by Harry Pope
This is more of an insiders background to the current cruise market. The first section concerns Italian residents with a desire to go cruising. The MSC Grandiosa will be resuming its weekly sailings on January 24th, leaving every Sunday from its home port of Genoa. The ports of call will be Civitavecchia, Naples, Palermo as well as Valletta in Malta. Since last summer this ship has had over 30,000 passengers on board, mainly incident free.
The rules have been made quite clear to all travellers. You can only get off the ship if you are part of a tour group. Independent sight-seeing is simply not allowed, you are part of a bubble, so don’t go ashore unless you adhere. This family didn’t, so when they returned they were barred entry. Their luggage was fetched, dumped on the quayside, and bye-bye, the ship’s off without you. On one cruise the ship was due in Valletta, but there was one positive test result. Ship didn’t dock, and then the result was wrong, it should have been negative. They are being really careful.
Cruise and Maritime Voyages, CMV, went bust a little while ago, and their flagship, if it can be called that, the Marco Polo, was sold to an Indian company for $2,770,000. Less than $3m for a cruise ship was crazy, but now it transpires the 1965 built ex-Russian ice breaker has been sold for scrap. All five CMV ships sold at auction for a total of just over $23m, there was a real bargain to be had here. But it’s not quite so gloomy as first impression. Every year a lot of minor ships are swapped by different cruise lines, as new ships are ordered. There is a healthy market for cruise ships, especially in the Indian continent and area, with the very old ones ending up in Greek or Turkish shipping yards for scrap.
Cunard have put back their proposed resumption to at least the end of March, and realistically May. The initial cruises will be around the British isles, as their dilemma is what European ports will allow the ships to dock. The Canaries are shut, likewise Madeira, the Spanish and Portuguese mainland destinations refusing cruise ships, so it makes sense for the Spring itineraries to consist of UK ports, of course including Scotland and Ireland. A new trend is emerging, how long it will last remains to be seen. The major cruise lines are cutting their itineraries to shorter durations, and in the US to main hubs as well. The reckoning is the appetite will be for shorter cruises to the Caribbean and Mexico from the eastern seaboard, and from the west up the coast to Alaska. World cruises are still being scheduled, but not until 2022 by most. The Queen Elizabeth for example, which specialises in global, is keeping to the Mediterranean for Summer 2021.
The huge Tui vessel Mein Schiff 2 has been operating in the Canaries until recent restrictions curtailed, passengers would fly out for a week with four or five ports. Both the Mein Schiff ships have been moored in these waters, with a basic crew and the ships only returning to port for occasional supplies. There is a great web site with this link https://www.bognorregisbeach.co.uk/live-shipping-map-english-channel. You can check the shipping anywhere in the world, passenger vessels are in blue, if they have a pointy end when they are bigger. When you pause over the blue blob you will see the ship’s details, such as destination, speed, etc., quite interesting. You can play with the site, looking for moored cruise ships, with a concentration off the coasts of Dorset and Devon. P&O and Cunard ships are found here, I also like looking into Venice harbour, but so far haven’t seen anything. However, they can be seen on the Croatian coast sometimes.
The UK travel firm Saga, which specialises in holidays for the over 50s, is resuming hopefully all holidays in May, but you won’t be able to go unless you can prove that you have received your vaccination. Quite shrewd really, because the seniors are the ones that want the jab, the younger ones are very wary, so this is quite an incentive to ensure it’s safe to go on your holiday.
Now to the cruise ships themselves. I dislike the word protocol in this context, so will start by calling them procedures. I have complete confidence that when cruising does return they will be completely safe. That is because they will be paranoid not to have anything occur to the detriment of safe cruising. A lot of masks will be worn, there will be social distancing, smaller passenger numbers. For example, when you go to the restaurant, you will be taken to your table. When you go to the theatre, the rows will be filled up by ushers, you won’t be allowed to leave until each section is cleared in turn. The seating capacity will be reduced, if a ship had say 2,000 passengers previously, then that will be cut to 1,200. They just can’t afford a public relations disaster, so I suspect that a lot of the ships with balconies will encourage their guests to eat in their cabins. The crew will have been retrained, the return can’t possibly be instant, because at present they only have a basic complement. When a date is set for a particular ship, then it will be at three months’ notice, time to recruit the staff, fly them to the ship, then train and train and train until they get it right.
I am a cruise ship lecturer with P&O, and am also on the entertainment books of Marella and Royal Caribbean. As I am in my 70s as a UK resident I qualify for inoculation by February 15th, which means I have an advantage over younger entertainers. That suite me nicely, as I can’t wait to return to entertaining in a cruise ship theatre. I started a Facebook page a couple of years ago called Cruise Forum. You are very welcome to log on and enter your own cruise thoughts. The situation changes quite quickly, so I will return to this topic quite soon.
Harry Pope has quite a few writing projects at present, which is why he is contributing to this excellent page only monthly at present. He is writing a series of short ghost stories about Ballygobackwards Castle, as well as completing his Secrets trilogy. Buried Secrets has sold over 5,000 copies, this Spring it’s More Buried Secrets, coming out for Christmas.