I read various cruise reviews and sometimes wonder how perceptions can be so different. Having made 250+ cruises over the past 50 years, and now in retirement spending 6 mo a year "at sea", I wonder how other passengers can get so upset about very little things and let them affect their entire perspective of the trip.
Celelstyal Crystal is one of three older ships in the Celestyal fleet, a brand name of Louis Cruise Line, a long time provider of short Mediterrean cruises. In the winter they now operate this ship to/fm Cuba under a sub agency, Your Cuba Cruises, based in Canada, which provides a People to People option, thus allowing Americans to participate without violating current US restrictions.
The ship was actually built in 1980 as a Baltic Sea Ferry for Viking Line, was rebuilt in 1992 as a full cruise ship which has been marketed since then under many lines and names, including as the Leeward for NCL some years ago. Today it is a 'modern" small (25,000 ton) ship holding for these cruises about 800 pax. Note that only "small" cruise ships can enter Santiago and Cienfuegos Cuba due to their narrow harbors.
Complying with special requirements for Americans is easy, and well explained on the Your Cuba Cruise website. Membership in an approved "People to People" program is required, membership easily accomplished in return for a $95 "charitable donation", and a program of lectures aboard, along with excellent tours ashore with knowledgeable guides etc. is provided and required - although no one "took attendance".
Americans sailing on main stream cruise lines do so mainly on ships that are marketed as the "destination", especially RCI, Carnival, NCL ships etc., with port calls etc. in the Caribbean almost an after thought This is not the case here. Here the sightseeing is paramount. For instance - If I go to "see" a city in the US or abroad, the sightseeing is primary, and my hotel is secondary. This is what a pax on this trip needs to keep in mind - the tour is paramount, the accommodations (hotel, or in this case the ship) secondary. I respectfully suggest that you keep that in mind when evaluating Celestyal Crystal.
Aboard - the ship is modern, rooms adequately sized (but bathrooms are so small as to make RCI baths seem huge), food is better than RCI, not as good as Carnival, but meat is very poor quality. Menu is very "Cuban" flavored, and much of dining room staff are Cuban nationals. Laundry prices are 1/3 of US based ships, NO service charges are assessed. Fares for Americans are all inclusive - tours, lectures, full beverage package, all gratuities, Cuban Health Insurance, Visa fees etc. all included. You never hear a "word" about leaving extra gratuities, nor constant appeals to "come and spend" as on US main stream ships.
NOTE - much is made of the policy aboard of depositing NOTHING in the line of paper etc. in the toilets and a small garbage type can is provided for used toilet paper. The ship is old, and the vacuum toilet system doesn't seem to have much suction, thus leading to frequent clogs. Personally I found that by flushing "frequently" as I did my "business" that the system worked fine, I never used the garbage can provided, and I had no toilet problems. Also in the European style found in non-American brand hotels abroad - no wash cloths are provided. If you want one, bring one.
The ship was most hospitable in every way and on the last day those who had late flights were invited to return, use the ship facilities, have lunch etc. after going through Immigration and checking their luggage in the terminal Try that in Miami, Ft Lauderdale etc.!!!
NOTE - that lecturers aboard, all from the University of Havana, as well as tour guides etc. always presented things with a very pro-Cuba slant, a very anti US slant. The same is true of evening "shows" etc. Philosophy seems to be that everything bad that has ever happened to Cuba, is the result of US interference. People are very welcoming to Americans and have great expectations about how their lives will improve when Americans are allowed free access to Cuba. Havana was "overrun" with tourists - German, French, Italian, Canadian etc. so they are well used to "tourists" and "tourist" prices are rising quickly as a result For example - a Cuban doctor is paid about 50 CUC's a month (roughly equivalent to US $50), but a short cyclo taxi ride in Havana is $5 for a tourist. It doesn't take long for the "locals" to "catch on"!!!
I had a wonderful trip, and enjoyed everything aboard Crystal and ashore. Could I have found things to complain about, of course - for example poor quality meat in DR, but does a few small "quibbles" ruin a trip - of course not - look at the big picture.
This trip was a wonderful opportunity to see Cuba "before" it all changes with unlimited American travel, which as it has in so many areas e.g. Caribbean islands, ruined the local experience and transformed the economy into one completely dependent on tourists, e.g. Bahamas, Jamaica etc. Such transformations are not, in my opinion, for the betterment of the "locals".