Heading Back To Cuba
As Canadians, we have no restrictions on to travel to Cuba. We visited Cuba for 3 different beach vacations in the past. On our previous visits, we have had mixed success. But when we saw Oceania Cruises had a cruise to Cuba for the holidays, we decided it was time to go back. This trip offered us a chance to cruise around Cuba to see 3 new spots (Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba). And two overnight stops meant we had longer stays.
Thawing Out In Miami
The winter started early and cold in Toronto. So we headed to Miami 5 days before our cruise started. Our return to the Intercontinental Miami offered us a familiar retreat. Our sweet suite had great views out over the Port of Miami. Each day we grew more excited about our cruise to Cuba for the holidays as we watched the cruise ships come and go.
We enjoyed being close to downtown. Every day we went out for a walk. We found art everywhere we looked. Slowly our bones warmed up. We were definitely happy to be out in the sunshine.
On the night before we left Miami, we were startled by big bang. We had come to recognize this as the starting bell for fireworks. We turned all the lights off in our suite. And sat back for the greatest fireworks show. Below us we saw a parade of colourfully lighted boats. We were happy to get this great send-off.
But the day break brought another treat. On the morning of our cruise, we were greeted to a wonderful sunrise. We watched as not one but two Oceania Cruises ships sailed into the harbour. Soon we would be on board.
Miami Was Decorated For The Holiday Season
We started the Christmas holiday season in Vancouver. It jump-started our holiday spirit. We are never sure how much like Christmas it will feel when we head south for the holidays. But we were immediately greeted by the Intercontinental Miami all dressed for the holiday spirit. Christmas trees and decorations were everywhere. There was even a bulk candy store to fill your stocking. When Santa came to visit, he came with his electric floor fan!
As we wandered around Miami, we found holiday decorations all around the city. It was always funny to see Christmas trees in juxtaposition with palm trees.
We made sure to pose for our Christmas card pictures. It was great to find the holiday spirit when we visited Miami before our cruise to Cuba for the holidays.
The Beautifully Renovated Oceania Cruises Insignia Ship
Although we had not planned it, we realized that we started the year with a cruise to the Southern Caribbean on Oceania Cruises Insignia. And would end the year on this same ship. But right before we boarded Insignia in December, it underwent a major renovation. We were excited when we realized that our cruise to Cuba for the holidays would give us an early preview of Insignia’s new look.
The new muted and elegant colours were obvious as soon as we boarded. Blue and silver tones replaced the old dark blues and reds. A peek in the dining room showed the new design that seemed to open up the room. The top level Horizons lounge had also been opened up. It truly offered horizon views from all spots.
We were excited to see the changes in the cabins. The lighter colours seemed to brighten these rooms too. Glass and chrome made the room sparkle. In the reconfigured bathroom, there seemed to be more room with glass doors on the shower. The tvs were replaced with smart tvs for access to entertainment and information.
On our cruise to Cuba for the holidays, we were delighted to see the renovated Insignia ship.
We Celebrated The Holiday Season Onboard
And given it was the Christmas cruise, the ship was beautifully decorated for the holiday season. We were onboard Oceania for Easter when we cruised across the Atlantic from the Caribbean to Lisbon. Oceania always did a great job of decorating for the holidays.
A large table of gingerbread houses reminded us of the gingerbread house contest we just saw in Vancouver. Carollers sang holiday music. And we got holiday treats like hot chocolate that overflowed with whipped cream. On Christmas day, we even got a visit from Santa!
If we did not step outside into the hot weather, we might not know we were headed south for a cruise to Cuba for the holidays.
Welcomed Back Like Family
If you read our blog, you know we have done a lot of Oceania Cruises trips. We like the smaller ships like Insignia for the personal touch we have always found. It was not long before we saw familiar faces. And we were welcomed with hugs.
When we read the senior officer list, many of the names were new to us. But we were happy to find that we knew several people in leadership roles in the food and beverage department. This certainly ensured we had a delightful trip. On a cruise ship known for its food, you spend a lot of time eating and drinking. And every single time we ate or ordered wine, we were welcomed with a smile and by name.
We were also delighted to find that chef Mario was the Executive Chef. Oceania Cruises always has the best cuisine at sea. But Mario always takes that responsibility personally. Mario’s cooking classes at sea were always great education and entertainment.
On our travels in 2018, we tried a number of different cruise lines. They took us to new and fascinating destinations in 2018. But it did feel like we had come home when we boarded Oceania Cruises Insignia to cruise to Cuba for the holidays.
A Day In Key West
We have been to Key West for a week long vacation. And it has been a common port stop on our Caribbean cruises. But it is alway great to return to Key West. And we did get the absolute best sunrise as we docked.
We enjoyed a lazy morning on the ship. And then headed into the downtown area. Due to damage to downtown docks, the number of cruise ships to Key West has been limited. And we were docked in the Navy yard. So that meant we had to take a shuttle into downtown. But there was never a shortage of trains or trolleys lined up to ferry people into town.
Key West was busy with two cruise ships in port. The bars were often standing room only. The shop keepers tried to draw people in. It was fun as we wandered a little to see the town dressed up for Christmas.
And then we headed to our favourite Key West stop. We could not visit and miss a trip to Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shop. And the delicious frozen key lime pie slice covered in dark chocolate. It was definitely worth the walk.
We watched the sun set as the sailboats and watercraft headed out on their sunset cruises. It was time for us to cruise to Cuba for the holidays.
Our First Port In Cuba Was Havana
We enjoyed our taste test of colourful Havana. It was great to drive around the city and see the historic sites. A stop at Fusterlandia showed us an amazing colourful tile neighbourhood.
A walking tour of old town Havana provided us with an interesting mix of grand architecture, history and statue art.
We were glad to visit Havana on our cruise to Cuba for the holidays. But nature decided that our Cuba plans needed to be mixed up. Gale force winds and a major storm kept us in port for a few extra hours. And the path of the storm caused the captain and head office to re-assess the path around Cuba. In the end, safety won out and the path and our ports was reversed.
We Climbed The Hills Of Santiago De Cuba
When we arrived in Santiago de Cuba, we left the ship and wandered on our own. It did not take us long to realize that the old part of town was a steady walk up. But we were already committed! At the top of the hill we stopped in a local coffee shop. But a cold beer tasted way better to me after the hill climb. We then wandered around to see the sights in the main squares of Santiago de Cuba.
We wandered down the Jose Antonia Saca walking street. On all sides of the street we found shops and more of the colourful outdoor art and architecture we had come to expect in Cuba.
At the bottom of the street, we saw our ship in the harbour. A short walk took us back through the port. It was great to see a little of Santiago de Cuba on our cruise to Cuba for the holidays.
Our Last Port In Cuba Was Cienfuegos
We only toured the town of Cienfuegos for one day as we wanted to take Christmas Day off. A start in the Cemetery de Reina provided a beautiful look at the history and folk lore of the town.
When we drove along the water, we got a view of the crystal clear water and views along the shore. Interesting and artistic buildings lined the streets.
The main Jose Marti Square is the heart of this UNESCO town. It was great to sit in the park and explore the buildings that ring this town square.
On Boxing Day, we left Cienfuegos and stayed on deck for the sail out. It was our last view of land on our cruise to Cuba for the holidays. We left wanting to see more. But knew we could always plan a return trip.
We Ate And Drank Well Sailing With Oceania Cruises
As Canadians, we can visit Cuba any time we want. So we did not pack our days in Cuban ports with tours. We used the cruise to Cuba for the holidays as a bit of taste test of some new spots we had not visited. And the rest of the time we enjoyed our five star resort aboard Oceania Cruises Insignia!
Oceania is known for its great food. Under Boris’ leadership, every detail was under the watchful eyes of the food and beverage team. Sasa, Duda and Philip always made sure we ate well at every opportunity. At every interaction we felt the customer service focus that Oceania is known for. We ate well throughout our cruise to Cuba for the holidays.
On this cruise to Cuba for the holidays, we cleared out the ship’s stock of 2010 bottles of our favourite Brunello. We were so spoiled by the perfect vintage year, that when we had to open a 2012 bottle, we decanted that bottle on our last night to bring back some of the 2010 taste.
We definitely ate and drank well on our cruise to Cuba for the holidays.
On A Sea Day We Learned More About New World Wines
Wine tastings are one of our favourite ways to enjoy a sea day with Oceania Cruises. We discovered some great Italian wines on a trans-Atlantic cruise. A classic European wine pairing class when we cruised in the Southern Caribbean provided more fun and education. On this trip, we did the wine tasting to learn more about new world wine countries.
There were five red wines for us to try from regions like Australia, New Zealand, Chile and California. As we went through the wine tasting, we learned a little about the wines we tried and about the regions they came from.
With the wines we had a variety of food pairings. The food tray included seared tuna, a beet and goat cheese snack, scallops, lamb and rare beef. Each wine had a specific pairing. But it was fun to try other things to see what else worked.
Other than his favourite Brunello, David does not like many red wines. We keep doing the red wine pairings to find new good options for him. This time around, he did like the Two Hands Shiraz from Australia. While I liked that one too, I liked the Craggy Range Pinot Noir and the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon just a bit more.
On our cruise to Cuba for the holidays, it was fun to do a wine pairing and find new wines we liked.
We Enjoyed A Relaxing Time Aboard Oceania Cruises Insignia
We spent time on our cruise to Cuba for the holidays just relaxing. I even managed to read a few books! We did not set an alarm once during our holiday cruise. David enjoyed his time playing different games onboard the ship to collect his ship board points. He earned enough points for two shirts for us!
For Christmas day, we splurged on a pampering day. Who can argue with starting your day with a nice relaxing massage. I went even further and had my hands and toes decorated. Afternoon Tea late in the day added another relaxing point to our day. Before we joined most of the ship’s passengers in the Grand Dining Room for a wonderful Christmas turkey dinner.
It was great to enjoy such a luxurious and pampering stay on our cruise to Cuba for the holidays.
Our Cruise To Cuba For The Holidays Was A Relaxing Break
We had a really busy travel year in 2018. A relaxing break with a cruise to Cuba for the holidays was the great way to end the year. We enjoyed our first view of Havana. And the chance to get a taste test of two more ports in Cuba – Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos. The overnight stays provided the opportunity to see more and to enjoy the night life.
Travelling to Cuba by cruise ship as Canadians proved a bit confusing. There were a bunch of rules and restrictions that would not have applied if we travelled to Cuba on our own from Canada.
We used our trip as a great way to unwind. It was wonderful to enjoy the holiday festivities on the ship. We started 2019 all raring to go! Before we left the ship we booked a series of new cruises. Stay tuned for more adventures in the Baltic and a cruise to the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland in 2019. We will top that off with a 53 day trip around South America in 2020. How is that for a tease!
Is Cuba on your travel wish list? Do you want to follow us on a cruise to Cuba for the holidays?
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