cruising

Key West, Florida & Havana, Cuba

Key West, Florida

Two of our bucket list places we wanted to visit were Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba. Well on one trip we did both. On April 23, 2019 TeamTullyTravel set sail on Royal Caribbean’s, Majesty of the Seas for a five day visit to both places. I guess you can call this good timing, for we were one of the last ships to visit Cuba prior to the Trump Administration’s ban on “peope-to-people” visits to Cuba, which the cruise ships used to sail to this unique island. More on this later, but now to our first stop Key West, Florida.

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To most, Key West is thought of as a beach town with great parties, endless sandy coastline and year-round sunshine. Well to that end, you would be exactly right. With plenty of, and I do mean plenty, of beach shops, bars, partying and sunshine. Key West is a small town and a true melting pot. With only 25,000 full-time residents, people from across the country and the world have made Key West home.

Deb & I kept hearing the word Conch being bantered about in our walks through the downtown area. I always thought a Conch was the spiral shell of a gastropod, often used as a horn. Well we were partially correct. It turns out that in Key West-eze, a Conch are people born in Key West. You’re not considered a Conch by simply living in Key West; but if you’ve been a local for at least seven years, you may be considered a “freshwater conch” in some circles. Who knew?

Key West is NOT a city filled with high rise buildings or a major metropolis, but rather a sleepy beach city, that I got the feeling from the locals that they would rather have all of us tourists just leave so peace and quiet could be restored.

We didn’t let the local sentiment get us down, they were all very friendly and helpful. So we trekked on our self-guided walking tour down Duval Street one of the main thoroughfares in the city. Lined with more bars than you can count, a Duval crawl is a must during a visit to Key West. Duval Street is also home to many restaurants and shops. When you get to talking to the locals you start to find out many interesting facts about Key West.

For one, it is closer in miles to Cuba than it is to Miami. As it’s famously stated on the Southernmost Buoy at the end of Simonton Street, Key West is 90 miles to Cuba. But to get to Key West from Miami, it’s a 150-mile drive down the Overseas Highway. The biggest “Oh Wow” we discovered was that Key West is only 8 square miles running four miles long and about two miles wide at its widest, Key West is a small island. The popular Old Town makes up about half of this area.

But the size does not equate with the fact this attached island is the home of the 3rd largest barrier coral reef in the world. Known as the Florida Straits, Key West’s coral reef extends 150 miles north towards Miami and 70 miles west to the Dry Tortugas. It’s the largest in North America and the third largest in the world behind Belize and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Yes another, “Oh Wow!”

We also found out that Key West was also a writer’s haven. Author Judy Blume who has made Key West her home for many years. Ernest Hemmingway lived here during the 1930s and some say Key West has inspired more writers per capita than any other American city. Other famous scribes who called Key West home include Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop and more. But one myth is not true. Jimmy Buffet does not live in Key West. He’s no longer a Key West local. But Parrot Heads can always gather at Margaritaville.

All in all Key West was fun, funky and a good place to spend the day off of the cruise ship. If you are looking to get away for a day or weekend and you are in the southern keys of Florida, drop on down and enjoy the sites and friendly atmosphere that is part of Key West.

Havana, Cuba

After leaving Key West, Florida we were on our way to Havana, Cuba. A place we always wanted to visit but never thought the day would ever come until President Obama opened up the opportunities late in his Presidency. What a thrill we were expecting on visiting this island. Well, we were not disappointed. We were part of an 8 hour people-to-people bus tour from the ship. Setting foot on land as we departed the ship was thrilling. You are now in a place you never would have thought you could experience. The euphoria was palpable. The wisdom that we received during the day on this magnificent journey, was overwhelming.

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Havana is an unparalleled city rich in culture, history and tradition. It is proud of its preserved architectural heritage and colonial past. The famous Habana Vieja (Old Havana), where the city began more than five centuries ago, is one of the best preserved architectural designs in the Americas. Its historic urban center is filled with cobblestone plazas, and the surrounding wall fortifications are centuries old and massive. Today you’ll see a mix of structures from the Baroque and Neoclassical eras as well as conventional modern buildings.

To say that there are many, many buildings and homes in need of repair is an understatement. That is one of the images that hits you hard and you have to let your mind wander back to an earlier time when this grand city was fresher and vibrant. There is a shortage of everything in Cuba. The very basic goods, to fix buildings, cars, clothing are scarce and hard to come by. That is the main reason most of the grand buildings that once stood proud and tall, are now is state of disrepair.

Havana exudes a strong foundation of art, literature, ballet, sports, and science. It was a fountain of inspiration for poets and musicians alike. Ernest Hemmingway lived here for years and a great portion of his novels were written in a house 45 minutes from downtown Havana. As you walk the streets you can feel the hopeful energy and inspiration in the city as entrepreneurs yearn to share their local food, art, and customs.

One of the images of Havana I am sure most people have seen are the old classic cars. There are around 60,000 classic American cars in Cuba. Experts estimate that about half of these cars hail from the 1950s, while 25 percent are from the 1940s and another 25 percent are from the 1930s. The cars are often family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. Most have been converted from gas to diesel engines, since parts last longer and the price of diesel is far less.

Travelers can take driving tours in classic cars, especially in more touristy areas like Havana Vieja and Veradero. In these places, there are usually rows of beautiful cars lined up for visitors to choose from. Many of the cars are convertibles, which are perfect for cruising slowly and taking pictures.

To take a tour in a classic car, simply find the car that you like best and tell the driver how long you’d like to tour. Oftentimes they will recommend a route, but you’re also free to direct them where you want to go. If you’re in Havana, it’s pleasant to drive along the oceanfront Malecón. Sunset is an especially beautiful time of day to cruise this section of the city.

During the day our guide, a young lady in her mid 30’s tried to give us a realistic picture of life in Cuba today. Cuba has great beauty to offer, but it also has its downsides. It is neither the fairyland of happy dancing people as it is sometimes portrayed, nor is it a dark place where people are left to starve to death as others might try to frame it. The monthly wages would seem to suggest so. A translator makes $20 a month, and a doctor makes $30 a month. A 1.5-liter bottle of water costs $2, sometimes $1. It’s an inevitable fact of life in Cuba that most things are out of reach of the locals.

Access to education and medical services is universal. Because the weather is hot, the residents don’t need fuel to keep themselves warm. The state also provides a subsidy for citizens to buy staples such as eggs, sugar and rice. The constitution ensures everyone has access to music and art, and going to see concerts or plays is either free or very cheap. Life in Cuba is expensive, and people are always looking for a way to make extra money. The houses are in a dilapidated state and the furniture inside is at least 30-40 years old.

The US and Cuba haven’t always been on the best of terms. Unfortunately, this also negatively affected the quality of life in Cuba. While Obama was winning admiration for his moderate approach, there were detractors who second-guessed the intentions of America’s warming to Cuba. Some critics say that America’s approach is not for diplomatic or humanist reasons, but instead simply to promote the USA’s interests. But now all of that has changed once more due to the Trump Administration banning all people-to-people visits on June 5, 2019. We can only hope that this will change in the coming years because a visit to Cuba is a learning experience, an eye opener, a place to be treasured.

Welcome to a new age of cruising-Celebrity Edge

On April 28, 2019, TeamTullyTravel set sail on a 15-day transatlantic cruise (the very first one for this ship with passengers) on the newest concept of sailing vessels that just may revolutionize the way new cruise ships are designed and built. Celebrity’s newest endeavor with the Edge, hopes it will transform the way you see the world.

The Iconic Edge

With a name that reflects its ambitious design, Celebrity Edge is the ship designed to leave the future behind. Every facet of this new vessel is dramatically different from any other ship at sea. And, I guess, is boldly intentional. As soon as you step foot on board, it’s an instant - WOW! You can see that this ship is nothing like anything you have sailed in the past. You truly get the feeling the Edge was built with a desire to connect more deeply with the world we live in; with the destinations the ship would visit; the oceans it would sail and the nature that would surround the ship. To these points all I can say is, well done Celebrity, you nailed it.

There are so many new concepts and aspects on this ship, it would be hard to cover all of them in a single article. Celebrity Edge is not for the first time cruiser. It is an upscale ship on an above average price structure for people who have sailed before and want to experience a difference.

The Staterooms

Most of the staterooms on the ship are verandas, suites, and large scale suites Celebrity calls Iconic Suites. If you like to cruise in an interior room, this is not your ship. The rooms are very well appointed, with a color scheme that makes you feel right at home, ample storage and drawer space, walk in shower in a bathroom two people can actually function, and a 55” TV mounted on the wall opposite the bed. But the newest feature on the Edge is the infinity veranda. If you are expecting your typical veranda balcony, you will be surprised with this feature.

The balcony merges seamlessly with the room. A simple press of a button turns the veranda into a self-contained space, as the top window opens the balcony directly onto the ocean. The nice thing about this concept is that the furniture stays clean, you have more privacy as your neighbors can’t eavesdrop and you are not blown away with the wind. Sitting there gives a relaxing view on the world as the ship cruises to your next port.

The Grand Plaza

The hub of the ships activity is the Grand Plaza a multidimensional, transformational space at the center of the ship. A magnificent three-story chandelier and an undulating bar are the centerpieces of this vast area. As you stand there and look around, you are hit with a cacophony of sound. You look around and wonder where all of this sound is all coming from and you quickly realize it is your fellow passengers giving their “oohs and ahhs.

The cavernous plaza space is inspired by Italian piazzas and connects to the six specialty dining venues on board ship. It’s a great place to enjoy cocktails, listen to live music, have a specialty coffee and pastry at the Grand Plaza Cafe or just relax and “people watch.”

The Magic Carpet

The Magic Carpet, the world’s first ship-climbing platform and the showpiece of Celebrity Edge’s outward facing vision. The orange platform, the size of a tennis court, is located mid-ship on the starboard side, repositions vertically and stops at four different decks, transforming it into a unique venue at each stop. It is used for cocktails at sunset, outdoor dining, private parties or just sitting on comfortable chairs looking at the world as the ship cruises.

Are You Hungry?

So if you hungry, and who isn’t on a cruise, you always have someplace you can feed your appetite. Along with the six specialty restaurants there are four main dining rooms that allow you to have a wonderful dining experience. Cyprus is a nod to Greek heritage with a Mediterranean menu; Tuscan is a take on the Italian favorite, Tuscan Grille. Normandie features French cuisine in an upscale space with a Parisian-inspired vibe, and Cosmopolitan is a new American theme straight out of New York. If those ten places aren’t enough for you, then there is always the buffet in the Oceanview Cafe on the fourteenth deck. A large area where there is so much to choose from, you eventually have to stop grazing and select something, otherwise you will go hungry.

In addition to that you have Mast Grill a hamburger bar and the pizza bar at the rear of the ship, the Juice Bar for the light eaters or the Eden Bar for a nice lunch or quick snack. If you still haven’t had enough, you better make room for desserts. Whoo Nelly, are there desserts. If you are a procrastinator, you will be in trouble. So many great items to choose from and they change each day. Oh, did I forget to mention the ice cream and gelato bar too? I guarantee you will not go hungry on your cruise.

The Art

The one feature that really struck me the most on this fabulous ship was the art. It is abundant and varied in its ever-changing abstracts, 20th-century Modernists, and a curation of contemporaries that adorn the decks. In short, everywhere your eyes gaze, you are introduced to new concepts, abstracts, textures, format and bountiful color from all over the world. It is truly magnificent.

So if you are looking for a change, a new era in the way you cruise and see the world, welcome to Celebrity Edge. If you want to be more connected to the sea, more open to the world, this is your ship. Celebrity Edge has set a new standard in ship design that presents first-at-sea features that transform the status quo of cruise ship silhouettes. With predictability stripped away, unconventional exterior lines and a distinct daring design that sparks intrigue about the experience waiting for you on board.

So until we sail again....

Welcome to the Future of Cruising - Celebrity Edge

Have you ever wanted to set sail on a cutting edge ship with all of the new bells and whistles you ever wanted or thought you needed? Well the time has come...Welcome to the new Celebrity Edge. With the introduction of this "new class" type of ship, Celebrity has turned up both the Heat & Volume...A LOT!

Boasting giant new features, reinventions of classic standbys, and quieter bits of whimsy, Celebrity Edge will set sail on its maiden passenger voyage on December 9, 2018. The 2,913-passenger ship will cruise the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale during the winter and head to the Mediterranean in the spring. TeamtTullyTravel will be a part of the transitioning of the ship to the Mediterranean in late April, 2019.

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So, are you ready to take a look at just some of the great new features this ship has to offer you on any cruise you take? Well let's get started.

Magic Carpet

There are many impressive bells and whistles on Edge, along with a lot of firsts for Celebrity. But the feature that stands out the most, without a doubt, is the bright, tangerine Magic Carpet that hangs off the side of the ship, traveling up and down, from decks five to fifteen.

The 90-ton Magic Carpet, which is about the size of a tennis court, was originally built and designed as a way to enhance the tender experience. Guests would be able to travel up from a tender boat with the feeling off floating above the ocean. But Celebrity only tenders at ports about 25 percent of the time.

Holding 75 to 80 guests at any a time, the Magic Carpet has become so much more, offering maybe the most unique lounging experience at sea, while also serving as an extension of Deck 14’s pool deck.

Twice a sailing, Celebrity will offer Dinner on the Edge, where guests will be invited to eat dishes, at “action stations” positioned around the platform, inspired by the local region where Edge is sailing ($75 per person, the most expensive specialty restaurant on the ship).

Infinity Veranda

Celebrity has never offered more stateroom options than it does on its new Edge. From a single-guest stateroom to a massive 1,800-square-foot Iconic Suite that sleeps 6, there are many different accommodations from which to enjoy a cruise. One of the most impressive enhancements is what Celebrity has added to its standard staterooms on Edge: The Infinite Veranda.

Infinite Veranda staterooms are Celebrity’s take on the river cruise industry’s French balcony. They give guests the option, by simply pressing a button, to turn down half of their stateroom’s floor-to-ceiling window that looks out over the ocean, essentially creating a full-room verandah and giving guests 20 percent more living space. Of the ship’s 1,467 rooms, 916 have what the line calls an “infinite veranda.”

Dining Venues

There are 29 drink and dining venues onboard Edge, including four main dining rooms (all of which are complimentary) and nine specialty restaurants scattered around the ship. Aside from the food choices, Edge is giving more options than ever on how guests can dine.

Guests can choose traditional dining (early or late), where they will be placed in one of the main dining rooms and receive a menu of standards each night complimented by new specialty dishes. They can also choose to skip the traditional 6 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. dining slots and opt for Celebrity Select Plus.

Select Plus guests can choose any one of the four main restaurants each night of their sailing; they can make a new reservation on the app or opt for walk-in. Each restaurant is unique, inspired by a different region of the world.

Advanced Technology

Facial Recognition: Edge is decked out in technology. Almost everything onboard, including changing the channel on the stateroom television or pulling down the blinds or booking shore excursion, can be done through Celebrity’s mobile app. The app is designed to give guests a big boost before they ever get onboard

If guests complete all check-in forms before arriving at the cruise terminal, including taking a selfie through the app, the most they will have to do before boarding is to allow Celebrity staff to scan their Xpress pass, which has a barcode that identifies them.

Virtual Concierge: The app has a chat bot called the Virtual Concierge, and it can help make dinner reservations, recommend bars and events, order drinks, and more. It keeps track of behavior the more it’s used, so if it recognizes a guest ordered a vodka martini before, it may recommend the drink again. It can also see if a guest is traveling with a companion, so if a drink request is made, the concierge automatically asks if the travel partner would like a drink as well.

Also, with the app, guests can add additional excursions to the itinerary, find tons of relevant information like passenger reviews for restaurants, and even receive navigation assistance for moving around the ship (think of Google Maps driving navigation). When on the cruise itself, the app begins suggesting places guests can go and things to do.

Cabin Automation: Cabins will come with touchscreen panels that allow guests to control every aspect of their room, such as turning lights on and off. Preset options can automatically help set the mood at any time of day — guests can configure their room to turn on the lights as the alarm rings at 8 a.m. or turn off the lights before bedtime. This also helps the company be a little more energy efficient, as lights will turn off automatically if the room recognizes it’s empty.

Rooms can also identify when a guest’s smartphone nears the door, which will then unlock automatically. RFID cards are still available to unlock doors in case guests don’t own a smartphone, or as a backup.

New Design Concepts

But the biggest part of Celebrity Edge is all of the exciting new design concepts that have been created to make your cruise a total experience. Each area has a unique feel and look around the ship that will leave you with many hours to explore each one.

So there is a look at the Future of Cruising-The Celebrity Edge. Celebrity is planning to bring out sister ships like the Edge in the next three years. All of the cruise lines will be doing very similar concepts at the same time, so the future of cruising has a very bright outlook.

If your looking for the biggest bang for your dollar, what other type of vacation can you take that gives you transportation, entertainment, all of the food you can eat, sometimes free drinks, total relaxation, sightseeing, and touring to some of the greatest cities in the world, for as little as $50 per day? The answer is none. Cruising has all of this plus great memories, new friends made and a great nights sleep.