This is a map of Cuba. Can you see Cienfuegos? Look for Cuba in red. Cienfuegos is right above it.
Welcome to Cienfuegos! This is a shot of the harbor as we sailed in, but that is not my ship. The Empress of the Sea is much bigger.
This is another shot of the harbor. Can you see the boats up front? The mountains in the distance?
I didn’t know Cuba had mountains. When we sailed around the island on the way to Grand Cayman, we saw them in the distance. It was my first view of Cuba.
Here’s one last shot. It looks beautiful from the boat, not touristy, Just land and water and nature. Beautiful!
Let’s Go Ashore
This is the tender we took to ferry us into Grand Cayman and back. It took about an an hour or two for everyone to get off the boat. Easy peasy!
Cienfuegos wasn’t! Imagine that Grand Cayman tender cut in half. That’s the boat we climbed aboard. It had one deck that held about 40 people. It took 35 trips (3-4 hours) to unload everyone from the ship. The first 15 trips took forever! Really! But we weren’t in any rush. By the time we slept in and ate breakfast we were waiting for Tender 28 out of the 35. Sleeping in is always a good thing!
This is a paper reminder that you need to get a special Cuban passport before you can set foot on the island. It’s $75 a person, $150 for my husband and me. We paid for it before we even climbed aboard the ship in Miami. In return we each received two documents to fill in.
One was from the American government. We had to pick a reason why we wanted to go to Cuba. We marked we were there to support the Cuban people. Correction- we took a third party tour from a local group.
The other document was from the Cuban government. It was much shorter and asked for basic information like our names, address, birth-dates, passport numbers, and why we were there, at least that’s what I remember. We were told that we’d have to show that document at Cuban customs, and that they would take it from us either in Cienfuegos or Havana.
When we landed in Cienfuegos, we went into the old customs building. We were packed in like sardines, waiting our turn with the customs officers who’d look over our paperwork. My husband and I each carried an American passport, a Cuban passport, a key card from the ship, and a questionnaire for the American government. The official looked over my documents and sent me through the gate. I waited for my husband to follow. Next up, getting some Cuban money! They don’t accept American dollars or credit cards in Cuba. On to the next line!
At the next gate there were 4 sets of cargo containers that worked as bank offices. We waited in line, again, to exchange our money. It was a great deal for the Cuban government. They got 13% when we traded our dollars into CUCS, and then another 13% when we trade the CUCS back into dollars. That’s 26% total, or like $26 out of every $100 in American money. Like I said, a great deal for the Cuban government.
Look at the money carefully because there are 2 kinds of bills floating around Cuba. One kind has people on it. The other has places. You want places on yours because it’s worth more. Be careful when you buy from a street vendor. Make sure you get back bills with places, not people. I took a picture of the front and back of my bills and coins. I had a 1, 5, 10, and 20 in CUCS. Those were the bills we used. Thank goodness they were all places! I’d hate to have money troubles…I have so much fun spending it!
The coins above were hard to see so they got a close-up. Sorry, I didn’t have a 1 cent coin left, but I still had 5’s, a 10, and 25’s. The coin on the top left is worth 5 cents. The bottom left coin is worth 25. The middle one is worth 10 cents. Look at the coins on the top and bottom right. They always have the same picture, on the back, the Cuban coat of arms.
Once we finished exchanging money we headed out for an adventure. This is the 1st thing we found was a train, like the ones you find at an amusement park. It costs 5 CUCS a person to ride the train. I’m in the middle with my brother-in-law on the left and my husband on the right. We’re ready to take a tour down Main Street of Cienfuegos, Cuba. All aboard!
Main Street, Cienfuegos Style
When we climbed aboard, I had no idea where we were going, but I soon discovered that we were taking a trip down Main Street. Time to explore, Cienfuegos style!
This was the 1st building to catch my eye. It was built in 1920 as someone’s house. Later it became a hotel. Ready for the name…The Green Hotel. Really! In the states, it’d probably a bed and breakfast.
Take a look at the cars parked in front. They look like they’re from the 50’s and 60’s. That’s because Cuba used to be an American territory, like Puerto Rico. In 1959, Fidel Castro started a revolution, and the US and Cuba became enemies. The Americans put an embargo on products going in and out of Cuba. It’s still in effect today.
The picture beside the red car reminds me of a road in Florida with its palm-lined center strip and 2 lanes on either side. The difference…in Florida the road would be packed full of cars.
Both of these buildings started as private homes. Both were built in the early 1900’s, The first, the Cienfuegos Yacht Club now sits next to the marina and houses a restaurant. BTW…I didn’t remember all of this. I googled it to write this post.
The second, the Palacio de Valle was designed and built by a wealthy Spaniard. It’s a little small for a palace...only 8 bedrooms. In the 50’s someone wanted to turn it into a casino, but the 1959 Revolution stopped that. Now you can take a tour and stop in for lunch.
The building above is the Palicio Azul, The Blue Palace. Why? It’s painted powder blue. I love blue! It was built in 1921 and was owned by a rich tobacco baron. Cuba is known for its tobacco and its cigars. In 2004 it was renovated and became The Hotel Encanto Palacio Azul. With only 6 bedrooms, book early to stay here.
Beside the Palacio is a more modern hotel, well modern for the 1950’s. The Hotel Jagua is one of the most famous hotels in Cuba. It looks like a great place to stay!
Let’s Go to the Park…Parque Jose Marti
Look where the train dropped me off at…Jose Marti Park. Jose was a Cuban poet and journalist who fought for independence. He died on the battlefield, a hero.
Today Jose has a park in the heart of Cienfuegos. It’s a great place to sit, relax, and enjoy the greenery. For the Cuban people it’s where they remember a hero.
I had an hour to take pictures and shop before the train returned. There are statues scattered throughout the park. The lion, above, caught my eye. He’s on a marble pedestal. When I googled, I discovered lion statues mark the entrance to the park. Find a lion, and you’ll find a statue of Jose Marti nearby. If only I’d known!
As for the other statue above, I don’t know who it is. I searched google and found this same silhouette facing the Ferrer Palace. If you visit this palace, please look up this statue and send me its name.
This building, the Antiguo Ayuntamiento, is across the street from the park. Antiguo means old, and Ayuntamiento means municipal council. It doesn’t look old, but it’s still the home of Cienfuegos provincial government. Cienfuegos is both a city and a province. The only thing I could learn about this building is that it’s supposed to look like the Capaitolio in Havana.
The Teatro Tomas Terry is also across from the park. Tomas Terry Adams owned a sugar factory back in the day. Later he became Cienfuegos’ mayor. Sorry, this wasn’t his house, but it was built after his death all because Tomas put aside to money build an Italian-style theatre in Cienfuegos. Here it is! Famous singers like Enrico Caruso performed here. I wish Tomas could have seen and heard it during his lifetime!
Here’s the last building I captured on camera. It’s the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It’s old, finished in 1819. Next year will be its 200th birthday. The Cathedral was the first church built in Cienfuegos, and it’s now a national monument. It’s a beautiful old building with its 2 bell towers, 3 arched doorways, and French stained-glass windows of the Twelve Apostles.
I found several factoids when I was googling information for this post. Cienfuegos means100 fires, but I didn’t read anything about fire in its history. The true story— it was named after Jose Cienfuegos who was the Captain General of Cuba from 1816-1819. Maybe someone in his family lit 100 fires. I hope not! Cienfuegos is also called the Pearl of the South, and it’s the only city in Cuba founded by France. The rest of the island belonged to Spain.
Shopping, Street Style This is the only picture I didn’t take. It’s the street market off Jose Marti Park. The vendors stretch 3 or 4 blocks down the street.
When I was there it was sprinkling. I shop by walking from booth to booth scanning for treasures, but a treasure must call me back. There was a toy jeep made out of recycled Coke cans that made me laugh. I was planning to go back for it.
A block or two later the rain poured down, and I’d somehow wandered away from my family. That’s scary when you’re in a foreign country, even if you’re an adult. I found my sister-in-law, who said my husband was looking for me. Ruh-roh! I’d hurried past him. I walked back slower, heart pounding, rain pouring down. Thank goodness we found each other! By then the vendors closed up to keep things dry. The Coke Can Car, gone! We waited on a covered porch till the rain stopped. We boarded the train, and luckily back at the dock, I found shopping and something to buy!
I found these booths in front of customs when we got off the train. They’d closed up for the rain and were reopening again. This time I took pictures. No Coke Can Car, but souvenir cars for kids were for sale. Next door was a booth of wooden things like statues, drums, and fans. They were touristy-cute, but nothing called me.
Next up jewelry. I glanced at the necklaces and earrings, but nothing called me here nor next door at the leather stand. Shoes, purses, baseballs, and wall hangings. When I wrote this post I thought I missed something to the right of the Chevrolet Legendario, I thought it said Buckeye, and I was wishing I’d bought it. Happily it says Bucanero so nothing was missed after all.
Finally, a treasure, something that called me back! It was a necklace made from seeds. I’d never seen anything like it so I walked back again.
The newspaper was my shopping bag. Cienfuegos is a very poor place. The street vendors don’t buy bags. They make them from recycled newspaper.
One last thing I remember from Cienfuegos were the dogs. They were thin like Greyhounds, but they were Mutts. I didn’t take a picture because I didn’t want to remember. I'm not used to seeing animals who aren't cared for.
Leaving, on a Tender
This is where I waited to leave. I was bored so I tried to take a picture of our ship. It’s not the big cruise ship. It’s off in the distance. Can you see it? Look at bow and follow it back. I can barely make it out, but I blew it up for you. Look!
See! Hello, Empress! Good-bye, Cienfuegos! Here’s to a one day sail tomorrow. Then it’s Havana Na Na Na!
The 1st map shows the Caribbean. It’s hard to see The Caymans on it. They’re inside the red circle. Cuba is above them to the north, and above Cuba is Florida. We sailed southwest from Miami, around Cuba, then southeast to Grand Cayman, Island. We left on Thursday, sailed Friday, and landed at George Town, Grand Cayman on Saturday.
This is a shot of George Town’s Harbor. You can see the boats and the buildings that hug the coastline.
The Cayman Islands are a British territory. They belong to the UK, the United Kingdom. The UK is made up of Great Britain (England), Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
This part of George Town's harbor is for shipping. Big ships bring in cargo to supply Grand Cayman. Because everything is brought in, whatever you buy is more expensive.
This is the inside of a small boat docked beside our cruise ship. It’s called a tender. Its job is to ferry people back and forth between George Town and the cruise ships.
This is a pretty big tender. It holds about 200 people. The shot you see is from the bottom level. We climbed down a gangplank from our cruise ship, then downstairs to this level. A tender isn’t comfortable. It doesn’t have to be. You’re only aboard for a very short time.
I took this shot from the dock at George Town looking back at our ship. Can you spot the tender? It’s the small boat under that blue square.
We had about 1600 people on-board the ship. With 200 passengers per tender, it didn’t take long to empty it. We still waited in a line that threaded through the one of the decks. It reminded me of a fast-moving roller coaster line at Cedar Point.
This is a final shot of a tender from the George Town dock. This one’s pretty empty. It’s waiting for more people before it heads back to the ship.
Did you notice the fencing? It’s supposed to control people so they go where they’re supposed to, and not where they shouldn’t.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Perhaps you’ve heard of the pirates of the Caribbean. I’ve seen a movie or two about them, but I found their ship in the harbor, and a few statues around town.
I googled this link and found out the truth about the pirates on Grand Cayman
Sadly it was not a pirate hotbed. Why not? The island wasn’t on the main shipping routes for the Caribbean. Port Royal in Jamaica and New Providence in the Bahamas, those were the places a pirate should be.
Back in the days of piracy the Caymans were a quiet home to fishermen and turtlers, not pirates. Can you guess what a turtler does?
But one turtling ship had a run-in with Edward Teach, AKA Blackbeard. He and his crew captured it, and its crew. Two other infamous pirates, Captain Ned Low and George Lowther took a meeting on Grand Cayman. They signed a treaty to pillage and plunder the Caribbean together. It’s good to share!. Later Neil Walker visited the neighborhood to plunder the wrecks of two Spanish ships. He liked to recycle!
But back in the day the Caymans were just a place for pirates to replenish their supplies or find a retirement home. They could earn a living by plundering and salvaging the shipwrecks along the coast.
This was my kind of plunder, a Wedge Salad and Nachos from Margaritaville. That, and three T Shirts. I knew MARGARITAVILLE from a Jimmy Buffet song, but I didn’t know he turned it into a restaurant AND resort. Who knew? Not me, not until I googled Margaritaville when I got home.
The 2 pirate pictures above came from Jimmy’s restaurant. I bet you know where I found the one below.
The resort! When I took this picture I thought it was cool to find a water slide that took you into the middle of a restaurant and shopping area, but I never dreamed of this slide…hotel to pool to restaurant and shopping. Wow! I’m glad Jimmy thought of it!
Take a Walk, and What do You See?
Talk a walk through the main drag of George Town, and it’s nothing like Ohio. Pirates, open air buildings, a mural like this. Look at the painting, the colors, the animals. They all have a Caribbean vibe.
Keep walking, and you’ll find the locals pecking out a living. In Ohio chickens live on farms,sometimes in a backyard, but never on Main Street.
On the way back to the boat I found a fish market right next to the road! In Ohio, fish is sold in grocery stores. They’re either frozen or on ice. In George Town you can buy them fresh, right off the boat, right next to the street!
Shopping in the Caymans
I spotted this sign on my way back to the ship. If you read about the pirates, then you remember that turtles were once important to the Cayman Islands. I don’t think people hunt them anymore for food, or shells, but you can meet them at the Island Wildlife Encounter. It was a rainy day in George Town so my husband and I passed on it.
I didn’t see turtles in the wild, but I found a lot for sale in the souvenir shops. I didn’t buy one. I was hunting t shirts. Unfortunately mine doesn’t have a turtle, but it does have a beach and a couple starfish. I’m all about the beach, for obvious reasons!
I also found a lot of jewelry. I love ear rings and necklaces! They call me. Really! They say buy me, but I didn’t listen, not this time!
I love the crosses in the picture. Look closely. Do you see seashells? Yes, from the seashore, LOL! I didn’t buy them, but, I have a lot of seashells from all my favorite beaches. I think it’s time for a shell project. If you have some from vacation, or the store, you can get crafty too. Good luck!
I don’t think they make t shirts, turtle souvenirs, or jewelry on the Cayman Islands. It’d be too expensive. I think those products are made in China and arrive by boat. Boats bring in everything that people need for survival. I thought maybe the islands produced goods to sell, but they don’t. The citizens of Grand Cayman make their living with service industries like tourism. The islands are also tax free so a lot of financial service providers decided to make their homes in the Caymans. Financial services deal with money, and the Caymans are are home to 70,000 companies and almost 600 banks. Wow tax-free, and great weather…sounds good to me!
The down side to living in the Caymans? Everything has to be shipped in. So when you pay for a hamburger, a soda, a toy, it’s going to cost more. Ouch!
I took this picture to show you the cranes, shipping containers, and boats sitting at one dock. This is where the products are unloaded for the people of the Cayman Islands.
Leaving Grand Cayman
You must follow rules to enter or leave a foreign country. I didn’t take pictures going into Grand Cayman, but I did when I left.
I went through 2 security gates. One was outside this buiding. The other is where the the people are standing. I showed my ship’s key card to both sets of guards. It proves that I belong on the ship. If you don’t have proof, you don’t get through. If you lose your card, I think they pull you aside and call the ship to check on your identity. When you leave a country, it’s important to follow the rules, and to hold onto your key.
Remember the tenders that took me to Grand Cayman? They took me back to the ship. The last tender was at 5:30. What happens if you miss it…you miss the boat! At 6:00 the cruise ship sails to the next port of call. Being on time is important!
In this picture I made it aboard ship. I showed my key card to someone who scanned it like the clerks scan packages at Walmart. A picture of me pops up on a screen so security can check that it’s me. If it is, you head onto the last security gate. Security’s important aboard a ship.
This is the next security scan. You put all your belongings on a belt. It runs your stuff through an x-ray machine. It checks to make sure you’re not carrying anything you’re not supposed to. As your stuff is scanned, you walk through a human scanner. It makes sure you’re not carrying something you’re not supposed to either. Then at last, you’re finally free to head back to your room and relax!
On October 4th I set sail from Miami on The Empress of the Sea. The voyage took me to Grand Cayman and to Cuba. The Empress is a small cruise ship with only 10 decks, but she looks pretty big to me. Come aboard. I'll give you a quick tour.
Guess who I found beside the theater on Deck 6? Gloria Estefan! She’s a famous singer AND the ship’s godmother.
You can watch movies and live shows in the theater without buying a single ticket. Gloria wasn’t on-board, but a troupe of singers, dancers, and musicians were. I saw 3 different musical shows, plus a ventriloquist. A cruise ship keeps you entertained!
Welcome to the Pool! Deck 10 features a hot tub, a kiddie pool, plus another pool big enough for 10 people. Don’t worry! The cruse ship keeps a lifeguard on duty during pool hours.
One of my favorite things about cruising was the critters. They snuck into my stateroom most nights. (Our steward Ian made/left them when he did his evening room clean-up.) They were all made with the same white towels, but the elephant looked brighter than the others. Why? I took him into the bathroom to get a brighter light. I used the room lights for the other 3. Isn’t it amazing how light affects color?
Do you recognize the other animals? I think there are 2 rabbits up above. One’s stretched out, and the other’s all cuddled up. I think down below is a cat, but what do you think? If you have different ideas, please post a comment or message me. I’d love to hear what you think…and why!
This is my stateroom. My favorite part was the port hole where we could look out at the ocean.
My room wasn’t very big. I had a double bed that my husband thought could be pulled apart to make two twin beds.
Do you see the white square in the top corners? Those are wall beds that fold down at night, and up in the morning. Would you want to have a slumber party with 3 guests in here It might be be tight, but I bet it would still be fun!
I took this picture sitting on the bed. Straight ahead is the door. Thank goodness…with a full-length mirror! I love to see how I look from head to toe. To the right are 2 small closet doors, then a desk with another mirror. Beside it are the end of the wall beds. Like I said, this is a small room!
What’s this? It’s the inside of the first closet. There were 2 bare rods, and we used one to hang clothes. Down at the bottom you see something orange, and it’s the most important thing in the room…6 life jackets. We never had to use them, but I’m glad they were there.
The other closet had 2 rods for our clothes. Whoever designed this room knew how to make space for the things we brought along.
The bathroom is across from the 2 closets. It’s pretty small with only enough room for 1 person. There’s not much counter space, but it worked. My favorite part, the nice big mirror!
To the left of the sink is the shower. It reminds me of a triangular prism, and it’s just big enough room for 1 person.
Do you see the white dispenser? That’s the special shampoo/conditioner I used on-board. Why? Because their products are easier on the ocean. I used the ship’s soap too. It’s one small drop in the ocean, but imagine that drop times 1600 people a day, times 7 days. Using the right kind of soap is a good thing for the environment.
The second picture is the shelf above the toilet. It was just enough room to store all my bathroom products. My husband even got to have a shelf!
The TV was on the other side of the shower wall. That was my storage area. I used the drawers to store the things that didn’t fit in the bathroom. Beside the drawers was a a small table, perfect for my suitcase. I didn’t bother to unpack. I pulled out clothes when needed, and I used the top to throw the things I used everyday.
A desk and mirror are on the other side of the room. My husband used the drawers, and he hung his clothes in the closet. We stored 5 other suitcases under the bed. The stuff on the desktop, it’s mine. When you’re on vacation, I believe it’s better to bring too much, than too little.
When I write, I can only have one voice in my head, mine. A little noise is fine. But too much, or worse yet, WORDS, and I must change rooms or pull out headphones. Then I can write on!