Category Archives: Cuba Travel

US Tour Operators and Educational Travel Organizations Urge State Department to Lift Punitive Travel Advisory Against Cuba

John McAuliff, Executive Director & Founder of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, fields questions from interested travelers at the Cuba-US People to People Partnership booth at the New York Times Travel Show. © Karen Rubin/

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 1, 2018 — A group of 28 leading U.S. tour operators and organizations specializing in educational travel and exchanges with Cuba is calling on the U.S. State Department to re-staff its Embassy in Havana and change Cuba’s travel advisory from a Level 3 (“reconsider travel”) to at least a less intimidating Level 2 (“exercise increased caution”). The request comes on the eve of the State Department’s decision about whether or not to return the U.S. diplomats to the Embassy, expected to be announced on March 4.

(The US State Department said it would not restore the diplomats.)

Beginning in late September 2017, after reports that 24 U.S. Embassy employees in Havana had suffered unexplained health ailments, the Trump Administration withdrew 60 percent of its Embassy staff from Havana, issued a Travel Warning urging Americans not travel to Cuba, and expelled 15 diplomats from Cuba’s Embassy in Washington, D.C. In January 2018, the State Department issued a new global travel advisory system, which ranks Cuba as Level 3.

“A Level 3 rating is not justified for Cuba since there are no confirmed causes of private citizens or travelers contracting symptoms similar to the diplomats,” says Andrea Holbrook, President and CEO of Holbrook Travel, one of the companies that signed the petition. (The list of signatories is provided below). “This inappropriate travel warning has caused fear and confusion and has sharply reduced the number of U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba,” Holbrook adds. “It has also affected travel businesses in the States and in Cuba, including those small businesses, like B&Bs and home restaurants, which depend so heavily on American tourists.”

survey of 42 tour operators and educational travel organizations conducted in late January 2018 by the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) found that not one of their travelers reported suffering from health issues similar to those of the Embassy employees. Collectively, those surveyed sent more than 42,000 U.S. travelers to Cuba in 2016 and 2017. In addition, there have been no confirmed cases of similar illness among the estimated 700,000 private U.S. citizens who visited the island nation in 2017.

A lengthy ProPublica article, published February 14, 2018, provides the first detailed chronology of the diplomats’ afflictions and the subsequent official — but, to date, inconclusive — investigations by the United States, Cuba, and Canada, and makes clear that the general public is not threatened. In fact, in January 2018, Cuba was voted the safest place to travel at the International Travel Fair in Madrid.

During a meeting on January 12 with State Department officials, a group of American tour operators, travel associations, and Cuba experts were told that a Level 3 rating is automatically triggered by a “drawdown” of U.S. Embassy personnel as a result of the “No Double Standard” policy articulated in the Foreign Affairs Manual.

According to the State Department, this policy originated after the terrorist bombing of a passenger airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, in the interest of sharing information publicly about potential threats against U.S. citizens. That policy, however, also states it is “not intended to prevent the limited distribution of information about threats to specific U.S. citizens/nationals or U.S. organizations.”

“The ‘No Double Standard’ policy leaves the option for the State Department to report threats only to those parties that might be affected by similar incidents,” says Kate Simpson, President of Academic Travel Abroad, Inc, a Washington, D.C.-based educational travel company. “So why was this more limited approach not employed in the case of Cuba, given that the affected group consists only of diplomats, many of whom are known to be intelligence officers and their families?”

Simpson adds, “The fallout from the State Department’s actions has negatively impacted not only U.S. companies and institutions sending travelers to Cuba for educational purposes, but the lack of Embassy staff in Havana has also made it extremely difficult for Cuban citizens to attain visas for visits to the United States.”

On March 4, the State Department faces a mandatory deadline requiring that, six months after an Embassy drawdown, staff must either be reassigned or sent back to their original post. The draw down in Havana began in early September 2017 as Hurricane Irma hit the island and was increased to 60 percent of staff later in the month, in the wake of media revelations about afflictions to the two dozen U.S. diplomats and a handful of staff in the Canadian Embassy. Canada has launched an investigation but has not downsized its Embassy or issued any travel warning to its citizens.

The 28 tour operators and organizations specializing in educational travel to Cuba are calling for the State Department to return more consular officers to the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, President of the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents U.S. foreign-service officers, and some diplomats who were interviewed for the ProPublica article indicated that this is also their wish — to return U.S. diplomats to Cuba. This would, the group hopes, eliminate the trigger that has categorized the country as a Level 3.

The group further questions how Cuba can be rated as a Level 3 while countries with known security risks — such as Israel, Egypt, Algeria, Mexico, and Ethiopia — are rated as Level 2. In addition, the State Department advisories for some countries include alerts pertaining to particularly dangerous parts of their countries. Mexico, for instance, while rated Level 2 overall, is given ratings of Levels 3 and 4 (“do not travel”) for certain states.

“While the new travel advisory system is a welcome improvement, in terms of clarity and organization,” says Ms. Simpson, “it is disappointing to have the Cuba rating starkly reveal political bias, undermining the credibility of the State Department’s consular services.”

A more acceptable alternative, Simpson and the other signers suggest, would be to rate Cuba at least Level 2 overall and designate the parts of Havana where the health incidents took place as Level 3. “Until it’s discovered what caused these ailments, a Level 2 rating, at least, would more accurately reflect the situation in Cuba,” explains Ms. Holbrook. “And it would help encourage those considering traveling to Cuba to do so.”

To read the full petition, click here. The list of tour operators and educational travel organizations who have signed the petition are:


Johann Besserer, Executive Director, Intercultural Outreach Initiative

Reid Callanan, Director, Santa Fe Photographic Workshops

Karin Eckhard, CEO & Co-founder, Espíritu Travel, LLC

Michael Eizenberg, President, Educational Travel Alliance

Malia Everette, CEO, AltruVistas

Michele Gran. Co-founder and Senior Vice President, Global Volunteers

Bob Guild, Co-coordinator, Responsible and Ethical Cuba Travel (RESPECT)

Kendra Guild, Director, Marazul Charters, Inc.

John Haffner, President, Cuba Trade and Travel

Marcel Hatch, President,Cuba Explorer Tours

Richard Hobbs, Esq., Executive Director, Human Agenda

Andrea Holbrook, President and CEO, Holbrook Travel, Inc.

Martha Honey, Ph.D., Cofounder & Executive Director, Center for Responsible Travel (CREST)

Adriana Isaza-Mohring, Founder, Elite Tennis Travel

Tor D. Jensen, President, Jensen World Travel, Ltd.

Gabrielle Jorgensen, Director of Public Policy, Engage Cuba

Collin Laverty, President, Cuba Educational Travel

Lee Marona & Aja C. Napolis, President & Administrative Coordinator, Vaya Sojourns, Inc.

John McAuliff, Executive Director & Founder, The Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Janet Moore, President, Distant Horizons

Tom Popper, President, insightCuba

Bill Robison, Director of Expedition Development, Lindblad Expeditions

Melisa Riviere, Ph.D., President, Son Dos Alas: Cultural and Educational Travel

Peter Sanchez, CEO, Cuba Tours and Travel

Kate Simpson, President, Academic Travel Abroad, Inc.

Mark J. Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation

Ned Sublette, Founder & President, Postmambo Studies

Kristen Tripp, Program Director – Cuba, Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures

The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) is a policy-oriented research organization dedicated to increasing the positive global impact of responsible tourism. CREST assists governments, policy makers, tourism businesses, nonprofit organizations, and international agencies with finding solutions to critical issues confronting tourism, the world’s largest service industry.

See also:

New York Times Travel Show: Despite Trump Policy, Americans CAN Travel to Cuba!

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Regent Seven Seas Cruises Adds Cuba Calls for 2018-19 Caribbean Season

The Nov. 11, 2018 sailing of Seven Seas Navigator, the Regent Seven Seas’ most intimate ship with just 245 suites, also will immerse guests in Cuban culture on the 14-night Eastern and Southern Caribbean itinerary © 2017 Karen Rubin/

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has just announced the addition of Cuba calls to six itineraries in the line’s 2018-19 Caribbean season. Travelers can visit Havana on select itineraries aboard Seven Seas Mariner, Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Navigator, which depart Miami from October 2018 through March 2019. Guests on these voyages can choose among a variety of free and unlimited shore excursions to learn firsthand about the lives, history and culture of the Cuban people during their visit. The only North American luxury cruise line approved to visit Cuba, Regent Seven Seas Cruises first called on Havana in April 2017 with Seven Seas Mariner.

“There is so much culture and history in Cuba, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises is delighted to expand our itineraries with calls on Havana to provide our guests a more complete Caribbean experience,” said Jason Montague, president and chief executive officer of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. “Three of the six itineraries feature midnight departures from Havana Harbor, so guests have ample time to personally learn about Cuba’s authentic nightlife.”

Travelers can visit Havana on a 22-night voyage, sailing on Oct. 10, 2018 from Miami to Honolulu aboard Seven Seas Mariner. On this itinerary, guests also will transit the Panama Canal and call at some of the most beautiful, ecological destinations of Central America and the Mexican Riviera along the way.

The Nov. 11, 2018 sailing of Seven Seas Navigator, the line’s most intimate ship with just 245 suites, also will immerse guests in Cuban culture on the 14-night Eastern and Southern Caribbean itinerary.

For its part, Seven Seas Voyager will sail four round-trip, Caribbean voyages that include calls on Havana from December 2018 through March 2019. The Dec. 6, 2018 voyage takes guests on a 10-night Western Caribbean itinerary, while the Dec. 16, 2018, 12-night voyage throughout the Eastern Caribbean will celebrate Christmas on board. A seven-night Western Caribbean itinerary, sailing Feb. 6, 2019, will also take guests to Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico; and Roatán, Honduras, while a similar Mar. 5 itinerary replaces Costa Maya with Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. The Dec. 6, 2018, and Feb. 6 and Mar. 5, 2019 sailings feature midnight departures from Havana to offer time to experience the city’s evening culture.

As part of the Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ most-inclusive luxury experience, guests have a wide selection of expertly crafted shore excursions, offering an authentic Cuban experience that explores the people, music, art, history and culture of the city and are in compliance with the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) regulations.  To provide guests with even greater insights into Cuba and its people, guest scholars and expert lecturers will deliver compelling presentations about Cuba’s past, present and future.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the world’s most inclusive luxury experience with a four-ship fleet that visits more than 450 destinations around the world. Regent Seven Seas Cruises is currently undergoing a $125 million fleetwide refurbishment that will elevate the level of elegance found throughout the fleet to the standard set by Seven Seas Explorer, which entered service on July 20, 2016, and has since been recognized as the most luxurious ship ever built. The cruise line’s next industry game-changing ship will launch in 2020.

A leader in luxury cruising, the line’s fares include all-suite accommodations, round-trip domestic air or business-class air on intercontinental flights from U.S. and Canada, highly personalized service, exquisite cuisine, fine wines and spirits, unlimited internet access, sightseeing excursions in every port, gratuities, ground transfers and one-night, pre-cruise hotel package for guests staying in Concierge-level suites and higher.

For more information or to make a reservation, contact a professional travel agent, visit, or call 1-844-4REGENT (1-844-473-4368).


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6 US Airlines Approved to Begin Scheduled Service to Cuba as Early as Fall

Southwest Airlines is one of six US airline companies that have been approved to offer service to Cuba © 2016 Karen Rubin/
Southwest Airlines is one of six US airline companies that have been approved to offer service to Cuba © 2016 Karen Rubin/

WASHINGTON – As part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has approved six domestic airlines to begin scheduled flights between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis/St. Paul and Cuba as early as this fall.

“Last year, President Obama announced that it was time to ‘begin a new journey’ with the Cuban people,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.  “Today, we are delivering on his promise by re-launching scheduled air service to Cuba after more than half a century.”

On February 16, 2016, Secretary Foxx and Department of State Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin signed a non-legally-binding arrangement to re-establish scheduled air service between the two countries.  At the time of the signing, the administration announced that scheduled service would begin later in 2016.

The carriers receiving the awards are American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Sun Country Airlines.

The five U.S. cities that will receive new scheduled service to Cuba are Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Philadelphia.  The nine Cuban cities are Camagüey, Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Matanzas, Santa Clara, and Santiago de Cuba.

Under the new arrangement, each country has the opportunity to operate up to 10 daily roundtrip flights between the U.S. and each of Cuba’s nine international airports, other than Havana, for a total of 90 daily roundtrips.  Longer term, the arrangement also provides for up to 20 daily roundtrip flights between the U.S. and Havana.  Collectively, U.S. carriers have requested nearly 60 flights per day to Havana, thus requiring DOT to select from among the proposals.  A decision on the Havana routes will be announced later this summer.

You can view the DOT’s decision, track the progress of the case, and view the publicly available documents online at, Docket DOT-OST-2016-0021.

A fact sheet on this issue may be found here.

Abercrombie & Kent Launches Private People to People Journey to Cuba

Abercrombie & Kent has introduced its first private people-to-people journey to Cuba.
Abercrombie & Kent has introduced its first private people-to-people journey to Cuba.

DOWNERS GROVE, IL –Travelers now have the opportunity to experience Cuba as it currently is, still untouched by time, on Abercrombie & Kent’s first private journey, Signature Cuba: A Private People to People Journey. On this 7-day privately guided itinerary, you and your chosen travel companions will travel with a dedicated A&K Program Director and local guides who reveal the spirit of this island nation through meaningful interactions and people-to-people connections.

The program is designed to enable you to uncover the Havana only a long-time resident would know. Explore the city by foot with a local architect who offers authentic insights into its charming, historic styles. Dine at a paladar (family-run restaurant) where the owners share their passion for Cuban cuisine and discuss what is involved in running a private business in Cuba – an opportunity that, historically, was all but unheard of. Join renowned Cuban painter and ceramicist, José Fuster on a neighborhood walk, followed by a discussion of the role of the arts in contemporary Cuban culture.

Gain a deeper understanding of the island’s cultural traditions through its art and music. Join in a private salsa lesson and one-on-one talk with a Cuban salsa instructor. Visit the neo-classical-style Museo de Artes Decorativas, an arts museum in the former residence of the Countess of Revilla de Camargo. Explore the Muraleando Neighborhood Community Project, meeting members and seeing firsthand the art projects and significant restorations that are underway.

Compare the distinct differences and similarities between Cuba and the United States with a briefing on the history of U.S.-Cuban relations by a Foreign Service scholar in Havana. Explore Las Terrazas eco-community with resident specialists for a better understanding about Cuba’s environmental commitments at this unique UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Land arrangements for 7 days from $10,795 per person (Pricing available for four guests from $8,295 and six guests from $6,995 per person). Discover this enigmatic destination with family and friends on Abercrombie & Kent’s Signature Cuba: A Private People to People Journey. Call 800.554.7094 to speak with a travel consultant, go to or contact your travel professional.
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Group IST Adds Sailing Dates to Havana to Cienfuegos Cruise in Cuba

Group travel provider Group IST is adding more sailing dates to its Havana to Cienfuegos people-to-people program, an eight day cruise of western Cuba, beginning in December 2015. With under 100 passengers per sailing, Group IST is offering Americans the only small ship cruise of Cuba, affording passengers an intimate experience of the island nation via the hospitable and welcoming setting of a mega-yacht. The program is an opportunity to step back in time to a country that has been closed to Americans for nearly half a century.

With two small ships–the Panorama and the Panorama II–sailing in opposite directions from Havana and Cienfuegos each week through April 2016, travelers explore the western part of a country renowned for its culture, music, warm people, art and, of course, cigars. The cruise offers passengers both a rich and meaningful cultural exchange program and an opportunity to relax in the beautiful natural scenery of Cuba, with chances to go swimming and snorkeling. Group IST is also adding new excursions to the popular program, including visits to Ernest Hemingway’s former home, Finca Vigia, and to one of Cuba’s largest cigar factories.

Joining the program will be an on-board Cuba specialist and an interpreter to facilitate in making people-to-people connections and meaningful exchanges between the American travelers and Cuban citizens. Emphasizing and promoting cultural exchange, the program includes excursions to venues such as museums, private art galleries, community centers, concerts, religious centers, schools and ecological centers. Program participants will have a chance to meet and get to know Cuban historians, artists, preservationists, religious leaders, educators, musicians and many typical Cuban citizens throughout eight days.

Group IST has been issued a license by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to conduct people-to-people programs in Cuba.

Havana to Cienfuegos is available from between $4899 – $5999, depending on cabin class. Price includes seven nights on either the Panorama or Panorama II, all meals from arrival in Cuba to breakfast on day of departure, mandatory Cuban medical insurance and transportation as per itinerary. For a complete itinerary, please visit:

Group IST (International Specialty Travel) produces content-rich, original, thematic, educational and interactive travel programs that are tailor-made for organizations and groups. The company features one-of-a-kind land and waterborne venues around the world. With a staff of tourism professionals who are recognized travel experts and scholars, Group IST is passionate about its areas of specialization.


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