By Frank Del Rio, Co-founder of Oceania Cruises and President & CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd
It is my pleasure to introduce our highly awaited Cuba Inaugural Voyages. I am delighted to be able to share the personal significance of this milestone with you.
As some of you may know, I arrived in the United States on the day of my seventh birthday and spent my early school years in New Britain, Connecticut. Throughout our nine years there, our family proudly preserved most Cuban traditions, as my parents insisted that my younger brother and I speak Spanish at home and that our family have dinner together each night, usually with typical Cuban cuisine – black beans and rice, ropa vieja, fricasé de pollo or masitas de puerco and my favorite dessert, casquitos de guayaba con queso crema (guava in heavy syrup with cream cheese). Of course, since many Cuban ingredients were not available in Connecticut, we waited for the 1960s version of Amazon – the postman – with great anticipation each month, for a delivery of goodies mailed by friends from Miami.
Many nights, my brother, baby sister and I would listen to my parents reminisce about their fond recollection of days in Havana. My mother would describe the mild ocean breezes that drifted through the streets of Havana near the Malecón where she lived until marrying my father. She recalls how she and her friends would play on the rooftop under the bright blue sky while her parents and grandparents sat on the wide terrace below.
The front porch was always the most popular room in the house, a place where family and friends gathered, enjoyed fresh air and watched the goings-on in the street. My father spoke of the incredible beaches and the bountiful fishing, of the famous landmarks that made Havana the place to be in the 1950s, and the yearnings he had to see that beautiful place called home again. My parents told us of the evenings when they would get dressed up, have dinner at a seaside restaurant (their favorite dish was enchilado de langosta, lobster in creole sauce) and then go dancing at Tropicana, topped off by a romantic stroll along the Malecón.
It’s an exciting occasion for me to return to Havana – to walk the streets my parents used to walk and see our home in the Havana suburb of Lawton where we lived, the school I attended and the various neighborhoods in which all of my relatives lived. I look forward to the possibility of finding some of my parents’ old friends and reconnecting with family that stayed behind, my Aunt Elda and cousins, George and Luis.
My wife, Marcia, and her family are also from Cuba – Camagüey, a province east of Havana. Today our large family gatherings in Miami are filled with lively Cuban music, the same traditional dishes (although the grandkids prefer burgers and pizza), loud laughter, stories, lots of Cuban advice (wanted and unwanted) and of course, the occasional game of dominoes. The only “Cuban” thing we don’t do is smoke cigars! Marcia, my two children, my four grandchildren and I are excited to be fulfilling this once thought unattainable dream of sailing into Havana harbor on an Oceania Cruises voyage.
I couldn’t be happier to share with you the excitement and passion that cruising to Cuba symbolizes for my family and me, and for all of us at Oceania Cruises. I warmly invite you to join us on one of these special journeys to Cuba aboard Marina this coming March.