Days 1- 3 – After a long flight, took a taxi (CUC 25) to our casa in Vedado Havana, Casavana. For anyone not yet booked, thoroughly recommend this place, good 4-star standard, and one third of the price of a hotel. Passport control did ask for proof I have travel insurance. Even though this is covered by my credit card company, I asked them for a document stating this before I traveled, and was pleased I had it when they asked.
Took a private guide for a walking tour of Old Havana the second day - excellent. Third day, took HOHO bus (CUC 5) and continued to walk around old Havana. In the evening went to the Parisien Cabaret in the Nacional Hotel – pleasant and not too expensive, $40 pp including dinner, booked in advance on-line.
Day 4 Monday – In the morning we took the free walking tour of the Nacional Hotel. Fascinating look at the iconic hotel, including tour of bunkers prepared for Cuban Missile Crisis!
Mid-day we headed towards the ship. Had intended to take a taxi, but the owner of the casa very kindly took us there! Check-in was unusual. Taken upstairs by 2 porters, and then check-in with suitcases. Took a total of 10 minutes as no lines. Told to leave our suitcases by the gangway and taken to our cabin. Luggage arrived 5 minutes later.
Our cabin was and XE Deluxe on 6th deck. Very pleasant and reasonably spacious, with a nice sitting area. Had everything we needed and all in good condition. 2 power sockets in room, European style 220V and American 110V.
Took advantage of the hot tub whilst the ship was fairly empty. Show in the evening (and every other evening) was excellent.
Day 5 Tuesday – at sea. Nice relaxing day. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy if you want, in fact, much more than on most cruises. My friend and I got in the habit of winning most of the competitions/quizzes each day, providing plenty of free drinks as prizes – great fun!
The friendliness and service of the staff on this ship was outstanding. The crew is from all over the world, including some from Cuba. You can see they are happy and work well together.
Day 6 Wednesday – Holguin/Antilla. Landing is by tender at Antilla, a small town of about 11,000, an hour’s drive from Holguin. As there didn’t seem to be anything to do locally and was unsure of availability of taxis (there were a few outside the port), we decided to take the Cuba Life excursion, which we booked on the ship. I am not a fan of cruise excursions as I believe they are overpriced, but on this occasion decided it was the best option. The tour, although expensive, was very good. We went to quite a few different places, showing different aspects of Cuban life, past and present.
Day 7 Thursday – Santiago de Cuba. We had decided to walk around town by ourselves (few minutes walk from ship), visiting places with info I had downloaded from the internet in advance. As we left the port, a bicycle taxi approached us offering a tour for CUC 5 an hour – too good to turn down. The driver took us on a 2-hour tour, showing us the major sights of the town and also the different neighbourhoods where people live. He dropped us in the centre of town and asked for CUC 60! On being asked how he got to CUC 60, he said it was CUC5 per person/per hour, which should have totaled CUC 20! (Keep in mind the average monthly salary in Cuba is CUC20-30.) When we refused to pay him CUC 60, he wanted CUC 40. I threatened calling the police, after which he calmed down. We paid him the 20 and walked away. We walked around the centre of town before returning to the ship.
The show that night was at 7 pm, folk dances performed by the local Ballet Company, excellent.
Day 8 – Montego Bay, Jamaica. Here we took a taxi with another couple to the Bob Marley compound in Nine Miles, for a total cost of $170. They take American Dollars here (US$ 1 = Jamaican $100). It was interesting but I found the drive very long at about 2.5 hours each way. Weather was hot.
Day 9 – Cienfuegos. We took a taxi with another person from the cruise to the local botanical gardens just outside town. These 1,000 acre gardens were set up by Harvard University about 100 years ago and have trees and plants from all over the world. We paid CUC 2 each entrance and a total of CUC 10 for a private guide for an hour, as the plants are not marked. The guide was a fountain of knowledge about every plant, flower, bird, etc.
We then continued in the taxi to the Palacio de Valle, by the sea on the edge of town. This National Monument was once the home of a rich, 19th century trader, and built in beautiful, Morrocan style. Today there is a restaurant downstairs and a rooftop terrace with a bar and views over the whole area. Entrance was CUC 2 each and included a cocktail on the roof!
The taxi then dropped us off in the centre of town, where we walked around and then walked back to the ship (approx 15 minutes). Total cost of the taxi was CUC 30.
The show that evening was another local group, also very good.
Day 10 – Punta Frances – the beach of your dreams! We tendered to a palm-backed crescent of perfect sand. The only things on the beach were recliners, a couple of huts selling drinks etc, and one or two stalls selling handicrafts. The staff organized an exercise/dance session in the clear, turquoise water, and every one seemed to be having fun. We were tendered back to the ship for a barbeque lunch on deck.
Day 11 – Departure. We arrived in Havana at about 9.00 and disembarkation was allowed from about 9.30. People with later flights still had to put their suitcases out the night before, as they had to be screened by Cuban Customs, but they were then kept in the port all day until you traveled. People could even come back and use facilities of the ship, including having lunch. A day room for use until 5.00 pm could also be booked for $50.
All in all, Cuba was a fascinating experience, and doing it with Cuba Cruise, was an ideal and fun way to see various places in Cuba. Thoroughly recommended.