Cuba

Royal Caribbean sees no impact to Cuba cruises from new U.S. policy change

In:
Category: 
16Jun2017

President Trump announced new restrictions on Friday to curtail travel and commercial ties between the U.S. and Cuba, but it appears there will be no impact on Royal Caribbean cruises to Cuba.

On Twitter, Royal Caribbean confirmed that there will be no impact to any sailings that visit Cuba as a result of the new U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Royal Caribbean currently offers year-round sailings to Havana, Cuba on Empress of the Seas from Tampa, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida through March 2019.

Expert tips and advice for visiting Cuba on a cruise

In:
Category: 
11May2017

Royal Caribbean made headlines last month with the commencement of regular cruises that stop in Cuba, which marked a historic milestone for the cruise line. With more and more sailings destined to visit Havana, we reached out to experts that recently visited Cuba on their cruise for advice and tips when spending the day in Havana.

We spoke with three writers who just wrapped up cruises to Havana.

Planning

Colleen: Bring your visa and passport with you when you disembark – but know you’ll be turning over your visa when you go through customs. If you’re getting back on and off the ship, customs officials only need to see your passport stamp. Your visa will remain on file with customs. If you’re concerned about handing over your visa, take a photo of it on your phone before you disembark.

Halee: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.  A lot of the walkways are cobble stone and not kept up (not everything is handicap accessible).

John: Get up early to watch the sail in to Havana harbor. This is a wonderfully scenic port to pull into at sunrise and the forward decks can fill up fast with people wanting to snap pictures. The city reveals itself on the starboard side, and a fortress (El Morro) and statue of Jesus.

Halee: Print out a Map of Old Havana area to keep with a notebook.  This way you can mark where you've been (in case customs asks if you venture off) and have an idea of where you are.   While you are pre planning you can also mark things you want to see prior to going.

Excursions

John: Havana is extremely walkable and interesting. Make time to wander and explore. The people are friendly, and we found many who wanted to know where we were from just to chat and tell us how excited Americans were able to finally come see their country.

Colleen: Book your excursions before you sail. This ensures you will get to do what you want to do, and it also takes the hassle out of making sure you are adhering to the strict Cuba travel requirements.

John: Many might also ask whether you are interested in cigars or rum and tell you about a "Today only, the cooperative is having a half-price sale. And when you buy from the cooperative, this helps Cuban people get food vouchers." This "cooperative" is really a private business out of sight of the government, and the hawker might ask to show you where it is and lead you to a room in a private residence where they indeed might have really good deals on cigars. But you should know what is really happening so you can decide whether to go make a purchase. Note: the cigars we saw in these cooperative can be about $5 each compared with about $10 or more at an official store you can find along the waterfront or other areas in the city.

Currency

Colleen: You can pay in U.S. dollars or Euros. Yes, cash is king in Cuba, and more and more, businesses are taking American and European currency. Be aware: You will get your change in Cuban Convertible Pesos, though. That’s the Cuban tourist currency, and you can only spend it in Cuba.

Colleen: At some places, like Havana’s famous Tropicana Club, you’ll actually spend more if you pay with U.S. dollars. For example, a beer cost 5 pesos, but if you paid in U.S. dollars, it was $6. Presumably, this is to cover the hefty 10% tax the Cuban government levies on purchases made using the U.S. dollar. If you’re concerned, convert your dollars to euros before you travel to Cuba; there is no tax on the euro. Speaking of cash, take lots of it if you plan to shop, and make sure you have plenty of small denominations for tipping.

Halee: Download a Currency Exchange App (I used XE Currency).  It works offline with the most recent data from when it was online so if you are unsure on the conversion you can have peace of mind.

Dining

John: Grab a freshly made guarapo. This is a national drink for Cubans. You can find vendors feeding stalks of sugarcane into contraptions to squeeze out fresh sugarcane juice. It's added to chipped ice and makes a high-calorie and refreshingly tasty energy drink to give you a quick pick-me-up as you wander Havana on a hot day. It's cheap, too, going for less than $1. Also, try to grab a snack of churros at one of the street stands. We heard people raving about the warm, sugary fried dough sticks they got for $ for a dozen.

Royal Caribbean opens year-long Cuba cruises

In:
10May2017

Royal Caribbean has expanded its cruises to Cuba on Empress of the Seas with 58 cruises of 4- and 5-night itineraries from January 2018 through March 2019, more than half offering overnight stays.

Empress of the Seas will return to Tampa for summer 2018, offering a series of 4- and 5-night cruises, calling on Key West, Florida, and Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico, as well as Havana, Cuba on most sailings. The ship will reposition to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for the winter 2018-2019 season, continuing short Caribbean adventures to the Caribbean destinations. Currently, Empress sails from Tampa through Nov. 4, 2017. The ship then returns to Miami for the winter 2017-2018 season, adding calls to Royal Caribbean’s private island destination CocoCay and Nassau in The Bahamas.

"Since arriving in Cuba for the first time last month, we’ve seen the excitement of our guests when sailing into Havana and the passion they have for the city at sail away – its people, its architecture, its food, its music. This is the enthusiasm we strive to bring to adventure-seekers who vacation with us," said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International. "The positive reaction to our Cuba sailings is very encouraging, and we are thrilled to expand on the number of sailings for our 2018-2019 itineraries."

Royal Caribbean makes inaugural visit to Havana

In:
24Apr2017

Royal Caribbean made history yesterday with the cruise line's inaugural visit to Cuba with Empress of the Seas. Guests participated in curated excursions throughout Havana, including rides in 1950s classic American cars to the city’s most famous locales, including the old quarter and the Havana Club Museum.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of Cuba’s future, ushering in Royal Caribbean’s next big adventure with Empress of the Seas’ first visit to Havana. Vacationers will now be able to experience a destination like no other, with authentic and immersive experiences that bring to life the vibrancy of Havana and its traditions,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International.

The vibrant Cuban culture extends beyond land to the experience onboard Empress of the Seas. From cortaditos and café con leche in Café Royal to salsa music and dancing in Boleros Latin lounge, guests will enjoy a range of onboard activities developed to bring the spirit of the island to life throughout the entire journey.

After returning to Miami, Florida, Empress of the Seas will reposition to Tampa, Fla. for the summer season – the cruise line’s first ever summer program from the destination – offering a series of four, five and six-night sailings, including day and overnight visits to Havana, along with stops in Key West, Fla. and Belize City, Belize, as well as Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico. Sailings from Tampa are available through Nov. 4, 2017 when Empress returns to Miami for the winter season, adding calls to CocoCay and Nassau in The Bahamas.               

Royal Caribbean cruise ship makes first stop in Cuba

In:
23Apr2017

Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas arrived in Havana, Cuba earlier this morning, marking the first Royal Caribbean International ship to stop in Cuba.

Thanks to Halee Whiting for providing these photos.

Empress of the Seas departed Miami earlier this week, as part of a 5-night sailing that culminated with an historic first visit to Cuba. The cruise has been filled with a number of special events and festivities, from cortaditos and café con leche in Café Royal to salsa music and dancing in the Boleros Latin lounge.  There was even a special Cuban-inspired dining room menu.

After months of negotiating, Royal Caribbean announced it would offer cruises to Cuba in December 2016.  Royal Caribbean offers regular sailings to Cuba, including some sailings with an overnight visit, through the end of 2016, along with stops in Key West, FL. and Cozumel, Mexico.

 

We will update this post with additional photos and coverage as the day progresses. Keep checking back.

Royal Caribbean's first cruise to Cuba sets sail

In:
19Apr2017

Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas set sail today from Miami, Florida marking the beginning of an historical voyage that will mark Royal Caribbean International's first visit to Cuba.

Guests boarded Empress of the Seas to the tune of live music, Cuban coffee and Cuba Libres served to guests as they boarded.

Empress of the Seas is on a 5-night inaugural sailing to Cuba, which will make the historic visit to Havana, Cuba on Sunday, April 23, 2017.

As guests boarded Empress of the Seas, Royal Caribbean had special Cuba photo opportunities set up, along with plenty of fanfare.

Royal Caribbean Blog reader Halee Whiting shared the first two days of the Cruise Compass from Empress of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean brought Empress of the Seas back into its fleet in early 2016, specifically because its size was a perfect fit for Havana harbor.

Royal Caribbean opens bookings for many more sailings to Cuba

In:
Category: 
03Feb2017

After weeks of offering a handful of cruises to Cuba, Royal Caribbean has now opened up new sail dates for many more sailings to the island nation that extend through much of the year.

Royal Caribbean announced this morning that guests can now book many more cruises to Cuba aboard Empress of the Seas, through November 4, 2017. The new sailings go out of Empress of the Seas' new home port of Tampa, Florida.

There are new 4- and 5-night cruises with day and overnight visits to Havana, along with stops in Key West, FL. and Cozumel, Mexico.

After receiving permission to cruise to Cuba in late 2016, Royal Caribbean opened up bookings for a hand full of sailings in December 2016. With today's announcement, there are many more options for guests to choose from.

A look at the six Royal Caribbean excursions in Havana, Cuba

In:
Category: 
14Dec2016

Royal Caribbean is very excited to offer its first cruises to Cuba, and we have a first look at the first excursions Royal Caribbean will offer while visiting Havana.

Within 90 days of sail date, guests that have booked a Royal Caribbean cruise will be able to choose from Royal Caribbean shore excursions as an option to fulfill one of the 12 requirements to visit Cuba.

Havana by Classic American Car

Explore 1950's Cuba in a vintage American automobile on a 3 hour road trip across the Malecón (Avenida de Maceo), which is a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 km (5 miles) along the coast in Havana, Cuba, from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Havana neighborhood, ending in the Vedado neighborhood.

Easy Panoramic Havana - $49 per person

Travel via motor coach along seaside El Malecón promenade. There are photo stops at both El Morro Castle and harbor of Havana. This includes a stop in Revolution Square.

Best of Havana - $115 per person

Full day tour that lasts 8 hours, and is an all-encompassing trip through bustling Havana.  

Guests will visit artisan market and notable squares, including enjoying an authentic Cuban meal.

Hemingway's Havana - $89 per person

Explore Cuba and the late American novelist Ernest Hemingway.  This is a 4 hour tour that takes guests where Hemingway lived, fished, dined and sipped his favorite cocktail.

Old Havana City Sightseeing - $59 per person

Explore Cuba's Capital city with a 4-hour bus ride through Havana's city center.

Old Havana Heritage Walking Tour - $49 per person

Discover Havana's captivating history and cultural charms.  This is a half-day walking tour adventure.

What you need to know before taking a Royal Caribbean cruise to Cuba

In:
Category: 
12Dec2016

You might have heard that Royal Caribbean is now offering cruises to Cuba, but before you step foot in Havana, here are some important bits of information to know.

Who can travel to Cuba?

It is true Royal Caribbean now offers cruises to Cuba, but there are still United States regulations in place that allow for certain types of travel by U.S. persons to Cuba.

Permitted travel is generally classified into 12 categories. If a trip to Cuba meets all of the requirements of one of these 12 categories, you are authorized by OFAC to travel under a “general license,” meaning that you may travel without any additional government approvals.

The general license categories include:

  • Educational activities, including people-to-people travel
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Religious activities
  • Professional research and meetings
  • Family visits
  • Official government business
  • Journalism
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions and athletic competitions
  • “Support for the Cuban people”
  • Activities of private foundations or research for educational institutes
  • Exporting or importing information or “information materials”
  • Travel related to some authorized export transactions

All guests traveling to Cuba must meet the requirements of one of the 12 categories of permitted travel authorized by the United States government. 

People-to-people tours are education-based trips designed to promote interactions between travelers and the Cuban people. People-to-people travel allows for little, if any, free time, as your time will be spent experiencing Cuba at its most authentic, through visits to Cuba’s most sought after destinations.

What about international guests not from the United States?

All guests regardless of country of residence will be required to meet one of the twelve general license categories while onshore in Cuba.

How will I certify I have met one of these requirements?

In accordance with U.S. law, all guests (including children) traveling to Cuba will be required to complete a travel affidavit identifying the category of travel under which they are visiting. This must be completed prior to boarding the vessel.

For ease of completion, Royal Caribbean has arranged the affidavit Into 3 parts:

  • Part A: Guests exclusively participating in the Royal Caribbean tour program should select Part A and complete the identification information in the last section.
  • Part B: Guests traveling on a self-guided people-to- people exchange program should select Part B and complete the identification information in the last section. Part B does allow for guests to split their full-day schedule between tours purchased from Royal Caribbean and activities organized on their own.
  • Part C – Guests that have not certified in Part A and B, including those passengers who plan to split their schedule between people-to-people activities offered by Royal Caribbean and activities otherwise meeting the requirements of one of the 12 general licenses, should select Part C and complete the identification information in the last section. 

You will need a Visa to enter Cuba

Guests are required to purchase a visa to travel to Cuba. Royal Caribbean will facilitate this for our guests at a cost of $75 per person.

This fee will be added to your onboard account on Day 1 of the cruise. Each guest will receive their Visa during embarkation in Miami and will be responsible for providing their Visa to the Cuban authorities upon arrival in Cuba.

If a guest loses their Visa, they will be able to purchase a new Visa onboard at an additional cost of $75.

Do I need a passport to visit Cuba?

A passport will be required for all guests sailing to Cuba with us. Guest passports must be valid for six months after their travel date to Cuba.

In order to travel to Cuba, all guests, including children, will be required to have a passport. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not allow U.S. guests to travel to Cuba with a driver’s license and birth certificate. Guest passports must be valid for six months after their travel to Cuba.

Can Cuban-Americans cruise to Cuba on Royal Caribbean?

Yes. Cuban-American persons born in Cuba are permitted to arrive in Cuba by vessel. However, if you are a Cuban-born traveler, you may need additional documentation.

Those who left Cuba prior to January 1, 1971, must travel to Cuba with their U.S. passports. But unlike U.S. born Americans, they will need a special type of visa; an H1 visa, which they need to apply for prior to travel. The visa application process can take up to 90 days. Cuban-born citizens who came to the U.S. after January 1, 1971, must travel to Cuba using their Cuban passports. They do not need a visa. They do however need to complete a One-Page Entry Request Application.

To learn more, you can visit the Cuban Embassy website (http://www.cubadiplomatica.cu/sicw/EN/ConsularServices.aspx). 

What is it like in Cuba and what can I bring home?

Here is Royal Caribbean's description of Cuba: You will be among the first to explore Cuba with Royal Caribbean. Infrastructure is at a minimum and authenticity is at a premium. The food is rich in culture, but potentially unfamiliar. Walking surfaces may be uneven, and depending on the time of year, the intensity of the heat can be significant.

Guests are generally authorized to bring into the United States merchandise acquired in Cuba for personal use as accompanied baggage.

Any additional tips for visiting Cuba?

  • Drink only bottled water
  • Due to the tropical climate, wear loose fitting airy clothes, comfortable shoes and a hat
  • Only a few places are air conditioned; bring a fan and/or mister
  • Purchase items only from authorized sellers o Exchange money only at CADECAs (Currency exchange houses) or hotels
  • Carry with you
    • Passport
    • Visa
    • SeaPass card
    • Cash

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