Carnival,Tampa,Havana cruiseHAVANA, June 29th Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson couldn’t stop himself from dancing Thursday as a band performed the mambo inside the ship Carnival Paradise.

It was a party, after all, a celebration of Carnival Cruise Line’s first-ever journey to Havana that would launch later that day. Carnival,Tampa,Havana cruise

It wasn’t the first cruise to sail from Tampa to Cuba — a distinction belonging to Royal Caribbean, which did so in April — but there was much for Port Tampa Bay and Carnival to be happy about.

With more than 2,400 passengers, the Paradise is the most populated cruise ship to ever dock in Havana, boasted Carnival executives. Carnival,Tampa,Havana cruise

And the Paradise marks yet another link in Havana and Tampa’s century-old relationship that began with Cuban immigrants helping to found Ybor City and its cigar industry in the late-1800s.

“We have all heard the stories locally of how grandparents and great-grandparents took steamships — the precursors of today’s cruise ships — to Havana for a pleasurable weekend, back from the days of the roaring 20s to the early 50s,” said Anderson, who wore a Cuban guayabera shirt for the occasion.

To help further document the history of Tampa’s Cuban culture, Carnival donated $25,000 to the Ybor City Museum Society.

“They said it was going to be a big check but I didn’t know it was going to be that big,” said a stunned Chantal Ruilova Hevia, CEO of the museum society. Carnival,Tampa,Havana cruise

But the biggest moment of the day, quipped John Heald, Carnival’s brand ambassador, was the unveiling of a Cuban sandwich the cruise’s senior chef made for the occasion.

It was 10-feet long and contained five pounds of sliced ham, 50 pounds of pork, six pounds of swiss cheese and one gallon each of dill pickles, mustard and mayonnaise.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Heald said. “This is officially the world’s largest ever Cuban sandwich at sea.”

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