US passengers have set sail from Miami on a Cuba-bound ocean liner. It’s the first cruise ship in decades to depart from a US port for the communist island nation since the thaw in US-Cuba relations.
Carnival’s Havana-bound cruise ship Adonia got underway at 4:24 p.m. (2024 UTC) Sunday, ferrying more than 700 passengers from Florida to Cuba.
Restarting cruises ship connections is an important element of a bid by US President Barack Obama’s administration’s initiative to increase tourism to Cuba, after last year’s historic decision to restore diplomatic relations and move toward normalization.
“Times of change often bring out emotions and clearly the histories here are very emotional for a number of people,” Carnival CEO Arnold Donald told reporters.
“To be a part of truly making history and preparing for an even more positive future for everyone is one of the greatest honors any company can have,” Donald added.
The ship will visit three Cuban ports over the seven-day voyage. Carnival said the Adonia will cruise every other week from Miami to Cuba.
US embargo still in place
Uncertainty over whether the cruise would be allowed to happen was resolved last week when the Cuban government lifted restrictions for seaborne visits of Cuban nationals to and from the United States, opening the door for Cuban-Americans to board the ship.
The cruise company initially refused to accept reservations from such people, because of Cuban restrictions first imposed when the island’s Communist regime feared landings by anti-Castro militants.
That prompted charges of discrimination amid a firestorm of criticism.
But the world’s leading tour ship operator eventually relented and began to allow reservations from Cuban-born customers.
Among them was 61-year-old Isabel Buznego who as a youngster emigrated with her family from Cuba and was returning to the island for the first time.
“My dad wanted to come because he had never been able to come, but he passed away,” she told the AFP news agency. “So I’m coming in his name. That is why I have so many different emotions, but I am mostly happy.”
The Miami Herald newspaper reported that a boat carrying activists protesting the trip to Cuba was nearby in Florida waters before the ship’s departure on Sunday. But the paper said the boat pulled away before the Adonia set sail, with an expected Monday arrival in Havana.