The first wave of cruising is coming back - but can the £130billion industry weather the storm?

You could be forgiven for thinking that the cruise industry was floundering after the Coronavirus pandemic swept the world.

cruise holiday

First, there was the high-profile case of Diamond Princess in Japan, followed by other ships which were banned from docking because of Covid-19 cases on board. One by one, every cruise line announced it was cancelling future voyages, initially for a few weeks and then for months. Even now, most of the big ships won’t sail until at least October.

However, the good news for keen cruisers is that the £130billion industry is beginning to come back, albeit in a small initial wave, in Europe. 

Norwegian line Hurtigruten, which has begun coastal and expedition voyages, has announced round-Britain cruises in September. It has been joined off the Norwegian coast by the two ships of luxury operator SeaDream.

French company Ponant has embarked on five itineraries from its home country, as well as voyages around Iceland and to the Arctic.

In Germany, Aida, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and TUI are starting up again in the next few weeks - initially for the domestic market - and ocean cruising is also beginning to return in places such as Greece, Croatia, Taiwan and French Polynesia.

River cruises are already under way in France, Germany, Portugal, Austria and Italy and small boats are gearing up to start sailing in Scotland.

The FCDO updated its guidance on 16 July to confirm river cruises aren't covered by the blanket advice against cruise ship travel. The guidelines now make clear that cruise ship travel is defined as international and “staying overnight for at least one night on a sea-going cruise ship with people from multiple households”.

It also doesn't cover ferries an privately hired boats. 

In the US, the centre of the world’s cruise industry, the biggest ships remain laid up while the major lines - Royal Caribbean Group, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings and Carnival Corporation - work with health experts and regulators to ensure a safe return to operations.

However, small companies such as Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, American Cruise Lines, American Queen Steamboat Company and UnCruise all hope to restart in August. 

Future of cruises

In Europe, the EU has set out a 49-page guide on the resumption of cruising.

Looking at all the cruise line statements, and announcements from regulatory bodies, a pattern of new protocols has emerged, including:

  1. Social distancing on board and on shore excursions. Face masks may be required when passengers are grouped together
  2. Even higher standards of hygiene, cleaning and ventilation 
  3. Fewer passengers overall and limits on the numbers allowed in pools, theatres and restaurants
  4. The end of the help-yourself buffet, with staff now serving guests at tables
  5. Initially, at least, shorter cruises with fewer ports

Despite all this, the pent-up demand in cruising is fuelling high sales for itineraries next year and beyond and there’s plenty to be excited about with new ships on the horizon - such as a rollercoaster on Carnival Mardi Gras in 2021.

In Britain, 2million people normally cruise every year. On 9 July, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advised against cruise ship travel ‘at this time’ but the industry is lobbying to have this changed as soon as possible.

Coronavirus has changed the way we live and it will change the way we cruise. But, with a fair wind, the industry that millions of people love will weather the storm and come back even stronger, safer, cleaner and healthier than before. 

All information correct at time of publication. Subject to change

Dave Monk, a journalist for 40 years, has been writing about cruising since 2005 and left his role as deputy editor of Metro in 2016 to make it his full-time job. He regularly contributes to publications such as the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror and World of Cruising, as well as his own award-winning blog.You’ll also find him as @shipmonk on Twitter and Instagram and as Shipmonk on Facebook.