A.D. Albertini, chairman of Aries Transporte S.A. (left), congratulates Victory Cruise Lines’ Bruce Nierenberg on a berth agreement for 2018. Aries Transporte is the concession that has handled cruise operations for the Cuban Ministry of Transportation since 2005. // © 2017 Victory Cruise Lines
Feature image (above): VCL’s Victory II will visit destinations such as the Gereaux Island Lighthouse in Ontario. // © 2017 Victory Cruise Lines
On the day the Trump administration’s new policy for travel to Cuba was announced, Bruce Nierenberg, president and CEO of Victory Cruise Lines (VCL), was in Cuba negotiating for a deeply immersive itinerary starting this winter. The result was six “Cuba 360” cruises onboard the 202-passenger Victory I that will circumnavigate the entire island, sailing roundtrip from Miami. The cruises will range from 10 to 15 nights.
Victory I’s inaugural Cuba cruise will depart Feb. 8, 2018, visiting five Cuban ports.The ship will make overnight calls in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Trinidad, and day calls at Cienfuegos — affectionately called La Perla del Sur by the locals — and Maria la Gorda. There are variations among the itineraries; For instance, the April 7 departure spends extra time — two full days and nights — in Havana.
At the end of the 2018 winter season, the ship will offer an 11-day Cuba and Colonial America repositioning cruise. It will depart May 5, with a short flight from Miami to Havana (included) and an overnight stay in Havana. Victory I will then depart Havana on May 6 and call in Jacksonville (St. Augustine), Fla.; Charleston (Mount Pleasant), S.C.; Norfolk (Yorktown), Va.; Newport, R.I.; and Gloucester (Boston), Mass., ending in Portland, Maine. From there, clients can book a back-to-back sailing with the next cruise from Portland to Toronto, an 11-day repositioning sailing for summertime Great Lakes Grand Discovery cruises between Toronto and Chicago.
Cuba sailings include all onboard food and beverages (including spirits), as well as shore excursions and port experiences.
"We may not be the first cruise line to serve Cuba from the U.S., but we believe — and travel agents have told us — that we have created the best itinerary with our multiday port experiences that will allow our guests to really explore the country and its people in a more relaxed and well-paced way," Nierenberg said. "Most cruise ships are too big to call anywhere except Havana, and no cruise product has as many multiday stops in Cuba as Victory I. All Victory I’s Cuba 360 cruises will completely circumnavigate the island nation.”
Meanwhile, VCL has also acquired a second 202-passenger vessel, an identical sister ship that was first constructed as Cape Cod Light. It will now sail as Victory II and will join the line on an inaugural cruise from Boston on May 20, 2018, when it launches a series of weeklong Canada/New England sailings between Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Ports of call in both directions include Provincetown, Cape Cod and Plymouth, Mass.; Newport, R.I.; and Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine.
Victory II also will offer several 10-night voyages on the St. Lawrence Seaway, with calls in Montreal; the Saguenay Fjord (for whale watching); Quebec City; Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island; Halifax; Niagara Falls; Cleveland; and Detroit.
In addition, Victory II’s season on the Great Lakes will mark the brand’s first cruises to major ports on Lake Superior, a VCL exclusive. The 10-day Lake Superior sailings will visit destinations including Marquette, Muskegon and Houghton, Mich.; Duluth, Minn.; Thunder Bay, Ontario; and Milwaukee, Green Bay and Sturgeon Bay, Wis. New ports of call will complement favorites such as Mackinac Island, Mich.; Parry Sound, Ontario; the Soo Locks between Lake Superior and the Lower Great Lakes; Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario; Cleveland; Detroit; and Niagara Falls.
"Our goal is to be the first choice in cruising the Great Lakes, Canada, the St. Lawrence Seaway and New England markets by offering the finest cuisine and hotel product onboard, along with memorable and unique destination experiences that stand above and beyond the rest," Nierenberg said. "We have dedicated significant time, resources and effort to make sure that our guests are able to explore and participate in the real essence of these communities and their people."