Traveling to Cuba: 5 Tips No One Tells You!

When the embargo restrictions for travel to Cuba were lifted and televised, I knew instantaneously that I HAD TO GO!

A few months later, my childhood friend and I stumbled upon a flight deal, and my dream became a reality in December 2016.

I had all of these preconceived notions of what Cuba would look like, how the people would be, the food would taste, and so forth.  I am happy to report, that all those illusions and fantasies were SHATTERED after our taxi dropped us off from the airport. This experience leads me to

TIP #1: Confirm ALL PRICES UP FRONT. Write them down if you have to, and make sure if it is more than one person, the price established is for “ambos” both people.

Our taxi driver told us the ride would cost $25 to our hotel. Well they got lost, annoyed, and when we pulled up, my friend handed him $25, an I handed him $30 (not knowing she paid them already) and magically, our $25 price was per person.

We took the “L” on the chin, and dubbed it as our first mistake and learning experience.  Just any FYI, a taxi  from the airport to Old Havana area should not cost no more than 20-25 CUC PERIOD.

Being the brave individuals we are, we decided to “wing” our entire trip. Hotel accommodations included.  We wanted to stay at Hotel Ambos Mundos for at least one night (this is where Hemmingway resided and wrote some books).  After our taxi dropped us off, a guy with a cart was waiting with a bell cart to take our bags to the hotel.  He dropped us off and demanded 10 CUC per person for a 30 second walk!!!!

WELLLL we was hip to this game, took our bags, gave him a FIRM NO, and walked away!

We learned the hotel was totally booked, and we left to find an Air BNB aka Casa Particular.  A nice couple noticed us walking with our bags, and agreed to assist us with finding some where to stay.  We went to a few different places who all stated they were booked.  Finally we found a lovely place to stay a couple nights thanks to the couple’s assistance.  My friend and I decided we could take them out to dinner with us and pick up the tab.  We DID NOT TELL THEM THIS. We simply invited them to go eat with us.

They directed us to a restaurant that served a great deal of seafood.  They ordered lobster and shrimp platers with alcoholic drinks. Then they asked us, if they could have another drink. (Insert side eye emoji  here). My friend and I was utterly disgusted that, they had absolutely NO INTENTION on paying for their meal.  These lovely experiences leads me to

TIP #2: ALL acts of kindness come with a price tag: DO NOT  expect any native to do, say, or give you ANYTHING without a price tag.  My suggestions is to figure it out on your own, ask someone who is not from there, ask your hotel concierge or casa host for any assistance you may need.

TIP #3: The food there is extremely bland, due to importing issues they do not have many seasonings or spices.  Even butter for bread or your seafood appeared to be a rare commodity.  My friend told her friend who was traveling to Cuba a few days after us, to bring some hot sauce, seasoning salt, and adolbo.  She thought we were joking, but it was in all seriousness.

After our 2 nights in Havana, we were off to Trinidad.  I paid the host 80 CUC for my 70 CUC bill, but I told her to keep the change.  My friend gave her a 100 CUC bill and was given 20 CUC back for her 70 CUC bill.  Due to us rushing because our taxi was early, she didn’t realize the discrepancy in her change until we were on the road.  Again, we felt slighted and cheated, but gave her the benefit of the doubt, that she thought she was going to tip her as did I.

After one night in Trinidad, we really didn’t care for the place and went back to Havana.  Once back in Havana, we decided to take one of the Bike Taxi’s for a quick ride around the city.  The cost was 10 CUC for an hour.  After the hour was over, we gave him 20 CUC, and he attempted to put it in his pocket.  When we asked for change he played the “no change game”.

TIP #4: ALWAYS HAVE EXACT CHANGE. On several occasions, taxi drivers, casa host, restaurants, etc tried to keep our change.  It was amazing to watch them suddenly not understand English or SPANISH when it came to discussing change.

My last piece of advice for traveling to Cuba

TIP #5: Speak some of the language. In Havana, most natives don’t speak any English.  Expressing your needs and wants will be very difficult, and leave you very vulnerable to scams if you can’t understand what is going on.  I was thankful for the bit of Spanish I knew, because it truly saved us from getting scammed repeatedly! 

I have to admit, that most of these bad experiences only occurred in Havana.  I have more to say on my adventures in Cuba, so stay tuned!

 

Flying to Orlando: Must Pack

I will admit, I have not flown to every city in the good ol’ USA.  However, I have flown enough to know, one destination in particular is by far my least favorite.

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IF you are braving the air to this destination, you BETTER pack two essential items:

  1. Headphones
  2. Patience

Anything else you bring along is just extra.  Anything else you could ever want, need, or desire, you can buy when you get there.  However, if you want to make it there with your sanity intact, you better bring the two items above.

Why do I say Orlando is the worst flight? Here it is:

  1. There is a guarantee there will be kids…many kids on this flight, on their way to Disney World etc.  These kids will vary with temperaments from the most docile child to the tantrum throwing brat that you pray doesn’t sit next to you.

 

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I get this face ALL THE TIME with The Duke

 

My family and I just visited Orlando this past week for a baseball tournament.  I haven’t been here in 2 years, and forgot how dreadful this flight can be!

All other kids aside, I’d bet money my son was THE WORST ONE in the air.  I swear I wanted to pretend I was an annoyed passenger in the seat with strangers.  However he blew my cover with Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mom. Mommy….every chance he got!

This less than 2 hour flight feels like pure torture when you have a little one as ornery and active as mine. I genuinely would like to take the opportunity to apologize in advance to every and anyone who has to grace the air with my rambunctious son.  Again, if you see this face waiting to board a plane, check for your headphones, and patience before boarding (YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED).

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On another note, for parents with a child/ren like mine, here are things I pack to TRY and make the flight as smooth as possible

  • Ipad/Tablet with headphones- make sure you download their favorite shows BEFORE hand!
  • Snacks/Juice box
  • Blanket/Pillow
  • Portable Charger
  • Coloring Books/Crayons
  • The one toy your child simply can’t live without (my son’s is an etch-a-sketch)

In conclusion to my rant, I will leave all those flying with small children with this:  If you can get a late flight…things will be so much smoother, I promise!

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Costa Rica Esplendor Hotel Review

This past weekend was a girls trip to Costa Rica!!! We all decided on the Esplendor Hotel in Tamarindo, Costa Rica! On a scale of 1-10 I would give this place a 6.5, and here’s why:

Pros:

  • The view is AMAZING! When you pull up you are greeted with cool towels (so I heard…we did not get this royal treatment, but I’m sure it is the normal) a refreshing drink, and a breath-taking view of the infinity pool overlooking the ocean.

EsplendorThis literally is how it looked when we pulled up! (Unedited!)

  • The pool was awesome! We loved the infinity pool and the view we had to the ocean. The swim up bar was an added bonus!

 

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The pool from our room!
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  • It was very clean! I loved the fact the grounds were well maintained, the property was litter free, and the housekeepers were awesome with cleaning up after us messy ladies!!

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The lobby area
Things to consider:

  • Location.  This hotel has a spectacular view because it is situated HIGH (and I mean HIGH) up in altitude.  Walking down to the town isn’t bad per se…but walking back up was a nightmare.  We paid $5 a night to avoid the hill after one trip up.
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This was me motivating myself to walk down the hill one last time!
  • Transportation. The hotel does have a shuttle service, HOWEVER it ONLY runs every 30 minutes, with a 2 1/2 hour break around lunch and stops at 8pm.  The shuttle seats about 12-15 people and was always full leaving people to wait or walk.  Beings as though the ONE STOP to town (besides the beach house) is only a TWO MINUTE DRIVE (we timed it), they really should and NEED to run this van a bit more frequently.

 

  • Breakfast. I honestly can say they served THE SAME FOOD EVERY DAY WE WERE THERE! It was free and included, but after awhile, beans and rice, bacon, fruit, cereal, and toast was old.  For beverages, the options consisted of orange juice, milk, tea or coffee.  On the last day there, they ran out of eggs at 8am (they serve from 7-10am).

 

When it was all said and done, overall, we really enjoyed our stay.  We probably wouldn’t stay here again, just because we would like to try something new, and avoid $5 hill taxis.  We hope this lovely establishment take these suggestions into consideration to improve on an already awesome home away from home!

My New Release On Life

Over the years, I have become addicted to traveling.  Every new country I visit gives me a new release and perspective on life.  Its a feeling and experience I have yet to be able to put into words.  In this section, I plan to share my adventures in an attempt to give what I feel when I travel words.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Although as amazing as some of my pictures and videos will be, I still don’t feel they capture how those moments radiated my heart, my mind, my soul and existence.

 

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