Carnival (CCL) on Monday became the first U.S. cruise ship operator in 50 years to win the right from Cuban authorities to sail from the United States to the Caribbean Island.
The company said it would begin to travel to Cuba on May 1 on its 704-passenger MV Adonia through its newest brand, the social impact-focused Fathom line. Carnival had won permission last July from U.S. officials to operate limited cruises into Cuba starting this year.
Carnival CEO Arnold Donald, speaking from Havana, announced the Cuban approval on Monday, coinciding with a historic trip by U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuba, the first by a U.S. president in decades.
“Today, we made history,” Donald told reporters on a conference call. “I want to thank the U.S. and the relevant Cuba personnel that we’ve been working with to have this historic opportunity.”
Carnival is part of a rush of U.S. companies trying to get a piece of the action as the Caribbean Island opens up to U.S. tourists. Hotel operator Starwood (HOT)beat Marriott out of the gate in signing an agreement to manage three landmark hotels in Cuba, including the Hotel Inglaterra though Marriott (MAR) also received approval from the Treasury to do business in Cuba. AirBnb already lists rentals in Cuba for U.S. travelers. The company this weekend won approval to open listings to non-U.S. travelers as well.
In December the countries agreed to resume commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years, as relations have thawed. The New York Times has reported there are currently only about 15 flights a day run by charter companies but that the U.S. and Cuba planned to get that up to 100.
Carnival’s Fathom itinerary will include stops at three ports of call: Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba. Carnival said it would provide travelers the opportunity to interact with the artists, musicians, business owners, and families in Cuba.
Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings could also get approval for new Cuba cruises within days, USA Today said, citing an analyst for Nomura.