Where We've Been and Where We Are Going

Jeff has a running joke about me...that I'm not happy unless I have at least 3 trips booked at any given time!  And I'm embarrassed to say, he's not wrong!  Last year I traveled to the Florida and the Bahamas on Enchantment of the Seas with my mother and teen daughter. In September and October, Jeff and I traveled to Eastern Europe and Danube River cruise on AmaPrima, and we took a college visit trip to Minnesota. So it seems there is always a trio (or more!) of trips to pack for each year. But I would argue (and I do!) that this because we take a very programmatic approach to fitting in the destinations we want into an already really busy life, and generally, we plan travel well in advance. 

With short vacation times, and our usually aggressive plans to see and do a lot in that short time, we like to book trips early to have plenty of time for planning and to ensure we get our first choice of all the components we want. The best hotels, cruise cabins or guides can book up even a year in advance!  We almost always book our trips a year or more in advance.

That all changed this year!

{People with more time, and fewer responsibilities can afford to wait it out and see what specials might pop up last minute.  You can get some good deals, but usually only on trips or components that for some reason didn't sell well in the first place (think cruises during hurricane season, or hotels that might be a little down at the heels or a destination off season)  If you don't mind making those kinds of compromises to save some money; waiting till the last minute is a great way to get a good value.}   

 

 Sunset from the Grandeur of the Seas; wondering about that distant Island!

Sunset from the Grandeur of the Seas; wondering about that distant Island!

Cuba

For years, when we've cruised the Caribbean from Florida, and I've always looked out the window on our sea days as we passed by Cuba, and been fascinated about this place.  After all, the place we just left- Miami, throbs with energy and music of a huge Cuban American population there. What is the island they left like now?  It's another of the world's politically complicated place, but our travel philosophy has always been that going to a place and learning about it, meeting the people (if that can be done safely) is the best way to learn about the differences and make an informed opinion.  I knew that for years an embargo trade and travel in Cuba had left citizens of the US on the outside, and people in Cuba unable to share the stories of their lives with us.  In 2000, some limited travel on "people to people" exchanges was allowed by the US government for the reasons I mention above, but they were discontinued in 2003, and resumed again in 2011. Ever since sailing by (at quite a distance to stay in International Waters) and seeing the lights glittering on Cuba and miles of undeveloped beaches, I imagined what it might be like to visit there.  

I put a "people to people" tour to Cuba on my list, when the licenses started being offered, but having at least 3 trips booked already, I didn't exactly have a "spot" on the calendar for a trip to Cuba.  But we wanted to fit in a short trip, between other travel we had planned.  At the time I had trouble finding an operator that offered a shorter trip; several were island tours lasting 10-15 days. (Overseas Adventure Travel, National Geographic, Natural Habitat, Roads Scholar, Friendly Planet etc) That's a luxury of time we didn't have, so I put it off and other trips made the top our list.  Our daughter almost traveled there with a high school group (and we were angling to find a way to latch onto that trip- after providing some pretty good photos of a prior student exchange, we were hopeful the lure of Jeff's photos might convince the teachers to let us join as chaperons!) but the tour company the school planned to use failed to secure the necessary license and that trip was cancelled. 

On December 21st, President Obama announced the normalization of relations with Cuba.  Politically, it will be debated, but one thing that will not be debated is that a change in US policy will mean changes for Cuba. Eventually, I imagine, US based Caribbean cruise ships will make regular ports of call in Cuba, and I will likely set foot there many times in the future.  But the announcement increased the urgency for us to see Cuba now before it changes!  This thought was confirmed when I called Insight Cuba to ask about their trips.  The representative, who has spent considerable time in Cuba, explained that her friends there could not wait to sell those old 1950s cars and buy modern ones! And I can just imagine the American antique car market salivating over those old cars coming into Miami via barge!  While we talked she confirmed my feelings that things are and will be changing in Cuba and NOW is the time to go to have a sense of that change when when I step off a cruise ship into Habana 10 years from now!

 Less than 6 months to do my research!

Less than 6 months to do my research!

So, we did something completely uncharacteristic for us!  We booked a trip less than 6 months away!! (only 6 months to plan- how will I cope!?!)  In June 2015, we will take Insight's Jazz in Havana tour. Insight offers people to people tours with guides and all the appropriate licenses. It's under the umbrella of a development organization that uses all the profits from the Cuba trips to pay for volunteer travel to other locations across the globe where they do development work.   It is only 5 nights, so fits perfectly in our schedule. The Jazz in Havana trip with visits to art galleries and museums, artists homes, and meetings with jazz musicians in Havana night clubs, is perfect for our daughters; a saxophone player and a design student.  Jeff is already salivating over the photographic opportunities, and I am looking forward to practicing my Spanish, dancing and meeting Cubans for myself in their home!

 Cuba seen from the Navigator of the Seas

Cuba seen from the Navigator of the Seas

So...what about the other 2 trips Jeff insists I must have booked? Well, there might be more than 3 booked now!  I have plans to travel to Florida next week and hope to blog live how to find "real Florida" among all the man made tourist attractions!  In April we will be sailing Adventure of the Seas from San Juan Puerto Rico, visiting Barbados, Antigua, St Marteen, St Lucia, and St Croix. Lastly, we've booked passage on the Azamara Journey from Miami to Cartegna, Columbia, through the Panama Canal and along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica in early 2016.