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No longer 'uncertainty' — lines are halting Cuba calls immediately

cruise ship in Havana
Carnival Cruise Line offering each customer a $100 on-board credit for the dropped Havana call PHOTO: Carnival Cruise Line
Update: This story has been continuously updated with itinerary changes. Lines are now informing passengers booked on Cuba cruises that they will no longer call at the island, with immediate effect. This follows the Trump administration policy change announced Tuesday.

Scores of sailings from numerous brands and multiple homeports will be affected, ranging from bigger, mainstream ships with day calls and overnights in Havana to smaller and upscale vessels with more extensive explorations of the island and multiple port calls.

In 2018, an estimated 800,000 travelers visited Cuba on the ships of 17 lines, according to Cuba's Ministry of Tourism.

Operators are scrambling to substitute stops — most likely, in the nearby Bahamas — and deciding about offering compensation, if any.

'We are disappointed that cruises will no longer be operating to Cuba,' said Adam Goldstein, chairman of Cruise Lines International Association. 'While out of our control, we are genuinely sorry for all cruise line guests who were looking forward to their previously booked itineraries to Cuba.'

Empress last to leave Cuba?

Tuesday night Royal Caribbean became the first to announce its June 5 and June sailings would bypass Cuba. Royal's Empress of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas visit Havana.

Empress arrived there Tuesday morning and was scheduled to sail Wednesday afternoon, probably making it the last US-based cruise ship to leave Cuba.

Royal Caribbean substitutes ports

Royal Caribbean said the 2019 sailings will visit alternative ports including Key West, Nassau, Costa Maya and Perfect Day at CocoCay. Passengers will have the option to cancel for a full refund or keep their date with a new itinerary for a 50% refund.

'We are working on alternate itineraries for 2020 sailings and will share those details with guests and travel partners as they become available,' the company added.

Carnival Corp. brands

Canival Corp. confirmed the company will no longer be permitted to sail to Cuba, with immediate effect.

Its brands with Cuba itineraries include Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line, and Seabourn had been scheduled to begin sailings in November.

Carnival Cruise Line said Carnival Sensation's cruise that embarked June 3 will substitute Cozumel for Havana on Thursday.

Carnival Cruise Line offers on-board credit or refund

'We recognize Havana is a unique destination and may have been the reason for the selection of this itinerary,' Carnival wrote to customers. 'Along with our apologies, guests will receive a $100 on-board credit posted to their Sail & Sign Account.'

Carnival is in the process of notifying other guests of their new itineraries and their options, in the order of sailing date proximity. Mailings for sailings through the end of July are now in progress and include the following options: take the cruise and receive a $100 on-board credit, per person (in which case, there's no need to notify the line); move to another itinerary and receive a $50 per person on-board credit; or cancel for a full refund.

'We are working as quickly as possible to secure alternative itineraries for the remainder of our Cuba voyages and expect to have information for sailings further out in the next two-three days,' Carnival added. Customers have been directed to check for updates.

Holland America Line

Passengers (and their travel agents) booked on Veendam's sailings calling at Havana and Cienfuegos, starting Oct. 23 through spring 2021, were being notified. New itineraries are in the process of being finalized and will be communicated.

Passengers can continue on their cruise and receive a $100 shipboard credit, choose another Caribbean sailing and get a $100 shipboard credit, change to a cruise to another other destination and get a $50 on-board credit or cancel for a full refund.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Sky reportedly departed from Havana Wednesday morning, and Norwegian Sun skipped Havana, rerouting to Nassau.

'We have ceased all calls to the country and are modifying previously scheduled sailings as appropriate,' a Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings spokesperson said. 'We thank our guests and travel partners for their patience as we navigate this unexpected, last-minute change, and we will of course continue to share information with them as soon as additional details become available.'

MSC Armonia - $400 per stateroom on-board credit

MSC Cruises —which just introduced sailings from PortMiami on MSC Armonia in December after embarking in Havana for sailings that carried only non-US citizens previously — is in the process of informing customers that Havana calls are out.

MSC Armonia's seven-night itinerary included an overnight in Havana and stops at Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Going forward, Key West, Costa Maya, Grand Cayman or Cozumel will replace Havana.

Passengers on the current cruise are getting a $400 per stateroom on-board credit. If this is not fully used, MSC Cruises will refund the difference upon check-out from the ship, and pre-purchased Havana excursions will be automatically refunded.

Customers on future cruises have the option of changing ship and itinerary, with cancellation fees waived and funds already paid transferred to the new booking. Those who stick to their MSC Armonia booking will get a $400 on-board credit per stateroom, with any unused amount refunded at the end of the sailing.

Fielding inquiries, and a personal note

Cruise Planners, the giant home-based travel agent network that is an American Express travel representative, reported an influx of inquiries from clients yesterday in light of the initial speculation that their already-booked trips might be 'grandfathered' in. That was not to be.

For COO/Co-Owner Vicky Garcia, who's of Cuban descent, the travel policy change goes beyond an unfortunate business event.

'I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Cuba in 2017 with my Havana-born mother Elda, who left the island when she was 15 years old and hadn’t been back since. It was amazing to see my family’s roots through my mother’s eyes,' Garcia said. 'I’m upset and deeply saddened by these major restrictions on US citizens traveling to Cuba, because many travelers have been planning to go to this beautiful, timeless, once-forbidden island nation to enjoy the rich culture.

'Not only does this affect our own businesses,' she continued, 'it also affects our clients’ plans and investments, and the people of Cuba who are so warm and hospitable and worked hard to make tourism a viable business.'

For the potential financial fallout to cruise lines, see also 'Uncertainty over Trump administration's Cuba cruise ban'

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