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National Hotel has welcomed the wealthy and famous since the 1930s.

Off-limits since Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cuba reopened its doors to Americans in 2015. Today more than 4.5 million international visitors travel to Cuba each year to see the island, experience the cuisine and the culture and meet the friendly islanders.

A number of cruise companies offer four- to seven-day trips to the island, oftentimes combined with other ports of call. In late November we sailed from Fort Lauderdale to Havana aboard Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, a ship that was launched in 1992 and beautifully refurbished in 2016. It accommodates up to 2,744 passengers and offers a plethora of on-board activities, shopping, dining options and entertainment.

After docking in Havana the next morning, we cleared customs and exchanged a few dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and then found our tour captain near the Chopin statue in Plaza de San Francisco de Artes. In order to set foot in Cuba, passengers must purchase at least one shore excursion and obtain a visa, which can be arranged through the cruise company. We chose Cuba’s Classic Cars around the island, while other passengers signed up for walking tours of Historic Havana, Ernest Hemingway’s home, cigar factories, rum cake shops and other venues.

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Several excursion options are available through the cruise line including a vintage car tour.

Prior to our afternoon tour, we had time to walk around the streets and converse with some of the locals, including the car owners who keep the vintage beauties in good shape. Were we seeing all this in 2018 or had we traveled back in time? At the appointed hour we hopped into a 1957 Belair Chevrolet driven by a handsome young Cuban, only to discover that he only spoke Spanish! He drove us around for two hours, stopping at Plaza de la Revolucian, a nearby park crowded with vintage cars, and the National Hotel, a landmark that has welcomed the rich and famous, including Fidel Castro, since the 1930s. There we enjoyed a Mafia Mojito, a drink made with both dark and light rum, and heard some elderly musicians play traditional Cuban music.

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Cubans can now apply for permits to sell their goods as street vendors.

We returned to the same venue later that evening for the Parisian Cabaret show, which started two hours after our arrival at the hotel and featured Las Vegas-style dancers. We paid $109 for the show, bus transportation, and a watery mojito. It was one of several shows available to passengers; other offerings included a show at the famous Tropicana for $199. The ship departed Havana at 2 a.m. and we spent the next day at sea.

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Cruise aboard the Majesty of the Seas from Florida to Cuba.

On Sunday morning, we docked in Nassau in the Bahamas — a place we had visited numerous times in the past. Finding the city looking better than ever, we took our chances on going with Felton Cox, a gentlemen who offered his tour services for $35, one-third the price of a ship tour. A lifelong resident of Nassau with a wealth of information, he showed us his island, stopping at the Atlantis Resort, Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, and the Queen’s Staircase at Fort Fincastle, the highest point in Nassau. At the end of the tour he dropped us off at the Cricket Club for lunch, where Sunday matches were underway and the locals were dining on their favorite fish dishes. The four-day cruise, which cost $500 per person, plus airfare, shore excursions, and personal incidentals, provided a taste of Cuba and Nassau, plus some much-needed relaxation time and entertainment over a long weekend.

Book now: royalcaribbean.ae

Cruises from Baltimore

In the mid-Atlantic you need look no farther than the Baltimore Harbor to find a variety of cruises that go to Bermuda, the Caribbean, Canada and New England and range from five to 14 days

Book:  BaltimoreCruises.com

VacationsToGo.com

February Celebrations

Virginia is for lovers, they say, especially at wineries which offer perfect venues for celebrating Valentine’s Day, with food, wine, music and more. Cooper’s Landing in Clarksville is offering a “Dining in the Dark Wine Dinner” on Feb. 8 and a cooking class on Feb. 11. A Valentine tea at Pamplin Historical Park in Petersburg is scheduled for Feb. 9. A Valentine’s Day dinner at Belle Grove Plantation in King George is also planned for Feb. 9. Glass House Winery in Free Union will host live music on Feb. 10. “An Evening with the Frontiers — Journey Tribute,” sponsored by the Friends of the Harvester Keep the Music Alive, is planned at Harvester Valley Park in Rocky Mount, with several dinner and music options. The month will end with the Virginia Wine Expo, a six-day celebration of outstanding wine, spirits, cider and local artisan cuisine in Richmond Feb. 26-Mar. 3.

Hershey, aka “The sweetest place on earth,” invites visitors to experience over 90 chocolate-inspired events and activities during Chocolate-Covered February®. Hotel guests may take advantage of special rates throughout the month, with starting rates of $159 at Hershey Lodge and $259 at The Hotel Hershey. Visitors may view entries in the 2019 Chocolate Sculpture Competition on display throughout February; indulge in exclusive Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Treatments at MeltSpa by Hersey; and learn how to make truffles in the with Truffles Chocolate Lab Class. For more details on other February events, visit hersheypa.com.

Looking for a special getaway this month? Consider Sea Island, Ga., where the late President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara honeymooned in 1945 and celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1995. With temperatures averaging 71 degrees in February, The Cloister and The Lodge are offering guests 71 percent off the third night of their stay this month.

“A Vanderbilt House Party: The Gilded Age” exhibit opens Feb. 9 and continues through May 27 at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It features costume reproductions of clothing worn by the Vanderbilts, their friends, family, and employees — all created by Oscar-winning designer John Bright. A brand new Premium Audio Guided Tour, created for the exhibit, combines innovative 360-degree sound techniques with stories told from the perspective of those who lived and worked at Biltmore in the early 1900s. The result is a truly immersive experience. Built by George W. Vanderbilt in 1895, the 250-room mansion is the largest private home in America and is still owned and managed by his family. In addition to the mansion, which is filled with furnishings and art collected by the Vanderbilts, the estate features gardens, a winery, shopping village, outdoor activities, restaurants, and hotels. Shop for tickets and special discounts at biltmore.com.

On the Slopes

Looking for special deals and events for the ski season, which continues through early April? Contact Snowshoe Mountain at 877-441-4386 or snowshoemtn.com; Winterplace, 800-607-SNOW or winterplace.com; Wintergreen, 855-699-1858 or wintergreenresort.com; and Massanuttenen Resort, 540-289-9441 or massresort.com.

Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at ctimblin@gmail.com.

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