Tourism & Cruises

Royal Caribbean will be sailing year-round to Cuba in 2018

Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas arriving in Havana.
Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas arriving in Havana. Royal Caribbean International

With demand to see Cuba still hot, Royal Caribbean International is extending its commitment to sail to the island through 2019.

The Miami-based cruise line announced Wednesday that it is initiating a year-long Cuba program that includes 58 four- and five-night sailings from January 2018 through March 2019.Twenty eight of them will include overnight stays in Havana.

Royal Caribbean’s 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas began sailing to Cuba last month, primarily from Tampa, and will continue those trips though Nov. 4.

The ship then returns to Miami for a winter 2017-2018 season, which includes calls as Royal Caribbean private island CocoCay and Nassau in The Bahamas as well as Havana. Some Miami-Cuba voyages also include stops in Key West, Puerto Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico.

In summer 2018, the ship will return to Tampa for cruises calling on Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel and Havana on most sailings. Empress of the Seas will then offer voyages to Havana for the winter 2018-2019 season from Fort Lauderdale. Those trips include a combination of visits to other destinations, including Nassau, Key West and Cozumel.

Royal Caribbean International president and CEO Michael Bayley said via a release that the cruise line has seen a “positive reaction” to its Cuba sailings. Travel to Cuba from the U.S. is expected to remain strong, according to an analysis by The Boston Consulting Group released Wednesday, which estimates 2 million American travelers could visit the island annually by 2025.

The number of visitors in 2016 grew by 34 percent from the previous year, to 614,433 visitors.

While airlines have been adjusting their number of flights to the island, cruise lines have only added new sailings, thanks in part to the lines’ ability to mediate the lack of hotels on the island that makes travel challenging for land-based trips.