Oceania's Marina will be the first NCL ship to sail to Havana. Photo: Geograph.
Updated 12/8 with additional reporting by Cheryl Rosen.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean Cruises today received approval from the government of Cuba to sail to the island nation beginning next year.
Norwegian made the announcement today that all three of its brands—Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruise and Regents Seven Seas—will be able to offer U.S. travelers Cuban sailings beginning in March 2017.
Oceania Cruises will be the first to sail to Cuba when its Marina leaves from Miami on March 7 and embarks on an itinerary that includes stops in Havana. Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner will call on Havana during two sailings in April 2017. Norwegian will have its first ship, Sky, in Cuba a month later for a selection of four-day voyages that will include overnight calls in Havana.
"As a Cuban-American and founder of Oceania Cruises, I am incredibly proud that one of Oceania's vessels will be our company's first to sail to Cuba," president of NCL Holdings Frank Del Rio said in a statement.
The full schedule of Cuban sailings for NCL brands will be available for Oceania tomorrow and for Regent and Norwegian later this month.
Royal Caribbean Cruises also got approval from the Cuban government for two of its lines—Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises. The cruise company didn’t announce its inaugural Cuban itineraries yet.
“Our discussions with our travel partners indicate that Cuba is a destination that appeals to a new generation of travelers,” CEO Richard Fain said in a statement announcing the news.
"We are very excited to add Cuba as a port of call on our short itineraries. There is pent up demand for this destination - and the Empress of the Seas is the perfect size ship to call on Havana," senior vice president of sales, trade support and service Vicki Freed told TMR.
Itineraries for Royal’s brands will be released in the near future.
The news comes just weeks after the only U.S. cruise line to sail to Cuba from a U.S. port, Fathom, decided to end operations after just a year in service.
When Carnival Corp. announced that Fathom was going out of business, it did say it still hopes to continue its presence in Cuba after Fathom’s last sailing and that the company has requested permission for its other brands to sail to the island starting June 2017.
"It's wonderful news for the Caribbean region because different from Fathom, these lines will add Cuba to their existing itineraries and that will lift pricing in the largest cruise market in the world," said Brad Tolkin, co-CEO/chairman of World Travel Holdings, parent of Cruises Inc., CruiseOne and Dream Vacations. "And that's good for everyone."
Travel agents expressed excitement about the chance to sell Cuban cruises.
"It's very exciting news and a great step for the future of the travel industry, The more countries we open, the greater the opportunity," said Lainey Melnick, a travel agency owner aboard the Carnival Vista.
"I think it's fabulous--I love the whole idea that Cuba is opening up to the world," agreed Janna Bos, a vacation specialist at Dream Vacations. "We have all kinds of world travelers among our clients who will think it's a fabulous opportunity. It's so close but yet it's been so far away."
Even Carnival's Adolfo Perez was buoyed by the news. "I think it's fantastic; I'm very excited that even more people will go to Cuba, my homeland," he told Travel Market Report.