Holland America is the latest American cruise line to receive approval for sailings to Cuba. The Seattle-based company received approval last week to call in Havana and Cienfuegos, a city on the island’s southern coast.
Holland America opened bookings last Friday and has scheduled voyages that pass through Cuba on its 1,350-passenger cruise ship, MS Veendam, from December to April 2018. The company will offer 7- to 12-day trips that start in Fort Lauderdale.
The trips will include stops in several Caribbean ports, including Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Prices start at $899 per person.
Holland America is the ninth U.S.-based cruise line to receive permission to sail to Cuba. Other cruise lines have announced plans to increase voyages to the island because of the high demand.
Royal Caribbean International recently released a statement announcing plans for a year-long program to Cuba that includes 58 voyages starting from January 2018 to March 2019. The cruise line’s biggest ship has already began sailing from Tampa, Florida with overnight stays in Havana.
While cruise lines are announcing more trips to Cuba, several airlines have been forced to adjust the frequency of flights to the island due to poor demand. Cruise lines have the advantage of carrying their own accommodations and provisions, which makes them more attractive to American travelers.
The number of American tourists visiting the island increased by 34 percent in 2016 to 614,433 travelers. This year, the Cuban Ministry of Tourism expects to receive an additional 100,000 visitors because of all the airline and cruise companies that are offering travel packages to the island.
The tourism boom is largely thanks to the changes former U.S. President Obama made to U.S.-Cuba relations. His administration loosened many stringent travel restrictions that were imposed by the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
U.S. travelers can now visit the island if their trip falls under one of 12 categories approved by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, including educational activities; family visits; humanitarian projects; journalistic activity; religious activities; official government business; and participation in clinics, exhibitions, performances, and workshops.
Americans still can’t simply go lay on the beach in Cuba, but a bill that was introduced last month by Senators Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) could change that. The Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2017, which is cosponsored by 52 senators from both parties, seeks to eliminate all restrictions on travel to Cuba and authorize bank transactions by U.S. citizens and legal residents.
“Recognizing the inherent right of Americans to travel to Cuba isn’t a concession to dictators, it is an expression of freedom. It is Americans who are penalized by our travel ban, not the Cuban government,” said Flake. “Lifting the ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba can pave the way to meaningful change by increasing contact between Cubans and everyday Americans, and it is certain to have positive benefits for the island’s burgeoning entrepreneurial and private sector.”