Notice to the cruise industry: Havana awaits you.

Havana's newly renovated cruise port officially opened for business on Friday. And this morning, it will receive its first cruise ship: the 500-passenger, four-star Costa Playa, carrying passengers from Europe, Argentina and Brazil.The cruise complex has three air-conditioned terminals as well as shops, restaurants and indoor palm trees.

"The most modern cruise port in the Caribbean," boasted Alfonso Lavarello, chairman of Monte Carlo-based Milestone, which renovated the structure. The company is controlled by Genoa-based Costa Crociere, which also owns Costa Cruise Lines.

Cuba is eager to get a piece of the lucrative Caribbean cruise business. At the same time, Lavarello says, opening Cuban ports of call could be a shot in the arm for a sluggish cruise industry.

The number of cruise passengers dropped 6 percent in the first half of this year, after 15 straight years of increases. And with the world's cruise lines poised to take delivery of two dozen new ships over the next 31/2 years, companies are searching for new destinations to entice passengers aboard.

"The industry needs to do something that will have an impact in order to fill all the new ships," Lavarello said.

Cuba - virtually virgin territory - fits the bill.

"Whenever conditions allow, Cuba will be included in the itinerary of every cruise line," Lavarello said. "No one wants to lose the marketing opportunity that it will provide."

While no one in the cruise industry is denying Cuba's potential, U.S.-based cruise lines will be sitting this round out. So will American cruise passengers because of U.S. economic sanctions against the Cuban government.

And as long as the U.S. embargo is in place, Cuba isn't going to offer much competition or potential business for Miami - the world's largest cruise port.

The bulk of the world's cruise passengers come from the United States. The world's big three cruise operators - Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean, both in Miami, and Los Angeles-based Princess - are here.

"We will be patient and wait for a post-Castro Cuba to do business with Cuba," said Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison. Even if the embargo is lifted in the near future, Arison said Carnival will wait to sail to Havana.

As for Royal Caribbean, Chairman Richard Fain said: "Given the current political situation, we would not be interested."

But Princess, a subsidiary of British shipping company P&O, is less reluctant to publicly consider cruises to Cuba.

Princess senior vice president Rick James said the line is following events in Cuba and has even discussed which cruise itinerary to include it in: Southern or Western Caribbean. Princess originates Caribbean cruises in both Port Everglades and San Juan.

"We're known as a company that continually expands our ports of call," James said. "We'd like to add Cuba when the appropriate time comes."

James also said that officials from P&O visited Cuba last year to view the port facilities.

Meanwhile, Costa - Europe's largest cruise line - and various European tour operators will be closely watching how the Playa Costa is received among its target European passengers.

The seven-day cruise, which originates in Puerto Plata, Santo Domingo, includes ports of call in Montego Bay, Jamaica; Santiago de Cuba, Havana, and Bahia de Nipe, on Cuba's north coast.

If the ship does well, Costa said it will shift to an 800-passenger ship next season. Lavarello said other European tour operators also are considering chartering ships that would call in Cuba.