Carnival’s new Fathom line has finally been granted approval to begin sailing to Cuba in May this year. Carnival began promoting the cruises in mid-2015 when authorisation was granted from the United States, however approval from the Cuban side was only issued on Tuesday this week.
The cruises are part of an overall relaxation of US policies surrounding travel to Cuba. Previously, US citizens could only travel there with special exemptions and US based companies could not operate in the country. While Carnival will be the first US cruise line to visit Cuba, a number of other international lines have been sailing there for some years. These cruises have originated in countries other than the US or have had ships based directly in Cuba itself.
Fathom is promoting itself primarily as a voluntourism experience, using words like “sustained impact”, “lasting development” and “global vision” to describe the journeys. Using the 710-passenger Adonia (formerly sailing for P&O World Cruises) it will initially call at Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos. The seven-night itinerary promises immersive cultural experiences both on shore and onboard. Passengers will meet local artists, musicians, business owners and families for an insight into Cuban culture. Onboard activities will include Cuban dance lessons and cocktail making, as well as the more traditional cruise pastime of lounging by the pool. The first journey departs Miami on May 1.
Your Cuba Cruise by Celestyal Cruises
Canadian brand Cuba Cruise partnered with Greek-owned Celestyal Cruises to launch Your Cuba Cruise in 2013. The company was the first to offer circumnavigations of the island, starting in Havana and calling at Maria la Gorda, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba (as well as Montego Bay in Jamaica). The line uses the 1,200-passenger Celestyal Crystal which has three restaurants, four bars, a nightclub, casino, swimming pool, fitness centre and spa.
The Swiss line homeported its first ship, the 2,150-passenger MSC Opera, in Havana in December 2015. It was the first global company to base a ship in Cuba full time and operates seven-day roundtrip cruises. Passengers check in to the ship before it spends three nights docked in Havana, essentially acting as a floating hotel. It then visits Montego Bay in Jamaica, Georgetown in the Cayman Islands and Cozumel in Mexico before returning to Havana. MSC will be bringing a second ship, the 2,679-passenger MSC Armonia, for the 2016/2017 season.
International Expeditions offers a boutique sailing experience around Cuba on one of two masted motor yachts, the 48-passenger Panorama and the 46-passenger Panorama II. The 10-night itineraries depart Miami on a charter flight to Cuba before boarding the ship in Cienfuegos. The cruise calls at Trinidad, Cayo Largo, Maria la Gorda and Havana. It is described as a ‘people to people’ travel program and shore excursions include visits to a graphic arts studio, pottery workshop and small school, singing and dancing with a local choir, meeting with naturalists and conservationists at a sea turtle breeding centre, and a trip to the planned community of Las Terrazas, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with just 1,000 residents.
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
Rather than operating dedicated Cuba cruises, a number of Fred. Olsen ships call at Havana or Santiago de Cuba as part of longer world, South America or Caribbean itineraries. These can range anywhere from 14 nights to an epic 108 day voyage from Southampton.
Thomson’s seven-night Cuban Fusion itinerary departs from Montego Bay in Jamaica and calls at Cozumel in Mexico before spending two days in Havana. The 1,500-passenger Thomson Dream sails the journey and onboard features include Broadway-style entertainment venues, a casino, multiple bars and lounges, six restaurants, two swimming pools, a spa, gym and kids’ club. Take the Hemingway-themed shore excursion to visit the fishing village of Cojimar that inspired The Old Man and the Sea, his former home and two of his favourite watering holes.
A number of Noble Caledonia cruises call at Cuban ports on larger Central American and Caribbean itineraries, but those looking for a more indepth experience should take the Cuban Delights cruise. A semi-circumnavigation of the island, the itinerary begins with two nights moored in Havana before heading around the west coast to Maria la Gorda, the little-developed Isla de Juventude, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba. The vessel is the 100-passenger MS Serenissima, which is a comfortable and modern expedition-style ship but has limited facilities.