Carnival planning US-to-Cuba cruise in May


Miami (AFP)

US cruise line Carnival said Wednesday it has begun taking reservations for its first US-to-Cuba cruise in more than half a century, confident the government will give it the required permits.

It has scheduled the cruise for May 1-7, with the objective of promoting cultural exchanges between the former Cold War adversaries.

"We are highly optimistic that we will receive approval soon from Cuban officials to cruise to Cuba based on the ongoing discussions. We are planning to sail May 1," Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell said in an email.

It would be the first time a cruise ship has sailed directly between the United States and Cuba since the two countries broke off relations in 1961.

Since a historic rapprochement began in December 2014, the US government has granted various cruise ship and ferry operators permission to reopen routes to Cuba, but so far Cuban officials have refrained from giving their green light.

President Barack Obama will crown the political rapprochement with a visit to Cuba on March 20-22, but a US embargo remains in place.

The weeklong cruises being organized by Carnival subsidiary Fathom include stops in Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago aboard the Adonia, a vessel with capacity for 700 passengers.

Prices range from $2,000 per person for an interior cabin to more than $7,000 for a suite.

Under US law, Americans are barred from traveling to Cuba merely for tourism, but the Obama administration has loosened travel restrictions for educational, cultural, sports, academic and religious reasons.

The US administration recently authorized up to 110 commercial flights a day to the communist-ruled island, beginning this year.

Currently, only charter flights make the trip between the two countries.

Last year, approximately 160,000 Americans traveled to the island, a 57 percent increase from the previous year.