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Cruise is going Cuba crazy!

Havana Harbour by night

In many respects the island nation of Cuba has been locked in some kind of "Time Warp" since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The people of Cuba suffered immensely because apart from dealing with the challenges caused by a withdrawal of support from the failed Russian Communism experiment, they had to contend with a strict embargo generated by the US Government for a number of decades.

At present there are a handful of officially sanctioned direct charter flights from the US (operated by a Cuban entity), however despite the close distance individual US citizens are prevented from simply visiting this beautiful and culturally rich neighboring country. In order to visit Cuba currently as a US Citizen, a license is necessary, along with the stigma and hassle it generates.

Things are about to dramatically change however; compliments of a thawing of relations initiated by recent events that were acted upon by the Obama Administration. The Cruise Industry will be one of the greatest benefactors of this change.

A little basic Cuban cruising history
In the past a vessel which docked into a Cuban port was prevented going to the US as a consequence, hence many Cruise Lines especially those American based found it most intimidating. 

Some Cruise Lines did break the mould though. Costa Cruises for example famously home-ported in Havana for a period in the 1990's during the days of Alfonso Lavarello, however when the American Cruise market leader Carnival Corp. purchased Costa, all ships were prevented form visiting Cuba again. Lavarello left and was gifted the port of Havana as a kind of compensation.

Due to the active promotions of Alfonso Lavarello, for 2 years as from 2001 the pan-European Cruise Line Festival Cruises commenced cruises from Havana and later Santiago de Cuba. Festival Cruises pioneered new Shore Excursion in the region and executed highly successful cruises. In the words of Grant Holmes, former Director of On Board Revenue, Marketing, Shore Excursions and Tour Operations "Cuba was our second most profitable itinerary from an Revenue perspective; part of the reason for this was the attractive/unique Shore Excursion program we developed and the general Guest Satisfaction generated as a consequence". Festival Cruises operated the largest Cruise Ship to have docked into Havana to date called the "Mistral", which is now part of the Costa fleet "neoRiviera".

In recent times and prior to the major announcements made by the US on improved Cuban relations, Celestyal Cruises (formally Louis Cruises) tried their luck in the winter of 2014 by operating the 1,200-passenger vessel "Celestyal Crystal. This was a smart early move and the Celestyal Crystal has since attracted a number of Americans (many Cuban Americans) to experience a country which was once off the radar (pardon the pun).

Now every week that passes it seems another Cruise Line is making an announcement about Cuba.
For example International Expeditions will also offer Cuba expedition cruises as from 2015 and Haimark will relocate its 105 capacity ship "Saint Laurent" to Cuba as from February 2016. 

More notably, Fathom Cruises, a brand new Carnival Corp. Cruise Line known as the "social impact" line, will commence cruising to Cuba in May 2016.

Meanwhile, apart from the above-mentioned Cruise Lines, throughout the winter 2015/2016 season the following Cruise Lines will feature Cuba in their Caribbean based itineraries:
  • MSC Cruises: Homeporting the MSC Opera in Havana. 
  • Fred. Olsen: Part of a Caribbean itinerary. 
  • Thomson Cruises: Part of a Caribbean itinerary. 
  • Noble Caledonia: A stop in Havana as part of longer Caribbean cruises. 
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