MIAMI, United States – The world’s top cruise liner, Carnival, announced Tuesday that the U.S. government had authorized it to begin operating cruises to Cuba in May 2016.
One-week cruises leaving from Miami, Florida still need authorization from Cuban authorities, Carnival said in a statement.
The announcement comes just a few days after both nations announced they would reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their respective embassies. The unprecedented warming of relations between Cuba and the U.S. began in December after half a century of animosity.
If Carnival is allowed to dock in Cuba it would be the first time a cruise ship travels between the two countries since they broke off diplomatic relations in 1961.
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Carnival President Arnold Donald said the company was excited to have received U.S. approval to carry passengers to Cuba within the 12 existing categories under which U.S. citizens are allowed to visit the communist island. Under current U.S. laws and the country’s economic embargo against Cuba, general tourism is still prohibited for U.S. citizens, but there are exceptions for family visits, and academic, cultural, sporting and religious trips.
Carnival said it received permission to travel to Cuba from the Treasury and Commerce departments.
Half a dozen Florida companies got permission in May to establish ferry service between Cuba and the U.S. The firms hope ferry service could begin before the end of the year, though they still need to fulfill various prerequisites and get permits from Havana.
Carnival will operate its cruises to Cuba under its newly-created company, Fathom, which caters toward travelers interested in cultural and educational tourism. Fathom will operate its first cruise in April 2016 to Dominican Republic.
Some 100,000 U.S. citizens visited Cuba in 2014 and Cuban authorities expect that number to increase. Last year tourism generated $2 billion for the island.