Passengers board Adonia before setting sail for Cuba
When Carnival Corp’s 704-passenger Adonia entered Havana Harbor on May 2, spectators waved Cuban and American flags in a salute to history. The ship’s cruise line, Fathom, was the first to take U.S. passengers across the Florida Straits in half a century.
Come June, Cubans will see that ship enter port for the last time.
Carnival Corp. said Wednesday that the Adonia, a former P&O Cruises ship, will return to its parent line in the United Kingdom next summer. By then, the Doral-based cruise giant expects to be taking Americans to Caribbean island on another of its 10 cruise lines — although Cuba hasn’t signed on the dotted line yet, said Carnival Corp. spokesman Roger Frizzell.
“We feel comfortable that we will be sailing to Cuba on a different line,” Frizzell said.
The Fathom brand will offer social impact shore excursions on Carnival Corp. sailings.
We feel comfortable that we will be sailing to Cuba on a different line [in June 2017].
Roger Frizzell, spokesman for Carnival Corp.
Currently, Fathom has only a single ship that alternates sailings between Cuba and the Dominican Republic on “voluntourism” trips. It is the only line approved for itineraries between Miami and Cuba.
Earlier this month, Fathom announced that its volunteering excursions, which include teaching English and pouring concrete in local homes, will be available on six other lines across its fleet: AIDA Cruises, Carnival Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, Fathom, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises (UK).
“Fathom continues to receive some of the highest ratings in the company based on guest surveys, and we hope to expand the Fathom experience to other markets in the future,” Frizzell said.
The cruise line got mixed reviews when it started sailing to Cuba and the Dominican Republic this summer. While the pent-up demand from American travelers to visit Cuba translated into robust bookings, sailings to the Dominican Republic were less popular despite cruise fares that were less than one-third the price that of the Cuba voyages.
Two voyages to the Dominican Republic in October and November were replaced with Cuba sailings due to demand, the company said in September.
“We are committed to Cuba for the long term, especially based on the success we’ve had in Cuba with Fathom,” Frizzell said.
Initially, Fathom declined to sell passage to island-born Cuban Americans in accordance with Cuban regulations that prohibited them from returning by sea. Protests and several lawsuits followed, before Cuba changed its policy.
But the journey to Cuba wasn’t easy. Initially, the cruise line declined to sell passage to island-born Cuban Americans in accordance with Cuban regulations that prohibited them from returning by sea. Protests and several lawsuits followed, and the line said it would not launch its itineraries until the prohibition was lifted.
Less than two weeks before the ship was scheduled to leave PortMiami for a seven-day Havana-Cienfuegos-Santiago de Cuba voyage, the Cuban government reversed its decades-old policy, allowing Cubans to join in on the inaugural voyage.
Fathom has since tweaked its offerings, adding more people-to-people opportunities in Cuba and more island flavor to its ship, contracting Cuban bands and adding Old Havana local design store Clandestina to its roster of on-board shops.
Carnival Corp. was the first American cruise company to gain the coveted approval from the Cuban government to sail to the island after President Barrack Obama announced a more open approach to its former Cold War enemy in December 2014.
Other lines, including Miami-based giants Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean Cruises, have also applied to sail from the U.S. to the island but have not yet been approved.
On a media preview sailing of Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas early this month, the line’s president and CEO, Michael Bayley, said everything was ready for Cuba. Its 2,020-passenger Empress of the Seas was pulled from sister brand Pullmantur Cruises to be retrofitted for Cuba voyages.
But the island hasn’t called yet.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time and we’ll keep waiting,” Bayley said.