For decades, Cuba has been a forbidden fruit to many travelers, geographically close yet so far away. Now, thanks to restored diplomatic relations and lifted travel restrictions, the iconic island’s landscape, culture and economy is finally accessible. Keep in mind that at this time, most of the packages involving Cuba are “educational” tours which means traveling with a group. Before too long, I’m sure it will open up to more independent travel such as we have to Mexico and other parts of the Caribbean. And while there’s no way to fully prepare yourself for the enriching and multifaceted cultural experiences you’ll have while on the ground, these tips can help you plan ahead and navigate the country more easily.
You’ll be off the grid – The best way to describe Wi-Fi access in Cuba? A novelty. Though there are places throughout larger cities that provide internet access, the signal will be sparse at best, and you’ll spend more time trying to connect than being connected. So just enjoy the freedom of being disconnected.
There are Other Options than Hotels – Keep in mind, hotel rooms across the country – even in Havana – are limited. To broaden your options, talk to our agents about a vacation rental, a private home or a cruise. At this time, these choices are limited and restricted.
Driving can be time-consuming – Many of the roads between cities are challenging to navigate. A drive between Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba could take as long as 14 hours, and driving at night is nearly impossible since no street lights exist. So plan your route carefully and give yourself plenty of time. We would recommend going with a group for your first time.
It’s key to learn some Spanish – If you want to see lesser-visited cities like Varadero or Trinidad, it helps to have a basic understanding of Spanish, since English is not widely spoken among locals. Plus, it breaks down language barriers when you can speak a few key phrases.
Most places only take cash – Many vendors, restaurants and cab drivers don’t accept credit cards. In addition, ATMs are few and far between, so stock up when you get a chance.
The Easiest Way to Explore is by Cruise – On a cruise, you’ll not only get to experience the charms of Havana with a local guide during a shore excursion, you’ll also explore other highlights around the island, such as Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Plus, Cuba’s coastlines are stunning when viewed from your private balcony. And, rather than packing and unpacking with each city you visit – why not take your hotel with you?
Did you know that Puerto Rico has the only tropical rain forest listed in the U.S. Forest Service? El Yunque has the best hiking with dozens of trails leading to peaks, waterfalls and streams cascading into pools. But besides all the caves, wildlife, spelunking, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, cave diving, body rafting down the Tanama River and scuba diving, it has so much more to offer. Ponce is a town with Mediterranean style buildings that have been white washed. The scenery reminds me of sailing into Greece and the shopping is great too. For history buffs, there is no better place than El Moro, the Spanish fortress built to protect San Juan, which has been standing guard for over 400 years. Not to mention, Old San Juan with it’s cobblestone streets, 17th century churches, and historic buildings. The largest radio telescope in the world is at the Arecibo Observatory for all you science nuts. There is so much to pick from – relax, play in the sand and turf, go sightseeing, get active or go for the spectacular nightlife after the sun sets – maybe even do it all. Call us for a price on your biggest adventure yet and best of all – you don’t need a passport!
Avoiding cruise ship extra charges can be a bit tricky but can be done with due diligence. You’re not going to get out of tipping the maitre ‘d, your waiter and cabin steward. However, you can save some cash and even avoid some of these additional activities by planning and booking ahead of your arrival at the port. For cruise newbies, this is where a travel agent can really help you out. We help tell you about what’s coming and where you can save time and money.
One of the biggest ways the cruise lines help part you from your money is with drinks and especially, alcohol. At $5-7 per glass, a party on the Lido deck or some time to unwind and watch the sunset can rack up a pretty good bill at the end of a 7-day cruise for 2. You’re better off to buy a bottle of your favorite wine and enjoy it in your cabin. Or, bring along a 6-pack of your favorite soft drink. A word of caution – don’t advertise that you have it. If you must imbibe at the club while dancing or while enjoying some quiet time in the “adults only” area – keep your eyes peeled for “happy hour” or a special rate on the “drink-of-the-day”.
Another money drain can be the specialty restaurants. As delightful as the cuisine and atmosphere in these places are; stick to the main dining rooms or the self-service buffets unless you’re celebrating a very special occasion or just have money to throw away.
Shore excursions are probably the one area that you do want to spend some money on. Talk to your travel agent about what the ship offers and then plan and book ahead. If you wait until you’re at sea, most the of better ones are already sold out or the prices are higher than if you had made reservations online prior to sailing. Some people wait until they get off the ship and book excursions with a local company at the port of call. If you elect to do this, please make sure that there is plenty of time to get to/from your destination so you don’t miss the ship. The companies that the cruise lines work with are very aware of the arrival and departure times for each ship and make sure they get you there and back in time.
Check the ship’s daily program for offers, especially where spa treatments are concerned, as these are often reduced on port days. If you need to do laundry while on board, check into the self-service laundry mat instead of sending your stuff to the cleaners. You can save on staying in touch with folks at home via email by buying an internet package or wait until you get ashore and find an internet cafe.
Some cruise ship extra charges aren’t possible to get a way from but you can certainly reduce your losses by planning and booking ahead. Give us a call or book Royal Caribbean online at our website while keeping us as your local support.
One of the first cruises I took (30+ years ago), there was nothing for kids to do aside from walking around on deck and maybe find someone who would play a game of checkers or shuffle board with you. But, cruise lines have finally figured out that kids influence their parents’ and/or grandparents’ decision on where to go and what to do on vacations. Imagine that!
Now, the cruise lines have created both structured and un-structured programs for different age groups giving them their own space and parents the opportunity to enjoy some adult time and be on vacation too. They even offer baby sitting services for a fee, of course. The Disney Cruise Line, for example, has the Flounder’s Reef Nursery for ages 3 months to 3 years, the Oceaneer Club and the Oceaneer Lab is for ages 3 to 12, the Edge entertains tweens and teenagers from ages 11 to 13, the Vibe keeps 14 to 17 year-olds jumping and the Chill Spa is for teens only. These cruise lines are also revolutionizing their cabin designs on new ships being built with configurations that are family friendly with staterooms that can accommodate 5 people comfortably like Carnival Cruise Lines’ Dream-class ships.
If you haven’t considered a cruise with your kids, you may want to take another look. Check out our website with the low down on what the cruise lines have to offer your crew.
Most people visit Latin America for its sprawling coastlines, mountain vistas, spicy culture and lush rainforests. However, it’s the vibrant, bold, down-right-delicious food scene that keeps them coming back. From piping hot empanadas plucked from a street cart to tart ceviche enjoyed with an ocean view, these cities provide inspiring cuisine. Take these great ideas from our Travel Tips Quarterly. Give us a call for you next Foodie Adventure.
Buenos Aires, Argentina – Buenos Aires derives its incredible cuisine profile from a mix of Latin and European influences. Mostly known for beef, its world-famous Argentinian steak can’t be missed. Pick up a breaded meat fillet, known as a milanesa, from a street vendor or sink your teeth into the perfect cut of tenderloin at Cabaña Las Lilas, one of the city’s famed eateries.
Cartagena, Colombia – Any visit to this great walled city must include ample samplings of the street food, starting with the arepa. These soft baked corn pancakes are packed with a dazzling array off luscious fillings, ranging from melted cheese and steak to sweet dulce de leche. Along with arepas, the street food scene is buzzing with out-of-this-world dishes like chorizo kebabs, fresh squeezed juices, fried green plantains called patacones and tart, zesty ceviches.
Lima, Peru – Arguably one of the top culinary destinations in the world, Lima blends Incan, European and Japanese influences to create dishes with a seriously intense flavor profile. Visit the best-rated restaurant in Latin America, called Central, where you can enjoy beef ribs with blue-green algae or a coca leaf Pisco Sour. Thanks to the influence of Japan, make sure to try taradito, the city’s take on sushi, or succulent noodle bowls.
Mexico City, Mexico – To get a taste of everything the City has to offer, take a food tour with Eat Mexico – which will introduce you to antojitos, the “little cravings” street vendors hawk, as well as take you through the culinary hub of the city, the Mercado de San Juan. Definitely try a traditional taco, which will be the best you’ve ever had, but also step outside your comfort zone with a soft corn tortilla filled with grilled or fried bugs – it’s a Mexico City staple!