Leading cruise lines are preparing to resume sailing in the Mediterranean after a fitful pause in operations. Top destinations including Italy and Greece will welcome back pleasure cruisers and their passengers, but only after they are fully vaccinated against Covid 19.
On Thursday, NCL Holdings brands Ocean, Regent and Norwegian announced a return to passenger sailings from late summer.
Starting from 5 September, parent company Norwegian Cruise Line is launching new itineraries on two ships Norwegian Epic and Norwegian Getaway, which will be sailing to the Greek Isles.
"Relaunching Norwegian Epic and Getaway will allow us to provide a greater variety of highly sought-after itineraries for those travellers preparing to take their first cruise vacation in over a year," said the Norwegian's CEO Harry Sommer.
Similarly Regent's ship Seven Seas Splendor and Oceana's Marina will be carrying paying guests for itineraries around the North Sea and Scandinavia, departing Denmark and the UK at the end of August.
"Our guests have been waiting a long time for this moment," said Oceana's President and CEO Bob Binder, ahead of the new season sailing out of Copenhagen.
"We'll do everything in our power to safeguard their health and safety."
The local cruise relaunch has been made possible mostly by vaccination roll out. Norwegian's Sail Safe guidelines, which have been adopted by all three cruise lines, require all passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated for at least two-weeks before departure.
In August last year cruise line MSC launched Italy's first post-Pandemic trial cruise aboard the MSC Grandiosa. However other cruise lines have been slow to resume sailings before passengers and crew have been immunised against Covid 19.
A vaccination programme may also be the key to restarting the cruise industry in Europe and elsewhere.
Restart in the USA
In the USA the CDC's "no-sail order" for cruise ships has shown some sign of easing. At the beginning of the month it was replaced with a "conditional sailing order", which contained a number of details which could pave the way to a restart from Norwegian's headquarters in Florida.
There Centre for Disease Control guidelines require testing regimes to be in place, port and local authority approval from suggested stops and "simulated voyages" to prove that sailings can be conducted safely.
Most tantalising for cruise lines is the promise of bypassing the need to run tests cruises, if those on board are sufficiently vaccinated.
"Ships can bypass the required simulated test voyages carrying volunteers and jump to sailings with paying passengers if 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are fully vaccinated," says the CDC's clarification.
New Zealand's back yard restart
A rolling ban on cruises is still in place in Australia and New Zealand, although exemptions have been granted for some small, domestic only expeditions.
Representatives of cruise associations CLIA and NZCA will be meeting MBIE and tourism minister Stuart Nash next month to discussing proposals for a return of ships to New Zealand waters. A requirement to vaccinate both crew and passengers could be a condition of a restart in New Zealand and Australia.
Joel Katz Managing Director of CLIA Australasia, said that cruising is ready for a "phased and carefully controlled resumption of domestic cruising."
Katz said there were many lessons that could be applied, both from New Zealand's safe travel agreements with Australia and also cruise restarts in other countries.
"We have already seen practical applications in Europe, for example, where cruise ships have restarted, then paused based on new waves of community transmission, and then restarted again when deemed safe to do so."
At its peak $600 million a year was spent in New Zealand by cruising's $212 billion industry. This was all but stopped by the Covid 19 pandemic.
"We believe now is the time for government agencies in New Zealand to agree on a responsible pathway to cruising's resumption, so that businesses and communities throughout the country can plan for a much-needed tourism revival," said Katz.