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Carnival Receives U.S. Permission To Operate Cruises To Cuba

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Here's some branding language to chew on - social impact travel. That's how Carnival is describing a new cruise line it plans to sail to Cuba. Carnival says it got permission from the U.S. to start tours to the island next spring. Now it needs Havana's OK, as NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Carnival says it began developing the idea for its cruise line two years ago, long before President Obama announced he was loosening restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba. Even under the new guidelines, U.S. citizens are not allowed to travel to Cuba purely as tourists. Travel must fall under one of 12 categories for the purpose of journalism, education, religious activities, arts events and so forth. Fathom President, Tara Russell, says for her new company, it's a perfect fit.

TARA RUSSELL: The Fathom travel experience naturally aligns with so many of the 12 authorized forms of travel, so we're excited about it.

ALLEN: Carnival, based in Miami, is the world's largest cruise operator, with 10 different lines. Last month, the company rolled out a new concept, offering what it calls purpose-oriented social impact experiences. The first cruise is planned to the Dominican Republic. Passengers will work on the island with nonprofit groups on agricultural, education social projects. Cuba will be its second cruise destination. First, it needs approval from the Cuban government. Carnival CEO, Arnold Donald, says the goal for travelers is likely to be cultural exchange and immersion.

ARNOLD DONALD: This is not traditional volunteerism or anything like that. And it's just never been a template before, so it's natural there would be, you know, some skeptics or even naysayers. But we'll have to prove it out.

ALLEN: With a price of nearly $3,000 for the seven-day Cuba cruise, it's significantly more expensive than typical packages, something long-time cruise passengers have mentioned in blog posts and online cruise forums. But that's not the customer Carnival is targeting with the Fathom line. It says it expects to appeal to purpose-driven millennials, families with a social conscience and philanthropically minded retirees. Colleen McDaniel, managing editor of the online site Cruise Critic, says rather than being on the ship, this style of cruising aims to get passengers off.

COLLEEN MCDANIEL: You can still, you know, enjoy a cocktail at night and have nice dinners. But you know, there's not a casino, and you're not going to have those big-energy kind of shows. And on top of that, you're going to be doing a lot of training on board as well.

ALLEN: When it receives final approval, Fathom and its focus on social impact travel will offer the only way for U.S. citizens to cruise to Cuba. But analysts expected once full relations are reestablished, Cuba is likely to quickly become a major cruise destination. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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