Royal Caribbean to Homeport Empress of the Seas in Havana

CubaIn breaking news, Cruise Law News has learned that Royal Caribbean will be home-porting the refurbished Empress of the Seas in Havana, Cuba.  

Effective August 14, 2016, the Empress of the Seas, originally named the Nordic Empress, will be sailing 7 day cruises from Havana to Nassau Bahamas, Labadee Haiti, Falmouth Jamaica and Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. In a starting move, the cruise line will be changing the name of the cruise ship to the Cuban Empress.

The cruise ship left the Royal Caribbean fleet in 2007 and, since then, has sailed for Royal Caribbean's Spanish subsidiary Pullmantur Cruises. Last year, Royal Caribbean announced that the cruise ship would be returning to its fleet in March of this year. The ship has been undergoing extensive renovations, first in Cadiz Spain and currently in Freeport Bahamas for the past several weeks. The ship was supposed to be sailing a Caribbean itinerary this summer but recently canceled six weeks of cruises because the cruise ship's renovations were behind schedule.  

Many travel agents have speculated that the cruise ship, because of its smaller size, is well suited to be the first ship for Royal Caribbean to enter the Cuban cruise market.  It will be the smallest cruise ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet behind the Majesty of the Seas. Many travel agents have noted that the cruise line has not booked any cruises on this ship after July as a sign that Royal Caribbean has planned all along try to get the Empress into Cuba before the end of the summer.

Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain commented that "Cuba is a great opportunity for us in the cruise business because we bring our own hotels and our own infrastructure . . . "

Earlier this month, Carnival announced that it had obtained approval from Cuba to sail from the U.S. into Cuban ports. On May 1st, Carnival's new "social impact" brand, Fathom, will be sailing passengers from Miami to several ports in Cuba, on the Adonia, a cruise ship with around 700 passengers. This will be the first time in 50 years that a cruise ship from Miami will call on a port in Cuba.  

Motivated by profits (fares on the Adonia are 2 to 3 times the average cost of a Caribbean cruise) and its competition with cross-town rival Carnival, Royal Caribbean pulled off a coup by one-upping Carnival by becoming the first U.S. cruise line which will base a cruise ship in Cuba. Royal Caribbean's Chief Operating Officer Adam Goldstein, who reportedly has spent several weeks in Havana meeting with Cuban officials, is expected to speak at a press conference later today. 

Royal Caribbean will utilize Havana's relatively modern cruise facility where two European lines, Costa Cruises and Pullmantur, used to operate. But both pulled out after Costa was acquired by Carnival Corporation in 2000 and Pullmantur by Royal Caribbean in 2006  due to the U.S. ban on travel to the communist nation. 

Royal Caribbean has made several Cuban-themed renovations to the cruise ship which executive Goldstein will be announcing shortly. The Cuban Empress will feature the "Che Guevara cigar room" Cuban Prisonwhich will feature hand-rolled Cohibas cigars. The cruise ship will also unveil the "Royal Castro Grill" where cruise passengers can enjoy fine Cuban cuisine. Late night entertainment will take place in the "Fidel & Raul's" nightclub where guests can dance the Mambo and sip Cuban "Havana Club" rum.

The cruise line will be offering excursions to Cuba's famous Combinado del Esto prison which houses thousands of dissidents and political prisoners. Also imprisoned are hundreds of Cuban families who tried to flee Cuba to the U.S. on make-shift rafts but were intercepted by U.S. based cruise ships and then forced to return to Cuba (no photos allowed).

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Photo Credits: 

Top - Mark Scott Johnson CC BY 2.0 commons / wikimedia.

Bottom - Franklin Reyes / AP Photo via Avax News

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Comments (9) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Owen - April 1, 2016 9:32 AM

So am i to understand, that one would have to fly to Cuba, to embark on what ever the future name of this Royal Caribbean ship will be?....I wonder if they will have itineraries that will Include Cuba, from Florida??

Laurence Gore - April 1, 2016 9:39 AM

April Fools!

Astrogal - April 1, 2016 10:38 AM

You fooled me lol!

tinikini - April 1, 2016 4:21 PM

Good one, Jim!!!

I want to go to Cuba, but not by ship!!

Arlene Converse - April 4, 2016 5:53 AM

This sure look real ... it is? God I hope this is just a joke but have found not indicator from Royal Caribbean they were "just kidding".

MJ - April 6, 2016 12:21 AM

God O Mighty, please tell me this is a joke. Why would a country with low to no crime want to partner up with high crime islands? Don't they realize it will effect their reputation as a safe cruise in the long run? Christ O Mighty, here I was about to invest in Carnival Cruise Company stocks, not if that's happening. They should have a cruise that leaves Florida, stops at all different ports in Cuba, remember it the largest island in the Caribbean, and it should also visit the Cayman Islands, it's pretty clean, beautiful and safe there. But Haiti , Nassau and Jamaica; why not just send me to North Korea with a sign hanging off my neck saying " I hate your fat little Hitler leader".

MJ - April 6, 2016 12:32 AM

It's Royal....lol....Thank God, I'm going to contact Carnival just to make sure they don't make a stupid move like Royal before I invest. Great article now that a read it completey, I saw the ports of call first and almost had a heart attack....lol.

ryba - April 13, 2016 4:01 PM

OMG you got me good with this one, Jim!

Fred Chernow - June 4, 2016 1:04 PM

How do I book a cruise for two to Cuba?

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