History was made yesterday as the Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas started its maiden voyage to Cuba from the Port of Tampa to Havana.
The ship began it’s seven-night cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, Belize City, Belize and Havana, Cuba. The Empress is one of several cruise ships with a route from Tampa to Cuba. Carnival’s Paradise ship will also begin trips to Havana starting June 29.
According to travel industry officials, over the next two years, about 40,000 cruise passengers are expected to travel to Cuba on 22 cruises from Tampa.
Cruises to Cuba are subject to U.S. rules that ban pure tourism by American travelers to Cuba. Instead the cruises must be “people to people” trips themed on permitted categories of travel such as cultural exchanges.
No city in the United States has a deeper or more historic business and cultural connection to Cuba than Tampa.
Capt. James McKay, the Scottish-born entrepreneur, started the cattle trade between Tampa and Cuba in the 1850s. Florida cattle originated from breeds brought to the area by the Spanish in the 1500s. McKay knew the Cuban market was desperate for beef and that Florida’s hardy and lean “yellow hammer” cows could survive the journey to the island. Other cattle ranchers, including the Lesleys, Hendrys and Hookers, followed suit, and soon a thriving trade took hold. The Civil War interrupted this trade, but it resumed after the end of hostilities.
In 1886 the cigar business came to Tamp with the new Cuba connection when Vicente Martinez Ybor and Ignacio Haya both opened cigar factories in a new company town just to the northeast of downtown.
The Latin population of Tampa from the early 1700’s, which consisted of Cubans, Spaniards and Italians, helped to make the city one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the United States long before Miami or any other southern city. The cigar industry survived strikes, economic depression, world wars and changing tastes, but it could not survive the Cuban embargo placed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.
So, the re-connection of Tampa and Cuba is exciting and a good thing for business.
VIDEO – CBS 4 MIAMI