The island country of Cuba has been the topic of a number of headlines recently. Not only did the Tampa Bay Rays baseball organization recently make a trip down to Cuba for an exhibition game against the Cuban National team (the first MLB team to play in Cuba since 1999), but President Obama was there to watch it live – making him the first sitting President to visit Cuba in 88 years!
While there are many different opinions on the US and Cuba opening up relations, this post is not intended to take a stance on the political framework, but to simply to inform.
In additional to political and sporting news, travel to Cuba is getting more and more attention…
For those of you who don’t know, travel to Cuba is restricted for US citizens – specifically, tourism related travel – with the exception of travel under general licenses for 12 existing approved categories. Though these categories are broad and not always heavily enforced, travel to Cuba has been limited for the everyday traveler.
Although tourism related travel to Cuba remains restricted, there have been some recent breakthroughs that could make Cuba a potential travel destination in the near future… perhaps as early as this year!
It seems that every day I read something related to Cuban travel, so I decided to consolidate some of the latest in this post!
- President Obama Eases Travel Restrictions – March 2016
The progress all started back in 2014 when Obama ordered the restoration of relations with Cuba, which included the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Cuba and the easing of travel restrictions. This month, the Obama administration made a very significant announcement as it relates to “people to people” educational trips.
Per the New York Times – “Americans who plan a trip with a full schedule of educational exchange activities, including interacting with Cuban people, will for the first time in decades be able to travel on their own to Cuba without special permission from the United States government.”
This easing still does not specifically allow tourism (i.e. relaxing at a beachfront resort), but it does provide those Americans interested in absorbing the culture and interacting with the Cuban people (myself included) with legitimate legal authorization for Cuban travel.
- Commercial Airlines to Fly to Cuba – February 2016
Since no commercial airlines have permission from the US Government to fly to Cuba, air travel to Cuba has been limited to specific authorized charter flights – but that is about to change…
An agreement was reached in December to potentially allow 110 daily round-trip flights to Cuba – including 20 daily flights to Havana!
In February of this year, the US Department of Transportation called for major US commercial airlines to submit applications for the routes they would like to fly.
The major airlines responded in a big way, by requesting the following:
The thought of using my Southwest Rapid Rewards points to travel to Cuba is getting me very excited! In addition to the above chart, Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways also submitted requests. Keep in mind that these are just requests and not all requested routes for each airline will be granted, but I am definitely crossing my fingers for a Tampa – Havana Southwest or JetBlue route as early as this fall 2016!
Not wanting to wait? Your options are limited to Charter flights (which are relatively expensive) or traveling through another country like Mexico or Canada.
- Carnival Approved for Cruises to Miami – March 2016
While the commercial flights are expected in fall, cruising to Cuba will be possible starting May 1st! This past month, Carnival Cruise Line was approved by the US Government to begin sailing from the port of Miami to the Cuban port city of Havana! The cruises will be run by Carnival’s Fathom brand, where the cruise itineraries qualify as cultural exchange, and are therefore within the approved travel categories.
- Starwood to Open Hotels in Cuba – March 2016
Just this month, Starwood became the first US hotel chain to gain approval from the U.S. Treasury and Cuban government officials to operate hotels in Cuba. Starwood will open 3 Havana hotels – The Hotel Inglaterra & Hotel Santa Isabel (to join Starwood’s Luxury Collection brand), and the Hotel Quinta Avenida (to be a Four Points by Sheraton).While the plans are in place, the hotels will still have to undergo renovations before opening as Starwood properties – but hopefully this happens quickly! Marriott has also been reported to have approval from the US Government, but has yet to announce any specific properties.
I love the idea of redeeming hotel points for stays in Cuba!
In the meantime, Airbnb is becoming more and more popular in Cuba and might be the way to go for the people to people cultural experience!
Travel to Cuba is a hot topic in America. Many people are intrigued by the fact that the country has been “off limits” for so many years and seemingly locked in time as a result of trade embargo (one reason behind the plethora of 1950’s cars in Cuba).
Whether Cuba has been on your travel radar for years or not at all, perhaps the news above has stirred your interest level even higher…
I would love to get to Cuba and catch a glimpse of the culture, so we will see if those Tampa to Havana flights come through to make the 311 mile journey much easier!
What are your thoughts on travel to Cuba?
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