Carnival Corporation’s Fathom cruise line this week released details of its intended seven-day “social impact” cruises to Cuba.

I just reviewed the detailed program and am impressed with the itinerary and “cultural immersion” activities, as required under the “people-to-people educational exchange” license that permits Fathom to visit Cuba. In fact, it feels intimately familiar to me, as I have a close acquaintance, even friendship, with many of the individuals and groups that passengers will interact with… assuming that the Cuban government (which has so far been mum) approves the cruises.

fathom itinerary
On July 7 I blogged about the launch of Fathom, which made history when Carnival became the first cruise company to receive U.S. approval to sail to Cuba, using the 710-passenger MVAdonia. The cruises are due to begin in May 2016, which leaves plenty of time for approval by the Cuban government. Fingers crossed!

The Adonia will call at Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba on the following itinerary…

  • DAY 1 & 2: Havana
  • Day 3: At Sea
  • Day 4: Cienfuegos/Trinidad
  • Day 5: Santiago de Cuba
  • Day 6: At Sea

The day from Cienfuegos to Santiago de Cuba is a long reach, so I expect the engines to be cranked up full bore for the overnight passage.

Passengers can opt from a menu of four to eight “activities” (ie. people-to-people encounters) each day. This barely seems enough given that a full ship means 700 passengers! I can’t imagine, say, 100-plus passengers at a time attending the Muraleando community project (described on page 76 of my Moon Cuba guidebook), or the remarkable Casa-Estudio Fuster (see page 96 of Moon Cuba). Untenable! 

Other activities include:

  • A walk of Old Havana led by a preservation expert. (My guess is that means my friend Miguel Coyula, who also speaks to the National Geographic Expeditions‘ trips that I lead.)
  • Visit an organic farm (unstated, but probably Organipónico Vivero Alamar (page 162 Moon Cuba)
  • A Cappela with the Choir of Cienfuegos. I love this group! (also featured on the NGE trips)
  • Explore colonial Trinidad with a restoration expert (no doubt my friend and city historian Victor Echenagusia, whose wild sheep-like hair and bushy moustache remind me of Mark Twain)
  • Elementary school visit in Santiago de Cuba

In truth, the land-based activities seem to differ not at all from those of tour companies already offering “people-to-people” programs, such as National Geographic Expeditions’ “Cuba: Discovering its People & Culture” programs, all of which strive to attain “social impact” through interaction with Cuban entrepreneurs, etc., and which the Fathom press release describes in such terms as: “Encourages independent economic activity” and “Encourages educational progress.”

Still, it’s exciting that this adds one more element of possibility for travel to Cuba. And it potentially makes possible the ability for independent tour groups to book into specific cruise dates as a way of resolving the dire lack of hotel space.

However, the Cuban government has previously shown some ambivalence about cruise ships, which Fidel famously turned away in 2005, describing them as “floating hotels” that left behind little income but lots of “rubbish, empty cans, and paper.”

We’ll see!


Christopher P Baker


Christopher P. Baker, one of the world's most multi-talented and successful travel writers and photographers has been named by National Geographic as one of the world's foremost authorities on Cuba travel and culture. Winner of the Lowell Thomas Award 2008 as 'Travel Journalist of the Year,' he has authored more than 30 books, leads tours for National Geographic Expeditions, Edelwiss Bike Travel, and Jim Cline Photo Tours, among other companies, and is a Getty Images and National Geographic contributing photographer.