Making a Difference in the Dominican Republic – Follow us live!

Sadly, Fathom Travel is no longer in business.

Volunteering in the Dominican Republic

When we heard there’s a cruise that focuses on making a positive impact in the community it visits, we immediately thought, “where do we sign up?”

Join us LIVE as we train — while sailing — for our volunteer activities aboard the Adonia, plant trees in an ongoing reforestation project, construct water filters with a clean water initiative, and pour concrete floors in homes in the community.

Bucket List Item: Do good and travel! Learn how to replant the rainforest in the Dominican Republic!

But all work and no play make your GypsyNesters dull boys – so we’re going to show you the beauty of the Dominican Republic – and hit the beach!

Creating real change often involves innovative ideas and meaningful investments. If you’ve been inspired by our work in the Dominican Republic and have a project of your own you’d like to launch, considering forming an LLC could be a wise first step. It provides a stable platform for businesses and offers liability protections for owners. If you’re unsure about the process, here is a detailed guide on how to start an LLC that can help get you started with the legalities while you focus on making a difference.

DAY ONE: All Aboard the Adonia!

Making a difference in the Dominican Republic - on a cruise! Learn more and find exclusive savings!

Afternoon: We Arrive

Bucket List Item: Do good and travel! Learn how to improve housing in the Dominican Republic!

Veronica makes a beeline for the top deck of the Fathom's Adonia!

David swings on Fathom's Adonia in Miami!

Boarding the Adonia on a gorgeous South Florida Sunday afternoon and after a quick check on our stateroom, we head out to explore our home for the next seven days.

Veronica looks like she’s ready for fun in the sun and water… can’t wait to get started!

Bucket List Item: Do good and travel! Learn how to help bring clean water to the Dominican Republic!

Evening: Sailing Through Miami

Last look at Miami from the Adonia

Jet skiers jumping the wake of our cruise ship in Florida

Pulling out of the port of Miami, we give a wave goodbye to the skyline.

Within minutes a pack of wave-runners chase us past South Beach while jumping and playing in our wake.

Let’s call them bikers of the bay.

South Beach, Florida from the top deck of our cruise ship!
It was a tad windy looking over South Beach from the Sky Deck!

Night: Uh, yum.

Dinner aboard Fathom's Adonia - Yum!
What a feast!

A spirited game of giant Jenga aboard Fathom's Adonia

After a spirited (and a bit scary!) game of giant Jenga – complete with live music on a rocking boat, we head to our stateroom.

We have a big day of impact training activities tomorrow and had a big travel day today, so we’re going to lay it down.

We can’t wait to dive into our studies – see you in the morning!

DAY TWO: A Full Day at Sea – Learning How to Do Good and #TravelDeep

Morning: A different kind of cruise experience

Fair trade bath producted aboard Fathom's Adonia
We awoke to a great surprise – fair trade bath products in our bathroo – uh, is it called a head on a cruise ship?

Perusing this morning’s Soundings — the daily summary of what’s happening onboard– is quite overwhelming. So many Impact + Travel Training choices!

With a full day at sea we have time to study up for our duties once we arrive in the Dominican Republic tomorrow.

Our Fathom Impact Guide trains us to volunteer in the Dominican Republic aboard the Adonia

First we meet up with some of our fellow passengers, or cohorts as Fathom calls us, for an orientation on just what travel with Fathom is all about.

Our Impact Guide, Michelle, gives us the highlights and high points of their philosophy in her presentation, Being a Fathom Traveler:

1.  Transformation through travel. That goes both for us, and the people we will be visiting.

2. Alongsidedness. Michelle is quick to point out that this is a made-up word, but sums up the attitude of doing things together. Together with each other, as well as together with our host Dominican community.

3. Exploration. By spending more time in one destination than the usual cruise voyage we will get to explore more in depth.

Eudaimonia - Human Flourishing
As writers, we love learning new words. Michelle assured us
the eduaimonia is a real word – we’re hoping to become
eduaimoniacs (pretty sure we invented the moniac part!)

4. Outcomes. This is very important for any impact travel; Fathom tracks their outcomes to make sure that everybody is getting the most out of the programs.

To help ensure this, Dominican representatives oversee the shore operations focusing on needs that we, as visitors, may not be aware of.

Last but not least, Michelle instills in us a very valuable distinction: We need to understand our roles as volunteers with empathy as opposed to sympathy. Something akin to the old idea of walking a mile in someone’s shoes.

Spanish lesson aboard Fathom cruises Adonia

The preparations don’t end there; we also get a lesson in Spanish phrases that will come in handy over the next few days.

With all of that knowledge stuffed into our heads, we’re ready to balance things out by stuffing some pool side BBQ down our gullets.

After all, how can we be expected to get our sea legs without some ballast to hold us steady?

Afternoon/Evening: Dramatic Social Change and Moving to the Beat

Passengers aboard Fathom's Adonia catch some pool time between Impact Workshops
Between workshops, many of our cohorts enjoy some pool time

An after lunch power walk around the track above the pool has us ready for a meal of a different kind, brain food.

Social Innovation in Action workshop aboard Fathom's Adonia on the way to volunteer in the Dominican Republic

A seminar entitled Social Innovation in Action introduces us to entrepreneurs from around the world who have found unique solutions to large social problems.

Our favorite is a story of a regular guy who trained rats to sniff out land mines left over from conflicts in Africa.

His solution worked so well that he now runs a non-profit organization that has made a true difference in the world.

The rodents do an amazing job of finding the unexploded weapons and are much faster and more efficient than humans (no worries, they are too light to trip the mines).

The story inspired us (though we know nothing about rat wrangling) to recognize even the craziest ideas can sometimes lead to radical change.

Music aboard the Fathom Cruise's Adonia
Cocktails and music in the Crow’s Nest

We end our day with a dance lesson – the merengue. Now we are really ready for the Dominican Republic!

DAY THREE: Hola Dominican Republic!

Morning: Getting to know you

Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic
Pulling into Amber Cove

Our morning seminar, Getting to Know the Dominican Republic, has us chomping at the bit to begin the onshore portion of our journey. Michelle’s quick overview of the history, culture, and social norms prepares us to navigate our next few days problem free.

Land Ho! We pull into port at midday and are ready to hit the ground running. This afternoon we will be joining the Community Empowerment Though English group.

Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic
Our home for the next few days!

Afternoon: On the ground

The village of Monte Rico in the Dominican Republic

We hit the ground running!

It’s time to use our new skills that we learned on the ship during our voyage to the Dominican Republic.

Our Impact Travel Facilitator, Stephanie, who works with Entrena -- one of the on-the-ground Dominican organizations with which Fathom works to access the needs of the community -- takes us to the village of Monte Rico.
Stephanie demonstrates how each lesson builds on the next

Our Impact Travel Facilitator, Stephanie, who works with Etrena — one of the on-the-ground Dominican organizations with which Fathom works to access the needs of the community — takes us to the village of Monte Rico.

A fruit stand in the village of Monte Rico in the Dominican Republic

By meeting with local adults, we are building on the English lesson plans that Etrena has created to bring people together in a cross-cultural manner.

Our goal is to interact with folks in their homes and, in the process, interact in a manner that eludes most travelers.

Our hosts have an opportunity to practice and refine their language skills – our lesson revolved around telling time, building on prior lessons such as counting, basic greetings and the names of days and months.

But it is the social aspect of our visit that blows us away.

With our lessons finished, we walk around the village as our hosts show us around, learning about each others’ lives and finding the magical mix of English and Spanish that makes journeys like this so memorable.

DAY FOUR: Going Deeper

Morning: Clean Water is VERY important:

Making water filters in the Dominican Republic with Wine to Water on Fathom Cruises

Veronica here:

I traveled to the village of Higuerito with my Fathom Cohorts under the guidance of Frank, our Impact Facilitator du jour, to work with Wine to Water.

By teaming up with Fathom, Wine to Water hopes to make 1,500 clay water filters in a year’s time, impacting 7,500 people in the Dominican Republic.

Participating in most every step of the production process, I sifted sawdust, worked the clay, molded the filters, and helped check safety levels of water after initial filtration.

Making water filters in the Dominican Republic with Wine to Water on Fathom Cruises

Making water filters in the Dominican Republic with Wine to Water on Fathom Cruises

As I worked I spoke with Wendy Lemus, who heads Wine to Water with her husband, Carlos, and learned about the innovative way the filters work.

I’ll be writing about more details in the future , but the quick and dirty is this:

The materials used to create the filters are all locally sourced, except for the liquid silver needed to kill bacteria.

When the filters our Fathom team molded are later fired in the kiln, a layer of charcoal is created from the sawdust – trapping the bacteria to allow the silver to do its damage.

Snaps to our team for making 30 filters – touching the lives of 150 people!

Making water filters in the Dominican Republic with Wine to Water on Fathom Cruises

Have to say, I really feel like I made an impact today!

Afternoon/Evening: Venturing Out on our own and Finding Traditional Grub

A small village church in Maimon, Dominican Republic

Venturing out on our own into the little village of Maimon, just a quick taxi jaunt away from our docking spot in Amber Cove, we stroll the little neighborhood to work up an appetite.

It’s an election year in the Dominican Republic and the mood is festive with colorful signs everywhere, vehicles blaring music and candidate endorsements from speakers mounted on their roofs, and spontaneous parades of flag waving supporters taking to the streets.

Election time in the Dominican Republic

Flora of the Dominican Republic

Our walk brought us to a small pescaderia – fresh fish sounds like just the thing for dinner!

Our meal, a beautiful combo of a whole red snapper, spiny lobster, seafood soup, and tostones — washed down with a couple of almost-frozen Presidentes — was the perfect end to a day of service.

Dominican seafood. a whole red snapper, a rock lobster, seafood soup, and tostones -- washed down with a couple of almost-frozen Presidentes

This ought to give us enough energy to head into the forest to plant trees as part of Fathom’s ongoing reforestation program in the morning.

DAY FIVE: Getting Grubby – For Good

Morning: A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in. — Greek Proverb

Fathom Cruises' Adonia

Reforestation efforts in the Dominican Republic leads to clean water

Our task today is to work with IDDI, Fathom, and the government’s Ministry of Environment to plant endemic tropical cedar trees along the slopes of the mountains in the Yasica region.

Large swaths of rainforest had been cleared for agricultural purposes, which leads to erosion and loss of water in the river that gives the area its name.

The negative effects are felt downstream in the city of Puerto Plata because Rio Yasica feeds the municipal water supply.

We drive deep into the mountains and hike into our chosen valley, passing by thousands of baby trees planted by prior Fathom travelers.

Hiking in the Dominican Republic

Planting trees in the Dominican Republic

We start by measuring the distance between the spots for planting with a four-meter pole.

Each little seedling needs plenty of room to grow into a mature tree, so they start life by saying, “I wouldn’t touch you with a four meter pole.”

Once the spots are marked, we dig holes and plant our babies.

WATCH: It’s not exactly high tech, but gets the job done.

See more about our day replanting the rainforest!

Planting trees in the Dominican Republic

Our crew spreads across the hillside, measuring, digging, and planting until we have 380 new trees ready to grow in the warm Dominican sun.

A dirty job to say the least, but it feels good to get really filthy sometimes.

Ask any kid.

The fruit of our labors may not be apparent for several decades but, as the trees mature, they will provide stability to the soil, habitat for wildlife, help clean the air, or perhaps a shady spot for us to visit should we return in thirty or forty years.

How’s that for optimistic?

Afternoon: Well deserved beach time and a special treat!

After our tree-planting escapades earlier today, we head to the beach for some serious R&R.

The beach at Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

We LOVE cruise towel animals!

Turquoise sea and sky, perfect temps in the water and out – we can’t think of a better way to unwind.

Returning to the Adonia, rested and hopped up on much needed vitamin d, we were surprised by a gift from our on-top-of-our-every-need steward, Bosco.

Veronica loves cruise towel animals more that any human should, and when Bosco gained that knowledge, he made sure a jaunty two-toned puppy was awaiting her on our stateroom bed!

Snuggled up with her new pet, Veronica fell asleep and dreamed of her baby trees growing tall in the Dominican mountains.

DAY SIX: Making Concrete Changes in People’s Lives

Morning: We’ll be sore, but it’s soooooo worth it!

Laying concrete floors in Dominican homes with Fathom Travel and IDDI

Of all the Impact Travel projects we participate in this week, the one where we see the most immediate — pardon the pun — concrete results is today’s Concrete Floors in Community Homes.

We take a short drive into Puerto Plata and along the way our Dominican facilitator, Carlos, explains what it was like growing up in a house with a dirt floor.

When it rains, the floor becomes mud, and his firsthand knowledge really brings to life the importance of this program and inspires us to tackle the hard work ahead with gusto.

Laying concrete floors in Dominican homes with Fathom Travel and IDDI

At our host family’s home, we meet up with representatives of IDDI, the Instituto Dominicano de Desarrollo Integral (Institute for Integral Development), who have coordinated with Fathom to identify families in need of this valuable service.

Before we begin, we meet the family and then they all join with us and jump right in.

Laying concrete floors in Dominican homes with Fathom Travel and IDDI

Young boy plays in the Dominican Republic
The youngest member of the family’s ceremonial “first dig”!

The process is decidedly low tech, we mix sand, cement, and water directly on the ground using shovels.

Then as the mixture is ready to be laid inside, we send it along by bucket brigade.

Full buckets in, empty buckets out.

Because we have enough manpower, the process is very effective.

Laying concrete floors in Dominican homes with Fathom Travel and IDDI

Since there is no way a big truck could ever fit into the narrow streets of this neighborhood, this proves to be an efficient alternative.

The procedure continues for several hours but, to be honest, we are so focused on our tasks that we barely notice.

Before noon we have made, mixed, and poured enough concrete to floor the entire three room home.

Laying concrete floors in Dominican homes with Fathom Travel and IDDI

Our reward is to take a look inside and see the smooth, new concrete covering the old dirt, and even more so the our host family’s smiling faces. There is nothing like the feeling of that before and after.

Laying concrete floors in Dominican homes with Fathom Travel and IDDI

We find that we have one more reward waiting when we walk to the nearby church for an incredible lunch of stewed chicken, rice and beans, plantain, and cassava. Absolutely delicious, and couldn’t be more authentically Dominican.

More than worth the sore muscles that await us.


Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic

We sadly say goodbye to Amber Cove and the Dominican Republic, but are happy and tired.

Not surprisingly, we nap.


Dinner aboard Fathom Cruise's Adonia to the Dominican Republic

A long, lazy dinner aboard Adonia is just the ticket, stimulating to our eyes and tongues. A cappuccino gives us a just the right amount of boost to explore what our ship has to offer for entertainment…

DAY SEVEN: A Day of Sharing – and Enjoying the Sea


There’s something special about sunrise on the open sea.

Sunrise on the open water with Fathom Impact Travel

The colors are phenomenal, the horizons endless, and the ability to actually see the earth turning as the burning sphere slowly enters the sky puts a perspective on our place on the planet that is rarely experienced.

We will spend most of the day sailing along the north coast of Cuba, which just happens to be the next destination for our good ship Adonia.

Tomorrow, we disembark and she will turn around and head south to Havana, before heading back to the Dominican Republic again.

Wish we were going but, for now, we settle for a view of the island off in the distance.

After breakfast, we are off to the Crow’s Nest to share our adventures with our fellow Fathom Cohorts. Our group swaps stories of our adventures over the last week, and then our Fathom Impact leader, Michele, gives us a rundown of the stats from our projects.

Planting trees in the Dominican Republic

Ours is the just the third week-long sailing with Fathom to the Dominican Republic.

In this time, over six thousand trees have been planted, about a third of which were done this week, including the three hundred and eighty on the morning that we participated.

It feels wonderful to know that we helped reduce erosion, provide habitat for wildlife, and clean the air and water.

Laying concrete floors in Dominican homes with Fathom Travel and IDDI

Fathom volunteers have installed new concrete floors in seven homes, providing much improved living conditions for forty-nine people.

And by using locally sourced materials, the economic impact spreads beyond those families.

Making water filters in the Dominican Republic with Wine to Water on Fathom Cruises

The Wine to Water initiative has made one hundred and fifty-six water filters that will provide clean water to over seven hundred people.

The result is a significant reduction in illness, which leads to increased work and school attendance.

Seven hundred and twenty-eight community members are participating in the Community English program, with each person receiving nearly eight hours of individual instruction.

English proficiency is the largest driver of economic success for job applicants in the Dominican Republic.

It feels good to see the impact that Fathom has already had, and know we played a small part in it – and it’s only the beginning.

Afternoon/Evening: Mind and Body

The Adonia and Fathom have combined to keep both our bodies and minds fit on our days at sea with the Embody Spa, yoga and meditation, the Embody Gym with weights and cardio machines…

The gym aboard Fathom's Adonia

… a jogging track, acupuncture, a fully stocked library and game room…

The library and game room in Fathom's Adonia
David found regular-sized Jenga!

…and seminars on everything from time-saving life hacks to expanding curiosity.

There is even a wine and painting party in the evening to help us explore our artistic side… or at least attempt to…

Wine and paint night aboard Fathom's Adonia

…and movies just for fun.

Movie night aboard Fathom's Adonia

The most important point we are left with is that making a difference in the world should follow us home. Wherever that may be.

Planting trees in the Dominican Repulic on a volunteeer vacation

There is always a way to reach out and help others – we just need to be open enough to see it, and be creative enough to jump in and do what’s best.


The Crack of Dawn

Pulling into Miami at sunrise from a cruise ship

We pull into Miami at sunrise. We love Miami but, for today, seeing her means the end of a beautiful cruise.

David & Veronica,
Written aboard the Adonia

A big thank you to Fathom Travel for providing this impact + travel opportunity so we can share their good work. As always, all opinions are our own.

YOUR TURN: What do you think about this innovative cruise + impact + travel concept? Which impact activity are you most interested in hearing about?

Did you enjoy what you just read? Then you'll LOVE our book!
Going Gypsy: One Couple's Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All Going Gypsy One Couple's Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All 

- See how it all began!
ORDER NOW - Wherever Books Are Sold!
Amazon - Barnes & Noble - IndieBound - Books-a-Million
Also available as an audiobook from

48 thoughts on “Making a Difference in the Dominican Republic – Follow us live!”

  1. You really got an amazing travel. You’re enjoying it at the same time you’re helping. I do love the ideas of Planting trees. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What an incredible trip. I love the idea of transformation via travel. I’m currently crushing with Princess Cruises who encourage that you “Come Back New” which is maybe a bit more selfish 🙁 but loving it 🙂

  3. Love this article…. now I am really excited about my own cruise in June! Looking forward to experiencing so many of these things myself, and making a difference to the community like you did! 🙂

  4. We’ve heard about Carnival’s new Fathom brand – really exciting! It’s a total departure from other cruises, especially the Dominican Republican itinerary where you get to do good. So cool they put Fair Trade bath products in the bathrooms. And you’d really feel like you “deserve” some R&R beach time after making clean water filters and planting trees. Great post!

  5. I don’t cruise- but if I did, this one would catch my eye. But the one that would really lure me is the Fathom cruise to Cuba. I really want to go there. Looks like you had a great time.

  6. It looks as though you left a lasting legacy – the Wine to Water initiative as well as the tree plantings will go along way to help the community!

  7. I’m impressed that Fathom/Carnival did such a good job preparing the volunteers for the impact activities. I cancelled going on the first cruise but might consider going in the future now that I can see they have their act together. Thanks for the comprehensive look at it all and good on you for all you did!

  8. What a wonderful report on your Fathom trip. This company and what they do aligns perfectly with you two. Thanks for always doing good and giving back!

  9. You and your “cohorts” had some fantastic experiences. What a diversity of activities onboard and off doing good. The Fathom cruise seems like a great opportunity to have a great time while doing good.

  10. You were pretty busy during your cruise and I was pretty impressed with how many things you did. This is a type of cruise I think I would actually like….not just lying around but learning and really taking part in the lives of the places one visits. What a great concept for a cruise. Looks like you not only had a great time, but you made a difference.

  11. It was very interesting to read about your Fathom Impact experience in the Dominican. It makes me ever more excited about heading on the cruise myself in one month’s time. I have yet to select which of the volunteer options I will choose.

  12. It was very interesting to read about your Fathom Impact experience in the Dominican. It makes me ever more excited about heading on the cruise myself in one month’s time. I have yet to select which of the volunteer options I will choose.

    1. Have a great trip Donna. One thing we thought would have been cool was to work in the nursery getting the trees ready one day and go out to plant the next. Just a thought, but we found all of the programs to be well run.

  13. Wow, what an interesting and comprehensive article on your eco-positive cruise to the Dominican Republic with Fathom.Together with the many informative pictures, your posting leaves me feeling that I have all the information I need to book the cruise! Thanks for a fantastic and well written article!

  14. It was great to see you on board. We have one of the power snorkel things at home. Dan uses it in the pool. It’s quite comical. Look for me tomorrow when I get out of my 48 hours isolation….Don’t ask.

  15. I’ve always wanted to do a volunteer trip and this may seem to be the way to go! All the fun and making and impact sounds like a perfect vacation. Will have to look into their age limits… and power snorkeling!? Yes Please!

    1. I don’t think that there are any age limits, the activities are varied enough to cover most anyone. We did a couple of the more active ones. Unfortunately, we missed the power snorkle because our water filter program ran too long. It sure looked like fun, but there’s always next time.

  16. I can’t even manage baby snorkeling, so I’m looking forward to seeing what power snorkeling is all about. I’ll also be interested to see how you feel about the positive impact projects, knowing about your experience in Africa. If we weren’t in the process of moving and having just returned from the UK, I would have loved to have joined you for this one. Bon voyage, or rather, Buen viaje.

  17. Power snorkelling. Definitely interested in hearing about power snorkelling. The other parts too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.