Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Cruise Option

A New Way For Americans To Get To Cuba … Through Canada

NOVEMBER 18, 2013
A New Way For Americans To Get To Cuba … Through Canada
For decades, American-based cruise ships have gone out of their way to sail around the elephant in the Caribbean Sea — Cuba.
Canadian adventure travel entrepreneur Dugald Wells — he previously ran companies including Cruise North Expeditions and Marine Expeditions — has partnered with Athens-based Louis Cruises on the new Cuba Cruise, which is scheduled to depart on its first voyage Dec. 16.But now a new cruise company is about to debut weekly voyages that explore that fascinating and mysterious island that is, for the most part, off-limits to U.S. citizens.
The 1,200-passenger Louis Cristal will operate 15 weekly circumnavigations around Cuba through March 24.
Wells opened bookings in April. “It’s going great,” he said. “The numbers are right at where expected them to be. Well over 100 tour operators around the world are offering the product. Scandinavia has been a huge producer for us. It’s been terrific.”
But the bulk of the passengers will be Canadians, Wells said. “A million Canadians are going to Cuba every winter,” he said.
The cruises will depart from two ports — Havana on Mondays and Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Fridays. (Havana’s cruise terminal, built back when European lines called on a regular basis, is in terrific shape, Wells said.)
Fares start at $586 Canadian (about $568 U.S.). Cuban ports of call include Santiago, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Punta Frances on the Isle of Youth.
“We’re making one stop in Montego Bay to get fuel because the Cubans are not able to guarantee that they’ll have enough,” Wells told Travel Pulse. Plus, Montego Bay has plenty of air lift.
“We’ll see how the season goes,” Wells said. “I’d love to have a ship there year-round. There is quite a summer tourism market in Cuba, not so much from the Canadian side but from Europe. It’s something to keep an eye on for the future. Now we’re targeting the winter sun holiday.”
Wells is handling sales and marketing while Louis is primarily handling the ship operations. The ship will bring in Canadian food, including beer and beef, but also will offer Cuban specialties. Local Cuban performers also will sing and dance to Cuban music.
Shore excursions include tours built around Ernest Hemingway and Bob Marley, remote beach outings, and a guided tour of Havana in American automobiles from the 1940s and 50s. Of course, there also will be tours of cigar and rum factories.
U.S. residents legally barred from doing business with Cuba can take the cruise as part of a longer trip operated by Road Scholar, the not-for-profit tour division of Elderhostel that has a “People to People” license from the U.S. Department of Treasury to legally operate educational trips in Cuba for U.S. residents.
Road Scholar includes five nights on the Louis Cristal as part of a 12-night tour priced from $4,795.
Now, the Louis Cristal is undergoing final outfitting, undergoing safety inspections, training crewmembers down to specifics such as stocking olives for martinis, upgrading the ship’s satellite systems to play North American sports and installing ceiling hooks for the aerial circus act.
The last detail before its Nov. 24 departure from Greece will be painting huge brightly colored flowers on the ship’s hull.

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