Yes, yes, yes… we’re WAY behind posting about our pre-Christmas trip to Cuba.
Chuck and I wanted to make sure we took a trip to Cuba before too much changed and before it because to ‘Westernized.”
With that said, we still like all the modern conveniences of A/C, WIFI and US dollars.
We decided that a cruise to Cuba was our best bet living in Florida and we found a Royal Caribbean International cruise that had an overnight in Havana.
The cruise was leaving out of Ft. Lauderdale with a day at sea, a day in Key West and then overnight in Havana before heading back to Ft. Lauderdale.
During our planning, we looked for Havana excursions that were not part of the cruise line as we like to go off the beaten path.
Chuck found an excellent tour called I LOVE Cuba Photo tours, and we booked them for our first day in Cuba. We figured this would give us a night on the town and the last morning to wander whenever we got up.
We decided to drive to Ft. Lauderdale a few days early and stay with friends who had moved to Wilton Manors. It was a great idea as our friends offer Airbnb so the accommodations were excellent and we love spending time with them.
When in Ft. Lauderdale / Wilton Manors be sure to check out Rosie’s Bar and Grill. This place is fun, funky and has a vast variety of interesting menu items with crazy names.
I had the Gouda Gracious! A burger with smoked gouda, crispy prosciutto, baked parmesan crisps and a “sassy schmear” of lemon-basil aioli. It came on the perfect roll! It was the same size as the burger (a big pet peeve of mine) soft on the inside to absorb everything and firm on the outside, so it didn’t fall apart.
We have cruised with Royal Caribbean a few times previously and had a wonderful experience. We knew that the ship, the Majesty of the Seas, was an older ship; built in 1992.
We also knew it was on the smaller side with fewer amenities because only smaller ships can get into Cuba’s ports.
The ship was refurbished earlier in 2018, but honestly, it was hard to tell. I think the configuration of the deck plan was odd with several decks where you had a short flight of stairs to get back up to the elevator lobby.
The staterooms were OK, just know that because of its age there are no balconies.
We parked at a local offsite lot and shuttled over, getting into the terminal was really easy. But, that’s where it ended. I’ve never seen embarkation that was so difficult on any cruise line we have sailed. It was especially frustrating considering the size of the ship.
It seems they have a large oval counter in the center of the terminal with lower deck numbers on one side, higher deck numbers on the other and a few lines marked for Cuban born passengers and Suites.
The problem is that as you come into the terminal there is no one directing you and the signage is minimal, so EVERYONE queues up in the line for higher decks backing everyone up.
Cast Iron Stomach
We got on board after embarkation that took nearly two hours and grabbed some lunch at the buffet.
I typically have a cast iron stomach, even my Yelp profile says “ I eat anything that doesn’t eat me first.” But this trip tested my fortitude. I’m not sure if it was something I ate that may not have been appropriately handled or a guest who didn’t listen to all of the hand sanitizing information. By late that evening, I was incredibly ill and stayed in our cabin through the sea day and Key West.
Chuck brought me broth, rice, and tea while I locked myself in and tried to get it together, I WAS NOT missing Cuba.
Fortunately, we had been in Key West just a few weeks before the SamrtRide. So, we had nothing planned, and I didn’t feel bad not getting off an exploring.
By the time we left port for Havana, I was feeling considerably better, but an announcement as we were leaving Key West hit me in the gut.
Because of impending severe weather near Havana, we would be leaving Havana at 1am the first night and missing the entire second day. I know they can’t do anything about the weather, but we were thrilled we had booked our tour for the first day.
You Can’t Control The Weather
By the time we were arriving in Havana we had a weather update; things were moving more quickly. So, now we needed to be back onboard by 6pm. That completely knocked out any option for seeing the nightlife of Havana.
If at all possible for NOT pay for any non-cruise line excursions in advance. It seems that some people booked dinner and a show at one of Havana’s iconic clubs. I’m guessing about $125 US each, for eight people with a 72-hour cancellation policy.
Can you say OUCH?
More on our I LOVE Cuba tour in our next blog post…