Just back from a 5-night sailing ofn Carnival Cruise Line’s Tampa-based Carnival Paradise, I have good news to report for U.S. cruise travelers: this could be one of your best Caribbean cruises ever, for a number of reasons.
Perhaps you have a family history there. Maybe you just want to see one of the few places on the planet that U.S. citizens have not been able to see for decades. It might be that you’d just like to see the ‘new’ island in the Caribbean. Regardless of the reason for going, we have even better news: It’s not all that hard to do. Here then is what you need to know and no more.
Plan On Getting Off The Ship– In order to board you will be required to have a valid U.S. passport. By booking a Cuba cruise, it is agreed that the cruise line will charge a $75 Cuban visa fee to your onboard account.
This is not a place to stay on board and enjoy the ship services while most others go ashore. Tours include more here, by law. To satisfy the cultural exchange requirement which gets around the still-in-place trade embargo, included on our Local Flavors Of Havana tour ($129) was lunch, Cuban mixed drink and Cuban beer tasting. Another stop had us learning about and smoking Cuban cigars and Cuban Rum. Local musicians were featured at both places as was a stop by a local art school.
Your Passport Opens the Gateway - When first booked it does not take long to find out that a bunch of paperwork is required before boarding. Follow cruise line instructions for filing that out, bring it with you and have it handy at embarkation. If this part of preparation is not done right, the cruise line will help correct it at the pier. Still, you don’t want to be one of a considerable bunch of people in a special room for help with their documentation.
There were about 20 people in that room off to the side when I checked in for Carnival Paradise at the Port of Tampa. I was told those were their “special friends who needed a little help” in about as nice a way as humanly possible to say “How many times do we need to tell them they need a passport and can’t use just a birth certificate to board”. This is simple: No passport = no boarding a Cuba cruise.
For All Practical Purposes, Communism Is Just Another Way Of Life – You won’t be there long enough to become embedded in the social and economic scene of Cuba, even if you wanted to. “You don’t want to know more about that”, said one guide who seemed surprisingly open to answering any and all questions we had.
As we traveled through Cuba’s capital city of Havana we saw people going about their business like we might on any other Caribbean island. Mothers scolded children, cab drivers parked in the wrong place and argued with each other, teens hung out and seniors sat and watched the
day go by. Take those people out of this setting and plant them somewhere else and they would fit right in. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but the reality of life on the ground in Cuba looks a lot like other places in the world…but that thought gets off into my individual impression of the place. Yours will be different.
Mysterious Communist element dissolved, Cuba visited: I want to go back. Worth the extra work? You bet.
Chris Owen shares frank, inside information about cruise vacations on ChrisCruises.com