With restrictions on traveling to Cuba gradually easing, U.S. cruise lines and airlines are gearing up to meet the anticipated demand for transportation to the island.
On March 21, Carnival received approval from Cuba to begin voyages from Miami on May 1. This will be the first time a ship has sailed to Cuba from U.S. shores in 50 years — unless Pearl Seas Cruises gets Cuba’s permission to launch its April 5, 15 and 25 departures, which are already sold out.
Meanwhile, airlines are applying for the up to 110 daily U.S.-Cuba flights that are permitted under new agreements. The U.S. Transportation Department is reviewing applications and expects to announce the routes this summer, with flights to begin in the fall.
Those are the Cuban government’s permissions; the U.S. government still requires Americans traveling to Cuba to have an itinerary that fits one of its entry options. For most tourists, that’s the “people-to-people” (P2P) category, which requires engagement in educational and cultural encounters such as factory visits, architectural tours and exploration of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Here’s a primer on voyages and flights:
Shauna Hoffman, chief executive of Cruising to Cuba travel planners, notes that one advantage cruises have over a land-based trip is getting creature comforts in a country known for its deteriorated infrastructure. “When you travel by ship, you get a safe, air-conditioned haven to come back to every night,” Hoffman said.
■ Fathom, the Carnival “impact” brand that offers P2P programs in Cuba, will offer seven-night cruises aboard the 704-passenger MV Adonia, leaving from Miami with stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, every two weeks. Prices start at $1,800 per person. Interior cabins are already sold out on some May cruises and on all the cruises in September, October and November.
■ Pearl Seas Cruises is awaiting permission to offer cruises from Miami and Fort Lauderdale on the 210-passenger Pearl Mist, stopping at seven Cuban ports: Havana, Maria La Gorda, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, Parque de Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt and Holguin. Ten-night voyages start at $7,810 per person; those for this April are sold out. After a summer hiatus, cruises will resume in October and continue through April 7, 2017. Seven-night voyages will be offered in April, May and October, starting at $5,465 per person.
In addition, Royal Caribbean Cruise and NCLH, the parent company of Oceania, are expected to announce Cuba itineraries soon.
Meanwhile, Americans who meet U.S. government criteria still have the option of booking cruises to Cuba that originate outside the country:
■ Cuba Cruise Celestyal Cruises offers seven-night voyages from Jamaica. U.S. travelers, who must be registered for the P2P program, typically board the 1,200-passenger Celestyal Crystal in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Cuban ports are Havana, Santiago, Maria La Gorda and Cienfuegos. Passengers can book directly with Cuba Cruise or with partners Road Scholar, Insight Cuba and Globus. Departures in April, November and December 2016 as well as January, February, March and April 2017 start at about $1,500 per person.
■ Group IST (International Specialty Travel) offers seven-night sailing voyages aboard the 46-passenger yacht Panorama I and 48-passenger yacht Panorama II. Currently, passengers depart from Miami and arrive in Havana on chartered flights (see information below). Then they board the ship and cruise to Maria La Gorda, Cayo Largo, Trinidad and Cienfuegos. Ships depart year-round, and prices begin at $4899.
■ International Expeditions also offers seven-night sailing trips aboard the Panorama yachts. Currently, passengers depart from Miami to Cuba on chartered flights. Cuban ports are Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Cayo Largo, Maria La Gorda and Havana. Select departures in April and December 2016 and January, February and March 2017. From $5,299.
There are no regularly scheduled U.S. flights between the United States and Cuba, but that is expected to change this year.
A U.S.-Cuba agreement signed in February says that each country may operate up to 20 daily round-trip flights between the United States and Havana, and up to 10 daily round trips between the U.S. and Cuba’s nine other international airports, for a total of 110 daily flights. The U.S. Transportation Department is reviewing the applications of U.S. carriers and is expected to announce its decision on airlines and routes this summer.
Among the applications to fly to Cuba are American Airlines from Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Charlotte and Dallas/Fort Worth; Delta from Atlanta, New York, Miami and Orlando; United from Chicago, Houston, Newark and Washington; and Southwest Airlines from Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando.
In the meantime, Americans must continue to book seats on chartered flights, which are operated by non-U.S. carriers, often in partnership with U.S. airlines. The flights are not regularly scheduled. American passengers must fit one of the U.S. government’s allowed categories of visitors and have a Cuban visa. You can obtain this on your own, but charter airline companies ease the paperwork burden by obtaining visas for their passengers.
■ American Airlines, through charter partners ABC Charters, Cuba Travel Service, Marazul and Xael, offers a total of 27 departures a week from Miami, Tampa and Los Angeles to five Cuban destinations: Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Havana, Holguin and Santa Clara.
■ JetBlue’s charter partners — ABC Charters, Cuba Travel Services and Xael Charters — offer nonstop flights to Havana from New York, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa and also between Tampa and Santa Clara, Cuba.
Copa offers chartered flights from Dulles International Airport to Havana.
Aeromexico offers chartered flights from Dulles to Mexico City and onto Havana.
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