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Star Flyer - Cuba 1st - 8th February 2015 29th January 2015: Havana: Left Gatwick to land in Cuba some 9½ hours later. Customs/Passport control faster than I feared and certainly better than Gatwick. Transfer to Hotel Saratoga by limo. Hotel rated 4 Cuban stars you'd give 2-3 here. Had to change room due to damp smell and noise from 24hr bar under us. Also cobwebs big enough that you could have knitted a jumper out of them. The breakfast was poor (and cold) as was the evening meal although we had been warned on TripAdvisor about the food. But after a day of travelling in a new city it's normal to grab a bite at the hotel. If you're unlucky enough to end up here have breakfast in the 'Mezzanine Bar' and never eat at night. Having looked around at the hotels, try and get the IberoStar which is right in the middle of the city, clean and well run. We found Havana interesting, historic and cosmopolitan - whilst at the same time dirty with average food and high prices in the few decent 'Western' bars. There are quite a few touts (mainly taxi, cigar and pony and trap) also many ladies of the night (and day). Unlike other reviews on here we never felt threatened or in any danger and there was certainly no threat of a mugging although we were two couples and both the men are well built and around 6" higher than the locals. I sometimes think that if you look nervous and clutch your bag to your chest, a large victim sign illuminates above you that can only be seen by criminals. By far the best way to see the city is in a 50/60s American car. A 2 hour trip costs 50 CUC (Cuban tourist currency) - although they will ask for 70 CUC. Set the price 1st and make sure the car looks reasonable (albeit Cuban) condition and he speaks English. Kilometre Zero and Sloppy Joe's are two good places to eat and drink. There are lots of sites to visit and overall enjoyed our stay there The Cruise: 1st - 8th February 2015: Good: The Ship itself from the point of view of condition of all areas and the 'Sailing Crew' who were rarely too busy to answer questions. In fact all the crew were clean, friendly, helpful and efficient. Our cabin steward was fantastic. The cabin was spotless with clean towels everyday and as expected. The food is excellent although the 'egg chef ' could/would not do poached eggs in the morning which I found frustrating. The drinks are not too expensive and by buying wine by the bottle (they keep the part full bottles for you) you can make significant savings. When the ship is under sail you understand why you're onboard it's brilliant and fascinating to watch. Only 108 out of a potential 170 passengers on board. Bad: The engines and/or generators are really noisy - we had paid for a better cabin (328) in the middle of the boat and it was quite noisy. We heard many complaints about this particularly from the deck below (100s) us. The aircon was also loud and had two settings - on or off. It was slightly too hot to have it off (I wish) and as the portholes are sealed it was the only ventilation. I had visions of a really quiet cruise, gliding through the sea under sail but as the Captain had to meet his mooring/docking times we were under power more often than not. I'm sure either the prop shaft was slightly off or the propeller itself was unbalanced - as the vibrations were quite noticeable (when in your bunk). Lack of cover and sun beds. This may seem petty but on sea days there really is nothing else to do. The two pools are smaller than some Jacuzzis I've seen and if you think you will be swimming in them think again. The onboard entertainment was virtually non-existent. We were under the impression that local 'groups' came on board but in reality it was just the Cuban authorities either on-board for a jolly (sorry) visa checks - (one chap with lots of gold on his shoulder boards and his wife/girlfriend for 3 days) or checking our temperature for Ebola despite the fact that you're not checked at Havana airport on arrival. I know some will stick up for Steffi Adels (Stockholm Syndrome) but she had virtually no people skills which is a problem for a cruise director and the 'entertainments' staff were actually officer cadets from Poland who were on the boat to learn how to sail but were redirected to entertainment and sports which they really didn't want to do (and that is according to them). The internet is expensive (6€/hr) and extremely slow. I complained that having been online for 3 minutes I got charged for 9 only to be told that was it was just the time logging on and off - not happy! Some may say you do these cruises to get away from it all but this is the modern age and I download books etc (no chance of anything else) and also need to at least need to see my emails and FB accounts once a day. So stock up on Sudoku books. Be prepared for many excisions/activities to be cancelled and some rough tender crossings - due to sea state - but there is nothing they or you can do about it especially on this type of vessel - it's just a shame there was no backup apart from sun bed tagging. Day 1 - 1st February 2015 After a 3½ hours trip across Cuba from Havana to Cienfuegos in a bumpy taxi, we finally got onboard. It was a bit disorganised and there was yet another raft of paperwork to complete before boarding. Then the long drawn out Boat Drills - which were done without any humour and whilst necessary and compulsory did drag on. Day 2 - 2nd Feb: At sea and another Safety Briefing. Getting used to the feel of the boat and how it worked. The Captain did threaten us with a surprise landing for a swim and use of a beach only to withdraw this later so it would have been better had he said nothing. As we were all onboard the shortage of sun beds quickly showed itself for the first time. As said there were only 108 passengers out of a possible 170 and there were clearly problems. I know it's a paradigm but the Germans (about 40%) did revert to stereotype and reserve and hold the 'prime' beds. Also there were only two relatively small areas under cover which on hot days was far too little. Quite a bumpy night. Also became aware of the engine/generator noise for the 1st time. Day 3 - 3rd Feb: Playa Ancón, Cuba. Hot day with plenty going on - we left the beach in a 50s car and went into Trinidad which is a nice older style village clean (by Cuban standards which are admittedly low). Very touristy and whilst interesting, you honestly don't need any more that 2 hours there (we managed to get into 2 separate bars in that time before the taxi took us back to the beach). The beach facilities are basic to say the least, with broken chairs but golden sands. Cheap local beer and snacks available but most went back to the boat on the age old (and old aged) mantra I've paid for it so I'll go back to the ship and eat it. Went snorkelling but it was like (as my friend said) swimming in chicken soup and nothing to see when it was clear. Day 4 - 4th Feb: Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands. We were down to snorkel over the wreck of a Russian Frigate scuttled for that purpose only 50m from the rocky coast but this was cancelled due to the sea state as was the water-skiing, swimming off the boat and wake boarding. We went on our own anyway and it was a bit choppy but not too bad for experienced snorkelers. It was by now apparent that (as with many cruise ships) safety was set to the lowest common denominator which in our case was probably a 95 year old from Stuttgart. There was not a lot on this side of the island or even generally as only 1800 people live here. Many went to the more touristy beaches on the other side but as we didn't I can't comment. Highlight of the day was breaking up an afterhours fight between two barmen which carried on down into the restaurant - only 'handbags' and quite funny - the last time I worked as a bouncer was 40 years ago! Day 5 - 5th Feb: Georgetown, Grand Cayman. There were trips available but we just went into the 'Town' which is just a giant tourist shop. There were ourselves and 6, yes 6, very large cruise liners the biggest of which was the Norwegian Epic( with some 4500 passengers and 1500) crew so the place was simply swamped with what must have been way over 18,000 tourists, plus crews, including many truly enormous Americans. However, this made me feel good though as I'm quite large by UK standards, but looked like a midget in comparison with some of our cousins from across the pond. The best bar is at the far eastern end. The rest of the town consists of shops you've never heard of and banks only used by the super rich and political party funders. Day 6 - 6th Feb: Cayo Largo, Cuba. You land on a jetty by a small Dolphin enclosure - which whilst I don't agree with it - are entertaining to watch as they go through their tricks for anyone willing to pay 90 CUCs (About 90€ or £80) for 15 minutes with them. There is a nice and tidy restaurant 'complex' which serves the local fare at inflated prices. You walk through this to a beach which has a little (and much cheaper) bar on it. Again broken chairs abound but it is picturesque and the sand is the sort of fine golden type you'd get in an egg timer. It got a bit cold and windy so we went back to the ship earlyish. We had wanted to go for the promised rib rides but the 'entertainment staff ' were not too interested so we gave up. Day 7 - 7th Feb: Cayo Rico, Cuba. Another day another beach. we were supposed to have a beach BBQ but this was cancelled due to the sea state which was a nonsense and a disappointment. However we went to the beach which was the best by far. Slightly less broken sun beds but a truly idyllic beach with lots of wildlife, a nice (and very cheap) bar and (unused) restaurant area where the BBQ would have taken place. A nice final day was spent on the golden sands. Returned to the ship to check (large) bar bill and consider the suggested levels of tipping. 8€ per person per day so for us 112€. I do hate these so called 'recommendations' as I always feel I'm subsidising their wages rather than rewarding good service. We paid 100€ (35€ to the steward and 65€ to the rest - who got a lot of commission on our drinks anyway (they do I checked). The steward also got an unopened bottle of Beefeater Gin I bought in Cuba but couldn't be bothered to cart back - as it's cheaper in ASDA). Day 8 - 8th Feb: Cienfuegos, Cuba. The normal cruise ship rush to get rid of you ready for the next batch of passengers, which was fairly disorganised to start with but got better and the cabin steward chased me down the quayside with the glasses I had left under the bed - The gin must have worked! Back for one night in Havana and many hours to waste before out 8pm flight the next day. Just time to get some cigars and rum. For your information all prices are set by the Regime so everywhere is the same - even the airport. I wouldn't do it again - a case of been there done that and there are plenty of places we haven't been - but I would recommend it. The sailing (under canvas) was very different and enjoyable - there just wasn't enough of it. My wife described Havana as 'Quaintly Disgusting' which is a bit harsh. The people are friendly and well educated but you would struggle to find any real luxury but I'm glad we went while it's still in its natural spoiled and ruined (by Castro) state and before the Americans clear it up and sanitize it.  

Cienfuegos, Cuba and beyond

Star Flyer Cruise Review by Richard Bolitho

5 people found this helpful
Trip Details
Star Flyer - Cuba 1st - 8th February 2015
29th January 2015: Havana: Left Gatwick to land in Cuba some 9½ hours later. Customs/Passport control faster than I feared and certainly better than Gatwick. Transfer to Hotel Saratoga by limo. Hotel rated 4 Cuban stars you'd give 2-3 here. Had to change room due to damp smell and noise from 24hr bar under us. Also cobwebs big enough that you could have knitted a jumper out of them. The breakfast was poor (and cold) as was the evening meal although we had been warned on TripAdvisor about the food. But after a day of travelling in a new city it's normal to grab a bite at the hotel. If you're unlucky enough to end up here have breakfast in the 'Mezzanine Bar' and never eat at night. Having looked around at the hotels, try and get the IberoStar which is right in the middle of the city, clean and well run.
We found Havana interesting, historic and cosmopolitan - whilst at the same time dirty with average food and high prices in the few decent 'Western' bars. There are quite a few touts (mainly taxi, cigar and pony and trap) also many ladies of the night (and day). Unlike other reviews on here we never felt threatened or in any danger and there was certainly no threat of a mugging although we were two couples and both the men are well built and around 6" higher than the locals. I sometimes think that if you look nervous and clutch your bag to your chest, a large victim sign illuminates above you that can only be seen by criminals. By far the best way to see the city is in a 50/60s American car. A 2 hour trip costs 50 CUC (Cuban tourist currency) - although they will ask for 70 CUC. Set the price 1st and make sure the car looks reasonable (albeit Cuban) condition and he speaks English. Kilometre Zero and Sloppy Joe's are two good places to eat and drink. There are lots of sites to visit and overall enjoyed our stay there
The Cruise: 1st - 8th February 2015:
Good: The Ship itself from the point of view of condition of all areas and the 'Sailing Crew' who were rarely too busy to answer questions. In fact all the crew were clean, friendly, helpful and efficient. Our cabin steward was fantastic. The cabin was spotless with clean towels everyday and as expected. The food is excellent although the 'egg chef ' could/would not do poached eggs in the morning which I found frustrating. The drinks are not too expensive and by buying wine by the bottle (they keep the part full bottles for you) you can make significant savings. When the ship is under sail you understand why you're onboard it's brilliant and fascinating to watch. Only 108 out of a potential 170 passengers on board.
Bad: The engines and/or generators are really noisy - we had paid for a better cabin (328) in the middle of the boat and it was quite noisy. We heard many complaints about this particularly from the deck below (100s) us. The aircon was also loud and had two settings - on or off. It was slightly too hot to have it off (I wish) and as the portholes are sealed it was the only ventilation. I had visions of a really quiet cruise, gliding through the sea under sail but as the Captain had to meet his mooring/docking times we were under power more often than not. I'm sure either the prop shaft was slightly off or the propeller itself was unbalanced - as the vibrations were quite noticeable (when in your bunk). Lack of cover and sun beds. This may seem petty but on sea days there really is nothing else to do. The two pools are smaller than some Jacuzzis I've seen and if you think you will be swimming in them think again. The onboard entertainment was virtually non-existent. We were under the impression that local 'groups' came on board but in reality it was just the Cuban authorities either on-board for a jolly (sorry) visa checks - (one chap with lots of gold on his shoulder boards and his wife/girlfriend for 3 days) or checking our temperature for Ebola despite the fact that you're not checked at Havana airport on arrival. I know some will stick up for Steffi Adels (Stockholm Syndrome) but she had virtually no people skills which is a problem for a cruise director and the 'entertainments' staff were actually officer cadets from Poland who were on the boat to learn how to sail but were redirected to entertainment and sports which they really didn't want to do (and that is according to them). The internet is expensive (6€/hr) and extremely slow. I complained that having been online for 3 minutes I got charged for 9 only to be told that was it was just the time logging on and off - not happy! Some may say you do these cruises to get away from it all but this is the modern age and I download books etc (no chance of anything else) and also need to at least need to see my emails and FB accounts once a day. So stock up on Sudoku books. Be prepared for many excisions/activities to be cancelled and some rough tender crossings - due to sea state - but there is nothing they or you can do about it especially on this type of vessel - it's just a shame there was no backup apart from sun bed tagging.
Day 1 - 1st February 2015 After a 3½ hours trip across Cuba from Havana to Cienfuegos in a bumpy taxi, we finally got onboard. It was a bit disorganised and there was yet another raft of paperwork to complete before boarding. Then the long drawn out Boat Drills - which were done without any humour and whilst necessary and compulsory did drag on.
Day 2 - 2nd Feb: At sea and another Safety Briefing. Getting used to the feel of the boat and how it worked. The Captain did threaten us with a surprise landing for a swim and use of a beach only to withdraw this later so it would have been better had he said nothing. As we were all onboard the shortage of sun beds quickly showed itself for the first time. As said there were only 108 passengers out of a possible 170 and there were clearly problems. I know it's a paradigm but the Germans (about 40%) did revert to stereotype and reserve and hold the 'prime' beds. Also there were only two relatively small areas under cover which on hot days was far too little. Quite a bumpy night. Also became aware of the engine/generator noise for the 1st time.
Day 3 - 3rd Feb: Playa Ancón, Cuba. Hot day with plenty going on - we left the beach in a 50s car and went into Trinidad which is a nice older style village clean (by Cuban standards which are admittedly low). Very touristy and whilst interesting, you honestly don't need any more that 2 hours there (we managed to get into 2 separate bars in that time before the taxi took us back to the beach).
The beach facilities are basic to say the least, with broken chairs but golden sands. Cheap local beer and snacks available but most went back to the boat on the age old (and old aged) mantra I've paid for it so I'll go back to the ship and eat it. Went snorkelling but it was like (as my friend said) swimming in chicken soup and nothing to see when it was clear.
Day 4 - 4th Feb: Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands. We were down to snorkel over the wreck of a Russian Frigate scuttled for that purpose only 50m from the rocky coast but this was cancelled due to the sea state as was the water-skiing, swimming off the boat and wake boarding. We went on our own anyway and it was a bit choppy but not too bad for experienced snorkelers. It was by now apparent that (as with many cruise ships) safety was set to the lowest common denominator which in our case was probably a 95 year old from Stuttgart. There was not a lot on this side of the island or even generally as only 1800 people live here. Many went to the more touristy beaches on the other side but as we didn't I can't comment. Highlight of the day was breaking up an afterhours fight between two barmen which carried on down into the restaurant - only 'handbags' and quite funny - the last time I worked as a bouncer was 40 years ago!
Day 5 - 5th Feb: Georgetown, Grand Cayman. There were trips available but we just went into the 'Town' which is just a giant tourist shop. There were ourselves and 6, yes 6, very large cruise liners the biggest of which was the Norwegian Epic( with some 4500 passengers and 1500) crew so the place was simply swamped with what must have been way over 18,000 tourists, plus crews, including many truly enormous Americans. However, this made me feel good though as I'm quite large by UK standards, but looked like a midget in comparison with some of our cousins from across the pond. The best bar is at the far eastern end. The rest of the town consists of shops you've never heard of and banks only used by the super rich and political party funders.
Day 6 - 6th Feb: Cayo Largo, Cuba. You land on a jetty by a small Dolphin enclosure - which whilst I don't agree with it - are entertaining to watch as they go through their tricks for anyone willing to pay 90 CUCs (About 90€ or £80) for 15 minutes with them. There is a nice and tidy restaurant 'complex' which serves the local fare at inflated prices. You walk through this to a beach which has a little (and much cheaper) bar on it. Again broken chairs abound but it is picturesque and the sand is the sort of fine golden type you'd get in an egg timer. It got a bit cold and windy so we went back to the ship earlyish. We had wanted to go for the promised rib rides but the 'entertainment staff ' were not too interested so we gave up.
Day 7 - 7th Feb: Cayo Rico, Cuba. Another day another beach. we were supposed to have a beach BBQ but this was cancelled due to the sea state which was a nonsense and a disappointment. However we went to the beach which was the best by far. Slightly less broken sun beds but a truly idyllic beach with lots of wildlife, a nice (and very cheap) bar and (unused) restaurant area where the BBQ would have taken place. A nice final day was spent on the golden sands. Returned to the ship to check (large) bar bill and consider the suggested levels of tipping. 8€ per person per day so for us 112€. I do hate these so called 'recommendations' as I always feel I'm subsidising their wages rather than rewarding good service. We paid 100€ (35€ to the steward and 65€ to the rest - who got a lot of commission on our drinks anyway (they do I checked). The steward also got an unopened bottle of Beefeater Gin I bought in Cuba but couldn't be bothered to cart back - as it's cheaper in ASDA).
Day 8 - 8th Feb: Cienfuegos, Cuba. The normal cruise ship rush to get rid of you ready for the next batch of passengers, which was fairly disorganised to start with but got better and the cabin steward chased me down the quayside with the glasses I had left under the bed - The gin must have worked! Back for one night in Havana and many hours to waste before out 8pm flight the next day. Just time to get some cigars and rum. For your information all prices are set by the Regime so everywhere is the same - even the airport.
I wouldn't do it again - a case of been there done that and there are plenty of places we haven't been - but I would recommend it. The sailing (under canvas) was very different and enjoyable - there just wasn't enough of it. My wife described Havana as 'Quaintly Disgusting' which is a bit harsh. The people are friendly and well educated but you would struggle to find any real luxury but I'm glad we went while it's still in its natural spoiled and ruined (by Castro) state and before the Americans clear it up and sanitize it.
 
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Cabin Review

Cabin 328
The room consists of a double bed (even though we asked for a twin but there's no room to separate the beds), desk/dressing table, TV/DVD player and wardrobes. The bed(s) were comfortable with clean white linen. There's plenty of storage in the cabin which is very clean and well finished - although starting to show it's age. There is a refit happening in Portugal in September. The bathroom is a wet room with a shower curtain. There is hairdryer. The shower went a bit hot and cold at times. The drain for the shower and basin are just grills in the floor and when the boat is heeling over (when under sail) to the cabin's side the water does not drain away at all (toilet unaffected). Not really a big deal. You have a choice of fresh towels everyday or you can be 'eco' - we weren't. Kept immaculate by the stewards - no complaints
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