Circumnavigating Cuba with a Canadian Twist

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

This January, I’m going to embark on one of the most unique voyages I think you can probably take. It’s a cruise that, sadly, is off-limits for many of my friends to the south, but one that has so many unique features that it is impossible to pass up.

The Louis Cristal will spend the winter of 2013-2014 sailing around Cuba for Canadian-based Cuba Cruise. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.
The Louis Cristal will spend the winter of 2013-2014 sailing around Cuba for Canadian-based Cuba Cruise. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise.

Calgary-based Cuba Cruise has chartered Louis Cruises’ sleek little Louis Cristal between now and March to operate weeklong Caribbean voyages that circumnavigate Cuba and offer embarkation options in both Havana and Montego Bay – and I’ll be onboard the January 10, 2014 sailing to share the experience with you.

Aside from the opportunity to cruise around Cuba (which comes up, well, never, and is fantastic in its own right), Cuba Cruise is also adding some very unique features to the ship’s onboard product.

The opportunity to visit Havana is one of the main attractions on this circumnavigation of Cuba. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise
The opportunity to visit Havana is one of the main attractions on this circumnavigation of Cuba. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise

Because provisioning in Cuba can be a tricky affair, the Louis Cristal will be provisioned with Canadian beef and fresh ingredients imported from Canada. The ship will even have a specialty restaurant called the Albert Steakhouse featuring dishes made with fresh Alberta Beef.

(An aside: this would be a good time to mention that I grew up in Calgary, Alberta – and the thought of having real Alberta beef on a cruise makes my mouth absolutely water!)

But there’s also heavy Cuban influence in the onboard product, from Cuban crewmembers (approximately 20 percent of the ship’s total crew complement) to authentic Cuban dishes and drinks. I’m told there will also be Canadian beer onboard, too.

Not to be confused with Trinidad & Tobago, Trinidad, Cuba is a UNESCO World Heritage site notable for its striking Spanish Colonial architecture. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise
Not to be confused with Trinidad & Tobago, Trinidad, Cuba is a UNESCO World Heritage site notable for its striking Spanish Colonial architecture. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise

So, to recap: a weeklong cruise to Cuba designed and marketed for Canadians but also offered to international passengers, sailing aboard a ship owned by a company based in Cyprus that normally sails the Greek Isles. Sounds mighty unique to me!

The full itinerary, both here and onboard:

Circumnavigating Cuba with a Canadian Twist

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Thursday, January 8, 2014PreviewFlying to Jamaica.
Thursday, January 9, 2014Montego Bay, JamaicaArrival in Jamaica; overnight stay.
Friday, January 10Montego Bay, JamaicaEmbark5:30 PM
Saturday, January 11Cienfuegos / Trinidad, Cuba10:00 AM9:00 PM
Sunday, January 12Punta Frances / Isle of Youth, Cuba10:00 AM2:00 PM
Monday, January 13Havana, Cuba8:30 AM01:00 AM +1
Tuesday, January 14At Sea
Wednesday, January 15Holguin, Cuba7:30 AM6:30 PM
Thursday, January 16Santiago de Cuba, Cuba9:00 AM9:00 PM
Friday, January 17Montego Bay, Jamaica7:00 AMDisembark

Historically, cruises to Cuba were immensely popular. In the 1930’s, for example, Cuba was the most popular destination for pleasure cruises and vacationers in the Caribbean, and the vast majority of those who came were Americans looking for a good time on the relaxed, laid-back island.

That changed with the advent of the Cold War and the rise of Fidel Castro to power in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 saw the United States impose the first travel restrictions in February of 1963, and those have largely remained in place to this day. In 2009, President Barack Obama eased the restrictions for Cuban-American citizens, but travel to the Caribbean island technically remains illegal for the vast majority of the citizens of the United States.

Canadians, however, have long enjoyed travel to Cuba, particularly to escape our downright cold winter months. Vacation packages are offered to hotspot beach destinations like Varadero, and flights leave for Havana from Toronto’s Pearson Airport and Montreal Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport.

The Vinales Valley is another UNESCO World Heritage site in Cuba, where coffee and tobacco are farmed and produced traditionally. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise
The Vinales Valley is another UNESCO World Heritage site in Cuba, where coffee and tobacco are farmed and produced traditionally. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise

Cruise around Cuba, however, are a different matter. Not only do they exist sparsely, many of the ships stopping in Cuban ports of call typically sail from England on longer Caribbean voyages.

Cuba Cruise is attracting plenty of media attention in the United States, including a recent article published in the Miami Herald that discusses the Cristal’s first season circumnavigating Cuba for the company – and that sort of discussion is good for the industry as a whole. Cuba Cruise is one of the first companies to actively offer this kind of voyage, and the possibilities for cruise tourism in Cuba should the US embargo ever be lifted is likely enough to make the most jaded cruise executive giddy with excitement.

Aside from visiting Cuba for the very first time, I have to be honest: I’m also taking this trip for the ship.

The multi-tier Show Lounge aboard Louis Cristal. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise
The multi-tier Show Lounge aboard Louis Cristal. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise

Ever since she was Norwegian Cruise Line’s Leeward way back when, I’ve always wanted to sail aboard the Louis Cristal. She has one of the most colourful histories in the industry, to be sure, having started life as a Baltic ferry before being rebuilt from the ground up not once, but twice. Her actual hull dates back to 1980, but everything above the waterline was added in 1992.

As such, Louis Cristal has a very 1990’s feel to both her styling and public areas – but that’s far from being a bad thing. Louis has taken great care of this intimate little ship, which is 521 feet long and 82.8 feet wide and can carry roughly 1,200 guests.

Located high atop the ship, the Stars Lounge wraps around the base of the funnel aboard Louis Cristal. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise
Located high atop the ship, the Stars Lounge wraps around the base of the funnel aboard Louis Cristal. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise
Louis Cristal has a main midships pool and an aft-facing hot tub located at the stern. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise
Louis Cristal has a main midships pool and an aft-facing hot tub located at the stern. Photo courtesy of Cuba Cruise

She has all the normal things you’d expect from a cruise ship, along with some very unique and welcome features. A teak-lined promenade deck is connected to every upper deck by a series of switchback staircases at the stern, which features a hot tub and bar overlooking the ship’s wake. She has a glass-walled lounge wrapped around her funnel, and even boasts glass elevators.

Personally, I’m excited about this entire journey, sailing aboard a ship I’ve always been curious about to a country I’ve always wanted to see.

I hope you’ll all join me, virtually, on my journey to Cuba – Canadian-style!

Come sail with us - virtually - as we discover Cuba this January aboard Louis Cristal with Cuba Cruise! Photo courtesy of Louis Cruises.
Come sail with us – virtually – as we discover Cuba this January aboard Louis Cristal with Cuba Cruise! Photo courtesy of Louis Cruises.

Circumnavigating Cuba with a Canadian Twist

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
Thursday, January 8, 2014PreviewFlying to Jamaica.
Thursday, January 9, 2014Montego Bay, JamaicaArrival in Jamaica; overnight stay.
Friday, January 10Montego Bay, JamaicaEmbark5:30 PM
Saturday, January 11Cienfuegos / Trinidad, Cuba10:00 AM9:00 PM
Sunday, January 12Punta Frances / Isle of Youth, Cuba10:00 AM2:00 PM
Monday, January 13Havana, Cuba8:30 AM01:00 AM +1
Tuesday, January 14At Sea
Wednesday, January 15Holguin, Cuba7:30 AM6:30 PM
Thursday, January 16Santiago de Cuba, Cuba9:00 AM9:00 PM
Friday, January 17Montego Bay, Jamaica7:00 AMDisembark

Join the Conversation

Pingback: Circumnavigate Cuba aboard Louis Cristal - Live Voyage Reports
PISCIANAPR says:

I Will be travelling on the Louis Cristal with a group from Puerto Rico, embarking in Havana on March16th.
March 20th is my birthday! Yay! We will be spending the day in Montego Bay; any suggestions are appreciated.

Katarina Nyström says:

Me and my husband is also travelling 16march from Havanna. We come from Sweden and this is our 3rd cruise in Carribean. We have been in Montego once on our last cruise so we plan to take the tour to waterfall.

Fleur says:

can anyone tell me if this cruise is running during 2016? how do I contact the agents. ps I’m in Australia!

Velda D. Smith says:

Looking for a February trip out of Montego Bay. Any week between Feb. 5 & Feb 26th, 2016. Do not know how to contact them as there is no Telephone number or E-mail listed.
Velda Smith
Bermuda
E-Mail: mamutt@ibl.bm

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