Re-established diplomatic relations prompt interest in travel to Cuba

BAY AREA, Calif. (KTVU) - Now that things are really opening up in Cuba, many are wondering how to get there without violating U.S. law.

KTVU first went to Cuba 18 years ago, under strict U.S. laws that allowed journalists to visit. 

Now, the most relaxed rules ever, are prompting inquiries from many AAA members.

"Typically, it's the more well-traveled members who are looking for something a little different, something they haven't been able to do," says Pablo O'Brien, the northern California AAA Vice-President for Travel.

AAA uses a long time supplier that's been doing Cuban travel for many years. It charters Havana flights from Miami and other southeast cities.

"What we're hearing from folks who've been to a lot of different places, ‘Hey, I've always wanted to go to Cuba. What do you have for me?’" says O'Brien.

You still have to qualify under 12 categories but they are so large and so vague just about anyone can go.

"You don't have to ask permission from the Treasury Department or from anyone, you just travel," says Leslie Balog, Cuba Travel Director for Global Exchange, a non-governmental human and economic rights advocacy group that has taken people to Cuba for a quarter century.

"We began because we wanted to expose people to the realities of Cuba. We're called reality tours. Basically we've been focusing on what's called people to people," says Balog.

In the event that Northern Californian's take a big hankering for travel to Cuba, that travel will take place from Oakland Airport, the only airport in the Bay Area that has been designated by the government to be the place to fly to Cuba from.

"Right now there's only a certain amount of lodging that sort of meets most North American's levels or expectations," says AAA's Pablo O'Brien.

Most of those hotels already cater to Canadian and European tourists, but San Francisco-based home share website already has 2,000 places in Cuba people can stay.

In addition to that, cruise lines, beginning with Carnival, are setting up trips. All that their floating hotels need is mooring space in Havana harbor

"Everybody that I know in Cuba is ecstatic," says Global Exchange's Leslie Balog.