Wednesday, 02 September 2015 16:30

Cuba Affordable and Legal Cruise

Written by  Robert Selwitz
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Clients seeking a less expensive way to visit Cuba without being forced to join a group should know about CubaCruise. Aboard the Celestyal Crystal, a 1,200-passenger Malta-flagged vessel leased by a Canadian company, anyone who can reach Montego Bay on a Friday between December 15, 2015 and April 8, 2016 can start a very reasonably priced, high quality, seven-day
Cuban experience.

They’ll do so on their own throughout each destination, and easily exchange their money for the CUCs Cuba requires visitors use. Then they can hire a taxi, eat often-superb food, wander the streets and explore historic site and museums, and encounter and interact with Cubans who are unfailingly warm and cordial towards foreign visitors.

Trip Itinerary
After leaving Montego Bay, your Cuban sojourn starts Saturday when you dock at music-rich Santiago de Cuba. A Sunday at sea precedes your trip’s highlight, 31 and half hours
in Havana.
Docking at the edge of Havana Vieja, the Cuban capital’s old town, the minute your feet hit the ground after your 9:30 am Monday arrival, you’re ready to explore the city’s
amazing sights.
A good way to start is to wend from the ship towards El Capitolio, Cuba’s capitol building which strangely replicates the US Capitol. Walking directly takes around a half-hour. But, your clients can also meander in either direction encountering a number of fascinating sights.
These include the Plaza of the Cathedral, home to the 18th century Cathedral of San Cristobal and its stunning baroque facade; the Plaza de Armas and its baroque Palacio de los Capitances Generales, the 16th century Castillo de la Real Fuerza, Havana’s oldest standing military structure, and the neo-classical El Templete, a 19th century replacement for the original which is believed to be the site of Havana’s first mass.
Also look for Plaza Vieja, originally laid out in 1559, locate and pause at incredibly atmospheric Calle Obispo, then head through the less well-maintained streets and avenues you must traverse en route to El Capitolio.
Throughout your walks, one constant will be the friendliness of the people and the complete lack of worry about safety on the streets or any aggressive appearance or seeming surveillance by the military or police. Indeed, only the many shells of collapsed buildings standing unattended, and sidewalks requiring continual checking before stepping raise any concerns.
On the way you’ll pass fabulous churches, vendors selling all manner of foods and drinks, and a tantalizing mix of dining spots where prices are quite reasonable. And, if time permits, take a stroll along part of Havana’s five-mile-long seaside Malecon, particularly appealing at dawn or dusk.
Do note that since many museums and sites are shut on Mondays, save indoor exploration of art and historic structures for Tuesday morning and afternoon, prior to your 5:30 pm departure.
A Wednesday stop at Maria la Gorda, known primarily for its diving opportunities is next. Then on Thursday, you have seven hours-from 8 am to 3 pm--to explore the lovely colonial town of Cienfuegos. Filled with gorgeous buildings and elegant squares, this is a fine send-off for your Cuba departure. You return to Montego Bay the following day, with time to explore historically rich Jamaica, or easily connect to mainland US return flights.

Cruise Eexperience
Adding to the enjoyment of your cruise is the Celestyal Crystal itself. It offers 480 staterooms, nine decks, appealing standard dining plus a premium priced steakhouse, internet access, a spa and fitness room, and evening musical shows, many featuring mainland Cuban performers and acts. Also on board are a swimming pool, multiple lounges, and a disco.
Of course, this being a destination driven sailing experience, the fact that it’s cost is reasonable is another definite plus. For example, last January, during the first CubaCruise season, my wife and I spent around $3,300 for everything including $2,100 for a large room with balcony, all food, shows and normal shipboard amenities, two New York City/Montego Bay roundtrip JetBlue tickets (approximately $850) and around $240 for wine and onboard internet service. That was a third of the $10,000 a couple can still easily pay for mass movement affinity tours, and the transportation charges (including mandatory $500 Miami/Havana round-trips) they impose.

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