Planning a cruise to Cuba? You’re likely out of luck.
The U.S. government will no longer allow cruise ships to travel from American ports to Cuba, as part of a new series of travel-related sanctions announced Tuesday. The restrictions were implemented in response to the Cuban government’s continued support for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, the Miami Herald reported .
“As a result of the rule on display on the Federal Register today, cruise ships as well as recreational and pleasure vessels are prohibited from departing the U.S. on temporary sojourn to Cuba effective tomorrow,” a Commerce Department spokesperson told MarketWatch late Tuesday.
Representatives for the Treasury Department, which also regulates travel between the U.S. and Cuba, did not return request for comment.
An administration official also told the Miami Herald that the policy change was made because the Cuban government directly profited off cruise companies, as the companies had to pay fees to dock in the country. Most of the country’s ports are controlled by Cuba’s military, the official said.
The Cruise Line Industry Association said that the U.S. policy change came without warning and has forced cruise lines to eliminate all Cuba destinations from their itineraries effective immediately, affecting roughly 800,000 passenger bookings that are scheduled or already underway. “While this situation is completely beyond our control, we are genuinely sorry for all cruise line guests who were looking forward to their previously booked itineraries to Cuba,” the organization said in an emailed statement.
Americans gained the ability to cruise to Cuba in 2015 when President Obama’s administration began allowing cruise lines to get people-to-people licenses to travel to the Caribbean country, according to travel website Cruise Critic. The Department of Treasury said Tuesday that it would no longer authorize these specific licenses that allowed for certain forms of educational travel to Cuba.
Passengers booked for cruises that were supposed to stop in Cuba should expect their itineraries to be altered like they would be in the event of inclement weather, said Erica Silverstein, senior editor at Cruise Critic .
“For cruises where a stop in Cuba is part of a wider Caribbean itinerary, it will be a matter of replacing just the Cuba calls with another port in the Caribbean,” Silverstein said. “For Cuba-focused cruises, it’s possible that they may replace the itinerary entirely.”
Unfortunately, passengers may not have much recourse in terms of refunds should they not like the new route. Most cruise companies reserve the right to change itineraries for any reason. “They’re not due anything,” according to Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert. “Written in the passenger’s contract is the cruise line’s right to alter the itinerary for any reason with no compensation due to the passenger.”
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People can still travel to the country, though they must be visiting Cuba for a specific, authorize reason, such as to visit family or for journalistic purposes.
The Treasury Department did include a “grandfathering” provision in the policy change, which would allow consumers who had completed at least one travel-related transaction prior to Jun 5, such as purchasing a flight, to still go on their trip. That provision did not extend to cruise lines.
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A representative for Norwegian Cruise Line which sails to Cuba, said the company is “closely monitoring these recent developments and any resulting impact to cruise travel to Cuba,” and will notify travelers as more information becomes available.
The company warned that it expects its earnings to be up to 8% lower because of the ban. There’s good news potentially for affected customers though, as the company said there may be “substantial discounts offered to guests for them to remain on their booked cruise.”
Royal Caribbean Cruises similarly expects the U.S. ban on Cuba travel to hurt the company’s earnings – to the tune of a 3.5% lower 2019 profit. The company adjusted the itineraries for its June 5 and June 6 sailings so that they no longer include stops in Cuba and will communicate these updates to guests, said Melissa Charbonneau, Royal Caribbean’s director of corporate reputation. “We are aware of the announcement, and are analyzing the details to understand the impact on our itineraries,” she said.
Carnival Corp. confirmed Wednesday that the company will no longer be able to sail to Cuba effectively immediately as result of the Trump administration’s policy. The company currently has a cruise underway that was set to dock in Cuba on Friday and another cruise set to depart for Cuba this weekend. Two of the company’s cruise lines, Carnival and Holland America, already had Cuban itineraries in place, and Seabourn was set to begin sailing to the country in November. “Additional details will be provided for currently booked cruises by the cruise lines,” the company said.
MSC Cruises said the Miami-based MSC Armonia ship will no longer make calls to Havana as a result of the policy changes. “We will share MSC Armonia’s updated Caribbean itineraries with our guests and business partners by close of business tomorrow June 6,” a company spokeswoman told MarketWatch.
Shares of Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean are up 26%, 6% and 25%, respectively, year-to-date. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 11% during the same time period, while the S&P 500 is up nearly 15%.