Airlines & Airports
Dispatch: Circling Cuba on the Crystal Ship
Photo by David Cogswell
On the second full day of our Celestyal Cruises tour around Cuba, we had a day at sea, the only day on the itinerary with no landings. That day, the ship traveled all the way from Santiago de Cuba on the southeastern side of the island around the eastern tip and back west almost the entire length of the island to Havana, on the northwestern part. We traveled about half of the distance of the entire trip on that one day.
The captain warned that it would be the roughest day at sea, but the motion was never more than just noticeable during the whole trip.
The day at sea was a good opportunity to get to know the ship, the Crystal, and to book massages at the Sana Health Spa and Beauty Salon, or otherwise enjoy the onboard experience.
READ MORE: Dispatch: Santiago de Cuba
Ah, the joy of being able to make the ship your home for a week, to move into your cabin and not have to leave until you disembarked to return home — to make it your headquarters as it circles the island of Cuba! It was fun exploring, starting to feel at home and getting to know the possibilities of the ship as your one-week stomping ground. The room was nicely equipped with shower, air conditioning, telephone and flat screen TV.
Exploring Cuba by sea is still new for Americans. Until recently, only land tours were available. The people-to-people requirements of the U.S. Department of the Treasury are still in place, but can be fulfilled via a ship as well.
Traveling by cruise liner is a good alternative for dealing with the shortage of accommodations in Cuba. It removes many of the problems land operators have with securing good, high-quality hotel rooms on shore.
The Crystal is part of the fleet of Celestyal Cruises, the former Louis Cruises, a Greek cruise line that adopted its new brand in early 2015.
The vessel has 480 cabins that accommodate 1,200 passengers. On our trip it carried around 800. It has nine passenger decks named after Greek gods. Wi-Fi is offered in public areas, which can be purchased in packages of one hour, three hours or six hours for $10, $24 or $36 respectively. Wi-Fi at sea around Cuba, as might be expected, is less than perfect.
The ship has a fitness center, a casino, a swimming pool filled with seawater and a Jacuzzi. My cabin was one of the medium sized accommodations. It was spacious and comfortable with a nice large window. I was happy to make it my home.
Celestyal has been operating and developing its Cuba cruise for three years, so although it is new this year on the American market, the company has had some time to perfect it. This ship sails the Greek islands in the summer and Cuba in the winter. But the word from company insiders is that the Cuba trips will be extended into the full year next year, starting in November.
The Crystal has staircases and elevators fore and aft for moving among the nine levels, plus sun deck and bar on top. Each deck had big signs near the elevators that showed the main features of every floor to make it easy to find your way around.
The swimming pool area/bar/restaurant was on the ninth level and had a roof that that slid on or off depending on the weather. This deck is also the home of the spa, sauna, wellness center and gym. The eighth deck has the Muses Lounge, which is a large theater for shows and presentations. The ship has two restaurants, the Olympus and the Amalthia, and a cafe with two wings, Leda and Aura; and food stations and bars in various places on board.
Shore excursions were offered every day that we arrived in a port, but on the one day at sea, the people-to-people requirement was met via presentations on board from Cubans and experts on Cuban cooking, music, history, popular culture and other aspects of Cuban life. Those kinds of presentations continued during the week.
The cruise started at Montego Bay, Jamaica; then stopped in Santiago de Cuba; took a day at sea en route to Havana, where we stayed for two days; then continued to the west end of the island and stopped at Maria la Gorda; and finally to Cienfuegos, which was our last stop in Cuba.
It was good to explore and enjoy the ship, lounge around and rest up in preparation for the next stop on the itinerary, the highlight of the trip: Havana!
More by David Cogswell
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Recent Travel Opinions
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship