What Trump's New Cuba Policy Means for the Cruise Industry

June 16, 2017
Street sidelined by decaying buildings in Old Havana with a big cuban flag

(5:08 p.m. EDT) -- Cruises to Cuba will continue as usual under President Donald Trump's new policy.

At an event held in Miami's Little Havana on Friday, the President revealed and signed his administration's new policy, which includes tightening restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba. The restrictions previously had been loosened under former President Barack Obama. In attendance were Cuban-American supporters that included Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart.

The new rules maintain the requirement that Americans traveling to Cuba must do so under the 12 approved forms, with which American-based cruise lines already comply. All cruises and shore excursions follow the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations.

However, purchases at any Cuban government-run facilities, such as bars and restaurants, will be prohibited. Cruise lines will study the policy to determine how it could affect activities and travel costs for Americans visiting Cuba.


Cruise Lines Respond to the New Policy

Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd. (the parent company of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara) said in a statement: "Royal Caribbean is pleased there is no impact to any of our cruises to Cuba as announced in the new U.S. policy toward Cuba today. Our guests are already enjoying curated people-to-people experiences under the approved categories of travel.

"We will continue to review the full and exact scope of the policy changes and any updated regulations during the implementation period which may take several months."

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. -- which oversees Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises -- released a similar statement and added: "…We will work with the Administration to comply with any changes to those and any other regulations that will result from its decision. We are also pleased that education travel and travel that supports the Cuban people will continue."

Similarly, Carnival Corporation -- which became the first American-owned mainstream cruise company to visit Cuba in May 2016 with now-defunct line Fathom -- said in a statement: "We will review the extent of the tightening of the travel rules, but our guests have already been traveling under the 12 approved forms of travel to Cuba since we undertook our historic first cruise to Cuba more than a year ago.

"Our experience in Cuba this past year has been extremely positive. We look forward to the new cruises being planned for Cuba with Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line. We also have requested approval for our other brands to travel to Cuba.

"Travel brings people and cultures together, so we are excited about the upcoming cruises to Cuba for our guests."

Carnival Corp. continues to offer Cuba cruises through Carnival Cruise Line, while its Holland America brand will begin visiting the country December 2017. 


Royal Caribbean ship pulling into Havana

Cruisers Voice Unanswered Questions

On the Cruise Critic Boards, speculation ensued after the new policy was revealed. Cruise Critic member gwesq said in the Cuba forums, "While it certainly seems the cruise lines can continue with their Cuba itineraries, it seems unclear whether the passengers can hire individual cars/drivers in Cuba, or if they must do a ship's tour.

"Having been there recently, I can definitely say that an individual, personalized tour is 1000% better than a ship's tour. In my case, it allowed for a very personal, emotional experience that I never could have had on a group tour. I do want to go back, but have to wait and see exactly what the regs will say about private tours."

Cruise Critic member pfopma added, "I was thinking that too -- not affecting the Cruise itself but only how you spend your time in port. This may also affect the shore excursions. I am sure a majority of the tours are run by government controlled companies now.

"If the cruise lines are no longer allowed to use these companies, will the non-government-run companies be allowed to pick up the slack? And will there be enough of them to fill the demand if this is the only option? Will the Cuban government let the cruise lines negotiate with these companies? Still a lot of unanswered questions about the future of cruising to Cuba. I can see many cruise lines pulling out of Cuba if it becomes a hassle."


The Government Provides Some Answers

Ahead of Trump's announcement, the OFAC today answered frequently asked questions on the new policy.

In response to a question of whether or not cruise ships or passenger vessels would be affected, it said: "Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will still be able to engage in authorized travel to Cuba by cruise ship or passenger vessel.

"Following the issuance of OFAC's regulatory changes, travel-related transactions with prohibited entities identified by the State Department generally will not be permitted. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations."

Learn more about cruising to Cuba, as well as which lines go there, in our Cuba cruising tips.

--By Gina Kramer, Editor