It took a half-century for a passenger ship to sail from Miami to Cuba, an event that took place last spring. But now growth may be coming fast and furious.
In the past week, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd. both received permission from the Cuban government to sail from Florida to Cuba at least until May, with more approvals expected. Five brands owned by the companies are adding Havana to existing Caribbean cruise itineraries.
Cuban authorities have suddenly decided to approve proposals that have been pending for months may have to do, in part, with comments by President-elect Donald Trump, who doesn't necessarily agree with President Barack Obama's decision to ease U.S. travel restrictions to the island.
"If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people, and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate the deal," Trump recently tweeted.
But until Trump acts on his words (if he does), cruisers have a new port of call to select on some Caribbean itineraries and an affordable way to see Havana.
For the first time in decades, big ships are in the mix. Norwegian Cruise Line is including an overnight in Havana on four-day cruises on the Norwegian Sky from Miami in May -- reservations open on December 20. You can already book passage on Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas, an inaugural five-day cruise departing from Miami on April 19, with a day in Havana, from $619 per person. The Empress will also be visiting Havana for a day on cruises from Tampa in April and May.
Fancier ships that will soon be calling in Havana are Oceania Cruises' Marina (which will do multi-day calls), Regent Seven Seas Cruises' Seven Seas Mariner, and Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Quest.
Also receiving approval for Cuba sailings last week was Pearl Sea Cruises, which will visit several ports in Cuba with its 210-passenger Pearl Mist on 10-day itineraries from Fort Lauderdale, beginning in January through May.
The ship that started it all last spring, Carnival Corporation's Fathom Adonia, continues to visit the island bi-weekly, calling at Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Cienfuegos. Other Carnival brands are still awaiting approval to visit the island.
Whether Cuba is ready to handle the influx of thousands of cruisers remains to be seen. There will be many more tour buses on the roads, because based U.S. visas require cruise passengers to participate in people-to-people exchanges; you can't just wander around on your own.
Cruisers will have to spring for a Cuban visa (Royal Caribbean is charging $75 to get one for you). But good news for shoppers: You can bring back Cuban cigars and rum for your own personal use.