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No Bags Necessary – My Misadventures with Fathom Travel

Adonia - Fathom Travel

The Adonia. Photo via Fathom Travel

Sometimes when you hear something is too good to be true, it is..

I have been excited for weeks to take my first holiday without my son and my first cruise. Not just a regular cruise either, the maiden voyage of a new cruise line that focuses on providing social impact activities.

And I was set to go with my friend and fellow mom Jasmine. It was going to be awesome. A week away from our kids, no responsibility other than volunteering with communities in need in the Dominican Republic and remembering to sunscreen ourselves!

Fast forward to my date of departure.

I order my Uber, already bleary eyed since it’s well past my bed time. I am excited to see a woman driver. How cool. I’ve never had one before. Well.. Turns out, it’s not so cool. She doesn’t know how to drive on the labyrinth known as LA’s highway system. She is a total nervous wreck slamming on the breaks every 2 seconds causing me to feel extremely car sick. This doesn’t bode well when I’m about to be on a ship for a week!

My reward for the terrible drive – TSA Pre-Check! Yes!  I get to bypass the long security line and the only thing I have to take out is my laptop. I will have plenty of time to get a book and chill before my flight.

As I saunter through the x-ray machine, excited to have made it through so quickly, the TSA security guard tells me he needs to check my laptop. “OK” I say, wondering if this is a random check or if they actually see something. I have taken this laptop with me on all of my trips for the past year, so I can’t imagine what could be wrong.

While patiently waiting for security to slide the little paper into the machine to test my laptop, I see his computer screen flash red with “EXPLOSIVES DETECTED” written in large letters across the top.

EEK! What?

I wonder if this very nice security agent is now going to turn on me and treat me like a criminal. My biggest fear in life has always been to be falsely accused of something I didn’t do. Those fears flash before my eyes.

Thankfully he says in his still calm and friendly way “Lets try this other machine over here”. He doesn’t seem to be too worried, so I let my anxiety ease away slowly.

I can’t see his screen at the new machine, so I’m not sure if it says “Explosive Detected” again or if it gives me the all clear. Either way he tells me that I have to go through the process of having a full body pat down by a female officer and all of my belongings have to be examined and tested.

So much for TSA Pre-Check saving me time…

I watch as all of my belongings are unpacked; I wonder if he really will be able to get it all back in again. Packing a week’s worth of clothes, 4 pairs of shoes and toiletries in my small carry-on really is a work of art.

He continues to chat nicely which is reassuring. My fears of being dragged off into a small room while missing my flight to Miami dissipates. My belongings have been cleared. Now I must wait for a female staff member to arrive for my pat down.

The pat down is humiliating to be honest.  It is one of the most thorough pat downs I have ever had with every crevice of my body investigated, all in the middle of the open security area.  I feel bad for all of the people who regularly have to go through this because of how they look.

Finally released, I now have only a little time to get a book and get to my gate.

Exhausted, I board the flight, sit down and sleep the entire way, arriving 4 hrs later in Miami at 8 a.m. I am fuzzy eyed and stumbling with lack of sleep, like I am drunk.

My friend arrives a few gates down from mine a few hours later and we excitedly decide to head straight to the port to see what’s happening there. We are an hour early for our 12 pm check in, but we are so excited catching up that we don’t mind.  It’s only when an hour and a half passes that we start to feel hungry and wish that the port had restaurants available.

The Adonia - Fathom travel

As close as we ever got to boarding the Adonia

Admist the party atmosphere in the port waiting area, we see snacks being set up behind taped off areas. We can tide ourselves over with snacks until we board the ship where we can get lunch, we tell ourselves.

Wrong. A short wait turns into a longer wait. But excitement is still in the air. People continue to arrive and the waiting hall fills up. We are getting closer. We can feel it.

Fathom staff finally announce it is time to check in. Woo hoo! Another hour or so goes by with lining up and checking in. Many apologies are given since this is their first time to do any of this and they are running behind schedule. We don’t care. We are just so excited that we are minutes away from boarding our first cruise.

Again we sit. We move around the waiting hall, checking out all of the other passengers. We hear a muffled announcement catching only “It is going to be a few more hours, so we have arranged a city tour of Miami or a trip to the Everglades.”

Not what we had planned, but woo hoo! Lets make lemonade out of lemons and head to the Everglades. I have always wanted to check them out. Maybe we can also get our kids a new park ranger badge.

Off we go, excited to check out a new national park. As we arrive, we realize this isn’t the national park after all, rather a cheesy roadside attraction called the Everglades Safari Park.

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Airboat ride through the Everglades Safari Park

It is still fun to hang out together, chat and revel in the cheesiness of it. Now it is almost 5 pm. We haven’t eaten an actual meal all day. The Doritos and Twix are not tiding me over. Jasmine hasn’t had anything. We need food. The cafe at the Everglades Safari Park is cash only, very primitive and way over priced, so we pass. Surely we will be boarding the boat and getting dinner very soon.

Wrong. Again. As we slowly make our way back to the port, we realize we are no longer on our previous time schedule. The jovial mood of the ship’s passengers begins to get darker ever so slightly as people realize we just may not be sailing today after all.Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 9.07.25 PM

And we are correct. We arrive to the port only long enough to collect our bags and to board another bus to our hotel for the night.

OK. I can handle this. I can roll with the punches. We have a night out on the town in Miami! YES! I have never been here before, so even just getting a glimpse will be awesome.

We know we are going to the Holiday Inn, but that is all we are told. I check google maps and see there are several in the Miami area. One at the port, one downtown, one at the airport, etc. As our blue dot on the map slowly drives past each of these, people on our bus begin to loose the sense of excitement. We aren’t even staying in Miami, we are being bussed to the outskirts of the vibrant city we were excited to explore.

And as you can imagine, getting 200 people checked into a hotel doesn’t go quickly, although it is smooth. We decide to bypass the check-in line, opting to go straight to the buffet line. Good call! The check-in line is still going strong when we finish our meal 45 minutes later.

Realizing our adventurous night was not meant to be, we settle into our room, hoping for good news at 9 a.m.

A New Day

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 9.07.45 PMWanting to sleep in, I force myself awake knowing I need to be ready for our 9 a.m. meeting. Instead, I see a note slipped under our door stating that nothing has changed and that our next update will be at 11 a.m. Urgh. My patience is wearing thin.

And so our day begins.

During breakfast a hotel employee comes to inform us (and every other table) that we will be staying for lunch and our next update will be at 1 pm. He also shares the news that it is likely we could be staying another night.

Armed with some real information for the first time in a day, we decide that we don’t want to waste our time sitting around, so we start to rent a car from the hotel to head down to the real Everglades National Park or at least Miami Beach to see the city. Finalizing the rental car, a Fathom employee stops us to say that no we can’t go, the hotel was incorrect in telling us that information. There will be an update at 11 a.m. and we must be here for it. Urgh. OK.. but maybe that means good news.

Eleven o’clock arrives. A new representative, Jason, the manager of sales once again peppers our update with platitudes and no real information except “come back in a few hours for more information”. This is exactly what we do not want to hear.

People begin to press a bit harder for answers, me being one of them. But still we have no information. We do not know what is wrong with the ship nor if it will even sail.  But everyone at Fathom is being cautiously optimistic. We are told to report back at 1 pm. to find out more.

Instead of wasting our time, Jasmine and I figure we will use this time to finalize our summer travel plans. We set to work for the next few hours, stopping for a quick lunch break and reporting for our next update.

Again, it is the same. No real news. They still do not have any indication if the ship will sail. They do not have any information on what the problems is. They do not know anything more than what they knew previously. Sensing the crowd is growing weary of this politico speak, Jason tells us to either hang around downstairs to continue chatting or to call his mobile every so often for an update.

An hour later, I send a message to Jason asking “Any news yet?” He replies “Yes, meet down in the lobby in 10 minutes for an update”. I respond again asking “With bags packed?” and the ominous answer we knew was coming came, “No bags necessary”. We knew right then what that meant. It wasn’t happening. The question remains, will they call this a dud and make arrangements for everyone to return home or will they continue to drag this out leaving us with only 1.5 days in the Dominican Republic?

Our meeting downstairs confirmed our worst fear – the trip was indeed cancelled. A sense of relief washed over me in some ways. At least we knew for sure what was happening. To make it up to everyone, our flights home would be covered, as well as change fees and any money that we had spent during our ill fated trip – including taxi’s, meals, etc. People cheered.

I didn’t cheer. I was not happy. Yes, Fathom have done what they should do, try to make it up to us, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone seriously dropped this ball on this. They have 400 passengers prepared to set sail on a maiden voyage to the DR – not just 400 regular people either. Travel writers, travel agents and travel professionals who were brought on to write or share information about the amazing new cruise line Carnival had been working on for years.

And indeed it was supposed to be so very special. I was so excited to be part of something that brings together my two great loves in life – volunteering and travel.

I vacillate between frustration that I left my child behind to sit in a hotel for 2 days and sadness for the ground staff of Fathom who have worked so very hard to get this amazing program off the ground. Watching Jason in tears as he told us the trip was cancelled, did pull at my heart strings. But I still felt they could have done a bit better. This is Carnival Cruise Lines we are talking about, not a new cruise line who hasn’t been in the game before.

They could have been more open and forth coming with us about what was going on with the ship. We heard “You wouldn’t believe what a tiny thing it is” to “The Coast Guard are running extensive tests” and then through the rumor mill we heard things like the seal on a door wasn’t sealing properly. I was told “You wouldn’t understand if we did tell you”.

The reality is, we are all adults, we should be given real information so that we can assess whether we wish to continue on this journey of waiting or make alternative arrangements. But we weren’t. Instead we still do not know why the US Coast Guard would not allow the Adonia to sail.

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How I looked when I was hangry!

This was not Carnival’s first rodeo, they should have known better. It’s an embarrassment to them. But I also feel embarrassed that I dragged my friend along for the ride/adventure.

But what is done is done. They are being gracious and getting us where we want to go. They are making up for this major misstep by giving great customer service. We quickly book flights back home – mine costing almost $1000! They approve it, so it happens and both Jasmine and I are on evening flights back home to be with our kids on Tuesday morning.  Whew.. the adventure is over.

Or so we think. After a quick dinner with a group of bloggers, we rush back to the hotel knowing we are cutting our time close. But we are only 12 minutes from the airport so we should be OK I rationalize.

Enter Uber driver from hell (#2).

Our Uber driver stops to pick us up at the hotel, opens his door to get out, forgetting to put the car in park. The car begins to drive off with him halfway out the door. OOPS! Not a good sign.

We get in to the strong smell of rubbing alcohol and a tinge of cigarettes. Either our driver is drunk or just a very thorough cleaner!

We forget about him and continue our summer travel planning when we look up to see we are on the back side of the airport, near the runways. Our driver, who we now learn speaks no English says “Aqui?” to  which we reply “NO! No Aqui! Aeropuerto!”

He seems genuinely confused. But this is the airport he seems to suggest. After many hand signals and grappling with my forgotten Spanish, we get him back on the right track, but now we are another 18 minutes away!

We panic with our favorite phrase becoming “Mas rapido!” I struggle to remember my many years of  Spanish classes when my brain only wants to produce Hindi!

Not only does our driver not speak English, he apparently also doesn’t read it. He has no idea what the signs say at the airport – he doesn’t know that he should be following the ‘departures’ signs. He is continually confused and asking for help, which we don’t know how to give in Spanish.

Exasperated, we finally see our terminal and we tell him “Aqui”. So he stops. In. The. Middle. Of. The. Road.  “NO! Not aqui aqui, a la derecha aqui!” I tell him. I am certain it is not correct grammar, but we cannot get out of the car in the middle of the road!

How this man doesn’t even know that he has to pull over to the curb we have no clue. And we don’t have time to discuss. We are late and must hurry. He points to his phone telling us to write him a review. Huh? Yes, I will write a review buddy, but not one you want to read!

Thinking our exciting drama is over, we get to the check-in kiosk where I see I cannot get my boarding pass. Jasmine can’t wait, so we say goodbye and I race around the airport looking for staff to help me. I am sent from one line to another until finally someone is able to print a new boarding pass. At this point, I am about 35 minutes away from departure. The security line is super long and I don’t think I will make it. And then the magic words appear on my boarding pass – “Priority Access”. Oh no. Does this mean I will have a crazy drama with TSA again I wonder?

I race to the security line to get ushered straight to the top of the line.. to where Jasmine is just getting to the scanners herself! Both of us nervous about making our flights, realize we will make it. We are almost through.

The Fathom adventure is almost over.

As rocky as those 48 hours were, I’m really sad to say goodbye to Jasmine and our much dreamed about week away. Maybe we should have done like some of the other passengers and booked a trip from Miami. Or booked another cruise? But we are moms, and our first instinct is to head back home to our children.

I hope that we get a do-over. That this isn’t the end of it for us. That we get to experience a cruise with Fathom. That we get to volunteer together. And that we get to have a child free break of fun away.

After 2 red eye flights in 3 days, I’m exhausted and ready for a vacation!

At dinner earlier in the evening, one of the other bloggers asked everyone what their worst travel mishaps were. After 16 years of travel, I have to say this is mine. And, it provides a fun story to tell!

It’s like the universe was trying to make amends for some of it. On my way home at 1:30 a.m., I got my second female taxi driver (ever). But she was the kind I like. She knew where to go, drove fast and didn’t bother with chit chat.

It’s always nice to end on a good note.

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No Bags Necessary - My misadventures with Fathom Travel. From red-eye flights, crazy uber drivers and a cancelled cruise, read about our biggest travel mishap in 16 yrs of travel!

This Post Has 11 Comments
  1. OMG – Worst travel story ever. I have been following along with the Fathom debacle but add in all of your issues…reading it stressed me out.

  2. You are very generous about Carnival’s failure to ensure the ship had passed all required Coast Guard inspections before they flew people in for the cruise. I’ve been mystified by this whole thing because if any company should have the staff, experience and infrastructure to manage the process it should be Carnival. So sorry that you had such a lousy trip (Try to get a cruise with Viking – they treat you like gold!)

    1. I agree. It’s not like carnival doesn’t know what shape their ships need to be in! It’s been in dry dock for 3 weeks and then at the port for 5 days. Surely they could have scheduled a coast guard inspection prior to the day of sailing just to be sure it was all in good order!

  3. April 13 and we are scheduled on the April 17 cruise. We live in Maryland and will drive to Miami – 16 hours with 1 night on the road. We haven’t heard a word from Fathom and if we drive all the way there and endure what your group went through, I will be less than generous in my post! 🙂 But, I have fingers and toes crossed and am hoping that all will go well. I’m so so sorry you had to go through the chaos, really lousy.

    1. I really really hope you also don’t have to go through what we did! They assured us that since the CEO of Carnival will be on the inaugural cruise that it will sail, even if it’s not on the Adonia! So I think you will get to go. Will all the kinks be worked out? Not sure. I wouldn’t expect things to run smoothly. I would email them ASAP if you do not have your confirmation number. Once you have that, you are definitely on the roster. I am excited to hear what everyone thinks of the trip! Hope we can reschedule some time soon!

  4. Wow! What a travel story you will have for the rest of your life! So sorry you and your friend didn’t get the getaway you wanted. I hope you do soon and can put this bad experience behind you. You truly were very generous with your understanding towards Fathom. Plain and simple, Carnival should have known better. The volunteer and cruise travel excited me but now I will wait and see how they do once they work out all these kinks. Best wishes for a do over! Cheers to making it home alive after those ubers from hell!

  5. You really had everything possible go wrong! So sorry! Reminds me of a trip I took with my youngest son where we had so many transportation mishaps, we never left an airport for 3 days, then rerouted our whole trip. It happens, and I applaud your attitude. It’s hard to stay upbeat! We sail with Fathom in June, and I am glad to at least hear good customer service reports. I do feel for them that their inaugural trip was so messed up, but agree with you: Carnival should have been more prepared.

    1. It was strange that through it all we were always laughing and having fun! I’m sure by June the will have worked out some kinks!

  6. Oh man! I was on that ill fated cruise too, but I was sent to the Double Tree so I guess we never crossed paths. So disappointing. I’m still trying to rebook another trip, I do want to experience it! I ended up flying to Colombia for the week though, so it wasn’t all bad… and like everyone else said, now you have a story!

    1. So awesome that you went to Colombia! I had to get home. Also trying to rebook, just not sure when I can fit it into my schedule! I’m dying reading all the other’s experiences. Sounds so amazing!

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