CUBA CRUISE 2019: Part 1 - Planning the trip

After several months preparation, my friend and past travel companion to Cuba in 2017, Mark Nowery and I were packed and ready to once again travel to Cuba, this time on a cruise. This go around included Mark’s sister Penny and brother in law Stu. They preferred something less energetic but wanted to see the island nation, so a cruise was the perfect venue. Mark and Penny’ parents honeymooned in Cuba in 1938, so this trip would allow Penny and Stu the opportunity to visit some of the same destinations and sites their parents saw 81 years ago, those being primarily in Havana.

Traveling to Cuba is still not entirely unrestricted. Among the legitimate reasons for visiting Cuba are those for governmental, journalistic activities, professional research, religious activities, public performances, etc. For visitors like us the travel category is “people to people” or "for the benefit of the Cuban people”. Restrictions apply where travel might include places or organizations that support the Cuban military. So long as you are part of an authorized tour group, Americans are welcome to visit the island. In all cases on our tours, the Cuban people and our guides made it clear that they are very, very appreciative of our visits to their country and want us to promote that tourism. Cuba is still a rather poor nation that has made do with much deprivation, scarcity of commodities and lack of tourism income. The people have been and are resourceful and seem happy, full of life, artful and expressive in the arts especially with music, dance and singing. We were entertained on several occasions with exotic dance and music, all very enjoyable and uplifting experiences.

Havana was but one stop on this cruise. We also visited the south side of Cuba at Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba. The last stop to top off our cruise was in Labadee, Haiti, a private pennisula resort leased to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.

Penny, Stu and Mark chose the Azamara Club Cruises and the ship Journey for this sailing. The Journey is reasonably sized, with a capacity of about 650 passengers and 320 crew. The smaller size of the ship made it easy to get around without getting lost. The amenities were done well, staterooms were well appointed, clean and beds very comfortable. We described the ship as “understated elegance”, not ostentatious or glitzy, but with a richness that bespoke of grace and style. All the staff were attentive and friendly. Food was delicious and plentiful. As an all inclusive cruise, nearly everything was included onboard, food, drinks, tips. Onboard shops, top shelf liquor and two private restaurants were pay if used.

For me, this trip was more about learning more of the history and people of Cuba and having the opportunity to get a taste and feel of different parts of the island. Of course, undisputable, the old cars are a special treat while in Cuba, where we enjoyed two Havana tours in 2 1950’s vintage cars.

Azamara Cruises is a part of the Royal Caribbean Line that offered it’s own shore excursions while on land. For this trip we arranged to have a local tour company (Havana Inside) manage our itineraries for most of the shore excursions. This was one of the best decisions we made. The cruise line shore excursions (purchased separately)  were mostly on bus tours in large herds which were not particularly appealing. But even so, the bus tour guides imparted a lot of knowledge about the people and Cuban history. At times hard to understand (English), those bus guides did have a huge amount of information to share in a short time period and I credit them for their efforts to help us understand more about the country. 

That being a brief background of our planning and upcoming tour itinerary, Mark and I eagerly awaited our trip which started with a flight to Miami, Florida and a day before and after the trip in two Art Deco hotels in South Beach/MIami Beach.

The open sea, the cruise and new adventures were on the horizon.















































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