As President Obama strives to earn a place in history by lifting the restrictions on trade between the US and Cuba, news comes this week of two cruise lines that will soon be visiting the island.
MSC Cruises were first off the starting blocks, announcing that 2,120-passenger MSC Opera will be operating 16 seven-night cruises from Havana this winter.
The newly-refurbished ship, which has just gained an extra 197 cabins, will be in Cuba from December to April and its itineraries include visits to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cozumel in Mexico, as well as overnight stays in Havana.
MSC avoids the US embargo because the company is not based in the US, and the vessel is registered in Panama.
The cruises went on sale in the UK on Thursday, with fares starting at £299, plus flights.
From the American point of view, Carnival Corporation’s announcement that it’s new fathom brand will be sailing 710-passenger Adonia to Cuba from Miami is much more significant.
The brand was launched only last month to offer “social impact” voluntourism cruises to the Dominican Republic, where passengers will be given the opportunity to worth with local residents on social projects such as clean water supply and making organic chocolate.
The terms of the licence agreed with the US authorities mean that during visits to Cuba, passengers going ashore must spend at least eight hours a day in educational and cultural exchanges with Cuban people. No other islands will be included in the itinerary and these cruises will be far removed from the usual Caribbean experience of beach parties fuelled by lashings of rum punch.
Adonia is currently part of P&O Cruises’ UK-based fleet, and transfers to fathom next April.
Fares for her seven-night cruises to Cuba – where it is hoped that at least three different ports will be visited per cruise – start at $2,990 (£1,940) per person, almost double the $1,540 (£1,000) cost of cruises to the Dominican Republic.
The doors to Cuba are gradually opening. Tourists wanting to visit before it is overwhelmed by Coca Cola, McDonalds, and branches of all-too familiar traders such as Diamonds International and Sunglass Hut, should move fast.
PICTURE: Capitol Building, Havana ©John Honeywell