So You Have Questions About Fathom? Here are some of the most common ones I’ve noticed – 36 FAQs:
Note: I’ve written some other articles about my Fathom experience, here:
Is there a kid’s program?
No, but many parents did bring their kids, around age 10 and up. The kids had a great time, but there isn’t any entertainment onboard catered towards children, so it will depend on your child’s comfort level with interacting with adults. However, all the impact guides (Fathom staff) and dinner wait staff were so excited to have children on board and went out of their way to talk to and to engage with any children (there were only 6 on my sailing) and the children seemed to feel very welcomed onboard. I asked some of the young people on board the ship if they would do it again and they said “Yes.” The library also has a good selection of children’s boardgames and children’s/young adult books! Please note: no lifeguard on duty at the ship pool.
Do you need to speak Spanish?
No, but those who did have an enhanced experience as they are able to take local taxis or communicate with our impact activities partners better.
Is coffee included?
Yes, you can get coffee from the buffet anytime and order it at meals. There is a coffee bar for those who don’t want to self-serve from the buffet coffee machines and there is a charge for those speciality coffees.
What about seasickness?
It’s a small ship and if you are used to bigger ships, you may be surprised how much you can feel the swell of the waves. I never got a headache or felt nauseous, but certainly it was a disconcerting feeling that took a day or so to get used to, and on a particularly windy day the rolls of the ship were quite noticeable. Some of this depends on the weather, but some of this is just physics and the smallness of the ship. I do recommend that everyone come prepared in case they have an adverse reaction to the ship’s movements. Onboard they do sell remedies, so if you didn’t bring any you can definitely buy some onboard.
Many people wore homeopathic bracelets and/or chewed ginger gum. I did buy Dramamine and brought ginger chews as a precaution.
For those with extreme reactions, the doctor onboard can give a prescription injection.
Luckily, you’re in the DR by Tuesday at noon and dock for four days, so if you do find yourself a bit uncomfortable, at least you get a wonderful long land break.
Do I need pesos?
I used only dollars but when I ventured offshore to a local beach (not an excursion – we just took a taxi) I wished I had brought pesos as it would have been easier to order food. The restaurant did accept dollars but I’m sure it was at a poor exchange rate. There is an ATM at Amber Cove that dispenses pesos. But they are not 100% necessary – can definitely get by without pesos.
What type of transportation options are there if I don’t do an excursion with the cruiseline?
You have three options if you don’t wish to do a paid excursion with the cruiseline but you would still like to get about the island.
- There is a taxi station inside Amber Cove, opposite where the impact activity buses leave. The prices are set by the local taxi union, not by Amber Cove. Prices are high compared to local “outside the gate” taxis, for instance, the closest beach, Costambar, was $25 one way (for 1-5 passengers so it is best if you can split with someone else). If you pay the roundtrip, the taxi driver will wait for you and bring you back. The same taxi union wanted $50 one-way to get to the 27 Waterfalls, and over $70 one-way to get to Caparete (to be fair, that’s almost an hour away). However, the positives are many of the drivers speak English, the union marks down the taxi number so they have a record of which passengers left with which drivers in case of problems, and you don’t have to do any bargaining. They are also the only taxis allowed inside the gates – everyone else must get dropped off on the side of the road outside the port.
- Local buses – extremely cheap and not that difficult – several people did try this option, but in full disclosure, almost everyone who tried this was pretty strong in the Spanish language.
- Regular taxis: If you walk outside the gates of Amber Coves, regular taxis are parked right outside the gates. Everyone who did this had a good experience; but of course, it’s up to you to assess the security situation. Passengers who had at least a minor grasp of the Spanish language had the best experience with this. Many passengers bartered and hired one of these taxis for the entire day for around $100 and then had a wonderful 8 hours or so being driven around to various tourist sites, restaurants, and beaches. The point to point fares will be much lower than with the private “inside the gates” taxis, and you can bargain a bit.
- NOTE: Please note the above information cannot be an endorsement or evaluation of any method’s safety or lack thereof.
Are there beaches?
There is no beach inside Amber Cove itself. However, if you go out the gates and turn left (then take the next left), you can visit the beach for the resort next door, and you don’t have to pay anything unless you want a resort pass. However, it’s not really a particularly attractive beach – it’s quite tiny, as you can see from the cruise ship (just look to the left while looking at the cruise port from the ship). There are many lovely beaches just a short taxi or bus ride away. You can either take a cruiseship excursion or simply pay a taxi to take you to a beach. We chose Costambar since it was the cheapest beach on the taxi union’s price signs. It was stunning, and not crowded at all since it wasn’t a weekend. There are a few tasty beach bars and restaurants , all provide you sun loungers on the beach as long as you buy a cheap drink or get some food. We had a fantastic freshly caught, freshly prepared fish and chips here. There is a sharp drop (25ft!) after the reef ends, so be careful swimming out too far. The other beaches also get rave reviews. (Palm trees, fresh coconuts, blue-green water… really, what could be bad, no matter what beach you choose?)
What type of clothes should I pack?
Dress code onboard is casual – I wore maxi dresses and cotton pants most of the time. There’s no need to change for dinner or to dress up. I don’t even know why I brought my curling iron, to be honest – it stayed in the suitcase the whole time. Bring swimsuits for the onboard pool and the Amber Cove pool and/or beaches. A hat is essential – the sun is much stronger than what many Americans may be used to, especially if they live in the northern USA. For volunteering, I wore jeans and a tshirt to the reforestation activity (you’ll get muddy), and for the other activities I wore linen pants, sandals, and a short sleeved top.
What dining options are there?
The Adonia has a buffet restaurant, the Conservatory, which is open almost entirely from 6am –midnight; the Pacific Restaurant, a sit down menu-based restaurant (we ate dinner here every night); the Ocean Grill, another sit down restaurant that comes with a cover charge of $35 for dinner per person (I didn’t test it out as I enjoyed the Pacific Restaurant); and the Lido Café, a grill restaurant out by the pool where you can grab some specialty burgers, fries, and other items.
I enjoyed the Pacific Restaurant and we actually were allowed to have the same table every night (by the way, you can ask to join an existing table if you wish, allowing you to meet other passengers and enjoy dinner conversation). We got to know our servers very well and really commend them on the excellent service they provided to us.
The buffet often had items very similar to the Pacific Restaurant, and we often ate here for lunch and we ate here for breakfast almost every day. There was a wide range of food available, including “American” favorites such as meat and potatoes, but also Indian curries, Greek salads, seafood, and more. There was also a pizza option every day for picky eaters. Breakfast also offered a large array of both hot and cold items.
Are there evening activities?
Yes, although some passengers who were used to larger cruises or to nighttime entertainment may be surprised or feel a bit lost. After 9pm, most of the entertainment switches to games or movie nights; there are bands every night in one of the bars, however. The crew does take their cues from the passengers; one crew member told me on a previous sailing he DJ’d till 3am, but on this sailing they stopped DJ’ing around midnight as there were a lot fewer passengers out on the dance floor.
What are the safety precautions in the DR?
Amber Cove itself is surrounded by fairly strong security. They wouldn’t even let returning tour buses enter until a guard entered each bus and looked at each passenger’s cruise ID to ensure that they were truly a passenger on a ship docked at Amber Cove. We also had to show our cards three times every time we got back onto the ship while docked at Amber Cove, and passengers must put their bags through an Xray machine and walk through a metal detector. There was often an increased security presence at some of our volunteer sights – some local guards coming by just to make sure our bus wasn’t attracting too much attention. If you hire a taxi from the taxi station located inside Amber Cove, the taxi drivers are vetted by the taxi union and often personally escort passengers across roads, point out secure places to eat, or keep an eye on them if the passengers are painting the town red.
Dominicans themselves were amazing, friendly, welcoming people. As in all countries, it’s recommended that you not wear valuable jewelry or carry too much cash with you at one time.
Is there a pool onboard?
Yes, there is a small pool about 4’11” deep, with two whirlpools (hot tubs).
Would this be a good cruise for a group?
I think this would be a fantastic cruise for a group. (You can find out more about groups here.) Alumni groups, church groups, friend groups, youth groups, university students, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, language acquisition groups… The list goes on. You could all choose separate activities and then meet for dinner to discuss the day’s events!
Is there a spa?
Yes, there is a full service spa offering hair treatments, manicures, pedicures, shaves, massages, and facials. (The spa uses Elemis products for their facials, which I do love.) The spa prices are high, just like most spas at sea, so I did not partake. Budget at least $100 for most services.
What is Amber Cove like?
Amber Cove is the port for Puerto Plata, a city in the northern part of Dominican Republic. It has extensive security and is gated off from the main road (you need to show your cruise card ID to exit and to enter). There is a pool, hammocks, shops, a swimup bar, a regular bar with food and drinks, ziplines, and two water slides. It was claimed that there were two lazy rivers, but I think I must have a different definition of lazy rivers as I didn’t really even consider there to be one at all. There are rentals available such as kayaks, pool floats, paddle boats, and so on. The pool area is very relaxing (to be fair, we were the only boat in port that week, so it was definitely quieter than usual) and there are beautiful views of the surrounding hills and the cove.
Is there internet?
- You can purchase onboard wifi for $35 for a hundred minutes or 250 minutes for $60. I purchased the 100 minute package because once we were in Amber Cove, I didn’t need to use it, so I was able to use the package on Sunday, Monday, part of Tuesday, part of Friday, and Saturday. The wifi worked well most of the time for basic email checking and some social media, although you definitely notice a lag when everyone gets on at the same time and/or are trying to upload photos. It was definitely satisfactory for basic needs though.
- Once you’re in Amber Cove, the wifi on the ship is FREE – you still have to login as if you are purchasing, but it won’t deduct minutes from your account, or if you don’t have any minutes it will explicitly tell you that the wifi is free. The free wifi was satisfactory but sometimes it will weaken when everyone gets onboard at the same time and starts posting updates. So just try again later when that happens.
- Onshore, there is free internet at the Impact Center, and they have the password written on their chalkboard. The Impact Center (it’s called “fathom” when you search for the connection) wifi is fairly strong all over Amber Cove.
- There is also free internet at the Coffee Shop in Amber Cove, as long as you purchase something they will give you the password.
- The pool area in Amber Cove also has internet for $8 a day, although I didn’t buy this since I could get onto the @fathom wifi account.
Are towels provided at Amber Cove?
Bring the pool towels from your room or from Lido Deck; as of this writing, there were no towels at Amber Cove.
Is there onboard shopping or shopping at Amber Cove?
- There are three onboard stores, all connected. One stocks everything you could have possibly forgotten to pack – bug spray, face wash, toothpaste, calamine lotion, pain medication, sunscreen, and so forth. The other store has Fossil watches, purses, and other premium items, including Larimar jewelery. The other section stocks Bajalia and other fair trade non-profit artisanal items including handwoven shirts and beautiful jewelry. You can also purchase premium skincare & body care lines, such as Origins, the Body Shop, and L’Occitane. There are men’s brands as well.
- At Amber Cove there are several shops, most are familiar to frequent cruisers. Of course Diamond International is present, as well as some local artisan shops, duty-free alcohol and gift shops, and some souvenir/supply shops – again, if you’ve forgotten anything, you’ll definitely be able to find something here.
- Note that while the ship is in port, the onboard shops are closed. You can only shop onboard the first few days and the last few days.
What do the cabins include?
Either two twin beds, or one big king bed. There is body wash (in a dispenser in the shower), bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and body lotion. There is a bathroom cabinet, which is handy to hide away your toiletries, and four hooks on the bathroom door which is great for hanging up your toiletry bag and/or towels. There are also corner shelves above the bathtub. A hairdryer is included as well. So, although the bathroom is small and typical of many cruises, you shouldn’t have to worry about storage too much.
My cabin was a balcony cabin and also included a loveseat couch, a desk, and two closets. The balcony had a table and two chairs on it. The room had a tea kettle with instant coffee, tea bags, creamer, and Luna bars; although we never did figure out if we would be charged for Luna bars. (UPDATE: Another travel agent has confirmed that each passenger receives a free bottle of water and a Lara Bar complimentary.)
What is storage in the bedroom like?
The bed is high enough to hide your empty suitcases under. You can also put them on the floor of the closet. One closet has a set of four drawers and both closets have hangers. The bedside tables also have a small cabinet inside. You should feel comfortable unpacking and have a week’s worth of supplies tidily put away. Outlets are a bit sparse, and are mainly by the desk, not the bed.
How much extra spending money do I need?
- If you consume alcohol, you will need to budget extra for this – any alcoholic and/or specialty drinks are not included, and these can add up quickly. A can of diet Pepsi, for instance, was $4. Neither Mr TravelObservations nor I consumed any alcohol on the cruise (although we did get some fabulous non-alcholic frozen daiquiris in Amber Cove, and they were totally worth the $5 each!)
- My spending expenses for 7 days were only: $80.50 for automatic gratuities requested of all passengers; $35 for the internet ; $25 taxi fare to a local beach; and some purchases at the gift shop for birthday presents. Mr TravelObservations also paid $35 for internet; he paid $14 for an amazing whole cooked fish on the beach along with water and coffee; and he paid for the aforementioned daiquiris as well. We also paid for a taxi ride to a local beach. However, we’re fairly disciplined people and although I do drink wine, I have enough of a great collection at home that I didn’t want to buy a $30-$50 bottle of wine every night (also, Mr TravelObservation doesn’t imbibe, so I wouldn’t have been able to justify the cost of a bottle of wine if I couldn’t finish it.)
- So, your personal spending habits are up to you. It’s possible to go and not spend any additional money, particularly if you just hang out in Amber Cove after your impact activities. But it’s also possible to spend a lot of money on alcohol, fun optional excursions, and/or local transportation.
Is there laundry onboard?
- Yes, there are self-service laundry machines & dryers around the ship. You can purchase single-use detergent pods at the onboard store – I believe they were around 80 cents.
What type of unusual onboard activities are there?
Here’s a sample of some of the activities published in Soundings:
- Cohort meeting: Understanding the Dominican Republic
- Cohort meeting: Introduction to Fathom
- Cohort meeting: What Happens Next
- (*Travelers are put into random cohorts in order to split into smaller meetings for these three key meetings)
- Empowering English Tutoring
- Morning Yoga
- Spanish Phrases
- Domino Throwdown
- Dance classes: Salsa, merengue, bachata
- Classic board game night
- Live bands
- Movie nights
- Wine & Paint night
- “Lifehack bootcamp”
- Morning/evening meditation
- Karaoke parties
- Late-night band sets in the wine bar & cocktail areas
What about exercise facilities and special meal requests?
- The ship has a jogging track, a small pool, and a gym (and a spa with a steam room). Healthy options are available at every meal, including vegetarian options. Our dining waiters accommodated food allergies with incredible solicitation and care.
Something I might not think to pack?
I was glad I packed “water shoes” as we decided to wear them to the beach (although others didn’t) to protect against coral. Many other passengers did the “27 Waterfalls” activity where you hike, slide, and jump down beautiful waterfalls, and a pair of water shoes or Chaco-like sandals are essential for this! So, throw them in your suitcase just in case. Also, bring a small bag for carrying items to the beach or onshore. You don’t really need to carry a purse around the ship, but sometimes it was nice to have a bag to throw in a book and a water bottle if I was headed up to the Lido Deck, for instance.
Things I shouldn’t have packed – curling iron and my Kindle. The library on board had so many good books, I didn’t touch my Kindle once.
I was glad I packed: Sunscreen and bugspray. All the impact guides do carry sunscreen and bugspray on the activities so you can continue to apply layers, but it was nice to be able to apply an initial layer in my room, or make sure I had some when I took a break at the pool.
Any suggestions on the impact activities?
I’ve written a separate blog post on the impact activities I participated in, HERE.
Do I HAVE to do all the impact activities?
Nope! Many people took a whole day off to also explore the island. No one from the staff is running around guilting anyone who decides they need some down time, so don’t worry. However, the point of the cruise is the impact activities, so if you don’t do any , you may have quite a different experience than many other passengers.
Do I have to buy water?
You can fill up your own water bottles onboard the ship (note: at the buffet they don’t like you to refill your water bottle due to hygiene reasons, so I just filled up three water glasses and then transferred the water to our Nalgene bottles). There is also a water station by the bar at the pool during busy times that you can refill your bottle at. You get free bottled water, as much as you want, on all the impact activities (and you should definitely hydrate and drink more than you think you need!) Water is free at all meals. Some people chose to buy bottled water and store it in their rooms, but I found the free water onboard quite sufficient.
Note: do not drink the tap water in the DR.
What about bathrooms in the DR?
All the impact activities have access to restrooms, although they may not be fancy. The one at the school I visited, for instance, needed a bucket of water to flush. You may want to slip some sheets of toilet paper in your pocket, just in case you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. (I didn’t encounter anything untoward, but if you go into some of the community homes, you don’t want to put the host into an awkward situation if it isn’t up to Western standards.)
What if I have limited mobility?
There were a few passengers on our cruise who used a wheelchair at their impact activities. You can work with the cruiseline or your travel agent ahead of time to find out what’s the most appropriate. (For instance – the reforestation activity would not be appropriate because it’s mountain pathways. But one of our wheelchair users had a great experience at the recycling project.)
What was the average passenger like?
The specific sailing I was on really ran the gamut – there were 30-somethings with their friends and significant others, there were 65 year olds with 50 cruises under their belts, there were seasoned travelers and travelers who were experiencing their very first cruise. All were curious and open minded about the Fathom experience. Some had volunteer and overseas experience already, but not all – actually, not as many as you would think, as Fathom is still trying to get the word out there and change the concept of cruising. As long as you’re willing to strike a conversation up with someone to find out more about them, it’s easy to start making friends.
How do I know what’s going on every day?
Every evening your room steward will drop off the daily newsletter, Soundings. It will announce meeting times for tomorrow’s excursions along with times and meeting places for anything onboard, such as seminars or games. There is also an app, the Fathom app, which was useful to get an idea of what was going on before we boarded, but it was easier to check the times in the actual paper version of Soundings. Note: you can’t sign up for excursions or impact activities using the app, so still login to your Journey Planner from your computer before arriving onboard.
Do I need to bring my passport on shore every time?
Nope – my passport stayed in the safe the whole time. The Soundings, the daily newsletter that gives you important updates, does announce each day if your passport is required, but the answer was always no. You will need to show your passport or other immigration documents when you re-enter the USA, of course.
Is there a casino?
What non-impact activities are available off-shore?
Some example of cruiseline, paid excursions are:
- Playa Dorada Beach Escape
- Museums, Art, and Fort San Felipe
- Catamaran Sailing and Snorkeling
- “Top 10” tour of the island
You can see the full list by logging into your Journey Planner. These are the ones sold by the cruiseline. There are many more available from independent tour companies.
What is the boarding process like in Miami?
We didn’t board the ship until around 12:15 or 12:30pm in Miami, so don’t bother rushing to get to the terminal early. If you have an early flight into Miami, like we did, try to get brunch before heading to the terminal – there is literally nothing to do or to eat after you drop your luggage off. You’ll need to look at your boarding pass to tell your taxi driver exactly which terminal you are leaving from.
When do you get back to Miami?
I was assigned Group Two which was permitted to disembark at 8:15am. However, the cruiseline stresses that you should not buy any flights before noon in order to allow for any delays getting back into port and to allow for customs lines in the event that multiple ships get to MIA at the same time.
I disembarked at 8:15am and my shuttle was at Fort Lauderdale Airport by 9:30am (and I would have been at MIA airport even earlier)… but of course, Murphy’s Law dictates that if I had booked an early flight out of FLL perhaps we would have been delayed. I always advise erring on the side of caution so that you don’t spend your last day of vacation stressing about rushing off the ship.