ABOARD THE LOUIS CRISTAL – Today we are sailing along the south coast of Cuba, eastward. This is our only day totally at sea, and it is a good time to get to know the ship.
Some cruises are all about the amenities and graces of the ship, and others are about the experiences offered on the ship’s excursions. This cruise is the latter. It is about seeing those cities and towns in Cuba that are difficult to get to for most visitors and yet hold great attraction and charm. The ship is really just a means to get to those places – it’s fine, it’s quite adequate, but it is not the main point of this adventure.
This is not a luxury ship – it is a three star, with comfortable but not beautiful rooms that are kept exceptionally clean by the cabin stewards. We sleep very well as the rooms are dark and quiet, and the sea is consistently calm, with just a gentle swell to put you to sleep.
Our cabin is comfortable though compact. It is classed as a Deluxe outside cabin, and consists of two twin beds placed together, a small sofa that can be pulled out to make an additional bed for a third passenger, a chair and table and television. There’s a good mirror above the desk, and a full length mirror on the wall that is useful. Closet space is minimal but adequate, and the bathroom is the same. There is a large window with an unimpeded view.
The main public rooms are similar to most mid-line ships and all the services you would expect are here – a fitness center, a sauna and steam room, a spa, a beauty salon, a casino and on-board shop as well as an attractive theater and the art deco style Eros bar on eight deck. The main formal dining room, the Amalthea Restaurant, is rather plain in style and the tables are a bit too close together. There is also the Leda Buffet on nine deck, and then there is Alberta Prime, the premium restaurant for which guests must reserve and are charged $34.95 CAD per person extra.
The pool, with retractable roof is also on deck eight and the Helios bar serves drinks poolside. There’s the Horizons Disco Bar on the top, deck ten, but my favorite place on board is the Thalassa Bar at the back of the ship on deck five, an intimate and cosy bar with a statue of Hemingway and Cuban design touches. It’s a perfect after dinner hang-out place.
Today is a day to catch your breath. We have a lazy lunch and meet some gossipy and entertaining Canadians who already seem to know almost everybody on the ship. There’s some relaxing time by the pool, a bit of work accomplished in the internet café, and then we dress for dinner.
Dress is generally casual on board, although I encountered almost every level of apparel – from jeans and a t-shirt to formal gowns showing up at dinnertime. That’s really kind of liberating, as one can dress up or dress down, depending on mood, and feel quite appropriate.
This evening we have reserved a table at Alberta Prime, the premium Canadian-themed restaurant which boasts of its Alberta beef. There’s a large assortment of antipasto to begin, then a Caesar salad. At that point, guests are presented with two large platters, one of seafood and one of meat, from which to choose their main course. There’s lobster tail, fish, beef tenderloin, rib-eyes, sirloins, t-bone, or pork chops.
The food is quite good – certainly the beef is excellent – but the presentation is flat, and the flavors are bland. It’s good, but not exciting.
Today a crew member was taken seriously ill and had to be taken off the ship by a small boat, and another passenger, who was in a wheelchair, had a nasty fall. It drives home the point that one is really at sea.