MSC Cruises is to become the largest mainstream cruise line to offer sailings from Cuba.

The line will offer the sailings onboard MSC Opera this winter, which will homeport in Havana instead of the popular Canary Islands itineraries the ship had been set to operate. The ship will operate 16 cruises from Cuba.

The deal was signed with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and makes MSC the largest line to operate there, with other American-owned lines unable to sail there currently due to the trade embargo.

The round-trip sailing will go from Havana to Montego Bay, George Town and Cozumel, with two overnights in the Cuban capital.

Gianni Onorato, chief executive of the line, said: “The move to Cuba proves our commitment to offer our guests and holidaymakers the best and most sought-after destinations as they become accessible – thus further enhancing our global offering while providing travellers best-in-class experiences and service.

“The inaugural cruise will take place in less than six months from now but we can definitely confirm the strong demand for the product, due to the combination of the attractiveness of Cuba as a culture-rich destination, coupled with the fact that it is offered through our distinctive MSC Cruises experience.”

Speaking to Travel Weekly, Giles Hawke, executive director for the line, said he expected the sailings to sell well in the UK market.

“We’re going to be reaching out to those agents who also act as tour operators because we think this could be particularly good for them” he said.

“There’s direct flights to Cuba with Virgin and Thomas Cook, and Thomas Cook also operate flights from Manchester so there is good regional lift too.

“This is a very exciting itinerary from MSC Cruises and we’re pleased to be among the first to offer our guests the chance to experience Cuba.”

The lead in cruise-only price is £329.

Hawke said: “It’s a very strongly-priced offering and it should prove attractive to our guests.”

Until now, Cuba Cruises, Fred Olsen and Star Clipper have been offering sailings involving Cuba. The new MSC Cuba sailings go on sale on a cruise-only basis from July 9.

To offer local ground services and shore excursions MSC Cruises will partner with Cubanacan.

The first cruise will depart from Havana on 22 December 2015, following MSC Opera’s Grand Voyage to Cuba from Genoa, departing on 2 December 2015.

On 12 April 2016, the ship will leave Havana for a Grand Voyage back to Europe, with Warnemünde (Germany) as its final destination, arriving on 7 May 2016.

UK guests who have already booked a Canaries sailing for winter 2015-16 will have the opportunity to get a full refund or transfer their holiday to alternative MSC Cruises Mediterranean itineraries, with the offer of upgrades or on-board credit as compensation.

Alternatively, guests can switch their booking to Cuba. Fly-cruise customers will be charged a low rate fixed fee to account for the difference in flight costs.