Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, cruising had never been so popular. Passenger numbers from the UK and Ireland reached over two million in 2017, and accounted for the biggest market in Europe after Germany. With the Diamond Princess cruise liner playing host to the biggest outbreak of coronavirus outside of China back in February, however, there has been some reluctance to give ships the green light to set sail once more.
So, when will cruises resume sailing?
Here’s all the information you need to know.
Can I travel on cruise ships now?
In general, no. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) announced last week that it was advising against cruise ship travel.
Its advice reads: “The Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against cruise ship travel at this time. This is due to the ongoing pandemic and is based on medical advice from Public Health England.
“The government will continue to review its cruise ship travel advice based on the latest medical advice.”
The news has come as an extraordinary blow to the fraught industry, which has already had to deal with the closure of hundreds of ports and entire countries to cruise ship passengers, alongside an unenviable image problem, since the pandemic began.
Most cruise companies have postponed sailings until at least autumn as a consequence of the outbreak.
“This is devastating news for a sector already on its knees,” said Travel Weekly columnist Steve Dunne.
Does this advice count for all cruise ship travel?
No; the FCO has since updated its advice to clarify it only concerns ocean cruises.
“Cruise ship travel means staying overnight for at least one night on a sea-going cruise ship with people from multiple households,” the advisory now reads.
The key term is “sea-going”, implying that river cruises are not included in the warning.
When is this likely to change?
October at the earliest, although it’s difficult to speculate. Defending the FCO guidance, minister of state Caroline Dinenage said last week: “We have at the moment dissuaded people from going on cruises, probably until October, just because of the situation that we were in when the crisis hit when we had to repatriate people from all over the world on cruise ships.”
Information on the FCO website reads: “The Foreign & Commonwealth Office continues to support the Department for Transport’s work with the industry for the resumption of international cruise travel.”
Can I book a cruise for future travel?
You can, but it’s a risk, particularly as your insurance may not cover you. It took the FCO four months to update their guidance on cruise travel, so there’s no guarantee that future updates will be particularly forthcoming.
There’s also the question of safety. With an average number of 3,000 passengers onboard, excluding staff and crew, such a large group of people in a relatively confined space presents serious challenges for social distancing compliance.
What is the industry saying?
In response to the FCO announcement, Paul Ludlow, the president of P&O Cruises, wrote on Twitter: “We acknowledge the FCO’s guidance and P&O Cruises had already extended the pause in operations for all sailings up to October 15, 2020.
“Our current focus is to work in partnership with public health agencies at the highest level as well as Department for Transport; EU Healthy Gateways and CLIA, the industry governing body.
“Confidence in cruising is strong and we are seeing increasing demand from our guests, who we look forward to welcoming back on board when the time is right.”
The Cruise Lines International Association has been approached for comment.