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Traveler Spotlight: Marisa Bower

Posted in TRAVELER SPOTLIGHT on Jul 23, 2018

As I reflected on the experience, I couldn’t help but wonder what was it about the Fathom experience that really made a connection for us??

Was it the onshore experiences? Reading at Lockhart Elementary School and meeting the students was great. For my kids, it was great to be able to interact with other students their own age who were growing up in a different place. Since my children felt a little awkward to be “reading buddies” to their peers, Andrew and Austin took some initiative to get a chess game going with the afterschool participants, and Allison was able to take charge at the art table. Amanda bonded with one young girl who started out the afternoon very shy, but she eventually opened up and smiled and laughed a lot. Andrew bonded with one young chess player, and Amanda and Andrew both enjoyed chatting with one of the older students.

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NIA in St. Maarten was also amazing: hearing the poignant hurricane survival stories of Clara and the teenagers, and experiencing Ernesto’s rain song… we were completely moved. My kids and I had long ago realized that although we also lived through Hurricane Irma in South Florida (and had schools closed for 2 weeks!), we were incredibly lucky to have avoided major damage. The NIA facilities were beautiful already, in large part due to Clara’s warm heart. She was so inspiring! We feel proud to have left our mark on their beautiful wall outside. Our only regret is not being able to spend more time there!

Cleaning up the beach in Simpson Bay was an added bonus to our day, and we are glad that our work helped make the environment safer for sea turtles and other marine life. Austin didn’t mind that he was only 8 years old – he got right in there helping out with the large debris!

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Even though we only spent a few hours in each place, my family and I will always feel a connection to those communities we touched, and we hope that the people that we met will remember us as well!

Was it the onboard experiences? Every single member of the Fathom team absolutely radiated positivity. You can’t help but be drawn to that!

At all of the sessions we attended, we felt welcomed (even with kids). From the Meet & Greet to the cohort sessions to the nightly dinners to the morning meditation to the storytelling, there was just a great energy among our fellow travelers. If we saw other people wearing the blue Fathom bracelets around the ship, it felt almost like being in an exclusive club of “kind people”. And the entire cruise experience itself onboard Regal Princess was absolutely perfect – great food, great entertainment, a beautiful ship with amazing staff, and a wonderful kids program. Participating in Fathom didn’t take away from other onboard experiences. We still had plenty of time to enjoy the pool, eat the food, see the fantastic shows at night, learn the steel drums, and for some of us, even participate in Voice of the Ocean (Amanda and our fellow Fathom traveler Freddy!).

In some ways, the Fathom experience was just a continuation of volunteerism that we already do on a regular basis, only we were able to help out in a new location. As a family, we participate in beach cleanups and we are active volunteers with our local food bank. Amanda (now age 17) is an aspiring music therapist and regularly plays her guitar and sings in nursing homes. She’s also spent time as a Reading Buddy at our local library and assisting with preschool music and movement classes. Andrew (now age 14) helps with chess programs for kids and sits as a volunteer juror at Youth Court, aimed at giving juvenile first-time offenders a second chance.

Even though the Fathom experience isn’t marketed specifically to any age group, I was really grateful that my children were warmly welcomed to participate. They were able to help out on all of the projects we signed up for, and they were comfortable at the cohort sessions and dinners. Our fellow travelers (Carol from Texas and Freddy from Florida) even “adopted” the kids and made them feel special. And though my youngest children maybe weren’t up for things like the project with My Brothers Workshop in St. Thomas, they were big pre-cruise cheerleaders, collecting many donation items from their friends and teachers. There was really a way for everyone to participate and feel included in some way.

Back when I was a college student, I participated in Alternative Spring Break, spending my vacation week doing volunteer projects in places like the Chesapeake Bay and Smokey Mountains National Park. When Fathom was first sailing on the Adonia, I really wanted to share this kind of experience to my family, but Austin was too young to meet the minimum age requirement that was in place at the time. This year, just a few days after I booked my family’s spring break cruise aboard Regal Princess, I received a notification that our sailing was going to be a Fathom sailing – I couldn’t send the email and sign up fast enough! (He would be old enough now…but there’s no longer an age restriction!) Especially knowing how hard the islands were affected by the hurricanes the previous fall, it was so fulfilling to know that during our time in those places we could really do something to help.

My kids and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience – onboard and ashore - and would definitely do it again.

This bring me back to the original question: why? I have actually spent a lot of time thinking about this! As a travel agent, I have wondered how best to “sell” Fathom to my clients. But the fact is: I believe that people do not need to be “sold” on Fathom. It’s a unique experience that people will either want to do, or not. In talking to people after I returned, I found there were 2 main types of reactions: the people who said something like “that’s nice that you did that on your cruise” and the people who said something like “I want to do that on my next cruise”. You can list all of the components of a Fathom experience: a great cruise ship, feeling a part of the local culture in the islands you visit (Alongsidedness!), meeting fellow travelers with a similar outlook… but it’s really impossible to put into words how the whole experience touches you - Fathom is more than just the sum of its parts!There will always be people who make grumbling remarks about the idea of paying to do volunteer work. But people who, by their very nature, are open to these positive experiences will jump at the chance to do something like Fathom if the opportunity presents itself.

I don’t think we necessarily changed the world on our one day in St. Thomas or St. Maarten, but all of these small acts of kindness definitely have an impact. Even if it was small, we may have inspired others, or set off a chain reaction of positivity, without even realizing it. And of course, the entire experience made an impact on…ourselves! You could certainly hear this in the stories shared on the final night. I hope our fellow travelers were also inspired to make an impact on their own local communities and be carry on the Fathom spirit!

Disclaimer: The thoughts above are those of our travelers and are not endorsed, paid or written by Fathom.

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