U.S. cruise ship sets sail for Cuba

Associated Press

Miami — After a half-century of waiting, passengers finally set sail on Sunday from Miami on a historic cruise to Cuba.

Carnival Corp.’s 704-passenger Adonia left port at about 4:24 p.m., bound for Havana. Carnival’s Cuba cruises, operating under its Fathom band, will visit the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

The cruise comes after Cuba loosened its policy banning Cuban-born people from arriving to the country by sea, a rule that threatened to stop the cruises from happening.

When it first announced the cruises, Carnival said it would bar Cuban-born passengers due to the government’s policy. But the Cuban-American community in Miami complained and filed a discrimination lawsuit in response.

After that, the company said it would only sail to Cuba if the policy changed, which Cuba did on April 22. Cuba-born passengers were aboard on Sunday, the company said.

Carnival says the Adonia will cruise every other week from Miami to Cuba. Bookings will start at $1,800 per person and feature an array of cultural and educational activities, including Spanish lessons, Carnival’s website says.

Seventy-three-year-old passenger Rick Schneider told The Sun-Sentinel that he waited 60 years for the chance to make the journey. He bought a Cuban flag for the occasion, which he waved at protesters who opposed the cruises.

The cruise is among the many changes in U.S.-Cuban relations since a thaw between the old Cold War foes began in late 2014.

The Cuban government says the shift in policy removes prohibitions enacted when Cuban exiles were launching attacks by sea after the first Cuban revolution.

On Sunday, Arnold Donald, Carnival’s president and CEO, said the company worked and prepared to make the cruises a reality despite the challenges.

“Times of change often bring out emotions and clearly the histories here are very emotional for a number of people,” Donald told reporters.”

Restarting the cruises was an important element of the Obama administration’s bid to increase tourism to Cuba after the Dec. 17, 2014, decision to restore diplomatic relations and move toward normalization.