Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
Like so many Americans, I
was most anxious to visit Cuba as soon as such a trip became possible. As a journalist I was able to obtain a visa ,
and as an author of cruise guides my first choice was to see Cuba while
cruising. One of the first major cruise line to offer a Cuban cruise was Star
Clippers featuring a seven day itinerary from Cienfuegos to several Cuban
islands off the mainland.
Havana Air offered a one-hour flight from
Miami to Havana twice daily. Prior to meeting my cruise ship, I spent two days
in Havana. The city appeared to be in total disrepair, a far cry from its pre-Castro
glory days. All sidewalks were broken
and full of mud; the buildings for the most part looked like they were falling
apart; in place of grass there was dirt
and mud; items we are used to purchasing
in supermarkets and department stores
were not available anywhere; and a good meal in a restaurant was
difficult to find.
My educated young guide
typified the young Cubans. He extolled
the Casto brothers, and was proud of his city. He proclaimed its virtues
such as free education, free medical care, and the fact that the
government provided him with a job, even
if it was not the one he wanted. He did not miss such wordly luxuries as
McDonalds, Burger King, Colonel Sanders,
coca cola, pepsi, and most of the
non-prescription drugs, cosmetics and sundries we find in our drug stores.
On a positive note, the
section known as the Old City did have some well-preserved colonial buildings,
and the Cuban variety show, La Parisian
appearing at the Hotel National, was the most elaborate musical/dance
performance I had ever seen. It was nostalgic to see all of the Cuban
cars, mostly vintage 1940 and 1950 Chevys, Fords and Buicks.
The Star Flyer entered the cruise market in 1991 followed by
its sister ship Star Clipper in 1992, as the tallest sailing ships afloat,
with 36,000 square feet of Dacron sail flying from four towering masts, the
highest rising to 226 feet.
Eighty-five air-conditioned cabins accommodate 170
passengers. Six are inside cabins with upper and lower berths.. The remainder
measure from 118 to 129 square feet and are outside with a small porthole, two
twin beds that convert to a double bed, TVs that play in-house DVDs, radios, lighted dressing tables with a mirror
and stool, small closets with shelving and a built-in personal safe, cellular
satellite telephones with direct dialing, and small bathrooms with a shower,
toilet, hair dryer and mirror. The eight more expensive cabins are located on Main
and Sun Decks, are a wee bit larger. They include refrigerators, full windows,
and larger bathrooms with Jacuzzi tubs and shower attachments.
Public areas, entertainment, and onboard activities are limited. However, the officers permit passengers to participate
in hoisting and lowering the sails and steering the vessel. The captains and
other senior staff give nautical and port talks on deck daily. Other classes
are offered, such as knot tying, imaginative napkin and towel folding, and
dance lessons. In the evening there are
audience participation events and a talented musician provides music for
listening and dancing.
Atop ship on the Sun
Deck, surrounded by the sails are two small swimming pools and lounge
chairs. The Main Deck, below is the
location of six of the larger cabins, the piano bar lounge, the library, and
the sheltered outdoor tropical bar---the hub of activity on the ship. The
dining room and half of the remaining cabins are on Clipper Deck, the other
cabins are located on Commodore Deck.
The attractive dining room seats all passengers at an open
sitting. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, and a five-course dinner
features a choice of four entrees, including a vegetarian offering. There is a diverse selection of ethnic and continental
cuisines; and service throughout the
ship is warm, friendly and efficient. The atmosphere is casual, and jackets are
never required. At , the chef
prepares a special snack that is served in the piano bar.
On our cruise half of the passengers were German
and the other half from Great Britain. I was the lone American. This, of course
will change as restrictions on United States travel are relaxed. The age range of the passengers was between
50 and 75. On my prior cruises with Star Clippers the demographics was younger and mostly
was a great cruise for active and fit travelers who enjoy beaches, snorkeling,
water sports and sailing. It is not for
the physically challenged or anyone not sure of foot. Negotiating the many steps on the ship and on
the shaky ladder down to the tenders, as well as avoiding the many obstacles on the sun deck and elsewhere
on the ship are challenges in themselves.
Our first stop was Cayo Largo Del Sur, a small island off
the south coast of the northwestern part of the mainland, part of the Canarreos
Archipelago. Only two miles wide with a 16-mile strand of soft white sand lapped by crystal clear, warm
waters with no pebbles or sea life, this
is one of the most pristine and beautiful
beaches in the world. Thatched
umbrellas and beach chairs were available gratis There was a bar, facilities
and a dolphin pool at the marina where we tendered from the ship. A snorkeling
excursion by motor boat was also offered.
The next day we anchored off of Punta Frances, part of a
national marine park on Isla De La Juventud.
Here we were treated to another long white sand beach and an elaborate
barbeque provided by the ship. The
setting was enhanced by lush tropical foliage. Unlike on Cays Lago, the waters
contained sea grass, sea weed and various sea life fine for snorkeling but not
Our third visit was to Maria La Gorda in Pinar Del Rio
Provence. Maria La Gorda is a
national marine park with a small resort
and such visitor facilities as restaurants,
bars, a dive shop and heliport.
It is a favorite diving site with coral walls, canyons, tunnels and
underwater caves; however it is not ideal for swimming or for walking on the
beach since the sand is covered with seashells, and other sea debris, and large
jagged rocks line the entrance to the waters.
The ship offered three alternative excursions: snorkeling, biking and a
visit to a tobacco farm.
In route to Grand
Cayman, we enjoyed a relaxing day at sea. Passengers were given the opportunity
to hoist the sales, climb up to the crows nest and take photos of the ship from
off the tenders. A buffet lunch was served at the sheltered outdoor bar area.
We arrived in Georgetown, Grand Cayman in the early morning
and remained until 3 p.m. This popular cruise portÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s famous Seven Mile Beach is
considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Numerous luxury
hotels are located on its sandy shores; however they are not bunched together,
and the beach is still ideal for long leisurely walks, swimming and snorkeling. The islands capital, Georgetown offers one of
the best duty-free shopping in the Caribbean with a vast assortment of imported
Several excursions were offered including:
--a bicycle tour around
the island terminating at Tiki Beach for an hour and a half of swimming and
--a motor boat ride to
Stingray City, a sandbar on CaymanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s north shore where passengers can interact
with dozens of gentle stingrays;
--a bus and walking
tour around the island with visits to Mission House, a traditional two-story
Caymanian home, and to the islandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s luxuriant Botanical Garden.
--a submarine dive down
to the depths of 100 feet to explore the islandsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ underwater marine park.
Our last stop was to Cayo Rico. This small islet is also
part of the Canarreos Archipelago. We
tendered to a clear area of white sand beach, lounge chairs and umbrellas and a
small restaurant and bar with facilities. For 20 euros or Cuban dollars you
could purchase a large grilled lobster tail. For one euro more , you could get a beer. Unlike on Cayo
Largo there was only a limited area clear enough to enter the water which also
was too shallow for any real swimming. Most
of the beach was not desirable for walking.
The cruise line intends to continue this itinerary through
March of 2016. I would have preferred the cruise to have included an additional
Cuban city in lieu of one of the islands so as to be exposed to some of the
culture of the country. Apart from
taking a cruise on a Star Clipper sailing ship, many of the passengers were
attracted to the cruise in order to visit Cuba. Although most did spend a few
days in Havana, there is more to the country than its capital.
The sailing vessels
of Star Clipper Cruise Line offer a unique and enjoyable alternative for travelers
who seek a true sailing experience as
compared with cruising on motorized cruise ships.
by Steven Stern
author of--- Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation,
Stern's Guide to E uropean Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of