One Last Day At Sea, Recapping Our Voyage to Cuba with Carnival

The time to cruise to Cuba is now, which is why Carnival has just announced five additional departures aboard Carnival Paradise for 2018. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

August 18, 2017

Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Paradise is at sea today, slowly winding her way back to Tampa, Florida, where our journey to Cuba began on Monday.

This has been one of the most pleasantly surprising voyages I’ve taken in a long time. I didn’t know what to expect from Carnival in Cuba, a place I’ve cruised to unfettered before on an international cruise line not subjected to People-to-People restrictions imposed on US citizens and companies.

I’d also never sailed aboard a Fantasy Class ship before. Having just sailed aboard Carnival Vista this spring, I wondered if Carnival Paradise would seem dated and frumpy.

I ended up being sincerely impressed by the entire experience.

Sailing back towards Tampa aboard Carnival Paradise. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

In Carnival Paradise, I found a humanly-sized ship, cozy and comfortable in its décor and amenities. A throwback to the way cruising used to be. Built in 1998, she carries just 2,052 guests. She’s easy to navigate, with public areas clustered on a handful of decks, all of which feature huge oversized picture windows that showcase the bright blue Caribbean sea.

Cuba, however, stole the show. I’d love to see Carnival extend its port stay here (we left just after six this morning) to include another morning and afternoon in port. Doing so would really allow guests to see more of what Havana – and Cuba – have to offer visitors.

Still, as these itineraries exist, they’re winners. These long, overnight calls on Havana allow guests to explore the city by day and night, taking in the city’s sights, markets, and local neighbourhoods while still enjoying an evening out on the town at a jazz club or cabaret performance.

Carnival Paradise at Havana’s Sierra Maestra cruise terminal. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our full Voyage Report:

Carnival Paradise - To Cuba from Tampa

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Monday, August 14, 2017Tampa, FloridaEmbark4:00pm
Tuesday, August 15At Sea
Wednesday, August 16Key West, Florida8:00am5:00pm
Thursday, August 17Havana, Cuba8:00amOvernight
Friday, August 18Havana, Cuba / At Sea6:00am
Saturday, August 19Tampa, Florida8:00amDisembark

Yesterday, I’d written that my tour in Havana went over by three hours, causing me to miss my second shore excursion. Today, I went and saw the Shore Excursion department, and my tour ticket was quickly refunded.

What cruisers need to remember about visiting Cuba is that things here will move and work on their own time. Disembarkation in Havana took well over 45 minutes from start to finish, and we waited a further 40 minutes on the coach before finally departing. None of this is a problem, but you need to know about it ahead of time, and be patient.

Tantalizingly Close: Pack your patience upon arrival in Havana, as customs formalities do take some time. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Carnival did a great job of informing guests about the process of disembarkation in Havana. The line explained the situation the day before, in Key West, and again during the morning before guests disembarked in Havana. Our cruise director, Jaime, reminded guests to bring their Passports, completed Cuban Tourist Visas, shore excursion tickets, and cash ashore. She explained the Cuban immigration procedure, and what would be involved with getting on and off the ship.

Because of that, everyone seemed to take the process in good stride. The key to success is always managing expectations, and Carnival did just that.

More Cuba, More Carnival

The REX Nightclub aboard Carnival Paradise, named after the 1931 Italian ocean liner of the same name. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

At a press conference aboard Carnival Paradise earlier this week, Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy announced several additional departures to Cuba in 2018. “Our cruises to Cuba have been very well received and we’re delighted to provide our guests with additional opportunities to experience and explore this fascinating and sought-after destination,” she said in a statement.

The new voyages include three five-day cruises to Havana and Cozumel or Key West departing Feb. 17, July 2 and Sept. 5, 2018; a six-day sailing featuring Havana and Grand Cayman departing Aug. 26, 2018; and an eight-day voyage with stops at Havana, Grand Cayman and Cozumel departing Aug. 18, 2018.

Click here to see Carnival’s full schedule of cruises to Cuba aboard Carnival Paradise.

Each voyage includes a full-day and overnight stay in Havana, while the eight-day sailing on August 18, 2018 includes two full days in the Cuban capital.

Staterooms aboard Carnival Paradise are going to get a major sprucing-up during the ship’s February 2018 drydock. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Duffy also announced that Carnival Paradise will be going through a month-long drydock in February 2018. This sweeping refit will add new FunShip 2.0 enhancements like Guy’s Burger Joint and the BlueIguana Cantina, along with a new WaterWorks area and a sun deck. It will also see every one of the ship’s corridors, staterooms and suites updated and refurbished, and will add a total of 98 new balcony cabins to the 19-year old ship.

That’s welcome news. I love Carnival Paradise’s public areas, but her staterooms are on the dated side. This major refit project looks perfect for this FunShip’s new lease on life as Carnival’s ambassador to Cuba.

On Cuba: The Time To Set Sail Is Now

Paradise in Havana. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

If you’ve never been to Cuba before, now is the time to visit. Cuba is on the precipice of change, with major new investments from around the world. Cranes are popping up in Havana. A new Kempinski hotel just opened in the city; a Marriott is under construction. Havana’s charms are many, but some of its most defining features – its semi-crumbling architecture, its brightly-polished classic American cars – won’t be around forever.

With its first cruises to Cuba in its 45-year history, Carnival has committed to the region in a way that is mindful and sustainable. Havana harbour can’t accommodate ships larger than the Fantasy Class, and with a total of eight of these beauties in the fleet, Carnival is uniquely positioned to begin crafting even more adventurous Cuban itineraries.

Havana is always changing, perhaps now more than ever. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I appreciated that Carnival made an effort to feature Cuban-themed drinks on its bar menus, and Cuban specialties in its dining rooms during our call on Havana. It also brought on local entertainers for a one-show-only performance in the Normandie Lounge on Decks 8 and 9, and offered lectures on Cuban history, the city of Havana, and even Spanish language lessons (which would have been helpful to feature prior to our call on the city, not during it).

At the same time, Carnival offers everything that I’ve come to appreciate about the line on these Cuban sailings aboard Carnival Paradise. You’ll find the always-funny Punchliner Comedy Club performances, and the cute-as-can-be Seuss-a-Palooza Parade and Cat in the Hat storytime that’s put on as part of Carnival’s relationship with Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

More than that, this sailing was just plain fun; one of the most rewarding and enjoyable sub-weeklong cruises I’ve ever taken. I’d do it over in a heartbeat, too. Carnival may be the new kid on the block when it comes to Cuba, but the past five days proved that the FunShip line has come prepared.

On a broader level, my second cruise to Cuba surely won’t be my last. This is one Caribbean destination that is truly waiting to be discovered – and one of the best ways to experience Cuba is by sea.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from onboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Paradise in Cuba has sadly come to a close. Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Carnival Paradise - To Cuba from Tampa

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Monday, August 14, 2017Tampa, FloridaEmbark4:00pm
Tuesday, August 15At Sea
Wednesday, August 16Key West, Florida8:00am5:00pm
Thursday, August 17Havana, Cuba8:00amOvernight
Friday, August 18Havana, Cuba / At Sea6:00am
Saturday, August 19Tampa, Florida8:00amDisembark

 

 

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