Choose a Cuba Cruise

El Capitolio in Havana, Cuba
Linda Garrison
  • 01 of 07

    Overview of Cuba Cruises

    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.

    The rest of this article discusses the different Cuba cruise options, and it will be updated as cruise lines secure permission to visit the island. As of July 1, 2016, these cruise lines are either already sailing to Cuba or have confirmed sailing dates available for booking:

    • Celestyal Cruises
    • Fathom Cruises
    • Grand Circle Cruise Line
    • MSC Cruises
    • Pearl Seas Cruises
    • Viking Cruises
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  • 02 of 07

    Cuba Cruises: Celestyal Cruises

    El Capitolio in Havana, Cuba
    Linda Garrison

    Celestyal Cruises has partnered with the People to People Cuba program and sailed a Cuba Cruise with American and international guests for the past four years during the winter season. Celestyal's first Cuba cruise had one American family participating in the People to People program. However, by April 2016, the company had over 400 American on the 7-day round-trip sailing from Montego Bay I did on the 1000-guest Celestyal Crystal.

    The 7-day, all-inclusive Celestyal Cruises Cuba cruise itinerary starts in November 2016 and continues year-round through the end of 2017. Guests can embark in either Havana, Cuba or Montego Bay, Jamaica and disembark in the same port seven days later. U.S. citizens participating in the People to People Cuba Cruise program board embark and disembark in Montego Bay.

    • Friday – Montego Bay – Depart at 20:00
    • Saturday – Santiago de Cuba – Arrive at 08:00; Depart at 16:00
    • Sunday – At Sea
    • Monday – Havana – Arrive at 09:30
    • Tuesday – Havana – Depart at 17:00
    • Wednesday – Punta Frances – Arrive at 13:00; Depart at 18:00
    • Thursday – Cienfuegos with tours to Trinidad – Arrive at 07:00; Depart at 15:00
    • Friday – Montego Bay – Arrive at 8:00 am and disembark 

    U.S. citizens can choose from two different ways to travel with Celestyal Cruises:

    1. Book directly with their travel agent or Celestyal Cruises and be automatically registered for the People to People Cuba Cruise group program; or
    2. Book a comprehensive program with an authorized U.S. tour operator partner.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my Cuba cruise with Celestyal Cruises. We saw much of the country and learned a lot about its people, culture, and history through shore excursions, activities, and onboard lectures. It was also fun to travel on a cruise ship with about 50 percent Americans and 50 percent other nationalities from around the world. We all had something in common--a desire to visit Cuba.

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  • 03 of 07

    Cuba Cruises: Fathom Cruises

    Malecon in Havana, Cuba
    Buena Vista Images/Getty Images

    Fathom Cruises is owned by Carnival Corporation and was the first mainstream American cruise line to sail directly from the U.S.A. to Cuba in May 2016.

    Fathom is a different type of cruise line. Its goal is "impact travel", where guests travel with a purpose. On its Cuba cruises, Fathom uses an ongoing cultural exchange program (like People to People) that gives guests the opportunity to interact one on one with the Cuban people.

    The cruise line has one ship, the 704-passenger Adonia, which was built in 2001 as R8 for Renaissance Cruises. After that company went out-of-business, Adonia became the Minerva 2 for Swan Hellenic Cruises and then Royal Princess for Princess Cruises. 

    Cruises on the Adonia to Cuba sail round-trip from Miami every other Sunday year-round and include:

    • 3 1/2 days of shore excursions, including stops in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Cienfuegos;
    • Two days at sea;
    • Three meals a day, including all lunches onshore.

    The Adonia sails from Miami to the Dominican Republic for Fathom Cruises on the alternate Sundays, so guests with more time can book back-to-back and have a completely different experience. The Cuba cruises with Fathom focus on a cultural and educational experience, and the Dominican Republic cruises on the Adonia give guests the opportunity to work side-by-side with community residents on programs that focus on improving the lives of children, families and their communities. 

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  • 04 of 07

    Cuba Cruises: Grand Circle Cruise Line

    Trinidad, Cuba
    Linda Garrison

    Grand Circle Cruise Line sails Cuba’s Cultural Treasures: A Coastal Voyage, an 11-night, 89-passenger cruise tour from Miami to Cuba beginning in January 2017.  Grand Circle is the only U.S cruise line to offer a Cuba cruise experience with fewer than 100 passengers.

    Since November 2011, over 7,000 Americans have participated in Grand Circle's land tours in Cuba, so the company has experienced tour leaders and staff.

    Cuba’s Cultural Treasures: A Coastal Voyage begins in Miami where, following an overnight and morning tour of Miami’s Little Havana, travelers embark the 89-passenger M/V Clio.  The ship sails around Cuba’s northern, eastern, and southern coastline for the next seven days –stopping in port towns and cities like Caibarien, Remedios, Santiago de Cuba, and Trinidad. Travelers will disembark their ship in Cienfuegos and drive overland to Havana, where they will spend the next three nights in Cuba’s capital city before departing for home.  (A reverse itinerary beginning in Havana and ending in Miami is also available).

    Throughout this people to people itinerary, travelers will meet Cubans from all walks of life and experience their myriad passions and traditions, including music and baseball.  They will visit a casa particular, a restaurant run in a private home, to savor a lunch of authentic Cuban dishes—and talk with baseball players during a visit to the oldest, continuously utilized baseball diamond in the Western Hemisphere. Travelers will enjoy Cuban music and dance performances and will meet painters, basket makers, ceramists, writers, and musicians throughout the country.  They also will take part in discussions with local experts on a variety of topics, including Cuba’s economy, Afro-Cuban religions, the history of the National Ballet, daily life in Cuba, and more—and they’ll learn how to cook a few local specialties, play the popular game of dominoes,  and dance the traditional casino (Cuban salsa).

    Cuba’s Cultural Treasures: A Coastal Voyage begins at $6795 per person  and includes: 

    • Visa for non-Cuban-born participants; 
    • Accommodations: 1 night at a hotel in Miami; 7 nights aboard Grand Circle’s M/VClio, and 3 nights at a hotel in Havana;  
    • 28 meals, including Captain's Welcome and Farewell receptions and dinners and complimentary house beer, wine, and soft drinks served while on board; 
    • 7 exclusive tours with headsets; Airport transfers in Miami; All port charges; 
    • Gratuities for local guides and motorcoach drivers;
    • Baggage handling for 1 piece of luggage per person, and more.  Grand Circle’s local Program Directors will be assigned to no more than 25 travelers and will accompany their small group from their arrival in Cuba to their departure, introducing travelers to the insights that only a local expert can provide.  

    Grand Circle Cruise Line acquired the M/V Clio in 2015 and completed a $5M renovation in June 2016. The ship carries 89 passengers in 45 outside-facing cabins.  

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  • 05 of 07

    Cuba Cruises: MSC Cruises

    Castillo de San Pedro del Morro near Santiago del Cuba
    Linda Garrison

    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.

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  • 06 of 07

    Cuba Cruises: Pearl Seas Cruises

    Maria La Gorda beach in Cuba
    Linda Garrison

    Pearl Seas Cruises begins 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 was just 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. 

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  • 07 of 07

    Cuba Cruises: Viking Cruises

    Morro Castle in Havana, Cuba
    Linda Garrison

    Although some cruise lines have Cuba-only cruises, other cruise lines include stopovers in Cuba as part of a Caribbean cruise. Viking Cruises is sending the Viking Star to the Caribbean from October 2016 through February 2017 and has already scheduled three of its ships to sail Caribbean itineraries beginning in October 2017. Two of these ships will visit Cuba. 

    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 starting in December 2017.

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