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Cruise News: All Aboard for Cuba

Plus: A new island for adventure in Belize and a longer cruise season in Japan

This May, for the first time in more than 50 years, travelers will be able to board a ship in the United States and cruise to Cuba. On Monday, Carnival Corporation announced that their new Fathom line has been granted approval to visit the island and will be sailing on May 1st from PortMiami on its inaugural trip.

Because of the long-standing trade embargo, cruise ships sailing from U.S. ports have been forbidden to call at the island since 1960. Those restrictions were eased with the restoration of diplomatic relations last year, and in July, Fathom received permission from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (which administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions) to take passengers to the island. But the company still needed approval from Cuba.

That permission came during this week’s historic visit by President Obama and his delegation, which included Carnival CEO Arnold Donald and Fathom President Tara Russell. Fathom's 705-passenger Adonia is now authorized to stop at three ports—Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba—during weeklong cruises. The line, which will assist passengers with Cuban visas, has arranged a number of activities in each destination, including transportation. The specifics of these excursions aren’t all available yet, but they will be the kind of "people-to-people" experiences that are allowed by the new U.S. rules. (The Treasury Department allows people to travel to Cuba for any of 12 specific purposes, including educational activities and support for the Cuban people.)

The Adonia will depart Miami for Cuba every other Sunday. (On alternate weeks, the ship will sail to the Dominican Republic.) Passengers will arrive at Havana late Monday morning and spend two days there on various excursions. These activities may include a walking tour of Old Havana and a stop at Plaza de la Revolución, a chance to delve into a community arts project, or a visit to the home of an artist or musician. After lunch at a paladar (a privately run restaurant), they may learn about agriculture at an organic farm. Hemingway fans will have a chance to visit Finca Vigia, his Havana home, and the fishing village of Cojimar, a favorite haunt of Hemingway’s and the setting for his novel The Old Man and the Sea. There will also be optional night excursions that include a visit to the famous Tropicana Cabaret and rides in classic cars.

After Havanna, the Adonia will head to Cienfuegos, on the south coast, in the heart of Cuba’s sugar, tobacco, and coffee country. After a day of cultural immersion there, the ship will call at Cuba's second city, Santiago de Cuba, where Fidel Castro launched his nationalist revolution. After a day spent visiting the city (perhaps including a trip to a museum that commemorates Castro’s attack on Batista's troops at the Moncada barracks), the ship will head back to Miami, arriving early Sunday morning.

Fares start at $1,800 per person, double occupancy, excluding Cuban visas, taxes, fees, and port expenses. Several on the ground, people-to-people activities are part of the price. Fares vary by season.

This week when the trip was announced, Fathom president Tara Russell said there are still some spaces available on the May 1 inaugural voyage, but added: "It will sell quickly."

Also in Cruise News

A New Adventure in Belize

Norwegian Cruise Line is developing a new eco-adventure destination on an island in southern Belize. The island, Harvest Caye, is the only port in Belize with a cruise pier, so it will be a much easier destination to reach than Belize City (where passengers have to take a long, tender ride between their anchored ship and shore). The island boasts a seven-acre beach, a 15,000-square-foot pool with cabanas, and a lagoon where visitors can kayak, paddleboard, or canoe. A 130-foot-tall Flighthouse (which resembles a lighthouse) anchors a zipline and offers free-fall jumps, and there is a ropes course over the lagoon. Passengers who want an even more luxurious experience for a day can even rent one of 11 luxury villas on the beach. And the island’s restaurants will include a Landshark Bar & Grill (a branch of the Margaritaville restaurant chain developed by Jimmy Buffett). At Harvest Caye's large marina, passengers can also join tours to the mainland, including trips to Mayan ruins and adventures like river rafting.

Get Festive in Japan

Princess Cruises will launch its longest-ever season of cruises to Japan in 2017, with trips available on the Diamond Princess from cherry blossom season in the spring to fall foliage season in November. A new "Spring Floral Festivals" voyage in April 2017 stops at Akita for the Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Festival, in Aormori for the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival, and in Toyama (Fushiki) for the Tonami Tulip Festival. Other cruises visit the Aomori Nebuta summer festival, famous for its lantern-like floats depicting samurai warriors, and the Akita Kanto festival, which features a procession of 200 lantern-festooned bamboo poles carried on the palms, foreheads, shoulders, or backs of the celebrants. Another itinerary takes in northern ports during fall foliage season. The Diamond Princess also offers many Japan-specific amenities onboard, including a full sushi restaurant, a traditional Japanese bathhouse with indoor-outdoor soaking tubs, and activities like origami classes and rakugo (a traditional form of comic storytelling).

Next>> Changes in Travel to Cuba: The New Rules You Need to Know

 Anne Kalosh doesn't count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she's on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.