Travel to Cuba has opened up for Americans quite a bit lately, and lots of folks are considering a visit, including me! Even though it is now easier to travel to Cuba, there are still restrictions in place and they seem to keep changing. While it is possible to travel on your own, you must meet some very specific criteria for your activities in Cuba and maintain documentation of those activities as well as obtain appropriate visas. For this reason, most people choose to go with an organized tour group or a cruise, where the activities are pre-arranged to comply with government regulations. For more information on the “people to people” regulations, Cruise Critic has a great article at their website .
One of the complaints about travel in Cuba that I have heard as a travel agent is that the hotels are just not up to our US standards. The “time-warp” feel you get in Cuba is part of this. The easiest way to insure you have a great place to sleep at night is to visit Cuba via Cruise ship. Smaller cruises are preferable, so that you are not accompanied by thousands when you descend upon town. (However, larger ships are preferable if you want to have shows, casinos and rock climbing walls…) The other advantage to the cruise ship is that you can visit multiple destinations and not need to worry about packing and unpacking your bags. Depending upon how you look at things, an added bonus is that you will have wifi on your ship! Access to the internet is still extremely limited on the island of Cuba.
The other big complaint about traveling around the island is that the roads are not up to our standards, making travel between cities slow and difficult. The roads are also full of cars that have nowhere near the level of emissions control that we are accustomed to in the US, so pollution levels are much higher. If you are on a cruise ship, you just sail to another part of the island and avoid many of these roads.
photo from azamaraclubcruises.com
There are also land based tours to Cuba that are excellent and will allow you to meet the “people to people” requirements, but those will have you stay in local hotels. For this article, I am sticking to the cruise options, because it is the easiest and likely most comfortable way to visit the island as an American.
There are more and more cruise lines announcing Cuban itineraries all the time now. This is an EXCELLENT reason to get there soon, before the island is overrun with tourists from America! Here are some of my favorite options for cruises to Cuba:
Oceania Cruises – This is a great cruise line of smaller ships, owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines (most are 600-680 passengers, but the Marina carries 1250 passengers) They are a step up in luxury from the larger mass market cruise lines, but not quite the price and luxury level of the top-tier small ships. It is a very-nice entrance to luxury cruising for many people. The atmosphere on these ships is “country club casual” and they are known for fantastic food. Oceania prides itself on giving you an immersive experience and they offer many options for itineraries out of the port of Miami.
Azamara Club Cruises – This is the higher-end, smaller cruise line owned by Royal Caribbean. The ships carry 694 passengers and also offers immersive experiences. Some of the itineraries offer several ports of call in Cuba, so you can see multiple locations. Azamara also prides itself on immersive experiences and the “Azamazing evenings”. The line offers great food and very nice accommodations, also with a “country club casual” feel.
Tauck Small Ship Cruising – Tauck is one of my favorite small ship cruising companies. They are chartering Ponant’s Le Ponant sailing vessel which carries only 64 passengers on its beautiful sailing vessel. Tauck is fantastic for its all-inclusive approach to cruising. You pay for just about everything you will need up front and don’t need to worry about additional expenses for excursions, drinks, gratuities, wifi and the like. The Ponant is lovely, but it is a small vessel. The size of the ship has advantages and disadvantages. It can not offer all that a larger ship does, but you will not have crowds, and staff to guest ratios will be excellent. My experience with the French owned Ponant has been that food is superior and there is an understated elegance on board.
Ponant – You can also sail with Ponant on their beautiful sailing vessel by sailing directly with them, but you will not have all of the inclusions offered by Tauck. For Ponant, you fly to Cuba and cruise out of Havana. The ship is beautiful, but you should be aware that it is much smaller than the other vessels and the rooms are more limited as a whole.
Regent Seven Seas – This is the most luxurious option available right now for cruising to Cuba. The Ships carry 700 passengers and offer an extremely inclusive experience. This is great if you do not want to keep paying for “extras” like excursions, air fare, transfers, beverages, and gratuities. The itinerary for 2018 leaves from Miami and includes several other stops in the Caribbean, so this is a nice option for those who maybe just want a “taste” of Havana.
Viking Ocean Cruises – This is an up and coming luxury , small ship, ocean line. It has recently won many industry awards, and provides an all-inclusive experience as well. Like Regent, it does stop in Havana, but Cuba is just a part of the itinerary. At present, there is no itinerary that is only Cuba. This is a great option for those interested in checking out these smaller, newer, luxury vessels but also want to visit more than just Cuba.
Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival – These lines have all announced sailings to Cuba as well, and more are likely to follow suit. They will be using their smaller ships, but these will still be larger than the lines I have already mentioned. For that reason, I do not have them in my “top picks” for Cuba cruises.
Cuba is a fascinating place to visit, even with the restrictions. It is likely that more and more cruises and tour operators will begin including Cuban itineraries. Because of that, the smart traveler will want to get in before things change too much, and crowds get too big. There is no time like the present to book your trip to Cuba!
I can help you plan your next trip!!