Sail around Cuba

AdventureSmith Explorations is giving travelers another way to see Cuba with the launch of eight-day cruises along the country’s western and southern coastlines. Most of the sailing is done at night, leaving plenty of time for escorted people-to-people tours.

Highlights include Havana, for a bus tour and an exchange with musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club; Maria LaGorda, for an excursion to Guanahacabibes National Park, one of Cuba’a largest nature reserves; and Cay Largo, for visits to a local medical clinic and a sea turtle breeding center.

Other highlights include the Spanish colonial town of Trinidad and visits with local artists, and Cienfuegos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Panorama, a three-masted sail cruiser, can accommodate up to 49 passengers in 25 cabins.

Dates: Dec. 19-26 and Dec. 26-Jan. 2. Additional tours in January, February, March and April.

Price: From $4,799 per person in a double cabin. Includes round-trip airfare to Havana from Miami, visa and all required licenses, all meals from arrival in Cuba to breakfast on departure, mandatory Cuban medical insurance and transportation.

Info: AdventureSmith Explorations, (800) 728-2875


Cruise Ships are gonig to Cuba


(recent article in Miami Herald)

Havana was exploding in yanqui frenzy. Seven hundred Americans streamed across its streets one steamy May 2016 morning on an expedition of rediscovery. They were the first to arrive via sea since John F. Kennedy was president.

The wave of change was crashing over Cuba.

For passengers on this historic voyage, the visit included hours of tours through the city’s highlight reel. Dinner at a private Cuban restaurant, un paladar. Rides in classic — Cubans would call them rustic — 1950s cars, los almendrones. Strolls through the centuries-old Spanish squares of La Habana Vieja.

But for Miami cruise expert Stewart Chiron and his son Bryan, then 13, Cuba’s unique allure really came to life when they walked into a Havana historical powerhouse: el Hotel Nacional.

Built in 1930 by a U.S. firm and U.S. architects, el Nacional was a haven for American mobsters and starlets. It also was the scene of a bloody siege key to the eventual rise of former dictator Fulgencio Batista. A bunker on the grounds dates to the Cuban Missile Crisis — the threat that eventually prompted Kennedy to sign the Cuba trade embargo that banned most trade and travel between U.S. citizens and the Communist island.

The embargo is still in place. But rules relaxed in 2014 by the U.S. government that allow its citizens to visit for cultural exchanges brought about 615,000 U.S. tourists last year to taste the long-forbidden apple in the Caribbean’s Garden of Eden. This year, an estimated 172,000 tourists will come via nine ships from eight U.S.-based cruise lines.

Until now, other travel sectors, such as airlines and hotels, have struggled to satiate a massive American appetite to see Cuba while dealing with the island’s antiquated infrastructure. Airlines have reduced flights and hotels have lowered their inflated prices. The cruise lines are expected to face that conundrum too, but to a much lesser degree because their unique form of accommodation offers a protection from the island’s shortage of modern hotels and efficient highways — for now.

“Everybody knows, both here and there, that there will have to be infrastructure development to support the onward growth,” said Adam Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises, whose lines Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises will sail to Cuba this year. “Those are just the realities of going to a place that is super interesting and has limitations [and] constraints.” Over time, Cuba’s restaurants, ports, roads, hotels and other tourist facilities will improve, he believes. “But all of that is [still] totally in its infancy.”

In the travel boom spurred by former President Barack Obama’s 2014 announcement of detente, international hotel companies signed building contracts and airlines scrambled to earn a chunk of the 110 available daily flight slots. U.S. arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s chief negotiator with the U.S. Hotel rates soared between 100 and 400 percent, with rooms previously priced at $150 per night skyrocketing to $650, according to New York-based tour operator Insight Cuba. American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit and others started operating daily flights to 10 cities, including airports that hadn’t welcomed U.S. airlines in decades.

As the dust has started to settle, hotel rates have normalized. Airlines that overshot demand for Cuba are cutting back on routes and using smaller planes. The reason: Cuba can be comparatively expensive and traveling there is sometimes cumbersome.

The average round-trip airfare for Cuba from the U.S. was about $342 in February, according to data from Airlines Reporting Corp. While less than the Caribbean round-trip average that month of $594, the fare is relatively high for travel to an island that has a limited number of hotel rooms — only 64,231 in 2015, according to a December Florida International University report on tourism in Cuba, or about 10,000 more than in Miami-Dade — meaning travelers may be hard pressed to find accommodations in their budget. Even taxi drivers, classic car drivers and paladar owners have increased their prices, sometimes doubling or tripling them, according to Insight Cuba.

But many of those challenges don’t exist on a cruise ship. So while airlines have cut back, cruise lines have pushed forward, adding itineraries through the end of the year. By the end of 2017, eight U.S. lines — seven based in Miami — will offer Cuba itineraries. Sailings aboard Carnival Corp.’s pioneering Fathom, which inaugurated U.S. cruise service, will be discontinued after June, but only because demand for its every-other-week trips to the Dominican Republic didn’t match the strength of its Cuba component.

“The cruise industry is pretty well contained, so we bring our own food, we bring our own garbage disposal systems, we want to leave as little footprint as possible but add to the economic prosperity that tourism overall brings,” said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which will sail to Cuba on all three of its lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas.

Read more here:

Demand for airfare to Cuba has slowed

Regularly scheduled passenger jet service to Cuba had been cut off for more than 50 years. Americans who wanted to go there had to go through third countries or take expensive charter flights that were notorious for long delays and steep baggage fees.

President Barack Obama renewed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015, and then brought back commercial airline travel last year. The companies that were authorized by the Department of Transportation booked routes not just to Havana, but also to less traveled cities such as Manzanillo and Holguín. With no history of commercial airline traffic to judge by, the airlines were largely guessing how many United States citizens and Cubans would line up for tickets.

United Airlines has service from Newark and Houston, and Alaska Airlines flies to Havana from Los Angeles. Delta offers three daily flights to Havana from Atlanta, Miami and Kennedy International Airport in New York. Destinations like Santa Clara proved to be less popular than the airlines had hoped, and some were forced to scale back.

“We started pretty big in Cuba,” said Laura Masvidal, a spokeswoman for American Airlines. “We made some adjustments to adjust to the market demand.”

Until February, American Airlines offered 1,920 seats a day to Cuba. The number dropped last month to 1,472, a nearly 25 percent reduction. The airline cut flights to Holguín, Santa Clara and Varadero to one daily flight from two, Ms. Masvidal said.

JetBlue Airways, which on Aug. 31 was the first to fly to Cuba, still offers nearly 50 weekly round-trip flights between the United States and four Cuban cities, but the airline recently switched to smaller planes.

“We have made some adjustment to aircraft types assigned to the routes, which is common as we constantly evaluate how to best utilize our aircraft fleet within our network,” said Doug McGraw, an airline spokesman.

Silver Airways has been flying 22 flights a week with smaller aircraft to nine Cuban destinations other than the capital, including Santa Clara, Holguín and Cayo Coco. Demand, Ms. Pinson said, was depressed by complications with online travel agency distribution and code-share agreements that still have not been resolved. The airline had already tried reducing its offerings.

The airline’s decision comes even as passenger traffic to Cuba is actually increasing at a brisk pace.

“The market is exploding,” said Chad Olin, the president of Cuba Candela, which specializes in booking trips to Cuba for the millennial traveler. “There is some demand adjustment happening as well, but net outcome is still one of the fastest growing markets in global tourism history.”

Mr. Olin said restaurants, bars and private home rentals are now much more crowded with Americans than even just a few months ago. “You hear American English spoken everywhere,” he said in an email.

And to hear the Cuban government media tell it, Americans interested in visiting Cuba were triggered by a message that told everyone to “travel now.”

The number of Americans who visited Cuba was up 125 percent in January, compared with the same month last year, the government reported, calling it a “virtual stampede.” Americans, the report said, were prompted by President Trump’s administration calling for a total review of the Cuba policies enacted by Mr. Obama.

Under the administration of George W. Bush, Cuban-Americans were limited to how often they could visit their families, so that niche also had a 38 percent increase, the Cuban media report said.

But it was still not enough to fill the flights.

“I think that a lot of airlines thought that there would be more demand than there is,” said Paul Berry, a spokesman for Spirit airlines, which flies twice a day to Havana from Fort Lauderdale. “Loads are not very heavy.”

Mr. Berry said there are still glitches, including not being able to easily use American credit cards. Cuban hotels are pricey, and some travelers are turned off by the extra costs for things like required traveler’s medical insurance and visas. The landing fees alone, Mr. Berry said, are sometimes more expensive than the actual airfare.

American citizens are still required to report which of the 12 authorized types of travel they are undertaking, which could also be limiting the number of potential passengers, he said. Religious and educational trips are allowed, but tanning on the beach is not. Many Americans are “not willing to flat-out lie” about why they are going, Mr. Berry said.

“A lot of people are not traveling; I think that’s why you see other airlines scale back,” he said. “There’s just not as much demand to go around.”

Carnival Adds Sailings to Cuba

Reservations Now Being Accepted for Carnival’s First-Ever Visits to the Historic Cuban Capital MIAMI (February 14, 2017) – Following the history-making launch of cruises from the U.S. to Cuba on Carnival Corporation’s Fathom brand last year, the company’s namesake and largest cruise brand — Carnival Cruise Line — has now received approval to sail to Cuba. The Cuban capital of Havana will be added to select Carnival Paradise voyages from Tampa beginning in June 2017. The overnight visits to Havana will be featured on 12 four- and five-day cruises aboard Carnival Paradise departing from the Port of Tampa starting June 29, 2017, providing vacationers with a rare and exciting opportunity to explore this fascinating and previously off-limits destination. Four-day cruises will depart June 29, July 13, August 24, September 7 and 21, and October 5 and 19, 2017 as well as May 3, 2018 and include a daytime and overnight visit to Havana. Five-day voyages will depart August 14 and 28, September 25 and October 9, 2017, and include a daytime and overnight visit to Havana as well as a stop in either Cozumel or Key West. Carnival Paradise guests will be able to choose from a range of exciting shore excursion experiences that showcase Cuba’s vibrant culture and majestic beauty, along with the island’s warm and friendly people and centuries-old architectural landmarks. “Cuba is an island jewel unique from anywhere else in the Caribbean and we are thrilled to have this rare opportunity to take our guests to this fascinating destination,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “The opportunity to visit Havana, combined with the fun, relaxed ambiance and wide variety of amenities and features offered on Carnival Paradise, will make for a truly one-of-a-kind vacation experience,” she added. Aboard Carnival Paradise, guests can enjoy an array of amenities and a full schedule of daytime activities and nighttime entertainment. A variety of dining options include two full-service main dining rooms and expansive poolside choices. The ship also features a 12,000-square-foot Spa Carnival health and wellness facility and an exclusive Serenity adults-only retreat. Popular family-friendly programming includes Seuss at Sea in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises and featuring the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast with The Cat in the Hat and Friends and fun, supervised activities for kids in three age groups. Four swimming pools and a 115- foot-long water slide are additional features. 2

Cuba Travel Tips

In 2017 Cuba is rated as one of the top tourist spots for Americans.  It is getting easier to go to Cuba each and every day.

There are several ways to go to Cuba.  Most folks go on a “People to People” trip. They are 12 different reasons Americans can visit Cuba such as a journalist, religious trip, visiting a realitve, scientific and several others.  But the main one is a trip where you will have a chance to interact with the Cuban people and it is called “People to People.”

You can take a land base trip with a company like Globus or Cosmos.  Also now you are able to take a cruise to Cuba on Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and other cruise lines.  Many of the cruise lines only visit Cuba for a a day or two spening the rest of their time in the Caribbean.

I recently took 19 travelers to Cuba with Cosmos and it was a wonderful trip.

Also we went on a American Airlines charter out of Miami.  However in recent months several airlines have been given permission to fly to Cuba including America, Delta, Jet Blue and many others.  However, you still will need to go to Cuba for one of the 12 designations that I mentioned above.

You cannot exchange money before you go to Cuba.  You can exchange it once you get to your hotel.  It is really not hard to do.  I would only get a few hundred dollars worth at a time so you dont have to exchange it when you leave and lose ten percent on the exchange.

By the way when you exchange American dollars into the Cuban Peso you lose ten percent of your value.

You will find the Cuban people so friendly. We met Cubans in many settings and we found them so nice and willingly to help you out in any way.

We all felt safe walking down any Cuban street. Crime is quite low in Cuba and unless you go looking for trouble I think you should have no problem walking around most Cuban neighborhoods.

Expect to find music everywhere in Cuba.  I know when we had lunch or dinner at any restaurant there was some group playing some type of music.  It is really nice to have the experience of listening to some Sala or Jazz while eating your meal.

Some people believe you need to wait to go to Cuba when they have five star hotels. I would disagree with that statement and encourage travelers to go to Cuba now and see what the Cuban life is really like.

Since I was there a few months ago, the amount of Americans going has increased.  So if you want to go before there are crowds in Little Havana then you need to start planning your vacation right now.

One treat we had when we visited the western section of Cuba in Vinales was the Casa Particulares which are bed and breakfast establishments owned by local citizens trying to better their lives.  We found them quite nice. In fact the bathroom where we stayed was more modern than most American bathrooms.  The bedroom was quite nice as well.  The Cuban family cooked us a typical Cuban meal which was so good.  If you have a chance on your trip to Cuba try and stay in one for a real Cuban experience.

It is hard but not impossible to get on the internet in Cuba.  You have to buy an internet card which cost from two to four Cuban dollars.  Then you scratch off the code and find a hot spot in the middle of a town or a hotel and receive your emails.  I had one person who bought several cards and seemed to have moderate success in using them.

If you have any interest in going to Cuba write me at and I will attempt to help you plan a Cuban vacation for you.