That's the lesson that small-ship operator Pearl Seas Cruises has been learning in recent weeks as it has been forced to cancel one long-planned sailing to the island nation after another due to a lack of Cuban government approvals.
Pearl Seas announced last July that it would launch 10-night cruises from the USA to Cuba this spring on its single ship, the 210-passenger Pearl Mist. Six sailings were planned for March and April, and Pearl Seas began taking bookings for cabins at fares that started at $7,810 per person.
But as customers have been finding out in recent weeks, the line was selling the trips without permission from the Cuban government to operate them, and as the sailing dates neared, the permission did not materialize as the line expected. The cancellations began.
The first sailing to be canceled was a March 6 departure, followed by March 16 and March 26 departures. In recent days, Pearl Seas has added sailings scheduled for April 5 and April 15 to the list of those it is dropping. Holding out hope for a last-minute Cuban approval, the line has been canceling the sailings one-by-one as the sailing dates approach, sometimes with just a few days notice.
The sailings would have been the first from the USA to Cuba in decades. But now it looks like industry giant Carnival Corp.'s new Fathom brand could be the first to offer such trips. Fathom received approval last month from the Cuban government to operate voyages to the country and will kick off bi-weekly sailings from Miami on May 1. Like Pearl Seas, Fathom had begun selling the trips even before it had the approval.
Unlike Pearl Seas and Fathom, most cruise lines hoping to add Cuba trips from the USA have been waiting for Cuban government approval before starting to sell them. Cruise operators that have been pursuing such an approval include the parent companies of Oceania Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
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Another small-ship line, Ponant, announced on Thursday that it had received approval from the Cuban government for Cuba cruises aimed at Americans. The trips will take place on the 64-passenger Le Ponant and begin in 2017. Ponant already offers Cuba cruises for Europeans.
The short notice of the cancellations at Pearl Seas has upset customers.
"I’m mad as hell," Thomas Donoghue, 76, of Westbury, New York, wrote Friday in a letter to the company that he also sent to USA TODAY Cruise.
Donaghue, the executive director of a medical foundation, is booked on an April 25 sailing to Cuba that Pearl Seas has yet to cancel. But he's not holding out hope that the trip will be going.
"Who could have known that you did not have permission to sail and land passengers in the ports you advertised," Donoghue wrote.
A spokesperson for Pearl Seas could not be reached for comment.