Explore previously off-limits Cuba, where you can taste once-forbidden rum, puff on a hand-rolled cigar and travel 60s-style in a classic car through Havana’s modern neighborhoods. Here are the best new cruises to Cuba.
Carnival Cruise Line
Ship name: Carnival Paradise
Itinerary: Sail from Tampa to Havana through October 2017 on select Carnival Paradise voyages. Choose from four- or five-day cruises offering day trips or overnight visits to Havana, along with stops in either Cozumel or Key West.
Onboard activities: Dive into the world of Dr. Seuss with your little ones with the Seuss at Sea program. Book a Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast ($5 per person) with a menu of Seussian delights: Horton’s Cereal-Crusted French Toast, Truffula Tree Pancakes and the namesake green eggs and ham. Your kids will also get the chance to conga line through the cruise (oh, the places you’ll go!) with characters at the Seuss-a-palooza Parade. When you’re ready to take a break from all the onboard excitement and commotion, slip away to the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat where you can decompress on a hammock and enjoy the ocean breeze.
Recommended excursion: If you’re a bookworm, take a tour of Ernest Hemingway’s former home, Finca Vigia (Lookout House), the birthplace of his renown novels For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. After you visit the museum, hop on over to Hemingway’s favorite haunt, El Floridita and sip his signature daiquiri drink, the “Hemingway Special” infused with agricole rum, Maraschino liqueur, limes and grapefruit juice.
Ship names: Insignia and Sirena
Itinerary: Sail this fall from Miami to Cuba aboard the 684-passenger Insignia for a range of six to 13 days, with stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Or choose to sail the same route even longer aboard the 684-passenger Sirena with seven- to 10-day voyages running from May 2018 through October.
Onboard activities: Sample a Cuban tapas menu during special themed evenings in the open-seating Grand Dining Room and the Terrace Cafe (located on both ships). Try delicious Cuban fare such as ropa vieja, a slowly stewed dish of shredded beef, mild spices, white wine and tomatoes, arroz con pollo, a Cuban staple of chicken or Arborio rice made with saffron.
Recommended excursion: Tour a Cuban cigar factory to learn the traditional process of how these premium stogies are made. Watch the craftsmanship as cigar-makers (called torcedores) hand-roll cigars through the process of a two-leaf binding. We recommend touring Partagas, which was built in 1845 and produces more than 5 million cigars each year.
Norwegian Cruise Line
Ship name: Norwegian Sky
Itinerary: Sail from Miami to Cuba aboard the 2,002-passenger Norwegian Sky through 2018 with a four-day round-trip cruise, including an overnight stay in Havana, as well as a stop in Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s private island in the Bahamas.
Onboard activities: Soak up ocean views from the ship’s five outdoor hot tubs or treat yourself to a full day of pampering at Mandara Spa. We recommend the Detox Ocean Bath infused with lemon, juniper, and sea buckthorn and sea fennel essential oils to detoxify and cleanse your system.
Recommended excursion: Take a cruise in a vintage American car (locals call these almendrones) through the cobblestone streets of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Old Havana. Here, you can explore the classic Baroque and neoclassical architecture of this historic site known for its old Spanish-built fortresses and take a stroll through the the Plaza de Armas, the site where the city was founded. End your day with a romantic walk along the seaside promenade of the Malecon, where the locals hang out.
Ship name: Empress of the Seas
Itinerary: The 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas will homeport in Tampa this summer offering a series of 4- and 5-night trips to Cuba through November 2017, with day and overnight trips to Havana, along with stops in Key West, Florida, and Cozumel, Mexico.
Onboard activities: Dance the night away at Boleros, an upbeat salsa music lounge inspired by Havana’s famous 1940s club of the same name. Or catch a comedy show at the two-story, 740-seat Royal Theatre.
Recommended excursion: Love rum? Take a trip to the Havana Club Museum, a renowned rum producer housed in an 18th-century mansion in Old Havana. You'll be guided on a step-by-step tour of the manufacturing process of Cuban rum, ending with a taste test of the youngest to oldest.
Know Before You Go
You’ll need a visa. All guests will be able to enter Cuba utilizing a Tarjeta Turistica (tourist card) visa. You can purchase this visa from your cruise line at a cost of $75 per person.
Plan to participate in “people-to-people” programs. Since travel to Cuba for tourism is still prohibited, you must participate in a people-to-people program through a self-guided tour or a shore excursion program offered by your cruise line. Once completed, you can engage in free time on the island.
Bring plenty of cash. When going ashore, cash is highly recommended. Most U.S. banks have not yet finalized arrangements for credit card transactions in Cuba, so most places do not accept credit cards. Also, if you exchange USD in Cuba for their tourist currency CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso), there will be a 10 percent penalty charged, along with a three percent currency exchange fee. A better option is to exchange USD for Euros first in the State,s then exchange for CUC with no financial penalty. As for purchases, feel free to stash your suitcase with rum and cigars: the bring-back allowance is 100 cigars and $800 worth of alcohol per person.