Sailing soon from the U.S. to Cuba: ships from Norwegian and Royal Caribbean
BY CHABELI HERRERA
It's full steam ahead to Cuba for two of the world's major cruise companies.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean Cruises, both
Miami-based, signed agreements Wednesday with the Cuban government just
minutes apart to take passenger ships to the island nation.
All three of Norwegian's lines — Norwegian Cruise Line, premium line
Oceania Cruises and luxury line Regent Seven Seas — and two Royal
Caribbean brands — Royal Caribbean International and high-end line
Azamara Club Cruises — will sail from the U.S. to Cuba in the near
future, the companies said.
Previously, the only U.S.-to-Cuba sailings stopped only in the island
nation, aboard Carnival Corp.'s Fathom brand.
Royal Caribbean's Cuba announcement came first, announcing
Florida-to-Cuba cruises but without specific ports, Wednesday afternoon.
The trips will be people-to-people exchanges, one of the 12 categories
of travel under which Americans can visit Cuba.
"Our guests have expressed real interest in having the opportunity to
experience Cuba, and we look forward to bringing them there," said
Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, in a
statement. "Our discussions with our travel partners indicate that Cuba
is a destination that appeals to a new generation of travelers."
Itineraries will be announced at a later date, Royal Caribbean said. The
line has previously said that its 2,270-passenger Empress of the Seas
likely would sail to Cuba.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings' three lines plan to sail to the island
from PortMiami beginning with Oceania in March. The Cuba stops will be
part of its broader Caribbean itineraries.
For Norwegian, the Cuba deal comes with a deep history. President and
CEO Frank Del Rio left the island in 1961 after the fallout of the Bay
of Pigs invasion. Del Rio has been working to ink a deal with Cuba since
President Barack Obama reestablished connections with Cuba in December 2014.
But both Norwegian and Royal Caribbean got beat out by Fathom in May,
which earned the coveted title of the first American line to sail into
Havana Harbor in half a century. Carnival Corp. has announced it will
dissolve the Fathom brand this spring but still plans to continue
sailing to Cuba in the future.
Still, Wednesday's announcement was well worth the wait for Del Rio.
"As a Cuban-American and founder of Oceania Cruises, I am incredibly
proud that one of Oceania's vessels will be our company's first to sail
to Cuba," Del Rio said in a statement. "This is truly a dream come true
for me and I cannot wait for our loyal guests to experience the sights
and sounds of my hometown of Havana and get to know its rich culture and
its warm and welcoming residents."
Del Rio was 6 when his family fled the island. It didn't return until
last year —for a visit, the first in more than five decades.
He has said multiple times that he's "waiting for the phone to ring" to
get the final approval from Cuba for Norwegian cruise ships. Last week,
rumors circulated that Norwegian and Royal Caribbean would get the green
Oceania Cruises' 1,250-passenger Marina will inaugurate Norwegian Cruise
Line Holdings' Cuba voyages on March 7 with three Caribbean voyages that
include a mix of full-day and overnight stops in Havana. Regent Seven
Seas' 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner will follow in April with two
trips that combine an overnight stay in Havana with other Caribbean
stops. And in May, Norwegian Cruise Line's 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky
will set sail on five Caribbean sailings that include overnight stays in
Full itinerary details for all three lines will be released in the
The experience will be far different from the current U.S.-to-Cuba
cruise offering aboard Fathom's 704-passenger Adonia. The social impact
line, which was created to offer the Cuba trips — plus every-other-week
"voluntourism" voyages to the Dominican Republic — circumnavigates the
island, with stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. But
despite considerable demand for the Cuban part of the equation, Carnival
said it has opted to phase out the trips on Adonia by June, pending
approval for another of the cruise company's lines to sail there instead.
Norwegian's Caribbean and Cuba combination trips signify the true
realization of Cuba's potential in the cruise industry, said Mike
Driscoll, editor of the trade publication Cruise Week.
"In a way, it's more exciting than the initial announcement with
Fathom," Driscoll said. "People are going to pay more to see Havana as
part of the Caribbean itinerary. This is what people have been waiting
for. Fathom wasn't what people were waiting for."
Driscoll said that the Fathom product was the entry point into the
island but that its aim — with its social-impact bent — was too specific.
In March, Del Rio said the addition of Havana as a possible port in the
Caribbean "will shine a bright light over the area," which has become
saturated with cruise lines.
"My guess is there will be a ship in Havana every day of the week," Del
Rio said at the Seatrade Cruise Global conference in March. "The rest of
the Caribbean doesn't have to worry."
Norwegian and Royal Caribbean will also contend with fewer challenges
than Carnival did. Initially, Fathom declined to sell passage to
island-born Cuban Americans in accordance with Cuban regulations that
prohibited them from returning by sea. Protests and several lawsuits
followed, and the line said it would not launch its itineraries until
the prohibition was lifted.
Less than two weeks before the ship was scheduled to leave PortMiami for
Cuba, the Cuban government reversed its decades-old policy, allowing
Cubans to join in on the inaugural voyage.
Fortunately for Del Rio, when his lines sail to Cuba, he will be allowed
to be onboard.
Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH
Source: Sailing soon from the U.S. to Cuba: ships from Norwegian and
Royal Caribbean | Miami Herald -