As this issue of Business Travel News is published (Monday 5 April) the British cruise industry waits with bated breath to see what the Prime Minister has to say in terms of international holidays later on today, and the results of the deliberations of the Global Aviation Taskforce on Monday 12 April. Deep-sea cruising is currently banned but from Monday 17 May hospitality is allowed and so is cruising in domestic waters. (See in this week’s BTN MONDAY UPDATE BY THE PM)
River cruising in Europe is still at a standstill and only likely to restart where a single country is likely to be involved, Portugal and the Douro, the current favourite.
Andy Harmer, director, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), said: “We strongly welcome cruise being included alongside the restart of other domestic tourism in the UK. The industry has been working with the Government over the last year to develop protocols which prioritise the health and safety of passengers, crew and destinations.
"Proven success in Europe and Asia provides confidence in a phased-in resumption of cruising. More than 350,000 people have now sailed on cruises in Europe and elsewhere around the world since July 2020 on cruises with industry-leading protocols.
"The industry has long planned a phased restart for cruise, with UK domestic cruises representing the first stage of this plan. We continue to work collaboratively with the Government, in order to ensure the safe restart of international cruise in time for the summer season.”
There has been a rush of announcements from all the UK cruise lines, but it is an Italian operator MSC who has got in first with the maiden voyage of MSC Virtuosa from Southampton for a 3-night cruise. Unlike its rivals, MSC since August has been operating a series of cruises from Genoa and has carried over 50,000 passengers.
Douglas Ward is perhaps the world’s authority on cruising. Since its very beginning in 1985 his “Cruising and Cruise Ships” tome has emphasized health and safety on board. He joined the first MSC sailing cruise last September.
“For me it was a seven-day cruise aboard MSC Grandiosa and a PCR check within 72 hours of boarding. At the cruise terminal I had a full Covid-19 test and provided a completed health questionnaire. One hour+ later my negative result arrived, and I was allowed to proceed to the check-in area of what is a beautiful historic building and the home port of the Italian North Atlantic liners pre and post the Second World War.
“Everyone has a Covid-19 antigen test at the cruise terminal before they are allowed to embark. MSC publishes a list of ‘high risk’ countries and only those on the regularly updated register also need to have a PCR test within 72 hours of embarkation.
“All crew members have three tests: Before leaving home, prior to joining the ship, then quarantine for 14 days, before being tested again. If they are Covid-19 negative, they are allowed to board. There were 1,000 guests on this cruise but for subsequent trips the number allowed has been increased.”
Read Douglas Ward’s exclusive report on MSC Grandiosa in BTN 2 November 2020 ON TOUR: Cruising and Covid-19.
The Port of Tilbury
With the collapse of its major customer CMV, Tilbury is working hard to pick up new business. The five-ship CMV fleet did indicate that there was a market for its type of product and in the fullness of time one would expect a new start-up to literally “test the waters”. Sister port Edinburgh is expected to see a boom with visiting ships as the round-Britain itineraries start up. Tilbury tells BTN that it has a flurry of enquiries for staycation cruise operators, and is very flexible with itineraries at this time.
Owner Forth Ports has not stood still and last year completed a long-term parking facility in front of the terminal, which itself has had a facelift. Situated close by the M25 Tilbury is the nearest cruise port to the capital and within easy reach of all the London airports. Visitors on Disney Magic allowed ashore this summer can take a walk to the Tilbury Fort, avail themselves on a Thames Clipper to the centre of town, or “cruise” the ferry to historic Gravesend. SAGA has chosen Tilbury for the maiden voyage of Spirit of Adventure and another new customer is Silversea.
BTN offers here a short synopsis of what is likely to be available from May onwards but things can change. In this issue BTN reports certain countries are now on the ‘red list’. This may affect staff recruitment. Passengers and crew will need to be Covid-free and vaccinated twice.
For many people just to get away will be a holiday and with the 3-night cruises will see the trips as a chance to enjoy a floating hotel “all found”. Some will view Britain offshore for the first time, whilst with the 7-night trips there is the bonus of visiting unlikely locations such as the Scottish lochs, Isles of Scilly, Falmouth, Poole plus Liverpool and Belfast.
With the pandemic in mind none of the itineraries are firm and are dependent on local restrictions.
18 May: Hebridean Island Cruises kicks off the summer season for cruise lines with an 8-night trip around the Scottish Western Isles from Oban including Skye and Lewis. The tiny Hebridean Princess, normally 50 passengers, has twice hosted The Queen for post-Britannia trips.
20 May: MSC Virtuosa will start the season off with a fanfare from Southampton and a 4-night cruise via Portland. Since August MSC has been operating a series of cruises from Genoa and has post-Covid carried over 50,000 passengers. In days gone by Sophia Loren always named the ships but she is 86 now and perhaps a trip to Southampton Airport, which she has done in the past, is a little too much for her.
22 May: The brand-new Viking Venus departs Portsmouth for a 7-night trip which includes Liverpool, the Scilly Isles, Falmouth and Portland. A whole series of cruises follow with Tilbury as a home port for the summer. www.vikingcruises.co.uk
3 June: Long-established small ship operator Noble Caledonia opens up its season from Plymouth, sadly little used as a cruise port, with Hebridean Sky on its way to Oban, 8-night trip via Alderney, Guernsey, Isles of Scilly, Lundy Island, Isle of Man and Hebrides. The purpose-built ‘Sky’ has a maximum of 112 passengers and is best described as “intimate” with on board specialist lecturers for what will be a memorable trip.
3 June: Also the first trip for Noble Caledonia’s Serenissima, with 95 passengers slightly smaller than its two sister ships, across the top of Scotland from Aberdeen to Oban taking 12 nights. Whether the Queen Mother’s Castle of Mey is open remains to be seen but weather permitting the ship’s Zodiacs will be able to land on remote beaches and cruise close to shorelines and cliffs crowded with birdlife.
4 June: Noble Caledonia’s 12-night cruise from Portsmouth with Island Sky, its joint flagship, taking in Guernsey, Herm, Tresco, Garnish Island, Bantry, Skellig Islands, Valentia Island, Tory Island, Staffa, Iona, Lunga, Canna, Loch Scavaig, St Kilda, Stac Lee, Isle of Lewis, Lerwick, Fair Isle and finishing up at Aberdeen.
10 June: Silversea’s Silver Spirit (608 guests) back into service from Tilbury with an 11-night cruise from Southampton to Copenhagen. The trip takes in the wonderful Norwegian fiords including Flam and also visits Oslo. Just four days later (14 June) Silver Cloud (254 guests), one of the lines first offerings and now called an Expedition Ship, departs London for Tromso via a whole series of small ports and anchorages including Lindisfarne Lerwick and Narwick.
27 June: SAGA’s Spirit of Discovery returns into service from Tilbury with a 6-night trip up the east coast to Lerwick. Invergordon is on the itinerary. Named by the Duchess of Cornwall in July 2019 the ship was a subject of a BTN review 3 August 2020 www.btnews.co.uk/article/16433
27 June: P&O with Britannia departing Southampton the first of 3- and 4-night cruises through to September. The brand-new Iona leaves the port on 7 August bound for the Scottish islands after which she is named with the promise of a special party into the sunset.
5 July: Fred Olsen’s Borealis takes a 3-night maiden voyage from Liverpool. Borealis, the former Holland America Rotterdam is a quantum leap forward for the Ipswich-based cruise line that is taking a cautious programme of ship reintroductions, the popular Balmoral starting from Royseth (Edinburgh) 10 August with an overnight to Newcastle and Bolette (Amsterdam) out of Dover 16 August.
7 July: Royal Caribbean International will bring Anthem of the Seas to Southampton offering UK families a choice of 4-night Ocean Getaways in early July and 5- to 8-night British Isles cruises, starting 15 July featuring visits to Liverpool, Kirkwall and Belfast. In recognition of the tremendous efforts over the last year of the emergency services – National Health Service (NHS), social care sector and armed forces – Royal Caribbean will offer 999 free staterooms on its first Ocean Getaways to those UK residents in these professions.
26 July: Marking the maiden voyage of the brand-new SAGA Spirit of Adventure, again from Tilbury, for 15 nights completely around the UK as far as St Kilda and taking in Newcastle, Edinburgh and Belfast. Who names the ship remains to be seen.
31 July: Regal Princess leaves Southampton for a 3-night cruise.
6 August: No news yet on Britain’s flagship Queen Mary but its smaller sister Queen Elizabeth departs Southampton on what will be a no-port mystery cruise, with 24/7 entertainment and food, plus plenty of deck space to sit outside. Who is on board to keep you entertained is also a secret at this time but if past voyages are anything to go by if you want to be kept busy the QE crew will keep you occupied.
Norwegian Cruise Lines: Always a popular summer user of Southampton NCL is clearly using a ‘wait and see’ policy.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)