By Don Manley
Week-long cruises to Cuba that blend cultural-immersion and tours of the island’s three largest cities can now be booked at America Travel Arrangements on Marco Island.
The Carnival Corporation will begin offering service to the island from Miami on May 1, after receiving approval from the U.S. and Cuban governments, said Ewout DeVries, who co-owns America Travel with his wife, Jill. He said reservations are being taken for the first available departure date, which is in September.
But the trips are anything but inexpensive.
DeVries said the starting price for an inside cabin is tentatively $1,800 and for a suite, it is tentatively $7,350, during the “low season,” which is Sept. 15 to Nov. 13.
“We have a lot of calls about it (the cruise), but people are very startled when they hear these type of prices. Generally, people think it’s (the “low season”) going to be a cheap, fast way to go.”
He said there are several companies offering Cuba tours, but whether it involves traveling by air or an ocean liner, “they are pricey.”
The ending of the U.S.’s ban on travel to Cuba has not thrown the door wide open for Americans to tour the island as individuals, with the same access as people traveling from Europe. Instead, regulations require that Americans’ trips to Cuba be done as part of a package tour that includes regulated group excursions and cultural exchange at stopovers on the island.
The package tours are included in the price of the trip.
“The whole idea is there should be some education as part of going to Cuba,” said DeVries. “So there is some (cultural) immersion and the meeting of Cuban people and that is a big deal. Even on the ship, there are a lot of lectures during the one-week trip, giving you an idea of what’s going on in Cuba and what you can learn.”
DeVries said people are surprised that the trip includes the regulated group excursion restriction. “That is not possible for Americans right now, although I have the feeling that it is not going to take too long to change,” he added.
One bonus for travelers is the fact they will sleep onboard, rather than on the island, where hotel accommodations can sometimes be rather primitive, by American standards.
The trip makes stops in the coastal cities of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.
Havana, the nation’s capitol, is chiefly known for the Spanish-influenced architecture of Old Havana, as well as historic castles, fortresses, cathedrals, mansions and public buildings. There are also its festive music scene and other entertainment, museums, art galleries, music, dance, and open-air festivals.
Located in the island’s southern region, Cienfuegos is the center of Cuba’s sugar, tobacco and coffee trades. The entrance to the city’s natural bay is highlighted by Castillo de Jagua, a stone fortress, built in 1745 to ward off pirate attacks.
Santiago de Cuba, on Cuba’s east coast, is known for popular festivals of Carnaval and the Fiesta del Fuego, and many historic sites.
DeVries said the cruises itinerary involves traveling from Miami to Havana on the first day, along with cultural immersion activities that will continue into the trip’s second day. Day three is travel to Cienfuegos, with day four devoted to cultural immersion activities. The trip’s fifth day is devoted to travel to Santiago and cultural immersion activities in that city. Days six and seven are reserved for the trip back to Miami.
Unlike some cruises, which attract a certain population of travelers, DeVries said trips to Cuba have broad appeal. “People want to see what Cuba is like and they come from all walks of life,” he added. “It’s just people who are interested in seeing Cuba.”
For more information on Carnival Cruise Lines’ Cuba cruises, call America Travel Arrangements at 239-642-6616 or stop by the office, located at Chamber of Commerce Plaza, 1116 1/2 N. Collier Boulevard.