Anyone who greeted last month’s announcement of Carnival’s new fathom brand of voluntourism cruises with a sceptical “Is that it?” can look again today.
The company has announced it has been given the all-clear to take their ship – which remains as P&O Cruises’ Adonia until next spring. – to Cuba. The news comes hard on the heels of MSC revealing that their ship MSC Opera will be based in Havana this winter.
The concept of fathom is to provide “social impact” holidays, with passengers taking part in local volunteer projects. The first of those are in the Dominican Republic, but today’s news opens up a whole new raft of possibilities – and confirms the view expressed by many that Cuba was in Carnival’s sights from the outset.
The Obama administration – looking for an opportunity to instigate history-making legislation before it comes to an end in January 2017- has started to relax rules on travel and trade with the Communist-run island which has been the subject of an embargo since the 1950s.
Leisure travel to the island – including cruises – is still subject to restrictions, but fathom gets round the rules by providing “cultural, artistic, faith-based and humanitarian exchanges between American and Cuban citizens.”
Carnival also see potential profit in the enterprise: fares for seven-day cruises from Miami to Cuba start at $2,990 (£1,940) per person, almost double the $1,540 (£1,000) cost of week-long cruises to the Dominican Republic.
Carnival president and CEO Arnold Donald said today: “We are excited about receiving US approval as the very important first step to take travellers to Cuba under the existing criteria for authorised travel. We look forward to working with the Cuban authorities for their approval to help make the social, cultural and humanitarian exchanges a reality.”
Tara Russell, president of fathom, added: “After establishing the Dominican Republic as our first partner destination, Cuba represents an important step for us to expand our ability to offer meaningful and enriching experiences to purpose-driven travellers.”
Adonia leaves P&O’s fleet in March and will be given a brief re-fit before embarking on her first fathom cruise to the Dominican Republic in April. The 710-passenger ship will then alternate between the two destinations. fathom’s aim is to attract 37,000 passengers a year who could collectively spend 100,000 days either volunteering or getting involved in educational and cultural exchanges.
And they could be among the first American citizens this century to be able to experience an island that has been kept free of direct American influences for more than 50 years.