Sailing to Cuba – Q & A With Jen the Travel Agent!

With a number of cruise lines about to start Cuban sailings, I figured it’d be about time to do a little Q & A with my wife, Jen. Last June, she sailed the Fathom Adonia on a 7 day cruise that stopped in 3 Cuban ports, so I thought it’d be good to pry some of that knowledge and experience out of her before those other lines set sail!

I’ll also add a shameless plug here: If you’re interested in sailing to Cuba and are looking to work with a travel agent to do it right, contact us, we can help! Now, on to the Q & A!

Q: What were the people like, and were they welcoming of American visitors?

A: Most of the people we talked to were excited to see Americans and wanted to talk to us as much as we wanted to talk to them. 

Q: Which port in Cuba was your favorite, and why?

A: Havana.  The people were so nice, the architecture was beautiful and there was much to see and do.  Seeing the old cars driving around was so neat and everyone we encountered was happy to talk to us and answer questions. 

Q: How does Cuba compare to other Caribbean ports?

A: For Americans, there isn’t the opportunity for water sports or adventurous excursions like in other Caribbean ports.  All of the tours were focused around educating us about Cuban history, people, leadership, etc. 

Q: Any negative interactions with anyone while in port?

A: In Santiago de Cuba, there was a lot of aggressive panhandling that became a little overwhelming for some people.  That was the only port that we encountered that in though.

Q: Was any additional documentation required before sailing, things like a Cuban Visa?

A: Yes. Cuba does require a Visa for entry, and in my case Fathom took care of that, with the cost being covered in the cruise fare. Be sure you know how this works with your chosen cruise line, whether they obtain it for you, and if the $75 charge is built in to your fare, or if you have to pay extra. When you start considering a Cuban cruise, this should be on your list of things to ask the cruise line or your travel agent.

Q: In port, how (if at all) did debark and embark differ from other ports? Did they stamp your passport?

A: They only stamped our passports on the first day, but we had to show it and our Visa every time we got on or off the ship.  Each time we got off we had to go through security and have our bags x-rayed.

Q: Did you prepare for this trip by researching Cuba at all?

A: Definitely, if you don’t know what you are in for, you could end up being very disappointed.  Visiting Cuba is not like visiting anywhere else and while you are able to explore on your own now, there are regulations around this and you will want to be prepared for the record keeping you will need to do.  For Americans, it is not a place where you can go to just hang out on the beach and enjoy the sites. 

Q: What tips do you have for each port?

A: Havana is safe to walk around and explore on your own and I encourage you to talk to the locals, most will be thrilled to share.  Cienfuegos is a little more laid back while Santiago de Cuba is much busier and while I never felt unsafe, there was certainly much more panhandling than in either of the other ports.

Q: Did you have to exchange money prior to leaving, or did they take US dollars?

A: You cannot get Cuban currency in the US, so it must be converted when you get there.  There is a 10% fee to convert USD, so I actually got some Euros to exchange.  As it turns out, with the exchange rate, I ended up getting exactly what I would have if I had just exchanged USD.  There are 2 types of Cuban currency, the CUC and the CUP, which is the Cuban peso and only used by locals.  You want to make sure that you get all of your change in CUCs as CUPs are nearly worthless.  You can tip in USD, but the locals have to pay the penalty when converting as well, so better to just plan ahead and get plenty of CUCs.

Q: Any other general tips you’d like to share for those looking to sail to Cuba?

A: There are many more options for cruises going to Cuba now than when I went, so I would definitely do research to figure out which on fits best with what you are looking to accomplish.  And obviously, contact a Travel Advisor, there are still many nuances when traveling to Cuba that makes having a professional in your corner invaluable.

That’s all for now, enjoy a few shots from her trip!

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It’s Almost Vista Time!

We’re T-20 days until we board the Carnival Vista, and I have to admit that I’m getting pretty excited. Granted, this is our parent company’s national conference, so it’ll be a busy week, but still, we’re both pretty excited to see this ship in person!

Our 3 previous Carnival sailings were over Thanksgiving, and they were some of the most fun times we’ve had. You can read about each of them by hitting the review links in our About page. Of those 3 cruises, I’d have to say that I probably enjoyed the Freedom sailing in 2011 the best, in large part because of the itinerary. Costa Rica and Panama were awesome stops, and we had a lot of sea days, which we all absolutely love. We also had one of the best cruise directors we’ve ever encountered on a sailing, Brad Calabrese. A very visible and personable guy who made the cruise a lot of fun.

Look, I know people love to bash Carnival, and frankly I think that criticism is misplaced in the vast majority of cases, and usually (in my experience) comes from people who haven’t sailed the line in a long time. I admit I wasn’t a huge fan after our 2004 sailing on the Imagination, as that sailing held little in the way of kids activities for Bayley, and the sight of people throwing up on the dock before getting back on the ship really perpetuated the “party ship” designation they used to have. Frankly, our experience on the Thanksgiving sailings showed us how much the line has changed, and helped us fall in love with cruising again. I urge anyone who hasn’t tried them in a long time (or ever) to consider them if you’re looking for a fun family vacation.

I do find it somewhat amusing that my two favorite lines are one that so many people have the wrong impression of (Carnival) and one that so few Americans know about (MSC). I’m certainly not going to apologize for that, both have provided us with some amazing memories, and we love sailing both of them 🙂

Anyway, if you’re interested in seeing what the Vista has to offer, follow us here on the blog, and on the following sites, as I plan to post quite a bit over the course of the week!

See you aboard the Vista on December 3rd!