After a lost year, cruising is coming back. Most of the big lines were forced to write off the rest of 2020 after coronavirus struck but a brave few operators did dip their toe in the waters to resume some sailings – both at sea and on rivers.
This wasn’t much help to Britons, sadly, who were advised against ocean cruising by the Foreign Office, and faced closed borders and frequently changing quarantine restrictions when trying to travel abroad.
However, news of vaccines, and the implementation of strict health and safety measures on ships, means that 2021 is looking much brighter for large numbers to return to their favourite holidays afloat.
Some cruise lines are still only welcoming their domestic customers while others are cautious about the dates and details of their restart plans.
But, with hopes rising of a return to more normal service by the summer, where in the world will we soon be able to cruise?
In 2020, British cruisers prevented from travelling abroad only had the choice of a few Scottish boats and a handful of river vessels to choose from. Now the nation’s favourite lines – such as P&O Cruises, Saga and Fred Olsen – are confidently preparing to come back with a bang.
P&O is getting ready to welcome new ship Iona and Saga will christen Spirit of Adventure, while Fred is eager to show off its new arrivals, Borealis and Bolette, two former Holland America Line ships. Cunard will be back from May and MSC Cruises is looking forward to basing MSC Magnifica at a new fifth terminal in Southampton.
Sadly, popular Cruise & Maritime Voyages was a casualty of coronavirus but there is an exciting new line starting up, Tradewind Voyages, which will operate the world’s biggest square rigger, Golden Horizon, from Harwich and Glasgow in its inaugural UK season starting in May. It is one of many lines, including Hurtigruten, Viking and Princess, that will be offering round-Britain cruises in 2021. Royal Caribbean ship Odyssey of the Seas will also debut in Southampton in April. Ahead of official sailings, Britons might get the chance to take part in ‘test runs’ to check cruise lines’ Covid-19 measures.
The big names – Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Norwegain Cruise Line – are suspended up to the start of March 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. One of the lines keenest to welcome paying passengers will be Virgin Voyages, which was due to begin sailing from Miami on its first ship Scarlet Lady in March 2020. With few exceptions, Britons are still generally barred from flying to the US and, even if exempt, have to self-isolate for up to 14 days on arrival, as well as when they return to the UK.
In 2020, Germany saw the first river cruise in June and Norway the first ocean-going voyage shortly afterwards. After that, Ponant sailed from France and various lines from Germany – though they were for the domestic markets only. MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises ramped it up in Italy by using bigger ships, although Britons were still barred. Both lines were forced to cancel Christmas and New Year sailings but will be back in January.
In Greece, local line Celestyal Cruises will return in March with a new ship, Celestyal Experience. The only part of Spain that saw any cruising after lockdown was the Canary Islands, which offered winter sunshine sailings for German lines TUI (Mein Schiff), Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Aida.
French company CroisiEurope is offering sailings from February on its two ocean ships. La Belle Des Océans will sail in the Canary Islands and Belle de l’Adriatique will cruise to Cyprus and the Holy Land.
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.
Australia and New Zealand
Coral Expeditions led the way for Australians to sail again with voyages to the Great Barrier Reef in October and is gearing up for a Kimberley season from March. In New Zealand, Heritage Expeditions laid on cruises for a Kiwis-only summer season and there is hope for a cruising ‘bubble’ between the two countries.
However, Australia has put international cruising on hold until at least March 17, 2021.
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.”
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.
Patagonia specialists Australis will return to service at the start of the season in September.
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.
Operators such as G Adventures and Nature Trek are planning cruises in early 2021.
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.