(11:45 a.m. EST) — Small ship operator Pearl Seas Cruises has canceled its first two scheduled sailings between Fort Lauderdale and Cuba.
The March 6 voyage would have made Pearl Seas the first American cruise line to sail from Fort Lauderdale to Cuba in more than 50 years.
Instead, travelers on the line’s ship – 210-passenger Pearl Mist — have been notified that the March 16 sailing, as well as the one on March 6, will not go as planned.
“Pearl Seas Cruises has received notice this morning that the approval meeting of the Cuban government scheduled for today (March 10, 2016) has been postponed until after President Obama’s visit,” said Timothy Beebe, vice president of Pearl Seas Cruises, in a statement. “Therefore we are forced to cancel the March 16, 2016 Cuba Cultural Voyage cruise. Passengers will have the choice to transfer their reservation to another cruise or receive a full refund.”
It’s unknown whether the rest of Pearl Seas’ Cuba cruises — four more are scheduled, after March 16 — will sail.
Pearl Seas Cruises announced its Cuba itinerary last July. The round-trip Fort Lauderdale trip was slated to visit Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba and offer its American passengers the required “people to people” cultural and humanitarian activities.
Cuba is considered the next hot cruise destination, with lines rushing to develop itineraries for Americans. At this point, there are few regulations on the American side, other than the people-to-people requirement. What’s been holding things up for lines such as Pearl Seas and Fathom is the approval process, being created from scratch, by the Cuban government.
Fathom, Carnival’s social impact line, is slated to start cruises to Cuba from Miami in May; the company also does not have approval from the Cuban government. One American cruise line, Haimark Line, did receive the OK from Cuba to offer trips sailing from Florida, but had to cancel when the line went bankrupt.
The American company International Expeditions already operates cruises in Cuba because they had a pre-existing people-to-people presence in the country. International cruise lines, such as Cuba Cruise and MSC, also offer Cuba sailings, although none that start from an American port.
For more on cruising to Cuba, read our Cuba Cruise Q&A and Cuba Cruising Basics.