Travel Story: Canada & Cuba On MSC Cruises Ship, Opera
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
Cuba is fast becoming one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world ever since the US has lifted travel restrictions to this unique destination. We booked this cruise when the travel restrictions were still in place with MSC Cruises as being a non US flagged cruise line it was not effected by the travel restrictions. Due to the travel restrictions we were required to travel from Australia via Canada in order to get to Havana without going through the US so we decided to combine our Cuba trip with a rail trip across Canada. We had not travelled with MSC before but as we were travelling for the destination rather than the ship we thought we would give them a go.
Day 1: Vancouver, Canada - Gastown & Chinatown On Foot
After our excellent business class flight with Air Canada from Australia to Vancouver we caught the train from the airport to downtown Vancouver and made our way to our hotel the Pan Pacific Hotel Vancouver. We choose this hotel as Pan Pacific is a Velocity Frequent Flyer partner so we earned points on our stay, you can read more about the hotel in our review here. As our flight had got in at sunrise we had booked the hotel for the night before our arrival so we could get straight in to our room and freshen up before we headed out to explore the city. First we visited Gastown with its unique architecture and steam driven clock and then walked to Chinatown to explore the Chinese gardens and shops. Afterwards we tucked in to some yummy burgers and craft beer at the Steamworks Microbrewery. As it had been a big day of exploring and travelling we decided to head to the hotels club lounge which was included in our hotel rate where we had included canapés and drinks before some well needed rest.
Day 2: Vancouver, Canada - Best of Vancouver City Tour
On our second day in Vancouver we booked The Best of Vancouver City Tour through Viator. We were picked up by our guide in a bus from our hotel and after picking up the remaining guests we headed to the Vancouver Lookout, an observation deck at the top of a building with 360 degree views of the city. From there we headed to Stanley park to see views back towards the city and also the Lions Gate Bridge. We then visited Granville Island to see the food markets where we had a lovely seafood lunch with local beer at the Sandbar Restaurant. After lunch our guide then took us to the Capilano Suspension Bridge a suspended pedestrian bridge crossing the Capilano river and the salmon hatchery. Once the tour had finished our guide Kindly offered to pickup our luggage from the hotel concierge and then take us and our luggage to the Pacific Central Station so we could board the Canadian Train to start our journey to Toronto. We can't say enough good things about this tour and our guide as he went over and above for us and would definitely recommend this tour to anyone especially if your time in Vancouver is limited as ours was on this trip. We left our bags at the station with the check-in staff as the train wasn't yet ready to board and headed down the street to Bodega Tapas Bar. This cool little bar was recommended by our tour guide and we enjoyed a fantastic tapas dinner with Spanish wine, we highly recommend this place if your in Vancouver. After dinner we returned to the station and boarded the train, we were travelling in Prestige Class which is a larger more modern sleeper cabin where we found welcoming glasses of champagne waiting for us. You can read more about the train in our review here. As the train departed we farewelled the city lights of Vancouver for our four day journey across Canada.
Day 3: Jasper, Canada - Exploring On Foot
Today we watched in amazement as we travelled through the Canadian Rockies passing frozen waterfalls, snow covered mountains and then stopping at Jasper just after lunch where we had some time to get off the train and stretch our legs. Jasper is a beautiful little town in a very picturesque setting, we would love to come back here one day to see what it looks like in the summertime. When we re-boarded the train our steward had a bottle of Champagne and pre dinner canapés waiting for us, so we sat back with a glass of wine and watched out the window as we passed wild deer and mountain goats grazing on the side of the train tracks. The wildlife and views are truly spectacular in the Canadian Rockies.
Day 4: Winnipeg, Canada - Crossing The Grand Prairies
We woke to the rocking motion of the train as it sped across the Canadian prairies still largely frozen tundra at this time of year, we were scheduled to have 3.5hr stop in Winnipeg where we had hoped to explore the town but unfortunately as the train was running 4hrs behind we wouldn't be allowed off the train. The scenery was beautiful though and we spent the day reading and taking in the passing view through the glass dome in the observation carriage, train travel is certainly a very relaxing way to travel.
Day 5: Sioux Lookout, Canada - Crossing The Canadian Shield
Today we spent the day travelling across the Canadian Shield an area of lakes and pine forests still very much covered in winter ice and snow. During summer these are enormous lakes with islands in them but at the moment you can walk from one island to another via the frozen lakes. We were due to make a 30min stop at Sioux Lookout however as the train was now running 5hrs late we were told we would not be allowed off so we spent the day again reading, relaxing and enjoying the amazing views.
Day 6: Toronto, Canada - CN Tower Visit
Today after 4466km we finally arrived in Toronto, we were due to arrive at 9am in the morning but as the train had been running late the entire journey we didn't get in until 3pm so we didn't have much time before we needed to be at the airport for our flight to Cuba. We did have enough time though to go to the top of the CN Tower to see the view of the city as it is located at Union Station where we got off the train. After a quick visit to the tower we collected our luggage and headed to the airport on the air train where we boarded our Air Canada Rouge flight to Havana. We arrived in Havana around 11pm and were taken by a pre-booked taxi service to the pier and boarded our ship the MSC Opera where we settled in for some well earned rest after a long day of travelling. Our ship was staying in Havana for three nights before departing so we were able to use the ship as a hotel while we were in Cuba.
Day 7: Havana, Cuba - 1950's Taxi City Tour & Tropicana Cabaret
Today we awoke to the warmth of the Cuban sunshine and headed ashore for a pre-booked tour of Old Havana in a 1950's Chevrolet Taxi organised by the ship, this is one of those must do things when visiting Cuba. We had our own private guide and driver and they took us around old Havana and the Art Deco suburbs of this vibrant and colourful city. After our taxi tour we were taken to La Florida home of the original daiquiri which also was Earnest Hemmingway's favourite watering hole in old Havana (there is actually a bronze statue of him that stands on the exact spot he always used to stand at the bar). After sampling a daiquiri and a mojito with some local plantain chips we headed back to the ship to get changed ready for dinner and our evening tour organised by the ship to the Tropicana Cabaret. This famous outdoor cabaret has been running in Havana since 1939 and is definitely a must see show when in town, as part of your entry you get a small bottle of Havana Club Rum to share with your partner, Coca Cola to mix with it and a cuban cigar each. It was definitely a fun night out filled with lots of dance and colour.
Day 8: Havana, Cuba - City Exploring On Foot
We spent our second day in Havana walking the streets of Old Havana, this is truly an amazing city stuck in the 1950's just like a living time capsule, there is amazing architectural styles in the city from Byzantine, Spanish Colonial and Art Deco as well as a colourful mix of people from both Spanish and Caribbean backgrounds. We explored for hours before choosing a little restaurant called San Jose in a side street to sit down to a local lunch, a grilled chicken sandwich and some local beer. Cubans eat a lot of chicken as they don’t have cattle farms and due to the trade restrictions importing beef is very expensive.
Day 9: Havana, Cuba - More Exploring & Sail Away
As our ship was not departing until midday we took the opportunity to quickly head ashore to take some last minute photos. One amazing thing to see is how the Cubans live without the mod cons such as electronic bank cards, credit accounts or the internet, it was incredible to see the enormous lines outside banks to get cash out and then the enormous lines outside the mobile phone stores where people were topping up their pre-paid phone accounts. After our wander we headed back to the ship and went to the top deck for the sail away party to farewell this amazing city and country. In the evening the ship hosted its formal gala dinner complete with celebratory champagne and lobster.
Day 10: Montego Bay, Jamaica - Rainforest Zip Lining
Today we arrived in Montego Bay, Jamaica where we had arranged a tour through the ship to go zip lining through the Jamaican rainforest. It was a lovely drive through the colourful streets and the old sugar cane plantations out to the rainforest, the zip lining adventure was a great way to see the rainforest but we probably wouldn't do it again as we thought you could probably spend your time doing better things in Jamaica like visiting Kingston. Following our tour we stopped to try the local beer and food before re-boarding the ship just before departure.
Day 11: Georgetown, Cayman Islands - Snorkelling Safari
Today we anchored in the port of Georgetown in the Cayman Islands where we tendered ashore for a ship organised snorkelling safari. We explored the little tourist village before boarding a snorkelling boat to head out to the wreck of an ex US Navy submarine recovery vessel which had been purposefully sunk as an artificial reef. We saw lots of fish and sea turtles swimming around in the beautiful clear water. This part of the Caribbean is truly spectacular and we would recommend Georgetown as a destination if your in this part of the world.
Day 12: Cozumel, Mexico - Tulum Mayan Ruins Tour
Today we arrived at the island port of Cozumel Mexico where we went on a ship arranged tour of the Mayan ruins of Tulum. We first had to board a high speed ferry over to Playa del Carmen on the mainland and then boarded a bus for the 1hr ride to the ruins. It was amazing to see the ruins which have been restored by the local authorities to prevent them from deteriorating further. Our guide who was of mayan ancestry was very knowledgable and told us of the many traditions of his people. Following the tour we had some free time to have lunch and sample the local food and have a few carona’s before our trip back to the ship.
Day 13: Havana, Cuba - Disembarkation & Overnight Hotel Stay
This afternoon we arrived back in Havana where we disembarked the ship and travelled by 1950's cab to our overnight stay at the Hotel Melia Hebana. After relaxing by the pool we had drinks in the hotels club lounge and then dinner in the Italian restaurant. The next morning after breakfast our cab driver returned to take us to the airport, we got to see one last glimpse of Cuban life as we passed through the Art Deco suburbs. We will miss Cuba, it’s one of the few places that we felt we left a little piece of our hearts behind and will definitely be returning to Cuba again. We boarded our Air Canada Rouge flight to Toronto with Air Canada connections back to Australia via Vancouver. We absolutely loved our time in Canada and especially our time in Cuba and highly recommend both Canada and Cuba to anyone interested in travelling to these parts of the world. So that ends this travel story, if you have any questions about this trip feel free to comment on the blog, Until next time!
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About The Author
Rob has been passionate about cruise ship holidays and exploring the world since the first cruise he went on when he was only seven years old. Since then Rob who is a Photographer and his partner Mike of 18 years have travelled the world on over 25 cruises with over 10 different cruise lines visiting every continent across the globe as well as many remote tropical islands along the way. In addition to cruise holidays they enjoy relaxing at beach side holiday resorts and first/business class air travel as well as transcontinental rail journeys. Between them both Robert and Michael have worked out the best way to maximise frequent flyer reward points allowing them to travel first/business class at economy class prices or in some cases travelling first/business class for free.