Planting Trees In The Dominican Republic – #traveldeep (Part 2)

Still Living The Dream - waterslide

My family and I went to the Dominican Republic this summer. Typical tourist-type activities like relaxing by the pool on the cruise ship, racing down water slides in Amber Cove, riding the Teleferico Puerto Plata cable cars to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres, jumping off the side of waterfalls at 27 Charcos (Waterfalls of Rio Damajagua) were all on our to do list. But we were really going to Puerto Plata to accomplish something much more meaningful. 

We flew to Miami and boarded the Fathom Adonia, a small, 700-passenger cruise ship, to begin our journey. You can read more about Fathom Impact Travel and how to #traveldeep in my previous post.

Travelers with Fathom can pick up to three of the following impact activities. Because my daughter is 10 years old (you must be at least eight years old to go on this cruise) and there are age requirements for some of the more intense and physical activities like putting concrete floors in community homes, we selected Reforestation, Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative, and Community English.

Fathom reforestation

Newly planted Mangroves along a man-made canal by a natural lake in Cabarete – Puerto Plata.

Here’s what we experienced as part of the Reforestation Impact Activity.

 

Still Living The Dream

We left the ship at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning and boarded buses in Amber Cove. After about a 45 minute bus ride with Carlos from the NGO IDDI, and Becca, our Fathom Impact Guide, we arrived at our work site in Cabarete (Fathom takes travelers to different sites including those in the mountains and near the beach.)  After a short debriefing from IDDI staff, we planted Mangrove trees along the water that bordered a village.

Fathom impact travel - reforestation

As we planted the trees and marked them with sticks, those who live in the community walked over to watch us and some kids started to help.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Annie and Jackson were very focused on doing as much work at they could. Annie seemed to sense the impact immediately. After planting one small tree, she paused and told me…

“This will be here forever and will give air and shade to the people who live here.”

Nailed it.

We later learned from Fathom that our efforts help create more nutrient-rich soil, a reduction in soil loss, improved localized air and local water, an increase in localized biodiversity and higher agricultural yields.

StillLivingTheDream.com

As the morning carried on, we continued to make our way along the water bank that backed up to the village with what seemed like an endless supply of trees to be planted. It was hot and we were sweaty and for some reason, we got a lot dirtier then the rest of our group of about 40 travelers, but we felt great.

StillLivingTheDream.com reforestation with IDDI

We visited with IDDI team members as we worked and got to know one beautiful lady who at one point, sweetly stopped to tie Annie’s sneaker. She’s a mom with a two-year old daughter. I love that not only does IDDI help the community through partnering with Fathom with projects like this, they provide jobs for those who live there.

StillLivingTheDream.com

So how did we do? Our group planted 320 trees, but together along with those from the first five Fathom sailings – we planted a combined total of 8,656 seedlings and trees.

Not too shabby.

What did it mean to us as a family?

Fathom Impact Travel

There’s something to be said for working hard outside under the sun. Getting our hands dirty – touching the soil while enjoying breathtaking views. Well – I’m sorry to sound all touchy-feely, but it makes you feel alive. As I got caught up in my own experience and the work at hand, I’d occasionally steal a glance of one of my kids and watch them work. Jackson and Annie both took their job seriously. They wanted to do well and make a difference.

I had been looking forward to taking this trip with both my kids – but especially with Jackson. He is starting high school in the fall and it’s bittersweet. He is growing up at a rate I’m not comfortable with and I know that sooner than I will like – he will move away from our home to start his own life. I remember at one point saying to myself…

“Soak this moment in, Jennifer. It doesn’t really get any better than this.”

Fathom Impact Travel

Working together as a family to help someone else is so important. You don’t have to travel far to do this. We have participated in many worthwhile volunteer activities close to home. But going to another country and working together made us really feel like we were a part of the community there. For many hours I worked side-by-side with my family, new friends from the ship and those that lived in the Dominican Republic. We didn’t all speak the same language, but we communicated in a way that was meaningful and real.

On the bus ride home, we all sat quietly looking out the window….each lost within our own thoughts. Jackson caught me staring at him.

“Mom, you’re staring at me. What’s up?”

“Oh – nothing,” I said…(trying to be cool).

I’m a big, fat liar.

Because the most opposite of “nothing” had happened. For a few hours that morning, I spent quality time with my teenager…away from schedules, drivers ed, friends, sports, homework. I had found a way to pause time…if only for a little while.

I know he’ll never understand, but for a mom – it was so not “nothing”. It was something huge.

Still Living The Dream - Dominican Republic

Tips:

  1. Currently Fathom takes travelers to the nursery to plant seedlings on Tuesday afternoons and Friday mornings. If you want to plant trees in the mountains or along the beaches – be sure to select this activity on a Wednesday or Thursday. We were so happy to be able to plant the trees and spend time in Cabarete, an area of the country we might not have gotten to see. I highly recommend this option.
  2. Wear long pants, long sleeve shirts and use Deet to protect yourself from mosquitoes, the sun and plants or obstacles along the route. I recommend a hat and/or sunglasses as well. They provide work gloves. This was a great impact activity to do in the morning. While it was hot, the afternoon sun is a lot hotter.
  3. Drink a lot of water! IDDI and Fathom provide bottled water for you on the bus ride and during the activity. Stop and rehydrate during the day.

Fathom Impact Travel

Do you have any questions about the Fathom impact travel/travel deep experience? Be sure to let me know by commenting below and check back in at StillLivingTheDream.com to hear about what it was like to teach Community English in the Dominican Republic soon.

Fathom Impact Travel

I was invited by Fathom to sail on the Adonia to the Dominican Republic and experience impact activities with my family. While the main cruise (food, travel, room and impact activities) were provided to me at no cost, as always – all opinions expressed are my own. I gladly paid for air travel to the port, gratuities, on our own activities, taxis, souvenirs that supported some of the groups we helped while in the Dominican Republic, some food and beverages as well as other expenses on my own. 

 

 

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What is Fathom Impact Travel and #TravelDeep? (Part 1)

family sunset aboard Fathom Adonia

Beautiful sunset at sea aboard the Fathom Adonia.

I just got home from a vacation unlike any other I’ve taken. My family and I travel as much as we can and we’ve been on a lot of adventures over the last several years. But last week we flew to Miami and boarded a ship that took us on a journey we won’t soon forget.

Fathom Impact Travel invited several travel writers to join the other passengers and crew aboard the Adonia, a 700-passenger ship that sails every other week to the Dominican Republic. My husband, daughter and son joined me to experience a family vacation with a twist. While we would definitely see a beautiful country and do some typical tourist-type activities on our own, the main reason we were going to the Dominican Republic was to make a positive difference for those who live there.

child in Puerto Plata

There’s a lot I want to share with you and I’m going to break it down into a series of posts, but just to let you know (spoiler alert) we had an extraordinary time. I’m still trying to process everything. It was fun, rewarding, hard work, exhausting, uplifting, sobering, emotional and beautiful. We grew together as family, we changed a bit individually and we experienced the country in a way we never would have on any other vacation. We were able to relax and be tourists, too…so really – it was a combination of a regular vacation (hello – we were on a cruise ship!) and cultural immersion/mission work.

Before I dive in with some of the nuts and bolts of what this trip is all about and what it includes, I’d like to thank Fathom for the experience. While we paid for our air travel to Miami and many activities on the ground and extras on the ship, Fathom covered our stateroom, food and impact activities so that we could see first-hand what the new Fathom #traveldeep experience was like.

Fathom, the newest brand under the Carnival Corporation and plc umbrellais a new kind of cruise that combines the love of travel with the desire to make a difference. We were on the sixth sailing to the Dominican Republic (the also sail to Cuba every other week) so the concept and experience are still quite new for staff and travelers alike.

reforestation with IDDI

Planting trees as part of the Reforestation Impact Activity with Fathom. Made a new friend with IDDI.

Fathom calls the concept travel with a purpose – the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Dominican culture while working alongside its people to create enduring social impact. To achieve that, they have set up several impact activities, led by impact guides that you meet on the ship as well as community partners from NGO’s including IDDI and Entrena on the ground. You select three you want to experience while the ship is docked at Puerto Plata’s port for two full days and 2 half days including:

  • Reforestation
  • Community English
  • Repapel – Recycled paper and crafts entrepeneurship
  • Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
  • Water filters
  • Concrete Floors in Community Homes
  • CAMS – Creative Art, Music and Sports (offered during the summer), Student English (offered during the school year)
Fathom Spanish phrases class

Taking a Spanish Phrases class on board to prepare for teaching Community English in the Dominican Republic.

Impact guides offer training through classes offered on the ship while you sail to the Dominican Republic. We took hour-long sessions on topics such as Spanish Phrases, Empowering English Tutoring, Visual Storytelling, Getting to Know the Dominican Republic, and Raising the Next Generation of Changemakers so we could prepare for our on-ground experiences.

Fathom Adonia pool

While sailing to Amber Cove, the port in Puerto Plata, we also enjoyed the Adonia’s many amenities including a swimming pool, fitness center, spa (that offered massages, hair, nails, facials and even acupuncture), multiple lounges and a wine bar, gift shops and dining areas. She also has a full library that was always a buzz with activity. Lots of games, puzzles, computers, comfortable chairs and couches were available as well as great books for all ages including many copies of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind – the ship’s book club pick that many travelers read and discussed in groups during the cruise! We checked out a set of dominoes (a popular Dominican past time) to play many times on the ship until we purchased a set of our while sight seeing in Puerto Plata.

Fathom Adonia scavenger hunt

Late night scavenger hunt aboard the Adonia. Our team won!

They also offered fun, fitness activities like yoga, meditation and dance classes (we learned the Merengue and Bachata). You could take a wine and paint class, cocktail class, watch late night movies on the top deck and listen to the Adonia’s band – The Craze, as well as several Dominican Republic bands who came aboard while we were at port. Scheduled activities like scavenger hunts (not to brag or anything – but our team won the first one!), fitness seminars and bandioke (karioke with a live band) were also popular.

fuseball on Fathom Adonia

Annie playing Fuseball with new friends aboard The Adonia.

Because of the requirements of the work experienced on-ground, you have to be eight years old or older to go on this cruise. Some of the impact activities require you to be even older because of the type of work being performed. On our sailing we had a lot of kids, pre-teens and teenagers on board, which I think is great. There isn’t a kids game room or any children’s programming per say, but my kids participated in many of the age-appropriate activities offered and had a great time. I do feel like there could be more offered for the younger cruisers, though. This may be something they look at adding on future sailings.

What do you think about Fathom Impact Travel so far? Do you have any questions? Be sure to leave them in the comments section…I’d love to feature answers to them in an upcoming post. Visit Still Living The Dream to learn more about our Fathom experience coming soon!

I was invited by Fathom to sail on the Adonia to the Dominican Republic and experience impact activities with my family. While the main cruise (food, travel, room and impact activities) were provided to me at no cost, as always – all opinions expressed are my own. I gladly paid for air travel to the port, gratuities, on our own activities, taxis, souvenirs that supported some of the groups we helped while in the Dominican Republic, some food and beverages as well as other expenses on my own. 

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10 Things To Do To Prepare For A Magical Cruise With Disney

The Patricks in Costa Maya with The Disney Magic behind us!

Recently I posted the top reasons why I loved taking a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise on the Disney Magic in October. I got a lot of responses from readers and friends who want to experience the same magical moments and have booked a Disney cruise after the new year, but now want tips about what to bring!

Hopefully after reading my list (and because of the great specials they are running right now like kids sail free) you are inspired to take a Disney cruise with your family soon as well.

If so, then you’re likely to have several questions about what to pack and how to prepare for a magical experience at sea. Below are some of the things I’m glad a friend told me (or I wish I had known before boarding). I truly believe you could show up on board with only a toothbrush and a bathing suit and have a spectacular time; however, there are some things that made our trip even better. Here’s the skinny!

Note: these tips were compiled from our experience aboard The Disney Magic to the Western Caribbean which is currently running out of the Port of Galveston; however, I believe most (if not all) could apply to any of Disney’s four ships and their many destinations. 

Uvero Beach Club in Costa Maya

  • Bring an underwater camera– We used a disposable camera for our port excursions at the beach and snorkeling and were so glad to have it. Even if you don’t take it in the water with you, you’ll be happy that you didn’t bring along your expensive camera because it could get wet, lost or stolen while you are enjoying the different activities off the ship.

    Annie's signed pillowcase

  • Pillowcase for character signings– This is a great inexpensive yet memorable souvenir for the little ones. Buy and bring pillowcases for your kids. You can have them monogrammed or embroidered with the trip date or child’s name or they can just be plain. Drop the pillowcase off at guest services the first or second day of your cruise along with sharpies (just black or several colors) and they will get the characters to sign them and then deliver to your stateroom by the end of the cruise. How cool is that?!!! When your kids get home they can rest their heads on their signed pillowcases and have sweet dreams about their magical Disney cruise!
  • Trading pins– If you have been to a Disney park, you probably know about this popular activity that they also do on the Disney cruises. People buy different Disney lanyards and get Disney themed pins to put on them and then they trade pins with other guests and Disney employees. On the cruise, they had a Captain’s pin trading event and my kids really wanted to participate; however, we hadn’t brought anything with us. So we purchased a new lanyard and several pins at the gift shop on board. This can be a pretty pricey way to do it if you are just starting out because pins typically start at $9.95 each (although they did have some starter kits and pin sets that were a bit less expensive).  I recommend you go online (ebay has them for sale in big lots for less than $1.00 a pin!) and put something together to bring with you. This could be a great way to tell your kids about the adventure they will be taking…present them with their “starter” trading pin collection! *Worth the spurge – a special Disney cruise pin you can ONLY get on board – don’t let your kids trade this one!

    Special Event - Tea with Alice in Wonderland!

  • Special events on board– Every day you’ll get a new “Navigator” delivered to your room with the next day’s activities listed. Almost everything is open for everyone but there was one event, Tea With Alice, that you had to RSVP ahead of time for as space was limited. When we learned about the event we went to guest services to sign up, but it already had a waiting list. We ended up getting in (YAY!) but I recommend that when you visit guest services the first day to give them your pillowcase, ask them about special events and sign up right away.

    Dolphin Extreme Swim and Turtle Farm in Grand Cayman

  • Book port excursions through Disney – There are many different excursions you can select from in each port and sign up for through Disney. While you can hold off and sign up on board OR go about it by yourself and find an excursion on your own ahead of time or when you get to each port,  I highly recommend that you book it through Disney ahead of time. Here’s why. 1. Many of the popular excursions will fill up quickly 2. If you book your excursion through Disney, they’ll refund your money if your visit to the port or that specific excursion cancels due to weather (we had two of ours cancel because of a tropical storm) 3. The crew knows who is going on an excursion booked through them and will make sure you are back on board. *Be looking for a review of the port excursions we did in Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Costa Maya in a separate post soon!
  • Dress up for formal night…it’s worth it. – My family is very casual and it took some creativity to get us all formal outfits for formal and semi-formal dining nights on board. We borrowed some ties, belts and jackets, we got one of Annie’s dresses at a second-hand shop and we splurged on a couple new items to get us spiffied up! We joked about the hassle (and how funny it was that we mainly just have shorts, t shirts and flip flops in our closets – but hey, we live in Houston and my husband and I both work from home so we don’t get gussied up very often!) But that made it all the more special when we did. Seeing us all dressed up made my heart happy and it made my list of top ten moments! (And we have a Christmas card picture…bonus!)
  • Bring your work-out gear. What?! I’m supposed to be on vacation, right? Well, I threw my running gear in the suitcase anyway and I’m so glad I did. I ate a lot of great food (including decadent desserts!) during the week and I felt a little less guilty because I worked out each morning. But really, working out in the exercise room was a lot of fun (the treadmills look out over the ocean!) and watching the sunrise on deck 4 while I ran first thing in the morning made my list of top ten moments. You never know what will turn out to be the highlight of your trip!

    Kids outside our (undecorated!) stateroom.

  • Bring a highlighter (for your daily itinerary), tape (to hang things your kids make in kid’s club on door) and plastic ziplocks(for keeping track of small stuff you collect while on vacation.) Again, I’m on vacation! Why am I packing a mini office?! If you like to stay organized, the highlighter is important! You have so many activities to pick from, I would highlight those we absolutely didn’t want to miss on the daily navigator each day. We wish we had packed tape. The kids made a lot of cute art in the kid’s clubs and it would have been perfect to have been able to put them on our stateroom door. Many people actually bring decorations WITH them to put on their door and I would have made two black circles with each of the kid’s names on them to make Mickey Mouse ears on the front door had I known (the stateroom number is the perfect Mickey head shape!). Taping up their art throughout the week would have been so cool and would have helped kept the stateroom more organized as well! We used ziplocks to bring home some beach sand (I’m making a Christmas ornament with it!) and other small souvenirs that could get lost.

    Kids celebrating Halloween on The Disney Magic

  • Pack Costumes/Outfits for special theme nights like Pirates In The Caribbean. – We went on our cruise right before Halloween, so they had a costume party one night. They also had Pirates In The Caribbean night where everyone dressed up like pirates (even grown-ups ya’ll!) And if you have a little girl, princesses costumes are a must for character encounters (I love the pictures of Annie dressed up as Jasmine with all the princesses!) and just about any day on the ship. It’s super  fun to participate in these dress-up moments…you’ll be glad you brought the costumes along – even if it’s just an eye patch and bandanna!

    Jackson and Annie with two actors on The Disney Magic

  • Don’t skip the evening shows – You’re likely to be extremely tired by the end of the day but if you can make it, the Broadway-style Disney shows are so worth staying up for. Give little ones a nap earlier in the day or have everyone take a mid-day rest so you can see for yourself why shows like Twice-Charmed, Villains Tonight and Dreams – An Enchanted Classic are so awesome (fireworks on stage? yup – that just happened!) The actors are extremely talented, the sets and costumes are beautiful and the music is…well – don’t be surprised if you start singing along.
Are you going on a cruise and have a question? Have you been on a Disney Cruise and have a tip to share? Come on, give us the 411 – we want to know!
The Disney Magic will be sailing out of the Port of Galveston in Texas from now until May 2013 and they are offering a special where kids under 17 years old can sail FREE on most six and eight day cruises from January 4, 2013 until March 1, 2013!
My family and I  were invited as guests of Disney on a 7-Day Caribbean Cruise aboard The Disney Magic. While most of our trip expenses were covered, all thoughts and opinions expressed are entirely my own. 
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Remembering The Magic – Top 10 Moments During Our Disney Cruise

 

I was completely unplugged for over a week while my family and I took a cruise on The Disney Magic last week. While I thought it would be tough to be “off the grid” (and I certainly did miss connecting with my Facebook, Twitter and Still Living The Dream friends), it turned out to be one of the most magical weeks I have ever spent with my husband and children on vacation.

This was our first time on a cruise ship and we had a lot of questions before we boarded like what to pack, what excursions to sign up for while in the Caribbean and what to expect regarding activities on the ship. (These will all be topics that I will cover in future posts about the Disney Magic, by the way!)

But as soon as we stepped on the ship and a crew member announced over the loudspeaker, “Please help me welcome aboard The Patrick family,” we knew we were going to be in for a wonderful ride no matter what ended up in our suitcases or whether we selected a snorkeling or beach tour excursion in Cozumel.

My Top 10 Magical Moments on The Disney Magic (in no particular order!):

Running on Deck 4 in the morning and watching the sunrise. Runners can choose between looking over the water while on a treadmill in the ship’s exercise facility (which I also took advantage of several times during our trip) or running the entire length of deck four…three times around equals a mile.

Watching Jackson become more independent. Disney knows that as much as parents love their kids (and kids love their parents) sometimes grown-ups and little ones want to do different things. So they offer a nursery for infants and three different kid’s activity rooms for older kids (Oceaneer’s Lab and Lounge for Annie’s age group, The Edge for pre-teens like Jackson and The Vibe for teenagers.) My kid’s loved going there to play sports, take cooking classes, do arts and crafts and enjoy special parties with kids their own age. Jackson was able to go with his new friends to play dodge ball or play in the arcade on the top deck. He even explored the ship a bit with permission from us and Wave phone in hand (each stateroom comes with 2 “wavephones” to use while on the ship so that you can get in touch with your family when going in different directions). His confidence and self-esteem grew…and with that – so did my heart!

Seeing Annie meet the Disney Princesses for the first time. We had many opportunities to meet Mickey and the entire Disney character crew while on board. Character meetings were offered often (both spur of the moment and scheduled) and because there are a limited amount of people on the ship – lines weren’t ever that long. Each meeting was special, but the morning we had the chance to meet six princesses in the ship’s lobby really stood out. Seeing Annie’s face light up as Belle gushed about how pretty she was, Aurora spun her around and Cinderella embraced her made ME tear up. It was a beautiful moment.

Relaxing by one of three pools on Deck 9. The Mickey pool with water slide  is a favorite with kids (complete with splash pad for even the youngest cruisers), Goofy’s pool is deeper and you can watch movies on a giant screen while you swim and the adult-only pool is a quiet sanctuary complete with the comfiest lounge chairs. Beware – you may fall asleep! I had the chance to enjoy all three pools at different times during our week away.

Getting to know our wait staff while enjoying out of this world cuisine each night. Weird, right? I mean, why would getting to know staff members be a vacation highlight? Because Disney offers unique, rotational dining which meant that we had a reserved seat at one of three restaurants (Animator’s Palate, Lumiere’s and Parrot Cay) every night with a different theme (Captain’s Gala, Prince and Princesses, Pirates in the Caribbean) and menu every night. (Hello lobster and chocolate souffle – I love you.) Our servers, Nathan from London and Andrae from Jamaica, served us every night no matter where we dined. By the second night they knew that Annie would probably want milk while Jackson preferred Sprite and would have their drinks waiting for them. We got to know them so well, it was a teary good-bye our last night together.

Enjoying Nightly, Broadway-Style Shows. This is a separate post in itself. But let me just say – the shows were outstanding complete with elaborate costumes and set-design, special effects (fireworks on stage!) and extremely talented actors/singers. Our favorite was the Dreams – An Enchanted Classic and Villains Tonight.

Swimming with the dolphins in Grand Cayman. A excursion worth the splurge. I will never forget Annie’s face when Luna the dolphin pushed Annie’s feet with her nose and sent Annie sailing through the waters.

Towel animal creations in our room every night. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference. Coming back to our stateroom every evening after the show, tired from a full day of activities, a towel monkey or swan would greet us on our freshly turned-down bed with chocolates and the itinerary for the next day.

Getting a massage in the Vista Spa. Disney cruises aren’t just for kids. They offer different activities for people of all different ages and interests. In fact, 20 percent of those on board our cruise didn’t even come with kids! Getting a 75-minute massage in the Vista Spa was so relaxing and the spa was so beautiful.

Seeing my family dressed up on formal night. The preparation ahead of time to find and pack dress up clothes for the four of us was so worth it. I mean, Ed and I work from home most days so it’s perpetiual casual day at our “office”! We never get gussied up anymore and seeing my family looking so beautiful made my heart happy.

**Gazing at the ocean water from our stateroom veranda. Here’s a bonus to my top ten….number 11! Breathing in the fresh air (no Houston seasonal allergies at sea!) and watching the ocean water as we glided gently through it from the privacy of my room’s balcony in my jammies was beyond relaxing. Ed enjoyed reading his book out there as well. Such a special way to start and end each day.

You can experience “The Magic”, too!

The Disney Magic will be sailing out of the Port of Galveston in Texas from now until May 2013 and they are offering a special where kids under 17 years old can sail FREE on most six and eight day cruises from January 4, 2013 until March 1, 2013!

Have you ever been on a Disney Cruise? What were your magical moments on board?

My family and I  were invited as guests of Disney on a 7-Day Caribbean Cruise aboard The Disney Magic. While most of our trip expenses were covered, all thoughts and opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

 

 

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