La Habana, The Viking Way

A Day in Havana, with Viking Cruises. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Havana represented the most difficult choice I would make during my entire Cultural Cuba cruise from Miami aboard Viking Cruises’ Viking Sun.
Anchored off Cienfuegos for two and a half days, all of Viking’s shore excursion offerings in Cuba are included in the cost of the cruise. By removing the financial element from the equation, guests can indulge their own interests without being limited by budgetary considerations.
In addition to multiple different tours of Cienfuegos and nearby Trinidad, Viking also offers two distinct options to tour Havana: a full-day, 12-hour long visit to the Cuban capital, or an overnight stay in the city, complete with accommodations at a five-star hotel and entry into the famous Tropicana Cabaret.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Havana is the capital of Cuba and is home to over 2 million inhabitants. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Having been to Havana before – but eager to go again – I chose the 12-hour full day tour. Why not the overnight? As goofy as it sounds, I just didn’t want to be away from the gorgeous (and soothing) Viking Sun for even a night. With only seven days onboard, my goal was to enjoy every aspect of this relaxing ship as much as possible, and an evening in Havana would have detracted from that.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: it’s a long drive into Havana. About three hours each direction, almost all of which is on a road paved like the waves of the ocean. Some guests thought our bus had broken suspension thanks to the undulating, and frankly disconcerting, swaying motion that made me feel like I was back at sea. I was not: this is just how the highways are.

To start our day off, we visited Ernest Hemingway’s house in Havana…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…before heading for lunch…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and refreshments. Try the Cuban beer: it’s quite good! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The drive itself, though, was fascinating. After all, what other opportunities do you have to take a drive clear across the Cuban countryside, from the southern shores of the island nation to its northernmost reaches? A quick stop at a rest station about halfway through the drive allowed guests to use the washrooms and purchase a cup of coffee or do a bit of souvenir shopping, followed by a brief but fascinating visit to Ernest Hemingway’s former home in Cuba.
After arrival in Havana, lunch was served at a local paladar, or restaurant. Nestled into the suburbs, away from the bustle of the city’s more touristic historic center, our relaxing meal was served family-style and consisted of chicken, beef, rice and beans, and a dessert. One drink was provided complimentary, and included bottled water, wine, beer, or soft drinks. My advice: grab a bottle of water from the coach as you disembark and use your free drink for a soft drink or alcoholic beverage.
Following lunch, guests were treated to a panoramic city tour – but we wouldn’t be needing the coaches. Instead, guests piled into several parked 1950’s-era American cars, lovingly restored, for an open-air cruise through the city.

The highlight of the day: a cruise through Havana…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…in a convoy of classic American cars! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’ve never done this before on my past two trips to Havana, so it was a real treat. But the bigger treat was seeing all of the guests (most of whom were older than I am) fall in love with these cars again. Suddenly, every guest – even the women – became a car expert. “We had one of these when I was a kid!”, shouted one lady as she ran up to a turquoise Chevrolet. “I drove one of these when I had kids!”, said another.
We probably could have turned around and left right then, and the reviews would have been spectacular. But we ended up cruising through the streets of Havana in style for nearly 45 minutes – a worthy trip back in time in more ways than one, passing important sites like Plaza de la Revolucion and the Malecon as we did so.

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