A Matter of Opinion

Not to knock housewives from Utah, except for Ms. Foster  who judges books by their title, or cover, or heaven knows, and pretty much killed sales of my CUBA book.  Maybe she thought it was a romance novel, or a cruise travel books with hints how to pour vodka into plastic water bottles and try to smuggle it on board, or how to travel around Cuba on $5 a day using US money, I don’t know.  I did do a little research on Amazon about her, her background, and what other books she had reviewed.  I promise, I did not judge her by her picture, nor that she reviewed the movie BAYWATCH and called it “A great movie!”  I’m sure if we’d met under different circumstances I would like her, which is the same way I felt about the woman who back ended my car, if you could forget about the damage.

I wrote this book primarily for the guests who travel with me on 10-day cruises around Cuba, so folks who’ve come to know Cuba.  I’ve never purchased my book on Amazon, but I have purchased a few hundred on Amazon’s Create Space company which I sell on board.  Uniformly the guests LOVE the book, judging it not just by the title or cover, but on the basis of their experiences in Cuba.

Ralph de la PortillaSo rather than just fret about Ms. Foster’s, in my humble opinion, warped review, I asked someone who really does know Cuba and know Cuba travel.  Ralph de la Portilla  describes himself as an “A B C” or an American-born Cuban.”  He is a professional travel guide, conducts gastronomic tours and other tours working with Little Havana Tours in Miami,  organizes group tours to Cuba, and has led tours for Collette, Classic Journeys and Road Scholar.  He holds a Master of Science degree from Florida International University School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

So here’s what Ralph had to say about the CUBA book …

Detrich’s publication on Cuba, “Cuba: A Guide For Cruising Around Cuba,” is required reading for the modern American traveler planning on visiting the island nation via cruise ship. It really is concise and delivers a realistic perspective of what one can expect of the ports of call that are frequented by cruise lines that circumnavigate the country. The book also offers a unique take on other destinations within Cuba that are certainly off the beaten path. The historical background and the various onshore activities are expertly delineated in this easy-to-read piece, and considering the fact that Cuba is one of the most complicated touristic destinations on Earth, it’s that simplicity which readers will truly appreciate.  Not just “worth-the-read,” but compulsory if considering a cruise to Cuba…

This will be an interesting week for Cuba.

April 18, 2018 – Let me just add, you want to read a well-balanced, informative op ed piece in the New York Times by Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and executive director of Global Americans, entitled “We Shouldn’t Ignore Cuba.”

Raul Castro is expected to step down as President of Cuba and for the first time there will no longer be a Castro at the helm.  But not to fear, Raul Castro will remain the head of the Communist Party in Cuba which runs everything anyway.  But there will be a new face at the helm, a man who wasn’t even born when, as the Cubans always say, “the triumph of the Revolution” occured.  It will be interesting.

Castro Diaz CanelRaul when on the international, diplomatic stage, always dressed in a business suit, but when addressing the Cuban people he appeared in his military uniform.  Cuba is, after all, a military dictatorship.  The likely successor is  Miguel Diaz-Canel,  57, trained as an electronics engineer, but like many Cubans did something totally different than that for which he was trained.  He spent 30 years working his way up through the party to be the number-two man, in effect Raul Castro’s vice president and the second in command of the military, although he never appears in a military uniform, unlike his boss.  Sometimes when Raul was challenged by the Revolutionary elite he would say, “I am not my brother.”  In the case of the rapprochement with the U.S., Fidel had made clear that it was not his idea.  So maybe the fact that Diaz-Canel never appears in a uniform is a way of stating hat he is not Raul.

DSC_0227My sense is that while younger Cubans have great respect for “the triumph of the Revolution,” and the Castros, and the good things that have resulted from the Revolution, and face it, there have been some good things, younger Cubans are ready to turn the page and move on.  Make no mistake about it: Cubans are in love with Americans.  Maybe not the U.S. government, and certainly not with Donald Trump, but with ordinary Americans, the neigbhors next door, ordinary Cubans are in love with US.  Sure, they’d all like to hop on a plane and visit the U.S., maybe not to stay, but to take home as much of the culture, and commercial junk as they can.  Of course with China on the verge of stepping into the vacuum, they may get more commercial junk from China than they can possibly imagine!

My take is that there is a great vacuum in Cuba and someone is going to step in and fill that vacuum. The likely suspects are the Russia (yet again), China, or the U.S. neighbors next door.  The choice is ours.

PEARL MIST was the second ship to go to Cuba from the U.S. after Obama opened the door, and I have been on every trip except the first.  I think something like 15 trips, and in that time, about two years, there have been some interesting changes.

First, Cuba has just introduced ATM machines.  They only work for Cuban banks.  Due to the two hundred plus prohibitions of the U.S. Embargo there can be no financial interactions.  So the ATMs are new and Cubans are literally struggling to figure them out.

DSC_0238Second, there is a lot more begging for money, hand lotion, soap (they figured out this stuff is pretty easy for cruise passengers to come by), and a lot of this has been encouraged by well-meaninging U.S. Americans, some of whom genuinely want to share, and others of whom just like to strutt their stuff and get a kind of kick out of throwing what they don’t want to people in real need.  It’s a tough line to walk, and I keep urging the cruise line to come up with a way that folks can help in a way that is genuine and still respectful of the Cuban people and culture.

Third, and I’m sorry, but this is really sad.  One of the great things Obama did was to get Raul to open up Cuba to the Internet.  Now don’t think that everyone has Internet.  Less than 5% of Cuban homes have Internet.  No Mc Donald’s or Starbucks with free wi-fi.  But there ARE hot spots in the plazas, along Havana’s famed Malecon, some of the pedestrian streets in Santiago de Cuba.  These aren’t free.  You buy an Internet card with the tourist money. [There are two currencies in Cuba.  The local currency of the people, the CUP, each worth roughly the equivalent of 4 U.S. cents, and the tourist currency called the CUC which although it actually costs U.S. tourists 87 cents for one CUC, is roughly the equivalent of one U.S. dollar.]  So one hour of Internet access costs 1 CUC or the equivalent value of 1 U.S. dollar.  In a country where the average Cuban only makes the equivalent of U.S. $24 a month, Internet access is no bargain!  Yet Cubans are addicted already!

DSC_0226Wherein the past, in the cool of the evening, folks would gather along Havana’s famed Malecon seawall, known fondly as “the world’s largest sofa,” singing, socializing, drinking, sharing with friends, they now sit with their faces glued to their smart phones!  Same story in the cities great plazas.  Everyone under 50 sitting staring at their phones.  Texting is replacing talking.

So now what?  It will be an interesting week.  There’s a great article in THE TELEGRAPH, “Cuba prepares for life after the Castros.” And if you are thinking of seeing Cuba, now is the time to go!  And by the way, going on a monster ship that spends a few hours in Havana is NOT seeing Cuba.  No way  Jose!

Cuba: Let The Rush Begin!

Carnival’s new fathom Line to Offer Volunteer Cruises in Cuba

Carnival Corporation & plc’s newest cruise line — fathom, which specializes in voluntourism — will offer cruises to Cuba starting in May 2016.

Passengers will be able to make reservations for the seven-night trips between Miami and Cuba starting today. The itineraries, which have yet to be fully developed, are expected to have at least three port stops on the island; as announced last month, all fathom cruises will take place on P & O’s Adonia.

“We’re humbled and excited to be the first in the industry to offer an experience from the U.S.,” Tara Russell, fathom president and global impact lead for Carnival Corp., told Cruise Critic. “We see this as the beginning of what we imagine will be a beautiful relationship.”

Designed to offer a different socially motivated experience to purpose-driven cruisers, fathom will keep April 2016 as its inaugural month, offering volunteer opportunities at Amber Cove, Carnival’s private port in the Dominican Republic, Russell said. (For more on fathom, read our Q and A on the first voluntourism cruise line).

Then beginning in May, the line will alternate itineraries between Cuba and the Dominican Republic each week, she said. Although the details for the Cuban volunteer opportunities haven’t been worked out, the ship will have the Cuban program ready to go, with Cuban food, music and films onboard.

Costs for fathom cruises in Cuba begin at $2,990 per person, which is significantly higher than the line’s Dominican Republic itineraries. Russell noted the costs were not out of line with other people-to-people trips currently offered in Cuba.

“There’s the market demand, but also the reality of the cost involved,” she said, noting the pricing does not involve port fees, taxes and other government expenses.

fathom is the first cruise line owned by an American mainstream cruise company to announce sailings to Cuba. Currently, cruise lines based in the U.S. are not allowed to offer itineraries in Cuba because trips that are strictly tourism-oriented are not allowed under the embargo.

But fathom received approval from the U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce because its mission, voluntourism, fulfills the people-to-people” and humanitarian requirements that govern trips to Cuba, Russell said.

She shot down the idea that fathom itself was born out of Carnival Corp’s desire to get a ship to Cuba as soon as possible, noting the Obama Administration announced in December that it would work to lessen travel restrictions between the two countries: “We’ve been at work on fathom far longer,” Russell said.

The announcement comes at a time when American interest and ability to travel to Cuba is beginning to take off. Although Congress has yet to lift the embargo against Cuba, the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps to normalize relations between the two countries: Ferry service has been approved between Miami and Cuba; each country will place an embassy in the others’ capitol by the end of July and far more Americans than ever before have been able to travel to Cuba, thanks to an expansion of eligible reasons to visit.

Cruise lines have picked up on the groundswell. The Canadian line Cuba Cruises, owned primarily by Greek-based Celestyal Cruises, opened its Cuba cruises to Americans early this year. International Expeditions will begin a series of Cuba itineraries in December.

MSC Cruises will also homeport a ship, MSC Opera, in Havana beginning in late 2015 through 2016. Those cruises will not be sold in the U.S. [CRUISE CRITIC]