Cuban cruises are now squarely in the spotlight, particularly those planned by Carnival Corporation for its new Fathom brand, but Group IST actually led the way with its sailings since 2013. And I had the chance to talk with the specialty travel company’s CEO Michael Goren all about its past, present and future in the region.
During our talk, Goren reflected on coming up with the idea to offer people-to-people cultural sailings aboard a mega-yacht in Cuba and the more than two years it took to originally get the U.S. approval. Now his company deploys the S/C Panorama and S/C Panorama II there with the third M/Y Variety Voyager ready to join in November 2016. “When president Obama came with the [recent] change of the U.S. policy and also president Castro in Cuba, I [had] already been with my boat in Cuba,” Goren said.
While the new political atmosphere has opened the door for companies like Fathom to get Cuban approval to sail from Miami to Cuba, Group IST thinks it’s better to focus exclusively on the Caribbean island nation. He believes it’s a waste to spend about two days to sail there from Florida, adding, “the big boats are a bit faster, and they don’t have so many locations they can visit in Cuba.”
He says larger ships are limited on where they can go because the facilities to support them are lacking. “In fact, their infrastructure for the big boat is ridiculous,” Goren says. “You can get with [a] small boat [to] the very small local communities…[and] small docking area[s] because we might use our zodiac to do a wet landing. This is not something you can do with [a] big boat. [A] big boat need[s] a port. In Cuba, they don’t have so many of those. Cuba is a big island, and there are many many places which you can get with [a] small boat but not in a big boat. So, it’s a very different type of operation and product.”
While Fathom plans to sail roundtrip from Miami to Cuba, in more of a traditional Caribbean cruise fashion, Group IST spends a whole week in Cuba, with its guests flying in and joining the vessel there. He says, “all in all, it’s a program that really gives you a chance to immerse, to sense, the Cuban culture…We don’t need to go far away to do the different activities of people-to-people or to enjoy the real life of Havana, the music, art, culture.”
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