Will U.S.-based passenger cruise lines like Disney, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity soon be unloading passengers in Havana? No one seems more excited about, prepared for, and capable of navigating major cruises to Cuba than Norwegian Cruise Line's newly minted CEO, Frank Del Rio. Mr. Del Rio, now 60, was born in Cuba and, like thousands of others, escaped from Castro's regime to South Florida -- where he has lived and worked ever since.
Today, he is at the helm of NCL, following its acquisition of Prestige Cruise International, which in turn owns the other luxury lines Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises. Mr. Del Rio had founded Oceania Cruises in 2003. NCL is a public company that trades on NASDAQ, and Mr. Del Rio's confidence in taking NCL to Cuba has certainly created a lot of excitement in the cruise industry and among investors.
Taking U.S.-based passenger cruise ships to Cuba will be an exciting challenge for Mr. Del Rio. U.S. cruise lines are preparing to enter uncharted waters--Cuban waters. United States citizens are still technically banned from visiting Cuba as tourists, but once the embargo is lifted, NCL seems ready to go. Mr. Del Rio recently told CNN that he has several proposed itineraries in mind, possibly docking ships in multiple Cuban ports--including one near Guantanamo.
As a Miami accident lawyer who represents passengers who have been hurt on cruise ships, I am concerned that Cuba may not yet have the infrastructure and port facilities in remote parts of the island to handle, protect, and secure passengers, as well as provide for their potential medical and transportation requirements in case of a disaster, notwithstanding the fact that Cuba currently ports about 200 cruise ships a year from non-US-based lines.
Cuba will certainly provide an exciting alternative and addition to typical Caribbean cruise ship itineraries, but I strongly urge NCL as well as other cruise lines to slow down and carefully ensure that passenger safety is placed far ahead of corporate profit. Cuba is a country that has not experienced American tourists for decades. Certainly, there will be a period of adjustment and lots of fine tuning--especially once passengers disembark and begin milling around ports and taking island excursions.