We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

Hamilton, Ontario...
Level Contributor
2,560 posts
4 reviews
Save Topic
Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

I have waited a full week since coming home before broaching this topic. I was going to write an Insider page, but for the life of me cannot figure out how (and I feel pretty computer literate). Anyway, before slagging me over this topic, please read my WHOLE post. I am not trying to scare potential tourists, nor am I saying you should not have a good time, but I do want people to be aware of a few things I saw that concerned me.

It is obvious that when in Cuba we are faced with a totally different set of safety guidelines than in other countries. The operational safety of automobiles (are they inspected, do they meet a certain requirement such as brake inspections? etc...). When I was there as an ex-mechanic I had to wonder at the age of some of the vehicles that were on the roads, and part of that wonder was, is it safe for tourists, (and Cubans for that matter) that a vehicle starts, and can be put into gear? Does anyone ensure they can brake, that lights work etc. This was one of my first safety concerns. The coaches and taxis for the most part, and rental cars for sure, seem newer and well kept up, but the age of some of the other vehicles (including the Cuban worker's buses), makes me wonder if a steering gear problem or brake failure won't result in a collision one of these days.

Worse than the vehicle safety, is the safety guidelines for maritime vessels. I was on the Paradise Island tour. That meant an 80 foot Catamaran trip into fairly open waters (well off shore by a km or more). There were not enough life jackets for all the crew and passengers, not by half. Further more there was not a single 'self'-inflating lifeboat. For a craft that size in most of our home countries much more stringent laws prevail.

The Paradise Island tour is on such a tight schedule in the AM, that they cannot afford to "sail" the catamaran, but must use the diesel engines to get to the island on time. On the day we went, there had been a goodly size storm go through the night before, and honestly I expected to be told that the trip was off. While the ride was not terribly uncomfortable (My wife had taken her gravol) there were 2 - 3 foot swells (see my pictures especially the ones of the small two man fishing boats bobbing like corks off the sides of the cat).

As we approached the island I saw nothing but white water crashing ashore. They postponed the snorkeling because it was too rough, hoping to make it up in the afternoon. Then came a very remarkable act of seamanship. The captain of the ship, put her aground between a rock outcrop on the port (left side) and a coral reef to starboard (right). There was only maybe a few yards leeway on either side.

He ran the ship up onto the sand, threw a line to the shore "life guard" and dropped the ladder. Frankly I was stunned we were expected to exit the ship this way. The ladder went down between the two hulls, and barely touched the sand. However with the huge swells, it was nothing short of dangerous to leave the vessel. In hindsight perhaps I should have spoken my mind as an ex-sailor. One minute the bottom of the ladder was above clear sand, the next water was chest deep surging backwards. People having had more than a few drinks already, were now having to try and time an exit (all the time the captain and crew pushing for us to hurry because the ship was likely to be pushed onto the obstructions on one side or another). More than one person lost their footing going ashore, thankfully no one was hurt or dragged back to the end of the ship where the propellers were still churning trying to keep her ashore.

Later I was told by one of the tour guides who came ashore with us, that only 1 in 10 of the captains who make that run would have attempted and made that beaching. She meant it as a good, brave thing, but in my own mind, it showed a lack of concern. Had there been children (the youngest were a couple of youngish teens) or people in worse shape than me, they likely would not have been able to go ashore.

People were given time to 'explore' before lunch was served (us being nearly an hour early because of the no snorkel stop). No one warned about staying out of the surf. As a matter of fact people were soon up and down the beach, most sunbathing but some wading in the water, one (a very strong swimmer) actually dove in and swam for a while. I was stupid and made a personal mistake, I take 100% credit for it, by wading thigh deep, and then having one of the larger waves crash over my head, suck me under and roll me around in the sand and shells like a rag doll. I got out, but not 20 minutes later a woman underwent the same experience (even after a warning from Rose).

The decided it was too dangerous to try to beach the cat a second time to load us, so the ship was going to go round the island to a real port (protected dock), and we would be ferried by jeep there. However, because each jeep could only take 6 people, and we had 38 people needing to go, they asked for people to try to run out to the ship and board with the help of the crew before leaving to go round the island. Timing an outgoing surf, running and throwing themselves into the hands of crew on the aft ladders (where you would swim from) more than a two dozen of the youngest people went on board, leaving 3 jeep loads to be ferried overland.

The ship left, and the jeeps were loaded, but a miscalculation had one too many passengers, so the tour guide rode the entire way standing holding onto the "roll bar". Had the jeeps rolled people would have been badly hurt, some seat-belts were inoperative, and people were sitting facing each other on the rear 'cargo' area of the jeep. The trip was 4 wheel drive in many areas, meaning little or no road, and very steep muddy areas.

We had a great time. Even with my stupid mishap, it was a very good time (as my pictures would generally indicate). The fact remains, there was no warning about people in poor health, or children etc... not to go on this excursion. And having one person (albeit a tour guide, Cuban) stand for an hour in a bouncing jeep...well safety standards be damned.

I am not trying to scare anyone, I reiterate, this was to be a INSIDE PAGE sort of thing, but I decided to post after a lot of thought. If people (as we often do) assume safety standards are the same as at home, where we have warning labels on cups of coffee telling us they are hot... well you are wrong to assume any such thing in Cuba. The lack of life jackets and life boat on the ship, and the concern about vehicle safety had me thinking about just how safe are things off the resort generally?

I now await people to slag me for promoting fear and such. It was not meant to be like that. I hope at the very least to provoke people to ask questions of the Tour Reps before parting with money for the excursions. And I urge them to use calm and reasonable judgement in evaluating risk / reward in the type of trip they take.

James

Perth, Canada
Level Contributor
384 posts
8 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

Thank you for the information. Will take it under advisement for my trip at the end of the month.

Has your review been posted yet?

Missy Jane

Hamilton, Ontario...
Level Contributor
2,560 posts
4 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

I wanted to add to my message, that on the resort PP they do use a flag system to rate the water conditions, and one day they were actively pulling people from the water because of conditions (very few went down to the beach that day because of wind anyway).

As for my review. I sent a message to TA and one of the responded on Friday saying I should have recieved a message from the TA site just to verify my email, and it would be posted. I sent a response to that saying if such an email had indeed been sent my spam filter might have tossed it, and with backlog of mail I did not check dilligently all the spam in my junk folder before deleting it. I asked that they resend the message, otherwise I guess I shall have to re-do the review.

Generally, overall, I was excstatic about the trip. Food, Room, Staff, Ground (especially the grounds), Pool, Beach, everything was top notch. I can't say 5 star (though I rated it as such) because I am sure no all inclusive, aimed at drawing the middle class tourist is going to be palatial in service and scope, like a true 5 star in Europe would be. That said 5 star ratings are primarily given by Michelin for hotels and restaurants...that so many people now use that rating as meaning 'very good' has bastardized the term.

James

NA
Level Contributor
549 posts
Save Reply
3. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

"you are wrong to assume any such thing in Cuba"

Or anywhere else for that matter.

We are always responsible for using sound judgment, whether on vacation or at the cottage; at work, or at the gym, and anywhere in between.

For some reason, we seem to abandon this responsibility when on vacation in the tropics. GOM cites his own perfect example of this.

A good heads up!

Irie

Brampton, Canada
Level Contributor
4,560 posts
Save Reply
4. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

Stuff happens people.

Good everyone made it back okay...could have easily been a different story.

We've also been on some questionable excursions. The DR is no better when it comes to safety concerns, and when you mix in all the "free booze" you can drink...

Excellent post!

Cuba
Level Contributor
13,053 posts
2 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

Hi James

I read your whole posting and you underestimate the value of your statements ...

Yes each and everone of us is responsible for our own safety when on vacation. These trips are always with very few to help when help is needed.

For example as you stated ... the flags are there for a reason.

Unfortunately things don't generally change until something happens. This has happenes in many countries ... You mentioned the life boats ... I remember a ship going down in the Mediteranian off the shores of one of the Greek islands and there were not enough life boats or even staff to help people to the ones that were there.

I have a warning to this affect in regard to the scooters ... yes they are fun and fairly easy to drive but ... can you ride one in Canada without a special licence??

I feel they rent these things to (in some cases)inexperienced people and especially on the roads of cuba let alone any other country

So your word of appology are not needed ... any info to help people make choices is good info ... and I didn't take it as spiteful or whining type postings.

Thanks for that

Mardi

Hamilton, Ontario...
Level Contributor
2,560 posts
4 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

Wow

I am so happy people are reading and not taking it as a whine about Cuba or stuff (which it was not). Thanks

I will trepidly go a step further to say the following: They should have turned us back when they realized the conditions at the Island were so rough. I take full responsibility for my own mishap, and even can blame the woman for not heeding Rose's warning (she was pretty hammered anyway) however, had we not landed the chances of danger would have been moot.

More important, I SHOULD NOT HAVE been a wimp and kept my opinion to myself for fear of looking weak or inferior. It was dangerous, and we should not have done it, (Landing) and I should have spoken up. I understand had we not landed the buffet meal would have gone to waste, and money wasted, as well as tourists demanding a refund or partial refund for the trip. Thing is I kept quiet, as maybe others did, because we didn't want to look silly or scared, when we had ever darn right to be scared (silly).

I think in some ways many of us are a bit lulled into thinking of danger in terms of "theme park" rides, and not the real world in a place like Cuba (or Dominica or St. Lucia). An "adventure jeep ride" should be a red flag saying "risk involved". In Canada, you go to a theme park, pay your 20.00 and ride the monster roller coaster and have the poop scared out of you, even though you know the odds of any problem are more than 1,000,000 to 1. Yet getting into a army surplus (Russian built) jeep and going cross country with a driver (in our case who must have had some Japanese background because Kamikaze comes to mind), and you don't have the assurance the jeep has been checked by civil engineers and ride maintenance workers each day does not seem to ring up any warning bells. It's just an adventure, like a roller coaster etc..

Mardi, yes unfortunately everyone can say "it hasn't happened yet" (no catamaran has sunk, or overturned throwing the 40 some odd people into the water), but should we as the tourists paying the bill have to wait to bolt the gate after the horse has run?

I have been thinking (for all the good it is likely to do) of sending a letter to Nolitours, and explain my safety concerns, as I have outlined here. Ultimately the tourist will foot the bill in higher costs for the amusement, but what value even a single life?

James

Hamilton, Canada
Level Contributor
1,529 posts
3 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

With regard to the scooters, on this last trip I see they are finally warning people of the dangers, and actually recommending that people do not rent them. Even though they have finally introduced a helmet law. Just for the driver though LOL, although they do provide 2 helmets. In a country where a family of 4 can be seen riding on one motorcyle, this is indeed progress.

North Bay Ontario
Level Contributor
448 posts
4 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

Interesting post I was thinking about getting one of the staff to arrange a day trip into Santiago with one of the locals, will now rethink and perhaps stick to a supervised tour by the resort. Tks James

Hamilton, Ontario...
Level Contributor
2,560 posts
4 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

Holberg

Don't be overly cautious either LOL. If you were to use a Taxi, they are all rather new vehicles, not decrepit. There is the chance of collision with some less new maintained vehicle but that would happen in any organized tour too! Some of the dump trucks and vehicles that I saw on the roads (especially the rough road to Holguin) really made me wonder if there were statistics on vehicle accidents in Cuba. I felt quite safe in the buses, and taxis we took. Even the horse and carriage felt quite safe, though I suppose we could have been hit by a bus alongside the road.

Like I said, you need to do some Risk vs Reward thinking. In my case, there were times on that Paradise Island cruise I should have said something, because my gut was talking to me. I felt it was wrong or dangerous, and not dangerous in a thrill seeking way.

If we are overly cautious then we also run the risk of doing nothing with our time. A balance has to be stuck, and perhaps some energy levied into trying to make things safer all round for both Cubans and tourists (especially the Cubans who are out there driving the jeeps, and catamarans who feel compelled to stick to a schedule like that poor woman standing for nearly and hour clinging to a roll bar in the back of the jeep).

It is easy to point out flaws, it is harder to try and point out how to fix them, and even harder still to decide what is acceptable and what isn't. 40 ++ people on a boat with less than a dozen or so life-jackets... pretty simple choice yet I did not make it. Mia Culpa.

James

Ontario, Canada
Level Contributor
6,608 posts
11 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Topic of safety standards, and a warning to beware!

Excellent posting James!

People should definitely be aware of safety issues when on vacation.