The First U.S. Cruise Ship in 40 Years Reaches Cuba

The docking of the Adonia marks another step towards U.S.-Cuban rapprochement.

U.S. Cruise Ship in Cuba
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

For the first time in almost four decades, a cruise ship that embarked from the U.S. made its way directly down to Cuba. Carnival Cruise Line's Adonia vessel docked in Havana on May 2, where it was greeted by a joyous crowd of locals excited to see their world change right in front of them.

The cruise ship's arrival marked a momentous occasion for Cuban-American relations—and not just because it gives Cuban merchants a whole new market of tchotchke-hungry retirees they can unload handmade trinkets on. Sixteen people of Cuban-American descent were among those on board, able to visit the country thanks to a Cuban government decision last week to end a ban preventing its citizens from leaving or returning to the country by sea.

"This is history," Mercedes Lopez, a 54-year-old nurse who waited hours to see Carnival Cruise Line's Adoniadock in Havana, told the Associated Press. "This is a step forward, a little step toward normalization, peace, family unification."

After decades of strained relations between the two nations sparked by the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s and exacerbated by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, U.S. president Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro finally declared a rapprochement late in 2014, opening the door to easier travel and trade between the two countries. Since then, American tourists have begun flowing to the island—but until now, they were forced to either fly or travel to another country in order to board a boat for Cuba.

Cruise ships aren't exactly a foreign sight in Havana's harbor; ships from Europe have been coming to the island for years. But those ships have to cross the Atlantic to reach Cuba's pristine waters. American boats, on the other hand, only need to sail about 100 miles past the southern tip of Florida. More than two dozen cruise lines are reportedly planning on running voyages between Cuba and the United States, which the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council claims could bring more than $80 million a year to the impoverished Caribbean island.

The Adonia, a 704-passenger vessel that operates under Carnival Cruise Line's Fathom sub-brand, left Miami shortly after 5pm on May 1, crossing the Florida Straits and arriving at Havana's two-berth, state-run cruise ship terminal at roughly 10:00 AM on May 2. The ship's planned route will take it around the island during the next week, before returning to Miami. And if the idea of risking norovirus-related diarrhea in order to explore Castro country sounds like your cup of tea, Carnival says the ship will be making regular voyages between Miami and Cuba for the foreseeable future.