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A Big-Hearted Bon Voyage

A Caribbean cruise is both vacation and volunteer effort.

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Traci Walkup and fellow Fathom volunteers.

(Photo: TRACI WALKUP)

For most people, cruising is about lounging around and spending a relaxing week at sea. Not for Traci Walkup, though. When the Framingham resident and her daughter booked their cruise vacation, they decided to do Princess Cruises’ Fathom volunteer experience.

“Fathom is a group that has developed connections with local communities in the Caribbean,” Walkup said. “They establish volunteer opportunities for travelers that will benefit the communities they are visiting.”

One of the stops on their cruise was at St. Thomas. There, the volunteers set o for the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies at the University of the Virgin Islands. They helped the marine students build coral trees for reef restoration, collected data for a mangrove restoration project, and observed students tagging and measuring sea turtles for a study.

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“We helped with a beach cleanup, and we were provided snorkeling equipment to do a reef cleanup as well,” Walkup said.

The next stop was St. Martin, where they visited a community center for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after hurricanes devastated the area in 2017. They worked with another volunteer group to prepare 100 meals to deliver to residents still recovering from the storms. Then they helped clean up a beach.

“In a little over an hour, our group collected almost 425 pounds of trash!” Walkup said.

When they got back to the ship, fellow volunteering crew members gave them an exclusive tour of the bridge.

The seven-day cruise wasn’t all work, though. “We were able to enjoy sun and snorkeling,” Walkup said. “We had time to do a bit of shopping. We also enjoyed several group dinners with other Fathom travelers, and some social and learning gatherings as well.

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“I don’t consider myself a cruise enthusiast,” Walkup said. “However, I really enjoyed the experience of helping on these beautiful islands that extend such wonderful hospitality to visitors.”

Although there are no Princess Cruises Fathom sailings scheduled for 2019, Walkup is hopeful the program will continue in the future.

“I hope that in the future they will continue the program – there are many people that I met through this experience that would love for it to continue.”

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