In 2015, when travel restrictions for Americans tourists visiting Cuba were loosened, the U.S. State Department gave several ferry companies permission to begin sailing between South Florida and Cuba once they received approval from Cuban authorities.
However, with the implementation of travel restrictions in June of 2019 by the Trump administration, these plans abruptly came to a halt. Under the current U.S. government regulations for international travel, tourists are no longer permitted to utilize “people-to-people” programs, and cruise ship operations from the United States to Cuba have been suspended indefinitely.
Now, fewer Americans are able to visit Cuba and passengers traveling from the United States to Cuba currently only have the option to travel by air.
Flights to Cuba
Both faster and more expensive than traveling to Cuba by ferry or cruise ship, airline travel is still permitted under current U.S. regulations.
While visitors can no longer travel to Cuba under the "people-to-people" program and cannot arrive via ship or private vessel, under the “support for the Cuban people” category, people can travel to Cuba but must have an itinerary showing meetings and visits with local business owners, artists, or others and must stay in a private home, not a hotel.
This is to reduce the economic support of Cuba provided by tourism from the United States. The U.S. State Department has outlined ways that people can travel to Cuba and has links to further information.
Ferry Travel to Cuba
The highly anticipated launch of Florida to Cuba ferry services has been put on hold. It was originally expected that when ferry travel launched, there would be service to Havana from at least two Florida destinations: Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) and Key West. Miami, Port Manatee, Tampa, and St. Petersburg were other departure points being considered by ferry companies. Ports in Cuba for the U.S. ferry service included the historic, south coast port city of Santiago de Cuba as well as Havana.
Ferry service from the U.S. to Cuba is not new—several ferries made daily runs between South Florida and Havana into the early 1960s, with Miami being a popular place for Cuban families to come and do their shopping. Additionally, when travel restrictions were loosened in 2015, the cruise ship Adonia, part of Carnival Cruise Lines' Fathom Travel fleet, docked in Havana in May 2016 on an excursion from Miami, the first such landing in nearly 40 years.
Companies Proposing Ferry Services
Cuba Ferries, a global booking site that would offer one-stop shopping for Florida to Cuba ferry reservations lists the companies that had planned to offer ferry travel:
- America Cruise Ferries: ACF, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, used to provide cargo and passenger ferry services between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic however has shut down operations.
- Baja Ferries: A sister company to America Cruise Ferries, Baja Ferries transports passengers between Mexican Pacific ports across the Gulf of California. The company proposed a fare of $250 round trip for their Florida to Cuba route.
- Balearia: Baleria Group, a Spanish shipping company, transports passengers between the Balearic Islands of Spain and internationally and sailed in the Caribbean under the Bahamas Express brand connecting Florida with the Bahamas. Baleria had planned to offer a high-speed (3-hour trip) ferry service from Key West and conventional ferry service from Port Everglades
- Cubakat: Cubakat ferry was conceptualized specifically to provide a low-cost ferry service between Cuba and the U.S.
- Havana Express: Havanna Express, a Cayman Island entity, planned to provide high-speed ferry service between Havana and South Florida. They anticipated offering passengers an "authentic Cuban experience" with a Cuban restaurant, cocktail bars, Cuban coffee bar, and a range of amenities for the 6.5-hour trip.
- Superfast Ferries: Superfast Ferries is an established international company operating primarily in Greece. They anticipated a 10-hour-in-length, daily service between Miami and Havanna. Their large ships are equipped with restaurants, tax-free shops, a pool, bars, and children's activities.
- United Caribbean Lines: One of the first to apply to operate between Florida and Cuba, United Caribbean Lines is now planning a launch of ferry service between Tampa and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico for 2020.
Advantages of Ferry Travel to Cuba
These ferry services were eagerly anticipated for several reasons. Taking a flight may be faster than a ferry, but traveling to Cuba by water was expected to be cheaper. Roundtrip fares could start at around $250 and there would be no weight limits on baggage. And, there may have been opportunities to bring your car aboard.
Several of the proposed ferry services would have offered a luxurious way to travel to Cuba, with restaurants, services and, for one company, a casino. The crossing could have been a fun way to spend a day.
The Future of Ferries and Cruises
Congress is expected to consider a bill that will end these travel restrictions, and it has support from a bipartisan majority. If that happens, plans for ferry travel will be ramped up again as an alternative to air travel from Florida to Cuba.