Cuban Cruise Review – what we did and what we wish we would have known before we went.
Sorry I’ve been MIA lately…this summer has been a little loco. Me and my high school beastie went on a little trip and I’ve had so many questions that I decided to write up a little Cuban cruise review before I get back to the real work. So, this will be a bit of a different post for ya, but very soon I’ll get you updated on whats happing over here now that the kiddos are back in school!
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I wanted to write about our experience because I thought it might be helpful for people who are considering a Cuban cruise. This is an unpaid, unsponsored recount of our trip. We took the Norwegian Sun Freestyle cruise from Orlando, Fl on Monday, stopped in Key West, Florida Tuesday and the next day and overnight in Havana, Cuba. We then spent one day at sea and arrived back in Orlando on Friday morning.
First things first. One of the things we were super confused about was the Visa you need to get into Cuba. I’ll break it down for you. You will need a Cuban Visa, in addition to your US passport before you board any Cuban cruise. The visas, at the time we purchased, were $75. I could not figure out how to buy the visa on Norwegian’s site, so I bought it through one of the links on their site. It cost me $75 and was shipped to me. Shipping took about 4 days, so make sure you allow time for that to arrive before you leave. My friend couldn’t figure out how to buy it either, so she called Norwegian (NCL). The first person she talked to couldn’t help her, they seemed a little confused about what was going on. She said it took awhile, but she finally got somebody on the phone and got it through them. So, hers took longer to purchase, however when we went to check in on the day of departure, the woman had never seen my type of visa before, so we waited forever for her to figure out how to use it. So, should you buy through Norweigen? I would say yes. It was a wash for us, but I would have rather done the waiting from the comfort of my couch. I was ready to get on the boat!
Next, we were very confused about the excursions. Should we buy one or not? We weren’t entirely sure we were going to be able to get off the boat in Cuba without one. Well, we decided to chance it, we didn’t buy any excursions and we were able to get off just fine, so long as we had our visas. I’ll let you know how we got around, and what we did in Cuba if you keep reading.
Getting on the boat can be a pain. If you’ve never been on a cruise before, like me, you had to wait awhile smushed with a group of people. Finally, they went over all the safety stuff, life boats, etc. Then we were free. We headed to our room and were pleasantly surprised with our room. Our luggage arrived shortly after we did. We purchased a balcony room and it was very nice. The beds were super comfy also. We had two beds that were a little smaller than twins, which I thought would be annoying, but they were actually nice.
After we settled, we set out to explore the boat. It’s not a super big boat, but it was nice. This cruise was a “freestyle” cruise, which means you can eat wherever you want with whoever you want. It was great, plus the drinks were all included. There was big barrels, you could just grab a beer anytime or the bartenders can make whatever you want. I think high end drinks were a bit more, but I am a beer drinker, so I’m not sure. On that note, one more tip – they add a $20 a day “tip” to your bill. They say this is for tips and etc. You don’t have to tip on the ship, but still not sure why they don’t just include everything and pay the service staff more.
After the long time it took to get on, we were starving and the only thing we could find open around 4:30 was the Great Outdoors Cafe. It was great, we especially love the pineapple (so fresh) and the quinoa. I’ve never been a fan of quinoa, but I had 3 helpings of this. So good. Since we are on the subject, all the food on the ship was amazing. Seriously, so good. Our favorite place was the Seven Seas main dining room. Elegant without being stuffy, the food was so freaking good. Honestly the food was probably my favorite thing on the whole trip.
After the first day, we arrived in Key West. For some reason we thought we would arrive early morning, but we didn’t arrive until afternoon. Since we choose not to get an excursion, we were the last to get off the boat. We didn’t arrive in Key West until 5pm and needed to be back on the boat by 8, so we didn’t have much time. If I had realized we wouldn’t arrive until so late, I would have bought an excursion just to get off earlier.
The time we did spend in Key West was glorious. We loved it. Such beautiful trees and foliage, and the houses were stunning. Fun shops and eateries, and we had to have of course have a slice of Key Lime Pie. It was delicious as was the Banana Daquari we got along the roadside. I don’t have much to recommend, since we were there for such a short time, but I would say get one of the Lonley Planet travel books. We used these in both Key West and Cuba and they were great. We hit a couple of recommended spots from the book and enjoyed every min.
We arrived too late and just missed getting into Hemmingways house tour, so if you want to do that you might look at doing an excursion. We did look around and tried to spot a six toed cat, but no such luck. We did get to see the lighthouse Hemmingway used to get home and the outside of the house, which was beautiful.
We went down to Mallory Square, which was so fun. Fire juggling, local mercants, coconut juice, all the super fun touristy stuff was here. And it was beautiful, right on the water.
As you may know, Cuba is a short 90 miles, so when waking up the next morning we were in Havana. The views from the ship were so pretty.
The boat arrived while we were asleep, so by the time we got up, ate a delicious breakfast at the Seven Seas and exchanged our money, it was around 11am. As we walked out onto the street, we were immediately stopped by a man with a horse drawn carriage who offered to take us around the city for $20 a piece. We (I) decided it would be fun so we hopped aboard.
I should say that Cuba is a little poorer than I was prepared for. The horse driver did a great job of showing us around, however, he did try to sell us a lot of things. We bought some cigars at a local shop, after passing on some other less than temping offers. We saw the city, good and bad, and ended our carriage ride back near where we started. Since we had no cell service, we used our Lonley Planet book to get around.
We looked around Habana Vieja for a bit, saw the beautiful Cathedral de la Habana had a fun little lunch at Cafe Bohemia in the Plaza Vieja. They had wonderful cakes and margarita.
One of our favorite spots was a ways away from the place we first departed. We visited a little neighborhood called “Jaimanitas”. It was beautiful. Started by an artist in the neighborhood as a way to bring vibrance and life into the area, it was a beautiful mosaic wonderland. Take a cab over to visit if you have a chance. We met a wonderful couple selling their son’s art out of their home and my friend bought a piece. Our sweet cab driver even waited for us and returned us to the main port after picking up and meeting with his lovely wife. You can read more about it in the Lonely Planet books.
We also visited the Cuban Museum of Art and spent some time shopping in all the little shops that lined the streets. A couple of things I wish I had known beforehand. Their are a lot of little shops that line the streets and they all pretty much have the same items. Souvenir type nicknacks and art prints. All the shops, including the cigar shops, close at 6 so keep that in mind. I almost missed getting cigars for the hubs.
A few more things to note is that you should only drink bottled water, even watching the fresh produced that has been washed with water. Bring toilet paper, a lot of the restrooms don’t have any. Bring lots of dollar coins to tip with, people are everywhere that need the money and will help you out.
You have to exchange your money back to America currency before 8pm, so we had to decide if we were going to see the Havana night life. We were exhausted and a little overwhelmed so we made the decision to get on the boat and stay. We had another wonderful dinner at Seven Seas and then hit the sack. The view of Havana at night from our balcony was even better than the morning view.
Thursday was a day a sea, so we spent the day doing the cheesy cruise activities and it was actually a lot of fun. We ate and played games, drank some more yummy drinks and had a great time. Friday morning we arrived back in port and headed home. Overall we enjoyed our vacation and had a great experience. It was neat to see Cuba and I’m glad I choose to see it with the option of having the boat to retreat to when we needed it. If I choose another cruise, I’ll do Norwegian again – just for the freestyle and food! Both so great.
Let me know if you are considering a Cuban cruise and if you have any questions! Click HERE for an affiliate link if you are interested in taking a Norwegian Cuban Cruise!
Back to the renovations!
Cuban Cruise and Beautiful Key West!
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