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Cuba Cruise: An itinerary like no other

Friday, May 20, 2016

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View the original blog at http://www.tripcentral.ca/blog/celestyal-cruise-cuba-cruise/

Cuba Cruise: An itinerary like no other

I recently had the pleasure to experience Celestyal Cruise’s Cuba Cruise, a cruise just a few years old. When you step onboard, you’re greeted by the friendliest faces excited for you to start your journey on the Celestyal Crystal. The itinerary takes you from Havana to Maria La Gorda, Cienfuegos, Montego Bay, and Santiago de Cuba, followed by a day at sea before disembarking back in Havana.

The 162-meter yacht-inspired ship has only 1200 rooms. They like to keep capacity around 800 passengers, offering a refreshing sense of intimacy compared to the mega-cruise ships that often sail the Caribbean. Cuba Cruise offers a unique vacation in that (1) the ship is smaller and more laid-back, which means less rigid restrictions on when you can eat and what you can wear. You get to know other passengers and may run into them again once or twice, which is a good thing, I promise. And (2), the itinerary is unique, focusing on Cuba, unlike any other cruise lines.

For people seeking a Cuba vacation but who don’t want to spend a whole week at a resort, this is an excellent — and price comparable — way to see four Cuban ports. Cuba Cruise gets people beyond Varadero’s beaches to see some of the cities that give the island paradise its charm, like historic Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The excursions offered by the ship immerse you into Cuban culture with local guides. Plus, with Transat’s all-inclusive Cuba Cruise package, you get an excursion included for you in each port.

Read on to learn more about what I loved about the trip and what you can expect on a Cuba Cruise.

Accommodation

The Celeystal Crystal has 476 staterooms (53 with a balcony and six accessible rooms) and was just renovated last year. Rooms can accommodate up to five passengers. Categories range from Inside Cabins, the most affordable way to travel, to Outside Cabins, where you can wake up to a view from your window each day, to Suites, the more spacious options. If you’d prefer a suite, you can choose from a Junior Balcony Suite, Suite (no balcony), Balcony Suite, and two Imperial Suites with a large balcony and private Jacuzzi. Cabins are equipped with air conditioning, a shower, hairdryer, telephone, and television.

Food

The food on Celeystal Crystal was fantastic. There are three restaurants onboard: Leda casual dining for buffet-style dining, plus two a la carte restaurants: Amalthia Restaurant and Olympus Restaurant. Evening dining is open seating and you can request a large table to socialize with other passengers or a private table if it’s available.

Breakfast is available from 7-10 a.m. in the Leda Buffet or 7:30-9:30 a.m. in the Amalthia Restaurant (also served buffet-style). Breakfasts were often quick before heading to the excursion meeting place at 8 a.m., but the buffet had a wide variety of options. Eggs were available scrambled, as an omelet, over-easy, and hard-boiled in the buffet, with the option to order your omelet, eggs benedict, or another style a la carte. The buffet was also full of baked goods, meats and cheeses, bacon (two ways…I like it crispy!), sausage, cereals, yogurt, fruit, the options were endless… Sunday brunch was a nice treat.

Lunch is served from noon to 2:30 at the Leda buffet or 12:30-2 p.m. at the Amalthia Restaurant for a la carte options. The Chef’s Corner at the pool also had different snacks for lunch, including tacos, pasta, or fajitas. Afternoon tea takes place from 4-5 p.m. at the Leda Buffet with sandwiches, baked goods, and fruit. Dinner is served at the a la carte restaurants from 6-9 p.m. as well as a barbecue by the pool.

The two a la carte restaurants offer the same menu, but there are lots of choices that change daily. Both offer a pleasant dining experience, but Amalthia seems a little more formal. There were always four choices of appetizers, three choices of salads and soups, five main course options, and six dessert options, which always included international cheeses, fresh seasonal fruit, daily sugar free dessert, and assorted ice cream, with room for two more specialties.

Extras like filet steak ($18.95), king shrimp ($13.95), and grilled lobster ($25.95) could be purchased as well. Room service is an extra charge, as well as items in the mini fridge. Premium wine packages and gourmet food and wine packages for a romantic night in are also available.  There are also quick and easy snacks on the menu like pizza, hamburgers, and club sandwiches for those seeking traditional fare.

Note: The all-inclusive food isn’t 24-hours onboard, but there isn’t much time you can go hungry. Between 10 a.m. and noon, 2:30-3:30 p.m., and after 9 p.m. are the only times you won’t have a snack, but there’s always room service and snacks at the bar (like ice cream) you can order at an extra cost for those late night cravings. I ordered a room service pizza one night for less than $10 and it was large and delicious!

Amenities

You won’t find a bowling alley or rock climbing here, but when you’re busy experiencing Cuba and enjoying the sunshine and a cocktail, you really won’t miss it — not to mention the cruise really doesn’t cater to children. The Celestyal Crystal is equipped with a pool, jacuzzi, small casino with a few table games and slots, a conference room, photo shop where you can find your photo with the Captain and other occasions, duty free store, fitness center, beauty salon, spa, sauna, steam bath, four bars and lounges, and a disco. The spa boasts beautifully themed rooms and a large selection of services at comparable prices. There is also a medical center onboard.

The sundeck is the perfect spot to lounge during the day at sea. But it’s also hard to stay there when so many activities are taking place inside! Days at sea are packed with fun things to do, but the great thing is, you can choose to do nothing at all.

Order a mojito from the Helios pool bar, Horizons bar and disco, indoor Eros lounge, or Thalassa Bar at the back of the ship. The Thalassa Bar was my favorite spot, with amazing cappuccinos and an even better view. Live music takes place in each of these bars, ranging from traditional Cuban tunes to classical melodies.

I quite enjoyed attending the lectures given to US residents as part of the People to People program. It was a nice bit of history and culture to give more understanding of the country we were in. Of course, the Spanish language, cooking, and dance lessons were enjoyable, and the themed rooms at the spa looked like they were calling my name…

Note: The pool was closed when the ship was moving for safety reasons, except for the day at sea.

Entertainment

The entertainment team is managed by Danny, the Cruise Director – and they are always greeting you with a smile and ready to dance. If you’ve got the moves or have two left feet, zumba, cha cha, merengue, and salsa lessons were cruiser-favourites. Games like the Price is Right, pictionary, and bingo are available, as well as activities like paper flower making, towel folding into animals, documentary screenings, and karaoke. You will also find live music in the different bars during both day and night.

After dark, head to the Horizons bar and disco or the Muses Lounge for a live performance. Evening shows take place two times per night in the Muses Lounge and are produced in partnership with Cirque Fantastic. One show is at 7:30 p.m. for guests having a late dinner and the other is at 9:15  p.m. for guests having an early dinner.

Havana 1 – Coco Circo Tropical
Havana 2 – Fiesta Latina
Maria la Gorda – Willkommen, world of musicals
Cienfuegos – Azucar, traditions of Cuba
Montego Bay – Cirque Fantastic
Santiago de Cuba – Afro-Cuba Folklorico
At Sea – Revolution

Itinerary

Passengers can board the weeklong Cuba Cruise in Havana or Montego Bay, though Havana is more popular with Canadians and packaged with Transat Holidays’ all-inclusive cruising option.
The itinerary gives you two days in Havana to really get a feel for the city, and then cruises to Maria la Gorda, Cienfuegos, Montego Bay, Santiago de Cuba, and finally, a day at sea to relax and enjoy all the ship’s amenities. Excursions are included each city. In Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba, you’ll get to experience guided city tours that bring you to the area’s highlights.

In Havana, you’ll visit the military fortress, walk around Old Havana and stop at Hemingway’s famous watering hole for a mojito, followed by sightings of the Capitol building, Museum of the Revolution, Central Park, the Great Theatre, and Revolution Square. Many people choose to enjoy an added excursion and opt for the famous Tropicana Cabaret show in the evening. The overnight stay in Havana gives you an opportunity to experience the capital’s vibrant nightlife.

Maria la Gorda is the only port on this itinerary that is tendered. In Maria la Gorda, the nature excursion to Cabo de San Antonio is included, which takes you by coach to Guanahacabibes National Park to learn about the flora and fauna during your drive. It’s about two hours each way, with four or five, 15-20 minute stops along the way. Others can choose to stay in Maria La Gorda and arrange a diving or snorkeling excursion or simply relax on the beach and enjoy the music, dance lessons, and special barbeque lunch for cruise passengers (this is extra but under $10. You can also choose to visit one of the small restaurants lining the beach).

The Cienfuegos city tour takes you through Jose Marti Park to see the Teatro Tomas Terry, Pure Conception Church, the Triumph Arch, and other monuments. You’ll get to experience the slower pace of this city, where music plays softly in the picturesque square and locals sit on benches, enjoying the beauty of the surrounding architecture. We finished the excursion off with a visit to a yacht club for a refreshing drink and live music.

In Jamaica, I went on the Greenwood Great House tour to see the stunning property (which is still occupied by its owners) and antique treasures, included in the package. Later, we stopped in the historical Falmouth, Jamaica and drove past Montego Bay’s famous Hip Strip. Many people chose to spend the rest of their afternoon at Doctor’s Cave beach for a very minimal entrance fee. I took this opportunity to visit Jerky’s for a local jerk chicken lunch just minutes from the cruise port.

The last excursion on the included itinerary was the Panoramic Santiago where we visited El Morro Castle (this requires some walking) and the stunning Santa Ifigenia Cemetery to see where Jose Marti and Emilio Bacardi were laid to rest. We finished the tour with a quick walk through Santiago’s lively main plazas and around the city, where motorcycles function as taxis and old cars zoom past the narrow streets. Santiago de Cuba has many museums including the Bacardi museum if you have some free time to explore.

Remember, there are many other excursions available to you (at an extra cost) if you have specific interests, like climbing Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica or visiting Trinidad, Cuba from Cienfuegos. Be sure to visit the excursion deck when you board or check online to find something you’ll love!

Note: There was a formal Captain’s Cocktail Party to introduce his senior officers and pose for a photo one night, as well as a dessert buffet with dancing and ice sculpting on another.

Notes

  • American currency is used onboard.
  • Wi-fi is not the fastest but available for a fee in public areas. (Time doesn’t have to be consecutive; you log in and out.)

$10 for 1 hour
$24 for 3 hours
$36 for 6 hours

  • Laundry service and telephone calls available for a charge
  • 30-minute Navigation Bridge Visit: $12 adults; $6 children

Who would I recommend Cuba Cruise to?

  • Someone who wants to see more of Cuba than just a resort, but who isn’t comfortable exploring totally on their own
  • Someone who loves to cruise but wants to experience a more intimate ship with a relaxed style of cruising; no pretension here
  • Seniors and couples who would appreciate Cuba and enjoy sightseeing

Original blog posted by Amanda Stancati