Choose the Cuba Cruise That’s Right for You

1. Overview of Cuba Cruises

Port of Havana with a cruise ship docked

Cuba has been one of the most talked-about cruise destinations of 2016, and this trend will continue over the next year or more. Although travelers from all over the world have vacationed in the island nation 90 miles south of the United States for decades, most U.S.citizens have not been allowed to visit Cuba for over 50 years due to the government embargo. However, the restrictions began changing in 2011 and continue to lessen. Now it’s easier than ever for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba.

Why Should You Cruise to Cuba?

A cruise is the best way to see many of Cuba’s most fascinating historical, cultural, and educational sites. The island is much larger than other Caribbean islands, so a land tour involves more driving than a visitor might desire. In addition, many of Cuba’s roads need repair, which takes some of the fun out of driving. Travelers from Canada, Europe, and elsewhere in the world have enjoyed tropical vacations in Cuba for decades. However, the island currently does not have enough high-quality tourist infrastructure like hotels and restaurants to support an onslaught of Americans. This shortage will improve if there is enough demand, but change takes time.

Those who have cruised before love ships because you carry your bed and restaurant with you to new, exciting destinations like Cuba. Cruise lines recognize that Cuba is in demand and are working to secure the permits to visit the island.

Currently, Americans traveling to Cuba cannot go only as tourists. When the U.S. airlines begin flying to Cuba, you can’t just hop on a plane, fly to Havana, check-in at a beach resort, and lounge around for a week sipping daiquiris. Each person must be prepared to prove that their visit was for educational purposes, with opportunities for people-to-people interactions with the Cuban people. Before March 16, 2016, only companies licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) could lead people-to-people trips to Cuba. These companies provided documentation that the experience met the government criteria of an educational trip. After March 16, 2016, each individual now is responsible for keeping records of their own trip for five years in case the government asks to see what types of activities they participated in while in Cuba. Sounds difficult, doesn’t it? Another good reason to take a cruise where the shore excursions and experiences meet the OFAC criteria.

2. MSC Cruises

Castillo de San Pedro del Morro near Santiago del Cuba

Italian cruise line MSC Cruises has been sailing from Havana in the winter months since 2015. MSC currently has two ships, the MSC Armonia and the MSC Opera, that embark and disembark guests in Havana. When airlines begin flying from the USA directly to Havana, these ships might be a good option for those who want to visit Cuba.The MSC Armonia sails 15-day cruises to the western Caribbean from Havana, with ports of call in the Cayman Islands, Mexico, Honduras, Belize, and Jamaica. The Armonia spends two nights at the dock in Havana at the beginning of the cruise and one day at Isla de la Juventud, Cuba, before returning to Havana.

The MSC Opera sails 8-day cruises from Havana, with ports of call in the Cayman Islands, Mexico, and Jamaica. The MSC Opera also spends two nights at the dock in Havana, allowing guests to have more time to enjoy the city by day and by night.

3. Pearl Seas Cruises

Maria La Gorda beach in Cuba

Pearl Seas Cruises began sailing 8-day and 10-day cruises to Cuba from Miami/Fort Lauderdale in October 2016. Both the 10-day, 11-night Cuba Cultural Voyage and the 8-day, 7-night Cuba Cultural Voyage are on the 206-passenger Pearl Mist, which launched in 2014.

Like the other Cuba cruise ships, the Pearl Mist uses a people-to-people cultural program for its guests, which provides them an opportunity to learn about the heritage, history, culture, and people of Cuba through onboard lectures, shore experiences, and meeting local residents.

Both of the Pearl Mist Cuba cruise itineraries include an overnight stay in Havana. The 7-night cruise also visits Caibarién, Matanzas, and Mariel on the north shore of Cuba. The 10-day cruise circumnavigates the island nation, visiting Maria la Gorda, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, and Holguin.

Pearl Seas is a small ship ocean cruise line owned by the same family that owns American Cruise Lines, which specializes in coastal and inland voyages.

4. Viking Cruises

Morro Castle in Havana, Cuba

Although some cruise lines have Cuba-only cruises, other cruise lines include stopovers in Cuba as part of a Caribbean cruise. Viking Cruises is one of the latter.

Two of Viking Cruises’ ocean-going ships, the 930-guest Viking Sun and Viking Star, are scheduled to overnight in Havana on Central American Shores & Cuba 7-night cruises to the western Caribbean round-trip from Miami.

This cruise itinerary also includes ports of call in Cozumel, Belize City, and Key West.