Tag-Archive for » Cuba cruises «

Carnival’s Secret Out About fathom

Sitting with a group of cruise media intelligentsia (whenever there’s a group, we like to think it’s “intelligentsia”…or at least “collective intelligence”) last month on an Alaska cruise, we listened attentively to thoughts of fathom. Remembering that the word “fathom” was once used to measure depth of sea water, we quickly jumped into the 21st century, in which the word has a completely different nautical application.

It’s a cruise line.

fathom is the new cruise line attached to mighty Carnival, the corporation that owns 10 of them. It’s not really a cruise line yet, but it will be when the good ship Adonia is re-Adoniabranded next spring. It’s for people who want to go to another country on a cruise ship and to make a difference by generally helping locals…starting with the Dominican Republic.

Since the cost of doing that was going to be as much as twice the price of a usual one-week cruise, the question around the table was this:

“What was Carnival thinking?”

Now, we know.

Carnival was thinking, by inventing cruises to sail under the “social impact travel” banner, that it could navigate the regulations that currently restrict American visitors to Cuba. For example, the most common way the U.S. allows (that’s the U.S. Government, not the Cuban Government) Americans to visit the Caribbean island is “educational or academic programs that include preplanned people-to-people contact.” Another category is “humanitarian efforts.”

So while conventional cruise lines wait for the other shoe to drop, Carnival Corporation jumped first by creating a cruise line that qualifies. And despite what you may be seeing on CNN, these are not Carnival ships that will be going to Cuba next year…only the Adonia, operated by one of Carnival’s other lines, P&O.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that by April 2016 the government will have cleared the path for many ships to cruise Cuba. There are already reports that six (un-named ships) have been approved by the U.S. Treasury. But right now, only the Adonia is cleared to sell its itineraries which, it appears, are going to start at $2,990 — about three times what you might pay for a weekly cruise elsewhere.

In the news…

• Renowned orator on cruise ships, John Maxtone-Graham, dead at 85
• MSC Opera to homeport in Havana in December for 16 Caribbean cruises
• Celebrity partners with Broadway production "An American In Paris"

Today at portsandbows.com: Free air offers from Scenic Cruises

Norwegian Epic
6 nights
September 20, 2015
Barcelona, Cartagena, Malaga, Lisbon, London
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $99
www.ncl.com

Cruising to Cuba: It’s Personal

The day we met Frank Del Rio, he was the founder of Oceania Cruises. Three years later, he is the head of the Norwegian cruise conglomerate. And any day or week or month now, he is poised to take a cruise ship to Cuba.

It’s inevitable that mainstream cruise ships will be taking passengers to the one remaining Caribbean island none of them is allowed to visit. It’s just a matter of when.

Nobody is more anxious than Frank Del Rio.

Frank Del RioWe knew he lived in Miami and his surname should have been a giveaway, but it didn’t occur to us that the Del Rios were Cubans. Not only that, Frank Del Rio escaped to Miami with his parents — as so many Cuban expatriates did — and has lived in South Florida ever since.

It goes without saying that cruising to Cuba, once the embargoes are lifted, is important to Del Rio. Judging from that desire plus his personality, it’s safe to assume that he also wants to be FIRST.

“My unfulfilled dream is to be on the bridge of one of my ships coming into Havana harbor,” he told CBS station WFOR-TV.

First, of course.

Despite all his preparation — proposed itineraries, multiple ports to visit, making it possible to change a ship’s schedule  on short notice — there are still some issues. From all reports, Cuba is not ready for big cruise ships. The infrastructure probably isn’t there yet for the volume of ships and passengers, from port facilities to the ability to process and protect passengers to the on-island transportation needs.

One legal mind is already cautioning the cruise industry to take it slow and easy. Those two characteristics would never apply to Frank Del Rio, who says he’ll be ready “at the drop of a hat.” He has more reason to be passionate about it than his competition.

The race is soon to be on.

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Star
11 nights
April 27, 2015
Miami, Ponta Delgada, London
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $36
www.ncl.com

Cruise Ships To Cuba: When…Not If

Photograph by Henryk Kotowski

When the Cuban embargo is over (it’s no longer “if”), one of the Caribbean country’s prime exports — besides cigars and sugar and baseball players — will be time capsules. That’s right, time capsules. A chance to go back in time before all those ’57 Chevys wind up in the junkyard, a chance to see how most people lived half a century ago.

Once tourists get a glimpse of Cuba today, as in a port call or three, they’ll want to see more. One of two things is likely to happen: (1) the cruise industry will grow, or (2) There will be some cannibalization of existing Caribbean ports, especially the ones veteran cruisers are weary of visiting. And eventually, which means somewhere down the road, ships may be home-ported in Cuba at the possible expense of places like Tampa and Mobile…and as a stopping off-port, Key West.

What price, a time capsule?

You can be sure the travel industry, and especially cruise section, is already getting its ducks (or sharks) in a row to be ready when the time comes. Since supply and demand Caribbean map-pdalways determines the price of cruising, the rush is expected to set the bar high. There will probably not be anything less than $100 a day in the early days of mass-market cruises to Havana.

Some small lines, from countries other than the U.S., are already breaking water in Cuba cruising. For the bigger lines, and bigger ships, it goes beyond pointing the bow southwest and heading off to the land of time capsules. The infrastructure in Cuba has to be able to accommodate 2,000-to-3,000-passenger cruise ships, and to process that many people through a terminal in reasonable time.

It’s safe to assume that can’t happen now…but who knows?

Cuba is, after all, a time capsule.

Today at portsandbows.com: Two new ships for Carnival Corp

Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
3 nights
January 9, 2015
Miami (return): CocoCayNassau
Inside: $97
Cost per day: $32
www.royalcaribbean.com

Cuban Cruising Causing Angst in Florida

The fight to cruise Cuba is on and the battleground, which may or may not surprise you, is Florida.

As the U.S. and the Communist country 90 miles from its southernmost shore inch towards normalizing relations, Florida sees some of its cruise stakes slipping away, like fragments of driftwood floating into the Gulf of Mexico.

The two imminent victims are Tampa and Key West.

While they aren't exactly hot ports of the industry, both have enough of a cruise-ship presence that if it should go away, there would be an impact on each's economy. While places like Miami and Fort Lauderdale are clearly poised to send Varadero

-Henryk Kotowski photo

ships full of passengers to Cuba, the concerns of Tampa and Key West have nothing to do with their geographical desirability, which both have with regards to Cuba.

It has to do with ships.

In Tampa, the port is not equipped to handle the biggest cruise ships, and when Cuba is finally on-limits you can anticipate there will be a rush. (As an aside, there has been talk of Tampa being the northern terminus for ferry service from Cuba.) Tampa's ineligibility for cruise ships is tied to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which isn't high enough. If you can believe it, government officials are looking at raising the bridge!

In Key West, a frequent port on many Caribbean cruises, the concern is that it will be replaced by Havana and other Cuban ports less than 100 miles away. So it's "problem" is being "attractive" beyond making channels wider and deeper, although that's part of the equation. Can Key West compete with Cuba…when the time comes?

Meanwhile, to the West, Florida's "enemy" for Cuban business is lurking. Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston and Houston right now are better equipped to serve Cuba with larger ships than either Tampa or Key West.

With friendlier relations between the countries inevitable, the clock is ticking for two Florida ports.

Cunard Queen Elizabeth
11 nights
January 10, 2014
LondonNew YorkFort Lauderdale
Balcony: $1,299
Cost per day: $118
www.cunard.com

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