Trump administration bans cruises from traveling to Cuba — leaving passengers high and dry

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Planning a cruise to Cuba? You’re likely out of luck.

The U.S. government will no longer allow cruise ships to travel from American ports to Cuba, as part of a new series of travel-related sanctions announced Tuesday. The restrictions were implemented in response to the Cuban government’s continued support for Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro, the Miami Herald reported MNI, -0.44% .

“As a result of the rule on display on the Federal Register today, cruise ships as well as recreational and pleasure vessels are prohibited from departing the U.S. on temporary sojourn to Cuba effective tomorrow,” a Commerce Department spokesperson told MarketWatch late Tuesday.

Representatives for the Treasury Department, which also regulates travel between the U.S. and Cuba, did not return request for comment.

An administration official also told the Miami Herald that the policy change was made because the Cuban government directly profited off cruise companies, as the companies had to pay fees to dock in the country. Most of the country’s ports are controlled by Cuba’s military, the official said.

Americans gained the ability to cruise to Cuba in 2015 when President Obama’s administration began allowing cruise lines to get people-to-people licenses to travel to the Caribbean country, according to travel website Cruise Critic. The Department of Treasury said Tuesday that it would no longer authorize these specific licenses that allowed for certain forms of educational travel to Cuba.

Because the travel ban goes into effect immediately for cruise companies, passengers should expect their itineraries to be altered like they would be in the event of inclement weather, said Erica Silverstein, senior editor at Cruise Critic TRIP, +6.33%  .

“For cruises where a stop in Cuba is part of a wider Caribbean itinerary, it will be a matter of replacing just the Cuba calls with another port in the Caribbean,” Silverstein said. “For Cuba-focused cruises, they’ll be forced to replace the itinerary entirely.”

Unfortunately, passengers may not have much recourse in terms of refunds should they not like the new route. Most cruise companies reserve the right to change itineraries for any reason. “They’re not due anything,” according to Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert. “Written in the passenger’s contract is the cruise line’s right to alter the itinerary for any reason with no compensation due to the passenger.”

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People can still travel to the country, though they must be visiting Cuba for a specific, authorize reason, such as to visit family or for journalistic purposes.

The Treasury Department did include a “grandfathering” provision in the policy change, which would allow consumers who had completed at least one travel-related transaction prior to Jun 5, such as purchasing a flight, to still go on their trip. That provision did not extend to cruise lines.

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A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line NCLH, -0.07% which sails to Cuba, said the company is “closely monitoring these recent developments and any resulting impact to cruise travel to Cuba,” and will notify travelers as more information becomes available.

Carnival Corp. CCL, +2.27%  declined to comment on the Trump administration’s policy reversal. The company currently has a cruise already underway that was set to dock in Cuba on Friday and another cruise set to depart for Cuba this weekend. Two of the company’s cruise lines, Carnival and Holland America, have Cuban itineraries already in place throughout 2019, and Seabourn was set to begin sailing to the country in November.

Royal Caribbean Cruises RCL, +0.67%  has already decided to adjust the itineraries for its June 5 and June 6 sailings so that they no longer include stops in Cuba and communicate these updates to guests, said Melissa Charbonneau, the company’s director of corporate reputation. “We are aware of the announcement, and are analyzing the details to understand the impact on our itineraries,” she said.

MSC Cruises, which also sails to Cuba, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shares of Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean are up 28%, 6% and 24%, respectively, year-to-date. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +2.06%  is up nearly 9% during the same time period, while the S&P 500 SPX, +2.14%  is up 12%.

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