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First US cruise ship sails into Cuba

Carnival's Adonia cruise ship arrives in Havana, Cuba from Miami, Florida. Picture: AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

AP and staff writersNews Corp Australia Network

THE first American cruise ship in nearly 40 years has sailed into Cuba, restarting commercial travel on waters that served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.

Cubans fishing off the city’s seaside boulevard, the Malecon, watched the gleaming white 704-passenger Adonia slowly sail toward the colonial fort at the mouth of Havana Harbour.

The ship has become the first US cruise liner in Havana since President Jimmy Carter eliminated virtually all restrictions of US travel to Cuba in the late 1970s.

Travel limits were restored after Carter left office and US cruises to Cuba only become possible again after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared détente on December 17, 2014.

The Adonia’s arrival is the first step toward a future in which thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits, long closed to most US-Cuba traffic due to tensions that once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Cubans cheer as an American cruise ship sails into the port of Havana. Picture: AFP/Adalberto Roque

Cubans cheer as an American cruise ship sails into the port of Havana. Picture: AFP/Adalberto RoqueSource:AFP

The straits were blocked by the US during the Cuban missile crisis and tens of thousands of Cubans have fled across them to Florida on homemade rafts — with untold thousands dying in the process.

The number of Cubans trying to cross the straits is at its highest point in eight years and cruises and merchant ships regularly rescue rafters from the straits.

The Adonia is one of Carnival’s smaller ships — roughly half the size of some larger European vessels that already dock in Havana — but US cruises are expected to bring Cuba tens of millions of dollars in badly needed foreign hard currency if traffic increases as expected.

Passengers stand on the deck of Carnival's Adonia cruise ship as they arrive in Havana, Cuba. Picture: AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

Passengers stand on the deck of Carnival's Adonia cruise ship as they arrive in Havana, Cuba. Picture: AP Photo/Ramon EspinosaSource:AP

Passengers on board Carnival's Adonia cruise ship wave flags as they arrive in Havana, Cuba. Picture: Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

Passengers on board Carnival's Adonia cruise ship wave flags as they arrive in Havana, Cuba. Picture: Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via APSource:AP

More than a dozen lines have announced plans to run US-Cuba cruises and if all actually begin operations Cuba could earn more than $US80 million a year, according to the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

Most of the money goes directly to the Cuban government, council head John Kavulich said. He estimated that the cruise companies pay the government $US500,000 per cruise, while passengers spend about $US100 person in each city they visit.

The first US-to-Cuba cruise ship to arrive in the island nation in decades glides into the port of Havana. Picture: AFP

The first US-to-Cuba cruise ship to arrive in the island nation in decades glides into the port of Havana. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Carnival says the Adonia will cruise twice a month from Miami to Havana, where it will start a $US1800 per person seven-day circuit of Cuba with stops in the cities of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. The trips include on-board workshops on Cuban history and culture and tours of the cities that make them qualify as “people-to-people” educational travel, avoiding a ban on pure tourism that remains part of US law.

Optional activities for the Adonia’s passengers include a walking tour of Old Havana’s colonial plazas and a $219 per person trip to the Tropicana cabaret in a classic car.

Historic voyage

Cuban dancers greet guests

Before the 1959 Cuban revolution, cruise ships regularly travelled from the US to Cuba, with elegant Caribbean cruises departing from New York and $US42 overnight weekend jaunts leaving twice a week from Miami, said Michael L. Grace, an amateur cruise ship historian.

New York cruises featured dressy dinners, movies, dancing and betting on “horse races” in which steward dragged wooden horses around a ballroom track according to rolls of dice that determined how many feet each could move per turn.

Incredible moment

Waiting media pack

Cigars in Cuba

The United Fruit company operated once-a-week cruise service out of New Orleans, too, he said.

“Cuba was a very big destination for Americans, just enormous,” he said.

Cruises dwindled in the years leading up to the Cuban Revolution and ended entirely after Castro overthrew the US-backed government.

Norwegian Cruise Line says it is in negotiations with Cuban authorities and hopes to begin cruises from the US to Cuba this year.

Obama and Castro Promise to Improve Relations2:33

In a joint press conference Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro said their countries may disagree on many issues but they agree that they will take necessary steps to improve U.S.-Cuba relations. Photo: AP

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