Carnival Corp., angling to become the first U.S. cruise operator to call on Cuba in 50 years, said the Treasury and Commerce departments approved its request to begin sailing there.
However, the world’s largest cruise ship company won’t be deploying one of its massive vessels carrying more than 3,000 tourists looking to party, drink rum and smoke Cuban cigars.
If Carnival gets the OK from the Cuban government, the cruise operator will start service in May 2016 with its new fathom brand, a line aimed at socially conscious tourists. Seven-day voyages from Miami on the 710-passenger MV Adonia will cost $2,990 a person, including food but not taxes or other government-related fees, the company said in a statement Tuesday.
“We’ll be the first entity in over 50 years to be able to send a cruise ship from the U.S. to Cuba on a regular basis,” Chief Executive Arnold Donald said in an interview. “We have every confidence we’ll be able to fill the Adonia.”
U.S. cruise operators have seen Cuba as a growth opportunity since President Obama re-established diplomatic relations with the country in December. While the U.S. government has set a goal of expanding travel between the countries, visits are limited to 12 categories, such as religious activities, journalism and humanitarian projects.
Havana popular before Fidel
Carnival is working with IDDI, a nonprofit based in the Dominican Republic that seeks to alleviate poverty in the Caribbean, to develop excursions related to education and cultural exchanges. The company introduced its fathom line last month, with plans for weekly trips to the Dominican Republic beginning next April. The cruise operator plans to alternate voyages between the two countries starting in May.
Havana was a popular destination for American tourists until the Fidel Castro-led Communist revolution prompted the United States to sever diplomatic and business ties in 1961. European lines such as Costa Crociere and Aida served the market before they were acquired by Carnival, Donald said.
Cruise service to the island has been limited to smaller lines that sail from non-U.S. ports, such as Montego Bay, Jamaica, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tara Russell, president of fathom, said in an interview. Cuba’s harbors can’t accommodate the industry’s largest vessels. The MV Adonia will stop at multiple Cuban ports.
“There’s quite a bit of pent-up hunger and demand,” she said. “It’ll make it very easy for a U.S. traveler to go there.’
Frank Del Rio, chief executive of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., said on a May conference call that he was also looking to enter the Cuban market. “It’ll be a great boon to the industry,” Del Rio said.
Carnival stock rose 1.7 percent to $50.22 at the close in New York. The stock has gained 11 percent this year.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.