|One of the many colorful, artistically decorated homes in Cuba.|
It appears as though more and more tour operators are starting to get the hang of the People-to-People initiative in Cuba, something several companies still didn’t follow accordingly when it was first introduced.
The People-to-People education program requires Americans who wish to visit the island nation to take part in various cultural experiences there, essentially, as the name implies, putting them in direct contact with the people of Cuba with hopes of learning about the way of life there.
Although land-based tours were the primary offerings when the initiative was first implemented, cruise ships are beginning to get onboard as well. Travel Agent breaks down the latest Cuba offerings.
Abercrombie & Kent
Following the inaugural year of providing American travelers the opportunity to legally experience Cuba at its most authentic, Abercrombie & Kent USA has been granted a two-year renewal to its license to offer educational exchange programs to Cuba by the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Beginning in October, Abercrombie & Kent will offer Cuba: People-to-People, a 10-day program filled with meaningful interactions and American-Cuban connections designed to reveal the spirit of this culturally rich island.
Clients can embark on a Connections Journey to Cuba with a small group of no more than 24 guests and led by an A&K program director and expert local guides. Travel beyond Havana to Caibarién in northern Cuba, and west to the rural countryside of Vinales for complete immersion in Cuban culture. Explore its architecture, agriculture, music and cuisine during intimate, one-to-one educational exchanges with local residents.
Guests can compare the distinct differences and similarities between Cuba and the United States with a briefing on the history of U.S.-Cuban relations by a Foreign Service scholar in Havana. Gain insight into Cuba’s well-regarded public health-care system during an informal, engaging conversation with a local physician; discuss everything from physician training to research and production during an exchange of ideas or issues around the subject.
John and Mary Stachnik, co-owners of Mayflower Tours, visit a local Cuban artist.
Clients can uncover the Havana only a long-time resident would know. They explore the city by foot with a local architect who offers authentic insights into its charming, historic styles. Dine at a paladar (family-run restaurant) where the owners share their passion for Cuban cuisine and discuss what is involved in running a private business in Cuba‚ an opportunity that, historically, was all but unheard of. Join renowned Cuban painter and ceramicist Jose Fuster on a neighborhood walk, followed by a discussion of the role of the arts in contemporary Cuban culture.
From sugar to tobacco to fishing, clients can discover Cuba’s strong ties to the land and sea. Pay an interactive visit to a cigar factory, where local craftsmen teach guests their craft; then, discuss how life is actually lived on a working tobacco farm during a discussion with the farmers. Explore Las Terrazas eco-community with resident specialists for a better understanding about Cuba’s environmental commitments at this unique UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Clients can engage in a conversation on fishing practices with a local fisherman, an experience revealing the industry’s impact on the local community.
Mayflower Tours owners John and Mary Stachnik, who recently visited Cuba, have announced their company’s People-to-People Travel program to the island, with departures visiting Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Havana and much of the countryside. With a license granted to the company by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, Mayflower will operate its first departure in early 2015.
People-to-People events include dining in several of Cuba’s paladars‚ which are privately owned-and-operated family restaurants that add to the flavor (in more ways than one) of the visit; a tour of a cigar factory; understanding the local antique-automobile phenomenon with rides meeting with the cars’ owners and other interactive events. Travelers are accompanied by an English-speaking Cuban guide.
The nine-day program, which is priced at $4,199 per person, includes 20 meals, all dining gratuities, round-trip transfers between Miami hotel and airport, and non-stop charter flights from Miami to Cuba, as well as return flights.
Cuba Cruise News
Through the People-to-People Exchange program, Wilderness Travel is offering the new Cuba Cultural Adventure small ship cruise starting November 29. The itinerary will sail for eight days on a three-masted small cruiser with room for 48 passengers.
The voyage travels around the western side of the island with stops at multiple UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Old Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad City. Highlights include salsa dancing onboard the ship, a ceramics workshop, multiple walking tours of historic cities, a visit to a sea turtle breeding center, snorkeling Cayo Largo, a stop at an 18th-century coffee plantation, and viewing the Canon Blast Ceremony that dates to the Colonial period in Havana.
The 48-guest Panorama has two bars, a sun deck, a swimming platform, two lounges and a library. All cabins face outward and have private bathrooms.
Wilderness Travel will offer 19 different departures for the journey beginning November 2014 and continuing through April 2015. Pricing starts at $4,799 per person double occupancy.
About People-to-People Travel
The People-to-People initiative was implemented by President Clinton in 1999 and suspended by President Bush in 2004 before President Obama resurrected the program during his first term. Insight Cuba got the ball rolling in 2011. After Insight became the first licensed operator to sell the island through this initiative, other operators followed suit, including Collette Vacations, National Geographic Expeditions and International Expeditions.
But requirements were tightened last year after criticism that many of the trips were masking recreational tourism to the communist island. Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) criticized the government for approving licenses for groups that included activities such as salsa dancing.