Cuba opens its doors to more U.S. cruise lines

Havana is no longer a daydream for cruisers.

While Carnival Corp.’s newest brand, Fathom, launched “social impact” cruises to Cuba last spring, the more mainstream lines have been in a holding pattern. The wait is now over for many of them.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has received approval to operate cruises to Cuba beginning in March. All three of the company’s brands — Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, will offer the opportunity for guests to visit the country on select sailings from PortMiami.

The company’s first cruise to Cuba sets sail March 7 on Oceania Cruises’ Marina. Seven Seas Mariner will call on Havana during two cruises in April. Norwegian Sky will offer four-day voyages in May that will overnight in Havana.

Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas will make the cruise line’s first visit to Cuba on an April 19 sailing from PortMiami.

The newly refurbished ship will reposition to Tampa, offering two itineraries with calls to Havana on April 30 and May 20. The ship will homeport in Tampa for the summer, offering a series of four- and five-night sailings, including port calls to destinations in Cuba.

Azamara Club Cruises will call on Havana on a 12-night voyage, “Hemingway Hideaways,” sailing from Miami March 21. Other stops include Key West, Tampa, New Orleans and Cozumel, Mexico.

Pearl Seas Cruises is getting a jump on the bigger lines, with its 210-passenger Pearl Mist offering a 10-night cruise to Cuba departing from Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 17. The ship will circumnavigate the island, visiting Havana and a host of ports on the southern coast including Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santiago de Cuba.

Pearl Mist will make 11 visits to Cuba through May, with each 10-night cruise sailing from Port Everglades.

For some cruise lines — including Carnival Corp.’s Holland America Line, Princess and Carnival Cruise Line — the wait to travel to Cuba continues.

Chief Communications Officer Roger Frizzell says, “We have requested approval from Cuba for our other brands to begin sailing there in 2017.” He says the company remains optimistic.

CARNIVAL RIDE: Carrie Underwood will be performing in the Carnival LIVE concert series, with a show scheduled on Carnival Imagination in April.

Underwood will perform April 4 when the ship is docked in Catalina Island; the four-day cruise sails April 2 from Long Beach, Calif.

Tickets are $80 for general admission. Premier tickets are available for $150 and include seating in the first few rows, Carrie Underwood merchandise, an “Honor.Family.Fun” dog tag and a commemorative concert pass.

Carnival LIVE’s 2017 lineup includes country artists Tim McGraw and Little Big Town and comedians Jay Leno and Jeff Foxworthy. More information can be found at www.carnival.com/CarnivalLIVE.

PARADISE UPGRADED: There’s a cool little tiki bar on Holland America Line’s private island of Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas. Its name is I Wish I Could Stay Here Forever — and many of us who have visited this little slice of paradise wish we could.

And now there are even more reasons to want to languish in this tropical oasis.

In celebrating Half Moon Cay’s 20th anniversary, the cruise line recently opened a new dining venue, the Lobster Shack, on the island. The casual restaurant serves fresh, grilled lobster with coconut beans and rice. The cost is $20 per person. The view is priceless.

The cruise line upgraded its water toy inventory on the island, now offering new Sunfish sailboats, Hobie catamarans, Aqua Cycle Trikes and Aqua Trax WaveRunners.

The beach-side cabanas and two-story villas received face-lifts, with new paint and furnishings.

The Grand Cabana — gather a dozen of your best friends and book this private retreat — also received new decor.

All Holland America cruises sailing out of Fort Lauderdale call on Half Moon Cay. To learn more, visit www.hollandamerica.com.

Sy O’Neill, Palm Beach Post

December 31, 2016

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