Virgin Voyages has been talking about visiting Cuba for three years now, so this announcement is no surprise. But will the destination still be as popular in 2020 as it is now?
Virgin Voyages is determined to stand out from other cruise operators when it launches its first ship in 2020, but the line is following its predecessors by making a beeline to the popular port of Havana.
On Wednesday, Cuba became the first destination announced by the line for its upcoming adult-only ship, named Scarlet Lady. Virgin had already said that the 2,750-passenger vessel would be based in Miami and would sail the Caribbean, but no other ports have been announced.
It is unclear how often the ship will visit Havana, but Virgin said all stops on the island would include an overnight stay. Dates will be released next year.
The company said activities would include touring Old Havana, dancing at a salsa club, exploring architecture, and interacting with locals. More details will be available next year on shore excursions designed to meet U.S. guidelines that govern travel to the island.
Virgin executives made the announcement at the Havana International Fair.
“Virgin Atlantic has been visiting Cuba for 13 years, and I cannot wait to see our iconic Scarlet Lady gleaming in the Havana Harbor,” Virgin Group founder Richard Branson said in a statement. “Havana is the perfect place for our sailors to go and experience a city that exudes an irresistible energy and passion.”
In a press release, the company said the decision to sail to Cuba was based on customer and travel agent research in North America and the United Kingdom.
That was just one piece of news for Virgin on Wednesday. Shipbuilder Fincantieri announced it had signed a contract for $792 million (700 million euros) with the line to build a fourth Virgin vessel, due in 2023. Plans for first three were announced in 2015.
Virgin executives first expressed interest in sailing to Cuba back in June of 2015, before any U.S.-based line had announced plans to go. Carnival Corp. was the first to win approval from the government in July of that year.
Cruise lines have been visiting Cuba from North America since early 2016, and operators reported strong business after U.S. President Donald Trump tightened travel restrictions to the island last year. Cruise ships provide guided tours that meet those requirements.
Operators including Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, and Seabourn have all visited or announced future cruises. Some of those itineraries include overnight stays.
Earlier this year, Cuba tapped Global Ports Holding to manage its port operations; the company said capacity would triple by 2024, making it possible for six ships a day to visit.
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Photo credit: A rendering of the first Virgin Voyages ship, Scarlet Lady, is shown. The ship will visit Cuba, the cruise line announced Wednesday. Virgin Voyages