Finally, the day that we’d been waiting for was here. I set my alarm for 6 am so I’d be awake for our early (8 am) arrival into Havana. However, it was October, and sunrise time for Havana wasn’t until nearly 7:30. I realized that almost all places looked the same in the dark – I probably could have slept an extra half hour.
We stayed in our room getting ready and kept an eye out our window to see when it started to get light. At around 7 am, we went up to the Windjammer to get some coffee and breakfast, and after that we headed up to the top deck outside to get some pictures as we sailed into Havana. The pre-sunrise pictures were the best – soft light and some great colors in the sky. There was a lot of excitement on deck as we approached Havana.
Our shore excursion in Havana had a listed meeting time of 8 am in the ship’s theater. We showed up and found about half the ship there as well! (Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit.) We learned that they use the theater as a staging area for the departure of tour groups. You have to go through immigration as soon as you get into the cruise terminal, and this process often gets backed up. Better to wait in the air-conditioned theater!
We did wait, for about 45 minutes, in the theater before our tour group was called. We disembarked and waited for a few minutes before we were allowed into the terminal, where we stood in lines about 7-8 people deep at one of about 15 stations, each of which were manned by a Cuban immigration officer.
When it’s your turn, you go up to the officer’s station by yourself, regardless of whether you’re traveling with someone else. (I suppose with children it might be different.) You hand the officer your passport, your Cuban visa (given to you when you check in for the cruise), and your cruise card. You’ll be asked to take off any hats and also glasses, even if they’re normal glasses you wear for correcting your vision. A hanging digital camera will take your picture, your passport will be stamped (twice, one for your entry and one for your exit), and you’ll be on your way.
After passing through immigration, your next stop is straight ahead of you. It’s the place where you change your money for CUCs (Cuban Convertible Peso), the money that’s used by visitors to Cuba. I’d read on a couple of blogs that you’re best to bring money that is not American dollars, if you can (e.g. Euros, British pounds, Canadian dollars); the Cuban government charges a tax on the change of American money. (Can’t say I blame them.)
Knowing this, I brought some Euros and British Pounds that I had left over from previous trips. At this first stop, I changed 220 Euros for 250 CUC. In hindsight, I wish I had changed more at the cruise terminal, but that’s largely because we wound up spending about 150 CUC on cigars. If you’re not planning to make that sizable of a purchase, this amount of cash should be sufficient for you. (You can read in Part II how we changed some money later in the day.)
With our passports stamps and our CUCs in hand (well, in my purse), we headed out to meet our bus for the day’s tour. (Read more)