ABOARD HARMONY OF THE SEAS — Royal Caribbean could be sailing to Cuba as early as July, the line’s top executive said this weekend.
Speaking at a press conference on board Royal Caribbean’s new Harmony of the Seas, CEO Michael Bayley said the company is just waiting on approvals from Cuban authorities to start up regular sailings to the country from Miami.
Confirming months of speculation, Bayley said the company likely will deploy its 2,020-passenger Empress of the Seas on the Cuban runs. The 16-year-old ship is scheduled to emerge from an extended renovation next week and spend the next two months operating short voyages out of Miami to the Bahamas, Mexico and Grand Cayman. It has no sailings on the docket beyond July.
Bayley suggested the line would go ahead with all of the sailings currently on Empress’ schedule even if the approvals for Cuba trips come through soon.
“We wouldn’t be going (to Cuba) until the end of July (or) early August, assuming we get the correct permission from the Cuban government,” he said.
When asked when the company expected approval, Bayley was circumspect. “Tomorrow would be good,” he said. “Hopefully it will be soon.”
Industry giant Carnival Corp.’s new Fathom brand earlier this month became the first cruise line in years to sail from the USA to Cuba. The company received Cuban approval for the trips in March. Small-ship line Ponant also has received Cuban approval for trips from the USA to Cuba but doesn’t plan to start them until 2017.
Unveiled in 1990, the 48,563-ton Empress is rejoining the Royal Caribbean fleet this year after sailing for Spanish line Pullmantur for eight years.
The press conference this weekend on Harmony came as the ship prepared for its first sailing with paying passengers. At 226,963 tons, it is the largest cruise ship ever and more than four times the size of Empress.
For our first look at Harmony, scroll through the carousels below.
Gene Sloan, USA TODAY, 9NEWS.com
May 23, 2016