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A year ago today, the cruise industry began shutting down in the face of Covid-19 – and even now has barely reopened. The last 12 months have been devastating for the passengers, whether hardened sailors or part of the new-to-cruise cohort, as well as for crew. And the pain trickles down: tourist attractions and businesses have missed out on the buzz – and spend – of shore excursions, and cruise lines have been forced to dig deep to survive, with popular British line Cruise & Maritime Voyages among those falling victim to the extended suspension of sailing.
Despite the turbulent period, there is much hope on the horizon. Lines across the world have reported high levels of booking, buoyed by the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines. And just this week the return of domestic cruising in British water was given a massive boost.
Here we recall an unprecedented year – and look to the future.
On March 11, with coronavirus declared a world pandemic, Viking becomes the first cruise line to cancel sailings – until May 1. The following day, Princess suspends operations for 60 days and Boris Johnson warns older Britons and those with health conditions against ocean cruises. The decisions came after the events on board Diamond Princess during the previous month. Industry body CLIA announces on March 13 – as Britain goes into its first lockdown – that member lines are suspending US sailings for 30 days. The next day America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) imposes a no-sail order.
A dream cruise turned to nightmare off the coast of Japan...
Credit: CARL COURT/GETTY
...before British passengers were repatriated and put into quarantine
Credit: CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/GETTY
“Will we ever take cruise holidays again?”, BBC News asks on April 9, as the CDC extends the US no-sail order by 100 days. David and Carolyn Reece from Plymouth speak for many when they tell the BBC that coronavirus is “not going to put us off at all”. Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) flagship Columbus arrives in Tilbury after a month-long voyage from Thailand. On April 20, MSC Magnifica – dubbed “the last cruise ship on Earth” – docks in France. However, there are still eight passengers at sea on the German ship Artania – and they don’t return until June.
Attention switches to the crew who can’t get home. The Telegraph reports on the story of a British woman who’s been stuck on the world’s biggest ship for six weeks. Regal Princess arrives in Southampton with 70 British mariners, while in Miami crew are finally allowed to disembark.
Charlotte Midgley worked in the kids' clubs on board Symphony of the Seas – where she was stuck once the pandemic was declared
A month of renewed hope begins with the first river ship, NickoVision, restarting in Germany, followed a couple of weeks later with ocean cruises resuming in Norway run by Hurtigruten and SeaDream. CLIA suspends US cruises until September 15.
As Ponant restarts in France, the UK Foreign Office expands its warnings against cruise travel by older people to become a blanket ban, though it modifies this a few days later to allow river cruising. Air travel corridors begin to open up. Fred Olsen buys two former Holland America ships but Essex-based CMV goes into administration. In the US, the CDC extends the no-sail order until September 30. Small line Variety Cruises restarts in Greece, Tui starts “voyages to nowhere” in Germany and Dream Cruises begins sailing from Taiwan.
UnCruise restarts in Alaska but has to abandon the season after a passenger tests positive for Covid-19; this is later confirmed to be a false positive. A coronavirus outbreak on Hurtigruten ship Roald Amundsen affects 16 passengers and 37 crew, forcing it to cancel planned cruises in September from Dover. CLIA extends the suspension of US cruises until October 31. In Italy, MSC Grandiosa becomes the biggest ship to restart sailing on August 16.
Hurtigruten's MS Roald Amundsen saw the biggest Covid-19 new outbreak on a cruise ship since the pandemic was declared
Credit: RUNE STOLTZ BERTINUSSEN/GETTY
After a couple of cruises, The Majestic Line in Scotland decides to introduce face masks on board, although a couple who were on its boat Glen Shiel say they felt safer at sea than going to a supermarket. Costa Cruises introduces two ships in the Med. On September 30, the CDC extends the US no-sail order for a further month.
New P&O Cruises flagship Iona is handed over in Germany and Saga’s Spirit of Adventure arrives fresh from the shipyard in Tilbury. In Australia, Coral Expeditions resumes sailings to the Great Barrier Reef. A SeaDream ship collects 19 passengers in Portsmouth to sail to Barbados. In probably the most bizarre story of the year, 60 Swiss riverboat passengers test positive after yodelling on a music cruise. On October 30, the CDC replaces its no-sail order with plans for a phased return of cruising.
SeaDream calls off its Caribbean cruise after seven passengers and two crew test positive. Royal Caribbean announces that 100,000 volunteers have signed up for test cruises, as CLIA suspends US sailings for the rest of the year. World Dream begins cruises from Singapore and Spirit of Enderby becomes the first ship to sail in New Zealand.
Well, that dream ended abruptly. Someone on board @SeaDreamYC has tested positive and we’re steaming back to Barbados, confined to our cabins. Crew being amazing. We’re all hoping this is a false positive and will all be tested again today.— Sue Bryant (@sjbryant) November 11, 2020
Royal Caribbean returns to cruising when Quantum of the Seas sails from Singapore – though it's not without incident. MSC Cruises and Costa cancel Christmas and New Year sailings but, in a festive note, the Sailors Society in Britain delivers presents to crew spending the holidays on “ghost” ships along the south coast. Carnival Cruise Line takes delivery of new megaship Mardi Gras in Finland after Santa Claus gives its roller coaster a spin.
As a new year dawns, the first steel is cut for Mardi Gras’ sister, Carnival Celebration, while – at the other end of the cruise lifeline – CMV ship Marco Polo, built in 1965, becomes scrap metal in India. In a sign of high demand for cruises, Oceania unveils a 180-day world voyage for 2023 that sells out in a day. Royal Caribbean Group agrees to sell Azamara, whose new owners decide to add a fourth ship, Pacific Princess. In Italy, MSC Grandiosa begins sailing again on January 24 but Ponant is stopped from entering New Zealand waters.
Marco Polo has ended up on the scrap heap in India (ships pictured here at a Turkish shipyard)
Credit: CHRIS MCGRATH/GETTY
MSC Virtuosa is handed over in France and the first steel is cut for P&O Cruises ship Arvia in Germany. The Alaska cruise season is all but cancelled after Canada bans big ships from its ports until next February. Royal Caribbean extends Quantum’s season in Singapore until June.
Domestic cruising in English waters gets the green light for May 17. P&O Cruises and Princess announce ex-UK sailings, though they won’t be calling into Guernsey, which bans cruise ships until 2022. With still no sign of US ocean cruising beginning soon, fingers remain crossed that American river ships will start sailing this month.
What does the future hold?
Cruise writer Dave Monk says:
Cruising isn’t out of the storm yet, but there are brighter times ahead, starting with river cruises returning to the US and Europe for local markets. I don’t see significant ocean cruising between countries coming back before summer but loyal travellers are so keen to get back on board I think they’ll be happy with domestic itineraries to begin with. Bucket-list expedition and world cruises will really take off next year, as bookings already indicate.
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