Cruise lines still awaiting OK from Cuba to begin trips with U.S. departures
Cruise lines eager to offer service but need Cuban OK.
Some had hoped to begin service as early as February from PortMiami
Other cruise/sail options in Cuban waters increasing
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
At least three U.S.-headquartered cruise lines have Cuba in their sights
and have been advertising itineraries that leave from PortMiami this
winter and spring.
But with the clock ticking, none of them has received a green light from
Cuban authorities to visit Cuban ports, and two of them don’t have
berthing space at PortMiami.
Still, Carnival Corp. is optimistic that its “social-impact” brand,
Fathom, will get approval for seven-day cultural immersion trips to Cuba
in time for its planned maiden voyage in May. “We’re selling, planning
and we’re just waiting for Cuba’s final approval,” said Roger Frizzell,
a spokesman for Carnival Corp. “We’re very optimistic.”
The Fathom cruise will comply with U.S. rules that allow American
travelers to visit Cuba on itineraries that emphasize people-to-people
exchanges with visits to schools, an organic farm, private restaurants
and cultural centers where they can interact with the Cuban people.
Prices start at $2,710 and climb to $8,250 per person for a suite during
With a partial U.S. travel ban to Cuba still in effect, people-to-people
tours are one of the 12 categories of travel authorized for Americans by
the U.S. government.
In meetings with Cuban authorities, Frizzell said, “there were no
indications there were any negatives; everything seems very positive.”
The plan is to alternate weeks between people-to-people itineraries to
Cuba and volunteer-focused trips to the Puerto Plata area of the
Fathom has already secured berthing space at PortMiami, and whether it
chooses to runs its itineraries to Cuba or the Dominican Republic or
both is up to the cruise line, said port officials.
But two other cruise lines that have announced Cuba itineraries leaving
from PortMiami — one with a departure as early as Feb. 11 — still
haven’t secured berth space for their rapidly approaching departures,
according to port officials.
Haimark Line, which usually deploys its MS Saint Laurent on trips
through the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway and along the Atlantic
Coast, has been advertising 10-day people-to-people tours that begin in
Miami and end in Miami. The cruises, which are scheduled to begin Feb.
11 and run through April, include visits to six of Cuba’s nine UNESCO
World Heritage Sites.
Connecticut-based Pearl Sea Cruises, which usually plies the waters of
the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, and the Panama Canal with its
luxury small ship, the 210-passenger Pearl Mist, also has been
advertising a 10-night trip that departs from and ends in Miami with
stops in Havana, María La Gorda, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba,
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park and Holguín. The first departure
from Miami is listed as March 6.
Although Haimark Lin, which filed for bankruptcy reorganization in
October, and Pearl Sea Cruises have been in touch with PortMiami
officials, neither has been issued a berth. “We haven’t received any
recent berthing requests from them,” said Andria Muniz-Amador, a
spokesperson for the port. And getting a berth, she added, “doesn’t just
Neither Haimark nor Pearl Sea Cruises responded to emails and phone
calls from the Miami Herald. But Pearl Sea does include a caveat on its
website: “These cultural voyages are subject to final government approvals.”
Before a rule change in September, cruise lines and ferry services that
wanted to call in Cuba had to seek special licenses from the U.S. Office
of Foreign Assets Control. Now no U.S. license is required — although
the U.S. Coast Guard must give approval for potential Cuban ports of
entry and approve vessel security plans.
The new wrinkle in cruising this year is the possibility of Cuba-bound
cruises departing from Miami. But cruise ships owned by companies that
aren’t headquartered in the United States have been calling in Cuba for
Switzerland-based MSC Cruises, for example, switched its MSC Opera,
which originally was going to cruise the Canary Islands, Madeira and
Morocco this winter, to an eight-day, seven-night Caribbean itinerary
and home-ported the ship in Havana.
Every Tuesday the ship towers over Havana’s cruise terminal near the old
part of the city and is in port for nearly three days to allow cruisers
sufficient time to tour Havana before leaving on an itinerary that also
includes Montego Bay, Jamaica; George Town, Cayman Islands; and Cozumel,
But American travelers can’t just hop a flight to Havana, board the
Opera and take a Caribbean vacation. U.S. travelers must either fall
within the12 categories authorized by the U.S. government — a difficult
threshold on a vacation-oriented cruise — or apply for a special license
to travel from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
This season Celestyal Cruises also is offering cruises aboard the
Celestyal Crystal that circumnavigate Cuba with boarding in either
Montego Bay or Havana and stops in Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, and
María la Gorda, a renowned diving center in western Cuba. Because it has
partnered with people-to-people operators and offers programs that may
include, for example, conversations with farmers, entrepreneurs and
cultural figures, Americans booking the people-to-people programs
shouldn’t run afoul of U.S. regulatory concerns.
Road Scholar, a Boston tour operator, for example, is offering a 14-day
people-to-people land and sea tour that includes five nights aboard the
Celestyal Crystal. Prices start at $5,098 and some dates in February and
March have already sold out. Road Scholar also is offering an eight-day
option using the Celestyal Crystal that departs from Montego Bay.
At a more economical price point, the Fund for Reconciliation and
Development offers seven-day people-to-people tours on board and on
shore using the Celestyal ship, starting at around $1,700. Sailings are
scheduled through April 8, and passengers can board every Friday in
Montego Bay and every Monday in Havana.
Another sea option for American travelers this season is a motor sail
Working with New York-based specialty tour operator Group IST and
Variety Cruises, people-to-people operator InsightCuba is offering
eight-day sail cruiser trips with air departures from Miami
International Airport. The sailing trips begin in either Havana or
Cienfuegos, and there are stops in María la Gorda where travelers will
visit the Guanahacabibes National Park and meet with naturalists, Cayo
Largo, Trinidad and Cienfuegos.
Two 40-passenger luxury sail cruisers, the Panorama and Panorama II, are
used for the people-to-people trips and prices range from $4,899 to
$5,999. With the smaller ships, “we can offer more intimate service and
it’s a romantic way to see a place,” said Tom Popper, president of
InsightCuba, which is based in New Rochelle, New York.
December and January trips sold out, and February is almost sold out,
said Popper. The trips have proved so popular, he said, that InsightCuba
is thinking about extending the sailings beyond the end of the season in
“It’s been one of our most successful launches ever. It’s really like a
floating boutique hotel that goes to places that even many Cubans
haven’t seen,” said Popper. “We’ve taken the formula that has worked on
our other people-to-people tours and just created a different way to be
The number of Americans who want to visit Cuba just keeps growing, he
said. “Last week, we had our biggest booking week in the history of the
company,” Popper said.
Source: Cruise lines still awaiting OK from Cuba to begin trips with
U.S. departures | Miami Herald –