Cuba has the potential to change the face of Caribbean cruises as we know them. With renewed diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and the resumption of regularly-scheduled flights between the U.S. and the island country, it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing ports like Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba positioned alongside places like St. Thomas and Grand Turk.
For the rest of the world, it’s all a bit mystifying: guests from Canada, Europe, Asia and around the world have all been travelling – and cruising – to Cuba to vacation for years. UK-based lines like Fred.Olsen have called on Cuba in the past, as have the ships from Spanish cruise operator Pullmantur – that was, at least, until they became a fully-owned subsidiary of Royal Caribbean. In the past, lines with U.S.-based parent companies have been prohibited from calling on Cuba, and foreign ships calling on Cuba were banned from entering the United States for months on end.
Of course, that’s all changing now, thanks to a new thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba. High-profile lines like Fathom have also brought renewed focus on cruises to Cuba, and other lines continue to follow suit. There are some big players like Royal Caribbean that are trying to enter the market at the moment, along with smaller expedition operators like Lindblad Expeditions.
Other companies have been around for a while, but may be less familiar. In 2013, a Canadian company called Cuba Cruise partnered with Celestyal Cruises to market Cuban cruises to Canadians and Europeans. It was such a success that Celestyal bought them out, and will now base the Celestyal Crystal (the former Louis Cristal) in Cuba year-round as of this winter. The product is open to Americans as well.
It’s important to note that there are other cruise lines – like MSC Cruises – that sail to Cuba at the moment, but don’t actively market their Cuban-based itineraries to American customers. Because of that, we’ve left them out of the table for the moment; the lines below are all ones that are actively pursuing American customers looking to travel to Cuba for the first time.
Who Sails to Cuba?
|LINE||SHIP||APPROVED?||START DATE||DEPARTURE PORT|
|Celestyal Cruises, also known as Cuba Cruise||Celestyal Crystal||Yes; sailings began in late 2013.||Already in operation; sailings operate year-round beginning in late 2016.||Havana, Cuba or Montego Bay, Jamaica|
|Fathom*||Adonia||*Fathom will cease operations in June 2017.||Miami|
|Lindblad Expeditions||Panorama II||Yes||December 7, 2016||Havana or Cienfuegos, Cuba|
|Pearl Seas Cruises||Pearl Mist||No||October 26, 2016||Miami|
|Ponant||Le Ponant||Yes; "People-to-People" voyage.||January 2017||Havana|
|Royal Caribbean||Empress of the Seas||No||TBA||Miami (likely)|
|Star Clippers||Star Flyer||Yes||December 27, 2016||Havana or Cienfuegos, Cuba (12/27 departure begins in St. Maarten).|
|Victory Cruise Lines||Victory I||Pending||October 28, 2016||Port Canaveral (inaugural); Miami.|
|Viking Ocean Cruises||Viking Sun||Yes||December 1, 2017||Miami|
We’ll continue to update this table as new lines receive approval or announce their intentions to enter the Cuban market for American guests.