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It’s not everyday that a celebration starts out with a cafe Cubano and a seven-piece Cuban band and then evolves into mojitos and a police ship escort, complete with water cannons.
But, then again, the May 1 sailing of Fathom’s Adonia is not just any cruise. The third cruise for the new Carnival Corporation & Plc brand marks the Caribbean giant’s first entry into Havana, as well as the first sailing of any U.S. ship to Cuba since 1958.
Overseeing the festivities were Arnold Donald, CEO and president of Carnival Corporation & Plc, and Tara Russell, president of Fathom and global impact lead for Carnival Corporation & Plc. The two spoke with media and passengers as the sold-out ship departed sunny PortMiami for Havana.
Being the first cruise brand to sail to Cuba from the U.S. is a significant accomplishment for Carnival, whose 10 brands have a considerable presence in the Caribbean.
“It was very important to us to be able to go,” Donald said. “We are honored and privileged to be first. And we are humbled to be part of such a significant change in a practice that obviously spells wealth in the future in terms of humanity and human spirit.”
Of course, the historic sailing wasn’t without its challenges. On April 12, two Cuban-born U.S. citizens filed a class-action lawsuit against Carnival for not allowing them to register for the inaugural sailing. The cruise line was following a Cuban policy that did not permit Cuban-Americans to enter Cuba by ship. Carnival temporarily placed the cruise on hold until April 22, when the Cuban government agreed to overturn the policy.
“We got a little nervous when things got dicey and emotions came out,” Donald said. “I recognize for many, emotions are strong, and for some, the past has been painful. For some of the Cubans onboard, this historic cruise is a dichotomy of excitement and reconciliation and, for some, returning to their place of birth for the very first time.”
Out of the 700 passengers on the ship, up to 25 individuals are Cuban-Americans, said Russell. This includes Carnival employees such as Arnaldo Perez, general counsel for Carnival Corporation & Plc, who will be the first person to disembark the ship in Havana.
Russell recognized Perez as one of the “secret sauce elements” of the Fathom Cuba product, in addition to Rosamaria Caballero Stafford, senior director of Cuba product for Fathom, and Giora Israel, senior vice president of global port & destination development for Carnival Corporation & Plc.
The Fathom Adonia is the first U.S. ship to sail from the U.S. to Cuba in more than 50 years. // © 2016 Mindy Poder
The 704-passenger Adonia at PortMiami during embarkation // © 2016 Mindy Poder
Cruisers drank complimentary champagne during the festive Sail-Away Celebration. // © 2016 Mindy Poder
A fleet of police boats escorted the Adonia out of Miami. // © 2016 Mindy Poder
While staff popped champagne bottles, escort boats shot celebratory water cannons. // © 2016 Mindy Poder
Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation & Plc, and Tara Russell, Tara Russell, president of Fathom and global impact lead for Carnival Corporation & Plc, toasted the historic moment. // © 2016 Mindy Poder
Passengers onboard ranged from first-time cruisers celebrating a special occasion to frequent cruisers who have traveled far and wide.
“For many American people, their dream has been to sail into Cuba, and we know there is enormous pent-up demand to sail this final frontier that is so literally on our doorstep,” Donald said. “I am so proud that today we are able to start fulfilling that dream for all Americans. The best way to break down barriers is to sail across them, and the best way to bring people together is by bringing people together. It’s that simple.”
In addition to two days in Havana, the seven-night cruise will sail to Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba before returning to PortMiami the morning of Sunday, May 8. Wednesday and Saturday will be sea days.
Adonia will now begin sailing to Cuba every other week, alternating with Fathom’s voluntourism itinerary in the Dominican Republic.
Read more about Fathom’s Cuba approval announcement.
Find out how the rest of the cruise went. Check out the author’s firsthand review of Fathom’s Cuba cruise.