Cruising to Cuba: Which Lines Can Sail There Right Now?

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.

Classic cars race along the streets of Havana, Cuba. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Classic cars race along the streets of Havana, Cuba. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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.

Celestyal Cruises' Louis Crystal, shown here in her seasonal Cuba Cruise livery in Cienfuegos, Cuba, is a great blend of big-ship amenities in a small ship package. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Celestyal Cruises’ Celestyal Crystal, shown here in her seasonal Cuba Cruise livery (as Louis Cristal) in Cienfuegos, Cuba, has been sailing to Cuba for the past three winters. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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?

LINESHIPAPPROVED?START DATEDEPARTURE PORT
Celestyal Cruises, also known as Cuba CruiseCelestyal CrystalYes; 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 ExpeditionsPanorama IIYesDecember 7, 2016Havana or Cienfuegos, Cuba
Pearl Seas CruisesPearl MistNoOctober 26, 2016Miami
PonantLe PonantYes; "People-to-People" voyage.January 2017Havana
Royal CaribbeanEmpress of the SeasNoTBAMiami (likely)
Star ClippersStar FlyerYesDecember 27, 2016Havana or Cienfuegos, Cuba (12/27 departure begins in St. Maarten).
Victory Cruise LinesVictory IPendingOctober 28, 2016Port Canaveral (inaugural); Miami.
Viking Ocean CruisesViking SunYesDecember 1, 2017Miami

We’ll continue to update this table as new lines receive approval or announce their intentions to enter the Cuban market for American guests.

 

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