The Big Day Arrives – Trip Day to Cuba – What to Expect, What to Do, How to Be Ready

by Paul Raymond on July 31, 2015

This is the typical e-mail I send just before we leave.  It will give you an idea of what to expect on the trip. Your trip will vary depending upon the entry and departure points in Miami and Cuba (for example, we may have an early morning flight or an afternoon or evening flight). There are some useful points and hints – – such as shrink wrapping your luggage, navigating through the Miami and Cuban airports, what to expect at each airport, how to fill out the Customs form for Cuba, the health insurance form, and other good things to know.



Everything related to Cuba is always subject to change but as of this week, this is the plan. Also, sometimes the check-in concourse changes. Be sure to check in advance if you can or just ask someone when you get there. It will be fairly early in the morning and there are 2-3 flights to Cuba for that morning; just make sure you are at the correct check-in area. If I hear of a change, I’ll let you know.

Tickets, Visa and Check-In Procedures

Since you have an early flight make sure your hotel has a shuttle that will get all of you to the airport no later than 8:45 a.m. Everyone should be there by that time, don’t be late as it takes a while to wait in line with all the other Cubans carrying tons of stuff to take to their relatives. They will not check you in until all members of the group are there and then they do it all at once as a group, so please don’t be that last guy everyone is waiting for.

Since some of you already know each other and staying in close proximity, I suspect you will be going to the airport at about the same time. Those of you who are new and do not meet up the night before should not have any problem finding the others once you get to the airport in the morning. Just go to the correct check in area. You’ll note that most the people there are Cubans carrying a variety of items, chickens, pigs, goats, tires, tv’s…just kidding, but they do generally have a lot of boxes and some odd things to carry on an airplane. Your teammates will all have some sort of baseball bag, probably be wearing something baseball or something I sent you, either a pin, shirt or cap. Of the 100-150 people for the flight, you may be the only non Cubans and stick out like a sore thumb.

You may want to have your luggage wrapped in thick plastic. Do this before you get in line for your ticket. This is to prevent theft. It is not so much the Cubans to worry about, though a concern, but Miami is one of the most corrupt airports in the country. The cost is, I believe, $15-25 per piece of luggage depending on the size and needs to be paid for on the spot, in cash, so be sure to bring enough cash. You’ll see people doing this near the check in lines.  Put your last name on a piece of paper and the attendant will put it with the luggage just before the final wrap so it can be identified. Some wrapping companies are using bright green, some blue and some clear.

Do not lock your luggage as it will be sent down a conveyor belt for x-ray and possible inspection. If they open your luggage for inspection, it will be wrapped again by the airport agents. This also applies to TSA locks. Cuba does not have TSA keys to open the luggage so don’t lock them. Wrapping them makes them pretty secure.

In previous years, we have checked in at the “cage”. This is an area on the lower level of Terminal A, rarely used any more. With the new Homeland Security requirements and increased security by the US Treasury Dept., OFAC, procedures have changed.

You will be checking in at a regular check in counter just about like any other flight, much more civilized.   I will confirm the check in counter, and where it is located.  There will be a desk or podium at at the check in counters for the Cuba flights. You’ll need to wait in line to get to this point.

Usually I arrange with the attendant to get us all checked in at once.  I’ll take your paperwork and any last minute things that need to be signed.

The attendant at this station will have your visa (tourist card), flight ticket and any other paperwork for you at this station, usually in a Marazul envelope/package. Be sure to have your passport on hand as they want to see it at this point. They often compare your passport to the photo copy you sent to Marazul so they need to be the same. They may ask your mothers maiden name, which is information you provided on the paperwork we sent to the travel agents.  Put your visa and any other paperwork in the envelope with the rest of your travel documents.  Everybody needs a visa to travel to Cuba.

Once you receive your documents you can proceed to the next available check-in counter.  Show them your paperwork, passport and visa and they will issue you a boarding pass.  This is also the point where they will weigh your luggage and charge you for any extra weight or baggage. Be prepared to pay by cash at this point, they generally do not take credit cards. The $50 MIA departure tax is already paid for in your fees so you do not need to deal with this. Depending on the airline, the 1st bag may be free and additional bags are $20. They will weigh all your luggage, including carry-on, and charge you $1-2/lb for everything over 44 lb. Hang onto all of your documents, check their numbers and get a receipt. You can see the charges for various airlines on the web site at: 

We are on a CTS flight which appears to be one of the lowest cost airlines for luggage.

If you have a carry on, they will probably put a piece of bright colored tape on it to show it has been accounted for and any fees for weight are added. Make sure you have this carrry-on tag. Don’t take it off otherwise they may charge you again for the additional weight.

Once you have done all of this you are free to hang around the airport and do whatever you want. I suggest having a big breakfast as it may be some time before you eat again in Cuba and it’s your last chance for American food for a while. It’s about an hour flight and it usually takes us about an hour to get our luggage through customs in Cuba. Plenty of  places to eat if you want.

Since your luggage has already been weighed and accounted for, you can do some more shopping in the airport if you want. Things like munches, suntan lotion, books, magazines, visit the ATM or whatever you may have forgotten you can get at the airport. They will not be weighing your carry on again if you still have the sticker on it so don’t worry about any extra weight after you have checked your luggage and paid your fees.

One thing more: Keep your eye on the board for any departure news – – frequently flights are delayed, then we’re told the flights are booking earlier than the revised departure time.  I’ll have your cell phones with me so if necessary, I can try and call you to get to the departure gage.  This situation actually happened to us in 2013.

Once you are ready to go through the TSA security check point, you can then proceed to the departure gate. You will need to go through the airport security line, just like at all other airports, show them your boarding pass and ID. Remember to take off shoes, belt, hats, bras and remove anything metallic on your body. Enjoy the full body naked scans and ultra personal pat downs. If the buzzer goes off, get ready for the ever popular cavity exam or a wand job. Make sure you get through the security line in plenty of time to get to the departure gate. You will be in the early part of the day so the airport may be crowded, just check the length of the lines.

After the security check, you can proceed to the departure gate where you will see a few more shops and stores along the way if you need something. The departure terminals all seem to have various fast food places so this will be your last chance for a morning burger, Starbucks or McMuffin until you get back.  Whatever you have here will have to last you until lunch on your own or dinner in Camaguey. I highly recommend getting a bottle of water to drink also as it may be a few hours before you finally get through Cuban customs in Camaguey and to a store in town. You don’t want to drink the water at the Cuban airport drinking fountain.

It sometimes takes almost the full 2-3 hours to do all the check in procedures so be there by 8:45 am so you can all get this done as soon as possible. It is my understanding that all luggage needs to be checked in at least 1 hour before the flight. This gives security time to inspect the luggage. If it is checked in less than an hour of the flight it may get held up and go on the next flight which could be the next day. It would then be your responsibility to obtain your luggage.

When they begin boarding the plane, they may want to see your paperwork again, usually just the boarding pass and maybe passport. Once you’ve done all of this, you are ready to board the time capsule. Remember I mentioned going to Cuba is like going back in time. Just think of the airplane as your time capsule, or “Way Back Machine.”  In the time it takes for the flight you will travel back in time about 50 years to the 50’s and 60’s, the island that time forgot. Just have a seat and enjoy the hour long flight to Camaguey and don’t forget to applaud upon touch down – everybody does.

While on the flight or at check-in, you’ll be given some Cuban Customs/Immigration (Declaracon de Aduanas Para Pasajero) forms and Sanitary Statement for Travelers (Declaracion de Sanidad del Viajero) forms to fill out, probably in Spanish. Fill them out. Be sure to bring a pen with you to do this. You can print these and practice your Spanish if you want.

Cuba’s regulations, in Spanish, regarding Customs: Normas Aduaneras Que todo pasajero debe conocer

If you miss your flight, it will be up to you to get on another flight and get to the hotel in Camaguey on your own. You can contact our travel agent in Miami if you need help. Their contact information is on a sheet I’ll give you on Contact Information.You will also get stuck with lots of fees that will need to be paid in cash on the spot. Best not to be late.

Arrival in Camaguey

At the airport in Camaguey you will exit the plane on the tarmac and walk directly to the arrival side of the terminal (Llegadas).

There will be some booths you’ll need to go through with customs (Aduana) agents. Rush to the booths at the customs area to get in the front of the line. It takes 2-5 min. per person so get in line right away. It may be about 1/2 hr to get all of you through this station if you are near the back of the lines. Since you got a seat near the exit door of the airplane, as I described above, hopefully you will be near the front of the lines and get through this quickly, right?

The agents will want to see your passport and visa. They will register your entry into their computer and may ask you a few questions. Such as, what is the purpose of your trip in Cuba, where are you staying, have you been there before, etc. Just tell them you are there on our baseball trip for a week as a tourist. New regulations are that they will also take a photo of you so take off your hat and glasses and pose for your mug shot.

In the past, many Americans have been harrassed by US agents when returning to the US because they had a Cuban stamp on their passport. Because of this they traditionally have not stamped your passport in Cuba.  They are once again stamping US passports. If they do stamp your passport from there on out whenever you return to the US you may be questioned about it. I always put the License No. just above the Stamp. As mentioned in our FAQ’s, many times the agent will stamp your visa (tourist card) upon request.  

These agents will also take one half of your entry visa. Be sure to save the remaining portion with your passport because you will need that when you depart. I suggest bringing a clamp to attach it to your passport so you won’t loose it. You need this to get back out of Cuba. If you lose it, you will have to pay for another one (I believe $25 CUC).

After going through Cuban customs, proceed to another security line similar to the Homeland Security in the US where they will x-ray you and your carry on. Same procedure, remove all metal objects etc. Right after this there will be some agents who may inquirie about your health. I just breeze past them. If asked, give them the Declaracion de Sanidad del Viajero indicating your are in excellent health. They may ask if you had any recent diseases, flu, Ebola,cough etc.  There is also a requirement about having travel/medical insurance. This is included with our tickets so they may want to see some verification of this was previously given to you, and should be in your “envelope from Marazul.” Show them any other paperwork that may have come with your travel package from Marazul IF they ask.

From here, proceed to the baggage (Equipaje) claim conveyors. While you were in line at customs, they were x-raying your luggage and little by little it will appear on the conveyor as compressed balls of plastic, hopefully unmolested and intact. It’s often a slow process so grab a free cart and wait for your luggage.

They may have attendants there to get your luggage off the conveyors for you. When you see your luggage, point to it or grab it, remember that since it is wrapped in plastic and undergone pressurization, it may look a little different than what you are used to, generally smaller. The attendants are friendly and helpful but most do not speak English. When you have all the pieces of your luggage, proceed to the desk at the exit door.

There may be guards here to check your paperwork again. This is where they may want to look at your luggage to see if you are bringing in things like pornography, computers, gifts etc. They may check your Declaracon de Aduanas Para Pasajero . This is where they may decide you need to pay an import fee to Fidel or whether they will confiscate anything they want. They have never confiscated anything from me before, but our first year in Cuba, we had to pay a $30 import fee. One year, they questioned all the baseball gear I was bringing. I had to explain to them we were a baseball team and needed all the gear. This seemed to satisfy them but they wanted all the players to gather all together before they let us through as a group. Just tell them you are a baseball player and you need all this equipment for you and the team.  If you do have something suspicious, they may ask you to go to a secondary check station where they will search your bags. Be patient as those lines can be very, very slow.

Remember, that if you are bringing new gifts to give away, it is probably a good idea to take them out of the package and remove all tags and sales receipts before you pack them. This is a dead give away that you are bringing in merchandise for which they may want to confiscate or tax. It’s the workers paradise where all are equal (yeah right) and supposedly, items confiscated will get distributed to Cubans. The reality is it will probably go in the pocket of those who confiscate them and try to sell them.

There will be one more last check point by the exit doors that will collect your Declaracon de Aduanas Para Pasajero. I have asked that a representative of Havanaturs be at the desk to assist us but they generally do not let them in the terminal.

After getting past this last check point, proceed through the exit doors and that’s it. Finally, free again in Cuba and the fun begins. Ahhh.. the smell of leaded gasoline and 3rd world.

Cadeca – Beer – Get On The Bus

Outside the main exit doors you will often see lots of Cubans waiting for their friends and family. Our guide and bus driver, hopefully Jorge and Alberto will be waiting for you (assuming he is not in the terminal baggage claim). The Havanaturs agents all dress the same. The men have white shirts and blue pants and the women have similar. There is often an upper level Havanaturs person there who oversees many groups. Our luxury bus should be waiting for us in the parking lot in the front. Feel free to mull around the outside of the bus until everyone is done and out of the terminal.

Cadeca: there is a money exchange place here. You might inquire with the guide about exchanging some money here (dollars or whatever to “CUC’s”), which is always a good thing to do. Rates at Cadecas are always better than at hotels.

There is usually a small store or place to buy some beer or water.  Take advantage of the opportunity if you are so inclined.  Just don’t go wandering off.  

Once everyone is accounted for it is off to our Camaguey hotel for check in – Gran Hotel.

Remember when you step off the plane in Cuba, you’ve gone back in time. What you know of your current world is left behind, enjoy your new reality.

Departing Cuba

We are scheduled for an 2:45 p.m. flight out of Cuba via Santa Clara. The exact time we depart the Rancho Luna Hotel will be determined the night before. Do not have any hotel towels or other hotel items with you when we depart the hotels as they often take inventory upon check out. Make sure you have any hotel charges taken care of before you get on the bus as they will not let the bus leave until all is done.

When you arrive at the airport, exit the bus and get your luggage. Don’t forget to tip the bus driver and guide as they will become our friends for the week and work hard to take care of us. I usually hand $20-30 to the driver and $30-40 to the guide as I shake hands and say good bye. They don’t make any money to speak of being guides, the tips are what really gives them some income. As the tour or group leader, I’ll usually give them extra.

Next you will enter the departure terminal. You’ll need to stand in line and present your passport to the clerk and check in your luggage. They will give you a boarding pass. There is no 44 lb luggage limit or fees for normal luggage on the return trip. However, as I (Mac) noted on our website: Also, lately they have been charging fees for luggage for return flights to Miami. Again, I don’t know how they come up with the fees. I returned with 3 pieces of luggage last year, one was probably overweight and it cost me around $90.

In the past, from here, you would need to go to another window to pay your departure fee of $25 CUCs. This led to some problems as spent all their money in Cuba; you needed to save that last 25 CUCs to pay your fee to get out of Cuba (and for food and last minute souvenirs). Once  paid, they will put a sticker on your ticket indicating you have paid this fee.

Now the price of the departure tax is covered in your flight ticket which means you don’t have to pay it to leave Cuba.  This was announced in 2015.

There is also another place to cash in your CUCs back into US dollars if you want, I believe no fees but probably not a 1-1 ratio. I don’t think they convert coins though. You should use up all your coins if you can or convert them to paper money in advance. Otherwise keep them as a souvenir. Depending on the situation I may be willing to buy your extra CUC’s for even money, 1 CUC=$1 USD but since I’ll have limited cash I will send you a check when I return home. I am told that the new requirement is that you are not supposed to take CUCs out of the country now and are required to cash them all in. You should save some for the departure terminal for food or last minute items in the departure terminal. Our flight might be delayed and so you would be better off to have some money for food, drinks, etc.

After paying your departure fee, proceed to the customs lines. You’ll have your boarding pass, visa stub, and passport checked again at the customs booths and they will take the other half of your visa (remember 1/2 of it was taken when you entered the country) and make sure you paid your departure fees. After this, go to the next security line where they will probably x-ray your carry on and do the normal security check like at other airports. From here, you will be in the departure lounge. There is a restaurant upstairs to the left if you want to eat. There is generally a souvenir store to the right to buy those last minute souvenirs to take home and to the left is a place for cigars, rum and snacks.

When it’s time to board, you’ll need to show your ticket again and proceed onto the tarmac to get on the plane. While on the plane, you can fill out your US Customs and Border Protection Customs Declaration card, in either Spanish or English. Be sure to fill out both sides. I think they will probably be in Spanish so if you need some help just ask someone or see if they have some in English. Remember, until recently, we are not supposed to be bringing back anything other than informational material, artwork, etc. If you do, make sure you only list the magazines, artwork, papers, CD’s and printed materials. However NOW you can bring back alcohol and tobacco equal to $100 USD. Be prepared to show them the cigars and booze, and the receipts.

Arriving Back in Miami

When you arrive in Miami, you will be going through the international terminal. After negotiating a series of hallways, first stop is the customs lines, Aduana. They have completed a lot of the remodel they have been doing for the last several years at MIA. As such they have a new area for customs and passport control. There are actually 2 of them now so not sure which one you will be going through. You can see them on the airport map. The new one is in Terminal J, way at the south end of the airport. It’s a long ways from there to the American Airlines terminals which are on the opposite end of the airport.

Whichever one, get in line quickly, any line for returning US citizens will do, the ones on the left are often shorter lines at the new area, to the right at the old area. They will look at your declaration card and passport and may ask where you’ve been. Don’t be afraid to tell them you have been to Cuba after all, you have a legal license to do so. If they ask to see it, show them your license, most the time they don’t ask to see it. If they ask how you did, tell them about your home runs, great pitching, and our triumphant victories. Proceed to the baggage claim where there will be free carts for your use. Grab your luggage and go to another check point area where they may check your declaration card. After this you’ll need to go through another check point. If you are not bringing in anything, you may get to follow the dots directly out of the area. Otherwise, they will x-ray your luggage to make sure you don’t have any foreign plant life, etc. This is where they may search your stuff and find those things you are not supposed to bring back. Once you are through these check points, you are done. Proceed to the exit and you are on your own to get to your terminal for your flight home. Have a nice trip.

Of course, if you have Global Entry you don’t have to put up with long lines in Miami and can be whisked through. A few of our guys have it — Aron Levinson, Mike Labanowski, Greg Rothman, Pablo Ramon, and perhaps others.

Upon completing all the return procedures you’ll probably still be in a daze. After all, you just traveled 50 years into the present and normality seems so different.

After you return back to your home and your normal reality, send me an email and let me know you got back OK, if there were any problems and if you made it through customs OK with all your stuff. You’ll be a different person when you return home, things just won’t seem the same and you’ll wish you had more time in Cuba.

Tours & Buses

One of the most annoying parts of any of these trips is waiting for the slackers and those lagging behind. Since we are a group, it is important that everyone try and be on time, otherwise you may have to endure the wrath and scorn of the rest of us. You’ll be holding up everyone else. We’ll have scheduled departure times everyday for various activities. Please try and be on the bus before that time as those times indicated are when the wheels on the bus begin to roll. If you are not there by that time, hasta luego amigo, take a taxi on your own. The itinerary shows what time various activities are to occur but things change often and quickly in Cuba so verify in advance any time changes.

The bus is for use of our group only. Do not invite others to be on our bus. Occasionally, we may give rides to officials or other designated guests and players but it is for our use only. Once I arrive in Cuba, I often have to sign a document indicating we will not allow others to be on the bus. If you do want to have a “special” guest on the bus, check with me first.

Per our license agreement, we are supposed to follow a full time agenda per our approved itinerary.  All players and support staff are expected to be at all games where you will have opportunities to interact with the Cuban people and see different sights. Most of the tours and lunches will be departing directly from the ball fields without returning to the hotel. You might want to consider bringing a change of clothes for after the game if you want but not necessary. It’s actually very cool walking around in uniform. Everyone calls you by your name and it gets a lot of attention. It’s no different than going to your local sports bar after a game. They may also ask you for your autograph.

The tours are optional for all participants but I encourage all of you to attend. You’ll find them all to be educational, entertaining and something you won’t see back home. If you decide not to attend any of the events, please let us know in advance so we are not holding the bus for you.

I’ve requested the big bus so we may have a bar, bathroom, cooler and maybe some tables on the bus. This is our home for several days so try and keep the bus clean. The bus driver will clean the bus each night but try not to abuse the issue. The toilet only gets emptied at the end of the trip and there is no smoking on the bus. Not sure which bus we will get. I like the older Volvo and Mercedes buses as they are more comfortable but Cuba has been replacing them with newer buses from China, King Longs. We’ll see when we get there which ones we get. Also, be sure to collect all your stuff off the bus each day or check with the driver if it is OK to leave it over night. He may take it to the cleaning area where they will clean the bus over night.

Take note of the number on the bus. Sometimes we will be in areas with lots of similar buses so it is easy to get them mixed up, many of them look the same. Look for the bus with our number on it.

Insurance (de seguros)

As I mentioned before it is mandatory to have medical insurance in Cuba now and it’s built into the cost of the airline tickets for our flights to Cuba. Not sure how much it is, I seem to recall some time back it amounted to about $15. It’s a Cuban policy with a variety of limits and features including medical care, transportation and evacuation. I believe the policy has a $25,000 limit.

Ugly Americans

Remember that traveling to Cuba is a special privilege that few people have the opportunity to do. While there, be respectful of the Cuban people and don’t be an ugly American. We are invited guests to their country, they are very pleased we are there, they are friendly and generous hosts. They like American tourists, we tip better and have a better sense of humor.  These exchange programs are set up to allow Cuban Nationals to interact with Americans in a effort to establish goodwill between the people; use this opportunity to do so.

Our tour guide and bus driver feed their families through these exchange groups. Do not do anything that would be putting them in jeopardy, such as buying black market items in their presence. One year a player put American flag stickers on the team bus bumpers.  The driver and guide had a fit and were quite upset.  Do not engage in any political discussions and don’t be obnoxious in public – think low key, smile, and stay “tranquilo” (relaxed).

You may recall the people-to-people exchange programs were eliminated some years ago because people abused them and just went for vacations. Do not do anything that may jeopardize these exchange programs. Any irregularities will get reported back to Washington, DC.

Another thing to remember is that we are all on vacation. We are all paying a fair amount of money for this experience and we are here to have a good time. Be respectful of the other participants and enjoy sharing this unique experience with your new friends. Leave any and all bad attitudes and problems back home.


Be sure to check your email often as last minute changes can occur. Check up to the day you leave.

There are only a couple more planned email updates but we are almost done. Be on the lookout for: Final Q & A, our Itinerary and Contact Information, and baseball game assignments.

That’s about it for now. I hope you are getting anxious as this will be a true adventure that you’ll not forget.

We just need to get over a few small hurdles and we are on our way.

Plan to have a fun adventure. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

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