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Old July 8th, 2016, 11:42 PM
eroller eroller is offline
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Arrow Travel Deep - fathom Cuba Experience!

Travel Deep - fathom Cuba Experience!

Cuba Photo Gallery:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/erolle...57670121886941

Fathom Information & Daily Programs:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/erolle...57669713506900


There are a few expressions I started hearing almost immediately after boarding fathomís ADONIA to Cuba. Things like ďImpact TravelĒ, ďTravel DeepĒ, and a personal favorite, ďTourists See, Travelers SeekĒ. From an early onset I know this wasnít going to be a typical cruise. Fathom is actually a relatively new brand of Carnival Corporation. It made a big splash just over year ago when Carnival announced an entirely new concept of cruising. One that wasnít all about eating, casinos, and laying by the pool. Instead the emphasis is on ďtravel with a purposeĒ, or ďsocial impact travel". In the case of the Dominican Republic cruises, that means perhaps teaching a skill such as English to the locals, helping to make water filters, planting gardens, etc. The purpose is a little different for Cuba. Itís ďPeople to PeopleĒ. To be fair fathom didnít invent the people to people concept. Itís actually required by US law for most US citizens to visit Cuba. Under this specific program for instance, youíre not permitted to spend a week in Cuba laying on the beach at a resort. In fact I didnít see one beach in Cuba which suited me just fine. Instead your days are required to encompass plenty of time interacting with the locals, learning about the culture, and partaking in cultural activities like art, music, and yes, even drinking at local bars. I really loved that part! You can do this on your own, with organized fathom activities, or a combination of both which is what my friend and I decided upon.

Fathom is headed by a young president named Tara Russell. She is not a typical cruise line CEO and to my knowledge had no cruise line experience prior to fathom. Her passion is making a difference through impact businesses. Fathom is for profit, but with objectives that go beyond just being a profitable company. Tara hand selected her onboard team, called ďImpact GuidesĒ. Leading this group of young explorers is Katie and Colin, a husband and wife team that seemed to keep the impact concept alive and well onboard ADONIA. Katie is the Impact Supervisor and on a traditional ship you might call her the Cruise Director. The difference is ADONIA is no traditional ship. Rather than bingo, art auctions, and belly flop contests by the pool, you are more likely to find lectures on Cuban history, Cuban movies subtitled in English, and activities like Book Clubs, Visual Storytelling, and Spanish lessons. You can participate in even more unusual concepts like finding your inner superhero, discovering your spirit animal, and the story of you. You get the picture right? Itís more tree hugging and educational than cocktails by the pool, although you can do that too!

Taking you to Cuba is ADONIA. She is an interesting little ship to be sure. For one her master is female, not something you see everyday. She is operated by P&O which is a British company with lots of history, that is also owned by Carnival Corp. You might say she is on loan to fathom. ADONIA is one of eight almost identical medium sized ships that were originally ordered and operated by Renaissance Cruises. Their names were not very original, and ADONIA started out as R8. She was the 8th and final ship in the series. Renaissance went belly up and today we find ADONIAís sister ships at Azamara, Oceania, and Princess Cruises. They are very comfortable ships carrying just over 600 passengers in very nice surroundings. The theme decor is Edwardian, and the fact they were built during the Titanic movie craze might explain why. The grand staircase in the lobby was even modeled after Titanicís. ADONIA has British officers, a mostly Indian crew, and cruise staff (aka Impact Guides) mainly from the US, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. She is registered in Bermuda. The decor is probably not suited for warm weather Caribbean itineraries, but the size is right and Iím sure that is why she was chosen to inaugurate the fathom brand. She is showing a little wear and tear and could use a little TLC here and there, but overall she looks good and there is probably no better way to travel to Cuba in comfort and style. Fathom tried to brand the ship at minimal cost and it shows. Poster art covering the wood bulkheads in the atrium, poster art on staircases, and fathom touches here and there that honestly don't do much to enhance the atmosphere. I would have preferred they just left the original decor intact as the fathom additions just donít fit the decor and look cheap (they are cheap in fact).

Iím sure youíre getting the idea this isnít a typical cruise and with that in mind, here are some things you wonít find on ADONIA. The most pleasant one is the constant selling of goods and services like on most ships. The nickel and dime effect if you will. It simply doesnít exist on ADONIA. Along with that is no casino, no art auctions, no bingo, no evening shows, and very little entertainment besides a band and Cuban movie each evening. Are you getting the picture? Think very low key. Katie the Impact Supervisor will do double duty and sing some evenings in Andersonís Lounge, and she is actually quite good. Some other pleasant surprises are no auto gratuities at the bars, and in fact the service charge is already included in the low drink prices. Thank P&O for that! Of course you can add a tip if you like which is what we did. How about $6.95 for a basic cocktail like a Bacardi & Coke? Sure beats the almost $12 I paid for the same drink on Oceania a few months earlier. You can even buy liquor in Cuba and consume it back on the ship. They donít confiscate your liquor at the gangway like on most ships. The Reception Desk is only open from 7am-11pm daily and there is no room service except for a continental breakfast which comes with a $5 tray charge. I thought that went against the no nickel & dime effect and frankly should be eliminated considering the prices that fathom is charging for Cuba cruises. One bottle of water in included in the cruise but you are on your own for the rest. Thankfully the tour guides provided plenty of bottled water on the tours themselves. All the tours and visa by the way are included in the price of the cruise except for a couple evening excursions. More on that later. Bath amenities are provided as is nightly turndown service, and the cabin even comes with its own kettle and tea selection. Another holdover from when the ship sailed for P&O. Onboard internet was quite good and worked well even in Cuba. I posted photos of Cuba on Facebook throughout the cruise. I opted for 250 minutes for $62.50. It seemed like the best deal and I used every minute. That is actually a little less expensive than I have experienced on most cruise lines. There is also a fathom app specifically for Cuba that you can download to your smartphone. I used it often. It was basically an electronic version of Soundings, which is the daily activity program. It had all the information provided in Soundings and then some.

Food, service, and entertainment on this cruise were definitely secondary but are worth discussing. The star of course is Cuba and that was the primary reason everyone was on this cruise. In fact many fellow passengers were first timers and the type that would never actually consider a cruise. They were not interested in the normal cruise past times, and instead were focused on immersion into Cuban culture and learning and exploring as much of Cuba as possible. For this reason the few cruise activities that were offered were lightly attended with the exception of the lectures which often had a full house. There were also very few children onboard and to my knowledge absolutely no organized childrenís activities. That was quite refreshing actually! So how was the service and cuisine? It was fine, but nothing exceptional. We had kind of a funny incident with our cabin stewardess early on. The DND sign was out but seemed to go unnoticed. She knocked and we didnít answer so then she called. In she came with a bucket of water announcing ďbalcony cleaning!Ē. I guess it was time to get moving whether we were ready or not! Later in the cruise she came in when I was getting ready for dinner. She admonished me for not using the DND sign. I just had to laugh. Why when she doesnít respect it anyway!!? She got better as the cruise went on, but generally speaking the service overall lacked any polish or finesse. There were exceptions of course, but perhaps this is just the P&O style of doing things? Menus are much more limited than other cruise lines and a few times nothing sounded appealing. That is very unusual for me. Stay away from beef as it tends to be tough, overcooked, and flavorless. Some fish was dry and other times it was ok, but never all that flavorful. Bland would be a good word with the exception of curry. Lots of rice and dishes with curry had plenty of it. Surely this is the P&O Indian influence. The same dinner menu options in the dining room were repeated in the buffet restaurant. Another dinner option is Ocean Grill. Itís an extra tariff speciality restaurant that costs $25 per person. By far it was the best meal we had onboard, and I would highly recommend it. They also offered a bbq on deck the two afternoons at sea, and it was just ok. Burgers (well really hockey pucks on a bun), pork, etc. There was a line the first time it was offered, and no line the second time! There is nothing to eat past midnight anywhere on the ship. Remember no room service. Generally not a problem except the one night we got in late from a show in Havana. It would have been nice to have a little something to munch on. To be fair fathom doesnít promote gourmet food. Itís all quite eatable but certainly nothing too memorable. You wonít starve that is for sure, but it probably wouldnít hurt fathom to spend a little more effort on quality ingredients and preparation that appeals more to North Americans, the primary market for the ship. Anyway youíre not booking this cruise for the food. As Iíve mentioned before itís truly secondary to the Cuba experience.
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Old July 8th, 2016, 11:43 PM
eroller eroller is offline
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--continued--

So what about Cuba? In a nutshell it was everything I hoped it would be and then some. I truly found it a rewarding experience beyond my imagination. I highly recommend anyone with the time and means to visit now, before Cuba is dramatically changed. There is an innocence and spirit to the Cuban people that is truly endearing. They have so little yet have so much life and love in them. It was so refreshing and we can learn so much from them. I worry that once big business arrives in Cuba that the innocence will be lost, but that is progress I suppose. I do hope that with this new found relationship between Cuba and America, that new opportunities and a better standard of living will prevail. For now, the Cuban people I encountered really love Americans and will welcome you with open arms. They are beyond excited about this new relationship with the US and are excited for you to visit their beautiful country. They are very proud of Cuba and with good reason. There is a lot to love! A couple general things about Cuba and the fathom operation. First you will sign an affidavit prior to leaving the US. Fathom supplies this and they can walk you through it. Basically you have three options. Cuba on your own, Cuba by organized fathom tours, or a combination of both. We did both. Read the affidavit as there are requirements under the guidelines of the ďpeople to peopleĒ program. As I mentioned earlier hanging out at a beach all day is not an option. Keep in mind there are two currencies in Cuba. The CUC and CUP. The CUC is an exchange of almost one to one with the US dollar, and is the currency that tourists use. The CUP is the local currency and generally you will not use it on this cruise. A good way to tell the difference is that the CUC has historical monuments on the bills, and the CUP has historical people on the bills. As part of the ďpeople to peopleĒ program you are not supposed to use US dollars in Cuba. This being said, they can be used in small amounts for things like tips. Itís much more difficult for a Cuban person to exchange a larger US bill for their local currency, so generally they donít want them. There is a currency exchange set up in each of the port terminals, but keep in mind there is a stiff 10% exchange fee. No way to avoid that though. At least when changing your CUCís back to US dollars there is no fee. Cuba is a tipping culture and I would recommend bringing lots of $1 bills with you. You pretty much tip for everything and itís very, very appreciated. Little things also mean a lot. Pens, paper, toilet paper, just some everyday things you take for granted will mean a lot to the Cuban people. I even purchased some pins onboard with the Cuban & American flags together, and gave some out while in Cuba. Just my little gesture to promote how happy I was about this new relationship between our two countries. One thing that surprised me was how widely English was spoken. I joked that more Cubans speak English than South Floridians! Often times it was even with no dialect. Education is free in Cuba, so many learn English. I think itís going to come in handy as the future unfolds.

We stopped in three Cuban ports on this cruise. The first was Havana. Itís a beautiful and eventful sail-in so be sure not to miss it. This is the only port where you literally dock in the heart of the city. Once you exit the terminal you are right in Old Havana, a beautiful and historic walking district of the city. The way fathom organizes its tour groups is by name. Our was ďImpactĒ and this would be our group for the entire cruise. The nice thing is that the night before you are provided an overview of the activity, and also an estimated departure time from the ship. You can wait in the comfort of your cabin until your group is called, then make your way to the gangway. We found every departure time to be exactly as estimated, and the fathom operation to be highly organized and well thought out. The nice thing is that the groups are rotated, so youíre not aways the first or last group to be called. Itís a very fair process. Fathom does not fill tour busses so they are very comfortable, and they have a/c which is a rarity in Cuba! The busses are from China. Leading the tours will be a guide from Havanatur, which is state owned and the largest tour company in Cuba, and an Impact Guide from fathom. Something unique to Cuba customs and immigration is infrared cameras. If they detect your body temperature is above 98.96 degrees you will be subject to a heath screening. Thankfully that didnít happen. Also you have to go through a security screening both getting on and off the ship, so donít forget anything. Having to back track on the ship will eat up valuable time. ADONIA overnights in Havana and the first day is a full walking tour of Havana with lunch included. Our lunch was at a private restaurant, or Paladar. This private ownership is a fairly new concept in Cuba. Most are still state owned. This first day in Havana is actually the most rigorous of the entire cruise. Prepare accordingly and remember it's really hot and almost nowhere has air conditioning. We enjoyed dinner on our own in Havana at a state owned restaurant (very nice and very reasonable) then opted for an evening excursion to the historic Nacional Hotel for an excellent cabaret production. Think Vegas meets Havana! Day two in Havana is a full day bus tour but we opted to sightsee on our own. We rented a 1954 Cadillac complete with driver and guide for around 60 CUC's. They were awesome and it was a fantastic way to do things at our own pace, and also see some sights of Havana which we probably would not have seen otherwise.

Our second stop was Cienfuegos. This port is on the southern coast of Cuba, about a three hour drive from Havana. It took us a full day to sail there as we had to sail around the western coast of the island. Cienfuegos has a very different feel than Havana. The architecture is more akin to what you might find in Saint Petersburg Russia compared to the Spanish Colonial style in Havana. The feeling is more laid back as itís a much smaller city after all. We enjoyed a tour of the city and a wonderful musical performance at the beautiful Tomas Terry theater. Cienfuegos is a relatively short port of call, and soon we were on our way to Santiago de Cuba. Sailing out of Cienfuegos you might be able to spot a relic of the Soviet influence in Cuba. An abandoned and incomplete nuclear reactor. If completed it would have powered something like 15% of the entire island. Electricity is unreliable in Cuba and very expensive. Itís one reason there is very little air conditioning. Itís also not unusual for the power to go out with no warning, only to return a minute or two later.

Our final stop was Santiago de Cuba. This is another southern port city near the eastern end of the island. Not far from Guantanamo Bay actually. The feeling again is quite different from both Havana and Cienfuegos. Here the African-French-Caribbean influence is much more apparent, and Haiti is actually closer than Havana. Itís a city filled with a lot of history and you will learn all about it during your visit there. Another musical performance was to be enjoyed along with plenty of free time to explore the city center. A visit to historic San Juan Hill is a must along with the Castillo del Morro. I really enjoyed the changing of the guard at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery where Cuban national hero Jose Marti is buried and memorialized. Itís quite interesting and again you can see the Soviet era influence even in the style of the changing of the guard.

So that is a brief overview of my Cuba experience. Rather than go into anymore detail about Cuba itself, I invite you to browse the photos in my gallery. Iíve included the links at the top of this review. Hopefully they provide even more insight and perspective into this fabulous place known as Cuba. I truly hope you have the opportunity to visit in the near future, and I wholeheartedly recommend fathom as a great way to experience Cuba, especially for the first time. If you have any questions please donít hesitate to ask.

Ernie
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Old July 9th, 2016, 11:52 AM
aerospace aerospace is offline
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Can you now just go online and book with Fathom to Cuba, or does it require special permissions and sending in your passport etc with the state department?
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Old July 10th, 2016, 10:10 PM
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Can you now just go online and book with Fathom to Cuba, or does it require special permissions and sending in your passport etc with the state department?
Read my review and I NOW address booking at the end.

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Old July 10th, 2016, 10:13 PM
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Default Great info...Ernie

Very good perceptions...especially of ship although I would rate food a little better.

Cuba is certainly worth the effort to get there....

Thanks for the report...excellent information!
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Old July 10th, 2016, 11:39 PM
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Read the review and learned nothing about what is required to go to Cuba on the Fathom..thanks lol
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Old July 11th, 2016, 06:24 AM
eroller eroller is offline
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Originally Posted by aerospace View Post
Can you now just go online and book with Fathom to Cuba, or does it require special permissions and sending in your passport etc with the state department?

Yes, booking online with fathom is just as easy and the same process as any other cruise line. No special requirements.

Like other lines, you will be required to submit passport and personal info after booking and before the cruise itself.

Two additional requirements are a visa and affidavit. Fathom will obtain the visa for you if you are a US citizen born in the US. You will pick up the visa upon check-in in Miami. The affidavit will be in electronic form and this should be completed and submitted prior to your check-in in Miami. It outlines the guidelines, requirements, and restrictions of the "people to people" Cuba program. Basically there are three options and you have to choose one. Cuba on your own, Cuba with the fathom organized tours, or a combination of both. I did a combination of both. You can change your mind and update the affidavit once onboard if desired.

Hope this helps.
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