1960’s bride in a sleek satin dress with bow detail. Photo: Bob Jackson via Getty Images.
1960’s bride in a sleek satin dress with bow detail. Photo: Bob Jackson via Getty Images.
There’s something so thrilling about discovering new things as newlyweds and what could be more exciting that visiting Cuba on your honeymoon!? Many Americans are eager to explore this uncharted territory, however, there are still a lot of restrictions since tourism is technically illegal in Cuba. There are several ways to visit legally and photographer Jen Huang explains how she obtained her travel visa and what you should see and do in her three day itinerary.
Photos & Words: Jen Huang.
Getting Into Cuba
There are generally twelve ways you can travel to Cuba. A few of the categories include: family visits, journalistic activity, professional meetings and educational activities. I filled out a travel affidavit, which is basically how you obtain the visa. I traveled as a photographer under a work-research visa.
Where to Stay:
Once you get to Cuba, there are many different options for accommodation. I stayed at a Casa Particular which is similar to Airbnb and something you can book from the states. However, I would recommend doing your research and staying at a hotel. Hotels will be one of the few places with wifi. Which will be expensive and very limited.
Hotel Saratoga is equipped with a rooftop pool, gym, spa, and several restaurants. Built in the thirties, it’s on the edge of Old Havana, a central location within walking distance of many major sights. Jay Z and Beyoncé stayed here on their trip to Cuba in 2013!
Hotel Nacional de Cuba Located on the Malecón, this historic Art Deco building has more than 450 rooms and has hosted icons like Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill to name a few.
Hotel Parque Central If you’re looking for a modern hotel in Havana, this is the spot. The five-star hotel has incredible 360-degree city views from the rooftop pool and is perfect if you want to stay somewhere new in an old city.
Packing for your Trip:
Bring extra cash because you will not have access to your US bank cards. So consider this a three day technology detox!
Try not to check your bags on the way to Cuba, it can take hours to retrieve them at baggage claim. Try not to over pack, but bring what you need because there’s not much “shopping” in the traditional sense.
Best Modes of Transportation:
Walking: Havana is safe and walking is the best way to see what the city really looks like.
Antique Taxis: The five-decade-long embargo ban on foreign vehicle imports, made it nearly impossible for Cubans to buy brand new, foreign-made vehicles. As a result most of the cars in Cuba are vintage or classic, including the taxis.
THREE DAY CUBA ITINERARY
Day 1 – Arrive in Havana in the late afternoon, check into your hotel. Have dinner at Casa Miglis then take a walk via Avenida Neptuno which connects Old Havana to Central Havana. Make your way to the Plaza Vieja in Old Havana for live music and mojitos.
3 Restaurants where you Need Dinner Reservations:
Cafe Laurent: Penthouse, 257 Calle M, La Habana 10400, Cuba, Enter a 1950s-style apartment building for Parisian-style outdoor dining on the rooftop of this historic building.
La Guarida: Tucked on the third floor of a shabby-chic residential building is the perfect f0r a romantic dinner. It’s known for its panoramic balcony views of central Havana and for being the location where the movie, Strawberry and Chocolate was filmed.
Atelier: The food options at this resturant changes every day, so there is a handwritten menu at every table. President Obama recently ate here, and if it’s good enough for the POTUS, I’d say it’s worth a try!
3 Restaurants where you Don’t Need Dinner Reservations:
Dona Eutimia: If you’re craving classic Creole dishes check this place out. It’s off the beaten path and very authentic.
BellaHabana: The perfect mix of family style and fine dining and reasonably priced!
El Trofeo: Located in the same building as two other popular restaurants. El Trofeo is reasonably priced and offers large portions.
Day 3 – Find your way via water taxi to the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña (The Hut Fortress) across the bay, there you will find the most beautiful view of Old Havana. Have a snack of grilled cheese at the historic Hotel Ingleterra and enjoy the beautiful old cars driving around the square.
Visit a Tobacco Farm or Factory:
If you have time, take a vintage taxi to Vinales, which is two hours outside of Havana. The drive alone is worth it. The farmers grow the best tobacco in the world. Here are a few other places you can get your Cuban cigar fix.
Cuchillas de Barbacoa: Also known as the Robaina Farm and is one of the most famous and one of the few working tobacco plantations in Cuba. Although it’s about two hours away in San Luís, Pinar del Río if you’re a cigar enthusiast it might be worth the trip. Get all the details and directions here.
Take The Secrets of the Tobacco Tour to see all the stages and processes of making one of Cuba’s world famous cigars. This tour visits multiple locations including a cigar factory and tobacco farm.
La Corona Cigar Factory is a modern cigar factory producing some of the most popular cigar brands on the market. It’s also conveniently located on Havana.
A Charlottesville wedding on a rustic yet elegant farm is about as good as it gets. Couple Anna-Catherine and Teddy’s celebration was full of southern and summer touches like a fresh green and white color palette with hints of lavender, a delicious southern menu, and a flowing romantic Watters dress.
Photography by Katie Stoops.
Did you include any other traditions in your wedding? I carried my grandmother’s handkerchief wrapped around my bouquet with my new initials and wedding date, old and new. A family friend, and one of our readers, gave me a six pence piece to place in my shoe for good luck, borrowed. My wedding band was diamonds and sapphires, blue.
I had a label with my new initials and wedding date sewn into my dress and my husband’s suit has his initials and wedding date as well. We worked with Haute Papier to create a custom monogram with our three first initials for the invitations. They did a beautiful job and brought my vision to life. We used the same joint monogram on cocktail napkins used during our private cocktail hour and slicing the cheese.
What was the best advice you received as a bride? Spend the day together so you have the same shared experience of your wedding which we did. It makes reminiscing more enjoyable. We started talking about it as soon as we were in our getaway car.
What advice do you have for other couples in the midst of planning a wedding? It is easy to be focused on the details and the enormity of your to do list but it’s just one day out of your lives. I tried to keep some perspective. My husband was key in helping me gain perspective. He started a unique and sometimes stressful exercise whenever we were driving to wedding related tasks or events to casually throw out examples of possible things that could go wrong — my dress ripping or rain preventing our outdoor ceremony, cocktail hour, and dinner. Over time we worked through these many scenarios and we realized we were prepared to handle anything that may happen.
“We met in college while at the University of Virginia and both fell in love with Charlottesville during our time there. We frequently went back to celebrate special occasions as well as visit with friends in the years after college. Many of our friends have also been married in picturesque Charlottesville so we were looking for a new to us venue with both an indoor and outdoor option. We loved the grass lawn surrounded by mature boxwoods in the front of the home.”
Your ceremony in three words. Brief, intimate, casual
How did you go about planning your ceremony? We selected a template provided by our officiant. We made an effort to keep the ceremony personal yet shorter due to the end of June heat during our outdoor ceremony. We greeted our guests with a beverage bar featuring beer, rosé, rosemary lemonade, and water before finding their seats. Our caterer surprised me by including my favorite rosé, Crosè rosé, from King Family Vineyard outside Charlottesville.
What was your ceremony music? Two bluegrass musicians provided the ceremony music:
Processional: “Across the Universe” by the Beatles
Bride’s Processional: “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles. Both songs were tributes to my late father. My father and I frequently listened to his Beatles’ records growing up.
Recessional: “I’ll Fly Away”
Ceremony Music by Dennis Elliott.
What were your ceremony readings? “Foundations of Marriage” by Regina Hill read by a family friend. And a poem by Taylor Mali titled “How Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog”, edited, and read by Teddy’s family friend.
What were your vows like? We exchanged traditional vows.
What was your favorite thing about your wedding ceremony? We were so happy to be able to include two long time family friends as our readers. It was fitting that one of the readings was about a dog since ours, Jackson, was present.
It was important to us for him to be included in the festivities. He made us into the family we are today. Jackson greeted guests as they found their seats while wearing a beautiful floral collar by Beehive Events. During our ceremony, he decided to steal the show by rolling around in the grass on his back in the middle of the aisle.
“The old barn on the property provided a rustic backdrop for cocktail hour and separated cocktail hour from the back event spaces. Dinner was served al fresco and we watched the sunset over the fields before moving into the newer barn for dancing and dessert. We were drawn to the separate spaces and the transitions throughout the evening.”
How would you describe your reception? Rustic barn and green fields created a beautiful backdrop for out relaxed dinner party.
What inspired you when you were planning your wedding? I envisioned an outdoor dinner party similar to others we have hosted but on a larger scale and focused on guest comfort. I hoped everyone would feel taken care of and relaxed.
Did you have a signature cocktail? Jalapeño Margarita with a half salt rim and a Dark and Stormy, both of which we love to make at home.
Are there any DIY details you’d like to tell us about? I assembled a twenty-four inch lighted W that hung behind our reception bar out of a paper mâché letter, spray paint, and globe string lights. It was a fun yet challenging project due to the fragile paper mâché and glass bulbs. I found two glass panned windows at a salvage yard and after a good cleaning traced our custom monogram and wedding date as well as lettering our seating chart. I was relieved when both fragile projects safely made the trip from our home to Charlottesville.
The simplest project was our ceremony programs. Paper Source provides the appropriate dimensions and test sheets for more unusually shaped paper and we glued wooden sticks to make them into a fan. My siblings helped us assemble our welcome bags when we arrived in Charlottesville. They contained personalized water and a few of our favorite snacks including barbecue and Chesapeake crab Route 11 chips, kettle corn, mini Snickers and Heath bars with customized itineraries based on recipients wedding weekend involvement. Quite a few required labels to ensure correct recipient delivery.
What was your wedding menu? Passed appetizers: Cucumber, Lump Crab, Crème Fraiche / Fried Green Tomato topped with Pimento Cheese / Buttermilk Biscuit, Country Ham, Light Honey with Heavy Mustard Sauce / Prosciutto and Phyllo Wrapped Asparagus // Family style dinner service started with a plated Salad of Arugula, Beets, Chèvre, Candied Pecans, and White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Followed by Grilled Chicken Breast with Grain Mustard Beurre Blanc / Pulled Pork with Carolina BBQ Sauce / Roasted Poblano Grits with Creamy White Cheddar and Charred Tomatoes / Summer Succotash Salad with Early Corn, Lima Beans, Picked Okra, Cherry Tomatoes, and a Bacon Thyme Sherry Vinaigrette / Rosemary and Roasted Garlic Corn Muffins with Honey Butter.
Catering by Harvest Moon Catering.
What was your favorite moment or part of the reception? We enjoyed watching the sun set over the farm fields while eating dinner with our siblings and wedding party.
What type of cake or dessert did you serve? We love cheese and opted to cut and serve cheese rounds stacked like a five tiered cake. We enjoyed selecting the cheese so much we had two tastings. I recreated our cheese cake this year for our first anniversary. We also served my family apple crisp recipe as a more traditional dessert.
Cake and dessert by Harvest Moon Catering.
What was your first dance song?
First dance: “Crazy Love” by Van Morrison
Brother/sister dance: “Dancing In The Moonlight” by Van Morrison
Mother/son dance: “In my Life” by the Beatles
Reception music provided by the band, The Castaways.
Please tell us about any other special details or moments from your reception. My brothers gave a joint speech welcoming everyone to dinner. I was so impressed by their thoughtfulness and eloquence at 20 and 22 respectively. The older of my two younger brothers gave me away which he took very seriously. My youngest brother and I danced during the first dances. We did not practice and I was about nervous but he kept me smiling the whole time with his running commentary.
My husband stunned me with his speech in which he thanked our guests on my behalf and then proceeded to thank me. His comments were well thought out and articulate. I saved his outline since a lot of it he crafted as he was speaking. Clearly he is the public speaker of the two of us.
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First of all, it’s a big responsibility,
especially in a city like New York.
So think long and hard before deciding on love.
On the other hand, love gives you a sense of security:
when you’re walking down the street late at night
and you have a leash on love
ain’t no one going to mess with you.
Because crooks and muggers think love is unpredictable.
Who knows what love could do in its own defense?
On cold winter nights, love is warm.
It lies between you and lives and breathes
and makes funny noises.
Love wakes you up all hours of the night with its needs.
It needs to be fed so it will grow and stay healthy.
Love doesn’t like being left alone for long.
But come home and love is always happy to see you.
It may break a few things accidentally in its passion for life,
but you can never be mad at love for long.
Is love good all the time? No! No!
Love can be bad. Bad, love, bad! Very bad love.
Love makes messes.
Love leaves you little surprises here and there.
Love needs lots of cleaning up after.
Sometimes you just want to get love fixed.
Sometimes you want to roll up a piece of newspaper
and swat love on the nose,
not so much to cause pain,
just to let love know Don’t you ever do that again!
Sometimes love just wants to go out for a nice long walk.
Because love loves exercise. It will run you around the block
and leave you panting, breathless. Pull you in different directions
at once, or wind itself around and around you
until you’re all wound up and you cannot move.
But love makes you meet people wherever you go.
People who have nothing in common but love
stop and talk to each other on the street.
Throw things away and love will bring them back,
again, and again, and again.
But most of all, love needs love, lots of it.
And in return, love loves you and never stops.
By Regina Hill.
Love, trust, and forgiveness are the foundations of marriage. In marriage, many days will bring happiness, while other days may be sad. But together, two hearts can overcome everything… In marriage, all of the moments won’t be exciting or romantic, and sometimes worries and anxiety will be overwhelming. But together, two hearts that accept will find comfort together.
Recollections of past joys, pains, and shared feelings will be the glue that holds everything together during even the worst and most insecure moments. Reaching out to each other as a friend, and becoming the confidant and companion that the other one needs, is the true magic and beauty of any two people together. It’s inspiring in each other a dream or a feeling, and having faith in each other and not giving up… even when all the odds say to quit.
It’s allowing each other to be vulnerable, to be himself or herself, even when the opinions or thoughts aren’t in total agreement or exactly what you’d like them to be. It’s getting involved and showing interest in each other, really listening and being available, the way any best friend should be. Exactly three things need to be remembered in a marriage if it is to be a mutual bond of sharing, caring, and loving throughout life: love, trust, and forgiveness.