Cuba Cruise Ban Brings Benefits for U.S. Ports
With Havana's harbor closed to U.S. traffic, cruise lines have been tearing up their 2020 schedules and reworking them to make new use of smaller ships they had tapped to fit Havana's diminutive piers.
Ships such as Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas, the Norwegian Sky and the MSC Armonia are small by 2019 standards but were just the right size for wharves that hadn't been updated since the early 1960s.
Some of those ships are moving on to new ports or new areas of the world, while others are staying in South Florida. No line has announced that a ship that was serving Havana is for sale or bound for the scrap yard.
"We were able to adjust our itineraries to provide our guests with attractive alternative vacation experiences utilizing the six destination ports that we own and operate in the Caribbean," Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp. told analysts on a June 20 conference call.
Carnival Cruise Line, among the first to return to Miami-Havana itineraries in 2016, has redeployed its two formerly Havana-bound ships, the Carnival Sensation and Carnival Paradise, on other Caribbean routes.
The Paradise is doing four- and five-day Western Caribbean sailings from Tampa, while the Sensation is doing the same length of sailings, mostly on Eastern Caribbean itineraries from Miami. But not every ship of similar size is following suit.
Norwegian Cruise Line is sending the Norwegian Sun to sail in Alaska next summer, joining the Norwegian Bliss, Joy and Jewel in a high-yield domestic market. The Sun had been sailing to Havana on short cruises from Port Canaveral, Fla. Left behind on short-cruise duty in Miami will be the Norwegian Sky.
Likewise, Royal Caribbean International will move one of its ships serving Havana, the Majesty of the Seas, to year-round service from New Orleans starting in 2020. From there, it plans to offer cruises to the Perfect Day at CocoCay private island in the Bahamas.
The Empress of the Seas will continue to ply a variety of four- to eight-day itineraries from Miami, with Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands often serving as a replacement for the lost Cuba calls.
One of the ports benefiting from Havana's misfortune is Key West, 90 miles to the north. It has already started to host calls from a ship that had never visited before, the MSC Armonia. Next year, Key West will be the Havana stand-in for the highly anticipated launch of Virgin Voyages' flagship, the Scarlet Lady.
Key West port operations coordinator Martha Arencibia is projecting a 7.8% increase in passengers in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2020.
"These are small vessels that have been going to Cuba," Arencibia noted. "So they're not going to create that big of an increase for us. They don't carry a lot of passengers, so we'll see some increase, but we won't see something crazy."
Next year, Key West anticipates 416 calls and 881,421 cruise passengers, up from 405 calls and 817,450 passengers this year. The U.S. government's abrupt shutdown of Cuba as a cruise destination on June 5 threw a price anchor into the market, as some passengers canceled and high-yielding cruises became less so.
"The ban on American travel to Cuba has had a cascade effect within the cruise industry," said Denise Bialek, director of Priceline Cruises. "Many travelers canceled planned cruises to Cuba once they learned of the [government's] decision, even though they may have still been eligible to travel. This has led to a high number of available rooms, with a corresponding drop in price."
Prices dipped to below $60 a day in June on some ships that had been Havana-bound. A check of prices online in mid-July turned up fares starting at $230 for a five-day Empress of the Seas cruise in October, $349 for a four-day Norwegian Sky cruise in October and $429 for a seven-day MSC Armonia cruise in August.
Cuba is also suffering economically. It received 250,000 cruisers in the first four months of 2019, but with the U.S. spigot closing in June, Cuban tourism minister Manuel Marrero lowered the government's 2019 target for total foreign visits by 15%.
Last year, cruise tourism accounted for nearly 900,000 arrivals in Cuba, with about 40% of those coming from the U.S.
Source: Travel Weekly