Category Archives: Cruise Escapes

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

Celebrity Edge

Celebrity Edge

by John Lane

I was recently given the opportunity to spend an afternoon at Celebrity Cruises’ Innovation Lab featuring their new ship, Celebrity Edge.  The 10,000 square foot venue behind Celebrity’s headquarters in Miami offers a look at the design elements and technology that will be featured on this new ship for 2018.

The Celebrity Edge is the first ship to be 100% designed in 3-D.  With special shoes and our 3-D glasses on we stood in front of a large screen where the outdoor deck appeared.

We watched as people moved about the deck and they could evaluate the space to see if there was enough space for good traffic flow.  We then saw how they could move structures to make more room, change the color or even the size of any object for it to be more pleasing …all of this in 3-D!

The biggest news of the ship is the infinite verandas.   They are 23% larger than Celebrity’s current verandas sailing today.  From their surveys Celebrity found their guests wanted:

  1. larger bathrooms
  2. larger beds
  3. more storage space
  4. larger living area
  5. larger veranda

Celebrity Edge infinite veranda

With the infinite veranda guests will experience all five.  This new veranda brings the outside in.  Glass French doors open to the veranda which gives you more living space or they can be closed off to create a traditional veranda.  A wall of glass that opens with a press of a button brings the fresh air and sunlight into your stateroom.  (click photos to enlarge)

CCelebrity Edge Magic CarpetThe Magic Carpet which started out as a new design for a tender platform transformed into a moveable multi purpose area that will be a luxury embarkation station on Deck Two.  When on Deck Five, it becomes an extension of one of the restaurants.  On Deck 14 it becomes an extension of the pool area and on Deck 16 it will host “Dinner on the Edge”.

New suites include six two-story Edge Villas offering 950 squareCelebrity Edge Villafeet complete with outdoor living space and plunge pool along with two Iconic Suites perched atop the bridge offering 1880 square feet of luxury along with 685 square feet of outdoor living space with Jacuzzi.  These two suites along with the Penthouse, Royal, Celebrity and Sky Suites will be part of the “Retreat” offering a private lounge area, pool and dining in Luminae, the private dining venue for Retreat guests.

These are just a few of the reveals offered at this time.  More amazing reveals are to come and will definitely raise the bar on cruising.  Beginning December 16, 2018 it will embark on 7 night alternating Eastern/Western Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale.

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Sip & Sail? Yes, Please!

Princess Sip and Sail logo

by Don McCann

Several major cruise lines have released ‘beverage package’ promotions in the last year, or so and they have proved very popular.  Even for those who are not heavy drinkers, it simply makes the cruise experience that much nicer to have that expense included with the cruise rate.  Some lines have a premium level package at an additional cost, but the classic, or standard package works for most cruisers.  Your soft drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages (up to a certain value, usually about $10) are complimentary on these promotions.  One such example is with Princess Cruises and their current Sip & Sail promotion.  Bookings have to be made by August 31 of this year for cruises in the summer of next year, in 2017.  For some sample rates and details, click here.

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