Travel To Cuba, Fame Not Required

While travel to Cuba has come a long way recently, not everyone can visit as easily as Beyonce and Jay-Z who chose Havana as the place to celebrate their anniversary. Still, even for super stars, travel to Cuba is not like buying a ticket from New York to Chicago and there are a few hoops to jump through. But a new program by a trusted source might just be the answer for travelers who want to visit Cuba.

People to People Ambassador Programs, the educational travel experience company that sent students to Japan after the earthquake/tsunami is back with a new twist on an old way of traveling to Cuba.

People to People is the company that partnered with actress Holly Robinson Peete to award five students with travel scholarships and helped college students complete degrees with international travel programs designed to do just that.

Applying their expertise of sending students around the world for global educational experiences, People to People acquired a travel operator license from the U.S. Department of the Treasury for adult travel programs in Cuba starting in July 2013.

That travel operator license is required to satisfy requirements of the Trading with the Enemy Act, which is the major roadblock to unrestricted travel to Cuba. Exceptions to the ban are allowed by licenses issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Treasury Department.

People to people will not be the first enterprise to do this. USA Cuba Travel specializes in travel to Cuba and arranged for over 100,000 Americans to get there last year.But People to People’s Citizen Ambassador Programs are designed not for college-age students, but for career professionals who want to get a first-hand look at Cuba for business reasons. Those “business reasons” open up an extremely wide field that many would-be travelers to Cuba can qualify for. Enrolled in medical, educational, business, law or sociology-related programs, delegates have an immersive cultural experience through the program that sounds a lot like an ecotourism trip.

Taking part in a walking tour of a village, going to a street party, interacting with locals or being part of a local community project are all bona fide activities and part of the curriculum. Being in the program, on the ground in Cuba, will also require sleeping and eating there, much like a trip to any other destination around the world.

Trips are seven nights in country with regularly schedule departures from Miami in July 2013 through December 2013. People to People programs typically cost from $4,500-7,999, depending on length, destination and itinerary but are all-inclusive. Transportation, meals, accommodations and activities are part of the deal. Good news, the price range for Cuba programs currently run $4,699-$4,999.

Not part of the deal? Cuban cigars – so here is a little video about how they are made:

Obama administration lifts some travel restrictions to Cuba

The Obama administration is going to make travel to Cuba easier than it has been in decades, the BBC reports. Students and religious groups will now be allowed to go to the Caribbean nation, which has not had normal relations with the U.S. since Fidel Castro overthrew the pro-American government in 1959.

Specifically, religious groups will be able to sponsor “religious travel” to Cuba, and Cuban religious organizations will be able to receive remittances from the U.S. Universities and colleges will be able to send students there for educational purposes. Both of these groups will now be able to fly from U.S. airports on chartered flights.

The trade embargo will remain in place, although that was also lightened in 2009 when Obama allowed Cuban-Americans to go visit family and send money. Under the new rules coming into place, any U.S. citizen will be able to send up to $500 per fiscal quarter to non-family members in Cuba to help fund private business projects.

While Americans have been able to travel to Cuba relatively easily by going through third countries, this makes things a lot more straightforward. You still can’t buy Cuban cigars legally in the U.S., but if you meet the criteria you can now enjoy an ice cream like this guy in a photo by user localsurfer from Gadling’s flickr pool.

The reason for these measures is pretty obvious. Having been unable to assassinate Castro or get him deposed over the past 51 years, and having seen that the embargo hasn’t led to regime change, the U.S. government is trying a more subtle approach. By encouraging contacts with religious groups and the intelligentsia, and by funding private enterprise through remittances, Obama hopes to encourage change from within.

Planeload of drunk Irish passengers creates havoc on Cuba bound flight

In what can only be described as Déjà vu, 40 Irish passengers bound for Cuba created a riot on their Thomas Cook flight.

The group filled up on booze, harassing and punching fellow passengers, and one of them even went so far as to attempt opening the emergency exit mid-flight.

One terrified passenger ended up sitting with the flight attendants in the galley for 5 hours just to get away from the ruckus.

According to the (sketchy) report, the hooligans continued their drunken rioting at their resort, and even on the return flight. 17 of them were actually barred from boarding the flight back home to London Gatwick, but the article does not mention what their fate was, so for all we know, they are still stuck in Cuba.
After reading the story, and the reports from passengers on the flight, I’d say the group was lucky they were not on a US flight carrying federal air marshals. If a drunk fool started smoking and punching fellow passengers on a commercial flight in this country, I’d hate to think what would happen to them, but I’m fairly sure it would not be the weak “investigating events with a view to a possible complaint to police” reported in the source article.

(Via: Daily Mail)

More troublemakers in the sky

U.K. Travel Insurer: Cuba as Dangerous as Afghanistan

U.K travel insurance company Direct Travel Insurance Services has a blacklist. If a traveler is headed to Sudan or Afghanistan, they will need to seek their insurance elsewhere. But Cuba?

That’s right, Cuba. The insurer will not cover British travelers headed to Cuba. Perhaps someone in the company thinks that it is still the 1950s. Or perhaps someone in the company was robbed during a recent vacation in Havana. But that’s unlikely. Cuba is, arguably, one of the safest destinations in the entire Caribbean. Crime is virtually not-existent. It is much more dangerous to vacation on more popular islands like Jamaica.

But there is a more probable reason that English travelers are not able to get coverage for Cuba: AIG. The American firm took over Direct Travel Insurance Services and has extended its practices of not insuring Americans in Cuba to its new British customers.

Because of an archaic trade embargo, US citizens are not allowed to visit Cuba. thus AIG does not cover them. But there is no such law in England. Luckily for UK residents, there are many other travel insurers willing to cover tourists on their trip to Cuba.

[Via Havana Journal]