With the recent news of Barack Obama’s lifting of travel restrictions to Cuba, the mainstream cruise lines are savouring the long cherished possibility of a return of cruise ships to the sultry, long isolated Caribbean island, Famed as a hugely hedonistic destination for Americans in the pre Castro era, it has been largely off limits to cruise ships since 1963.
There are currently a coupe of vessels making cruises around the island. Both the superlative Star Flyer of Star Clippers, and the Celestyal Cristal of Cuba cruises, run seven day itineraries that make a long circuit of the island each week during the winter months. But both of these smaller, more intimate ships cater mostly to an international market- largely Canadian in the face of the latter.
What people are waiting for is the arrival of the mega ships operated by the ‘big boys’ of the industry- Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. And, the way things are looking, that might be sooner rather than later. But there are obstacles that first need to be overcome.
Firstly, the docking facilities in the capital of Havana are nowhere near adequate to handle one big ship, let alone the armada waiting to pounce on Cuba. The infrastructure is raw, and there needs to be far more in the way of air conditioned, tourist coaches for the sightseeing passengers.
That said, none of these are decisive deal breakers. From New Jersey to Jamaica, all of the big lines have proved adept at creating their own, purpose built docking complexes. This is the obvious way forward for Cuba and, though it would entail much co-operation between cruise lines, local tourist board and, of course, government offices, there is no reason why this cannot be done.
For their money, the lines gain access to a hugely sought, legendary destination seen by many as some nostalgic nirvana. Many Caribbean ‘regulars’ are getting tired of the same old islands. Once glamourous destinations such as Nassau now seem jaded and tired. New destinations are always to be welcomed.
And a ship sailing from Florida could easily make a leisurely, fuel conservative weekly sailing to Cuba, docking for three nights in old, storied Havana at what will- initially at least- be absolutely knock down docking fees. And the flow of tourist dollars from each ship load will inevitably boost the local economy massively. Whether that is ultimately for good or ill is too far away to call.
For marketing men, filling cruise ships to Cuba would be the Holy Grail; an ultimate no-brainer that will attract the crowds, looking for the shades of Ernie Hemingwayand his ilk among all the decaying, Mojito fuelled fun on offer.
Obviously, one to watch. I will be following this with great interest.
As ever, pray stay tuned.