Five US brands, collectively operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings received the green light to start cruising to Cuba in 2017.
Norwegian will be the first US cruise operator to have all its 3 brands - Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line - operating to the Caribbean island that has been off limits to American cruise passengers for over 50 years.
Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises will also run their first cruises to Cuba from Florida, with itineraries to be announced in the near future. Royal Caribbean International's Empress of the Seas is to be used for Cuba cruises.
The itineraries will have to comply with US Department of Treasury rules that permit travel companies to transport approved travellers to Cuba to engage in ‘people-to-people activities’ as defined by the US Department of Commerce, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
However, the 710-passenger vessel is being returned to the UK-based line next May with Fathom to continue as a shore-based brand only as Carnival Corporation works towards agreement for a larger ship to continue serving Cuba from summer 2017.
The first cruise to Cuba by a NCLH brand is due to depart from Miami on Oceania Cruises' 1,250-passenger ship Marina on March 7, 2017 with selected Caribbean itineraries featuring calls on Havana, including many multiple-day calls.
RSSC’s 700-passenger Seven Seas Mariner will call in Havana during two cruises in April 2017.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s 1,928-passenger Norwegian Sky will also run a series of four-day voyages that will overnight in Havana in May 2017.
Full itinerary details and on sale dates for voyages that call on Cuba will be available today for Oceania Cruises, later this month for RSSC and on December 20 for NCL.
Passengers will have a selection of shore excursions to choose from, all of which offer an authentic Cuban experience that explores the people, art, history and culture of the island, which are in compliance with OFAC regulations.
NCLH president and CEO Frank Del Rio said:
"We are tremendously excited to have all three of our award-winning brands receive approval from the Cuban authorities to offer cruises to Cuba from the United States.
"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.
“This is truly a dream come true for me, and I cannot wait for our loyal guests to experience the sights and sounds of my hometown of Havana and get to know its rich culture and its warm and welcoming residents."
Royal Caribbean Cruises chairman and CEO Richard Fain said:
"Our guests have expressed real interest in having the opportunity to experience Cuba, and we look forward to bringing them there.
"Our discussions with our travel partners indicate that Cuba is a destination that appeals to a new generation of travellers."