YCEA planning trip to Cuba 'before it changes'
- A U.S. cruise ship docked in Havana for the first time in nearly 40 years on Monday.
- The York County Economic Alliance needs nine more people to sign up for its November trip to Cuba.
- The trip, planned by Travel Time, will include a train ride into the Cuban town of Hershey.
Joann Spangler has a map in the basement of her Spring Garden Township home with a pin placed in each of the 98 countries she and her husband have visited.
"It looks like it has the measles," Spangler said of the map.
Spangler, 80, hasn't traveled since her husband passed away in September, but in November she plans on adding another pin to that map in a country few Americans have visited in the past 40 years — Cuba.
The first U.S. cruise ship in nearly 40 years docked in Havana on Monday. President Barack Obama's administration restored U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba in late 2014 after the two countries severed ties in 1961.
The York County Economic Alliance took the opportunity to plan an eight-night trip to the country that is scheduled to take place Nov. 11-19, leaving an extra day for travel.
Lori Heathcote, of Lancaster-based Travel Time travel agency, is working with a New Jersey-based travel agency that has experience working with the Cuban government to plan the trip.
Heathcote said the group still needs at least nine more people to sign up for the trip, which costs $5,599 per person and includes travel, meals, housing and events. The trip may be canceled if the agency can't find enough people by next month, she said.
Travel Time Vice President John Bailey, who is signed up for the journey with his wife, said he feels confident the agency will meet its quota for the trip.
'Frozen in time': Bailey said visiting Cuba has been on his bucket list since his father traveled to the country just before the Cuban Missile Crisis began in the 1960s.
"It's always been mysterious to me, this Third World country that's just frozen in time," he said. "I want to experience it now, before we step in and Americanize it."
Spangler, also signed up through the YCEA, said she felt now is the perfect time to see Cuba.
"I want to go before it changes," she said. "If you don't take the opportunity now, things will change rapidly."
Ted Hake, founder of Hake's Americana and Collectibles in Springettsbury Township, visited Cuba a few years ago as part of a Theodore Roosevelt historical group.
"It was certainly like taking a step back in time to the '50s or '60s," he said. "I had a great time."
No cellphones: That Old World feeling that appeals to Hake, Spangler and Bailey is what's preventing additional people from signing on to the trip, however.
Heathcote said that many people who initially showed interest backed off when they were told of the country's spotty internet and cellphone service.
"The whole body language of the group changed when we were told we wouldn't be able to use our cellphones," Spangler said of the Cuba trip interest meeting she attended. "A couple people just walked out right after that."
Spangler said she understands why people feel the need to be connected, but it's sad that they'll miss such a great opportunity.
Hershey, Cuba: Bailey said he's most excited about taking a train into the Cuban town of Hershey, founded by U.S. chocolate tycoon Milton S. Hershey in 1916 and since found in a state of ruin, according to The Washington Post.
The trip into Hershey isn't common among American tourist groups, but Bailey said Cuban government officials opened it up at their recommendation.
Travel Time's initial itinerary was train-centric because the trip was for a group of Lancaster train collectors, but no one from that group signed up, so Heathcote is working on finalizing more cultural activities, Bailey said.
Those interested in the trip can find more information on Travel Time's website or contact Heathcote at (717) 855-2128.