Yes, that’s right, we’re already on the second part of the two-part series, so if you missed the first one, please go back here to get caught up!
In my last post on Cuba, I introduced you to an industry professional that has already logged plenty of travel miles in her Cuban business endeavors, and Renee Radabaugh of Cultural Explorations Cuba has managed to confirm what the rest of us have only just begun to suspect – that there’s no sign of this being a passing fad in the travel and tourism market. With multiple daily non-stop flights from both Miami and Orlando, and additional ones being constantly added from other locations around the United States, it’s becoming more convenient to get there and that’s the first measure of a good trip. But don’t buy your ticket just yet, because we still have a bit of a learning curve before we can grab our passports and pack our bags.
For instance at present, the only way Americans can travel to Cuba is understanding the regulations in place, and you can bank on the fact that any time you see the word ‘regulation’ the U.S. government is involved. For the time being, consider your pending Havana dream trip as a government supervised visit, and here are the 12-and-only-12 approved categories for Americans to travel to Cuba:
- Family visits (yes, documented proof is necessary)
- Official Government business (um, do we really want to go there?)
- Journalistic activity (yes, so the Hospitality Maven has a chance!)
- Professional research and meetings (again, the Maven has a chance!)
- Educational activities (pretty broad category)
- Religious activities
- Public performances, competitions, workshops, etc. (think your baseball team is good enough to compete with the Cubans?)
- Support for the Cuban people (?)
- Humanitarian projects (RE bringing in aid to the Cubans)
- Private research, educational or foundation activities (another broad-stroke opportunity. . .)
- Exportation, importation or transmission of informational materials (this will be interesting)
- Authorized export transactions (other than cigars, what do they have that we want?)
And rest assured that American travel is being watched, so if you go make sure you stay on your best behavior and follow the rules to make this journey memorable in a good way. That means going through a *licensed purveyor*, and that’s where my colleague, Renee, comes in. Her aforementioned business, Cultural Explorations Cuba, is one of only a few licensed operatives which means they seriously know what they’re doing and have the government sanctioned licensing to back that up. Being that it’s still such a young business in a new endeavor, I’d go so far as to compare her to Diana Nyblad, whom you may recall educated herself by dipping her toe in those shark infested waters multiple times prior to that final successful swim completed on September 3, 2013 across the Straits of FL from Key West to Havana. Diana’s journey was 53 hours and 110 miles enduring poisonous jellyfish and plenty of other dangers to be the first one to say “I did it!”.
But don’t worry, your journey shouldn’t be that treacherous. I checked with Renee on a few facts and rumors about ‘our’ trip to Cuba, and here’s a brief recap of some of my education:
FACT or FICTION: No good hotels? FICTION: Plenty of good hotels, but “standards of greatness may vary.” Like any good trip planner you need to book through reputable sources and ask questions to understand what you’re getting. Another way to look at this is to take note of how many different opinions, reviews, stars and ratings you can find on sites like Trip Advisor for any particular hotel or venue you’re investigating. (HINT: that’s why the USA is issuing licenses to specific companies so you can deal with people that know what they’re doing in Cuba.)
FACT or FICTION: No American credit cards accepted? FACT. There’s no American banking in place – yet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t banks. Just be prepared for large exchange rates on your US money, and/or travel with cash. There’s currently no limit on daily expenditures for American travelers, but there is a cap on the amount of merchandise a person can bring back to the USA, so go easy on those cigars and rum for abuela.
FACT OR FICTION: What about those antiquated taxis? Reliable? For real? FACT: They’re real, alright! Those retro-antique cars may be patched together with Japanese engines and parts from a Russian lawn mower, but they’re dependable and everywhere.
There are tons more travel details to report, but basically Renee summed things up nicely when she told me this: “You need to remember that Americans are the ONLY ones that haven’t been free to travel to Cuba [since 1961]. Canadians, Europeans – they’ve all been visiting for a long time, so there is an infrastructure in place for tourism as well as business travel. But opening the airwaves and waterways to US travelers requires different levels of groundwork and support services, and that will be an ongoing growth process. Presently, the overall goal of approved travel is still going to be cultural exchange in the context of people-to-people education and being able to immerse yourself in their history.”
And in the end, isn’t that what the joy of travel is all about?
*licensed purveyor* = Cultural Explorations Cuba has a specific people-to-people license issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s, Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). Pursuant to section 31 C.F.R. § 515.565(b)(2) of the Cuban Asset Control Regulations, this license allows U.S. Citizens who book a package with Cultural Explorations Cuba the ability to travel to Cuba legally. License # CT-2014-313195-1