Sunday, May 1st, will see what South Florida newspaper and television reporters continually label as “historic.” Indeed the departure for Cuba by Carnival Cruise Line’s Fathom brand Adonia is certainly a milestone. Yet it is just a beginning, a first step and a forerunner of what will evolve in years to come.
Carnival certainly has sights set on when they can offer traditional tourist cruises that would include Havana and other Cuban ports of call on their Caribbean itineraries. The cruise is “a kind of a hybrid,” Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “The Cuba traveler is traveling on a Fathom ship, but it is not the Fathom experience.” In order to comply with U.S. Government restrictions on Travel to Cuba, Fathom has to offer what is called a “people-to-people” experience. Fathom currently sends the Adonia to the Dominican Republic where passengers get off the ship to interact with locals developing projects that benefit the well being of the Dominican population. Indeed that is a interaction with citizens that fits the letter of the law when it comes to Cuba, but that’s not exactly how the Cuba cruise will work.
The cruise to Cuba will feature none of the “hands on” experience passengers to the D.R. were tasked with. It will be much more of a traditional cruise docking in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos. Half the time on the cruise will be spent on board as described on the company’s website: “Our itinerary was designed for ease of travel; between cities you will enjoy immersive and relaxing on-board activities like dancing lessons, an authentic Cuban cocktail class, or simply unwinding by the pool. For your time on the island, we’ve created a thoughtful cultural exchange experience that gives you and your fellow travelers the rare opportunity to learn more about the everyday lives of the Cuban people and their remarkable culture.’
Likely the Cuban government wanted a more tightly controlled itinerary much like what is allowed with the extremely popular land based tours currently offered to U.S. based affinity groups.
For Carnival it is a foot in the door. For Cuban Tourism officials who granted Carnival the sole permission for a U.S. based cruise line to sail to the island, it is a test of how well the opening of U.S./Cuba relations will actually play out. The Cubans did bend their ban on Cuban born citizens of any country including the U.S. from entering the Island by sea thus ending a threat by Fathom not to sail. Cuba is actively seeking tourist dollars especially from U.S. travelers.
The Adonia will sail every two weeks from Miami to the three ports in Cuba. Traditional tourist based cruises from The United States likely will not be available until the U.S. Cuban Embargo is dropped and that prospect has to face a difficult congressional path.