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78 Celestyal Cruises Cuba Cruise Reviews

Overall, this first Cuba Cruise of the season was amazing, despite some ripples along the way. First, set reasonable expectations—this is not a fun in the sun, lounge around the pool type of trip. What it is, is an affordable way to ... Read More
Overall, this first Cuba Cruise of the season was amazing, despite some ripples along the way. First, set reasonable expectations—this is not a fun in the sun, lounge around the pool type of trip. What it is, is an affordable way to easily get a taste of Cuba. PRE-CRUISE Before the cruise, we stayed three nights at the Holiday Inn Resort in Montego Bay. This was 10 minutes to the airport, had a lovely beach areas including a little island you could walk to. Food and drinks were just so-so, but this is one of the cheapest all-inclusive resorts we found. What we did love, were the jerk chicken hut on the beach, quiet places to sit by the water away from the main pool, some Jamaican dishes on the buffet, and the view from our ocean-view room. Rented a car and drove to Falmouth for a quick visit, but opted to not drive further because Jamaicans really do drive crazy, and on the left. EMBARKATION Cruise terminal is about 15 minutes from the airport. We picked up a taxi at the rental car place to the pier for $20 total. We needed to pay a Jamaican departure tax since we’d been there for more than 24 hours (I think $27 per person). Afterwards, getting on was as simple as filling out the standard health form and picking up our key cards. You resister a credit card on board at the reception desk. We arrived at the cruise terminal around 11:30 a.m. and were on within about 15 minutes. THE SHIP The ship is older but does not feel dated. It was kept spotlessly clean. Our cabin (#5115) was tiny, but the beds were comfortable. You do need to dispose of toilet paper in the trash and sometimes, you need to flush twice for everything to go down. Being on deck five was handy and our favorite bar was in the very back of deck five, outside and with a hot tub. Compared with modern mega-ships, we enjoyed that we could be anywhere on the ship within a couple minutes. The ship did lack the stabilizers of more modern ships and we felt a pretty constant rocking. We never had trouble finding seats in the shows, at dinner, in the buffet or in the bars. THE PASSENGERS We spent far more time getting to know our fellow passengers than we usually do. What a fascinating group. We met people from all over the U.S., Asia, and Europe and learned about everyone’s travel adventures and places they have lived. As a group, passengers were more traveled and more likely to have lived abroad than on any other cruise we’ve taken. DINING While I like that the menu included Cuban and Jamaican dishes, the food did not seem terribly authentic. For instance, the jerk chicken had almost no spice! As noted by others, dinner was incredibly slow; we really didn’t mind as the people we were seated with were usually very interesting. We are not normally big drinkers on cruises, but we did enjoy working our way down the list of Cuban cocktails and coffee drinks. I would recommend for dinner, picking up a drink at the bar and bringing it with you. Breakfast and lunch at the buffet were both fine. They did have wonderful baklava at the buffet the first day, but unfortunately we never saw it again. ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES The entertainers changed midway through the cruise with those who did the transatlantic crossing changing with Cuban performers when we got to Havana. We enjoyed the Cuban performers and Cuban themed shows, while other shows were just average. The lectures as part of the P2P program weren’t outstanding but did add to our knowledge of Cuba and appreciation of the trip. Those in the P2P program should note, the activities guide delivered to your cabin does not list all the activities. If you want to see non-P2P activities, you’ll need to pick up the complete copy at the reception desk. ITINERARY We loved all of the Cuban ports. Unfortunately, weather delays dramatically cut our time in Maria la Gorda and Cienfuegos. Also, gathering for excursions took place on the ship rather than at the pier and then the buses didn’t seem to leave until the last person was off. We don’t normally do ship tours and this reminded us why! We wasted a ridiculous amount of time waiting for the tours to begin, and might have been happier just hiring taxis for private tours. MONTEGO BAY – Nice beaches but not a highlight of the trip. SANTIAGO DE CUBA – Our first introduction to this wonderful country! Right outside the gates of the port, we saw every imaginable form of transportation from horse carriage taxis, motorcycle taxis, bicycle taxis, to old car taxis. Tour included a visit to the Revolutionary War museum, Revolutionary Square, African Cultural Center with a dance performance that I ditched so I could walk around, and original Bacardi rum factory. After the tour, we did have some time to walk around on our own. I would highly recommend doing this so that you can visit the town square and commercial district. The residents were very friendly and interested to learn about the U.S. and tell about Cuba. Kids will come up to you asking for pens, and women approached looking for shampoo, soap and lotion. Consider asking kids to sing a song in exchange for pens. Residents filled the pedestrian street, out doing Christmas shopping. Overall, we found shopping more interesting here, and in Cienfuegos, than in Havana were items seemed more mass produced. HAVANA – As part of P2P, we discovered that the included tours had been swapped for different ones. The cruise line canceled our Maria la Gorda tour and instead, we had a morning walking tour, afternoon bus tour, and second day museum visit. Since we stayed overnight, we did have plenty of time to wander on our own. The morning walking tour included a couple of squares in the historic area and a visit to a graphics studio. I found the afternoon tour less valuable because it was just on the bus, except for a stop at a crafts market. Places visited could be easily reached walking or by private taxi instead. That night, I joined John from the P2P program and others, for a taxi ride to see Opera de la Calle. Really talented singers and dancers doing a mix of Cuban songs and more know songs. Admission was a bargain at $30. Taxi cost $10 each way, which we split with others from the cruise. The second morning in Havana we were free to wander and have lunch in the city. We walked out to the produce market hear the capital building. I recommend wandering away from the main tourist streets to see streets more typical of where the Cubans live. In the afternoon, the trip included a bus tour to the wonderful Museum of Fine Arts. We were also given the option to go to the Museum of the Revolution instead. For those wanting to see both, this is a reasonable walk or an easy taxi ride from the port. MARIA LA GORDA – Our excursion to Cabo de San Antonio was canceled by the cruise line because we were P2P, so be rebooked the tour ($63 per person). We arrived quite late to port due to weather, so a trip through the park that should have taken 5 hours with stops was cut to about 3 hours. Still, the scenery along the coast was stunning, with blue water, limestone coated shells and rock on one side, and jungle on the other. At the end was a private beach. If we’d had more time there, I did notice a hiking trail across from the beach. CIENFUEGOS - Cienfuegos seem wealthier and more cosmopolitan that the other ports. There is a pedestrian promenade that had lots of shopping options. Unfortunately, weather cut the length of our visit here, and this was the worst guide of the trip. Our guide did not speak great English and said that this was the first tour she led. The City however was stunning, magnificent theatre, waterfront walkway, restaurants along the water, artist studios, etc. We definitely would have liked more time since we didn’t get any time to walk around on our own. Many people left the tour early on. DISEMBARKATION Getting off the ship was a disaster. We arrived back in Montego Bay late, again due to rough seas. They then let the Montego Bay tours off ahead of those with planes to catch! They unloaded luggage through the same exit as passengers, further jamming things up. To make matters worse, they gave most people the wrong Jamaican customs form, so people had to redo the paperwork in the terminal. At least getting a taxi was no problem man, with a shared van costing $10 per person. Read Less
Sail Date December 2015
After many hours traveling to Havana and then hours in immigration , we had expected better. Transfer was in an ageing Transit Van! The ship, at last, the cabin, the deluxe cabin the size of a postage stamp. Next dinner, don't even go ... Read More
After many hours traveling to Havana and then hours in immigration , we had expected better. Transfer was in an ageing Transit Van! The ship, at last, the cabin, the deluxe cabin the size of a postage stamp. Next dinner, don't even go there - horrific. Good job I like bread as I was going to have to get used to it. Captain, was arrogant! Rude and obnoxious, needs to be keel hawled for poor service. Oh and watch out for the the chimney smuts that cover you from the back of the ship. DON'T do it. Cost a fortune and very poor. Pity the crew. Read Less
Sail Date December 2014
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 ... Read More
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. Hazel Read Less
Sail Date January 2014
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