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Overall, this first Cuba Cruise of the season was amazing, despite some ripples along the way. First, set reasonable expectations—this is not a fun in the sun, lounge around the pool type of trip. What it is, is an affordable way to easily get a taste of Cuba. PRE-CRUISE Before the cruise, we stayed three nights at the Holiday Inn Resort in Montego Bay. This was 10 minutes to the airport, had a lovely beach areas including a little island you could walk to. Food and drinks were just so-so, but this is one of the cheapest all-inclusive resorts we found. What we did love, were the jerk chicken hut on the beach, quiet places to sit by the water away from the main pool, some Jamaican dishes on the buffet, and the view from our ocean-view room. Rented a car and drove to Falmouth for a quick visit, but opted to not drive further because Jamaicans really do drive crazy, and on the left. EMBARKATION Cruise terminal is about 15 minutes from the airport. We picked up a taxi at the rental car place to the pier for $20 total. We needed to pay a Jamaican departure tax since we’d been there for more than 24 hours (I think $27 per person). Afterwards, getting on was as simple as filling out the standard health form and picking up our key cards. You resister a credit card on board at the reception desk. We arrived at the cruise terminal around 11:30 a.m. and were on within about 15 minutes. THE SHIP The ship is older but does not feel dated. It was kept spotlessly clean. Our cabin (#5115) was tiny, but the beds were comfortable. You do need to dispose of toilet paper in the trash and sometimes, you need to flush twice for everything to go down. Being on deck five was handy and our favorite bar was in the very back of deck five, outside and with a hot tub. Compared with modern mega-ships, we enjoyed that we could be anywhere on the ship within a couple minutes. The ship did lack the stabilizers of more modern ships and we felt a pretty constant rocking. We never had trouble finding seats in the shows, at dinner, in the buffet or in the bars. THE PASSENGERS We spent far more time getting to know our fellow passengers than we usually do. What a fascinating group. We met people from all over the U.S., Asia, and Europe and learned about everyone’s travel adventures and places they have lived. As a group, passengers were more traveled and more likely to have lived abroad than on any other cruise we’ve taken. DINING While I like that the menu included Cuban and Jamaican dishes, the food did not seem terribly authentic. For instance, the jerk chicken had almost no spice! As noted by others, dinner was incredibly slow; we really didn’t mind as the people we were seated with were usually very interesting. We are not normally big drinkers on cruises, but we did enjoy working our way down the list of Cuban cocktails and coffee drinks. I would recommend for dinner, picking up a drink at the bar and bringing it with you. Breakfast and lunch at the buffet were both fine. They did have wonderful baklava at the buffet the first day, but unfortunately we never saw it again. ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES The entertainers changed midway through the cruise with those who did the transatlantic crossing changing with Cuban performers when we got to Havana. We enjoyed the Cuban performers and Cuban themed shows, while other shows were just average. The lectures as part of the P2P program weren’t outstanding but did add to our knowledge of Cuba and appreciation of the trip. Those in the P2P program should note, the activities guide delivered to your cabin does not list all the activities. If you want to see non-P2P activities, you’ll need to pick up the complete copy at the reception desk. ITINERARY We loved all of the Cuban ports. Unfortunately, weather delays dramatically cut our time in Maria la Gorda and Cienfuegos. Also, gathering for excursions took place on the ship rather than at the pier and then the buses didn’t seem to leave until the last person was off. We don’t normally do ship tours and this reminded us why! We wasted a ridiculous amount of time waiting for the tours to begin, and might have been happier just hiring taxis for private tours. MONTEGO BAY – Nice beaches but not a highlight of the trip. SANTIAGO DE CUBA – Our first introduction to this wonderful country! Right outside the gates of the port, we saw every imaginable form of transportation from horse carriage taxis, motorcycle taxis, bicycle taxis, to old car taxis. Tour included a visit to the Revolutionary War museum, Revolutionary Square, African Cultural Center with a dance performance that I ditched so I could walk around, and original Bacardi rum factory. After the tour, we did have some time to walk around on our own. I would highly recommend doing this so that you can visit the town square and commercial district. The residents were very friendly and interested to learn about the U.S. and tell about Cuba. Kids will come up to you asking for pens, and women approached looking for shampoo, soap and lotion. Consider asking kids to sing a song in exchange for pens. Residents filled the pedestrian street, out doing Christmas shopping. Overall, we found shopping more interesting here, and in Cienfuegos, than in Havana were items seemed more mass produced. HAVANA – As part of P2P, we discovered that the included tours had been swapped for different ones. The cruise line canceled our Maria la Gorda tour and instead, we had a morning walking tour, afternoon bus tour, and second day museum visit. Since we stayed overnight, we did have plenty of time to wander on our own. The morning walking tour included a couple of squares in the historic area and a visit to a graphics studio. I found the afternoon tour less valuable because it was just on the bus, except for a stop at a crafts market. Places visited could be easily reached walking or by private taxi instead. That night, I joined John from the P2P program and others, for a taxi ride to see Opera de la Calle. Really talented singers and dancers doing a mix of Cuban songs and more know songs. Admission was a bargain at $30. Taxi cost $10 each way, which we split with others from the cruise. The second morning in Havana we were free to wander and have lunch in the city. We walked out to the produce market hear the capital building. I recommend wandering away from the main tourist streets to see streets more typical of where the Cubans live. In the afternoon, the trip included a bus tour to the wonderful Museum of Fine Arts. We were also given the option to go to the Museum of the Revolution instead. For those wanting to see both, this is a reasonable walk or an easy taxi ride from the port. MARIA LA GORDA – Our excursion to Cabo de San Antonio was canceled by the cruise line because we were P2P, so be rebooked the tour ($63 per person). We arrived quite late to port due to weather, so a trip through the park that should have taken 5 hours with stops was cut to about 3 hours. Still, the scenery along the coast was stunning, with blue water, limestone coated shells and rock on one side, and jungle on the other. At the end was a private beach. If we’d had more time there, I did notice a hiking trail across from the beach. CIENFUEGOS - Cienfuegos seem wealthier and more cosmopolitan that the other ports. There is a pedestrian promenade that had lots of shopping options. Unfortunately, weather cut the length of our visit here, and this was the worst guide of the trip. Our guide did not speak great English and said that this was the first tour she led. The City however was stunning, magnificent theatre, waterfront walkway, restaurants along the water, artist studios, etc. We definitely would have liked more time since we didn’t get any time to walk around on our own. Many people left the tour early on. DISEMBARKATION Getting off the ship was a disaster. We arrived back in Montego Bay late, again due to rough seas. They then let the Montego Bay tours off ahead of those with planes to catch! They unloaded luggage through the same exit as passengers, further jamming things up. To make matters worse, they gave most people the wrong Jamaican customs form, so people had to redo the paperwork in the terminal. At least getting a taxi was no problem man, with a shared van costing $10 per person.

CUBA CRUISE ABOARD THE CELESTYAL CRYSTAL

Celestyal Crystal Cruise Review by World Juggler

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: December 2015
  • Destination: Cuba
Overall, this first Cuba Cruise of the season was amazing, despite some ripples along the way. First, set reasonable expectations—this is not a fun in the sun, lounge around the pool type of trip. What it is, is an affordable way to easily get a taste of Cuba.

PRE-CRUISE

Before the cruise, we stayed three nights at the Holiday Inn Resort in Montego Bay. This was 10 minutes to the airport, had a lovely beach areas including a little island you could walk to. Food and drinks were just so-so, but this is one of the cheapest all-inclusive resorts we found. What we did love, were the jerk chicken hut on the beach, quiet places to sit by the water away from the main pool, some Jamaican dishes on the buffet, and the view from our ocean-view room. Rented a car and drove to Falmouth for a quick visit, but opted to not drive further because Jamaicans really do drive crazy, and on the left.

EMBARKATION

Cruise terminal is about 15 minutes from the airport. We picked up a taxi at the rental car place to the pier for $20 total. We needed to pay a Jamaican departure tax since we’d been there for more than 24 hours (I think $27 per person). Afterwards, getting on was as simple as filling out the standard health form and picking up our key cards. You resister a credit card on board at the reception desk. We arrived at the cruise terminal around 11:30 a.m. and were on within about 15 minutes.

THE SHIP

The ship is older but does not feel dated. It was kept spotlessly clean. Our cabin (#5115) was tiny, but the beds were comfortable. You do need to dispose of toilet paper in the trash and sometimes, you need to flush twice for everything to go down. Being on deck five was handy and our favorite bar was in the very back of deck five, outside and with a hot tub.

Compared with modern mega-ships, we enjoyed that we could be anywhere on the ship within a couple minutes. The ship did lack the stabilizers of more modern ships and we felt a pretty constant rocking. We never had trouble finding seats in the shows, at dinner, in the buffet or in the bars.

THE PASSENGERS

We spent far more time getting to know our fellow passengers than we usually do. What a fascinating group. We met people from all over the U.S., Asia, and Europe and learned about everyone’s travel adventures and places they have lived. As a group, passengers were more traveled and more likely to have lived abroad than on any other cruise we’ve taken.

DINING

While I like that the menu included Cuban and Jamaican dishes, the food did not seem terribly authentic. For instance, the jerk chicken had almost no spice! As noted by others, dinner was incredibly slow; we really didn’t mind as the people we were seated with were usually very interesting. We are not normally big drinkers on cruises, but we did enjoy working our way down the list of Cuban cocktails and coffee drinks. I would recommend for dinner, picking up a drink at the bar and bringing it with you. Breakfast and lunch at the buffet were both fine. They did have wonderful baklava at the buffet the first day, but unfortunately we never saw it again.

ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES

The entertainers changed midway through the cruise with those who did the transatlantic crossing changing with Cuban performers when we got to Havana. We enjoyed the Cuban performers and Cuban themed shows, while other shows were just average. The lectures as part of the P2P program weren’t outstanding but did add to our knowledge of Cuba and appreciation of the trip. Those in the P2P program should note, the activities guide delivered to your cabin does not list all the activities. If you want to see non-P2P activities, you’ll need to pick up the complete copy at the reception desk.

ITINERARY

We loved all of the Cuban ports. Unfortunately, weather delays dramatically cut our time in Maria la Gorda and Cienfuegos. Also, gathering for excursions took place on the ship rather than at the pier and then the buses didn’t seem to leave until the last person was off. We don’t normally do ship tours and this reminded us why! We wasted a ridiculous amount of time waiting for the tours to begin, and might have been happier just hiring taxis for private tours.

MONTEGO BAY – Nice beaches but not a highlight of the trip.

SANTIAGO DE CUBA – Our first introduction to this wonderful country! Right outside the gates of the port, we saw every imaginable form of transportation from horse carriage taxis, motorcycle taxis, bicycle taxis, to old car taxis. Tour included a visit to the Revolutionary War museum, Revolutionary Square, African Cultural Center with a dance performance that I ditched so I could walk around, and original Bacardi rum factory. After the tour, we did have some time to walk around on our own. I would highly recommend doing this so that you can visit the town square and commercial district. The residents were very friendly and interested to learn about the U.S. and tell about Cuba. Kids will come up to you asking for pens, and women approached looking for shampoo, soap and lotion. Consider asking kids to sing a song in exchange for pens. Residents filled the pedestrian street, out doing Christmas shopping. Overall, we found shopping more interesting here, and in Cienfuegos, than in Havana were items seemed more mass produced.

HAVANA – As part of P2P, we discovered that the included tours had been swapped for different ones. The cruise line canceled our Maria la Gorda tour and instead, we had a morning walking tour, afternoon bus tour, and second day museum visit. Since we stayed overnight, we did have plenty of time to wander on our own. The morning walking tour included a couple of squares in the historic area and a visit to a graphics studio. I found the afternoon tour less valuable because it was just on the bus, except for a stop at a crafts market. Places visited could be easily reached walking or by private taxi instead.

That night, I joined John from the P2P program and others, for a taxi ride to see Opera de la Calle. Really talented singers and dancers doing a mix of Cuban songs and more know songs. Admission was a bargain at $30. Taxi cost $10 each way, which we split with others from the cruise.

The second morning in Havana we were free to wander and have lunch in the city. We walked out to the produce market hear the capital building. I recommend wandering away from the main tourist streets to see streets more typical of where the Cubans live. In the afternoon, the trip included a bus tour to the wonderful Museum of Fine Arts. We were also given the option to go to the Museum of the Revolution instead. For those wanting to see both, this is a reasonable walk or an easy taxi ride from the port.

MARIA LA GORDA – Our excursion to Cabo de San Antonio was canceled by the cruise line because we were P2P, so be rebooked the tour ($63 per person). We arrived quite late to port due to weather, so a trip through the park that should have taken 5 hours with stops was cut to about 3 hours. Still, the scenery along the coast was stunning, with blue water, limestone coated shells and rock on one side, and jungle on the other. At the end was a private beach. If we’d had more time there, I did notice a hiking trail across from the beach.

CIENFUEGOS - Cienfuegos seem wealthier and more cosmopolitan that the other ports. There is a pedestrian promenade that had lots of shopping options. Unfortunately, weather cut the length of our visit here, and this was the worst guide of the trip. Our guide did not speak great English and said that this was the first tour she led. The City however was stunning, magnificent theatre, waterfront walkway, restaurants along the water, artist studios, etc. We definitely would have liked more time since we didn’t get any time to walk around on our own. Many people left the tour early on.

DISEMBARKATION

Getting off the ship was a disaster. We arrived back in Montego Bay late, again due to rough seas. They then let the Montego Bay tours off ahead of those with planes to catch! They unloaded luggage through the same exit as passengers, further jamming things up. To make matters worse, they gave most people the wrong Jamaican customs form, so people had to redo the paperwork in the terminal. At least getting a taxi was no problem man, with a shared van costing $10 per person.
World Juggler’s Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Cabin 5115
Small but very clean. Close to everything, including the excellent bar in the back of deck 5. Very quiet.