Carnival Cruise line, the largest passenger ship company in the world, will begin cruises to Cuba with stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba on May 1, the company CEO Arnold Donald announced during a teleconference call from Havana.
"Today, we made history," Donald says. "We are the first U.S.-based cruise company in 50 years to sail from the United States to Cuba."
The MV Adonia, part of Carnival's Fathom brand, will leave from its home port in Miami and make stops in the three Cuban cities during a weeklong cruise. The entire voyage has been designed to be in compliance with U.S. Treasury Department regulations regarding People to People tours by American citizens to Cuba, but passengers will be expected to "self-certify" that they are following the laws and regulations.
"When you travel with Carnival, all the details will be handled by us: the affidavit process, the visa, insurance. And we will explain the reporting requirements for all our travelers," says Tara Russell, president of Carnival Corporation's Fathom brand, which will operate the MV Adonia cruises. She says that the company has worked to ensure that all the onboard and land activities—focused on things like music, food, culture—meet the basic requirements in the 12 People to People categories, which provide Americans authorized travel to Cuba.
Russell also notes that the company will retain its own records to meet the reporting requirements set by the Office of Foreign Asset Control for U.S. companies involved in travel or business in Cuba, and will inform their passengers that they, too, must comply with those rules. By law, all U.S. travelers to Cuba under the People to People programs are expected to retain financial and itinerary records for at least five years.
The cruise packages start at $1,800 for the May 1 voyage for an inside cabin, and prices for more luxurious accommodations go up from there. The first voyage is not sold out, but Carnival has been taking bookings since they announced in July 2015 that they had received U.S. government approval for the trips. The MV Adonia has space for up to 704 passengers.
"There is a lot of pent-up demand for travel to Cuba," Donald says. He expects the first voyage to sell out quickly now that the final announcement has been made.
The Carnival announcement came during the visit to Cuba by President Barack Obama, and company executives say the final approval from the Cubans came coincidentally.