Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Group IST adds new upmarket tours of Cuba

Group travel provider Group IST (International Specialty Travel) is adding more sailing dates to its upmarket Havana to Cienfuegos people-to-people program beginning in December 2015.

The agency, which is licensed by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control to conduct people-to-people programs in Cuba, operates eight-day cruises of western Cuba aboard two mega-yachts, the Panorama and the Panorama II. With fewer than 100 passengers per sailing, the company offers what is calls “the only small ship cruise of Cuba, affording passengers an intimate experience of the island nation.”

The flag of Cuba
Despite President Obama’s announcement in December 2014 of a 13-point plan to reestablish relations with the island nation more than 50 years after an embargo was put into place and despite the U.S. government’s May 4 approval of ferry service between the two nations, little has changed.

The Code of Federal Regulations “Cuban Assets Control Regulations” were amended in January “to implement policy changes announced by the President on December 17, 2014 to further engage and empower the Cuban people,” but still require that Americans who wish to visit Cuba legally fall into one of a dozen categories, which include “people-to-people” programs. Freewheeling tourism is still verboten.

The Group IST sailings meet the people-to-people criteria, according to the tour operator.

The two ships sail in opposite directions from Havana and Cienfuegos each week through April 2016, allowing passengers to explore the western part of a country renowned for its culture, music, warm people, art and cigars. The cruise offers passengers both a rich and meaningful cultural exchange program and an opportunity to relax in the beautiful natural scenery of Cuba, with chances to go swimming and snorkeling. Group IST is also adding new excursions to its program including visits to Ernest Hemingway's former home, Finca Vigia, and to one of Cuba's largest cigar factories.

“The program is an opportunity to step back in time to a country that has been closed to Americans for nearly half a century,” the company said. An on-board Cuba specialist and an interpreter will facilitate in making people-to-people connections and meaningful exchanges between the American travelers and Cuban citizens, Group IST explained, noting that the tours will emphasize and promote cultural exchange including excursions to venues such as museums, private art galleries, community centers, concerts, religious centers, schools and ecological centers.

“Program participants will have a chance to meet and get to know Cuban historians, artists, preservationists, religious leaders, educators, musicians and many typical Cuban citizens throughout eight days,” the company said.

Havana to Cienfuegos is available from between $4,899 and $5,999, depending on cabin class. Price includes seven nights on either the Panorama or Panorama II, all meals from arrival in Cuba to breakfast on day of departure, mandatory Cuban medical insurance and transportation as per itinerary. For a complete itinerary, visit: http://www.groupist.com/cuba.

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