My wife and I, plus another couple, booked the Pearl Seas (PS) 11 day Cuba Cultural voyage. We selected PS because of the itinerary visiting 4 main cities (Santiago, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Havana) starting with Havana on New Year’s ... Read More
My wife and I, plus another couple, booked the Pearl Seas (PS) 11 day Cuba Cultural voyage. We selected PS because of the itinerary visiting 4 main cities (Santiago, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Havana) starting with Havana on New Year’s eve. My wife and I have only taken 6 previous cruises (Seabourn, Lindblad, Princess, Crystal, Uniworld, and Viking) for comparison purposes. I typically write and post reviews after our trips with respect to the hotels and cruises we stay. I attempt to be objective and helpful. Here is the one for the Pearl Seas cruise to Cuba.
Overall, we’d mark PS at the bottom of this group. Why? The pros and cons:
Housekeeping, meals, and meal service were all quite good. Meal selection was more than adequate; meals were well prepared, open seating timeframes were generous, and staff were courteous and prompt. Drinks (wine, beer, and cocktails) were plentiful. Wine selection was limited but the alcohol selection was clearly above average.
Cabins were quite large, all had a balcony, in-suite bathrooms, and amply sized shower stalls. TVs were small but had good channel reception during the cruise. Rooms were cleaned twice a day. Wifi/internet service was spotty, slow, and sometimes non-existent. It would be helpful if PS informed it’s passengers beforehand not to count on getting internet service.
The ship was well maintained and laid out. One must remember it is a relatively small ship and it rocks a lot even in small wave situations. We were in less than a sea state 1 (small choppy waves) and approximately 15 crew members were seasick as a result. Meals are served on the first deck and most presentations and meetings are on the 2nd deck. Passengers staying in cabins on the 4th and 5th deck were constantly climbing stairs. They had one small elevator and it was quick and available throughout. People with mobility issues would be well served to get cabins on the 2nd or 3rd deck.
On board presentations were below average in quality, detail, content, and preparation. Presenters were friendly and funny, but seemed to read from Wikipedia vs impart expert knowledge and experience. Some presentations were actually verbal readings of previously handed out material. We frankly stopped attending them midway through the cruise.
Quality of tour guides was generally high. It’s obvious cruise lines need to use the Cuba government owned tour agency guides so there is not much that PS can do about sourcing their guides. All were college graduates and knew their material. They responded to questions, were friendly, and appeared transparent when talking about Cuban culture, economy, history, and politics. Some English was excellent while a few were difficult to understand.
The litany of problems however started the first day. After boarding at our first meeting, we discover the itinerary had been reversed so we’d be spending New Year’s eve in Santiago instead of Havana and seeing Havana last instead of first. This was a keen disappointment. Moreover, our initial itinerary stated we were on the ship for the full cruise and that we had 4 nights onboard the ship in Havana. Instead, they bused us from Cienfuegos to Havana (4 hour drive) and we stayed at a hotel for 2 nights (the nice Parque Central hotel) meaning we all had to pack for the overnights. None of this was communicated beforehand. Given PS arranged for the buses and made reservations for over 150 rooms at a 5* hotel, one would think they knew about these changes in advance and could have communicated it to the passengers. Changes these major, in my opinion, should have been conveyed. That said, the hotel was beautiful, location was excellent, and service was good.
Similar changes occurred throughout the cruise. Tour times were changed from morning to afternoon seemingly at the last minute. Some activities and sites we were told we’d see were not actually covered on the tours. We were told we’d use the “whisper vox” devices for some of the tours but the tour guide did not use them making it harder for a passenger to hear the walking tours. While in Havana, one had to find the cruise director to understand what the schedule was because nothing was written and distributed to the passengers the night before or morning of the tours. These are only a few examples.
As a result, it felt there was a lot of “last minute” planning or little planning. The most visible example was when returning to the ship in Havana. As passengers we were told to take our luggage with us and be processed. It turns out there were long lines, lots of stairs, and significant confusion. We had numerous passengers who needed assistance due to walkers, canes, or age. Only 1 member from the ship’s crew (the musician) was there to try to let people know what to do. No one else from the boat crew came to help with baggage, no one came to assist the mobile challenged passengers, and no one was “directing traffic”. Almost comical was the fact we found guidance on giving tips with the tip envelop in our cabins after we boarded.
In summary, we give an overall rating of a 3 out of 5. With better pre-planning and earlier, transparent communication, it could easily have been between 4 and 4.5 Read Less