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TrapperZimmy

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About TrapperZimmy

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    Cool Cruiser

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    Chicago area
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    SeaDream Yacht Club

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  1. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    So, after Cayo Largo, we did Maria La Gorda, supposedly named after a fat lady who kept the pirates happy. The compulsory tour was to a nature park and a small village. The park "tour" consisted of a explanation at the visitor center of what they are doing as far as conservation. We did not actually get to see the park, which was disappointing, but I was impressed with what we were told. Sounded very environmentally progressive. The village was interesting in that we saw how these people live without running water and other creature comforts. They have electricity, and there were a couple of satellite dishes. But otherwise very rustic. One man has an apiary, and we went behind his house to see it. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke on the hive to calm the bees, and then he pulled out a frame and cut up the honeycomb to pass around. Really pure honey that was delicious. Snorkeling and scuba were offered at this port, which is supposed to be a huge attraction. There is a beautiful barrier reef and all diving must be with a guide and groups are limited in size. Mostly if there were glitches, it was the Cuban bureaucracy, but there was one area where SD could have done better. At both Cayo Largo and Maria La Gorda we were at anchor. Because the waters were shallow, particularly at Cayo Largo, we were quite a distance from land and the tender ride was 20-30 minutes. Compounding this was the fact that so many passengers were taking the complimentary tour that it became a logistical problem to get everyone ashore. For one tour we used a life boat, which made it almost all the way to shore. Almost. We had to complete the trip by zodiac. But the zodiac could not take everyone at once. Coming back from Maria La Gorda after the tour, priority on the first tender was given to people who were then taking the dive or snorkel tours. A small scene occurred when somebody was upset he had to wait for the second transfer. To Matt's credit, he had the zodiac come out to get a second group back to the ship. The life boat was repaired, and I expect that these logistical issues are being addressed on the subsequent cruises. More later. Adios for now.
  2. TrapperZimmy

    Wifi Question

    I agree that it doesn't make sense to charge per device. I accept that you can use only one device at a time, but charging by device is unnecessary. OTOH, $99/week is not going to break me. Since I am primarily concerned with getting business email and calling in for voice mail (I have a one-person office), I consider it a business expense. As I mentioned, the decision to use the wifi must take into consideration why you want to do it. I don't use a VPN, although Zimmy does. I don't think she really wanted to do that much work. I, on the other hand, brought my notebook computer and a flash drive, so I had all of my office on board.
  3. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Great questions. 1. No health documents required, although, as I indicated, they may take your temperature when you get off the ship. No need to drop trou. They hold the thermometer up to your forehead. Only takes a few seconds, and fortunately everyone passed. I suppose they might haul you off to the infirmary if you have a fever. 2. Because we entered Cuba on SeaDream, we could not buy tourist cards (visas) at the airport. We could have purchased through a service before we left home, but for the first cruise only, SD offered to buy them for us. It was available for advance purchase as a Land-Sea Adventure on the SD website. You must have one, and you should be able to get it at at the airport at which you take your flight to Cuba. You must take your passport with you when you are off the ship, and the visa must be in it. It gets turned in when you fly out of Cuba. If you don't have it, I guess you don't get to leave. 3. CUCs are purchased at designated currency exchanges in certain cities. I am sure you will have an opportunity to do so at the airport. Theoretically, they are 1 to 1 for the US dollar, but they charge a 10% premium for dollars, that they do not charge for Euros. We always have a bunch of Euros left over from previous trips, so that is what we used. The 1 peso CUC was .87 Euros. And the CUC is the only legal form of currency for tourists from any country. All prices will be shown in CUCs. You can also change back at the airport, but I think there is a fee for doing so. We just spent what we had left at the duty free store. We tipped guides and drivers in CUCs, although I think I saw some people doing it in dollars and euros. 4. In some ports there is more than one tour that meets the requirement for US citizens. Only one, however, is included in your cruise fare. You are legally required to take a tour that satisfies the US requirement at each port. You will be asked to sign a waiver that protects SD if you don't take a tour. Nobody checked when we left to see if we did a tour, but it is a US requirement, and not a Cuban requirement. It is suggested that you retain all records of your tours for 5 years, as well as the affidavit that you must complete on the SD website. You keep the affidavit; SD did not ask for it. It certifies you were on a People-to-People mission. We didn't feel a need to pay extra for tours, although in Havana we did the afternoon vintage car tour and the after dinner cabaret trip to the Hotel Nacional. My review of those will come soon. 5. I think we had to buy the insurance because we arrived by boat. If you have to buy it to get on the plane, I imagine that meets the requirement. Best advice I have is that you should expect that things will not always go as planned. We were the beta test group, and I expect that certain adjustments will be made for later sailings. Again, details will be forthcoming. Other advice is expect hot, sunny weather. Hats and sunscreen are essential. Streets, particularly in Trinidad, are really bad cobblestones. Bring sturdy walking shoes. We got by with no Spanish. Everyone you meet will speak English. They learn it in school every year from 4th grade on. Plumbing is really second world. Zimmy carried a roll of toilet paper in her bag. In Havana, houses get water service for only 4 hours daily or every other day. They all have water tanks on the roof, and you might see a person at the bano flushing the toilet with a pail of water when you exit. Tip the attendant a CUC when you enter or leave. Keep in mind that there is a lot of poverty, by our standards. Doctors make $40 a month. The government hands out food with ration cards. Whatever you tip, it can really make a difference. Be generous. We were told that crime is not an issue. You can see bars on all the windows, but it is because burglary is a problem. We felt safe. By the way, it is illegal to possess a gun in Cuba.
  4. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    That's a good question, Jim. Right now I'd say it was a one and done. On the other hand, if the embargo ever gets lifted, it will be an entirely different country. I'd compare it to Viet Nam. We were there in 2008, and signs were up at China Beach advertising the fact that big resorts were coming. Well, they are now there and China Beach is supposed to be a wonderful vacation destination. The Cuban beaches are beautiful. It is a short flight with only a 1 hour time difference for us. We'll see. And "Maynard" eventually went to work on a cruise ship.
  5. TrapperZimmy

    Wifi Question

    Hi, Katbird. There are several factors to consider in answer to your question. First, I will tell you that we both bought wifi for our phones on the Cuban cruise. For the 7-day portion, we paid $99. I think it was about $125 for the 9-day portion. The daily fee was $35. They place the wifi password on the device, and it is not transferable between devices. For Cuba, wifi was our only means of communication. And it only works on the ship, but it is the only means of communication when you are at sea away from cell service. So your first question is going to be what devices do you want to use with the wifi. We chose phones, although we prefer using iPads for email and browsing, because we wanted telephone access. We just kept the iPads in airplane mode. We have the AT&T international plan, which is free phone, text and data service in Mexico and Canada, and $10/24-hour period pretty much anywhere else in the world. No fee for the plan, and you only pay if you use it. But you also pay the daily fee for each device you use. And this only works where there is cell service, and it does not work in Cuba. BTW, in Cuba Zimmy got a text from AT&T that she could use the phone and pay roaming charges. Elected to ignore that. It really comes down to what type of communication you need, and when you are going to need it. We haven't used it until this trip because we are satisfied to use the AT&T option when we are in port, which is most of our waking time, and are comfortable with having no service at night when we are sailing. Although we have heard stories about SD wifi being poor, I really experienced no problem with it. It worked all the time and was fast enough for my purposes.
  6. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Now, where was I? BTW, my lack of communication was not, I repeat, not a wifi issue. For some reason, Cruise Critic kept bouncing me around whenever I tried to sign in. Extremely frustrating. I'm sure you all believed that either Zimmy and I were taken prisoner, or that we decided to buy an old car and become taxi drivers. Thanks, Jim, for letting everyone know we were safe. So, our first stop on the second voyage was a return to Trinidad. Because we had already been there and had taken the compulsory tour, we could go into town on our own. On our first visit, Zimmy had seen a painting in a very nice art gallery that she decided she wanted. Found the gallery, after it took some time to get our bearings, but the door was closed. We knocked and someone came to let us in. Gallery owned by a very nice young couple, and we bought the painting. We understood that original art works could only be taken out of the country if we had an export certificate. They didn't know anything about this, but Zimmy was undaunted. As I kissed our CUCs goodbye, expecting the painting to be confiscated at the airport, the owner rolled the painting and wrapped it for transit. Having accomplished our mission, we went to a bar to get drinks. As it happened, several people from the tour were in the bar and we learned they would soon be taking the bus back to the yacht. We saw the same guide we had a couple of days earlier and she let us hitch a ride with the tour. Back at the yacht we enjoyed lunch and an afternoon in the sun on deck. Dinner again was topside, as it was just about every other night. When dinner was moved to the dining room, the Zimmys still managed to dine al fresco. Thank you, Nicola. On Wednesday, we visited Cayo Largo. Because Isla de Juventud had been cancelled because their pier had not yet been repaired from the hurricane, this was going to be an over-nighter. We took the compulsory tour, which took us to a sea turtle rescue center. Apparently, several hotels were built on beaches that the turtles had been using for nesting. The rescue center now goes to these beaches, gathers the eggs, and brings them back to an incubation area. When the eggs hatch, the turtles are put in little pools, moving to progressively larger pools as they grow. After about a year they are then tagged and taken out to sea. According to the guide, the relocation is very successful. We then visited an adjacent medical center where doctors, nurses and a dentist work. We saw the exam room, the treatment room, x-ray equipment, etc. If surgery is necessary, patients are flown off the island, but intermediate care is available here. Fortunately, none of our group needed their services. Oh, this was interesting. Several times when we got off the ship we were greeted by medical personnel who took our temperature. Did not have to turn my head and cough, though. Cayo Largo would be the location for the Splash. It has the most gorgeous beach, with soft, fine white sand. Because the sand is so white, it is actually cool when you walk through it. We went back to the ship, though, since we were planning to spend the following day at the beach. Surprise! The Splash was not going to happen. Even though everything was okayed from a year and a half earlier right up to the morning of the Splash, the Minister of the Environment decided that we could not bring food or drink from the ship. Instead, we could buy lunch and drinks from the stand on the beach. Zimmy and I went to the beach and stayed about an hour, and then came back to the ship, which was sailing at around 4pm. A modified Splash (meaning the officers didn't have to stand in the pool to serve the caviar) and barbecue would occur on our sea day. On this day, though, SeaDream arranged for free drinks at the beach stand. Lesson to be learned - everything is well planned until the Cuban officials decide it isn't. More later. Have to get some work done.
  7. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Leave it to SeaDream. The Super Bowl was on the projection screen in the lounge last night while cocktails were at the pool. Matt had to do his shore talk twice to get everybody. Today we we had a short bus/walking tour of Cienfuegos, returning for lunch. Now we are sitting under an umbrella at the pool, watching the new passengers come aboard. About 105 passengers this trip with 87 repeaters. Change in itinerary. Dock in Juvedad is under repair so we can’t tender in, so we are doing an overnight at Cayo Largo. Not sure how long this will be in effect. Cuba is on Eastern Standard Time.
  8. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Wonderful tour today in Trinidad. Knowledgeable guides who spoke English with very little accent. Highlight was a visit to a music school run by a husband and wife who train children who would not have the means to go to another school. Teenagers who sang and played instruments so beautifully. It was very moving. Back to to the yacht for lunch and we are now dockside on a gorgeous afternoon. And then on to Cienfuegos to greet new and old friends.
  9. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Wonderful tour today in Trinidad. Knowledgeable guides who spoke English with very little accent. Highlight was a visit to a music school run by a husband and wife who train children who would not have the means to go to another school. Teenagers who sang and played instruments so beautifully. It was very moving. Back to to the yacht for lunch and we are now dockside on a gorgeous afternoon. And then on to Cienfuegos to greet new and old friends.
  10. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Special treat tonight. Because of extra calm seas and only 60 passengers, dinner was served around the pool. A very nice evening.
  11. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Special treat tonight. Because of extra calm seas and only 60 passengers, dinner was served around the pool. A very nice evening.
  12. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Hey, Jim. Our phone plan is $10 per instrument for any 24-hour period it is used in many, many countries. No use-no pay. Cuba, however, is not one of those countries (no surprise there). It is now 4:30 and we’ve been stopped to permit water toys and swimming. 2800 meters deep. Pool is 1.5. Feel safer when I can touch bottom. We have had dinner on deck every night so far and will continue until it becomes impossible. Tomorrow is Casilda, Trinidad, Cuba. We will be coming back here on Tuesday on the second leg of our cruise. It would be nice if we don’t have to do the compulsory tour again. The alternate tour is only $69 and meets the requirements for Americans, but involves suspension bridges, which I won’t do.
  13. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Perfect sea day. Calm seas and clear skies. And the Wi-Fi is working just fine. Received a notification from AT&T that our international plan doesn’t work here, but we could still get service with roaming charges. Not sure if that applies on shore, though. We didn’t see a lot of Cubans using cell phones yesterday, but I noticed Wi-Fi routers in the streets. Did see quite a few pay phones in the city. Personally, I’m enjoying being incommunicado for a bit. As usual, there is the regular upkeep work being done around the yacht. Fresh varnish here and there. They are taking advantage of empty staterooms to do some painting, as well.
  14. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Today is Santiago de Cuba, the last port that is not part of the regular Cuban cruises. We got off the yacht at around 8:30 and walked through a building where they stamped our passports and x-rayed our bags. Then we went into the currency exchange to buy CUCs. A peso is €.87 or US$1.10. We finally boarded the bus at around 9:00 for the complimentary tour that is compulsory for US citizens. Very comfortable bus and knowledgeable guide, although her accent, at times, was difficult. Saw historic sites, including Cuba’s major cemetery where Fidel is entombed in a large boulder. Made it just in time for the changing of the guard ceremony. Back to SeaDream, which is docked, for lunch at 2:00. Sailing at 5:00 today and tomorrow is our 4th sea day.
  15. TrapperZimmy

    Cuba

    Looks like there will be several of us on board next week. Like I told Tim, ask Nicola for the Brass Specialist. Loving Life, we just had dinner with Captain Steiner. The other couple at dinner was also on the Panama Canal cruise. They didn’t remember us per se, but they remembered the lady in the cast. Tomorrow we we are at our first Cuban port, Santiago de Cuba. It is a very important city, with a lot of history, but it isn’t on the regular Cuban itinerary. The mandatory excursions all seem to have early starts, like 8:15. So don’t plan on sleeping in. But we will be back aboard for lunch.
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