Carnival Cruise
Cuba-born passengers allowed to enter the country via sea after the Cuban government lifted a banReuters

After a 38-year wait, the first US cruise ship has finally set sail on a historic trip to Cuba from Miami. Adonia, a passenger vessel from Carnival cruise's Fathom line, left around 4.00pm local time on Sunday and will arrive in the Cuban capital of Havana on Monday (2 May) morning.

The seven-day cruise, with 704 passengers aboard, is also scheduled to visit the ports of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba, according to media reports.

The cruise will mark a new milestone in an otherwise thawed relations between the US and the Cuban government. The last cruise to Cuba from the US was in 1978.

Havana had earlier banned Cuban-born passengers from arriving in the country by sea. However, on 22 April it loosened its policy after cruise firm Carnival said it would only sail if the government amended its law.

Restarting the cruise was an important part of US President Barack Obama's bid to increase tourism to Cuba after the 17 December 2014 decision to restore diplomatic relations with the country.

According to Carnival's website, Adonia will set sail every other week from Miami to Cuba, with a goal of featuring a variety of cultural and educational activities. Bookings starts from $1,800 (£1,231) per person and go up to $7,000.

Carnival's president Arnold Donald said: "Times of change often bring out emotions and clearly the histories here are very emotional for a number of people."

Since the restrictions were lifted very recently, only a couple of Cuban-born American passengers were on the cruise ship. Among those on board was 73-year-old Rick Schneider, who had almost given up a chance of sailing to Cuba in 1957. Schneider said he waited for years to make this trip and had even bought a Cuban flag for his travel, The Sun-Sentinel reported.

Another passenger Isabel Buznego, 61, left Cuba when she was five and was returning for the first time. "My dad wanted to come because he had never been able to come but he passed away," she said. "So I'm coming in his name. That is why I have so many different emotions, but I am mostly happy."

To some passengers, being on the Adonia for the sheer joy of being a part of history mattered. Mary Olive Reinhart, a retired parks service ranger, told the Miami Herald she and her friends from Philadelphia were drawn to the voyage by the adventure.

For Regina Patterson, 58, it is a place she always wanted to visit. "I want to see how they live, the music, what they eat and shopping, shopping, shopping!"

Alongside Adonia, a boat carrying activists protesting against the cruise has also set off for Havana.