Cruising to Cuba

There are requirements for authorized travel to Cuba

 

Thank you for following these posts of our Cuba travel.  You’ve not only been reading our blog, but also the journal which is a required component of Cuba travel and must be kept for 5 years.

All travel to Cuba is regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.  Anyone, regardless of nationality, departing the U.S. for Cuba must comply.

We fell under the general license of a “self-guided people to people” program.  We attended a morning lecture sponsored by the cruise line and we were required to engage, full-time, in activities resulting in meaningful interaction with the Cuban people.  We had three goals for this trip:  view the historic architecture of Old Viejo and contrast the renovations of that area with the neglected buildings of Havana Centro; follow the history of both the rum and cigar industries; and experience the highlights of Ernest Hemingway’s time in Cuba where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.  Because of the heavy rain on our only day in Cuba, we did not visit Cojimar or Finca Vigia (Hemingway’s home.)  We did, however, visit the home of a Cuban family in the Havana Centro district as well as the Rum Museum in Old Viejo.  We also had the opportunity to converse, in length, with our driver, Fabio, as we sat out the downpour on the covered terrace of the Hotel Nacional.  All the Cuban people we had the opportunity to interact with were warm, engaging and friendly.

The Cuban government required a visa and proof of non-U.S. medical insurance.  Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (for a $75.00 fee per person) arranged for both.

Interestingly, Cuba has two forms of currency:  one for tourists and one for the locals.  Not surprisingly, the tourist currency is a pricey 1 to 1 exchange rate with a 3% transaction fee (plus an additional 10% for U.S. dollars) and only available in-country!  Credit cards are not accepted in Cuba.  Cash only!

Upon our return, we were allowed to bring into the U.S., cigars and rum for personal consumption.  They had to be in our hand luggage and normal duty applied (up to 50 cigars and 2.5L alcohol duty free).

This was a very interesting trip.  We intend to return, sometime soon, to see more.  We will, quite definitely, do so by cruise ship.

Did I mention, in Cuba, NOTHING IS AIR CONDITIONED!

Cruising to Cuba

Havana, Cuba

The dock in Havana is extremely convenient.  We cleared Customs and simply walked across the street to San Francisco de Asis Square.  The square is dominated by the 16th century Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis.  Surprisingly, vendors were in short supply.  Only one artist had set up a stand to sell his work while he continued to create lovely images.  In contrast, there were a gazillion hawkers touting tours and antique car excursions!  Cuba may be communist but capitalism happens!

Docked in Havana, Cuba.
Docked in Havana, Cuba.
We are docked across the street from Plaza de San Francisco.
We are docked across the street from Plaza de San Francisco de Asis.
The wonderful old cars are everywhere!
The wonderful old cars are everywhere!
The 16th century Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis.
The 16th century Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis.
A local artist works and sells his lovely images.
A local artist works and sells his lovely images.

We walked over to Plaza Vieja, constructed in 1559.  The Plaza was always a residential area encircled by the homes of wealthy citizens.  From their balconies, they could watch processions, fiestas, bullfights and even executions.  Today, cafes line the square.  Outdoor seating is plentiful and even comfortable when there’s a breeze.  But when the wind does not blow, indoors is better with electric fans set up everywhere.  There is no air-conditioning!  We found the Café Escorial to be typical.  Umbrella tables set up outside; the interior sparse with rustic tables, lots of electric fans and all windows open to catch a breeze.

Plaza Vieja, looking North, a mostly residential square.
Plaza Vieja, looking North, a mostly residential square.
Plaza Vieja, looking South.
Plaza Vieja, looking South.
Cafe El Escorial in Plaza Vieja.
Cafe El Escorial in Plaza Vieja.
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Cafe el Escorial. You can order and enjoy your coffee inside where fans are set up. THERE IS NO AIR CONDITIONING IN CUBA!

As the time approached to meet our car & driver for the afternoon tour, we made our way to the Rum Museum.  Everything in Cuba was nationalized after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 including the distilleries.  The Arechabala Family, producers of Havana Club, left Cuba for Spain and the United States.  They stopped producing rum.  Bacardi, on the other hand, already had facilities in Puerto Rico and the United states.  They left Cuba and continued their business.  Today, they are headquartered in Hamilton, Bermuda.  We continued to Restaurante Dos Hermanos for libations while we awaited Fabio, our driver from Havana Vintage Car Tours.  The restaurant is rumored to be the oldest bar in Havana.  They are located across the street from Sierra Maestra Terminal (with its graffiti of Che Guevara) and the Regla Ferry Boats.

The Rum Museum
The Rum Museum
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Restaurante Dos Hermanos, rumored to be the oldest bar in Havana. Located across the street from the Sierra Maestra Terminal with its cruise ships and ferries.
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Sierra Maistra Terminal spans a couple of city blocks. Besides cruise liners, ferry boats use the facility. This portion of wall near the ferries sports a profssional looking graffitti portrait of Che Guevara.

Fabio arrived a little early and we boarded our 1955 Buick chariot for a tour of the city.  The first stop was a government-mandated visit to a military museum.  After the propaganda stop, it started to rain.  The convertible top went up.  We continued through Havana Centro and the Vedado District to the Malecon and on to the Hotel Nacional where we escaped the downpour.  We enjoyed drinks on the covered hotel Terrace.  When the rain finally stopped, we returned to the ship and concluded our Cuban adventure.

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Our driver, Fabio, from Havana Vintage Car Tours. This is a 1955 Buick Starfire which he restored.
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This military museum display was a government mandated stop on our tour. You can see part of a U-2 wing in the foreground. This came from the wing of Maj. Rudolf Anderson, Jr.’s plane shot down on the 12th day of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Havana Centro
Havana Centro
Havana University in the Vedado District
Havana University in the Vedado District
Hotel Nacional
Hotel Nacional
Sitting out the rain at the Hoel Nacional Terrace with a nice drink! in hand.
Sitting out the rain at the Hoel Nacional Terrace with a nice drink! in hand.
Hotel Nacional Terrace looking toward the Malecon and the sea.
Hotel Nacional Terrace looking toward the Malecon and the sea.
These cute little taxi cabs are called "coconuts."
These cute little taxi cabs are called “coconuts.”
The Empress of the Seas docked in Havana, Cuba.
The Empress of the Seas docked in Havana, Cuba.
Cristo Statue of Havana overlooking Havana Harbor.
Cristo Statue of Havana overlooking Havana Harbor.

We didn’t get to see as much as we had hoped.  The rain put a real damper on that!  However, there’s no doubt that Cuba will remain a port-of-call for many cruise lines.  We  expect to return!

It’s time to start planning the next adventure!