What first catches your eye as you descend into Puerto Plata are the majestic mountains looming over the roads. Next you will see gleaming waves that inspired the name of the province — plata means silver in Spanish.
What most tourists miss in this resort town are the people who keep it humming along. Most of them moved to this region from other small provinces because they could find work in the resorts and hotels, and some make the four- to five-hour daily commute from Santo Domingo to Puerto Plata to run shops, which are more profitable in this area.
Tourists may soon see more of the locals. Carnival has built an $85 million port, Amber Cove, from which it will operate a nontraditional cruise line called Fathom. The line, which is to begin service in April, aims to appeal to travelers who might shun standard Caribbean cruises by offering volunteer trips to the Dominican Republic and people-to-people tours of Cuba. The 710-passenger Adonia will alternate destinations from Miami. Weeklong trips to the north shore of the Dominican Republic include four days on the island with opportunities to farm, teach English or make water filters (from $974). It is meant for people who are seeking to travel and have a positive effect on the area, said Tara Russell, the president of Fathom.
“This is for those people who have always been engaged philanthropically but want to be involved physically, but they don’t know where to start,” Ms. Russell said while riding into Puerto Plata from the airport in an S.U.V.
To be clear, Amber Cove is a traditional port, with bungalows featuring colonial-style architecture, zip-lining, a small park for children and a bar nearly as high as the mountains where one can sip a piña colada while enjoying the strong winds that come with the altitude. Visitors can stay at the resort there or head into Puerto Plata via shuttles that go to a town square laden with shops.
But Fathom passengers will do more than shop.
Fathom has been building “what we know is genuinely, authentically impactful,” Ms. Russell said of the itinerary offered to travelers aboard the line’s ship. Activities include visiting a local school and helping students learn English, visiting a chocolate factory owned and run by 30 local women and visiting a typical local home on the countryside among others.
Fathom is focusing on three areas: education, and economic and environmental aid.
Carnival was eager to show off its progress in a tour over the winter.
During a visit to the Isabel Meyreles school in Cupey, the children sang a song they learned in English to members of the news media. Everyone was paired with a student for a few minutes. I was paired with Erika, a 12-year-old who wore blue and white barrettes at the ends of her pigtails.
The activity involved learning a song with each student using a work sheet that was distributed. It was a simple song that reiterated that the students were happy. After studying the song, Erika was quickly distracted.
“Did you see a funeral on your drive up here?” she said, her eyes wide and bright. “No? Well, a man died around here yesterday.” As she peered through the glassless window, she added, “It’s safe around here though.”
Erika, who is of Hatian descent and is mindful of the political situation in the region, also said that she had all her documentation.
“I have my birth certificate; I can study here,” she said before being directed to stand and sing.
For Erika, engaging with me seemed natural and almost like a respite from the demands of class. Diana Peña, 27, a teacher at the school, agreed.
“The students are happy to receive the tourists,” Ms. Peña said. “They don’t get bored. It makes class fresh.” But do these constant visits affect the students’ learning?
“No,” she said. “The objective is that they learn through interaction. All of this has a purpose.”
For the mission to have a positive economic effect, Fathom plans to take travelers to Chocal, a chocolate factory in Altamira run by a team of 30 women. The eldest, Ana Severino, is 80. During a visit to the factory Ms. Severino, wearing a white hairnet and a white lab coat, freed cacao seeds from their bitter shells. For 49 years, Ms. Severino commuted from Palmal Grande — close to Altamira, where she was born and raised — to Santo Domingo to work as a housekeeper.
“I love what I do,” Ms. Severino said. “I am a member here, I am closer to home, and I don’t have to be in and out of the pueblos,” she said, her hands pressed firmly against each other.
Not only is Ms. Severino working at the factory from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but she is also part owner. All the women at the factory own a stake in the company.
Luz Melesia Parra, 36, the current president of Chocal, was selling chocolates to visitors in a room next door to the factory.
“We have a loan from the government, and I am looking forward to using the increase in sales to pay off that debt,” Ms. Parra said. “This motivates us,” she said, holding money from the sales in her hand.
And for its environmental mission, Fathom has teamed up with local artisans from the Moca region of the island to have their passengers travel to a factory to create clay water filters.
Travelers can help build a water filter that can work up to five years.
This is the kind of long-term effect Fathom is hoping to create with its Cuba itinerary. Current regulations require a mission-based trip for most passengers to be able to get to the island.
“Cuba is very challenging as it pertains to the economic development opportunities,” Ms. Russell said, but she hopes to use the same technique she used in the Dominican Republic to learn the needs of those in Cuba.
She plans on having the Fathom team spend time on the ground to learn from the Cuban people what their needs are.
Fathom’s first ship to Cuba sets sail next month. While Ms. Russell says the Cuban government has given her a lot of good feedback, she is taking advantage of the time left until then.
“In Cuba obviously we are just getting started,” Ms. Russell said. “There is still a lot to be determined.”
An article last Sunday about a new cruise in the Dominican Republic misstated the status of Amber Cove, a port built by Carnival Cruise Line. It is fully built, not under construction.