20 Essential Tips for Cruising to Cuba

Americans can now officially travel to Cuba via mainstream cruise lines. The Princess and I took advantage of this recent easing of travel restrictions to hop onboard one of the first cruises to the island

Tips for Cruising to Cuba

Americans can now officially travel to Cuba via mainstream cruise lines. The Princess and I took advantage of this recent easing of travel restrictions to hop onboard one of the first cruises to the island on Norwegian Sky. It was an amazing experience, and we are already trying to plan when we can return. Since we’ve been back from the trip, we have been getting a lot of questions regarding travel to Cuba; therefore, we have compiled this list of our top tips for cruising to Cuba to help answer some of those FAQ.

If you are thinking of a trip to Cuba, or have one booked, these tips will certainly come in handy. If you have any additional questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below or email us. We will certainly get back to you ASAP.

Top Tips for Cruising to Cuba

Tips for Planning Your Cruise

Compare the Ships – Currently, all three major cruise lines (Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Carnival Cruise Line) have ships that are or will be sailing to Cuba. Investigate the ships as they are all quite different. Keep in mind that the current cruise terminal in Havana is not equipped to handle megaships, so these cruise ships will tend to be smaller and older vessels.

Examine the Itineraries – Some cruises include only a one day stop in Havana, Cuba, while others include an overnight. We highly recommend an itinerary that includes as much time on the island as possible because there is just so much history and culture to explore. Of course, travel dates and price are also factors that will ultimately affect which ship and itinerary you choose.

Top Things to do in Havana Cuba on a CruiseTips for Cruising to Cuba

Familiarize Yourself with the “People-to-People” Requirements – Travel to Cuba still requires that your time on the island be spent on “educational activities”. This includes some form of “people-to-people” contact with citizens of Cuba. There are numerous ways to meet these requirements including cruise ship excursions, local tours, or private explorations.

Examine Potential Tours and Excursions – The cruise lines as well as several local tour operators offer tours that will meet the people to people requirements for traveling to the island. Review the offerings to find something that peaks your interest. We suggest booking tours early as they have been selling out quickly (especially through local companies). If you are not sure where to start, here are our top things to do in Havana, Cuba on a cruise to help narrow down your options.

Tips for Cruising to CubaTips for Cruising to Cuba

Create Your Own Itinerary – Individuals traveling to Cuba are allowed to create their own people-to-people experiences. This means that you CAN just walk off the ship; however, you will need to keep a detailed journal of your activities to comply with the regulations. This journal needs to be kept for up to five years and can be requested by authorities.

Don’t Forget the Other Ports of Call – If your trip includes additional stops beside Cuba, make sure to plan some things to do or see at those ports too. You don’t want to miss out on any of the fun. Other popular stops include NCL’s private island of Great Stirrup Cay, Cozumel, and Key West.

Tips Before You Leave for Cuba

Check the Date of Your Passport – Be sure to check the expiration date of your passport to ensure that it does not expire within 6 months of your departure date. If it does expire within that time frame, considering renewing the passport so it is more current to avoid any issues at Customs.

Complete Your Travel Affidavit – You will need to complete an affidavit before traveling to Cuba. This form attests that you will be engaging in activities ashore that comply with the “people-to-people” travel requirements. Complete this form ASAP and file it with the cruise line. You should also retain a copy for your records.

Obtain Your Tourist Visa – The Cuban government requires an additional travel visa for entering the country. Several agencies, in addition to your cruise line, offer travel visas for an extra cost (approximately $75 from the cruise line). We kept things simple and obtained the visa directly through the cruise line.

Tips for Cruising to CubaTips for Cruising to Cuba

Check for Any Travel Warnings – Before departing on your cruise, check to see if there are any travel warnings or alerts for U.S. citizens posted on the U.S. Department of State website. This goes for any trip abroad, not just a trip to Cuba. Although this might not deter your planned visit, you will at least have a heightened awareness of any risks.

Consider Getting Euros– The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) can only be acquired in the country. While the CUC converts at about $1 for every $1 USD, you will pay a 10% penalty for exchanging American currency. You may save some money by converting U.S. dollars into foreign currency, like the Euro, before travel. Note, no matter what country’s currency you exchange, all exchanges pay a 3% fee in Cuba. Credit cards and ATM cards are NOT accepted in Cuba, so be sure to bring enough cash.

Bone-Up on Conversational Spanish – While guides and those working in tourism speak English, most everyday people in Cuba do not. Taxi drivers, vendors, and other locals were very nice, but spoke virtually no English. We got by with a few gestures and some basic Spanish words, but it would have been nice to be able to communicate a bit more. Duolingo is a great free resource to help you get started.

Tips for Cruising to CubaTips for Cruising to Cuba

Tips While You Are on the Island

Make Sure to Always Have Your Travel Docs – When exiting the cruise ship, you will need your passport, cruise ship key card, a second form of ID, and your travel visa. When we docked, the customs officials took our visa and scanned/stamped our passports. You will need to pass through customs and security each time you disembark and embark your ship. To be safe, make extra copies of all documents (leave them in your safe) and take pictures of your passport to have on your phone.

Exchange Money Right Away – There are exchange stations right in the cruise terminal to exchange your money that were open as soon as we were cleared by authorities. Some venues will take U.S. dollars, but most places will want CUC. Thus, you will need money right away for taxis and additional purchases. Be sure to convert any remaining CUC back into your currency before leaving Cuba.

Purchase Ship Internet – Your ship will have WiFi access that works while at sea and also when docked in Cuba. Internet in Havana is slow and takes a little legwork to obtain. Although, there are ways of getting internet in Cuba if you must have it while ashore. We suggest waiting to post on social media until later in the day when you return to the ship.

Tips for Cruising to CubaTips for Cruising to Cuba

Pack a Day Bag – Be prepared for your time ashore with a well packed day bag. Of course, you will want to bring your camera to capture every moment. In addition, pack plenty of bottled water, along with suntan lotion, bug spray, and hand sanitizer. We also suggest bringing some extra tissues or toilet paper as many public restrooms are not equipped with such. Remember, this is the Caribbean, so don’t forget the hat and sunglasses too.

Pick Your Mode of Transportation – You have several options for getting around Havana. You can explore Old Havana, including the four main squares, by foot, or simply stroll along the Malecon. If you want to venture a little further, there are horse drawn carriages, classic car taxis, or coco taxis (small motorized vehicles) that can take you beyond the cruise ship area. Tip: do negotiate the price for this transportation.

Tips for Cruising to CubaTips for Cruising to Cuba

Go off the Beaten Path – Our tour guide took us to some authentic locations in the city in addition to the more “touristy areas”. Depending on your sense of adventure, you can explore some of the neighborhoods on your own to experience the “real” Cuba and the Cuban way of life. It might just be eye-opening.

Don’t Forget the Souvenirs – Yes, you can bring Cuban cigars and rum back into the United States. The quantities you purchase will go towards your total duty free allowance for Caribbean trips, which is generally up to $800. The regulations regarding these exemptions are continually being updated, so be sure to check for the most recent guidelines.

Tips for Cruising to CubaTips for Cruising to Cuba

Taste the Local Flavor – No visit to Havana would be complete without experiencing the Cuban cigars, rum, and coffee for yourself. There are plenty of state owned stores and restaurants to purchase these items. Havana, Cuba is also known as the birthplace of the mojito, and El Floridita boasts the “best daiquiri” claimed to fame by Ernest Hemingway. So of course, a few cocktails are also mandatory!

Traveling to Havana for two days was one of our cruise highlights from the last few years. We have no doubts that we will return to explore more of this historic city in the near future.


Have you traveled to Havana, Cuba recently? Do you have any additional tips for cruising to Cuba that you want to share?  Drop us an anchor below to share your thoughts on cruising to Cuba.

Tips for Cruising to Cuba

Don Bucolo, or “DB”, loves everything about cruising- the ocean, the food, and the atmosphere. While he may be obsessed with doing extensive amounts of research on ships and all elements of a cruise, Don enjoys sharing his new found knowledge with fellow cruisers. When he is not sailing the high seas, he does whatever his wife tells him to do-it only took 10 years to realize this.
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3 comments on 20 Essential Tips for Cruising to Cuba

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  1. Exactly all the information I was searching for. Thank you!

      Hi Kay, thanks for reading. We are glad these tips were helpful. When will you be cruising to Cuba?