Independent local travel advisor Jack Leaf offers an overview of his recent luxury cruise around Cuba, which allowed him to tick off a music-related travel ambition.
Whilst cruising between the Spanish colonial cities of Trinidad in Cuba and Cartagena in Columbia, it struck me that I should be writing about MV Silver Cloud and the Silversea expedition cruise I am currently enjoying.
I have long wanted to visit Cuba but the rumours of food scarcity and poor quality deterred me, until I heard about this cruise itinerary. Silversea is one of the finest international cruise lines, so one is assured of a high standard of accommodation and cuisine on relatively small ships (300 to 400 passengers) and their expedition cruises include a full itinerary of shore excursions, interspersed with on-board lectures and an absence of on-board formal entertainment.
The cruise was scheduled to depart from Nassau in the Bahamas, but I flew first to Miami to adjust, following the transatlantic flight with three nights in one of my favourite cities. A one-hour flight from there to Nassau and a 30-minute onward journey by road to the seaport enabled an unexpected and rapid highlights tour of Downtown Nassau.
After a day at sea, MV Silver Cloud sailed majestically into Santiago de Cuba, a city founded in 1515 and where Fidel Castro launched his overthrow of the Batista regime. One of many Cuban cities that exhibit what I call ‘charming dereliction’, it is often overlooked by tourists due to its distance from Havana and the coastal resort of Varadero. Highlights of the city tour included Changing of the Guard, a 12-minute ceremony twice an hour at Santa lfigenia Cemetery, and a visit to Casa Diego Velazquez, the colonial mansion lived in by the Spanish conqueror of Cuba. We also toured the Moncada Barracks, from where Castro launched his failed coup and which is now the chilling museum that recounts the callous put-down of that first attempt.
The next stop, Havana, was the highlight of the cruise. I’d made arrangements to have dinner at the capital’s only true five-star hotel, Gran Hotel Manzana, on the sixth (top) floor overlooking the crumbling city – perfect food in a perfect setting. From there, we travelled by vintage car to the Buena Vista Social Club for an evening show of fantastic singing and instrumental accompaniment; one of my decades-old travel ambitions achieved.
Our last day in Cuba saw us on an excursion from Cienfeugos to Trinidad; a colourful city that became rich from sugar exports. When I hear old people in London refer to their East End childhood, remarking that their families were hard up and they didn’t have much but were happy, that’s how I will remember Cuba. No-one looked hungry, no-one begged, everyone smiles and you’re never far from their equivalent of an East End knees-up!