With Fathom's Cuba Cruises Back On, Carnival Corp. CEO, Agents Sound Off

Fathom's recently refurbished 704-passenger Adonia will set sail for Cuba in May. // Photo by Fathom

Last week’s news that Americans born in Cuba will be able to sail to the Caribbean island nation on Fathom’s 704-passenger Adonia was welcome news to some travel agents. “We are thrilled that the problem has been solved,” said Phyllis Dale, vice president and co-owner, Great Escapes Travel, Lake Mary, FL.

"I can't tell you how much my group and I are excited to cruise May 15 on the Adonia to Cuba. “Many of my clients are waiting to read my blog as I write about my experience. They are very interested in the Cuba adventure.”

Phyllis Dale, Great Escapes Travel, and Susan Shultz, Pearl Seas Cruises  // Photo courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Dale (shown in the photo at right) is also hosting a group cruise to Cuba on Pearl Seas Cruises’ Pearl Mist in November 2017.

"I'm so grateful that things have changed," said John Layton, a Cruise Planners franchise agency owner, Orlando, FL, whose spouse is Cuban-American. "Although we haven't booked our cruise [with the new policy in place], we will definitely be booking a Fathom cruise in the future."

In fact, his family had previously booked a Fathom cruise and been utterly disappointed in learning they -- some born in Cuba -- would not be permitted to sail. "You can imagine how thrilled they were and then being disappointed at Cuban-Americans not being welcome."

Now, he says the family is once again happy and that they will visit the country on a cruise at some point. However, after the Fathom issue developed several weeks ago, Layton's family opted to book a tour operator land journey, as his father-in-law is elderly and hasn't seen his Cuban family for more than five decades. 

The recent controversy with Carnival Corporation and its subsequent resolution last week has helped smooth the waters for all cruise lines interested in sailing to the Caribbean island nation. 

John Layton, travel agency owner from Orlando, FL, explores a Latin American market. He's booked a Cuba tour and hopes to sail on Fathom soon. // Photo by John Layton

Carnival Corporation worked closely with Cuba to allow its cruise ships to operate in a similar manner as current air charter operations to Cuba, starting with the inaugural Fathom voyage to the island, departing roundtrip from PortMiami on May 1. 

"We made history in March, and we are a part of making history again today," said Arnold Donald, CEO, Carnival Corporation. "More importantly, we are contributing to a positive future. This is a positive outcome and we are extremely pleased. We want to extend our sincere appreciation to Cuba and to our team who worked so hard to help make this happen." 

Donald cited the company's general counsel, Arnie Perez, who was born in Cuba, for tirelessly working to secure the approval.

"We have already seen tremendous interest in the incredible Cuba journey we have put together, and we are ecstatic that this historic opportunity is open to everyone who wants to travel to Cuba," said Tara Russell, president of Fathom and global impact lead for Carnival Corporation.

Cuban-Americans born in Cuba will be able to sail, providing they have the proper paperwork and meet the requirements of the Cuban embassy in Washington D.C., Donald told reporters on a conference call Friday.

He acknowledged the support of many travel agents during "the time of uncertainty." For agents and their clients who were hesitating, "it is time to book a remarkable adventure to Cuba," he said. 

However, if clients were born in Cuba, Donald said the company will take bookings (as it does for any other cruise going across the globe), but will then refer guests to the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., for the appropriate travel documentation.

"We will provide manifests and so on and try to assist, but clearly that is a Cuba national thing which exists today," Donald said. "And for the most accuracy people should contact the Cuban Embassy."

"Our understanding is that those who emigrated prior to January 1, 1971, have to get a special visa if they were born in Cuba," he said. "Those who emigrated after January 1, 1971, will have to have a Cuba passport," noting that those are the current requirements if travelers want to travel by air, and Carnival believes the requirements will be similar. 

El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish language newspaper that's a sister publication to the Miami Herald, asked Donald (on a press conference call Friday) about the timing for those seeking to book, as the Cuban government is notoriously slow for paperwork processing.

For anyone who needs a Cuban passport or visa, "yes, it will take some time," Donald acknowledged, but added that the line is just beginning to sail and people who book typically do so well in advance. 

Fathom's itinerary will visit Havana on the northern Cuban coast as well as Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba on the southern and southeastern coasts, respectively. // Photo by Fathom

During each sailing, Fathom will visit Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, three ports of call for which Carnival Corporation has obtained berthing approval. Having approval for a berth is critical for any cruise line to sail to Cuba. Infrastructure is limited.

Donald said he's proud to know "the reach" of the Cuban government's decision goes beyond Fathom and even beyond all Carnival Corp. brands. It applies to other lines as well. "The opportunity to see and visit Cuba by sea is now available to everyone," Donald said.

However, don't expect to see any other Carnival brands announcing Cuba cruises until this fall, at least. Since Fathom is the first, Carnival Corporation wants to see how it goes and gain experience prior to adding a ship from another brand.  

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry trade association, also issued a statement Friday welcoming what it termed "the Cuban government’s positive and fair decision to allow all American citizens equal opportunity to visit Cuba." CLIA cited the power of travel to bring learning and understanding between nations and cultures.  

"Further, CLIA fully supports the rights of all people to travel freely and have the opportunity to experience a wide range of destinations," the statement said. "Every step that nations take towards open access and free interchange between citizens is a step in the right direction."

Similarly, Frank Del Rio, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, who was born in Cuba and immigrated to the U.S. in 1961, said he was extremely pleased with the announcement that all Americans, regardless of birth place, will be able to sail to Cuba onboard a cruise ship. "Our Oceania Cruises brand continues discussions with Cuban officials seeking approval to commence cruises to Cuba later this year," he said. 

Del Rio continued: "I had every confidence that the Cuban government would allow its natural born citizens to visit the island nation by cruise ship as they have allowed Cuban Americans to travel by air for years. I am encouraged to see that the governments of both Cuba and the United States continue to institute constructive resolutions to issues across a wide spectrum, including the lifting of remaining restrictions on travel for American citizens."

Layton, previously a Holland America Line cruise director and airline flight attendent, has owned his Cruise Planners franchise for three years. "I’m excited to see Cuba for the first time and meet family members who I otherwise may have not had the opportunity to know," he says. 

Dale adds: “I can’t wait to see those beautiful cars of the 50s.”


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