Royal Caribbean makes inaugural visit to Havana


Royal Caribbean made history yesterday with the cruise line's inaugural visit to Cuba with Empress of the Seas. Guests participated in curated excursions throughout Havana, including rides in 1950s classic American cars to the city’s most famous locales, including the old quarter and the Havana Club Museum.

“We’re thrilled to be a part of Cuba’s future, ushering in Royal Caribbean’s next big adventure with Empress of the Seas’ first visit to Havana. Vacationers will now be able to experience a destination like no other, with authentic and immersive experiences that bring to life the vibrancy of Havana and its traditions,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International.

The vibrant Cuban culture extends beyond land to the experience onboard Empress of the Seas. From cortaditos and café con leche in Café Royal to salsa music and dancing in Boleros Latin lounge, guests will enjoy a range of onboard activities developed to bring the spirit of the island to life throughout the entire journey.

After returning to Miami, Florida, Empress of the Seas will reposition to Tampa, Fla. for the summer season – the cruise line’s first ever summer program from the destination – offering a series of four, five and six-night sailings, including day and overnight visits to Havana, along with stops in Key West, Fla. and Belize City, Belize, as well as Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico. Sailings from Tampa are available through Nov. 4, 2017 when Empress returns to Miami for the winter season, adding calls to CocoCay and Nassau in The Bahamas.               

Royal Caribbean cruise ship makes first stop in Cuba


Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas arrived in Havana, Cuba earlier this morning, marking the first Royal Caribbean International ship to stop in Cuba.

Thanks to Halee Whiting for providing these photos.

Empress of the Seas departed Miami earlier this week, as part of a 5-night sailing that culminated with an historic first visit to Cuba. The cruise has been filled with a number of special events and festivities, from cortaditos and café con leche in Café Royal to salsa music and dancing in the Boleros Latin lounge.  There was even a special Cuban-inspired dining room menu.

After months of negotiating, Royal Caribbean announced it would offer cruises to Cuba in December 2016.  Royal Caribbean offers regular sailings to Cuba, including some sailings with an overnight visit, through the end of 2016, along with stops in Key West, FL. and Cozumel, Mexico.


We will update this post with additional photos and coverage as the day progresses. Keep checking back.

Royal Caribbean's first cruise to Cuba sets sail


Royal Caribbean's Empress of the Seas set sail today from Miami, Florida marking the beginning of an historical voyage that will mark Royal Caribbean International's first visit to Cuba.

Guests boarded Empress of the Seas to the tune of live music, Cuban coffee and Cuba Libres served to guests as they boarded.

Empress of the Seas is on a 5-night inaugural sailing to Cuba, which will make the historic visit to Havana, Cuba on Sunday, April 23, 2017.

As guests boarded Empress of the Seas, Royal Caribbean had special Cuba photo opportunities set up, along with plenty of fanfare.

Royal Caribbean Blog reader Halee Whiting shared the first two days of the Cruise Compass from Empress of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean brought Empress of the Seas back into its fleet in early 2016, specifically because its size was a perfect fit for Havana harbor.

Royal Caribbean opens bookings for many more sailings to Cuba


After weeks of offering a handful of cruises to Cuba, Royal Caribbean has now opened up new sail dates for many more sailings to the island nation that extend through much of the year.

Royal Caribbean announced this morning that guests can now book many more cruises to Cuba aboard Empress of the Seas, through November 4, 2017. The new sailings go out of Empress of the Seas' new home port of Tampa, Florida.

There are new 4- and 5-night cruises with day and overnight visits to Havana, along with stops in Key West, FL. and Cozumel, Mexico.

After receiving permission to cruise to Cuba in late 2016, Royal Caribbean opened up bookings for a hand full of sailings in December 2016. With today's announcement, there are many more options for guests to choose from.

A look at the six Royal Caribbean excursions in Havana, Cuba


Royal Caribbean is very excited to offer its first cruises to Cuba, and we have a first look at the first excursions Royal Caribbean will offer while visiting Havana.

Within 90 days of sail date, guests that have booked a Royal Caribbean cruise will be able to choose from Royal Caribbean shore excursions as an option to fulfill one of the 12 requirements to visit Cuba.

Havana by Classic American Car

Explore 1950's Cuba in a vintage American automobile on a 3 hour road trip across the Malecón (Avenida de Maceo), which is a broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches for 8 km (5 miles) along the coast in Havana, Cuba, from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana, along the north side of the Centro Havana neighborhood, ending in the Vedado neighborhood.

Easy Panoramic Havana - $49 per person

Travel via motor coach along seaside El Malecón promenade. There are photo stops at both El Morro Castle and harbor of Havana. This includes a stop in Revolution Square.

Best of Havana - $115 per person

Full day tour that lasts 8 hours, and is an all-encompassing trip through bustling Havana.  

Guests will visit artisan market and notable squares, including enjoying an authentic Cuban meal.

Hemingway's Havana - $89 per person

Explore Cuba and the late American novelist Ernest Hemingway.  This is a 4 hour tour that takes guests where Hemingway lived, fished, dined and sipped his favorite cocktail.

Old Havana City Sightseeing - $59 per person

Explore Cuba's Capital city with a 4-hour bus ride through Havana's city center.

Old Havana Heritage Walking Tour - $49 per person

Discover Havana's captivating history and cultural charms.  This is a half-day walking tour adventure.

What you need to know before taking a Royal Caribbean cruise to Cuba


You might have heard that Royal Caribbean is now offering cruises to Cuba, but before you step foot in Havana, here are some important bits of information to know.

Who can travel to Cuba?

It is true Royal Caribbean now offers cruises to Cuba, but there are still United States regulations in place that allow for certain types of travel by U.S. persons to Cuba.

Permitted travel is generally classified into 12 categories. If a trip to Cuba meets all of the requirements of one of these 12 categories, you are authorized by OFAC to travel under a “general license,” meaning that you may travel without any additional government approvals.

The general license categories include:

  • Educational activities, including people-to-people travel
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Religious activities
  • Professional research and meetings
  • Family visits
  • Official government business
  • Journalism
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions and athletic competitions
  • “Support for the Cuban people”
  • Activities of private foundations or research for educational institutes
  • Exporting or importing information or “information materials”
  • Travel related to some authorized export transactions

All guests traveling to Cuba must meet the requirements of one of the 12 categories of permitted travel authorized by the United States government. 

People-to-people tours are education-based trips designed to promote interactions between travelers and the Cuban people. People-to-people travel allows for little, if any, free time, as your time will be spent experiencing Cuba at its most authentic, through visits to Cuba’s most sought after destinations.

What about international guests not from the United States?

All guests regardless of country of residence will be required to meet one of the twelve general license categories while onshore in Cuba.

How will I certify I have met one of these requirements?

In accordance with U.S. law, all guests (including children) traveling to Cuba will be required to complete a travel affidavit identifying the category of travel under which they are visiting. This must be completed prior to boarding the vessel.

For ease of completion, Royal Caribbean has arranged the affidavit Into 3 parts:

  • Part A: Guests exclusively participating in the Royal Caribbean tour program should select Part A and complete the identification information in the last section.
  • Part B: Guests traveling on a self-guided people-to- people exchange program should select Part B and complete the identification information in the last section. Part B does allow for guests to split their full-day schedule between tours purchased from Royal Caribbean and activities organized on their own.
  • Part C – Guests that have not certified in Part A and B, including those passengers who plan to split their schedule between people-to-people activities offered by Royal Caribbean and activities otherwise meeting the requirements of one of the 12 general licenses, should select Part C and complete the identification information in the last section. 

You will need a Visa to enter Cuba

Guests are required to purchase a visa to travel to Cuba. Royal Caribbean will facilitate this for our guests at a cost of $75 per person.

This fee will be added to your onboard account on Day 1 of the cruise. Each guest will receive their Visa during embarkation in Miami and will be responsible for providing their Visa to the Cuban authorities upon arrival in Cuba.

If a guest loses their Visa, they will be able to purchase a new Visa onboard at an additional cost of $75.

Do I need a passport to visit Cuba?

A passport will be required for all guests sailing to Cuba with us. Guest passports must be valid for six months after their travel date to Cuba.

In order to travel to Cuba, all guests, including children, will be required to have a passport. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not allow U.S. guests to travel to Cuba with a driver’s license and birth certificate. Guest passports must be valid for six months after their travel to Cuba.

Can Cuban-Americans cruise to Cuba on Royal Caribbean?

Yes. Cuban-American persons born in Cuba are permitted to arrive in Cuba by vessel. However, if you are a Cuban-born traveler, you may need additional documentation.

Those who left Cuba prior to January 1, 1971, must travel to Cuba with their U.S. passports. But unlike U.S. born Americans, they will need a special type of visa; an H1 visa, which they need to apply for prior to travel. The visa application process can take up to 90 days. Cuban-born citizens who came to the U.S. after January 1, 1971, must travel to Cuba using their Cuban passports. They do not need a visa. They do however need to complete a One-Page Entry Request Application.

To learn more, you can visit the Cuban Embassy website ( 

What is it like in Cuba and what can I bring home?

Here is Royal Caribbean's description of Cuba: You will be among the first to explore Cuba with Royal Caribbean. Infrastructure is at a minimum and authenticity is at a premium. The food is rich in culture, but potentially unfamiliar. Walking surfaces may be uneven, and depending on the time of year, the intensity of the heat can be significant.

Guests are generally authorized to bring into the United States merchandise acquired in Cuba for personal use as accompanied baggage.

Any additional tips for visiting Cuba?

  • Drink only bottled water
  • Due to the tropical climate, wear loose fitting airy clothes, comfortable shoes and a hat
  • Only a few places are air conditioned; bring a fan and/or mister
  • Purchase items only from authorized sellers o Exchange money only at CADECAs (Currency exchange houses) or hotels
  • Carry with you
    • Passport
    • Visa
    • SeaPass card
    • Cash

Royal Caribbean puts first Cuba sailings on sale


Just days after receiving approval by the Cuban government to offer cruises, Royal Caribbean has put its first ever cruises to Cuba on sale to the public.

As expected, Empress of the Seas is offering a few different itineraries, from Miami and Tampa, Florida.

The first sailing is scheduled for April 19, 2017 and is a 5-night cruise from Miami to Costa Maya, Mexico and Havana Cuba.

There are two more sailings currently available for booking:

  • April 30 from Tampa: 7-night cruise to Cozumel, Belize City and Havana
  • May 20 from Tampa: 7-night cruise to Key West, Havana and Cozumel

Empress of the Seas will homeport in Tampa for the 2017 summer season offering a series of 4- and 5-night sailings, including port calls to destinations in Cuba. The largest ship to sail to Cuba from the United States, Empress will provide vacationers with the opportunity to discover the timeless sights, sounds and culture of this island nation. Details of the summer itineraries will be released at a later date. All cruises will be designed in accordance with current U.S. to Cuba travel regulations.

"Royal Caribbean is the world’s most exciting adventure company, and we’re thrilled to introduce culture-seeking travelers to Cuba. As the unrivaled innovators of the cruise experience, no company is better positioned to help adventurers explore and experience this culturally rich destination," said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Royal Caribbean International.

Will you be booking any of these cruises? Tell us in the comments!

Royal Caribbean receives approval to offer cruises to Cuba


Multiple media outlets are reporting that Royal Caribbean has received permission by Cuban authorities to offer cruises to Cuba.

USA Today and The Miami Herald report that Royal Caribbean will begin offering itineraries to Cuba, "soon."

"Our guests have expressed real interest in having the opportunity to experience Cuba, and we look forward to bringing them there," said Richard D. Fain, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. "Our discussions with our travel partners indicate that Cuba is a destination that appeals to a new generation of travelers.

Royal Caribbean has been preparing for this opportunity for many months, having brought back Empress of the Seas into the fleet to offer cruises to Cuba. Royal Caribbean engaged in a lengthy refurbishment to the ship and has had it prepared to offer cruises to Cuba as soon as the company had permission.

UPDATE 2:36PM: Royal Caribbean will announce its first Florida-Cuba itineraries, "in the near future."

The cruise itineraries will comply with U.S. Department of Treasury rules that permit travel companies to transport approved travelers to Cuba to engage in people-to-people activities as defined by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Royal Caribbean ready to offer cruises to Cuba, but waiting on government approval


Royal Caribbean's Michael Bayley provided an update as to when its guests can expect to take a cruise to Cuba.

Speaking at a Crown and Anchor Society event aboard Allure of the Seas, Bayley provided an update to the likelihood of Royal Caribbean offering cruises to Cuba.

Bayley indicated the company is ready to offer cruises to Cuba on Empress of the Seas from Miami, but is being held up waiting for government approvals from Cuban and American authorities.

"Originally, we thought, that the various permissions [from the American and Cuban government]... we felt pretty good about going in at April, but we didn't get the permission," Bayley said during the event.

"We don't know all the reasons why, but part of what we think is happening now is because of the elections everything is kind of stopped. We think until that is finished and everybody knows who is doing what and what the position of the various countries will be, this all slowed down. "

Nonetheless, Bayley indicated that the company is firmly prepared to offer cruises to Cuba once the proper approvals are in place, "We're ready to go. Empress is going, but we can't go until we are approved to go by the Cuban government and the American government, and that's out of our hands."

"We brought Empress back specifically to operate to Cuba, to Havana. We have itineraries ready. The ship is prepared to go. The ship fits into Havana. The ship fits into the pier that we wanted to sail into. We are ready.