All Americans, regardless of their birthplace, will be able to travel to Cuba via a cruise. // © 2016 Fathom
Feature image (above): Fathom’s 704-passenger Adonia // © 2016 Fathom
When Cuba announced that it would allow Cuban-born passengers to sail to the country from the U.S., it was like opening the gate for a horse race. Carnival Corporation & Plc had removed the last piece of initial blockage for the whole industry of cruise lines negotiating to set up regular cruises from the U.S. that include Cuba, following decades of planning as cruise companies waited for regulations to change.
Carnival had been under fire from Cuban-born Americans who tried to book cruises on its new Fathom brand and were told that Cuban law made it impossible for them to visit the destination by ship. After stating it was confident of a positive decision by Cuban authorities and that it would accept bookings to Cuba from all travelers, the company made the announcement of the breakthrough in a press conference about a week before Fathom’s first sailing on May 1.
Arnold Donald, CEO and president of Carnival Corporation, acknowledges that Cuban-born travelers in the U.S. will have to go through the Cuban embassy to get visas if they left Cuba prior to 1971 — a process that could be a lengthy one. Those who left Cuba after that date must present Cuban passports to travel.
Donald praises travel agents who continued bookings during the criticism of the company and invites those who hesitated to go forward with them. He says the number of inquiries from Cuban-born travelers was low, relative to the total response to Fathom’s cruises to Cuba, but that he hopes the recent decision — which places cruise arrivals on par with air arrivals — will change that.
“We made history in March, and we are a part of making history again today,” he said.
Cuban-born Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH), is also excited about the news.
“I am extremely pleased with the announcement that all Americans, regardless of their place of birth, will be able to travel to Cuba aboard cruise ships,” he said.
He added that NCLH’s Oceania Cruises is in discussions with Cuban officials, seeking approval to cruise to Cuba later this year.
“I am very much looking forward to sailing to Cuba soon onboard one of our ships in the company of many fellow Cuban-Americans and other fellow Americans who wish to share in the excitement and passion that cruising to Cuba brings,” Del Rio said.