More Ships Fewer Planes Going to Cuba


(Recently published in the Miami Herald)

Visiting Cuba by sea is turning into the preferred method for American travelers — at least for now.

On Monday, Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line announced it is adding a second ship for four-day cruises to Havana, following a barrage of announcements from airlines about reduced or canceled service to Cuba.

Norwegian, which already sails with the 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky from PortMiami, will now also add voyages with the 1,936-passenger Norwegian Sun, but from Orlando’s Port Canaveral, in the summer of 2018. The Sun, like the Sky, will also offer all-inclusive sailings, which means unlimited drinks.

“Our all-inclusive model aboard Norwegian Sky has been very well-received and as we evaluated the opportunity to expand upon that concept, we felt that Port Canaveral was the ideal location to offer our guests a value-rich onboard experience and exciting action-packed ports-of-call, including an overnight call in Havana, Cuba,” said Andy Stuart, president and CEO for Norwegian Cruise Line, in a statement.

The Sun’s four-day cruises will also include a stop in Key West. The ship will also sail three-day cruises to the Bahamas from Orlando. The trips begin in May 2018.

Norwegian, as well as other major cruise lines including Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International, have continued to add sailings to Cuba as other travel sectors have struggled to gauge demand to the island. Airlines have concentrated most of their flights to Havana, where demand has remained strong, and eliminated flights to other parts of the island.

But cruise lines, experts say, have experienced continued growth largely because they bring their own accommodations and coordinate tours, making it easier for American travelers to follow the changing restrictions for travel to the island.

American travelers must fit within one of the 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba, including the popular “people-to-people” cultural visits that include most cruise passengers. President Donald Trump recently amended some of those restrictions, barring Americans from taking individual people-to-people trips and doing businesses with entities that are owned and controlled by Cuba’s military. Exactly how the policy works will depend on regulations that have yet to be released.

President’s Policy Still Allows Americans to Visit Cuba

While U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s new direction on Cuba will cause some changes to certain types of travel to that Caribbean island nation, the assessment of many major cruise companies is that its impact on cruise operations – both for lines sailing from U.S. or foreign ports – should be negligible.

Or, at least that’s the view in the initial stages of the new policy. Final regulations are yet to come. For more detail, see Travel Agent’s story of last Friday with a Q&A about the U.S. Department of the Treasury process for final regulations. 

People-to-People Travel

From one travel sales group’s perspective, “Cuba has proven to be a popular destination among our customers so we are pleased to learn that Americans will continue to be able to experience Cuba by cruise ship and through authorized people-to-people group travel,” said Brad Tolkin, co-chairman/CEO, World Travel Holdings.

The gist of the new rules is that any American traveling to Cuba must meet one of 12 forms of approved travel, as outlined by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations.

Typically, cruise voyages and shore excursions already meet those requirements, with shore-side activities falling under the so-called “people to people” travel category.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL), parent of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, said: “Royal Caribbean is pleased there is no impact to any of our cruises to Cuba as announced in the new U.S. policy toward Cuba today. Our guests are already enjoying curated people-to-people experiences under the approved categories of travel.”

In addition, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said it “hopes that restricting travel anywhere is unnecessary, but we are happy that the industry can continue to sail from the U.S. to Cuba under basically the same criteria that cruise lines have been required to follow.”

Tolkin, whose company represents the CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. brands, said
“the cruise industry is well positioned for this change in policy and we are confident that our customers will continue to find value in their cultural experiences and social interactions with the Cuban people.”

Cruise lines – big and small – that currently sail or will sail to Cuba this year have invested millions in marketing, promotion, infrastructure and other start-up costs for Cuba cruises.

Cuban Cruising

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, said 70,000 Americans are booked on its future Cuba cruises.

NCLH acknowledged that just a short time ago – prior to Friday’s Trump Administration announcement — it had been “very concerned about any potential changes, given how popular Cuba itineraries have proven to be with our guests.”

Now, in contrast: NCLH said: “We view this as a win for the cruise industry, our valued guests and travel partners.”

Last year, Carnival Corporation, parent of Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn Cruise Line and other brands, was the first major U.S. cruise company in the 21st century to sail into Havana harbor with its Fathom brand.

While that brand ceased to operate as a stand-alone cruise product a few weeks ago and has returned its one ship, Adonia, to P&O, the Fathom voluntourism concept continues with the activities of Carnival Corp.’s other brands.

Carnival Corp.’s Cuba experience thus far, though, has been very positive, the company said in its Cuba policy change statement, adding that it “looks forward to new cruises being planned for Cuba with Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line.” It’s also requested approval for other brands. Holland America will begin sailing to the island in December.

“We will review the extent of the tightening of the travel rules, but our guests have already been traveling under the 12 approved forms of travel to Cuba since we undertook our historic first cruise to Cuba more than a year ago,” the statement said.

Reviewing the Specifics 

Carnival Corp., RCCL and NCLH will all continue to review the full and exact scope of the policy changes and any updated regulations during the implementation period which may take several months.

But, at least given what’s known now, the cruise lines are confident the new rules won’t interfere with Americans’ ability to board a ship in Miami, Tampa, Montego Bay, Jamaica, or another port, and sail to Cuba. They also believe their guests will be able to get off for a shore trip in Cuba as long as they participate in activities that fall in the people-to-people category.

That said, cruisers likely won’t be able to wander off to make purchases at any Cuban government-run spots such as restaurants, hotels or bars, or to take off for the day independently and do anything they want – such as going to a beach or spending a day poolside, particularly if the hotel is owned by a Cuban government entity or receives funding from the Cuban military.

Havana street scene // Photo courtesy of Celestyal Cruises

Personally in favor of opening up destinations across the globe, including Cuba, is Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network. Initially, at least, he’s disappointed in the announcement, which he believes does dampen Americans’ abilities to travel freely.

“It definitely will limit the flow of U.S. travelers to Cuba, if the only option is a structured, approved, people-to-people group tour,” he believes. But he acknowledges that “until there is an actual government policy in place, and the Cuban government reacts, it’s hard to say how this will fully impact travel to Cuba.”

OFAC issued this statement: “Following the issuance of OFAC’s regulatory changes, travel-related transactions with prohibited entities identified by the State Department generally will not be permitted. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations.”

That said, OFAC also said: “The forthcoming regulations will be prospective and thus will not affect existing
contracts and licenses.”

The Big Three

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been very vocal in opposition to the Obama Administration’s Cuba policies and is highly supportive of President Trump’s new position on Cuba. Sen. Rubio said the previous policies supported the Castro regime, and not the Cuban people.

However, Sen. Rubio also represents a state that’s home to the “Big Three” U.S.-based cruise companies — Carnival Corp, RCCL and NCLH, which have a lot of economic muscle.

Collectively, they employ tens of thousands and all have their corporate headquarters in Miami-Dade County, FL. They also operate from PortMiami, Port Everglades, Port Canaveral, JAXPort and the Port of Tampa, with statewide economic impact.

One high-level executive source within one of the three big cruise companies told us, “yes,” his company had lobbied the Trump Administration about the importance of keeping cruise travel to Cuba flowing, given the economic benefits and jobs involved within the U.S. But he wished to remain anonymous.

He did say there were both individual discussions between his company and the administration, plus the collective industry efforts of CLIA, which noted in its statement that “travel enhances the lives of all people.”

From the cruise industry perspective, though, there’s clearly a big sigh of relief that cruise travel is still permitted, even if time ashore becomes more structured for guests. “CLIA Cruise Line Members are pleased for the opportunity to facilitate travel to Cuba that promotes important educational, social and cultural exchanges,” said CLIA’s statement.

“We will work with the Administration to comply with any changes to those and any other regulations that will result from its decision,” said the NCLH statement. “We are also pleased that education travel and travel that supports the Cuban people will continue.”

“We are delighted our guests will continue to have the opportunity to experience the wonderful culture and incredible history of Cuba along with the warmth and friendliness of the Cuban people through OFAC-compliant shore excursions that support private businesses and the Cuban people, an opportunity that was restricted for over 50 years,” the NCLH statement also said.

The opening up of Cuba is far more than just business for Frank Del Rio, NCLH president and CEO. He arrived from Cuba with his family as a child, and, unlike Sen. Rubio, Del Rio has been a vocal proponent of cruising and travel as a way to create economic development and make life better for the people of the island.

Del Rio still has relatives in Havana and spoke about his views on Cuba cruising during the annual Cruise360 conference at Port Everglades in April.

Small Ship Lines Speak Out 

It’s not only big lines, though, who’ve hoped for the outcome announced Friday. Now in its fourth year of Cuban cruise operations and with a robust cruise itinerary that circumnavigates Cuba, Celestyal Cruises told Travel Agent it’s already in compliance with the Trump administration changes regarding travel to the island.

In a statement, Nicholas Filippidis, Celestyal’s director of business development in North America, said: “For U.S. travelers, a comprehensive people-to-people itinerary is offered by Celestyal Cruises that meets U.S. legal requirements for a full-time program of educational and cultural exchange activities.

“Special shore excursions have been designed to comply with OFAC regulations while providing opportunities for personal discovery and enrichment traveling as part of the people-to-people group on each sailing…Celestyal Cruises provides certification attesting to the participation of American citizens in the approved People-to-People group program.”

He said that American passengers can simply book their cruise, either with a travel agent or on the line’s website, and register for the People-to-People group  program with details at this link.

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic said it’s reviewed the new U.S. policy changes toward Cuba announced by the Trump administration, and “indications are that our Cuba program can go forward unchanged. Our program is — and has always been — in compliance with the educational travel requirement.”

The line said all arrangements have already been confirmed for our second season in Cuba, which begins December 6, 2017 and continues through March 2018 aboard the 46-guest Harmony V.

“We look forward to introducing our guests to Cuba’s cultural heritage and natural wonders on our People-to-People land and sea program,” the line said.

A Waiting Game

So now it’s a waiting game for those final government regulations related to the new policy. It likely won’t happen overnight, experts say.

Block said that “while Americans [including cruisers] can continue to legally visit Cuba – with some restrictions –  we’ll work with our clients so they know that Friday’s announced policy changes will not go into effect tomorrow, next week or even next month.”

But his advice is that “for American travelers seeking a slightly less-structured visit to Cuba, they shouldn’t delay. Now is the time to go.”

Cruise line insiders, though, say it could have been far worse. For now, the cruise industry is just happy Cuba is still on the map for Caribbean cruise itineraries.

What The Cruise Lines Won’t Tell You About Cuba


(the following article was written by Greg Shapiro)

Of all the ports I’ve sailed into as a crew member, Havana is my favorite. I fell in love with the city while working as a guide on the first round of Cuba cruises. We were the only ship from the United States, with just 700 passengers every 2 weeks. This summer is the beginning of a new era for Havana. If you’re considering a cruise to Cuba, don’t hesitate! But make sure you follow my insider tips to get the most out of your visit.

#1- Don’t miss the sail in: Sailing into Havana is like going back in time. On the port side of the ship, you’ll get up close and personal with the Morro Castle as you sail through the narrow harbor. On the starboard side, you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of hustle and bustle of central Havana, Art Deco facades, classic cars, and pedestrian traffic on the Malécon, Cuba’s ocean-front boulevard. Get a good spot on the top deck early in the morning and bring your binoculars.

#2- Carry a lot of water with you: It’s going to be a long, sweaty day and you need water by your side. I suggest investing in a 40 oz. Hydroflask. Fill it with ice and water from the ship before disembark. You’ll have cold water for 12+ hours and create less waste from buying and disposing plastic bottles.

3- Don’t get stuck in the line to exchange money: Your credit and debit cards from the United States likely won’t work in Cuba so you’ll need to exchange money…and so does everyone else. Either get off the ship before you’re fellow cruisers, or get stuck in an hour long backup at the exchange booths in the cruise terminal. Another option is to exchange money at the San José Artisans Market down the street. Save money: Make sure you bring Euros, Pounds, or Canadian Dollars to avoid the extra 10% exchange fee on United States Dollars.

#4- Get away from the bus: Tours are great, but let’s face it, you spend more time stuck on a bus than you do immersing in the local culture. Budget some time in your schedule to stroll around the Plazas of Old Havana or visit a museum near Parque Central. Just make sure you check the “self-guided” box when you fill out your affidavit. This means that you agree to document the educational and cultural activities you do while you’re in Cuba.

#5- Do some research beforehand: Enrichment presentations can be hit or miss, so don’t wait until you’re onboard to start thinking about Cuban politics and culture. This doesn’t mean you have to bury your head in a long history book. Rent the movie Una Noche. It’s a thriller about teenagers who try and escape Havana on a homemade raft. If you’re looking for a quick and easy read, checkout my cruise-friendly guide 12 Hours in Havana available on Amazon.

About the Author:
Greg Shapiro is a millennial travel hacker, an expert at packing lots of fun into short periods of time. From backpacking South America to sailing around the world, he’s visited over 35 countries and counting.

My First Travel News Letter

May 30, 2017

Tourwithdave Travel tips

First edition

As most of you know I love to travel. Also I enjoy researching and learning new things about places and events.  So I thought I would share a few items I have come across in the past few weeks and months.  This is not intended to be in-depth but just to give you enough information so you will want to go and find out more for yourself.  So let’s begin.


As some of you know I took a group to Cuba about a year ago.  We really had a great time.  Since that time a lot of cruise ships have announced they are going to include Cuba in their itinerary. The latest to do so just a few days ago is Holland America.  They will begin sailing to Cuba from Fort Lauderdale starting on December 22nd of this year.  It will be aboard the Veendam.  Most of the cruise ships that are going to Cuba usually stay docked in Havana for a day or two and then go to other places in the Caribbean.

One interesting thing about travel to Cuba is that it has not been as big a draw as many of the American based airlines thought it would.  Therefore some of the flights that were announced have been cut back.  There are plenty of seats still available but you might not have a large a selection as you did six months ago.

Finally on Cuba you still are required to list one of 12 reasons why you want to go to Cuba.  Just to go to beach does not count.  The most popular is “people to people” tours where you go out and meet many of the average Cubans and even stay in some of their homes.  We did this on our trip and it was just as good as staying in a Bed and Breakfast here in America.  A visa is required to go to Cuba.

Mississippi Delta

If you have not been to the Mississippi Delta recently you should go.  One new attraction that is getting a lot of attention is the Grammy Museum in Cleveland.  There are two Grammy Museum in America, one in Los Angeles and the other in Cleveland, Mississippi. The reason Cleveland was selected was because per capita there are more Grammy winners from the Mississippi Delta area than anywhere else in America.  Now that is saying something.

There is a large Taylor Swift exhibit at the museum until August of this year.  Also you will have a chance to see a ten minute video about Taylor Swift and all the Grammys she has won.  It is really professionally done.  In addition they also have a wonderful film that showcases all of the Grammy winners across the decades.  By now they will have the 2017 Grammy winners included in the film.  The cost is only about ten dollars to get in.  So it is quite reasonable

Remember you can see many other tourist articles at my web site

Holland America Line to Visit Cuba


(This article was recently posted in Travel Agent Central publication)

Holland America Line has become the latest Carnival Corporation brand to sail to Cuba. The line just announced it has received approval to begin sailings to the country from Fort Lauderdale starting with a December 22, 2017, 12-day holiday itinerary onboard the Veendam.

Holland America Line’s parent company, Carnival Corporation, also offers Cuba cruises onboard its Fathom and Carnival Cruise Line brands. Cruises onboard Fathom will cease in June when that brand’s sole ship, the Adonia, returns to P&O Cruises. At the time of the announcement that Fathom would cease operations, Tara Russell, Fathom’s president, said the company was looking to “expand the Fathom experience to other markets in the future.” Carnival Cruise Line, meanwhile, offers four- and five-day cruises calling at Havana on Carnival Paradise from Tampa starting in June. Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Line, recently toldcruise editor Susan J. Young that the sailings are set to tap in to “pent-up demand” for the country.

The new Holland America cruises will include nine seven-day itineraries calling at Havana. Three itineraries, as well as the inaugural holiday cruise, will also call at Cienfuegos. Depending on the departure day, cruises include the Cuba ports, as well as a combination of Caribbean ports, including Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; Belize City, Belize; Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman; Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos; Key West, Florida; and Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Most of Holland America’s itineraries will include an extended call at Havana, the line said. Itineraries with stops at Cienfuegos will allow the opportunity to visit Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In addition to the seven-day cruises, an 11-day spring cruise sails March 17, 2018, and also features the Cuban ports of Havana and Cienfuegos, as well as Key West, Cozumel, Montego Bay and George Town. The final seven-day Cuba sailing departs on April 18, 2018.

Onboard, the line will offer Cuba experiences through the line’s Explorations Central (EXC) program, which includes EXC Guides who will host presentations and EXC Talks to help guests understanding life in Cuba. EXC will also have EXC Port Maps created for the Cuban calls, EXC Encounters to showcase the destination’s history and culture, and more. Additionally, educational and cultural EXC Tours are being developed to explore Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad.

Bookings for Holland America Line’s cruises to Cuba will open May 26, 2017. Guests booked on Veendam’s previous deployment will be given a full refund and opportunity to book on another Holland America Line voyage, the line said. Fares for Cuba cruises begin at $899 per person, double occupancy. Taxes, fees and port expenses are additional.

The Latest in Cuba Cruises

The new itineraries from Holland America join a number of expanded cruise options to Cuba.

Recently Royal Caribbean announced plans for its newly refreshed Empress of the Seas sail 58 four- and five-night cruise itineraries to Cuba from January 2018 through March 2019, more than half offering overnight stays in Havana. The ship will return to Tampa for summer 2018, offering a series of four- and five-night cruises, calling on Key WestFlorida, and Costa Maya and CozumelMexico, as well as Havana, Cuba, on most sailings. Afterwards, the ship will reposition to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the winter 2018-2019 season.

Additionally, Azamara Club Cruises recently announced the addition of four new sailings to its lineup of Cuba itineraries. Departing from Miami, the new sailings will overnight in Havana and call at new maiden ports for the line Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Earlier this month, Norwegian SkyNorwegian Cruise Line’s first ship to sail to Cuba, made its inaugural call in Havana. The ship will sail a total of 53 four-day roundtrip Cuba itineraries out of Miami, including an overnight stay in Havana. The ship will also call on Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s private island in the Bahamas.


Travel to Cuba has Cooled

The 2017 survey showed that 40 percent of Americans would be interested in taking a trip to Cuba (two percent fewer than in 2016) while the easing of travel restrictions made just 26 percent of Americans more interested in visiting the country (nine percent fewer than 2016). Seventy-six percent reported being unlikely to plan a trip to Cuba (six percent more than 2016).

Although Americans are losing interest in traveling to Cuba, the survey showed that 17% of Americans felt the recent announcements of cruise lines now sailing to Cuba has made them more interested in visiting the Caribbean island.

What are American’s biggest travel concerns about visiting Cuba?

  • 38% Safety concerns
  • 22% Lack of Cuba’s travel experiences
  • 13% Travel infastructure
  • 12% Fear of communist government
  • 9% Internet/mobile connectivity

The survey also measured sentiment and discovered that 34 percent of Americans think Cuba has changed for the better because of as a result of the U.S. having eased travel restrictions to the country.

Sponsored Links

What makes Americans interested in visiting Cuba?

  • 32% Resorts and beaches
  • 23% Cuba’s cultural attractions
  • 13% Cuban food and rum
  • 9% Cuban people
  • 9% Classic 1950s American cars
  • 7% Cuban cigars
  • 7% Family and friends

The survey also found that 15 percent of Americans believe the peace of mind of having travel insurance would make them more interested in traveling to Cuba.

The survey was administered from April 11, 2017 through April 13, 2017 and received 1,514 responses.

Allianz Global Assistance offers travel insurance through most major U.S. airlines, leading travel agents, online travel agencies, other travel suppliers and directly to consumers. For more information on Allianz Global Assistance and the policies offered for travelers, please visit:


Norwegian Cruise Line offers more trips to Cuba

Norwegian Cruise Line is ramping up its Cuba sailings for 2018, offering 33 new roundtrip voyages from Miami.

Sailings will take place on the Norwegian Sky, which will begin its 2018 Cuba cruise season in March with four-day roundtrip cruises to the destination, 32 of which will include an overnight stay in Havana.

The new cruises will begin on March 26, 2018, and are in addition to the previously announced 30 Cuba calls that the cruise line will offer through this December. Those cruises start in June 2017 and also include overnight Havana stays, as well as a call on Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s private island in the Bahamas.

On 2017 and 2018 itineraries Norwegian guests in Havana can enjoy visits to historical sites like Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; explorations of the city’s art and music scene; and visits with locals through people-to-people exchanges.

Norwegian said it will offer 15 half- and full-day OFAC-compliant shore excursions, offering guests the opportunity to have a farm to table dining experience, explore the flora and fauna of Soroa, see Havana in an American classic car and more.

2018 itineraries will also call at Great Stirrup Cay.

Guests onboard the Norwegian Sky can enjoy included dining, entertainment and unlimited beer, wine and premium spirits through an updated policy Norwegian rolled out in 2015. Guests three to 20 years of age can enjoy unlimited sodas and juice. All-inclusive prices onboard Norwegian Sky do not include taxes, gratuities or specialty restaurant charges.

Norwegian Cruise Line was approved for travel to Cuba late last year along with the two other brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, under the umbrella of its parent company, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. Cuba cruises are also available on Oceania Marina, as well as Seven Seas Mariner.

Bookings for Norwegian Sky’s four-day cruises to Cuba for 2018 open April 20.


Five Star Hotel Opens in Cuba



(this was recently posted in Travel Agent Central)

Kempinski Hotels has announced that it will open its first hotel in Cuba in the second quarter of this year.

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana will have 246 rooms and suites and is located within the historic Manzana de Gomez building in the heart of Old Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“We are very pleased to be opening this outstanding hotel in the spring,” said Markus Semer, CEO of Kempinski Hotels, in a written release. “The opening is a continuation of our pioneering spirit as the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana will be Cuba’s first modern luxury five-star hotel. And its location within a famous historic building currently makes it the most exclusive hotel project in Old Havana.”

Guests can choose from 246 luxury rooms and suites, ranging in size from 430 feet to the presidential suite’s roughly 1,600 feet. Other hotel highlights include a rooftop terrace and swimming pool with views of the city.

There will also be a spa managed by Resense, three restaurants, a lobby bar, a cigar lounge, and a business center.


Sail around Cuba

AdventureSmith Explorations is giving travelers another way to see Cuba with the launch of eight-day cruises along the country’s western and southern coastlines. Most of the sailing is done at night, leaving plenty of time for escorted people-to-people tours.

Highlights include Havana, for a bus tour and an exchange with musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club; Maria LaGorda, for an excursion to Guanahacabibes National Park, one of Cuba’a largest nature reserves; and Cay Largo, for visits to a local medical clinic and a sea turtle breeding center.

Other highlights include the Spanish colonial town of Trinidad and visits with local artists, and Cienfuegos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Panorama, a three-masted sail cruiser, can accommodate up to 49 passengers in 25 cabins.

Dates: Dec. 19-26 and Dec. 26-Jan. 2. Additional tours in January, February, March and April.

Price: From $4,799 per person in a double cabin. Includes round-trip airfare to Havana from Miami, visa and all required licenses, all meals from arrival in Cuba to breakfast on departure, mandatory Cuban medical insurance and transportation.

Info: AdventureSmith Explorations, (800) 728-2875


Cruise Ships are gonig to Cuba


(recent article in Miami Herald)

Havana was exploding in yanqui frenzy. Seven hundred Americans streamed across its streets one steamy May 2016 morning on an expedition of rediscovery. They were the first to arrive via sea since John F. Kennedy was president.

The wave of change was crashing over Cuba.

For passengers on this historic voyage, the visit included hours of tours through the city’s highlight reel. Dinner at a private Cuban restaurant, un paladar. Rides in classic — Cubans would call them rustic — 1950s cars, los almendrones. Strolls through the centuries-old Spanish squares of La Habana Vieja.

But for Miami cruise expert Stewart Chiron and his son Bryan, then 13, Cuba’s unique allure really came to life when they walked into a Havana historical powerhouse: el Hotel Nacional.

Built in 1930 by a U.S. firm and U.S. architects, el Nacional was a haven for American mobsters and starlets. It also was the scene of a bloody siege key to the eventual rise of former dictator Fulgencio Batista. A bunker on the grounds dates to the Cuban Missile Crisis — the threat that eventually prompted Kennedy to sign the Cuba trade embargo that banned most trade and travel between U.S. citizens and the Communist island.

The embargo is still in place. But rules relaxed in 2014 by the U.S. government that allow its citizens to visit for cultural exchanges brought about 615,000 U.S. tourists last year to taste the long-forbidden apple in the Caribbean’s Garden of Eden. This year, an estimated 172,000 tourists will come via nine ships from eight U.S.-based cruise lines.

Until now, other travel sectors, such as airlines and hotels, have struggled to satiate a massive American appetite to see Cuba while dealing with the island’s antiquated infrastructure. Airlines have reduced flights and hotels have lowered their inflated prices. The cruise lines are expected to face that conundrum too, but to a much lesser degree because their unique form of accommodation offers a protection from the island’s shortage of modern hotels and efficient highways — for now.

“Everybody knows, both here and there, that there will have to be infrastructure development to support the onward growth,” said Adam Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises, whose lines Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises will sail to Cuba this year. “Those are just the realities of going to a place that is super interesting and has limitations [and] constraints.” Over time, Cuba’s restaurants, ports, roads, hotels and other tourist facilities will improve, he believes. “But all of that is [still] totally in its infancy.”

In the travel boom spurred by former President Barack Obama’s 2014 announcement of detente, international hotel companies signed building contracts and airlines scrambled to earn a chunk of the 110 available daily flight slots. U.S. arrivals in Cuba ballooned 34 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s chief negotiator with the U.S. Hotel rates soared between 100 and 400 percent, with rooms previously priced at $150 per night skyrocketing to $650, according to New York-based tour operator Insight Cuba. American Airlines, JetBlue, Spirit and others started operating daily flights to 10 cities, including airports that hadn’t welcomed U.S. airlines in decades.

As the dust has started to settle, hotel rates have normalized. Airlines that overshot demand for Cuba are cutting back on routes and using smaller planes. The reason: Cuba can be comparatively expensive and traveling there is sometimes cumbersome.

The average round-trip airfare for Cuba from the U.S. was about $342 in February, according to data from Airlines Reporting Corp. While less than the Caribbean round-trip average that month of $594, the fare is relatively high for travel to an island that has a limited number of hotel rooms — only 64,231 in 2015, according to a December Florida International University report on tourism in Cuba, or about 10,000 more than in Miami-Dade — meaning travelers may be hard pressed to find accommodations in their budget. Even taxi drivers, classic car drivers and paladar owners have increased their prices, sometimes doubling or tripling them, according to Insight Cuba.

But many of those challenges don’t exist on a cruise ship. So while airlines have cut back, cruise lines have pushed forward, adding itineraries through the end of the year. By the end of 2017, eight U.S. lines — seven based in Miami — will offer Cuba itineraries. Sailings aboard Carnival Corp.’s pioneering Fathom, which inaugurated U.S. cruise service, will be discontinued after June, but only because demand for its every-other-week trips to the Dominican Republic didn’t match the strength of its Cuba component.

“The cruise industry is pretty well contained, so we bring our own food, we bring our own garbage disposal systems, we want to leave as little footprint as possible but add to the economic prosperity that tourism overall brings,” said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which will sail to Cuba on all three of its lines: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas.

Read more here: