First U.S. Cruise Ship Docks in Cuba Since 1978: Here’s What They Saw

May 2, 2016, 6:18 PM UTC

When the Carnival cruise ship Adonia left Miami and arrived in Havana on Monday morning, it became a part of Cold War history. The Adonia, which is part of Carnival’s Fathom brand, is the first U.S. cruise ship to dock in Cuba in almost four decades, and a sign of thawing relations between the two countries.

The Florida Sun-Sentinel noted that the cruise started with salsa bands in the terminal and on board, and a welcome from Carnival Corp., CEO Arnold Donald and Fathom brand president Tara Russell; and free drinks.

“We’re going to sail directly from the United States to Havana, Cuba,” the captain said over the ship’s PA system. “How awesome is that? Tomorrow we will make history.

The renewal of commercial travel was made possible after U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to ease the strained relations between the two countries in December 2014. President Obama approved the resumption of U.S. cruises to Cuba the following year.

The U.S. blocked the Florida Straits after 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world within inches of a full-scale, global nuclear war. But the new state of détente between the U.S. and Cuba now makes it possible for thousands of ships to cross the straits each year and provide a significant boost to the tourism industry of the tiny island nation.

U.S. cruises are expected to infuse the Cuban economy with more than $80 million a year, according to a report released today by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. John Kavulich, who heads the council, said that cruise companies would pay the Cuban government $500,000 per cruise, while tourists were expected to spend approximately $100 each in every port they visit.

Carnival said that the Adonia will make two trips per month from Miami to Havana, with stops in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, at a cost of $1,800 per person for the week-long tour. Cruise officials said six of the passengers on this historic journey are Cuban.

Sunday’s historic journey almost didn’t set sail with any Cuban-Americans onboard. Carnival had initially refused to allow Cuban-Americans aboard the cruise, in order to comply with a law dating back to the Cold War. However, several protests, a discrimination lawsuit and criticism by Secretary of State John Kerry led the cruise line to lift the ban.

Those who still have grievances with the Cuban government were not thrilled with the recommencement of travel. Protesters demonstrated outside of the port, and as the Adonia was preparing to leave Miami, police stopped a nearby boat with the word “Democracia” painted on its side.

Demonstrators aboard the boat held a sign that read, “Castro why do you ask Cubans for a Visa to visit their own country?”

Passengers waiting to board the ship did not seem to share the protesters’ sentiments. Tourist Gary Carlson told CNN on Sunday that the remaining animus is a relic of the distant past, and that it should be left there.

“It’s time to put those things behind us,” he said.

Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.