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Cuba restrictions hit cruise lines at the start of summer

Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas sets out

Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas sets out at Port Everglades, Fla. The cruise ship will no longer go to Cuba because of new U.S. government restrictions. Photo Credit: AP / Brynn Anderson

The Trump administration's new restrictions on travel to Cuba will sting the cruise industry, taking away a new and increasingly popular destination at the start of the summer vacation season.

Major cruise lines immediately began dropping stops in Cuba from their itineraries and hastily rerouting ships to other destinations, including Mexico.

The changes affect thousands of passengers already on cruises or booked for future trips, according to the Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group. 

Cuba trips represented a relatively small percentage of passenger cruises — about 3 percent or 4 percent for Norwegian and even less for Royal Caribbean and Carnival, according to analysts. But Cuban itineraries commanded prices up to 20 percent higher than cruises to the Bahamas.

Cruise lines will face refunds for passengers who booked just for Cuba and aren't interested in other destinations, and they are offering discounts to rebook on non-Cuba itineraries. Those costs are not yet clear.

Cruising from the United States to Cuba started in May 2016, as President Barack Obama moved to improve relations with the country.

Whether by boat or air, Cuba quickly became a romantic and slightly exotic destination that was just a short hop from Florida. In the first four months of this year, nearly 143,000 people arrived in Cuba by ship, an increase of more than 300% over the same period last year.

Nearly all the major cruise lines introduced Cuban itineraries that range from an overnight stay in Havana to visits to three ports over several days. For many passengers, it was their first cruise.

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