Havana cruise Review – Chapter 1

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I invite you to come and sail with us to Cuba aboard the Norwegian Sky!!!


Introduction

Hello everyone and welcome to another Gambee review. It has been a while since I have the chance to cruise. I have been busy with graduate school, which fortunately I am doing well with. I actually never expected it to be as hard and demanding as it is. But no one ever said that good things come without sacrifice.

The planning for this cruise started back in May when mom told me that she wanted to go on a cruise again. I really had little time to do research, so I told her to look around and tell me what she found. She came back with a few options, of those, two sounded like a possibility. The first one being Harmony of the Seas, and the other being NCL Sky to Cuba.

It is no surprise that Harmony was a very tempting option. But the issue with that cruise is that the last cruise I had sailed was Oasis, and in a way I was looking for something a bit different. That is when I started looking deeper into the Cuba option.

I just want to make something clear here, I am in no way supportive of their government. The reason why it has appeal to me is that I have always had a fascination with hermit countries, and in a way Cuba at one point was one. I also liked the idea of experiencing their architecture and automotive era, as well as seeing a completely different side of the Caribbean. And lets face it, I love to travel, and I love going to a variety of places. Back in December my hubby took my mom and I to Tokyo, Honk Kong and Shanghai. I will admit, that was the trip of a lifetime. It is now that I am looking into going to new places, especially those who offer something different from the rule.

In addition to that, the idea of sailing on the ship that started my cruising addiction was a factor that really pulled me into this cruise. While I am aware that it is an older and smaller ship, this was mom’s and my very first sailing. And the Sky will always hold a special place in our hearts because of that reason. After a little talking we decided to book it.

In a way, this cruise felt like a reunion from our NCL Sky cruise back in 2012. Time flies…


Cruise Details
Aside from going to Cuba and staying overnight, the cruise also included a day at Great Stirrup Cay, which sounded like a nice way to relax for me after walking around Cuba.

One thing to add here is that the time that I booked it, I used the Educational exchanges – People to People option to travel there. The cost of the visa through NCL was $70, you could also do it on your own, but we decided to avoid the headaches and just pay NCL. Now that the current administration re-applied some of the restrictions on Cuba travel that President Obama had removed, things changed a little. It is my understanding that the Educational exchanges – People to People is one of the options that is being removed. But I really don’t know the details of that. However, I do know one thing. Cruises to Cuba are in high demand! NCL is even planning on deploying an additional vessel in 2018. So one way or another, they are still selling the cruises there, with great success.

Aside from that there a few other papers you need to submit to NCL stating the purpose of your visit, and dictating the limitations of our stay there. Not a big deal, but it’s just something extra that we never had to do for any other Caribbean country.



Stateroom Selection
There is not really much to say here. Living on student loans is not exactly ideal for traveling. So even though my mom offered to pay for the entire trip, I would not allow that. In the end, we picked an interior room guarantee as it was the cheapest option available to us. I did however put in an offer for a possible upgrade to a balcony or window. But my offers were really low, thus they were all rejected. That was expected considering the high demand for Cuba, and the week that I was traveling in. It was right before school starts.

 

Welcome aboard the Norwegian Sky!

My Camera Equipment

My main camera is the Sony Alpha A6000. Overall a great performer, with tons of bells and whistles. I have had multiple cameras throughout my blogging career, and this one is the first camera to fully satisfy my cravings for perfection in picture quality. Furthermore, having those results out of a relatively compact camera is the icing on the cake.

These are my lenses I own:


The Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar 24mm F1.8. What can I say about this lens? It is great for low light situations and produces very sharp pictures with great contrast. This is a true quality piece of glass that I use often during my cruises, due to a lot of low situations that I find myself in. It is just not very flexible with a fixed focal range.


The Sony Zeiss Sel1670 is a great versatile lens. I usually take most of the pictures with this lens. The lens yields Sharp results, with absolutely astounding vibrant colors.

The Sony E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 is my only zoom lens. It is a pretty basic lens and nothing really special to write about here. As long as there is enough light it performs pretty well, however, it does tend to struggle when light becomes scarce. Hopefully, Sony will soon release a faster zoom lens, but until then I am very pleased with this one!

The Rokinon 8mm F2.8 Fisheye lens is just a really fun toy to work with. I am a fan of fisheye pictures and this lens produces very sharp results.


Software & Image Hosting
For most of my picture editing, I use Lightroom, like I said I am not a pro. I use this software for some light color correction and sharpening. It is also great at compressing 7mb files into 300kb files with minimal quality loss. The images are hosted by Photobucket, I have the 20gb account and pay $3 a month, I don’t really need the 20gb, but I do however need the unlimited bandwidth as I use a lot of it.


Budgeting

When it came to this cruise I really wanted to keep expenses down to a bare minimum. I am trying to take out as few loans as possible during my time in graduate school. But at the same time I still want to reward my hard work with some well earned getaways. It is surprising how quickly we adjust to change when the cards are turned.

Wifi
Norwegian offers different prices for the Sky from the rest of the fleet. There are two decent options, one that gives you 60 minutes for $39 or the second offers 100 minutes for $55. You could also pay by the minute, but that ends up being more expensive. We usually get some kind of package if anything to stay in touch with our family back home.

Gratuities
Norwegian charges $18.99 per person per day for gratuities. This is a little higher than normal because they include the drink package gratuities in that price. Considering that the liquor was included in this sailing was a big plus for me.

Shore Excursions
While NCL offers a variety of shore excursions, most of them seemed overpriced to me. So we decided to wing it and just do it by ourselves. The people to people travel visa allows you to wander on your own, with no restrictions.

Trip Insurance
Cuba requires mandatory Health Insurance that covers you while in Cuba. When you book through NCL they apply the cost of the insurance to everyone automatically. That said, there is a bunch of fine print in that policy, I am not sure that how it truly works.

When I buy trip insurance for my cruises I go to Insure My Trip and shop around for a travel insurance. Here is the thing. The last time when we were on MSC Divina my mom slipped on the pool deck and landed really hard on her wrist. We had insurance for that cruise, but we did not use it (for more on that, read that MSC Divina review).

Anyway, after that incident, I learned that most travel insurance companies deny claims if you have any sort of alcohol in your system. We tend to have some drinks on our cruises, so now I am at toss on what to do… Please note, mom did not fall because of drinks, she fell because Divina’s lido deck is incredibly slippery, be careful.

Parking
Originally we had reservations at Miami Premier Cruise. But when the opportunity came up to go visit my husband for a few days in Utah (he is in MED school) after the cruise was over. I decided to instead park at the port, and pay more just to have the convenience to get off the ship quickly so that I could catch my flight to Vegas.

Planning
Truth be told that I did not start planing until 3 days before the cruise. I really had no head to do anything other than study the entire summer. Once classes ended, I had a few days to plan the cruise. My mom had been doing some research, so I basically took her information and just built on it.

I was mostly interested in visiting historical sites, and just seeing as much of Havana as possible. I found a few options, and downloaded a few apps on my phone. Overall, I was pretty happy about planning, even though it is not my obsessive and meticulous planning that I usually do.

FreeStyle Day 1

 

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