As a native Floridian, Cuba has always tempted me as the forbidden island just past the horizon. A veiled, mysterious neighbor. An untouchable Hemingway haunt. A classic car lover’s dream come true. The closest country to my home state. (Well, depending where you stand.)
I first learned about the island on my inaugural visit to Key West when I was 8 or 9. The painted Southernmost Point monument reads, “90 miles to Cuba.” Only 90 miles?! That’s closer than Disney World is to my front door! (At that age, I measured everything in Magic Kingdom proximity.)
Mom explained that Americans couldn’t travel to Cuba, but not really why. Trade embargo wasn’t really a concept that resonated with me back then, and I knew nothing about Cuban culture or food or cigars or unrest or bays of pigs, not to be confused with swimming pigs in neighboring Exuma. I only knew that not being allowed to go made the young rebel in me strongly want to break the law and fight the man. (Whoever “the man” was.)
Photo via Camels and Chocolate
I vowed to swim there if I had to. (Then someone beat me to it.)
Years later on a cruise to the Cayman Islands, I remember buying Cuban cigars and feeling very subversive and rebellious, and also convinced I’d be detained immediately upon stepping foot back in Miami. (Nope.)
Now finally, the destination I longed for just a bit more than all the rest is within reach. Tomorrow, I’m setting sail on the MV Adonia, bound for Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos. C U B A, here I come!
Photos via Camels and Chocolate
Billed as a one-of-a-kind cruise that combines the love of travel with the desire to make a difference, Carnival’s new Fathom brand is right up my alley. The ship will transport more than 700 passengers to Cuba and the Dominican Republic on alternating weeks. Where the D.R. cruise focuses on volunteer activities like teaching English, planting trees and building water filters, the Cuban experience is about cultural immersion. Despite a lot of hooplah about Cuba being open for business, Americans still can’t just pop over and cavort at leisure. Rules must be obeyed.
Fathom’s Cuba guests participate in 8 hours of cultural exchange and people-to-people programming per port to satisfy government requirements. This includes getting to know the culture and art of Cuba and its people. While on the ship, we’ll participate in preparation workshops, Spanish lessons, Cuban film nights and whatnot geared at readying us for the on-the-ground experience.
Meeting new people, participating in their daily lives and learning what makes them tick is always the best part of any trip. While I’ve stayed with families and done volunteer work in Bolivia and Kenya, those were through my church – a much smaller endeavor with a few dozen people. I can’t help but wonder at how Fathom can make that work for 700 passengers every two weeks. I am fascinated by the logistics of it all, and I can’t wait to share when I get back.
It may surprise you to know that I’m willingly going to a place with no Starbucks and virtually non-existent WiFi. I know, I know – that does not sound like me! (I’m much more spoiled than I used to be as a traveler.) Regardless, I’m excited to put my phone down for a week, practice some Cuban slang and learn about a neighbor that’s been estranged for too long.
The more I read up on Cuban culture and history, the more I realize that there’s so much more to know… so I’m off to find out!
What questions do you have about Cuba? Would you visit on a Fathom cruise? Do you think this whole “impact travel” concept works on such a large scale?
Thank you to the fabulous Kristin Luna from Camels & Chocolate for sharing photos from her trip for this post.