Carnival Corp. tried something new with Fathom that just didn't catch on. But the cruise company was able to leverage the line to move into Cuba before its rivals, which is no small feat.
The do-good cruise line didn’t last long.
Adonia, the 704-passenger vessel that has been sailing weeklong voyages to the Dominican Republic and Cuba since late April, will return to the fleet of Carnival’s P&O Cruises in June of 2017. P&O, which is based in the UK, made the announcement Wednesday.
The ship will continue sailing its Caribbean itineraries through May. In an email, a Carnival Corp. spokesman said the Fathom name will live on through the branded experience of offering volunteer activities as shore excursions will continue on other cruise lines.
“We feel this is a strategy to evolve Fathom from a single ship to have even more of our guests experience Fathom through all of our brands,” said Carnival Corp. chief communications officer Roger Frizzell.
Carnival has asked officials in Cuba for permission to sail there with other brands starting in June.
“We plan to continue sailing to Cuba for many years to come based on the success of our first cruises to the country, which have proven to be extremely successful,” Frizzell wrote in an email.
He said crew will stay with the ship, while there could be some “initial changes” in the Fathom brand “as we transform the offering.” Tara Russell will remain president of Fathom and Carnival Corp.’s global impact lead as the brand transitions to its new form.
Carnival Corp. first announced the creation of Fathom in June of 2015 with a big serving of idealism — and some marketing challenges.
Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp., told the Miami Herald that the line’s main goal was to do good by “driving, over time, real meaningful change for the better in a community.”
He also said he expected the line would allow the company to reach new people who might not have cruised before.
A month after the initial announcement, the company announced that it had received permission from the U.S. government to use the ship for sailings to Cuba under the approved “people to people” category. Cuban officials gave the green light in March of this year, and Fathom started weeklong trips from Miami in May. It remains the only cruise line with permission from Cuba to sail from the U.S., though competitors are awaiting their own approval.
The Cuba product has been successful — so sucessful that the company switched a couple of Dominican Republic trips to Cuban itineraries. But the the volunteer-based sailings have not fared as well.
“Our bookings have been extremely robust for Cuba, but not as much for the sailings to the Dominican Republic,” Frizzell said.
Fathom struggled to find the right market for its “social impact” offering, reaching out to service groups, churches, and private schools. Carnival had also hoped to appeal to millennials who wanted to vacation with a higher purpose. But sales for the Dominican Republic trips proved tricky. While Fathom had initially said the cost of a trip would be about $1,500 per person, that price dropped multiple times. In September, the line was advertising rates as low as $249 a person.
Wednesday’s news was preceded by an announcement earlier this month that Carnival Corp. planned to roll out Fathom-branded shore excursions on lines that visit Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. Frizzell said relationships with organizations on the ground there would continue and evolve as the company markets Fathom activities across brands.
Carnival Corp. executives have spoken often about the positive impressions that Fathom generated for the company.
“We’re optimistic we’ll prove it out,” Donald told the Miami Herald last year. “If for some reason it doesn’t work, then the worst thing that happens is we tried something that’s a little noble.”
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Photo credit: The Fathom ship Adonia is shown in Cuba. Carnival Corp. is getting rid of the cruise line and sending the vessel back to P&O Cruises. Fathom