More Cruise Lines Join UK Summer Restart
The cruise industry continues to announce summer programs designed to take advantage of the UK’s plans to incrementally reduce travel restrictions related to COVID-19. So far, 10 cruise lines have detailed their plans to offer the summer programs for UK residents, including today’s announcement that the Royal Caribbean Group’s Celebrity Cruises would join the other British and international cruise lines operating “staycation” cruises limited to the UK.
The restoration of the British market is seen as a critical step for the cruise industry as it seeks to rebuild global operations. Before the pandemic, the UK was among the largest source markets for cruise passengers. According to the industry trade group Cruises Lines International Association, in 2019, approximately two million travelers from the UK and Ireland took a cruise making it the third-largest source market just behind the US, Germany, and nearly tied with China.
The cruise industry faces several unknowns, however, in moving forward aggressively with the UK programs. The British Foreign Office is yet to cancel its warning against cruise travel despite calls from the industry to remove the warning to coincide with the government’s efforts to restore the domestic travel industry. UK passengers historically were also older than the average cruise passenger and took longer voyages enjoying the touring aspect of cruises.
While the final parameters of the UK restrictions are still evolving, the government last month said that it would as early as May 17 remove the restrictions for UK residents to travel domestically, including on cruise ships. However, international travelers and trips outside the UK remain under the COVID travel restrictions. It is unclear what level of social distancing or masking will be required, or if passengers will be able to go ashore independently or will have limited travel. The government also has not announced an official policy on vaccine or testing requirements.
The latest cruise line to announce it would be positioning a ship in the UK market is Celebrity Cruises, which like all of the other Royal Caribbean Group ships planning to enter service this summer will require all adult passengers to have been vaccinated and those under 18 years of age to have a negative PCR test. Other international cruise lines, including MSC Cruises and now Disney Cruise Line, that plan to enter the UK market are requiring negative testing but not mandatory vaccinations before the cruise.
Celebrity plans to have one of its ships, the Celebrity Silhouette, cruising from Southampton starting July 3. The line will be offering six- to eight-night itineraries around Britain’s coastline. There will be limited port calls at Portland as well as Scottish cities of Kirkwall and Glasgow, and Belfast in Northern Ireland.
MSC also provided details of its cruise program that is set to launch May 20 with short cruises from Southampton aboard its newest cruise ship the MSC Virtuosa that was delivered by Chantiers de l’Atlantique in February 2021. Initially, MSC will be offered sea cruises and ones with a stop at Portland, but starting in mid-June plans to expand to 7-night cruises with embarkation at one of three ports and ports of call at Portland as well as Liverpool, Belfast, and Greenock in Scotland. MSC says it will offer “protected shore excursions,” on these cruises.
Disney Cruise Line also plans to return its first cruise ship to service with the Disney Magic sailing round-trip cruises from Tilbury, Newcastle, Liverpool, and Southampton. The cruises will range between two, three, and four-nights without ports of call. Disney notes that the final details are pending guidelines and authorizations from the UK government.
Cunard is planning ten British Isles voyages and three sun voyages, lasting between three and twelve nights aboard the Queen Elizabeth. Some of the cruises will be at sea while four of the cruises will make port calls, including Liverpool, Greenock, Invergordon, Belfast, Newcastle, and Holyhead in Wales.
These newly announced programs join P&O, Princess Cruises, Fred. Olsen, Saga, and Viking that have all also announced cruises for the summer UK vacation season. P&O reported that they were receiving a high volume of requests when they began accepting reservations and that some of their systems have become briefly overloaded by the volume. The challenge for the industry with so many trips now planned will be to attract enough travelers to the vacations to demonstrate cruising’s ability to operate on a larger scale as it seeks to recover from a year-long pause in most operations.