And how was the cruise? With a few qualifications, I will say: very good. The Adonia, while lacking the amenities of some larger ships (full-scale production of “Grease,” anyone?), had a few advantages, the most notable being a greater sense of community. I couldn’t help but strike up a conversation with someone after running into them multiple times in a day.
Passengers are divided into groups called cohorts and are encouraged to attend meetings that discuss Fathom’s mission of improving economic development and education in the Dominican Republic. Though some of the meetings played out a bit like a summer camp icebreaker (“When was the last time you were bold?” was a question I had to stand up and try to answer), the sentiment and general vibe of these gatherings were always positive.
My lodgings, a balcony cabin on the bow of the ship, were excellent. The room was spacious, the bed comfy and the bathroom and amenities adequate. From my balcony I could turn around, look up and wave at the captain. Mostly, though, I just sat in one of the balcony chairs and gazed into the deep, stunning sapphire blue of the Caribbean. My cabin attendant was kind and kept my room in immaculate shape.
Food on the ship is free in three of four restaurants, including the Pacific, the large main dining room. Dinner was usually a game attempt at something fancy — venison loin with nashi pear, say, or panko-encrusted coconut shrimp. Drinks are not free, but also not overpriced: Cocktails are $8 to $10 and beers $5 to $6, to which a gratuity is automatically added.
When all was said and done, my final bill was $686.25 — a significant markup from my $249 purchase price, but still quite cheap for a seven-day cruise. That included a 50 percent single supplement, taxes and port fees, about $80 in gratuities, and another $80 or so for the outrageously expensive Wi-Fi.
I signed up for two activities: reforestation, in which volunteers plant trees and try to undo the effects of agricultural deforestation, and community education, in which groups of 20 to 25 volunteers go into homes in a local community and teach English. Disappointingly, reforestation was canceled because not enough people signed up.
I had better luck with my second assignment, teaching English in the small town of San Marcos Abajo, near the city of Puerto Plata. A group of us boarded a bus near the port and made the 20-minute trek to a small, unpaved section of road in San Marcos, where we were greeted by members of the community.
After a brief introduction in the sweltering heat, we were assigned to different houses. I met the girl I would tutor for roughly the next 90 minutes, a shy 11-year-old named Racieli. I was given a binder with a basic English curriculum. I wasn’t given much instruction or time to review it, but soon Racieli and I were reciting the alphabet and beginning to learn numbers.
Did it make a difference with a capital D? Probably not. Would a trained teacher have done a better job? Undoubtedly. But I think there was value in the experience, for both of us. Racieli had come out of her shell a bit by the end of our session and told me she really enjoyed getting to meet visitors, an experience that builds confidence and is not really measurable.
The passengers appreciated it, too. “It was like the best of both worlds,” said Tia Taylor, a 22-year-old passenger from Columbus, Ohio, “vacationing and giving back to the community while having fun and meeting great people.” Bruce Armbrust, an instructor at Lake Tahoe Community College, called Fathom “completely different” from any other cruise he’d been on, saying that the attitudes of the passengers really set it apart. “There’s an element of wanting to help instead of just, ‘you’re here to serve me,’ ” he said.
If Fathom can successfully scale up these efforts, the effect might be more profound. Imagine having the 4,000-plus passengers on my first Royal Caribbean cruise each spend some time with a native family at one of the many ports of call, getting to know them and volunteering a few hours of manual labor, or trying to teach them a marketable skill. I would like to believe that would make a difference — still lowercase, perhaps, but worthwhile nonetheless.Continue reading the main story
Have you ever taken a cruise alone? I really think this is the crux of this entire essay. He was a depressed personality and he was on this cruise alone. He did commit suicide in 1998.
I have mentioned my first cruise alone many times, and I have to say I find MANY similarities. I completely understand the frustration of your contact with other people being limited to organized cruise staff activities - and dinner. And I also understand the idea of what seems to be great fun at first turning into something like a personal jail sentence as the end of the cruise nears. It is like a long car ride - no matter how beautiful the terrain, you just can't wait for it to end.
I especially like the way he is amazed at the high levels of food and service, his crush on his Ukranian room stewardess, and his praise for the quality of the food and especially free room service. And how by day five he is thinking critical thoughts about the way she made the bed, or how room service is late or they didnt leave enough potato chips.
The point is changing expectations as one gets used to the cruise (which we all do, it is normal) but in him it is magnified by his isolation and time to think about what he is experiencing internally.
It explains why I recommend that depressed people should not cruise. The isolation will get to you. And why I always say cruising is a couple's experience or for people who are comfortable spending time alone.
I agree with the way he sees the fake smiles of certain staff people (believe me, it is true for many of them, but not all), and how he comes to believe certain people he meets onboard are shallow or just have quirks that he doesn't like, and the frustration of being stuck at the same table with them night after night (I certainly lived that one on my cruise). Fortunately, that is no longer a common thing on cruises.
My point is that he sums up the fallacy that cruise ships are places for single people to go and meet new friends. Except for Norwegian Epic, I don't think they are. They can be very isolating and he sums up why.
Anyway - if you are a cruise writer, as I find I am, it is a great essay to summarize the experience in ways average people can understand, to help me remember what it was like to be a novice cruiser again.