Here are a few comments and observations about our most recent cruise with a Canadian run company called Cuba Cruise on the ship Louis Cristal.
Sad to say but aside from the good weather, it was the most disappointing cruise we have ever ... Read More
Here are a few comments and observations about our most recent cruise with a Canadian run company called Cuba Cruise on the ship Louis Cristal.
Sad to say but aside from the good weather, it was the most disappointing cruise we have ever had. Here’s a synopsis of what the week was like.
In Havana where we started, the 30 minute bus ride to the pier was good as the guide on board pointed out a few places of interest.
Arriving at the ship, we were totally blown away by the lack of organization. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason. Their idea of lines and guidance was a joke. It was really akin to 2 separate mob scenes.
First concern happened just steps from the bus - getting our luggage to be taken on board for us. The real disaster was upstairs where we were given our cabin keys, had our pictures taken and filled out the usual forms - credit card, illness survey etc. The ship’s idea of 3 lines might have worked if someone had actually separated them. Unfortunately, we were all side by side and with the addition of spouses and children, at times the 3 lines seemed to be more like 6 or 7.
Anxious to get on board, we ignored a third mob scene which we subsequently wished we had taken part in. It was a Cuban money exchange. We had been led to believe that there would be ATM’s at each stop. How naive we were to have believed that.
By the time we realized we needed to get Cuban pesos for tips, drinks etc in ports, we were too late and the money exchange office had closed. It would have been nice if someone from the ship had told us to do so before we boarded. With the lengthy time it took to get through the check-in, we would have had plenty of time. Suggestion- get Cuban money at the Money exchange Booths that are available in most ports.
Once on board, we were quite pleased upon entry into our cabin (6100) as, although it was an inside cabin, it was quite large and had a lot of storage space. The 3 closets had doors that were prevented from opening more than a foot due to the closeness of the bed but that was not a major problem. Simple sliding doors would solve that for sure.
Although the cabin was large enough to even have a small couch or loveseat and 2 tube chairs, we figured that it was in need of an update. The loveseat and chairs were exactly the same colour and materials we had in our living room back in the early 80s.
My major objections were in the washroom which reminded us of cruises back in the 80s on ships like the Oceanos and the Carousel. The shower stall was so small that I joked that the shower curtain and I were becoming too attached to one another. And lord help you if you dropped anything in it as there was no room to bend over without sticking your you-know-what out into the washbasin area.
The temperature of the water both in the shower and in the wash basin ranged from hot to Very Hot. There didn’t seem to be any way to get any cool water, that’s for sure.
The water is undrinkable so one is forced to buy water for the room. Ice was available from our cabin steward who was very friendly ...but a little lacking on actual cleaning.
The toilet system on the Luis Cristal is the fairly standard vacuum system but this was another first for us. There was a sign posted telling us that NOTHING was to be flushed except for human waste. The sign even told us to place used toilet paper in the garbage bin !
I refused to follow this directive but of course, my better half, being the rule follower she is, tried which might have been fine if our cabin steward remembered to empty it. Twice he did not and we had to go looking for him to do so as the smell was too much.
Although we liked the size of our room, upon looking at a few of the surrounding cabins, we realized that perhaps the ship was in the process of upgrading. Although extremely tiny, several of the oceanview rooms we looked into, had flat screen TVs. Ours was an old fashioned kind but one doesn’t go on a cruise to watch TV so it didn’t bother us in the least.
The show lounge was 2 levels above us...and we could hear it in our cabin ! Can’t imagine how the people above us liked it.
Hungry from the flight and lengthy time getting on board, we found sandwiches (stale) in the cafeteria by the small pool.
Drink packages for beer and/or wine were ridiculously high priced AND everyone in the cabin had to buy one ! So if Pat wanted the wine package ($42 per day), I would have had to purchase a wine package as well ! How ridiculous is that? The same applied to beer and soda packages.
The saving grace is that although a Soda package was $21 per day, a single can of pop was only $2.95 and a glass of house wine was only $4.95. Definitely affordable and all prices on board were in Canadian Dollars !
The small partially covered pool is on Deck 8 but there are no lounge chairs nearby. The surrounding area is all tables and chairs for eating and drinking. Most of the lounge chairs are up a deck which means trekking up and down stairs to get to and from the pool.
The week we were on board was not crowded so we never had trouble finding a lounge chair.
Breakfasts were buffet style and disappointing to say the least. The so called Hot Foods (eggs, runny scrambled eggs, bacon so over cooked that it was inedible) were never hot. Lukewarm at the best of times. For the first time ever on a ship, there was no Omelette/egg sous chef station in a dining room. In fact, I resorted to settling for cereal every day.....good for my waist line, I suppose, but not my idea for breakfast when vacationing.
The quality of food at the lunch and breakfast buffets was worse than I remember from the cafeteria at my old high school.
Day 1 out of Havana was a sea day and we had the opportunity to attend the Captain’s cocktail party. Aside from the long line up to get past the photographers, we quite enjoyed ourselves. Drinks were free and plentiful and the Cuban on board house band was quite good. I particularly liked not having to dress up in the least as the dress code on this ship truly is casual.
Those of you who know us, know that we like to sit with and meet new people. At breakfast we sat with 2 Brazilians and 3 Finns none of whom spoke English. Dinner found us placed with a group of 5 Slovenian/Canadians traveling together....2 couples and a grown son from the Toronto area. The son and the mother were the only ones to carry on any kind of conversation with us.
My Beef tenderloin was chewy to say the least and the waiter forgot our desserts. Certainly not an impressive Captain’s Dinner. Almost every night at dinner, either someone or someone’s order was forgotten or messed up.
The show room was right out of the past with table pods and couches rather than rows of seats. It was very difficult to get in and out.
Shows were okay - not terrible but not great either. we were told that all the dancers and singers were Cuban but even with the Cuban band we were surprised that there was no Cuban feel to the music or to the shows. Basically every evening was the same....dancers who were often out of sync, piped in music, fairly good singers and a couple of talented aerialists.
We chose to do only one excursion that the ship offered and it was our first stop - Holguin. The first surprise was that Holguin doesn’t even have a port. In fact we were told it’s actually an hour away by bus. We tendered in to a small town and immediately transferred to a catamaran.
After a 90 minute cruise we anchored and snorkled on a reef close to our destination. The water was wonderfully warm but alas there were very few fish to see.
Lunch was only minutes away but our guide wisely encouraged us to do the included jeep safari on the island. We had been told that the Cuban government had stocked the island with animals and let them roam freely. In the hour in the jeep we raced down narrow roads holding on for dear life. A little boy actually smashed his head on the roof safety bar when we hit a bump at high speed. It was not a gentle ride as the young man driving was enjoying our reactions to the speed.
The safari was quite disappointing to say the least with regard to any animals. We saw anout 6 or 7 antelope (we think) off in the distance. We saw some cattle and a few horses roaming wildly. We stopped by a pen to see a crocodile and we encountered a very ill-looking single ostrich. The hilite for us was the solitary giraffe who, while not roaming freely, we were able to get up close to and feed in his fenced-off enclosure.
After lunch we had about an hour to horse back ride (only $3) , to walk around or to enjoy the beach. It was good that we had done the jeep ride before lunch as the combination of barely edible food and the bumpy ride could have resulted in some ugly results.
Lunch was typical Cuban food that all visitors encounter - bland and not too exciting. I tried the chicken and the fish but there was nothing worthy of praise. Pat fed some food to a parrot and all he would eat was the cheese.
The catamaran ride back to the pier and our ship took another 90 minutes. All drinks on board the catamaran were free all day....definitely a plus.
However, I learned from a fellow that he and his girlfriendhad been bussed in from a Holguin hotel to join us for the day. His cost per person from his hotel was $80 U.S.. Our cost was almost twice that at $161 Cdn each ! Talk about overcharging !
Aside from that, for the most part, we had enjoyed the day. Our biggest concern was that since we had no Cuban money as yet, we couldn’t tip anyone. Not the catamaran crew, not the jeep driver and most importantly, not the excellent lady guide who helped make the day better.
As it was New Year’s Eve, the cast of the show tried to put on a Cirque de Soleil type show. It was at least a good effort. There was a deck party but after having been out in the sun all day, we crashed early. Isn’t getting older a pain sometimes ?
New Year’s Day (also my wife’s birthday) found us in Santiago de Cuba. We decided to walk off the ship and after exchanging money at the Money exchange booth, headed to the centre of town. A bicycle rickshaw driver convinced us to hire him and pointing to both of us, we believed the fee would be 10 Cuban pesos per hour. There really was nothing to see aside from a large cemetary where they demanded a fee if we took any pictures and the Revolution Memorial.
The tour over roads full of potholes ended badly when we got back to the ship. We were surprised when our driver stopped a block or so away from the entry gate and I tried to pay him. We had been gone 2 hours so I wanted to give him 25 pesos. He demanded twice as much claiming that he had told us his fee was 10 pesos per hour for each of us so he wanted 40 or more pesos. I refused claiming that I had been up front and clear about establishing that the fee was 10 pesos per hour for the two of us not each.
This went on for a few minutes and getting nowhere I suggested that we take our dispute to a police officer who was on traffic duty. Our bicycle rickshaw driver was too eager and I figured that the cop would probably side with the local so I made him come with us to the gate where he proceeded to plead his case. The men on duty there didn’t speak any English and just shrugged their shoulders not wanting to get involved.
Another fellow appeared and our driver pleaded his case to him. I believe he was told to take what I offered and move on which he finally did ......grudgingly.
In retrospect with my limited Spanish and his limited English perhaps we had had a “failure to communicate” thanks to the language barrier.
Because it was m’lady’s birthday, we decided to splurge and go to the Specialty restaurant on board for dinner. The cost was $35 each and it was advertised everywhere as having Canadian beef and Canadian beer.
Unfortunately, although the food was superior to the regular restaurant, our experience was nothing to rave about. First off when I asked what kind of Canadian Beer they had, the waiter seemed at a loss. He thought there might be Molson but he was going to have to check. Ten minutes later he came back with 3 beers on a platter - a Heinekin, a Corona and another non-Canadian beer. Evidently there were no Canadian beers on board ! Not a great start.
Not that we were in a hurry but dinner took 2 and a half hours. Each course was followed by 10 to 20 minutes of waiting. We heard the people at the next table voicing their concern over the poor service and one lady even sent her steak back claiming that it was inedible.
I ordered the onion soup and for the second time on this cruise, I found almost no onions in it at all, especially surprising since the Head Chef on board is French. Pat had a lobster tail and I had an excellent rack of pork ribs so neither of us ever found out if they were serving Canadian beef as they had advertised.
It’s the little things that sometimes accumulate into big things. No server approached us to ask how we were enjoying our meals. Something that was indeed disappointing.
An example was the service we got just with our request for tea and coffee.After taking 20 minutes to clear our main course dishes, our waiter had to be called over to take our request....tea for Pat, coffee for me. Ten minutes later, they arrived. I asked for cream for my coffee and our waiter wasn’t sure they had any ! It took another 10-15 minutes before he even reappeared with some. By then of course my coffee was cold.
Because dinner had taken so long, we missed the evening’s entertainment in the show room. Not a big deal but an activity we do almost every night when cruising.
With the ill fated excursion in town and the disappointing meal, all in all it had not been a great birthday for Pat. To add to her day, she had severely burned a finger on the extremely hot plate her lobster had been served on. The waiter had not bothered to warn us that our plates were very hot. We couldn’t even get the attention of any waiter as there were none to be seen at that time. Fortunately we had ice in our water glasses so we used that.
Day 5 found us docked in Montego Bay. We had been given forms to fill out for Jamaican customs....but no one ever collected them or even asked to see them. Unlike each port in Cuba, we did not have to put things through a scanner....even when we came back from town. In fact , as I mentioned earlier, one of the 2 customs agents was sound asleep on the scanner conveyor belt !
We took a taxi into the “hip strip” at a cost of $5 each.There wasn’t much to see so we had an early lunch at Margaritaville before returning to the ship.
A fair sized contingent of Jamaicans and a few Americans disembarked here rather than in Havana. Because not as many people joined us, dinner times were changed from two seatings at 6:30 and 8:30 to an open seating.
On this cruise we met Jamaicans, Bermudians, Italians, Brazilians, Finns, Swedes, New Zealanders, Aussies and Canadians of course. We had expected announcements to be made in French and English but all announcements were done in German and Spanish as well.
Day 6 found us back in Cuba in the city of Cienfuegos. We had to fill out a new Cuban visa and go through immigration again. This time on board the ship. Everyone, including the crew, had to pass the inspection before anyone was allowed to leave the ship. Thank goodness unlike our recent debacle on the Adventure of the Seas at the end of a recent Trans-Atlantic cruise, it was fairly quick.
By the way, one of the new procedures before being allowed on land was the taking of every passenger’s temperature. I guess we owe that to the Ebola scare for this little inconvenience. Of course, we never had to do this to get ashore in Jamaica.
Our final day of this cruise was Punta Frances on the Isla de la Juventud. It really was just a beach half day as there were no shops or stores. In fact, if one wanted a drink, one had to buy vouchers while on the ship.
Tenders were used and we had to walk a fair bit down the white sand beach before we found 2 lounge chairs. Fortunately for late comers there were plenty spread out farther down the long narrow beach. Getting into the water was a tad tricky for us “older folk” as there was a quick, steep, stony drop off. But the water, although not particularly clear, was very refreshing and warm.
The disembarkation meeting in the afternoon lacked much of the information many of us needed. Details as simple as what time each group was getting off were unavailable and many passengers were frustrated.
Alas the final show in the theatre that evening was the poorest of the week and we actually left early - something we very seldom do.
Some final thoughts :
Cruising around Cuba ?....what a great idea with a lot of potential. Cuba however, needs to improve the quality of the ports and their city streets need lots of work.
The fact that all prices are in Canadian Dollars rather than U.S. ?.....fabulous for all passengers.
Overall impression ?.........this would be a fine trip for anyone who has never cruised before. However it leaves a lot to be desired by anyone who has traveled the more upscale liners.
Overall Rating ? .....a 2 star (maybe a 3 star ship at best).
Overall Value/Cost ?.... very reasonable price but one has to remember basically that you get what you pay for.
Ways to Improve ?....middle management needs to improve the training of all staff facing the public....and to monitor what the staff does.....food should be improved (especially breakfasts)...evening shows are pretty amateurish and need more variety.
Would we do it again ?....no.
Would we recommend it ?....only if you’ve never cruised before.