“Cubans do everything with rhythm.” Dr. Jorge Arocha shared these five little words during a presentation on board my seven-day, all-inclusive Celestyal Cruise to Cuba. The University of Havana professor of philosophy is an authority about the island nation located 90 miles from Key West, Florida. Never dry and often humorous, he asked my group to listen and to watch for a mix of African, Spanish and native influence when we went ashore. When visiting Cuba, we were to expect the unexpected.
Cuba is about the size of the state of Pennsylvania in the eastern United States. During our cruise on the 1,200-guest Celestyal Crystal, I spent two days ashore in Havana, the capital and Cuba’s most famous city. Other excursions led my group to the beaches of Punta Frances. Each night, we returned to our staterooms to sleep.
The ship arranges for casual, informative exchanges to share insight about our excursions and Cuban culture. Many of the ship’s crew and entertainers were Cuban.
We heard tales about cigars and cigar bands from the early 19th century and the culture of rum. In between, we took a Cuban cooking lesson, had a massage and learned a few words of Spanish that served us well when we went ashore.
Cruise Director Danny encourages guests to take a cha-cha lesson or to step into the Muses Lounge for a musical performance from the Celestyal Crystal entertainment team. Those who dare to disco the night away can certainly do so.
Local guides and experts led us through winding streets and broad boulevards lined with brightly
One of my favorite excursions was “A Real Taste of Havana” tour. For this excursion, my colleagues and I slid into a mint condition 1955 Buick convertible and other classic American cars. Tours use vintage cars to drive along the historic and colorful Malecon.
A broad roadway with colorful facades of period architecture on one side and a seawall on the other, Malecon winds along 5 miles (8 km) of the coast, from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Habana neighborhood, to end at the Vedado neighborhood. Vedado is the central business district of the capital and is considered as important as the Old Havana neighborhood. Our driver told us Malecon is the quintessential Cuban roadway and I believed him.
Another day in Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, our guide led us on a “More of the Real Havana” tour. It featured stops at the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of the Revolution. We visited the Fuster Community Project and then lunched at a local restaurant.
The group made a brief stop at the Christ of Havana lookout, stopped at the [Ernest] Hemingway Museum with a view of Cojimar, the fisherman village that inspired his novel, The Old Man and the Sea, and a stop at Floridita, Hemingway’s favorite bar. The tour ended at the San Jose Market with free time so the group could browse the shops and vendors before returning to the ship.
After dinner, we left the ship for a private transfer to attend the world-famous Tropicana Cabaret. It is still the largest nightclub in Havana with 200 dancers and singers on stage and accompanied by a live orchestra. If ever Dr. Arocha’s words rang true, they did for this awesome Broadway/Las Vegas-style performance. By now, we had learned to expect the unexpected and, for the final night of our cruise, it glided before us in authentic Cuban rhythm.