This trip is not a standard cruise experience. And Cuba is not a “standard” country. This Cuba Cruise trip is perfect for people who are adventurous and like seeing unique things and having experiences that cannot be replicated anywhere else. Independent-minded travelers will love the chance to wander through Cuba’s enchanting cities. The people who enjoyed things the most were those who were flexible and open to doing things differently as well as those who were interested in experiencing the culture, history, vintage cars, architecture and people of Cuba. Those who were traveling for reasons related more to convenience or pricing seemed more disappointed. You need to be prepared to encounter some differences and difficulties. This is not a luxurious or “relaxing” cruise. It is, however, interesting and exhilarating.
This is very much a ship that is booked for its itinerary, rather than for the onboard experience. In light of that, and especially taking the ship’s age into account (the vessel was first built in 1980, and completely rebuilt 10 years later after a fire), the ship generally exceeds expectations. Many passengers were very well-traveled and have been to destinations all over the world. Passengers on my sailing came from 32 different countries, and, accordingly, announcements were made in four languages: English, French, German and Spanish.
A lot of the people who were frequent cruisers with whom I spoke were partial to Celebrity in particular, followed by Royal Caribbean and Princess. There was one couple in their 30s (?) traveling with a son (approximately age 10) who were first time cruisers and loved everything about the experience. It’s important to note that children are welcome, but the “kids’ program” consists of kids being allowed to attend the usual activities that are available for anyone on board, including karaoke, Wii games, and Spanish lessons. There were even a few young couples traveling with infants.
The ship sailed into Havana’s harbor at 7:30, as the sun rose above El Morro fortress. I spent the morning with my tour group on a bus tour to the Regla section of Havana where we watched a fantastic Afro-Cuban traditional religious dance troupe. We also toured a church with two altars, Catholic and Santeria. The Church is across the bay from Old Havana. We returned to the dock at Old Havana and were given one hour for lunch. I decided to walk around by myself rather than eat and I was so enchanted by the city that I missed our meeting time! I ended up taking a classic Chevrolet taxi to Hotel Nacional to rejoin the group for a hotel inspection. They have pictures up of all of the famous guests that have stayed there since 1930, from Mafiosi to entertainers to world leaders. Peacocks roam the grounds. Dinner was at the teaching restaurant for the culinary academy in Cuba. We watched a mojito-making demonstration and had the first “real” drinks of the trip. While we waited for the food, I walked down the block and explored the high-rise Melia Cohiba hotel. After dinner I walked up the block to the malecón to watch the sunset. By 10 o’clock we had arrived back at the ship. I took advantage of our midnight all aboard time and spent an hour walking around Habana Vieja at night. The city has a very romantic aspect at night, with low lighting on the brick streets, historic facades and beautiful parks and plazas. The city seems very safe at night and many people were out strolling or enjoying cafes, many with live music that attracted sizable crowds. There were also an exceptionally large number of dogs and cats (including one that dove into a trash can). Several of the dogs wear name tags with a photo around their necks, so not all of them are homeless. We sailed at close to 1am, after the people who had taken the ship’s tour to the Tropicana cabaret were back on board. Havana is a magnificent city, and the changes to next year’s itinerary (adding an extra day in Havana) will make this an even better trip, with more ample time to savor all that Havana has to offer. I feel like I only began to scratch the surface of Havana on my one-day visit, and I eagerly await returning to see more!