of cruises.

The partnership with IDDI and Entrena also ensure that they are integrating Fathom activities into an already established system. They are not trying to determine needs based on what they believe should be done, but instead  are making available resources to many programs or projects already established.

Our Response To Criticisms

It is with this in mind that we assessed two of the main criticisms that we’ve heard about Fathom while we were on board.

Criticism 1: It is too short a time to actually make any impact. In fact, you are only hurting some individuals, like the children, when you leave. This is a criticism we heard before we went but what we realized is that the effect is additive. Each day a new group of travellers build on what was established the day before. The children learning English may only learn a word a day, or a week, but over time it develops into a larger vocabulary. All of the activities are actually contributing to improving the English of locals as they are regularly interacting with travellers. Perhaps this is the most important role those on a Fathom cruise play. We didn’t realize the import of English to the people of the Dominican Republic. During our CAMS activity, the facilitator, a local, shared with us how learning English changed her life and prospects. Since tourism is such a large industry on the island, the highest paying jobs are given to those who can speak English and thus interact with tourists. Without English, options are limited.

Criticism 2: With activities where you’re helping with production of an item, travellers will only be slowing down and hindering the process. We’ll be honest, there were times where we felt we were doing exactly this. With the cacao cooperative, it wasn’t until we were planting seeds that we felt we were actually contributing. The rest of the time it felt like we were making limited progress. What we realized though, is that part of the process was for us to learn about their efforts. Though we weren’t contributing as fast as the ladies would be able to themselves, we were working in a separate area from the main workspace and our contribution, though small, was still something. Again, it is an additive effect.

Our Own Criticisms

Amber Cove Dominican Republic

We should first reiterate that Fathom is in its infancy. Having just started in Spring of 2016, there is much room for growth and improvement and it seems as though they are active in adjusting and bettering each aspect of the cruise and the impact activities as they go. With that in mind, we did have a few thoughts of our own about our experience.

For one, it did seem odd to head back to the comforts of the ship after interacting with locals in less than luxurious conditions. We boarded the ship again and headed to our balcony room before we went on to dinner with our waiters serving us a three-course meal before we enjoyed entertainment and dancing at night, It was quite a contrast… but perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps it’s good to be smacked in the face with the disparity that exists between the countries and classes. It may just make us a little more aware of just how lucky we are and motivate us to make more of an impact in the lives of others.

The second thing we took note of is the fact that, although we were on a small ship, we were contributing to the negative environmental impact on the area. Cruise ships, and Carnival in particular, aren’t known for positive contributions to the environment by way of the waste produced and dumped. It becomes a trade-off. A movement to help the locals and to change the thoughts and lives of travellers in exchange for that detrimental impact.

Lastly, we realized that for this to be a positive thing for the Dominican Republic and the people of Puerto Plata it needs to be lasting and sustainable. Fathom needs to be in it for the long haul and committed to seeing this through. Jobs have been created, hopes have been lifted and changes on the ground are being made – all of which depend on the sustainability of the projects and a continuation of Fathom itself. We felt positive about this happening when we read that the President (and person who came up with the idea) of Fathom, Tara Russell, has an extensive portfolio working with global brands and companies and taking on international initiatives and social enterprises. A look at her past and present projects is comforting and we hope it translates into a lasting and beneficial change in the Dominican Republic.

Final Thoughts on FathomFathom Docked at Port Dominican

What we noticed the most was the change in the passengers themselves. After the first day of impact activities there seemed to be a widespread warmth that was created. People seemed more relaxed and at ease with each other, there was a sense of camaraderie and a willingness to connect. That in essence seems to be what Fathom is all about: connection and collaboration. It’s about building something with others, connecting to those on the ship and in the Dominican, making an impact – however large or small – and opening yourself up to being impacted as well. Impacted by every smile from a local as you work beside them, every new connection made with a fellow traveller and every moment of realization that a difference can be made when people work together.

 

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