Short windows limit marketing of Cuba cruises

Short windows limit marketing of Cuba cruises

Travel agents have begun selling cruises to Cuba set to sail
in the first half of 2017, but some said the limited number of itineraries
approved so far by the Cuban government makes it hard for them to justify a
marketing campaign.

Royal Caribbean International has three cruises to Havana
firmly scheduled, while Norwegian Cruise Line has five.

“There’s definite interest in it, but it’s not
something that as of yet is a hot seller,” said John Rice, president of
Vacation Tour and Cruise in Tampa. “We have a lot of people asking about
it. We’ve only done a couple of [sales] at this point in time.”

While six brands were authorized in December to carry
passengers on a handful of cruises to Cuba, no U.S. cruise line has permission
to sail there after the end of May, although most have applied.

And in the U.S., the volatile politics of rapprochement with
Cuba could very well signal an end to relaxed travel rules with the change in
administrations this month.

That uncertainty is hampering what otherwise might have been
a great new market for agents, Rice said.

“Right now, our big problem is we have absolutely no
idea what the future will hold,” Rice said. “My senator [Florida
Republican Marco Rubio] is against this continuing. We’ve heard negative
comments about the program from [president-elect Donald] Trump when he was

The latest opening for passengers interested in cruising to
Cuba came Dec. 9, when the country approved a number of new entrants, including
Oceania Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Pearl Seas

All those companies have opened sales and set dates for at
least one cruise, offering consumers a variety of price points, cruise lengths
and luxury levels for a U.S. departure that includes Cuba.

In the contemporary segment, the entrants are Royal Caribbean
and Norwegian Cruise Line. Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas has a five-day
Cuba cruise scheduled to depart Miami on April 19, along with a seven-day
cruise from Tampa departing April 30 and a five-day cruise from Tampa leaving
May 20.

Rice said he is offering the five-day Tampa cruise at a
lead-in price of $608 per person.

Norwegian Cruise Line has four-day cruises on the Norwegian
Sky departing Miami every Monday in May that include an overnight in Havana and
a stop at Great Stirrup Cay. Prices for inside cabins start at $699.

Cheryl Scavron, an agent at Dream Vacations in Pompano
Beach, Fla., said the prices can seem expensive relative to a typical Caribbean

“People from here, it’s in their minds that Cuba is 90
miles away; it shouldn’t cost me that much to go there. They think about it as
another Caribbean island,” Scavron said.

Frank Del Rio, president of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings,
said in a recent conference call that the Cuba cruises would be priced at a
premium because of their relative scarcity and pent-up demand.

Scavron said another hindrance is Royal Caribbean’s decision
to have just one cruise to Cuba from Miami before repositioning the ship to
Tampa for the summer.

“People in this area, from Palm Beach and Broward
counties, they don’t want to drive to Miami, let alone Tampa,” Scavron
said. “I have a few of them booked on the inaugural sailing in April, but
I was hoping we would be able to do more sailings from here.”

“People from here, it’s in their minds that Cuba is 90 miles away; it shouldn’t cost me that much to go there.” — Cheryl Scavron, Dream Vacations, Pompano Beach, Fla.

Several cruises departing Miami for Cuba are scheduled by
lines in the upper-premium segment, offering smaller ships and more luxury than
the 1,602-passenger Empress and the 2,004-passenger Norwegian Sky.

Azamara Club Cruises will include an overnight in Havana on
a 12-day Azamara Quest departure from Miami on March 21. Prices start at
$2,799. And Oceania Cruises will spend from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. in Havana on
March 9 as part of a 14-day cruise on its Marina ship, with prices starting at

The Marina has two subsequent 10-day cruises that include
overnight stays in Havana.

Luxury operator Regent Seven Seas also has departures from
Miami scheduled on April 11 and 18 that will include an overnight stay in
Havana. Prices for the seven-night cruises start at $2,999 per person.

Bill Schneider, owner of a Dream Vacations franchise in
Tampa, said he has one client in particular who has been waiting for a newer,
more luxurious ship such as the Seven Seas Mariner to book his initial cruise
to Cuba.

“Regent is the way I’m pushing him,” Schneider

He said that the Empress of the Seas sailings haven’t drawn
any calls.

“It really hasn’t been promoted that heavily that they’re
coming, at least in the local market,” Schneider said. “As New Year’s
comes, it’s definitely going to be one of my featured sailings.”

The Empress Cuba sailings opened for booking on Dec. 9 and
have been selling extremely well, said Lyan Sierra-Caro, a corporate
communications manager at Royal.

Only one line is offering ports other than Havana initially.
Pearl Seas Cruises has a series of 11 10-day sailings from Fort Lauderdale
starting Jan. 17 on its 200-passenger Pearl Mist coastal cruiser that will
visit seven ports on the island, including Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and
Santiago de Cuba. The cruises end in April.

Carnival Corp.’s Fathom brand won permission to visit
Santiago de Cuba as a port call on six sailings to the Dominican Republic this
winter on the Adonia. In addition, the 704-passenger Adonia continues to sail
every other week to Cuba, but those cruises, like the others, end after May.

Rice of Vacation Tour and Cruise said agents can only hope
that more approvals are forthcoming after that.

“I think everybody’s trying to move the ball forward,
hoping that it helps us to try to get the program going,” Rice said. “As
a Floridian, it’s something I’ve been supportive of for years. As an agency
owner, it’s just tough to operate in an environment where you don’t know what
the future’s going to hold.”

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