Add Pearl Seas Cruises to the list of companies touting voyages to Cuba.
The small-ship line on Monday announced plans for seven- to 10-night sailings to the island nation out of Florida in spring 2016.
The trips will take place on the line's 210-passenger Pearl Mist and include stops in such Cuban ports as Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Itineraries on both the southern and northern coasts of Cuba are in the works.
Pearl Seas says the sailings will be structured as "people-to-people" exchanges that are allowed under the USA's five-decade-old embargo of Cuba. General leisure travel from the USA to Cuba including traditional cruises still is banned.
Pearl Seas says the voyages still must be approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce as well as the Cuban government.
The announcement comes just two weeks after tour giant Globus and small-ship line Haimark announced plans to market people-to-people Cuba cruises starting in January and February, respectively. Globus is selling cruise tours out of Miami that include a week on a 960-passenger, Cuba-based ship operated by Celestyal Cruises. Haimark is selling sailings out of Miami on its 210-passenger Saint Laurent.
Cruise giant Carnival Corp.'s new fathom brand also recently announced plans to offer people-to-people cruises to the country on its 710-passenger Adonia starting in May, and tour company International Expeditions is starting people-to-people cruises to Cuba in December on a chartered, 48-passenger vessel.
Like Pearl Seas, Haimark is awaiting U.S. and Cuban government approval for its trips. Carnival Corp. has U.S. government approval but still is awaiting Cuban approval. Globus and International Expeditions already have all necessary approvals.
The cruise sellers are entering an increasingly crowded field of companies offering people-to-people tours to Cuba. Just last month, package tour giant Apple Vacations announced it would add such trips this fall, joining a growing number of land-based tour companies offering Cuba tours.
Under U.S. government rules, people-to-people trips to Cuba must focus on educational exchanges between U.S. travelers and Cubans, and they typically feature a full-time schedule of interactions with Cuban musicians, artists, business owners and other locals. They aren't tourist-oriented, and breaking away from the group for self-directed exploring or skipping an activity isn't allowed.
By Gene Sloan, USA TODAY
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