via Flickr user Stephen Colebourne

UPDATED: Are the Future of Cuban Cruises Really in Jeopardy?

The below originally posted in 2017. You can follow along with the 2019 restrictions here.

UPDATE 6/16/2017 PM:The new policy for US-Cuban relations going forward is out. As predicted, it won’t interfere with cruise operations too much. The relations will still remain positive between the two countries and both countries embassy’s will remain. There will also be no changes to the recent relaxed cigar and rum policy to the delight of many cruisers.

What will change is how you go about your business on the island nation and how you get there. Up until now there were twelve loosely enforced reasons that would allow you to enter Cuba. With this new policy, the Government will be tightening up on these reasons. It’s important to note that cruise ships could easily sail into Cuba under the previous rules and that will not change with the tightening of these. Carnival Corp. already confirmed that they’ve been sailing fine with these rules and don’t expect that to change.

If you’re curious, the major change seems to be the restriction on doing business with the Cuban military and government sponsored corporations. In the leisure industry, it seems hotels will be the hardest hit. Some of the new hotels will either be purchased from Cuban government corporations or operated by the government. Airlines will see the least impact from this.

The only ominous sign I see is when the new restrictions take place, all visitors can be subject to an audit by the US Treasury Department. This may seem scary, but as long as you keep track of where you’re spending your money while in port, and as long as it’s not to government sponsored places, and you keep the receipts to prove it, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Also important to note that none of these changes will go into effect immediately. If you’re leaving soon on a cruise there’s no need to worry.

UPDATE 6/16/2017 AM: The US Government is planning on announcing their new Cuban travel and business policy. As we conjectured below, this should not affect cruising to Cuba.
The initial reports out of Washington suggest that they will only tighten the enforcement of the 12 reasons you can visit Cuba.
I’ll update this post once the official rules are posted. If you’re currently booked on a cruise to Cuba I wouldn’t fret over it.

Norwegian Sky departing Miami ©CruiseInd
NCL’s Cuba ship, Norwegian Sky

Several outlets are reporting that the days of cruising to Cuba are numbered. The new administration is seeking to reverse the former President’s executive order (EO) that removed the restrictions on travel to Cuba. The order also loosened the restrictions on doing business with Cuba which also helps pull the cruise industry back to the island.

Carnival, fathom, Royal Caribbean, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent, Pearl Seas Cruises, Blount Small Ship Adventures and Oceania Cruises all have scheduled calls to Cuba. Two other lines with major presence Celestial and MSC will be unaffected as they source passengers from overseas, mostly Europe.

Empress of the Seas sailing out of Miami. Captured by Greg Dragonetti ©CruiseInd
Royal Caribbean’s Cuba Ship Empress of the Seas

I’ll try to avoid bringing politics into this as much as possible, however the reason behind the embargo is a political decision after all. Officials in Washington never really confirmed whether or not they would repeal the EO in its entirety, scale it back, or replace it with a different one. An ABC article seems to infer that the EO will be completely repealed. It’s this article that has sparked quite the reaction amongst cruise fans and the industry itself.

Seven Seas Mariner departing Miami ©CruiseInd
Regent’s Cuba ship Seven Seas Mariner

However, other news sources seem to contradict and say that it may be ratified. Currently there are 12 reasons that Americans can visit Cuba. It may be that those twelve are reduced to just a couple.

Visitors via cruise ships to Cuba play a smaller role towards the economy compared to the resort/hotel based visitors.

The aviation industry, arguably, would be quite hurt if restrictions were put back in place. They have spent a lot on marketing and on the operations side of things.

Based on those last two I would argue that if a restriction were to go back in place, then it would affect either business-to-business in Cuba, or more of the land based industries than the cruise industry. I would be quite surprised if cruises to Cuba and air service were cut off entirely.