Skift Take

As long as there is a hotel crunch in Cuba, Fathom will remain an incredibly attractive option for many potential visitors to the island.

Less than a month after it first set sail — and took a historic voyage from Miami to Cuba — Carnival Corporation’s newest cruise brand has extended its Caribbean schedule for another year.

The Fathom brand, which cruises to the Dominican Republic and Cuba on the 704-passenger Adonia, will sail those itineraries at least through the end of next year; bookings for 2017 open June 1. Previously, the cruise operator had only announced its deployment through November of 2016.

Carnival has suggested that long-term plans for Fathom could include additional ships and itineraries if enough demand existed. But the parent company’s CEO has also acknowledged that the brand, which was created with a “voluntourism” focus, was not a sure bet. The company used an older ship from its UK-based P&O Cruises brand.

Officials with the cruise line have not disclosed detailed information about the pace of bookings so far, but said in a statement late Friday that interest in sailing to both destinations has been “overwhelming” and demand and bookings have been increasing.

The company pointed to a sold-out Cuba sailing in November and said a full ship charter has been arranged for next year, while other large group bookings are in the works.

“The decision to add 2017 Fathom sailing dates underscores our enthusiasm for Fathom and our experience to date with the impact it is having,” Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation, said in a statement. “The feedback from travelers, travel professionals, community leaders and our own employees has been extremely positive. Our travelers and trade partners are asking for additional sailing dates – and we are happy to oblige.”

When Fathom was first announced last June, the plan was to sail weekly to the Dominican Republic with passengers who signed up to participate in volunteer work on the ground. The company hoped its “social impact” focus would attract newcomers to cruising.

In July, as travel restrictions to Cuba were falling away, Carnival announced that it had U.S. approval to take the ship to the island for visits centered on cultural exchange. Approval from the Cuban government followed after several months, in late March.

Cruises began last month, despite some early rough waters.

Fathom’s first sailing in April was delayed a week after a Coast Guard inspection revealed problems with fire doors that needed fixing. And the company was the subject of protests, a lawsuit, and U.S. government criticism over an initial decision not to let Cuban-born passengers book a trip to the island nation in accordance with Cuban law, which did not allow natives to visit by ship.

But Fathom quickly changed course, opening booking to all and vowing to delay its trips to Cuba if the government would not allow Cuban-born passengers. Within days, Cuban officials gave that permission and the ship sailed as planned on May 1.

“We have been humbled by the tremendous response Fathom has received from travelers eager to experience Fathom while helping the Dominican Republic to flourish and making history through human connections and immersive experiences in Cuba,” said Tara Russell, president of Fathom and the parent company’s global impact lead, in a statement.

Carnival has said it plans to bring ships from some of its other nine brands to Cuba within months, and other North America-based cruise companies including Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings are awaiting permission from the Cuban government to visit.


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Tags: carnival, cruise industry, cuba, fathom

Photo credit: Fathom's ship, Adonia, arrives in Cuba. Fathom

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