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Posted December 28, 2008 by publisher in Legal Travel to Cuba

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By Si Liberman | St. Petersburg Times

With an anticipated lessening of travel restrictions to Cuba by the Obama administration, U.S. cruise lines are playing it cool. They’re not going public with their plans, but authorities agree that reopening Cuba to American tourists could give the recession-impacted travel industry a welcome boost.

A survey of cruise lines, for the most part, produced carefully parsed answers about their Cuba plans when government-imposed travel and trade restrictions are lifted. However, a couple cruise lines went on the record about their interest.

In fact, Frank Del Rio, the 54-year-old CPA who founded Oceania Cruise Line, can’t wait for the cruise lanes to open. He was born in Cuba, and fled the Communist island with his parents when he was 6 years old.

Del Rio, a University of Florida graduate who resides in Miami, is also chairman and CEO of Prestige Holdings Inc., parent company of Oceania and Regent Seven Seas cruise lines. As such, he’s responsible for financial and strategic development of both cruise lines.

“Ten minutes after Castro dies,” he said, “negotiations to open up Cuba will begin. This is a real country with a distinct culture and history. There’s a lot in Cuba that the other islands don’t have. For one thing, it’s by far the biggest island in the Caribbean, and there are a lot of ports that would make very good stops as well as launching pads for other Caribbean destinations.

“It’s forbidden fruit, and that gives it very strong appeal. My dream is that the next Oceania ship will be christened in Havana harbor.”

Although Oceania has two ships under construction in Italy at a cost exceeding $1-billion, it’s unlikely that could happen soon.

“There’s no way the Marina, due to be launched in 2010, would be christened in Havana or anywhere else in Cuba,” Tim Rubacky, Oceania corporate communications director, said. “The ship needs to be christened before she sets sail with her first guests. Based on the construction schedule, it’s just not possible. That’s not to say one of the other new ships wouldn’t be.”

The partner ship of the 1,232-passenger Marina is scheduled for launching in the summer of 2011.

Early in his election campaign, President-elect Obama called for an end to the embargo. He later modified his position, saying his administration would have a less confrontational policy with the Communist nation, allow greater contacts and more frequent visits by Cuban immigrants but wouldn’t immediately end the embargo.

Cruise lines with a U.S. presence are prohibited by law from operating in or out of Cuba. But, said Lanie Fagan, communications director of the Cruise Lines International Association, “There are operators who do not operate to and from the U.S. who do call on Cuba.”

The nearly 50-year-old embargo prohibits exporting all but a few health and farm essentials to Cuba and bars Americans from traveling and spending money there. Violators can be subject to hefty fines, and in recent years, the Bush administration has stepped up prosecutions.

Even so, thousands of Americans have been going there annually without a State Department license, leaving from places like the Bahamas, Canada, Mexico and Jamaica and requesting Cuban custom officials not to stamp their passports.

When the time comes that Americans don’t have to stay under the radar, Cuba promises to be an intriguing option for cruisers.

“Crystal Cruises would certainly entertain calling on Cuba if it opens up to American tourists,” spokeswoman Mimi Weisband said. “We welcome the opportunity to add new destinations to our Caribbean itineraries and Cuba is ideally located for cruises into and out of South Florida. Like every place we visit, we would have to look closely at the island’s infrastructure for our luxury cruise operations.”

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on December 29, 2008 by John McAuliff

    Frank Del Rio may be a great businessman but he is a poor political analyst.  The timing for US cruise lines entering Cuba is set by Congress ending restrictions on travel and on business contracts, not by the passing of either Castro.

    The Cruise Lines will benefit big time from the end of travel restrictions.  They should put some resources into making it happen sooner rather than later.

    The fist step is to get President Obama to use his power to end restrictions on non-tourist travel so a cross section of mainstream Americans and opinion leaders can engage with Cuba and bring their experience back home and to Congress.

    Urge he do so at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/obamacuba/

  2. Follow up post #2 added on January 10, 2009 by ERIC,NYC

    del Rio is just another Miami Cuban that has lost touch with his people,unless he has visited since he left,which I doubt…..For him ,Cuba is just a place to make a buck…..without realizing that Cubans are living under a double siege.A siege by the US government and Fidel’s failed policies.

    Yep !! Just like a Miami Cuban pig that was anxious to open a car dealership in Havana…...they have such a disgusting mentality.I am grateful that I was born in NYC and have been able to assess the situation in Cuba over the years by traveling there,speaking with people on the streets and as high as Eusebio Leal,Old Havana’s great historian and restaurer.

      Imagine !! opening a car dealership in Havana ,like…...next week !!!

      In a country where the average wage is between 15-25 USD per month.

      Such is the mentality of a majority of Miami Cubans….

      As for me,I voted for Obama SOLELY on the promise to allow to visit our homeland…..I believe he will deliver.

      KEEP THE EMBARGO !!!! We Cubans can rebuild our own homeland with our money,our knowhow and not get involved in politics initially…...with improved living conditions comes more freedom…..a very simple formula.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on January 10, 2009 by ERIC,NYC

    Also…..another reason for keeping the embargo is that everything American is now shunned and as Willy Chirino wrote about a future post Fidel Havana…...
    “yo vi un McDonald’s en el paseo del Prado y en Belascoaín un Burger King’‘
    (I saw a McDonald’s on Prado Boulevard and on Belascoain St. a Burger King)
    ........I PRAY NOT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Can anyone that has been to Havana recently envision something more hideous than these garbage franchises ??? It would truly ruin Havana’s uniqueness.
    Hopefully,despite the economic crisis,the Cuban-americans with a conscience will send ,send ,send and help by going and forging new ties and renewing old ties with our people.
    NO THANKS USA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Not after the last decade of American decline !!

  4. Follow up post #4 added on August 25, 2009 by debra frometa

    I am writing this short message. I am american my husband is Cuban and loves the island so much he is here with me and our family but I see the far lonely look in his eyes he was not able to travel to Cuba for the death of both his parents due to the restritions he has not seen his son in 10 year this is no longer a boy he left behind he has become a man.I have know idea the hurt Cubans have in their hearts from all the mess in the pass I can say as many nations told by the great Guandi we must be the change we want to see let’s all stand together and make something right by the eyes of GOD and for our children we leave behind GOD BLESS us all as 1 human race

  5. Follow up post #5 added on August 25, 2009 by debra frometa

    These countries belong to no living man nor women when we leave this earth we will take less with us than what we were born with selfish minds and hearth do not enter into GODS kingdom I feel so sorry for all the lost souls that are got up in power and turn a blind eye ,In 50 years if you have not bought the island up to the 20th cen. Without the work of the master of this universe you will continue to have a black heart think of mankind and not your pocket God be with you

  6. Follow up post #6 added on August 25, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts


    Cuba consulting services

  7. Follow up post #7 added on August 25, 2009 by John

    Nothing wrong with or new about cruise ship passengers making trips ashore to spend plenty of cash. Question is who will be the receipient of this new income? You guessed it, the Cuban government.
    Congress must move swiftly soon after Castro’s death; the void created by the ‘great loss’ will likely be followed by an internal battle for power or a blind loyalty to uphold the status quo. Either way, the collapse is soon to follow. 
    Forget lamenting on about the glorious old days, it is the future we should look forward to, a future to be involved in.

    ERIC from NYC, you have met Sr. Eusebio Leal, do you have information on how I may contact him? or any other readers have info on Sr. Leal?

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