CUBA STANDARD — Amid an increasingly challenging political environment, a Miami-based startup offering around-Cuba cruises quietly sold to a U.S. cruise company that discontinued voyages to the island.
Company founder Bruce Nierenberg and fellow shareholders sold the Victory Cruise Lines Ltd. brand and its two ships in January to American Queen Steamboat Co., which is based in New Albany, Ind. American Queen, which offers river cruises in the United States, will introduce Great Lakes cruises aboard the ships.
“Victory Cruise Lines does not have plans to travel to Cuba at this time,” a spokesperson from American Queen Steamboat Co. and Victory Cruise Lines said.
“I advised them to keep a limited schedule there, so that if and when they want to cruise to Cuba they would not be starting over, which would require a ridiculous approval process that I would not wish on my worst enemy,” Nierenberg said about the new owners.
From late 2016 to 2018, Victory Cruise Lines offered 14-day around-Cuba cruises out of Miami, on the 202-passenger Victory 1 and Victory 2, identical 5,000-ton vessels purposefully built for coastal cruising. While the shallow bottoms and small size allowed flexibility, Victory had a hard time securing docking space in Havana, whose two-pier cruise terminal is in high demand by the big cruise companies that offer one-night Havana stops on the Caribbean itineraries of their 2,000-plus passenger ships.
A similar undertaking, Pearl Seas Cruises, still offers around-Cuba cruises out of Fort Lauderdale aboard the 210-passenger Pearl Mist, as does French niche cruise line Ponant aboard the 64-passenger sailing yacht Le Ponant, from Miami.
Nierenberg had also aspired to establish ferry service to Cuba. He is known in the cruise industry as the founder of Premier Cruise Lines, a.k.a. “the Big Red Boats”.
“Cuba will eventually take its rightful place as the dominant destination in the Caribbean, but it will take awhile,” he told Cuba Standard.