In light of Irma, I decided it was time to share some views of the Caribbean in it's sunnier days. I'm so glad I was able to visit these places and hope that the towns and the people are safe and recover well. Our hearts go out to you!
This year for our mother/ daughter trip my mom and I decided to go on a cruise. I'd never been on one before and they're actually pretty affordable. We started researching and I came across one on Royal Caribbean that listed Havana, Cuba as a port of call and that was that.
A week before our set sail date, the President announced that he was cancelling Obama's policies about our relationship with Cuba, which meant our ship might no longer be headed to Cuba. Thankfully, we were still allowed to go as planned. If you're interested in traveling to Cuba, you can read up on it here. In summary, there will be no more independent travel, but group tours will be allowed.
Day 1: June 21, 2017 - Tampa
Mom and I arrived to Tampa the day before and we were able to go to a Tampa Bay Rays game. If you haven't learned already, I love baseball and I love travel so getting to visit a new ballpark to check off the list was awesome. Also, Tropicana field was like none other. I had the hardest time wrapping my brain around it because it was INSIDE. This makes complete sense for Florida as it is either very hot or very rainy. It wasn't crowded and it also happened to be $2 hotdog night! We ate our hotdogs and had some OJ (tropicana field... it felt appropriate) and went and saw the live devil rays in their tank. The next day, we checked onto our ship, The Empress of the Seas, and began our journey!
Day 2: June 22, 2017 - Key West
On Thursday, we woke up to the bluest water I have ever seen. We docked in Key West and explored around. Technically we were still in Florida just with more chickens.
We took the trolley and saw the Ernest Hemingway House, the lighthouse, and stood in line to take a photo with the Southernmost Point in the Continental US. We found the Starbucks because we wanted Key West mugs to add to our collection, but apparently those don't exist... just Florida. (Starbucks, if you're reading this, please make a Key West Mug. Thanks!) Key West is mega touristy and while I enjoy some touristy things (like famous buildings and museums 'cause I'm a nerd) I'm more of a go where the locals go kind of girl.
If you've ever been on a cruise, you know that they provide various forms of entertainment. One of our favorite activities was the guest lecturer! She is a professor and has lived in Cuba and our nerdy selves loved listening to her about the people and giving us lots of helpful insight for our next day in port.
Day 3: June 23, 2017 - Havana
On Friday morning, we woke up in Cuba! Falling asleep in one country and waking up in another is a unique experience that I hope everyone gets to try at least once. It took forever to actually get off the ship and into the city. We signed up for a walking tour as there is very little information about Cuba on the interwebs including maps. When we were in Paris, we downloaded city maps from google to our phones so that we could still make our way around without internet. You can't do that for Havana. It's blocked.
Eventually, we made our way through security and customs and exchanged our money. Got that Cuba stamp in my passport! Note: There are multiple currencies in Cuba. There are CUP and CUCs. The CUP is the Cuban National Peso for the local Cuban people. CUCs are the Cuban Convertible Peso, which is supposed to be equal to the US dollar. After fees, it comes out to about $0.87 on the dollar. Be careful though because 25 CUPs are worth 1 USD. Always check your currency.
I feel like I learned so much about Cuba and it's culture that there may not be enough room in a single blog, but I can share some of the highlights. Finally walking out into the city after so much anticipation was amazing! You walk to the Plaza Vieja and the city is alive with hustle and bustle and antique cars and vibrant people everywhere.
We took the walking tour, which actually also turned into a partial bus tour as well. They took us to a place where we could try Cuban coffee, cigars, and rum. While I felt the tour was a bit too long and I would have preferred to walk around on my own, we learned and saw a ton. We eventually broke off from our group (I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T do you know what that mean?) and got lunch at a local restaurant, bought some treats on the street, along with some cigars, coffee, and rum to bring home, and explored more on our own. We went to the Camara Obscura, which is super cool and only cost 2 CUCs. It's this crazy lens that projects the city in real time. It's not recorded or digital. It's on the roof of a building in one of the plazas and also has a great view of the city. Next time, if there ever is a next time, I'm jumping in a taxi and heading out to see the rest of the city.
Day 4: June 24, 2017 - Cozumel
Cozumel was actually one of my favorite stops because our activities (or funtivities) were some of my favorites. We debated back and forth about what we wanted to do and I'm so glad we chose what we did. We booked the Jeep Tour. These Jeeps were old and falling apart (I'm talking exposed wires, non working dash, and alignments that would make you drive in circles.) . I'm pretty sure none of these cars would have passed an emissions test in Atlanta, but that just made it more authentic. :) We made some friends who happened to be in our tour group the day before and jumped in the jeeps. We drove first to a beach to go snorkeling, which I'd never done before, but was so fun! Our guides were really great too because no activity felt too long or short and we got to experience it all. After snorkeling, we drove over to a little beach where we were originally supposed to go, but the water wasn't clear enough for snorkeling. Then, we went to a lighthouse which had some pretty views and some giant waves crashing on rocks, which is my fave. We also saw some mayan ruins before heading back to the ship.
Day 5: June 25, 2017 - Day at Sea
On our day at sea, we avoided the pool since that was where everyone was going to be. We got some coffee and went to a second (yep) Cuba lecture by the same professor. I still find it all fascinating and it was nice to be able to hear more since having experienced a little bit of the culture. For the rest of the day, we hung out and read books and just enjoyed some rest after exploring 3 cities in 3 days.
Day 6: June 26, 2017 - Arrive in Tampa
Landed back in Tampa and made our declarations.
Have you ever been on a cruise before? If you have, or want to go on one, where would you want to go?