Cruise Lines Moving Forward with Summer UK Cruise Schedules
The cruise industry is moving forward aggressively with its plans for a resumption of UK cruises after the government’s recent announcement that it was targeting mid-May to reduce COVID-19 related restrictions including the resumption of domestic travel. The cruise lines hailed the government’s decision which led to four cruise lines releasing cruise schedules with others expected to follow.
A week ago, the UK’s Minister for Aviation and Maritime, Robert Courts, said that the cruise industry would be included as part of the resumption of domestic tourism and indoor hospitality. The minister said the earliest date for the resumption would be May 17. The government’s Global Travel Taskforce is expected to provide further details and guidance on the policies in mid-April.
The cruise lines, however, have decided to proceed with the announcement of their programs with some beginning to accept reservations or register interest from travelers. It is expected that the cruises will be limited to UK residents and the ships will not be permitted to call at any international, or even possibly domestic, ports. Health and safety protocols will remain in place but it is uncertain if the government will require a vaccine mandate. With the UK’s current pace for its inoculation programs it however is likely that people will have had the opportunity to receive a vaccination before the cruises begin.
The reopening of the UK cruise market even on a limited basis represents a milestone for the industry. In 2019, the UK was the third largest source market for passengers with nearly two million people taking a cruise according to the industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association. The average age of the UK passengers was 57 years and while they traditionally took longer cruises averaging 10 days, the cruise lines believe the opportunity even for short at sea escapes will appeal this summer.
“Given recent announcements, we have every hope that our guests will be able to enjoy a holiday this summer,” said P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow. “Whilst there is still uncertainty about holidays abroad this summer, we are delighted to be able to offer our guests the ultimate escape here in the UK.”
The UK’s largest cruise line, Carnival Corporation’s P&O Cruises plans to have two of its large cruise ships sailing for the summer season offering a combination of short and longer holidays. The 143,730 gross ton Britannia is expected to start sailing on June 27, offering a series of three- and four-night trips sailing until mid-September. The trips will sail from Southampton with coastal cruising along the south coast of England.
P&O also plans to offer longer cruises aboard its new ship the 180,000 gross ton Iona, which was delivered from Meyer Werft in 2020 and is yet to commence operations. A seven-night maiden voyage is scheduled to sail on August 7 from Southampton with coastal cruising to Scotland including the Inner Hebrides and the island of Iona, where the ship will be christened while anchored offshore. She is then scheduled to offer weekly cruises with coastal cruising past the Channel Islands and along the coast of France.
The Norwegian company Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines that markets to the UK also plans to resume sailing in July and August with three of its cruise ships for a program of 11 cruises from Dover and Liverpool with scenic cruising of the British Isles, including the Shetland and Orkney islands and the Isles of Scilly. The company plans to introduce its two new cruise ships, the Borealis and Bolette, both of which were acquired from Holland America Line as part of Carnival Corporation’s effort to expedite the sale of older ships in 2020.
Viking has also announced three special sailings along the coast of England available exclusively for UK residents. The line plans to introduce its newest ship, the Viking Venus, which is due to be delivered from Fincantieri in April. Viking plans a naming ceremony on May 17 in the UK followed by three eight-day cruises from Portsmouth starting May 22.
Even the venerated Cunard Line, best known for its long cruises and transatlantic crossings will offer a series of UK voyages on its Queen Elizabeth. Sailings will be from Cunard's home port of Southampton and will be in UK coastal waters.
Several of the US-based cruise lines are also reportedly exploring UK-based cruises this summer. So far, only Princess Cruises had said that it plans to offer late summer cruises aboard two of its large ships for UK passengers.
The cruise lines are each promoting their health and safety protocols, although each plans slightly different policies depending on the government’s guidance in April. Viking, which operates smaller ships, has installed a full-scale laboratory on every Viking ocean ship, and all guests and crew will receive daily quick and non-invasive saliva PCR tests. P&O announced that all the sailings on Britannia and Iona will be for UK resident COVID-19 vaccinated guests only. Crew will also undergo a strict testing and quarantine regime as well as regular testing during their time on board. Other enhanced sanitation measures, including appropriate social distancing and the wearing of masks in certain areas of the ships, are expected to be enforced by all of the cruise lines.