ABOARD LOUIS CRISTAL — The ship docks in Montego Bay on Fridays and takes on new passengers – airfare to Jamaica is often less expensive than flying to Havana, and, for Americans, this is an easier way to visit Cuba and stay under the radar. It is a logical stop because the distance from Cuba to Jamaica is so short.
I’ve been to Jamaica and done most of the activities before, so we didn’t sign up for any of the excursions. They ranged from trips to Dunn’s Falls, a Negril Beach Day to see cliff diving from Rick’s Bar, visits to the historic great houses and bamboo rafting.
Instead we caught a taxi in to town and did a quick walk-around. What struck me immediately was how noisy and, frankly, dirty the town was. The streets were smelly and messy, garbage spilled from overfilled cans and there were fast food places everywhere. Such a contrast to the clean spareness of the Cuban cities we have visited. We didn’t stay long, and returned to the ship before lunch.
That gave me time to get to know the ship better. There’s a quite good fitness center and a lovely new sauna and steam room, plus a full service spa that, while limited in space, offers a variety of treatments.
I tried a zumba class by the pool – surprisingly challenging – and caught up on email. The internet connection on board is erratic, but that applies to most ships.
At dinner, we were guests of the Canadian co-owners Dugald Wells and Craig Marshall who own Your Cuba Cruise in partnership with Louis Cristal Cruises. They are both charming men, excited by this Cuban venture and committed to including Cuban employees and Cuban culture on the cruises. They are encouraged by the U.S. initiatives to open up access to Cuba for Americans, and have plans to add another ship, perhaps a larger one, and to extend the cruise length. It is a struggle to circumnavigate the whole island – Cuba is huge – in one week, while doing justice to the ports of call. There may be a cruise that heads west from Havana and one that heads east. But their plans are still fluid. This is only their second season, although all the signs indicate that the cruise has captured the attention of many Canadian travelers as well as international ones. They are happy with the progress and success of their Cuban endeavor.
Later we went to the Muses Lounge and took in a performance of the on-board entertainment team, a mostly Cuban, but partly Quebecois troupe who do a Cirque de Soleil type of show, high energy, lots of talent and creativity, and a bit challenging, in the way that Cirque do Soleil can be.
A zumba class by the pool