Round-Cuba Cruises Start In November

October 21, 2010
Siboney Beach, Santiago de Cuba (6:45 a.m. EDT) -- Tropicana Cruises, a new cruise line, will start services from Havana, Cuba on November 6 -- if it can fill its ship.

The Belize-registered company, which has offices in London and St. Petersburg, has bought a vessel, set up its itineraries, obtained the necessary certificates to operate, and cruised the vessel from France, where it was based, to Havana, all in the space of a few weeks.

Now the challenge is to sell cruises, from a standing start, on the maiden voyage, which departs in just over two weeks.

The vessel, the 4,490-ton, 300-passenger Adriana, is the former Adriana III, previously operated by French line Plein Cap. It's an elderly ship, built in 1972, with fairly basic facilities. But in Cuba, it's the itinerary that counts and Adriana will sail from Havana to Cayo Saetia, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad and Hueva Gerona, all in Cuba, as well as Ocho Rios in Jamaica, where passengers can board as an alternative to embarking in Havana.

"Nobody really 'does' Cuba apart from one-day calls to Havana and this is an opportunity to cruise all around the island and see the culture," a spokesman for the line told us today.

As well as choosing these fairly cutting edge ports of call, the fledgling cruise line is taking a risk with its passenger mix. The cruises will be marketed in Russia, as Russians have a strong affinity with Cuba (many did their military service there and the island is served by direct Aeroflot flights from Moscow). At the same time, the Spain, German and the UK are being targeted.

The cruises will not be marketed in the USA as American citizens can't visit Cuba without a license from the US government -- and there are no direct flights from the USA to Cuba.

"We may break down the cruises so that we have a Russian week, then an English-speaking week, and so on," the spokesman continued. This may be essential to the line's success; whether Brits and other Europeans would enjoy a cruise on which the majority of guests were Russian is debatable, as there are strong cultural differences, not to mention a language barrier.

Although plans for this new operation sound rather vague, and the maiden voyage is, we're told by the line, far from full, specialist cruise agents in the U.K. are enthusiastic about Tropicana. Kevin Griffin, managing director of London-based The Cruise People, told Cruise Critic: "The Adriana had developed a very good name in the French market where she had been operating for Plein Cap since 1997."

Cruises are priced in Euros and will start from €785 per person for a seven-night voyage, cruise-only, in a four-berth cabin (€995 in a two-berth); not cheap when you bear in mind that Thomson sells a fortnight on Thomson Dream with two days in Havana from £1,215 and Fred. Olsen's three Cuban cruises, with two nights in Havana, cost from £1,559, also including flights.

Are you tempted? Let us know!

--By Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor