Go soon if you want to see Cuba at its best, says Telegraph Travel’s Caribbean
Carnival is to become the first American cruise company to visit Cuba since the Sixties. The giant firm, which owns 10 lines, including Costa, Cunard, Holland America, P&O and Princess, and has a combined fleet of more than 100 ships, received permission this week to commence trips in May.
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The one-week voyages will sail from Miami under a new brand, fathom, in the 710-capacity vessel Adonia. The announcement follows an easing of travel and trade restrictions earlier this year, which permit United States citizens to visit as part of a cultural or humanitarian trip. Carnival’s voyages must include cultural excursions to meet these regulations, and they are not allowed to visit other Caribbean islands.
Carnival expects demand to be high, and the cruises are marked up accordingly, with prices starting at $2,990 (£1,940) per person. Arnold Donald, the firm’s CEO, said the new Cuban venture would be “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what to expect in the years to come.
Sleepy backwater colonial towns such as Trinidad may lose some of their appeal Photo: AP/FOTOLIA
His words could spur tourists to visit sooner rather than later. The gradual opening up to US visitors and investors has already raised fears that Cuba – “a heady mix of faded Spanish colonial cities and sputtering Fifties Cadillacs”, according to Fred Mawer, our Caribbean expert – could lose some of its allure. Around 600,000 US citizens visit the island annually; Cuban officials estimate that 1.5 million would if all restrictions were removed. “America once provided the lion’s share of visitors to Cuba, and that may well be the case again soon,” Mawer said. “Places such as Old Havana and Varadero are likely to become much busier, and sleepy backwater colonial towns such as Trinidad may lose some of their appeal. Yes, an influx of demanding US tourists should result in better hotels, food and transport, but part of Cuba’s appeal is that it is not another sanitised holiday destination – so I would strongly advocate going soon.”
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Chris Moss, a regular visitor to the island, was more positive about the changes. “I don’t think this will turn Cuba into some kind of Puerto Rico, much less turn back to the clock to the supposed glory days,” he said. “Sure, the atmosphere might change for European visitors, and we’re bound to hear more American accents in bars, cafes, museums and on the beach – but a minor change in mood is a small price to pay for all the benefits ordinary Cubans might gain from the easing of sanctions.”
Carnival owns 10 cruise lines, including Princess, Costa and Holland America Photo: AP/FOTOLIA
Carnival won’t be the first cruise company to visit. Several non-US lines, like Saga, Fred Olsen, Swan Hellenic and Noble Caledonia, have included Cuba on their Caribbean itineraries, as has 1,200-capacity Celestyal Crystal, operated by the Canadian company Cuba Cruise. Costa Cruises operated in Cuba until Carnival took it over in 2000.
Meanwhile, MSC Cruises announced plans this week to base a 2,120-passenger ship in Havana this winter, offering one-week voyages from the Cuban capital on board MSC Opera from December 22 until April 12, 2016.