Monday, April 21, 2014

What to know before you go: Cuba by Gateway Advisor Maxine Weinberg

Only recently have American tourists been allowed to travel to Cuba. The only way to do this is on a People-to-People program. There are now several licensed tour operators offering these education-based, insightful visits, with a focus on personal encounters with Cuban artists, farmers, fisherman, doctors, or other locals. You must agree to take part in a busy, highly organized tour with very little free time. The tour company takes care of all paperwork and Visas needed to enter the country.
      U.S. dollars, credit cards and debit cards are not accepted in Cuba. You must bring cash that can be exchanged into Cuban pesos to use while visiting. The average wage is $40.00 a month (including their professionals). Because of this, tipping is expected and needed for them to survive. Expect to tip for just about everything.
  My first reaction to my recent visit was, “I’ve stepped back into the 1960’s”. Just a brief 35 minute flight from Miami and you are in the world some of us knew many years ago. I really did not know what to expect, so I really had to pinch myself many times that something so very different was just beyond our shores.
Havana is a high-energy city with its colonial buildings, friendly people, and mixed heritage. You see horse and buggy taxis and some of the most beautiful old classic cars. It was like Detroit’s own Dream Cruise on steroids! We traveled with Latour, a division of IsramWorld, and our group, though small in number, was very diverse. Although we were told that we had to travel daily with the group program in its entirety, we were allowed to travel freely every evening to explore Havana at night. Our group stayed at the five-star Meli√° Habana Hotel. However, the Cuban version of a five-star hotel is vastly different than our version. We came to learn that Latour had definitely picked the best hotels on the island.

After four wonderful nights in Havana, we traveled to Cienfuegos for two additional nights to experience life outside of Havana. We met warm people and saw beautiful colored buildings, cobblestone streets, and, yes, more fabulous vintage cars!
We found that under the new Communist regime of Raoul Castro, Cubans were finally allowed to venture into some free enterprise. While the government-run restaurants were acceptable, we found that the newly opened paladares (private restaurants) were on a par with any big city dining venues we had ever been to. It was a wonderful surprise!

Cuba is a great destination and it’s a stones throw away.  Different, colorful and exciting......

Happy Travelers!

Gina and Dushan Shimko enjoyed a romantic honeymoon in French Polynesia. They loved scuba diving in Huahine and being pampered at the luxurious St. Regis Bora Bora.

Robert Essick and his daughter, Mara, took a fabulous eight-day trip to Thailand. They visited Bangkok, Chaing Mai, and Phuket.

Mark, Mindy and Lila Owens explored beautiful Croatia; visiting Split, Hvar, and Dubrovnik. They ended their ten-day vacation in Prague.

Lindsay and Scott Druker honeymooned for eleven days in exotic Tahiti staying at the St. Regis Bora Bora and the InterContinental Moorea.

While on their Peruvian adventure, the Boyle family hiked Machu Picchu. They also visited Lima and Cuzco.

The Fenster and Kraft families had a magical week on board the beautiful new Disney Fantasy. 

Michelle and Scott Segal vacationed in South America; touring Rio, Buenos Aires, the spectacular Iguassu Falls, and the vineyards of Mendoza.

Pat and Sharon Oriel took a Zegrahm Expedition from Australia to Tasmania and New Zealand,  which included a visit to the Milford Sound and the sub-Antarctic Islands. 

Dick and Norma Peters sailed the Danube on the AMA Certa beginning in Prague, with stops in Germany and Austria, before ending in Budapest.

The Horowitz family had an incredible time in India visiting Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur, and the Taj Mahal in Agra.

The Wolberg family loved their adventure filled vacation to Costa Rica where they rafted, hiked, zip lined, snorkeled, ocean kayaked and surf boarded. Lots of family fun!

Lesley Kutinsky, Susan Belen, Joan Trute, and Jennie Fox began their amazing South African adventure in Cape Town, continuing on to Victoria Falls and Sabi Sands Game Reserve in Kruger National Park. 

While vacationing in Kauai and Maui, Katy and Ryan Cotter enjoyed hiking the beautiful Waimea Canyon.

Abe and Sue Gershonowicz stood on both sides of the equator in Quito, Ecuador before embarking on their cruise to the Gal√°pagos Islands.

The Larkins, Mastins, Morans, and Futterknechts flew to France where they had a fantastic time visiting the Normandy Coast and Paris.