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vcgeno

Cultural Cuba Review

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We had a wonderful time. For the most part, the ship suited us, the staff was friendly and accommodating, and the Interary gave us what we wanted out of the trip. If you are accustomed to visiting European cities with well- maintained attractions or Caribbean islands with you have fist class bars, restaurants, and beaches you will be in for a bit of a shock. If you (like we were) want to visit a unique place where you can see the impact of 60 years of socialism/communism on what was once a tourist hotspot, and how people function under that system, then you should consider this cruise.

 

The ship was just the right size. The decor was subdued, elegant and modern. The room (Deluxe Veranda) was clean, roomy, comfortable with the best cruise ship shower we have ever had.

We had been on 3 Viking River cruises and several ocean cruises with more mass market cruise lines mostly Princess. We were curious how this experience would compare to those.

 

We had some frustration with Viking Air but I will detail that in a separate post.

 

I will give you a day to day rundown on what we did along with some general observations. I am also going to compare the Viking Ocean experience with their River Cruises and with the mass market Ocean Cruises I had been on.

 

Day One (Thursday, November 😎 On-Boarding/Depart Port: This was by far the easiest and most relaxing on-boarding experience we have ever had on any Ocean cruise. We could not get a decent enough flight from Phoenix to fly in that morning (Part of the Viking Air frustration to be detailed in a different note) so we flew in the day before and took a Lyft to the ship. Got here about 10:30 dropped off our luggage, checked in, and got our room keys inside the cruise terminal and were on board at 11:00. Were greeted with a glass of Champaign and because the rooms would not be ready until 2:00 had a seat in the lobby and enjoyed a cup of coffee. At noon we went up to the World Café buffet (more on the buffet later). You make your dinner reservations for the two specialty restaurants at the entrance. We only received two reservations (one to each of the restaurants) with our class of room, so we made one for Manfredi’s Italian that evening and one for the Chefs Table on Wednesday. At 2:00, as promised, our room was ready. After unpacking we toured the ship, spent about 90 minutes enjoying the spa and then got ready for our outstanding dinner. We almost bought the drink package, at $20/day it is not a bad deal at all, but we decided we would not because we would be tempted to use it more than was probably good for us. Another reason we did not get it was because the wines that were included were not that exciting and not that much better than the house wines they served at lunch and dinner and the bottle discount only applied to bottles of wine priced $60 or more. They had a lot of nice wines in the $40-$60 price range that if the drink package offered a discount on, we probably would have purchased it. After our amazing dinner (in talking to some people they never made it to one of the specialty restaurants which was kind of sad) we sat in the lobby listened to some music and then went up to bed.

 

Day Two (Friday, November 9) Sea Day: After breakfast at the buffet we went and spent a couple hours in the spa, we were amazed at how few people were using it. In the locker room, they feature a sitting area, a sauna and cold-water plunge pool (was never brave enough to take the plunge), and a wonderful rainforest multi-directional shower. The communal area features 4 stone beds, 10 or so padded lounge chares, some padded lounge chairs, a steam room, a snow room, a large medium hot saltwater whirlpool, a standard sized hot tub, a rainforest shower, and cold-water bucket dump area (never was brave enough to use it). Again, I was surprised at how few people there were in the spa (more on that later). Was surprised by how much I enjoyed the snow room, was disappointed that the stone beds were almost only room temperature (I told them about this several times but they claim they were set at the right temperature. On our mass market ocean cruises, we always purchased the spa package, and warm stone beds are the main reason we do).

 

After a wonderful lunch in the sit-down The Restaurant (I wonder how much they paid a marketing consultant to come up with that name). We then decided to sit out by the main pool area. This was a big step for me because I’m not sure what hell is like but I’m convinced it is not that much different from the main pool area on the other ocean cruises we have been on. I was pleasantly surprised. It was calm and relaxing. Was able to find a shady lounge chair. There were no unsupervised children or people with over filled plates of food our buckets of beer bumping into us, there was no blaring reggae music playing, it was dare I say it pleasant. I even did something I never do, I went it the pool. I was wondering why everyone was hanging on to the sides and I found out. The entire pool is 5’8” deep. Unless your nose is 5’9” above the ground, if you are not swimming (the pool not really big enough to swim) or treading water you need to hang on to the side of the pool. This is not a bad thing I just found it odd.

 

That evening we had they had a reception in the lobby for past Viking guests in the atrium. You get a glass of sparkling wine (it is branded Viking and comes for Germany) and if you are on the first floor, they pass around some Hors d’ oeuvres (we were on the second floor). After that, we had a wonderful dinner at The Restaurant. The food is on par with the Viking River cruises, and far superior to the food in the main dining room of the mass market cruises we have been on. After dinner, we went to the captain's reception where we got another glass of Germain sparkling wine and were introduced to the captain and the department heads.

 

Day 3 (Saturday, November 10 Cienfuegos): Cienfuegos is a tender port. The Star by far has the nicest and most comfortable tenders we have ever been on. Each tender holds about 200 people. Because you are moving so many people so quickly it is a bit of a cattle call. If you are on an excursion you meet in the Star Theater at a specific time and then instructed when to board your tender. If you are doing the port independently you tell them and they tell you when you can board. There is a fairly long line to get on the tenders but I don’t see how they could do it any better. For those of you that are not afraid of alienating your fellow passengers if you take the elevator down to level 0 and cut into the tender line there you will avoid most of the line.

 

There is a money exchange once you clear customs and before you get to the tour buses. There is I think an 8% fee for exchanging American money. Your credit card and ATM card will not work in Cuba. We had some euros left over from a previous trip and exchanged those in because there is no extra fee for doing that. Another good option is Canadian money. The lines to exchange money the first day very long and many people were unable to do so because they did not want to miss their tour bus. The truth is that most places that tourists would be interested in will accept American money so you may be able to get away without exchanging any money at all.

 

We went on the “Cienfueguos on Foot” included shore excursion. We took a bus into town and our tour consisted of walking 4-5 blocks to the main square of the town. You can see that in its day this was a pretty magnificent place but it had not been kept up. We observed the way the people went about their day to day lives. It is dirty and a bit unkept but none-the-less interesting. In addition to the stores and markets and restaurants on the street, there were several street vendors selling local crafts and jewelry. The tour was supposed to include a tour of a cigar factory but the factory does not operate on Saturdays so they substituted going into a cramped cigar/rum store where there was a lady in the back, rolling cigars. We received a complermetary rum and coke and a tiny cigar. Because of time constraints, they asked us not to buy are cigars and rum here but at another store, we would be near the end of the tour. This tour is offered all three days we are in the port. If you want to see a cigar factory (we did) do not do it on Saturday. We then walked down the town square where they directed us to a cigar/rum store and gave us some time to wander around on our own. The store is not set up for the thong of cruisers that descend upon it. If you want to make a purchase do it quickly. By the time we decided to buy something the line was 20 some people deep and with one cashier we decided to hold off buying anything until a different day because we would have missed the bus ride back to the ship.

 

On our way back to the ship we stopped off at the Palace de Valle for a rum and coke and some music on the roof. The place is beautiful on the outside and in some of the public spaces, but you can tell by going in the restrooms and in peeking in some other rooms it has been neglected. Enjoyed the music and enjoyed the views.

 

Our guide for this tour, like the guides on all our tours, works for a government-owned tour company. They were all passionate about their job and worked hard to make sure we had the best experience possible. I was impressed with their ability to communicate and their candor. No question was off limits. Some of us were wondering if they had to turn in their tips to the government and were told they only share their tips with their families.

 

We then proceed back to the ship where we cleaned up and went to our dinner at the Chefs Table. The theme for the dinner was “La Routes Des Indes” and we paid $25 each for the upgraded wine pairing. The two main courses were Spicy Tuna Tataki and Beef Tenderloin seasoned with four Asian spices. The meal was outstanding and the wine pairings went well with the food being served. I went back and did some research and the 4 wines served each retail for between $10-$15 so the ships markup (if you don’t deduct the cost not drinking the house wine which I suspect is something south of $8 a bottle) is not that extreme.

 

After dinner, we listened to some music in the lobby and went back to our room.

 

Day 4 (Sunday, November 11) Cienfuegos: We did the “A Day in Havana” shore excursion. Long day but worthwhile. After breakfast, the 20 minute or so tender ride, and clearing customs (it was much quicker today), we boarded our busses for 3 1/2 drive to Havana. Before we got there, we stopped a little sea town where there was a bust of Earnest Hemmingway in the town square and had a Mojito at his favorite bar (based on what we were told by our tour guides there are a dozen or so bars that were Hemmingway’s favorite). You can tell by looking around that the town used to be something but it was run down and was now something else. The description of the tour said we were going to visit Hemmingway's house but the house is closed on Sundays. As this is the only day the tour is offered, I was wondering why they said they were going if the place was closed. I was looking forward to going and this made me sad. My frown turned to a smile when I found out that in its place Viking substituted a 30-minute car ride in classic convertibles through the of Havana. We got to ride in a pink ‘53 Chevy. That was pure joy and a great way to see and feel the city. I hope for the sake of future cruises that hey never open the Hemmingway house on Sundays because the car ride was a highlight for everyone that went on the excursion. Prior to the car ride, we had an authentic Cuban lunch of beans, rice, and chicken. You can have beer, wine or soft drinks with lunch and one of our fellow cruisers was a bit off put because she ordered a diet coke and they brought her the Cuban equivalent. It was hard for her to process that Coke is not sold in Cuba.

 

After the car ride we took a fascinating walking tour of old Havana. You can only imagine what the place was in its hay day. On our walking tour, we spotted a MSC cruise ship docked in the harbor. We were told that Viking could not dock there because there were no slots available. That’s a shame because I am not a fan of bus rides (although it was fascinating seeing how the people in the countryside live as I looked out the bus window). I would also feel comfortable wandering around Havana on our own, something I did not feel comfortable doing at the two ports the ship did visit. Someone told me that in the next year Viking will indeed dock in Havana which would be a good thing.

 

Our last stop was a cigar/rum store. We made sure we made our selections quickly because there was a throng of people in the store.

 

We then boarded the bus for the long ride back to the ship. We were told that we would be getting a box dinner on the bus. Turned out to be a boxed snack. They must have gotten some complaints about this before because the kept the buffet open until 11:00 that night which was much appreciated.

 

Day 5 (Monday, November 12) Cienfuegos: We did the Botanical Garden & Laguna Guanaroca shore excursion. We were tired from the previous long day and this trip was about the speed we wanted to go and we enjoyed it very much. We enjoyed it not because we saw anything breathtaking or magnificent but because of its simplicity. It was a relaxing walk where you learned about local plants, birds and insects. Our guides were engaging and interesting. The description for the tour says we would see flamingos but they warned us ahead of time the flamingos were elsewhere and gave us the opportunity to cancel. We were happy we went.

 

We got back to the ship and made our way to The Restaurant for a nice relaxing sit-down lunch. Several of our other cruises had the same idea. Turns out The Restaurant is only open for lunch on 100% sea days and this being 50% sea day it was closed. We then proceed up the buffet where I had flashbacks to Carnival cruises we went on when our kids were young. The place was packed it was next to impossible to find a table. There were long lines to get food. Another night they were promoting a seafood buffet and how wonderful it was for diner. I love seafood but when we went up there the buffet consisted of clams, mussels, and one type of white fish. The Italian buffet consisted of two types of pasta sauce and some meatballs. In both cases, we skipped the buffet and went to The Restaurant. I had mentioned earlier that my least favorite thing on mass-market cruise ships was the main pool deck, for me a close second is the buffet. In my view, Viking solved the pool deck issue but they have some work to do on the buffet.

 

Day 6: (Tuesday, November 13) Santiago de Cuba: We went on the included Panoramic Tour. Did not expect much and were pleasantly surprised. Santiago is bustling with activity and we got a great chance to see how people live their lives. I thought this was going to be mainly a bus tour but we got a chance to walk through one of the main shopping districts, and got to observe people in and around the main town square. The highlight for us was a stop at Basilica of Santiago. People go there to be healed, the church is beautiful, and has wonderful views. Got back to the ship about 1:15 wished The Restaurant had been open but mustered up our courage and faced the throng in the buffet.

 

After lunch, we decided to go to the spa to relax. Since our last visit, the Spa had been discovered. It was wall to wall humanity. There was not a lounge chair to be had or even a hook to hang your towel. People were putting their towels and robes on the still too cold stone beads reserving them while they enjoyed the other spa amenities. I took someone's towel off the stone bed and put it on the table next to the bed. I got a stern look from the towels owner when they got back several minutes' latter. My view is that with only 4 beds for 950 guests they should not allow people to reserve them if they are not using them. Viking should enforce this and not force their guests to be the bed police. As nice as the spa was the first couple of days it was more like the hunger games the last couple of day. The Spa beautiful but it is too small for the size of the ship. This is an area where the mass market ships may have it over Viking. You may have to pay a daily or weekly fee to use the facilities (which are nearly as nice) but this limits the crowd and makes it a more relaxing experience.

 

We were not that hungry and just had some soup for lunch and then had another great dinner at The Restaurant.

 

Day 7: (Wednesday, November 14) Sea Day: Had our first and only breakfast in The Restaurant. It was outstanding, wish we had gone sooner. After breakfast, we went to the Spa for some to try and jam in some relaxation. We were not hungry so we just had a bowl of soup for lunch (the soups on the ship are fantastic) After that we went up to the pool deck and was able to relax and finish the book I brought on board. They have an afternoon tea in the Winter Garden (a beatify designed and relaxing area of the ship). They have one of these just about every day and we were sorry we did not go sooner. We had another outstanding dinner in The Restaurant. Packed and then went to the captain's sendoff farewell show at the Star Theater. Don’t know if this is a requirement to be a cruise director on Viking but the cruise director Aaron Syfert has an amazing singing voice (as does the assistant cruise director) and this was one of many opportunities for him to sing. In reading Syfert’s bio his is musically trained and had a role for 6 years on All My Children and was a regular on a children's show for several years. The ship captain had a wonderful personality and stage presence and during the sendoff. As a reminder to tip well they brought staff members on board from every department to thank us and wish us a great journey home. Following the sendoff, the ships singers performed a show which was typical cruise ship entertainment.

 

Day 8: Miami: Got up, had breakfast, they made getting off the ship as easy as they did getting on the ship. Our Viking transfer got us to the airport got us there in plenty of time to make our flight.

Let me know if you have any questions.

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We're on that itinerary in January so your review is extremely helpful!  I wonder if you can answer some questions on these subjects -

 

Money exchange.  We tend to wander on our own instead of booking excursions.  I'd love to avoid the exchange lines on the first morning in Cienfuegos.  You mentioned that dollars are widely accepted in tourist shops, but do you think that would apply outside of the excursion routes? 

 

Cienfuegos on Foot.  Worth it, do you think?  Was there much information about the history or culture?

 

Wines.  We'll probably do the package because we both like beer and cocktails, but I was disappointed to read that the included package wines are still budget level ($10-15), and the discount doesn't apply on $40-60 bottles.  Is there a wine-by-the-glass option for higher quality wines? 

 

And a comment - good for you for moving that towel and taking the unoccupied stone bed.  I can't stand it when people reserve seats.  It is really just a form of butting in line, which most people wouldn't dream of doing. 

 

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, alc13 said:

We're on that itinerary in January so your review is extremely helpful!  I wonder if you can answer some questions on these subjects -

 

Money exchange.  We tend to wander on our own instead of booking excursions.  I'd love to avoid the exchange lines on the first morning in Cienfuegos.  You mentioned that dollars are widely accepted in tourist shops, but do you think that would apply outside of the excursion routes? 

 

Cienfuegos on Foot.  Worth it, do you think?  Was there much information about the history or culture?

 

Wines.  We'll probably do the package because we both like beer and cocktails, but I was disappointed to read that the included package wines are still budget level ($10-15), and the discount doesn't apply on $40-60 bottles.  Is there a wine-by-the-glass option for higher quality wines? 

 

And a comment - good for you for moving that towel and taking the unoccupied stone bed.  I can't stand it when people reserve seats.  It is really just a form of butting in line, which most people wouldn't dream of doing. 

 

 

 

 

We did not go out on our own.  Every shop we went to cater to tourists.  I suspect if you go off the beaten path you will need to exchange money. 

 

The advantage of the tour is you get the perspective of a real live Cuban, the tour guide.  I'm sure they are instructed not to say certain things but on our tours at least they answered every question and they seemed to believe what they were saying. 

 

All wines by the glass under $15 are in the program.  We only looked at the list once on the first day and did not see anything we were excited about.  My advice would be to look at the wine list on your first day and make your own mind.  We purchased a couple of $45 wines that we enjoyed very much.  The drink package also included the wine upgrade at the Chefs Table ($25 PP) which is a nice thing.  We were on the fence and did not do it for fear that we (me really) would take a little bit too much advantage of it. 

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We are looking at doing this cruise in 2020.  Was there an overnight in Havana excursion offered?

 

Sorry to hear the spa was so crowded.

 

I too wished The Restaurant was open on partial sea days.  I thought it would have made the buffet a bit less crowded.

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We are doing the day trip to Havana in January. I was wondering what the buses are like. Is there a bathroom on board? Did you make any stops along the way? What time did you get back to the ship? I liked the fact that the buffet was kept open late that day. I was disappointed that the Hemingway House would be closed, but it looks like Viking more than made up for it.

 

Thanks for your wonderful review! Much appreciated.

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12 hours ago, Marykatesmom said:

We are looking at doing this cruise in 2020.  Was there an overnight in Havana excursion offered?

 

Sorry to hear the spa was so crowded.

 

I too wished The Restaurant was open on partial sea days.  I thought it would have made the buffet a bit less crowded.

There is an overnight option as well.  it was $500pp more expensive than the day trip so we opted for the day trip.  One passenger told me the ship was going to dock in Havana next year so you may not need to do the overnight. 

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25 minutes ago, azwildcat said:

We are doing the day trip to Havana in January. I was wondering what the buses are like. Is there a bathroom on board? Did you make any stops along the way? What time did you get back to the ship? I liked the fact that the buffet was kept open late that day. I was disappointed that the Hemingway House would be closed, but it looks like Viking more than made up for it.

 

Thanks for your wonderful review! Much appreciated.

The buses are newer, comfortable, and there is a bathroom on board.  As a side note, most restrooms in Cuba require you to tip the attendant. 

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We sail on the Star from the 13 Dec 2018 from LA to Miami, we’ve got three days in Cienfuegos and we want to arrange our own overnight trip to Havana instead of taking the Viking option. I asked the Viking bookings rep and he stated you are not allowed to disembark in Cuba unless you are going on a Viking organised tour, is this correct? 

Has anyone arranged their own tour in Cuba? Hopefully someone can provide some guidance from an actual experience on Viking. 

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6 hours ago, Doolz said:

We sail on the Star from the 13 Dec 2018 from LA to Miami, we’ve got three days in Cienfuegos and we want to arrange our own overnight trip to Havana instead of taking the Viking option. I asked the Viking bookings rep and he stated you are not allowed to disembark in Cuba unless you are going on a Viking organised tour, is this correct? 

Has anyone arranged their own tour in Cuba? Hopefully someone can provide some guidance from an actual experience on Viking. 

We did not try to arrange things on our own but they did mention the fact that some folks were touring the ports independently. so my guess is you can.   A couple of people mentioned that they hired tour guides outside of the tender landing area as well. 

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10 minutes ago, vcgeno said:

We did not try to arrange things on our own but they did mention the fact that some folks were touring the ports independently. so my guess is you can.   A couple of people mentioned that they hired tour guides outside of the tender landing area as well. 

As far as I can tell the legal requirement is to retain documentation of your activities showing "support for the Cuban people" if you go off on your own.

 

It is very confusing - the cruise line apparently provides the appropriate visa, which I guess requires them to accompany you at all times, or something.  But then there is (apparently) an affidavit that you sign that offers additional reasons for your visit, like support for the Cuban people.  vcgeno, does that square with your experience?

 

In any  case, there are many reports of people wandering around independently without problems.  We're planning to do that in January.  We are not intrepid travelers by any means but are pretty comfortable with the choice.  

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Here is a helpful thread on bypassing ship excursions in Cuba -

 

 

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2 hours ago, alc13 said:

As far as I can tell the legal requirement is to retain documentation of your activities showing "support for the Cuban people" if you go off on your own.

 

It is very confusing - the cruise line apparently provides the appropriate visa, which I guess requires them to accompany you at all times, or something.  But then there is (apparently) an affidavit that you sign that offers additional reasons for your visit, like support for the Cuban people.  vcgeno, does that square with your experience?

 

 

1

We did not consider touring on our own so I don't have anything to add.   

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On ‎11‎/‎23‎/‎2018 at 6:41 AM, alc13 said:

As far as I can tell the legal requirement is to retain documentation of your activities showing "support for the Cuban people" if you go off on your own.

 

It is very confusing - the cruise line apparently provides the appropriate visa, which I guess requires them to accompany you at all times, or something.  But then there is (apparently) an affidavit that you sign that offers additional reasons for your visit, like support for the Cuban people.  vcgeno, does that square with your experience?

 

In any  case, there are many reports of people wandering around independently without problems.  We're planning to do that in January.  We are not intrepid travelers by any means but are pretty comfortable with the choice.  

 

The $75 visa is for the Cuba government.  It has nothing to do with the OFAC affidavit form that you have to fill out for the US government that the cruise line keeps for 5 years.  As far as the Cuban government is concern you just need the visa and your passport. You are free to go wherever you want.  There is no one monitoring what you are doing.  With the cruise line's "People to People" tours they are suppose to keep track of your time.  But practically they can't.  With "Support the Cuban People" you are suppose to keep track of your time and where you spend your money i.e. NOT at black listed government entities e.g. NOT government owned tour companies!!!  I am surprised to read above that Viking's "guide for this tour, like the guides on all our tours, works for a government-owned tour company"!!!  Somehow HAL is getting around what the US government is forbidding for individuals.

 

The cruise line tells you that you must take their excursions to get off the ship or you must take at least one excursion to fulfill the hours needed for regulations  These are TOTALLY untrue.  If you talk to the cruise line folks on the phone they are just reading off a script that the cruise line gives them.  They don't tell you that there is an OFAC category "Support the Cuban People" that you can select to be legal to tour on your own.  No one is checking what category you select after you get on the ship anyways so it really doesn't matter too much.  The form is a self declaration.  The cruise line is responsible for collecting it prior to embarkation.  Likely after collection it is never seen again. The cruise line put the fear of US government regulations to passengers in order for them to sell tours.  I had the exact question when I start researching Cuba travel 2 months ago.  Just read the many great threads on this on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor.

There are many more on the Cuba board: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/forum/765-cuba/
 
Support the Cuban People means that you are supporting the local people private business like a local tour guide, going to private instead of state owned restaurants, buying from local merchants instead of state own stores, staying away from Black listed places... See this great video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HtSx1f5uf0  
 
Re: "wandering around independently" it is easy to do in Cuba. Safety was my concern when I started my research.  I am convince now that Cuba is much safer to wander around ourselves without any issues even though we don't speak Spanish.  Since this is a Viking Ocean thread my understanding is the current itinerary has 3 full days in Cienfuegos and also port stay in Santiago.  Viking is selling very expensive tours to Havana - long 12 hour excursion and overnight.  If you must see Havana I think it's good to do  I think some of the private tour guides also offer the option.  However it will not be a comfortable trip 3 hours to and from!!!  The Viking bus has a nice toilet onboard.  If this is important to you take the Viking excursion!!!.  I think there's plenty to do just in and around Cienfuegos to experience Cuba without having to spend hours on the bus to Havana.  The big advantage of multiple overnight in Cienfuegos is you can spend a full day in Trinidad which is a more reasonable 1 1/2 from Cienfuegos or go visit the beautiful waterfalls in El Nicho which is about an hour + from Cienfuegos. 
 
If you want to just walk around I have posted very detail maps with sights and list of musical venues in the pair of threads I started in the Cuba board here:  https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2593423-private-excursion-findings-cienfuegos-trinidad-cuba/ and https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2597300-private-excursion-findings-santiago-de-cuba/ scroll down until you see the maps.  Even if you want to just walk around you may want to consider taking the free tip based walking tours to get to know the people.  The number of private guides for Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba are few compared to Havana. See those threads for contacts.  Just refuse the ones that takes advantage of cruise passengers by charging crazy high prices because of high demand. 
 
If you find the information helpful for those threads or can contribute with new updates please post on those threads to keep them alive or give them some "Likes" by clicking the heart icon.
 
These are good videos to watch before you go to Cuba: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/topic/2596744-netflix-cuba/
 

Laurence

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ebslcc-thank you for the very informative post. I am going to go through all the links. I think I saw the form we need to fill out and sign for Viking from my paperwork and it says "People to People" not "support for the people" . Are these one and the same? Are there 2 forms to sign? I agree with taking the Havana overnight with Viking. Eventhough expensive, I will feel more secure going that far from the ship. 

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Wow, superb post and extremely helpful information, ebslcc!  We do intend to do a day trip to Trinidad rather than Havana - we have a taxi for transportation to and back and we'll be on our own there for the day.  Thanks for the tip in the other forum.

 

Surfway - re "people to people" vs "support for the Cuban people" - the cruise line gets a visa under the former, which I believe is technically an educational category.  It covers excursions.  Cruisegoers should additionally check "support for the Cuban people" on the affidavit in order to go off on their own legally.  Support for the Cuban people can include any interactions other than transactions with government businesses or employees, or lying on a beach all day.  You are supposed to retain documentation of those activities.

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17 hours ago, surfway said:

ebslcc-thank you for the very informative post. I am going to go through all the links. I think I saw the form we need to fill out and sign for Viking from my paperwork and it says "People to People" not "support for the people" . Are these one and the same? Are there 2 forms to sign? I agree with taking the Havana overnight with Viking. Even though expensive, I will feel more secure going that far from the ship. 

 

Yes there are 2 forms to fill out before your embarkation.  There is a visa form which is for Cuban government to fill out.  See Royal Caribbean's FAQ https://www.royalcaribbean.com/faq/questions/are-guests-required-to-have-a-visa-to-enter-cuba It should be the same for all cruise lines. "You will complete a simple form at the terminal, be handed your visa, and you will be responsible for presenting it to Cuban authorities upon arrival in Cuba."

 

For the US government there is a form that your cruise line must keep for their record to track which self declared OFAC license each passenger make when the passenger gets on the ship.  The cruise line must provide the record if the cruise line is ever audited by OFAC.  Each cruise line has it's own OFAC tracking form. I tried to search online for the Viking OFAC form but can't find it.  Here is Royal Caribbean's.  https://www.royalcaribbean.com/content/dam/royal/resources/pdf/cuba/cuba-guest-travel-certification.pdf  Note that for RCL the form has checkbox 2 FULL DAY-THIRD PARTY PROGRAM (TOURS NOT SPONSORED BY ROYAL CARIBBEAN). To me this is totally marketing driven for RCL to put so much emphasis for this check box on this form.  Chances are almost always zero if there is another U.S. sponsoring organization onboard to provide full day schedule people to people educational exchange activities.  It may be there just to confuse people so that people will take RCL excursions.

 

image.thumb.png.714a02041f77a9a103b37298093fbeed.png

 

For most travelers if you are taking ONLY cruise line excursions you should be checking the box with C.F.R. § 515.565(b) for your cruise line.  It is a specific license to travel to Cuba that your cruise line as a U.S. sponsoring organization has from the U.S. government to engage in Educational

Exchanges to Promote People-to-People Contact. Your cruise line is responsible for tracking your time and make sure you fulfill the "full time" requirements.  

 

If you are taking private tours or strictly even if you are going around Cuba by yourself you should be checking the Support for the Cuban people (31 C.F.R. § 515.574) category.  You should understand the rules: engage with Cuban people, spend money in privately owned entities (not government owned places, don't just go to the beach!), track your time, stay away from blacklisted places.  See the video I referenced earlier: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HtSx1f5uf0 

 

You can find the official US Treasury guidelines and blacklist here: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/cuba.aspx

 

Laurence

 

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Thank you for the post and information, we are doing independent Trinidad, skipping the Havana due to length of travel and COST!.  We are sailing on the Star 2/21/19.  Decided to take a short cruise in September with NCL that docks in Havana for less than it would cost me to travel 6 hours on the Viking Star.  I am looking forward to seeing the other ports and it will round out my tour of Cuba.  Again, can't thank you enough for all the information.

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