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Cruises To Fathom For Next Spring

Since Carnival announced its “impact travel” line Fathom was going to be launched in 2016, the picture of what it all means has come more into focus, as well it should with the passage of time.

For one thing, “fathom” abandoned the idea of using its name with a lower-case “f” — lest it be construed as a nautical measurement and not a cruise line. For another, the volunteerism cruises are not only open for booking but are now being detailed. That, too, makes sense. Why would you book a cruise without the details?

In case you hadn’t heard or read, Fathom is going to take cruise passengers to places where they can help by volunteering to work with people in those countries, namely the fathom-Dominican Republic and (for the first time) Cuba. The first cruises on the 704-passenger Adonia depart next spring.

One thing that hasn’t changed with time is the price. The 7-day cruises from Miami are still being advertised for about $1,500 (including taxes), although that’s not exactly clear Fathom Adoniain the website, where pricing seems to be hidden by text boxes until you enter your name and personal details.

The Cuba trips, which begin in late spring — subject to Cuban approval — seem to be at least $300 more, per person, and that doesn’t include taxes and ports expenses. Naturally, they’re more attractive and will be at least until everybody gets accustomed to going to Cuba.

That’s where activities will include things like:

* Visiting the fishing village where Hemingway was inspired to write The Old Man And Fathom-CubaThe Sea, near Havana

* Going to a couple of World Heritage Sites in Cienfuegos

* Working with the people who make Cuban cigars, rum and music in Santiago de Cuba

All of them include being a volunteer. That’s the Cuban criteria for visiting the island. And volunteering means eight hours of programming when on shore.

All of which begs the question: How many people are interested in spending 150 to 200 per cent of what a typical Caribbean cruise would cost for the privilege of being a volunteer in a foreign land. People who do things for organizations like Habit For Humanity do it all the time but in the case of Fathom, that means counting on 704 people every week.

One meaning of the word “fathom” is to “understand after much thought.”

Comprehending this Fathom might take more thinking.

In the news…

• Hurricane Joaquin changing some port calls in the Bahamas
• Royal Caribbean changes name of its 'ChoiceAir' to 'Air2Sea'
• Carnival Corporation expands faster, innovative WiFi to more ships

Today at portsandbows.com: Royal Caribbean — no last-minute deals


Carnival Imagination
4 nights
January 30, 2016
Los Angeles (return): Catalina, Ensenada
Inside: $179
Cost per day: $44
www.carnival.com

Carnival’s Secret Out About fathom

Sitting with a group of cruise media intelligentsia (whenever there’s a group, we like to think it’s “intelligentsia”…or at least “collective intelligence”) last month on an Alaska cruise, we listened attentively to thoughts of fathom. Remembering that the word “fathom” was once used to measure depth of sea water, we quickly jumped into the 21st century, in which the word has a completely different nautical application.

It’s a cruise line.

fathom is the new cruise line attached to mighty Carnival, the corporation that owns 10 of them. It’s not really a cruise line yet, but it will be when the good ship Adonia is re-Adoniabranded next spring. It’s for people who want to go to another country on a cruise ship and to make a difference by generally helping locals…starting with the Dominican Republic.

Since the cost of doing that was going to be as much as twice the price of a usual one-week cruise, the question around the table was this:

“What was Carnival thinking?”

Now, we know.

Carnival was thinking, by inventing cruises to sail under the “social impact travel” banner, that it could navigate the regulations that currently restrict American visitors to Cuba. For example, the most common way the U.S. allows (that’s the U.S. Government, not the Cuban Government) Americans to visit the Caribbean island is “educational or academic programs that include preplanned people-to-people contact.” Another category is “humanitarian efforts.”

So while conventional cruise lines wait for the other shoe to drop, Carnival Corporation jumped first by creating a cruise line that qualifies. And despite what you may be seeing on CNN, these are not Carnival ships that will be going to Cuba next year…only the Adonia, operated by one of Carnival’s other lines, P&O.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that by April 2016 the government will have cleared the path for many ships to cruise Cuba. There are already reports that six (un-named ships) have been approved by the U.S. Treasury. But right now, only the Adonia is cleared to sell its itineraries which, it appears, are going to start at $2,990 — about three times what you might pay for a weekly cruise elsewhere.

In the news…

• Renowned orator on cruise ships, John Maxtone-Graham, dead at 85
• MSC Opera to homeport in Havana in December for 16 Caribbean cruises
• Celebrity partners with Broadway production "An American In Paris"

Today at portsandbows.com: Free air offers from Scenic Cruises

Norwegian Epic
6 nights
September 20, 2015
Barcelona, Cartagena, Malaga, Lisbon, London
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $99
www.ncl.com

Friday file: The 'Rich Port' Of San Juan

Of all the ports in the Caribbean, and there are hundreds it seems, one that keeps attracting more attention is San Juan, Puerto Rico (translation: “rich port”). Strategically positioned just east of the Dominican Republic, it can be either a port to visit on the way to the Southern Caribbean or a place to embark on a Panama Canal cruise. We have done both and today’s photos reflected our visits to Old San Juan…

Pina Colada

Shouldn’t we all know the who-when-where of the whole pina colada thing?

Fort-1

From inside San Cristobal, and what it must have felt like a few centuries ago.

Fort-2

Also inside the fort, another era’s “weapons of mass destruction” remain.

Seahorse sculpture

The first statue of a seahorse that we’ve seen in the Caribbean (or anywhere).

Starbucks

In Old San Juan, seats in Starbucks are rare, and everybody’s on a device.

Free trolley-1

Free trolley the best way to get around Old San Juan, where you need a day.

Horse-carriage

If bus is too crowded, there’s always the (not free) horse and buggy option.

Arturo Somohano Portela-musician

Conducting an orchestra in perpetuity: Arturo Somohano Portela. Google him.

Today at portsandbows.com: Another 'Port' (Canaveral), one that's getting more options for passengers

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
October 16, 2015

Boston (return): King’s Wharf 
Inside: $629

Cost per day: $89
www.ncl.com

Friday file: Cruise Port Entertainers

In many ports, especially in the Caribbean, locals provide entertainment for passengers as they disembark. There’s always a bucket nearby for anybody who wants to make a donation to these buskers by the sea but there is, of course, no obligation — and the reality is they provide a musical preview of their country’s customs. Here are some we’ve encountered and enjoyed…

Dom.RepLa Romana: Decked out in traditional Dominican Republic colors, this quartet was just as bright in talent.

AricaArica, Chile: In an outdoor mall close to the ship, this talented duo was singing…'The Piano Man' with no piano!

AcapulcoAcapulco: Mariachis are always an attraction in Mexico, even when their “fifth” member gets into the act. 

CartagenaCartagena: Colorful Colombian dancers on the deck of what was once a Spanish galleon and now tours the harbor.

FalmouthFalmouth: If ever an entertainer looked the part of the needy busker, it was this Jamaican at Dunn’s River Falls.

Labadee
Labadee: The only thing wrong with this high-energy act beside Allure of the Seas was the intrusion of a passenger.

Today at portsandbows.com: Norwegian back to South America

Carnival Miracle
6 nights
November 1, 2015
Los Angeles (return): Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $469
Cost per day: $78
www.carnival.com

Baseball the Heart of Dominican Republic

 

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic — When it's your first time in (fill in the country), you never really know what to expect, do you? That's precisely how we felt about the La Romana-JoseDominican Republic. And when you leave, as we did on the Carnival Freedom, you leave behind some things you didn't expect to see…or do.

Like tasting rum — "our vitamin is rum" — at 10 o'clock in the morning.

This was in the midst of a sugar cane field, somewhere in the south-eastern corner of what is the second-largest island in Latin America (behind Cuba). Rum isn't a staple in our house — in fact, it may not even exist in our house — but for whatever reason tour guides like Jose Turbi Guia think it goes well with raw sugar cane. So much for rum and coke.

We thought we'd have been more likely standing in a baseball field than one of sugar cane, because ballplayers are the sweetest export this country has. 

Almost 10 per cent of today's major leaguers are from the Dominican, most of them from the area surrounding La Romana, which is just down the road from San Pedro de Macoris, known for turning out talents like Robinson Cano, Sammy Sosa and Tony Fernandez. San Pedro, in turn, is just down the road from Santo Domingo, the capital and home town of David Ortiz, Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista, whose Toronto teammate Edwin Encarnacion is from La Romana.

So baseball is big in the Dominican Republic. As an aside, only one of the country's exports has made the Baseball Hall of Fame (Juan Marichal) but that will soon be changing. In the meantime, this country that shares its island with Haiti will continue to La Romana-baseball-1breed players in ballparks big and small to produce major-leaguers, many of whom will send money home to their families. 

Estimates are that such remittances total more than $3 billion per year, or twice the earnings from tourism.

So forget the name dropping…that's how important baseball is to the economy.

There is little of it going on right now, as the season starts in August, but there is plenty of tourism. The Dominican Republic is reportedly the most visited destination in the Caribbean, and 3,000-passenger cruise ships like the Freedom play a significantLa Romana-cigarsrole. Like all countries in the Caribbean there is much to see and, for cruisers, little time in which to see it.

The Carnival tour we took, in an open-air safari wagon, lasted about four hours. It was a sampler, of course, with stops at a nursery (the kind where they grow plants, not La Romana-busbabies), the sugar cane field, and a "typical" house where you could devour fresh fruit and buy cigars that you watch being rolled.

Along the way, being the good tour guide he is, Jose filled our heads with facts and even philosophies — "Don't give kids handouts…if you teach them to be beggars they La Romana-Flamoyantdon't go to school." Among the things we learned:

• The colorful (they come in orange and yellow) flamboyant trees that are everywhere produce seeds that are used inside maracas

• There are 3,010 members of the pina (as in colada) family

• Education is free, right through university

• About a million Haitians who have come to work in the fields haven't bothered to go back

• A posh 10-square-mile complex called Casa de Campo has 2,000 villages, five designer golf courses and its own airport, plus accommodation for people named Clinton, Iglesias, Sinatra and John (Elton) behind the locked gates.

• Unemployment in La Romana runs 18 per cent, and isn't it too bad the government La Romana-garbagedoesn't put some of them to work cleaning up the garbage that scars so many of its roadways.

• Gas is $6 US per gallon

• The island is 98 per cent coral, which means anything grows because coral retains humidity.

The tour was called Countryside Experience, because it delivered a taste of many things. Who knew that included rum at 10 a.m.?

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: New ships coming for Norwegian

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
September 29, 2014
Miami (return): Grand BahamaNassauGreat Stirrup Cay
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $47
www.ncl.com

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