Cuba

Last stop for Cuban cruisers: Santiago

People watch Carnival's Adonia cruise ship arrive from Miami, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, May 2, 2016. The Adonia's arrival is the first step toward a future in which thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits, long closed to most U.S.-Cuba traffic due to tensions that once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
People watch Carnival's Adonia cruise ship arrive from Miami, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, May 2, 2016. The Adonia's arrival is the first step toward a future in which thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits, long closed to most U.S.-Cuba traffic due to tensions that once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. AP

As the Fathom Adonia headed into the final leg of its history-making cruise to Cuba, Carnival Corp. Chief Executive Arnold Donald was already thinking about the next steps in opening the Cuban cruise market.

Carnival, the world’s largest cruise company, wants to bring at least seven of its cruise lines to the island and has asked for thousands of port calls, he said.

Carnival’s Fathom line, which returns to Miami on Sunday after its inaugural voyage to Cuba, is the only Carnival brand to get a green light from Cuban authorities so far. But “there is tremendous positive energy from the Cubans,” Donald said.

The Cuban people also warmly greeted the cruise ship, from a crowd that gathered at the port in Havana to high-five and welcome passengers to those on shore near the Adonia’s ports of call who waved and cheered as the blue-and-white ship passed.

Donald worked when he was in Havana, meeting with Cuban tourism and port officials and Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. He left the cruise in Cienfuegos on Thursday, expressing dismay he would have to miss the ship’s final call in Santiago.

Donald said the first Cuban cruise exceeded expectations. The Adonia will travel to Cuba every other week, leaving from PortMiami on Sundays.

In the future, he said, Carnival hopes to offer more variety on Cuban itineraries. There are 11 ports in Cuba, but most need improvements to support a thriving cruise industry.

“All the ports we could pretty much get into, but infrastructure is lacking at some,” said Donald. Some would require tender operations for passengers to get ashore, he said.

In Cienfuegos, there is no cruise terminal. Cruisers disembark down a short gangway and then walk across a parking lot to a small building that houses little more than metal detection and baggage-screening devices.

Executives from the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri were aboard the Adonia at the invitation of Carnival to discuss the potential for new cruise ships for Cuba.

“The pier in Havana looks a bit rough. There is a lot of potential for improvement,” said Marco Bognolo, who works for Fincantieri.

Currently, a tunnel that runs under Havana harbor limits the draft of vessels that can enter the waterway. The Adonia’s capacity is only 704 passengers, but Bognolo said there’s the potential to bring a ship with a capacity of up to 2,000 passengers “if they create a channel.

“This is only the first cruise [from a U.S. port], but certainly this industry can develop in Cuba in the coming years,” he said.

Most Carnival ships could get into Havana from “a depth standpoint,” said Donald. But some are too long for the current piers.

Cuban officials have not requested any investment by Carnival to upgrade cruise facilities, said Donald “We’ll do what they want us to do,” he added. But at this point, all they have requested is input from Carnival “on what we think they should do,” said Donald.

Cuba is currently shifting its cargo facilities from Havana to the Port of Mariel, a deep-water port west of the city, and officials have said they want to develop Havana as the center of cruise operations.

Donald acknowledged that the Cubans could put larger cruise ships into Mariel. “They have not indicated Mariel is exclusively for cargo,” he said.

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