Brian Hall has a Cuba Dream. He’s named it “CubaKat,” all part of his business plan to revive the once popular ferry service from Florida to Cuba.
Back in the 50s, before Fidel Castro’s revolution and the resulting U.S. embargo on the communist island, taking ferries from Key West to Havana was a daily option for American tourists.
Hall has already purchased one catamaran in the Bahamas, planning to ferry Americans from a marina in Marathon, in the Florida Keys, to Cuba. The trip would take less than 4 hours.
"The Cuban side — they have done nothing but open their arms,” he said. "They want us to come so bad. It's like the Berlin Wall has fallen and they're begging for us to come."
Hall and half a dozen other American entrepreneurs have begun applying with the U.S. Treasury Department for future licenses to put American tourists willing to pay upwards of $300 onto catamarans and ships for the 90 mile journey through the Florida Straits.
So far, the Treasury Department is making no public comment about a timeline — when or even if ferry service will resume, but these would-be ferry operators want to be the first in line.
United America’s Joe Hinson, who is based in Miami, wants to bring his big, Baja Ferry over from Mexico to do the same from Florida to Cuba. Those ships are larger, feature cabins and a casino and would be a more relaxed, overnight, 10-hour cruise.
“We’re quite comfortable that it’s one of those situations where [it’s just] ‘build it and they will come’,” Hinson said.
The U.S. and Cuba’s efforts at normalizing diplomatic relations are ongoing, as both work to reopen their respective embassies. The changing relationship also reveals the market is there for Cuba-curious Americans eager for an open-water trip to the past.
Onboard the Key West Express, which offers daily ferry service between Ft. Myers and Key West, Mike Hazelhoff of Minnesota said “I would definitely go. I’ll take the first ferry.” His wife Sally added, “I would like to go, mainly to experience something new. It would be on my bucket list!”
Christopher Smith of San Francisco said, “I’d love to go to Cuba. It’s been closed to U.S. citizens for so long, it seems like it would be a wonderful experience to socialize with the people and the culture and kinda get a feel for Cuba."
Cuba and the U.S. State Department hope to reopen their respective embassies in mid-April. Meanwhile, these ferry boat buying entrepreneurs believe the sky’s the limit for profits, if the government’s wave of normalization begins to allow it.