How to Cruise to Cubaby Danielle Contray | July 21, 2016
The classic cars, colorful architecture, and samba beat of Cuba are within reach for U.S. citizens since the Obama administration loosened travel restrictions in March 2016. Americans are now free to visit the country as long as they participate in cultural exchanges, known as people-to-people programs, that involve tours and visits meant to teach travelers about the island’s communities. Cruises to Cuba are also on the rise, but only cruise lines with an arrangement with the Cuban government to offer these programs can allow U.S. citizens on board. There are currently a few options for U.S. travelers looking to cruise to Cuba, and the roster of ships is expected to grow quickly as several lines are currently waiting for approval.
The only ship in the Fathom line (part of the Carnival Corporation), in May the 704-passenger Adonia became the first cruise ship to offer regular sailings to the island from the U.S. in more than 50 years. The ship does round-trip sailings every other week year-round from Miami with stops in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Cienfuegos. Programs on and off the ship satisfy the people-to-people requirement, with local music troupes coming on board for performances, plus daily trips to learn about community projects.
The 960-passenger Celestyal Crystal, part of the Greek line Celestyal, offers weeklong cruises year-round out of Montego Bay, Jamaica. The ship docks in the same three ports as Adonia, with an additional stop on the Isle of Youth off the coast of Cuba. U.S. citizens have been able to cruise to Cuba with Celestyal Crystal since the ship began cruising to the island in 2014, provided that American travelers arranged their own person-to-person programs. In November 2015 the line launched its own program — which includes lectures by a professor from the University of Havana, rumba classes, and visits with artists — and U.S. citizens are automatically enrolled when they book a cruise.
Another option for Americans looking for a Cuba cruise is the 48-passenger Panorama, chartered by International Expeditions. The company, which has been doing land tours on the island for more than a decade, has a people-to-people license and began offering the cruises to U.S. travelers in 2015. The trips start with a charter flight from Miami and include time in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Cienfuegos. The ship’s size means it can visit smaller ports as well, including the island of Cayo Largo, a habitat for green sea turtles.
Like International Expeditions, National Geographic Expeditions previously offered land-based tours of Cuba to U.S. travelers and is now venturing into cruises. The first National Geographic Expeditions Cuba cruise will be in December 2016 and will include a charter flight from Miami to Havana, two days on land in the island’s capital, and a seven-day cruise on the 44-passenger Panorama II. The cruise will visit Cienfuegos as well as the Bay of Pigs and the Jardines de la Reina, where passengers will meet with researchers who are working to preserve the coral reefs.
Danielle Contray is the Brooklyn-based managing editor of ShermansCruise.