December 17, 2014
(4:15 p.m. EST) -- The White House's move toward normalizing relations with Cuba has fueled interest among American cruise passengers hoping to visit, although the agreement doesn't allow U.S.-based cruise ships to call.
Cruise Critic members are busy speculating when cruise ships might be allowed to call, what lines would get there first and whether the island has the infrastructure to handle mainstream ships.
"Would go to Havana tomorrow if my passport would be accepted," wrote legion3 on the Carnival cruise board. "A proper cigar, mojito with Cuban rum and cool Cuban tunes on a verandah overlooking Havana harbor at night."
For now, the conversation is moot. While President Obama's deal with Cuban President Raul Castro calls for loosening of banking, commerce and some travel (as well as establishing a US Embassy in Cuba), it does not lift the ban on mass tourism. That would require congressional approval.
Still, the announcement does give hope to Americans who want to explore Cuba.
Other nationalities can currently visit, and the island is a cruise destination for several lines, including the U.K.-based Fred. Olsen, Noble Caledonia and Thomson Cruises. Cuba Cruise, a Canadian company, had its first season of cruises around the island last year and will be doing it again this winter.
There's no question that cruise lines would benefit if Cuba opens for tourism. In a report released shortly after President Obama's speech, USB Analyst Robin Farley noted that cruise lines stand to gain more, in a quicker amount of time, than American hotels.
"Cuba would represent a new itinerary with significant pent up demand from American tourists," she wrote. "Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and only 230 miles from Miami, allowing it to be part of a variety of itineraries…Cuba could prompt many cruise passengers who've already been to many Caribbean ports to return to a Carib itinerary to see a unique and novel port."
One immediate effect of the ban that's sure to please duty-free hounds: Americans can now bring up to $100 in Cuban alcohol and tobacco into the country, without penalty.
Would you want to visit Cuba, if the laws change? Vote in our poll!
--By Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor