Without a single tourist on board, the first U.S. cruise ship to travel to Cuba in almost 40 years arrived in Havana, Monday, May 2. The 700 passenger Adoni, flagship vessel of Carnival’s Fathom line, was fully occupied by U.S. visitors traveling to the island on “people-to-people” exchange programs, dozens of journalists and senior directors of the cruise ship company based in Doral, Florida.
Although tourist travel to Cuba is currently prohibited under U.S. law for U.S. citizens, measures recently adopted by President Barack Obama have opened up new opportunities for maritime transport between the two countries.
Carnival, one of the world’s leading cruise ship companies and its Cuban counterparts designed a week-long program with a focus on cultural activities, which began May 1, in Miami and includes stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.
Moments after disembarking, Carnival executive director, Arnold Donald, told the press that he felt “proud” to be participating in this historic moment, and noted growing interest from U.S. citizens in traveling to Cuba.
Arnie Pérez, Cuban born lawyer and Carnival legal advisor, stated that the cruise will run every 15 days with more routes scheduled to be established in the near future.
Speaking to Granma, Jene Trall from Boston, traveling to Havana for the first time, described former U.S. policy toward Cuba as ridiculous and highlighted the steps taken by the Obama administration to establish a new kind of relationship with the island.
Jill Brown, from Texas noted that she had always wanted to come to Cuba and opted to travel by boat given the ease of the process. Brown disregarded the idea that the influx of U.S. citizens to the island will destroy its essence.
Vintage car enthusiast, Jack Collisham is looking forward to riding around the streets of Havana in the Cadillac, Ford and Pontiac cars of his childhood.
Meanwhile New Yorker, Cinthia Brown, expressed her interest in learning about Cubans’ way of life.
However, trip organizers will have the challenge of going beyond worn-out stereotypes of the island presented to passengers for example at the Sierra Maestra terminal, were there were received by a cigar roller, pair of professional dancers and drum performance by the Cayo Hueso comparsa troup.
Long-time resident of Old Havana, Idalis Méndez stated “I live very close to here [the port] and when I found out that the cruise was coming today, I told myself I had to see it.
“I don’t know what the people on board are coming to see in Cuba, but I am sure that it represents a step forward in the process of rapprochement. As well as the warmth of Havana, they will also be met with the warmth of the Cuban people who have come to welcome them,” she stated.
Self-employed worker, Jorge Manuel Nuviola noted that he would like “relations to advance, we are neighbors and a positive friendship with them [U.S. citizens] should bring benefits for us.”
A NEW OPPORTUNITY
The Carnival cruise ship route is a new opportunity to show “the Cuba we have,” stated Víctor Juan Veloso Pimienta, director of Havanatur, one of the Cuban entities involved in organizing the trips.
Despite being a relatively new product and having encountered certain difficulties during the organization process, due to restrictions by U.S. laws, Veloso noted that cruise visits are expected to increase.
However, experts have criticized the cruise ship industry highlighting the minimal contribution made by passengers to the economy, as well as the environmental damage caused by the ships.
Despite this, the director of Havanatur believes that “every business has its economic shortcomings,” but after carrying out the relevant analyses his company “welcomes,” the project.
Currently a multi-billion-dollar industry, over 100 cruise ships from around the world operate weekly in the Caribbean.
However, Cuba is excluded from the majority of routes run by foreign companies given extraterritorial blockade regulations imposed by U.S. – also the island’s largest potential market.
Should these laws be abolished, Cuba could see an estimated one million cruise ship visitors to the island per year.