Cruise Lines Signal Firm Commitment to Cuba

The Empress of the Seas departs Miami for Havana (JetSetSarah / twitter)

By MarEx 2017-04-20 21:48:11

On Wednesday, Norwegian Cruise Line doubled down on its commitment to Cuban cruise tourism by scheduling an additional series of 33 voyages for 2018. The announcement follows after an earlier decision to add 25 weekly departures on the Norwegian Sky this year, with four-day trips calling at Havana and at the cruise line's private island, Great Stirrup Cay. 

The latest announcement coincided with the first departure of Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas from Miami on a five-night round trip to Cuba. She is due to arrive in Havana on April 23, putting her among the ranks of the first passenger vessels to transit from the U.S. to Cuba in 50 years. 

Recent commitments from leading American cruise brands are part of the increasing normalization of leisure travel to and from the island, which was a forbidden destination under U.S. sanctions for decades. Carnival Group was the first to offer a sailing, via purpose-built "social impact" brand Fathom; however, it quickly folded the itinerary into its Carnival Cruise Line brand at a lower price point, with fares from $600-$1300 per person (as opposed to $1800 on Fathom’s 700-passenger Adonia). 

American tourism to Cuba is an emerging market, and different segments of the travel industry have met with differing levels of success. Leading home-share accommodation platform AirBnB reports overwhelming interest in Cuba homestays; meanwhile, airlines have reported lower-than-expected demand and problems with overcapacity. Frontier, Spirit and Silver Airways have all pulled out of the market altogether, and JetBlue has switched to smaller aircraft.

All of the new travel services operate in an atmosphere of regulatory uncertainty, as the Trump administration has announced that it is conducting a review of the Obama administration’s Cuba policies. "We cannot speculate about what [Trump's] next step will be, but I can assure you that we are moving our machine forward," said Galo Beltran, Cuba manager for American Airlines, speaking to the Associated Press in February.