Cruising to Cuba: What Cruise Passengers Should Know Before Visiting the Island Nation

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

cruise travel, Cuba, embargo, cruise lawyersIf you’ve ever thought about cruising to Cuba, your traveling dreams may soon become a reality. Back in December, our cruise lawyers reported that the U.S. was in the process of resuming diplomatic ties with the Caribbean island nation, which could mean significant changes to the cruise industry in the fact that the resuming full diplomacy with Cuba can lead to increased cruise travel to the island.

These recent changes in U.S. law have made it easier for U.S. citizens to travel to the previously off-limits country. Those who are interested in cruising or visiting the island nation now have more options than ever before. Cuba Cruises, for instance, recently stated that U.S. citizens will be allowed on their cruises on a limited basis. Despite this, travelers shouldn’t expect major cruise lines to start making Cuba a major port of call anytime soon. Though most major cruise lines register their ships in foreign countries, the fact that they are still based out of the U.S. means that they are still not allowed to travel to Cuba. On top of that, any cruise line that engages in trade with Cuba faces U.S. restrictions of up to six months.

So, what can you expect if you do decide to travel to Cuba? Perhaps a bit of a culture shock. If you’ve never been on a cruise before, you might not realize that foreign countries don’t all enjoy the same kinds of luxuries that we here in the U.S. do.

For example, because of the embargo, U.S. products are not sold in Cuba. Concurrently, there aren’t any U.S. franchises in Cuba. Cell phone reception for U.S. phones is non-existent, as is commercial television, radio, and the Internet. Cars are often 60 years or older, which for many travelers just adds to the charm. For others, this may be a far cry from the “dream vacation” they expect. So, it’s important to be realistic. Though Cuba is only about 90 miles away from Miami, FL, where our firm is based, the difference in way of life, economy, and culture may surprise cruisers who are hoping for a paradise vacation in the Caribbean. Travelers who seek a more luxurious or pampered style of cruising may want to rethink a visit to Cuba.

Also, the U.S. dollar is also subject to heavy fees in Cuba, and many tourists may find themselves in a bit of a pickle when they realize that their money doesn’t go as far as they would like in Cuba. Yet, thanks to the Obama administration, visitors to Cuba are also now allowed to purchase rum and cigars, as long as the amount doesn’t exceed $100. For many cruisers, this is well worth the limitations in currency exchange.

In the end, it all boils down to what kind of destination experience you are seeking. While Cuba lacks in comforts and amenities, it is rich in music, culture, art, and history. Some fear that when commercial cruises are allowed to visit Cuba, this delicately ensconced community will be forever changed into a commercial port of call. The hope is that cruise lines and American business, when and if they are allowed to operate in Cuba, will use discretion and work to preserve Cuba’s unique culture. And above all, our hope is that the recent renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba will promote safety for all who travel there.