Review: Fathom Cruise to the Dominican Republic

 

On their voyage to the Dominican Republic, Fathom offers shore excursions similar to other cruises, but also hosts activities focused on creating a social impact. Passengers are escorted into local communities for hands-on projects involving education, reforestation, economic opportunities, and sanitary conditions. With their booking, passengers can select about three or so impact options. In picking mine, I weighed over what I wanted to do and how I thought I could be helpful with. Or at least I felt comfortable doing.

Our options were:

  • Reforestation and Nursery (Yes)
  • Community English Conversation and Learning
  • Student English Conversation and Learning (Yes)
  • Concrete Floors in Community Homes
  • Water Filtration Production
  • Recycled Paper and Crafts Entrepreneurship (Yes; I was a last minute signup)
  • Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative (Yes)

Most of what I learned about these excursions happened when our ship was en route from Miami to Puerto Plaza. Passengers are divided into section groups where we meet with a Fathom Impact guide to learn more about its mission and the Dominican Republic. There were other info sessions such as a Spanish 101 lesson and guidance on practicing English with students.

On land, Fathom collaborates two nonprofits: IDDI (which focuses on transforming rural and urban communities for the better) and Entrena (whose mission involves education and training.) Their reps joined us for our activities, giving background history, and acting as interpreters when needed.

So, how do it go? Here’s my quick recap.

Reforestation and Nursery
On Tuesday afternoon, after docking in Puerto Plata, my group headed to a tree nursery where mahogany and orange tree seedlings are prepared to go be permanently planted in a forest region. Our IDDI guide gave us insights about how clearing trees for agriculture led to erosion and other resulting environmental impact overtime. At the nursery, we worked in teams to put fertilized soil into bags and then putting orange tree seedlings and mahogany seeds in these bags. We had a good time and completed at least over 100 or more bag plantings. We found out that the next scheduled excursion would head to the forest areas where these seeds/seedlings would be placed. I worked up a good sweat, got a little dirty, and felt I played a valuable contribution.


Cacao and Women’s Chocolate Cooperative

Two days later, I visited Chocal, a women’s chocolate cooperative in Altamira that provides local women with meaningful work without having to go far from their home and families. We got to meet these employees and were shown step by step of the production process. We learned that nothing goes to waste here, as cocoa nibs are also sold and discarded shells are made into fertilizer. Our work involved tasks such as making chocolate molds and sorting and separating good beans from bad ones. With the latter, I wasn’t sure if I was picking the right ones or the wrong ones – our guide was pretty quick with going through her pile – but hoping that I didn’t make extra work for Chocal. We were mainly given about 20 minutes or so per project, but it seemed our contributions helped lightened their load.

Recycled Paper and Crafts Entrepreneurship
With this excursion, I met the women who work for RePapel, a co-op which recycles discarded office paper and turns it into products such as sheets and greeting cards. These ladies were lovely, greeting us with a lively introduction, and breaking out into singing while we worked. At each station, they showed us to process from A to Z. We saw the salvaged office paper get shredded by hand (literally, these women rip paper apart), and then scraps get mixed with water to form a pulpy solution. The solution goes into a container that gives the paper its base. Once it dries out, it gets flatter. Our assembly line was going quickly, but I got to work on a few sheets. RePapel also produces handmade coasters and jewelry, but our allotted time and my slow hands didn’t get me far on this end. But the enthusiasm of the ladies of RePapel made our experience a fun one.

Student English Conversation and Learning
On our final day in Puerto Plata, my group headed to a grade-level school about 20 minutes or so from our port. Led by Entrena, my group met with students from different grades that appeared to have had previous instruction in English. We begun with a warm-up group session where we introduced ourselves, and then begun our first lesson paired up with about two or three students. I joined two other women in going over letters and numbers with two girls, and, then after a short break, two boys. We referred to our instruction manual to guide us in the lesson, but also adjusted it to fit with maybe a word or number that needed more practice. What really helped was that the students were polite and eager to learn – we even wrote in their school notebooks a mini progress report.

Wrapping Up
Fathom’s impact activities are scheduled during the morning and afternoon daily. However, it’s good to allow yourself some downtime, to rest and see the local area. Overall, I would say that Fathom is off to a good start, but I would suggest some tweaks such as more detailed explanation about the activities and perhaps allotting more time on specific tasks as supposed to doing a mix of everything. As for the ship, the Fathom Adonia features amenities including a library, spa, gym, a buffet area, two restaurants (one with a $25 per person surcharge), wine bar, and a pool/hot tub area.

If you’re interested in taking an upcoming cruise, click here for a savings discount.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend this Fathom excursion and share this discount link. However, this review is entirely of my own opinion.

Taking a Fathom Cruise to the Dominican Republic

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All images courtesy of Fathom Travel

I’ve got some exciting news to share! Next week (May 8-15) I will be a media guest on a Fathom Travel cruise to the Dominican Republic, leaving from Miami and docking in Puerto Plata.

Having launched its ship, the Adonia, in April 2016, Fathom Travel currently offers separate round-trip voyages from Miami to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Belonging to the Carnival brand, Fathom takes a different approach to ocean voyaging with a “travel with purpose” mission. While each destination differs on this aspect, passengers will either become involved in immersive cultural experiences or participate in various community projects.

Student-English-Learning

For their Dominican Republic cruises, Fathom’s choices of impact activities may extend to:

  • Visiting a women’s cooperative that produces chocolate (it’s chocolate; how could you say no to doing that!);
  • Interacting with students and adults through helping them learn English;
  • Planting trees through a reforestation and nursery program;
  • Turning recycled paper into craft projects;
  • Building projects involving the installation of water filtration systems and concrete flooring in community homes.

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While impact travel is central to Fathom’s mission, cruise excursion options also extend to tours of certain areas and popular activities such as ziplining or snorkeling. As for their Cuba cruises, Fathom broke serious ground in making history as the first cruise to sail from the U.S. to Cuba (setting off on May 1) in 50-plus years. That’s big!

On my Fathom cruise to the Dominican Republic, I will be posting as continuously as I can through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And putting a trip recap on here too. So please do follow along!

 

Product Review: Squeeze Pod

photo 1Recently I did a piece for a travel website on Squeeze Pod, a line of single-use toiletries designed to be completely leak proof and made from natural ingredients. I was curious to learn more about them, not just for the story, but as someone who can’t pass up on having a solid hair conditioner or facial cleanser while on the road.

Sold in packets or grouped kits, Squeeze Pod pods extend to shaving cream, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, body wash, hair gel, moisturizer, and what’s called a toilet odor eliminator.

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Having gotten a Squeeze Pod Gimme Shelter kit to renew as part of my assignment, I put it to the test. Here’s my take on these pods:

Opening is a snap. I found the pods themselves to be easy to open. They have teardrop design, where you hold and bend the tip in its back away from you. You’ll know you’ve got it open when you hear a snap. Each toiletry pod comes in a set of two or three inside a packet, which I was fumbling with and ended up having to use scissors to open. So I would say to open the packet before you go and put the pods in your 3-1-1 clear bag. (Squeeze Pod states their pods are TSA friendly.)

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The pouring is easy. Like its namesake, you squeeze the package to get its contents out. I test moisturizing lotion and found it to be between not too light but not greasy. The oil-based citrus scent is nice; it’s noticeable upon applying but it’s not heavy and seems to gradually fade.

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Good for hotel stays. I can see Squeeze Pod working for certain types of travelers over others. Due to the pod packaging, which is not recyclable, I’m not sure if it would suit a backpacker due to what he/she might have access to rubbish bins for properly disposing of the used pod packaging. However, I definitely see it’s good for business traveler and of course the common goer with hotel or other set accommodations. Another neat item is that for every two Gimme Shelter kits purchased, a third goes to a charity that supports women and their families. Prices range from individual packs at $2.79 up to a 12-pack for $30.00 ($7 more for the odor eliminator) and specialty kits about $12.99.

 

 

CityPASS Giveaway

Every major U.S. destination has its share of iconic attractions worth visiting, which can require even the most savvy traveler to factor admission prices into their budget. However, there are money-saving solutions like discount cards or booklets such as CityPASS that can extend your sightseeing options while keeping some cash in our wallet.

Recently, I met with a CityPASS representative to learn more about their admission discount program. It works like this. CityPASS booklets feature admission coupons to top-rated museums and institutions in currently 12 North American major locations.

They include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, NYC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Southern California. Southern California’s CityPASS comes in a card format, while the others are all booklets.

However, every destination’s version contains admission tickets about four to six top ranking sites, with some of them being a choice between using it for one place or another. For example, in the New York CityPASS, there are tickets where you can opt to use them for either the Top of the Rock or Guggenheim Museum or either the 9/11 Memorial & Museum or the Intrepid. Once you start using the booklet, it becomes activated and validated for nine consecutive days (except for Southern California CityPASS, whose admission cards run for 14 days).

CityPASS might be suited particularly for first-time visitors or even families (there are kids and adult versions), but the perk is that CityPASS can be bought online or at your destination for the same cost. Plus it’s set up where you don’t have to wait at the usual ticket line to get inside.

CityPASS is letting me give away a pair of CityPASS booklets through my site. The only thing is that you have to do is tell me in the comments section below which of the CityPASS cities I listed do you want to visit and why (sorry, but Southern California CityPASS is not included). You’ll have until Friday, April 29, at midnight EST to do so. U.S./Canada residents only. Good luck! And keep checking back to see the results!

Disclaimer: CityPASS has partnered with me on this giveaway, but this post is based entirely on my opinions. (Thank you for entering. The winner has been chosen and notified.)

 

 

Westin Hotels & Resorts Introduces Sleep Well Menu

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Here’s some news from my inbox…. Westin Hotels & Resorts has been busy promoting their “Well-Being Movement,” a new travel wellness brand, with a messaging campaign and a FitStar by FitBit partnership introducing a set of exercise programs at their properties worldwide. Its latest addition to this branding initiative takes an edible approach to getting a good night’s sleep.

Said to be available 24/7, the Westin Sleep Well Menu offers superfood options specially designed to promote rest and recovery. According to a press release from Westin, this specialty menu was designed to help guests “ease into sound slumber so that they can easily adjust to a new time zone, recover from a hectic day of travel or prepare for an active day ahead.” With input from SuperFoodsRx, the meals on this menu contain amino acids, vitamins, and minerals including magnesium, potassium, folate, serotonin, and thiamin to prevent insomnia and reset sleep cycles.

Choices include:

  • Grilled wild salmon with walnut quinoa;
  •  A micro chopped turkey salad;
  • Poached eggs on asparagus with snap peas and shitake mushrooms;
  • Oatmeal tabouleh, among others.

If guests prefer more of a bedtime snack, they can opt for whole grain crackers with peanut butter; non-fat yogurt with granola; edamame and whole wheat pretzels; or cherry walnut oat muffins. There’s tea too. Find herbals with a calming effect such lavender, peppermint, cinnamon, passionflower, lemon balm, ginger, chamomile or valerian root.

To celebrate their new Sleep Well menu, Westin Hotels & Resorts is giving away a five-night stay at any Westin hotel or resort, a Westin Heavenly® Bed, and other Westin items. Enter by April 30, 2016 by visiting this link.

 

 

EscapeMaker Opens Farm Escape Pop Up Shop

Escapemaker

 

Have you heard of the term “agritourism”? Find out more by heading to South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan. EscapeMaker, a company that offers ideas for local and regional trips, has opened a pop-up shop promoting agri-tourism (travel inspired by working farms or other agricultural sties) now until April 24 inside the seaport’s historic Fulton Stall Market on 207A Front Street.

Presented by Amtrak, the EscapeMaker Pop Up Shop will be open to the public Thursdays and Fridays, from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors will find information for planning vacays that will get them out into countryside areas. Details will include ideas for farm escapes, wine and craft beer trails, apple picking locations, and local getaway packages.

Along with the shop, EscapeMaker will hold three Sunday tastings of various food and wine samples inside the market and onto Front Street. They are free and run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The schedule includes:

April 10th – Local Craft Beer, Cider & More
April 17th – Local Wine, Cheese & More
April 24th – Local Farms & Family Getaways

For more info, visit this link.

Saybrook Point Inn & Spa Opens Tall Tales

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Saybrook Point Inn & Spa recently opened Tall Tales, at right. It’s next to Three Stories.

Two years ago, I was invited to visit Saybrook Point Inn & Spa and take a tour of the main property and its then latest addition, a luxury guesthouse named Three Stories. This past weekend, I went back to the inn to stay at a new and exquisite set of accommodations known as Tall Tales.

Opened in February 2016, Tall Tales is an elegant yet private Italianate-style guesthouse right next door to Three Stories. Like its neighbor, Tall Tales gives off the feeling of staying at a quaint bed and breakfast inn overlooking the Connecticut River.

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Tall Tales contains six rooms – two on each level sharing a common area – with each named after real-life individuals with significant ties to Old Saybrook. Each room also is decorated in different color schemes and furniture to reflect the character of their namesake. My room is called the Barbara Maynard, who is considered to the “Town Mother” of Old Saybrook for her involvement as a former First Selectman and Registrar of Voters.

If Barbara saw her room, I think she would be proud.

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On the second floor of Tall Tales, the Barbara Maynard room contains a private seating area off of the main bedroom. Not that this area takes away from the bedroom. My bedroom has an electric fireplace, with an adjacent balcony. With a four-poster, king-size bed, the fine linens reflect a Victorian period look yet feel comfortable for a present-day guest.

Its full bath contains classic fixtures, with a walk-in shower with a seat in place of a tub. Plus Tall Tales has Wi-Fi available in these rooms. The second floor also features a billiards room. On the first floor, there is a small kitchen area and an open-floor plan dining room where guests can grab a muffin or piece of fruit or use a Keurig to make instant coffee.

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Parking is available behind Tall Tales and Three Stories. Both guesthouses are located across from the main inn. For dining, the main inn’s restaurant, Fresh Salt, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus a weekend brunch. Its menus are seasonal and promote New England’s agriculture. The inn’s Sanno Spa features 11 treatment rooms and services such as facials, massages, and manicures and pedicures. Amenities include indoor and outdoor pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a ballroom and event spaces, and a marina that can accommodate vessels up to roughly 200 feet in length.

Editor’s Note: My stay at the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa was comped but the opinions expressed in this piece are entirely my own.