Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Cruise lines begin receiving approval to sail to Cuba

Updated Dec. 8 to include information about Pearl Seas Cruises

Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings Ltd., Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and small cruise ship line Pearl Seas Cruises have received the approval of the Cuban government to begin cruises from the U.S. to the island nation.

All three of Norwegian Holdings' lines - Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises - will offer U.S. travelers the opportunity to visit the culturally and historically rich country. Select sailings starting in March 2017 will provide guests the opportunity to discover the rich culture, history and natural beauty of Cuba and to experience the warmth and hospitality of its people, Norwegian Cruise Lines Holdings (NASDAQ: NCLH) said in a statement announcing the approval.

The approval struck a very personal chord with the cruise company’s top executive.

Oceania Cruises' Marina
Oceania Cruises' Marina
“As a Cuban-American and founder of Oceania Cruises, I am incredibly proud that one of Oceania’s vessels will be our company’s first to sail to Cuba,” Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said in a statement. “This is truly a dream come true for me, and I cannot wait for our loyal guests to experience the sights and sounds of my hometown of Havana and get to know its rich culture and its warm and welcoming residents.”

The first of the company’s cruise ships to set sail for Cuba, scheduled to depart from PortMiami on March 7, is Oceania Cruises’ Marina. It will call on Havana during select Caribbean itineraries which include many multiple-day calls to allow guests to explore Havana and its environs.

Seven Seas Mariner, of the Regent Seven Seas Cruises fleet, will call on Havana during two cruises in April 2017. Norwegian Sky will also offer a selection of four-day voyages that will overnight in Havana in May 2017, the company said.

Two Royal Caribbean (NYSE:RCL) lines, Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises, also received the nod to provide guests with travel directly to Cuba for the purpose of providing people-to-people exchanges between guests and Cuban citizens and other travel permitted by current U.S. regulations.

Pearl Mist will sail from Ft. Lauderdale to Cuba starting in 2017
Pearl Seas Cruises' Pearl Mist
Small ship operator Pearl Seas Cruises also received the OK and will begin cruising to Cuba from Florida. A 10-night cruise aboard the 210-passenger Pearl Mist is scheduled to depart Fort Lauderdale on January 17. The ship will circumnavigate the island, visiting Havana and a host of ports on the southern coast including Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba.

The company has 11 cruises planned during January through May next year. Each will be 10 nights in length and will sail round-trip from Fort Lauderdale, FL.

All of the lines confirm that their cruise itineraries will comply with government regulations that permit travel companies to transport approved travelers to Cuba to engage in people-to-people activities as defined by the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

The approvals were immediately applauded by others in the travel industry.

“Having Cuba open up to more mass market cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian is definitely going to make it more affordable to cruise to Cuba,” Uf Tukel, co-president and co-founder of iCruise.com, said in a statement. “Additionally, past passengers of these cruise lines, especially those who live in Palm Beach County and South Florida will appreciate a new destination and alternative to the Bahamas.”

Full itinerary details and on-sale dates for voyages that call on Cuba will be available before Christmas for all three Norwegian cruise lines, the company said. Royal Caribbean plans to announce its first Florida-Cuba itineraries in the near future.

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