Tampa cruise to Cuba the first in 50 years makes history.

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.



Jim Williams is the Washington Bureau Chief, Digital Director as well as the Director of Special Projects for Genesis Communications. He is starting his third year as part of the team. This is Williams 40th year in the media business, and in that time he has served in a number of capacities. He is a seven time Emmy Award winning television producer, director, writer and executive. He has developed four regional sports networks, directed over 2,000 live sporting events including basketball, football, baseball hockey, soccer and even polo to name a few sports. Major events include three Olympic Games, two World Cups, two World Series, six NBA Playoffs, four Stanley Cup Playoffs, four NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournaments (March Madness), two Super Bowl and over a dozen college bowl games. On the entertainment side Williams was involved s and directed over 500 concerts for Showtime, Pay Per View and MTV Networks.