Carnival announced yesterday that starting in May of 2016 travelers will be able to take a 7-night trip from Miami to Cuba. The trips are not just cruises, they are ‘cultural exchanges.’ The designation is important, as the federal government still restricts leisure travel to Cuba.
Carnival Cruise lines said in a statement issued yesterday that it will offer guests “people-to-people programming that facilitates educational, cultural, humanitarian, religious, and artistic exchanges.”
Carnival becomes 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.
While Carnival was the first cruse line to be granted the right to go to Cuba others are going through the State Department process and we can expect more groups to be given access to ports in Cuba. There must be sign off’s both by the U.S. and Cuba for these cruse lines.
Meanwhile, Tampa officials see this as the first opening in getting trips started from the Bay Area as soon as next fall.
Port Tampa Bay, which oversees the cruise port in Tampa, applauded Carnival’s announcement. It looked forward to a seemingly inevitable expansion of Cuban cruise travel to other lines and other embarkation ports. They issued a statement yesterday voicing their support for the trips and their hope to get things going out of Tampa soon
“Today’s news bodes well for future opportunities for Port Tampa Bay, which is well positioned as one of the closest cruise ports to Havana, to one day serve this new cruise destination,” the port said in a statement. “Port Tampa Bay has the facilities and key partnerships in place for the cruise and ferry business to grow and thrive and is ‘Cuba ready.’”
The Carnival trips will be on smaller ships than normally sail the Caribbean. Instead, The Fathom line will send the Adonia, a small 710-passenger luxury ship, to multiple locations in Cuba. Specifics about the itinerary were not released Tuesday.
Fares will start at $2,990 per person plus taxes, port fees, and visa charges. Compared to Cuba flight/hotel packages advertised by Apple Vacations, the Fathom cruise is only slightly more expensive.
Fathom’s fares are drastically higher those for than traditional Caribbean cruises, which fall as low as $299 per week per person. It is possible that fares to Cuba could drop if other lines join Fathom and/or the U.S. government farther loosens leisure travel restrictions.
Fathom has previously announced other sailings to the Dominican Republic. Those cruises, which some have dubbed ‘voluntourism,’ permit passengers time ashore to volunteer alongside locals. The company said previously that market research indicated as many as one million travelers were interested in such trips.
*Some information in this story came from the Associated Press