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Empress of the Seas Cruise Review to Cuba

Cruises: 7+ cruises
Reviews: 6
Helpful Votes: 80

Overall rating:

4.7 out of 5
Empress of the Seas

8 Night Best Of Cuba (Miami Roundtrip)

Sail date: April 21, 2019

Ship: Empress of the Seas

Cabin type: Suite

Cabin number: 9146

Traveled as: Couple

Reviewed: 2 years ago

Review summary

It was a once in a life time cruise, We will return to Cuba soon.

Embarkation

5 out of 5
Embarkation: Arrived at 11:45, dropped our luggage with a porter and walked in.  If you print luggage tags ahead of time it makes this process quick. We use the plastic tag holders with metal rings. There were long lines broken into 2 large sections, one for first timers and the other for C&A.  NOTE: if you're a Suites guest, Junior and above, there is a sign off to the side so ask and you go to the head of the line .  We had all our information in order and were given our Cuba Visa and instructions .  Remember to read the directions for the visa, as it must be correct or  you have to buy another.  The date is day, month, year as an example. After we walked on the ship, we left our luggage in the theater on deck 5 which is  watched by the crew.  We wandered up to the Windjammer buffet.  Smaller ship, smaller buffet space, but we were able to find a table easily . After lunch we wandered the ship to get acquainted:  Deck 6 walking track is a 1/4 mile; coffee cafe in Bolaros  lounge.  Windjammer in the bow on Deck 10 and the main dining room is on Decks 4 & 5 in the stern. Shops on board are tight, but carry basics. Casino is non-smoking, with 5 or 6 tables and about 100 slots.  Fitness area has only 3 bikes, mostly weight machines and 6 tread mills.  This area is only accessible via a spiral staircase in the Viking Lounge. We brought on a 12 pack of water and two bottles of wine,

Ship experiences

Food and Dining

5 out of 5
The main dining room is typical of Royal Caribbean. As a little aside, we love their bread selection better than on Celebrity.   Our 1st night offered prime rib which I ordered medium rare; they delivered a New York strip steak instead. I believe they were trying to satisfy my medium rare request.  Although of good flavor and I liked the sauce it was not a prime rib .  When I pointed it out no

Onboard Activities

4 out of 5
we saw a few shows and they were fun.

Entertainment

5 out of 5
good stage show and good comedians

Service and Staff

5 out of 5

Ship Quality

5 out of 5

Cabin / Stateroom

5 out of 5
Junior Suite 9146: The overhang from deck 10 limits sunshine on the balcony for most of the day.    Comments have been made that the room is small, but compared to a regular balcony room on most midsize ships it's comparable.  Lots of little nooks and crannies to store stuff in the vanity area and in the living area.  Bathroom is small but manageable; shower is very small with a curtain.  There are now wall dispensers for shampoo; RC now uses small hotel size amenities, replaced everyday.  Remember TV's have an extra USB if needed.  There are 2 regular plugs by the coffee maker and TV and one each of American and European plug by the vanity area. There are also USB ports on the bottom of each lamp by the bedside.  There is a plug for shaving in the bathroom.   My frustration is that  I bring a plug-in night light, that usually goes there, but this plug is deactivated then the main bath light is turned off. We asked for an extension cord for a Cpap, which they gave us as well as water for the machine. One word of advice: ask them to tape down the cord as it stretches across the walkway.  They have refrigerators available, the smaller half-size apartment ones, and in addition they have small medical fridges about the size of a large toaster. We brought 2 large suitcases which slid under the bed easily and our carry-ons fit in the closet. Remember, location is everything.  This 9th floor is directly under the pool and Windjammer.   Our room was under the spa, so there was no noise over our heads.  Cruisedeckplans.com has a great tool which let's you superimpose floors on each other so you can see the impact of the floor above yours. There was also a sofa and a padded ottoman so plenty of seating space and room to spread out. Ismael was our room attendant and couldn't do enough for us.  Once we established our routine,  we let him know, so our room got made up conveniently when we wanted, In addition, the night before each shore day we asked him to fill our water flasks with ice, so we could use them all day and have cold water!  I tip our room attendant a little bit the first day, and I get superior service all cruise long. The size of the junior suite is 194 Sq Ft with a 25 Sq Ft balcony. Yes balcony is small with 2 reclining chairs and a round table. Compared to a regular balcony room on a Freedom class ship, they are 184 Sq Ft with a 66 Sq Ft balcony. Remember the balcony's were added in the early 2000's so they are an upgrade to this ship.

Ship tip

If you have a problem, tell someone, the staff went out of their way to make the trip the best.

Ports of call

Key West, Florida

4 out of 5
We've been to Key West many times so we didn't do any excursions.  We did however buy the hop-on hop-off trolley bus tour on our own and enjoyed the humor of the driver.   When we got back to the ship about 12 to 1230, we went up to the Windjammer It was not busy at all for lunch and there was a pretty good selection

HAVANA, CUBA

5 out of 5
Ship excursions are called 1st as they have priority, however, we found if you line up near the getting off point they will periodically let you through, so we got off in plenty of time to make our private excursion. Easy to get off ship, easy to go thru passport control and easy to go thru security.  Be patient; make sure your paperwork is filled out correctly.  We had brought a few small gifts and they were not inspected. Money exchange was fast and easy. Prior to the cruise we exchanged USD for Canadian dollars. We used $1027 USD and bought 1300 Canadian dollars from Wells Fargo.  There were no additional fees. 1300 Canadian got us 947 Cuc.  If I had done 1027 USD to Cuc I would have gotten 893+- Cuc.  I netted out 54+- extra Cuc. If you're only exchanging a small amount getting the Canadian money maynot be not worth the trouble. Our Budget was: 2 private tours with tip 450 2 lunches 90 Cigars 250 Gifts 100 Rum 50 We did our exchange in Havana in case Cienfuego was busy. As noted in other reviews there are plenty of taxi drivers outside the terminal.  In conversation with other cruisers they said it was very easy to find a car and driver who spoke English and would still do the six hour tour.  We had to walk 3 blocks to meet our driver as licensed tour operators are only allowed at the terminal.  Our guide was not licensed to be at the terminal. We did a private tour with Blexie Tours for $130. Rollie was  our guide and he was excellent.  He decided to do an air conditioned  hardtop 57 Chevy as he felt the convertible might cause us sun problems. Our driver owned the car and was very proud of it. As it turns out we saw many people on board that afternoon and evening who were very sun burnt from being in the convertible all day.  Even in conversation with others on private tours we got to see a lot more of Havana than most.  We did lunch at a local paladar that included a cigar , rum and the owners singing to everyone.  We invited our driver and guide to join us, but they were given a free lunch by the restaurant. Make sure you do research and your guides include everything that you want to see.  The guides were very flexible and they knew the right time to get to places without the crowds. The highlights for all were Fusterlandia, the Christ statue, Revolutionary Square and the various embassies along what they call Fifth Avenue. We tipped the driver $30 and Rollie $40. I highly recommend Blexie and Rollie spoke very good English. Captain Carl decided to stayed in port past the 7pm departure, until 1am so we got to go to Tropicana - what an amazing night! The ship tour was expensive, but it's one of those times where your arrival back to the ship could be late and we didn't want to take any chances we would miss the ship.

CIENFUEGOS, CUBA

4 out of 5
Again, we did a private tour, this time with Caribbean Pearl Tours at a cost of $170.  When compared to Havana tour, it was over-priced. We walked, again 3 blocks from the terminal, to find the private tour operators and again were offered many tours on that walk.  We were driven in a 30 year old Lada, a Russian car, with no air conditioning, but a very friendly driver.  His father bought the car 30 years ago and  passed it on the his son. We chose the Cienfuego walking tour and Botanical Garden.  The Botanical Garden is actually an Arboretum, no flowers just trees.  Because we were on a private tour we had the advantage of having one of the Botanical Garden staff walk with us and explain all the different trees.  If not for that I don't believe the trip would have been worth the 30+ minute drive, although we did get to see a lot of the out-lying living areas and farms. Our guide, Ana, was very eager to please and show us what we wanted. Her English was ok.  I didn't do as much research on this area, which I regretted.  We walked the pedestrian boulevards,  visited several mansions and hotels and toured a church.   Ana was willing to find us a lunch place, but it was hot and had been a hot ride.  We did stop for lemonade and coffee in a cafe on the square; it was delishish.  The street vendors were not as pushy as in Havana. Ana was an actress and was paid 8 Cuc a month.  She also worked as a babysitter.  Our driver, Urban, drove as a taxi driver after teaching for several years.   They were both concerned about the possible decrease in future cruises to their city. Both the driver and Ana were definitely not as well off as the tour people in Havana. We tipped a little extra for that reason, $50 each and we had small gifts in addition to tips for both and they were genuinely touched and slightly tearful. I cannot recommend Caribbean Pearl Tours for several reasons. Although we were told we would have an A/C car, it was a 30 year old Lada which the driver had to hand us the ONE window crank to lower the windows. Ana was pleasant, but kept asking us what we wanted to see instead of making recommendations. We may have seen the places listed on their web site, but because Ana didn't have a set agenda, and limited English I am not sure we saw everything. Interesting to note the horse drawn carriages were the major mode of transportation for the populous whether in the city or outside.

Labadee (Cruise Line Private Island)

4 out of 5
RC private resort area on Haiti. Very hot day, but the tram ran enough to be able to get from one end to another.   We spent our time at Columbus Cove. There were lots of palm trees so lots of shade.  Being off a small ship none of the beaches or any areas seemed crowded.  The downside was there was only one dining area open during the day and it being hot, we opted to return to the ship and eat there.   As stated in prior reviews the market area vendors are aggressive but polite.  It seemed that every other shop was selling exactly the same thing, so their schtick is to tell you their names or talk about something you're wearing,all to distinguish them from the next booth.  I got the impression, just from looking at the items , that they are not native made.  Being a small ship with few families and kids the Aqua Park was not open.

Disembarkation

5 out of 5
Couldn't have gone easier. Got our luggage tags the night before and put our bags out by 10pm. Next morning up at 7 for breakfast, which they do in the Windjammer and the main dining room starting at 6:30. We had brought chocolate, which we didn't eat so we left it for our room attendant, Ismail, who was thrilled. We proceeded to the Schooner bar at 8:00am to wait for our number to be called. At around 8:15 they called tag numbers 1,2,3 and being 3 did a long walk though the theater and back to the gang way. Arrived at the luggage carousels and found the one with #3 luggage. Picked up bags walked to Immigration, 1 minute conversation, no questions and we were at curb side by 8:35. All in all an easy experience.
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