I have cruised over 20 times, mostly to the Caribbean, with one to Alaska, one to the Amazon River, and several to the Mediterranean. The cruise ship I took to the Amazon River was actually the Adonia; however, it was a Princess ship at ... Read More
I have cruised over 20 times, mostly to the Caribbean, with one to Alaska, one to the Amazon River, and several to the Mediterranean. The cruise ship I took to the Amazon River was actually the Adonia; however, it was a Princess ship at the time, the former Royal Princess, one of about ten former Renaissance ships, which after 9/11, were bought up by American cruise lines Princess (3), Oceania (3), and Azamara (2) mostly. My husband and I have also sailed on the two Azamara ships, so I was very comfortable with what the Adonia would offer. It is currently leased by Fathom from P&O, a British cruise line. I love its size; however, the casino was removed and there were only two on-board shops, one for luxury items such as handbags & jewelry, the other was Eco-friendly products in line with Fathom's theme. There was very little sportswear or toiletries available. The shops carried the same merchandise every day, nothing new introduced at a later date, nor were there any "reduced sale items" at the end of the cruise. The Glass House was a new venue, a wine and champagne bar on deck 10 where the library is located where 4 internet desktop computers are available. The Ocean Grill was the specialty restaurant (additional charge) which served Cuban food from their special chef, and the Lido Cafe was the poolside grill offering Cuban sandwiches at lunch. (I did not eat at either). Twice on sea days, they offered a tasty poolside Bar-b-Que which had chicken, seafood, burgers, hot dogs, lasagna, vegetables, corn-on-the-cob and fruit salad. Dining room food was catered to the British as lamb in some form was available most evenings, fish and chips were offered, and cappucino was complimentary for breakfast and dinner (did not eat lunch there, so I cannot advise); also tea flavors offered were plentiful.
My husband was not interested in Cuba, so I traveled solo, originally booking in an ocean view and was given one forward on the lowest deck D which also houses the guest relations and shore excursions desks. Once on board, I inquired about availability of other cabins as I suspected the ship was not sold out and was offered a balcony and was given an aft balcony up two decks on C Cabins are pretty standard, with a desk, loveseat or chair, sufficient storage space, two night stands, small shower including mounted shower gel, toiletries of shampoo/conditioner/body lotion/shower cap/nail file, and a tea/coffee station near the mini-fridge which included two complimentary water bottles which I reused by refilling from the ship's tap. Walking tours usually provided a bottle also as you departed. All cabins in any category are the same price (which I do not find fair); there are only four categories - currently Dominican Republic prices are inside @ $499, ocean view @ $599, balcony @ $699, and suite @ $2499. My cabin steward was from India as were quite a lot of the crew from P&O. Fathom crew were mostly young people from English-speaking countries in addition to the U.S. (Canada, Australia, UK) who had done similar impact activities such as the Peace Corps and they had little or no cruise experience until April's first sailing to the Dominican Republic. Since most sailings early on do not appear to be sold out, Fathom offered those on the Cuban sailing an incredible rate to stay aboard for the Dominican Republic sailing for $199 per person, an incredible value for a cruise.
Complimentary excursions - Originally, it was required that all passengers partake in these and stay with the tour through the end. This is now relaxed and is not required. There were four large groups based on your assigned cabin on board called about 20 minutes apart for disembarkation each day for the tours. I felt this was unfair because every day of ground tours, you were assigned to the same group at the same disembarkation time (so you were always first, second, third or fourth, with no rotation). Then it was pot luck as to which bus and walking tour guide you received and where you ate lunch and in some cases, activities you attended. All guides were very well versed in English and easy to understand; they varied on the topics they discussed other than the sights we were seeing; i.e., political, economical, etc. As others have pointed out in their reviews, descriptions given in the daily newspaper were overhyped as to the P2P experiences we would receive. My Havana bus tour included a wonderful lunch at the top of a 39-story modern hotel building at the Le Torre Restaurant on the 33rd floor. This not only afforded us a panoramic view, but fantastic food with the following options: (1) Lobster, (2) Steak, (3) Fish/seafood; we could choose to have only one or smaller portions of two or three items. I almost felt guilty eating so well while looking out at the way the Cuban people lived. It was an experience to take the elevator up, as there was only one and it held about 10 people. Most of the Paladare owners (privately-owned restaurants) were not fluent in English, so our guides interpreted for us. There was limited opportunity for us to interact with the average Cuban citizen. There were several evening excursions offered at cost and most said they were way overpriced and could easily have been booked independently at a reasonable cost. I did not participate in any of them, but did not hear any negative feedback from those that did. The most expensive was $199 and took place outdoors. Something to remember is to carry local CUCs, their currency, for tipping paladare staff, tour/bus guides and restroom attendants (also bring TP when in Santiago's restrooms). The ship's literature advises you as to the amount. A fun option is to take a short coco taxi ride, an open air yellow mini-vehicle available for hire.
Our cruise was the third to Cuba, and due to returning to Miami the night of sailing because of a power outage, only visited Havana and Santiago; Cienfuegos was eliminated; I understand that since the scheduled visit was only 5 hours, there probably wasn't a lot to do, however, my research suggested that I personally would have liked it better and found it to be more of an accurate representation of the Cuban lifestyle. It was necessary to spend two days in Havana to experience all it has to offer and Santiago, the second largest city, has more to see and do presumably. Santiago I found to have less modern buildings/facilities and probably the people were not as well-off. The ship refunded port charges and also applied a $75 on board credit for the missed port.
Shopping on ground - In Havana, the bus tour takes you to a local artisan/craft market - be sure to bargain there. Cigars and liquor (rum) are available in all ports, basically at the same price (I believe it was government regulated/owned). I purchased some craft items at the fort in Santiago as well (barter).
Shipboard activities - The band on board, the Craze Band Trio, was one from the U.K. and they were very good in that they performed all types of music at almost all the venues on board. They also performed a couple times with the local Cuban band Jelengue, that boarded when we sailed from Havana and disembarked in Santiago. They were also excellent (and included an superb trumpet player)and performed various salsa, cha cha and other local music that could be danced with a partner or in line dance form. There was music and/or movies under the stars most evenings. Movies included "The Old Man and the Sea" and "Havana Motor Club" and were offered more than once. There is a gym and spa which seemed to book up when not in port.
Wi-Fi packages are available and reasonably priced; however, I only wanted to send emails home and was having difficulty in that as I found out on the last sea day, they were indeed reaching my family, but my husband's replies did not reach me. Someone said that the internet was set up through the Dominican Republic and perhaps some servers (mine was Yahoo) were not being handled responsibly.
Fathom-related activities were plentiful but not necessarily Cuban related; examples are curiosity boxes throughout the ship, scavenger hunt and other games (trivia), visual storytelling, cocktail & photography classes, salsa and cha cha dance classes, yoga & meditation, and wine & paint class, and of course Spanish language classes - most classes were offered more than once.
SUMMARY - I am thankful to have had the opportunity to take this cruise and for the most part, it was what I had been led to believe it would be. There are quite a few small issues that need addressed and tweaked and our feedback will help them with that I am sure. My suggestions include: more seminars about Cuba and its history and culture prior to disembarking (perhaps more information can be emailed to passengers); making tours more accessible to older and physically challenged people (pavement - cobblestone was uneven) with places for people to sit and take a break, especially given the heat; providing more situations for interaction with the locals. Weather at least in the summer (rainy season) is sub-tropical and therefore has extremely high humidity and highs reaching 90, and lows staying in the 80s at night -- dew points made it feel like 100 or more and there were few places where there was a breeze unless on a hill (visiting a fort). The people are genuinely happy to see Americans and as curious about us as we are about them. I am sure the country is on its way to becoming "Americanized" and some day there will be McDonald's and Wal-Marts, but I think that is a ways off (several years), so don't be in a rush to book; but I do believe this cruise is the best, most cost-effective way to visit Cuba at this time. I have checked into land package tours and other cruise lines and they offer less for more money. Read Less