In my last post I reported about my experience cruising on the Majesty of the Seas. The main destination of the cruise was the Cuban capital Havana. Unfortunately we had only one day on the island which makes it quite hard for me to write a lot about it. Still I would like to share some thoughts that came up during and after the cruise (and of course the beautiful pictures!).
Digital detox: There are very little places that offer WIFI and roaming is very expensive.
Special currency for tourists: No credit or debit card works, you can only use the CUC, a currency only for tourists which has an exchange rate of almost 1:1 to US dollar.
No big corporations: Big companies are not yet present in every corner which means, you won’t find a typical city center with Starbucks next to H&M but rather little stores where you can get the necessities for everyday life.
Terrible job situation: You can see the poorness and lack of perspective in people’s faces – hardly surprising when doctors drive taxis instead of working in a hospital because they make much more money in tourism.
Great musicians can be found on the streets and in a lot of bars live music is played!
Dancing: Cubans love Salsa and are not afraid to give you a personal dancing lesson.
Beautiful cars: Now is the time to go there if you want to see the beautiful restored antique cars! With opening the borders, they can import actual cars now, which means the old ones will probably decrease within the next years.
Beautiful buildings: The city center is all cleaned up and restored for tourism, but the “real” lively Cuba can also be found just a few streets away.
Trash problem: Like in many other developing countries, Cuba doesn’t have a waste management. Trash lies on the streets and is also burned there often.
Not feeling 100% safe: People talk to you and follow you sometimes in order to call your attention for their business (bars, restaurants, guided tours, taxis and so on).
Would have somebody told me that I’d go on a cruise five years ago, I would have laughed at him. Now that I’ve tried one, I must admit it was an incredible experience that I’d totally do again any time soon. Let me tell you why:
The service: The staff’s kindness and service level in general is beyond every hotel I have ever experienced. The staff-passenger-ratio is around 0,35 (~850 staff vs. ~2300 passengers in case of the Majesty of the Seas).
The diversity of people regarding nationality and age: Young adults, families, retirees, couples as well as groups of friends from more than 75 nations could be found on board.
Making friends with guests/staff from all over the world: you get a table reservation for dinner in advance and have the same company at your table every night (except they ask for a change since you didn’t behave – or the other way around), we were lucky and shared a table with a charming couple from the US/Canada and a very nice lady from Florida.
The mood was amazing – everybody was super friendly, in good mood and chatty.
If you want to feel special, you will probably stand out of the crowd as Austrian since we were the only Europeans on board (usually Europeans don’t fly to Fort Lauderdale to go on a cruise but rather Miami).
Dressing up: Dresscodes for dinner are taken seriously – if you like to wear fancy clothes or suits, you will love a cruise!
It’s a big swimming all-inclusive hotel with a lot of entertainment options. In our case we didn’t have the need to watch movies, shows or musicians, but it was nice to know that we had plenty of options all the time.
Being offline: With a European SIM card you won’t have access to the mobile network since it’s in most cases too expensive. For me, it was very relaxing to focus on the here and now.
You visit many places in a short amount of time (in our case Key West and Havana in four days) –> have a look at our tour here (*)
The price-value ratio is very good! Compared to what you get, prices are very fair. (a basic package is around 150€ per person per day all meals and entertainment options included except for alcohol/WIFI/special menus)
Why Royal Carribean?
In my case, the date and availability fit perfectly to my already booked NYC flights, the route sounded interesting, the rating was good and prices ok. I guess you can find other good cruising companies as well (some friends tried others and were also satisfied), but with the experience I made, I can recommend Royal Carribean (No sponsorship – I paid the ticket myself and did not get any benefits from Royal Carribean for promoting them!!) :
Easy online booking process
Perfect organization: you get all informations online and in the boarding documents tell you exactly what you need to take care of (e.g. schedule, security restrictions, visa, arrival & departure process…)
Housekeeping service: the staff was all time ready to make up the room (read: they were always just a few meters away from the rooms and did not only housekeep but also give you tips for tours/bars/places to visit outside of the cruise! )
… and of course all points stated above 😉
Seasickness: If you’re getting seasick very easy you are not in a good place on a cruise. You can’t feel the cruise crushing the waves, but a slight seesawing is always present. I felt it when I was lying in bed – it made me fall asleep immediately.
Onboard WIFI is expensive and inconvenient due to high latency of the satellite internet connection.
Drinks are quite expensive too (compared to Austria) if you don’t book a drinking package in advance or on the first day on board (beer is around 10$, cocktails 15$, an all-inclusive drink package $30 per day).
The Cuban Visa was an additional $75 and tips for the crew were also not included and had to be paid afterwards (though there was a possibility to pay them in advance)
You don’t have a lot of time at the places you visit – for Key West half a day was perfect because there is just not much to see (except for bars – don’t miss out Sloppy Joe’s!!!). 1 day for Havana was too short (*). I would have needed more time to adapt to the countries circumstances, but read more about the experience in my next post about the Cuban capitol or go to 3 days in magical Havana, Cuba.
The boarding process at the port is similar to the airport – security checks every time you enter the cruise or go from board
Currently there are no cruises from the US to Cuba anymore because Trump shut
down the route during our trip – which means we were really lucky that we
didn’t book a week later ‘cause we would have missed it otherwise.