Since the U.S. changed travel regulations to Cuba this past January, tour operators, cruise lines, and the travel industry as a whole have been buzzing with excitement about newer and better travel opportunities to the island. It’s a topic that’s been highly discussed at many travel trade lunches and events Recommend has attended in the past few months, and now that President Obama has announced the reopening of a U.S. embassy in Cuba, that buzz is getting even louder.
“We have seen a very large increase [in interest for travel to Cuba],” says Taryn Riquier of Cuba Travel Services. “People are very excited to visit a destination that has been off limits to U.S. citizens for so long.”
Cuba Travel Services is one of many tour operators offering new itineraries to this island that was once completely off limits to the majority of U.S. travelers. Its two new departures are 4-night Havana Getaway and the 6-night Colors of Cuba tours, both of which will take 10-30 guests at a time.
“These two tours are new to Cuba Travel Services and Cuba Tour Planner. This is the first time we will be operating our own departures. We have been operating tours for several different tour operators, but due to the increased demand for travel to Cuba, we have set up these people-to-people programs for our guests,” points out Riquier.
The Havana Getaway itinerary includes a tour of Havana, a ride in an antique American car, a walking tour of Old Havana’s architecture, a visit to the San Jose Craft Market, and the Muraleando Community Project to experience the impact art and music have on the residents of the island, and Vinales. Travelers will also take a salsa lesson, as well as take a day trip to Pinar del Rio where they’ll visit a local tobacco farm and get to see farmers rolling cigars, and have lunch at an organic farm. The 4-night itinerary also includes a pre-night stay in Miami where travelers attend a welcome cocktail. Optional evening choices during the 4-night tour include dinner and an evening show by the Buenavista Social Club Group, and an evening experience of Havana’s Cannon Firing Ceremony. Rates start at $2,233 pp including a charter flight and tourist visas.
“The Colors of Cuba tour is more popular for those who want to see more of Cuba, and the Havana Getaway is more popular for those who want to see Cuba, but are on a limited schedule,” notes Riquier.
On the Colors of Cuba itinerary travelers visit Parque El Cubano, the Escambray Mountains, art galleries, a ceramic studio, the Arte Corte Community Project, the San Jose Craft Market, the Angeles del Futuro Community Project, the Thomas Terry Theatre, a tobacco farm, and an organic farm. They will also take a walking tour of Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Old Havana. Rates start at $2,733.
Both itineraries have monthly departures, starting with the Havana Getaway tour Sept. 5-10, 2015 and the Colors of Cuba itinerary on Sept. 11-18, 2015. For more information on Cuba Travel Services, call (800) 961-2949 or visit cubatourplanner.com.
According to Latour’s president, there’s a broad demographic when it comes to travel to Cuba. “We initially thought the demographic would be our traditional client—sophisticated, well traveled and over 55. Our Latour team was pleasantly surprised when statistics began to show a more diverse traveler, ranging in age from mid-20’s all the way into their 70’s. Clearly the lure of Cuba reaches travelers of all ages,” says Richard Krieger, president, The Isramworld Portfolio of Brands.
Latour’s new Weekend in Havana getaway pays tribute to the days when a weekend in Havana was a reality for many Americans. This package includes a 3-night stay at Havana’s luxury Melia Cohiba Hotel, visits to old and modern Havana, Ernest Hemingway’s home, a local rum museum, and a cigar factory. The itinerary also includes a 1-night stay at the Sheraton Miami, roundtrip airfare from Miami to Havana, all meals, a visa, health insurance, an English-speaking guide, and inclusion in the people-to-people exchange program. Rates start at $2,999 pp dbl.
“Latour is proud to be the first tour operator to offer a range of culturally specific programs. While all travelers really enjoy Havana and all it has to offer, our LGBT travelers, for example, report that the people-to-people exchange with the community is the most powerful moment of their trip. For participants on our Shalom Cuba [itinerary], Shabbat dinner in Santa Clara is their highlight,” says Krieger.
Latour will also be announcing various licensed new people-to-people tour programs to Cuba in the coming weeks. Kreiger notes that the company’s programs will always be about the people-to-people experiences, pointing out that, “The richness of Cuban culture and the warmth of the Cuban people is best experienced through face-to-face discussions and that will remain the cornerstone of our tours.” For more information on Latour, visit latour.com.
International Expeditions also offers tour packages to Cuba—the 10-day Cuba itinerary ($3,998 pp), the 8-day Classic Art & Culture Cuba ($4,098 pp) and the 10-day Cuba Voyage.
The latter is a voyage from Cienfuegos to Havana aboard International Expeditions’ 48-guest Panorama yacht. On this journey, guests will learn about Cuban sports, medicine, and mass communication, as well as take part in dance lessons and pottery workshops, see local choir and theater performances, and visit museums and artists in their studios. The 7-day cruise itinerary stops in Trinidad, Cayo Largo, Maria La Gorda, Soroa and Vinales; there well also be a pre-stay in Miami, as well as in either Cienfuegos or Santa Clara (depending on your departure date ) before embarkation. Rates start at $4,599 pp. For more information, visit ietravel.com/north-america-caribbean.
Apple Vacations’ new people-to-people packages have 5- and 7-night options to Cuba. For more information on those packages, check out Apple Will Offer Cuba Packages Unlike Any Other.
This week, MSC Cruises announced that as of December 2015, its 2,130-guest MSC Opera will homeport in Havana for the 2015-2016 winter season. The MSC Opera will offer guests 16 Caribbean cruises to Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico with 2-night stays in Havana. During their time in Havana, guests will explore the city’s old center, a UNESCO World Heritage site; stroll the malecon, or seafront promenade; and discover the city’s history and architecture.
“We are particularly proud to make this exciting new destination available to our guests,” says Gianni Onorato, CEO of MSC Cruises. “The move to Cuba attests to our steadfast commitment to offer our experienced guests and holiday-makers the best and most sought-after destinations as they become accessible—thus further enhancing our global offering while providing travelers best-in-class experiences and service.”
MSC Cruises will partner with the Cuban-based company, Cubanacan, to offer local ground services and shore excursions. The first sailing from Havana departs on Dec. 22, 2015. The ship leaves Havana for its voyage back to Europe on April 12, 2016. Sales for all sailings aboard the MSC Opera begin on July 9. For more information, visit msccruisesusa.com.
Carnival Corporation was also recently given the okay by the U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce to travel to Cuba. They will be headed to the island as early as May 2016 via the newly launched fathom brand, which is a social impact travel brand providing purpose-oriented and social impact experiences.
Carnival plans to operate fathom itineraries to Cuba to provide cultural, artistic, faith-based, and humanitarian exchanges between American and Cuban citizens. These new itineraries will comply with the U.S. Department of Treasury rules that allow licensed travel companies to take approved travelers to Cuba to engage in activities that support the Cuban people. Carnival is currently in discussions with authorities in Cuba to receive approval.
“We know there is strong demand from travelers who want to immerse themselves in Cuban culture, so this is a historic opportunity for us to enable more people to experience Cuban society,” says Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation. “It is also an important opportunity for our new fathom brand to expand its positive influence in the world with this potential to add full-week immersion sailings to Cuba.”
Via the fathom brand, there are plans to offer voyages to both the Dominican Republic and Cuba on a regular basis, starting April 2016 with its Dominican Republic voyage aboard the 710-passenger MV Adonia.
For more information, call (855) 932-8466 or visit fathom.org
In addition to cruise lines and tour operators offering trips to Cuba, JetBlue is making it more accessible for travelers to travel to Cuba as it is now the first major airline to operate the route to Cuba, in conjunction with Cuba Travel Services, since the travel restrictions were eased. The weekly charter flights between New York’s JFK International Airport and Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport will have Friday departures.
“As interest in Cuban markets grow, JetBlue is positioning itself as a leading carrier to the island nation by operating more convenient flight options than ever,” says Scott Laurence, senior v.p. airline planning at JetBlue.
JetBlue now operates five weekly roundtrips to Cuba with this addition, including flights from Tampa and Fort Lauderdale with various charter partners. To book visit cubatravelservices.com. For more information, visit jetblue.com.