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havana-live-pearl-mistHAVANA,  July 28  While still awaiting governmental approval, Pearl Seas Cruises announced plans to launch cruises to Cuba in the spring.

The seven- to 10-night cruises would offer the People-to-People educational and cultural programming that legalizes travel to the island long off-limits to Americans.

The cruises would be operated by the Pearl Mist, a new 210-passenger luxury cruise ship, round-trip from South Florida to both the Southern and Northern coasts, including ports such as Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Pearl Seas President Charles A. Robertson made no secret of his desire to begin operating to Cuba once President Obama announced late last year that he was working to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. In fact, the cruise company issued a press release back in January that it was exploring itinerary options.

“We are delighted to play such an important role in the People-to-People program in support of the Cuban people,” Robertson said. “The 210-passenger Pearl Mist allows access to more of Cuba’s ports and regions, while providing a relaxed means to engage directly with Cubans and explore the rich history and fabric of Cuban culture.”

However, Pearl Seas said its Cuba voyages still are pending approval by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury, the Department of Commerce and the Cuban government.

Carnival Corp.’s Fathom brand also recently announced plans to sail to Cuba starting in May. Carnival said it had obtained approval from the U.S. government but was awaiting the go-ahead from Cuban authorities.

Also, Haimark Line revealed plans to operate cruises from Florida to the long off-limits island starting in February. It hopes to operate legally under an extension of the approval granted to United Caribbean Lines, a company headed by veteran cruise executive Bruce Nierenberg that also plans to start ferry service to Cuba.

MSC Cruises will base a ship in Cuba for the winter 2015-16 season, but the cruises are not yet marketed to Americans.

A Canadian company, Cuba Cruise, started sailing around the island in the 2013-14 winter season. Athens-based Celestyal Cruises now is the majority shareholder in that company.

Just last week, the U.S. and Cuba resumed diplomatic ties and reopened embassies for the first time in more than 50 years.

http://www.travelpulse.com/news/cruise/pearl-seas-announces-cuba-cruises.html

In this Jan. 3, 2015 file photo, people watch The Thomson Dream cruise ship leave the bay just after sunset in Havana

 ,July 9  (AP Peter Orsi)  Cruise ship tourism to Cuba spiked more than five-fold over the last three years and is up even higher so far in 2015, government officials reported Thursday.

In a statement published on the state-run website Cubadebate, the Transportation Ministry said the number of cruise ship port calls rose from 24 in 2012 to 139 in 2014, while visits by cruise passengers saw a similar jump from 6,770 to 37,519 during the same period.

Already this year there have been 174 port calls and 62,183 passenger visits through May, according to the ministry’s statistics.

The statement called the cruise industry an “important element of tourism development for the country,” and said further growth is expected.

The report comes two days after U.S. cruise company Carnival announced a plan to begin running ships to the Caribbean island through its new brand, fathom, which focuses on trips in which passengers sail to a destination in order to volunteer there.

Amid a gradual thaw between Cold War foes Washington and Havana, Carnival has secured permission from the U.S. Treasury Department but is still awaiting approval from the Cuban government.

The Cuban Transportation Ministry said growth during the last three years “could have been even greater if not for the inhuman measures imposed on us by the U.S. blockade (embargo) which substantially hurts maritime activity” — a signal that Havana may look favorably on Carnival’s proposal and U.S. cruise ships in general.

Carnival hopes to begin the trips in May and says it would be the first American cruise company to visit Cuba since the advent of the embargo, which went into full effect in 1962.

Cruise ships dock regularly in the port of Havana during the winter high season, disgorging hundreds of travelers at a time into the adjacent colonial quarter.

The Transportation Ministry also cited Cienfuegos, Santiago and other coastal points as centers of cruise tourism, and highlighted the Isle of Youth as an opportunity for possible future expansion of the sector.

American tourism to Cuba remains illegal under U.S. law, although Washington has relaxed rules in recent years to allow ever-greater numbers of U.S. visitors on cultural, academic, religious and other types of exchanges considered “purposeful travel.”

Carnival’s weeklong cruises aboard the 710 passenger-capacity Adonia would offer legal “people-to-people” trips in which travelers spend most of the day involved in cultural activities in order to conform to U.S. regulations.

Most Cuban ports are not able to accommodate larger vessels that can hold tens of thousands of people. In Havana, an automobile tunnel that traverses the mouth of the bay prevents the city from dredging deeper to receive lower-drafting ships.

A recently completed upgrade at Mariel, an industrial port about a 45-minute drive west of Havana, could be a possibility if Cuba ever looks to receive the bigger cruise vessels.

 havana-live-adoniaHAVANA, July  7  With an eye toward one day having a variety of travel packages to the once-forbidden island, Carnival Corporation announced on Tuesday that it would begin offering people-to-people-exchange cruises to Cuba beginning next year.

Carnival, the world’s largest cruise company, has secured approval from the U.S. Treasury and U.S. Commerce departments to offer the trips to Cuba, and now is working to obtain approval from the Cuban government.

It is the latest major U.S. company to join the parade of American businesses developing plans to establish ties with Cuba after the announcement last December by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that the two nations were re-establishing diplomatic ties after almost 60 years.

The Obama administration eased trade and travel restrictions to Cuba, but only people who qualify under one of 12 categories can go there. Many tourism companies offer trips through so-called people-to-people exchanges.

That is Carnival’s plan. Its cruises to Cuba would fall under “fathom travel itineraries directly to Cuba for the purpose of providing cultural, artistic, faith-based and humanitarian exchanges between American and Cuban citizens,” said a Carnival announcement.

In a teleconference call with reporters Tuesday, Carnival Corp. executives said that there is pent-up interest in the United States in traveling to Cuba.

“We look forward to working with the Cuban authorities for their approval to help make the social, cultural and humanitarian exchanges between U.S. citizens and the people of Cuba a reality,” said Arnold Donald, President and CEO of Carnival Corporation. “We know there is strong demand from travelers who want to immerse themselves in Cuban culture, so this is a historic opportunity for us to enable more people to experience Cuban society.”

Cuba travel experts say cruise ships would be a way to enjoy the island and circumvent the expected shortage of tourist accommodations in the near future.

Carnival is accepting reservations beginning Tuesday, anticipating a great demand.

They say reservations can be made through a travel agent, or online through fathomtravel.org or by calling 1-855-9fathom.

Many of Cuba’s four- and five-star hotels are booked through the summer of 2016, an unprecedented demand that tourism executives expect only will grow as more tourists travel to Cuba from the United States.

“We have hundreds of tour group requests just at Marazul,” said Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, a U.S.-based travel agency founded in 1979 when Washington briefly loosened travel restrictions to Cuba. “There was a 38 percent increase in U.S. visitors to Cuba already in the first months of this year, and about a 15 percent increase overall in visitors from around the world in the same period of time.”

“Most people are trying to get into Cuba before American tourism comes in completely and before Cuba changes.”

Carnival says it would become the first American cruise company to visit Cuba since the 1960 trade embargo. The trips will be through its new brand, fathom, which focuses on trips where passengers sail to a destination in order to volunteer there.

The weeklong cruises will be aboard the Adonia, which carries 710 passengers. The ship is relatively small for the industry; ships sailing under the company’s namesake line carry nearly 3,000 passengers.

Carnival is expecting high demand for the voyages and has priced them accordingly. Prices start at $2,990 per person plus taxes and port fees. A similar service-oriented trip on the same ship to the Dominican Republic starts at $1,540 per person.

 

Carnival representatives on the press call said the costs for going to Cuba are much higher than other, rather similar destinations because of the greater interest by American travelers.

Air travel to Cuba also is pricey.

“We’re still dealing with airfares that I think are too expensive,” said Guild, who spent a few days recently in Cuba to speak with the island’s tourism executives. “It’s because they’re charter flights, the airlines are still unable to have regular scheduled flights. When we have direct service and work on arrangements with Cuba to do that, then it will bring down the cost of airfare.”

The itinerary is still being finalized as Carnival waits for approval from the Cuban government. The ship is expected to visit several ports and passengers will sleep onboard each night.

“We’re incredibly excited and humbled by this potential opportunity to help travelers experience the amazing beauty and culture of Cuba, while being able to provide educational and cultural exchange activities that will benefit both the traveler and the Cuban people,” said Tara Russell, president of fathom and global impact lead for Carnival Corporation. “We are looking forward to building what we intend to be a beautiful and lasting friendship with the Cuban people.”

Carnival’s license comes as part of recent approvals for six passenger vessels from the Treasury Department. The government would not name the companies who received these licenses or what their specific line of business is. They could be ferries, yacht charters or cruises. Of those six, four of them are authorized to allow passengers and crew to spend the night aboard, even when docked in a Cuban port. Other major cruise lines did not immediately respond to inquiries about their efforts to sail to Cuba.

The vessels are not allowed to stop at other countries, so don’t expect Cuba to become one of four or five stops on a typical Caribbean cruise anytime soon.

Carnival isn’t the first cruise company to sail to Cuba. A handful of foreign cruises do come to the island. In 2013, Canadian company Cuba Cruise, in partnership with Greece’s Celestyal Cruises, launched cruises from Jamaica to Cuba, making six ports of call including Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Trips start at about $850.

Tourism, a $2.6 billion-plus industry, is one of the main engines that has kept Cuba’s economy sputtering along. Last year, the country welcomed a record 3 million visitors.

About 600,000 U.S. travelers are estimated to visit Cuba each year. Cuban officials estimate that 1.5 million Americans would travel to the island annually if all restrictions were removed, supplanting Canada as the No. 1 source of tourism and potentially adding some $2 billion a year to state coffers.

There are many challenges ahead for the country as it opens up to U.S. visitors. There isn’t yet enough infrastructure to handle the demand. But major travel companies including Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International have been closely eyeing developments there. JetBlue, which has run charter flights from Florida to Cuba for years, just launched a new nonstop flight from New York. It is only open to travelers who are approved to visit Cuba. American Airlines and Sun Country Airlines also offer charters.

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2015/07/07/carnival-corp-plans-cruises-to-cuba-from-florida-starting-in-2016/

havana-live-MSC OperaHAVANA,  July 3  MSC Cruises has announced it will become the first mainstream cruise line to home-port in Cuba with MSC Opera calling Havana home for the winter 2015-16 season.

The new itinerary will give holidaymakers from around the world the opportunity to visit Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico along with two nights and two and a half days in the Cuban capital. A total of 16 Caribbean cruises will be on offer.

Gianni Onorato, Chief Executive Officer of MSC Cruises, said “We are particularly proud to make this exciting new destination available to our guests. For this, I wish to personally thank all those who worked with us over the past several months to make it possible for MSC Cruises to launch Cuba as a destination to its guests.

In particular, I wish to thank the Ministers of Transportation and Tourism of the Cuban Government and their representatives for their continued, highly professional contribution.
The move to Cuba proves our commitment to offer our guests and holiday-makers the best and most sought-after destinations as they become accessible – thus further enhancing our global offering while providing travellers best-in-class experiences and service.”

The sailings, which will be available to book from Thursday 9 July, will be available to UK passengers on a cruise-only basis.

The first cruise will depart from Havana on 22 December 2015, following MSC Opera’s Grand Voyage to Cuba from Genoa, departing on 2 December 2015. The Grand Voyage will include a call in Havana on 18 December, and resume its itinerary in the region before heading back to Cuba for its final call of the journey on 21 December. On 12 April 2016, the ship will leave Havana for a Grand Voyage back to Europe, with Warnemünde, Germany, as its final destination, arriving on 7 May 2016.

During the two-and-a-half-day stay in Havana, passengers on the 2,120-passenger MSC Opera will be able to explore the city’s stunning old centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and discover its history, culture and architecture.

As a result of this announcement, MSC Opera’s original winter 2015-16 schedule in the Canary Islands, Madeira and Morocco has been cancelled. UK guests who had already booked a Canaries sailing for winter 2015-16 will now have the opportunity to receive a full refund or transfer their holiday to alternative MSC Cruises Mediterranean itineraries, with the offer of upgrades or on-board credit as compensation.

Alternatively, guests can switch their booking to Cuba with a low rate fixed fee to account for the difference in flight costs.