Cubans and Cuban-Americans can now travel to and from the Caribbean island by cruise ships, according to a statement Friday by Cuban state-run media.
The Cuban government authorized, starting April 26, Cuban residents to enter and leave as passengers of cruise ships. But the statement stressed that Cubans living in the country must have a valid visa of the country or countries they plan to visit.
Carnival Cruise Line is the first to sign contracts with Cuban businesses to sail from the U.S. to Cuba. The inaugural trip since the 1959 revolution will be May 1.
“This is a positive outcome and we are extremely pleased. We want to extend our sincere appreciation to Cuba and to our team who worked so hard to help make this happen,” Carnival Chief Executive Arnold Donald said in a statement.
The statement on Friday also said officials are reviewing a ban on citizens from boarding recreational vessels such as fishing boats and yachts.
Until now, Carnival had not allowed Cuban-born Americans to book the trips because a Cuban law that dating to the Cold War said they could not visit the island by sea.
Carnival received approval from the United States government last year to sail to Cuba, followed by a go-ahead from Havana a day after President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the country in March.
Carnival cruise lines previously said it would allow Cuban-born passengers to book travel to Cuba, but vowed to delay trips if the island's government did not change its policy allowing nationals to return by sea.
Last week, Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida stressed that Carnival should not sail to Cuba until the ban on Cuban-born passengers was lifted.
“I would not forbid Carnival to sail through public action, but I would heavily discourage it and try to persuade Carnival not to sail to Cuba until the policy is changed,” Grayson told the Miami Herald newspaper in a phone interview.
Around 300,000 Cuban-born Americans enter their homeland each year.
Carnival's 700-passenger Adonia is set to sail every other week and dock in the Cuban ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Chile. The cost of the week-long cruise starts at $1,800.