We at Vantage love it when travelers share their experiences with us—it helps us learn what we are doing right and what we can further focus on as part of our continued commitment to excellence. Sometimes, travelers like June Zieff of Aventura, Florida, take it the extra mile, both traveling and writing and submitting essays and pictures that they’ve also shared with their friends. (We consider her a friend, too!) June sent some of her musings about her recent Across Cuba: From Santiago de Cuba to Havana journey, and we wanted to pass it along so adventurers like you know what awaits! Do you want to share feedback about your trip? Please email us through the MyPortfolio section of the website, or reach out by clicking here.
Cuba, in one satisfied traveler’s words
I have extensive travel experience, but my trip to Cuba with Vantage was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve ever had.
My journey with 25 other travelers began in Santiago de Cuba on the southwestern part of the Island and concluded in Havana on the northern part of the Island. After two nights there, we traveled the width of the island in 12 days via motorcoach, affording us the most spectacular scenery and comprehensive experience possible. After Santiago de Cuba, we visited Holguin, Camaguey, and Cayo Santa Maria (Remedios) before arriving in Havana.
I always knew the Cuban people were warm, friendly, and generous. These facts were proven beyond my expectations starting with our local guide, Israel Olivera Acosta. During our 12-day trip, Israel’s personal life experiences and fondness for recipes greatly added to the information he shared. For instance, he has led birdwatching and horticultural expeditions so he could describe winged creatures and answer questions about what kind of animal flew by or what tree we were walking by. He was almost a walking encyclopedia! When we asked how many Jewish people live in Cuba, he was at the ready: “Just about 1,200, and most of them live in Havana!”
Vantage offers great service from start to finish. As well as the local guide, this trip had an ambassador accompany the group from beginning to end. They met us at the airport, ran into booked hotels before you to secure the rooms, confirmed reservations for tours, restaurants, theater commitments and more. In this case, “more” means everything from soup to nuts—like tie your shoes if you cannot bend down because you ate a lot of food at the restaurant! (Bound to happen because meals are so yummy!) For us, that ambassador was Roberto Rocafort.
Before we even left our home ports, he was sending emails giving us valuable tips about the Cuban experience. He reassured us he would be available at the departure airport to secure visas and get us to the proper gates. He performed non-stop for 12 days—you could never believe what this man accomplished in 24 hours. And he did it every day! He told us about his vast experience in the travel industry that explained his canniness in being able to know what to do before it needed doing.
And then there was our bus chauffeur, Willie—the most excellent bus magician driving in and around narrow streets, up and down winding hills, and delivering his passengers with style. Our group embraced this man and his charming personality, and it made our trip so much fun.
I could write pages of the things I learned and the experiences I had, like encountering a man named David in a bookstore in Santiago who helped us find a picture book I was looking for. On our walkabout, he showed Roberto where our dinner was being held that evening. Along with dinner, there would be Cuban entertainment and dancing. I asked if he could join us for his efforts. He said he would like to but it cost five cucs (roughly five dollars) and he did not have it. So I gave him the money and he showed up dressed in a beautiful shirt and danced with many travelers in our group. He told Roberto how good he felt being welcomed into our group for the evening and I can tell you a lot of the single ladies he danced with were happy, too!
As a whole, I highly recommend this Cuban adventure—especially if you travel sooner rather than later. We learned that Cuba is changing—I hope a slow change, but with cruise ships arriving at several ports on a weekly basis and today’s needs for the Internet and other material goods, Havana may soon look like any other big city in the world. Every day, news coming out of Florida via my governor, Rick Scott, and other media sources tells a different story of the changing policies regarding Cuba. So by the time you read this trade and sanction rules will be different! My best advice: travel now.