Holidays at sea are slowly returning – how are the major cruise lines faring?

Dave Monk
·4 min read
Across the world many cruise lines have safety started to carry passengers - RALF HETTLER
Across the world many cruise lines have safety started to carry passengers - RALF HETTLER

While travellers in Britain and the US wait for the cruise industry to sail again, many lines have restarted in other parts of the world and are already safely carrying thousands of passengers.

After small beginnings involving a few operators, mainstream players such as MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises are now back in the game with a host of measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, including testing passengers as they wait to board and only allowing guests ashore on official excursions.

MSC Grandiosa, which re-entered service in Genoa on August 16, is now on its eighth voyage carrying half its normal capacity of 4,800 passengers - currently only from Schengen area countries, which excludes the UK and Ireland.

Antonio Paradiso, the UK and Ireland managing director for MSC Cruises, said: “Our passengers have shared both how much they enjoyed their cruise and also how safe they felt due to the robust health and safety measures that are in place, with some guests stating they feel safer on board than in some environments ashore.

“We hope that our safe return to sailing in the Mediterranean for guests from Schengen countries shows that, with strict and robust health and safety protocols, a return to cruising is possible around the world.”

Another line sailing from Italy is Costa Cruises, which restarted on September 6 with Costa Deliziosa sailing out of Trieste, followed by Costa Diadema from Genoa on September 19, both only with Italian guests. 

Italy has seen two major operators – Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises (pictured) – return to service
Italy has seen two major operators – Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises (pictured) – return to service

Next up will be Costa Smeralda from Savona on October 10, then Costa Firenze on December 27. Cruises sailing after September 27 are open to travellers from other countries specified by the Italian government, including Britain and Ireland. 

Cruising is still on hold in the US until at least October 31, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended its ’no-sail’ ban by a month. In the UK, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is still advising against taking a holiday by sea.

The likelihood of cruising resuming around British shores this year is now receding, with P&O Cruises, Saga and Fred. Olsen all pushing back to 2021. Only a few small operators, such as The Majestic Line in Scotland, have returned to the water.

Other countries haven’t been so cautious. In Taiwan, the Dream Cruises ship Explorer Dream has completed 26 sailings since July 26, carrying more than 25,000 guests without incident. Only Taiwanese residents can sail.

SeaDream Yacht Club was the first luxury operator in the world to resume sailing, with one of its 112-passenger ships beginning Norwegian cruises on June 20, followed by its sister vessel a week later. It is also leading the way in the Caribbean, with cruises beginning on November 7 following a transatlantic voyage from Portsmouth. 

Jos Dewing, of SeaDream UK, said: “The demand has been extraordinary - our Norway voyages sold out and now Barbados is seeing similar demand, backed up by recent UK cruise surveys showing a large desire to return to the seas, safely, as soon as possible.”

Mein Schiff 6, operated by the Tui Group, is sailing German passengers
Mein Schiff 6, operated by the Tui Group, is sailing German passengers

Germany has seen cruises return for the local market. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises ship Hanseatic Inspiration is on its 11th voyage, having restarted on July 31 in Hamburg. It was joined on August 2 by Europa 2, now on its eighth sailing.

For the Tui Group, Mein Schiff 2 began sailing from Hamburg on July 24 with 1,200 passengers and was joined by Mein Schiff 1 from Kiel a week later. Mein Schiff 6 went farther afield and began sailing from Crete on September 13. The small Variety Cruises ship Galileo has also been sailing in Greek waters since July 24.

In France, Ponant had probably the quietest of the international launches when it restarted on July 11 with five coastal itineraries. Since then, it has sailed more than 50 cruises carrying 3,000 passengers around France, Iceland and the Arctic. The CroisiEurope ship Belle des Oceans has sailed 10 times so far, all around Corsica.

The Paul Gauguin ship is on its eighth voyage in French Polynesia, operating alongside the passenger/cargo vessel Aranui 5. 

The one major case of coronavirus on a cruise ship so far was on Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen. The Norwegian company, which was the first in the world to restart cruising on June 16, scaled back its operations following the outbreak that affected 21 passengers and 41 crew.

Cruise fans now wait to see if the overwhelmingly safe return to cruising in Europe and other parts of the world will persuade US and British authorities that it is, once again, time to go to sea.