Just a few weeks ago, there were nagging questions about whether cruising to Cuba would become a boom or a flash in the pan.
After months of agonizingly slow bureaucracy, cruise lines had been getting approval for only a handful of cruises from Florida to Cuba.
Carnival Corp. pulled the plug on its separate line called Fathom and decided to send the Cuba line’s single ship, Adonia, back to Europe.
There was concern that the new regime in the White House anxious to build walls would re-chill relations between America and the island just 90 miles off its shores. And questions also remained whether Cuba’s infrastructure could be ready for a flood of new tourists.
But the clouds seem to be parting and most of the questions now seem to have answers with a flurry of new announcements.
Norwegian Cruise Line said it will extend its offering of weekly round-trip cruises from Miami to Cuba aboard Norwegian Sky, the largest vessel sailing to Cuba, through December, 2017. Previously, it had announced only five cruises in May 2017.
Starting in June, the four-day round-trips from Miami each Monday will feature an overnight in Havana as well as a call at Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s private island in the Bahamas.
At the same time, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line announced expansion through November of its Caribbean itineraries on Empress of the Seas sailing from Tampa, to include new four- and five-night cruises. They will feature day and overnight visits to Havana, along with stops in Key West and Cozumel, Mexico.
Meanwhile, MSC Cruises announced that demand for Havana has been so high that its MSC Armonia will join MSC Opera, and become the first global cruise line to homeport in the Cuban capital.
Oceania Cruises has also added a series of Havana calls on cruises of Marina this spring.
There’s more to come. Carnival Corp. has requested approval from Cuba for ships from its brands to begin sailing to Cuba in 2017 and “we are optimistic that we will be approved soon,” said Roger Frizzell, the corporation’s senior vice-president and chief communications officer.
First to get approval is Carnival Cruise Line, which will do a series of overnight visits to Havana on four- and five-night cruises aboard Carnival Paradise departing from the Port of Tampa. The 2017 season runs from June 29 through October and there is already another voyage scheduled for May, 2018.
On land, Royal Caribbean has partnered with shore excursion providers to include tours in classic 1950s cars to stops in the Malecón waterfront and the old city. Evening tours include visits to the famous Tropicana Club.
And five star hotels are returning to the scene. The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana will open in the spring within the historic Manzana de Gómez building in the heart of Old Havana .
The 1917 building was the first European style shopping arcade in Cuba and a landmark at five stories tall. Covering an entire block, it’s bounded by pedestrian streets. Neptuno, San Rafael, Zulueta and Monserrate streets.
Guests can choose from 246 luxury rooms and suites with soaring ceilings and luxury furnishings. The rooftop terrace and swimming pool feature sweeping views over the old town. There will be a choice of three restaurants, a lobby bar, cigar lounge, a business center and a spa managed by Resense.
It’s a management deal with Kempinski, Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group. And it’s likely a herald of big things to come.