CUBA CRUISE 2019: Part 2 - Miami Beach and setting sail

January 4, 2019, Friday

Arriving in Miami after a nearly 5 hour flight from Phoenix, we hailed a taxi and were whisked off in a nearly death defying ride to Miami Beach and our night’s lodging at the Colony Hotel. As is common in Miami Beach’s South Beach neighborhood, most of the hotels lining Ocean Drive are of Art Deco style. Reportedly, Miami Beach has the largest assortment of Art Deco buildings in the world. Many were built in the 1930’s and all have that architectural style that is so distinctive and artistic. 

A short night walk checking out the very bustling street scene and beautiful neon lightings were enough to absorb on that night. The Colony Hotel elevator was inoperable, which “allowed” us to shlep our bags up two flights and down a hallway. But the staff were nice albeit the beds were not. 

Mark in the park along Ocean Drive, Miami Beach

(also known as South Beach)

The Azamara Journey did not embark until 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 5, which gave us ample time to check out more of Miami Beach and sit at one of the multitude of sidewalk cafes people watching and taking in the passing scene. By 2 p.m. we were in a Uber and dropped off at the port. There we met Mark’s sister Penny and brother-in-law Stu who had flown in from Dallas. Completing some customs paperwork and being cleared, we soon were onboard and in our staterooms, both on deck 4, and a few doors apart. Immediately upon opening the door, the room was inviting, very clean and bright as sunlight streamed in through the large porthole window.

Don observing the lively street scene along Ocean Drive

After unpacking and organizing, we regrouped  on the pool deck to have cocktails. Soon after checking out more of the ship we witnessed the undocking as the ship cast off and slowly sailed up and out of the channel into the ocean. By this time the sun was setting as the sight of the city of Miami slowly diminished from view. Ahead of us lie the endless horizon of the blue Atlantic Ocean and our first destination, Havana, Cuba.

Farewell to Miami. Bon Voyage and heading out to sea.

Our first night onboard, Penny, Stu, Mark and I had dinner in the Windows Cafe, a buffet that offered a wide variety of delicious choices - just what one might expect on a cruise. Getting to know each other at dinner, I found Stu and Penny upbeat, very gracious, friendly with easy laughter. 

Returning to our stateroom, we found the bed covers folded back, drapes closed and fresh chocolates and fruit awaiting us. Sleep soon descended upon us in our very supportive and comfortable beds. A mild rolling of the ship as it glided upon the sea added a rock-a-bye effect to promote sound slumber. We would sail all night with an anticipated arrival in Havana at 8 a.m. 

Being an early riser, I awoke around 6 a.m. and looking out our porthole window was surprised to see that the skyline of Havana was nearly upon us. Quickly dressing, with camera in hand, I was soon up on the open decks to witness our approach to Cuba. Between my Canon SLR and iPhone, I recorded many scenes as we drew nearer and nearer to the city of Havana. A pilot boat approached and led us up the channel guarded by the ancient Morro Castle built around 1597. Cannons that pointed directly at the ship from the fortress battlements had fallen silent many, many years ago, but now were simply silent sentinels overseeing the comings and goings of all the sea faring vessels visiting the historic old city of Havana. 

Further standing vigil along the harbor channel was the imposing Habana Cristo statue (Christ Statue).

Still early on this Sunday morning, as the city was awaking upon our arrival, I observed several Cubans fishing along the channel, other small boats plying the calm waters in the harbor, and activity increasing upon the pier as we eased into the ship's berth. 

Before disembarking, we all had breakfast and as soon as allowed we prepared to go ashore. Onshore we were required to pass through Cuban customs and security screening, which went smoothly this day. There in the terminal we exchanged our US Dollars to the Cuban CUC, the designated tourist currency. 

Those tasks completed we four then made our way out of the terminal emerging out onto the already busy street where vintage cars mixed with many newer (not American) cars as well as a smattering of horse and buggies. Across the street was the large the Plaza de San Francisco anchored by the Cathedral de San Francisco and where our local guide with Havana Inside tour company was to meet us.

Scenes on San Francisco Square

Mark, Penny and Stu in Plaza de San Francisco Havana, Cuba

and Los Leones Fountain (The Fountain of the Lions).

After some searching, we located our guide holding a sign emprinted with “The Nowery Party”. The lovely lady who was our guide in Havana, Annalise, spoke English very well and with introduction formalities completed, day 1 in Havana, Cuba began to unfold.

u © Donald E. Kline 2012