Carnival To Launch Miami to Cuba Cruises
The world's largest cruise company could be heading to Cuba.
Carnival says it will become the first American cruise company to visit Cuba since the 1960 trade embargo. The trips will be through its new brand, fathom, which focuses on trips where passengers sail to a destination in order to volunteer there.
CEO Arnold Donald called the Cuba plans "an important first step" for his company and for the cruise industry.
"We're certain this is the tip of the iceberg in what's going to come in the years to come," Donald told The Associated Press.
Small ship, high demand
The weeklong cruises will be aboard the Adonia, which carries 710 passengers. The ship is relatively small for the industry; ships sailing under the company's namesake line carry nearly 3,000 passengers.
Adonia won't have a casino or Broadway shows. And guests shouldn't expect to spend their time in Cuba snorkelling or riding jet skis. Each day, under US regulations governing Cuba visits, they will have to spend at least eight hours involved in some type of cultural experience.
Donald notes that the Adonia's small size allows the ship into Cuban ports that aren't ready to accommodate larger vessels.
Carnival is expecting high demand for the voyages and has priced them accordingly. Prices start at $US2,990 ($A4,055) a person plus taxes and port fees. A similar service-oriented trip on the same ship to the Dominican Republic starts at $US1,540 ($A2,090) a person.
The itinerary is still being finalised as Carnival waits for approval from the Cuban government. The ship is expected to visit several ports and passengers will sleep onboard each night.
Cuba is still closed for general tourism for Americans, although as relations thaw between the two countries visitors have fewer hurdles to overcome. Americans can't just vacation in Cuba but must go there as part of an approved cultural or humanitarian trip, unless they have family on the island.
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New era for US-Cuba travel
Carnival's licence comes as part of recent approvals for six passenger vessels from the Treasury Department. The government would not name the companies who received these licences or what their specific line of business is. They could be ferries, yacht charters or cruises.
Of those six, four are authorised to allow passengers and crew to spend the night aboard, even when docked in a Cuban port. Other major cruise lines did not immediately respond to inquiries about their efforts to sail to Cuba.
The vessels are not allowed to stop at other countries, so don't expect Cuba to become one of four or five stops on a typical Caribbean cruise anytime soon.
Carnival isn't the first cruise company to sail to Cuba. A handful of foreign cruises do come to the island.
In 2013, Canadian company Cuba Cruise, in partnership with Greece's Celestyal Cruises, launched cruises from Jamaica to Cuba, making six ports of call, including Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Trips start at about $A1,150.
Tourism, a $A3.5 billion-plus industry, is one of the main engines that has kept Cuba's economy sputtering along. Last year, the country welcomed a record three million visitors.
About 600,000 US travellers are estimated to visit Cuba each year. Cuban officials estimate that 1.5 million Americans would travel to the island annually if all restrictions were removed, supplanting Canada as the No. 1 source of tourism and potentially adding some $A2.7 billion a year to state coffers.
There are many challenges ahead for the country as it opens up to US visitors. There isn't yet enough infrastructure to handle the demand.
But major travel companies, including Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International, have been closely eyeing developments there.
JetBlue, which has run charter flights from Florida to Cuba for years, recently launched a new non-stop flight from New York. It is open only to travellers who are approved to visit Cuba. American Airlines and Sun Country Airlines also offer charters.
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This article was written by Scott Mayerowitz from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.