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Pearl Seas Cruises joins growing list of U.S. cruise operators set to sail to Cuba in early 2017

Another U.S. cruise operator is gearing up to launch cruises to Cuba in early 2017.

On Thursday, Pearl Seas Cruises of Connecticut, announced it has received Cuban government approval to sail from a Florida port to Cuba starting in January.

The cruise operator's first 10-night Cuba cruise is slated to depart Jan. 17 from Port Everglades.

The Cuba cruises will circumnavigate the island with stops in Havana and other ports on the southern coast including Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba, Pearl Seas said. It plans to operate the people-to-people type Cuba cruises with the 210-passenger Pearl Mist cruise ship.

"There is significant demand to visit Cuba on a smaller ship and we are honored to be among the first cruise lines to have access to the country," said Timothy Beebe, Pearl Seas' vice president, in a statement.

Pearl Seas has 11, 10-night Cuba cruises planned from January through May that will sail round-trip from the Fort Lauderdale seaport.

The cruise operator had been planning cruises to Cuba for more than a year.

In July 2015, Pearl Seas first announced plans to start a series of seven- to-10-night cultural voyages to Cuba from South Florida with the Pearl Mist, pending U.S. and Cuban approvals. At that time the company had hoped to start sailing to Cuba in March 2016. The cruise operator had also considerered the Port of Palm Beach and PortMiami as potential departure points for its Cuba cruises.

Port Everglades welcomes Pearl Seas' Cuba cruises as a new addition to the seaport's offerings.

"We've got a berth for them," Glenn Wiltshire, the port's deputy director told the Sun Sentinel recently in talking about the peak cruise season underway. "They have identified a number of days that they'll operate [here] and we're looking forward to having them."

With Thursday's news, Pearl Seas joins at least three other American cruise companies that have been granted rights to sail from a U.S. port to Cuba. On Wednesday, Miami-based rivals Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. both said they had also received Cuban approval for ships in their corporate fleets to begin cruises from Florida to Cuba in the coming year.

Earlier this year, Doral-based Carnival Corp. & PLC became the first U.S. cruise company to gain Cuban approval for cruises from the U.S. to Havana in several decades. The first Cuba cruise departed May 1 from PortMiami aboard the 704-passenger mv Adonia ship operated by Fathom, its newly-launched social impact travel brand.

asatchell@sunsentinel.com, Twitter@TheSatchreport

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