Category Archives: Caribbean Cruises

Arrival in Cuba: Havana Day 1

by Don McCann

It’s always fun to spot ‘land’ off the bow of your ship, especially when it’s your first port following a day at sea.  However, on this cruise there were FAR more people at the forward viewing areas of the ship waiting to see THIS land.  As we cruised closer, it was quite the surprise to see the ‘skyline’ of Havana as it was more impressive and more developed than many would have thought.  Once we were close enough to see more details, I could see another cruise ship in port and I had a feeling it would be leaving to make room for our arrival.   Sure enough, it sailed out of the channel just in time to make way for our arrival.

Cuba photo first look

departing ship sails out of Havana Harbor to make room for our arrival

First, you see el Morro on the port side; an impressive fortress & tower with the same name as the one in San Juan, but different in size & appearance.  Then, I cannot explain it, but the real excitement was on the starboard side of the ship when we first saw the vintage cars of the 40’s & 50s cruising along the Malecon seawall area.  WOW, those cars are just SO cool and there were so many of them.  I started using my zoom lens to see how many I could capture.  I don’t understand it, but those cars really set the tone for excitement that you are entering a bit of a time capsule…and that’s the term that the locals use, as well.  They ARE a bit of a time capsule and the people of Cuba know it, too.

el Morro on the port side of Havana Harbor

el Morro from our port side, in Havana Harbor

first vintage car with zoom lens taken from ship

first vintage car I spotted, taken with zoom lens from ship

Sailing closer to the terminal, we could begin to see landmarks, such as the Capitol and several other domed buildings.  As we pulled alongside at the cruise terminal, it was interesting to see that there are three piers for ships, but only one is in use.  The other two are in very sad shape; one with all the rafters clearly exposed and no roof on top.  So right away, you get a sense of the decay of some parts of the city, which are along side some of the preserved, or pristine sights of the city, as well.  Just one of the many Cuban paradoxes.

Once we were docked, we were cleared to depart for our tour.  First, you queue up for the lines at Immigration in the terminal.  It’s not air conditioned, or at least not like we are used to, and it moves at its own pace.  You proceed one by one to present your passport and your Cuban visa (which the cruise line has provided onboard).  They take your photo, keep your visa, then stamp your passport.  WOW – a Cuba stamp in your passport – not something all the neighbors have, for sure!

Once onboard our modern and comfortable motorcoach, we meet our tour guide, who speaks perfect English.  We learned in our seminar yesterday that Cubans have a 99.8% literacy rate and they are taught English beginning in the fourth grade.  The tour takes you first into a tunnel, under the port, to the “Rio-style” statue of Christ across the channel.  There is great pride in that this is the tallest statue in the world which was designed by a woman.  There are also great views of the city from this location.  Afterwards, we continue through the city and along the Malecon seawall and we have our next stop at an artists’ community-type neighborhood called Fusterland (Fuster is a noted artist who uses tile mosaics and has adorned an entire area with his works).

tile-covered buildings in "Fusterland"

tile-covered buildings in “Fusterland”

Our third stop is Revolution Square; in reality, it’s a very large parking lot, but it is bordered by the very tall Revolution monument and buildings with the silhouettes of famed political heroes.  However, the best part of this stop was the rotating collection of more of those really cool cars which came through with tourists, one after the other!

Revolution Square

Revolution Square

As for the current society, we have learned that Cubans attend school at no charge, both grade school and university.  We have also learned that they have full health care, at no charge, and that they have housing guaranteed by the government.  We have been told that money is a constant challenge and the food is rationed so that everyone will be supplied.   Some of these facts cause you to wonder and be somewhat confused about Cubans and how they function, but the noted quote of the day was as our tour ended.   Our guide (who was studying to be a dentist), said “Go out and enjoy Cuba, but don’t try to understand it”!

vintage cars

vintage cars

After dinner back on the ship, we went out again to walk on the Malecon.  We’d been told that many people gather here at night and it’s an enjoyable walk with great views of the city.  Well, yes, there were many more people here at night, but perhaps it’s partially because almost no one has air-conditioning and it’s a bit more pleasant outside, than inside.  It was still plenty hot enough for us, but it was bearable.  (Note, I recommend a cruise to Havana to any interested traveler, but just NOT in July – it was SO HOT!) After our seaside stroll, we ventured into the heart of the city, toward the Capitol and back over to our ship.  We walked through some pretty dark blocks along our route, but we’d been advised that it was very safe as they have virtually no street crime and we had no issues.  Perhaps it’s the indoor heat, or maybe it’s simply the Latin culture, but there were plenty of people out & about at 11pm.

We ended our day fascinated by all we’d seen & experienced in such a short time and we were looking forward to Day 2 and our Vintage Car Tour!

(this is Part 3 in my series of Havana cruise posts; Part 4, the last, follows tomorrow)

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Filed under Caribbean Cruises, Cruise Escapes, Cuba Cruise, Empress of the Seas, Havana cruise, Our Cruise Stories, Our Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Uncategorized

Voyage to Cuba

by Don McCann

The minute we first stepped onboard ship, Cuba was ‘in the air’ with a band playing Cuban style music in the atrium.  We then proceeded up to the lunch buffet, where Cuban paella was being served.  I was very excited to begin our voyage to Cuba and was also pleased to see that Royal Caribbean was helping to set the mood for the trip!

The next morning, during our full day at sea, an introduction to Cuba lecture was featured in the main show lounge at 10am.

Mary Clark Coffey presents Cuba & it's history

Mary Clark Coffey presents Cuba & it’s history

Proving that this was to be no ordinary Caribbean cruise, the lecture was enthuisastically attended and the lounge was totally full.  I was thinking that a lecture on almost any topic on a cruise to St Thomas would be lucky to get 20 people; again proving that this was no ordinary Caribbean cruise!  Our speaker was Mary Clark Coffey, a professor from the northeast U.S.  She easily guided us through Cuba’s early trade history, sugar production, popularity with mob bosses, and of course, the turbulent political times.   Then the different areas of Havana were highlighted and with each photo shown, it became more exciting to realize that “we’ll there tomorrow”!

(this is Part 2 in my series of Havana cruise posts; Part 3 follows tomorrow)

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Filed under Caribbean Cruises, Cruise Escapes, Cuba Cruise, Empress of the Seas, Havana cruise, Our Cruise Stories, Our Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Uncategorized

Technology – It’s a Thing!

by Don McCann

Last week we received a preview video of Holland America Line’s new Koningsdam, which will be introduced next Spring. The ship is, as you might expect, quite impressive and I’m sure it will be a wonderful addition to the Holland America fleet. However, equally as impressive to me is the technology of the video itself! We see many of this type of ‘preview’ videos these days, but I continue to be amazed at the ability of the digital ‘renderings’ to come to life in such a way that it’s difficult to remember that this is not ‘real’ just yet!

Take a look at this short 3minute video and see if you agree that this visual technology is quite a ‘thing’! ……

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Navigator of the Seas: Revitalized!

by Don McCann

When a ship goes into dry dock for some updating, or refreshing, we call it “refurbished“, but when a redo is this dramatic, we have to say the ship was “revitalized“!  Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas had an extended dry dock earlier this year.  Much more than the usual new carpets and perhaps new bed covers, this operation included such features as:

  • New Panoramic Oceanview cabins added up on Deck 12
  • The addition of a new Modern Mexican Specialty Restaurant, Sabor
  • Asian Specialty Restaurant, Izumi
  • A Flowrider surf simulator added to Sports Deck
  • Select interior cabins converted to “Virtual Balcony” cabins via a floor to ceiling digital video screen
  • Giovanni’s Table, Italian Specialty Restaurant in former Portofino
  • New Diamond Lounge for Diamond level Crown & Anchor members

We were treated to a one-night agent cruise last weekend so that we could experience some of Navigator’s amenities first-hand.  My first impression was how much the ship seems to feel virtually ‘new’.  The ship was built in 2002, but you’d never know it by taking a look around.  The cabin’s have been refreshed with new soft goods and all areas I was able to see seemed in very good condition.  The facilities and features of this ship are simply overwhelming for anyone who is boarding for the first time.  I was able to visit most areas of the ship and some of my photos are below.  Take a look and let us know if a voyage with Navigator of the Seas might be of interest to you!

Navigator of the Seas sails year-round from Galveston on 7-night cruises to the Western Caribbean.

Navigator of the Seas: Solarium on Deck 11 for adults only

Solarium on Deck 11 for adults only

Navigator of the Seas:  Viking Crown Lounge overlooking Pool Deck

Viking Crown Lounge overlooking Pool Deck

Navigator of the Seas: Izumi

Izumi – Deck 14

Navigator of the Seas: Izumi Asian Specialty Restaurant

Izumi Asian Specialty Restaurant, with stunning views of the sea from Deck 14!

Navigator of the Seas:  Giovanni's Table Italian Specialty Restaurant on Deck 11

Giovanni’s Table, Italian Specialty Restaurant on Deck 11

Navigator of the Seas: Chop's Grille, Steakhouse Specialty Restaurant on Deck 11

Chop’s Grille, Steakhouse Specialty Restaurant on Deck 11 (an outstanding dining experience!)

Navigator of the Seas: Chop's Grille Deck 11

Chop’s Grille, Deck 11

Navigator of the Seas: Royal Suite

Royal Suite. 1,336 sq ft + 266 sq ft balcony. Although most of us will never get the opportunity to stay here, it is very nice to have a look!

Navigator of the Seas:  Standard Balcony Cabin

Standard Balcony Cabin: 184 sq ft + 50 sq ft balcony

Navigator of the Seas:  Standard Oceanview Cabin

Standard Oceanview Cabin: 160 sq ft

Navigator of the Seas:  Interior Cabin with Virtual Balcony

Interior Cabin with Virtual Balcony: 150 sq ft. Provides live view of current location, complete with sound! (yes, it CAN be turned off if you prefer)

Navigator of the Seas:  Promenade Cabin

Promenade Cabin: 160 sq ft., overlooking the interior Royal Promenade

Navigator of the Seas:  Family Panoramic Oceanview Cabin

Family Panoramic Oceanview Cabin: 406 sq ft. Can accommodate up to six with a bath and a half.

Navigator of the Seas:  Sapphire Dining Room

The three level Sapphire Dining Room (stunning from each level!)

Navigator of the Seas:  Sapphire Dining Room

Sapphire Dining Room on Decks 3, 4, & 5

Navigator of the Seas: Sabor Modern Mexican Specialty Restaurant

Sabor: Modern Mexican Specialty Restaurant. The food here was varied in selection, nicely presented, and DELICIOUS!

Navigator of the Seas: Sabor, tableside guacamole preparation

Sabor, tableside guacamole preparation! Mild, spicy, or HOT – just tell him; a fun twist to a very nice dinner.

Navigator of the Seas:  Royal Promenade

Royal Promenade: the heart of the ship’s activities

Navigator of the Seas:  Cafe Promenade

Cafe Promenade, 24 hour complimentary pizza, sandwiches, and snacks

Navigator of the Seas:   Vintages Wine Bar in Royal Promenade

Vintages Wine Bar in Royal Promenade

Navigator of the Seas:   Bolero

Bolero, just off the Royal Promenade (great Mojitos are found here!)

Navigator of the Seas:  Schooner Bar

Schooner Bar on Deck 4; same design as all of their other ships, but never gets old!

Navigator of the Seas:   Royal Theater

Royal Theater on Decks 2, 3, & 4; home to varied and exciting entertainment options

Navigator of the Seas:  Cosmopolitan Club in Viking Crown Lounge

Cosmopolitan Club in Viking Crown Lounge, Deck 14; expansive views of the sea and pool decks below

Navigator of the Seas:  Johnny Rockets hamburger diner

Johnny Rockets hamburger diner, Deck 12

Navigator of the Seas:   Sports Court on Deck 13

Sports Court on Deck 13

Navigator of the Seas:  Rock Climbing Wall

Rock Climbing Wall, Deck 13 (not for me, but enjoyed my many others)

Navigator of the Seas:   Flowrider Surf Simulator

Flowrider Surf Simulator, Deck 13; great to watch the successes and wipeouts which occur here!

Navigator of the Seas:  Royal Promenade

Royal Promenade below (note Promenade view cabins on either side)

Questions?  Please ask us!

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Filed under Caribbean Cruises, Cruise News, Cruise Ship Dining, Navigator of the Seas, New Ship, Our Cruise Stories, Royal Caribbean, Virtual Balcony Cabin

Panama Canal to celebrate 100 years…is it on your list?

By John Lane Ship-At-Panama-Canal-1

Do you have a bucket list? If not it is time to begin and start checking the places off of that list.  Whether it be Antarctica, Tahiti or the Great Wall of China we can help you make those destinations become a reality.  One of the destinations on most people’s list is the Panama Canal.

In 2014, the Panama Canal will celebrate its 100th anniversary, followed in 2015 by the addition of new locks.  So what a better time to experience one of mankind’s greatest feats.  A dream in the making, the building of the canal took an unprecendented effort and cost many lives to connect the Atlantic and PacificOceans.  It is an amazing experience being raised and lowered through each lock by gravity.  The Panama Canal Offers a truly unique cruise experience one will not forget and 2014 is the year to experience it!

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Best Burger at Sea!

By John Lane Image

Once it was announced that Guy Fieri (of Food Network fame) would introduce Guy’s Burger Joint on Carnival ships I was excited.  I had the chance to enjoy several of his great burgers on my Carnival Triumph cruise and I declare them the “best burgers at sea”.  Yes, you heard me right.  They are hands down the best burgers at sea.  The rest of my family voted them tops too along with other fellow passengers who raved about them.

It all starts with the “Plain Jane”, 80/20 ground chuck on a tasty buttered grilled roll with or without S.M.C. (Super Melty Cheese).  His hand cut fries with signature seasoning accompany every burger.  The soft buttery roll and the tasty fries make this a great combination.  There are five signature burgers you can request or create your own at the toppings bar.  Lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion along with grilled mushrooms, bacon and onions are available to make your heavenly creation.

Once you board a Carnival ship head straight to Guy’s Burger Joint and you will not be disappointed and guess what they are complimentary!

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Filed under Caribbean Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line

The Carnival Triumph returns

By John Lane 

Many people have wondered what the Carnival Triumph was like since it returned to sailing after the mishap earlier in the year.  Well, I can tell you from first hand experience.  

On August 3, I took my family of four on the Triumph for a five night cruise to Progresso and Cozumel.  I was pleased to find that all was back to normal on the Triumph.  Food and entertainment were at its best and the ship looked great.  I went looking to find something wrong but, I really could not find it.  All new carpeting, mattresses and linens and several new venues were added to the ship for the enjoyment of the passengers.

For a four or five night cruise this ship is great.  There are lots of people (2750+) which is one thing that I really don’t like but, the cruise experience was a good one and you can’t go wrong with the price, the ship or destination.  I will go into more detail on the new venues in future blogs.  So the Carnival Triumph is back and better than ever sailing from Galveston.  Give it a try.  Image

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Filed under Caribbean Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line