Last updated: 04:12 PM ET, Wed July 22 2015

Haimark Plans Miami-to-Cuba Cruises

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Theresa Norton | July 15, 2015

Haimark Plans Miami-to-Cuba Cruises

PHOTO: Haimark Line wants to launch cruises from Miami to Cuba in February. (Courtesy of David Cogswell)

The rush to Cuba is on, and Haimark Line is the latest company to reveal plans to operate cruises from Florida to the long off-limits island starting in February.

The small but fast-growing cruise line intends to operate nine-night cruises round-trip from Miami starting Feb. 20, 2016, in conjunction with Florida-based United Caribbean Lines. The 15 cruises on the 210-passenger Saint Laurent are priced from $4,599 per person, double occupancy, plus port charges and fees.

United Caribbean Lines, headed by veteran cruise executive Bruce Nierenberg, already has a license to operate ocean-going transportation to Cuba from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a U.S. Department of Treasury agency that regulates legal travel to the island nation.

Nierenberg has been working for more than five years to launch ferry service to Cuba and Cancun from Florida. He received approval to do so on May 5, and now has filed to amend that license to allow overnight cruises that circumnavigate Cuba.

United Caribbean Lines plans to start European-style overnight ferry service from Miami and Tampa to Havana on ships with cabins and hotel amenities that can accommodate about 2,000 passengers. The ferry will depart Florida in late afternoon, arrive in Havana the next morning, and head back to Florida later that same day, Nierenberg told TravelPulse. He said he plans start ferry service in November and will announce in August which ships he will use.

“Lo and behold, it became apparent that because of the shortage of hotel space in Cuba, we could extend our license to also include using a vessel as a hotel while people are there,” he said. “Haimark approached us. None of the regular operators had licenses, and there wasn’t any particular reason why we couldn’t apply to use that product as an extension of our already-received license. It’s a faster process than a cruise line starting from scratch.”

With Carnival Corp. getting U.S. approval to operate to Cuba with its new social-impact travel brand fathom starting in May, Nierenberg doesn’t see any reason the amendment won’t be approved.

“Carnival broke through the barrier,” he said. “The amendment is in process, and we fully expect to be approved in the next few weeks. We understand the process and there isn’t any reason why we wouldn’t be approved. We already passed the corporate checks and the people checks. We’ve already received a license.”

Haimark’s Saint Laurent is the “perfect ship” for a Cuba circumnavigation, Nierenberg said, because it can nose into smaller harbors and destinations that don’t have sophisticated, modern infrastructure.

“Cuba was the largest international destination for Americans before the Castro revolution, with 5 million people a year going there on airplanes with propellers and wooden ships,” Nierenberg said. “Imagine how many we can carry today.”

Haimark plans to offer the “Cuba 360°; A Circumnavigation of the Cultures of Cuba” itinerary with an approved People-to-People cultural exchange program included in the all-inclusive fares, which are priced from $4,599 per person, double occupancy, plus port charges and taxes. The itinerary includes two days in Havana and visits to Maria La Gorda, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santiago de Cuba, Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt and Holguin.

Originally built in 2001 as the Cape May Light by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, the Saint Laurent underwent a $3.5 million refurbishment before starting operations for Haimark in late May.

The Saint Laurent now is operating its inaugural season on the Saint Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes, and had planned to operate in Central and South America this fall and winter.

The ship offers eight stateroom and suite categories, several restaurants, and 24-hour in-room dining.

“The MS Saint Laurent will be our People-to-People travelers’ ‘home away from home’ as our program conveniently includes all onboard accommodations, meals and beverages,” said Tom Markwell, Haimark’s managing partner for sales and marketing. “All costs associated with the cultural exchange land-based excursions are included as well as gratuities to local guides and drivers.”

For more information, call 855-424-6275 or click here.

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