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Heading to Cuba will soon be just a cruise away.
Currently, Carnival Corporation's Fathom is the only mainstream cruise line sailing from the U.S. - Miami, Florida, to be precise - to Cuba, but that exclusivity is likely to change very soon as Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited and Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited are seeking their own permission.
Let's take a look at what cruise lines and ships are next in line.
To be sure, MSC Cruises is another major cruise company that already sails to Cuba, but without U.S. citizens at this time, and several other boutique cruise operators like Celestyal Cruises, Group IST and International Expeditions take those from the U.S. However, they do not sail directly from American shores nor is it known if Ponant will either when it plans to deploy there in 2017.
Ones that do intend to sail from the U.S. to Cuba come fall 2016, that are still awaiting approval from the Cuban government, are Pearl Seas Cruises and presumably Victory Cruise Lines, set to operate former Haimark Line's Saint Laurent as Victory I. Also needing final approval before its planned 2017 arrival will be Viking Ocean Cruises. Having spoke to its chairman and chief executive officer Torstein Hagen, he doesn't expect any problems in receiving it as the line's program is already heavily cultural and people-to-people in focus.
[READMORE] READ MORE: Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is Heading to Cuba[/READMORE]
Regarding Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., CEO Frank Del Rio is expecting the go-ahead very soon. During a press conference on Regent Seven Seas Cruises' new Seven Seas Explorer, he said, "I am literally waiting for the phone to ring to get final, final approval from the Cuban government."
As to when Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. will similarly get its approval, Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International, said, "Tomorrow would be good. Hopefully it will be soon." More specifically, he explains, "We wouldn't be going (to Cuba) until the end of July (or) early August, assuming we get the correct permission from the Cuban government."
[READMORE] READ MORE: Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas Sails to Miami, Cuba Likely Next[/READMORE]
What brands and ships the latter two corporations intend to first send are also interesting choices compared to Fathom's own 30,277-ton, 777-guest Adonia. Norwegian would likely start with Oceania Cruises' Regatta, which itself is a former Renaissance Cruises vessel like the Adonia, and so both have the same specifications that make them ideal for the limited infrastructure of Cuba. Next, by 2017, could be Oceania's larger 66,000-ton, 1,252-guest Marina and other NCLH ships and perhaps brands beyond that.
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is grooming its newly reintroduced 48,563-ton, 1,840-guest Empress of the Seas from Royal Caribbean International for eventual Cuban sailings. As its Azamara Club Cruises brand operates yet another two former Renaissance Cruises ships like the aforementioned, its fleet would also make sense to send there.
Of course, once more ships regularly deploy to Cuba, finding the right balance of ship sizes, capacities and itineraries will ultimately be the challenge. For now it seems lines will begin by sending some of their smallest vessels to test the waters. Del Rio would like to schedule NCLH ships on island nation circumnavigations as well as for stopovers in Havana as part of Western Caribbean and Panama Canal itineraries, saying, "We want to use Havana as much as we can. It's a star attraction."
Jason Leppert - Senior Writer, Cruises and Cruise Travel - is a San Diego-based cruising expert with more than 100 sailings...
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