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Carnival launches its Tampa to Havana cruise

TAMPA — Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson couldn't stop himself from dancing Thursday as a band performed the mambo aboard the ship Carnival Paradise.

It was a party, after all, a celebration of Carnival Cruise Line's first-ever journey to Havana that would launch later that day.

It wasn't the first cruise to sail from Tampa to Cuba — a distinction belonging to Royal Caribbean, which did so in April — but there was much for Port Tampa Bay and Carnival to be happy about.

With more than 2,400 passengers, the Paradise was to be the most populated cruise ship to ever dock in Havana, boasted Carnival executives.

And the Paradise marks yet another link in Havana and Tampa's centuries-old relationship cemented by Cuban immigrants who helped to found Ybor City and its cigar industry in the late 1800s.

"We have all heard the stories locally of how grandparents and great-grandparents took steamships — the precursors of today's cruise ships — to Havana for a pleasurable weekend, back from the days of the Roaring '20s to the early '50s," said Anderson, who wore a guayabera for the occasion.

To help further document the history of Tampa's Cuban culture, Carnival donated $25,000 to the Ybor City Museum Society.

"They said it was going to be a big check, but I didn't know it was going to be that big," said a stunned Chantal Ruilova Hevia, CEO of the museum society.

But the biggest moment of the day, quipped John Heald, Carnival's brand ambassador, was the unveiling of a Cuban sandwich made by the cruise's senior chef for the occasion.

It was 10 feet long and contained 5 pounds of sliced ham, 50 pounds of pork, 6 pounds of swiss cheese and 1 gallon each of dill pickles, mustard and mayonnaise.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Heald said. "This is officially the world's largest ever Cuban sandwich at sea."

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.