Britannia sets sail as cruise lines exit Covid | Travel & Leisure



The Britannia cruise ship will set sail on Sunday evening for the first time since the start of the pandemic, offering holidaymakers a rare chance to leave UK shores as the battered industry sails under remaining Covid restrictions with a summer of short coastal cruises .

Only double-vaccinated UK residents have been allowed to book on P&O’s domestic crossings from Southampton, while cruises resume limited routes along the UK coast.

Along with P&O, Britain’s biggest brand, Saga’s Spirit of Discovery is also resuming its cruises, offering little more than views of the South Coast as it spends six nights cruising from Tilbury Docks in London and back.

While the Swiss line MSC Cruises has launched a route that stops at Liverpool and Belfast from Southampton, and Royal Caribbean will offer a similar route from early July, hopes of briefly touching land in Scotland have been blocked on the Covid plot by Holyrood.

The resumption of these short cruises represents an important moment for an industry whose future is threatened and remains one of the few ways for the British to spend an offshore holiday without a quarantine on return.

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For the passenger who likes to get away from it all, the post-pandemic cruise could have an additional charm: fewer people on board, socially distanced activities reserved online, and no stopovers to disrupt life on the waves. P&O says there will be “some reassuring changes” for its customers, including the use of an app to reserve slots at restaurants and pools to minimize queues. “Valuable and long-awaited time on board can therefore be spent getting the most out of the experience,” said Paul Ludlow, President of P&O Cruises.

Saga has doubled its medical teams and created new isolation wings. Wearing a mask will be compulsory inside except in the cabins, and the health declarations of double-vaccinated will be supplemented by antigen tests for each passenger before boarding.

Passengers are not discouraged: the lines report strong reservations, even sold out ships for the summer. The restart was not straightforward, with the timeline pinned to the government’s unlocking roadmap and the restrictions initially hoped for on June 21. Instead, the delayed relaxation of distancing rules means ships are allowed a maximum of 1,000 passengers on board – about a quarter of the number Britannia would normally carry, forcing P&O last week to issue refunds and charges. last minute coupons for overbooked ships.

On the positive side, the ratio of staff dealing with vacationers will be higher than usual – 300 more crew, in fact, than passengers, mostly from overseas who have flown and quarantined. But those who like to mingle at the buffet or mingle with their travel companions may regret Covid’s secure regulations which only allow table service and no mixed groups inside.

The limited numbers and short itineraries mean early cruises are hardly likely to turn a profit, but the sight of ships sailing again will be an important moment for Carnival Corp, the Panama-incorporated cruise giant that owns the UK P&O and top of the line. Cunard.

Carnival last year quickly gave a harsh assessment of the impact of Covid-19 on the industry, warning as early as March 2020 that the industry may never recover and may be indelibly associated with images of disease and death, after ships were stranded offshore by countries refusing to admit cargoes of infected holidaymakers and crews. The group lost billions in the following months and put six ships up for sale.

Many crew members around the world were stranded much longer than passengers during the crisis, and many were unable to return to their own countries. The ships also kept a reduced crew on board to maintain and operate the giant ships when anchored offshore, with around 100 staff on the Britannia.

Now, international crews who run coastal cruises have been fully vaccinated, quarantined on land and on board, and are being tested regularly, according to Royal Caribbean. While an exemption for key workers meant most could skip the UK’s quarantine hotel and head straight for the ship, even from Red List countries, the cruise companies are adamant they went above and beyond the requirements.

Carnival last week reported another quarterly loss of $ 2 billion (£ 1.4 billion) worldwide, but said cumulative bookings for 2022 – including new bookings – were now ahead of 2019 levels. International departures from UK are expected to resume in September. Before that, P & O’s new Iona, billed as the UK’s greenest vessel and running on liquefied natural gas, will make its maiden voyage in August – still in local waters, but more promising.


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