Well Planned Travel

Taking a Cruise to Cuba

Please Note: with in days of writing this post, the rules for traveling to Cuba changed.  However, cruises were exempt and now really one of the few ways to travel to Cuba.  However, it is unknown if it is possible to do a people to people trip on your own and most likely you will have to do s shore excursion.  Will update when more information is available.  

Cuba has been on the top of my bucket list for many years.  But as an American, travel to Cuba has not been an easy thing to do.  Cruises from Florida has changed that and getting Cuba has become easy and affordable.  Here is information on cruising to Cuba, specifically on Norwegian Cruises. Why a Cruise One of the easiest ways to travel is by cruise.  You are on a floating hotel that also moves from location to location.  I normally take a cruise in the winter to get warm.  But sometimes a cruise beneficial to visit places that are a little harder to see on your own.  If I were to travel to Cuba on my own, my flight would cost almost as much as my cruise.  I also would have find places to stay.  I admit that ideally, I would prefer to spend a week or two in Cuba and travel around to different cities.  But if you want to at least see Cuba and experience even a day or two in the country, it is easy to do with a cruise.

A cruise is affordable and is a great introduction to experiencing Cuba.

Havana Cuba, a mysterious, off limits city for Americans.  Americans have been banned from traveling to Cuba since the sixties, and it has remained a mystery since then.  As a consumer of travel blogs and podcasts, I have been jealous of Canadian and Europeans who have had amazing experiences, and more recently friends who have taken people to people trips or religious trips.  When President Obama lifted travel restrictions and planes began to fly there, I got very excited But when Trump made a speech talking about getting rid of Obama's openness, I got pretty worried and I needed to get there.  I believe the easiest way to get Cuba is by cruise ship.  It is so close to Florida, that if you leave from Miami, you wake up the next morning in Havana.

Leave from Miami in the and wake up in morning in Havana. A cruise is an easy way to get to Havana Cuba.

Why Norwegian The main reason we choose Norwegian is because it offered us the most time in Havana.  Norwegian had a cruise that spent two full days and a night.  The rest of the affordable cruises either spent a day, or a day and a half.  The second reason why we chose Norwegian was because the cruise also included an open bar including when it stopped at their private island.  Lastly, all of the affordable cruise lines that are currently calling on Havana are using the older smaller ships in the cruise line's fleet.  But after reading many reviews, Norwegian Sky seemed to be the best reviewed ship. The Norwegian Sky The Norwegian Sky is a smaller ship and it does feel small.  However, I never felt like there was no room to do what I wanted.  It has a weird layout, but had plenty of room and I did not feel the ship was lacking any amenities.  The food was surprisingly good, although both my husband and I got sick after the prime rib so many stay away from that. The rooms were average size for a cruise ship, we purchased the cheapest interior room.  We then bided $50 and were upgraded to an ocean view large window room.  Norwegian Cruises bids out the unsold rooms.  So if you want to save money, you can risk it and book a interior room and then bid for an upgrade.  We had one issue with our room.  One night the lights would not turn off, I called the front desk but no one came and we had to sleep with the lights on.  The next day I went to the desk and they got it fixed.  A little disappointing but things happen.

After much research, Norwegian Cruises seemed to be the best cruise line to get to Havana Cuba.

Things to know about traveling to Cuba Before going Cuba you need a visa. This costs $75 and the easiest way is to buy it directly from the cruise line.  On Norwegian I had to call before we left to order it and I received the visa when I boarded the ship. A cruise to Cuba is going to be different then any other cruise.  This begins before you go, Norwegian provides a form you have to fill out.  This where you certify what kind of trip you are taking, There are 12 different types of trips you can take as there is not truly free travel to Cuba.  Most people check people-to-people trips. What that means is interpreted different ways.  Trump restricted these as well, but how that is going to play out is unknown at the time.  Most people take care of following the people-to-people license by taking a shore excursion which is advertised as meeting the requirements of people-to-people trips.  The shore excursions are priced the same as any other cruise. Another option is to book a private tour.  I used trip adviser and communicated with different tour companies until I found one that offered a good people-to-people tour.  Examples of things we did on our private tour that the people-to-people requirement was meeting an inductee into the Afro-Cuban religion, went to a site by a river where the Afro-Cuban religion is celebrated and lastly went to a museum on this religion.

As Americans we are restricted to 12 different categories for travel into Cuba, most travel under the people-to-people category.

We visited our guide's hometown where he took us to different types of stores that a Cuban would shop at. He took us to the black market.  We also were able to see  the major sights in Havana while riding in a 1950s Chevy.  It was also quite a bit cheaper to take a private tour than the shore excursions.  Some people went out around Havana on their own.  There are plenty of taxi drivers who have classic 1950s cars available when you get off the cruise ship.  If you have a detailed itinerary and know a little Spanish, you should have no problem going out in Havana on your own.  You will need to follow a people-to-people itinerary, and keep track of what you have done.

Visiting Havana on a cruise is pretty easy. There are shore excursions, private tours or plenty of classic cars that are taxi cabs that can take you all around Havana.

Money The Cubans have two currencies, one is the CUP which is the Cuban Peso and the other is the CUC which is the Cuban Convertible Peso.  The CUP is not used by tourists, and according to our guide is not taken in every store.  They actually like to use the CUC which is valued 1 to 1 to the US dollar.  Most people and places will not take dollars because it is illegal to, as well as there is a 10% penalty to change dollars into CUC.   Because of the embargo, US credit and ATM cards do not work in Cuba.  This means you need to come to Cuba with all of the money in cash you need.  One advantage of going to Cuba on a cruise ship is that the cruise ship's ATM in the casino still works in Cuba and if you need more money you can get it there.  Since there is a 10% penalty for exchanging dollars in Cuba, I recommend getting either Euros or Canadian dollars before you leave to avoid that penalty.

CUC which is the Cuban Convertible Peso is the currency that tourist use in Cuba. It is 1 to 1 with the dollar and very few places take dollars.

The Cruise Terminal The cruise terminal in Havana is a really good terminal.  Located right in the heart of Old Havana and views of the city from the ship are beautiful.    When departing the ship you go directly though immigration, they take your visa and stamp your passport.  You then can go in and out of the terminal.  Every time you walk through immigration and they check your passport but do not worry when they take your visa.  You also will go through a metal detector and x-ray machine.  There is a couple of stores, a place to buy cigars and rum and a place to change money.  There was a second smaller ship in port when we were there, but going through immigration did not take very long.  When exiting the terminal, there are many classic cars ready to be taken as a taxi and beautiful square right across the street.  It is a very impressive way start a trip to Cuba.

The cruise terminal is located in the heart of OId Havana with classic cars that are taxi cabs right outside of the terminal.

Final Thoughts Havana is an amazing city to visit.  It is pretty surreal to see roads filled with classic cars, Russian vehicles from the 70s and newer Asian vehicles.  To be in a country that has been forbidden to Americans for so many years is amazing.  It is hard to believe that Florida is only 103 miles away.  I would have loved to have done a longer tour to Cuba.  And I hope that I will in the near future.  I hope that this is the first of many trips to Cuba.  But in this crazy political environment, where things are changing on a day to day basis, who knows what is going happen to travelling Cuba.  Right now, traveling to Cuba is a possibility and is easy.  Even though it was only two days in Havana, it was a great introduction and I highly recommend if you have always wanted to travel to Cuba, to go immediately on a cruise to Cuba.

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