First International Cruise Ships Return to China Homeport After Four Years

Chinese cruise ship homeport
MSC Bellissima arriving in Shanghai marking the return of international cruise ships homeporting in China (MSC)

Published Mar 19, 2024 7:34 PM by The Maritime Executive


Efforts to restore the Chinese cruise market are continuing to move forward with the country reopening its mainland ports for the first time since the pandemic for homeporting of international cruise ships. China’s cruise market was slower to recover from the pandemic becoming the last major market to take its first steps back into the industry in mid-2023 and now expanding its homeporting.

China-flagged cruise ships were permitted to resume overnight cruises to international destinations in 2023 more than three years after the pandemic. The domestic industry was given a head start first with smaller ships and then later in 2023 and at the beginning of the year Adora Cruises, started by CSSC, launched operations with cruises first from Tianjin and then as of January 1, 2024, its news Chinese-built flagship Adora Magic City launched from Shanghai.

Switzerland-based MSC Cruises reopened international homeporting with the arrival of the MSC Bellissima in Shanghai and her departure on her first China cruise yesterday, March 18. It also marked the maiden arrival of the cruise ship in China, although MSC was one of the cruise lines in the market before the pandemic.

At 171,598 gross tons, the MSC Bellissima is also one of the largest and newest cruise ships in the world. She was introduced in 2019 and now will homeport in Shanghai, Keelung, and Shenzhen throughout the summer of 2024. The cruise ship has accommodations for 5,600 passengers and is scheduled after this first season to return to Shanghai in January 2025. 

To celebrate the milestone, the cruise line invited government officials, travel agents, media, and partners on board to experience its Asian flagship. Guests also enjoyed a drone show and entertainment around the ship to help celebrate MSC Bellissima’s arrival in Shanghai.

MSC Bellissima’s maiden call in Shanghai reaffirms our commitment to a market that continues to play an important strategic role for us,” said CEO of MSC Cruises Gianni Onorato. “We are fulfilling our commitment to bring to the region a modern Asian flagship and we are dedicated to further invest in China and benefit the local economy. We want to push high-quality development of the cruise industry in the region, promote the cultural tourism industry and related home port markets.”

 The cruise line also used the event to announce its Winter 2024-25 deployment in China which will see MSC Splendida (137,936 gross tons) operating from Shenzhen and Xiamen between December 2024 and April 2025. MSC will be the first international cruise line to homeport two ships in China, operating from four major ports.

Following in just a few weeks, Royal Caribbean International is also set to reposition its first cruise ship back into China homeporting in Shanghai. The Spectrum of the Seas (168,666 gross tons), which was outfitted before the pandemic specifically for the Chinese market, will be the line's first ship to return to the mainland for cruises. She is scheduled to continue to sail from China through at least April 2026. In addition, her sister ship Ovation of the Seas will reposition to Tianjin making it her homeport from May to October 2025.

Before reopening to international homeporting, China resumed permitting international cruise ships to make port calls in China. On March 10 and 11 Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam (82,820 gross tons), visited the port city of Dalian in northeast China and Tianjin. The Zuiderdam was the first international cruise ship that docked in northeast China since the country announced the full resumption of international cruise ship transport to and from its ports in September 2023. Hong Kong had been permitted to begin accepting international cruise ship calls at the beginning of 2023.

Before the pandemic, China was one of the fastest-growing source markets for the cruise industry both with trips from the mainland and passengers joining cruises in varying destinations. The cruise lines while anxious to reopen the market are taking a cautious approach as they look to rebuild the market.