The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the cruise industry, with an estimated 2,500 job losses being registered daily around the world as of June 2020.
The sector hoped for a slow recovery in the first months of 2021 but new variants and government travel bans hindered that dream. Canada, for example, banned its 2021 cruise season in February, impacting both Canadian and US cruise liners and ports.
The Canadian Government’s decision prompted a strong reaction from Alaskan politicians who – in a letter addressed to PM Justin Trudeau – lamented the decision stating it “was made without any forewarning to or consultation with Alaska, your neighbour and partner.”
While in some parts of the world cruises are at a halt, others will see a return of the cruising season. Big players have announced the relaunch of their season, focusing specifically on destinations in the Mediterranean Sea.
Norwegian Cruise Line: first the Mediterranean, then the US
Norwegian Cruise Line announced at the end of April it was restarting operations in Europe from the ports of Barcelona and Rome, from early to mid-September until the end of October 2021.
The company chose the western Mediterranean and the Greek islands as its main destinations. To guarantee safety, the company has implemented a series of Covid-19 protocols it calls the Sail Safe Global Health and Safety Program, which include mandatory vaccinations and testing.
“We are actively working with our local partners and government officials, as we plan for resumption of voyages in the region with Norwegian Epic and Getaway joining Norwegian Jade this summer,” said Norwegian Cruise Line CEO and president Harry Sommer.
The company used the last year to carry out renovations aboard its vessels, specifically the Norwegian Epic, which saw the upgrade of 75 suites and the redesign of communal spaces including the restaurant, courtyard pool and sundeck.
“Although we have been unable to connect with our guests at sea, we have used the last year to prepare for their return by investing in our fleet and our onboard offerings,” added Sommer. “Norwegian Epic’s redesign is a testament to our unwavering commitment to extraordinary quality and elevating the standard of excellence across our fleet.”
Norwegian Epic and Gateway are two of the five vessels that Norwegian Cruise Line will redeploy starting from the end of July. Three other vessels will depart from the US towards Alaska, the Caribbean islands and Mexico.
“We are very excited to sail in the US again, and to sail first with our latest beautiful ship Norwegian Encore,” Sommer explained. “We’re able to reintroduce her to our guests and invite them to experience her world-class offerings, as she makes her debut in Seattle and Alaska.”
MSC: cruising in Spain, cruising in the UK
MSC Grandiosa was the first cruise ship to set sail from the port of Barcelona in more than a year.
The vessel left the port on the last weekend of June, taking passengers from EU and Schengen countries towards Italy and Malta. Passengers have to adhere to several health and safety standards, taking tests after disembarkation.
“Barcelona is an integral part of our year-round itineraries in the Mediterranean and to see it reopen for our guests from Spain and other countries in Europe is extremely gratifying,” said MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato. “As the first cruise line to offer international cruises from Spain we are sure that our Spanish guests will enjoy the convenience of embarkation in Barcelona on Saturdays and enjoy the popular itinerary that MSC Grandiosa offers in the Mediterranean.”
The Mediterranean is not the only place where MSC is restarting its operation. In May, the company announced the opening of the UK cruising season, travelling towards the British Isles, initially with mini cruises and then with full-week cruises.
“We are proud to be the first cruise line to set sail from UK waters this summer and offer holidaymakers the chance to experience all of the new and incredible features on board our latest and most innovative ship,” commented MSC UK managing director Antonio Paradiso.
Other itineraries will include the Baltic Sea, the east and west Mediterranean – including Tunisia – and, starting from November 2021, the Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean: extending Singapore, reopening Hong Kong
In addition to the reopening of several routes – including Europe and the Mediterranean, the US and the Caribbean – Royal Caribbean is focusing on Singapore and Hong Kong.
The company is extending the Singapore season until 2022, the third time this has happened since the company restarted operations in December 2020.
“Despite the constantly evolving circumstances, Royal Caribbean remains consistent in delivering a wonderful holiday experience,” explained Royal Caribbean Asia-Pacific managing director Angie Stephen.
“The health and safety of our guests remain our utmost priority, and we are continuing to be nimble as we follow the science and work closely with the Singapore Government and health authorities to evaluate, update and adhere to prevailing measures.”
Measures include pre-departure PCR tests, as well as contactless embarkation and disembarkation processes, enhanced sanitisation and operating at half capacity.
Royal Caribbean will resume Hong Kong operations from early October but only for fully vaccinated Hong Kong residents.
“Cruising is a popular holiday vacation choice for Hong Kong residents, and we at Royal Caribbean are delighted to welcome the government’s plan to reopen the world-class Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and offer an exciting and safe option for the people of Hong Kong on Spectrum ,” says Royal Caribbean Hong Kong managing director Crystal Campbell.
“The demand for travel from travellers is expected to be very strong, and we are very excited to have cruise holidays back for both trade and tourists given the current travel restrictions, which will definitely be a truly fun-filled and safe holiday experience while the cruise industry is resuming soon,” adds Hong Kong’s Travel Industry Council chairman Jason Wong.