Eric Conway, D.M.A. writes:
Day 1 of Cuban Tour:
The Morgan State University Choir arrives safely in Cuba! The tour group this year consisted of thirty-two Morgan State Univeristy choir members, director and a nineteen person group of supporters accompanying the choir making a tour group total of fifty-two.
Knowing that traffic on Interstate 95 can be quite unpredictable, and also knowing to make a 12 Noon charter flight out of JFK in New York, we would have to leave at 4AM in morning, we decided to travel to Jamaica, NY a day early to make sure that did not have any travel concerns to New York. This turned out to be a great decision as leaving at a 4PM time, one had the entire day to think about what you may have otherwise forgotten to pack for a tour like this one. We may try this approach on future tours. We arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel around 9:30, only to find out that all of the rooms were not ready due to “the linen truck not delivering on schedule.” After a short wait we all checked in with a great night’s sleep, and complimentary cook-to-order breakfast, we were ready for our Cuban adventure!
The hotel had shuttle busses to take us to JFK airport, only one quarter mile away. We managed to check-in early enough for this international flight - visas and all, that we were comfortably at the gate one hour and half earlier than departure. I was concerned that the Cuban Charter Airlines chartered JetBlue Air, an airline we had never flown before. I originally thought that this was a deep discount airline with deep discount service, however, we were pleasantly surprised in receiving more room between seats than on most other airplanes, unlimited snacks and water given from attendants, and free wi-fi, something that we had never heard of on any other airline. I heartily recommend JetBlue if you get the chance. We departed from the gate, minutes before the scheduled time to arrive in Havana after a short two and one half hour flight!
We arrived in Havana, Cuba and were immediately greeted by warm temperatures and high humidity! The forecast for the week says rain virtually everyday while in Cuba, although meaning showers and intermittent sunshine daily. We had a three and one half hour bus ride to our first city of Cienfuegos. Although we from the coast city of Havana to central Cuba, we did not see much, as most of the ride was just crop fields with few cars on the road, especially for a three to four lane highway. Along the way we stopped at a restaurant for a group meal, which was quite tasty. One of the highlights was a trio of musicians that were singing Cuban music which the choir immediately enjoyed.
By 9:15 or so, we arrived in our Cienfuegos hotel. Although over the cover of darkness, we could see that this was a very venerable hotel of many years, and we would enjoy our stay here. We were impressed at the impressive architecture and cosmopolitan nature of the hotel, that is, we were pleasantly surprised because we had heard of some not-to great experiences with some others who have stayed at Cuban hotels in the past.
We must now turn in as we have an early 6:45 AM Wake up call for our day of sightseeing, exchange with Cuban choirs, and concert. We only hope that we can sleep given the loud music that we currently hear in other parts of the hotel - although it is great-sounding music. See photos attached of our first day in Cuba!