Monday, January 27, 2014

YMTV Itinerary

Cuba, Its People & Culture

Cuban car

    From $2499

    8 Days
    Includes 14 meals on tour
    Passport Required
    (Click the map to enlarge)

    Cuba, Its People & Culture

    Tour Starts: Miami, FL
    Tour Ends: Miami, FL

    Day 1

    Fly to Miami:
    Welcome to Miami. If you have purchased your airline tickets through YMT Vacations, you will be welcomed by a YMT representative and transferred to your hotel as part of your package. (Guests who have made their own air arrangements should make their own way to the hotel). This evening you will join your fellow travelers for a trip briefing in the hotel where you will learn about the exciting days ahead and prepare for your Cuban People-to-People experience.
    Hotel: Hilton Miami International Airport*

    Day 2

    Santa Clara, Cuba:
    This morning your group will check in for your early 55 minute charter flight from Miami International Airport to Santa Clara, Cuba. You will be accompanied by a YMT Tour Manager who will travel with you on your charter flights. Their role is to ensure the smooth running of your program and to work alongside the National Cuban Guide, who will meet you upon arrival at Santa Clara International Airport, after you have cleared immigration and customs. Your National Cuban Guide will be with you throughout your stay. You’ll head straight from the airport to a local restaurant for an included lunch, after which you’ll see the Che Guevara Mausoleum, where there will be a photo stop en route to Santa Clara. The mausoleum's location was chosen in remembrance of Guevara’s troops taking the city on December 31, 1958, resulting in Cuban dictator Batista fleeing into exile. Santa Clara, founded in 1689, is the capital city of the province of Villa Clara and it’s here that you will visit a community center for senior citizens named Abeulos de Fiesta. You’ll interact with some of the participants and staff at the center and discuss the programs they offer and how important this facility is to those who use it. Later you'll be taken to a local market to meet local traders, have Cuban Peso and CUC stores explained and then on to visit a ‘Bodega’, or state ration store, where you’ll learn about the monthly allowances of basic staples and how the system works. Finally, drive to Cayo Santa Maria, a coastal resort on the Cayos Villa Clara (Keys), by way of a 30 mile causeway that jumps from Cay to Cay. (L, D)
    Hotel: Playa Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Santa Maria* 

    Day 3

    Remedios & Caibarien:
    After breakfast you travel to Remedios, a charming town boasting colonial architecture and cobble stoned streets.  Established in 1514 and now with a population of 18,000 inhabitants, Remedios is considered a national monument and will be celebrating its 500 year anniversary in 2014. During a walk-through of the city center you will visit the cathedral and meet with the catholic priest who runs a range of community projects; from sewing classes for children, aerobics sessions, to providing meals for the elderly.  You’ll meet and talk to local people involved with the church and some of its community activities. Remedios is also known for its Parrandas Festival, an annual carnival-like celebration that takes place at the end of December. You’ll see some of the floats and costumes in various stages of creation and construction and speak with the volunteers and festival officials.  This afternoon there will be a short drive to the nearby fishing community of Caibarien.  Here you’ll visit a local printing shop and see pre-revolution presses in use and have the opportunity to talk to the printers. Then you will visit an art project, Por la Costa, run by a husband and wife. Visit their studio and learn about their art and how they involve local children in their projects. Learn about how local fisherman make a living, how they sell their catch and the importance of fishing to Caibarien and its economy. This evening relive the experiences of the day with your fellow travelers over an included dinner at the hotel along with Cuban dancing. For those who want to take part, the dancers will welcome you on the dance floor and be on hand to offer instruction. (B, D)
    Hotel: Playa Cayo Santa Maria, Cayo Santa Maria*

    Day 4

    This morning head west toward Havana for your first opportunity to get acquainted with this fascinating city. Arriving around lunchtime, you’ll first have an included lunch at LA Imprenta, a traditional Old Havana restaurant. Following, there is a short panoramic orientation of the city from the motor coach including a brief stop at Revolucion Plaza; The Plaza has been the site of many of Havana’s major historical events including the recent visit of the Pope and from where Fidel Castro has addressed his countrymen many times. Later this afternoon at the hotel, there will be a lecture: Life in Cuba Today, to provide an introductory insight to modern day living, how Cubans make ends meet, monthly wages, divorce rate, literacy rate, rationing stores, rent, home purchase, and traveling abroad. During the lecture you will be able to ask questions and discuss relations with the USA. This evening there’s an included dinner at the popular El Aljibe restaurant, a well-regarded open air restaurant. Food is served family style, and its specialty is chicken. (B, L, D)
    Hotel: Quinta Avenida, Havana*

    Day 5

    Agriculture & Rural Life, Vinales, Pinar Del Rio:
    Today you visit Vinales in the province of Pinar Del Rio and witness Cuba’s picturesque countryside, rural life and agriculture. Vinales is an approximate 2 ½ hour drive from Havana where you will see perhaps the greenest and most verdant landscape in all Cuba. With its mountains and fertile valley, many liken it to the scenery of New Zealand. You will visit a tobacco farm to see the growing, drying and cigar rolling process of Cuba’s most famous export where you’ll will also meet with, and talk to the farmer’s family in the intimacy of their own home. Today’s stop for an included lunch is at a breathtaking setting inside the National Park - the Mural de la Prehistoria, 200 feet high and 300 feet long, commissioned by Fidel Castro to in 1961 to depict evolution and now a UNESCO site. After lunch visit an organic farm where you will view the crops, learn how the farmer sells his produce, and also meet his family. You will walk through his extensive garden and listen to his planting ideas and learn how he makes ends meet. In Vinales, you’ll visit a Policlinic, a state run healthcare center. Here you will meet with local health professionals and discuss Cuba’s public healthcare system and that of the US. (B, L)
    Hotel: Quinta Avenida, Havana* 

    Day 6

    The Arts, Havana:
    This morning there is a quick visit to Colon Cemetery, or Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, founded in 1876 and situated in the Vedado neighborhood of the city. The 140 acre cemetery has more than 800,000 graves and 1 million interments. The main event of the morning is a visit to the Havana City Model, where an architect will explain the direction the city is headed with its architecture and city planning. This will be followed by a question and answer session. A following architectural walk of Old Havana guided by the architect will give you the chance to see up close some of what you have discussed at the earlier presentation. The Old City is pedestrian-only, and its intimacy and cobble stoned streets take you back in time and you will visit the four main restored plazas. This afternoon will include meeting local young artists at the Taller de Serigrafia in the Old City; this is an interesting silk screening studio, and you will have a demonstration on how they have developed their own method of printing. Next it’s a stop a San Jose Handicraft Market where you will meet and talk to the various vendors, before later visiting a school of music. Music is central to the way of Cuban life, you see and hear it everywhere, and this school provides music workshops for young musicians to practice their craft. You will enjoy their music and talk to them about their education. (B)
    Hotel: Quinta Avenida, Havana*

    Day 7

    This morning you will visit a pre-school day care facility called a ‘guaderia infantil’. It is run by nuns, who will explain their role in the community, looking after young children, allowing their parents to work. Later you will visit the Hemingway farm, Finca Vigia, where the famed author lived with his wife from 1939 to 1960. The final visit of the morning is Muraleando, an inspiring community art project that has transformed its neighborhood. Founding artist, Manolo, describes it as a ‘people’s art gallery’ where the murals and sculptures depict fanciful celebrations of Cuban life. After an included lunch at Cecilia, a Cuban restaurant, there’s a visit to the house and studio of Jose Fuster, one of Cuba’s most eminent artists. The entire property is adorned by ceramics, some reaching many feet from the ground. Fuster has made a major contribution rebuilding and decorating the fishing town of Jaimanitas in the outskirts of Havana, where he has decorated over 80 houses with ornate murals and domes. Your final event today is a private presentation at the hotel from musicians of the Cuban Institute of Music. This organization represents more than 15,000 Cuban musicians and after a performance of traditional Cuban music, you’ll talk to them about their lives and how they make a living. This evening you have an included farewell dinner at a Paladar, one of Cuba’s privately run restaurants, along with a talk from the owner on starting and running a small business in Cuba. (B, L, D)
    Hotel: Quinta Avenida, Havana* 

    Day 8

    Depart for Home:
    Time to bid farewell to Cuba. This morning you will take your charter flight from Havana back to Miami. (B)

    *or similar accommodations
    Please note that this is a proposed itinerary; the actual itinerary may vary due to season, special events, or weather. Because our tour arrangements are often made a year or more in advance, YMT Vacations reserves the right to alter the itinerary. Itinerary changes are made to improve your vacation experience, as well as respond to any unforeseen circumstances that mandate alterations. By their nature, all tours vacations involve a certain level of physical activity. While YMT tours have been designed with our guests in mind and are not physically demanding, this tour does include walking and periods of standing during the sightseeing visits. You will also encounter steps and some uneven ground along the way, particularly at older, historical sights.

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    Sunday, January 26, 2014

    First Report of the Cuba Cruise

    Fresh look at Cuba

    Rare voyage makes resisting island's charm impossible



    They say your first cruise is always your best, but my recent trip with Cuba Cruise ( made me feel like I've rediscovered cruising all over again.

    The Calgary-based company is opening up a whole new world in the Caribbean this year by offering extremely rare voyages that circumnavigate Cuba - with a Canadian twist.

    Over the course of a week, Cuba Cruise's Louis Cristal sails to Havana, Antilla (for Holguin), Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, and spends half a day at the beachside paradise that is Punta Frances on Cuba's Isla de la Juventud.

    You also have your choice of embarkation ports: Mondays in Havana, or Montego Bay, Jamaica, where Louis Cristal calls each Friday.

    I sailed aboard the Louis Cristal, a 1,200-passenger ship that normally cruises the Greek Islands for Cyprus based Louis Cruises. But everything on board is uniquely Cuba Cruise for these sailings, from the ship's colourful new hull artwork to bar menus, room key cards, and daily programs.

    One thing I've always hated about cruising - and I love cruising - is how homogeneous the product can be. Not so here. The international staff is complemented by Cuban waiters, bar stewards and front-desk staff. Entertainment onboard features Cuban singers and dancers, and is helmed by Enrique Nunez, who served as director of the National Theatre in Havana for more than 25 years.

    Canada's Cirque Fantastic, based in Montreal, is also featured onboard with a trio of French and Canadian performers whose acrobatic skills had them swinging gracefully across the two levels of the Metropolitan Show Lounge to standing ovations.

    Cuba Cruise is also uniquely Canadian: The onboard currency is the Canadian dollar, and fresh provisions including Alberta beef and Canadian beer are flown to the ship every week.

    It's also wonderfully international: On my sailing, there were guests from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Brazil.

    The real star here, of course, is Cuba. It feels like an island off the coast of Spain instead of one off Key West, and it is impossible to resist its charms. Crumbling but romantic, ancient but modern, these ports of call are a refreshing change from the overrun locales normally visited on Caribbean voyages.

    The shore excursions Cuba Cruise has put together use local Cuban guides and focus on the history and culture of this unique island.

    Like the rest of the product, they are of an unusually high quality given the reasonable price, and six UNESCO World Heritage sites can be visited in a single week.

    At every turn, the Cuban people welcomed us with open arms.

    Cruise terminals have been upgraded; new roads have been paved.

    The mayor of Holguin personally declared the first call of the Louis Cristal a civic holiday.

    I've taken a lot of cruises to a lot of different countries, but I've never experienced anything like Cuba Cruise. Don't let this one pass you by. Cuba Cruise sails from Havana on Mondays and Montego Bay on Fridays until March 24.

    Two-for-one pricing is available for voyages booked between now and Feb. 28. Prices start at $586 per person.

    Visit to read our day-by-day Cuba Cruise Live Voyage Report.

    Thursday, January 23, 2014

    New Photo Book

    Author and photographer records experiences in Cuba

    By Zhai Yun Tan 
    Updated: 11 hours ago

    Travel restrictions to Cuba have not deterred photographer David M. Spear from exploring the estranged country with his camera.
    Being presented today at FRANK Gallery, Spear’s latest book “Ten Days in Havana” records his experience in Havana, the capital of Cuba.
    Spear said he had to obtain a license from the U.S. Treasury Department to visit the country.
    “Anytime you tell someone you can’t go somewhere, that’s the first place you want to go, right? So I was naturally curious about what was really going on in Cuba,” he said.
    All the photographs are portraits of people who he met on the trip. Spear said he always gets to know his subjects before taking their photographs.
    “The aim of the book is to go and find a good story. Stories are becoming short in supply because people spend too much time on their cell phones and not too much time talking back and forth to one another and telling stories,” he said.
    “I was looking for a good story and good photographs.”
    This is Spear’s second trip to Cuba. He said his first visit there left him determined to return and make a book about the place.
    “Time stops in Cuba because of the embargo from 50 years ago,” he said. “Havana is full of people walking everywhere. Everybody stops and talks to one another — there was a lot of interaction going on between people.”
    Spear said he was particularly struck by the Cubans’ openness and willingness to communicate with each other.
    “In Cuba, everybody is very open. Conversation is very important to their culture, but in the United States, conversation has become texting and talking on the phone, not talking face-to-face,” he said.
    “That’s the most memorable thing that I took away with me.”
    Spear is a consigning artist with FRANK gallery and has been a photographer for 22 years. “Ten Days in Havana” will be his third published book. His previous book, “The Neugents,” documents a North Carolina family, and his experience visiting and living in Mexico is presented through another of his books, “Visible Spirits.”
    “He’s pretty much a candid photographer who catches moments that are sometimes quite mysterious and suggest something very specific about the person he is photographing,” said John Rosenthal, a gallery member artist.
    “He works very spontaneously, finds something that is surprising in a given situation, something that will catch his eye, and he’ll transform it into a photograph.”
    Rosenthal is also a photographer and has known Spear for 10 years.
    “Wherever he will go with his camera, it’s going to be an interesting experience,” Rosenthal said. “He’s the kind of photographer who has a spectacular eye for just the right detail.”
    Spear’s ability to mingle with his subjects was also praised by FRANK’s gallery manager, Torey Mishoe.
    “He has a real knack of getting in with people, so his published works are always very fascinating because of those glimpses into something that you wouldn’t otherwise see,” she said.
    “He’s an absolutely phenomenal photographer.”

    My comment
    A wonderful project. It is time for all of us to have the freedom to travel on a general license for non-tourist purposes, just like Cuban Americans. Let the President know how you feel.
    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

    Spanish Studies Abroad Programs in Cuba


    Havana, Cuba

    Experience the blend of African, European, and American cultures that form Havana and Cuba.
    The city of La Habana, founded in 1514, and named after a local aboriginal chief, is Cuba’s cosmopolitan capital. Havana was once one of the most prosperous ports, and the third most populous city in the Americas. A beautiful city, with idyllic landscapes, captivating bays, and a rich, diverse culture, Havana is the site for an ideal learning experience.
    • Explore the streets of Havana, the salsa rhythm and son cubano, the musical genre developed by African slaves, along with the sites, smells, and sounds of Cuban culture, surround you.
    • Experience the island’s thought-provoking contradictions, spirited determination, and stunning, natural beauty.
    • Walk along the malecón, or ocean seawall, a short distance from the center of the city. The malecón is a common gathering place for Cubans, as well as for students.
    • Visit Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway's home, located just outside Havana, where he wrote "Islands in The Stream," "A Moveable Feast" and "The Old Man And The Sea."
    • Delve into life in Cuba from a cross-cultural perspective, daring to step outside of yourself and experience reality from another point of view.
    Meet the resident director, Tom Millington.
    At Spanish Studies Abroad we are committed to providing programs of academic excellence which offer students a variety of courses within a broad spectrum of disciplines.
    In addition to our regular semester and summer programs, Spanish Studies Abroad also provides professors and faculty with the opportunity to create their own customized programs.

    Programs and Courses

    Spanish Studies Abroad offers you a unique opportunity to study on-site in Cuba, one of America's nearest and most significant neighbors. You will take classes at the Universidad de la Habana, Cuba's principal and earliest institution of higher education. Our programs also include participation in an array of cultural activities and study trips designed to encourage direct interaction with the Cuban people.

    Semester/ Academic Year Program Options

    Short-Term Program Options

    Course Catalog

    High Academic Quality
    • Community service opportunities in local Cuban organizations
    • Direct attention and one-on-one interaction with professors
    • Faculty office hours and tutoring
    • U.S. modeled curriculum; credits transfer!
    • Scholarship Awards
    • Email Access
    • Opportunity for direct enrollment in the University of Havana
    • Option to complete an Independent Research Project
    Dedicated Faculty & Staff
    • Staff escorts on medical visits
    • Classes taught by native Cuban professors
    • On-Site Resident Director and staff
    A Unique Cultural Experience
    • All-inclusive program-sponsored excursions
    • On-site cultural activities
    • Numerous study visits, local and overnight
    • Three-day weekends for travel
    • Encounters with Cuban people eager to meet and talk with visitors

    Monday, January 20, 2014

    European Air Service Growing

    Air France-KLM Opens New Office in Havana

    By Leonel Nodal
    The joint representation of Air France and KLM airlines inaugurated a brand-new office in the most important business center of Havana –the Miramar Trade Center- thus putting their smart money on the growth of the Cuban market that has jumped from one weekly flight in 1998 to two daily flights all week long fifteen years later.
    Zoran Jelkic, general manager of AIR FRANCE-KLM for Latin America, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with Mrs. Céline Balmelle, general manager of AIR FRANCE-KLM in Cuba, who has run operations for both companies in the capital since 2011.
    It was on that date when both the French and Dutch airlines joined their operations with flights from Paris and Amsterdam to Cuba in a bid to get a bigger share of the European travel market in destination Cuba.
    This is Air France’s fifth office in Havana in 15 years, and Air France-KLM’s second one, with more room to guarantee the development of the company in Cuba, Mr. Jelkic pointed out during his keynote speech to the attendees.
    He particularly thanked the presence of the president of Cuba’s Civil Aeronautic Institute, Alfredo Cordero Puig, as well as the French ambassador to Cuba, Jean Mendelson, and the councilor of Dutch embassy, Mrs. Johanneke de Hoogh, as he invited then cut the inaugural ribbon.
    A small exhibition on the 80th anniversary of Air France was opened within the framework of this event.
    “We have reached our goal of having two daily flights from Havana to Europe, which means that both companies total a weekly offer of 5,820 seats,” Mrs. Balmelle told Caribbean News Digital (CND).
    The new facilities are nestled in the Santiago de Cuba Building, within the strategically positioned Miramar Trade Center, a functional cluster of state-of-the-art buildings, right in the area where most diplomatic missions, hotels and foreign and Cuban companies are headquartered, a position that favors access and sales management for clients.
    The increase of operational facilities of Air France-KLM is meant to be significant this year, when France will be the guest country during the International Tourism Fair (FitCuba), scheduled to take place in early May in Havana. A large group of tour operators and travel agents from that European country are expected to attend as one of the island’s biggest tourism outbound markets.

    Russian Airline Transaero Launches New Service to Varadero, Cuba

    A Boeing 767 from the Russian Airline “Transaero” carrying 200 passengers on Monday arrived at the Varadero Airport, 90 miles east from Havana, a Cuba’s tourism official said on Monday.
    The Russian airliner will send visitors twice a week to the Varadero Resort, said Ramon Fundora, a specialist from the Ministry of Tourism. The flight also marks the resumption of Moscow-Caradero airline.
    The travels are coordinated by the UkranianTour Operators Lanta Tour and Coral Travel, and the Russian Havanaturrussia, said Fundora. He added that last week the Brazilian airline Wets Jets also started direct flight to Varadero.
    Cuba has seen an increase in its tourist arrival this year despite the global financial crisis. While fewer tourists visited Cuba from major tourist source countries like France and Spain, the opening of new markets such as Venezuela and Russia, has helped raise the total figure.
    Some new airline companies started direct flights to the island, especially those from Mexico, Japan, Russia and Brazil. The Cuban tourism authorities have also launched a promotion campaign entitled “Authentic Cuba” in Europe to open up new market.