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It’s Now Legal to Book a Cruise to Cuba

A Canadian cruise line is allowing Americans to legally book a trip around Cuba

Spanish cruise ship 'Gemini' enters Havana Harbor. Americans are now legally able to book a cruise to Havana through a Canadian cruise line. (DESMOND BOYLAN/Reuters/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

By this time next year, you could be strolling the sunny streets of Havana, soaking in the wonders of Cuba.

A company based out of Calgary, Alberta, has become the first cruise line to allow Americans to legally book a tour of Cuba since travel restrictions were eased last year. Cuba Cruise provides seven-day trips around the island running from December to March, leaving from either Havana or—for the ease of American travelers—Montego Bay, Jamaica.

In keeping the Obama administration's 2014 announcement, the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments in January released new rules for travel to the communist island nation, which American citizens have been restricted from visiting since 1962. Now, those traveling for educational purposes (or another one of twelve new criteria qualifying people for general travel licenses) will have an easier time making the trip.

Cuba Cruise, which offers day trips to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as to the capital city, qualifies as an educational excursion.

There’s still one hoop to jump through, though. After reserving your spot on the ship, you have to register with the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a people-to-people, U.S.-run nonprofit partnered with the cruise line to provide Americans with letters authorizing travel. It costs $75 a pop but takes far less time than obtaining a travel license to Cuba once did.

Cruising might be your best bet to reach the island with relative ease. With diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba thawing, the travel industry has reported a "tourism tsunami,"  and hotel rooms are reportedly incredibly difficult to come by. The intrigue of an island “frozen in time,” filled with vintage cars and a unique culture, has driven hundreds of Americans south over the last month alone.

“There’s a sense of urgency from travelers,” said Collin Laverty, owner of Cuba Educational Travel told the Miami Herald. “People feel that it’s on the verge of opening, so they want to get there right away.”

Travelling to Cuba could get even easier in coming years. A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill in late January that would lift all travel restrictions for touristic endeavors to Cuba. But those too anxious to wait can join the early-bird cruises leaving port next winter. 

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