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Adonia Cruise Review

Itinerary: Cuba Cruise - May 2016

The excitement on the ship was contagious. The crew was passing out Mojitos and little Cuban and American flags. Cuban music was being played on deck. We were on the Adonia, the first American ship to sail to Cuba in 55 years. The ship, a new product from Fathom Impact Travel which will be sailing every other week to Cuba.

As we sailed into the mouth of the Havana Harbor, it seemed that everyone was at the railing with cameras in hand. News stations, professional cameras, as well as the many cell phones. As we slowly moved through the water to the dock our first view of Havanah was not what I ever expected. There were high-rises, and church steeples. We could see and sort of hear people on the shore yelling to us, but at first did not know what was being yelled.

As we moved closer towards the dock it became clear, the Cubans were yelling , “we love you, we love Obama, we love America”. The closer we got to the dock the more we saw hundreds of people yelling and waving and running to follow the ship into the dock. It was at this point we all realized what an amazing moment in history we were experiencing.

Once we docked we could see from our balcony the Cuban officials who came on the ship. The port was covered with welcome banners from Havanatur, the government tour agency that the Adonia was required to use. We walked off the ship with excitement. We passed through security and metal detectors and were greeted with a rum and coke as well as bands and dancing performers.

As we found our tour guide, Manuel, and our group of 20 others, we left the terminal to walk across the street. This is when we encountered hundreds of waving Cubans welcoming us with tears in their eyes. High fiving us, taking our pictures, yelling and thanking us. The large group would open up a corridor to allow us to pass through. It was one of most touching moments of my life and at that moment, I was involved in history changing. And the two days in Old Havana only got better.

We walked the streets. With classic beautiful buildings in total disrepair and falling down. An earthquake would be disastrous. No matter the condition, families called it their home. Some of our guides went off script and seemed to answer our questions with sincerity. Questions of income, health care, education, Castro (no ones seems to know where the family Lives).

Each day we had lunch at various paladares (private restaurants in homes ). Each lunch was different, similar in food but different in surroundings and attractiveness of the area. It is here that we could enter conversations with the owners and workers. We walked from plaza to plaza, with visits to a large variety of stores, homes, buildings etc. Including visits to Hemmingway’s bar and hotel . Hemmingway is a big deal in Cuba.

Our air conditioned coach, the second day, took us to the city’s landmarks, Plaza de la Revolucion, Colon Cemetery, Museum of Fine Arts, many historical areas and overviews. Ee learned much history from the Cuban perspective. We had time to shop, but not enough time. The heat and humidity was an issue. As much as I loved walking the streets our late afternoon return to our ship was welcomed. A number of passengers got cleaned up, they went out and rented one of the gorgeous restored 50’s cars as a taxi and went off on their own for a night on the town.

In the weeks sailing we also visited Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Each with its own personality, as smaller cities on the island compared to the capital of Havana. Here we saw less development, less former rich buildings. Instead we saw 50’s cars, not restored as they were in Havana, but still running and used for transportation. We encountered many horse and wagons, both for carrying things as well as used as local taxis. We visited a ration store that passed out the six eggs each person receives a month. We passed their large medical school that produces so many doctors they have to leave the island to find work. Education and medical treatment are free to all Cubans. We walked through “shopping centers”, in all cases the window display did not live up to what was for sale inside. We visited a dance school, an independent craft cooperative, entertained by the World Famous Cienfuegos Chorus.

Overall I found the Cuban people to be warm, friendly, loving Americans and curious about us. The people were real in their expressions of thanking America for coming. One guide said, “you are another big drop in our bucket for change.”

We seemed to be open and allowed to explore and ask. Nowhere did I feel we were being watched over. Nowhere did I feel the Cuban’s were restricted or controlled in some way. I have to keep in mind, our tour guides and bus drivers were all government employees and maybe we were taken and told what they wanted us to see and know.

Overall it was a glorious experience I will always treasure. I would have liked more people-to-people interactions, I would have liked an educator on the ship who could connect the dots of all that we saw and learned about the country. This was the first trip for the Adonia, and many things will be changed and tweaked in the coming sailings.

My suggestion is to GO NOW…will it change to a Starbucks on every corner, will it become just another Caribbean Island. I hope not, but only time will tell. What I wished we had more of was people2people interactions. Less monuments and more personal everyday interactions. Would have loved to have seen a grocery store (not sure they exist) , a school, a hospital, more things for the everyday life.

Tidbit…I heard that Mojitos were more popular among the passengers than anticipated. The Chef and bar manager toured Havana to find the mint needed for the drinks. As there are no supermarkets or stores as we know them, this became a difficult task. It took a many people/farmers and stores all over town to supply a large enough amount of mint. Task was done and I assume passengers were happy.

—Linda Androlia