After a 100-day no-sail order by US health authorities, international cruise passengers are returning to the seas.
Although initial passenger numbers may be meagre, a combination of passengers rebooking on credit from cancelled sailings and highly reduced fares have led to sold-out itineraries through New Zealand ports as soon as January next year.
The long-distance liners Oceania Regatta and Cunard's Queen Elizabeth - are scheduled to arrive in Auckland next year at full capacity. However, the course to restart of the cruise industry is far from clear.
New Zealand's cruise ban which was due to expire last week, was extended for a further 60 to 90 days.
The health order that banned cruise ships from New Zealand ports was due to expire at midnight on June 30, but a renewal of this ban and requirements for crew and passengers to quarantine on arrival have left cruise companies confused and itineraries untenable.
The New Zealand Cruise Association has said that domestic itineraries for Kiwi passengers could be an answer to getting the ships moving again, but there is still no clear date as to when cruising can resume.
"We are all waiting on the Government to consider opening cruise travel in the short to medium term," said Kevin O'Sullivan, CEO of the New Zealand Cruise Association. "We are focusing on beginning to cruise with only New Zealand passengers, but have not received any clear direction."
The association says that "backyard cruising" would not only be a viable option for its members but would also be consistent with plans to boost domestic travel at level 1. However, such plans require "a willingness from government agencies to debate what processes should be used".
"At least one cruise line already has robust onboard health protocols and others will follow. "
Other countries have already resumed their cruising schedules.
It has subsequently launched plans to return 14 of 16 vessels to passenger service over the next two months, albeit with adapted itineraries.
"The response to our successful return to sailing last month has been extremely positive from both the local communities, our guests and crew. As travel restrictions are lifted, we are now entering the next phase of our step by step return to full operation," said Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam.
This has been possible due to other countries, such as the United Kingdom, relaxing border restrictions to cruise passenger arrivals.
However, with international and long-range cruise holidays still on sale to New Zealand, it seems these ships are on a collision course with the country's stringent border restrictions.
Auckland has tenders for international cruise arrivals as soon as September 4.
Oceania, whose luxury ship the Regatta is due to arrive in Auckland next year with two-sold-out itineraries, is confident that it will be able to deliver its 864 passengers on a New Zealand holiday by January 19.
"Oceania Cruises is seeing guests beginning to plan their next travel adventure with the line offering more than 400 voyages departing in 2021 and 2022, sailing throughout Australia-New Zealand, the South Pacific," said a spokesperson for the cruise line.
Cunard, whose ship the Queen Elizabeth is due to arrive in Auckland over New Year, is less confident, saying "it is unfortunately too soon to comment on Cunard's 2020-21 local season yet and the comprehensive protocols we will be implementing."
On the 4th of September, P&O's liner the Pacific Aria is the first cruise ship arrival expected by the Ports of Auckland. However a spokesperson for the cruise line said that this restart of the season was subject to it being safe to do so and the international passengers would be offered flexible booking and cencellation terms offered throughout the coronavirus disruption - with the offer of cruise credit 125 per cent future cruise credit or 100 per cent cash refunds should sailings not go ahead.
"We don't make decisions on cruise seasons or the resumption of cruising in isolation. These decisions are constantly under review by ourselves and in consultation with relevant authorities."
New Zealand's cruise ban was instated on March 14, after high-profile clusters on ships. This included an outbreak on board the Ruby Princess, which affecting 440 passengers and 24 New Zealanders while travelling between Auckland and Sydney.