Guide to Finding the Best Cruises in Cuba

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After half a century of economic sanctions by the US, Cuba is gradually opening up to foreign visitors (although Americans still need special “people-to-people” visas to travel there). It is the largest island in the Caribbean and life for many of its 11 million inhabitants hasn’t changed much since the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s. While its people might yearn for more freedom and higher wages, the country’s time-warp features – vintage cars, crumbling colonial buildings, advertising-free streetscapes and rich mix of cultures – are what travellers love about the place.

Italian-based MSC Cruises’ 2142-passenger MSC Opera started sailing from Havana in December and the line is sending a second ship, the 1952-passenger MSC Armonia, to join her sister for the 2016-17 season.

Havana’s cruise terminal is situated below Ciudad Vieja (Old Havana), a UNESCO World Heritage site. Passengers can step off the ship and straight into the city to explore its fascinating barrios, visit a cigar or rum factory and listen to live music in clubs that stay open all night. MSC Opera is sailing seven-night cruises to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico, with two-and-a-half days and two nights in the Cuban capital, until April.

MSC Armonia will sail two separate, culturally diverse, seven-night itineraries between December 2016 and April 2017. Following two days and one night in the Cuban capital, the first itinerary will take guests from Havana to explore the white-sand beaches and spectacular coral reefs of Isla de Roatan (Honduras), before heading for charming colonial Belize City (Belize). It then goes to Costa Maya (Mexico) and sails around the islands of the Canarreos Archipelago, which range from uninhabited dots to Isla de la Juventud, the second-largest island in Cuba, before returning to Havana.

The second itinerary will start with two-and-a-half days and two nights in Havana, then cruise to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula visiting Montego Bay in Jamaica, Georgetown (Cayman Islands) and Cozumel (Mexico), before circling back to Havana. Passengers can also combine the two itineraries into one 14-night cruise.

Carnival Corporation’s new voluntourism line, Fathom, will start operating seven-day round-trip cruises to Cuba from Miami in May, on the former P&O Cruises World Cruising’s Adonia. The 720-passenger ship will visit Havana, Cienfuegos (another World Heritage treasure) and Santiago de Cuba and there will be a strong emphasis on cultural exchange between passengers and local people.

Canada-based company Cuba Cruise offers seven-day itineraries on the 1200-passenger Celestyal Crystal, from Havana to María la Gorda, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, a busy city on the far eastern tip of Cuba. Meanwhile, Swedish-owned Star Clippers’ four-masted tall ship Star Flyer sails seven-, 10- and 11-day round-trips out of Cienfuegos, around the coast and to Cuba’s smaller islands, with a couple of stops at the Little and Grand Cayman Islands. Ports of call include Casilda, Cayo Largo, and the Canarreos Archipelago.

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