Two more companies are starting up small cruises in Cuba, offering yacht-like ships that will sail beyond Havana to less frequented spots such as the Isle of Youth and French-influenced city Cienfuegos.
Joining Cuba’s budding cruise market are family businesses SeaDream Yacht Club of Norway and tour operator Tauck of Connecticut. They’ll begin calls in the 2018-19 winter season, executives told Cuba Trade magazine.
SeaDream plans eight voyages in early 2019 around Cuba’s western reaches on what it calls a 112-passenger “megayacht.” Guests will fly to Cuba and board the ship either in Havana or Cienfuegos for seven-day trips, company president Bob Lepisto said. Prices start around $6,000 per person in double-occupancy rooms, including “people-to-people” shore excursions approved for U.S. passengers.
An Oslo-based business, SeaDream was founded in 2001 by Norwegian entrepreneur Atle Bryestad, who earlier had launched Seabourn Cruise Line and had been chairman of Cunard Line. The company’s two “megayachts” typically attract couples age 40 and up.
Tauck is partnering with French line Ponant to offer six Cuba voyages starting in December on a Ponant three-mast sailing yacht that can hold 60 passengers. The U.S.-based tour company has been taking U.S. visitors on “people-to-people” trips in Cuba since 2012 and wanted to extend visits into Cuba’s eastern reaches. But flying from Havana to Santiago can be costly and land trips complicated, so cruises offer a welcome alternative: “I don’t think most Americans understand how big the island is,” said Katharine Bonner, senior vice president of Tauck’s river and small ship cruising division.
Ponant had already been operating small cruises in Cuba, serving mainly non-U.S. guests. Tauck’s partnership includes “people-to-people” shore excursions that meet U.S. rules for U.S. visits to Cuba, said Bonner. Guests will fly to Cuba and depart for week-long cruises from either Havana or Santiago. The trip also includes two-nights in a hotel in Havana and one night in a hotel in Miami. Prices for the 11-day Cuba itinerary start at $9,900 per person, including the cruise, hotels, most meals and other fees, according to Tauck’s website.
Executives unveiled the Cuba plans at Seatrade Cruise Global, the cruise industry’s annual convention that attracted some 11,000 people earlier this month in Fort Lauderdale.
At the event, leaders of several large U.S. cruise companies lauded cruise growth in Cuba. Carnival Corp. in May 2016 became the first U.S. line to offer regularly scheduled cruises to the island in half a century, thanks to the Obama administration policy to expand U.S.-Cuba ties. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ CEO Frank del Rio, a Cuban-American, told a panel: “Cuba has been great for the industry.”
Yet cruise leaders also cited limits on Cuba’s cruise infrastructure, including scarce pier space in Havana. Only one mid-sized ship and one small ship can currently fit at Havana’s cruise pier at the same time.
Cuba hosted 112,000 cruise passengers in 2016 and expected 370,000 last year, according to officials. While that’s a three-fold jump, cruise passengers still represent only a tiny sliver of Cuba’s 4.7 million tourists last year. In contrast, the Bahamas receives more than 4 million cruise visitors annually.
Other Cuba cruise information shared at SeaTrade includes:
- Carnival Cruise Line’s 2,052-passenger Sensation ship plans 17 calls in Havana in 2019 as part of broader Caribbean cruises from Miami that also include stops in the Bahamas and elsewhere. Carnival already sails to Cuba on its 2,052-passenger Paradise ship from Tampa.
- Norwegian Cruise Line’s 1,936-passenger Norwegian Sun will add Havana stops this fall on Caribbean cruises from Miami that also call on Mexico, Belize and the Bahamas. The Sun also will visit Cuba this summer from Port Canaveral. The line already offers four-night trips to Havana from Miami on its 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky.
- Luxury line Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ will offer a single around-Cuba trip in October 2019 on its all-suite 700-passenger Mariner ship, with stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago. The line also has Havana stops planned on several of its Mariner and Navigator cruises from fall 2018 to spring 2019.