Havana, Cuba

When my mother mentioned she wanted to visit Cuba for her 60th birthday, I didn’t get excited right away. It took some research for me to become comfortable enough to plan this trip. We decided on a cruise because it seemed like the safer choice. We also live less than 45 minutes from the Port of Tampa, which made traveling there more convenient. There were so many people with different opinions (good and bad) about visiting Cuba. From the photos, posts and blog entires I reviewed on several social media outlets, it looked like a beautifully broken country. And, that it was.

I’ve always enjoyed cruising (I got married during cruise to the Cayman Islands). I definitely enjoy the larger cruise ships more, but the Port of Tampa is limited on size that can maneuver in and under the Skyway Bridge. For that reason, the ships tend to be smaller and for some reason, older. For our cruise to Cuba, we sailed on The Carnival Paradise and were told it was retiring and will be replaced as of February 2018. If you are a foodie hoping to entertain your palate, a small Carnival Fun Ship isn’t the way to go. The food is medicore. On occasion, they’ll offer something great, but don’t go for the food. Go for the fun!

Unfortunately, we ran into a major issue as we were boarding. One of the women in our group of 7 traveling, was born in Cuba and our Carnival Agent never told me (or her) she needed an updated Cuban passport. She is a US Citizen and hasn’t been there since she was 2. She only had the one they issued her in 1959, which had expired. The Carnival travel agent we used could’ve avoided the issue from the start if she would’ve asked if anyone in the group was Cuban-born. Unfortunately, that was never once mentioned she was turned away and didn’t get to go, nor did she receive her money back even though she purchased the additional travel insurance. As you can imagine, the first few hours upon arrival weren’t fun. I hoped after several calls and emails to Carnival, they would refund her, but they never did. When we mentioned this on board to one of the supervisors, she said that it happens often because the agents are new to Cuban cruises. Our ship was on the 4th one to visit Cuba.

We arrived in Cuba the next morning and it was surreal. I think the uncertainty of traveling there was probably the most exciting part.

We arrived in Cuba the next morning and it was surreal. I think the uncertainly of traveling there was probably the most exciting part. My first reaction was “Wow, how beautiful and old. How very very old”. Pretty much everything you see in the pictures is real. The old cars, abandoned buildings and a poverty stricken country who never recovered. There are definitely signs of rebuilding, mostly in the Plaza de la Catedral, but not as much as I expected there to be. We booked a bus excursion through Carnival (At the time we went, we were legally only allowed to travel with a guide). We chose the “top 10 things” excursion which included a 6 hour bus ride around Havana. We stopped as several places throughout the city. Some of the spots had amazing views. I wasn’t impressed by the market and the cigar shop we went to was very sketchy. I brought back some cuban cigars for a friend and he said they were most likely fake. So, travelers should be aware of their surroundings. Our bus driver took us to a privately owned restaurant (La Moneda Cubana in the Cathedral Square) for dinner, but it wasn’t fabulous. It also wasn’t what I imagined real cuban food to be. Americans eat CubanAmerican food and finding a Cuban sandwich in Cuba was very hard to come by. The most amazing part for me was trying to envision what it once was. Beauty shined deep within every wall. Time stopped for this country. They never had the chance to grow or modernize. We are so lucky as Americans. We are blessed to have what we have. Traveling to countries like Cuba makes you appreciate so much.

As we pulled out of port, I knew I would never go back, but I felt super lucky to have seen what I did and experience it with my family and friends. The remaining part of our cruise was so much fun. We enjoyed some sun by the pool, played bingo, gambled (and won), watched the comedy show and laughed. We laughed so much!