1950 brochure for Florida-to-Cuba cruise is a fascinating time capsule
SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN
Tampa Bay Times
After a decades-long hiatus, Miami-to-Cuba cruises resumed this month
with a hefty price tag, a lot of political baggage and an enormous
amount of publicity. But before Fidel Castro seized power in 1959,
overnight sailings to Havana were an easy way for U.S. citizens to take
a “trip abroad” and visit “the Paris of the Americas.” That’s how a 1950
brochure of the Peninsula & Occidental Steamship Co. touted its
thrice-weekly cruises from Miami to Havana aboard the 725-passenger S.S.
Found recently at a Tampa Bay flea market, the brochure hearkens back to
the heady postwar era when the United States enjoyed unrivaled
prosperity and Havana was a favorite playground of mobsters,
celebrities, politicians (including a young John F. Kennedy) and
thousands of ordinary tourists.
Passports for U.S. citizens were not required, the brochure notes, while
Chinese needed “special permission” to enter and “Gypsies, regardless of
nationalities,” were barred altogether.
For just $46 per person ($456 in today’s dollars), Americans could book
passage through offices in six U.S. cities including Tampa and St.
Petersburg. That included a stateroom with “forced ventilation, electric
fans and running water;” a “delicious dinner” followed by dancing to the
ship’s orchestra and a “hearty breakfast” before docking at 8:30 a.m. in
There, myriad delights awaited. Pictured in the brochure are smiling
Americans, men in suits and women in calf-length sleeveless sheaths
“strolling down the wide, beautiful boulevards, past fine homes and clubs.”
“Visit Havana’s cigar factories and distilleries,” the brochure urges.
“You’ll love the many sidewalk cafes… and quiet patios and exotic
tropical gardens. Of course, you won’t miss historic Morro Castle, nor
the lovely old cathedrals and convents. But for all your daytime
sightseeing, you’ll want to take in the gay Latin American nightlife
with its native music and dancing.”
Then came the 1959 Cuban revolution and overthrow of the U.S.-supported
Batista regime. Miami-to-Havana cruises ended, revived only briefly
during the Carter administration, then ceased again for the next several
decades. Only after a historic rapprochement between the two countries
in 2014 did the Obama administration allow cruises to resume for the
purposes of cultural and educational exchanges.
On May 2, Carnival’s Adonia became the first U.S.-owned ship to dock in
Havana since 1959. Carnival offers several more cruises from Miami this
year, all for seven days and including stops in two other Cuban ports in
addition to Havana. Minimum charge for an inside stateroom: $1,750 per
As U.S.-Cuban relations further ease, Tampa Bay ports hope to get in on
what is estimated to quickly become a $100 million annual industry.
These days, passports are required for U.S. citizens cruising to Cuba.
Chinese are welcome – they’ve invested billions of dollars in the
country since President Kennedy imposed the U.S. embargo in 1962
(purportedly after placing one last order for Cuban cigars). Behemoth
liners three times as long as a football field have replaced ships like
S.S. Florida, which was scrapped in 1968.
Some things, though, haven’t changed much since the Florida steamed
toward Havana every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Back then, passengers
could pay an extra $35 to $50 to take their cars with them and explore
“700 miles of Cuban highways.”
Due to the embargo, Cubans are still driving thousands of cars of the
same makes, models and vintage.
Source: 1950 brochure for Florida-to-Cuba cruise is a fascinating time
capsule | In Cuba Today –