Millions of questions!

Old Feb 2nd, 2003, 10:38 PM
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Millions of questions!

Hi everyone,

My sister and I planned a last minute trip, compliments of our Mother, to Cuba for a Mother - daughter(s) getaway. Only after we booked it did we start to research Cuba. Now I'm scared we might have picked the wrong distination at my Mom's expense. This will be my first All-inclusive vacation and that was at the request of my Mom, due to the fact that she stayed at all-inclusive in Dominican and loved it. So we are staying at the Iberostar Barlovento. Any resent visitors to this hotel - please let me know whether or not I screwed this one up! I guess one of my concerns is the fact that we have been dieting our butts off for this vacation to hear nothing but the food is bad. Any comparisons to other contries. I'v been to a few. Mexico, Singapore, Borneo, Jamica, Canary Islands. Is there seafood? Another things that is bugging me, is the money situation. I am from Canada should I really bring US funds? Can I bring Canadian Travels cheques and exchange to Peso. I hate having to exchange to US funds that's why I'm NOT going to the US. And I'v read that you can't bring any Art back, ie. carvings, painting, handmade crafts. Is that true? My sisters and I are huge shoppers and were hoping to bring back a bunch of original home decorating trinkets home! What's the shopping like and can you bring stuff home. Can you barter? Is there vendors on the beaches? Markets? We loved Mexico for this, any comparisons? Sorry if I sound so negative. I was really excited until I starting reading reviews on the internet and now I'm wondering if these people are just complainers or did I make a mistake. I have lived in Borneo, Singapore, Iran and Canary Islands and that brings an appreciation for Markets and Vendors, ethnic foods, meeting the people. I completely understand that these hotels do not hold the same standard as Canadian hotels, however these reviews are horrible. Anyways any comments would be appreciated.

Thanks

Sherry
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Old Feb 3rd, 2003, 07:59 PM
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Hi Sherry:

First off, relax and stop worrying. I'm a Canadian from Toronto and have been to Cuba 6 times. I keep going back because I find it a unique cultural experience, great people, good food and generally a fun time.

That said, I am not failiar with the hotel you list and what resort it is at. So I cannot offer specifics on this.

I have stayed at Varadero (Tainos), Cayo Largo (Melia), Isla de la Juventud (Colony) and Havana (Copacabana & Melia Habana) and also in Casa Particular's which are legal private homes.

I'll try to take some of your concerns in order.

I have not had bad food, just different. No big Macs thank god. Seafood is easy to get, as is chicken and pork. Beef isn't grade "A" unfortunately and unless you are in a great restaurant I don't waste my money on it. They tend to have thin steaks that are overcooked. Not the best combination. But I have had excellent steaks in Havana at upper class restaurants. But you can get superb chicken dishes and seafood most anywhere.

Money. You will have to use the US dollar. It is unfortunate, but to a great extent the US dollar is the defacto currency in many contries in the world. In Cuba you can use the convertible peso (not to be confused with the local peso which you cannot use) but it is not worth the hassle to change your money into it. The euro is also starting to be accepted in some resorts. I always take US dollars and have never had any problem. Even my travellers cheques are in US funds. You get a better exchange rate in Canada before you go than elsewhere in the world. Also in some free markets, the locals WANT the US dollars so you have no choice but to pay with them. The locals can then use these dollars in hard-currency stores for stuff they need.

Art. I have some very nice pieces in my home, including paintings, posters, framed photos (Korda and Corrales) ceramics etc. Other than obviously historic pieces you have no problems. There are many outdoor markets to have fun in and the locals are always selling hand made crafts etc. I even have a beautiful hand made wooden galleon complete with sails, rigging etc that is 24" long. Only hard part wat getting it on the plane to come home. Luckily the Captain was a friend and it rode in the cockpit behind his seat !!! (pre 9/11) Oh, and barter is the way of the game. Sharpen your wits and go for the best price you can. Lots of fun.

So turn your excitement back on and have a great time in Cuba.

Steve
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Old Feb 4th, 2003, 07:44 AM
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Please tell me I'm wrong, but won't U.S. citizens have our government come after them if they go to Cuba? Joan Slote, a 74-year-old grandmother and avid cyclist, took a cycling tour of Cuba in 2000, and the U.S. Treasury came after her. Even though she thought it was legal, because she booked the bycicle tour with a Canadian Company, she went to court and was fined for illegal travel to Cuba and was fined over $8,000.00. She fought it but the feds sent a letter saying they might start deducting the penalty from her $1,184 monthly Social Security check.
She was a former cycling gold medal winner at the Senior Olympics and resides in San Diego. She's not alone, hundreds of other U.S like hundreds of other U.S. citizens got fines for travel to Cuba. Personally, I'd like to go there, to explore the coral reefs. Some have thought about getting there via Nassau, Bahamas, but I don't know if the U.S. Govt. keeps tabs on U.S. citizens overseas flights to Cuba. Are these laws still on the books? Still enforced? Please advise and thanks. Robert
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Old Feb 4th, 2003, 08:35 AM
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I think she said she was Canadian.
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Old Feb 4th, 2003, 11:47 AM
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Yes, I see her mention of Canada. Could anyone help me with my question on U.S. citizens venturing to Cuba? Thanks. Robert
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Old Feb 4th, 2003, 12:53 PM
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Robert, oh yes the law is still very much on the books, especially after a 1996 incident in which the Cuban Air force shot down two U.S. civilian aircraft. Even if traveling through another country. Here is the U.S. State Department's Consular Info Sheet on Cuba:
http://travel.state.gov/cuba.html

It seems athletes are allowed to travel there only if participating in an international competition, not for tourism.

Is it enforced? Don't know about that. As a totalitarian government, they still take political prisoners in Cuba - no peaceful free speech. Wouldn't want to take my chances!
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Old Feb 4th, 2003, 12:55 PM
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Robert,
Whew, I've been trying to post this reply most of the day (and I'm not entirely sure this one will post either). I think Fodors is not working properly lately.

Anyhow, yes, as an American you can legally go to Cuba IF you are part of a US Treasury sanctioned group.
Check out this web site for more details: http://www.ustreas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/sanctions/cuba_res.pdf

The university where I teach has a licence (as do many other universities). We will be taking a group of professors and students on an educational class this coming May. Check with a university near you for this type of oppertunity.

The santions are still in place by our government, but there are exceptions. Hope this helps. Kathy

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Old Feb 4th, 2003, 03:24 PM
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Let's review the Cuba travel situation.

It is NOT illegal for an American citizen to go to Cuba. What IS illegal (according to US Treasury Department Rules) is for an American citizen to spend money in Cuba. Of course, the question is how to go without spending any money.

Either you go as a FULLY HOSTED guest of a third party, or apply for a license from Treasury.

SO YOU STILL WANT TO GO ANYWAY!!!!

Well just go through a third country such as Canada. As a Canadian who has met many US citizens, both in Canada and in Cuba, I assure you for the most part you will have no problem. 100,000+++ US citizens go to Cuba EVERY YEAR!!!!

But the US Treasury Department is a slippery government entity. If US Customs suspects that you have been to Cuba (i.e. Clearing US customs at Toronto airport for your connecting flight to the US) they will give you a form to declare what, if any money you have spent in Cuba. Everybody sweats this. But the answer is REALLY SIMPLE. Just REFUSE to fill out the form. You, as an American citizen have the CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to NOT incriminate yourself. You are under NO obligation to provide any evidence of any possible travels. They want the PROOF, they must find it on their own. They might hassle you, but you don't have to incriminate yourself.

NEXT.

Some Scuba Diving Clubs have received notices of FINES from the US Treasury Department upon their return from Cuba. Believe it or not, some people quake, quiver and simply spill the beans when questioned by anybody at Treasury. Ignore these, and notify the Treasury Department (through your lawyer is best for REAL FAST Service from Treasury) of your wish to have this matter heard in a court of law, as is your CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT. You cannot be fined without your day in court. Your American Constitution says so to protect YOUR rights. But here is the kicker. THERE IS NO US COURT WITH JURISDICTION TO HEAR ANY COURT CASE OF THIS TYPE!!!! The Treasury Department knows this and will very quickly drop all claims against you or try to get you to agree to a lower fine. If you want to VOLUNTARILY pay a fine to the Treasury Department, that only proves that you have more money than brains!!!

NEXT

All American citizens have EQUAL RIGHTS guaranteed by the Constitution. Yet an American citizen (even one BORN in the USA) who is of Cuban heritage, has the LEGAL right to travel to Cuba. So I ask you this... why does one American citizen have greater rights because of his heritage than you do? Is an Italian, Spanish, Germah, or other heritage background citizen LESS of a citizen US citizen? The american government knows this, and simply avoids the problem by refusing to take ANY case against a Citizen caught returning from Cuba to court. They quietly drop all "charges" and hope the problem goes away. But again, if they can intimidate you into paying a VOLUNTARY fine, then once again you have proved that you have more money than brains.

NEXT.

The US House has removed all FUNDING away from the Treasury Department that would or could be used to enforce these silly rules. So just how are they supposed to fine you or take the time, money or effort to chase you. They will however try to intimidate you.

Check out this legal website and read for yourself.

http://www.nlg.org/cuba/

My only advice is to know your RIGHTS, Don't let yourself be bluffed by Treasury, and have a GREAT VACATION in CUBA

Steve from Canada!
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Old Feb 4th, 2003, 06:57 PM
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Thanks for the good advice. Even though Steve is probably accurate, life is pretty stressing to jump into the boxing ring with the U.S. Treasury Dept. I don't need threatening letters from the U.S. Treasury; even though they may not follow up on the threats, I just don't need the hassle...in our "democracy." I will check out if a college or university, or environmental organzation has marine biologists who visit Cuba for reef research and invite citizens to go with them. Thanks for the great info. I printed it out and will use it as a reference. Robert
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Old Feb 5th, 2003, 04:24 AM
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Here's another good website for Cuba travel:

http://lanic.utexas.edu/la/cb/cuba/

This link is not to my university, but it seems pretty extensive in it's coverage of all topics related to Cuba.
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Old Feb 6th, 2003, 10:20 AM
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Thanks Steve for spelling it out. I'm not too worried about going through Nassau to Cuba myself. Frankly, with all the b.s. going on with Iraq and N. Korea, Cuba is the LAST country U.S. cares about right now!
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Old Feb 6th, 2003, 10:34 AM
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So - could I drive to Canada, cross the border with my drivers license, then hop a plane to Cuba, but wouldn't I have to use my Passport, then same on the return. But wouldn't it become a probelm if a few months later, I leave to go to St. Maarten, and the immigration/customs officer sees the Cuba stamp in my passport??? Or can you go to Cuba using your Drivers License and birth cert??thanks
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Old Feb 6th, 2003, 10:45 AM
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I'm certainly no expert since I have not been yet but from what I understand you ask that your VISA is stamped as opposed to your passport. No, I doubt you could just get in the country with your drivers license and birth certificate.
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Old Feb 6th, 2003, 01:23 PM
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To: sxmguru and MauraNYC

Exactly. I have a friend in North Carolina who flies into Buffalo where I pick her up and we fly to Cuba out of Toronto. We reverse the route for the trip home. She has also driven up when she wanted more of a holiday. Same procedure at the borders.

On the passport issue. When you enter Cuba, you need a Tourist Visa which is sold to you (around $20 USD) when you get your boarding pass and check in. You can also get it in advance from any Cuban consulate or Canadian travel agent. As a US citizen, you will need a US passport to enter Cuba BUT they will NOT stamp it if you ask them not to. They either stamp the Tourist Visa or stamp a piece of paper that you keep in your passport until you leave. Real simple and easy. The Cubans are very savy when it comes to helping American tourists enter their country. However you CANNOT just enter Cuba on a drivers license, photo or not with a birth certificate. You need the passport and visa.

Hope this helps and hope you get to Cuba to experience this unique culture and experience.

Steve

As for me, being a Canadian I make sure my passport is stamped by the Cubans. Can't wait till someday a US border agent flips through my passport and sees that I have been to Cuba 6 times. Should be interesting to say the least.
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