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ChinaShrek

Cienfuegoes and the Veendam

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I visited Cienfuegos on the Veendam on 12/15/18 and wanted to let people know what happens when you have a private tour arranged for this port. 

 

We were scheduled to be in Cienfuegoes from 8am - 5pm.  It was announced the day before our arrival that people booked on HAL shore excursions would be allowed on the tenders first, starting at 8am.  Passengers booked on a private tour (or visiting Cienfuegos on their own) would receive tender ticket staring at 9am.  This was exactly what happened.  I was able to get group 1 tender tickets at 9am but they did not call group 1 until 9:20am.  We arrived at the dock right before 10am.  If you book a private guide then you will need to leave the gated area and walk down the road a bit to a small park.  This is where you will find the private guides.  We were also told that the last tender for independent travelers was at 3:30pm back to the ship.  Space might not be available on later tenders for independent passengers.  The captain announced twice that he would only wait for people booked on a HAL shore excursion.  Our private tour was great but lunch did not work out.  We were supposed to have lunch as part of the tour.  We did not arrive at the restaurant until 2:00pm where we proceeded to wait for a table.  I asked the guide when that might happen.  He said an hour or so since they only had one cook!  Since we had to make the 3:30 tender back to the ship, we told him to skip lunch.  Conclusion:  I think for Cienfuegos I would book a HAL tour for a future trip.  Cuba was fascinating and I cannot wait to go back.

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I would book another cruise line for Cuba that actually docks in the ports and offers more days in Cuba.

Also, Holland America takes things too far against independent travelers.  Other cruise lines do not treat independents like second class citizens.  I would never sail with any cruise line telling me I might not get a seat on a tender back to the ship.  

So I say look around at other cruise lines, 

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Just now, sammiedawg said:

I would book another cruise line for Cuba that actually docks in the ports and offers more days in Cuba.

Also, Holland America takes things too far against independent travelers.  Other cruise lines do not treat independents like second class citizens.  I would never sail with any cruise line telling me I might not get a seat on a tender back to the ship.  

So I say look around at other cruise lines, 

 

I was not really trying to criticize Holland America although it came out that way.  I just wanted to let people know, who book the Veendam and want to go to Cienfuegos, what they should expect.  The captain announced that the Veendam will be sailing to Cuba for 2019 and 2020, so I think many people will experience what I did for Cienfuegos.  The captain seemed very worried about leaving the port by 5pm.  Ironically, I had booked a RC cruise to Cuba for February 2019 but that was cancelled. So, I decided to book the Veendam cruise.  

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1 hour ago, ChinaShrek said:

 

I was not really trying to criticize Holland America although it came out that way.  I just wanted to let people know, who book the Veendam and want to go to Cienfuegos, what they should expect.  The captain announced that the Veendam will be sailing to Cuba for 2019 and 2020, so I think many people will experience what I did for Cienfuegos.  The captain seemed very worried about leaving the port by 5pm.  Ironically, I had booked a RC cruise to Cuba for February 2019 but that was cancelled. So, I decided to book the Veendam cruise.  

 

No worries! The last tender to the ship means just that, the last tender. If people miss it, they usually miss the ship and that could be an "interesting" experience in a "for non-European cruise lines" still new country like Cuba. Hope the port agents are good

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Holland America does prefer to prioritize its own tours in all written and printed communications, but if you are persistent you can get off early.   We were fortunate in being shore-side after immigration on this same cruise to Cienfuegos by ~8.20am, on the first tender.    You probably don't want to know this now but the first "tender" (a very large Cuban vessel) left with a few (albeit not many) empty seats and none standing.

 

We are not yet 4* or 5* mariners so have no priority but learned on an Antarctic trip that Holland America does care about independent passengers and will make every effort to get you off to meet your tour if you ask nicely for these unusual port locations.   About 60 people on every Falkland Islands port call leave the ship independently and so HAL even arranges a separate meeting room and first tender arrangements as long as someone from the group is facilitating the communication.   On this Cuba trip about 5 independent parties (couples or families) were able to get off early.

 

The trick in Cienfuegos is to start queueing up at the Veendam ticket desk location at 700am or 730am.  At 8am they will hand out tender tickets or make arrangements for you to start disembarking with the ship tour group.  I am sure if everyone did this or just showed up at 8am expecting to get off they would revert to the 9am rule which I do agree is prioritizing their own excursions which would probably violate anti-competitive rules in their HQ jurisdiction.

 

With all that said, after talking to others who did the ship tours we believe we would have been just as happy with a ship tour and so would unusually recommend that too in Cuba over the private excursions (for simple peace of mind, we too were worried we might not make our planned day as scheduled).   In our case we used Havana60 and did a very nice private tour to Trinidad in a big old classic car and had plenty of time.   

 

We understand on good authority that a couple of independent passengers on this cruise unfortunately did not make it back in time for the ship's departure, and so were left in Cuba overnight to make their own arrangements back to Fort Lauderdale but we do not know the full circumstances.    

 

One note on US treasury rules for US passengers, we do not appreciate that all the written communication from HAL indicates that shore excursions must be through them, when other categories of travel (e.g., Support for the Cuban people) are allowed under current US regulations, then at Fort Lauderdale they make sure that every form is completed (and altered if necessary) to their own specifications (against the principle of a signed affidavit), and yet on board they simply say quite publicly that they really don't care what passengers do as it between passengers and the US treasury department.   

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At least you made it to Cienfuegos.  I was on two different cruises on the Veendam and they both cancelled the port of Cienfuegos.  I don't think I'll make another attempt.

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12 hours ago, KAKcruiser said:

At least you made it to Cienfuegos.  I was on two different cruises on the Veendam and they both cancelled the port of Cienfuegos.  I don't think I'll make another attempt.

 

I am sorry to hear that.  I think you would have enjoyed Cienfuegos.  However, I would not take another "Cuban" cruise if the only port was Cienfuegos (regardless of cruise line) in the itinerary.  The passage is very narrow and the ship can only travel there when it is light outside.  The Captain must have told the passengers 3-4 times that we had to leave at 5pm!  This was my sixth cruise and I have never heard such concern about leaving a port. 

Edited by ChinaShrek

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I'm a Canadian, and am booked on the Koningdam on Jan 4. We thought about doing a HAL Cuba cruise as hubby and I have been to Cuba before and LOVED it, but were just so disappointed with all the rules that are placed on you if you are leaving a US port. Visas (even thought Canadians don't need a visa to go to Cuba) are required, and were told we must use HAL tours...it just wasn't worth it.  PS: have done a tour of Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara....if you ever get the chance to go to Cuba, those places are MUST SEE!!

 

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42 minutes ago, leerathje said:

I'm a Canadian, and am booked on the Koningdam on Jan 4. We thought about doing a HAL Cuba cruise as hubby and I have been to Cuba before and LOVED it, but were just so disappointed with all the rules that are placed on you if you are leaving a US port. Visas (even thought Canadians don't need a visa to go to Cuba) are required, and were told we must use HAL tours...it just wasn't worth it.  PS: have done a tour of Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara....if you ever get the chance to go to Cuba, those places are MUST SEE!!

 

 

You absolutely do not have to book a HAL tour.  I booked a private tour with another couple and it worked out fine in Cienfuegos.  I checked out off People to People on the Affidavit, which is required for all passengers.  The visa fee is interesting.  I was told by Guest Services that this money goes directly to the Cuban government and is required by all passengers if they want to go to Cuba on a cruise ship from the US.  I do not understand why the Cuban government charges a visa fee for non-Americans (unless it is some sort of cash grab) when you do not need one travel there by plane!

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I would agree with the original poster that a HAL tour would be a better option for that port.  Who wants to be delayed getting off the ship?  All tours go to the same places and you would be more confident about getting back on time on a ship's tour.  I booked a private tour last February and our entry into Cienfuegos was cancelled.  I doubt I will spend the money on another cruise to Cuba, but if I did, I would definitely book an excursion with HAL in Cienfuegos.  Havana is another matter.  We had a good time on our private excursion there and of course we had no worries about missing the ship.

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22 hours ago, gphb said:

We are not yet 4* or 5* mariners so have no priority but learned on an Antarctic trip that Holland America does care about independent passengers and will make every effort to get you off to meet your tour if you ask nicely for these unusual port locations.   About 60 people on every Falkland Islands port call leave the ship independently and so HAL even arranges a separate meeting room and first tender arrangements as long as someone from the group is facilitating the communication.   On this Cuba trip about 5 independent parties (couples or families) were able to get off early.

Is there a specific person you spoke with to arrange the group tender? We are on an Antarctic cruise next month and have several fairly large groups planned for private tours. Thanks!

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We were on the Veendam December 10th from Ft. Lauderdale.. we booked a HAL tour to the botanical gardens.   It was in 4 parts,   Fist a musical chamber orchestra, that was excellent playing Cuban composers.   Then a nice ride in a lovely  air conditioned bus to the gardens, really an arboretum which was very interesting.   Then we got to a swanky hotel for lunch situated on the bay.   Excellent service and good.   No rushing, then our last stop to the square where we learned some history, all very well done.   A small amount of free time to shop and then back to the ship.   It was one of the best excursions I have been on not only for content but organization.   Would highly recommend it. And by the way there was toilet paper and seats in the two places we used.  If you go off on your own, you might see a little more of ‘real cuba’ and not have toilet paper, but the HAL excursion everything is as we usually expect everywhere

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On 12/29/2018 at 1:25 PM, ChinaShrek said:

 

I was not really trying to criticize Holland America although it came out that way.  I just wanted to let people know, who book the Veendam and want to go to Cienfuegos, what they should expect.  The captain announced that the Veendam will be sailing to Cuba for 2019 and 2020, so I think many people will experience what I did for Cienfuegos.  The captain seemed very worried about leaving the port by 5pm.  Ironically, I had booked a RC cruise to Cuba for February 2019 but that was cancelled. So, I decided to book the Veendam cruise.  

 

Who is/was your Captain on this trip?

 

This might be enough for me to consider another ship to Cuba.

Edited by Jade13

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Holland America has very weak Cuban itineraries plus using Veendam.  No way would I use HAL for this itinerary.  Look around.  Other cruise lines have docking rights and many itineraries that visit three Cuban ports, with overnights in one or two cities. 

Definitely recommend visiting Cuba to experience the the unique history and the time warp of the culture.  I highly recommend independent touring to see the most possible sites and to savor the real Cuba. 

I still cannot get over a ship captain threatening independent travelers.  If I heard a statement like that I would be done with whatever cruise line he worked for.  And I would make a formal complaint to the home office.    IMO,  this is an outrageous way to treat customers.  

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40 minutes ago, Jade13 said:

 

Who is/was your Captain on this trip?

 

This might be enough for me to consider another ship to Cuba.

 

Colm Ryan, an Irishman

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On 12/29/2018 at 1:19 PM, sammiedawg said:

I would book another cruise line for Cuba that actually docks in the ports and offers more days in Cuba.

Also, Holland America takes things too far against independent travelers.  Other cruise lines do not treat independents like second class citizens.  I would never sail with any cruise line telling me I might not get a seat on a tender back to the ship.  

So I say look around at other cruise lines, 

 

This is so different than my experience years ago on Noordam tendering in Santorini.  The Captain went out of his way to get those going on their own or on a private tour off of the ship FIRST.  He announced as soon as they got there it was early but encouraged those going on their own to get off BEFORE the shore excursions that weren't leaving until later.  Yes it was early but we didn't care.  He made multiple announcements.  If I recall we were dropped in one spot and than shore excursions in another area of the Island before going back to the first spot for independent travelers leaving later.

 

This is all dependent on the Captain.

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Time to stop repeating false information: HAL never said you have to take their tours in Cuba.

 

We were on their very first cruise to Cuba and right in the boarding documents was the affidavit asking you to choose your options: HAL tours, Hybrid HAL tours and independent options and Independent options.  With the HAL recommendation that you chose the middle option for the most flexability 

 

No explanation why one had to sign this affidavitother than assuming it was a policy requirement imposed on HAL for Cuba visits,  but nothing in this affidavit requirement allows anyone to continue repeat the statement the HAL requires you to take their tours.

 

Cienfuegoa will aways remain a difficult port due to weather, tides, daylight and local factors. Plan with care accordingly. If you are visiting when the daylight hours are shorter (December) this will make the port departure timing even more critical. 

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We were on this cruise and opted for the EXC tour to Trinidad primarily because I had read Cienfuegos could be a difficult port and might be skipped if conditions weren't exactly right, so I wanted to be able to easily get a refund if that happened. Because we needed to be back on board by 3:30 instead of 5 we didn't have much time in Trinidad and no time at all in Cienfuegos, which was a disappointment. (Personally I would have been happier to skip the fancy hotel lunch in favor of a quick box lunch on the bus and more touring.) OTOH the ride through the countryside featured some beautiful scenery and gave us the opportunity to see the real, rural Cuba so I don't consider the tour a total loss. Plus watching the pilot and captain navigate that channel on the way out was one heck of a show - no wonder he was nervous about doing it during daylight. (BTW go up to deck 9 forward, just under the bridge, for the best seats in the house.) 

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1 hour ago, tregatti said:

 (BTW go up to deck 9 forward, just under the bridge, for the best seats in the house.) 

Thank you for this info...we surely will go there.

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On 12/30/2018 at 2:02 PM, SusieKIslandGirl said:

Is there a specific person you spoke with to arrange the group tender? We are on an Antarctic cruise next month and have several fairly large groups planned for private tours. Thanks!

The volunteer organizer for Patrick's tour in the Falklands spoke to the Veendam front desk and arranged it all.   Had to be done on board.  They also helped her have the group meet for lunch one day early in the cruise in the main dining room which was helpful for everyone to get acquainted.    She secured the Wang theater for our private pre-tender waiting area.   The cruise director's staff was also helpful I believe.

 

Was helpful to have everyone's cabin # in advance so she could post instructions easily.

 

Not sure they will do this for every port, but was essential in the Falklands if weather conditions allows anchorage.

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12 minutes ago, SusieKIslandGirl said:

Thanks so much for your response. Exactly the information we needed. Just hope the front desk on the Zaandam is as helpful.

Oops, meant Zaandam.   That was the ship we took!

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Posted (edited)
On 12/30/2018 at 10:37 AM, ChinaShrek said:

I do not understand why the Cuban government charges a visa fee for non-Americans (unless it is some sort of cash grab) when you do not need one travel there by plane!

 

Actually, Cuba charges a visa fee (a.k.a. tourist card) for pretty much anyone.  If you are flying from Canada on a Canadian airline, the card is included in the fare (part of the taxes and fees).  The following is the appropriate line on a WestJet fare  to VRA in 2015.

 

Quote

 


YR Tourist Card\*Tourist Card CAD 32.00 
 

 

 

If you fly Cubana from Canada, you have to buy the tourist card at check in.  Flights from other countries are more onerous (airlines don't necessarily sell the cards and you have to buy from various sources at a sharp markup).  U.S. transports have to charge USD 50 for the tourist card for U.S. origin (some airlines were reselling at USD 100).

 

As for Cienfuegos, spent two nights there on that trip, including the two forts where the ships have to pass between (took a little ferry across). 

Edited by cruising cockroach

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I was on the Dec 21 cruise as well and booked an independent tour to the Nicho waterfall with lunch.  We were confused about leaving the area with the buses to get the independent tour...but we did it and it was wonderful.  We did request an early departure on the first tender...and got it.  Trip was in a 56 Chrysler,  Had a wonderful lunch at the waterfall...Enjoyed the discussion with our tour guide assigned to us by the agency we booked through, Shago tours.  Got back with plenty of time.  The people we spoke with who were on bus trips through the cruise were not as happy with their tours.  We found the day fascinating and would look forward to another stop in Cuba in the future...and always with an independent tour.

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