US President Donald Trump last week announced renewed restrictions for American residents and companies travelling to, or offering tours to, Cuba in the Caribbean, including a ban on all cruises from US ports to the island.
The move reversed a 2016 decision by President Barack Obama that eased travel restrictions, allowing cruises to the Communist island nation for the first time. In May that year, a Carnival vessel became the first US cruise ship to port in Havana in more than 50 years.
What followed was explosive growth in cruises to Havana and other Cuban ports, primarily from Miami and Port Canaveral.
The ‘Big Three’ cruise corporations (Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line) all rolled out Havana port calls, as well as foreign cruise companies like MSC Cruises and even Sir Richard Branson’s new Virgin Voyages.
All of these lines have announced compensation and alternate port calls for passengers on affected itineraries.
Carnival Cruises announced that passengers would get a US $100 on-board spending credit if they stayed on the same itinerary, while those who chose to switch to a different sailing would receive US $50. Alternately, passengers who want to cancel altogether can get a full refund.
Royal Caribbean said it would be offering a 50% refund for passengers who remained on affected cruises, or a full refund if they chose to cancel instead.
Norwegian Cruise Line has not yet announced the amount of compensation it would be offering, but said the refunds for affected itineraries would be “substantial”.
Virgin Voyages meanwhile has said that it would replace port calls in Havana with an alternate destination. “While we’re disappointed about the travel restrictions that eliminate cruising to Cuba, the beauty of sea travel is that we have the flexibility to adjust our itineraries if needed,” the cruise line said in a statement.
Virgin Voyages had made an overnight port call in Havana a major part of its Caribbean cruise offering, increasing the pressure for the line to come up with an equally enticing alternative.
That may not be possible for any of the affected cruise lines, what made Havana special as a cruise destination was its unique allure. As a Communist country, largely stuck in the 1950s due to decades of punitive sanctions, it represented a mysterious and exotic option.
A 2018 study by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) reported that 43% of travel agents in the US said potential passengers were increasingly interested in Cuba, and the latest restrictions on cruises to the country have affected around 800,000 bookings.
“We are disappointed that cruises will no longer be operating to Cuba,” Adam Goldstein, Chairman of the CLIA, said in a statement. “While out of our control, we are genuinely sorry for all cruise line guests who were looking forward to their previously booked itineraries to Cuba.”
MSC Cruises as an independent Italian-owned cruise line with its head office in Switzerland, is more impervious to the Cuba restrictions than US-based cruise lines and will continue to offer roundtrip Havana cruises aboard MSC Opera.