Norwegian expedition became the first ocean cruise liner to resume sailing June 16, almost four months after the coronavirus pandemic led to a global shut down of the cruise industry.
The newly refurbished MS Finnmarken set sail from Bergen for a 12-day round trip journey along the Norwegian coastline to Kirkenes and back.
The biofuel powered MS Finnmarken, which underwent the biggest single upgrade in Hurtigruten’s history earlier this year, is sailing at only 50% of its 919-passenger capacity in line with guidelines issued by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
COVID-19 Health Protocols
All passengers will have their temperature screened before embarkation and will have to fill out a declaration form stating they have not been in contact with anyone who has COVID-19 in the last 10 days. Several cabins will be reserved for quarantine in the event that any of the guests develops COVID-19 symptoms. Passengers will be regularly reminded to keep 1-meter distance from others and to maintain hand hygiene.
All purchases will be via touch-free card after passengers open a cruise account. A dedicated Health and Safety Officer will be on board, to coordinate and ensure the quality of infection control on board.
“Gradually restarting operations within Norwegian waters are natural first steps towards a normalization for us. The size and scale of our step-by-step restart is dependent on national and international travel restrictions, government support and other external factors outside of our control. But we are eager to welcome guests on board our ships again,” said Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam when the plan to resume sailing was announced last month.
In an interview with the Maritime Executive, Skjeldam said the company was seeing an increasing demand for closer-to-home departures in the wake of COVID-19.
As noted by Maritime Executive, cruise lines also adopted a close to market strategy after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when people were initially scared to fly.
Other Cruise Lines are expected to follow suit shortly
While Hurtigruten has become the first ocean cruise line in the world to resume sailing, others are expected to follow suit shortly.
Germany’s TUI Cruises, a joint venture with Royal Caribbean said June 16 that it hopes to restart cruises this summer with sailings from German home ports in the North and Baltic sea.
French brand Ponant could resume ocean cruises as soon as July 4, subject to approval from French authorities, with five itineraries along the French coast.
North American cruise passengers will have to wait at least until August 1 to resume cruising. The big three, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruises have all announced plans for phased return from that date, subject to the CDC lifting its no-sail order, which expires July 24.
Meanwhile, Iceland has said it hopes to welcome some 20 cruises to its capital Reykjavík this July, however, passengers wishing to disembark on the island will have to be tested for COVID-19.
The tests will be free for the first two weeks, and as of July 1 will cost 15,000 Icelandic Krona, or US$ 111.5.
Iceland opened its borders June 15 with travelers from the Schengen zone given the option of being tested for COVID -19. Passengers from countries outside of the Schengen zone are ineligible to enter the country until July 1.
River cruises have already returned to water
River cruises have already returned to water: NickoVision, a small river cruise boat, carrying just 110 passengers set sail down the Rhine in Germany June 1 to become the first cruise ship of any size and any capacity had returned to water since a global shut down of the industry in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A-ROSA, another German river cruise brand, will set sail along the Douro River in Portugal on June 17, followed by journeys along the Rhine and the Danube later in the month. It also hopes to resume sailings along the Seine and the Rhône in France at the beginning of July.
“River cruises are an ideal and flexible form of travel for a safe relaxing holiday in the ‘new normal,’” said the company’s managing director Jörg Eichler. The ships are comparatively small and have relatively few guests on board, so that the necessary hygiene rules can be implemented efficiently.”
In the United States, American Cruise Lines’ American Song will navigate the Columbia and Snake Rivers, beginning June 20 with capacity reduced from 184 guests to 138.
The American Harmony meanwhile will sail down the Mississippi, with 142 guests, well down on its maximum capacity of 190 guests.
The American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) also intends to resume sailing by the end of June, with the American Duchess due to cruise back down the Mississippi on July 20 and the American Empress in the Pacific Northwest on July 6.
Victory Cruise Lines, acquired by AQSC last year, plans to resume sailing on the Great Lakes at the beginning of July.