Photographer: Adalberto Roque/AFP via Getty Images

Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines Launch Cuba Service

  • Three largest operators now clear to offer service to island
  • New Caribbean destination expected to attract repeat cruisers

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. won Cuban government approval to begin sailing to the island, one of the most hotly anticipated new travel destinations for the industry.

Norwegian’s Marina, part of its Oceania Cruises line, will sale from Miami on March 7, the company said Wednesday in a statement. The company’s two other brands, Norwegian and Regent Seven Seas, will also serve the market. Royal Caribbean said it would announce its Florida-to-Cuba itineraries in the near future, including ones on its Azamara Club line.

The approvals mean all three of the world’s largest cruise companies can serve the market. Carnival Corp., the industry’s biggest operator, has been sailing to Cuba under its socially conscious Fathom brand. The company said last month it would stop using a dedicated ship for Fathom with that vessel’s last voyages set for May. The company aims to offer trips to Cuba on some of its other lines beginning next summer.

The 2,000-passenger Norwegian Sky will begin four-day voyages to Cuba in May, including an overnight stay in Havana. Cuban officials required a “very short season” for the lines, meaning the Norwegian brands will each get permission to sail to Havana for only about a month, spokeswoman Vanessa Picariello said.

U.S. Relations

The announcements come at a moment of uncertainty for U.S.-Cuba relations following the death of Fidel Castro. President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to scale back efforts by Barack Obama to build relations with Cuba after decades of isolation. While Carnival’s 704-passenger MV Adonia began sailing there in May, Cuban authorities have moved cautiously on U.S. cruise lines’ requests to bring more of their brands and larger ships to the country.

Cruise operators have been eager to add Cuba to their itineraries as a way to lure new passengers and offer a fresh destination for people who have sailed multiple times in the Caribbean, the largest cruise market. MSC Cruises, based in Switzerland, sails its MSC Opera to and from Havana.

Norwegian Chief Executive Officer Frank Del Rio was born in Cuba and left in 1961 with his parents when he was six years old, settling with relatives in Connecticut and then relocating to Miami when he was in high school. He has said returning service to the island was a goal of his.

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