Are Cruises to Cuba in Our Future?

April 3, 2009

Could cruising to Cuba become a reality after a 47-year embargo? It looks that way after a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act on Tuesday. The measure, introduced by Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, calls for ending the current ban on travel to Cuba. An accompanying bill in the House of Representatives, which has garnered the support of 121 co-sponsors, has emerged as well. As reported in Travelmole, a U.K.-based online community for the travel industry, Dorgan said Tuesday that he believed there would be enough votes in both the House and the Senate to pass the measure.

Cruise lines sail around the largest of the Caribbean islands all the time, so naturally calls in Cuba could be in the future of cruising, but nothing is set in stone. Vance Gulliksen of Carnival Cruise Lines tells us, "It's premature to start talking and speculating about it until Cuba actually does open up." NCL spokeswoman Courtney Recht assured us that the company is always interested in providing guests with new and exciting ports of call, and reminded us that the company has already announced itinerary plans through 2011 -- which means even if Cuba does become accessible, it will be at least a few years before you'll see it on an itinerary.

However, we must note that cruise lines can and do change itineraries after they've been published. A factor more likely to delay ships' arrival to Cuba is the length of time needed to develope adequate port facilities.

Both Oceania and Crystal Cruises have previously expressed interest in calling on Cuba should the ban be removed.

This isn't the first time a lift of the travel ban has been discussed. Last February, Fidel Castro gave up his seat as the country's leader to his brother Raul, and the move sparked hopes of more diplomatic relationships between Cuba and the United States -- including the prospect of opening up American tourism to the island.

Estimates by the Brattle Group, an economic consulting firm, back in 2002 revealed that lifting the ban on travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens would lure about 3 million Americans to Cuba per year, create more than 20,000 jobs and generate tourism-related revenues to the tune of $1.6 billion. Many Canadian and European visitors already flock to Cuba to indulge in warm Caribbean beaches, tropical tourist resorts, coveted Cuban cigars and the lively nightlife scene in the capital city of Havana.

Currently, just a couple of international cruise lines visit Cuba. Ports include Havana, at the northwest end of the island, and Santiago de Cuba, to the southeast, but ship visits are rare. Over the next 20 months, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has just three cruises with calls in one or both ports, and German-based Hapag Lloyd has only a few sailings that visit Cuba.

We'll be following this story very closely and will keep you updated as developments arise. What are your thoughts? Would you book a cruise that had a Cuban port of call on its itinerary? Vote in our poll and share your opinion.

--by Kim Kazell, Assistant Editor