Beginning in August, Cuba Open to U.S. Tourists
By Dianne Newcomer
So, are you the kind of person who can put "been there, done that" on your travel resume? Have you have already seen all, or most, of the sites the experts deem worthy of viewing in our world?
Well, today is your lucky day! I have a new destination — only 30 minutes from Key West — to offer you: it is now legal for American citizens to go to Cuba! As a travel agent, I no longer need to send you to Toronto, Cancun or Jamaica for you to get into this island only 90 miles from our Florida coastline.
All those travel restrictions imposed by President George W. Bush in 2004 have now been reversed.
Effective this August, travel to Cuba is no longer limited to humanitarian or government sanctioned travel groups. You are now free to travel without fear of a $260,000 fine from the U.S. Treasury Department if you happen to be caught slipping into Cuba uninvited.
Now, please understand, I am not suggesting that in August you are going to be able to run out to the Monroe Airport, hop a flight to Havana, and be sunning on the beaches by the end of the day, but I am telling you to get ready, folks, because the doors are opening. The first wave of pure tourists from America will hit the friendly skies Aug. 11. It's a monumental event in our industry, because this little island of 11 million people — the 17th largest island in the world — is about to be forever changed by tourism.
Currently, Cuba welcomes more than million tourists every year, mainly Canadians, Brits and Italians. With the lifting of U.S. travel restrictions, major growth from Americans is anticipated, and why not? The island is perfectly located for us! With its rich history, diverse culture, superb beaches and natural beauty, Cuba is destined to become the Caribbean's new hotspot.
Cruise lines have been negotiating the feasibility of a port call for months. We are expecting a big announcement from Carnival Cruise Line really soon, but, for now, if you wish to travel to Cuba, you should consider traveling on one of our seven night pre-packaged tours which include accommodations in four and five star hotels, all entry fees, all meals, a letter of authorization, guide services, and all transportation within Cuba.
When the news about this policy change was announced last week, I immediately called Pastor Steve Rose, who took a group from his Oklahoma church on a mission trip to Havana this spring. I wanted Pastor Rose to know how much easier our next trip would be, thanks to the easing up of travel restrictions. I also wanted him to be aware that, like Miami, New Orleans has been approved to be one of the eight U.S. airports for charter flights to Havana.
"That's great news," said Pastor Rose, "since we already have a waiting list for our next trip, and we haven't even set the date yet. It's going to be difficult; no one from the last trip wants to give up their spot! "
"What made this trip so different?" I asked this very mission oriented group leader whom I have sent to such places as Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia, Honduras, Dominica, Jamaica, Mexico and Haiti.
"The mystique of Cuba is undeniable. Think about it: remember when we started planning this trip, you even told me you had a client who would pay four of my travelers expenses if only I would allow him to go in on our humanitarian visa. It's all about going where very few Americans have been — it's a forbidden paradise!
"We definitely had no idea what to expect when we arrived in Havana, but we always felt welcomed and safe. Very quickly, our trip became all about the Cuban people and not about the politics of Castro."
"Can you tell me a few words of advice for my future travelers to Cuba?" I asked my old friend.
"You must remind them Cuba is like going back in time — all the way back to the 1950s. So much of Cuba is untouched. It's like Cancun was in 1977! They want you there, but they probably have no idea about the change that is about to happen.
"Travelers need to know credit cards are not accepted. Traveler's Checks can be used but they are not insured if lost and can only be cashed at certain hotels. You need to have enough cash to get you through your time there, because, as you remember, even wiring money is so very challenging.
"Expect to spend as much as you would normally do on any other vacation. U.S. dollars are not accepted in public. It may be the last frontier as far as an island resort goes, but don't even think it is third world pricing for the tourist.
"Cubans are very friendly. They love to talk with you. I would encourage travelers not to shy away from conversation if approached. They are one of the most highly educated populace in the Caribbean, and you will know when there is a subject not to be discussed.
"Take pictures of just about anything in Cuba, except airports, certain government buildings, military installations and officials in uniforms.
"Petty theft is said to be prevalent, but we never felt any danger. It seemed there was a policeman on every corner!
"Moving around the island without any repercussions is not a problem. Yet, I would definitely recommend that your travelers stick with a pre-planned tour program; transportation problems can be challenging.
"The average temperature is approximately 78 degrees; the months between May and October are when two-thirds of the annual rainfall occurs. The best time to be there is from December to April when the days are drier with less humidity."
As we said our good byes, my preacher friend encouraged me to think seriously about going to this little island paradise. "To travel to Cuba is an incredible — and probably a very politically charged opportunity," he reminded me, " and no one knows how long it will last!"
Pastor Rose is right. If you have always wanted to add Cuba to your travel list, now is your chance. Call me and let's make plans. Who knows what will happen after Nov. 6, 2012?
Contact Dianne Newcomer at firstname.lastname@example.org, Monroe Travel Service, 1908 Glenmar St., 323-3465 or 800-365-3465.
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