Royal Caribbean deploying second ship to sail Cuba cruises

Royal Caribbean International will add a second ship that sails a Cuba itinerary, along with two new Cuba destinations, starting in the summer of 2018.

The Empress of the Seas, currently sailing Cuba cruises from Tampa, will be redeployed to Miami. In addition to a five-day trip that visits Key West and overnights in Havana, the Empress will sail a seven-night “Best of Cuba” itinerary that includes Cienfuegos, Havana and Nassau, Bahamas. An eight-night cruise will include Cienfuegos, Santiago de Cuba, Grand Cayman and Labadee, Haiti.

Meanwhile, the Majesty of the Seas will shift from Miami to Tampa next summer to assume the four- and five-day cruises that that Empress had been scheduled to do. It will move to Fort Lauderdale from November 2018 to March 2019.

“Cruising remains the easiest way to visit Cuba, and with both Empress and Majesty sailing there in 2018 and 2019, we hope to make it that much easier for adventure seekers to experience the legendary island,” Royal Caribbean president Michael Bayley said.

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Mariner of the Seas getting massive makeover

Mariner of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International plans a major improvement in its short-cruise product, starting with a massive makeover of the 14-year-old Mariner of the Seas.

Speaking to a conference of Cruise One/Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. agents aboard the Harmony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean president Michael Bayley said the line will spend over $100 million on the ship.

Plans call for a six-week drydock in Cadiz, Spain, in March and April. Bayley said it is the most money Royal Caribbean has ever spent renovating a ship.

“I’m calling it a modernization, not a refurbishment,” Bayley said. “We’re going to be adding concepts and redoing concepts,” he said.

When the work is finished, the 3,114-passenger Mariner will sail three- and four-day cruises from Miami. The ship is currently sailing in Asia.

The move will coincide with the June 2018 opening of the newly constructed dock at Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, which will play a major role in the Mariner’s itineraries.

Bayley hinted there is more reinvestment yet to be disclosed. “It is attached to the Mariner and it is attached to the idea of boosting up the shore experience,” he said.

He said that the combined ship-shore package will be a “game changer” in the short-cruise market.

In May 2016, the Empress of the Seas started sailing short cruises after a $50 million renovation. That ship is now doing four-, five- and six-day cruises from Tampa on Caribbean itineraries that include Cuba.

The only other cruise line to spend more than $100 million in a single refurbishment was Carnival, which refitted the Carnival Destiny and renamed it the Carnival Sunshine in 2013 at a cost of $155 million.

Cruise lines say visiting Cuba by ship is safe

Three big cruise companies with itineraries that include calls in Havana said their ships are a safe way to visit the island, even though the U.S. State Department isĀ warning Americans against going.

The warning is in response to illnesses reported by diplomatic workers in Havana attributed to some sort of sonic weapon. The attacks, which began last November, are thought to have occurred in residences or in a hotel that houses diplomatic personnel on temporary assignment.

In response, the U.S. government has withdrawn most of its diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Because some of the attacks occurred at a hotel, the government also warned tourists.

The government of Cuba has denied any involvement in the attacks, an assertion that hasn’t been challenged by the U.S.

Carnival Cruise Line sails to Havana from Tampa with its Carnival Paradise ship. In a statement, it said that it would continue its cruises to Cuba for the moment.

“While members and relatives of the U.S. diplomatic corps have suffered illnesses apparently triggered by occurrences at the diplomatic offices or possibly their homes, none of the more than 475,000 other Americans visiting Cuba this year have reported similar health issues related to their visits,” the Carnival statement said.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL), which also takes passengers to Havana from Tampa on the Royal Caribbean International ship the Empress of the Seas, said it was aware of the State Department warnings.

“Since the warning is due to the events that occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens, we do not feel they pose a risk to our cruise passengers,” an RCCL statement said. “Our guests explore Havana on escorted tours and do not visit hotels.”

Norwegian Cruise Line, which visits Havana on its Norwegian Sky ship from Miami, said its cruises there continue to operate as scheduled.

“There have been no reported incidents involving tourists or other cruise ship passengers,” said a Norwegian statement that also noted incidents have been isolated to diplomats and government officials residing on the island. “Our shore excursions and tour locations have been thoroughly evaluated,” the statement continued. “We continue to believe that the best way to travel to Cuba is via cruise ship and look forward to continuing to offer our guests the opportunity to explore Cuba’s beauty, culture and friendly people.”

Asked about cancellations or a slowdown in Cuba bookings, a Norwegian spokeswoman said there was “nothing to note at the moment.”

Spokeswomen for RCCL and Carnival declined to comment on bookings.