Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Sun May 31 2015

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  • Amber Nolan | May 31, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    US-to-Cuba Cruises in the Spotlight

    US-to-Cuba Cruises in the Spotlight

    Image via Twitter

    Traveling to Cuba is the talk of the travel industry thanks to President Obama’s recent expansion of legal travel categories (there are now 12 legitimate reasons to visit), and approval of ferry service between the U.S. and Cuba. It’s no surprise that cruise lines are jumping on the bandwagon. However, no mainstream lines (like NCL, Celebrity, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, or Holland America) have formally announced plans to cruise to Cuba from the U.S. — but rumors are swirling.

    The question is: will large cruise ships turn Cuba into another commercialized destination?

    Currently, Cuba lacks much of the infrastructure required to accommodate the megaships, leaving it wide open for small cruise lines to offer the voyage with an educational aspect (thus falling into one of the legal categories) through programs like People to People. (The extra programs also significantly increase the cruise fare.) A few small-ship companies are seizing the opportunity to appeal to their existing cruise clients and are keeping the focus on experiencing the culture.

    Two companies have opened up about future plans for offering cruises to Cuba with Americans onboard, and one operator has already been cruising the area on mid-sized ships.

    Cuba Cruise

    Operated by Celestyal Cruises, Cuba Cruise was the first to offer voyages to the island nation that are available to Americans (through People to People, InsightCuba, or Road Scholars programs). After two successful cruise seasons, it just unveiled the brochure for its third. The company is introducing seven-night, round-trip cruises beginning December 2015 through April 2016, with weekly departures from Havana, Cuba, or Montego Bay, Jamaica. 

    In addition to the departure ports, cruises call at Cienfuegos (with a visit to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site of Trinidad), Santiago de Cuba, and Maria la Gorda — a new port of call for Cuba Cruise. The 1,200-passenger ship, Celestyal Crystal, employs a Cuban crew and offers a traditional, mainstream approach to cruising with amenities like a casino, swimming pool, Jacuzzi, salon, spa, and accommodations ranging from classic interior to spacious suites with private balconies.

    Since the first season, the Cuba Cruise enhanced cruises to focus more on the culture, with Cuban cuisine on board and live, authentic Cuban entertainment in the theater.

    Pearl Seas Eyeing Cuba

    Pearl Seas Cruises, a new small ship company, has been very open about its plans to offer cruises in Cuba — although nothing concrete has emerged. In January 2015, the company issued a news release stating that it was exploring Cuba as a potential fit for new itineraries. The cruises would operate on both coasts of Cuba, with round-trip cruises from South Florida or one of the nearby islands.

    The ship, Pearl Mist, carries just 210 passengers and sails itineraries that focus on exotic destinations — making Cuba an ideal choice. No additional updates have come out just yet — and the ship will be in Panama and other parts of Central America for the 2015/2016-winter season.

    IE Travel

    Variety Cruises operates the MS Panorama, an elegant, three-masted schooner that is available for charter. In April 2015, International Expeditions (IE Travel) announced that it would offer 10-day cruise itineraries to Cuba aboard Panorama beginning in December 2015. The Cuba expedition cruise program will welcome Americans onboard and include an overnight in Miami, charter flight to Santa Clara or Cienfuegos, and hotel stay before boarding the ship. The itinerary includes four ports: Havana (with land extensions for additional exploration), Maria la Gorda, Cayo Largo, and Trinidad.

    Shore excursions truly immerse passengers in the country: they will stop by a local medical clinic and learn about the health care system, meet wildlife conservationists at a sea turtle breeding center, take a walking tour of Trinidad, or visit a family tobacco farm. The return flight to Miami is also included in the price.

    The ship itself saw a major refurbishment in 2008, followed by improvements to the upper deck cabins and lounge area in 2014. Like the company’s other cruises, IE Travel is waiving the single supplement fee for solo travelers. 


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Amber Nolan Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

Amber Nolan Amber Nolan loves to be on the water, and although she enjoys the fun and excitement of larger cruise ships, she prefers setting sail on smaller vessels to unique destinations. Originally from western New York, this restless traveler has a knack for finding creative ways to travel and befriending interesting characters along the way. On her most recent adventure, she hitchhiked on private aircraft across the United States. She previously served as the cruise editor at Sherman’s Travel but her work can also be found on and USA Today Travel. She current resides in South Florida.
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