A US cruise ship docked Monday in Cuba for the first time in decades after the US loosened travel restrictions amid a broader rapprochement between the neighbours.

Some 700 passengers were aboard the MV Adonia from Carnival Cruises' smaller Fathom line, which sailed Sunday from Miami on the 400-kilometre route.

Dozens of Cubans had gathered along the shore to welcome the ship, waving Cuban and US flags.

The Cuban government had at first said it would ban Cuban exiles and Cuban-Americans born on the communist island from travelling aboard the ship, amid decades-old restrictions on Cubans travelling via boat, but the government relented in April. Carnival had put its plans on hold, as members of the Cuban exile community threatened legal action on grounds of discrimination.

Mili Martin, 50, of Miami was returning for the first time since she left the island as a 4-year-old.

"I'm very moved," she said with tears in her eyes. "I hope that this brings Cuba many good things."

The cruise line says there are some 20 guests of Cuban heritage aboard the vessel.

The seven-day cruise is to circumnavigate the island with stops in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos, the cruise line said.

The journey is authorized under US regulations that allow cultural travel and people-to-people exchange.

US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro began the process of restoring relations in late 2014, but a trade embargo that can only be lifted by the US Congress remains in place. In March, Obama became the first US president in nearly 90 years to visit Cuba.

Most US travel to Cuba has been restricted since the nations broke off relations after the Cuban revolution, but when restrictions were briefly lifted in the 1970s a few cruise vessels briefly sailed between the countries, CBS News reported.

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