I just had the awesome opportunity to sail on Fathom Adonia's 12th voyage to Cuba and it was EVERYTHING! Cuba has been on my bucket list for years so when the travel restrictions were loosened a little and more flights approved I got really excited. The number of familiar tour companies offering group options increased immediately, so I just knew I'd be hopping a flight to Havana soon. Enter Fathom cruises. Once I heard there would be a round trip cruise from Miami offered that moved to the top of the list. The ship exceeded my expectations, the food was way better than some of the reviews made me believe and Cuba is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle that defies explanation. Oh and of course we set sail the week Hurricane Matthew pops up! So now I can truly speak from personal experience when I say 'Don't worry, the cruise line will take care of you!" There is so much to unpack in this voyage I'll break it up into posts about the ship itself, the ports, cars, architecture and the arts.
First, yes I was super anxious (read: scared shitless, but determined) about flying to Miami knowing a major hurricane was brewing. I hadn't heard from the cruise line so i called to make sure nothing was cancelled before leaving home. (See that's where your friendly travel professional comes in. You don't want to be responsible for keeping up with the weather, making alternate plans and communicating with the company when you're freaking out a little) when I arrived at the port I got a letter from the captain and the agent siad 'The weather's great!' When he saw my puzzled face, like dude have you been alive this week? he said 'Oh it's been downgraded to ONLY a category 4!" alrighty then, that tells you something about the attitude of the crew here. Forever upbeat!
It was an absolutely perfect day to be honest.
We waited in line for about 20 minutes after being handed a group letter and off we went to board the ship. My stateroom was ready when I boarded, so I put my stuff down and went to eat and explore. First impressions of the ship were that it was welcoming and comfortable British style. There are plenty of comfy nooks to chill in, swings on the pool deck and unique Fathom touches here and there. Although the ship was nearly full, it NEVER felt crowded. I didn't even learn it was full till mid week, but never saw lines, hunted for tables or scrapped for lounge chairs at pool. Adonia is intimate without feeling like you're staring at the same people everyday...just the right size. You can walk the ship and not silently curse the hike if you have to run back to your room for something. (My last cruise was on Royal Caribbean, so I am comparing those behemoth size vessels.) You also don't feel like you're still constantly being sold something. The servers hang back or will ask once if you need something. The crew won't hound you for drinks or photos or the SPA etc. Though all of these services are top quality. The shops onboard focus on fair-trade, organic and natural items to match the them of impact travel. The room toiletries are fair-trade, the wine is organic and vegan in the Glass House wine bar.
Before the hurricane this was my big source of anxiety. I read several negative reviews about the food quality, but dinners always had several great options. Our serves were attentive and would readily change something out if you ended up with a dish you didn't care for. Tasty vegetarian options are offered everyday at dinner. Real inspired dishes, not just steamed veggies and black bean burger options. Dinner is open seating, but we found a server team we loved so much we asked for their table 5 out of 7 nights. So we got the best of both worlds...a server who got to know our dining habits and no time restrictions with a casual dress code.
On the days we were in port lunch was included at local restaurants or family owned 'paladores'. It helped the short time on buses still feel like cultural immersion because we ate in small groups at different places. We'd compare notes on the ship later about the different restaurants. The first day I had La Bodeguito de Medio, one of Ernest Hemmingway's favorite spots for mojitos.
The crew is fantastic. Cruise director staff is replaced with 'Impact Guides' who lead seminars and activities around the ship as well as accompany groups on the included tours ashore. Many of them have worked in the peace corps or with non-profit orgs prior to joining Fathom. Just talking to them was fascinating. Everyone had a unique story from working in rural villages without running water to assisting with medical care in war torn countries. They are dedicated to helping us do our part to make a positive difference in the places we visit. That does not take away from their professionalism, however. I witnessed one held hostage by an old lady complaining about the tour we were on and she handled it with grace. (The woman actually hadn't read the day's itinerary and thought we were going to an art museum on the day we went to a co-op in a rural area) . Now this isn't the ship for you if you're looking for full scale production shows, bingo, belly flop contests and casinos. That doesn't mean you'll be bored. I brought 4 books just in case, but didn't even get through one of them. There are unique activities like sound bath meditation, storytelling seminars and street photography, along with typical ones like salsa lessons, movies. A few movies were Cuban themed, like The Old Man and the Sea. The talks offered before each port were so helpful. I learned some new history and valuable tips for navigating the city. In the pre-20th century Cuban history talk I learned more than I ever did in school about Cuba. The Craze Band played an amazingly diverse array of music by the pool and in lounges at night. The lead singer sounds like a cross between Adele and Duffy to me. They could play Beyonce and John Lennon equally well. Half of the week Cubason played Latin music also. They did several old favorites and mixed a little reggaeton in there too. Both bands were super talented.
I have to give major props to the Captain. Once we were on board he communicated our status regularly and kept us pretty steady the whole week. We had to skip Santiago de Cuba and double back to Havana due to Hurricane Matthew, but I applaud the way it was handled. Once we got back to Havana, another tour was flawlessly executed as if it had been planned all along (when they really had 2 days to pull together and activity for 700 people!). One night when it got a little wavy the captain had already warned us we'd be going a little faster to get into port at Cienfuegos earlier to avoid bad weather. Still it wasn't as bad as I anticipated. It actually just rocked me to sleep. Now if they're talented enough sailors to pull that off during a major hurricane I'm sure your average sailing will be super smooth.
Overall I truly enjoyed the ship and the itinerary. I would recommend it without hesitation and plan to sail again to experience the Dominican Republic impact activities. Fathom is really trying to do something unique, being a mix of a traditional luxury cruise experience and cultural immersion or voluntourism. Usually those are separate trips. I hope people really understand the difference and give it a chance. Most of the bad reviews seem to be from people not really understanding the product. If you've got questions give me a shout. I'd love to share more. More posts coming soon on Cuba itself.