Two of the most popular and well-known cruise lines recently received approval for sailings to Cuba – Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line, two of the 10 cruise brands that are part of Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company.
Carnival Corporation made history in May 2016 when its Fathom brand became the first cruise line to sail from the U.S. to Cuba in more than 40 years. So the company has had plenty of recent experience in sailing guests to Cuba – and fine-tuning how to provide their guests with a great experience.
And on June 29, history was again made as Carnival Cruise Line’s 2,052-passenger Carnival Paradise set sail from Tampa to Havana, becoming the largest U.S. cruise ship ever to sail from the U.S. to Cuba.
Carnival Cruise Line – recently named America’s Most Trusted cruise line by Reader’s Digest for the third consecutive year – is currently offering four- and five- day cruises starting this summer and fall that will overnight in Havana, giving guests the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the city’s rich culture and history, as well as its vibrant nightlife. Five-day sailings also call at Key West or Cozumel.
On December 22, Holland America Line – widely recognized as a leader in the premium segment of the cruise industry – will become Carnival Corporation’s third cruise line to sail to Cuba.
Holland America Line’s 1,350-passenger ms Veendam will sail on seven-, 11- and 12-day itineraries during the 2017-2018 winter and spring seasons from Fort Lauderdale. The ship’s itineraries will visit Havana and some also call at Cienfuegos, known as Cuba’s “Pearl of the South,” which will include shore excursions to the stunningly preserved colonial city of Trinidad. Depending on the itinerary, passengers will also have opportunity to explore other ports of call in the Caribbean, including the Bahamas and Mexico.
The opening of Cuba gives travelers a new, must-see destination to visit and explore in the Caribbean, the world’s most popular cruising region. The Spanish-speaking country is like no other place, filled with legendary history, culture and architecture, with people known for their work ethic, entrepreneurship and vibrant spirit for life.
Only 90 miles from the U.S., Cuba was for generations a place that U.S. travelers could only dream about visiting on a cruise ship. While the country is more accessible than ever by sea, it still feels like another world.
The opportunity to learn more about the Cuban culture directly from the Cuban people only enhances the experience of visiting Cuba. People-to-people exchanges, which meet U.S. guidelines for travel to Cuba, are arranged by the cruise lines on half-day and full-day shore excursions. After a complete day of exploration and immersion, guests can also experience nighttime shore excursions.
Global cruise travelers and enrichment seekers are naturally curious about new destinations and places that are not easily visited. Cuba is one of these places, and Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line guests will find opportunities to learn about a country that most have only seen in photos and news reports.
Tips for Cuba cruise travel
1. Required paperwork: All U.S. citizens and most international travelers must have a valid passport. All guests are required to obtain a visa in order to enter Cuba. The type of visa that a guest will need will depend on certain factors, including the reason for travel to Cuba. Most guests will be able to enter Cuba utilizing a “Tarjeta Turistica” (or tourist card) visa. Guests will be able to purchase the “Tarjeta Turistica” from the cruise line at a cost of $75 per person. The visa is distributed at the time of boarding your ship. You can alternatively obtain a visa from the Cuban consulate or a visa service, but going through your cruise line is a major benefit.
2. Health fee: The Cuban government requires all guests to purchase health insurance, which will be automatically included in your port charges.
3. Shore excursions: Shore excursions offered by Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line meet the people-to-people educational activities requirement. Both lines offer a wide range of shore excursions.
4. Money matters: Your ATM and credit cards may not work in Cuba. You should plan on bringing cash for any purchases. Pending any updated U.S. Department of Treasury rules, U.S. dollars can be exchanged for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs). There is an exchange office at the Havana cruise terminal. The transaction fee for converting U.S. dollars to CUCs is approximately 10%.
5. Staying in touch: Wi-Fi in Cuba requires the use of cards with codes. You are best off sharing experiences with your friends using your ship’s Internet access. If you are planning to use your cellphone, check with your provider regarding service and fees.