Following the beginning of the ‘US-Cuba Thaw’ in December 2014, Florida’s Port Tampa Bay has quickly become a leading embarkation port for cruises from the US to Cuba.
On 30 April 2017, Royal Caribbean International initiated a new summer cruise programme from Tampa, with Empress of the Seas offering four- and five-night sailings that include a stop in Havana, capital city of the alluring island nation. Although Royal Caribbean International has been steadfast in offering winter cruises from Tampa to the Caribbean since 2002, this year marks the very first time the company has introduced a summer programme from the port and it has committed to returning with Empress of the Seas for summer 2018.
Soon after on 30 June, Carnival Cruise Line added Havana to Carnival Paradise’s four- and five-night itineraries from Tampa, making her the largest cruise ship to call in Cuba from the US to date. Carnival has been offering year-round cruises from Tampa since 1994.
Tampa’s history with Cuba can be traced back to the early 17th century when cattle exports and other goods were sent to Cuba, and tobacco leaf was imported from what became the cigar capital of the world. The famous Latin district of Tampa called Ybor City, which is the oldest Cuban culture-dominated neighbourhood in the US, served as the primary base of operation for José Marti, considered the George Washington of Cuban Independence. Port Tampa Bay was also the staging area for 26th US President Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders who fought in the Spanish American War, or what the country’s Cuban neighbours refer to as the Cuban War of Independence.
Royal Caribbean and Carnival are using the same shipping route that first established the principal connection between Cuba and the US centuries ago and, with the recent opening of cruises to Cuba, offer America citizens a new and exciting destination that they were prohibited from visiting until recently. The close proximity of Havana and Tampa – around 300 nautical miles – provides cruise travellers with an efficient connection to two cities with historical ties.
While in Tampa Bay, cruise passengers can select from a variety of pre- and post-cruise activities found in and around the area. For instance, six of the world’s top ten amusement parks are located within a one-hour drive from Port Tampa Bay. Alternatively, cruise visitors can spend a day or two on the west coast of Florida at one of the many top-rated beaches in the world. These include Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island, Anna Maria Island, and many more.
Whether cruise guests like it or not, getting to their destination and returning home in a simple and efficient manner is critical to ensuring they have an enjoyable vacation. From the moment passengers arrive in Tampa, whether it is at Tampa’s award-winning airport or parking in the secure covered parking lot across the street from the cruise terminals, they will have a stress-free experience that leaves them ready to embark on an enjoyable cruise to many destinations throughout the Caribbean.
The Tampa International Airport, only nine miles from the cruise terminals, is globally recognised as one of the world’s best airports. It has been named as the second-best US airport twice by reader polls of one publication, and is the only US airport listed among the world’s 10 most-loved airports by CNN Travel. Most recently, global marketing information services company J.D. Power ranked Tampa’s airport second for passenger satisfaction in the US. There are more than 70 non-stop flights to destinations around the world, making the city an easy destination for travellers to start, or end, their cruise.
Several of the largest cruise lines homeport at Port Tampa Bay, where the passenger throughput is approaching one million people per year. Carnival operates two year-round ships, while Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line operate seasonal itineraries in the winter. In 2018, seven cruise ships will be based at Port Tampa Bay – the most to ever homeport at one time.