CUBA CRUISE 2019: Part 7: Santiago de Cuba

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Friday, January 11, 2019

This day we were at sea until late in the afternoon. With no specific plans we sent out our laundry, our cabin steward picking it up with a return delivery by the following afternoon. A leisurely breakfast, catching up with my trip notes and a good workout in the Sactum gym rounded out my morning. In the afternoon we participated in the trivia games as we entered the harbor of Santiago de Cuba. 

Led in by the harbor pilot boat, we were anchored out in the harbor by 4 pm. Here in Santiago de Cuba we would be tendered ashore. Soon after setting anchor, the crew began lowering the lifeboats/ tenders that would shuttle everyone ashore.

After dinner, onboard, the disembarkation began at 8 pm. Once one tender was filled and on its’ way to shore, another would pull alongside the ship and repeat the process. Three or four of these shuttles were in operation, taking over 10 minutes each way to complete the trips. 

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Our nighttime shore excursion would be fun and memorable, as we were to experience the live performance at the Tropicana. Buses delivered us to the open-air theatre, where, thankfully, earlier showers had ceased allowing the spectators to experience the fabulous show. 

From the time we stepped into the building we were greeted by scantily dressed, spectacularly be-feathered young ladies offering us Cuban cigars. 

Out under the stars, terraced levels lined with tables and chairs awaited us. Included at the tables were bottles of rum and cola (to, of course, make Cuba Libres, aka, Rum and Cokes) in addition to plates of meats and cheeses for appetizers. 

With clear skies above us and a massive stage before us, the Tropicana spectacle, dazzling and colorful with dance and music soon commenced. Magnificently costumed dancers  entered from backstage as well as from amidst the trees on both the right and left. Circular staircases cascading down to the main stage, allowed more radiantly bedecked dancers to flow out before us.


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Tropical Caribbean, Latin, Afro-Latin music and dance all converged on stage resulting in a hot and sultry, spicy and sexy performance by the energetic, enthusiastic and thoroughly entertaining troupe. This was the best yet of the several shows or performances to which the Cubans had treated us during our trip leaving us with a tantalizing final taste of Cuban hospitality.

It was, indeed, magnificent!

Returning to the dock, we waited our turn for the next tender and once back onboard, we were soon off to sleep (where visions of brilliantly colored performers danced in my head).

The following day would be bitter sweet, as it would be the end of this marvelous visit to Cuba.

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Mark Nowery photos:

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These two photos represent Columbus' discovery of the New World with the ships Niña, Pinta and the Santa Maria.

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Tendered ashore early this morning, we passed through the mandatory security/passport check and then boarded waiting tour busses for our several hours Santiago city tour. 

Starting with a stop at the city’s central plaza, our guide spoke to us about the city’s history and significance of several surrounding buildings.  

This plaza was abundantly busy, not only with tour groups and everyday citizens going about their business, but also a performing group entertaining the visitors with vivacious Latin dance moves and music. One of tour group was even seen joining the dance, moving fluently to the rhythm of the tropical beat. 

Leaving the plaza we walked several blocks to a small bar where we crowded in and were futher entertained by a small band and two Tango dancers. The Cubans surely do love to sing, play music and dance, a fitting reflection of their culture and hospitality.

As our tour continued we passed by several historic sites, one a garrison that played a significant part in the Cuban Revolution with Fidel Castro. Bullet holes in the garrison building are reminders of a failed attack by Castro’s men. 

Of historical note in Santiago de Cuba is the Spanish American War of 1898. The Cubans were suffering under Spanish rule and plead with the US for intervention since 1895. While American sympathies ran high to assist, it was when the USS Maine (sent there to protect Americans and their interests) was sunk in Havana harbor that our president William McKinley declared war with Spain. It was a brief conflict. One of the decisive battles was at San Juan Hill in Santiago de Cuba. On this hill, Teddy Roosevelt charged his Rough Riders up to defeat the Spanish soldiers.   Spain surrendered and as a result, the US was launched as a world power with Spain renouching all claim to Cuba and ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the US as well as transferring sovereignty of the Phillipines to the US.

Learning about Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders in history classes, I always imagined San Juan Hill to be more like a mountain, thus all the bravado and courage of the Rough Riders to attack, under fire, as they forced themselves up the slopes to overcome the foes.

Much to my surprise (and some disappointment), San Juan Hill is not nearly the insurmountable land mass that I had pictured. It is indeed a hill, but from my point of view, one that, for me, would be quite a simple stroll to ascend. However, given the time period and location, it was a higher point in the area around Santiago in 1898, and may have required more effort than my imagination allowed. 

While our bus tour of Santiago de Cuba was informative, I do regret that we did not have opportunities to exit the bus to further explore the sites we were driven past. Next time (?), I would prefer to spend more time off the bus to more fully experience those famous places.

One more stop on the tour would help appease my desire to have a closer look at an historic place - that was the Morro Fortress that overlooks the entrance to Santiago de Cuba’s harbor.

Located high above the harbor, with views out to the sea and up and down the coast, this fortress’s overlook commanded the comings and goings of hundreds of years of ship traffic. Here too cannons, now long asleep, still peered out over the waters, where threats of attack are alive only in imaginations. 

Time at Morro Fortress was brief, not allowing us time to go inside, but some exploring outside was enough to activate my visions of life as it might have been hundreds of year before I stepped foot on this land. 


Leading up to the fort were a line of vendors and restaurants both catering to the tourists. It was at one of those eateries that we were served a filling lunch, after which we were transported back to the dock and tendered back to the Azamara Journey.

On the docks were a few classic cars in addition to live human statues in the form of a soldier, policeman and top hatted guitar player. At first appearances they looked to be lifelike bronze statues, then, startlingly, but in slow motion, they might alter their positions. In many ways they were similar to mimes but who held poses for long time periods. It was a very warm day. I can only imagine that those “statues” were heating up uncomfortably.

When the last group had arrived back onboard, the tenders were raised back aboard and secured in place. By 4 p.m. the Journey began hauling anchor, only to have become entangled in an underwater cable which prompted the ship to slowly swing around. The delay was brief. The ship then headed out of the bay as the sun sank lower into the Western horizon. With the late afternoon sun casting a golden glow over the land, we passed, silently past the Morro Fortress and out to sea once again. 

Onboard, later this evening, passengers were treated to a lavish Chocolate Affair. Fondues, cookies, brownies, pastries, cakes, cheesecakes, petit fours, puddings and almost any imaginable delicious chocolate creation were delightfully presented and savored. 

Were these resplendent treats meant to foster sweet dreams?

If so, fond memories of Cuba, it’s people and culture were already firmly established in my mind. 

Out across the dark sea, we sailed on throughout the night.



The “Tenders” (lifeboats) shuttled passengers from and to the ship.

u © Donald E. Kline 2012