First U.S.-Launched Cruise Ship in Almost 40 Years Docks in Cuba

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The last time a cruise ship set sail from the United States to Cuba, there were nearly fifty percent less people in the world–4.4 billion–than today. The Bee Gees dominated the Billboard charts. A dozen eggs cost 48 cents.

That all changed at 10:24 AM Monday morning, when the first U.S. to Cuba cruise ship since 1978 docked in Havana, the island’s capital city. The 600 passengers of the Fathom Adonia–which left Miami Sunday afternoon–were welcomed by whistling and waving Cubans ashore and a Cuban band onboard.

“It’s exciting to be part of this historic voyage,” Shirley Thurman, a retiree from St. Augustine and Adonia passenger told the Miami Herald. “I am so glad we are normalizing relations with Cuba. I think the common people in Cuba have been the ones who have suffered over the years.”

Thurman was joined by hundreds of fellow Americans, as well as 10-25 native-born Cubans, according to cruise officials. As President Barack Obama prepared to make history of his own in March by being the first U.S. president in 88 years to set foot on Cuban soil, his administration made a move to ease travel restrictions, allowing travel to Cuba under “people to people” terms. Museum visits, musical performances, craft workshops, and other cultural activities would all be allowed as long as each individual kept a journal detailing their “educational visit.”

And that’s exactly what the Adonia passengers will be required to do over the next week, as they sail from Havana to Cienfuegos to Santiago de Cuba, visiting historical monuments and museums; talking to artists and engaging in community projects, all in an effort to meet the “people to people” requirements.

But the historical sea voyage wasn’t all smooth sailing. A lawsuit was filed when tickets for the trip went on sale by Francisco Marty and Amparo Sanchez, both Cuban born and so denied purchase from Carnival Corp., the ship’s operating company. At the time of the lawsuit, Raul Castro’s Communist Party restricted Cuban-born individuals seeking to re-enter their homeland via boat. Carnival was abiding by the decades old Cuban ordinance in refusing to sell Marty and Sanchez tickets, but the two pursued a lawsuit against the company anyway. According to a post on its state-run newspaper Granma on April 22, days after the lawsuit, the Castro government dropped the restrictions.

“They knew in order to accommodate normalization of relations and accommodate our bringing guests to Cuba, it would be necessary to change,” Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp. told the Miami Herald. Marty and Sanchez responded by dropping the suit, but still refusing to support what they see as Cuba’s discrimination against Cuban-born Americans.

Yet Cuba has been swamped with American tourists since the Cold War-era freeze was abated by the Obama administration in late 2014. Tourism is Cuba’s largest industry, accounting for 10 percent of its total GDP, as 3.52 million people visited the island last year. Now that a new cruise precedent has been set, that number is sure to increase in the coming years.

Alec Siegel
Alec Siegel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. When he’s not working at Law Street he’s either cooking a mediocre tofu dish or enjoying a run in the woods. His passions include: gooey chocolate chips, black coffee, mountains, the Animal Kingdom in general, and John Lennon. Baklava is his achilles heel. Contact Alec at



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