Writing only about the cruise would not do service to the entire experience of dealing with YourCubaCruise and the Louis Cristal, so this review will address our experience from the day we decided to book the cruise.
YourCubaCruise (YCC) - If you are reading this review, you already probably know how to find YCC on the web. The website is relatively straightforward, and pretty typical of cruise line websites, so no problem there. Booking on the web was easy and painless, and that is the last time I intend to use that word in this review. From there on, it got more and more complicated. We booked on-line, a January, 2015 cruise in July, 2014, and then recruited my brother-in-law and his wife to join us. Being naturally suspicious of the security of on-line booking sites, my brother-in-law called YCC to book a cabin, only to be informed that it was not possible to book by phone. Really? Since when does a world class cruise company not have the ability to charge your credit card over the phone? More on this below. It took quite a bit for my brother-in-law to calm down, bite the bullet, and book their cruise on-line; but he did, and so far, no big problem.
So now we have 5 months until our next interactions with YCC. Once you’ve paid the full amount of the cruise, YCC emails you their “Predeparture Information” brochure. Read it carefully, because it is chock full of important information, some of which is misleading at best! Perhaps the most important piece of information regards Cuban medical insurance. YCC advises that “Cuban law requires all passengers to have medical coverage while travelling, and must be able to provide proof of coverage.” When we inquired about this from YCC, we were informed that only special Cuban medical insurance was acceptable to meet this requirement. We bought the insurance (approximately $100 for the two of us, and more on this nightmare later), but no one ever asked for it, and when we inquired about the need for it on the ship, we were told there is no requirement for it. Now it’s possible that the ship’s information was incorrect, but future YCC customers are advised to explore this issue carefully. For those embarking in Jamaica (MoBay) YCC did recommend buying the insurance through Caribic Vacations L.T.D. (CV). When I contacted CV in September, I was informed that CV would be in touch with me 2 weeks before our embarkation date. DO NOT BELIEVE THEM IF THEY TELL YOU THIS! CV did not contact me, but they did respond quickly by email when I inquired as to what was happening. They will send you a credit card authorization form, and will very quickly charge your credit card, and that is the last time you will hear me use the word “quickly” in reference to CV. We kept emailing and calling them up until the day of our departure for MoBay, and kept getting promises that we would have the insurance paperwork by the end of the day. Which day was never specified! We left for MoBay with only a hope and a prayer. Eventually, CV delivered the insurance docs to our hotel, late the afternoon of our arrival. What would have happened if we had not planned to spend a night in MoBay is not clear to me. If you plan to buy Cuban medical insurance from CV, make sure you give them a lot longer than 2 weeks to get it for you, and then pray a lot! YCC advises that you could be charged $27USD for airport departure taxes. Our airline said they did not include these taxes in the cost of the ticket, but we were never charged. YCC advised us that we should book our excursions no later than 48hrs prior to embarkation, because they could not guarantee that there would be availability for our preferred excursions once we got on board. There was never any danger of being shut out of an excursion on our cruise; in fact, the excursion staff had to work hard to sell some of the excursions we had pre-booked with YCC. Now, when we called YCC to book the excursions (several days before our embarkation), we were first told that it was too late, then “oops, it’s still OK”; and we paid by credit card over the phone. What happened to no charging credit cards over the phone? When my brother-in-law called later that same day, he was told he could not charge over the phone, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to book excursions on-line. Eventually he was allowed to charge over the phone, but he had to speak with a different YCC rep! Once we got on the ship, however, the excursion staff had NO record of our having purchased any excursions. Had we forgotten to bring our e-Ticket, I have no idea what hell we would have had to endure.