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Cruising Cuba


If there’s a cruise to Cuba on your horizon, here are a few things to know before you go.


The Triumph of the Revolution — How Cubans refer to the overthrow of the Batista government by Fidel Castro in 1959 (watch the famous scene in Godfather 2).


The Special Period — The time immediately following the pullout of support from the Soviet Union, which led to a rapid decline in the Cuban standard of living and services. This occurred after the breakup of the USSR in 1991.


Jose Marti — Famous Cuban hero in the fight to win independence from Spain in the late 1800s.


Cuban Peso vs. Cuban Convertible — Cuba has two official currencies. You can’t exchange your American money until you get to Cuba, and tourists are only able to get Cuban Covertible Pesos. Cuban citizens are paid in regular Pesos, which are worth much less. How to tell the difference? The Peso features photos of Cuban heros; the Convertible features photos of monuments. At this time, American credit cards don’t work in Cuba and almost no one will take American dollars.


Phone and Internet Service — Forget about it. There’s no service for American-based phones. While on Cuban soil, there is some limited texting, but no Internet service. European-based phones seem to work fine.


“You-Sa” — How some Cubans refer to Americans. It is a pronunciation of USA.


Cuban Cigars — Buy them from a Cuban government store and not from someone on the street. Cigar production is controlled, and prices are fixed by the government anyway, so there shouldn’t be much variation from place to place. Beware the people who try to sell them to you on the street or elsewhere saying they got them from their friend who works at the factory (or something along those lines). They are most likely not real and are made with banana leaves or something else. Cigars are differentiated by region, quality, flavor, taste, and personal preference, but some of the best brands to look for are: Montecristo, Cohiba, Romeo Y Julieta, and H. Upmann.


Cuban Rum —While Bacardi makes a version of Havana Club rum in Puerto Rico that is sold in the United States, a different company entirely makes Havana Club rum in Cuba, which it sells everywhere in the world except the United States. The Cuban-made Havana Club is more widely available and is more famous than Santiago de Cuba rum, which is made in the Santiago de Cuba area in the south and is also very good. Aged Cuban rum is served plain over ice.


— Sharon Kenny

Photos: RF, David Steele