Cuba president of maritime operations Nelson Torres (left) shakes hands with Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald after signing an agreement that allows Fathom to sail to Cuba. // © 2016 Travel Weekly
Feature image (above): Fathom will begin sailing to Cuba on May 1. // © 2016 Fathom
Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation & Plc, and Tara Russell, president of Fathom and global impact lead for Carnival Corporation & Plc, are currently in Cuba celebrating the historic news that Fathom, Carnival Corporation’s newest brand, will be sailing to Cuba on May 1 — and beyond — as planned.
Fathom, whose weeklong Cuba itineraries will focus on people-to-people programming and cultural immersion, received U.S. approval to operate in Cuba back in July 2015. Though Donald had said that signs of receiving approval from Cuba were good, Fathom officially received the thumbs up today, March 21, during President Obama’s visit to Cuba.
“We have been getting positive indications from Cuba since late last year but, whether it’s Cuba or the U.S. or any other nation in the world, you can’t predict a regulatory process,” Donald said. “So, until we signed that dotted line, we really don’t know. Once we knew the president was coming, we geared things up and made a point to meet with folks.”
According to Russell, Calvin Coolidge, the last U.S. president to visit Cuba, arrived via ship, too.
“We will be the first cruise line from the U.S. from over half a century to sail to Cuba on our inaugural sailing on May 1,” Russell said. “It’s historic and exciting, and we are truly honored to be given this special opportunity.”
Interest in Fathom’s Cuba cruises has been high, but Russell and Donald expect that interest will surge with this announcement.
Referring to May’s inaugural sailings, Russell said that Fathom’s 704-passenger Adonia is not yet sold out, but will be soon. Both executives predict that Fathom’s May cruises will sell out by March due to the historic nature of these sailings.
“There will never be a chance like this ever again,” Russell said. “We have the humbling opportunity to pave the way for the entire travel industry to experience Cuba in an enriching way. We are encouraging people to book and to come now because things are changing every day in Cuba.”
Donald said that Carnival intends to eventually bring its nine other cruise brands — such as Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line and Princess Cruises — to Cuba, which will create additional demand for the already robust Caribbean market. But don’t expect anything immediately.
“In terms of our other lines, Cuba is very open,” Donald said. “They have to consider the land infrastructure to accommodate guests, so I doubt they will want five ships coming in at once, but over time, all of that will happen. In the short term, we will be working some months out for our other brands.”
Russell said that passengers on Fathom will benefit from Fathom’s handling of insurance, visa and affidavit processing needed to enter Cuba. Russell also pointed to travel professionals as a way to better book a Fathom cruise.
“For our travelers coming with Fathom, they can work with a travel professional,” Russell said. “We work with so many great travel professionals and partners. I have been on the phone with several of them today. We are excited with them to engage. We make that really easy.”