PHOTO: Author Jason Leppert in the driver’s seat. (Photo by Jason Leppert)
Cuba has been off limits to cruise travel from the U.S. for decades as ships have frequently come and gone, skirting the island nation on Caribbean itineraries but not being permitted to stop there. Now, the forbidden fruit is available to taste, and it is sweet. Fathom is one of the most convenient ways for American citizens to do so, sailing roundtrip from Miami, Florida.
Cuba is not only a singular port-of-call on Fathom, but the entire focus of its biweekly seven-day cruises, visiting three destinations: Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. And Havana is an overnight port that facilitates the most cultural immersion, day and night. Mostly, the program is already set out for guests with extensive shore excursions included in the cost of the cruise, but there is still plenty of time on your own to reserve additional evening experiences or get in other people-to-people activities throughout the day.
Remember, outright tourism is still not permitted. As such, Tara Russell, president of Fathom, said, “Right now our focus in Cuba is around (those) 12 authorized forms of travel approved by U.S., OK with Cuba. And it’s really about beginning a series of learnings with the Cuban people.” In Havana, that translates to a walking tour on one day and a bus tour on the next with opportunities to engage with locals.
The briefings onboard, presented by the expert Impact Guides, give a very good overview of what to expect in ports, but a more detailed excursion timeline would additionally better inform guests. Traditional shore excursions are more specifically described to include exact expectations and schedules.
Compared to other ports in the Caribbean, Havana is definitely grander in scale. Cuba is the largest island in the region, after all. The capital city’s character gives off a vibe that is almost a cross between New Orleans and San Juan, Puerto Rico, particularly in regards to its eclectic architectural patina and live music spilling into the streets. Locals are very friendly, and Americans may feel somewhat at home when seeing classic domestic cars rolling down the streets.