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.
Everything You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba – Cruise around Cuba in a Classic Car
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 be submitted to your cruise line and filed with the Cuban authorities.
Everything You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba
In addition, U.S. citizens will need to apply for a Cuba Tourist Visa. 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 for an additional fee (around $75). Just to be safe, make additional copies of all your documents (including passports) and have them secured in the room in case anything happens, as you will need to take your passport when leaving the ship.
The Ships that Go to Cuba
Recent agreements now mean that there are several options for cruising to Cuba. Those eager to explore as much of Cuba as possible can 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
Pearl Sea Cruises also offers 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)
As of April 2017, Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas began sailing 4, 5, and 6 night cruises that include a stop in Havana, Cuba (some day stops and some overnight stops).
Norwegian Sky also made her inaugural visit to Cuba, sailing 4 night cruises with an overnight in Havana. Carnival Paradise will also begin sailing 4 and 5 night cruises to Cuba with an overnight stop as of June 2017.
Everything You Need to Know about Cruising to Cuba – Norwegian Sky (Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line)
You Can’t Just Walk off the Ship
Well, technically you CAN just walk off the ship, but you will 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 can book a shore excursion or tour that meets the requirements for this category of travel, either through the cruise line or a private company. If you choose to forego an organized tour, it is “required” that you keep a journal documenting your “people to people” encounters for five years.
You Will Need Cash
Mastercard is everywhere you want to be, except Cuba! The island’s infrastructure and banking system is relatively under-developed. 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 authorized Currency Exchange Houses, as the Cuban dollar is not traded internationally. There is a exchange kiosk located right in the cruise terminal. 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). When exchanging USD for CUC, you will be charge a 10% fee and then an additional 3% conversion fee. This means that $100 USD will give you approximately $87 CUC. If you need to convert back to USD, it will only cost you the 3% fee.
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. Buy your goods from an authorized dealer or shop to ensure that you are abiding by the local laws. Perhaps you will want to make a visit to either the Partagas or Romeo and Juliet Cigar Factory. 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. We recommend a Yeti thermos to keep your water chilled throughout the day.
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. We would suggest also throwing in some tissues or toilet paper as many of the facilities we used during our visit were sans toilet paper. 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.