Experience Cruises to Cuba

Cruises to Cuba: The Best Guide, Tips & More For First Time Travelers

by Christian Petzold - updated August 25, 2021

At affordable prices, Cuba offers the visitor sights and experiences that are authentically Cuban in a way that no other country can offer.

The Cubans who live on this island of enchantment have retained their culture, proud traditions, and customs over the past five centuries. Spend some time in Havana with its distinctive architecture and see how life unfolds in this beautiful city.

Traveling to Cuba should only be done by those who are looking for the authentic Cuba experience. For American travelers, traversing to Cuba is a new experience with something to offer at every turn of the corner.

Cruises to Cuba are also a great way to experience the perfect blend of luxury and charm with low-key, laid-back vibes.

The Caribbean is made for cruising, and Cuba is one of the best spots to visit! It’s surrounded by some of the most famous beaches, lush jungles, and unique cities. There are so many things to do that you’ll never have time to get bored. And if you can’t find something fun to do? You can just idle by the pool and enjoy a Mai Tai with your tropical drink of choice!

Cruises to Cuba: Caribbean Cruise Ship

It’s not just about cruising around Cuba either; this destination is also home to breathtaking sunsets and delicious traditional Cuban food. So pack up and head out with us!

What to Know About Cuba Cruise Ban

Between 2015 and 2019, cruise ships from the United States were permitted to visit Cuba. This is no longer the situation as of June 5, 2019, due to President Trump’s revisions to the Cuba travel policy.

If you booked your vacation before June 5, contact your cruise line for details.

All nationalities can travel the beautiful sights of Cuba as visitors except Americans. Americans still need to travel under 12 approved reasons; the most common is the People to People visa. This is also used by cruise companies offering different shore excursions for Americans.

Cuban Tourist Cards Are Mandatory for Travelers

Cruises to Cuba: Cuban Tourist Cards

Anyone going to Cuba must possess one more item in addition to a passport: a Cuban Tourist Card. It’s a piece of paper that you must get before you reach Cuba. Airlines that fly to Cuba will allow you to buy your tourist card (sometimes referred to as a Cuba visa) via them.

However, you may simply buy one online via a company like Cuba Visa Services to avoid the trouble. Once you’ve obtained your Tourist Card, store it in the same place as your passport—it’s an important document for legal travel to Cuba.

What Can You Expect From a Cuba Cruise Tour?

Cruising is an affordable, convenient way to get away from it all. It offers a range of different experiences and activities for everyone in your group—from relaxing by the pool to sightseeing through a foreign country. There’s something for everyone on a cruise—plus, you’ll have an unlimited supply of food and drinks!

Here is what you can expect in cruises to Cuba tour:

Exclusivity 

Cruise ships to Cuba remain exclusive. It’s also a bit pricey because of the shortage of hotel rooms. As the interest of travelers for Cuba grows, the rates of the island’s limited hotel rooms have skyrocketed. Despite the rise, tour operators can have a hard time timing availability.

While cruises to other Caribbean destinations are a lot cheaper than Cuba, the fact alone that there are regulated schedule sailings means that expenses for a cruise ship are easier to budget than traveling to land.

Also, the limited number of cruise ships means the pricing is a bit expensive. Fortunately, the price should drop as more and more cruise ships enter the market.

More excursion choices

On a land tour, travelers rarely have a lot of choices. There’s only one itinerary to follow. On a cruise tour, travelers have different choices of excursions in every port. And since cruise operators are licensed as people-to-people operators, your trip is guaranteed to follow the latest rules by the current American administration. While most Cuban alternative ports don’t offer the independent tour choices that you’ll find elsewhere in the Caribbean, there’s nothing to prohibit non-Americans from renting a cab or just wandering about on their own.

No currency surcharge onboard

All visitors to Cuba must use the CUC money, which was created especially for tourists (the locals have a separate currency). Due to the lack of ATMs and credit cards issued by American-owned banks in Cuba, you’ll need to carry cash in the form of Euros, American or Canadian dollars to exchange for CUC.

However, for Americans, there is a 10% fee on USD. When you include in the 3% change fee that most exchange bureaus charge, you’re looking at 87 cents to one USD.

As a cruise guest, you will continue to be charged with the things you spent onshore. However, since most of your purchases will be made onboard, you will not lose as much money as you would on a lengthy land trip.

Detach yourself from WiFi

While hotspots are continuously being used here, WiFi is limited, and at most times, not reliable in Cuba. Your WiFi on the ship is far better than what you’ll find on land.

Tips for First Time Cuba Travelers

Whether on a cruise or land, traveling to Cuba is a different world from what travelers are used to. It’s hugely different from any of the Caribbean destinations many people have visited before.

For example, there are some very strict rules on what you can and cannot bring into the country, as well as on how long you’ll be permitted to stay in Cuba. Here are some tips for first-time Cuba Travelers.

Cuba Has Pretty Old-Fashioned Telephone Service

Cruises to Cuba: Old-fashioned Telephone

Landlines are common, and most people use cell phones. They also have slow internet that is expensive and not very reliable, so you should be prepared for it. Unless you’re booking a top hotel, don’t expect to be able to connect with your phone at all times.

Cuban Currency

Cruises to Cuba: Cuban Currency

Cuba has this complicated dual-currency system where the USD is used for tourists, while Cubans use CUC. The conversion rate between the two currencies keeps changing, but as of October 2016, it was one CUC to 100 CUP.

Unlike in your home country, you can’t buy or use Cuban pesos (CUP). This is because all transactions in Cuba are denominated in either CUC or USD, and these need to be converted before you’ll be able to access them on your account.

In order to pay for things like taxis, excursions, souvenirs, etc., you’ll need a debit card with a Visa logo on it so that you can withdraw cash from ATMs conveniently located across Cuba. Just remember one of the most useful Cuban money travel tips: twenty-four men equal one monument.

Always Stack With You Some Cash

In Cuba, cash is king, and you should never pay with credit or debit cards or traveler’s checks. 

Withdraw funds whenever possible. Cash machines are few. Those that take foreign cards are even scarcer, and there are always problems with them. Also, not all banks can handle foreign currency transactions, and the opening hours of those rarely extend beyond 3.30 pm on weekdays, particularly outside Havana and the beach resorts.

For your safety, it’s not ideal for taking a lot of cash with you. But, on the upside, whenever you withdraw cash, you’ll save yourself from the hassle of finding ATMs for your bank, especially on a long road trip in the province.

Must Place to Visit for First Time Visit to Cuba

Havana

Cruises to Cuba: Plaza de la Catedral

There are many popular tourist spots in Havana like the Malecón, the Plaza de la Catedral, and El Capitolio.

Malecon is a broad coastal promenade that is lined with beaches and buildings. Here you can witness some of the most beautiful sunsets in Havana, as well as salsa lessons every day at noon on Parque Central. The Malecon hosts a parade on Monday evening including lively drumming and dancing.

Catedral square houses an impressive cathedral that was constructed during colonial times to celebrate Catholicism in Cuba. The plaza also hosts carnivals, art festivals, and sometimes concerts by famous musicians.

What to do: Ride a classic American car.

Viñales Valley

Cruises to Cuba: Viñales Valley

The Viñales Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Sierra del Rosario mountain range in west-central Cuba. The valley is home to an assortment of limestone hills, caves, and the remains of stone-age settlements.

Located near the town of Viñales, where some of Cuba’s best tobacco is grown, this site encompasses many lush areas full of caves with paintings from ancient indigenous peoples and prehistoric wildlife, including rhinos and sloths.

What to do: Ride an e-bike.

Cienfuegos

Cruises to Cuba: Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is a destination in Cuba. Many people travel to this destination due to the culture, natural environment, and many other great points of interest. As you walk through the streets of Cienfuegos, Jamaica Grande, or La Playa del Carman, you will find many art shops that offer handcrafted souvenirs and traditional Cuban artwork.

One of the other main attractions is the tropical storm systems that bring water for crops which washes away excess salts from fields. The climate is also quite nice for those who are looking for things to do in a warmer area during colder times of the year, with possible rainfall from November-March.

Trinidad

Cruises to Cuba: Trinidad

Trinidad is known for its history and culture. It is also viewed as the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution. The city has a beautiful mosaic of colonial architecture, including colorful parks, plazas, and cobblestone streets.

What to do: Visit historical sites.

Jardines del Rey

Cruises to Cuba: Jardines del Rey cuba

The Jardines del Rey Archipelago is a must-visit in Cuba. This archipelago provides an oasis for the land-lover and peace to the ocean lover. There are 200 hectares of vegetation that cover its two islands, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo. Take a boat ride through these sparkling waters, go kayaking in one of the lagoons or enjoy a calming day at one of these lovely beaches.

The Jardines del Rey Archipelago is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna, including palm trees, mangrove flowering plants, lions’ paws, cactus, and the world’s rarest butterfly. This is where you can enjoy swimming in beautiful clear waters or relaxing on one of the islands.

Despite the American ban on cruises, it looks like Cuba is well and fully open to the world! For several years, the country was inaccessible to travel for some major countries, but times are changing… and fast. But, of course, we don’t know what the future holds. But right now, Cuba remains the place where you can spend fine sunny days drinking daiquiris, spotting dolphins, hiking through tropical forests, visiting museums, or salsa dancing with the community. There is truly something for everyone here.

Below are some of our articles that will surely guide you on your next trip and help you prepare for making your vacation the best. Visit our website for a complete collection of travel articles.

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