MSC Cruises to sail Caribbean cruises from Havana this winter

MSC Cruises will sail Caribbean cruises from Cuba starting in December, tossing plans for MSC Opera to cruise the Canary Islands, Madeira and Morocco this winter in favor of Havana, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cozumel.

The ship, currently in drydock for extensive renovations, will do seven-night cruises from Havana through mid-April before returning to Europe, MSC announced on Friday.

Although cruise ships have called in Cuba before, MSC will be the first mainstream cruise line to homeport in Havana for a season. The cruise line is based in Switzerland and privately owned.

The ship will offer shore excursions in Cuba through Cubanacan, a Cuba-based travel group.

But U.S. citizens can’t book this cruise as they would any other cruise. The usual restrictions on travel to Cuba apply: They must have a special Office of Foreign Assets Control license to travel, or fall within one of the 12 categories of permitted travel listed in the Cuban sanctions regulations, said Carlotta Nicola, an MSC spokeswoman.

The MSC Opera will depart Genoa, Italy on Dec. 2 on its transatlantic crossing, then make its first cruise from Havana on Dec. 22. Its Caribbean cruises will stop at Cozumel, on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Georgetown in the Cayman Islands. It will begin its journey back to Europe on April 12.

The MSC Opera, which debuted in 2004, is undergoing renovations that will increase its size and capacity. The ship is being cut in half and a new section inserted, adding almost 80 feet and 193 new cabins. Capacity of the expanded ship will be 2,680.