Will cruise holidays make a comeback in 2021, and where will we be able to go?

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Cruises in British water are set to return from May – although the resumption of overseas voyages is unclear - GETTY
Cruises in British water are set to return from May – although the resumption of overseas voyages is unclear - GETTY

After a year in which Britons have hardly been able to travel abroad, cruising is coming back – but starting close to home.

P&O Cruises, Princess and Cunard are among more than a dozen lines that have announced they are scrapping overseas itineraries until late summer and replacing them with round-Britain cruises.

Meanwhile, a task force, led by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, is due to report on April 12 as to whether overseas holidays can resume for people in England on May 17 – the same time that domestic hotels should be able to reopen.

Maritime Minister Robert Courts has given the go-ahead for cruising in home waters to return as early as May 17. Advice from the Foreign Office still warns against travelling internationally on ocean-going cruise ships, though the Department of Transport has confirmed this will not apply to UK voyages. In Europe, some domestic cruises are sailing but there is no indication yet when Britons might be welcomed back on board. And there's also the issue of whether vaccinations will be required to board.

So where – and when – will we be able to sail?


Britain’s favourite cruise lines have reacted to Boris Johnson’s plan out of lockdown in different ways. P&O Cruises, Princess, Cunard, Viking, Saga, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Fred Olsen and MSC Cruises have reacted to the lockdown exit strategy by announcing round-Britain cruises from as early as May 22.

Cruises in home waters will reveal beautiful patches of the UK - ULRIKE SCHMITT-HARTMANN
Cruises in home waters will reveal beautiful patches of the UK - ULRIKE SCHMITT-HARTMANN

Saga has pushed back its restart on Spirit of Discovery until June 27, with the inaugural cruise of sister ship Spirit of Adventure on July 26. MSC Cruises was looking forward to basing MSC Magnifica at the new fifth terminal in Southampton but it has now replaced the ship with its new flagship, MSC Virtuosa.

New cruise line Tradewind Voyages is gearing up to introduce the world’s biggest square rigger, Golden Horizon, on some round-Britain cruises in July. Riviera Travel is also due to begin Irish and Scottish voyages that month on the small ship Seaventure. In Scotland, The Majestic Line is planning to restart on May 18.

United States

The big names – Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line – are suspended until at least the end of May to comply with conditions laid down by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the resumption of cruising, which includes operating a series of test voyages for volunteers.

American Cruise Lines, whose ships are too small to be covered by the rules, began sailing its 100-passenger Independence from Florida to South Carolina on March 13. On the rivers, American Queen Steamboat Company paddlewheeler American Duchess restarted on the Mississippi on March 15.

Unfortunately, the 2021 Alaska season has been wiped out for the major lines after Canada extended a ban on big ships calling at its ports until February 28 next year. With few exceptions, Britons are still generally barred from flying to the US and, even if exempt, must be aware of the latest quarantine measures when they return to the UK.

Cunard's liners will look to make their transatlantic crossings once borders reopen - ATG IMAGES
Cunard's liners will look to make their transatlantic crossings once borders reopen - ATG IMAGES

Caribbean, Bermuda and Bahamas

Outside US waters – and the reach of the CDC – cruise lines are making plans to restart sailings from islands in the Atlantic. Celebrity Cruises will be basing Celebrity Millennium in St Maarten and offering seven-day cruises to other Caribbean islands from June 5.

Sister line Royal Caribbean is beginning cruises from June 12 on Adventure of the Seas from Nassau in the Bahamas, followed by Vision of the Seas from Bermuda starting on June 26. Both ships will call at the private island of CocoCay. Crystal Cruises ship Crystal Serenity will sail around the Bahamas from July 3, leaving Nassau on Saturdays and Bimini on Sundays.

All three cruise lines require passengers to be fully vaccinated and will welcome Britons on board if they meet that requirement and other travel restrictions imposed by the islands.

Royal Caribbean and Celebrity will also accept guests under 18 if they produce a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before sailing. The US has yet to lift its ban on arrivals from the UK, although British Airways is planning to restart a direct service to Nassau from Heathrow.


In Italy, MSC Cruises has been sailing MSC Grandiosa since last August and restarted 2021 cruises on January 24, for citizens of the Schengen area. Rival Costa Cruises is planning to resume on May 1 for the domestic Italian market.

Lines such as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Tui (Mein Schiff) in Germany and Ponant in France also ran cruises for their own countries’ cruisers and have not yet said when they will accept British travellers. Some ships have run itineraries from Spain’s Canary Islands.

Greece has said it will welcome vaccinated tourists from May 14, as well as those who can prove they have Covid antibodies or produce a negative Covid test. Regional line Celestyal Cruises is due to restart on May 29. Marella Cruises has postponed its restart in Europe until May 17, in line with the UK Government’s new timetable.


French company CroisiEurope will begin sailing Belle des Oceans to Corsica in May. It looks forward to welcoming Britons on its sea and river cruises as soon as restrictions allow. On Europe’s rivers, more than 50 boats operated in 2020, though many of the best-known lines – such as Viking, Uniworld and Scenic – were absent, and AmaWaterways ran only some chartered sailings on one ship. Many of them will wait for the American market to bounce back before returning to full service.

The Westminster parliament has removed Portugal from the ‘red list’ of countries from where travel to England is banned, opening up the prospect of Britons being able to join cruises on the Douro.

Australia and New Zealand

Coral Expeditions led the way for Australians to sail again with voyages to the Great Barrier Reef in October, and began a Kimberley season in March. In New Zealand, Heritage Expeditions laid on cruises for a Kiwis-only summer season.

However, Australia has put international cruising on hold until at least June 17 and Ponant pulled out of New Zealand voyages after crew were refused visas; the line is now looking at sailing in Australian waters instead. P&O Cruises Australia has suspended cruising until the end of July.

Joel Katz, the managing director of Australasia for the Cruise Lines International Association, said it had urged Australian and New Zealand governments “to replace their current cruise suspensions with an approval process that will allow cruise lines to progress along a pathway to resumption.”

French Polynesia

Both Paul Gauguin Cruises and the dual-purpose passenger/cargo vessel Aranui 5 resumed sailings in 2020 and are continuing with voyages from Tahiti. Paul Gauguin, now part of the Ponant group, will return to Fiji on 13-night voyages in 2021. However, the region has temporarily “shut down” to non-essential travel for non-EU residents.

The wildlife in remote corners of Patagonia will soon be accessible once again by cruise ship - AUSTRALIA PHOTOGRAPHY
The wildlife in remote corners of Patagonia will soon be accessible once again by cruise ship - AUSTRALIA PHOTOGRAPHY

South America

Patagonia specialists Australis will return to service at the start of the season in September.


Royal Caribbean’s new ship Odyssey of the Seas will begin sailing from Haifa in May, though only for vaccinated Israelis.


With the season written off for 2020, cruisers are now looking to next winter, featuring the total eclipse of the sun on December 4. French line Ponant is one of the lines offering a special viewing on its new ship Le Commandant Charcot.


Operator G Adventures is planning sailings this year.

Singapore, China and Japan

These Asian countries have resumed cruising but so far the sailings have been for domestic customers only.

Please check the latest advice from the Department for Transport and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office before booking.

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