Two British cruises lines have Havana and Santiago, Cuba, on itineraries for cruises coming in 2010 and 2011.
America has a very rich shared history with the island of Cuba, which has gone largely ignored for several decades due to political reasons. Not only is Cuba the largest and nearest Caribbean island to the United States, it was once a premier tourist destinations for all of the East Coast.
The rich nightlife of Havana, filled with salsa-inspired rhythmic music, rich cigar smoke and the sound of brimming casinos made Cuba a haven for Americans looking for a break from daily life, especially during the Prohibition Era.
The good news is that you could have some opportunities to cruise to Cuba, in 2010 and 2011. The bad news is that you will have to sail there on either a German or a British ship.
Two British cruise lines have announced plans to make Cuban ports of call in the next two years, both will sail to Havana and one will visit the second largest Cuban city, Santiago.
The Fred Olsen Line Braemar is already scheduled to sail to both ports on three different itineraries. The November 12 sailing starts in Barbados and sails to Curacao, Aruba, Ocho Rios Jamaica, Costa Maya and Cozumel before it reaches Havana. The ship stays overnight in Havana before it sails for Grand Cayman and Montego Bay.
The November 27, 2011 sailing of the Fred Olsen Braemar will sail from Barbados to Dominica and Tortola before it lands in Havana for an overnight stay, arriving early Wednesday and leaving late Thursday night. Following Havana it sails to Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Ocho Rios, St Lucia and back to Barbados. The ship will arrive in Havana early in the morning and stay until late thee next evening.
The December 9th and February 18, 2011 cruises have the same itinerary as the November 27 sailing.
The March 5 and April 2, 2010 sail dates of the Braemar begin in Barbados and sail to St Lucia, St Martin and Grand Turk before it arrives in Santiago Cuba, some 540 miles from Havana. Santiago is a very historic city, the second most important city after Havana. The site was the starting point for expeditions by Hernando Cortes in 1518 and in 1538 by Hernando de Soto. It was also the home of bandleader Ricky Ricardo.
Santiago is also the site where the Spanish army suffered its worst defeat during the Spanish American War after the destruction of its fleet in the Santiago harbor. Castro declared victory in the Cuban Revolution there in 1959.
Now another British cruise line, Thompson Cruises, has just announced it will include Havana on three different itineraries. The sailings will be upon the new Thomson Dream, a vessel they are acquiring from Costa Cruises. The ship is currently the Costa Europa.
Thomson Dream will offer the Cuban Adventure, the Caribbean Experience and the Classic Caribbean cruise, all with visits to Havana starting in December 2010. The Caribbean Experience will sail from Barbados to Havana, with an overnight stop there. Cuban Adventure will sail from Montego Bay to Barbados, with a three-day-two-night call in Havana along the way. The Classic Caribbean cruise will sail from Havana to Montego Bay, Jamaica.
It is obvious that these cruise lines feel Havana is a significantly interesting port. It is one of the few overnight visits in any Caribbean port of call we have ever seen scheduled for any cruise ship.
Probably the most interesting thing about Havana for American visitors is the way in which the actual way of life is almost frozen in time since Castro took over in 1959. Since an immediate trade embargo was put in place in 1961, which has not been lifted to this day, for many years Cuba relied on the Soviet Union for cars, kitchen appliances, etc. Of course, many of those Soviet items were not well made, but many of the cars the Cubans already owned at the time of the revolution are still running.
If you have ever seen the movie The Buena Vista Social Club where guitarist Ry Cooder makes a visit to Cuba to find some of the well-known music sensations of Havana at the time of the revolution then you have seen modern Havana. The city is almost like an American city of 1959 frozen in time. Everywhere are big, gas guzzling two-tone Fords and Chevys, many of them looking brand new.
Havana has 3.7 million inhabitants. Many of them migrated there from Spain and Portugal in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. During the 1950s there was a huge supposedly a huge presence of organized crime from the United States running the casinos and liquor industries. It is said that this had a great deal to do with the revolution, as government was as corrupt as many of the businesses operating there.
In any case - just like a visit to St Petersburg Russia, a visit to Havana is like a journey back in time. So little has changed there in the last 50 years - with the exception of some of the more modern hotels for Canadian, South American and European tourists built in the mid-1980s by Castro to bring in International money.
Cuba started suffering greatly in an economic sense with the collapse of the Soviet Union. For years the USSR gave Castro subsidies to keep his government going, but that ended in the 1980 when the Soviet Union could no longer even feed its own people.
By the way - there is no law against Americans visiting Cuba, and Cuba will not stamp your passport. The actual is a trade embargo, technically saying Americans cannot do business with Cuba. Several US tourist groupps go to Cuba every year with no resulting problems from U.S. customs and border officials.