Cuba Cruising: Answers to Your Top 9 Questions
American travelers are anxious to visit what’s been “forbidden fruit” and cruise lines are working hard to meet that demand. These nine questions are the ones that come up most often when we first discuss Cuba with someone. Some out of necessary requirements and some out of curiosity.
Why did we have an embargo and why did that affect people going to Cuba?
The embargo was officially put into place by President Kennedy in 1962 in response to Cuba taking over $1 billion in U.S. assets that were on the island, Cuba’s trade agreement with Russia during what was the Cold War and a horrible human rights record which included imprisoning, torturing and killing dissidents and restricting the rights of their citizens. The embargo prohibits American companies from doing business, drastically limited legal travel to and disallowed tourists from spending any money in Cuba. American tourists were fined tens of thousands of dollars by our U.S. Treasury if caught spending money there.
Note that the embargo has not been lifted. After over 40 years in effect, President Obama relaxed some of the restrictions. Americans can now legally travel to Cuba providing they are following certain rules. One criteria is that your travel must fall into one of 12 categories of activities. Cruisers would typically choose to participate in the “Educational exchanges – people to people” category. Americans are now permitted to spend up to $400 on Cuban goods, including up to 100 Cuban cigars and one liter of Cuban rum.
Can I just go to the beach when my ship docks in Cuba?
No. As mentioned above, there are “12 categories of activities.” The most common for tourists that was mentioned requires that you engage in a “full-time schedule of activities” which will enhance contact with the Cuban people and result in meaningful interaction. Tours involving interaction with guides and the people of Cuba are typically what people choose. The beach isn’t off-limits…. It’s what you can do after you fill your requirement each day whether you are cruising or staying on the island.
Why don’t larger ships sail to Cuba?
Cuba does not have the infrastructure to accommodate larger ships. Nor do they have the capacity to handle even larger crowds. There hasn’t been the need nor probably the finances for Cuba to invest in modernizing hotels, increasing hotels and other businesses, adding buses and increasing services. Basing size on “passenger capacity,” Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas is the largest cruise ship currently sailing from the U.S. to Cuba with the ability to carry 1,840 guests. She will quickly be outnumbered by Norwegian Sky in May. When Carnival Paradise begins sailing to Havana in June, she will take over the distinction of being the largest cruise ship.
Why don’t newer ships sail to Cuba?
Ahhh, but we do! The larger cruise lines are building large ships so they have had to turn to their older ships. However, Pearl Seas’ Pearl Mist started sailing in 2014 and Oceania Cruises’ MS Marina’s maiden voyage was in 2011. RSSC’s Regent Seven Seas Mariner began service in 2001 Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Quest was completed in 2000. Viking Ocean Cruises will offer its first roundtrip from Miami to Cuba in November aboard what will be the world’s newest ship, the 930-passenger Viking Sun.
I’ve cruised in the Caribbean in the past without a passport. Why are you saying I’ll be denied boarding if I don’t have one on this trip?
Cuba is not a WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative) and therefore doesn’t qualify for the possibility of alternative documentation. A passport that is valid for a minimum of six months past the end of your trip is required. If you do not have that at embarkation, you will be denied boarding with no refund. No exceptions.
Is it true that I need to obtain a visa to cruise to Cuba?
Yes. However, when cruising it is something that the cruise lines are obtaining for you. Currently, the cruise lines all seem to be charging the $75 visa fee to your shipboard account. Visas are typically distributed at embarkation. If you lose it, you must purchase a second one.
I heard that I must have some type of special health coverage if I visit Cuba. What’s that about?
Cuba has a national healthcare system for their citizens. It does not cover tourists. There is a Cuba Health Care Insurance fee which is included in the cost of your cruise package.
What is this “affidavit” I’ve heard that I must complete?
We will direct you to the Travel Affidavit supplied to us by your cruise line. It takes only minutes to complete. Some cruise lines require it to be returned as was the case with our clients who recently cruised on Oceania. Other lines, like Royal Caribbean, require that you complete the form and bring two signed copies with you. Either way, the U.S. government requires that you keep a copy of the completed and signed form for five years. We suggest placing it with your tax records.
Is it safe to visit Cuba?
Cubans are known for being warm and welcoming. This holds true toward Americans as well. The crime rates for robbery, violent crimes and drugs is exceptionally low. We’ll never tell you not to travel smart because there are no guarantees against crime anywhere in the world. But statistically speaking, this is one of the safest places on earth to visit.
Tomorrow I board Empress of the Seas for my Cuba adventure. I look forward to sharing my adventure with you. I’ll be blogging and, if you want to keep up more with what we’re up to, join our Savvy Travel Chicks Facebook group or like Connie George Travel Associates’ Facebook page.