MSC Cruises has announced plans to base a 2,120-passenger ship in Havana, Cuba.
The company will become the largest cruise line to offer sailings from the Caribbean island, offering one-week voyages from the capital on board MSC Opera, starting on December 22 and concluding on April 12, 2016. They will include two nights in Havana, with shore excursions offered by Cubanacan, a local travel firm. Their itineraries will also feature Montego Bay, Jamaica; Cozumel, Mexico; and Georgetown in the Cayman Islands.
Fly-cruise packages will be available to passengers in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Brazil and Argentina, the company said. MSC Opera’s original winter schedule, featuring the Canary Islands, Madeira and Morocco, has been cancelled – all of those affected will be offered a refund or a new holiday.
The largest cruise ship currently based in Cuba is the 1,200-capacity Celestyal Cristal, which is operated by the Canadian company Cuba Cruise from the island each winter.
Several cruise lines, such as Thomson, Saga, Fred Olsen, Swan Hellenic and Noble Caledonia, include stops in Cuba in their Caribbean itineraries.
The move further highlights the growing popularity of the country following the easing of trade and travel restrictions with the United States earlier this year.
Barack Obama recently announced that the US Embassy in Havana would soon reopen, more than 50 years after the US and Cuba broke off diplomatic relations.
Many have predicted that Cuba could be transformed by the changes, with greater investment leading to improved infrastructure, new buildings and hotels, more American tourists and fewer vintage cars, and many have reportedly been rushing to visit the island before it loses its traditional character.
Fred Mawer, Telegraph Travel’s Caribbean expert, describes Cuba as “a heady mix of faded Spanish colonial cities, sputtering Fifties Cadillacs, wonderful live music, world-class cigars and an arcane communist system.”
“On the downside,” he adds. “Often things don’t work as they should or go to plan, and the service in hotels and the food, though improving, are not on a par with other Caribbean destinations.”
By Oliver Smith