My wife and I had already cruised to Havana, Cuba aboard the NCL Sun, which didn't give us enough exposure to the Cuban Culture, music and art. We chose to cruise to Cuba again, this time with Viking Ocean Cruises. The itinerary, ... Read More
My wife and I had already cruised to Havana, Cuba aboard the NCL Sun, which didn't give us enough exposure to the Cuban Culture, music and art. We chose to cruise to Cuba again, this time with Viking Ocean Cruises. The itinerary, which includes a visit to Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, and which also has extensive educational opportunities and onboard lectures given by knowledgeable Cuba experts was deeply important in our choice.
The Viking Star is considered a small ship at a maximum 900 passenger capacity. This was immediately appreciated upon embarkation, which went flawlessly and we were processed and onboard ship within 15 minutes. We took the Viking two-day extension in Miami, which included a five hour panoramic drive through the city, including a stop at Calle Ocho and the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on the day of embarkation. Arriving onboard ship, we were delighted to find our cabin ready and our steward available to deliver our luggage and address any of our concerns. The in-cabin experience was enhanced by our Steward, "K," and he went the extra mile to ensure our comfort. Unfortunately, the ship's digital system, including interactive in-cabin monitor, live TV, movies and recorded lectures and entertainment given in the theater crashed during the last three days of the cruise, which we found regrettable, since we couldn't catch up with any of the events we missed during the cruise.
We found the dining aboard the Star to be excellent, with an ample variety of dishes and wines that changed daily, both in the Restaurant and up in the World Cafe, the casual buffet venue. We also had dinner in Manfredi's Italian Restaurant, which is included in the cruise. The food at Manfredi's is fresh and abundant, and we ended up ordering half portions because the regular size is astronomical. The complementary wine or beer at lunch and dinner is a fantastic feature, as the house wines change each day, giving us a wonderful tasting experience. The servers at all the dining venues were eager to please, and took time to get to know our preferences. Not having children onboard Viking cruises also makes the voyage more enjoyable.
On land in both Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, we took the complementary city tours, which we found to be average and not really worth the three hours. Sitting in a bus, that travels at high speed through the city, doesn't really give one the smells, taste and feel for the people of Cuba. The mandatory stops at cigar and rum shops ate up whatever free time we had. In Cienfuegos, my wife and I went off the grid and hired a private pedicab with driver to give us a personal tour of the city. This three hour tour included many places not covered by the complementary tour, and we stopped numerous times to meet and greet the REAL people of the city. My fluency in the Spanish language helped us to take full advantage of the driver's personal knowledge of his hometown, and we were able to meet many of his associates at local haunts. This direct contact with the Cuban people was what we were after when we chose the cruise. My only advice is to settle on a price BEFORE hiring a private tour guide. This is hard to do, as many of the private tours don't have posted prices or tour descriptions. However, Jordan, our pedicab driver gave us a private tour of a lifetime, and we gladly paid him $60 for the personal service he provided. In Santiago de Cuba, we only had a few hours, but the tour of the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba, was truly amazing.and well worth the time spent there.
The educational lectures and round tables are exceptional. The topics covered were truly current and topical on Cuban history, culture and arts. This is a hallmark of Viking Cruises, and a good reason why Viking remains as one of the best ways to the immersion into the local ports visited. Being on a small ship makes the voyage comfortable and uncrowded all onboard venues. Even though we didn't dock at the two ports, the four tenders got us off the ship and back on very efficiently. The digital glitches were unfortunate, but, in contrast to other cruise lines, Viking delivers a good cruise value. Read Less