(8:30 a.m. EDT) -- Carnival Corporation & plc's newest cruise line -- fathom, which specializes in voluntourism -- will offer cruises to Cuba starting in May 2016.
Passengers will be able to make reservations for the seven-night trips between Miami and Cuba starting today. The itineraries, which have yet to be fully developed, are expected to have at least three port stops on the island; as announced last month, all fathom cruises will take place on P & O's Adonia.
"We're humbled and excited to be the first in the industry to offer an experience from the U.S.," Tara Russell, fathom president and global impact lead for Carnival Corp., told Cruise Critic. "We see this as the beginning of what we imagine will be a beautiful relationship."
Designed to offer a different socially motivated experience to purpose-driven cruisers, fathom will keep April 2016 as its inaugural month, offering volunteer opportunities at Amber Cove, Carnival's private port in the Dominican Republic, Russell said. (For more on fathom, read our Q and A on the first voluntourism cruise line).
Then beginning in May, the line will alternate itineraries between Cuba and the Dominican Republic each week, she said. Although the details for the Cuban volunteer opportunities haven't been worked out, the ship will have the Cuban program ready to go, with Cuban food, music and films onboard.
Costs for fathom cruises in Cuba begin at $2,990 per person, which is significantly higher than the line's Dominican Republic itineraries. Russell noted the costs were not out of line with other people-to-people trips currently offered in Cuba.
"There's the market demand, but also the reality of the cost involved," she said, noting the pricing does not involve port fees, taxes and other government expenses.
fathom is the first cruise line owned by an American mainstream cruise company to announce sailings to Cuba. Currently, cruise lines based in the U.S. are not allowed to offer itineraries in Cuba because trips that are strictly tourism-oriented are not allowed under the embargo.
But fathom received approval from the U.S. Department of Treasury and the U.S. Department of Commerce because its mission, voluntourism, fulfills the people-to-people" and humanitarian requirements that govern trips to Cuba, Russell said.
She shot down the idea that fathom itself was born out of Carnival Corp's desire to get a ship to Cuba as soon as possible, noting the Obama Administration announced in December that it would work to lessen travel restrictions between the two countries: "We've been at work on fathom far longer," Russell said.
The announcement comes at a time when American interest and ability to travel to Cuba is beginning to take off. Although Congress has yet to lift the embargo against Cuba, the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps to normalize relations between the two countries: Ferry service has been approved between Miami and Cuba; each country will place an embassy in the others' capitol by the end of July and far more Americans than ever before have been able to travel to Cuba, thanks to an expansion of eligible reasons to visit.
Cruise lines have picked up on the groundswell. The Canadian line Cuba Cruises, owned primarily by Greek-based Celestyal Cruises, opened its Cuba cruises to Americans early this year. International Expeditions will begin a series of Cuba itineraries in December.
MSC Cruises will also homeport a ship, MSC Opera, in Havana beginning in late 2015 through 2016. Those cruises will not be sold in the U.S.
Want more information on cruising to Cuba? Cruise Critic has you covered. Check out 10 Things Americans Should Know about Cruising to Cuba, 10 More Things Americans Should Know about Cruising to Cuba and Cuba Cruise Basics.
--By Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor