Have you ever enjoyed a particularly animated happy hour of mojitos and salsa while dreaming about going to Cuba with your friends or family? Judging by the rush of Americans heading to this country just south of The Keys recently, the answer to that question is yes. For 50 years, Cuba sat a mere 90 miles from the coast of Florida, but it may as well have been on the other side of the world—due to regulations that made it a forbidden land for U.S. citizens to visit.
But in the last two years, the U.S. government began easing those restrictions, making it much easier for tour operators, airlines and other travel companies to bring Americans to this fascinating Caribbean island. Now, your dreams of planning a bucket-list trip just got easier: Royal Caribbean International has announced that it will begin cruises to Cuba starting in April 2017. The newly revitalized Empress of the Seas will make history for the cruise line by offering its first five-night sailing to Cuba, departing from Miami, on April 19, 2017. Then, the ship will head to Tampa for the summer season, and will offer more itineraries with calls to Havana on April 30 (a seven-night sailing). From May through October, she will offer four-, five- and six-night sailings to Havana from Tampa; in November, she’ll return to Miami and offer the same sailings to Havana through the end of the year. All sailings are now open for sale—and they’ll offer overnights in Havana, too.
“We’re thrilled to introduce culture-seeking travelers to Cuba,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. “As the unrivaled innovators of the cruise experience, no company is better positioned to help adventurers explore and experience this culturally rich destination.” Guests sailing on Empress of the Seas will enjoy curated people-to-people experiences designed to immerse them in the country’s architecture, cuisine, music, art and natural beauty. They’ll explore Old Havana—a UNESCO World Heritage site—as well as a rum museum, Hemingway’s former residence, a local artisan market, and more.
Onboard, Empress will have a range of activities designed to bring the spirit of the island to life for the duration of the journey. Look for cortaditos and café con leche in Café Royal, along with live salsa music alongside signature amenities like a rock-climbing wall, new pools and whirlpools, an adults-only Solarium, a Vitality Spa and a complimentary Adventure Ocean youth program.
Start planning now, and prepare to glimpse “Yank Tanks,” those perfectly preserved classic American cars that are the de facto vehicle of choice for residents; visitors to Cuba also will learn about the country’s history of cigar production; see a wealth of eye-popping buildings in styles ranging from colonial to Art Deco; and dine in local paladars. The nightlife and music scene in Havana is legendary, with live salsa, merengue and jazz regularly on rotation. Visiting Cuba is part adventure, part cultural exchange and even part time travel. And now, thankfully, the party’s no longer off-limits.
Royal Caribbean’s new Cuba cruise itineraries are on sale; take a look and start planning your trip here.