Cruise giant Carnival Corp. wins approval for Cuba sailings
Gene Sloan, USA TODAY 11:31 a.m. EDT March 22, 2016
The parent company of Carnival, Princess and eight other cruise brands
on Monday said the Cuban government had approved its previously
announced plans to begin sailings to the island nation out of Miami.
The cruises, which already are on sale, will be operated bi-weekly by
the company’s new social impact-focused Fathom brand, which will debut
in April with volunteer vacations to the Dominican Republic. The trips
will take place on Fathom’s 704-passenger Adonia, a former P&O Cruises
The announcement came during President Barack Obama’s historic trip to
Cuba. Obama has normalized relations with the Communist country and is
loosening restrictions for U.S. travelers to Cuba that are tied to the
decades-long U.S. trade embargo. While the embargo still exists, the
Fathom cruises to Cuba now fall under an exception to the embargo for
Carnival first announced plans for Cuba cruises in July, when it
received U.S. government approval for the trips, but noted at the time
that they would be contingent on approval by the Cuban government. That
approval came late Monday in the form of signed agreements between
Carnival and Cuban authorities from Havanatur Celimar and various other
agencies that enable the voyages, the company said.
“Today we’ve made history,” Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald told
reporters in a call late Monday from Havana, soon after emerging from
the signing. Calling it “an extraordinary day,” Donald noted that
Carnival was the first U.S. cruise company in more than 50 years to be
granted approval to sail from the U.S. to Cuba.
Two small cruise companies, Pearl Seas Cruises and the now-bankrupt
Haimark Line, have been vying with Carnival to become the first to offer
USA-to-Cuba cruises. Haimark initially announced, and then canceled, a
February sailing from Miami to Cuba that would have been the first from
the USA if it had occurred. The company cited its bankruptcy in
canceling the trip. Pearl Seas announced USA-to-Cuba sailings for March
that also were subsequently canceled, with the line citing a lack of
permission from the Cuban government.
Pearl Seas still lists April cruises to Cuba on its website. Still,
Carnival’s announcement suggests that no other line will receive
approval to sail to Cuba before Fathom’s first trip there kicks off on
May 1. In a press release about the approval, Carnival said it had been
told the May 1 voyage will mark the first time a cruise ship has sailed
from the USA to Cuba in more than 50 years.
Joining Carnival’s Donald on Monday’s call with reporters, Fathom
president Tara Russell said there’s still space available on Fathom’s
first Cuba sailing, which is just 40 days away.
In a report issued Monday, industry watcher Cruise Week said travel
agents have been nervous about selling Fathom’s Cuba cruises due to the
lack of approval by the Cuban government. Monday’s approval could be a
boon for bookings, the travel agent-focused trade publication suggested.
Two other cruise giants, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian
Cruise Line Holdings, also could receive Cuban government approval for
new Cuba sailings within days, an analyst for Nomura said Monday in a
report issued before Carnival’s announcement. But even if the approvals
come through, neither company is expected to start Cuba voyages before
Carnival’s first sailing in May.
Donald suggested the Cuban government approval that Carnival Corp.
received Monday would allow for other Carnival brands besides Fathom to
sail from the USA to Cuba. But that doesn’t mean more Carnival brands
will begin cruising there immediately. Donald said obstacles to a quick
deployment of more ship include the limited number of berths at Cuban
ports and limited infrastructure. Plus the other Carnival brands already
have itineraries set for the coming year, with customers booked on the
“Suddenly changing itineraries doesn’t automatically make sense,” Donald
said. “It’s probably going to be many months (before) one of the other
brands begins to sail here. But there will be other brands over time.”
The new Fathom sailings to Cuba will be seven-night trips
and initially feature calls at three ports for which Carnival Corp. has
obtained berthing approval: Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.
Fathom will depart from Miami on Sundays at 4:30 p.m. ET and arrive in
Havana the next morning at 11 a.m. ET. Fares start at $1,800 per person,
excluding Cuban visas, taxes, fees and port expenses. Fares include all
meals on the ship, on-board experiences and several on-the ground
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