Late last week Gianni Onorato, CEO, MSC Cruises, told the ministers of transportation and tourism for the Cuban government that the 2,120-passenger MSC Opera will homeport in Havana for the winter 2015-2016 season.
This new deployment replaces MSC Opera’s original winter 2015-16 schedule in the Canary Islands, Madeira and Morocco.
Sixteen seven-night departures from Havana will operate this winter. They'll be packaged with flights for the prime target audiences -- consumers from Canada, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Can Americans Sail?
Will Americans be able to cruise on the ship? We asked MSC Cruises that question and Carolotta Nicolo, corporate press office manager in Genoa, Italy provided this response: "A U.S. national or Green Card holder that wants to take an MSC Cruises Cuba cruise must have a special [U.S.] Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) licence to travel, or fall within one of the 12 categories of permitted travel listed in the Cuban sanctions regulations."
Thus, it's possible that individuals or groups could participate, but only if they have the right license, perhaps as part of an approved tour operator program or a group cruise with a People-to-People component.
What is more interesting, for now, may simply be that MSC Cruises is positioning itself ahead of the floodgates opening for unrestricted travel by Americans, when and if that occurs. In the interim, it's developing a presence in the market and relationships with ground-based contacts. The line will partner with Cubanacan, a Cuba-based group founded more than 20 years ago.
Nicolo told Travel Agent that a rich and diverse shore excursion program has been designed to showcase the best of Cuba: "From city tours, literary tours to retrace the steps of Hemingway, cigar and rum manufactures, natural reserves or museums – MSC Cruises guests will be delighted by the array of choice that is theirs," she told us.
The first cruise will sail from Havana on December 22. After the winter in Havana, MSC Opera will depart April 12 to reposition to Europe for summer 2016.