Cruise ships and group tours have been banned from visiting Cuba as of Wednesday, per new regulations from the Trump administration. But what does that mean for travelers already booked on trips or those who still want to go?
It remains murky, though it turns out that those still looking to go to Cuba have some options.
Here’s what we know so far about the restrictions and how you can still get there.
I still want to travel to Cuba. How can I go?
Confusion swirled after the Trump administration on Tuesday ended the most popular forms of U.S. travel to Cuba, banning cruise ships and a heavily used category of educational travel in an attempt to cut off cash to the island’s communist government. An estimated 800,000 cruise passenger bookings have been affected, according to cruise industry group Cruise Lines International Association.
The Treasury Department has a detailed FAQ page online to help break down what travelers need to know about the ban. The key takeaway beyond cruises? Travel for tourist activities isn’t permitted, previously allowed in educational tour groups.
Wait, what happened?: Cuba travel ban goes into effect: 800,000 cruise passengers impacted
Travelers can still visit Cuba, albeit subject to specific conditions:
- Family visits
- Official U.S. government business
- Journalistic activity
- Professional research and meetings
- Educational activities (like those from U.S. academic institutions and secondary schools)
- Religious activities
- Support for the Cuban people
- Humanitarian projects
That doesn’t mean hope is lost for travelers, however. It’s just that tourists have to abide by different regulations.
“The important thing to know about these changes is that there is still a way to travel legally to Cuba and that is under ‘support for the Cuban people,’” Sarah Arizaga, manager the of Cuban Adventures tour agency U.S. office, told USA TODAY. The company’s tours were already compliant with the condition about support for the Cuban people since President Donald Trump’s 2017 changes to Cuba travel, when the administration eliminated individual people-to-people travel.
The “people-to-people” rule was created under the Obama administration and let visitors travel to Cuba with a visa. This was in addition to letting cruise ships and airlines journey there.
What does this ‘support for the Cuban people’ designation mean?
It means travelers will have more responsibility if they decide to travel to Cuba, like evidence of staying at privately-owned bed and breakfasts, eating at privately-owned restaurants, shopping in privately-owned stores, visiting art galleries and interacting with locals on a meaningful level, according to Arizaga.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control can ask for documentation of such activities for up to five years. Travelers can keep a travel diary and receipts as proof. Under the “people-to-people” designation this would’ve fallen under the burden of tour companies.
Access Culinary Trips also operates under the “support for the Cuban people” authorization.
“Despite the changes in some categories of travel to Cuba, we continue to see strong demand for our tours, which enable our guests to experience the vibrancy of the Cuban culture and connect with the locals in a meaningful way,” Tamar Lowell, CEO of Access Culinary Trips, said in a statement.
OK, but tell me more about the restrictions
The new restrictions take effect Wednesday, but the government said it will allow anyone who has already paid for the trip to go ahead with it. But the process going forward for passengers isn’t clear.
Carnival Corporation spokesman Roger Frizzell told USA TODAY Wednesday there would be no grandfathering allowed for cruise ships.
“Due to changes in U.S. policy, the company will no longer be permitted to sail to Cuba effective immediately,” he said, adding that Carnival and its sister lines, Holland America and Seabourn, would provide additional details to passengers who have already booked cruises affected by the ban.
Carnival is not the only line impacted by the new restrictions.
In an email, Megan King, a spokesperson for Cruise Lines International Association, told USA TODAY that the new regulations were announced suddenly and will have massive implications.
“Without warning, CLIA cruise line members are forced to eliminate all Cuba destinations from all itineraries effective immediately. This affects nearly 800,000 passenger bookings that are scheduled or already underway. All these bookings had been made under a general license previously issued by the United States government that authorized ‘people-to-people’ travel to Cuba.”
Most private planes and boats are also banned. Commercial airline flights appear to be unaffected by the new measures, and travel for university groups, academic research, journalism and professional meetings will continue to be allowed.
Contributing: Jayme Deerwester, USA TODAY; Matthew Lee and Michael Weissenstein; Weissenstein reported from Havana. Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez in Havana; Adriana Gomez-Licon in Miami and Ben Fox in Washington also contributed to this report.