Located 100 km south of the mainland, the little-visited Isa de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) is the largest of over three hundred scattered emerald islets that make up the Archipelago de los Canarreos. A vision of fruit fields and soft beaches, it is little wonder that the island allegedly captured Robert Louis Stevenson’s imagination as the original desert island of Treasure Island. Left outside of the bounds of Spanish law enforcement, the island attracted scores of pirates between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Lurid stories of wine, women and warmongering were enough to keep all but the most determined settlers away, and so the pirates ruled the roost.
On my second morning aboard Cuba Cruise I joined a gaggle of tanning fanatics who hopped on tenders which puttered over to the end of a long pine planked dock at Punta Frances. I spent the day smiling under the shade of a giant palm while relaxing on the island’s best beach. There is over 3 km of beach in all, split by a sandy headland into two broad curves of thicket and on the other by the glassy, brilliant turquoise of the Caribbean Sea. The deserted tranquility of this private world is all part of what makes the days visit a highlight for beach bums.
After tending to my tan I enjoyed lunch back on board, an aptly themed Beach BBQ Buffet featuring chicken souvlaki skewers, smoky beef steaks and and a selection of fresh salads. I sat on the patio overlooking the swimming pool while sipping a pint of ice cold cerveza while the boats band sang Caribbean ballads into the late afternoon.
That evening I was joined by two other Canadian journalists as guests of the Hotel Manager and Cruise Director at the ships Alberta Steakhouse. The restaurant offers a diversion for passengers looking to take a break from communal dining. Our meal began when a cart was wheeled to the table. A colourful antipasto platter featuring grilled shrimp, mozzarella, olives, melon and charcuterie. Shortly after we started to nibble through our first course the chef came by with a tray topped with various cuts of Canadian beef, pork chop and chicken. We each selected our favourites (mine would be a medium rare ribeye) which were served alongside a hearty caesar salad, crispy onion rings, corn on the cob and sautéed green beans. When a giant chocolate brownie topped with a cloud of whipped cream and sweet cherry sat staring in front of me I knew it was the sweet finish to another fantastic day.
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