We didn't fancy traveling over land to reach Cienfuegos & Santiago, cruising seemed to be the best way to travel. We didn't expect or want luxury so we weren't disappointed by this cruise. It was well organised with ... Read More
We didn't fancy traveling over land to reach Cienfuegos & Santiago, cruising seemed to be the best way to travel. We didn't expect or want luxury so we weren't disappointed by this cruise. It was well organised with friendly crew across all areas & lively entertainment. We arrived in Cuba on day 3 of Castro's mourning period but fortunately for us, music, dancing & alcohol were allowed on board, however, when ashore Cuba wasn't its usual vibrant self. We followed the cruise with a 3 night stay in Havana, fortunately this coincided with the end of the mourning period, so Havana came to life again during these 3 days, but still not as lively as expected.
Given that our cruise coincided with such an historic period in Cuban history, this was a very enjoyable cruise and one we would recommend if you want to experience a flavour of Cuba.
After a 10hr flight from the UK, arriving at a chaotic Havana airport, it was a relief to arrive at the Cruise Port, although first impressions of the building in the dark weren’t very encouraging. We needn’t have worried though, the embarkation process was very efficient & calm, however, what this would have been like during the busy daytime period I cannot comment. There is a money exchange facility in the Port, although this was closed by the time we had checked in.
A letter awaited us when we checked in to our cabin informing us that the cruise had a changed itinerary on days 2 & 3 – see Downsides below.
Our cabin on deck 5 was bigger than expected & looked out across the promenade deck, which wasn't a problem as this part of the deck wasn't always accessible to passengers. When it was accessible passengers couldn’t see through the cabin window as the glass was one way view outwards. The cabin was cleaned every morning with a turn down service every night.
FOOD & ENTERTAINMENT
Food was as expected for a ship with multinational guests. We ate in the buffet most of the time so we could sit as a couple. Both restaurants were busy in the morning as everyone needed to be ready for excursions but during 'at sea' days, breakfast was more leisurely. There was food served pool side at breakfast & lunch which was a nice option and afternoon tea was available in the buffet restaurant. All the waiting & bar staff were very attentive and efficient throughout the ship. The all inclusive package made life on board very easy, we didn't incur any extra charges other than for the two optional excursions in Cienfuegos & Jamaica.
The Thalasia bar on Deck 5 is a nice quiet spot to have an afternoon or early evening drink. We generally had pre dinner drinks in the Eros lounge listening to a very talented violinist. The after dinner entertainment in the Muses lounge was of a Cuban/Latin theme with a bit of acrobatics thrown in, which most of the audience seemed to enjoy. We ate later than most so only watched the last half hour from the back of the lounge, sometimes the audience participation afterwards with Danny was just as entertaining. After dinner we enjoyed listening to the Latin vibes in the Eros and watching the audience put to use their newly acquired Salsa skills.
Guest nationalities were mainly Spanish, German & American with a handful of Jamaicans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders & only a few guests from the UK.
Havana - Day 2 (our first day in Cuba) Old Havana tour (included in the cruise) A great guide and some lively conversations, but excursion cut short due to reduced time in port (see downsides below). Helped to orientate us for our 3 night stay at the end of the cruise.
Cienfuegos - would have liked to have taken the City tour & Botanical gardens but not enough English speaking guests had booked to make this viable for us, so we just did the City tour. Because of Castro's passing, the City was very quiet with mainly tourist groups around. Easy walking distance into town from the cruise dock if you’re not a fan of excursions.
Montego Bay, Jamaica - had a very amusing guide for the morning Greenwood Great House excursion, which also made a very quick stop in Falmouth on the way and a drive by Usain Bolt's old school! As Jamaica was a full day stopover being an embarkation port, it was a shame there weren't any afternoon excursions or more full day ones. Nevertheless we made use of the on board facilities during the afternoon and watched a lovely sunset over Montego Bay from the Thalasia Bar before departure.
Santiago - highlight of the cruise for us - although this inclusive excursion was cut short due to Castro's ashes arriving later the same day, this meant we had more free time. We took advantage of the free guides (in yellow t-shirts) waiting at the port to take us around the town on this historic day. Our guide was very knowledgeable and didn't mind telling us about her life in Cuba and her hopes for Cuba's future. Needless to say we gave her a tip for a very informative walking tour of the town.
Suitcases had to be left outside the cabin by 12 midnight the night before and we had to be out of our cabin by 8am the next morning. At 7.30am we watched the ship come into the port of Havana then went back to the cabin at 8am to collect our hand luggage, but our key cards wouldn't open the door, fortunately George our housekeeper was nearby and let us in, he said security disable the card at 8am. We collected our hand luggage and headed to the buffet for breakfast. The disembarkation call came at about 9.30am. We had been told the day before that the Cuban authorities wouldn’t be in a hurry to clear the ship for disembarkation, so we were surprised by the early call.
We knew our inbound flight timing meant day 1 was going to be a non-event for us so we were banking on a full day in Havana on day 2. However, a letter in to our cabin after checking in informed us that the cruise had a changed itinerary on days 2 & 3:-
Day 2 – the cruise had to depart Havana early due to port congestion (only space for 2 ships at the port), so the included excursion had to be back at the ship by 12 noon with no free time afterwards to explore on our own. I don’t know if this happens every week or if it was just unfortunate that the Port authorities had overbooked the Port during our stay.
Day 3 - Punta Frances port of call cancelled therefore day 3 would be a day at sea – reason given was ‘reviewing environmental impact of cruises’. If Punta Frances remains a no go zone for cruises, it will be interesting to see if Celestyal make changes to their published itinerary for the remaining 2016/17 season, or perhaps this too was just a one off for our cruise! Read Less