Social Impact Travel About To Set Sail

In a New York City event, 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’.  In a nutshell, Carnival Corp is moving 710-passenger MV Adonia from UK brand P&O Cruises, bringing it to Miami and hopes to fill it with a variety of socially-conscious travelers willing to pay to help others, beginning with those in the needy Dominican Republic.   But there is really quite a bit more to the story and the potential impact of the Fathom effort on the world of cruise vacations if not our entire planet.

“We believe travel is a meaningful way to allow for personal growth while making purposeful and engaging contributions to the world.” -Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation

Before we get too far down the road, the Carnival Corporation brands range from Fun to Luxury and include Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, Cunard Line, Costa, P&O Cruises, P&O Cruises Australia, Aida Cruises and now Fathom.  Collectively, they are marketed as the Worlds Leading Cruise Lines.

Carnival Corporation, as well as other major cruise lines, have a long history of giving back.  Fathom continues along those lines and seems a natural extension of documentable philanthropic efforts by each of the Carnival brands.  The obvious direction this story could take would be to highlight those efforts. After all, we have a huge library of Cruise Lines Give Back posts that illuminate efforts of an industry we are quite proud to be a part of.  We’ll get to those stories shortly.  For now, lets just say ongoing cruise line philanthropic efforts range from delivering supplies to Haiti to donating money to a variety of causes, cruising for a cause and helping worthy organizations to community involvement by their employees and engaging passengers with opportunities that include walks on deck to raise funds and more.  Every major cruise line gives back.  This is different.

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A New Travel Category

Part of what we do here is a focus on matching the right cruise line with the right traveler.  On the surface, that might seem to mean painting a vivid picture of what to expect on any given cruise line.  This is the reason readers will not find reviews or critical essays of any cruise line in this space.  We present the cruise line at its best, as it is presented to us by the cruise lines themselves.  We think you should expect no less but don’t differentiate too much on cruise lines in the world of travel categories, and there are a lot of those.  German tour operator Tripodo has a lengthy list that ranges from different sorts of cruises to a variety of land travel categories that include Adventure Travel, Camping, Land Vacations and more.  Mismatched Travel is one of the most commonly experienced categories and one that is quite avoidable if travelers do their homework in advance.

Fathom brings Social Impact Travel, enabling a several targeted groups of travelers and potential travelers to make an impact on the world as never before.  Specifically, according to a Carnival Corporation press release, Fathom is looking to sail with:

  • Millennials – people in their 20s and 30s looking to make a difference in the world;
  • Parents seeking a way to open their children’s eyes to other parts of the world in a meaningful way (approximately half of travelers are expected to be families); and
  • Adults 50+ years of age eager to find rewarding ways to help other people apart from writing a check.

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A New Way Of Thinking

Major cruise lines all have opportunities to give back.  Crystal Cruises has at least one opt-in shore excursion that does much of what Fathom proposes on each sailing.  It is not too difficult to find a give back opportunity at just about any Caribbean island either.  They are all in need and gladly accept a day of passengers delivering school supplies, getting involved in one way or another, etc.  All these opportunities for passenger involvement have enjoyed limited success.

Cutting right to the heart of the matter, with the Fathom brand it is as though someone finally realized: Most of these passengers who paid to be on a pleasure cruise, want to be on a pleasure cruise.  They want umbrella drinks, sunny days at sea, fun things to do ashore that resonate with them and those they travel with; the shared experience offered by the world of cruise vacations.  It’s a world they have worked hard to define for decades.  Not everyone has ‘get dirty digging a garden in Jamaica’ on that list.

But some do.

According to Carnival Corporation research a million North Americans are strongly predisposed to the Social Impact Travel offering being introduced by Fathom, many who have not cruised before.  Already quite handy at introducing first-timers to the world of cruise vacations with several of the Carnival Corporation brands, it makes good business sense to go after this niche market of potential cruise travelers.


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Staggering Choreography Possibilities

We talk a lot here about and highly recommend that travelers let cruise lines have their way with them. Buy into the onboard programming they have carefully planned for us by going to the events, engaging fellow passengers and boldly exploring strange new lands and new civilizations (to us). Step far enough outside of your comfort zone to melt away shoreside cares and concerns and come back refreshed, energized and feeling a bit different.  That happens by taking advantage of the closed environment a cruise ship brings.

To begin, Fathom will do just that but on the way to the Dominican Republic with two days at sea filled with preparing hearts and minds for the on-the-ground experience, including a wide variety of engaging impact-readiness experiences, ranging from an orientation to the Dominican Republic, conversational Spanish lessons, impact activity training, creative workshops, personal enrichment and more.

Impact activities will vary in length from a few hours to multiple days. The Fathom programming will match travelers with causes they care about, based on their passions and skills, in advance . Fathom travelers 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. Sample activities are said to include:

  • Economic Development:  Help cultivate cacao plants and organic fertilizer at a nursery and assist a local women’s cooperative in producing artisan chocolates. This activity is designed to produce high-quality plants to increase farmers’ yields through sustainable practices and – importantly – create income opportunities for rural women.  Over time, this activity will allow the cooperative to increase their workforce so the cooperative can achieve economic independence.
  • Educational:  Work side by side with Dominican school teachers in classrooms to teach English skills and help boost students’ academic performance; and participate in adult-learning programs to teach small groups of local community members conversational English to help improve their ability to qualify for jobs that provide a higher level of income.
  • Environmental:  Provide hands-on support to craft and build water filters – using clay, a natural resource found locally – and deliver those filters to families throughout the community to provide healthy drinking water. With limited piped water supply, this will make a meaningful difference in the quality of people’s lives throughout the region.


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A Different Eye-Opening Destination Focus

A big selling point of cruise vacations has always been that travelers can unpack once and visit multiple destinations.  That’s on any cruise line that sails on the oceans or rivers of the world.  Still, the onboard experiences has played a role ranging from complementary to the destinations visited to ‘who cares where we go, I’m there for the ship’.  Lately, it seems every cruise line is trying to position itself as destination-focused and some are more efficient at it than others.

While the Fathom focus is clearly at the destinations visited, making an impact on them and the people who live there, this is an entirely different destination focus than any other cruise line offering.  Here, passengers get off the ship to do something engaging with the destination itself and the people who were there before the ship arrived and will be there after it leaves; a little fact we don’t think much about.  That level of immersion has strong possibilities for life changing experiences if done right.

Still, when not participating in social impact activities, travelers can enjoy exploring the beauty of the region, experiencing the many Dominican beaches and sites of interest, or participating in any one of an array of different recreational activities.  These are already in place experiences that are available to the entire family of Carnival Corporation brands visiting Amber Cove and the Puerto Plata region.


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There Is Still A Ship

The 710-passenger Fathom vessel will be priced similar to other smaller ships with four pricing levels (inside, outside, balcony, suites).

$1540 is the price per person for an oceanview cabin and includes all meals on the ship, onboard social impact immersion experiences, three on-shore social impact activities and related supplies, taxes, fees, and port expenses. Prices will vary by season and additional recreational activities, cabin upgrades, and dining and beverage packages will be priced separately. Travelers may begin tailoring their trip in fall 2015 (e.g., impact activities selection, cabin selections, etc.). Travelers may reserve a spot on future fathom sailings by calling any travel agent or visiting or by calling 1-855-9fathom. Prices $1,540 per person,

Interestingly, this entire effort required some really unique thinking on the part of Carnival Corporation.  Normally, we hear of older mainly North American ships being redeployed to sister lines in Europe; kind of the retirement home for aging cruise ships in that way.  In this unique move, Carnival Corporation is bringing an older ship from their UK P&O Cruises brand to North America.  I’ll leave it to people far more educated in maritime matters to run the analysis on that move.

But Adonia is really not all that old, launched in 2011, a twin sister ship to Ocean Princess and Pacific Princess and the last of eight ‘R’ class ships for Renaissance Cruises.


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When The Smoke Clears, Time Will Tell

If the flavor of this new Fathom cruise line is a bit familiar, it may be for good reason.  Carnival Corporation is no stranger to making bold moves that define and redefine the cruise industry. Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Paradise, originally launched in 1998 as the only totally non-smoking ship in the water, made a distinct statement perhaps before its time.  Huge “No smoking” signs were painted on both sides of the ship and on the stern. Non-smoking rules were strictly enforced with those who disobeyed put off at the next port, left to get home on their own.  Anti-smoking groups fervently supported the effort, much like social engagement organizations are supporting new Fathom.

Still, as hard as they tried, filling Carnival Paradise with non-smokers was a challenge.  When they did, Carnival found that non-smoking travelers were also non-drinking and non-gambling travelers with a distinct negative effect that was undeniable.  But that was then, this is now, and a whole lot has happened since the days of Carnival Paradise.  Still, the Carnival Paradise effort broke ground that has led to stricter limitations on smoking aboard cruise ships ranging from isolated areas for smokers to no smoking at all allowed on many cruise ship balconies and in staterooms.

In the worst case scenario, if Fathom follows a similar course and ends up failing, it will have brought more awareness to the Caribbean world that cruise ships visit, beyond Fat Tuesdays, a day at the beach or swimming with the dolphins.  It will introduce a level of connecting locally as we have not seen before in a major travel product.

Actually, we’re already seeing positive things from Fathom and Impact Travel.  Not long ago, at the Seatrade Global Conference in Fort Lauderdale, a first day seminar on the topic saw hundreds of conference attendees show up at a time when pretty much any topic would not get more than a dozen or so people.  No one goes to the first event on the first day.  Traditionally.  Fathom, it seems, is anything but a traditional cruise line.  Stay tuned: this should be quite interesting.


Taking You Along For The Ride

Taking You Along For The Ride Coming up, a new element to our coverage of all things cruising as cruise veteran Mike Faust joins us, continuing coverage of Fathom Travel, the Dominican Republic and Impact Travel. The energy behind popular cruise news and information website Cruise Currents, Mike brings a unique perspective to our coverage, backed by a lifetime of personal cruise and travel experiences. With a primary focus on reporting cruise industry news, Cruise Currents now features editorials, detailed cruise reviews, and cruise resources. To this day, Cruise Currents continues to grow and expand in the industry as does Mike who also works as a social media specialist for a number of cruise companies and associations.


Mike Faust


Already on top of Fathom and Impact Travel, a recent Cruise Currents article sets the stage for Mike’s upcoming voyage to the Dominican Republic…



Fathom Becomes First Cruise Line Approved To Sail To Cuba

Carnival Corporation’s impact travel brand, Fathom, has officially received permission from the Cuban government to sail to the island nation beginning in May.

Executives from Carnival Corporation met today in Havana with Cuban government officials to sign the historic agreement, reopening the island to the first American cruise ship in over 50 years. Fathom’s Adonia will begin sailings to Cuba from Miami on May 1st, calling in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba on week long itineraries.

“Our Carnival Corporation and Fathom brand teams have worked closely with Cuba throughout this process and we are thrilled to begin regular sailings to Cuba from Miami starting on May 1, 2016,” said Tara Russell, president of Carnival Corporation’s new Fathom brand. “We have been told that we will be the first cruise line to sail from the U.S. to Cuba with our historic inaugural sailing.”

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Learn more about Cruise Lines Give Back by considering these previous posts: