Yes, 2017 is officially the year of cruising to Cuba. While much of the world has been able to visit this largest island in the Caribbean, Americans can finally join in on the Havana fun. With recent changes in relations between the two countries, traveling to Cuba on a cruise just got a lot easier for those departing from the United States.
But, this is not your typical cruise. As you would expect, there is a bit more preparation that goes into getting to Cuba on a cruise ship. So, before you rush to book that trip, here are all the essential things you need to know about cruising to Cuba.
What You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba
Yes, You Can Cruise to Cuba
Unfortunately, U.S. citizens still cannot travel to Cuba purely for tourism purposes. Current regulations permit travelers to obtain a license to visit the country for one of 12 approved categories of travel. For most cruisers, the category that your cruise will fall under is educational activities in what is typically referred to as “people-to-people” travel.
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Additional Paperwork Will Be Necessary
Along with your passport, U.S. citizens cruising to Cuba will need two additional documents to set foot on the island besides your passport (which is necessary). First, all incoming passengers must complete a Travel Affidavit. The Affidavit indicates the category of travel under which you are visiting the country, and it needs to filed with the Cuban authorities. Your cruise line should assist you with completing this paperwork.
Everything You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba
In addition, U.S. citizens will need to apply for a Cuba Tourist Visa (also referred to as a tourist card). There is an additional cost for acquiring the visa. Again, check with your cruise line as they should take care of this for you as well. Just to be safe, make additional copies of your documents (including passports) and have them secured in the room in case anything happens.
The Ships that Go to Cuba
Recent agreements now mean that there are several options for cruising to Cuba. For a few more months, Fathom Cruise Line will continue to offer biweekly cruises to Cuba. The seven day itineraries stop at several ports on the island. Those eager to go can also take advantage of Celestyal Cruises’ Cuba cruise program that departs from Jamaica and visits 4 Cuban ports.
Everything You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba – Celestyal Crystal
Starting in January, Pearl Sea Cruises will be offering 10 day voyages to Cuba, leaving from Ft. Lauderdale and making several stops on the island.
Everything You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba – Pearl Mist (Courtesy of Pearl Sea Cruises)
More contemporary cruise lines have also gotten the okay to visit Cuba. Starting in April 2017, Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas will be sailing 5-7 night cruises that include a stop in Havana, Cuba. More itineraries are expected to be available this summer.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sky will also be visiting Havana, Cuba as part of its 4 day cruise rotation. Itineraries go on sale December 20, 2016.
Everything You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba – Norwegian Sky (Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)
Other luxury lines will offer longer cruises that include stops in Cuba, including Oceania Cruises’ inaugural sailing in March 2017 and Viking Ocean Cruises stopping at the island toward the end of 2017.
You Can’t Just Walk off the Ship
To go ashore in Cuba, you will need to have made prior arrangements. You need to have an itinerary demonstrating that you are visiting the island under one of the 12 categories, which will be identified in your travel affidavit. For cruisers, this means you need to have booked a shore excursion or tour that meets the requirements for this category of travel. A receipt or printed proof of this booking is probably a good thing to have with you during your day(s) spent on the island.
All cruise lines offer tours that meet this requirement. So, this is one instance where booking with the cruise line might be the easiest thing to do. There are some tour operators that you can contact to see if their experiences are covered, but it is up to the local officials to allow you entrance into the country. If your tour does not meet their specifications, you may be stuck on the ship.
You Will Need Cash
Mastercard is everywhere you want to be, except Cuba. The island’s infrastructure and banking system is relatively underdeveloped. This means that all of that plastic in your wallet is basically worthless. This includes your ATM card as well.
Everything You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba – Cuban Convertible Pesos
Instead, you will need to exchange U.S. dollars at a hotel or one of the authorized Currency Exchange Houses, as the Cuban dollar is not traded internationally. Note, there are two different currencies in Cuba. The locals will use the Cuban Peso (CUP), whereas travelers will use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). You will see two sets of prices at most retailers, as the conversion rates for CUP do not equal those of CUC.
You Can Buy Cuban Cigars
While on the island, you can buy local goods for “personal consumption” including the famed Cuban cigars, but do not purchase them on the street. It is actually illegal to do so. Again, buy your goods from an authorized local dealer or shop to ensure that you are abiding by the local laws. Any alcohol or tobacco products purchased will be counted toward the tax and duty free allotment.
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Don’t Drink the Water
It is highly recommended that you bring bottled water when going ashore, or purchase some while on the island. For those with a cruise ship beverage package, it is a good idea to stock up on a few bottled waters in your day bag. You will get hot and thirsty in the Caribbean sun, and you should not drink the local water.
Everything You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba – Make Sure You Have All You Need When Ashore
Pack Your Bags When Going Ashore
Along with your visa, passport, ship card, and cash (got all of that?), you will also want to bring your typical day bag for the Caribbean. This would include bug spray, suntan lotion, and hand sanitizer. As for clothing, Cuba is in the Caribbean, so dress accordingly. Do not worry about shorts or other beach wear as they are acceptable for both men and women on the island. Don’t forget the sunglasses and hats too.
Do you have plans for cruising to Cuba in 2017? Did we leave anything off of our preparation checklist? Drop us an anchor below to share your travel plans for seeing Cuba on a cruise ship.