Carnival launches a boutique cruise line that combines an ocean vacation with cultural immersion and volunteer work for its passengers.
Cruise lines face quandary. Their need for younger travelers is colliding with people’s craving for a more authentic, hands-on travel experience, the kind you don’t get lounging around shipboard bars and sun decks, or crammed into a bus on “canned” sightseeing tours.
For better or worse, that’s the image a lot of millennials — and some older travelers, too — have of cruise vacations. And it doesn’t make them reach for their passports.
Houston — or in this case, Doral, FL, home of industry giant Carnival Cruise Lines — we have a problem.
Various lines are trying varying approaches to attack this. Royal Caribbean is building enormous mega-ships packed with enough onboard amusements to make Las Vegas and Disneyworld equally nervous.
Some, like Oceania, Seabourn and Crystal, are going all-in on all-out luxury, doing their best to replicate 5-star living at sea. Others, like Holland America Line, are making a point to offer shipboard cooking classes and other learning experiences designed to keep passengers engaged instead of amused.
Comes now Carnival with something completely different: fathom — deliberately lower-case, but not necessarily lower key.
And definitely not what one normally associates with the Mickey D’s of cruise lines.
In reality, Carnival is the 800-pound gorilla of the cruise industry, owner of eight different cruise lines in addition to the Carnival flagship brand, each with its own character and personality.
Some of these names you already know — and on some cases, may have already sailed on:
- AIDA Cruises
- Holland America
- P&O Australia
Just this month, Carnival had added a ninth, fathom, which will be sailing the Caribbean out of Miami with a single ship, the Adonia.
In all, Adonia has space for just over 700 passengers, about the size of the original Love Boat.
By comparison, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas can accommodate more people than that on one deck.
But by far the biggest different between fathom and a conventional Caribbean cruise may be what happens when you get ashore.
fathom is offering passengers a chance to do work as volunteers for a week in the Dominican Republic. They’re calling this “impact travel:”
“Impact travel with fathom provides the opportunity to build community with like-minded travelers, become immersed in another culture, and work alongside its people to create enduring social impact.
“As a fathom™ traveler, you’ll work alongside established impact partners with strong community connections in the northern Dominican Republic. You’ll work alongside the people of those communities, immersing yourself in their culture, harnessing the power of that human connection to make relevant, lasting contributions.”
Passengers will choose from among three fields in they can volunteer in the DR:
Making and distributing clay water filters to communities without safe drinking water, or working on reforesting projects.
Tutoring students in English classes.
- Economic Development
Working with two women’s cooperatives, one that cultivates organic cacao plants for the production of chocolate, while the other creates marketable arts and crafts from recycled paper.
“…you’ll come home seven days later knowing that, for the people whose lives you’ve just touched, the world has become a little brighter because of you.”
Voluntourism is going to sea. Even their URL is not the customary .com site. It’s an .org.
It’s not all sweat and service. In between the volunteer work will be time spent on pristine beaches, in restaurants, clubs and shops.
Voluntourism itself is hardly new, and as you’ll see from the link in this paragraph, not without controversy. What’s new here is to have a mass-market cruise line offering passengers the chance to get involved in it. In that sense, the cruise industry truly is sailing into uncharted waters.
If it resonates with younger or socially conscious travelers, however, Carnival just might have found a way to give cruise travel a more positive image — and just maybe get more and younger travelers to go to sea.
On a fathom cruise, then, you’re going to get dirty. You’re going to get sweaty. You may even get tired. You’re also going to meet Dominicans, get to know some of them by name, get a taste of what their lives are like.
In short, you’re going to come away with a feeling for a culture you never would’ve got from the inside of that tour bus.
fathom begins operations in April 2016.
Greg Gross is Publisher/Senior Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel! and owner of Trips by Greg LLC, a travel agency specializing in cultural travel and tours.