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Empress 7/30/18 5 Nights inc. Cuba


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Day 3 - Havana, continued...

After the excursion we had the option to be dropped off approximately 800m or 1/2 mile from the ship at the Almacenes San José Artisans' Market.  Our guide warned us to be careful of pickpockets.  This is close to the main train station for Havana and there are several old locomotives on display.









It was very organized but tired from my long day in the heat I decided to spend more time here on my next visit.

Something else the guide had said was weighing on my mind.

A draft beer brewery next door.




They had a band and a few locals were dancing.


Choices were light, brown or dark beer.  This is the brown beer which tastes like a nut brown ale.  The beer cost $4 but I suspect that was the tourist rate.  My waiter said the dark beer was sweet.  I used to like nut brown ales a while ago but they aren't my favorite anymore.  It was okay but I wasn't enticed to have una mas.


Outside near the water you can see the funnel of the cruise ships from here.  Larger dispensers were also available such as the one on this table.  



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Day 3 - Havana, continued...

Walking back to the ship

The 1/2 mile to the ship was interesting.  I start off walking along the waterfront.  It's quite nice and i shot some video to use in a scope later as well as took some photos.  I didn't have a distinct plan but there were several hours available.  I wanted to take a taxi at some point.


Those dark storm clouds were starting become noisy with the sound of thunder.  I made to the local ferry terminal before the rain started to come heavier.


I waited out a small rain storm before I headed across the street where there were some more classic cars also waiting out the storm.




At many times I was reminded of San Juan.




This is when the really big drops started falling.  Luck was on my side as there was a bar right where I was at that moment.  I ducked in side to wait out the storm.  I had several hours before all aboard so it was time to experience the culture.

Una cerveza por favor.

You can't see it in this picture but it was raining hard.


This appeared to be the bar for The Hotel De Hermanos.


A buggy driver got the same idea, leaving his horse in the rain.


From here the cruise terminal is a few hundred feet so as soon as it let up I made the final walk back to the ship.

Passport and ship card to enter the terminal from the street.  Upstairs back the way I came down.

The ship's entrance was to the right.  A quick pass through immigration who looked at my passport.  After this a long queue for the terminal xray machines and metal detector.  This lasted about 30 minutes.  After this outside to the gangway.  The ship had us go through their metal detector and xray setup once on the ship.  Finally, Schooner Bar in sight and it's Diamond happy hour.  


I grabbed a beverage and made my way up to my cabin for a shower.  I found this waiting for me:


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With a 6pm dinner I still had time to venture outside before we departed Havana. 

By this time the surface of the sun was no longer 250' from us and it had 'cooled' down.  I use that terminology loosely.  The humidity had dropped from 3,000% to 2,999%.  The Captain no longer used Kelvin to measure the outside temperature.  With my core temperature down and with an acceptable margin from boiling point I went up top to catch sail away.


Four names were announced over the PA system.  Yep... pier runners!  This is not the port I'd pick to be late back to the ship.  Looking down from deck 11 I watched as they walked back onto the ship at least 15 minutes late.  Ok, they haven't benefited from a shower and time in A/C to cool down so I'll cut them some slack for walking.

Soon enough the sun was beginning to set.



In better light compared to this morning here once again is the Christ of Havana.


Fully backed out we started making our way forward out of the harbor. Some locals fishing on the pier to right waved and wished us bon voyage.


One last look at Del Morro basking in golden hour this time.




The upper decks were quite busy.  Everyone wanted to capture one last look at Cuba as we sailed away from her.





It was a beautiful evening and everyone was enjoying it.






With the sun getting lower the Pool Bar caught my eye.


It's time.  I had the perfect drink in mind.

A Kraken Lava Flow.  No drink package but it was worth every penny. 


What a day.

After this it was time to head down to my balcony to do some blogging...


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18 hours ago, twangster said:

Day 3 - Havana, continued...


Jose Rodriguez Fuster is an artist who started decorating his own home with mosaic tiles he found while visiting neighboring countries.  Tired of seeing the rest of impoverished neighborhood run down, he began decorating many of their homes at no charge.  His own home is open to the public to explore and the neighborhood is turning into an artisans paradise with other artists joining in over the years.  The neighborhood has become to be known as Fusterlandia.  There are many artists selling their local arts within Fusterlania.





This place looks absolutely amazing to me. This will probably be at the top of my list when I visit Cuba because I am very interested in art and ceramics, particularly art with a story behind it like this. To me it's just so cool how people can take something so ordinary and create something so beautiful that attracts people from all over the world. Thanks for capturing this.

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Fantastic Twangster, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us. Cuba is on MY list, the wife, however, not so much because of the politics. Maybe I'll surprise her with a cruise for an anniversary gift that, "oh, I didn't realize Cuba was on the itinerary" and claim I don't even remember booking the cruise. She claims I am getting old and loosing my mind.

By the way, did you ever get off the ship in Cuba?:52_fearful:

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On 8/3/2018 at 2:51 PM, rjac said:

Fantastic Twangster, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us. Cuba is on MY list, the wife, however, not so much because of the politics. Maybe I'll surprise her with a cruise for an anniversary gift that, "oh, I didn't realize Cuba was on the itinerary" and claim I don't even remember booking the cruise. She claims I am getting old and loosing my mind.

By the way, did you ever get off the ship in Cuba?:52_fearful:

People cruise to other countries that are a much greater threat politically.  Cuba isn't scary at all.  Their politics aren't a threat to anyone.  The way they took property from residents and foreigners living in Cuba in the 60's is an issue but they aren't the only country that have done so.    

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twangster you have outdone yourself the pictures and coverage of the hemingway house were for me a great achievement I have wanted to visit cuba since I was a boy growing up in Miami beach most of my friends were Cuban and I got to understand the culture I have always wanted to fish the isle of pines thank you for sharing these photographic works of art

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I'm not done yet...

Day 4 - Sea Day


One thing about Empress, they treat Diamond Plus right.  Maybe because we have zero Pinnacle on board?  I'm not sure but I have the entire Chops Grill restaurant to myself for breakfast.


I started with some fresh fruit:


Followed with the Full Breakfast minus thing I asked them to skip.  Two eggs cooked to order over medium.


What a nice way to start the day...

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I met Louis, our Loyalty Ambassador on the first day at the Boleros sail away party.  If you are eligible, it's always good to meet certain key folks like Louis who time and again took care of me.

This included inviting me to the Galley Tour, Lunch with a Senior Officer and the Bridge tour, all scheduled for day 4.  Unfortunately I had a work commitment and missed the galley tour.

However, at the lunch, I was sat down to learn the Captain would be at our table, at the head of the table right beside me.  


At noon we were offered our choice of red or white wine.  All of us chose white.


The menu was basically a simplified Chops Grille menu.  I chose the Filet and Key Lime pie (I missed the filet on my two dinners in Chops).

As an appetizer a plate of anti-pasta was served.


At this point the Captain joined us and I didn't think taking pictures of my plates was appropriate so I didn't.

The meal was fantastic, another win for Chops on Empress.  That's three for three.  

It was very interesting to sit with the Captain and all of us ask him various questions.  I'm sure these events are mundane for him but he never showed it. 

Havana is an interesting and sometimes difficult port.  In the winters the wind and currents make it more challenging to approach the pier.  Once the bulk of the ship is in the slip it's much easier but he expects some diversions in the future.

He has also Captain'ed Radiance class.  Empress is much more challenging to handle however I suspect he secretly enjoys it.  Empress has a conventional design with rudders while Radiance has azipods.  That combined with other advancements makes newer ships a lot easier to maneuver in port.  He has done a wonderful job handling Empress.

He likes Empress with it's generous interior spaces.  Radiance class has smaller spaces like the Centrum and other public areas.

Too much to explain in this post but it was great asking and having other guests ask questions of him and he patiently tried to eat while answering all of our questions.  At the end Louis presented us all with a photo taken by a ship's photographer.

At our table was a D+ from Australia who is side stepping over to Harmony after this cruise. Also present was a woman with her two early teen children.  Her parents, celebrating their 70th were at the table behind us with a different senior officer.  The kids left right after the meal (#boring) but none of the adults dared move and the grandparents came over once their table broke up.   


Loyalty does pay.

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Day 4 - Sea Day, continued...

Bridge Tour!

Fair warning, bridge tours are addictive - can't get enough.



The Master's chair:

(we all got a chance to sit in it)






One of the exterior bridge wings.


The view from the bridge wing:


This is Louis, our Loyalty Ambassador.  Don't push that button Louis!  Just kidding as I can't say enough good things about Louis. 

They call this station of instruments "The Barbecue" because of how it lifts open just like a grill at home.  From here the ship can be controlled just like it could be from the center helm position.  This is where they control the ship when approaching a pier.



One of the senior officers patiently talked to us and answered all of our questions.



I need more meeting space like this:


This tour was complimentary for Diamond Plus and Gold Suite Card.  

Every time you do one of these tours you learn a little bit more that you store away for later recall.


Loyalty does pay.

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Day 4 - Evening

There was a great sunset in the making.

Here is a still from the top deck when I realized I should run to the cabin and scope from my balcony:


By the time I reached my cabin, the clouds stole the sun.

If you read any of my Havana stuff this is where much of it was written.

I know this is what we all do when cruising...  what?


At this position Miami is ~ 45 miles straight towards the sun.  No wonder it's so hot in Florida. 

This is a somewhat congested shipping lane.  Bimini is 'right beside us' on the other side of the ship.  Soon after passing Bimini we'll turn and make a line towards CocoCay, our next stop.

That ship on the horizon appeared to be a car transport ship.

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I'm not done yet ? 

Day 5 - CocoCay

CocoCay grew out of the dark morning sky.  There was a stuff breeze on deck 11 and I was concerned we might cancel.  


The first tenders approached.



I grabbed a quick bite in the Windjammer and made my way down to deck 5 where they asked us to wait.  Crew explained that guests with shore excursions were loaded on the first tender.  There were ~60 guests with excursions booked.  No worries they told us, the tender holds 300.  

Once the shore excursion groups were led out of the theater and down the stairs, Louis our Loyalty Ambassador found me and pulled me out of line to join the VIP group that boards right after the shore excursions group.  Timing was good as they opened the top deck of the tender right as we boarded her.   


And with that the first tender was on its way to CocoCay.

I took a spot on the right side so I could get some photos of the pier progress.




Some new buildings have been added across the tender lagoon.  




Our tender docked and our visit to CocoCay began.



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Day 5 - CocoCay, continued...

Fair warning - I'm going to include a lot of pictures to serve as a timeline as more work continues.


If I'm not mistaken, the straw market has moved a little closer to the tender docks.


Just as I walked off the tender I felt a few raindrops.  A minute later it came down pretty good.  I ducked under a picnic shelter and used the break to apply some more sunscreen.  Two minutes later it passed and the sun returned.  


For the most part CocoCay remains unchanged.  The nature walk is gone and so is the inflatable slide.  Other than that it looked very close to my last visit in September 2017.





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I often see a lot of confusion between Cabanas, Beach Bungalows and Beach Loungers.  This will change with Perfect Day and the addition of over water cabanas but if nothing else this post will document what was here before Perfect Day.

First let's look at Cabanas. 

The Cabanas area:




The cabanas were moved prior to my last visit so that the Cabanas could have direct beach and water access. Historically they were not water front.  This area is largely unchanged from my 2017 summer visit.


I asked the Cabana check in person if I could zip in for a few pictures and she said it was okay.

There are two rows of Cabanas.  The front row has a deck in front of the cabanas, the back row has a deck beside the cabanas.


Each cabanas is pretty much equally equipped, location is the only difference.







Floating mats are included.




There is also a separate lounger area near the bar in this private area.


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Beach Bungalows are further down the beach, near the end of developed beach area.

There are two rows of bungalows and each is pretty much equally equipped.





Bungalows are somewhat less private compared to Cabanas.



Floating mats are included.


Bungalows also have direct beach and water access.

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20 minutes ago, rjac said:

How bad was the construction noise when you were walking around the beach area?:27_sunglasses:

Pretty much non existent on this day.  

Some people read the news and post in forums how "San Juan was completely wiped out" like the whole city was leveled after the hurricane.  

 I think the same will happen here.  People will hear there is construction and before they ever visit they'll post "the whole place is under construction". 

It had zero impact on our visit.  You couldn't avoid seeing the pier under construction but no noise.   Just a pretty darn good day. 

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Day 5 - Dinner

I wasn't sure there would be lobster served on this 5 night sailing but it appeared on the menu tonight.


Start with a Wedge Salad:


Prime Rib for my entrée.


To be honest this was the poorest dinner experience I had on the ship.  The wait staff were off their game tonight and I could see them struggling with other tables around me as well. The ladies beside me waited a long tome for dessert.  I was never offered horseradish.  The wait staff appeared overwhelmed.

Dessert arrived, pineapple sorbet.


However it was mostly melted by the time it reached the table.

Since I had a Chop Grill BOGO I ate three times in the MDR on nights 3, 4 and 5.  Night 3 was a different team.  Nights 4 & 5 were at the same table with the same wait staff.  They were better on night 4 so I'm not sure what happened on night 5.

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Day 5 - Evening

I popped into the theater to catch some of tonight's entertainment.  The latin dancing wasn't my cup of tea so I didn't stay long but I did notice how the theater on Empress has some blind spots.  I noticed this when meeting for our excursion in Cuba.  Towards the rear and around the edges of the theaters are seating that looks normal but has poor sight lines to the stage.  Pick your seats carefully.


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Day 6 - Miami

I woke early seeing some buildings slide past us.  It felt odd though, I don't recall seeing these views.  As I ventured onto the balcony I realized we were on the other side of the port compared to what I normally have used in Miami. 

The cruise compass mentioned we would use Terminal J and a shuttle would be available for locals who drove and parked at the other terminal where we departed from but it hadn't dawned on me what that meant.  Much of this side, the South side,  is a cargo port.  Five other cruise ships from other lines occupied the North side of the port.






Great views of the Miami skyline from this side of port.


There is a small turning area we used to turn around before continuing deeper into port and Terminal J.






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