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Historic cruise leaves Miami for Cuba

Associated Press Associated Press 1/05/2016

A historic cruise has set sail from Miami to Cuba, after decades of waiting.

Carnival Corp's 704-passenger Adonia left port on Sunday evening (Monday morning AEST) bound for Havana. Carnival's Cuba cruises, operating under its Fathom brand, will visit the ports of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba on the seven-day outing.

The cruise comes after Cuba loosened its policy banning Cuban-born people from arriving to the country by sea, a rule that threatened to stop the cruises from happening.

Restarting the cruises was an important element of a bid by President Barack Obama's administration to increase tourism to Cuba after the December 17, 2014, decision to restore diplomatic relations and move toward normalisation.

The most recent such cruise, from another US port, was in 1978.

When it first announced the cruises, Carnival said it would bar Cuban-born passengers due to the government's policy.

But the Cuban-American community in Miami complained and filed a discrimination lawsuit in response.

After that, the company said it would only sail to Cuba if the policy changed, which Cuba did on April 22. Cuba-born passengers were aboard on Sunday, the company said.

Carnival said the Adonia will cruise every other week from Miami to Cuba.

Seventy-three-year-old passenger Rick Schneider told The Sun-Sentinel he had waited decades for the chance to make the journey. He bought a Cuban flag for the occasion, which he waved from the deck at protesters who opposed the cruises.

He said he once passed up taking a trip to Cuba in 1957, adding "the time is now".

The cruise is among the many changes in US-Cuban relations since a thaw between the former Cold War foes began in late 2014.

The thaw also led to a two-day trip to Cuba in March by Obama, who met with Cuban counterpart Raul Castro and others.

The Cuban government says the shift in policy removes prohibitions enacted when Cuban exiles were launching attacks by sea after the first Cuban revolution.

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