Since the CDC placed its 'no sail order' on cruise ships in March, an eerie calm has descended on the seas. There was no doubt that cruising would be back, eventually, but what it would look like raised bigger questions.
Four months later, the MS Finnmarken is one of the first ships to return to the water. However, it is not the giant, white pleasure cruiser you might have expected.
The Finnmarken set sail from Bergen on Tuesday, taking passengers 12-day voyage around the coast of Norway.
With most of the years' sailings suspended and predictions of a timid return of passengers, operators Hurtigruten could not have not expected worse conditions to launch into. The ship underwent an extensive refurbishment at the beginning of the year.
However, Hurtigruten's decision to be the first ocean cruise company to return to the seas has been rewarded. Though not yet at full capacity, a group of mostly Danish and Norwegian guests have seized the opportunity. It's the first time passengers have been able to take a full coastal cruise since the Covid-19 suspensions.
"Gradually restarting operations in Norway is the natural first step towards a return to full operations," says Damian Perry, Managing Director Hurtigruten Asia Pacific.
During the 100 days suspension of ocean cruises the company has still been operating two ships under essential service as cargo and ferry links. However, this is the first time cruise ships have been allowed to have leisure guests onboard.
It's not just holidaymakers but staff too, who are thrilled by the cautious return to sailing.
"This is also welcome news for our staff and crew returning to work, and the local communities we support along the coast," said Perry.
Fitted with five additional suites, three refurbished restaurants and revamped public areas, the ship's new fit-out has incorporated Scandinavian materials. However it is the ships sustainability features that are perhaps the most appealing for returning passengers, and make the Finnmarken stand out from other ocean liners.
The ability to plug into shore power dramatically cuts emissions along with engines that are powered by biodiesel. The Finnmarken runs on just 20 per-cent the emissions of a comparable ship running on marine diesel.
Previously the cruise industry had come under criticism specifically for the levels of pollution put out by ships. Last year Johns Hopkins University found emissions from cruise ships "comparable to concentrations measured in polluted cities, including Beijing and Santiago" and Forbes reported that particle emissions of the largest cruise ships are equivalent to 1 million cars.
"The future of shipping is, without a doubt, silent and emission free," said the Hurtigruten's Daniel Skjeldam CEO during the announcement of a partnership with Rolls Royce to build electric engines for ocean going ships. The first stage of this technology is already in place allowing ships to sail on stored electric power.
Hurtigruten's investment in hybrid and electric propelled ships could be important to not only reducing emissions but convincing passengers to return.
During the staggered restart to cruising, many liners are reporting lackluster bookings.
Carnival Cruises - one of the largest companies - suffered a loss of NZ$6.8 billion in revenue as bookings drop to just over $1 billion for March to May, 2020. The group has also announced plans to sell six of its ships.
While other companies such as Norwegian Cruise Lines are delaying sailings until October - Hurtigruten is one of the first lines to return to service in what will be a new era for cruising.