Royal Caribbean International on Friday revealed its plans for visiting Cuba next year, and — like many other cruise lines that had similar announcements in recent days — those plans are heavy on Havana.
Starting in April, the Miami-based cruise company will send a 1,602-passenger ship, Empress of the Seas, to the capital city as part of sailings that include other Caribbean ports. Just three dates are announced so far; the first leaves from Miami and the others, in late April and May, depart from Tampa.
Still to come are details about summer of 2017, when the ship will be based in Tampa and offer four- and five-night cruises that include stops in Havana. The cruise line has “a framework for a long-term agreement with Cuba,” a spokeswoman said, and planning is underway for future voyages.
Azamara Club Cruises, an upscale line that is part of parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises, said the Azamara Quest would stay overnight in Havana during a 13-night cruise that leaves Miami March 21.
The line said in a statement that it hopes to “add additional ports of call in Cuba into several of its itineraries.”
Royal Caribbean first announced on Wednesday that that two brands had permission to go to Cuba, but did not release specific deployment plans.
Also Wednesday, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings said its brands — Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises — got Cuban approval to visit. So far, the company has announced 10 visits total, all to Havana.
A couple of lines are venturing beyond the capital and spending their entire trip in Cuba: Fathom, owned by Carnival Corp., plans to continue seven-night sailings every other week through the end of May. Adonia, which carries 704 passengers, departs from Miami and goes to Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba. Carnival Corp. is awaiting permission to send ships from other brands to the island after Fathom stops operating as a cruise line next year.
And Pearl Seas Cruises, which operates a 210-passenger vessel, will visit seven Cuban ports after leaving from Fort Lauderdale during a series of 10-night cruises from January through May.
It’s not clear whether most cruise companies want to venture beyond Havana at this point, especially since the biggest lines operate megaships that would be difficult for Cuba’s infrastructure to accommodate. Vessels that carry up to 2,000 passengers are one thing; 5,400-passenger behemoths are a different story.
For now, most lines are just adding a Cuba stop to existing itineraries, following through on plans they’ve discussed for months. Executives have said they see the island as a way to refresh Caribbean sailings that might be otherwise full of been-there-done-that destinations.
At an industry conference in March, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings president and CEO Frank Del Rio said he expected to see “a ship in Havana every day of the week.”
“In terms of size, it’s not going to divert that much traffic from other places because it simply doesn’t have the capability of handling that many other ships,” he said, noting that other Caribbean ports didn’t need to worry much. “What it does do is create a halo of interest.”
Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp., said at the time that he expected Cuba to be a “refresher” for the whole region.
“There’s pent-up demand here in the U.S.,” he said. “People who think they’ve got the Caribbean will say: ‘I’ll go back to see Cuba.'”