Earlier this week, I discovered an exciting new kind of cruise destination almost entirely by accident – and it left my heart racing. It’s no ordinary journey; in fact, it’s a journey that is (sadly) out-of-bounds to many readers. But if you’re eligible to visit Cuba, the opportunity to circumnavigate that country from the comfort of a cruise ship has massive appeal.

The Louis Cristal will spend the winter of 2013-2014 sailing around Cuba for Canadian-based Cuba Cruise. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.

The Louis Cristal will spend the winter of 2013-2014 sailing around Cuba for Canadian-based Cuba Cruise. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.

Canadian company Cuba Cruise, based in Calgary, Alberta, has chartered Louis Cruises’ Louis Cristal, which will operate a series of weeklong itineraries that completely circumnavigate Cuba. Departing between December 16, 2013 and March 24, 2014, guests will be able to choose to embark in either Havana or Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Along the way, the Louis Cristal will call on Holguin; Santiago de Cuba; Cienfuegos / Trinidad; and Punta Frances – Isle of Youth.

Once a prime destination for travelers from the United States, US residents have been largely prohibited from travelling to Cuba since the embargo against that country was put in place by then-President John F. Kennedy in 1960. Which, regrettably, means that United States residents cannot participate in this itinerary.

Havana, Cuba. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.

Havana, Cuba. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.

In other countries, however, travel to Cuba has been flourishing for decades. Here in Canada, all-inclusive vacation packages are offered to popular Cuban resort towns like Varadero and historic locales like Havana. Non-stop flights from Canada to Cuba are offered by Air Canada and WestJet, as well as charter operators.

But cruise options for Canadians looking to cruise to Cuba were virtually non-existent, or required long and expensive journeys from the UK or Europe. European lines have been including a handful of Cuban ports on select UK and EU itineraries for many years now.

Because provisioning in Cuba can be a tricky affair, the Louis Cristal will be provisioned with Canadian beef and fresh ingredients imported from Canada. The Louis Cristal will even have a specialty restaurant called the Albert Steakhouse with featuring dishes made with fresh Alberta Beef.

(An aside: this would be a good time to mention that I grew up in Calgary, Alberta – and the thought of having real Alberta beef on a cruise makes my mouth absolutely water!)

Explore ashore in Santiago de Cuba. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.

Explore ashore in Santiago de Cuba. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.

But there’s also heavy Cuban influence in the onboard product, from Cuban crewmembers (approximately 20 percent of the ship’s total crew complement) to authentic Cuban dishes and drinks.

The full itinerary:

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Day 1HAVANA, CUBAEmbark 01:00 +1
Day 2At Sea
Day 3Holguin7:3018:30
Day 4Santiago de Cuba7:0017:30
Day 5MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA7:0017:30
Day 6Cienfuegos / Trinidad10:0021:00
Day 7Punta Frances / Isle of Youth10:0014:00
Day 8Havana, CubaDisembark

Cuba Cruise has also invested heavily in promoting their new Cuban circumnavigation cruises to residents outside of Canada, with tour partnerships in progress in parts of Europe, the UK, South America, and Russia and Australia.

“For decades travellers have wanted a way to explore Cuba’s off-the-beaten path areas and get away from the crowded resorts, without giving up comfort and safety,” said Dugald Wells, Cuba Cruise President. “Cuba Cruise is answering that demand. We couldn’t be happier with the response we’ve received so far.”

Their response probably mirrors mine: my jaw dropped when I saw the itinerary. The starting price – $586 CAD – isn’t half-bad either!

The Louis Cristal might be familiar to many North American cruisers. She sailed between 1995 and 2000 as Norwegian Cruise Line’s Leeward, and has been operated by Cyprus-based Louis Cruises in the Mediterranean since 2007, after short stints with both Star Cruises and Silja.

If you’re able (and eligible) to take this journey, you should – it stands to showcase a beautiful area of the Caribbean that remains sadly inaccessible to many cruisers.

The sun deck of the Cristal. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.

The sun deck of the Cristal. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.

More information on Cuba Cruise and the Louis Cristal can be found by visiting the Your Cuban Cruise website.

 

One Response to Unique Itinerary: Circumnavigate Cuba

  1. Kalle Id says:

    I’ve had my eye on Cuba Cruise for a while now; the itinerary is utterly fascinating, and for me there is the added interest of (re-)visiting the only cruise ship ever purpose-built for the Finnish market (even if she has been somewhat altered since those days).

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