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When the door opened last May for cruising from the U.S. to Cuba, the shape of the product was driven by consumer desire and the requirements of the Cuban government. Now, just months after Carnival Corporation & Plc’s one-ship line, Fathom, made its first social-impact cruise to Cuba, the whole picture has changed and is likely to change again.
Fathom, as a separate brand, will disappear after May 2017, reincarnating as optional, paid shore excursions on Carnival Corp. brands calling in Cuba. Several other lines — including Azamara Club Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), Oceania Cruises, Pearl Seas Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Royal Caribbean International — have already scheduled 2017 itineraries with Cuban destinations.
Travel agents regard the future of Cuban cruising as uncertain in light of President-elect Donald Trump’s statement that he may close doors that have been opened with the island nation, and agents are encouraging clients to book existing dates, which run at least through May 2017. It is important to note that current Cuban government approvals are limited — in some cases to one or two cruises — and that there is a great deal of variation in what is termed a Cuban cruise, from calls in four Cuban ports to an overnight in Havana within a larger Caribbean itinerary.
Here are some recent announcements for the region:
- Pearl Seas is offering 10-night cruises to Cuban cities onboard its 210-passenger Pearl Mist from Port Everglades, Fla., starting Jan. 17, calling in Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.
- Fathom will now combine the Dominican Republic and Cuba on six cruises from Miami (with full-day visits to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second-largest city) on the 704-passenger Adonia, departing Feb. 26, March 12 and 26, April 9 and 23 and May 7.
- Oceania’s 1,250-guest Marina will sail select Caribbean itineraries from Miami calling in Havana starting March 7.
- Azamara’s Hemingway Hideaways cruise on the 690-passenger Quest is scheduled for March 21 to April 2 with overnights in Havana; Key West and Tampa, Fla.; and Cozumel, Mexico; plus three days in New Orleans.
- Regent’s 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner has two April cruises calling in Havana.
- After its first five-night Cuba cruise from Miami (departing on April 19), Royal Caribbean’s 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas, which underwent a $50 million refurbishment in 2016, will reposition to Tampa, offering five- and seven-night itineraries with calls in Havana and other Caribbean ports in April and May.
- NCL’s 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky is including an overnight stay in Havana on five of its four-day cruises out of Miami starting May 1. Other stops include Great Stirrup Cay, the line’s private Bahamian island.
Tara Russell, president of Fathom, notes that there was never a certainty that Adonia would be approved for Cuban cruising beyond May, although the line’s partnerships on the ground in the Dominican Republic remain solid.
“We have brought around 20,000 people to Cuba in the first six months, and will have served 35,000 by next summer,” she said. “Now, we’re working on how to take the Fathom experience to a larger group of travelers, brand by brand. We hope to inspire the lives of a much wider audience, while continuing to nourish those who discovered and loved Fathom.”
Russell says Fathom received overwhelmingly good feedback.
“People took six cruises in six months, an extraordinary return rate; many book onboard for the next cruise,” she said.
She describes the type of customers who are likely to book a cruise with a Fathom experience.
“The demographics are broad; the psychographics are much closer,” she explained. “These travelers care a lot about three things along with their passion for travel: They have the desire to enrich and grow their own lives, to connect with community more deeply with meaningful relationships, and they want to be a part of a bigger story.”
She says Fathom has found that many of its guests are seasoned travelers in transition, such as empty nesters who have some space in their lives, or those who are going through a divorce, the loss of a loved one or some other significant life event.
Russell also describes a category she terms “mindful families”: those who want to travel in ways that mirror their values. Fathom’s experiences appeal to this mind-set.