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5 Havana to Caribbean - Eastern Cruise Reviews

THE SHIP Cruise Critic gives a good overview of the history of the ship and its chequered career. Ship enthusiasts might want to read the Wikipedia entry to help them flesh out the details. At time of writing the ship has changed ... Read More
THE SHIP Cruise Critic gives a good overview of the history of the ship and its chequered career. Ship enthusiasts might want to read the Wikipedia entry to help them flesh out the details. At time of writing the ship has changed identity yet again. The transformation began while we were in Montego Bay, and the Louis Cristal will become the Celestyal Cristal by the time she reaches the Mediterranean! We’ve travelled on a variety of different vessels of different sizes, types and vintages and consider the Cristal to be one of the best of the smaller ships we’ve sailed. She’s not a big ship (26, 000 tons), but this allows her to navigate easily into ports that are closed to larger vessels. Her compact size also makes for easy internal navigation—much less intimidating that a larger vessel. If you appreciate some of the features found on older ships (real wooden decks, brass railings) you’ll love the Cristal. EMBARKATION Embarkation was relatively painless thanks to the courtesy and efficiency of the Cristal purser’s staff. Most passengers were probably already onboard when we arrived after our 2.5 hour ride from Varadero, so the handful of latecomers breezed through the formalities. Tip: we were asked to fill-in a form stating that we had not visited Africa, nor had contacted anyone who had. We then were photographed, scanned and our carry-on bags were x-rayed. This routine might change during the next Cuba Cruise season. DISEMBARKATION Disembarkation was not so efficient. This is not a reflection on the Cristal or her crew, but an indictment of the overweening, pedantic paranoia of the Cuban Bureaucracy. Your luggage must be scanned twice apparently (nobody could tell me why) and this of course add to the delay in disembarking. To be fair to Cristal, we were allowed to use the lounges and buffet while we waited in air-conditioned comfort, but the tedious process was not a high note of which to end the trip. CABIN We picked an outside cabin (XE class) on the port side of deck 6 (number 6007). The cabin was spacious, with beige walls and rich cherry wood finished trim. The bathroom was large by ship standards and the shower well-designed with plenty of space to include the inevitable Cuban used-toilet-paper collection bin. We read the reviews from passengers who sailed in the Mediterranean, and NOT ONE of them mentions having to discard their used toilet tissues in a similar bin. We don’t believe this is a ship issue—we think it’s a Cuban issue, because these recycling bins are ubiquitous in every Cuban lavatory! We wonder if Fidel and Raoul collect the used toilet tissues at their residences. Cabin stewards Daniel and Lazaro were excellent. This friendly, cheerful pair were helpful and obliging and looked after us really well. Tip: try to get an outside cabin in the forward part of deck 6. FOOD Reviewers always comment on food quality and some have been critical about the food on board the Cristal, but we found no reason to complain about the meals in the buffet, the main dining room, or in the Prime restaurant. The quality, freshness and presentation were always first-class, and the food was delicious and varied. We noticed a high standard of baked goods, flavourful main courses, and whoever is in charge of soups really knows what he or she is doing. Hot soup classics (French Onion, Double Beef Consomme) were bursting with flavour and the cold soups excelled. Gazpacho and Vichyssoise were delicious, as were the more exotic chilled fruit soups (Chilled Orange, Chilled Melon and Chilled Strawberry). We think these were as good as you could hope to find in a 5-star restaurant anywhere. The dessert menu also featured some old favourites—we haven’t seen Floating Islands since our trip on the Star Clipper—and the galley also manages to create some interesting new dishes—a Pina-Colada sponge pudding was so delicious it disappeared like snow in summer! The menu in Prime restaurant is designed for carnivores and doesn’t disappoint. Our choices of prime Alberta steaks were cooked to perfection. Tip: you get a LOT of food here: hors d’oeurves, soup, Caesar salad, bread rolls, BEFORE your steak even arrives with its sides of string beans, baked potato, and grilled corn cobs! If you intend to get a good seat to see the early show you need to either book an early reservation, or drop one or two courses (we opted out of desserts and coffee). The food and beverage staff were all very hard-working, friendly outgoing people, and they come from all over the world. We really enjoyed meeting them. ENTERTAINMENT Cruise director Danny does an excellent job of co-ordinating the entertainments team, and delivers every ship announcement fluently in four languages! He is a credit to the ship, and we’re sure they would be sad to lose him. Previous reviewers have praised the variety of the programs and the Cirque du Soleil acrobats and we endorse every positive comment. We watched every show and enjoyed them all, especially the acrobatics team of Delia and Guillaume. The band was very talented and singer Freddie deserves a wider audience. All of the entertainers deserve recognition for putting on some very interesting shows. A FEW CONS Smoking. The ship allows smokers to use the port side of the public areas on deck 5 (Thallasa Bar) and deck 9 (pool area) with a few isolated ashtrays scattered along deck 5. The pool area has a retractable roof, and when this is open during the daytime some of the toxic fumes can escape into the atmosphere. However, in the evening this roof is closed, and the fumes can then diffuse into the restaurants. This is offensive to people who do not smoke and it detracted from our enjoyment of dinner in the Prime restaurant. Black marks on loungers. Other reviewers have commented on this and we observed different degrees of contamination depending on the lounger’s location. Generally, loungers in areas farther aft showed more evidence of contamination. On our last evening at sea we stood on near the Horizons bar on deck 10 to watch the sunset, and noticed some chunks of black material shooting out of the exhaust stacks and landing on the deck where they exploded into a cloud of fine black powder. Closer inspection showed these to be made of soot from incompletely combusted diesel fuel. This is almost certainly the source of the black marks on the loungers. Perhaps one or more of the diesels needs a tune-up or refurbishing, or the stacks simply need cleaning? To be fair, we watched a couple of crewmen scrubbing some of the loungers with soapy water, and noticed covers on some to the piles of stacked loungers, so we are sure Cristal is aware of the problem and is taking steps to alleviate it. Tip: if you are wearing light-coloured clothing, check your lounger carefully before you sit down. PORTS OF CALL The ship visited Antilla, Santiago de Cuba, Montego Bay (Jamaica), Cienfuegos, and Port Frances. Antilla Antilla is a town on the north-east coast of Holguín Province. It was obviously once a thriving railroad terminal and a port, but that must have been some time ago, because today many of the buildings are visibly crumbling. It has extensive railway sidings and a station, but we didn’t see any trains. There is a jetty along which trains could move cargo to be loaded onto ships, but this hasn’t seen much action recently. Tip: as you enter the town you must run the gauntlet of merchants, taxi drivers, horses and wagons. With so many horses around, watch your step! Although the horses look scrawny, they are bred for the work and climate and seem energetic. We were pleased to see a horse inspector checking out the skin condition under a horse’s harness at this location. Santiago de Cuba (SDC) Before you go ashore you need to have your temperature taken by Cuban medics. When you get ashore you have to walk through an airport style scanner and your belongings must be x-rayed. Presumably this is necessary to protect the Revolution. After you’ve survived this you will be inundated by taxi drivers, cycle-rickshaw owners, walking tour guides all of whom want to sell you something. They are VERY aggressive, and will follow you along the street until a few well-chosen words in Spanish let them know you are not interested. Santiago de Cuba may have some interesting architecture, but enduring the hassle from the vendors isn’t worth the stress. Tip: the channel into Santiago de Cuba is narrow and requires a series of very tight turns to get in and out. It is WELL worth being on deck to appreciate these manoeuvres. After leaving Santiago de Cuba the ship sails out of Cuban waters, so you have to relinquish your Cuban visa (more tedious bureaucracy). When you return to Cuban territory you will need ANOTHER visa (no charge from Reception on deck 5). Montego Bay It was a relief to come ashore without a load of hassle from officious bureaucrats. We took a trip to a Great House once owned by the family of English poet Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. The house is situated on a hill, and has an excellent view sweeping down to the sea. After the house tour we went to Falmouth, an interesting little town notable for being the first municipality in the Americas to have piped water. Tip: don’t give Cuban money as tips to the guides; they can’t use it. Cienfuegos (CFG) Before you can go ashore you need have your temperature taken by Cuban medics (AGAIN) and jump through the tediously predictable hoops of Cuban bureaucracy. We booked a tour to the Botanical Gardens (very good, but not really enough time to see everything) and saw some of the historic buildings in the city centre. CFG is in much better shape than Havana or SDC. The streets are cleaner, buildings are restored, and it is laid out in a grid pattern, so it’s easy to navigate. We somehow managed to end the tour at a swimming pool (piscina) for a Cuban party that wasn’t listed on the tour brochure. This wasn’t very popular with passengers because it was loud and the drinks were so weak you could give them to babies. Spoiled an otherwise good tour. Port Frances This is basically a half-day stop at a long sandy beach. We were tendered ashore (after yet another round of temperature taking) and then allowed to roam more or less at will. Tip: the ship is not allowed to transfer drinks to the beach, so you have to buy vouchers to exchange for drinks from beach vendors. These vouchers are expensive ($8 Canadian for a Pina-Colada!). WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN? We would not repeat the circumnavigation of Cuba because we’ve seen all we want to see, and after three visits over the last 30 years we’ve had more than enough of Cuba’s stultifying bureaucracy and revolutionary propaganda. However, if the Celestyal Cristal returns to the Caribbean and offers different itineraries, we would definitely consider another cruise on this interesting little ship. NOTE: we booked through Air Transat and flew to Varadero a day early (see our review of the Melia Peninsula Resort on Trip Advisor). This option was less expensive, but it requires a 2.5 hour transfer to Havana by bus (and back again at the end of the cruise). With hindsight we should have flown to Havana directly, because we didn’t enjoy this resort at all. Ah well, live and learn, n’est ce pas? Read Less
Sail Date March 2015
First let me emphasize that while we are on a website which critiques ships essentially, the Cuba Cruise in my opinion should be looked upon in a category of it's own i.e. that of a trip involving a ship to a fascinating country. ... Read More
First let me emphasize that while we are on a website which critiques ships essentially, the Cuba Cruise in my opinion should be looked upon in a category of it's own i.e. that of a trip involving a ship to a fascinating country. Notice I did not say ideal, but there have been some remarkable accomplishments in the area of universal access to medical care, high quality education at no cost and a very high standard of personal security. Prior to my trip I read the reviews. I just finished "A Great Way to discover Cuba" which is an excellent and very fair review. I agree with the observations made by my fellow traveller but would choose to put less emphasis on certain areas. This was my 7th trip to Cuba, a different place on each of the previous trips. In addition this was the 9th Cruise line that I have travelled with plus I have some shipboard experience i.e. working on a ship, albeit limited. That is the backdrop to my review. I had, as my byline indicates, one of my best trips ever. The itinerary, fellow passengers, the staff and crew, the cabin, the food were all just fine in my view. I found no issues that bothered me to any extent. If I may, I will comment using the previous review. Starting with the toilet issue. Interestingly my cabin did not have that notice and so I did as we do ordinarily. No problem that I was aware of. On the issue of Maintenance, my assessment for what it is worth and based on what I observed, is that the vessel is maintained to a high standard. That is critical to me and would highly recommend that it be a primary consideration to any traveller. Also, the handling of the vessel was superb. Not to be missed is the navigation into the various bays and waterways leading to your port of call. While it will require early rising on your part, to catch it it is worth it. A great part of the trip. Please note that I make a distinction between vessel maintenance and that of onboard conveniences. Having said that I must add "an elevator out of commission" is no small thing, especially if you are disabled or elderly. I agree with the observations about the ship under "positive points" and would add, the deck on level 5 was a delightful early morning and evening walk. However, I would confine the smokers however to a more isolated spot but then I am not a smoker. It is not a floating hotel/resort. If you are looking for that and I appreciate some do, you will be disappointed. Quick note on the terms "Ship" vs "boat" for those who have that interest. A "boat" is a vessel that can be placed on a "Ship" i.e a "lifeboat", "rowboat". It is as simple as that. Good luck. "Dining room", I agree. Same experience and so chose to eat at the buffet where I found great staff and I enjoyed the food. Never found a thing, not to my liking and there was always sufficient variety. All non-alcoholic drinks are freely available and should you wish to have alcohol, the bar staff are ready to take your order. I found the coffee was fine but understand that may not be the case for all. "No snack bar or light refreshment available outside of meal hours or tea time at 4:00 pm" is a fair observation. It wasn't important to me but may be to some. I commonly picked up a couple of pieces of fruit from the breakfast with me for those times. On the issue of alcohol availability, I prefer all alcohol to be at a direct cost to the consumer meaning if you want it, pay for it. Otherwise, those who don't drink alcohol or drink very little are paying for those who do. In addition, there is the ship's operation and the comfort of other passengers to consider. Alcohol without direct cost can sometimes mean abuse, which can translate into drunks and we all know the sorry story from there. I enjoy a drink but don't enjoy a drunk, especially on a ship. This leads me to my fellow passengers. This great trip was especially so because of the intimate small ship atmosphere of the Louis Cristal. I suspect the passenger make up, is commonly the mix that was aboard when I was. I met many and all who I met, expressed absolute delight with their trip and most commented on the atmosphere being a part of that, as well as the ports of call. I had no problem with internet or accessing my service provider's email service. I was in cabin 6223 and would agree with the observations regarding cabin. Mine was just fine in all respects. I did hear of staff mentioning the value of good reviews in their evaluation but did not encounter anyone "aggressively pushing". I do recognize that is in some part affected by culture as well as life for them working aboard ship. Please bear in mind their circumstances i.e working 7 days a week for 8 months straight, in an environment where they are assessed daily and in most cases are entirely dependent on that income for their family, who they are away from. Based on my experience - not an "easy row to hoe". I would like to note in particular, the wonderful young people on board from the Ukraine. Well educated, speaking multiple languages, hard working, professional yet personable. They were remarkable, as well given that they maintained this approach consistently despite the very difficult times in their country and for their families. My hat is off to them. Staff from Cuba were also a highlight. Entertainment. Have rarely gone to the shows on my previous travels as I have not usually found them to be much to my liking. The entertainment aboard the Louis Cristal was exceptional. I went to every performance with the exception of one and took in all the entertainment in the lounges. Top drawer all of it. The two person troupe from the "Cirque" based In Montreal were amazing. I went on two excursions and enjoyed them both. Highly recommend the trip to the city of Trinidad. Arrange for time in Havana, not to be missed. There is an excellent review which includes some excursions on Cruise Critic. Note if you book through Air Transat you will in all probability be on a flight to Varadero with inconvenient flight times and a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to Havana. Not necessary. Avoid that and book, through your travel agent or direct with CubaCruise. Their flight portion is an Air Transat flight (very convenient times in and out of Toronto) that goes direct to Havana where you are met by CubaCruise staff and transported by charter bus to the dock. I thank my travel agent for discovering that. I wish to conclude by reiterating my fellow travellers final line. "I'd be happy to do this cruise again. You just have to set your expectations and keep a relaxed attitude."   Read Less
Sail Date March 2015
The Good We boarded the Cuba cruise in Havana on January 19, 2015 at approximately 12h30 and the embarkation was extremely smooth.. We were in our cabin within minutes and our bags arrived within the hour.. The service throughout the ... Read More
The Good We boarded the Cuba cruise in Havana on January 19, 2015 at approximately 12h30 and the embarkation was extremely smooth.. We were in our cabin within minutes and our bags arrived within the hour.. The service throughout the ship was exceptional - actually one of the best we have had.. We have taken cruises rated 5+ stars (Princess, Celebrity & Oceania) and have not seen this level of service in the cabins, the dining-rooms, the bars.. The wine choices were excellent as were the prices. Rafael, our wine steward took exceptional steps to ensure that we were served the right wines for our palate.. and even found unlisted little treasures.. We enjoyed the various stops in Cuba with each village reflecting its own personality - we explored on our own.. The side show in the Eros Bar was fabulous every night - Ricky and Mary Josée put on excellent and varied shows - one night was Celine Dion, another was ABBA, and still another was the Bee Gees.. They deserved to perform in the main theatre.. The Bad We did dine in the Alberta Steakhouse one night for $35 pp. The appetizer was a complete disappointment with vegetables and small shrimps with the heads and scales still on.. The lobster tail was excellent - however I requested a surf and turf which meant that I wanted the filet mignon added to my plate of lobster - I was explained that I was entitled to only one choice. This has always been allowed in other specialty restaurants on other Cruise lines.. In addition, when we go to the specialty dining rooms, we normally get signature wine glasses such as Riedel, Spiegelau, Rosenthal… Here we had clunky dollar-store glassware… When we mentioned this, we were told that they would take out their good glasses next time…Disappointing... The buffets for breakfast and lunch were always the same and certainly not what we are used to - we usually have these meals in the main dining-room and are provided with a menu and waiters to bring us our selections. Although the dishes were well prepared, they were not refined dishes (we had Mac & Cheese, Shepherd's Pie, etc) – too often the selections were turkey, chicken, pork chops, minute & rump steaks,… all too cooked… there were no shrimps served all week, no scallops, no lobster tails, no filet mignon, no rack of lamb.. no maigret de canard…On other cruises, this is standard fare at comparable costs… While on the subject of costs, I need to say that for the exact same price as this Cuba cruise (interior cabin), we are taking a balcony on the Princess Regal for a 7 day cruise next week to St-Thomas and St-Maarten… Sorry! But no comparison here… The entertainment on the ship was excellent - the Cuban dancers and singers and aerial stunts were all extremely talented.. However it fizzled out after several days of the same type of shows.. The cruise director Danny should have been arranging shows that differed one night to the next and making use of the amazing talent under him, instead of all his quadro-lingual announcements and his dancing with the dancers... A director with more personality, some humour and artistic talent would have been appreciated.. There were a few lectures on various subjects (history of Cuba, towns, etc) that were given by an soft-spoken and uninteresting young fellow with a very heavy accent who either read the slides presented or told the audience to read it themselves… Poor excuse for a lecture… Regarding security, I must say that printing your name and cabin number on the cabin key is NOT the smartest idea out there, especially if you lose your key… same goes for the safety box key card with the cabin number on it… We did not take the safety box as we were told by other passengers that any safety key can open any safety box… The Ugly The cabin we had booked for this cruise was a deluxe interior (category IE).. We had chosen this cabin type since we had seen pictures online which showed a separate and sizeable sitting area where there was a sofa and 2 armchairs with a cocktail table in the middle. To our complete surprise, the cabin was extremely small with no sitting area - absolutely no resemblance to the photo we had seen. We voiced our displeasure to Customer Service and we were promptly offered a cabin that matched the online picture - Cabin 6100.. We were told that, of the 23 cabins at the IE level, this was the only cabin that actually matched the photo - reeks of false advertising!!! We were indeed fortunate to have received this cabin when many other people we spoke to who had booked and paid for the deluxe interior had no choice but to upgrade to larger cabins (with a window) at a considerable cost.. The Cabin Cabin 6100 was huge. It's really like a mini-suite. Bedroom and living room have a dividing curtain for privacy. Living room had Sofa and 2 arm chairs. There was more storage here than any other cruise. The toiletries desk took an entire wall. The bathroom is tiny and yes, the shower curtain stinks to your backside... Would we recommend this cruise??? Not sure… They really need to clean up this cabin scam, vary their entertainment and provide more interesting food choices...   Read Less
Sail Date January 2015
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.   Read Less
Sail Date December 2014

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