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28 Celestyal Cruises Cuba Cruise Reviews

We were pleasantly surprised. Had read a few "not so good reviews" before leaving. Turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. Overall the ship is kept in top condition. Very clean, with really friendly, competent staff ... Read More
We were pleasantly surprised. Had read a few "not so good reviews" before leaving. Turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. Overall the ship is kept in top condition. Very clean, with really friendly, competent staff in all areas. Our cabin was excellently maintained by the cleaning crew, and had lots of drawer and hanging space. A nice surprise were the Happy Birthday balloons. The dining rooms presented excellent menu choices, with very good quality food. We liked everything. Entertainment was top notch. Saw every show. Cruise director Danny does a fantastic job. Has so much energy, and speaks many languages fluently, flowing from one to the other without effort. The tours onshore were interesting and informing. The only one I would skip is the Maria La Gorda trip to Cabo de San Antonio. Long bus ride, and not much to see or do. Would rather sit on the beach and relax. My husband wasn't very keen to go on a cruise, this being his first. On our last night aboard he said he was sorry it was over. We will definitely go on a cruise again, and highly recommend Cuba Cruise with Celestyal Crystal to anyone who wants to see more of Cuba than just a resort. It was an excellent holiday. Read Less
Sail Date January 2016
Note: This review will be written from the viewpoint of an American traveller. I note this due to the unique situation of Americans travelling in Cuba. First a little background, my wife and I are very experienced cruisers. We have ... Read More
Note: This review will be written from the viewpoint of an American traveller. I note this due to the unique situation of Americans travelling in Cuba. First a little background, my wife and I are very experienced cruisers. We have lost count of the number of cruises we have taken. We have been on many lines. While we like some ships and lines better than others, we have never been on a cruise we did not enjoy. We do not like to nitpick cruises, and we try to avoid passengers who do. We look for the positives, of which this ship and its educational program had more than can be mentioned in a short review. If you are an avid Cruise Critic reader, you will note that this ship gets very spotty reviews, at best. CC says something like “57% loved it”, a very low score. Be advised that the reviews need a much closer reading, however, as the rating is a composite score for the Mediterranean and Cuban cruises. A close look shows that, while the reviews in the Mediterranean are not very good at all, the reviews while in Cuba are generally quite good. Perhaps it is due to the Canadian management while in Cuba, but not while in the Greek Isles? The strong Cuba cruise reviews made us take a look at their pricing. Cuba Cruise prices are per cabin, not per person, so the prices are much lower than they appear at first glance. In addition, the prices are quoted in Canadian dollars, so take about a 40% discount if paying with American dollars due to the present rate of exchange. If you do the math, this is a very good deal for Americans in particular. With an exceptional itinerary, good prices, and strong reviews we booked. The booking experience will give you the impression that this company is a small operation and is learning as it goes. I think that is an accurate appraisal, but the experience was easy and personal. Do your homework before leaving! Cuba is a very different country to tour, so read up on those differences. As an example, you will need to bring cash to use in Cuba, as credit cards are useless. Here’s a tip: See if your bank can get you Canadian dollars without charging an exchange fee. In Minnesota, this was easy to do. American dollars have a surcharge in Cuba. Canadian dollars do not. Take Canadian dollars to use in Cuba, if possible. Once booked with money in hand, it is strongly recommended that passengers come into Montego Bay a day early. Montego Bay is the only departure port that makes sense for Americans for a variety of reasons. We decided to come in a day ahead to avoid possible weather issues. We were fortunate we did as our plane was diverted to Atlanta due to mechanical trouble. We arrived in Montego Bay very late and would have missed the cruise had the event occurred on the day of sailing. Over twenty cabins sailed empty due to weather delays, etc. The cruise line bears no responsibility for such cases. Also, there is no easy way to go from Montego Bay to Santiago de Cuba to catch up to the ship, so you are just out of luck in such situations. Take out trip insurance, which is also required by the Cuban authorities. Boarding in Montego Bay, rather than Havana where the Canadians and Europeans board, is actually a distinct advantage. By boarding in Montego Bay, you will have two full days in Havana, perhaps the most interesting city we have ever visited. Travellers boarding in Havana lose valuable time there due to flight connections, unless they come in early and have an extended stay. Most such travellers had only one full day there, which was unfortunate for them. If you do come in early, Khastle Khodero in Montego Bay is strongly recommended for your stay. Embarkation was easy. Actually all of the housekeeping issues were well handled. Even the Internet was above average in speed and cheaper than other lines. All shipboard matters are handled in US dollars, by the way, so you will need your credit card. You will be going back in time while in Cuba, so the Celestyal Crystal matches that theme perfectly. It is an old NCL ship with a most interesting history. Google it and be amazed. The Crystal has no ice rink, climbing walls, ice bars, artwork, or even an atrium. You will find no mints on your pillows. What you will find is a meticulously maintained, attractive small ship. Cabins are comfortable. The staff is stellar. You will love your fellow passengers and, due to the ship’s size, you will often run into your new friends. By the way, our positive outlook on the ship and the experience seemed to be shared by virtually every passenger we encountered. Food on board was good to excellent. The ship has gone to great lengths to bring the Cuba experience on board with an array of Cuban treats at all meals. Every passenger gets caught up in questions about comparing food on lines, so take the following with a grain of salt. We thought the food was somewhere between NCL and Celebrity without factoring in the Cuban influence, which made the dining very interesting. Cuban dancers and singers provided the entertainment. They were very good. There is other musical entertainment on board that was also quite good. A special mention goes out to Danny, the cruise director. This fellow is pretty amazing. Americans are required to attend the People to People program while on board. Tours are also through this program. The shipboard portion of it was unbelievably good. Although for Americans, anyone can attend these presentations and many non-American passengers helped enliven our discussions. I learned more in two days than in all our other cruised experiences put together. The shore excursions, while very good, were a little over scheduled, not allowing for enough time to tour on your own. They are tweaking their tours to solve this problem, but it is a governmental matter rather than a cruise line issue. While in Havana, optional tours are available through the ship, which are not part of the People to People program. You can also just walk about in any port. Havana has a large covered marketplace where you can buy souvenirs. Cienfuegos has a large open-air market and art houses for souvenirs, as well, which my wife felt surpassed what we saw in Havana. Ports and Tours Montego Bay This is not my favorite port in the Caribbean. Time is best spent here at a beach, staying at a good B&B visiting with people, and eating at Scotchies, which is famous for its authentic Jamaican food. You can also get away from the city and climb Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, which is a great experience. Walking in the tourist area will be disappointing. Santiago This city is deep into the history of the Revolution. Think of it as a Cuban Alamo or Valley Forge with a different political leaning. The People to People tour in Santiago needs tweaking, as it was too time intensive. Havana Did the first day tour, which was a very nice walking tour. We skipped the second day tour in order to concentrate on spending time in Old Havana. We ate at the Paladar Los Mercaderes, which was exceptional. In the evening, we went to the Tropicana. We would love to come back to Havana for a visit, a wonderful place. Maria La Gorda This is a leisurely beach stop. You can swim or walk on a long beach, or just get a drink, sit back, and enjoy the view. Cienfuegos This city has a lovely town square and active business district. It was highly enjoyable. We were on our own, but passengers also mentioned a very good People to People tour here. It should be noted that you will meet and openly share with many Cuban people both on the ship and ashore. The Cubans we encountered were warm and welcoming. Those ashore were surprised to encounter Americans and were openly delighted, despite living in economic conditions caused in no small part by our country’s embargo. They will speak freely and, quite frankly, seem to have great regard for Fidel Castro and their government. All call Castro by his first name, as a term of affection. This was clearly not put on for show. They hope for future economic improvement, which is badly needed, but not at the expense of losing their form of government, which has brought them food, shelter, 100% literacy, free world class health care, and free education through advanced degrees. You will find that Cuba is very safe with little crime. There is virtually no military presence. The few police officers we saw carried no weapons. Eye opening. In summary, a good deal, a nice, but not fancy, ship, great staff, unique well-prepared meals, tremendous shipboard programming, fun entertainment, and a wonderful itinerary – Who could want for more? See Cuba before it changes forever and see it on the Crystal. Read Less
Sail Date January 2016
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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