Carnival Wins OK to Carry Cuban-Born Travelers on Ships

  • Inaugural trip to island is scheduled to depart on May 1
  • Cuba opens new market for world's largest cruise operator

Carnival Corp. said Cuba has lifted a long-standing ban on Cuban-born travelers returning to the island by sea, clearing the way for the world’s largest cruise operator to launch week-long voyages to that country starting May 1.

The Cuban government will now let Carnival’s cruise ships operate in the same way as flights, according to a statement Friday. While Cubans can travel by air, government regulations had prevented any Cuban-born person from coming and going by sea.

Cuba opens a new territory for Carnival in the Caribbean, the world’s biggest geographic market for cruises. The May 1 inaugural voyage will be the first U.S. cruise line to arrive to the island in 50 years.

The Miami-based company, anticipating an easing of the travel ban, had begun accepting bookings from all travelers for the voyage through its Fathom brand, including people born in Cuba. At first the company wasn’t accepting reservations from those passengers, which provoked widespread criticism of Carnival and protests outside its corporate headquarters.

Carnival’s Fathom will visit Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, three ports of call for which the company has obtained approval, according to the statement.

As Carnival prepares for its first Cuba trip, its rivals are lining up to follow. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., whose chief executive officer, Frank Del Rio, was born in Cuba, is in talks with the Cuban government to obtain approval to begin cruises to the island “in the near future,” according to a statement Friday. Del Rio has said the company’s Oceania line is likely to be Norwegian’s first brand to visit Cuba.

Miami, Florida-based Norwegian lauded the decision to let Cubans travel in and out of the country as passengers of cruise ships.

“I am very much looking forward to sailing to Cuba soon aboard one of our ships in the company of many fellow Cuban Americans and other fellow Americans,” Del Rio said.

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