UPDATE: The travel restrictions to Cuba for U.S. citizens have been reinstated. Read more about it here.
When the travel restrictions were eased for traveling to Cuba, the cruise lines jumped at the opportunity to start sailing to Havana. We finally were able to go aboard Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas over Labor Day weekend! Needless to say, we had a wonderful experience. We are very loyal to Royal because we always have a nice time and they have a fabulous loyalty program called Crown & Anchor Society. Since we reached the Diamond level, we almost exclusively sail with Royal now because the perks are so worth it. We also enjoy sailing with Royal because the ships feel like a second home now.
Empress of the Seas is the smallest ship in the fleet. She used to be a Royal ship, was sold to Pullmantur Cruises, and then Royal Caribbean decided to purchase Empress back from Pullmantur, refurbish her, and set sail for Cuba. The refurb took longer than expected, but in April of 2017 Empress of the Seas set sail for Cuba. This cruise was definitely about the itinerary and not the ship. The ship is lovely, but it lacks amenities we have grown used to on other Royal ships. The fantastic crew definitely makes up for lack of amenities. The one thing that we really missed on this ship was a Solarium, but other than that we had such a great time meeting others on the ship and speaking with the crew and officers. This ship also lacks a Diamond Lounge for Diamond level Crown & Anchor guests, but we could still enjoy our happy hour drinks and they did have two private events. When you sail on the smaller ships, the level of service (in our experience) is usually much better.
While Empress was a little too small for us, we still had a wonderful time. Be prepared though, the cabins are TINY! We did get lucky with the weather. If it would have been bad weather, we probably would have been a little more restless on the ship. Luckily we were able to be outside and enjoy the views.
The ship has some great bar/lounge areas. Of course there is the Schooner Bar and Viking Crown Lounge. There is also a great lounge called Boleros. We really enjoyed the live music on the ship. All the bands were really great, especially the Latin band. Our cruise director, Carlos, even sang one night!
This sailing went to Tampa – Key West – Havana – Cozumel – Sea Day – Tampa. Our stop in Key West actually turned out really nice because we were the only ship in port! It was the least crowded we had ever seen Key West during the day. We had a nice leisurely walk to the southernmost point and shopped a little bit. Our stop in Havana was obviously the highlight and why most people were on this cruise. We were impressed by how well the crew prepared us for this port. The cruise director and hotel director did a great presentation and Q&A session about what to expect going through immigration, exchanging currency, and just general information about what to expect in Havana. While you do not need to go on a tour through the ship, we wanted to just because it was our first time here and we felt more comfortable going with a tour guide first and then walking around on our own later. Our last stop was Cozumel. The weather wasn’t great here. It was overcast and rained on and off. This made it nice for walking around, but some people were planning on going to the beach which was unfortunate. We docked at the International Pier, which has recently been redone. Because we’ve been to Cozumel many times, we spent this time just hanging out at the pier doing some shopping and having some drinks at Senor Frogs.
All in all, this was another great cruise and we got to go to a completely new place. Sometimes the Caribbean islands, while beautiful, can start to look alike, so it was really neat to stop at a new port. We can’t wait until our next cruise!