How the New Cuba Travel Regulations Will Affect Cruise Lines

Royal Caribbean Cuba Editorial Only
A Royal Caribbean ship sails into Havana, Cuba

Tuesday's changes to regulations on travel to Cuba prohibit previously approved cruise travel to the country from the United States and, while some lines have confirmed their changes to itineraries that had previously called on Cuban ports, others are still working through the implications of the decision. 

"Without warning, CLIA Cruise Line Members are forced to eliminate all Cuba destinations from itineraries effective immediately," Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said in a statement released this morning. "This affects nearly 800,000 passenger bookings that are currently scheduled or already underway."

CLIA noted that, previously, cruise bookings had been made under a general license from the U.S. government authorizing "people to people" travel to Cuba. Yesterday's decision to eliminate the "people to people" travel category make it effectively illegal to cruise to Cuba from the United States, the organization said. 

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"While this situation is completely beyond our control, we are genuinely sorry for all cruise line guests who were looking forward to their previously booked itineraries to Cuba," CLIA said. 

“We are disappointed that cruises will no longer be operating to Cuba,” said Adam Goldstein, chairman of Cruise Lines International Association, in a written 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.” 

Carnival Corporation and Carnival Cruise Line

Carnival Corporation has confirmed that the company will no longer be permitted to sail to the island, effective immediately, a spokesperson for the cruise company tells Luxury Travel Advisor. Carnival Corp. had offered Cuba cruises on its Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line brands, while cruises on Seabourn had been scheduled to begin sailing this November. 

A spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Line says that it will replace its calls in Havana with a replacement port. Guests currently aboard the Carnival Sensation's June 3 sailing will call in Cozumel this Thursday instead of Havana. 

"We recognize Havana is a unique destination and may have been the reason for the selection of this itinerary," Carnival said. "Along with our apologies, guests will receive a $100 onboard credit posted to their Sail & Sign Account."

Carnival is notifying other guests of their new itineraries and options, in order of sailing date proximity, through the end of July 2019. Guests can choose to remain on the sailing and receive a $100 per person onboard credit; move to another itinerary and receive a $50 per person onboard credit; or cancel and receive a full refund.

Carnival says it is working as quickly as possible to secure alternative itineraries for the remainder of its Cuba voyages, and that it expects to have information for sailings further out in the next two to three days. 

Royal Caribbean

“All 2019 sailings on the Majesty of the Seas and Empress of the Seas will have alternative ports in the Caribbean,” a spokesperson for Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “Guests will have the option to cancel their current booking for a full refund, or to keep their sailing date with a new itinerary and receive a 50 percent refund.”

Royal Caribbean said that it is working on alternate itineraries for 2020 sailings and that it will share details with guests and travel advisors as they become available. 

“We appreciate our guests’ patience and flexibility as we adjust to accommodate the new regulation,” the cruise company said. 

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line reports that guests sailing on cruises to Cuba onboard the Norwegian Sun or Norwegian Sky through the September 2, 2019, departure will have the following two options: 

  • Sail the revised itinerary and receive a 50 percent refund of the cruise fare paid, as well as a 50 percent future cruise credit valid through December 31, 2020.
  • Cancel the booking and receive a full refund. If guests choose this option, Norwegian says it must be notified no later than June 11, 2019, midnight EST.

Norwegian says that refunds will be applied automatically to the original form of payment, and that it will protect full commission for reservations that continue to sail on amended Norwegian Sky and Sun former Cuba sailings, as well as those that choose to cancel. 

Visa fees arranged through Norwegian Cruise Line will be refunded and government taxes and fees will be adjusted accordingly. Any shore excursions purchased through Norwegian Cruise Line for Cuba will be automatically refunded and posted to the guest's onboard account for the June 3 departure or refunded to the original form of payment for other sailings. Future cruise credits will be attached to clients' Latitudes profiles and will be fully commissionable at the time of redemption. 

Cuba sailings on Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Sun beyond September 2, 2019, will be automatically cancelled, with new itineraries to be announced in the coming weeks. Norwegian said it will apply refunds to the original form of payment, as well as protect travel advisor commissions on all deposited bookings, to be distributed by June 30, 2019. Guests impacted by these cancellations will receive a 20 percent discount off current cruise fare on any new bookings on future sailings booked by August 5, 2019, and sailing no later than December 31, 2020. The discount will reside on guests’ Latitudes profile and can be applied by calling reservations at 1(800) 327-7030, Norwegian said. 

Representatives of Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, both of which are part of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said that they are monitoring the new regulations and their impact on cruise travel to Cuba. The lines said that they will communicate to guests and travel partners as additional information becomes available.

MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises said that it will replace Havana with either Key West, Florida; Costa Maya, Mexico; George Town, Cayman Islands; or Cozumel, Mexico, on the MSC Armonia's seven-night Caribbean itineraries. The remainder of the schedule will continue as originally planned. 

Guests currently onboard the MSC Armonia and their travel advisors have been informed of the changes, MSC said, and offered the following options:

  • $400 per stateroom as onboard credit. If this credit is not fully used during the cruise, MSC Cruises will refund the difference upon check-out from the ship. Any shore excursions in Havana that were pre-purchased before the cruise, or which are included in the ticket, will be automatically refunded to the guest’s onboard account.

Guests on future MSC Armonia sailings that were scheduled to visit Cuba will be offered one of the following:

  • $400 per stateroom as onboard credit. If this credit is not fully used during the cruise, MSC Cruises will refund the difference upon check-out from the ship. Any shore excursions in Havana that were pre-purchased before the cruise, or which are included in the ticket, will be automatically refunded to the guest’s onboard account.
  • The possibility to change ship and itinerary. MSC Cruises will waive cancellation fees and transfer already paid funds to the new booking.

Virgin Voyages

Finally, a spokesperson for Virgin Voyages, which had been set to offer Cuba cruises when the new brand’s first ship began sailing next year, says, “We are disappointed to hear of the Administration’s decision to halt travel to Cuba. At this time there are no details on when these restrictions will take effect. We are currently working with CLIA and the regulatory authorities to assess how this new change will impact our itineraries that stop in Cuba.”

Virgin also said that it would be able to adjust its itineraries, and would update travelers and travel advisors as soon as it has more information. 

On Tuesday the Trump Administration announced that it was amending the regulations regarding travel to Cuba, most notably ending the “people-to-people” category of educational travel to the country under which many cruise lines and tour companies had operated. A grandfather clause continues to allow certain group people-to-people travel for which at least one travel-related transaction had already been made. 

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