The ship stood proud and beautiful but guests were never allowed near. Their cruise holidays were about to be cancelled. I was cleared for boarding when the first delay was announced. I knew it was a first trip when I signed on and the delay had me thinking, “No problem, things happen.” I kept my eye on the opportunity to travel for good and participate in volunteer projects at our destination in the Dominican Republic, as well as to savor the culture.
The crowd of nearly 400 passengers was composed of other savvy travelers – mostly travel media and agents. We experienced wanderers pivot relatively easily, especially when Fathom quickly offered local tours of the Everglades and Miami sites during our wait. The service was comforting. No one gave the delay much thought.
It wasn’t until we returned that the tone shifted. Another delay was announced. Fathom and it’s ample, professional staff helped guests into hotels, offered dinner and drinks while we waited for news. Regular updates came in the following morning at 9, at 11 and finally at 1 pm. We were ultimately told that the ship was not allowed to leave port and accommodations would be made to cover our expenses to return home. While disappointment ran high, no one was more concerned than the Fathom leadership who stayed accessible and worked hard to allay fears diplomatically. I’ve never seen executives so concerned and close to tears.
The plans started years ago, when Celebrity Cruise Line developed a series of volunteerism trips for the Dominican Republic and Cuba. A smaller ship (capacity about 700) was sourced from P&O Cruises in Europe. The Adonia sailed across the Atlantic from the UK after fifteen years of experience in European waters. It was sent to dry dock for retrofitting before the inaugural Fathom cruise to the Dominican Republic.
Setting up volunteer projects with local impact for good takes time. In the Dominican Republic relationships were built with local groups. Infrastructure was built to accommodate guests and ground transport; dining and recreational plans were made. All was in ready for the launch – or so it seemed.
The US is different than Europe in it’s sailing regulations. While the Adonia is a proven, sea-worthy ship, Coast Guard inspections found several failures. Worst discovered during routine inspections was a “problem with numerous sliding fire screen doors that are inoperable,” according to the U.S. Coast Guard in Miami. It grounded the cruise.
Quickly passengers dispersed to alternative travels. More than one agent hopped on another cruise. I met a couple who decided it was a perfect time for a road trip to Savannah. A group of bloggers pivoted to South American to find stories in Columbia. Several bloggers were invited to an alternative volunteer travel project with a different company. It was too little, too late and never materialized.
I scrambled to reschedule flights and luckily continued on to cover a different story on the west coast. Weeks of preparation, packing, research and anticipation were scrapped. Disappointing? Big time, but I believe that while ultimate responsibility lies with Fathom, they worked to do the right thing and stepped up repeatedly to make sure people were taken care of. Fathom’s canceled cruise left me exhausted but it’s not the first time that my travel plans haven’t worked out. When plans have to change they sometimes change for the better. I ended up with my family and with new stories.
Luckily I was traveling solo. Other passengers had to endure deeper hardships, re-scheduling family outings, school breaks, and did as well as possible on short notice. We were experienced travelers. Fathom kept us in the loop. They held fast to the planned departure and only shifted when it was impossible to continue. It was a hardship all around.
Repairs are underway to quickly meet inspection requirements. I imagine that when the Adonia launches it will be the safest, most up-to-date ship in the Caribbean. It will just launch later than expected. The beautiful Adonia will sail soon with another boatload of passengers even more excited about their cruise holiday, to step aboard and travel deep for good.
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