Thomson Cruises’ Onboard Entertainment Director Heads To Cuba
I’m standing on the bridge as Thomson Dream pulls into the Port of Havana. The city stretches out around us and off the bow I can see Che Guevara’s house and Cuba’s answer to Rio’s Christ the Redeemer. On one of my first visits to Havana I took a tour in the back of a shocking-pink Fifties Cadillac and my guide said “you know they have Christ the Redeemer in Brazil? Well so do we, but this is Cuba, so instead of having his arms outstretched he’s smoking a cigar and holding a Mojito!” and when you see it, that’s exactly what it looks like.
Havana does things unashamedly its way, and the atmosphere is unlike anything experienced anywhere else in the world. When I heard we were going to Cuba, I didn’t really know what to expect. We took a Cadillac tour of the city and that was it, I was sold. You can tell that in its heyday, the city would’ve been astounding. The buildings have an incredible grandeur about them – stunning architecture that, after years of forced neglect, has now faded to near ruin. In parts, the city looks like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie, but in a magical way still stands proud with the memories of its past.
When a small group of us got off to find somewhere to eat, we stumbled across a small entrance to what looked like somebody’s hallway. A spiral staircase lined with candles and rose petals led to the first floor where a polite and quietly-spoken man handed us a card and asked if we wanted to eat. Now, travelling as much as we do, you learn to always politely say no and move on, but on this occasion we stopped, looked at the menu and then ventured up the stairs.
The place had the feeling of sitting in someone’s house as the waiters fussed around you, desperately trying to make you feel at home. We went on to eat one of the best meals I have ever experienced in the Caribbean while a three-piece Cuban band played in the corner. We’ve since been back and met the owner, who has told us that, until three years ago, this was his family home, and the room that we were sat in had been his daughter’s bedroom. “See,” he said, “the walls are still painted pink”. That welcoming, makeshift genuineness is present everywhere you go in this uniquely wonderful city. You really feel like you have been immersed in the real Havana.
It’s always a joy to get back on the ship after a call in Cuba. You can feel that the guests have brought some of that vibe and buzz back onboard with them. As I stand on the Lido Deck with the passengers, the sun begins to set over the city as we sail away. Taxi drivers and local passersby stand on the quayside waving their goodbyes and we gladly return the sentiment.