We’ve had Cuba on our travel bucket list for a long time, so we were thrilled to discover that traveling to Cuba (even with kids) has gotten much easier to coordinate than it used to be. Now, there are multiple flights to Havana from most major Florida cities, and several cruise lines offer stops in Cuba. We decided to take a long weekend cruise to Cuba with my 11-year-old daugher, Sophia, and our travel planning couldn’t have been easier.
BEFORE YOU GO
Whether you travel to Cuba by plane or by cruise ship, you will need a passport and a Cuban visa to enter the country. We were a little concerned about the restrictions and visa regulations, so we made sure to follow the specific directions given to us by the cruise line. If you decide to travel to Cuba by plane, be sure to start the visa process well in advance of your trip.
An important thing to note is that internet connection is difficult to find in Havana. Research the places you want to visit in advance, and bring the information with you. (Tip: Take screen captures of the information with your phone.) Download the Maps.Me app that will help you to navigate using offline maps.
Cuba’s currency for tourists is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The exchange rate for CUC and the U.S. dollar is 1:1, but due to a hefty exchange rate penalty of 10 percent enforced by the government for exchanging American dollars plus an additional 3 percent transaction fee, you will end up only getting around 87 CUC for every $100 you exchange. One way to avoid that is to bring Canadian dollars or euros instead of American dollars. As for credit cards, it is still almost impossible to use them in Cuba, so be sure to bring plenty of cash.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO WITH KIDS
- Walk around Old Havana. Wander around the streets of Old Havana, admiring the little side streets, the gorgeous old buildings, the fruit stands on every other corner and the interesting graffiti art on the walls. Your kids will enjoy seeing all the stray cats and dogs lying down on the cobblestones in the shade.
- Take a ride in a vintage car. Travel back in time by renting an old American car. Although these vehicles are at least 60 years old, most of them are kept in a remarkably good shape. Pick a convertible in a bright color, and take a ride around the main sites of Havana — a guaranteed unforgettable experience for both kids and adults alike.
- Make your own perfume. Our daughter loved visiting Habana 1791, a popular perfume shop in the heart of Old Havana where you can pick a perfume based on 12 signature scents that have been rescued from Colonial Cuba. You can even make your own fragrance based on your unique preferences.
- Cruise around town in a Coco Taxi. While Havana is known for the vintage American cars, another form of transportation that your kids will love is the Coco Taxi. These funny-looking, three-wheel auto rickshaws are a perfect way to take in all the vibrant, unforgettable sights of Havana.
WHERE TO STAY
While there are many perfectly comfortable hotels and Airbnb rentals in Havana, it’s important to keep in mind that what is considered a luxury hotel in Cuba would likely be considered quite basic in the U.S. The one exception: the brand-new, truly glamorous Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana, an amazing, five-star hotel with a rooftop pool, restaurant and bar,
all with a breathtaking view of Old Havana.
Of course, if you arrive via cruise ship, you won’t have to worry about accommodations. As of last fall, Royal Caribbean and Carnival began sailing from Florida to Cuba with an overnight stay in Havana. This option gives you the great advantage of exploring Havana on a long weekend trip without worrying about where to stay (or where to find bottled water!) while in Havana.
WHERE TO EAT
We loved O’Reilly 304, an unpretentious and cozy yet trendy eatery serving the most delicious ceviche, tapas, and freshly prepared lobster and octopus. We paired the sensational food with mojitos (Cuba’s signature cocktail) for the adults and virgin mango daiquiris for my daughter. Its sister location, El Del Frente, is located across the street. It has a very similar menu and drinks, plus a balcony and rooftop terrace.
You’ll find lots of street food options in Havana. Our favorite was chiviricos, a sweet, crunchy fried bread snack covered in powdered sugar that is similar to funnel cakes.