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PHOTOS: US cruise ship arrives in Cuba for the first time in 40 years

The Adonia crossed the Florida Straits overnight – 53 years after they were blocked during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

APTOPIX Cuba Cruises Source: AP

THE FIRST AMERICAN cruise ship in nearly 40 years crossed the Florida Straits from Miami and docked in Havana today.

Carnival Cruise Line’s Adonia became the first US cruise ship in Havana since President Jimmy Carter eliminated virtually all restrictions of U.S. travel to Cuba in the late 1970s.

Travel limits were restored after Carter left office and U.S. cruises to Cuba only become possible again after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared a détente in December 2014.

Hundreds of workers and passers-by gathered to watch, some cheering, as the gleaming, white 704-passenger ship pulled into the dock — the first step toward a future in which thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits.

Cuba Cruises Source: AP

That passage of water was blocked by the US during the Cuban Missile Crisis and tens of thousands of Cubans have fled across it to Florida on home-made rafts — with untold thousands dying in the process.

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.

The Adonia is one of Carnival’s smaller ships, but American cruises are expected to bring Cuba tens of millions of dollars in badly needed foreign hard currency if traffic increases, as expected.

Cuba Cruises Source: AP

More than a dozen lines have announced plans to run US-Cuba cruises and if all actually begin operations, Cuba could earn more than $80 million (€70 million) a year, according to the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council said in a report today.

Most of the money goes directly to the Cuban government, council head John Kavulich said. He estimated that the cruise companies pay the government $500,000 (€434,000) per cruise, while passengers spend about $100 per person (€87) in each city they visit.

Carnival says the Adonia will cruise twice a month from Miami to Havana, where it will start a $1,800 (€1,564) per person seven-day circuit of Cuba with stops in the cities of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Cuba Cruises Source: AP

Before the 1959 Cuban revolution, cruise ships regularly travelled from the US to Cuba, with elegant Caribbean cruises departing from New York and $42 overnight weekend jaunts leaving twice a week from Miami, said Michael L Grace, an amateur cruise ship historian.

New York cruises featured dressy dinners, movies, dancing and betting on “horse races” in which steward dragged wooden horses around a ballroom track according to rolls of dice that determined how many feet each could move per turn.

Cuba Cruises Source: AP

The United Fruit company operated once-a-week cruise service out of New Orleans, too, he said.

“Cuba was a very big destination for Americans, just enormous,” he said.

Cruises dwindled in the years leading up to the Cuban Revolution and ended entirely after Castro overthrew the US-backed government.

Cuba Cruises Source: AP

Unexpected trouble arose after Cuban-Americans in Miami began complaining that Cuban rules barred them from travelling to the country of their birth by ship.

As Carnival considered delaying the first sailing, Cuba announced on 22 April it was changing the rule to allow Cubans and Cuban-Americans to travel on cruise ships, merchant vessels and, sometime in the future, yachts and other private boats.

Read: Barack Obama becomes first US president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years>

Read: Fidel Castro has appeared in public for the first time in nearly a year>

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Associated Press

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