I’m not sure who wanted to cry more, the Fathom staff that had spent months (and years) in preparation or the passengers who were excited to experience the new cruise concept of social impact activities in the Dominican Republic (the DR). It was an emotional 24 hours for everyone scheduled on the “soft” cruise that ended with an official letter, apology and a scramble to rebook travel plans. A “soft” opening in hospitality terms is a test run to work out the kinks ahead of the official “grand opening” or in this case “inaugural sailing” of April 17th. I was prepared for kinks on the ship and in the DR but not before setting foot on the Adonia. While I was extremely disappointed given my particular circumstances, I was pleasantly surprised to see how the delays were handled on the ground prior to the Fathom cruise cancellation. It was definitely an EPIC Adventure, sadly without the happy ending I wished for.
The P&O ship had sailed from the U.K., where it is flagged, to the Bahamas for a dry dock refit which is a makeover of the interior spaces. The U.S. Coast Guard has to do an initial inspection to issue a compliance certificate since it was the first U.S. sailing. The fact that the ship failed several parts of the inspections was surprising since you’d think a company like Carnival knows what a ship needs to sail and pass inspection, but in this case, the sliding fire screen doors were the most serious. Of course, it’s needs to be safe but I feel like someone obviously missed the checklist “do sliding fire doors work?”
I had a bit of foreshadowing before I entered the Fathom Cruise ship terminal. As the plane was getting ready to land in Miami, I looked out the window and saw the airport but thought we were going pretty fast and I didn’t hear the landing gear. And just like that we aborted the landing and were quickly up in the air again. This was a first for me and freaked a lot of passengers. The cabin crew started to explain when the captain interrupted with an update of “too much traffic to land”…..um, ok, at least I have nice photos of the city and South Beach from above?
I returned to the EPIC Hotel Miami this time paying extra for the water view room. Upon check in at 3pm I was told my water view room wasn’t ready but I could downgrade to a city view room to check in now otherwise wait for at least an hour. After the flight, we accepted the downgraded view and the hotel provided drinks and breakfast vouchers that more than made up for the cost differential.
When checking out the bellman put us in a taxi to the cruise port and then we were taken for a ride, both figuratively and literally. As we drove over the bridge to Miami Beach, I saw the Fathom cruise ship on the left on the other side of the water. I told the taxi driver that the ship was over there and he then made me responsible for directions and asked me for the zip code of the cruise port. I went crazy because he was scamming us and I was stuck on the highway for him to turn around, go back into town to make a turn into the Port of Miami (big sign!) toward our ship. The taxi driver blamed me for confusing him! Dear taxi drivers, this is why Uber is successful, they aren’t scamming tourists that I’m aware of. My fare was more than double what it should have been.
As we entered the ship terminal at 1 pm, the check in desks weren’t open (not good) and we were directed to take a seat during our wait (also not a good sign). With music playing in the background and snacks available, everyone sat and waited while Fathom staff wandered about to help folks install the Fathom app for the cruise.
When the check in desks opened, we waited and were directed in groups to get our cruise key cards, take our photos and swipe our credit cards. We then went back to our seats to wait. Most of the passengers on this sailing were travel industry folks – so we were a group who understood delays, unexpected issues and trying to figure it out to make everyone happy. What I didn’t understand was how this could have happened at all – according to stories I’ve read no ship since 2001 has failed the U.S. Coast Guard inspection. The inspection started before we arrived for the cruise.
Fathom Cruise Announcements, Updates, Q&A
The Founder & President of Fathom, Tara Russell, arrived to welcome us at about 2:30 p.m. to inform us of a delay due to the U.S. Coast Guard inspections. Unfazed by this, we waited a bit longer. And then she returned to inform us at about 3:30 p.m. that the delay was longer and we were given the option to go on a Miami City Tour or a Tour of the Everglades with a return time of 6 p.m. if we wanted to skip the tours and go find food (most of us had eaten breakfast expecting to eat lunch on the ship so we were hungry).
Not on our “to do list” but it was a gorgeous day to visit the Everglades “the river of grass”. Fathom staff member, Bart and his son’s stuffed monkey, was on the bus (there were five buses) and he did a Q&A that got us all super excited for the cruise and the impact activities in the DR. Since Bart had spent the past few months in the DR working directly with the partners on the activities away from his son, monkey was mailed to go on the first cruise with him. Bart is in product development and had been involved from the beginning (almost two years ago). He explained how they chose the Fathom partners in the DR, how all the details were taken into account on the cruise to ensure that the Fathom goals and ethos were maintained. For example, the spa might be considered “indulgent” so they shortened the times and treatment options to provide more “restorative” services after a day of working in the DR.
Fathom is utilizing the strengths of each of its sister brands in the Carnival family – P&O (UK Ship Adonia), Carnival, Princess, etc. (as would be evident during this delay). The focus of Fathom is to be self-sustaining and aligns its goals and ethos in that manner. In the Dominican Republic, Fathom has created an impact center and built two outdoor marketplace stall areas to highlight local artists with their handmade goods and those with an impact story and DR history. The more Bart spoken, the more his enthusiasm was contagious, as if we needed more excitement to visit the DR. Our planned activities were water filtration, chocolate factory, papermaking and working with the local school speaking english.
The Everglades Tour – Everglades Safari Park
Despite a boat of twenty passengers, the serenity and beauty of the everglades quickly melted our delay disappointment for a while as we were transported to another world.
After the airboat ride, the sight of a snack bar was a welcome relief, for me not so much and this is where I met Katherine, a Fathom staff member. She was approaching all passengers to answer questions and ensure everyone was ok. Somehow in the conversation, she mentioned she was gluten free and I said I’m lactose free and couldn’t eat at the snack bar but had my own snacks with me so I was good (she would later find me to make sure I was eating ok). She said we didn’t need to return until 6:30 p.m. (that wasn’t a good sign IMO).
Another Fathom Cruise Delay
When we returned to the cruise terminal after the everglades tour, I knew we would be heading for a hotel rather than the ship when I saw the busses lined up in front of the terminal. Even before the Fathom staff member jumped on the bus, I knew. We were directed back into the terminal passing through security again (Port of Miami security) to retrieve our bags and find out which hotel we were assigned to. The higher cabins went to the Doubletree, whereas the lower cabins were going to the Holiday Inn, Miami West (past the airport). My inner hotel snob was apprehensive with a Holiday Inn. My stomach was hungry and sad I wasn’t going to the Doubletree with the never ending cookies.
The Holiday Inn Miami West – Hialeah Gardens
As we exited the bus far from downtown Miami and the airport but near Sun Life Stadium, we lined up to check in to the hotel – the Holiday Inn Miami West at Hialeah Gardens. I was pleasantly surprised to see the sign saying “our room renovation is complete, please be patient with the remaining work”. A few people abandoned the line for food, some creative people went to the bar for drinks and brought those back to the line during the wait.
The hallway still had that new paint smell but our room was a refreshing surprise all shiny and new. It was a nice place to land for the night during this unexpected delay. The view of the highway was not the water view I had planned for. The area wasn’t near anything so we really couldn’t wander the neighborhood.
The staff at the hotel were superstars. On a Sunday when you expect to be quiet, in comes over 200+ hungry people so they set up a buffet with an open bar (initially we were told of a $50 pp limit but it became an open check and buffet) as we rushed the restaurant in search of sustenance. I explained my food issue and was quickly served plain grilled chicken with fries. I was famished as it was after 8 p.m. The next morning, the same staff was there, Rosanna, my server, had only three hours of sleep she said but was fine as she ran around to help everyone.
From the front desk to the restaurant staff, everyone was nice and attentive. Andres, was the happy face of management attending to everyone as needed.
The Fathom Cruise Hotel Updates
The Holiday Inn passengers had about 8-10 Fathom staff members with us at the hotel, Jason was the Fathom spokesperson in charge. Each Fathom staff member interacted with passengers throughout the day and night to see that we were ok and answer any questions. Everyone seemed to have the same question “Why weren’t the U.S. Coast Guard tests done sooner? The ship arrived Miami a few days ago, why did they wait until day of sailing”. To be honest, no one in our hotel really had the right answer to this one.
We received a letter under the door saying that an update meeting would be held at 11 a.m. Monday after breakfast.
11 a.m. – Jason, tells us that the U.S. Coast Guard was still onboard running through operational checks so lunch would be provided with another update at 1 p.m.
1 p.m. – Jason reappeared in the lobby and told us it was a “wait and see” now, not giving us any indication of whether we would be a go or not but I felt the cruise slipping away. He provided his cell number for people to contact him directly. Many of us went back to the bar to chat with our new friends.
2:15 p.m. – Jason and the team start walking around the hotel (restaurant, bar, lobby, pool area) to gather up the passengers for another update. I asked Jason “should we bring our bags down?” and he just looked at me and said “no”. I knew that we weren’t sailing anymore. All hopes of a shorter cruise had vanished in that moment.
2:22 p.m. – Jason reads the words from the official letter we were given – the U.S. Coast Guard will not sign off until other tests are done and parts ordered to make fixes which will take a few days. He goes through the Q&A section (expense reimbursement process, hotel reservations and per diems, flight rebookings, etc.) and at the end can barely keep it together as you heard the emotion in his voice as he and the staff had worked so hard to get to this point and wanted to share the ship, the impact activities and the people of the DR with us. Despite our sad emotions, we applaud him and the team because we know how crazy the last 48 hours had been for everyone involved.
A desk was set up in the restaurant to assist with alternative flight arrangements and travel plans. There was another table set up to schedule airport transfers. The front desk was available to extend the stay overnight. As for me, I found a flight at 7 p.m. and quickly got an Uber (no more Miami taxis for me) to the airport where my friend drowned her disappointment at the Tequila bar. We both have had a tough time looking for new jobs and were so excited to volunteer with the Fathom team, have a chance to dip our toes in the sand and forget our sorrows for a while that we were both in shock by what had happened – it was like getting yet another rejection in our search – one that brought her to tears & tequila and me to chocolate.
Fathom Cruise Delay & Cancellation Experience
The Fathom Cruise team had a tough start to what I hope is an amazing journey for all the Fathom travelers yet to come. The mechanical issues were outside of their control but the staff really tried to keep positive throughout the disappointment. As they are owned by Carnival, the delays, tours and hotel arrangements were swiftly coordinated and sorted in Miami. Could a few things been done better? Of course there’s always room for improvement (water and food on the tours for example) but I don’t think they anticipated this kind of disruption. Who knew what when won’t help at this point. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the sailing experience I looked forward to but hopefully I will have a do-over in the future.
If you are going on a Fathom cruise, look out for Bart (and monkey), Katherine and Jason as they and their colleagues are so passionate about the mission, you are bound to be won over by their enthusiasm and commitment. The team really did well on the ground. At the end of the day, I had an EPIC adventure, not one I planned but one that will be memorable in the stories we shared, the new friends we met and the fact that we were all in it together. Sadly, I’m now home in Philly and am planning to block out all social media next week when I see my friends and colleagues sail on Fathom because I’m going to be sad and jealous that I didn’t #traveldeep with Fathom Cruises this week.
Note that Fathom Cruise will reimburse me for all of my out of pocket expenses related to the canceled cruise (air, hotel, taxis, food). All opinons are mine.
If you want to book an upcoming Fathom Cruise to the Dominican Republic or Cuba, contact me to arrange that for you via my new travel booking venture, Arden Road Travel.