Brilliant: Carnival Brand Fathom First To Cuba

Recently,  Carnival Corporation announced a giant leap in its philanthropic efforts, launching a new trademarked brand dubbed ‘Fathom’ and defining a new travel category tagged ‘social impact travel’.   Beginning operations in April of 2016, Fathom will take a different sort of cruise traveler for what could be the ride of their lives. Globally-minded passengers who want to make a difference in the lives of those who live on close-by Caribbean islands will have the best cruise-based opportunity to do just that.  Beginning with the Dominican Republic, Fathom passengers will work alongside locals and fathom partner organizations on one or more projects suitable for a wide range of ages, levels of skill and amounts of physical activity.  Good stuff there for sure, but not for everyone.  We liked the idea for a number of reasons and now we have one more: Cuba.

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During the first month of operation, Fathom will get its feet wet in the Dominican Republic, a beautiful part of the world with its share of problems.  Poverty, infrastructure needs and a corrupt government with leaders that “keep all the money’ as our guide told us when visiting not long ago, walking through the lush jungle landscape.   On the way to the Dominican Republic two days at sea will prepare travelers for the experience and include a wide variety of impact-readiness experiences. Ranging from an orientation to the Dominican Republic, conversational Spanish lessons, impact activity training, creative workshops, personal enrichment and more this is not a ‘lay around the deck and soak up the sun’ cruise.  Lessons on unseating corrupt officials, not on the menu.  The reaction was heralded as a great philanthropic move by the world’s largest cruise corporation and in line with a long history of giving back, shared by other cruise organizations as well.   Still, one had to wonder if Fathom could fill a 710-passenger ship at the $1540 price per person.  It was like something was missing. Until now as the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce granted approval for the company to begin travel to Cuba.

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First To Cuba- The First Major Cruise Line

As the first major cruise line to establish a presence in Cuba, regardless of how they got there, Carnival Corporation has its foot in the door, albeit the back door, much like other travel organizations that sourced travelers from the United States.  While relations with Cuba are becoming more relaxed and general cruise travel to what could be the most attractive piece of real estate in the Caribbean are improving, the door is not wide open yet.  Mainly student travel company People-To-People has been making travel to Cuba a reality for U.S, citizens with an engaging and educational program that works.  Applying a similar focus with the creation of Fathom, Carnival Corporation will establish a foothold on the Cuban cruise market, while making a difference in the lives of both those who visit and those who live there. Bonus: Cuba learns the cruise business from one of the best and American lawmakers with a hard-nosed approach to Cuban relations save face while enabling robust economic stimulation.

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First To Cuba – Not A Entry Hack

Of the dozen reasons why we could visit Cuba with the proper licence included official business of the U.S. government,  journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, athletic and other competitions, it’s the people-to-people element of Fathom that opens the door. The U.S Department of Treasury details that as “persons subject to U.S.jurisdiction to engage in certain educational exchanges in Cuba under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact”

“We are excited about receiving U.S. approval as the very important first step to ultimately take travelers to Cuba under the existing 12 criteria for authorized travel. We look forward to working with the Cuban authorities for their approval to help make the social, cultural and humanitarian exchanges between U.S. citizens and the people of Cuba a reality,” said Arnold Donald, President and CEO of Carnival Corporation.

First working out the details in the inaugural April month of voyages to the Dominican Republic, fathom will then offer both Dominican and Cuban itineraries on a regular basis, giving travelers the opportunity to choose from two destinations and a range of activities from social impact in the Dominican Republic and educational and cultural exchanges in both countries designed to have a positive, transformative effect on the lives of the travelers.  It would be really easy to jump to the conclusion that this was Carnival Corp’s end game in the beginning and indeed it probably was.

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First To Cuba – Brilliant Any Way We Look At It

Common sense would tell us that it was probably not a matter of someone reacting to the initial New York City announcement with “Great idea, lets go to Cuba” then a month later that happens.  My thought: Who cares?  Regardless of how we get there, mainstream cruise America now has the opportunity to visit Cuba on a cruise.  Stop right there and it’s a win, especially to travelers who don’t want to fly to a different part of the world to begin a cruise vacation.  Yes, they will have to become more globally focused to make the engaging part work for them but is that such a bad thing?  My hope is that in the process, a more global view is gained which will feed a hunger to travel internationally.

Somehow I have to believe that working side by side with Dominicans and/or Cubans literally planting seeds for the future is going to have a mind-blowing effect on those people.  I’ll probably be one of them and look forward to the experience; not so much because I like to plant things or get involved with changing the world; that’s not my go-to activity when traveling.  But some of the very best moments in our travels around the world come from stopping somewhere some amazing travel company takes us to drink in the local flavor.  We have met people in foreign lands that we look forward to seeing again, have returned in the past to visit multiple times and have recommended to others for the goods and services they provide.  Still, the gold in those recommended experiences is the connection made with someone in a place formerly unfamiliar to us.

Kudos to Carnival Corporation for this brilliant move that establishes Fathom as the first (and for now only) choice that enables visiting Cuba.  In the process,  those who engage the Fathom experience will gain far more than photos of a new Caribbean island, souvenirs from a new place or the usual and customary memories collected at other destinations.  Those who buy into the program and fully embrace all that it represents can walk away solidly changed.  If that sounds a bit familiar, it’s typical of the effect of any decent cruise vacation when travelers have totally removed themselves from ‘real life’ for a bit.  In the closed environment of a cruise ship the end result brings them back feeling a bit different somehow, changed for the better in some way. To those who ‘get it’ about cruise vacations and feel that way after each and every sailing; your ship has come in and it is named Fathom.  The potential for personal growth here is huge and a brilliant move by Carnival Corporation, any way we look at it.