Demand prompts Cuba cruise firm to double fleet, extend season

As demand for travel to Cuba heats up, the tour operator Group IST says it’s adding a second cruise ship to its people-to-people program that offers eight-day sailings to the island nation starting in December. The two small ships carry about 100 guests each, cruising between Havana and Cienfuegos.

“Last season we ran one vessel and had a capacity of about 500 berths. This season we are running two ships, sailing in opposite directions each week, and have a capacity of 1,400 berths. So there are two boats instead of one and we have a longer season,” a spokeswoman for the company explains.

The Panorama and the Panorama II will offer the program through April 2016, exploring the western part of a country renowned for its culture, music, warm people, art and, of course, cigars. Group IST is also adding new excursions to the popular program, including visits to Ernest Hemingway’s former home, Finca Vigia, and to one of Cuba’s largest cigar factories.

Joining the program will be an on-board Cuba specialist and an interpreter to help facilitate people-to-people connections and meaningful exchanges between the American travelers and Cuban citizens. Emphasizing and promoting cultural exchange, the program includes excursions to venues such as museums, private art galleries, community centers, concerts, religious centers, schools and ecological centers. Cruisers will have a chance to meet Cuban historians, artists, preservationists, religious leaders, educators, musicians and many typical Cuban citizens throughout the cruise.

Group IST is licensed by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to conduct people-to-people programs in Cuba. It has offices in New York and in Mansfield, Mass., and markets group and individual tours.

Cruise fares are between $4,899 and $5,999, depending on cabin class. Price includes seven nights on either the Panorama or Panorama II, all meals from arrival in Cuba to breakfast on day of departure, mandatory Cuban medical insurance and transportation as per itinerary. Port charges of $395 and a visa fee of $75 are extra.

examiner, September 1, 2015

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