I'd recommend this week long cruise, both for value and content. There is something for everyone here. I'm not going to bore you with information that can be found on the mycubacruise.com website; the information there is generally accurate. I see there is one gentleman who seems to have been on the same cruise as us who likened the trip to the famous Brit TV series 'Fawlty Towers'. This is really very unfair; while there were significant organisational issues to be sorted as regards excursions off the ship this was the first tour of Cuba this season so to grant a little slack is reasonable.
We booked this trip about six weeks before the departure date of 19th December and the process was quite strait forward. It was done over the phone to the company's office in Calgary, Alberta, as this is a Canadian company. We dealt with a lady called Jane who was both friendly and efficient. Book as early as you can or you may not get the cabin type you want (as happened to us). Having said that the cabin we actually got was quite adequate for our needs, cabin number 7228 (see website: cabin layout). Being on the starboard side (right) is an advantage as the cruise proceeds clockwise around the island. On the port side there are excellent views...of the sea!
The ship herself, the Louis Cristal, one of two this company owns, is some 155 meters long, is 34 years old and can carry 1,200 passenger plus some 350 crew. This makes her quite small by modern standards but a lot friendlier. You get to know a lot of passengers & crew by the end of the week. A further advantage of being quite small is her ability to go where others are unable to...like the tiny port of Antilla, the first call after Havana.
You can join the ship in either Havana or Montego Bay in Jamaica. We started in Mo Bay and this was the first time the ship had passed this way this season as it had come across the Atlantic from Piraeus via various stops on the way, the last being St. Lucia. Joining was quite easy but there were only some hundred joiners over the four hour boarding period so there were only a couple of other families in immigration at the time. We were shown to our cabin via reception where there is a little form filling for Cuban tourist cards, credit card deposit, and so on. Incidentally, you don't need to get a visa in advance, a point not covered at all well in the information available on line. I had to call and ask several times as if you look on your local Cuban Embassy website it will say you need to get a visa before you leave your country of residence; not true in this case as it is all done on board the ship if you are joining in Mo Bay. Presumably you will need one if joining in Havana.
Our cabin (or stateroom as the marketing department likes to call it) was quite adequate. There is adequate storage for everything if you don't go too crazy. Bags the size of your average overhead stowage wheelie bag will go under the bed which is a great help. There is a good 30 inch LG TV with a truly dreadful selection of four channels with mostly advertising (although it does have all the latest connection facilities for running your own media if you have the correct cables), adequately comfortable beds, a good shower (with shower gel & shampoo dispensers), a small refrigerator and enough seating space to relax away from the bed.
Both telephone & internet are available on board via satellite. Nothing is free of course but both Skype & Viber are disabled which I find both cynical and annoying. You can purchase one hour of internet for $CAD12, usable over period of 8 days. It is up to you to keep track of your usage time as there is no time base visible. There are larger packages available. It was actually very slow when the system was working at all and it was constantly saturated although the management were well aware of the problems. Heaven knows what it would be like with a full passenger load! Best just to shut yourself away for the week and forget the rest of the world.
Shipboard safety & security is taken seriously and you have to attend to your emergency 'muster station' with your life jacket when told before the ship sails. All activity on the ship is controlled via your 'ship pass', basically your room key with various additional functions.
Now, excursions from the ship. See the website for details of what is on offer. You can either go the conventional route and tag along on these tours or with a bit of planning you can have a great time away from the crowds. A good & comprehensive guide book of Cuba is invaluable. Cienfuego, the first stop out of Mo Bay, is a good example of what i am talking about unless you particularly want to go to the very interesting botanical gardens outside the town or take the long drive to Trinidad. Looking around the town is easily done on your own on foot at a saving of some $CAD 50 per person. The same goes for Havana where you can walk from the dock to the Capitolo in fifteen minutes and get on the open topped double decker at a cost of about $CAD5 per person for unlimited use for the day. On a stop at the small port of Antilla on the Bahia De Nipe we hired a 1952 Ford at a cost of about $CAD80 for some five hours (without bargaining!) and visited two archeological museums in the area. If you want to cut yourself out of the crowd it is easy to do so at any point on this cruise, often at considerable saving, but of course you do not have the security of an organised tour.
On the last cruise that I went on some 15 years ago tipping at the end of the cruise was a real nightmare. Who to tip...and how much? And what about all the unseen staff in the background? What happens on this cruise is that there is voluntary $CAD10 per person per day added to your account at the end of the cruise which goes into a central fund for everyone which seems a lot fairer.
As always it is as well to check your account when it arrives on the morning of your arrival.
The level of personal service I would say is equivalent to a four star hotel...and I've been staying in four & five star hotels for the last 40 years!. On the last night we dined at the best restaurant on the ship, the Alberta Prime, paying a $CAD35 per person extra; I would certainly recommend giving this a try. It made the final evening on the cruise really special.
This was a lucky selection as it was on the starboard side and one of the rearmost (and quietest) cabins. Starboard is best for this series of cruises as the ship goes clockwise around Cuba so the views of the island, such as they are, are on this side.