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This January, I’m going to embark on one of the most unique voyages I think you can probably take. It’s a cruise that, sadly, is off-limits for many of my friends to the south, but one that has so many unique features that it is impossible to pass up.
Calgary-based Cuba Cruise has chartered Louis Cruises’ sleek little Louis Cristal between now and March to operate weeklong Caribbean voyages that circumnavigate Cuba and offer embarkation options in both Havana and Montego Bay – and I’ll be onboard the January 10, 2014 sailing to share the experience with you.
Aside from the opportunity to cruise around Cuba (which comes up, well, never, and is fantastic in its own right), Cuba Cruise is also adding some very unique features to the ship’s onboard product.
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 ship will even have a specialty restaurant called the Albert Steakhouse 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!)
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. I’m told there will also be Canadian beer onboard, too.
So, to recap: a weeklong cruise to Cuba designed and marketed for Canadians but also offered to international passengers, sailing aboard a ship owned by a company based in Cyprus that normally sails the Greek Isles. Sounds mighty unique to me!
The full itinerary, both here and onboard:
[table id=81 /]
As with our last few journeys, we’ll have coverage both here and on our new Live Voyage Reports website!
Historically, cruises to Cuba were immensely popular. In the 1930’s, for example, Cuba was the most popular destination for pleasure cruises and vacationers in the Caribbean, and the vast majority of those who came were Americans looking for a good time on the relaxed, laid-back island.
That changed with the advent of the Cold War and the rise of Fidel Castro to power in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 saw the United States impose the first travel restrictions in February of 1963, and those have largely remained in place to this day. In 2009, President Barack Obama eased the restrictions for Cuban-American citizens, but travel to the Caribbean island technically remains illegal for the vast majority of the citizens of the United States.
Canadians, however, have long enjoyed travel to Cuba, particularly to escape our downright cold winter months. Vacation packages are offered to hotspot beach destinations like Varadero, and flights leave for Havana from Toronto’s Pearson Airport and Montreal Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport.
Cruise around Cuba, however, are a different matter. Not only do they exist sparsely, many of the ships stopping in Cuban ports of call typically sail from England on longer Caribbean voyages.
Cuba Cruise is attracting plenty of media attention in the United States, including a recent article published in the Miami Herald that discusses the Cristal’s first season circumnavigating Cuba for the company – and that sort of discussion is good for the industry as a whole. Cuba Cruise is one of the first companies to actively offer this kind of voyage, and the possibilities for cruise tourism in Cuba should the US embargo ever be lifted is likely enough to make the most jaded cruise executive giddy with excitement.
Aside from visiting Cuba for the very first time, I have to be honest: I’m also taking this trip for the ship.
Ever since she was Norwegian Cruise Line’s Leeward way back when, I’ve always wanted to sail aboard the Louis Cristal. She has one of the most colourful histories in the industry, to be sure, having started life as a Baltic ferry before being rebuilt from the ground up once, and refitted twice. Her actual hull dates back to 1980, but everything above the waterline was added during her 1990-1992 conversion into the ship she is today.
As such, Louis Cristal has a very 1990’s feel to both her styling and public areas – but that’s far from being a bad thing. Louis has taken great care of this intimate little ship, which is 521 feet long and 82.8 feet wide and can carry roughly 1,200 guests.
She has all the normal things you’d expect from a cruise ship, along with some very unique and welcome features. A teak-lined promenade deck is connected to every upper deck by a series of switchback staircases at the stern, which features a hot tub and bar overlooking the ship’s wake. She has a glass-walled lounge wrapped around her funnel, and even boasts glass elevators.
Personally, I’m excited about this entire journey, sailing aboard a ship I’ve always been curious about to a country I’ve always wanted to see.
I hope you’ll all join me, virtually, on my journey to Cuba – Canadian-style!
From the Deck Chair will return Friday, December 27, 2013!
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