Havana, Cuba is known for its Spanish colonial architecture, classic 1950’s, colorful cars and delicious Cuban food. Donna Nelson experienced all this and more with a 7-night Authentic Cuba Cruise aboard Holland America Line. She not only learned the history of this beautiful city, but dove right into its culture. Between cigar-making (and sampling) to Tropicana dancing, Donna got the full flavor of all that Cuba has to offer.
What did you enjoy most about the cruise experience?
I enjoyed the size of the ship. With only 1350 passengers, getting around the ship made it very easy with no lines to get on or off the ship at any given time. Embarking and disembarking on Wednesdays was very nice too. The port was not crowded at all. The days at sea were very relaxing with plenty of things to do on the ship if you chose to do so. The size of the cabin was spacious and there was a lot of storage space.
Tell us about the ports/cities you visited with this itinerary.
The first port we visited was Costa Maya. There was not much to see or do near the port unless you take a shore excursion. There is a cute shopping area at the port with a few restaurants and bars. There is also a pool and swim up bar tourists can enjoy. Most of the excursions offered were to the ruins on the mainland. The next port was Cozumel. The ship docks in town and guests get off the ship upstairs in a very commercial shopping center. We took the elevator downstairs, negotiated a private car and driver for the day for a reasonable rate. We saw the entire island with a tequila tasting tour included in the rate. Then, we stopped for lunch at Coconuts, a charming local restaurant along the ocean. The driver was very friendly, knowledgeable and their English was great. The final port was Havana, Cuba. What an amazing city. The Captain opened the bow of the ship to the guests as we sailed into Cuba at sunrise. The locals are friendly, gracious and very welcoming. The architecture in Old Havana was beautiful. Modern Havana was very sleek and contemporary in design. Seeing the old classic cars was fun. They are used by the locals but also as taxis. The food here was very good.
What shore excursions did you go on? Which ones would you recommend?
The only excursion we took was in Havana. The Culinary Traditions tour was great. It included a cooking demonstration, the history and sampling of Cuban Cigars, rum and coffee. Lunch was also included at a restaurant at the Ballet. The food was good and it included a beverage of choice. After lunch we visited a local bar with a demonstration of the local drinks, Mojitos and Sangria. Followed by a city tour and a walking tour of the Plazas and Cathedral with the opportunity to buy Cuban cigars and coffee. The tour ended at the local market with time to shop for souvenirs. That evening we took a shore excursion to the famous Tropicana. The show, costumes and music were unbelievable. Well worth the money spent.
What advice do you have for someone going on a similar trip?
- When exchanging US dollars for Cuban pesos (called CUC) there is a 10% commission. It’s best to have Mexican pesos to exchange for the CUCs so you don’t have to pay the additional commission.
- Be sure to have free time in Havana to enjoy the sights on your own after an excursion. Otherwise, there is no time for riding in a classic car or other activities.
- If you have a smartphone, you must download the mobile passport app. It will save you time at the port when disembarking the ship after the cruise. With this app, we skipped the long winding line through customs. It took less than 10 minutes through customs and within 4 minutes our Uber driver was there and at the airport in less than 15 minutes.
What did you like most about the cruise line?
I liked the size of the ship. The cabin size was larger than most with amazing storage (drawers) and closet space. The bathroom was large with a full size tub and shower. The shower head was awesome, with strong water pressure and hot water instantly. My favorite dining was the Dive In Grill near the pool. The fitness center was large with a variety of equipment.
What are 3 things one can expect from this cruise line?
- The clientele on Holland America was mixed, but mostly seniors and some with limited mobility.
- Staffing was good, but not exceptional.
- The food was mediocre at best. The portion sizes were good – not an overwhelming amount of food on the plate. There weren’t large selections to choose from on the menus. The Lido Market lacked in variety and selection.
Did you do any shopping or specialty dining on board the ship? What were your favorites?
I did not do any shopping on the ship, but we did peruse the shops. There was nothing too special and a bit overpriced. I did experience The Pinnacle Grill. The food here was very good and the service was great.