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    Cruise to Cuba leaves Miami on historic voyage

    Cruise to Cuba leaves Miami on historic voyage

    The 600 passengers on the Adonia are first cruisers to take such trip in
    half a century
    Making history “is one of the greatest honors a company can have,” CEO says
    Ship will arrive Monday morning in Havana
    BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
    mwhitefield@miamiherald.com

    The Fathom Adonia moved into Government Cut on Sunday and then steered
    south toward Cuba to inaugurate the first cruise service between the
    United States and the island in more than a half century.

    Water canons saluted the ship as it steamed out of PortMiami on a cruise
    that had a Cuban feel — from the café Cubano served in the boarding area
    to the Cuban standards served up by Tomasito Cruz and the Havana Band.

    To make history “is one of the greatest honors a company can have,” said
    Arnold Donald, chief executive of Carnival Corp. Fathom is Carnival’s
    social impact brand.

    One boat with activists from the Democracy Movement protested the trip
    to Cuba but pulled away before the Adonia set sail.

    The cruise left at 3:55 p.m. on a sunny spring day, but in recent weeks
    things have been choppy for Carnival and Fathom.

    A decades-old Cuban policy that prohibited those born on the island from
    arriving or leaving the island by vessel threatened to scuttle the
    voyage. But a last-minute change in policy by the Cuban government meant
    the Adonia could sail into history.

    And there will be passengers born on the island on the cruise — 10 to
    25, according to cruise officials. “It’s going to be a beautiful mix,”
    said Tara Russell, the president of Fathom.

    The first passenger to set foot on Cuban soil will be Arnie Perez,
    Carnival’s chief legal counsel. He was born in Cuba.

    Mary Olive Reinhart came with 10 of her happy-hour friends from
    Philadelphia. The adventure was a draw for the retired parks service ranger.

    “It’s exciting to go places where we’re forbidden. For me, I want to be
    at home in the world — the whole world.”

    Plus she said she’s excited to see the old buildings and hopes she can
    contribute to their preservation.

    The 600 passengers on the Adonia are the first cruisers to travel from a
    U.S. port to Cuba since the rapprochement between the countries began on
    Dec. 17, 2014, and the first since U.S.-Cuba relations went into the
    deep freeze more than 50 years ago.

    The Adonia is set to arrive in Havana on Monday morning. Passengers will
    begin a series of tours that are designed to help them get to know the
    Cuban people, and to let Cubans get to know them.

    Officially the cruise is a people-to-people trip, one of the 12
    categories of travel permitted with the embargo still in effect. Those
    on people-to-people trips are supposed to engage in purposeful travel
    that includes interactions with Cubans.

    The passengers will visit many of the same places a typical tourist
    might — the Plaza de la Revolucion, the Colon Cemetery, and the National
    Fine Arts Museum — but to comply with people-to-people requirements,
    there will also be conversations with artists and visits to community
    projects.

    To further the exchange, Cuban bands will perform on board the ship and
    goods made by Cuban entrepreneurs will be offered for sale on the
    Adonia, Russell said.

    “Travel is really an incredible form of connection and transformation,”
    she said.

    The idea is to immerse passengers in Cuban culture, she said, and how
    that is defined is “pretty diverse.”

    On the days the ship is at sea, Fathom will offer programs on Cuban
    history, culture and customs. There will also be lessons in
    conversational Spanish and a featured book — Cristina García’s Dreaming
    in Cuban — and Cuban-themed movies will be shown. Some meals also will
    feature el sabor de Cuba.

    Cruisers can choose to skip the on-board activities and even substitute
    their own ashore activities for those offered by Fathom, but they still
    must follow people-to-people itineraries, said Roger Frizzell,
    Carnival’s chief spokesman.

    Those travelers also must record their people-to-people exchanges and
    retain their records for five years. The cruise line keeps track of the
    record-keeping for those taking part in its programs.

    The historic cruise almost didn’t happen on schedule.

    Fathom at first abided by the Cuban vessel policy and declined to sell
    tickets to those born in Cuba, But after protests, two lawsuits against
    Fathom and Carnival that have since been withdrawn, and condemnations by
    politicians of all stripes, Carnival shifted gears and said it would
    delay the trip until Cuba allowed those born on the island to arrive on
    cruise ships.

    The protestors claimed that the policy, first imposed to discourage
    hijacking of vessels and people smuggling, was discriminatory and
    relegated those born in Cuba to second-class status.

    Cuba announced it was dropping the policy just over a week ago.

    ‘They knew in order to accommodate normalization of relations and
    accommodate our bringing guests to Cuba, it would be necessary to
    change,” said Donald, the CEO.

    “We were working all along so everyone could sail with us,” he said.
    “Luckily we got it done and luckily we got it done for the first cruise.”

    As emotions heated up in Miami, Donald said Carnival became concerned
    that it might upset the process already under way to get the vessel
    policy lifted. It’s never good to back someone into a corner, he said.

    Other cruise lines also are negotiating to get into the Cuban market
    with ships home-ported in the United States.

    The Cuban vessel policy would have been an obstacle for any other cruise
    line or ferry service that hopes to sail to Cuba.

    “Pioneers always pay a price,” said Pedro Freyre, a lawyer for Carnival
    and two other cruise lines.

    With the vessel restriction now behind it, Donald said, the cruise
    industry might evolve to a point where Carnival might some day home-port
    a ship in Havana.

    “It’s such an event, such a great historic moment. This is a great time
    to open Cuba up. We do business with China. With North Vietnam. so why
    not with Cuba?” asked Fort Lauderdale attorney Jeff Levy, who is on board.

    “I know Cuba has made many, many mistakes but I believe over time they
    will be corrected.”

    Source: Cruise to Cuba leaves Miami on historic voyage | In Cuba Today –
    www.incubatoday.com/news/article75017062.html

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