Cuba: "Foreign Travel on a Conference Budget"

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Cars parked near Gran Theatre and El Capitolio in the center of Havana, Cuba. (ArtMarie/iStock)

On the eve of normalization of relations with Cuba, we wanted to give our readers a peek into US-Cuba relations fifty-nine years ago. This article, from the March 1956 issue of the American Library Association Bulletin, was prepared in conjunction with the association’s annual convention in Miami—also note the intriguing travel service ad that accompanied the article.

By JoAnn Neuman

When you arrive at Miami Beach for the 1956 Conference, you will be nearly as far south as is possible to travel within the limits of the continental United States. This location will provide you with one of the most alluring opportunities for delightful and inexpensive foreign travel you will ever experience—the Isles of Caribee. The whole area lies at your doorstep—Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, the Virgin Islands, Cuba, the Bahamas, and many other storied islands.

Perhaps few people will have time to visit the more distant countries, but everyone will have time to journey to one of our nearest neighbors, Nassau or Havana. Nassau and Havana—what greater contrast could two words represent? Nassau has typical British poise, the elegance and dignity of the Colonials, cricket at Windsor Park, mellowed by a near-perfect climate, sparkling beaches, and the leisurely way of life in the semitropics. Havana has the color, warmth, and pulse of the tropics, the gay, dancing peoples, and the traditions of Old Spain blended with echoes from Africa, and an increasing influence of the modern New World.

An hour’s flight from Miami will land you in either Nassau or Havana. The round-trip fare is only $36, plus tax, to either place. A favorite means of transportation is the overnight boat trip. You can visit either place by ship, leaving Miami in the evening and landing the next morning. The voyage alone is worth the price, which starts as low as $44 round trip, plus tax. Still another pleasant route to Havana is by bus on the “highway that goes to sea,” down to Key West, and then by plane, at a total round-trip cost of about $30.

What will you find when you arrive? Nassau, on the island of New Providence, is the capital of the Bahamas. You will find excellent accommodations, good food, relaxation, and shopping delights (best buys are cameras, Irish linens, cashmeres, woolens, English leather goods, bone china, fine brandies, liqueurs, and whiskeys). Savings are as much as 50 percent of US prices, and you may bring home $200 worth of imports duty-free if you are outside the country for forty-eight hours.

When you are not shopping, swim at famous Paradise Beach, go boating, fishing, play tennis, golf, sightsee, or just relax. Among sights worth seeing are the government buildings, Fort Fincastle, Fort Montague, Blackbeard’s Watch Tower, St. Augustine’s Monastery, the Ardastra Gardens, and Fort Charlotte. Be sure to stop at the Public Library. The library building is a replica of a powder magazine.

On the Nassau trip, in addition to the airfare of $36, or boat fare of $44, you may expect to spend about $5 a day for your hotel room. The “name” hotels charge $10 per day, and up. Clean, comfortable guesthouses have rooms for as little as $3. The Nassau Development Board publishes a complete summer rate schedule, so there will be no misunderstanding about rates for listed rooms. Meals feature many native dishes, and you will spend about the same amount that you would for meals in the States. Many local attractions are free, and the others are inexpensive.

For approximately the same cost, you can visit Havana. Again, plane fare is $36, plus tax, and boat fare is from $44, round trip. Hotel rooms cost $3 to $10 a day, and meals cost about the same as they do at home. If you choose this trip, plan to do your resting when you get home. By day and by night, Havana offers a full schedule. Tops on the sightseeing parade are the Columbus Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, the National Capitol, the scenic Malecon, Morro Castle, and noted cigar and rum factories (free samples). You will enjoy shopping, although only the most discriminating visitor will pick up any bargains. Among the better buys are cigars, rum and liqueurs, and art objects.

Havana throbs at night. Visitors consider a trip to the Tropicana nightclub as the highlight of their vacations in Cuba. The floor shows are excellent, food is good, and prices are reasonable. For those with gambling blood, the Tropicana provides a casino. There are many other clubs and entertainment spots to provide memories of nights under a tropical full moon.

For detailed information on customs rules, what to wear, what to buy, and on other items for which advance information makes for smooth traveling, write to the Nassau Development Board, DuPont Building, Miami, Florida, and the Cuban Tourist Commission, 336 East Flagler Street, Miami. They will send you the keys to a jaunt that will add so much to your conference trip, for so little extra cost.

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