Fathom wins approval to operate Cuba cruises

Cuba president of maritime operations Nelson Torres (left) and Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald sign a deal allowing Cuba cruises from the United States. From left, Carnival Corp. senior vice president of global port development Giora Israel, Fathom president Tara Russell and Carnival Corp. general counsel Arnaldo Perez look on.
Cuba president of maritime operations Nelson Torres (left) and Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald sign a deal allowing Cuba cruises from the United States. From left, Carnival Corp. senior vice president of global port development Giora Israel, Fathom president Tara Russell and Carnival Corp. general counsel Arnaldo Perez look on. Photo Credit: Johanna Jainchill

HAVANA — Cuba gave Carnival Corp. long-awaited approval for its Fathom brand to operate there, setting the stage for the first cruises between Miami and Cuba in more than 50 years.

Carnival said Cuban authorities from Havanatur Celimar and various other agencies signed the required agreements authorizing the travel.

The approval comes amid President Obama’s trip to promote his engagement policy with the island, which remains subject to a legislated U.S. trade embargo.

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald signed the deal with Nelson Torres, Cuba's president of maritime business operations, at the end of a leadership conference held at a Havana brewery, where President Obama spoke and conducted a question-and-answer session with local entrepreneurs.

Fathom President Tara Russell and Giora Israel, Carnival’s senior vice president of global port and destination development, also were present at the signing.

In his remarks, Obama mentioned the Fathom deal among examples of American investment in Cuba, also citing Starwood and Marriott’s hotel plans.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson was in the audience, as was Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Donald said after the signing that it was not originally planned to coincide with Obama’s visit, but that once the team had learned it was happening, they hoped it would happen at the same time, if not before.  

“We wanted to get it done sooner so people would have the confidence to book, but once we learned about the president’s visit, we hoped to make it happen either prior to or during his visit,” he said.

As it worked out, at the same time that a sitting president made the first visit to Cuba in 88 years, Carnival will become the first cruise company in over half a century to sail to the island.  

“It is history, it really is,” Donald said. “It’s really good to be part of real history.”

Donald called Fathom's debut “the beginning of what we’re going to do more broadly across the fleet. We look to bring our other brands here, as well.”

Fathom, the social-impact brand announced last year, has scheduled its first sailing to Cuba in May. It will alternate weekly between cruises to Cuba and cruises to the Dominican Republic, which are expected to commence next month. Fathom’s cruises will fall under an embargo exception for people-to-people travel.

Fathom plans seven-day roundtrip cruises to Cuba with an overnight in Havana and other stops at ports around the island including Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, ports of call for which Carnival has obtained berthing approval. 

Cruises aboard the 704-passenger Adonia will depart Miami on Sundays and arrive in Havana at 11 a.m. on Mondays. Prices start at $1,800 per person, exclusive of visa, fees, port expenses and taxes. 

Carnival said special onboard programming will include a wide variety of activities covering an array of interests such as an orientation to Cuba's history, customs and culture, geographic-inspired entertainment, conversational Spanish lessons and guided sessions with the Fathom team.

“We are thrilled to begin regular historic sailings to Cuba from Miami starting on May 1, 2016," said Russell.

"We believe there is no better way to experience so much of Cuba in seven days,” Donald said.
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This report was updated on Monday evening to add on-site reporting by Johanna Jainchill.

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