The following story first appeared on Roadtrippers.com.
For the first time in 50 years, the U.S. has approved licenses for six companies to ferry to Cuba.
As the Obama administration makes good on its promise to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba, travel restrictions are slowly being lifted, and hopefully the days of easy daily travel between the two are just around the corner. There are still a lot of obstacles to overcome, however.
To start, although the U.S. has granted the licenses, Cuba has so far not reciprocated. Currently Havana bans Cuban-Americans from entering or leaving the island by ship, a rule that began during the Cold War to prevent weapons-smuggling. And even if the Cuban government does agree to allow the ferries, there are still so many restrictions on travel into Cuba, there may not be enough demand to make it worthwhile for companies to attempt it.
Charter flights have been permitted since 2011, but only two airports actually offer them. The rules about who can enter, why they are traveling, and what they can bring with them has made the demand very small.
Ferries may not be able to fare much better.
Now people can only travel to Cuba for very specific reasons, including family visits, government business, professional research, performances, plus educational, religious and humanitarian activities. Tourism is banned completely.
For most of these people, getting cargo onto the island will be the main appeal of a ferry vs. a charter flight, but there are so many restrictions on what kind of cargo can be carried that it is not worth the trouble.
Until the embargo is lifted entirely, many ferry companies do not see business thriving. However, some are more optimistic.
Baja Ferries has been applying for a license to travel to Cuba for five years, and they are thrilled that the paperwork has finally come through. They plan a capacity of up to 2,000 people at a time, and they plan to include restaurants and a nightclub on board.
It should also be cheaper than a charter flight, and (here's the important part) include up to 200 pounds of cargo free of charge. Pending approval from Havana, they are planning three trips a week until demand grows.
So will we be able to hop on a ferry and just sail on over to Cuba any time soon? Probably not. There are still a lot of diplomatic and logistical factors to worked out. But the fact that the U.S. government has granted the licenses is a pretty big step in that direction.