- Photo Tours
- Carnival Breeze – Exotic Eastern Caribbean
- Carnival Freedom – Western Caribbean
- Carnival Miracle – Mexican Riviera
- Carnival Paradise – Cuba
- Carnival Pride – Bahamas from Baltimore
- Coral Princess – Ultimate Alaska with Cruise Experts Travel
- Cuba Cruise Louis Cristal – Cuba
- MSC Divina – Eastern Caribbean
- Norwegian Breakaway – Christening
- Norwegian Epic – Eastern Caribbean
- Norwegian Pearl – Alaska RT Seattle
- Quantum of the Seas – Preview Cruise
- Zuiderdam – Alaska Inside Passage
- Hurtigruten FRAM – Antarctica
- Hurtigruten Midnatsol – North Cape
- Passing Cloud – BC’s Gulf Islands
- Passing Cloud – Haida Gwaii
- S.S. Legacy – Columbia & Snake Rivers
- Safari Endeavour – Alaska’s Glacier Country
- Safari Voyager – Mexico’s Sea of Cortes
- Schooner Zodiac – Brew Cruise 2013
- Schooner Zodiac – Wine Cruise
- Silver Discoverer – Australia to Indonesia
- Silver Explorer – Arctic Svalbard
- Silver Explorer – British Isles
- Silver Galapagos – Galapagos Islands
- Wind Spirit – Stockholm to Oslo
- Wind Star – Rome to Nice
- EUROPA 2 – Greece & Turkey
- Queen Mary 2 – Eastbound Transatlantic 2012
- Queen Mary 2 – Westbound Transatlantic 2015
- Seabourn Sojourn – Ultimate Alaskan Sojourn
- Silver Shadow – Exotic Alaska
- Silver Shadow – Southeast Asia & Myanmar
- Silver Spirit – Athens to Barcelona
- Silver Spirit- Eastbound Transatlantic
- Silver Wind – Mediterranean
- Silver Wind – Middle East
- Silver Wind – South Africa
- AmaLotus – Cambodia & Vietnam
- AmaLyra- Danube Christmas Markets
- American Empress on the Columbia
- Avalon Expression – Amsterdam to Nuremberg
- Emerald Waterways Emerald Star – Danube Delights
- G Adventures – India’s Ganges
- S.S. Maria Theresa – Christening
- Tauck ms Inspire – Maiden Voyage
- Tauck Swiss Jewel – Blue Danube
- Viking Baldur – Danube Christmas
- Viking Baldur – Rhine Christmas
- Viking Forseti – Chateaux, Rivers & Wine
- Viking Freya – Danube Christmas
- Viking Longships Christening 2012
- Viking Longships Christening 2013
- Viking Longships Christening 2014
- Viking Longships Christening 2015
- Viking Vidar – Grand European Tour
- Upcoming & Past Cruises
- About FTDC
Sailing Back in Time in Havana
Havana, Cuba; Friday, February 16, 2018
In the twenty years that I’ve been cruising, I’ve sailed into too many harbours to count. The most memorable ones, though, stick out in my mind – and sail-in to Havana, Cuba is definitely one of those.
It’s spine-tingling, watching the sun crest on the horizon as you approach the hazy outline of the Cuban capital, just over 100 miles south of Key West.
Suddenly, you’re sailing right past the Malecon on one side, and Havana’s El Morro Fortress on the other. Old American cars zip past and honk their horns, while men sit fishing along the edge of the seaside Malecon, hoping for an early-morning catch. You’re watching them, and they’re watching you. You wave. They wave back.
And no wonder. Holland America Line’s Veendam must make for a beautiful and imposing site, with her glistening navy blue hull and white superstructure towering over even Havana’s highest buildings. Dress lights ablaze and radars turning, she sailed slowly into the heart of the city, barely managing to turn her 719-foot length in the narrow turning basin before easing bow-first into Havana’s Terminal Sierra Maestra San Francisco cruise terminal.
I’ve done this sail-in three times now, and I wouldn’t think of missing it. You’ll need to be up and out on deck around 6:30am in most cases (check your ship’s arrival and departure times), but the early wake-up call is well worth it.
Havana is also special for another reason: legions of American cruisers crowd the rails as they enter a city and a country that was previously off-limits to them. Some are tourists seeking new lands; others are coming back to the Island that holds familial roots. Lining the decks of the Veendam, more than a few shed tears. It’s a scene I’ve seen repeated on other ships sailing into Havana, but one that is rarely duplicated in other parts of the world. Make no mistake about it: this is an emotional and highly personal journey for many.
Because of U.S. regulations, guests disembarking from ships sailing from the United States to Cuba are required to participate in so-called “People to People” tours. These culturally-themed tours are absolutely fantastic, but they are seven to eight hours in duration and come with a hefty price tag that you should be prepared for in advance. The waters are murky on whether folks (like myself) from other nationalities have to follow these rules, but I chose to, even though as a Canadian I can fly freely down to Cuba from any number of Canadian cities. While these full-day tours of Havana aren’t cheap, I believe they are an excellent value, delivering a number of cultural experiences that you would be hard-pressed to secure on your own.
Navigating Cuba’s Disembarkation Procedure
Holland America Line offers nine full-day tours in Havana that are compliant with the People-to-People regulations, and four evening tours in Havana that are non-compliant, but which can be enjoyed after fulfilling a full-day tour requirement set forth by the U.S. Government.
Today, I chose to take part in two tours: the Culinary Traditions of Cuba (6 to 8 hours, daytime, $119.95 per person) and a visit to the Tropicana Cabaret: Rhythms of the Night (4 hours, evening, $159.95). The Culinary Traditions tour was scheduled to arrive back at the ship around 5pm, leaving three hours before my Tropicana Cabaret tour departed at 8:30pm. Just enough time for a shower and some dinner before heading ashore again.
Of course, in Cuba, things operate on their own time schedule. Don’t plan excursions too close together; I did this in August aboard Carnival Paradise and wound up missing my second tour.
Kudos, though, to Holland America on its organized and efficient disembarkation in Havana. It’s the best I’ve experienced in Havana so far, and involved the least amount of stress and wait times thanks to the fact that the line staggered the departures of its shore excursions.
When you go ashore in Havana, you first pass through Passport and Immigration controls. Here, you passport is checked; photograph taken; and visa stamped.
Then, you move on to an airport-style security screening, so be prepared to run bags and backpacks through a scanner and empty your pockets.
Finally, you’re invited to exchange currency into Cuba’s official tourism currency: the Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC (pronounced “kook.”). ATM’s and Credit cards aren’t widely accessible in Cuba, so cash is a necessity. Only the most touristic places will take U.S. Dollars, so be prepared to convert cash into CUC’s at the pier. Also, don’t tip your guides in U.S. Dollars. It forces them to go through money-changers that will skim some off the top, or worse, to use a back-alley money changer to convert USD into something useable for day to day life in Cuba.
If you have access to other forms of currency, you’ll find a more favorable exchange rate. U.S. Dollars are hit with a 10 percent surcharge, whereas those using Euros or Canadian Dollars won’t pay that tax.
After that, you make your way down to the coaches, and your Cuban adventure begins!
Havana By Day: Culinary Cuba
My Culinary Cuba tour took us to Havana’s Gran Teatro de la Habana (the Grand Theatre of Havana), where we learned about the maridaje – the Cuban Marriage – which often refers to Cuba’s three most famous products: rum, coffee and cigars.
In the basement wine bar of the Gran Teatro, we learned how to mix a proper mojito; appreciate Cuban rum (always sip!); drink Cuban coffee (delicious!); and finally, how to properly smoke a Cuban cigar. I don’t smoke at all, but even I participated in this last bit of fun. Why not? When in Havana…
This was followed by a spectacular lunch set to some of the most enthusiastic Cuban music I’ve ever heard played. The ringleader of this band was a guy that was too cool for school, and he played the crowd like a violin. The ladies at my table swooned over our Crooning Cuban, who belted out Guantanamara and Oye Como Va at the top of his lungs. You’ve got to hand it to the guy; he’s nothing if not charismatic.
Following lunch, we went for an enjoyable walk through Havana’s Old Town. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Havana reflects the city’s forgotten status as a capital of culture and a powerhouse of trade and commerce. Within walking distance is the Terminal Sierra Maestra Cruise Terminal, which made it easy to stroll back to Veendam in preparation for the evening’s festivities.
The derelict finger piers nearby, however, hint at a more glorious oceangoing past in Havana – one that may hopefully someday be resurrected.
Havana By Night: The Tropicana Cabaret
I returned onboard and was able to have a shower and a casual dinner in the Lido Marketplace Buffet. By 8pm, I was stepping off the Veendam once again to experience my first evening in Havana.
The Tropicana Cabaret is one of Havana’s most legendary nighttime revues. Founded in 1939, it caters primarily to tourists looking to see its spectacular dancers and production shows, which ran non-stop for two hours.
Each table of four is given a bottle of Havana Club rum and one Cola apiece to mix-in, and extra drinks can be purchased at cost. You have to pay to take photos and videos as well (5 CUC’s), and I elected to just sit back and enjoy the show. While I don’t think I’d repeat this on future visits to Cuba due to the high cost of the excursion ($159 per person), I definitely enjoyed myself and highly recommend the show. If you look up “spectacle” in the dictionary, there would be a picture of the Tropicana, filled with 180-degrees of stage elements and dancers that go all-out for two straight hours.
When the show finally ends at midnight, coaches whisk guests back to the ship. Most of us nodded on and off for the 30 minute bus ride back to the Veendam, and I marveled at how dark Havana is at night. Sparsely lit with only the harshest of lights, it would be deemed “dangerously unlit” by North American standards. Yet, as we whizzed past the Malecon it was packed with locals sitting by the seawall, talking, strolling, kissing.
Finally, Veendam came into view. I stepped back onboard just before one o’clock in the morning, and was drifting off to sleep as the stern thrusters came on and Veendam eased away from Havana, bound for Cuba’s southernmost shores.
Veendam's Cuban-Caribbean Cruise
|February 14, 2018||Fort Lauderdale, FL||Embark||5:00pm|
|February 15||At Sea|
|February 16||Havana, Cuba||8:00am||2:00am Feb 17|
|February 17||At Sea|
|February 18||Cienfuegos, Cuba||8:00am||5:00 pm|
|February 19||Georgetown, Grand Cayman||8:00am||5:00pm|
|February 20||At Sea|
|February 21, 2018||Fort Lauderdale, FL||7:00am||Disembark|
- March 2018
- February 2018
- January 2018
- December 2017
- November 2017
- October 2017
- September 2017
- August 2017
- July 2017
- June 2017
- May 2017
- April 2017
- March 2017
- February 2017
- January 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- October 2016
- September 2016
- August 2016
- July 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- March 2016
- February 2016
- January 2016
- December 2015
- November 2015
- October 2015
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- January 2015
- December 2014
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2010
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009