(10:00 a.m. EDT) -- Fathom, the new social impact and people-to-people cruise brand launched by Carnival Corporation, will begin allowing Cuban-born U.S. citizens and residents to book cruises to Cuba.
Though Cuba has not officially amended its law to permit Cuban-born travelers to arrive in the country via ship, the cruise company has been in ongoing discussions with the Cuban government to allow cruise ships to operate in the same manner as air charter operations, which are allowed to transport Cuban-born individuals into and out of the island country.
The line said it is "optimistic" that Cuba will make the necessary changes, but also said if Cuba doesn't make a decision past May 1, the company will delay the start of Fathom's Cuba cruises accordingly.
"We want everyone to be able to go to Cuba with us," said Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp. in a prepared statement. "We remain excited about this historic opportunity to give our guests an extraordinary vacation experience in Cuba."
Fathom is set to launch its first Cuba-bound cruise May 1, marking the first time in more than 50 years that a cruise ship has sailed from the United States to Cuba.
When the policy against Cuban Americans came to light, it sparked protests at Carnival Corporation in Miami, as well as some lawsuits. At a press conference onboard Adonia today, Arnold acknowledged the timing was prompted by the spotlight put on the issue. “There was a lot of noise in Miami.” He also said Carnival Corp. employs a lot of Cuban Americans and people who live in that community.
"We at Carnival Corporation or at Fathom have never said that Cubans can't go. … We welcome any and all traveler," Fathom's President Tara Russell said at the same press conference. "We are confident that things are changing every day."
The line's first-ever sailing departed Sunday, April 17 for the Dominican Republic a week after its originally scheduled inaugural cruise was canceled when the Coast Guard found problems with the fire safety doors on its single ship, Adonia. The line's sailings to the Dominican Republic will focus on voluntourism and social impact.
Cruise Critic is onboard the inaugural sailing. For a look at some of Fathom's activities, read our stories on volunteering at a recycling workshop, working at a coffee plantation, delivering water filters and teaching English.
--By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor