US-Cuba ferry routes to open up - but who'll be first?

Posted: 30-Apr-15 09:24

Now that travel restrictions have been recently relaxed, Cuba is an increasingly attractive business proposition for US firms. Flights to Cuba are becoming easier to book directly, but a long-forgotten and popular tourist route by sea from Florida is being eyed by various ferry operators.

US-Cuba ferry routes to open up - but who'll be first?

It's been more than 50 years and the memories are a little hazy, but there used to be large numbers weekly ferry crossings to Havana from Florida. This was at a time when the city's glitzy nightclubs, like the Tropicana, were the stuff of legend – and the ferries themselves had notoriety of their own for the high living atmosphere, thanks to on-board bars and gambling.

Needless to say they were popular with holidaymakers and those getting away for the weekend in the 1940s and 1950s. That was until the routes were closed off in 1963 after travel restrictions were imposed by the US government.

Now, at least five shipping companies and ferry operators are vying to be the first with a special licence from the US State Department, according to shipping industry insiders. The companies want to relaunch the night ferry services for passengers, now that travel restrictions have been relaxed.

Although visits are still restricted to a set of approved reasons, there's hope they'll fall away entirely. Although some private ferry charters currently ship humanitarian cargo and other approved shipments to Cuba, they're hardly the means by which passengers want to travel.

One such company is Miami-based firm United Caribbean Lines (UCL), which has applied for a ferry-link licence; others include Florida firm CubaKat, looking to start services before the end of 2015.

Firms like UCL might not be able to carry tourists straight away, and types of passengers would subject to State Department approval. Alexander Panagopoulos, part-owner of UCL, sounded highly optimistic, saying:

"The growth opportunities are tremendous... There are 10 million people in Cuba and thousands of Americans that will be offered a long-forgotten travel experience at about half the cost of an air ticket."


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