Norwegian Cruise Line CEO sets sights on sailing to Cuba by end of year

Norwegian Cruise Line wants to offer cruises to Cuba by the end of the year, its CEO announced.

The chief of the Miami-based company, Frank Del Rio, said he is seeking approvals to sail there. Norwegian’s move comes on the heels of rival Carnival Corp.'s announcement last week that it had reached an agreement with the island's government, which dropped a policy banning Cuban-born people from arriving by sea.

The agreement, which applies to merchant and cruise ships, led Carnival to proceed with plans to send the first cruise ship from the U.S. to the island in a half-century in May.

Last year, Del Rio, who is Cuban-American, said in an interview with The Street that Cuba was a desirable destination for the cruise industry.

“Florida and Cuba are only 222 miles apart,” said Del Rio. “That's what makes it so exciting. God put that body of land in the right place for the cruise industry.”

The CEO also spoke of the anticipation many people feel about going to Cuba, an enigma to many Americans because of the decades-old U.S. embargo of the island. Ever since President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro announced at the end of 2014 their intention to restore diplomatic relations, Obama has eased trade and travel restrictions.

Only Congress can lift the embargo – an unlikely move at the moment with so many in the Republican Party, which controls both the House and Senate, opposed to removing it as long as the Castro regime opposes making democratic changes.

“It's the pent-up demand,” Del Rio said. “Cuba is more than a sandbar in the Caribbean. It has history. It has culture. We think of the music. We think of the arts. It has multiple ports, too.”

Del Rio acknowledged the challenge facing Cuba to improve its infrastructure to accommodate a rise in American tourists traveling there.

But he said the cruise industry is not faced with the logistical problems others in the tourism business must grapple with when dealing with the island.

“The great thing about the cruise industry is that we bring our own infrastructure with us,” Del Rio told The Street. “When we visit Cuba, we don't need anything. Just a couple of buses, so we can bring people to the sites.”

Carnival will begin making regularly scheduled trips to Cuba from Miami every other week starting on May 1.

Del Rio said in a statement: "I am very much looking forward to sailing to Cuba soon aboard one of our ships in the company of many fellow Cuban-Americans and other fellow Americans who wish to share in the excitement and passion that cruising to Cuba brings.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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