We’ve been cruising for a lot of years now, and I have to admit…sometimes we get tired of seeing the same things over and over. So, we’re going to be trying some new places and ships. We’re going to get out of our comfort zone with Cuba and MSC Cruises. It’s time for some new adventures!
Our first new adventure is a cruise to Havana, Cuba in April on Royal Caribbean Empress of the Seas from the United States. We’ve been wanting to cruise to Cuba for a couple of years now, but I have to admit that it’s kind of intimidating. Cruising to Cuba is different than cruising to anywhere else in the Caribbean. First off, the entry requirements are different. You have to have a Visa, along with a full passport, to enter the country. You also have to meet specific requirements if you are a United States Citizen entering Cuba. Along with that, you have to have Cuban Health Insurance. Intimidated yet? I am.
I have done a lot of research in the past few months on traveling to Cuba from the US. First off, I can get the Visa to Cuba from the ship for a cost of $75. They take care of everything. Also, the ship will provide the Cuban Health Insurance that I need.
Travel Certification Document
The next thing that confuses me is the Travel Certification Document that we’ll need to fill out before we get off of the ship in Cuba. And, we need to keep this document for at least five years, just in case we are audited. I think that it’s extremely unlikely that will happen, but I’ll keep it just in case. I’ve also read that we need to keep a diary of our trip. No problem, I plan to blog about the trip when we get home, I think that will suffice. From what I’m hearing, I believe that the Support for the Cuban People category will work for us.
Instead of booking a ridiculously expensive Royal Caribbean excursion in Cuba, we have found our own excursion. After doing extensive research, we settled on Havana Car Cuba and decided on a six hour tour, three hours in a classic convertible, and a three hour walking tour of Havana. I corresponded with Stefano, who is based in Miami, and got everything set up quite easily. This seems like the most exciting way for us to tour Havana. I don’t think I’d want to do it without a guide.
And now comes another confusing part, Cuban Currency. Cuba has two different currencies, the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) and the CUP (Cuban Peso Nacional). From what I’m hearing, we’ll want to use the CUC. Problem is…you can’t convert US dollars to CUC in the US. And when you convert US dollars into CUC’s in Cuba, there is a 10% penalty, along with a 3% fee. We could change our US dollars into Canadian dollars or Euros before we leave, but that is a pain too, plus we’d have to pay fees to convert. We will probably end up just paying the penalty in Cuba to save the hassle. And I need to remember to get clean crisp bills before we leave, because from what I hear, Cuba will not accept bills with marking or wrinkles.
I guess that there is a currency exchange right at the terminal in Havana. I’ll try to do a very thorough blog after I get home explaining more of the details of the currency exchange. It’s been pretty hard to find a lot of information about exchanging your currency at the cruise terminal.
So yes, it is very intimidating to cruise to Cuba from the US. But from what I hear, it’s a beautiful country full of lovely people. Kind of like a blast from the past, with all of the old cars and buildings. I think it will be worth it to learn more about Cuba and its history. We don’t know how much longer the door will be open. I’m working on getting internet during the cruise so that I can blog daily from the ship. Watch for updates!
And we’re trying a new Cruise Line…MSC USA
And then in November we will be trying a cruise line that we’ve never sailed on before. I’d heard of MSC Cruise lines before. They had some really good prices a couple of years ago in the US when they brought the MSC Divina to Miami. Back then it was buy one get one free. We never did get around to trying them, though.
MSC is different from the other lines that we’ve cruised with in that they have multiple tiers of pricing. You can book a room with the Bella Experience, which comes with the normal meals and most shows included, or you can go up tiers to get more amenities. They have the Fantastica Experience which comes with extra perks, such as 12 free drinks and room service, the Wellness experience, which focusses on health and fitness, or the Aurea experience, with dedicated spa, free massages, and unlimited drinks. There’s also the highest tier, the MSC Yacht Club. Each tier will cost more than the one above it, but this way you can book exactly what you want. And right now, since they’re fairly new to the US, the prices are very reasonable, comparable to cruises on Carnival and Royal Caribbean.
Since then, the MSC Seaside also came to Miami. That’s the ship that really caught my attention. It’s so different than the ships that I’ve cruised on with Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Think of a sparkling grand staircase made of Swarovski crystals in the gorgeous atrium. A bowling alley, a modern state of the art theater, nine beautiful restaurants, including two buffets, the longest zipline at sea, four waterslides, an interactive multi story waterpark in a forest setting, and a colorful kids play area featuring Legos. Two glass catwalks that go out over the ocean. And all done in a beautiful class Italian style. My favorite part has to be the unique area in back of the ship with the pool, and the glass elevators.
But I’ve just discovered the new MSC Meraviglia (pronounced Mer-a-veel-ya, and translating into English as wonder, marvel, or beautiful) while checking out MSC’s cruises! We’ve cruised on Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas, and we loved it. The Meraviglia is similar in size to Oasis, and also has a long promenade galleria like on Oasis, which also feature Swarovski crystal staircases. The ceiling of the magnificent two story galleria is the longest LED light dome at sea. It’s amazing, and regularly changes backgrounds into different amazing artwork. I would sail this ship just for the galleria area, it is quite beautiful.
Meraviglia also has an amazing gym and sports complex, a flight simulator, and a bowling alley. There is a polar aquapark with water features and a ropes course, along with waterslides. Our ports of call will be Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Isla De Roatan, Honduras; and a brand new MSC private island, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. We’ve been to all of these ports of call before, but we’ve only been to Belize and Honduras once before, so we still have a lot more adventure to find there. Costa Maya is a really nice cruise port with a pool, and even a dolphin encounter, so that will be a wonderful relaxation day. And Ocean Cay sounds like a really nice place to snorkel from shore. I don’t like deep water, so this will be perfect.
Cirque du Soleil
When we booked the Meraviglia on President’s Day weekend, we also got a free ticket for the Cirque du Soleil dinner theater in the Carousel Lounge. Can’t wait to see that! However, so far over the past month, I’ve felt that the MSC Customer Service is not the greatest. We’ve been working on a status match for their Voyager card (supposedly MSC will match your loyalty card membership level from one other cruise line). We’re gold on Carnival, so we should get some sort of higher level on our Voyager card, but so far, we’ve gotten nowhere even though we’ve been trying for a while. I’m nothing if not persistent, so I’ll keep trying. I’ve also been reaching out to the media department over the past few months, with no replies. The reviews on the Meraviglia are mixed, but right now she’s sailing in Europe. Things may be different when she sails in the US. Guess time will tell. And as usual, I’ll definitely tell all during and after the cruise.
So, that’s what’s going on with The Quiet Cruiser in the coming year. Can’t wait to update you on how it goes.