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About ebslcc

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  1. OOPS sorry wrong link re: Yokahoma shuttle. See https://www.viator.com/Japan-tours/Transfers-and-Ground-Transport/d16-g15 scroll down to see the ones providing transfer to Yokohama Port.
  2. We haven't been to Tokyo. I am researching pre-cruise options for our Tokyo to Hong Kong late November cruise. Below are some suggestions on your situation based on my research and what we have booked so far. 1. You will save significant travel time from the airport flying into Haneda vs. Narita. However the flights from Haneda tend to be more expensive. 2. There's a LOT to see in Tokyo. Considering travel time you may only have one full day in Tokyo. In addition to transfer options and travel time consideration from the airport to the hotel and hotel to Yokohama port, you may want to consider the convenience of staying near where you want to see with your full day in Tokyo. Tokyo is BIG!!! The above post mentioned Asakusa is a beautiful area. It would be a good choice where to stay. Other top areas that you may want to consider is Shibuya or Shijuku or Harajuku. Here is a good guide: https://nerdnomads.com/where-to-stay-in-tokyo Google for more ideas. We opted to stay 3 nights before and spend one full day seeing sites on the west side of Tokyo Shibuya / Shinjuku / Harajuku ... area and one day on the east side Asakusa / Akihabara ... 3. Excellent advice above re: staying at a hotel that's on the Airport Limo drop off points. For example, check out the hotels in Shibuya https://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/areas/detail/hnd/shibuya. It's only ~$10 per person to ride on the Airport Limo bus service! Go here to see a list of routes: https://www.limousinebus.co.jp/en/areas/ It is much more convenient to be dropped off right at the hotel. Taxi to Yokohoma will be expensive. However there are reasonable priced shuttle service available. See https://www.viator.com/searchResults/all?text=yokohama airport shuttle&destId=16. If you are not staying at one of the Airport Limo drop off points you may want to consider using one of these shuttles from the airport to your hotel. Laurence
  3. See the best YouTube video on this topic here: https://youtu.be/6HtSx1f5uf0
  4. Unfortunately what I heard from 4 separate private tour guides during our last December cruise is private tour operators and private businesses are constantly getting squeezed from changing Cuban government regulations also. New rules came into play just before our arrival. e.g. one of the tour operators said that private restaurants can no longer bring in musicians without going through a government agency and paying a booking fee. "That's why less private restaurants have live music". What's happening with Blexie? They no longer can pick up passengers where they used to? Laurence
  5. Wow, I just saw this thread and started to Google for more info. I feel really bad for the Cuban people and those of you who have ongoing plans to cruise to Cuba. See: https://www.travelmarketreport.com/articles/Cruise-Lines-Awaiting-New-Cuba-Rules-Making-No-Changes-to-Current-Itineraries https://www.cntraveler.com/story/travel-to-cuba-the-new-restrictions-explained With the last major announcement in 2017 tightening travel restriction, what ended up was just a self regulating "People to People" category change in November 2017. Cuba travel was still permitted and is self regulated. Cruise passengers can self certify with "Supporting the Cuban People" see https://youtu.be/6HtSx1f5uf0 This article has a good description of the timeline when the Trump administration tighten on Cuba https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/administration-s-cuba-restrictions-seen-drag-its-economy-n996556: "Non-family travel to Cuba will be further restricted, after President Barack Obama loosened restrictions that led to an increase in Americans visiting the island for cultural and educational exchanges. Bolton called these trips “veiled tourism.” Details on travel limitations have not been announced. Tom Popper, president of InsightCuba, a U.S.-based provider of “people-to-people” travel is optimistic. “We have weathered this storm so many times,” Popper told NBC News. He said his company has survived changes in travel made by three presidents in the past 20 years. When Trump announced in June 2017 there would be changes to the travel restrictions, the new regulations were not disclosed until November and amounted to minor revisions. “It really didn’t impact travel as a whole for Americans,” Popper said." InsightCuba quoted above is an optimistic view, however Restricting non-family travel to Cuba sounds like the administration wants to stop the tourist trade Cuba has been enjoying and stopping the "veiled tourism". This new change hurts the Cuban people the most. Looks like there is already impact: https://nypost.com/2019/04/19/food-medicine-shortages-hit-cuba-raising-fears-of-new-economic-crisis/ 😥. Last time it took 5 months for the regulations to be in place. With this new announcement it may also take months for the regulation change to be clear. Even after that there will be some confusion and time needed for the cruise lines to figure out how to meet the new regulations. For those of you who are already booked on a Cuba cruise probably the best thing to to do is to proceed with your plans and make sure you book with private tour operators who has no cancellation fee. This may be a small window for you to be the last to visit Cuba before the regulations will change again. Best wishes to all of you who are in limbo until there's more details. Laurence
  6. I doubt Celebrity will have free shuttle service. I would be interested to know also for our upcoming cruise. I found several great posts on Cruise Critic which lead to a couple of good websites. Looks like the information is good for most Cruise Critic passengers arriving in Shanghai since most International cruise lines docks at the Shanghai Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal. It is also called "Baoshan Cruise Terminal" since it is located at Baoshan District in Shanghai. Per this post taxi's are inexpensive in China. It should cost ~$20 to taxi from the port to downtown. These two websites has good information. Note the 2nd site also has transfer service with 7 or 12 passenger vans or even a big Yutung bus 😀. https://www.chinahighlights.com/shanghai/shanghai-cruise-port.htm http://www.tour-beijing.com/shanghai_travel_guide/wusongkou_international_cruise_terminal/#.XLQcO-hKj4Y http://www.tour-beijing.com/transportation/shanghai_cruise_terminal_transfer/ Note per tour-beijing.com "the port offers free Shuttle Bus (from the terminal to Baoyang Station of Subway Line 3) Waiting Area: Gate 2 or 3 of Incoming Hall and very 15 minutes" So you may be able to save some $ taking the subway? I heard that the subway can be confusing, also tourists should watch out for pickpockets even though "it has gotten better" according to friends who's been there. Laurence
  7. re: Oceania's Colonial Santiago de Cuba tour my understanding is the "community project" in the tour description depends on what the tour company (Cubatur) can arrange for the tour. That's why they don't say what it is. For the tour we took it was a local dance troop performance in a warehouse like building. I heard that some people went to a short musical performance. Laurence
  8. ebslcc

    El Nicho

    We looked into going to El Nicho Falls but opt to go to Trinidad instead. Judging from the size of the tours I think very few people takes the tour there compared to other cruise excursions (big tour bus vs. just a large van for 16 people). For our Oceania cruise, the cruise line uses Cubatur https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g147271-d12183138-Reviews-Cubatur-Havana_Ciudad_de_la_Habana_Province_Cuba.html for all their tours. Unless you have "free" excursions from the cruise line you will get a much better Cuban experience with a private tour guide. Some things to consider: 1. Being in port at 7 AM you should try to go to El Nicho ASAP. The drive in 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours each way. It's best to go as early as possible and be back to Cienfuegos in the afternoon so that you are not away from the city near your cruise departure. 2. Make sure your guide uses a GOOD condition vehicle. I saw an article that one of the private guides took people up in a Classic car and the car had to rest in the middle to make it up the mountain! It would not be good to be stuck out there with possible no phone service! 3. Check out who will guide you at El Nicho - not the private guide for your tour but the guide who will bring you around at the falls. Some tour companies bring you around themselves for the trail walk. With Tony Castillo's company he uses a guide who is local at the falls to guide you through the trails. See https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2593423-private-excursion-findings-cienfuegos-trinidad-cuba/ for a list of guides you can contact. Laurence
  9. The showers have plastic doors. See https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2571714-oceania-next/?page=16 and for the PH suite https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2571714-oceania-next/?page=19. For the Insignia Cuba cruise we were there were a couple of Cuba buffet nights which were excellent. Re: decision on the 2 ships Cuba itinerary. If your schedule allows IMHO you will get a much better Cuban experience with sailings which includes overnight stays. See my post here: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2639057-cruise-lines-to-cuba/ for a good one in March 2020 on the Sirena. Also for the best Cuban experience it is better to take private tours vs. the cruise's excursions that are conducted by state owned tour guides! There are lots of good posts in the Cuba board if you haven't visited it already. https://boards.cruisecritic.com/forum/765-cuba/ For Insignia I like this one: Itinerary = Anchor Port DAY PORT ARRIVE DEPART Dec 18 Wed Miami, Florida, United States Embark 1 PM 5 PM Dec 19 Thu Havana, Cuba 8 AM Dec 20 Fri Havana, Cuba 11 PM Dec 21 Sat Cruising the Caribbean Sea Dec 22 Sun Cienfuegos, Cuba 7 AM Dec 23 Mon Cienfuegos, Cuba 2 PM Dec 24 Tue Santiago de Cuba, Cuba 10 AM Dec 25 Wed Santiago de Cuba, Cuba 5 PM Dec 26 Thu Cruising the Atlantic Ocean Dec 27 Fri Nassau, Bahamas 8 AM 5 PM Dec 28 Sat Miami, Florida, United States Disembark 8 AM Laurence
  10. ebslcc

    Cruise Lines to Cuba

    Steve, I just read your excellent reviews for your recent Cuba experience. I see that you already went with Gio to Trinidad. For a 2nd time around what tour itinerary would you recommend doing? Thanks! Laurence
  11. ebslcc

    Cruise Lines to Cuba

    Azamara has excellent itineraries for Cuba with their overnight stays! It would be good for us to repeat our Cuba experience on Azamara vs. Oceania 😀. If you want extended port stay and go early 2020 vs. last months of 2019 I see a very good option the Oceania Cuba Impressions sailing 10 days cruise on Oceania Sirena. It has overnights for all 3 Cuba ports!!! We love our overnight stays in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. With this itinerary you can do a very long tour in Trinidad and spend time seeing the Sugar Mill valley e.g. we took this excellent tour https://sites.google.com/view/tonycubavacation/tours/tv-trinidad-valle-de-los-ingenios For Santiago de Cuba definitely consider going out at night and get the musical experience around town, also best with a private tour guide. We took this tour and it was fantastic https://www.guruwalk.com/walks/20731-evening-free-santiago-musical-tour. It was a real genuine Cuban experience unlike other tours we've been on. DAY PORT ARRIVE DEPART Mar 8 Sun Miami, Florida, United States Embark 1 PM 5 PM Mar 9 Mon Havana, Cuba 8 AM Mar 10 Tue Havana, Cuba 7 PM Mar 11 Wed Cruising the Caribbean Sea Mar 12 Thu Cienfuegos, Cuba 7 AM Mar 13 Fri Cienfuegos, Cuba 3 PM Mar 14 Sat Santiago de Cuba, Cuba 12 PM Mar 15 Sun Santiago de Cuba, Cuba 6 PM Mar 16 Mon Cruising the Old Bahama Channel Mar 17 Tue Nassau, Bahamas 8 AM 5 PM Mar 18 Wed Miami, Florida, United States Disembark 8 AM ' Laurence
  12. ebslcc

    Souvenir Shopping

    Havana San Jose market has better selection vs. other ports. I was told that most of the vendors buy from government wholesale. The vendors are just re-sellers. Also, some stalls are actually government owned. Our Santiago tour guide told us that one side of the walk way going to El Morro are government vendors and the other side are private. With Cuba, the government always try to cut into private businesses! For Cienfuegos, the Calle 29 (29th Street) market is very near the port terminal. Prices are cheaper than Trinidad (if you are going there). If you are on a private tour a good tour guide will help you negotiate best price! See
  13. Oceania uses a state owned tour company for all it's tours. Cienfuegos & it's nature is a tour to El Nicho Waterfalls. It is a small tour bus (14 to 16 passengers?). If you are interested in going with you may want to book ASAP. I read that the roads can be rough. It is a 1 to 1 1/2 hour drive up curvy mountain road. You will have a guided walk through the waterfall trails. Botanical Garden is a short drive from the port. It is in a large bus ~40 to 50 passengers. It is a guided tour. We were there with our private guide (Tony Castillo) when the O bus came around. I think we got a MUCH better guided tour since there were only 6 of us with one of the 2 English speaking botanist at the park. Fort - you mean Jagua Castle right? it is a LONG drive to and from the Castle. We almost went on our private custom tour. We had to trim our custom tour since we arrived 3 hours late in port due to heavy wind (hard for the ship to navigate the narrow channel). The O tour is via a large tour bus. It is a 40 minutes drive each way. You will likely spend only an hour at the castle. If you want to see a nice fort you may want to consider seeing this in Santiago instead https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g147273-d207870-r120271655-Castillo_de_San_Pedro_de_la_Roca-Santiago_de_Cuba_Santiago_de_Cuba_Province_Cuba.html#REVIEWS Re: Tropicana Santiago. We didn't go. However on our way back from our very different evening musical tour with Stoycho the O bus pulled up. We talked to several people on the way back to the ship. People who went enjoyed it!!! Many brought back the bottle or rum given at the show. You may want to check out this post here: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2635921-soo-many-great-private-tours-how-to-decide/ Laurence
  14. I agree that private tours are very competitive especially in Havana. There are a lot of excellent choices! With your way ahead planning I am sure you will have no trouble finding a good tour operator who suits your needs. Regarding which tour operator may be associated with the state or are just booking agents. I heard how the state try to control private tour operators with their regulations from all the private our tour guides. For example, a private tour guide cannot be a driver. Cars or vans used for tours must be licensed to carry tourists. There are rules on who can drive the private cars or vans used for tours and taxes that the private car owner has to pay the state. I asked how the high volume operators work? They must have a large network of guides / taxi's / drivers that they pool from. The answer I heard is the state is involved. Since I don't know if this is just competitive talk or hard truth I don't want to repeat it in an open forum who the operator which was mentioned is. May be it is because our cruise was in Cuba around the time that the new Cuban government regulations kicked in. I heard a lot of dis-satisfaction from our tour guides about the regulations during our tours. See https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/07/13/cuba-moves-backwards-new-regulations-likely-to-impede-private-sector-growth/ I saw that only state owned taxi's are allowed inside the terminal gated area. There are a few private taxi's inside the gate but the negotiation on tours and prices is done by a dispatcher. Likely the private taxi's have to pay for being able to pick up tours from inside the terminal. I took a look at your itinerary on Oceania. DAY PORT ARRIVE DEPART Nov 9 Sat Miami, Florida, United States Embark 1 PM 5 PM Nov 10 Sun Havana, Cuba 8 AM Nov 11 Mon Havana, Cuba 7 PM Nov 12 Tue Cruising the Caribbean Sea Nov 13 Wed Cienfuegos, Cuba 7 AM 3 PM Nov 14 Thu Santiago de Cuba, Cuba 11 AM 6 PM Nov 15 Fri Cruising the Atlantic Ocean Nov 16 Sat Miami, Florida, United States Disembark 8 AM Some suggestions - may be this will help you and others: Havana - it's GREAT that you have an overnight and good long duration for both days! I think an orientation tour around Old Havana is a must. You can walk around yourself but tour with a knowledgeable guide will provide cultural tidbits that you won't get from guidebooks. All private tour operators have combo walking + driving tours which lasts for 6 hours (Blexie etc.) or 7 hours total (Havana Memories). If you want flexibility with the tour itinerary you may want to find a tour operator that is flexible with customization. Chances are the operators who are not flexible are just booking agents. You may want to supplement touring with a paid guide with some DIY activities e.g. it's a easy 5 minutes walk to the Havana Club museum for a guided tour, a little longer 15-20 minutes easy walk to the Almacenes San Jose crafts market for souvenirs. With an overnight you can just walk around Old Havana and go to one of the clubs - my vote is the Buena Vista Social Club see: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2592064-info-on-the-many-places-with-buena-vista-social-club-shows-ship-excursions/ We went to the Cabaret Parisien with one of our free OLife excursions. Our itinerary is not an overnight thus good reason to take the cruise's excursion vs. DIY. For being "free" it was a good show. We would have preferred BVSC but Oceania cancel the tour. A trip to the Tropicana can be done DIY at a MUCH lower cost than what Oceania charges ($285??). Since you are staying overnight, no worries about getting back late! There are many threads on CC how to DIY. Cienfuegos: your in port time is only 8 hours. It is too tight for a private tour that includes Trinidad or El Nicho. It is 1 hour 15 minutes or more travel time each way! It is a good road between Cienfuegos and Trinidad however there are horse drawn carriage and animals on the road which can take additional driving time. If you want to see these places it is safer to take the Oceania tours. Cienfuegos is a easy port to DIY, however you will get around more efficiently and be able to see and hear more about Cuba with a local guide. Customize your tour to see the real Cuba. A visit to the ration store is a good one to request from your private guide. See the latest post on Tony Castillo's tour in https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2593423-private-excursion-findings-cienfuegos-trinidad-cuba/ Santiago: your in port time is only 7 hours. Santiago is also very easy to DIY if you want to just tour the areas around the port. See the maps I posted in https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2597300-private-excursion-findings-santiago-de-cuba/ (I will update this later, the walking tour we took with Stoycho had a reverse route that is better than what I posted). If you want to take a private tour, I found the Castro's tomb and changing of the guards was interesting (as explained to us reason for size and shaped etc.), Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca (El Morro) was also good. If you don't have OLife for your cruise I would go with a private tour. It will be a rush to see all 3 highlights in 5 to 6 hours with a custom tour. You may have to choose between going to the tombs or El Morro + an in town walking tour. Have fun with your planning. Laurence
  15. The reason why there are sooo many positive reviews for Cuba Private tours is they ARE all good!!! Having experienced both private tours and state owned tours from the cruise lines the experience from private tour guides are overwhelmingly far superior due to the personal interactions with the Cuban people you get with private tours! From my experienced almost all tour guides are highly educated and very savvy. In Santiago with Stoycho & company: Stoycho was a professor, the 2 guides from his company who we took tours with one is a doctor and one is an engineer. In Cienfuegos, Tony Castillo was an English teacher then spent 20+ years as a hospitality director for foreign hotels in Varadero then started his own Casa Particular business and his tour excursion business. In Havana, we used Havana Memories - all their guides are professionals. From Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor reviews I requested and got Duramis as our guide. She also was a lawyer. All the private tour guides we had were excellent guides. We didn't just seeing the sights we had many great conversations with their personal stories about living in Cuba and the Cuban people. The stories were all fascinating. The tours are more like good friends showing you around and not just seeing sights from a tour bus. So with sooo many positive reviews which one should you choose? For me I emailed the many tour operators, find and read the positive AND negative reviews on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor. I exchanged many emails with the tour operators and selected the ones who I feel will give us the best experience. I found that the bigger operators (ones with hundreds of positive reviews) are less personal. Many are just booking agents! From what I heard one of the biggest one that is often mentioned on CC is associated with state owned tour operations and paying their guides very little. Note that many operators in Cuba DOES NOT require a deposit. I started some thread on CC re: private excursions. When I have time I will add to them from my experience. I have not been on CC as frequently recently as when I was planning our Cuba cruise. I see that you will be on Oceania November cruise and planning way ahead. Our Cuba cruise on the Insignia was one of the best cruise we've been on. I am sure you will have a great time!!! If you have questions that you don't want to post on CC please email me at ebslcc at gmail dot com. Laurence
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