MIAMI – In a few weeks, Carnival Cruise Lines will become the first American cruise line to sail to Cuba with its ship Fathom, one of the smallest in the company's fleet.
However, Cuban-born passengers will not be allowed on board the ship, which has been given the all-clear by the U.S. and Cuban governments to set sail on May 1.
This travel ban stems from a Cuban law that only allows Cuban Americans to return to the island nation by air, not sea.
Cuban American Maria Werlau learned of the travel restriction when she tried to purchase a ticket and was rejected.
She said it made her feel "terrible" and "outraged," but that she was also "not surprised" because she knows "how this works."
"They're not empowering Cuban citizens," Werlau said. "They're benefiting the Cuban dictatorship that owns the tourist industry, pretty much."
Musician Amaury Gutierrez said the restriction is "absurd."
Gutierrez doesn't mind ships going to Cuba, but wonders at what cost.
Dozens gathered outside Carnival's headquarters Tuesday in Doral to protest the travel ban and the May 1 cruise.
Some in the crowd said the rule reminded them of segregation and that Carnival is putting aside American values for profits.
"They wind up not just investing economically, but becoming partners with the dictatorship in repression and discrimination," Orlando Gutierrez, of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, said.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., also expressed her disapproval of the travel ban.
"I'm not a lawyer, but I think it merits looking into because we're discriminating against people based on where they were born," she said.
Carnival said the company understands and empathizes with the concerns of Cuban Americans.
"We travel to over 100 countries and feel everyone should have equal access to vacation with us," a statement from Carnival said. "We are requesting that the policy in Cuba be changed to allow transport by ships."
Attorney Robert Rodriguez told Local 10 News filed state and federal lawsuits Tuesday on behalf of four Cuban-Americans, citing that his clients have been discriminated against under the travel ban.