Last updated: 06:43 PM ET, Fri April 22 2016

Fathom’s Cuba Cruises: How Will They Work?

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Barry Kaufman | April 22, 2016

Fathom’s Cuba Cruises: How Will They Work?

PHOTO: Havana. (photo by David Cogswell)

With the Cuban government relenting and allowing Cuban-born cruise passengers to sail for Cuba aboard Fathom Adonia, a weeklong game of chicken between the island nation and Carnival Corp. has ended.

Speaking at a press conference aboard MV Adonia during the ship’s inaugural sailing for Fathom, the line’s president, Tara Russell, commented on what the new development means to the line and laid out a few ground rules on how travel to Cuba will work aboard a Fathom ship.

READ MORE: Cuba Relents In Carnival Corp. Negotiations, Allows Cuban-Born Americans to Cruise to Cuba

“This is obviously a hugely positive outcome stemming from negotiations and discussions we’ve been having for quite some time,” Russell said. “As of today, for the first time in more than 50 years, cruise ships will be able to sail to and from Cuba including with travelers whose place of birth is Cuba.”

It’s a historic moment not just for Fathom, but also for the history of U.S.-Cuban relations. For the first time, the prospect of American tourism has caused Cuban officials to alter their rules. “If you read the Cuban press release, you see that they even mentioned the role that we’ve played in this peace,” Russell added.

But with this new development comes a new set of rules, not just for Cuban travelers, but for all travelers. Even with recent thawing of relations between Washington and Cuba, visitors to Cuba must still deal with visa requirements and other logistical hurdles. So what will a Cuba cruise on Fathom require from the traveler?

It turns out, that’s part of the beauty of a Fathom cruise. It’s all pretty turnkey.

“We will be handling visas for non Cuban-born (passengers) along with medical insurance, and some of these pieces that are key to the affidavit process,” said Russell. “Traveling to Cuba right now under the embargo is more complicated. One of the values of coming with us is we handle that for you.”

So essentially, regardless of where you were born, in order for Fathom to take you to Cuba, you still need to comply with OFAC regulations, which still include 12 requirements. By virtue of being on that Fathom cruise, you comply with those requirements and are cleared.

For those Cuban-born travelers, despite the Cuban government’s recent acquiescence, there still may be hurdles. “It’s important that any Cuban-born American work directly with the Cuban embassy. There’s an involved, extensive process that’s the same as if you were flying from Miami to Havana as a Cuban-born American… Every travel case will be handled by the Cuban embassy and we look forward, from Carnival and Fathom, to welcoming all Cuban-born Americans.”

The other differentiating factor, apart from OFAC requirements, between Fathom’s Cuban and Dominican Republic cruises will be content. Whereas the DR cruises embody both the cultural immersion and impact travel tenets of Fathom, the infrastructure and political realities of Cuba only enable cultural immersion activities.

When asked by reporters whether that might change, Russell replied, “It’s hard to say.  We spent an enormous amount of time in the Dominican Republic before we built Fathom and we’re just starting to spend time in Cuba. So I kind of believe we’re on the one-yard line … It mostly depends on how the Cubans want to see our partnership flourish.”

The news that Fathom had at last been cleared to sail to Cuba with passengers born in the country came at a serendipitous time, on the heels of the line’s inaugural trip to the Dominican Republic, where it was allowed to see its model in action for the first time. So what did the first trip teach them that might apply to the Cuban cruise?

“We’ve done the most important things right, and I believe that we are delivering a transformative experience to our travelers today… However, I believe that there are a lot of details that we can improve on,” said Russell. “I think the flow of content, the volume of experiences, the architecture of the week, we’re still massaging that, and we couldn’t do that effectively until you all came.”

READ MORE: Inside How Carnival Accomplished What Others Have Not in Cuba Negotiations

With the inaugural sailing behind it, and the final roadblock cleared from the Cuban government, the team at Fathom appears ready to take their mission for impact and immersion on its historical next leg.

“It’s impossible not to fall in love with Cuba,” said Russell. “And we’re ready to set sail.”

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