Fathom's Adonia in Havana, Cuba, Photo by Jason Leppert
American Airlines may be slowing up on its departures to Cuba, but a long list of cruise lines just got approval to sail to the Caribbean country full steam ahead. Carnival Corporation was first to begin voyages there from the U.S. with its fledgling Fathom brand, and the remainder of the big three – Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited and Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited – have now also received approval from the Cuban government to begin operations as well.
Norwegian is ready to go with all three of its brands: Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, while Royal Caribbean plans to only send its Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises lines. Meanwhile, Fathom will continue to deploy its Adonia on behalf of Carnival until May 2017, when its license to operate in Cuba expires.
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As far as it is currently known, Carnival Corp. has not yet received permission to stay on in Cuba beyond its initial license, but based on the broad approval issued to the other two companies, it is likely to come for its other lines as well. Carnival will need it because it plans to redeploy the Adonia back to P&O Cruises afterwards, leaving brands like Carnival Cruise Line and Princess Cruises as likely candidates to take over the route. Princess’ own former Renaissance Cruises vessel and original sister-ship to the Adonia, Pacific Princess, would be a perfect replacement.
In fact, it was anticipated that Oceania would send one of its other original Renaissance sisters like the Regatta to Cuba once approval was granted, but it would seem there’s enough pent-up demand that it will instead send the larger 1,250-guest Marina as the first ship to Havana from Norwegian corporately come March 2017. Regent Seven Seas Cruises will follow with Seven Seas Mariner in April and Norwegian Cruise Line with Norwegian Sky in May. Unlike Fathom, however, it does not look like these ships will visit Cuba beyond the capital city, at least to start.
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Royal Caribbean, on the other hand, offered little in the way of details besides plans to send its Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises brands, with Florida to Cuba itineraries set to be announced in the near future. It is widely believed, though, that Royal Caribbean has reintroduced the Empress of the Seas to its fleet in order to sail there sooner rather than later. As for Azamara, both of its ships are also former Renaissance ones, effectively making the vessels an ideal Cuba class. Surprisingly, Celebrity Cruises is absent from the company’s plans, especially since the line is making a strong Caribbean comeback.
It’s worth noting that the Norwegian brand ships are allowed to sail to Cuba only for one month each. Vanessa Picariello, Sr. Director, Public Relations, Norwegian Cruise Line, explained, “Oceania was approved for sailings in March, Regent in April and Norwegian in May. We remain hopeful that we will be approved for additional sailings in the long term.” When asked if Royal Caribbean was under the same limitations, Cynthia Martinez, Director, Global Corporate Communications, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. responded, “We have a framework for a long term agreement with Cuba, and are working on the details of our future sailings.”
Meanwhile, Roger Frizzell, SVP & Chief Communications Officer, Carnival Corporation & PLC added, “I am not aware of any such restriction. Fathom will continue to sail to Cuba every other week through May 28, 2017. Separately, we plan on continuing to sail to Cuba pending approval for our other brands. Our experience in Cuba has been extremely positive since we launched our inaugural cruise earlier this year.”
The only thing now that could hold back any of these plans are U.S. and Cuba relations since president-elect Donald Trump has threatened to reverse the political deal that has opened up such cruise travel opportunities. With his impending inauguration scheduled for January 2017, these preparations for sailings shortly beyond could, unfortunately, be in jeopardy.