Cuba: Cruise Lines, Tour Ops and Airlines Announce New Offerings

Havana may soon see a lot more Americans strolling its streets.
Havana may soon see a lot more Americans strolling its streets.

The reopening on July 20 of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. was yet another sign that agents could look forward to increased opportunities for selling the island that was once — and may yet again be — commonly referred to as the “Pearl of the Antilles.” Here are some of the more recent tourism-related developments.

Following the announcement earlier this month that MSC CruisesMSC Opera would call in Cuba (not to mention plans for Carnival Corp.’s Fathom to offer itineraries there), the country continues to be a red-hot cruise destination. Last month saw two more companies announce plans for new itineraries in Cuba.

Haimark Line reports that its Saint Laurent will circumnavigate Cuba on 15 nine-night voyages starting in February 2016. Operated in conjunction with Florida-based United Caribbean Lines, the 105-cabin vessel will offer roundtrip departures from Miami to Cuba and back beginning February 20, 2016, from $4,599 per person/double occupancy (plus applicable port charges and fees). Upon final government approval for this People-to-People cruise product, passengers will have the opportunity to participate in “Cuba 360: A Circumnavigation of the Cultures of Cuba” aboard the Saint Laurent.


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More New Tour Itineraries

Globus and Cosmos, meanwhile, have announced six new Cuba itineraries for 2016, including an opportunity to cruise to the country. The new People-to-People tours, which range from nine to 17 days, include a new nine-day “Cosmos Cuba Discovery” program priced from $2,475. In addition, for the first time, Globus is inviting travelers to discover “Cuba by Land & Sea” with a new 10-day program cruising the Caribbean aboard the Celestyal Crystal, featuring port stops in Havana, Maria La Gorda, Pinar del Río, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. In June, Globus also unveiled a new faith-based “Spiritual Journey through Cuba” program for travelers interested in the more religious side of the country and its people. Examples of People-to-People activities on Globus and Cosmos’ Cuba itineraries include:

* Interacting with local fishermen and discussing their community project that helps educate local children on protecting the environment.

* Walking the streets of historic Santiago de Cuba with a local architect and historian and discussing architecture styles, influences and current renovation projects.

* Enjoying a jazz performance and then meeting with the musicians.

* Having dinner at a family-owned paladar and discussing with the owner and staff the free-enterprise system in Cuba and the U.S.

* Visiting the studios and homes of artists such as sculptor Martha Jimenez and painter/ceramicist José Fuster.

Apple Vacations has announced that its new Cuba tours are now on sale, operating under the 12 pre-approved travel categories licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the U.S. Department of Treasury last month. The tours will have five departure dates this September and October, with five- and seven-night options. Apple’s pre-arranged Cuba itineraries are classified as “Educational Activities” (People-to-People) and are designed to give vacationers the opportunity to immerse themselves in Cuban culture, and to interact and engage with its people. Additional departures throughout 2016 are anticipated. Agents can monitor Apple Vacations’ Agent Cafe for details as new dates are solidified.

Several of Globus’s Cuba programs include a visit to the home of artist José Fuster, known as the “Picasso of the Caribbean.”
Several of Globus’s Cuba programs include a visit to the home of artist José Fuster, known as the “Picasso of the Caribbean.”

The vacation wholesaler is working with U.S.-based Cuba Travel Services, a Cuba-licensed operator that charters flights from Miami to Cuba with Sun Country Airlines and American Airlines. Connections to Miami can be arranged from all major U.S. gateways.

The five-night “Havana Getaway” provides a cultural overview of Cuba’s capital, aimed at U.S. visitors who cannot allot the 10+ days required by other Cuba travel programs available to Americans. Highlights include sightseeing tours, musical performances, antique American cars, a cigar rolling demonstration and plenty of authentic Cuban cuisine. Price starts at $2,233 per person double, with departures on September 5 and October 17.

Apple Vacations’ seven-night “Colors of Cuba” program adds to the features of “Getaway” two nights in the colonial town of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Priced from $2,733 per person double, it departs on September 11 and 25 and October 8.

Prices include Cuban health insurance, charter flights departing from Miami (connecting flights from other U.S. cities available), Cuban tourist visa processing, U.S. taxes and fees. A Cuban departure tax of $25 per passenger will be collected upon check in at Miami International Airport.

Travel to Cuba must be booked a minimum of 40 days in advance of departure date to allow ample time for the processing of required documentation. Travelers will receive an orientation in Miami to ensure familiarity with Cuban laws, policies and traditions prior to arrival in Cuba.

With destinations such as Havana, Trinidad and Matanzas attracting increasing numbers of visitors, insight-Cuba is launching its “Weekend in Santiago de Cuba” tour, the second installment in its “Weekend” series. Santiago de Cuba, the island nation’s second-largest city, sizzles with Afro-Cuban culture, salsa, and monuments to its long and complex history. From January through May 2016, agents can book clients on one of nine departure dates to explore the island’s sounds and rhythms, enjoy a brush with Santeria, and tour El Cobre, the mountain pilgrimage church site regularly visited by the pope.

Airlines Weigh in

On the airlines front, United Airlines and American Airlines both issued separate statements last month in regard to the aforementioned reopening of American and Cuban embassies.

“United Airlines congratulates the U.S. and Cuban governments on the historic reopening of their embassies today in both countries’ capitals, which have been closed for more than a half century,” read United’s official statement. “We look forward to continuing our constructive dialogue with both governments about providing our customers service between our two nations, subject to government approval.”

Doug Parker, American’s chairman and CEO, issued a similar statement, calling the move “an important step toward building new commercial relationships and re-establishing scheduled air service between the U.S. and Cuba,” adding that “American Airlines has operated charter flights to Cuba for nearly 25 years and we stand ready to begin scheduled service when it’s allowed.”

Meanwhile, Miami-based HavanaAir Charters continues its expansion into Cuba market with its partner Eastern Air Lines Group, Inc. At press time, HavanaAir (which currently operates some 65 flights a month to Havana from Miami, with additional service to Santa Clara and Camaguey) was set to begin weekly, direct service from Houston International Airport to Havana this month, providing U.S. West Coast gateway cities with more convenient connections to Cuba.

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