Greeted with rum drinks and dancers, the first passengers to cruise from the U.S. to Cuba in nearly 40 years streamed Monday into a crowd cheering the rebirth of travel on waters that served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.
Many watching the festive arrival praised a Cuban government decision to drop a longstanding ban on Cuban-born people returning to their homeland by sea, a step that allowed 16 Cuban-Americans to make the journey from Miami.
“This is history,” said Mercedes Lopez, a 54-year-old nurse who waited for hours to see Carnival Cruise Line’s 704-passenger Adonia pull up to Havana’s two-berth cruise terminal.
Setting sail from Miami shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday, the Adonia took nearly 17 hours to cross the Florida Straits, steaming through a waterway which tens of thousands of Cubans have crossed to flee to Florida.
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.