As we warned cruise passengers two weeks ago could happen, the Trump Administration has announced a ban on cruise stops to Cuba. This comes from a recent press release by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The change comes on the heels of comments made by the administration in April that signaled cruises to Cuba could be in jeopardy.
“Cuba continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up U.S. adversaries in places like Venezuela and Nicaragua by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “This Administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime. These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services.”
Where cruise passengers come in is with the announcement of the end of group “people to people” travel to Cuba. American travelers to the country were allowed to go under 12 specific reasons as defined by the U.S. government. One reason was a cultural exchange between Americans and Cubans, also known as “people to people” travel.
This allowance was broad enough that cruise passengers could visit as long as they engaged in some sort of cultural exchange — with cruise line excursions normally fitting the bill.
While removing this reason for travel would be enough to effectively ban cruises from the U.S. to Cuba, the new rules also explicitly end passenger or recreational ships to the island:
“BIS, in coordination with OFAC, is amending the EAR to make passenger and recreational vessels and private and corporate aircraft ineligible for a license exception and to establish a general policy of denial for license applications involving those vessels and aircraft.”
In other words, cruise ships and airlines can no longer go to the island.
What This Means for Passengers Already Booked on a Cruise to Cuba
So what does this mean for you?
First, if you are thinking about booking a cruise to Cuba, you shouldn’t do it. It seems the announcement caught cruise lines by surprise. At press time we could still search and seemingly book Cuban cruises on some websites. We expect those trips to be taken down soon.
What if you already have a cruise booked?
The announcement of rule changes also mentioned that people who have already purchased a ticket are “grandfathered” in:
“OFAC’s regulatory changes include a “grandfathering” provision, which provides that certain group people-to-people educational travel that previously was authorized will continue to be authorized where the traveler had already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to June 5, 2019.”
So our understanding is those already booked on a ship will be able to travel, but anyone booking the same trip after June 5 would be ineligible to go. In that case we’d expect ships to be re-routed to ports other than Cuba so that everyone is in adherence to the new rules.
If you already have a Cuban cruise booked, then you’ll want to call your cruise line or wait for them to be in touch regarding any changes to your trip. We have already asked the major cruise lines — Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian — for comment and will update as soon as we hear.
Update: We received the following comment from Norwegian Cruise Lines:
“Today, the U.S. government announced new travel restrictions to Cuba. We are closely monitoring these recent developments and any resulting impact to cruise travel to Cuba. We will communicate to our guests and travel partners as additional information becomes available.”
The following statement came from Royal Caribbean:
“We are aware of the announcement, and are analyzing the details to understand the impact on our itineraries.”
“In the meantime, we are adjusting the itineraries of our June 5 and June 6 sailings, which will no longer stop in Cuba. We are communicating with our guests about those changes.”
We received this from Carnival:
“Carnival Corporation confirmed today that due to changes in U.S. policy, the company will no longer be permitted to sail to Cuba effective immediately. Currently, Carnival Corporation is sailing to Cuba on Carnival Cruise Line and Holland America Line, and Seabourn has been scheduled to begin sailing in November to Cuba. Additional details for currently booked cruises will be provided by the cruise lines.”
When Will Cruises to Cuba Resume Again?
At this point there is no time on the horizon that trips to Cuba will resume. Remember that sailing to Cuba is a new phenomenon. For decades the island was all but closed to Americans. With the new rules in place, there is the possibility it could be decades more until trips resume. On the other hand, the rules could change with a new administration and return to more “cruise friendly” policies.