The cruise line released a statement last week saying it was starting a year-long program to the island that includes 58 sailings from 2018 to March 2019. Almost half of the sailings will include overnight stays in Havana.
One of the cruise line’s biggest ships began sailing to the island from Tampa, Florida last month, and will continue those trips until November. For the winter season of 2017-2018, the ship will begin Miami-Cuba sailings that include stops in Key West and Mexico.
Michael Bayley, the CEO and president of Royal Caribbean International, said in a press release that the company has seen a “positive reaction” to its Cuba voyages. Travel to the island is expected to continue to grow at a steady rate, with estimates that 2 million U.S travelers could visit Cuba annually by 2025.
The number of U.S. visitors increased by 34% last year to 614,433 travelers. This year, with new airline and cruise services coming on the stream, the Ministry of Tourism estimates the island will receive an additional 100,000 visitors.
The boom in tourism is largely thanks to former U.S. President Obama’s thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations. The Obama administration loosened many of the tough travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. embargo against Cuba. For the first time in almost 50 years, U.S. citizens can freely travel to Cuba without prior approval from the government.
However, the visit must fall under one of the 12 categories approved by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, such as journalistic activity, family visits, religious activities, educational activities, humanitarian projects, official government business, and participation in exhibitions, workshops, public performances, and clinics.
While cruise lines are adding new sailings to Cuba, airlines have been forced to adjust flights to the island because of weak demand. American Airlines was the first to cut flights last year and other airlines, including Silver Airways, Spirit Airlines, and Frontier Airlines, announced plans to completely stop servicing the route.