MSC Cruises is to become the first major operator to base a ship in Cuba. The company has cancelled MSC Opera’s winter season sailing in the Canaries in order to base it in Havana.
The move comes as President Obama bids to re-establish diplomatic relations with the Castro regime and lift the trade embargo which has been in place for half a century.
American operators are still not free to trade with Cuba. British lines such as Thomson, Fred Olsen and Saga have visited Cuba in recent years, but none has home-ported a ship for the length of time planned by MSC – operating 16 cruises from December through to April. And none has carried as many as Opera’s 1,712 passengers.
The ship, recently refurbished as part of a multi-million pound fleet-wide programme, will sail seven-night cruises to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cozumel, Mexico, spending two nights in Havana during each voyage.
The sailings will be available to UK guests on a cruise-only basis, and will go on sale from Thursday 9 July. They will not be marketed to US customers, and the ship will not be able to carry American crew members. Other passengers are expected to come from Spain, Italy, France and Germany, as well as Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
MSCs CEO, Gianni Onorato, said: “The move to Cuba proves our commitment to offer our guests the best and most sought-after destinations as they become accessible.”
The first cruise will depart from Havana on 22 December, following Opera’s Grand Voyage to Cuba from Genoa, departing on 2 December. The Grand Voyage will include a call in Havana on 18 December, and resume its itinerary in the region before heading back to Cuba for its final call of the journey on 21 December. The ship will leave Havana on April 12 for a Grand Voyage back to Europe, arriving in Warnemünde, Germany, on 7 May.
UK customers who have already booked a Canaries sailing will be given the chance to transfer to an alternative Mediterranean itinerary, with the incentive of upgrades or on-board credit, or receive a full refund. Alternatively, guts will be able to switch their bookings to Cuba.