After a half-century wait, US cruise leaves Miami for Cuba

The protest boat "Democracia" sails pass Carnival Corp.'s Adonia before it leaves port in Miami on Sunday en route to Cuba. (Carl Juste/The Miami Herald via AP)

The protest boat "Democracia" sails pass Carnival Corp.'s Adonia before it leaves port in Miami on Sunday en route to Cuba. (Carl Juste/The Miami Herald via AP)

MIAMI — After a half-century of waiting, passengers finally set sail on Sunday from Miami on an historic cruise to Cuba.

Carnival Corp.’s 704-passenger Adonia left port at about 4:24 p.m., bound for Havana. Carnival’s Cuba cruises, operating under its Fathom band, will visit the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

The seven-day cruise comes after Cuba loosened its policy banning Cuban-born people from arriving to the country by sea, a rule that threatened to stop the cruises from happening.

When it first announced the cruises, Carnival said it would bar Cuban-born passengers due to the government’s policy. But the Cuban-American community in Miami complained and filed a discrimination lawsuit in response.

After that, the company said it would only sail to Cuba if the policy changed, which Cuba did on April 22. Cuba-born passengers were aboard Sunday, the company said.

Carnival says the Adonia will cruise every other week from Miami to Cuba. Bookings will start at $1,800 per person and feature an array of cultural and educational activities, including Spanish lessons, Carnival’s website says.

Seventy-three-year-old passenger Rick Schneider told The Sun-Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1SH4Zi1) that he waited 60 years for the chance to make the journey. He bought a Cuban flag for the occasion, which he waved at protesters who opposed the cruises.

He added that he passed up a chance to take a ferry to Havana in 1957.

“We postponed that trip, but the time is now,” he told the paper.

The cruise is among the many changes in U.S.-Cuban relations since a thaw between the old Cold War foes began in late 2014. The thaw also led to a historic, two-day trip to Cuba in March by President Barack Obama, who met with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro, among others.

The Cuban government says the shift in policy removes prohibitions enacted when Cuban exiles were launching attacks by sea after the first Cuban revolution.

On Sunday, Arnold Donald, Carnival’s president and CEO, said the company worked and prepared to make the cruises a reality despite the challenges.

“Times of change often bring out emotions and clearly the histories here are very emotional for a number of people,” Donald told reporters.”

Restarting the cruises was an important element of the Obama administration’s bid to increase tourism to Cuba after the Dec. 17, 2014, decision to restore diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. The most recent such cruise, from another U.S. port, was in 1978.

The Miami Herald ( http://hrld.us/21ohkxc ) reported that a boat carrying some activists protesting the trip to Cuba was nearby in Florida waters before the ship’s departure Sunday. It said the boat pulled away before the Adonia set sail for Havana, where it was expected to arrive Monday.

Mary Olive Reinhart, a retired parks service ranger, told the newspaper that she and some friends from the Philadelphia area were drawn to the voyage by the adventure of it all.

“It’s exciting to go places where we’re forbidden. For me, I want to be at home in the world — the whole world,” she added.AdoniaCarnival Corp.CienfuegoscruiseCubaHavanaMiamiSantiago de CubaUSWorld

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