Posted on Monday, 12.16.13
Cruise ship leaves Havana for sail around Cuba
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
The cruise ship LV Louis Cristal set sail from Havana on Monday on the
first of its round-the-island trips, marking yet another effort to
establish Cuba as an attractive and profitable cruise industry destination.
Cuba Cruise, based in Calgary, Canada, chartered the vessel this year
for weekly sails through March 24 that will take on passengers in Havana
or Montego Bay, Jamaica, for 7-day circumnavigations of the island for
$746 and up.
The 1,200-passenger vessel will make stops in Havana, Holguín, Santiago
de Cuba, Cienfuegos and Punta Francés on the Isle of Youth, and offer
tours of beaches, nightclubs and colonial-era fortresses and architecture.
The Cristal, built in 1980, is owned and operated by the Cyprus-based
Louis Cruises, which operates largely in the Mediterranean. Cuba Cruise
was founded in January by cruise businessman Dougald Wells.
Several previous attempts to establish Cuba as a regular cruise
destination have failed, in large part because of economic sanctions by
the United States, which forbids U.S. tourism in Cuba and bars any ship
that docks at Cuban ports from entering the U.S. for six months
thereafter. The U.S. and Canada are the source of an estimated 70
percent of Caribbean cruise passengers, and most cruise ships plying
Caribbean waters are based in South Florida.
Asked if Cuba Cruise would allow U.S. tourists to board the ship in
Jamaica, Melissa Medeiro, media coordinator for Bannikin Travel and
Tourism, a Canadian consultancy representing the company, said it was
not up to Cuba Cruise to check on passengers.
“We encourage everyone to check with their local authorities,” Medeiro
said. “But Cuba does not impose any restrictions [on U.S. tourists], and
Cuba Cruise does not discriminate against any nationality boarding the
After decades of rejecting mass tourism, Cuba began opening its doors in
the early 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its
massive subsidies to the island’s communist government.
Spain’s Sol Melia company launched one attempt in 1996, using the
840-passenger Melia-Don Juan for sailings from Cienfuegos on the
south-central coast. The ship’s Cuba itineraries appear to have stopped
in late 1997.
The Russian-operated cruise ship Adriana, capable of carrying up to 300
passengers, sailed around the island at least four times in 2011. On one
stop in Santiago, it disembarked 62 passengers, according to a Cuban
news media report. There has been no mention of further dockings since then.
The 54,000-ton Thomson Dreams, capable of carrying up to 1,132
passengers, has made several ports of call in Havana in recent years
with mostly British and other European passengers.
Cuba’s cruise tourism business peaked in 2005 with 122 ships reportedly
delivering 102,440 visitors — an average of 840 per ship. But it has
been in steady decline since then, according to the National Office for
ONE reported 30,000 cruise ship arrivals in 2006, 7,000 in 2007, 5,000
in 2008, 4,000 in 2009, 2000 in 2010 and a mere 1,000 in 2011.
Cuban officials have never explained the plunge in cruise arrivals. But
Fidel Castro’s comments in 2005 that cruise visitors spent little and
left behind “rubbish, empty cans and paper” may have made Cuban
officials less interested in dealing with cruise lines.
José Antonio Lopez, then general manager of the state company that runs
the country’s four cruise terminals, told the Reuters news agency in
2008 that Cuba has the port capacity to receive one million cruise ship
passengers and 600 ships a year. Havana alone can dock several ships of
up to 70,000 tons, he added.
U.S. cruise industry officials have estimated it could take at least
four years to update Cuba’s ports so they can handle today’s
150,000-plus-ton mega cruise ships. The world’s largest cruise ship,
Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, weighs in at 225,000 tons and
carries up to 5,400 passengers.
Cuba’s tourism industry has been stagnating after steady growth since
the early 1990s, with 2.3 million foreign visitors in the first 10
months of this year, representing a 1.2-percentage-point drop from the
same period in 2012, according to ONE.
Source: “Cruise ship leaves Havana for sail around Cuba – Cuba –