Our Kids in Cuba

I felt chuffed when Cubans made a fuss of our kids on holiday in Cuba. Normally older Cubans would pat Matthew our 7yr son’s head and say in Spanish “He is so cute” or “How wonderful you have brought your family to Cuba”.  My Spanish is zilch so I can only guess and hope they made such comments. Given that they were smiling I assume it was something positive.

At first Matthew thought it was kind of cool to be fussed about but after a while he’d squirm away from their hands. By the end of our holiday our Havana Casa owners (Casa Colonial Yardilis & Joel) thought Matthew might even be Cuban. Matthew is blessed with a light olive skin complexion. Where the rest of us have English freckles.

When we first decided to visit Cuba I think a few people were surprised we would take the children. I researched what other families had done online. One particular story mentioned the friendliness received by families holidaying with kids in Cuba. So we were encouraged. In the back of my mind I wanted our kids to experience other countries and cultures young in life. Before they settle into opinionated teenagers or adults.

In our research, the kids and I shortlisted activities they would like to see and do in Paris and Cuba. Paris with Euro Disney and the Eiffel Tower wasn’t hard but what would interest the kids in Cuba? Looking at the history of Cuba with it’s forts and pirates had the greatest appeal to them. So too did snorkeling. I warned the kids they might not get all the food choices they get here at home.

We are fortunate our kids Damien 11yrs and already mentioned Matthew travel by car and plane quite well. Living in Australia where extended family live 2-5hrs drive or flight away the kids have had practice. They slept on the planes when they needed to and we established a few screen rules up front. We have TV/Video/electronic game rules at home and whilst those rules went out the window on a long haul flight, we discuss options and jointly came to an agreement.

We didn’t have any problems with AU, French or Cuban customs bringing their medicines in a clear plastic zip lock bag. On all flights we had to explain it was for the kids and had no issues.

We chose plane seats with one window and the other the isle where possible. That mean one adult and one child together. We took two rows so that meant no fighting kids and an isle for each parent. We didn’t choose seats too close to the kitchen galley else the food smells would get the hunger up a whole lot earlier than you tray lands on your table. Another tip as we found too many magazines, duty free catalogs in the plane seat pockets so we removed them all except for the plane safety card and sick bag and store then in the overhead lockers. That left space for the kids books, toys and etc. Not sure about other kids but our kids loved reading the safety cards & videos. I felt safe.

We had planned three major base locations in Cuba. Havana, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba. We had another stop over in Playa Santa Lucia but more on that resort later.  In each town/city we made sure we planned our days around something for the kids and something for us all such as a museum.

We sourced playgrounds or activities where our kids could just play.  Then catch a museum or something for us all later in the day. As a kid I loved the roundabout wheel ride where you push around and once it picks up speed you jump on. I’d close my eyes and feel the air woosh past my face and hold on else being flung off. Australia has banned these rides. So when we found one roundabout wheel ride in Havana the kids just loved it. I might have had ride or two myself as well.

There was quite an elaborate kids park at La Maestranza in Havana. Sure we had been to Disney Paris a few weeks back but the kids still loved the park.

We found a fascinating gun collection on Calle Mercaders Havana by chance. The kids got see some interesting weapons. We were told it was Fidel’s collection. Can’t remember the name of this place but it wasn’t far from the Museum of Chocolate, which is also worth a visit.

Photography is popular in our household. So with that in mind we all had access to a camera. Matthew lost interest in photography early on but Damien took some great photos. In many of the museums, cathedrals or Cuban tourist sites Damien took photos. Note, in many Cuba’s tourist sites you will pay an extra admission price if you want to take photos.  We also brought an underwater housing for one of the compact digital cameras and Damien was happy to take the photos whilst snorkeling.

We took time out after midway down Cuba to stay at Brisas Santa Lucia an all expenses resort in Playa Santa Lucia. We are not resort people but just loved to chill out in the pool. You could though spot the Aussie kids in the pool. They were ours with swim rashie shirts & paranoid sun smart mother re-applying sunscreen frequently to the kids.

We tried to snorkel in the sea off the resort but the weather the previous day made visibility poor. So we went back to the resort pool. It didn’t matter about the language to when kids play with other kids. Though we found many of the kids did speak English at that resort. I was a bit disappointed in the room décor (very dated) at the Brisas Santa Lucia and the ‘flash’ pool didn’t open till 9am and closed early at 7pm. Oh to find a resort pool open longer hours anywhere.

The kids agree that the fort and pirate museum Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro in Santiago de Cuba was the best. The two forts in Havana I too think were wonderful as well. We didn’t find a lot of English plaques in the fort but you might be lucky if one of the guides spoke English.  I’d recommend reading up on the forts before you visit them. We had our trusty Lonely Planet to help us out there. Also, it is pretty obvious by the exhibits what half the stuff is anyway.  I would recommend visiting Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca del Morro (or El Morro for short) early in the day too before the tour buses arrive. Or eat at one of it’s restaurant early, say 11:30 again before the tour buses arrive. Then walk around the fort whilst everyone on the tourist bus is eating lunch.

I have found our kids will pick up a few historical pieces of information or fact about nature or whatever at each place we visited. So there was no point taking them around to every display case in a museum and reading everything to them. Point out a few things in one room and discuss it with them. Or ask them to point out something unusual. They will remember that more. In Santiago de Cuba we visited the Bacardi Museum which was really a museum of artifacts and paintings than Bacardi but still worth a visit. Matthew looked at a wall with four paintings and commented that the first one was where the girl baby was born. The second when the girl was now a toddler, the third when she was older and the fourth one was when she died. I hadn’t noticed that till then. It’s amazing what the kids pick up. The museum of Rum also in Santiago de Cuba is worth a visit if you want to know more about the making of the dark drink.

We have used toilets in some museums and then decided to look around the museum briefly. Normally the museums have cleaner toilets but not always.

Another tip is to have the kids keep a journal of their journey. Plus hold onto the tickets that have images or brochures of what you visited. Helps the kids when they collate their ‘show and tell’ presentations back at school.

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