Saturday, December 9, 2017

My Personal Experience As I Traveled In Havana, CUBA

My Name Is Lynnette & I Am A Travel Agent With Concierge Cruises - Travel Agency. 

I Recently Had The Pleasure Of Traveling To Cuba Aboard Norwegian Cruise Line. The Ship Was Called Sky. This Country Is A New Experience. American Citizens Have Been Unable To Travel To Cuba For Over 50 Years. Therefore, It Was Important To Myself That I Experience Cuba First Hand. It Turns Out Much Of The Information Given To Us In The States Was Incorrect. So I Have Provided A First Hand Experience All About Cuba. 

This First Thing You Hear About Traveling To Cuba Is That You Are Required To Participate In "People To People Travel". This Means That You Must Keep A Record Of Your Travels In Cuba. What Did You See Or Do. If You Book A Shore Excursion Through The Cruise Ship Than You Have Met The Requirement Of People To People Travel. At No Time Did We Have To Report To The Ship What We Did While In Cuba. We Were Told To Keep Our Records For A Period Of Five Years. The Government May Require Proof Of What You Did While In Cuba. 

Havana Is The Largest City & Also The Capital Of Cuba. Cuba Is Home To More Than 11 Million People. The Government Offers Free Medical, Free College Education, Free Funeral Expenses And Free Food To All Of It's Residents. This Sounds Amazing However Everything Is Rationed & This Gives The Government More Control Over The People. 

Most Of Cuba Is In Ruins. Most Of The Buildings Destroyed. However The Government Has Recently Started To Repair Cuba. There Was Alot Of Construction Throughout The Country. Cuba Is Required To Keep The Original Building. They Are Not Allowed To Destroy The Old Building A Then Build A New Building. Throughout Cuba You See New Buildings Being Built Around Old Buildings. Now That The Renovations Have Begun You See Many Nice Buildings & Houses Around The Area. 

We Found That By Interacting With The Local People They Were Happy To Have Us In Their Country. We Heard Stories Of There Families. Stories Of The Nightlife. Stories Of Day To Day Living. Most Of The People Were Very Friendly. We Did Experience A Few People That Were Not Polite But That Is To Be Expected When Traveling. 

We Departed Miami On Monday & By Tuesday Morning We Had Arrived In Havana, Cuba For An Over Night Stay. We Wished To Stay Longer However The Cuba Government Does Not Allow The Cruise Ships To Stay Longer Than A Day & Half. 

Before Arrival In Cuba We Needed To Purchase A Travel Visa. You Must Have A Valid Passport Book Not The Passport Card. The Passport Must Be Valid For More Than Six Months. The Visa Was Provided To Us By The Cruise Line. 

We Began Our Tuesday By Leaving The Ship. We Needed To Have Our Ship Key Card With Us At All Times. We Proceeded To Immigration. They Stamped Our Passport And Took The Visa That We Had Purchased To Travel To Cuba. Then We Proceeded To Customs. This Was The Security Check For Ourselves & Bags As We Entered Into Cuba. We Were Immediately Greeted By The Cruise Line Staff Taking Pictures. 

We Then Proceeded To The Money Exchange. This Is Where We Exchanged Our US Dollars Into Pesos. We Found It Was Necessary To Travel With Two Different Types Of Currency. Some Of The Local People Wanted Only Cuban Pesos While Others Wanted US Dollars. The Local People Would Charge Extra Once They Realized You Had US Dollars. For Example We Were Quoted $ 10.00 For An Item. They Would Tell Us The Price Was $12.00 If We Were Paying With US Dollars. We Assumed This Was To Cover The Cost Of The Exchange Rate. Credit Cards Are Not Accepted Any Where On The Island. You Could Also Exchange Canadian Dollars Or Euros Into Cuba Pesos. 

Then We Headed Down The Stairs And Into The Bus Area Where We Met Our Tour Guide. We Boarded Our Bus And Began Our Tour Of Cuba. We Saw Old Havana, New Havana, East Havana And West Havana. This Bus Tour Was Very Informative. We Learned About The Culture & History Of Cuba. Our Tour Guide Spoke English With An Accent. We Could Understand Him. Most Of Our Tour Was On The Bus Driving By The Local Sites. However We Did Stop & Walk At The " El Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Mooro" An Historical Fort. We Were Able To Do Some Shopping. At This Store They Accepted Pesos, US Dollars & Canadian Dollars. However They Were Not Thrilled About Figuring Out The Exchange Rate On The Money. This Store Offered Rum, Coffee And Cigars. We Drove By The National Hotel, The American Embassy, The University Of Havana & The Christopher Columbus Cemetery. We Were Able To Visit A 65 Feet Tall Statue Called " El Cristo De La Habana" Which Represents The Entrance To The Havana Harbor. This Statue Is Referred To As The Jesus Statue. We Traveled Through A Tunnel To The Beautiful Palm Tree-Lined Fifth Avenue. We Were Educated On The Cuban Architecture Which Demonstrated The Transition From Colonial To Modern Times. The Tour Returned Us To Our Terminal. I Was Impressed That The Driver And Tour Guide Did Not Ask For A Tip. However When We Offered A Tip They Graciously Accepted It.  

We Proceeded Back To The Ship To Have Lunch. On The Return We Went Through Security And Immigration Again. This Time Was Much Faster Due To The Fact That They All Ready Had Our Visa On File & Our Passports Were All Ready Stamped. 

After Lunch We Left The Ship. Immigration & Customs Again. We Found A Cuban Gentleman With A Horse & Cart. For Ten Pesos Each He Took Us About 15 Minutes Away From The Ship To A Flea Market. He Agreed To Come Back In An Hour To Pick Us Up. The Flea Market Was For All The Locals To Sell There Products. We Saw Art Work, Souvenirs Items, Handmade Leather Bags, Wallets, Handmade Crochet Hats, Shirts And Bathing Suits. Wood Cars Which You Could Have Your Name Engraved On. Coffee Mugs, Shot Glasses, Wind Chimes & So Much More! The Locals Would Ask You In To The Booth. If You Refused They Stopped Asking. Most Of Them Were Bilingual Speaking Spanish & English. Many Of Them Negotiated On Prices. Very Nice Experience. In One Hour A Different Gentleman Stood Outside The Front Entrance. He Waited For Us To Come Out. He Said " Lady Your Horse Is Here". The Same Gentleman We Had Before Returned To Pick Us Up As He Promised. For 5 Pesos Each He Returned Us To Our Ship. 

In Our Travels We Learned That If You Let The Local Person Takes Your Picture They Expect You To Pay Them For Taking The Picture. Be Aware Of This When Traveling Throughout Cuba. We Met Many People Wanting To Take A Picture.

We Returned To The Ship For Dinner. Immigration & Customs Again. 

After Dinner We Left The Ship. Immigration & Customs Again. We Met Our Tour Guide Where We Boarded A Bus To Enjoy The Legendary Tropicana Cabaret. The Night Club Was Located About 30 Minutes From The Ship. There Was Dress Code For The Evening.  Upon Arrival Our Tour Guide Paid For The Show. The Ladies Received Carnations. The Men Cigars. We Were Charged 5 Pesos To Take Pictures Of The Performance. However, No One Checked To Make Sure We Had A Ticket For The Pictures. Our Table Was In Front Of The Stage. Amazing Location. The Show Was Held In A Club Built In 1939, Surrounded By Trees And Located Outside. The Production Included Over 200 Dancers & Singers Performing Under The Stars. We Received Complimentary Bottled Water, Champagne, Rum, Coke And Peanuts To Enjoy During The Performance. Other Food And Drinks Were Available For An Additional Cost. The Performance Was Music, Spanish Singing, Costumes, Dancing And Lighting. By Far The Most Incredible Show Ever Seen And A Highlight Of My Cuba Trip. We Left The Ship At 9:00 PM And Returned To The Ship At 1:30 AM. Even At The Late Hour We Were Still Required To Go Through Immigration & Customs However It Went Quickly.  

The Next Morning Wednesday We Awoke At 8:00 AM. Had Breakfast On The Ship.  
Immigration & Customs Again. We Were Told It Was Not Safe To Walk Around Cuba. I Could Not Disagree More With This Statement. Walking Around The Town You See Roads Go On And On. Side Streets, Business & Houses. The Town Was Located Directly Across The Street From The Ship. We Walked Across The Street & Found The Local Shops Were Open. We Experienced Beautiful Parks, Local People Dressed In Authentic Cuba Costumes, A Lady Singing Opera In The Street Selling Flowers, Local Bands Playing Latin Music At A Restaurant. A Little Coffee Shop Serving Cuban Coffee Much Like Our Espresso For Only One Peso. We Found A Pharmacy, A Eye Doctor, A Photo Shop, A Bookstore & Museums Full Of Artwork. The Buildings Were A Site To See. The Architecture Is From Early 1950's. Cars From The Early 1950's Lined The Streets. Most Of The People Were Bilingual Speaking Spanish And English. We Had No Problem Communicating With Them. One Resident Gave Us Directions Back To The Ship. Very Enjoyable Day And A Great Way To Experience Cuba. 

The Roads Are Made Of Cobblestone. Some Are Cracked. Wear Comfortable Walking Shoes. 

After Speaking With Several Different Customers We Decided That Renting A Private Car With A Driver Was The Best Way To See Cuba. The Driver Is All Yours. A Total Of Four Hours. The Driver Will Speak English. They Take You To All The Sites You Wish To See. They Allow You Time To Get Out & Walk Around The Sites. You Can Request To Go To A Particular Place Or Ask The Driver For Recommendations Of Something To See. The Driver Will Not Ask For A Tip But Will Graciously Accept One. 

When We Returned To The Ship. We Were Greeted By The Norwegian Cruise Line Staff. Offering Us A Cool Wash Cloth, Drinks And Playing Latin Music. 

No Where In Havana, Cuba Was Internet Or WiFi Available. My Cell Phone Had No Service. We Were Told That The Water Was Not Safe To Drink. We Drank Only Bottled Water From The Ship. Toilet Paper Was Not Available In The Terminal Bathroom. The Bathroom Was Not Clean And Should Only Be Used In The Case Of A Severe Emergency. The Bathroom Was Clean With Toilet Paper In The Tropicana Club. This Was A More Upscale Facility. It Was Necessary To Carry Toilet Paper Or Tissues With You When Traveling In Cuba. 

Throughout Our Cruise The Ship Played Latin Music, Served Cuban Food, Offered Cuba Souvenirs Including Rum And Cigars. The Cuba Experience Followed Us Back Onto The Ship. 

We Departed At Noon On Wednesday. By Far An Incredible Experience. I Am Looking Forward To Returning To Havana, Cuba In The Future! 

Monday, October 2, 2017

National Plan A Cruise Month 2017


AMA WATERWAYS - Free Pre-Paid Gratuities On Select 2017 & 2018 Sailings In Europe And Asia

AMERICAN CRUISE LINE - Columbia And Snake River Cruise • $ 800 Off Per Stateroom On The 3/24/2018 Or 3/31/2018 Columbia And Snake River Cruise New Orleans Routh Trip Cruise • $800 Off Per Stateroom On The 3/10/2018 Or 3/17/2018 New Orleans Round Trip Cruise

AVALON WATERWAYS - Europe River Cruises: • Get $299 Air Plus SAVE $2,500 Per Couple On Select 2018 Avalon Waterways’ Europe River Cruises

AZAMARA CLUB CRUISES - $1,000 In Choice Air Cruise Credit Per Couple A Complimentary Double Upgrade From A Club Interior To A Club Veranda Stateroom

CARNIVAL - Great Rates + $25 Non-Refundable Onboard Credit Per Person/ $50 Non-Refundable Onboard Credit Per Stateroom Depending On Stateroom Booked

CELEBRITY CRUISES – Go Better Perks: Classic Beverage Package • Prepaid Tips • Unlimited WI-FI • $150 To Spend On Board. Plus Friends And Family In Your Stateroom Get Half Off Current 3rd & 4th Cruise Fares.

CRYSTAL CRUISES - $100 Per Person Shipboard Credit On Select 2018 Departures (Valid For New Bookings Only For Both Double And Single Guests)

CUNARD - Book A Select 2018 Voyage By November 30, 2017 To Take Advantage Of Our Three For All Offer. Free Upgrades, Free Gratuities & $ 150.00 Reduced Deposit

DISNEY CRUISE LINE - Enjoy $ 100 Onboard Credit Per Stateroom On 7-Night Caribbean Cruises Departing February – March 2018 From Port Canaveral, Florida Aboard Disney Fantasy

HOLLAND AMERICA – Up To $ 200.00 Onboard Spending Money Per Stateroom On Select Sailings When You Book A 7 – 9 Day Cruise – Up To $ 300.00 Onboard Spending Money Per Stateroom On Select Sailings When You Book A 10 To 14 Day Cruise

MSC CRUISES - The Deal: Save 50% Off Brochure Rates For 7+ Night Sailings In The Caribbean Between December 2017 And March 2019 On MSC Divina And MSC Seaside, PLUS Get The Following Bonus Perks: Interior Staterooms: $50 Onboard Credit Per Stateroom - Ocean View Staterooms: $50 Onboard Credit Per Stateroom + FREE Surfer Wifi Package - Balcony Staterooms: $50 Onboard Credit Per Stateroom + FREE Surfer Wifi Package* + FREE Mealtime Drinks - Aurea And MSC Yacht Club: $150 Onboard Credit Per Stateroom + FREE Surfer Wifi Package + Unlimited Drinks

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE - Reduced Deposits For Mini-Suites & Below

OCEANIA CRUISES - $ 200 Shipboard Credit Per Stateroom For All Sailings From January 1 To March 31, 2018 (Veranda Category And Above) • $100 Shipboard Credit Per Stateroom For All Sailings From April 1, 2018 To March 31, 2019 (Veranda Category And Above)

PAUL GAUGUIN - Book A 2017 Or 2018 Voyage With Paul Gauguin Cruises During “Plan A Cruise Month” And Receive A $100 Per Person Shipboard Credit

PRINCESS CRUISES - “3 For Free” Cruise Sale For Guests Booking Select Six To 60-Day Cruises And Cruise Tours Sailing From Summer 2018 To Spring 2019. And For The First Time Ever, All Guests In A Stateroom Get To Enjoy All “3 For FREE” Has To Offer. EVERYONE In A Stateroom Enjoys: • ‡FREE Stateroom Location Upgrade • ††FREE Gratuities • ‡‡FREE Onboard Spending Money

REGENT SEVEN SEAS CRUISES - $ 200 Shipboard Credit For Any New Booking Made

ROYAL CARIBBEAN - 50% Off Your Second Guest And Kids Sail For Free On Select Sailings. You’ll Also Score An Early Booking Bonus Up To $100 To Spend At Sea When You Book At Least Six Months Prior To Sailing

UNIWORLD - For A Limited Time, Enjoy A $100 Per Person Savings On Your Next Uniworld River Cruise Booking

WINDSTAR CRUISES - Windstar Cruises Will Offer Guests Who Book Any Sailing Of 14 Days Or More A Per Person SBC, Including: 0 – 13 Day Cruises: $ 0 Per Person 14 – 21 Day Cruises: $ 400 Per Person  22-29 Day Cruises: $ 600 Per Person 30+ Day Cruises: $ 1,000 Per Person

Saturday, July 29, 2017

10 Reasons To Travel To Cuba This Year

10 Reasons to Visit Cuba this Year

Miles of white sand beaches, small tucked away towns, striking architecture, clear blue waters and the best cigars in the world are all found in the lovely country of Cuba. With an ease on travel restrictions for Americans to this Island we have conjured up the top ten reasons you need to visit Cuba this year. From tours of working tobacco farms to world heritage sites to American classic cars that take you back to the 1950’s visitors will feel as though they have stepped back in time when they enter this country. The people of Cuba are really the treasure of this island with their lively culture, beautiful creativity and welcoming hospitality. If you are a return tourist to Cuba; you know just how amazing it is and perhaps this article will uncover a few new things to discover. For the Cuba newbie’s; get ready to explore how fabulous this country is with the top ten reasons to visit Cuba this year.
10. Get There Before the Crowds                                              
Traveling to Cuba got a little easier for Americans this year when the Obama administration announced a thaw in relations between the two countries. Besides reestablishing the American Embassy in Havana the Obama Government has relaxed the travel restrictions to Cuba. Although at this time Americans are still required to travel with a tour group, it is expected that in the future they will have the same travel rights as everyone else into the country. What does this mean for tourism? It means that more and more tourists are going to discover this magical island and all that it has to offer. The time to get to Cuba is now, before the crowds and before the country is forced into losing some of their culture in order to please the tourists. Part of Cuba’s charm is the lack of giant ritzy hotels, overcrowded beaches and unauthentic restaurants. Cuba stands for authenticity and culture and friendly people and the more tourists that visit the less likely that becomes. So why visit Cuba this year? To get the true experience of an unforgettable country that offers true genuine hospitality, breathtaking landscapes and incredible people.

9. Oak Aged Rum                                                                      

One of the most famous products to come out of Cuba besides tobacco is the sweet delicious Rum. A country made rich by sugarcane it was only a matter of time before the Cubans discovered that the thick sweet molasses; a by-product of sugarcane could be used to make rum. Like the country itself, the history of rum is long and tumultuous. In 1862 The Bacardi Rum Company was formed and for almost a hundred years was the most well-known rum in Cuba; that is until the Castro government seized all property and forced the family into exile. Today the popular Havana Club is found everywhere on this Island whereas Bacardi now operates out of Bermuda. The Mojito, The Cuba Libre and the Daiquiri all originated in this country and can be found almost everywhere you go. Finding the perfect and best one is a challenge a lot of visitors choose to take. Visits to the Havana Club Rum Museum and the Factory Bocoy are just a couple stops on any rum tour. The original Bacardi Rum Factory still exists in Santiago de Cuba and although tours are not allowed inside, it is worth a visit to the grand grounds for tastings and souvenirs. It would be a travesty to leave Cuba without trying at least a few types of rums and is just one more reason to visit this beautiful country.

8. Historical Heritage 
Cuba is home to nine UNESCO world heritage sites; places that are of special cultural or physical significance and therefore are protected and preserved. This small country boasts sites throughout and some of these places are special enough to make visitors come just for them. Old Havana and its fortifications are at the top of this list with many historical landmarks, interesting architecture and private restaurants on rooftops of mansions. San Pedro de la Roca Castle in Santiago de Cuba is one of the most complete and well-preserved Spanish-American defense fortifications and a stunning visual fort that protected the port of Santiago. Desembarco del Granma National Park is unique in that it is named for the Yacht that carried Castro and the others to overthrow Fulgencio Batista. The park features beautiful cliffs, waterfalls and terraces. The other six heritage sites are just as fascinating and well educated travelers will delight in finding a country that offers an array of sites in such a small area. Come to Cuba and cross nine more world heritage sites off your bucket list!

7. Cigars
Cuba is often called the land of tobacco as tobacco is both grown and harvested in several regions of the island. There’s little disagreement that the best cigars in the world come from Cuba and even if you are not a smoker the urge to find out how and why these cigars are so good is overwhelming. The area of Pinar del Río is home to the country’s top tobacco plantations; ironically enough the area is also one of the top eco-tourist attractions of Cuba. The 2hr drive from Havana to Pinar del Rio will be well worth it as you can tour a working tobacco plantation and puff on an authentic cigar in Casa del Tabaco; a large welcoming cigar shop with something for everyone. Visiting a cigar factory is a must and perhaps the best place to do this is to head back to the city of Havana where you will come eye to eye with the workers that spend their lives in these factories making each cigar perfect. Tobacco has been and will continue to be a huge part of Cuba’s economy and Cuba offers the chance for outsiders to experience a behind-the-scenes look at how cigars are produced.
6. Music and Art
Cubans were born to play instruments and create beautiful art. Throughout the country there is a background noise that follows you wherever you go, any day of the week, anytime of the day. That background noise is the music that flows so easily from the local musicians who play anytime, anywhere. From opera houses to salsa clubs to jazz bars to the musical trio serenading you at the beach; Cubans love their music and before long you will be tapping your foot to the beat wherever you are. Art is another way Cubans love to share their sense of creativity, from the colorful murals and tiles on the houses to the vendors on the streets selling their paintings. It is a common scene that unfolds as a painter sets up at a local café and starts painting the breathtaking landscape. The markets and shops are full of locally produced art often at a fraction of the cost. Music, art, laughter and dancing are all just a part of life here on this Island.
5. The Incredible Cars

Cuban streets are literally filled with American style cars from the 1950’s. If you love old cars Cuba is the place to go because the country is literally a rolling car museum. Back in 1960 when Fidel Castro took power there was an embargo put in place stopping all American imports into Cuba. Since then innovative Cubans have been finding ways to keep their prized American classic cars running. It is here where one will find an array of 1950’s convertibles that have been scratched, bumped, painted and put back together. Lift the hood of a Chevrolet and you might find a Russian built engine providing the power, watch a Ford pass by with a Buick grill on the front; none of this out of the ordinary. There are no junkyards in Cuba and everything that may have once been junk has been turned into something useful on a car. The taxi drivers take pride in keeping their vintage wheels looking good and visitors will often see them shining up the trim and mirrors before picking someone up. The chance to take incredible pictures and take a ride in a 1958 Oldsmobile convertible you thought didn’t exist anymore is absolutely reason enough to visit Cuba this year.
4. The Cuban People

Visitors to this island often say that the people of Cuba made their trip complete; from their outright friendly nature to their genuine hospitality it is hard to find such welcoming locals. Cuba is unique in that it is not overrun with tourists (yet) and perhaps that is why the locals are so willing to be open, honest and genuinely happy to see the tourists who do make it here. From opening up their houses to tourists to join them for a traditional seafood meal to jamming with them on the beach they are truly one of a kind. Cuba is truly a melting pot of different cultures and races accepting all sorts of different colors and creeds without judgment and is an excellent example of how cultural diversity can work. Through the hardships that they have faced these people still remain kind, hardworking, friendly and welcoming. Expect to go to Cuba and make new friends, hear about their lives and country and meet the entire family. If for some crazy reason you don’t love the white sand beaches, the incredible music and the interesting architecture; you will most definitely fall in love with the people.

3. The ArchitectureThere is nothing boring about the architecture in Cuba as it assumes a variety of styles, colors, ideas and backgrounds. It is much like the melting pot of culture that makes up this country. In the early 16th century Spanish settlers adopted their style of architecture to fit the climate and lifestyle of Cuba; creating grand covered porches, metal bars over window frames to allow the breeze in and multi color glass panes above doorways to diffuse the sunlight. In the 19th century the neoclassic look was brought to Cuba and throughout the island visitors will find traces of this style in colonnaded avenues, lavished auditoriums and gold-leafed mosaics. Electric architecture came to life in the 1920’s with Art Deco constructions, fairy-tale palaces and mock mansions. Wherever you travel in Cuba, whichever towns and cities you visit you are sure to be witness to more than one type of architecture and that is the beauty of this country. Subjected to the eyes of the artist; this mix of styles makes Cuba what it is today. 

2. The Small Towns

We all know the bigger cities of Cuba; Havana, Varadero, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and so on but what about the smaller less known hidden gems of Cuba? Beckoning visitors to the island are such towns as Trinidad and Baracoa. Trinidad is a picture perfect town with colonial style pastel architecture, quiet cobblestone streets and town square. There are fascinating museums, discos at every turn; even one located in a cave and pop up pizza shops that open for one hour at lunch and then shut down. The beautiful palaces, the white sand beach a few miles out and the clear waters make this small town a true gem of Cuba. Baracoa on the other hand is the darker side of Cuba, it’s remote location on the far southeast coast past Guantanamo Bay, over a mountain range of tropical rainforest and down a twisty road make it rather hard to reach. The surrounding hills, fantastic waterfalls, jagged black coastline and black sand beach make for an incredible setting. Great food, drink, dancing, kayaking and trekking is found here where the air is hotter and the sea is rougher. Step out from the comfort zone of the typical tourist areas and discover what the real Cuba has to offer.

1. Miles of White Sand Beaches

Cuba is home to more than 300 beaches that are spread across the Northern Atlantic Ocean and its Southern Caribbean Coastline with endless miles of soft white sand and breathtaking ocean views. Head to Guardalavaca; Cuba’s prettiest resort area full of lush tropical vegetation, sparkling white sand and turquoise waters. The coastline here is dotted with cove beaches and perfect waters for swimming. In Cayo Jutías escape the tourist area and head along sands dotted with driftwood sculptures on your way to Starfish Beach. Here visitors are treated to enormous burnt-orange colored starfish in the shallow waters. For those visitors who are looking for a bit of colonial culture with their sun and sand; Trinidad is the perfect destination and Playa Ancon is the beautifully large white sand beach located here. This beach is great for diving, relaxing and as a base for exploring the town. For serious divers who are looking for a beach that offers tranquility and numerous diving spots; Maria La Gorda Beach located on the Guanahacabibes Peninsula is where you will want to head. With the largest colony of black coral, the richest biodiversity in Cuba and thirty nine scuba diving spots, the opportunities are endless.  From local hangouts to family friendly beaches to miles of privacy; there is a beach for everyone in Cuba.

Article Written By Lindsay MacNevin On A Website Called Escape Here. com 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Top 10 Reasons To Upgrade To Luxury

1. Pre- and Post-Cruise Pampering

Every traveler wants convenient ground transportation from the airport to port and back. Unlike mass-market lines that generally offer bus transportation, high-end lines feature a range of options, from shared vans and buses to taxis and private luxury cars or SUVs.
Luxury lines also tend to have robust pre- and post-cruise land packages so you can make the most of your vacation experience. (Cost is additional to your cruise fare.) Silversea in particular offers fantastic options with its "Silver Shore Land Adventures," which take you to places like Australia's Outback, Southern Africa's game reserves, Peru's Machu Picchu and India's Taj, among other destinations.
And some lines, like Regent, even offer a free pre-cruise stay in a luxury hotel in the embarkation city for passengers booked in a Concierge Suite or higher.
Regent Suite

2. Luxury Accommodations

Here's something to love about luxury ships: Most offer all-suite accommodations with ocean views (no inside cabins!), and a majority of staterooms have a balcony. Easy access to the outdoors is especially important when you're sailing Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Chile, Norway, French Polynesia or anywhere where you just can't get enough of the spectacular views. (Psst! Look in the dresser drawer in your cabin and you'll probably find a pair of binoculars to use throughout your voyage. It's just a tiny example of how high-end lines try to exceed your expectations.)
All luxury ships offer staterooms and suites that tend to be quite spacious and feature niceties like a dressing table with magnifying mirror; a full tub and shower in a bathroom that's generally decked out in granite or marble; black-out curtains; and high-end toiletries from purveyors such as Bulgari, L'Occitane, Ferragamo and Molton Brown.

3. Attentive Service

Luxe lines such as Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea take pride in their crew. In fact, these lines have rigorous training programs for their crew members, much as butlers and stewardesses do in their respective industries. Each crew member is trained on the fine art of intuition, so he or she can often discern a passenger's desire before being asked. That might mean drawing a bath prior to your return on a busy port day, or cleaning your dress shoes on the morning of formal night. Need those sunglasses cleaned or your luggage polished? These tasks are proactively tended to -- no need to ask. In addition, you can bet that luxury cruise staff members will do whatever they can to make your voyage special and personal. On SeaDream yachts, for example, cabin stewards, bartenders and waiters seem to magically know your name from the moment you set foot onboard.

4. Included Gratuities

Despite the high level of personalized service you'll encounter, you are not required to tip on luxury lines such as Azamara, Crystal, Paul Gauguin, Regent, SeaDream, Seabourn and Silversea. Gratuities have already been built into the fare. Of course, if someone goes above and beyond, feel free to offer something extra by making a donation to the crew fund at Reception.

5. Free Beverages

On most of the luxury lines (think Azamara, Crystal, Regent, Paul Gauguin, SeaDream, Seabourn and Silversea), there is no charge for alcoholic beverages, premium coffee beverages or soft drinks -- at the bar, in the restaurants and lounges, or even in your stateroom, where your mini-bar will be stocked with a bottle of wine or Champagne, beer and soft drinks. It's true that if you have expensive tastes (for example, the only thing you can drink is Chateau Mouton Rothschild or Opus One), you'll pay extra -- maybe a lot extra. But most people don't have that problem.
Luxury cruise lines also cater to caffeine junkies. These lines provide premium coffee, cappuccino and espresso for free -- in the restaurants and in dedicated cafes like Seabourn Square, the coffee bar on all Seabourn ships. Many suites aboard luxury ships are equipped with coffee makers. For example, Silversea outfits Silver Suites and higher with Illy espresso machines, and Regent puts them in Concierge Suites and higher.

Food at Silk Road on Crystal Symphony

6. Fine Dining

Many renowned chefs have teamed with luxury lines to develop memorable dining experiences. Most recently, chef Thomas Keller -- who has multiple Michelin-starred restaurants in the United States -- partnered with Seabourn to offer The Grill by Thomas Keller on all of its ships. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa has a longstanding relationship with Crystal Cruises and created the Japanese-centric Silk Road, which is a popular favorite aboard Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. Silversea's Le Champagne is a member of the luxury hotel-and-restaurant global fellowship Relais & Chateaux, while Parisian chef Jean-Pierre Vigato developed signature cuisine for Paul Gauguin Cruises. Oceania Cruises also has a famous French chef, Jacques Pepin, at the helm as its executive culinary director and the mind behind several of its restaurants, including Jacques (aboard Oceania's newest ships, Marina and Riviera) and Jacques Bistro aboard Sirena.
Beyond famous chefs, you'll find incredibly accommodating maitre d's who are happy to fulfill your special requests. Just give the chef a bit of a heads-up, and he or she can create a magical meal to your specifications -- be it a feast of king crab legs, Indian biryani, Indonesian nasi goreng or just your favorite flavor of homemade ice cream.

7. Less-Traveled Itineraries

Smaller ships, including those in the luxury category, are able to visit places their bigger counterparts can't or don't. In Alaska, that means spots including Petersburg, Haines and Misty Fjords. In the Western Mediterranean, expect more exclusive ports such as Portofino and Capri. In Southeast Asia, look for exotic stops like Indonesia's Komodo Island. Another trick: When luxury ships visit very popular ports, such as Greece's Santorini, they usually plan it for a day and time when the village isn't overrun with tourists from the mega-ships.
In a growing trend, luxury lines also tend to overnight in popular ports so travelers can get a real sense of the place and enjoy both daytime and nighttime shore excursions.

Windstar passengers snorkeling in Bora Bora

8. Free Shore Excursions and Exclusive Events

Everyone appreciates a freebie, and some luxury cruise lines -- such as Regent Seven Seas and Viking Ocean Cruises -- offer free shore tours in every port. Likewise, the yacht Crystal Esprit also packages a shore excursion in each port into its cruise fares. (Crystal's traditional cruise ships do not include shore excursions in their fares.)
Even when luxury cruise lines don't offer complimentary tours, they still place an emphasis on developing special shore events for passengers. In addition to regular paid excursions, lines including Azamara and Seabourn host complimentary outings. Azamara takes passengers on an "AzAmazing Evening" once per cruise. Experiences range from a visit to the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, to a polo match and reception in St. Tropez, France, and a festive gala at the Titanic Belfast museum in Northern Ireland. Seabourn also offers one free event on certain itineraries; its most famous complimentary excursion is a lovely evening of classical music at the Odeon theater at Ephesus in Turkey. If you're sailing with Windstar Cruises, you'll find free private beach parties or cultural events on select sailings.
And the perks don't stop with shore-sponsored tours. Lines such as Silversea and Azamara offer free transportation from its ships to most town centers so you can explore independently.

9. Incredible Shore Experiences

Sailing aboard a luxury ship often gives you access to experiences that aren't available to the general public. Lines work had to forge connections with tour providers on land that can really "wow" passengers. Crystal Cruises, for example, programs shore tours called Crystal Boutique Adventures and Crystal Overland Adventures. The tours aren't cheap, but you'll be able to say you've flown at twice the speed of sound in a MiG fighter jet over Moscow or spied a mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Oceania Cruises' Culinary Discovery Tours are limited to 18 people and are all about discovering the cuisine of a region in an intimate way. The ship's master chef accompanies these tours, which could include a visit to a local market, winery, cooking school or restaurant.
Well-dressed passengers in Seabourn's Veranda restaurant

10. Getting to Know People

On big ships, especially those with freestyle dining and alternative restaurants, you often meet people once  and never see them again. On a smaller ship, you tend to be thrown together more easily and more often. It's easy to meet people when you join a trivia team or small-group shore tour, or gather for complimentary drinks around the bar or coffee cafe. Many cruisers make friendships that last long after the journey.

Article Written By     

Saturday, July 15, 2017

11 Reasons Why Travel Makes You a Happier Person

Travel is good for lots of things, but it can also increase mental well-being - and not just in the short-term. Whether you’re traveling for business, on a one-week family holiday, or have sold everything to pursue a life on the road, traveling can make you a happier person by building self-confidence, providing new experiences and memories, breaking routine and allowing you to meet people from all over the world.

Keith Jenkins, founder of the luxury travel blog Velvet Escape and prolific traveler, said:

I feel happy when I’m gaining new experiences and insights, and challenging my boundaries. Travel is the perfect catalyst for happiness, as it has allowed me to experience the natural, cultural and man-made wonders of the world. Being in foreign lands, it also continuously forces me to step out of my comfort zone - a great confidence-builder. In my book, travel is the best school there is: I’ve learned so much about the world and, most importantly, about myself.

Marilyn Tam, entrepreneur and author of The Happiness Choice, was travelling when I emailed her to ask her take on happiness and travel:
I’m travelling right now and yes, I am indeed very happy. I am in Myanmar and learning and appreciating another culture.’ Tam worked with Minister of Home and Culture in Myanmar and the first Prime Minister of Bhutan to introduce the idea of the International Day of Happiness to the UN, an annual day which this year falls on 20th March. ‘Travel expands our capacity for wonder, joy and appreciation of the amazing diversity on our lovely planet. It makes me very happy indeed. If I didn’t travel, I may never have had the opportunity to meet the Minister and, who knows, maybe the International Day of Happiness may not have happened yet.
So the next time you find yourself heading out on a shopping spree to lift your mood, why not put that money towards a vacation instead? Here are 11 ways in which travel can make you happier:

There comes a time when everyone must deal with an unexpected situation when they’re on the road. Even if you plan your trip to the letter, things can take a surprise turn. Whatever happens, there is a way around the problem and knowing that you can deal with these situations is a big boost to self-confidence and therefore your happiness.

When locals are happy, smiling and friendly, it has an immediate knock-on effect. I found the people of Cambodia and Laos to be notably friendly and cheerful, despite the relative poorness of these countries and the former in particular having a very recent traumatic history. When faced with those big beaming smiles, it’s hard to be annoyed at the hassling you might experience; putting that knee-jerk irritation to one side instantly lifts your mood and is a good habit to take home.

Being away from things we often take for granted — family, close friends, home — makes us appreciate them more. Calling home isn’t a chore, but something to look forward to: no one enjoys listening to your envy-inducing travel stories more than your parents, so it’s the perfect excuse to wax lyrical about whatever place with which you’ve just fallen in love.

It’s much easier to make new friends on the road than it is at home, where people are less inclined to chat to strangers on a bus or strike up conversation in a bar (at least, that’s true of London). When people are away from home, there seem to be less boundaries to cross and making friends becomes much easier, whether it’s a local curious to know where you’ve come from or a fellow travellers keen to have someone with whom to enjoy a beer or share a taxi. Social interactions make us happier and increasing our social circle means that we’re talking more and meeting different, interesting people, which hopefully means we’re learning more, too.

Social media can be used for both good and bad, but it’s healthy for everyone to have a break from the internet every once in a while. Wi-fi is so prevalent that it’s hard to turn off and you can quite often find yourself tuning out whatever amazing place you’re in with your face in your phone, checking Twitter, scrolling through your Facebook feed, checking your emails... stopTurn it off. Better yet, find somewhere with no reception and no wi-fi so that you don’t have a choice. It’s liberating and allows you to better enjoy the ‘here and now’, which nicely ties into the following point.

Traveling gives us breathing space that is often lost in our usual day-to-day existence. Having a moment to take advantage of peace and quiet and to simply ‘be’ allows us to let go of stress and tension and just enjoy being in the moment — a key focus of meditation and a practice you can take home with you. If you’re traveling with a partner, it’s a chance to spend time with only each other for company, which is a thought that probably shouldn’t fill you with dread.

Whether it’s learning a new skill such as cooking Thai food or learning a new language, travel presents ways in which we can further our knowledge and education. Learning makes our brains more active, which psychologists have found increases our level of happiness - particularly when learning something we find enjoyable.

Whilst it’s a bit of myth that you need to be on a sun-lounger for twelve hours to feel the full effects of vitamin D (20 minutes of exposure to sunlight is enough), there’s no doubt that in the same way that the cold and dark of winter makes us unhappy (feeling the effects of seasonal affective disorder or SAD), sunshine and warmth generally put us in a much better mood. A beach break is a great way to relax and enjoy the health benefits of a warm climate. Admittedly, this is more of a short-term boost, but a healthy glow makes everyone feels better and lasts for a few weeks after your trip is over.

You don’t need to be a ‘travel bore’ to have a few interesting stories to tell. Traveling throws up a lot of bizarre, funny and sometimes serious situations that relating back to people will make you — at least — feel interesting. Making someone laugh is an easy way to instantly bump up your self-esteem, so hold on to those embarrassing memories — no matter how much they might make you cringe.

For most people, travelling is about the new experiences. I will always remember that moment of awe when I stood watching the sunlight leak out over the rainforest around the ancient temple of Borobudur in Java at sunrise, the sky turned a striking shade of violet: it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Recalling memories of happiness can sustain a feeling of contentment long after the moment has passed, and new experiences are memories that can stick with you forever.

Aside from making you happier in the short-term, traveling can make you a much more contented, happy and relaxed person in the long run, too. Of course, most travel enthusiasts are constantly planning their next trip, but when we’re at home or past a point of being able to jet off whenever we like, past travels leave us with the memories and personal skills - such as confidence, broad-mindedness, friends and a more worldly perspective — that make people happy. And that’s why travel makes you a happier person.

Article Written By THE BLOG