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CRUISE: Carnival to Cuba

Havana harbor at sunset.

Havana harbor at sunset.

Washington gives approval to the world’s largest cruise line to begin sailings between Miami and Havana.

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

It’s being announced today that the US Treasury and Commerce departments have given Carnival Cruise Lines the go-ahead to begin travel to Cuba, starting in May 2016.

There’s no comment so far, official or otherwise, from the Cuban government. Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party central committee, makes no mention of it. But there’s no way that either Carnival or Washington would go public without already having Havana’s blessing in their back pockets.

This deal is done.

You can read the press release here.

The ink has barely dried on last week’s formal reopening of relations between the United States and Cuba, so you know this has been in the works for a while, behind the scenes.

It all ties in with the launch of Carnival’s newest line, fathom, the voluntourism cruise experience we told you about last month.

For Cuba, this makes sense in ways beyond the obvious.

By opening up to US cruise lines with one of Carnival’s smaller ships, they can treat this as a warm-up — a “soft opening,” as they say in business circles — to prepare for the day when more and larger cruise ships start calling on Havana harbor.

And we know those days are coming.

The Caribbean cruise market is perhaps the most ferociously competitive in the world. Its two biggest competitors by far are Carnival and Royal Caribbean. Both have known for years that this day was coming — and although neither side would say so publicly — both have spent years quietly preparing for it.

There’s a certain swag that comes with being first, so Round One definitely goes to Carnival, but this is not over. You can’t tell me that Royal Caribbean spent the last several years building the largest cruise ships afloat, their Oasis class, without having Cuba as part of their thinking.

Carnival may be first, but you can bet your rent money that the competition won’t be far behind. The rush is coming.

Meanwhile, for those of you wanting to get a glimpse of Cuba before mass-market tourism from the States engulfs the island and forever changes the place, you might want to think about moving up your plans a bit.

Either way…got passport?

Greg Gross is Publisher/Senior Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel! and owner of Trips by Greg LLC, a travel agency specializing in cultural travel and tours.

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