FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
In the wake of the mysterious “sonic attacks” apparently directed at U.S. diplomats, is it safe in Cuba for the Ocean Passages students and crew?
We have carefully reviewed the situation and concluded that it is safe for our voyages to continue. Last year, over three million international travelers visited Cuba, including 500,000 U.S. citizens. According to the U.S. State Department, a total of about two dozen people experienced health problems. We extend our concern to anyone affected and take all health matters extremely seriously. If ever needed on our 2017-2018 voyages, Ocean Passages maintains 24/7 access to first-rate medical evacuation services (details below). For any questions about the evolving State Department advisories, please feel free to call us toll-free at 855.212.0123, ext. 5.
How long has your program been running?
We launched Ocean Passages in 2015 after two decades of experience running high school and college programs aboard Tall Ships. Over these many years in sea education, we learned the particular value of experiential education in geographical areas undergoing historic transformation.
Is it now legal to travel to Cuba by boat?
Yes, with the proper authorization. Our program operates under all the educational, humanitarian and nautical requirements of both U.S. and Cuban law.
Can I join a voyage later than the listed start date?
No. The numerous safety and logistical considerations require everyone to participate as a cohort in initial safety orientation training.
What’s the age range? Do I have to be a student?
While age requirements vary for each program, student status is not necessary for our gap semesters.
Do I have to know how to sail and swim? Or how to speak Spanish?
No sailing experience is required; we’ll teach you everything you need to know. Swimming proficiency is required to do any snorkeling. Competency in Spanish is not essential for our gap semesters, but is certainly welcome.
Will we snorkel in Cuba?
Yes, in some of the most amazing coral reefs left in the Atlantic.
On the ship, who does what?
The ship can support 20 students (“cadets” or “trainees”) and nine crew members: captain, three mates, cook and four deckhands. Everyone collaborates to keep the ship safe and sailing, from standing watch to basic navigation. It’s all about the teamwork – we work together, eat together and take excursions together.
On the way from Maine to Cuba, is there any time on land?
Yes. As the program dates approach, we’ll analyze weather and consider student preferences to develop a voyage float plan. For instance, that might entail stops in Mystic, Baltimore, Norfolk or Charleston. For safety reasons, always the top priority, the schedule must remain flexible. Consequently, once underway it is not possible to reliably schedule family visits with students in port. However, the ship course and speed can always be tracked online.
Do male and female students live together on the ship?
Yes and in close quarters. Both students and crew are required to sign the ship’s Code of Conduct, which is based on strict principles of mutual respect.
What should I bring – and what shouldn’t I bring?
It depends. For all of our programs, once you’re enrolled, you’ll get a packing list detailing precisely what you need and some recommended additional purchases. Everything you bring has to fit in your bunk.
Should I bring my cellphone or laptop on the trip?
A wet boat without reliable Wi-Fi isn’t the best environment for laptops. As for cellphones, we want our students to disconnect from the electronic world to have the best experience onboard. Once they board the vessel, all phones will be collected and stored in a dry-storage box for the duration of the trip. At various ports during the trip, when there is adequate cellphone service and time, students will be given the opportunity to use their phones for a set amount of time to reconnect with family and friends.
What about Internet while in Cuba?
It varies. Cuba has limited Internet and Wi-Fi access. So while you can find it, don’t expect instantaneous and regular service (and tell your parents the same thing!). In a pinch, the ship has its own radio and satellite communications, so it is always in contact with the Ocean Passages office in Portland. That’s available if really needed, but not just to chat with your friends at home.
What’s the food like aboard the ship?
We’re partial but if you’re asking – the food is great, maybe because things always taste better at sea. And there’s plenty of it. After provisioning in Maine, everyone eats together three times a day. Once notified, we can accommodate special dietary needs. And everyone’s encouraged to toss a line over the side to catch the night’s fish dinner.
Can I shower on the boat?
We will teach you the tricks of saltwater showers with a light fresh water rinse, but we do not currently have any fresh water showers on the ship. While on shore, we always try to arrange for showers as soon as possible.
How much do your gap semesters cost?
The tuition for the fall semester is $19,500, and the tuition for the spring semester is $13,500.
If I were sick or injured, how do I get medical care?
Ocean Passages has made a commitment to the safety of its crew and shipmates by purchasing MedAire, a medical emergency provider that serves ships in remote locations. Treatment facilities aboard consist of a MedAire medical kit administered by the ship’s medical officer and a 24/7 medical consulting service via radio with MedAire’s trained medical professionals. If needed, we immediately initiate medical evacuation. In Cuba, we would also work closely with the U.S. Embassy to act expeditiously to address a medical emergency.
Do I need to be concerned about the Zika virus?
Yes. As has been well reported, the virus has now migrated even to the United States. Our policies defer entirely to guidance from public health authorities and we will strictly enforce compliance with all Centers for Disease Control and State Dept. travel guidelines.
Do I need any vaccinations?
Cuba is a tropical country. Ocean Passages does require that all students and crew be up-to-date on their Tetanus, Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations.
Can I stay in Cuba beyond the program dates? Can family or friends visit?
Probably not. Some U.S. restrictions have been liberalized, but American citizens still may travel to Cuba legally only for a handful of specific purposes – otherwise, a U.S. travel “license” is required. Ocean Passages has worked closely with the Departments of State, Commerce and Treasury to operate our program. We assist with flights to and from home, as needed, including time in Cuba pursuant to such program logistics. But any additional travel by students or any visitors must comply fully and independently with Treasury Dept. regulations governing travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens.