Cruises to Cuba coming to Florida

A taste of the Caribbean’s forbidden fruit might soon rest upon a cruise passenger’s plate: a sampling of Cuba.

Fathom, a unit of Carnival Corporation, announced today that it has won U.S. government approval to bring American tourists to Cuba.

“Beginning in 2016, Fathom intends to offer cultural exchange voyages to multiple locations in Cuba in order to enable more people to experience Cuban society,” the company said in a statement to travelers on its website. “As a Fathom traveler, you would have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Cuban culture.”

Officially, the 7-night sailings from Miami are not just cruises, they are ‘cultural exchanges.’ The designation is important, as the federal government still restricts leisure travel to Cuba.

Fathom said it will offer guests “people-to-people programming that facilitates educational, cultural, humanitarian, religious, and artistic exchanges.”

The week-long voyages will take not place aboard a behemoth ship, which is norm in the Caribbean. Instead, Fathom will send the Adonia, a small 710-passenger luxury ship, to multiple locations in Cuba. Specifics about the itinerary were not released Tuesday.

Fares will start at $2,990 per person plus taxes, port fees, and visa charges. Compared to Cuba flight/hotel packages advertised by Apple Vacations, the Fathom cruise is only slightly more expensive.

Fathom's fares are drastically higher those for than traditional Caribbean cruises, which fall as low as $299 per week per person. It is possible that fares to Cuba could drop if other lines join Fathom and/or the U.S. government farther loosens leisure travel restrictions.

Port Tampa Bay, which oversees the cruise port in Tampa, applauded Carnival’s announcement. It looked forward to a seemingly inevitable expansion of Cuban cruise travel to other lines and other embarkation ports.

“Today’s news bodes well for future opportunities for Port Tampa Bay, which is well positioned as one of the closest cruise ports to Havana, to one day serve this new cruise destination,” the port said in a statement.  “Port Tampa Bay has the facilities and key partnerships in place for the cruise and ferry business to grow and thrive and is 'Cuba ready.'”

Fathom has previously announced other sailings to the Dominican Republic. Those cruises, which some have dubbed ‘voluntourism,’ permit passengers time ashore to volunteer alongside locals. The company said previously that market research indicated as many as one million travelers were interested in such trips.