It's official: Cruise giant Carnival Corp. (CCL) will launch its first voyages from the USA to Cuba in May.
The parent company of Carnival, Princess and eight other cruise brands on Monday said the Cuban government had approved its previously announced plans to begin sailings to the island nation out of Miami.
The cruises, which already are on sale, will be operated bi-weekly by the company's new social impact-focused Fathom brand, which will debut in April with volunteer vacations to the Dominican Republic. The trips will take place on Fathom's 704-passenger Adonia, a former P&O Cruises vessel.
The announcement came during President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Cuba. Obama has normalized relations with the Communist country and is loosening restrictions for U.S. travelers to Cuba that are tied to the decades-long U.S. trade embargo. While the embargo still exists, the Fathom cruises to Cuba now fall under an exception to the embargo for “people-to-people” travel.
Carnival first announced plans for Cuba cruises in July, when it received U.S. government approval for the trips, but noted at the time that they would be contingent on approval by the Cuban government. That approval came late Monday in the form of signed agreements between Carnival and Cuban authorities from Havanatur Celimar and various other agencies that enable the voyages, the company said.
"We are excited about Cuban approval and are ready to take travelers there through an extraordinary guest experience on the beautiful MV Adonia," Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said in a statement accompanying the announcement.
When Fathom kicks off its first sailing from Miami to Cuba on May 1, it'll mark the first time that a cruise ship has sailed from the USA to Cuba in more than 50 years, Carnival said it had been told. Two small cruise companies, Pearl Seas Cruises and the now-bankrupt Haimark Line, had been vying with Carnival to become the first to offer USA-to-Cuba cruises since the embargo began. Haimark initially announced, and then canceled, February sailings from Florida to Cuba that would have been the first from the USA if they had occurred. Pearl Seas announced USA-to-Cuba sailings for March that also were subsequently canceled, with the line citing a lack of permission from the Cuban government. Pearl Seas still lists April cruises to Cuba on its website.
In a report issued Monday, industry watcher Cruise Week said travel agents had been nervous about selling Fathom's Cuba cruises in recent months due to the lack of approval by the Cuban government. Monday's approval could be a boon for bookings, the travel agent-focused trade publication suggested.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings also could receive approvals for new Cuba cruises within days, an analyst for Nomura said Monday in a report issued before Carnival's announcement.
The new Fathom sailings to Cuba will be seven-night trips and initially feature calls at three ports for which Carnival Corp. has obtained berthing approval: Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.
Fathom will depart from Miami on Sundays at 4:30 p.m. ET and arrive in Havana the next morning at 11 a.m. ET. Fares start at $1,800 per person, excluding Cuban visas, taxes, fees and port expenses. Fares include all meals on the ship, on-board experiences and several on-the ground activities.