The Not-So-Best of Cuba

Empress of the Seas Cruise Review to Cuba

Cruises: 2-3 cruises
Reviews: 2
Helpful Votes: 28

Overall rating:

4.1 out of 5
Empress of the Seas

8 Night Best Of Cuba (Miami Roundtrip)

Sail date: November 04, 2018

Ship: Empress of the Seas

Cabin type: Inside

Cabin number: 8683

Traveled as: Large Group

Reviewed: 2 years ago

Review summary

Overall, I enjoyed the cruise, but I would not rebook this particular cruise itinerary. Try to find an itinerary that includes a early morning arrival into Havana. I've heard the dock in Santiago has been fixed, but just make sure by viewing more recent reviews.


5 out of 5

Ship experiences

Food and Dining

5 out of 5
Our head waiter Milos was so amazing! He was attentive, anticipated our needs, and made every night dining a special one. The food in the main dining was excellent and about 1/2 of the menu changed every night. I found it special that they had one starter, entree, and desert with a Cuban flair every night. Dining in Chops was hit and miss with our group. Some got sick from bad lobster (it smelled and tasted terribly fishy), and others had a chewy prime rib. I ordered the New York Strip Steak and my spouse ordered the Filet; both were wonderfully delicious and cooked perfectly.

Onboard Activities

3 out of 5
There was a rock climbing wall, but that was about the only thing offered on this ship vs. other larger and newer RCI ships. The pool was small, but never overcrowded in spite of being a fully booked cruise.


3 out of 5
The Whitney tribute artist was stunning! She was the star of the cruise. We all loved the Latin band that was playing upon embarkation and occasionally during the cruise. We didn't care for the Jamaican band that much. We thought the music was always too loud; we would have preferred some Bob Marley playing on the speakers instead. Most of the impromptu "shows" 70's night etc were performed rather lacklusterly by the crew.

Service and Staff

5 out of 5
This is where the ship shined! Everyone, from our room attendant, to wait staff, to administrative (and even medical staff) were so courteous. Igusti (our room attendant), Milos (our head waiter) were the stars. We were so grateful they made our cruise special for my spouse and our group! At one point I injured my knee by slipping on the pool deck, and my room attendant always made sure that I had fresh ice in my room TWICE A DAY! I didn't even ask for it, he just did it himself!

Ship Quality

4 out of 5
The ship was ALWAYS being cleaned. While she was an old ship (and shows her age in some places), I felt the ship was clean and presentable in spite of that fact.

Cabin / Stateroom

3 out of 5
The room was small, but met our expectations for the smallest and oldest ship in the fleet. Our cabin attendant ensured our room was always clean.

Ship tip

Be careful on the pool deck!! It sure is slippery!

Ports of call

Miami, Florida

5 out of 5
We love flying into this port. It's so beautiful to sail out of. It's easy and affordable to fly into. And the port is accessible at an affordable price from anywhere in the city.

Labadee (Cruise Line Private Island)

5 out of 5
This is always one of our favorite destinations when we cruise. The drinks are included in our drink package, the food is free on the island with the buffet, and if you skip the "excursions" you can save some bucks and still relax!

Key West, Florida

4 out of 5
We enjoyed this port, but it should have never been on the itinerary in the first place. We were supposed to sail into Santiago, Cuba, but there was a problem with the dock and the stop was replaced with Key West. Being from the US and having vacationed in Key West before, we made the best out of a bad situation and went site-seeing to places we had never been. We went to the Hemmingway house ($15 pp), and bar hopped in the local area. Spent a bunch on libations, but saved by not doing excursions. For our LGBT peeps (minue the L), we went to Island House and had a blast! The drinks were priced competitively for the area, and the pools/saunas were fun and relaxing. For the Ladies, Eden House was around the corner and our friend said she had fun too.


4 out of 5
Again, this cruise was about making lemonade from lemons. We were scheduled to arrive at 2pm. DO NOT BOOK A CRUISE WITH ANY CRUISELINE THAT ARRIVES IN THE AFTERNOON TO HAVANA! Sorry for the caps, but it's important. We arrived late into Havana (at 3 pm). Due to Cuba not supplying enough customs agents, some people didn't get off the ship until 6:30 pm! This meant all the official cigar and rum stores were closed (to include the museums). It also meant that due to Daylight Savings Time, it was nighttime by the time some got off, and they were unable to see any monuments. DO NOT BUY CIGARS FROM NON-GOVERNMENT STORES. (unless you don't care about the authenticity and don't mind a nockoff cigar) The people will tell you anything under the sun to sell their cigars. No matter what they tell you, these are NOT the real deal. The tobacco is not of the same quality, the cigar seal is cheaply imitated and fading, and there is no guarantee that the money you spend is even getting you a Cuban cigar. If you know that and are fine with that, then at least negotiate a lower price. A box of 25 Romeo y Julietas was $130, Montecristo #2 was $150, and Cohiba Siglo IV was $150. The boxes I saw had the "official" seals in place, but the cigars were definately not authentic (and therefore NOT worth 1/2 - 2/3rds the cost of the real deal IMO). You've been warned! As of 2018, you can bring 100 cigars and 1 liter of rum duty free back into the US. (note that duty free does not mean limited. You can bring more than that, but pay a small tax when bringing them back in for personal consumption). We had NO problems with customs in Cuba or America. Speaking of which, there was a lot to do about nothing with regards to the Cuban visa and excursions. Some passengers on board were informed by RCI that they would be unable to get off the ship without booking a RCI excursion. THIS IS NOT TRUE. We booked a private tour with Fertours (check out their reviews on Tripadvisor) and had an amazing time! All you need to do is maintain a copy of the receipt that indicates your tour supports the Cuban people and is educational. Annotate it as such on your paperwork and you should be fine. I cannot recommend enough to book a private tour with one of the private tour companies in Havana. You will always be close to the port, the city is incredibly safe, and if you book a private tour, you won't have problems with the language.

Nassau, Bahamas

3 out of 5
We didn't do too much at this location. We walked off the dock and spend some time in the port city.


5 out of 5
Disembarkation was easy. We stayed on the ship as late as we could due to late flights in the afternoon and had no problems getting off.
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