by Harry Pope
I have been in touch with a few cruise lines out of the UK, also going online to check, and most have been forthcoming about what they now have in place. It is a wonder to me that they have the resources for all of these measures, but needs must I suppose. It just goes to show how much the cruise industry is worth, because all lines are keen to resume as soon as they can, in any initial capacity. Their expectations are to grow, as passenger demand returns.
At present the cruise destinations are limited. Those based in the UK stay in UK waters, now allowed to call at Scottish and Northern Irish ports. A lot of cruises are staying at sea, the rest are calling at destinations such as Belfast, Liverpool, and Glasgow. The Scottish islands are also popular.
My favourite response was from Viking. They are European based, with various river ships that can take 190 passengers, and ocean-going vessels that accommodate 930. They are very well established, the response of the press office was polite, fast, and informative. I receive no incentive in any form to write this article about them, merely so the reader can grasp a little more the intricacies involved of taking people to sea for their pleasure. It is essential to have access to a computer, because prior to your arrival at the terminal you must go online and complete a one minute health survey. You will be allocated a check-in time, which you are asked to adhere to as close as you can. Sensible, really. Then it is a PCR test. This is the potentially problematic one for passengers, because you will have to wait for the onsite laboratory to process. Realistically this can take half an hour or possibly longer, so you have to sit in a designated lounge. With the all clear, it’s on board. Let the holiday begin.
There is an onboard laboratory, so frequent test results are available. Dining is more of a different experience to those who frequently cruise. The self service section has been removed on the vast majority of cruise ships, more staff to serve you. Passengers are encouraged to take advantage of room service, but to my mind this detracts from part of the cruising experience. I like to share a table of six, I also like eating in an open restaurant. Sitting in the cabin is okay if you are feeling a little unwell, but who wants privacy unless you are really seriously wealthy. However, if you have paid for a balcony, hopefully there will be sufficient room for a table and two chairs to appreciate the scenery as you eat your evening meal. That really is indulgence for the privileged.
Shore excursions vary between cruise lines. I have read of instances where passengers are required to stay in monitored groups, no independent exploring allowed. There was one MSC Mediterranean cruise where a family of four did their own thing, when they returned they were not allowed back on board, luggage packed and deposited on the quayside, finding their own way home. This is extreme rules now, it happened some weeks ago, but you are still encouraged to participate in organised tour excursions. When you return onboard, you still have to undergo temperature checks as a matter of routine.
What do I think? From quite a lot of research, my opinion is that a lot of people want to return to cruising as soon as possible, anywhere will do as long as it’s back on a ship again. the capacity has been considerably reduced, often by as much as two thirds. There are a lot of travellers who want to wait for 2022, or even 2023, before committing to cruising again, preferring to let the rules settle. I want to return as soon as possible, will be back onboard when I can. The situation is something we are going to have to live with for some time.
Harry Pope is an established cruise writer, with his own site www.cruise-forum.com