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The Trump Administration announced new travel restrictions that will end cruises to Cuba departing from the U.S. (Photo: RHIMAGE/Shutterstock)
The Trump Administration announced new travel restrictions that will end cruises to Cuba departing from the U.S. (Photo: RHIMAGE/Shutterstock)

US Government Changes Cuba Travel Policies, Ends Cuba Cruises for American Citizens

The Trump Administration announced new travel restrictions that will end cruises to Cuba departing from the U.S. (Photo: RHIMAGE/Shutterstock)
The Trump Administration announced new travel restrictions that will end cruises to Cuba departing from the U.S. (Photo: RHIMAGE/Shutterstock)
Erica Silverstein

Last updated
Oct 10, 2019

(Updated 12:31 p.m. EDT) -- The Trump Administration announced new travel restrictions on June 4 that will effectively end Cuba cruises from the U.S., carrying American citizens.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury is ending the authorization for group people-to-people educational travel to Cuba, which is how cruise lines legally transport and tour U.S. citizens in Cuba. The Associated Press reports that the Commerce Department also has new rules:

“Cruise ships as well as recreational and pleasure vessels are prohibited from departing the U.S. on temporary sojourn to Cuba effective [June 5],” the Commerce Department said in a statement reported by the AP.

Modern Cuba cruising for Americans began in 2015, when President Obama allowed cruise companies to access group people-to-people licenses to bring U.S. citizens to Cuba, as long as they participated in cultural and educational activities onshore. By 2017, many major cruise lines were selling Cuba itineraries, which have proved to be a popular way for Americans to enjoy the Caribbean’s largest island.

The change in administrations brought about a policy shift toward Cuba, with restrictions increasing, leading this week's announcement.

Cruise Critic has reached out to the cruise lines operating Cuba cruises for information on how the new policy changes are being handled. Below is a breakdown of the updates we've received, so far.

Carnival | Royal Caribbean | Norwegian | Viking | MSC Cruises | Oceania | Virgin Voyages | Azamara

Carnival Corporation

The parent company of Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line and Seabourn, among several other brands, today issued the following statement:

"Carnival Corporation confirmed today that due to changes in U.S. policy, the company will no longer be permitted to sail to Cuba effective immediately. Currently, Carnival Corporation is sailing to Cuba on Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line, and Seabourn has been scheduled to begin sailing in November to Cuba. Additional details will be provided for currently booked cruises by the cruise lines."

Carnival Cruise Line shared its own statement today:

"Effective June 5th, the U.S. government imposed a series of new sanctions on Cuba prohibiting cruise ship travel to Cuba. As a result, we are replacing our calls to Havana with an alternative port to provide our guests with the best experience ashore. The following options are available for guest with 2019 Cuba cruise reservations:

"Remain on the sailing: receive US$100, per person, onboard credit – no need to call us if you are continuing with your plans to sail with us Move to another itinerary: receive US$50, per person, onboard credit Cancel booking: receive a full refund

"Guests who were booked to travel on a 2020 sailing may remain on the sailing, move to another itinerary (note: no onboard credit will be offered in either case) or cancel and receive a full refund. Revised itineraries will be posted in the next 24 hours...

"We are prioritizing servicing guests that are traveling in the next few weeks. To avoid a long wait time, we kindly ask our guests traveling in August and beyond to contact us after Wednesday of next week.

"We sincerely apologize to our guests for this unexpected change and thank them for their understanding. We look forward to welcoming them onboard a Carnival cruise in the near future."

Modified itineraries have been posted to Carnival's website.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. -- the parent company of Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea, among other brands -- is in the process of modifying its scheduled Cuba cruises.

"In response to the U.S. government's policy change imposing immediate restrictions on cruise ship travel between the U.S. and Cuba, we are informing our guests of revised itineraries for a limited number of sailings with Cuban port calls.

"All 2019 sailings on the Majesty of the Seas and Empress of the Seas will have alternative ports in the Caribbean. Guests will have the option to cancel their current booking for a full refund, or to keep their sailing date with a new itinerary and receive a 50 percent refund.

"We are working on alternate itineraries for 2020 sailings and will share those details with guests and travel partners as they become available. We appreciate our guests’ patience and flexibility as we adjust to accommodate the new regulation."

In lieu of Havana, Majesty of the Seas' June 5 cruise will now visit Costa Maya and Empress of the Seas' June 6 cruise will call on the line's private Bahamian island, Perfect Day at CocoCay.

Norwegian Cruise Line

For cruisers booked on a Norwegian Cruise Line Cuba sailing, itinerary changes and compensation will vary based on whether the departure date is before or after September 2, 2019. The line's most up-to-date statement reads:

Sailings through and including September 2, 2019

"Guests booked on cruises to Cuba through September 2, 2019 have two options:

"Sail the revised itinerary receive a 50 percent refund of the cruise fare paid as well as a 50% future cruise credit valid through December 31, 2020.

"Cancel the booking and receive a full refund. If guests choose this option, we must be notified no later than June 11, 2019, midnight EST."

Sailings beyond September 2, 2019

"Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Sun Cuba sailings beyond September 2, 2019 will be automatically cancelled. New itineraries will be announced in the coming weeks. Refunds will be applied to the original form of payment. Travel Partner commissions will be protected on all deposited bookings and will be distributed by June 30, 2019.

"For those guests impacted by these auto-cancellations, we are offering a 20 percent discount (off current cruise fare) on any new bookings on future sailings booked by August 5, 2019 and sailing no later than December 31, 2020...

"We understand the disappointment and frustration this unexpected and last-minute change has caused you and your clients. Like you, we were surprised by this sudden modification to policy. We thank you for your patience and continued support as we navigate through this recent development."

Viking Ocean Cruises

The following statement has been posted to Viking Ocean Cruises' website: "The U.S. Treasury Department and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security have issued restrictions for travel to Cuba effective June 5, 2019. Viking has one remaining call in late December 2019 and is currently reviewing our options for it and early 2020 sailings. Once confirmed, guests and travel partners will be notified directly."

MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises has revealed details of the modifications it's making to Cuba cruises as well as the compensation being offered to affected passengers, in a statement issued today:

"In connection with the U.S. Administration changes to regulations regarding travel to Cuba which eliminate as of June 5 the prior authorization permitting cruise ships to travel from the U.S. to Cuba, MSC Cruises will modify effective immediately all its cruise itineraries previously scheduled to call that country.

"Due to these substantial changes in U.S. law and regulation, MSC Armonia is no longer authorized to call the port of Havana, Cuba, as part of her current Caribbean sailings. The alternative ports of either Key West, Florida; Costa Maya, Mexico; George Town, Cayman Islands; or Cozumel, Mexico will replace Havana, Cuba. The remainder of MSC Armonia’s itinerary will remain as originally planned."

Passengers currently sailing onboard MSC Armonia, and those who choose to stay on their currently booked cruise (now not going to Cuba), will receive $400 USD per stateroom as onboard credit. Any shore excursions in Havana that were pre-purchased before the cruise, or which were included in the ticket, will be automatically refunded to passengers' onboard accounts. Any credit not used by the end of the cruise will be refunded to passengers upon checkout from the ship.

MSC Cruises will also give passengers booked on future MSC Armonia cruises originally scheduled to call in Cuba the opportunity to change ship and itinerary. The cruise line will waive its cancellation fees and transfer already paid funds to new bookings.

Oceania Cruises

Oceania spokesperson Tim Rubacky told Cruise Critic, "We’re offering significant price reductions on the revised itineraries; the exact amount is going to vary by category. All guests have the option of a full refund."

One Cruise Critic member said the line is offering a 40 percent immediate refund if passengers choose to sail, and a full refund with no penalties if they don't.

Virgin Voyages

Richard Branson's new cruise line, which revealed earlier this year that Cuba was among the destinations it would sail during its maiden season, released the following statement:

"The U.S. government has implemented new travel restrictions that eliminate the ability of cruise ships to travel to Cuba. While we are disappointed, the beauty of sea travel means that we have the flexibility to take our ships to many wonderful destinations.

"The Virgin Voyages crew is hard at work making necessary adjustments to any affected sailings that feature a stop in Cuba next year. Virgin Voyages will be announcing and opening sales on adjusted voyages featuring a new destination early next week.

Virgin Voyages' existing booking policies allow all Sailors the flexibility to move to another voyage date without penalty. When we announce a new port-of-call next week, we will implement a special policy for affected Cuba bookings. Virgin Voyages’ existing five-night Mayan Sol and Dominican Daze sailings remain available for Sailors and First Mates to purchase."


Azamara has also announced changes to its Cuba-intensive cruises and posted options for booked passengers on its website:

"We are very disappointed to share that effective immediately the U.S. government has implemented new regulations that prohibits travel from the U.S. to Cuba by cruise ship. While this decision is completely outside of our control, we are immediately replacing all Cuban ports. For all 2019 sailings on the Azamara Journey, we have secured alternative ports and we are in the process of communicating the new itineraries to our booked guests and travel partners.

"Guests will have the option to re-book on any other Azamara voyage, in the same category, for the cruise fare paid or prevailing rate, whichever is more favorable to our guest. If the guests choose to book another sailing, other benefits and incentives will apply. If a guest chooses to cancel instead, a full refund for the amount paid will be processed to the original form of payment and compensation for travel changes will also be provided.

"We are currently working on alternative itineraries for 2020 sailings and will share those details with guests and travel partners as they become available....We are sorry for this unexpected and sudden change imposed on all of us and appreciate our guests’ patience and flexibility as we adjust to accommodate the new regulation."

Azamara is contacting all booked passengers, but says that if you don't get a call by June 12, 2019, then you should contact the cruise line's specially set up help desk at 855-AZAMARA (292-6272), option 3.

Additionally, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) -- the world's largest cruise industry trade association, which provides a unified voice and leading authority of the global cruise community -- today issued its own statement:

"Today, the United States Government announced the immediate implementation of new regulations prohibiting previously approved cruise line travel to Cuba from the United States. Without warning, CLIA Cruise Line Members are forced to eliminate all Cuba destinations from itineraries effective immediately. This affects nearly 800,000 passenger bookings that are currently scheduled or already underway.

"Passenger bookings had been made under a general license previously issued by the United States Government that authorized “people to people” travel to Cuba. These travel restrictions effectively make it illegal to cruise to Cuba from the United States. While this situation is completely beyond our control, we are genuinely sorry for all cruise line guests who were looking forward to their previously booked itineraries to Cuba.

"'We are disappointed that cruises will no longer be operating to Cuba,' said CLIA's chairman, Adam Goldstein. 'While out of our control, we are genuinely sorry for all cruise line guests who were looking forward to their previously booked itineraries to Cuba.'"

Cruise Critic will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.

Publish date October 10, 2019
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