Historic cruise ship arrives in Cuba

HAVANA (WSVN) — A groundbreaking cruise that set sail from Miami has arrived in Cuba.

The shipped arrived in Havana at 10:20, Monday morning.

Passengers waved as the cruise ship Adonia, part of Carnival’s Fathom brand, pulled away from PortMiami, just before 4:30 p.m., Sunday.

Music played as excited passengers checked in for the week-long voyage. Angelina Wheeler said she could not wait to take in the sights and sounds of the Caribbean island. "Meet some of the people, eat some of the food," she said.

At a press conference held before the maiden voyage, Sunday morning, Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald spoke about the cruise’s historic significance. "To be a part of truly making history and preparing for an even more positive future for everyone is one of the greatest honors any company can have," he said.

The Adonia is the first U.S. cruise ship to head to the island in more than 50 years. "It’s a victory for cruise," Donald said. "We have not been able to go to Cuba for over 50 years, and so in that regard, it’s a tremendous victory."

"I think it’s great bringing the countries together," said passenger Faye Varga, one of approximately 700 on board the ship.

The voyage comes after Carnival successfully negotiated with the Cuban government to rescind the ban that prohibited travelers born in Cuba from taking part. "They really took control out of the Castros’ hands. I think the Cuban government was exposed," said one man.

Cuban exiles, however, said that even with the policy change, the visa process for Cuban born passengers is unfairly complicated and expensive. "This is a farce, and we’re denouncing it as a farce," said the Cuban Democratic Directorate’s Dr. Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat. "This clearly shows that the discriminatory policy against Cuban-born U.S. citizens by the Castro regime, and in collaboration by Carnival, remains in place. Nothing has changed."

Despite the process, about two dozen Cuban-Americans made it on board the ship.

Passenger Carey Rybicki said some of her friends took issue with her decision to go on the cruise. "There is a lot of controversy. Some of my friends thought I was foolish, but it was something I always wanted to do," she said.

Fathom President Tara Russell, however, confirmed at least a handful of Cuban-born passengers made it onto the ship. "We do have Cuban-born Americans," she said.

Carnival said they’ve hired an outside company to help guide Cuban-born passengers through the visa process. Donald said he was part of the negotiation process and that ultimately, the cruise will be good for the Cuban people. "The more people connect, the more you create the possibility for positive outcome," he said.

The Adonia will first anchor in Havana, then make its way to Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba before returning to PortMiami next Sunday. On average, a boarding pass for the cruise costs more than $2,000.

7’s Nicole Linsalata is on board Sunday’s cruise. Watch for her live reports from Havana, beginning Monday.