Could Tampa Bay offer cruises to Cuba?
Justine Griffin, Times Staff Writer
Monday, April 4, 2016 10:51am
TAMPA — Airline service is not the only way local tourism boosters are
vying to get American tourists to Cuba from Tampa Bay.
Port Tampa Bay, already home to four seasonal cruise lines, hopes to
lure a cruise ship that would take passengers to Cuba.
Just as Tampa International competes with other airports to serve Cuba,
Port Tampa Bay is competing with South Florida cruise ports like Miami
and Fort Lauderdale — which are home to dozens of top tier cruise ships
— for a spot in the line up.
But port officials say they’re in a good position to be among the first
to offer cruise vacations to Cuba.
“There’s no doubt Miami is No. 1, they have a critical mass of cruise
lines there,” said Edward Miyagishima, vice president of communications
and external affairs at Port Tampa Bay. “But there are a lot of benefits
to Tampa. We’re only 300 nautical miles away from Cuba. It’s a straight
So far only one cruise line has announced plans for travel to Cuba.
Carnival Corp., the corporate parent of Carnival, Princess and eight
other cruise brands, announced it will launch a seven-night trip to Cuba
from Miami beginning next month. The Fathom line ship, which will cruise
to Cuba every other week, is small, hosting around 700 passengers. By
comparison, Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, a ship that sails
from Port Tampa Bay to western Caribbean destinations, regularly carries
Royal Caribbean is rumored to be vying to bring a smaller ship out of a
retirement to serve the Cuba market from Miami, too.
Smaller ships are good for Tampa Bay. The port will be limited in what
kind of cruise ships can dock here because of the height of the Sunshine
Skyway bridge, which isn’t tall enough to accommodate some of the
biggest cruise ships that sail regularly from Fort Lauderdale or Miami.
But there’s plenty of room for the smaller ones, like the Fathom line
ship that will sail to Cuba.
“We are actively talking to cruise lines about what we can offer them.
It helps that we have such a rich cultural connection in Tampa,” said
Greg Lovelace, director of cruise marketing at Port Tampa Bay. He was in
South Florida last week for a cruise industry conference, where he
pitched Tampa Bay as a destination to cruise liners. “Our goal is to
increase cruise capacity in Tampa overall, and Cuba is one way for us to
Port Tampa Bay hosts cruise ships mostly from November through April.
Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Holland America originate cruises from
Last year, the port explored the option of adding a passenger ferry
service from Tampa to Cuba, but plans never materialized.
One-fifth of Tampa’s Hispanic population is of Cuban ancestry, according
to demographic data collected by Tampa International Airport. That
connection could help Tampa land a Cuba cruise itinerary, said Santiago
Corrada, CEO and president of Visit Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County’s
tourism marketing agency.
“If cruise travelers spend a night before or after in Tampa exploring
the Cuban culture in historic Ybor City, that could benefit local
businesses and our hotels,” Corrada said.
But there are some challenges ahead for Tampa, too.
“Tampa is not an easy city for cruise ships. They have problems with
fog, and it’s difficult for ships to get up the inlet,” said Stewart
Chiron, a Miami-based cruise industry expert. “It’s going to be Miami
and Fort Lauderdale first, and it could be a couple of years away before
anything else may happen.”
While travel restrictions have eased for Americans visiting Cuba, the
embargo is still firmly in place. That means American travelers can’t
visit Cuba just as tourists. Wanting to bask on Cuban beaches and
explore old Spanish markets isn’t good enough.
The five-decade embargo limits travel to cultural, educational and
humanitarian purposes. Cargo is limited to food and medicine. Tourism
and business is not permitted.
Carnival’s Fathom brand is social impact-focused, and travelers will
interact with Cubans for humanitarian causes during the trip.
“I don’t see that (the embargo) being lifted any time soon,” said
Michael Santana, an attorney with GrayRobinson in Orlando. He represents
several clients who are interested in expanding their U.S. businesses
“It’s going to be a very limited market for some time,” Santana said.
“But in the mid-term to long-term, Tampa seems like a natural port of
call for a Cuba cruise.”
Contact Justine Griffin at email@example.com. Follow @SunBizGriffin.
Source: Could Tampa Bay offer cruises to Cuba? | Tampa Bay Times –