New Ferry Travel Routes to Open Up Between US-Cuba

Americans hoping to jet down to Cuba could soon have the option of going by ferry instead. And if one company has its way, travelers will ride in style on a vessel filled with gambling, restaurants and other amenities.

Two Florida companies — Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale and Baja Ferries USA of Miami — said Tuesday they have received approval from the U.S. government to start offering commercial service to the communist island nation, the Sun Sentinel first reported.

Baja Ferries is looking to provide rides out of Miami, Key West and Port Manatee in Tampa Bay, with Havana as the main destination, President Joseph Hinson told NBC News. The company, which has operations in Mexico and Puerto Rico, still needs to hold formal talks with Cuba.

“This is a big hurdle to overcome,” Hinson said of the license, adding that he is very thankful.

Before a timeline can be firmed up, he added, there are hurdles to overcome: All the ships have to be compliant with U.S. Coast Guard requirements and Homeland Security issues, as well as meet Cuban standards.

“Nothing’s to say it couldn’t happen by September-October,” Hinson said.

The ride from Miami — about 225 miles — would take about 10 hours by ferry, he added, estimating a round-trip ticket costing about $250-$300. He said plans include plying passengers with food and possibly casino gaming.

Havana Ferry Partners, meanwhile, said it would seek to launch a ferry route from Key West to Havana, with a vessel that could hold as many as 200 passengers, the Sun Sentinel reported. Other routes could open up from Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

The Treasury Department told NBC News that there is still no general license authorizing passenger ferry service between the U.S. and Cuba, and specific licenses are being issued on a case-by-case basis.

Ferry service is the latest example of warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba after President Barack Obama announced last December the two countries are reestablishing business and trade ties following decades of Cold War separation.

While the average American tourist still can’t go to Cuba without meeting certain criteria, overall restrictions have eased.

Earlier this year, direct charter flights began from New York City to Havana. JetBlue announced Tuesday that it is operating a charter flight out of John F. Kennedy International Airport to Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport each Friday at noon. The flights can be booked through Cuba Travel Services.