Many people visiting Cuba on a Royal Caribbean cruise are very likely visiting Havana for the first time, and for those that want to see the highlights of the Old City of Cuba's capital, Royal Caribbean's Old Havana City Sightseeing tour offers just that.
We were also one of those first timers in Cuba on a recent Majesty of the Seas cruise, and picked this tour as a way to cross off some of the most famous landmarks in Havana. It is impossible to see all of Havana in just one day, but this tour aimed to take us to the more popular spots.
The Old Havana City Sightseeing tour is listed as a 4 hour bus tour that drives through much of Havana and offers stops at four places along the way.
This tour is offered directly by Royal Caribbean, and we booked the tour prior to the cruise. The list price for this excursion is $99 per adult and $79 per child.
In the case of this tour, guests are instructed to meet onboard the cruise ship in the ship's theater.
Royal Caribbean splits up guests among different buses, with each bus on its own schedule and with its own tour guide. When it is time for your tour group to depart, Royal Caribbean escorts guests off the ship, through Cuban Customs and onto a waiting bus.
This may sound simple, but it does take quite a while. Going through Cuban Customs, security and money exchange goes at a snails pace in a very un-air conditioned building. I estimate it took us 90 minutes to go from when we arrived at the theater to actually boarding a bus.
Once on the bus, your tour leader will introduce themselves and welcome you aboard. By far the best part of the tour is the fact you will go all around Havana in an air conditioned coach bus. I cannot understate the value of having an air conditioned base of operations to fall back on. Havana is quite a hot and humid place to visit, and unlike so many other spots in the Caribbean, air conditioning is quite rare in Cuba.
While on our tour, we had the same bus, bus driver and tour leader for the entire duration of the excursion. This meant we could leave anything we wanted onboard the bus and it would be waiting for us when we got back.
The Old Havana City Sightseeing tour makes four stops as it navigates the streets of Havana. These stops include:
- Morro Castle
- Plaza de Revolucion
- Cristo de la Habana statue
- Colon Cemetery
The exact order you visit may vary, as our tour guide optimized the tour to visit spots with little to no shade earlier in the day and save the spots with shade for later in the day.
A great deal of other sights will be visible from the bus as you drive through Havana and your tour guide will narrate the entire trip. Many blog readers asked us after the tour if there were any restrictions on what we could see or photograph and there really were none. Our tour guide was more than happy to answer any and all questions we had and helped shed some light onto the Cuban way of life.
Our first stop was the Colon Cemetery, which is where a great deal of Cuba's most famous filmmakers, politicians and baseball players are buried. The bus dropped us off towards the entrance, and then a special guide escorted us through the cemetery and pointed out some of the more famous mausoleums.
The cemetery is massive, and there is not enough time to even see half of it, but it was incredible to see the detail in some of the burial spots.
Our next stop was Revolutionary Square, where some of Cuba's most famous speeches were given. Odds are if you watch an old news reel of some of Cuba's early days following the Communist Revolution, you will see someone speaking from this area. It is basically a very large parking lot, with some government buildings surrounding it.
There is also a fleet of classic American cars (or at least the exterior of classic American cars) that double as taxi drivers show off in the area.
After a quick introduction to the history of this area, we were given some time to walk around on our own and check it out. Most people tended to flock towards the classic cars to see them up close and take photos with them. There is no cost to any of this (unless you opt for a ride), although if you get into the car, a tip is customary.
Our next stop goes to check out Cuban sculptor Jilma Madera’s Cristo de la Habana statue, which keeps watch over the bay from a hilltop.
The Christ of Havana statue is a large sculpture representing Jesus of Nazareth that was commissioned in 1953. The statue was carved out of white Carrara marble, the same material used for many of the monuments of the Colon Cemetery. The statue is about 20 metres (66 ft) high including a 3-metre (10 ft) base.
The park where the statue is located provides a great view of Havana, your cruise ship and the harbor.
The final stop took us to Morro Castle, a stately fortress at the mouth of Havana harbor.
Not only is the castle a fine example of Spanish colonial defenses, but there is also a bit of shopping you can do inside and outside the fort.
The tour does not actually include admission to the fort, but you do get to go inside a small part of it that leads up to the entrance. You are free to walk the grounds of Morro outside and explore without any cost.
When you get off the bus, there are a number of shops set up outside the fort you can browse. In addition, you will be taken into a rum and cigar shop inside the fort that is optional to visit.
Most of the stops are 15-30 minutes in length. The stop at Morro took about one hour and the Colon Cemetery was closer to 30 minutes.
At the conclusion of the tour, the bus returns to the port area, although you are free to tour on your own after that.
Going to any port of call for the first time means you likely have your own list of landmarks you would like to see, and Havana certainly has plenty of good candidates. The Old Havana City Sightseeing does a good job at providing an introduction to Havana and overview of some of the more notable spots.
Of course, this is a group bus tour, which means the pace of the tour is largely dictated by the tour leader (and whomever shows up last to board the bus) and it does not leave a lot of room for personal exploration. That is not necessarily a bad thing either, but do not expect a hands-on walking tour of the city.
The best part of this excursion is the air conditioned bus. Having a bus to go back to between stops and relax, recuperate from the heat and humidity, and rest makes for tackling a city as large as Havana much easier. Everyone's patience is higher when air conditioning is involved and after taking this tour in July, I do believe it helped make the overall experience better.
Our tour guide was also very knowledgeable about Cuba's history and current role today. He encouraged us to ask questions and always took the time to explain concepts and programs that are not something you may find elsewhere in North America.
Between the places we stopped to see and the many other places we saw from the bus, I felt the Old Havana City Sightseeing excursion provided a great starting point for my first visit to Cuba. I may have preferred slightly more time on my own to explore, but the tour was perfect for anyone who has never been to Havana previously.
Cost: $99 per adult, $72 per child.
We have a quick look at the progress Royal Caribbean is making in adding a pier to its private destination of CocoCay.
Royal Caribbean Blog reader Paul Crow took these photos on July 11, while on a Mariner of the Seas cruise to the island.
The new pier will open in November 2018.
Our newest podcast episode is out to help give you a quick "audio escape" to a Royal Caribbean cruise!
Episode 258 is available for downloading, where Matt shares his cruise review of Majesty of the Seas.
Matt is back from his first time sailing on Majesty of the Seas and his first time visiting Cuba. In this episode, Matt shares his thoughts on Majesty of the Seas as well as his experience going to Cuba.
Take a listen and as always, let us know what you think! Please rate and review the podcast on iTunes and leave your comments below!
From rock climbing to waterslides and even a virtual reality bungee trampoline, Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas has an activity for every member of the family. Take a tour of the ship's newly amped up sports deck and all it has to offer.
Exploring the vast wilderness of Alaska can take you to so many places along the way, and Royal Caribbean offers one way to do in some serious style.
On a recent stop in Skagway, Alaska on a Royal Caribbean cruise, we tried out the Yukon Hummer Adventure so that we could not only see large swaths of Alaska and the Yukon Territory, but do it in a really fun way.
The Yukon Hummer Adventure is a 4 hour tour that takes you from Skagway deep into the heart of the Yukon Territory in Canada. Your group gets to drive a 4-wheel-drive Hummer H3 as part of a caravan that will see a lot of the countryside.
We booked our excursion directly with Royal Caribbean and took an early time to ensure we had time after the tour to explore Skagway upon return. The tour cost us $152 per adult and $104 for our 7-year-old daughter. We are pretty sure nearly all of that cost pays for the gas for the H3.
A representative from the tour company will meet you at the end of the pier and provide van transportation to the tour departure point. Here, you hop into a H3 (4 people per vehicle), do a quick radio check and set out on the road.
The Hummers provided had some mileage on them (149k miles on the one we drove) but were in good working order. The cars were comfortable and have an automatic transmission. There is also climate control and a sun roof.
All guests planning to drive must be at least 25 years old, bring a valid driver's license and name of insurance company, and must sign a liability/insurance waiver.
Each car has a two-way radio that you can use to communicate during the drive. The tour leader drives first, which everyone in the group following. The tour leader regularly comes on the radio to share driving strategies, point out animals, and provide history of the region, the gold rush, and what life is like there today.
During the tour, you will reach White Pass Summit and pass through subalpine terrain, en route to the narrow Caribou crossing at the headwaters of the Yukon River and see Emerald Lake.
We made a few stops along the way, which include
- The Yukon Territory welcome sign
- Emerald Lake
- Village of Carcross, Yukon Territory
- The Alaska welcome sign (on the return trip)
The exact route you go on will depend on road and weather conditions. We also stopped to see a bear that was alongside the road. We would have made more stops for wildlife, such as moose or porcupine, but we never saw any.
Since this excursion crosses the U.S.-Canadian border, guests must carry their passport, and if applicable, their visa.
We booked the Yukon Hummer Adventure because it allowed us to cross off two bucket list items: see lots of the countryside in and around Alaska, and drive a Hummer. We certainly accomplished both.
Much of the tour is conducted as you drive, and there is a lot of places along the way that you will see, but will not have time to stop at and explore. In order to reach Carcross and Emerald Lake, much of the tour time is required in getting back and forth.
When you do stop, there are often beautiful vistas to enjoy and the kind of scenery you might imagine Alaska and the Yukon are known for historically. I certainly would have liked to have made a few more stops on the way at other spots, but I did feel we saw a lot more of the Yukon than anyone else on similar tours. Seeing the mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes, even at 55 miles per hour, is better than not seeing them at all.
Our tour guide briefed us early on the tour about what to do when we see a bear, and I was very happy we did find one along the way but that was the extent of the wildlife on the tour that we spotted. Obviously which animals you see or do not see is left to chance, but it is worth noting that our driver was willing to stop for other animals if they were spotted.
Driving the Hummer was very easy, and as someone who does not know how to drive a manual transmission, it was simple enough to operate the Hummer. If you can drive a pick up truck or mini van, you can drive a H3.
The best part of the tour is we covered so much ground and came across so many beautiful views along the way. Being able to drive the H3 was also really fun, and I do believe half the appeal of this tour is you have to be excited to drive a Hummer in the first place.
The two major stops along the way are Emerald Lake and Carcross. Emerald Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake that is known for its intense green color. It looks like it belongs in the Caribbean, and not in the sub arctic.
Carcross is a small village just before Emerald Lake and you will have your longest stop. There was just enough time to use the restroom and grab coffee and a snack. I would have loved to have had an additional half hour to explore the town a bit more.
More time is really at the heart of my only complaint about the tour. You spend a vast majority of the time doing exactly what the tour promises: driving a Hummer. While neat and a great way to inflate your manly ego, I can think of 3-4 places I really would have liked to visit along the way. It should be noted you can book a private tour with the tour operator and basically go wherever you want, as an alternative for those that also like the idea of exploring on foot and driving an awesome car along the way.
Our tour guide, Ben, was very helpful and conveyed the story of the gold rush and life in Skagway and the Yukon today. Ben was insightful, knowledgeable and happy to help take photos at any stop.
Overall, we had a great time seeing a lot of Alaska and Canada on this tour. If the idea of driving a Hummer and exploring the Yukon sounds like a great combination, then this is the tour for you.
Cost: $152 per adult, $104 per child. Children must be at least 5 years old. Booster seats are available.
Our last day on Majesty of the Seas is our first sea day and after three port days of activities, we decided to take this day slow and simply enjoy some time to relax.
Naturally, we started off the day by missing most of the morning. We slept in and eventually got up to the Windjammer for breakfast. I wish I had something more interesting to share for our morning activities but it was a nice relaxing morning.
We decided to check out the main dining room for lunch. The Tutti Salad station offered make your own salads and a crepe station and it was our preferred choice. The kids wanted to grab something from the Windjammer and I may have helped myself to the Mongolian grill station while up there.
Our afternoon was a combination of pool time and napping. In my live blogs I have to remind folks that relaxing sea days for me make for not so interesting live blogs.
Rather than recalling everything else we did on a relaxing last day, I thought I would summarize our experience on Majesty of the Seas.
As someone who has cruised extensively on other, larger ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, it took a couple of days to really acclimate myself to the layout and flow of Majesty. What I mean by that is other ships in the fleet have very similar set ups, but Majesty is old enough that she pre-dates those guest flows. As a result, I legitimately had no idea where certain venues were and was almost like a new cruiser in that respect.
Friends of mine have said that Majesty of the Seas is a small ship but does not feel like a small ship and I do agree with that sentiment. The large venues and expansive decks hide the fact she is a smaller ship and onboard I do not think I ever felt the ship was as small as I perceived it to be.
I like having the promenade deck on a higher deck (deck 7) and the pool deck is nicely set up and if blindfolded and put on Majesty’s pool deck, I am not certain I would ever know whether I was on Majesty or a larger ship. The kids especially liked having Splashaway Bay.
I do want to dis-spell the notion that only the large ships have crowds and lines, because there were plenty of them on Majesty. For the record, I enjoy the larger ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet and have come to realize that lines and crowds are just part of the game. But when I see people complaining about lines on Oasis or Freedom class ships and talk whimsically about the smaller ships that do not, I have to disagree with that notion. Just like on the larger ships, if you roll into the Windjammer at 9am you will have to do a few laps before finding a table. Chairs by the pool are probably gone by 8am. The forward elevator bank is always busy and it can be difficult at times to get a seat in certain lounges depending on the entertainment.
If you are reading all of this and now worried about going on Majesty of the Seas, don’t be. Lines and crowds are a fact of travel and any mass market cruise line will have them now and then. None of the lines or crowds I mentioned are a big deal, just something I observed because I have often heard from cruisers who prefer the small ships (like Majesty) for less crowds. I simply do not think that is the case and that crowds and lines are all relative, and no ship is “crowd free”. Come in with an open mind and some patience and you will have a great time.
Our oceanview staterooms were more than adequate and very quiet. Not having a connecting room was a bit more of an inconvenience than I anticipated but manageable. Our stateroom attendant was fantastic and probably has done the best job of cleaning up after us.
The Voom internet was quite possibly the fastest Royal Caribbean internet I have had not on an Oasis or Quantum class ship. I was quite impressed.
In terms of our itinerary, Cuba was the highlight and likely the reason most people on this ship booked this sailing and it did not disappoint. If you like Old San Juan, you will love Havana. Havana has much more history and culture than San Juan and I am glad we took this opportunity to visit. I really hope my next visit to Cuba is not too far off, because there is a lot more to see and do there.
Overall, I really enjoyed our cruise on Majesty of the Seas for the relaxing, yet fast-paced itinerary we booked. I am really happy I did not let my back injury stop me from sailing (it has gotten better every day of the sailing) and after all the fun on Explorer of the Seas in Alaska last week, it was nice to take things down a notch.
Thank you to everyone who followed along this live blog and shared their comments with me. I had a great time sharing this cruise with all of you and hope you will join me for upcoming virtual escapes on a live blog. My next Royal Caribbean cruise is scheduled to be on Brilliance of the Seas in late September.
Our final port day takes us to Cozumel. We were not scheduled to arrive until 1pm, which is good and bad. The good news is, we could all sleep in after a few days of busy mornings. The bad news is it made planning difficult for what to do since so many activities in Cozumel revolve around a morning arrival.
We got up around 9:30am and got the kids going (no easy feat) up to the Windjammer for breakfast. It was a slow morning, but it did feel nice not to be rushed.
After breakfast it was down to Cafe Latte-Tudes for a much needed caffeine break. They serve Starbucks beverages in the Starbucks cups (as opposed to some Cafe Latte-Tudes/Cafe Promenades that have switched over to Illy).
The rest of the morning was easy going as we just relaxed. We did not have that much down time because right at noon we arrived in Cozumel, a full hour early. The Captain announced we were cleared by local Customs officials and we would have an extra hour in port. It has been really nice having bonus time in each port.
We got our swim suits on and decided on a beach day. Since we were arriving in the early afternoon, we decided to head to one of the more popular beaches in all of Cozumel, Paradise Beach.
Paradise Beach is a short cab ride away ($15 one way) from the port area.
The great thing about Paradise Beach is it is a pay-as-you-go place. You simply pay $3 per person for access to the facilities and then only pay for what you order. They did not charge us for the kids.
Paradise Beach has a large pool area along with an even larger beach area.
The pool had lots of space, including some easily identifiable shallow areas that were great for the kids.
The beach is a large sandy beach with lots of seating.
I was concerned that since we were arriving so late, and that there were two other Carnival ships in port, that Paradise Beach might be too busy. Luckily, our servers found a very shady spot (as in dark, not creepy) near the pool.
It was really hot and humid so we all jumped in quickly to enjoy. I prefer a pool to the ocean, mainly because it is less messy. Nonetheless, my wife and kids swam in the ocean too for a short while.
Ordering food and drinks was easy, with an army of waiters walking the grounds to take our orders. Shout out to Josue and Arnie for great service!
We spent the afternoon at Paradise Beach soaking in the sun and enjoying time in the pool and ocean. As the afternoon wore on, a lot of the Carnival guests left since their ships were departing before us.
By early evening, we decided to head back to the ship and take showers. I would have liked to stay later (our departure was scheduled for 9pm), but it was quite warm and humid out and I have three more stops in Cozumel scheduled for later this year.
Back onboard Majesty of the Seas, we each took showers and changed to get ready for dinner.
Dinner was quiet this evening, as I think a lot of people were still on shore or recovering from their activities. With all aboard time being 8:30pm, I am sure a lot of people skipped dinner in the main dining room.
For our evening entertainment, we headed to the theater to see “Boogie Wonderland”. The show is a tribute to the songs of the 60s and 70s. Great performance with lots of energy.
Tomorrow is our last day onboard Majesty of the Seas and it is a sea day.
Royal Caribbean informed guests sailing on the July 8th sailing of Oasis of the Seas their itinerary has been changed due to Hurricane Beryl’s projected path.
Thanks to Royal Caribbean Blog reader Nick Vitani, we have a look at the email sent to guests booked on the affected sailing.
Instead of sailing to the Western Caribbean as originally scheduled, Oasis of the Seas will opt for an Eastern Caribbean itinerary that will visit Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.
Royal Caribbean has posted some new photos that showcase the construction progress being made on Spectrum of the Seas
Spectrum of the Seas will be debuting in 2019. Spectrum of the Seas will be the cruise line's first Quantum Ultra class ship.
These photos were taken at the Meyer Werft ship yard in Papenburg, Germany. All photos are copyright Royal Caribbean International.
The day I have been looking forward to the most and quite frankly the impetus for booking this cruise is here! Today, we docked at Havana, Cuba.
Our tour was set to start early, so I set my alarm for 6am because I wanted to be able to see at least part of the sail into Havana harbor. When I first got outside, it was still before dawn and the ship was waiting for the pilot to arrive.
I went back inside for a few minutes and then darted back out when I saw we were on the move. Sailing into Havana harbor was beautiful and it was the perfect temperature outside with the morning sun barely coming up.
We all had breakfast in the Windjammer and then took the kids to Adventure Ocean. We anticipated the fact it would be hot in Havana and the focus on history and culture would not be something kids under 10 years old would really understand.
The Captain announced once the ship was cleared that we would have an extra hour in port today, pushing all aboard time back to 4:30pm. Sweet!
We headed to the A Chorus Line theater to meet with our group. We had booked the Old Havana sightseeing tour. Pretty much all the Royal Caribbean excursions met in the theater and there was quite a long wait to actually get into the theater and get your sticker. This was followed by another wait for your group number to be called.
Once the group was called, we were escorted off the ship for more lines.
First was Cuban Customs, where they check your Visa (provided by Royal Caribbean) and your passport. Then you have the opportunity to convert your currency to the Cuban currency. I changed $200 just so I knew I would have enough to cover any souvenirs, food, transportation, food, coffee, tips, or food I might purchase.
We then walked downstairs to meet our group and wait for the bus. It took a little over an hour from when we first got to the theater to when we actually boarded our bus.
Our tour would take us to four major historical sites around Havana via a well-air conditioned motor coach bus. Having the bus was great for the longer rides between stops.
Our first stop took us to an old cemetery that dates back hundreds of years. Some of the mausoleums and tombstones are beautiful.
The next stop was Revolutionary Square, where many famous political speeches and rallies were held.
Some important buildings surround the square.
Next we headed to a large statue of Christ that overlooks Havana harbor, with a nice park around it. It also provides an excellent view of downtown Havana. There may have been more to see along the way, but I fell asleep.
Our final stop took us to an old Spanish fort at the mouth of Havana harbor.
At this stop, you have the opportunity to also purchase some souvenirs, cigars or rum.
We generally liked the tour, although it was slow moving. To be fair, group tours are usually slow moving so this was not a surprise. It allowed us to see some of the most important historical sites in Havana and the air conditioned bus was lovely.
After the tour concluded, we walked around Havana to have lunch and see what the city is all about.
We ended up having lunch at seafood restaurant, which was okay but nothing special. Since our tour did not end until 1:30pm, we were quite famished and wanted food.
I went with the grilled fish while my wife ordered the grilled chicken.
After lunch, we walked around the streets of Havana and did a little window shopping.
Havana reminds me a lot of Old San Juan, but it seems like many more historic buildings in Havana have survived. Even with my bad back, I found it easy enough to walk the streets and the locals were quite welcoming.
Probably the biggest surprise to me in Havana was the welcoming nature of the Cuban people. For lack of a better word, Cuba has been vilified in the United States for so long and it was interesting to see not only do they not hate us, but they have monuments to famous Americans.
With the hot afternoon sun, we decided it would be a good time to head back to the ship. As we walked back I found a classic American car taxi and we hopped in. The driver said it was a 1949 Chevy Deluxe.
He took us on a quick tour to the Capitol building, and pointed out a number of sites before heading to the ship. A great way to wrap up our day in Havana.
Getting back onboard Majesty of the Seas went smoothly, with just a couple of lines for security and customs.
I really enjoyed Havana and would love to explore more of the city on my own. Like any new port one visits, you have to start with the major sites but on subsequent visits you get to see more of what the city is really all about.
Back on the ship, I hosed myself down in the shower and we picked up the kids from Adventure Ocean.
I headed up to the pool deck to watch sail away and found a shady spot with a breeze.
We took the kids up to Johnny Rockets for dinner. The price is now $9.95 per person, but my kids love that place. I did not eat, but between my wife, two kids and two milk shakes it only cost us $30 (thanks to some creative math from our waiter). Not too shabby.
We took a stroll down to deck 5 to check out the shops. It kind of amuses me how a ship as small as Majesty has some massive spaces dedicated to shops and lounges (relative to the larger ships).
Dinner for me and my wife brought us to the Main Dining Room, and it happened to be formal night.
After dinner we went to the casino to see if luck was on our side. Roulette did not go so well to start with, but I won it all back in blackjack and between the two of us we walked away with the same money we started with. That is better than losing!
To round out evening, we took in some piano music in the Schooner Bar.
Tomorrow, we will be in Cozumel around lunch time.
- Everyone on a Royal Caribbean tour got a free bottle of Evian water.
- Voom internet is great on Majesty. I uploaded 50 photos (12 mb) in about 2-3 minutes.
- In addition to the conga line the waiters did in the main dining room, there was a macarena dance session. Never saw that before.
- Oddly on the first night we had the “new” main dining room menu but tonight was the “old” menu. No spaghetti bologense for me.
- Fellow Disney World fans, does the sign for The Spectrum remind you of something out of classic Epcot Center?
- One thing I did not expect on Majesty of the Seas was for the ship not to feel as small as it is. What I mean is due to the large lounge sizes, and expansive decks, it feels much larger.