I dreamed of visiting Cuba ever since I took a Hemingway class during a Minnesota winter in college. The people, the culture, and the island have always fascinated me. So when the major airlines announced flights to Havana, I started keeping an eye on airline ticket prices. In October, I came across $274 round trip tickets for January and booked it immediately after a quick consult with the husband.
We decided to take the kids because we wanted them to experience a country that was completely different from any of the other countries we’d been to. Reflecting back on our trip, we felt like we were treated better because we had kids with us. Cubans love children and embraced ours whole-heartedly.
With every place we travel, our kids gain another level of understanding of the world and learn many new things. This was definitely true during our visit to Cuba.
After I booked the tickets, I needed to come up with a game plan. I looked into tours at first as I was unsure if you could actually book your own trip as an American. Tour prices ranged from $6,000 to $10,000 for a family of five. Given the great deal I got on airfare I became determined to do it myself.
When you travel to Cuba as an American you have to choose one of 12 reasons for travel. I chose “people to people”
I found a tour company called Cuba Adventures that lined up a walking tour with a local guide and salsa dance lessons for all five of us. Additionally, I used a new website I discovered called Momaboard. A mom, “ambassador” in the city you are going to will plan out a seven-day itinerary for you at a cost of only $50. You fill out a survey ahead of time on your interests, how you like to travel, ages of your kids, etc. Everything is designed to be kid-friendly, including the restaurants the “mombassador” recommends. I would highly recommend this service based on the itinerary we received for Havana.
We stayed in two different AirBnB’s in Havana. One night was in the house of a Cuban family in a typical neighborhood. The rest of the time was in our own apartment that had caretakers, Pepe and Tania, who lived right below. Despite our lack of fluent Spanish, we became friends with them. Our last night in Havana, before heading to Varadero, my husband, our oldest and I were all recovering from the flu (upper respiratory, ugh). So Tania made us her famous homemade soup. The soup was amazing, but the gesture itself melted our hearts.
So there you have it. I did myself and so can you! Our total cost for lodging ( eight nights), airfare and our tours/Momaboard itinerary was under $3,500. This did not include meals, but still … Pretty dang good deal.
-Riding in a classic American car
-The canon ceremony, which happens every night at 9 pm
-Exploring behind the Hotel Nacional where there are cannons and war bunkers
-Salsa dance lessons
-The San Jose market where you can purchase souvenirs for as little as $2
-U.S. Credit Cards Do NOT work here. Period. Plan enough cash accordingly.
-You can catch a classic car in front of the Hotel Nacional. Tell them this isn’t your first time in Cuba and you don’t want to stop for cigars. Otherwise, they will have you stop at some lady’s house that is selling cigars who may or may not be legal.
-If you go to the canon ceremony, get there at 8 p.m. and get a spot right up front. It gets really crowded and then it’s not as easy to see. Or if you are running behind like we always are with three kids in tow, stay down below on the grassy area and you can see the ceremony above you.
-Keep in mind it is a Caribbean island and most people move on “island time.” Service will seem slow compared to service in the U.S. Don’t cut dinner time as close as you would in the U.S. unless you have older kids that are patient and don’t get “hangry.”
-The cars, for the most part, are very old. I naively brought a blow-up booster seat for our youngest. Most of the cars we rode in I couldn’t even tell you where the seat belts were and we didn’t witness one kiddo or baby riding in a car seat. So when in Rome….
-If someone gets sick – like our oldest did on this trip – and you have to go to the hospital it’s not as much of a nightmare as it sounds at first. In our experience, an angelic nurse appeared out of nowhere when I was trying to check us in and spoke fluent English. My Spanish is not good enough to explain ear infection, fever, and chills, but luckily the doctor spoke some English as well. It was old school: no computers, an old thermometer stick, no fancy gadgets lining the walls of the patient rooms. But the rooms were clean and they got us in and out rather quickly. The cost of the medicine the doctor prescribed to our son was very affordable. Phew.
-Many of the toilets including the ones at the airport have no toilet seats. It’s just a bowl. This made for a great arm workout – ha – as I held our 3-year-old over the toilet seat each time to pee.
-We couldn’t find tissue/Kleenex anywhere. So if you have allergies or get sick while there it is best to bring your own and be prepared.
– Our favorite restaurant was Paladar Rio Mar Restaurant in Havana. It has great seafood and a wonderful view. However, I won’t lie and say the food was amazing. It was average at best. By the last day when we were flying out I wish I had packed and saved some Luna bars or something along those lines to tide all of us over until we returned to the U.S.