Raul Castro, have you gone completely insane?
No, I'm not talking about the human rights abuses you continue inflicting on your country's residents even though, unlike your brother Fidel, you are warming to Western culture and the freedoms that go with it. Allowing an international rock band -- the Rolling Stones no less -- to play Cuba was a nice touch.
But letting an American cruise ship sail into Havana twice a month, as Carnival Cruise Lines' 704-passenger Adonia recently began doing, may be your biggest regret. Take it from someone who has sailed on dozens of cruises as both passenger and employee: American cruise ship passengers are not your ordinary tourists. Or human beings.
Maybe you've already seen them walking -- excuse me, waddling down the gangplank. They cannot briskly stroll into Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, the Adonia's three ports of call, because, in one sitting, they have already consumed more food than your country's residents see in a month.
Sure their travel wallets will be brimming with pesos, which should benefit Cuba's economy. The U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council even estimated that, if other cruise lines follow suit and begin similar voyages to Cuba, your country could reap $80 million tourism dollars a year!
But trust me, that figure is considerably inflated. Why? Because cruise ship passengers pay full price for only three things: snorkel trips, zip line rides and "pirate ship" excursions featuring rum punch that will cause them to regurgitate their last three meals. Good thing the nacho bar on Deck 11 is open 24 hours a day.
And when it comes to shopping, they will incessantly barter, even with residents who make $20 a month (the average salary in your country). They will threaten to walk away unless the proprietor of those hand-rolled cigars reduces his price. Don't believe me? I once saw a cruise passenger (instantly recognizable by the shopping sticker on her tank top and the striped beach towel courtesy of the ship), make an elderly Bahamian woman cry. The woman had just hand-assembled a hat made entirely of palm fronds, a skill no American has the patience to master. Ten dollars was her asking price. The passenger refused to pay more than $5. I believe the two eventually agreed upon $6, less than the cost of a cruise ship strawberry daiquiri, one of four the passenger no doubt slurped down after her shopping excursion.
From what I hear, your country is rich in history. And I'm sure you are eager to show it off to the passengers via guided bus tours one can easily book at the ship's excursion desk. Just don't be too disappointed if that bus doesn't contain the rapt audience you had hoped for, as cruise ship passengers have the attention span of toddlers and most of their thought processes are focused on only one thing: where their next meal is coming from. You will have a much livelier audience if the bus includes snacks.
Cuban nightclubs packed with American cruise tourists? Highly unlikely, as exploring your country after 6 p.m. means a meal is being missed in the ship's main dining room. And once the passengers have stuffed themselves for the umpteenth time, kicking up their heels to a salsa band will be physically impossible. Instead they will remain aboard, watching college kids perform From Broadway to Beyonce! and listening to a comedian exclaim, "People ask the dumbest questions on cruises. I just heard a guy say, 'What time is the midnight buffet?'"
OK, Mr. Castro, maybe I'm generalizing. I'm sure there are plenty of well-mannered passengers mixed in with the cretins I just described. After all, reports have circulated that some Americans are packing basic necessities and randomly handing them out to Cubans on the street. Although your government probably frowns on this practice, even I would be willing to jump back on a cruise. Not so I could Instagram from a floating food pantry, but for the privilege of presenting a Cuban child with something as simple as a hair bow or matchbox car. My only issue is the cruise price. The web says Cuban cruises start at $2,320.
I'll pay $1,500. Not a cent more. Do we have a deal?