First U.S.-To-Cuba Cruise Ship in Decades Arrives

Passengers hail to shore on Adonia's arrival in Havana (image courtesy Chris McGinnis / Twitter)

By MarEx 2016-05-02 20:51:24

The first cruise ship in decades to depart the U.S. for Cuba arrived in Havana on Monday, greeted by cheers from residents who gathered at the docks to greet her. 

The Adonia, a 700-passenger ship belonging to Carnival's Fathom brand, docked at Havana's colonial old town, about 10 days after Cuban authorities lifted a longstanding seaborne-arrival ban for Cuban nationals that had threatened to delay her first sailing. 

The arrival comes thanks to improvements in U.S.-Cuba relations, which have warmed considerably over the past year. The two nations now have diplomatic relations and have reached agreements for renewed contact, including steps towards tourist visits and postal services. And observers suggest that Cuban and American officials would like to do as much as possible to speed along measures on travel before the end of the present U.S. administration's time in office. 

“Regularly scheduled cruises are the third leg of the land, sea and air efforts by the Obama Administration to cement its policy changes. The goal is to make the initiatives big and loud so that they are harder to dislodge,” said John Kavulich, president of the New York-based US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Cruise lines have also announced intentions to begin new relations with Cuba. More than a dozen have suggested that they plan to run US-Cuba trips, which could bring as much as $300 million in revenue to cruise operators, plus 100,000 visitors and $90 million to the Cuban economy, the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council said in a post Monday.

For now, Fathom carries the banner as the first and only operating line, with a total of 18 sailings scheduled through November, one every other week. While other operators have also announced plans to bring medium-sized ships, Havana's Sierra Maestra cruise terminal has only two wharfs; the simultaneous arrival of multiple, 1000-foot-plus vessels (as in Nassau, Bahamas) appears limited to future developments.   

Carnival president and CEO Arnold Donald marked the historic occasion and commented on its impact for so many in both nations. “Times of change often bring out emotions and clearly the histories here are very emotional for a number of people,” he said. "And all along, we were preparing and working toward what we have here today - that everyone can sail with us," referring to Cuba's decision to permit entry to Cuban nationals arriving as passengers. A dozen Cuban-born individuals were on the passenger list, reported Miami radio station WLRN – including Carnival's general counsel, Arnie Perez.