First US Cruise Line given Green Light for Cuba Itineraries

In order to understand the situation regarding cruises to Cuba and why many lines are currently reluctant to dock at the Caribbean island, it is first necessary to understand the history of this previously politically unstable nation.

For those who don’t know, up until 1959, many US citizens either lived in or frequently travelled to Cuba, with the economy very much relying on tourism. Many people who were fortunate enough to experience Cuba before the revolution tell stories of a wonderful destination with friendly people, vibrant culture, warm weather and fantastic food.

What followed the 1950’s was a sweeping revolution that saw Fidel Castro of Cuba cut all ties with the US and form an allegiance with the Soviet Union. This had a severely negative effect on tourism in Cuba and, as a result, very few facilities were renewed until the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s.

It was at this point that Cuba started allowing tourists back in and many luxurious hotels have been introduced to the island. Visitors from Europe, Canada and even the US have been arriving on Cuban shores, and the infrastructure is gradually being repaired.

This brings us up to the present day where, currently, there are a number of cruise lines arriving into Cuba including Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Thomson Cruises, Noble Caledonia, Star Clippers and MSC Cruises. As you may have noticed, these lines are registered outside of the US and operate ships with a capacity for 1,000 passengers or less.

Popular cruise companies which operate vessels around the world such as Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line currently have no presence in Cuba, as the result of an ongoing travel embargo. The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act has been introduced by a group of senators and is currently being presented to congress, with the hope lifting restrictions.

Last week, however, Carnival Corporation was given a historic green light to serve cruises to Cuba with new impact brand Fathom. The line will offer alternating seven-night itineraries to Cuba and the Dominican Republic respectively. Passengers will travel on board the 704-passenger Adonia, once of P&O Cruises, and travel to Cuban destinations that include Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Fathom’s emphasis on impact tourism, in other words, helping locals with day to day work across a range of projects, has been integral in gaining approval. Guests will be restricted to 12 types of approved activity during their visit to Cuba, including Humanitarian work.

Carnival Corporation chief executive, Arnold Donald, believes Fathom will offer a highly rewarding experience. "This is a historic opportunity, and we know there is pent-up demand amongst Americans who want to experience Cuba. We believe there is no better way to experience so much of Cuba in seven days. Everyone who sails with us with Fathom to Cuba will have a very special, rewarding and enriching experience with our Fathom brand."

With Key West, Florida, located just 90 miles north of Cuba, many cruise ships could be heading to Cuba sooner than you think. It has certainly been one of the most popular destinations on people’s lips over the last few years and it is worth keeping an eye on the travel embargo.

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