Heading to Cuba by cruise ship

By Tony Leisner
This item appears on page 12 of the September 2015 issue.
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A local newspaper mentioned a cruise ship that travels between Montego Bay, Jamaica, and Cuba, making five landings in Cuba.

I went on the website, www.yourcubacruise.com, in April and booked a cruise with ease through Cuba Cruise (phone the Toronto, Ontario, office at 855/364-4999), selecting one of the few balcony suites for CAD1,414 per person, double occupancy, which worked out to $2,318 for both my wife and me. Shore excursions and booze are not included, but onboard meals and services are. Air miles covered our airfare to Jamaica.

Our 7-day cruise will depart Jan. 15, 2016, from Montego Bay. We booked so far ahead because the ship, Louis Crystal1, sails this trip only in winter months and we were too late for 2015. 

Given the new relationship between the US and Cuba, things may change. If land travel by Americans really picks up, there won’t be enough hotel rooms to accommodate everyone, so booking the cruise seemed sensible.

Things got a little tricky when I learned that Americans traveling with Cuba Cruise must show proof of health insurance that covers travel in Cuba or they wouldn’t be allowed to board. As I understand, any health insurance policy issued or underwritten by a US company cannot pay the health providers in Cuba without violating the US trade embargo against Cuba, so US health insurance cannot be used in Cuba.2

Cuba Cruise didn’t know much about this, so we went to www.squaremouth.com and input the information — where, when, how much the trip cost and our ages. That produced 14 companies offering trip insurance for Cuba travel, including the standard things like trip-cancellation, trip-delay, repatriation-of-remains (gasp!) and health coverage. 

However, when I called one of the companies, they didn’t know if the coverage actually would pay Cuban health providers or if we would have to pay out of pocket and seek reimbursement. We purchased just the trip-cancellation coverage anyway ($313).

I wrote back to Cuba Cruise by email, and they suggested Caribic Vacations (Montego Bay, Jamaica; email info@caribicvacations.com or visit www.caribicvacations.com), from whom we bought health insurance from a British company they represent that is able to pay Cuban health providers directly. The cost was $40 for my (younger) wife and $64 for me. We will also use them for pre- and post-cruise transfers to/from our hotel. 

Also, for American travelers, the last item on the list was to use the link3 on the Cuba Cruise website to, as it says, “Register with ‘Cuba/US People to People Partnership’ to receive a letter authorizing you to travel to Cuba under the new General License for ‘educational activity’.” This required “a tax deductible affiliation contribution of $754 to the Fund for Reconciliation & Development.”

The letter is not required by Cuba but may be helpful coming back into the US, even though we will return from Jamaica and not directly from Cuba. 

Unlike on [group] land travel with a “People to People” program, we will just be ordinary travelers on the shore excursions and will wander on our own.5

I would like to hear details, particularly about health insurance coverage, from other travelers heading to, or just back from, Cuba.

TONY LEISNER

Tarpon Springs, FL

1Soon after Mr. Leisner booked his cruise, Celestyal Cruises (based in Greece) took over the operation of Cuba Cruise, changing the name of the ship from “Louis Crystal” to “Celestyal Crystal.”

2In the Cuba Q&A section in this month’s “Boarding Pass” column, beginning on page 2, see the final answer, which has to do with travel insurance.

3At press time, the link was under reconstruction, but American travelers booking a cruise with Cuba Cruise will find the People to People authorization from FFRD at the webpage http://form.jotform.us/form/51693819046160.

4The suggested contribution to FFRD is now $95. 

 5To read what the Fund for Reconciliation & Development has to say about how much freedom US citizens have on excursions within Cuba while on a Cuba Cruise trip, see the “Boarding Pass” column.

In a follow-up email on July 15, Mr. Leisner wrote, “In the months since I first wrote to ITN, the content of the Cuba Cruise website has changed, as have the deals. The prices have risen and now include shore excursions. Considering the state of flux, be sure to stay abreast of Cuba Cruise’s website content.”

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

A local newspaper mentioned a cruise ship that travels between Montego Bay, Jamaica, and Cuba, making five landings in Cuba.

I went on the website, www.yourcubacruise.com, in April and booked a cruise with ease through Cuba Cruise (phone the Toronto, Ontario, office at 855/364-4999), selecting one of the few balcony suites for CAD1,414 per person, double occupancy, which worked out to $2,318 for both my wife and me. Shore excursions and booze are not included, but onboard meals and services are. Air miles covered our airfare to Jamaica.

Our 7-day cruise will depart Jan. 15, 2016, from Montego Bay. We booked so far ahead because the ship, Louis Crystal1, sails this trip only in winter months and we were too late for 2015. 

Given the new relationship between the US and Cuba, things may change. If land travel by Americans really picks up, there won’t be enough hotel rooms to accommodate everyone, so booking the cruise seemed sensible.

Things got a little tricky when I learned that Americans traveling with Cuba Cruise must show proof of health insurance that covers travel in Cuba or they wouldn’t be allowed to board. As I understand, any health insurance policy issued or underwritten by a US company cannot pay the health providers in Cuba without violating the US trade embargo against Cuba, so US health insurance cannot be used in Cuba.2

Cuba Cruise didn’t know much about this, so we went to www.squaremouth.com and input the information — where, when, how much the trip cost and our ages. That produced 14 companies offering trip insurance for Cuba travel, including the standard things like trip-cancellation, trip-delay, repatriation-of-remains (gasp!) and health coverage. 

However, when I called one of the companies, they didn’t know if the coverage actually would pay Cuban health providers or if we would have to pay out of pocket and seek reimbursement. We purchased just the trip-cancellation coverage anyway ($313).

I wrote back to Cuba Cruise by email, and they suggested Caribic Vacations (Montego Bay, Jamaica; email info@caribicvacations.com or visit www.caribicvacations.com), from whom we bought health insurance from a British company they represent that is able to pay Cuban health providers directly. The cost was $40 for my (younger) wife and $64 for me. We will also use them for pre- and post-cruise transfers to/from our hotel. 

Also, for American travelers, the last item on the list was to use the link3 on the Cuba Cruise website to, as it says, “Register with ‘Cuba/US People to People Partnership’ to receive a letter authorizing you to travel to Cuba under the new General License for ‘educational activity’.” This required “a tax deductible affiliation contribution of $754 to the Fund for Reconciliation & Development.”

The letter is not required by Cuba but may be helpful coming back into the US, even though we will return from Jamaica and not directly from Cuba. 

Unlike on [group] land travel with a “People to People” program, we will just be ordinary travelers on the shore excursions and will wander on our own.5

I would like to hear details, particularly about health insurance coverage, from other travelers heading to, or just back from, Cuba.

TONY LEISNER

Tarpon Springs, FL

1Soon after Mr. Leisner booked his cruise, Celestyal Cruises (based in Greece) took over the operation of Cuba Cruise, changing the name of the ship from “Louis Crystal” to “Celestyal Crystal.”

2In the Cuba Q&A section in this month’s “Boarding Pass” column, beginning on page 2, see the final answer, which has to do with travel insurance.

3At press time, the link was under reconstruction, but American travelers booking a cruise with Cuba Cruise will find the People to People authorization from FFRD at the webpage http://form.jotform.us/form/51693819046160.

4The suggested contribution to FFRD is now $95. 

 5To read what the Fund for Reconciliation & Development has to say about how much freedom US citizens have on excursions within Cuba while on a Cuba Cruise trip, see the “Boarding Pass” column.

In a follow-up email on July 15, Mr. Leisner wrote, “In the months since I first wrote to ITN, the content of the Cuba Cruise website has changed, as have the deals. The prices have risen and now include shore excursions. Considering the state of flux, be sure to stay abreast of Cuba Cruise’s website content.”