While the U.S. and Cuba have been building bridges of late, the island nation’s relationships with EU nations have been at least somewhat more temperate over the years. So it’s not too surprising that the first mainstream cruise line to home port in Cuba hails from Western Europe. Starting in December 2015, MSC Cruises will homeport the MSC Opera in Havana, sailing the Caribbean for the 2015-16 winter season.
The 2,120-passenger Opera will begin its Grand Voyage in Genoa on December 2nd, calling on Havana sixteen days later. The Grand Voyage then continues through the Caribbean, ending back in Havana on December 21st. The ship’s first homeport Caribbean cruise sets sail the next day. Those sailings will be available to UK guests on a cruise-only basis starting July 9th.
Why Cuba? Demand is certainly there, as surveys around the world have shown Cuba as a top “bucket list” destination. MSC Cruises chief executive, Gianni Onorato says, “The move to Cuba proves our commitment to offer our guests and holiday-makers the best and most sought-after destinations as they become accessible – thus further enhancing our global offering while providing travellers best-in-class experiences and service.”
MSC Cruises’ new Cuba-Caribbean itinerary includes Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Mexico, with two nights and two and a half days in Havana. For local ground services and shore excursions, MSC Cruises will partner with Cubanacan, a Cuba-based group created more than 20 years ago and known for its experienced professionals and high quality of service.
Recently, MSC Cruises also announced that when MSC Divina returns from the Mediterranean this season, she will once again sail year-round from Miami to the Caribbean. Current sailings from November 2015 through April 2016 will remain unchanged, but new itineraries will rotate between the Eastern and Western Caribbean from April 2016 to March 2017. Later that year, the MSC Seaside will debut and also sail year-round from Miami to the Caribbean as the company works to double its North American capacity by 2022.
Photo: The cruise ship MSC Opera at sea, courtesy of MSC Cruises.