Fathom cruise to the Dominican Republic

It’s been a very busy summer here at Globetrotter Travel and I’m having a hard time believing we’re halfway through September already!  We’ve been planning and managing many trips all summer long to a range of destinations including the Caribbean, Iceland, Ecuador, the Czech Republic, Hawaii, and New Zealand to name a few.  Due to our busy summer, I am just now finding some time to blog about our Fathom cruise to the Dominican Republic back at the end of May.  This was an amazing trip and I wanted to make sure I had enough time to describe this social impact cruise in detail to give it the justice it deserves.
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In case you haven’t heard, Fathom is the newest brand under the Carnival umbrella, and it launched in April of this year.  Fathom focuses on traveling deep with social impact cruise vacations and alternates sailings between the Dominican Republic and Cuba.  The Fathom Adonia sails round trip out of Miami leaving each Sunday.  We sailed all day Monday and arrived in Amber Cove, near Puerto Plata, on Tuesday mid-day.  In the Dominican Republic Fathom partners with local organizations to work on a variety of impact activities.  These impact activities include community English, student English, creative arts, music & sports, producing water filters, reforestation projects, laying concrete floors in homes, making paper at RePapel, and assisting in chocolate production at Chocal chocolate cooperative.  I heard wonderful testimonials from people who participated in each of these impact activities.  The activities we participated in were community English, Re Papel, and Chocal chocolate cooperative.  If I remember correctly, we sailed on Fathom’s 5th sailing to the Dominican Republic and seeing the cumulative results of these impact activities, after only 5 weeks in the Dominican Republic was truly amazing.

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Our first activity was Community English on the Tuesday afternoon that we arrived in Amber Cove.  Our group went to a community that was a little over an hour away from the port, in a very remote part of the island.  The community was so excited when we arrived and we separated into small groups and went to individual homes to work on our lesson for the week.  My Mom and Grandma were with me and we were partnered with a wonderful Mom and Daughter from the community.  We were with them for about an hour and spent the beginning of the lesson reviewing what they learned in the previous weeks.  Then, we moved on to the lesson for the week we were there – colors.  It was a bit of a challenge since none of us really spoke any Spanish, and they only spoke very little English, but we found we were able to communicate fairly well and make quite a connection in the short time we were there.  We were all a bit hesitant going into this activity because of our very limited Spanish, but Fathom and the organization they partner with in the Dominican Republic, provided us with lesson materials that were pretty clear and made it much easier to communicate with our students.  After our individual lessons were finished, we all gathered with an interpreter at a community pavilion where everyone went around and shared their experience.  This was a great activity that allowed us to really interact with some local Dominican people who were truly grateful for us coming all the way to their small community so they would have the opportunity to learn English.  Our guides from the local organization told us that because of how remote this community was, even if they wanted to go into the city to take an English language class, the majority of them would have no way to get there since it was over an hour away by car, which most community members didn’t have.  Since the Dominican Republic is such a popular tourism destination, English fluency vastly increases the job opportunities available for Dominicans.  In our onboard seminars with Fathom they mentioned that learning from native English speakers, is even more beneficial since they could hear the proper pronunciations and inflections in our voice as we taught them.  I would repeat this impact activity again in a heartbeat.

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On Wednesday morning we went to our next impact activity, which was at the Chocal chocolate cooperative.  Chocal is a local women’s cooperative that was formed to create jobs near home so women wouldn’t have to travel great distances and leave their children at home to find jobs. Here, we learned about and were involved with the entire production process.  We were divided into small groups again and moved around to different stations to learn about and participate in each step of the chocolate production.  We started by putting the labels on chocolate bars that were already complete.  This meant using hot glue guns to individually glue labels onto each bar.  Next, we went to a station outside to sort through the cacao nibs and remove the shells and bad pieces from the cacao that was going to be sent to production.  After that, we went inside to sort through cacao that had already been through the roasting process to remove any remaining shells.  Lastly we went to the station where we took the hot chocolate and put it in different shaped molds to harden and be prepared for packaging.  This entire process was a true labor of love and really made you aware of just how much work goes into producing a single bar of chocolate from Chocal.  Because there are so many steps in this process, we were able to increase their production significantly in the short time we were there simply by having so many extra sets of hands to help with the manual labor.  After we had finished the production process, we went on a tour of the nursery and finished with a delicious lunch prepared by the community.  I really enjoyed this activity and working alongside the founding women of this cooperative who created a solution to the shortage of jobs in their community so they could stay at home with their children and work nearby.  They now employ quite a few women, as well as their children and other family members as well.  It was truly inspiring to see how much pride they took in their work and how grateful they were to simply have a job that they enjoyed in their community.

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The last impact activity we participated in was making recycled paper and crafts at RePapel.  Originally, we were a bit disappointed as the impact activities we had registered for prior to our cruise didn’t translate over to the ship, so the third activity we had originally signed up for was full by the time we became aware of the problem.  RePapel was the last activity that still had availability for this time slot we had open on Thursday morning, so we signed up for it without knowing much about it, but it ended up being one of our favorite activities.  RePapel was created by another group of local women to create jobs in their community by making recycled paper and crafts.  These women were so enthusiastic and were an absolute joy to work with.  They were very clearly thrilled to have jobs in their community and again, it was very clear that they truly enjoyed their work.  We separated into groups and RePapel and moved through the different production stations again like we did at Chocal.  Our group started by sitting around big trash cans of recycled paper and shredding the pieces by hand – sorting the white pieces into one bin and and pieces with black ink into another bin.  This was tiring work done in a very hot room with a small fan.  Our group was only at this station for about 25 minutes and many were commenting on the heat, but the two women from RePapel who were there with us were happily shredding paper while singing and having a good time.  Next we went to a station where the recycled paper shreds were put into a blender with water to make a pulp mixture that was then laid out on screens to form the individual pieces of paper.  Each piece of paper was then laid out to dry in the sun.  From there, we took make-shift rolling pins and rolled out the dry sheets of paper to flatten them and remove some of the texture.  In addition to the paper production process, we also worked on a variety of other craft projects including jewelry, candles, coasters, and pillows.  At the end of this activity, they set up a gift shop so we could purchase the paper and crafts produced by RePapel.  Although this impact activity was unplanned for us, it ended up being one of our favorites.  These women were so enthusiastic and spent the entire morning we were there singing and having a great time while doing their work.  This was another activity that I will definitely repeat on future Fathom trips.

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The impact activities we participated in on our Fathom cruise were a wonderful and humbling experience.  I had participated in service and volunteer work on a local and state level prior to this trip, but this was my first experience working in a different country, and it was very impactful.  We attended a Fathom session on our sea day on Monday about being empathetic with the Dominican people as opposed to being sympathetic to them, and I thought that was a really great way to begin the trip and it stuck with me all week.  Although it appeared they were in poverty and had very little, the people of the Dominican Republic were so grateful for our presence and the work we were doing and they were seemed to be truly happy with what they had.  It was a joy to spend the week working alongside like-minded travelers and the Dominican people and before I had even finished by first trip, I knew that I would be returning on a future Fathom sailing.

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Aside from the great experience participating in impact activities around Puerto Plata, the rest of the time with Fathom was also very enjoyable.  The Fathom Adonia is a relatively small ship, holding just over 700 passengers and doesn’t have all of the “typical” cruise ship amenities, but there was plenty to keep us entertained.  The Adonia has a pool, hot tub, gym, spa, library with games, and a good selection of entertainment in the evenings including local Dominican bands, game shows, karaoke, dance classes, and giant outdoor games on the pool deck.  The three of us shared a cozy balcony room for the week, but it was comfortable and  the view from our balcony when we were docked in Amber Cove was gorgeous.  The food onboard was great, with some Dominican and Cuban options, and the specialty restaurant was delicious.  We spent one afternoon doing a tour around Puerto Plata, which was a bit disappointing (the tour, not the area), and we spent our other free time in Amber Cove shopping and enjoying the nearly empty pool on the days that the Adonia was the only ship in port. The majority of the guests on this particular sailing to the Dominican Republic were travel agents and guests, so throughout the week, I was able to meet many other agents and talk business with them, which was enjoyable since I don’t meet many other agents in Michigan.

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This was an amazing trip that I would recommend to anyone.  Fathom truly has something for everyone to enjoy and I think this concept of social impact travel is wonderful.  Although there were a few kinks on our sailing, that is to be expected of any new venture, and they have some wonderful staff and crew onboard to help resolve those few minor glitches.  I could clearly sing Fathom’s praises all day long, but I’ll wrap this up.  In summary, Fathom is great, voluntourism is fun, the Dominican Republic is beautiful and the people are genuine, and social impact travel is life-changing.  I loved Fathom so much at the end of May that I am sailing with them again in November.

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Contact us for more information about Fathom and to book your social impact cruise.  There are still some great inaugural season rates available, but they won’t last for long!

Remember to check out our website and to like us on Facebook to stay in touch.

Touring Secrets Aura Cozumel

Our third stop on our cruise back in April (yes, I’m behind – I’ve been busy planning all kinds of summer vacations) was in Cozumel.  We had been to Cozumel before and done a shore excursion, so this time we decided to try out another all-inclusive resort.  We went to the adults-only Secrets Aura and once again, we had a great day.

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View from a roof top lounge at Secrets.

Apparently since our Spanish isn’t great, our taxi driver didn’t understand and dropped us off at Sunscape, which is a sister property to Secrets and is right next door.  We then traveled by golf cart over to Secrets where we met up with another travel agent from my host agency on the same cruise as us and began our tour.

Secrets is a beautiful property.  The manager who showed us around told us about recent renovations (including the roof top lounge pictured above) and took us see one of the rooms.  The rooms were very nice and offered plenty of space.

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The room we toured at Secrets.

She also showed us around the rest of the property including the multiple pools, beach area, restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops.

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Courtyard with shops and cafe.

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A section of the beach in front of Secrets.

After our tour, we went to have lunch at a restaurant on the beach.  The food and drinks were delicious, but the service was a bit slow.  The restaurant wasn’t that busy and there were plenty of servers around, but they were chatting in groups and it took about 15 minutes for anyone to come for our drink orders.  After waiting another 15 minutes for them to take our food order, we waited at least another half hour for our food.  Maybe we wouldn’t have noticed this wait as much if we had been staying at Secrets on vacation and had nowhere else to be, but since we still wanted to test out a few pools and the beach before getting back to the ship on time in just a few hours, it was definitely noticeable.  Otherwise, the food and drinks were great –  we just weren’t thrilled with the service.

After our lunch, we went and parked our stuff at one of the pools for awhile.  We chose the pool that was outside all of the swim up rooms since there weren’t a ton of people there and it had a swim up bar.  It was a very nice setting and the swim up bar was great, but again, the service was lacking.  There was only one bartender going up and down the stairs to serve the guests out of the water and the guests in the water, and we overheard a lot of people complaining about how long it was taking to get their drinks.  Because of this wait, when someone did get the bartender’s attention, they were putting in orders for 3 rounds of drinks, so they wouldn’t have to wait again for awhile, but it just made everyone else’s wait that much longer.  This didn’t ruin our day – we still enjoyed the setting and had a great time, but the service was definitely underwhelming.

We left the pool after awhile, grabbed a drink from the cafe, and went down to the beach to spend our last hour until we had to head back to the ship.  Overall, the property was beautiful, the food and drinks were delicious, and the staff was friendly, but the quality of the service was not what we expected from a Secrets property.

Remember to check out our website and to like us on Facebook to stay in touch.

Touring the Westin Grand Cayman

Our second port on our cruise in April was Grand Cayman.  We decided to tour another resort and the Westin was more than willing to accommodate us.

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The Westin Grand Cayman is located on Grand Cayman’s gorgeous Seven Mile Beach.  I was more focused on the tour and asking questions again, and only took one picture while we were at the Westin, but trust me when I say the property and beach here are beautiful!  After we completed our tour, they were kind enough to let us spend the day on their beach, which was especially nice considering there were five total cruise ships in port that day and the public beach would have been extremely crowded.  Guests at the Westin have access to beach chairs and umbrellas, but the chairs closest to the water go quickly, so best to get down to the beach early if you want the prime real estate.

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When we arrived, we were taken on a tour around the resort and beach and we were very impressed. The Westin Grand Cayman offers multiple room categories with a variety of amenities from an island view room to the Governor’s Suite to accommodate all budgets.  We toured an ocean front room and it was a really good size with updated furnishings.

The Westin also offers a full service spa, 7 restaurants and bars, meeting and event space, wedding packages, the largest freshwater pool in Grand Cayman, two hot tubs, a fitness studio, a Kids Club, and Red Sail Sports watersports center.  The lobby and public areas are beautiful as they are in my opinion, but the Westin will be undergoing a renovation to the public areas of the resort beginning on 7/1/16.  These renovations are expected to be complete by December and the resort will stay open during this time.

While we were touring the property, the events staff was busy preparing for a wedding that day and the setting was absolutely gorgeous for a destination wedding.  We spent all of our day on the beach, but the pool is also a very good size with plenty of chairs around it.  I can’t comment on the food and drinks here, as we spent most of our time in the water and never ordered anything, but the service was great.  There were a few servers walking the beach the entire time we were there, making sure everyone had what they needed and all of the food and drinks we saw delivered to other guests looked delicious.

I have nothing but good things to say about our tour of this Westin property.  The staff couldn’t have been any nicer, the property was modern with plenty to offer, and the location directly on Seven Mile Beach was beautiful.  We will definitely be visiting again.

Remember to check out our website and to like us on Facebook to stay in touch.

Touring Couples Sans Souci Jamaica

Our first port on our cruise last month was Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  This was our first time to Jamaica, and I’d heard mixed reviews about Dunn’s River Falls, so we decided to take the day to tour a resort.  I get quite a few requests for trips to Jamaica, so I thought it was finally time to see one of the all inclusive resorts in Ocho Rios while we were there.

As the name suggests, Couples is an adults only property, which is a top priority for many of the honeymoon couples I work with.  Frankly, it seems that it’s becoming more and more popular among couples of all ages to stay somewhere without kids when they go on vacation, and Couples offers that perk!  Sadly, I didn’t think about taking pictures while we were touring, so I’ll have to paint a word picture for you.

When we arrived, we were taken on a tour around the resort grounds.  This property was quite a bit larger than I was anticipating, with lots to offer.

Couples Sans Souci has:

  • 150 Suites
  • 5 restaurants
  • 7 bars
  • 4 swimming pools
  • 3 jacuzzis
  • A private au naturel beach & pool

There are multiple accommodation buildings, as well as the main reception building and bars and restaurants throughout the property.  There is one long main beach area in front of the majority of the accommodation buildings, and a few smaller beach areas around the rest of the property as well, including the private au naturel area if you’re anti-tan lines.

We were shown a suite on the bottom floor of a beachfront building and it was gorgeous.  It had been recently renovated and I couldn’t get over how much space there was.  Our guide told us that many of their 150 total suites sell out well in advance, as they have multiple guests who return year after year, spending weeks at the resort.  I’m looking forward to retirement to have that kind of time off, but it’s easy to see how it would be no problem at all to stay in one of those suites for a few weeks straight.  They have everything you could possibly need.

There were a few things that really impressed me about this property.  I sell quite a few all inclusive vacations and it’s rare to find a property that truly includes everything, including all water sports and local tours and excursions, but at Couples, these come included.  The General Manager and Wedding Coordinator joined us for lunch and the food was delicious.  The service in all of the restaurants and bars was great, but the most impressive aspect for me was the quality and size of the suites.

On the other hand, there were a few areas that I thought could use some improvement. While the food in the lunch restaurant was great, the building itself looked like it could use a good cleaning.  The floor seemed rather dirty for having been closed for a period in between breakfast and lunch and the cushions on some of the chairs weren’t in the best shape.    We also spent awhile at the beachfront bar, and although the service was great, the drinks were fairly average.  I’m not a regular drinker, but the mixed drinks were mediocre in my opinion and I heard a few of the men around me complaining that Red Stripe was the only beer available.  While these few areas definitely wouldn’t stop me from staying and having a good time at this resort, they would make me second guess sending some particular guests here.

Overall, Couples San Souci is a win in my book.  Sun, sand, unlimited food, drinks, entertainment, and activities – there’s not much else you could ask for in terms of a relaxing beach vacation without kids.  I’m thrilled we were able to tour the property while we were in port for the day and will definitely be visiting again on future trips to Jamaica!

Remember to check out our website and to like us on Facebook to stay in touch.

 

 

 

Seminar at Sea aboard Norwegian Getaway

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I had the opportunity to attend a Seminar at Sea aboard the Norwegian Getaway earlier this month and it was a great experience.  I was able to network with some other travel consultants with my host agency and to meet our Business Development Managers for Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas.  Each of our BDM’s lead informative training sessions and I learned quite a bit about this family of brands.  The timing for the Norwegian training, especially, was great since I’m managing a group sailing on the Escape next summer and being on board the Getaway helped to clear up a lot of questions I had regarding that group.

Next to the Escape, the Getaway is the next newest ship in the fleet, so my understanding is that there are many similar features between the two ships.  Now that I have experienced a sailing on the Getaway, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect on board the Escape next summer and I think it’s safe to say that it won’t disappoint.  My favorite features of the Getaway were the Waterfront area with bars and restaurants outside on the water and the dueling piano shows.

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I also sailed on the Norwegian Dawn last year, which is a much smaller ship, but in my opinion, there are pros and cons to each ship size.  While the Getaway had more options in terms of entertainment and restaurants on board, many came at an additional cost.  The Dawn also had some specialty restaurants that were an additional expense, but the variety of entertainment that came included on that ship was much better with a new show to see every night.  Due to the size of the Getaway, we had to make reservations to attend shows throughout the ship and the same shows repeated for two nights in a row so everyone had the opportunity to see them.  The shows on the Getaway were great, but I definitely preferred the entertainment schedule on the Dawn where there was something new every night and you could attend shows on your own time without reservations.  When it comes to comedy shows, I prefer improv over stand up.  The Dawn had Second City on board performing a few times throughout the cruise and they were a highlight of that cruise for me.  The Getaway had stand up comics on board who were entertaining, but just didn’t compare to the improv shows that Second City put on.  The Getaway, however, had a great dueling piano bar with some very talented musicians, so we ended up spending a lot of time there.

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We had a bit of a delay on our last day at sea as we came across a raft with 8 people on it about 30 miles off the coast of Cuba.  I happened to be in a training session when we first came across the raft and the Captain made the announcement, but when I returned to my cabin a few hours later, they happened to be going right past our balcony.  Despite the fact that I love cruising, I have a huge fear of deep water, so I was scared for these people, but our Captain assured us that they weren’t in distress since they had a motor on their raft and were actively trying to get away from us.  We learned quite a bit about maritime law during the few hours we were delayed staying with the raft until the U.S. Coast Guard arrived which was pretty interesting.

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Our cruise on the Getaway left from Miami and we spent two days at sea with stops in Ocho Rios Jamaica, George Town Grand Cayman, Cozumel Mexico, and Norwegian’s private island in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay.  With the exception of Great Stirrup Cay, we used each of our days in port to tour a resort property and it’s safe to say that I’d like to return to all of the properties we visited for longer than an 8 hour day.  It was great to see and experience some of the properties that I sell frequently firsthand.  I’ll share more about each of these 3 properties in my next few posts.

 

Ultimately, this cruise was a great experience and I’m already looking forward to my next opportunity to sail with Norwegian! Remember to like us on Facebook to stay in touch and contact Globetrotter Travel to start planning your next trip!

Traveling and Training

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to do some training with my consortium, Vacation.com, in Detroit and I’m so glad that I was able to attend.  It’s not very often that these travel training events come to Michigan, so I have to take advantage of them when they do, even if it means driving home in a blizzard in April!  The training was helpful, and the opportunity to meet and network with other agents from Michigan and the surrounding states, as well as Canada, was great.

Take a look at my profile on Vacation.com here.

In addition to the beneficial training provided by Vacation.com, we also had round table discussions with the business development managers of several travel and tour suppliers who helped sponsor this event, which was invaluable.  We ended the day with a small trade show where I stocked up on new 2016 and 2017 brochures and even won a door prize!  This was especially exciting for me since I’m one of those people who never wins anything.  I’m sure most non-coffee drinking people like myself wouldn’t have been nearly so excited about a Starbucks gift card, but I was thrilled to have finally won something.  I wasted no time spending this gift card on my lunch while sitting in the Fort Lauderdale airport for 7+ hours last weekend.

I had one day back at work after my training in Detroit before I flew down to Florida to attend a Seminar at Sea aboard the Norwegian Getaway for a week.  We had a great week aboard the Getaway, but I’ll save those details for my next post!

Like us on Facebook to stay in touch and contact Globetrotter Travel to start planning your next trip!

 

Colorado and April Update

 

 

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Last month I took off to Colorado for a week with two good friends that I don’t get to see nearly often enough, and we had a great time.  This was my first trip to Colorado and I got my first real dose of elevation sickness.  Our trip got off to a great start with me passing out at the top of Pikes Peak.  Apparently ALL the people at the top saw me pass out because people kept coming up to me to see how I was feeling, but luckily I recovered quickly as soon as we began our descent.  Naturally we had to commemorate this memorable event with matching souvenir t-shirts!

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After the excitement of our first day, we continued our whirlwind trip through Colorado.  We started in Denver and drove to Colorado Springs where we had our Pikes Peak adventure.  We also went to Garden of the Gods and the U.S. Olympic Training Center.  Then we moved on to Breckenridge and Dillon for a few nights.  Despite the fact that none of us skied, we had a great time eating and drinking our way through Breckenridge and riding the gondola.  We left Breckenridge and drove to Estes Park for a night where we explored Rocky Mountain National Park and saw lots of elk!  My friends were brave enough to try Rocky Mountain Oysters, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by the urge to taste this Colorado delicacy, so I stuck with fish and chips.  From Estes Park we went on to spend a few hours in Boulder and then back to Denver for our last night in Colorado.

We had a great trip and thanks to the many real estate guides I picked up along the way, we found the perfect dream property at the base of a mountain that we’re going to buy together so we can all move to Colorado someday.  I had always heard how great Colorado was, but had only ever seen the Denver airport on a few layovers, so it was great to spend a week traveling in this beautiful state.  Colorado – I will definitely be back, with a can of oxygen in hand!

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