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In an update to its general travel advice, the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised “against cruise travel at this time”. The reason given is the ongoing pandemic. The full text of the advice is:-

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against cruise ship travel at this time. This is due to the ongoing pandemic and is based on medical advice from Public Health England.

The government will continue to review its cruise ship travel advice based on the latest medical advice.

If you have future cruise travel plans, you should speak to your travel operator, or the travel company you booked with, for further advice.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office continues to support the Department for Transport’s work with industry for the resumption of international cruise travel.

As can be seen there is no timetable given as to when the advice might be changed, so the best we can say is that cruising is advised-against for the foreseeable future. This is obviously disappointing and frustrating for many people who were perhaps hoping that with the recent steady lifting of the anti-Covid-19 measures, cruising would also be able to resume soon.

Indeed, it’s ironic that this coincides with a separate announcement that international travel to certain (stated) countries is exempted from the FCO’s overall advice against “all but essential international travel”. The list of exempted countries includes all of the major Mediterranean countries e.g. Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, and Turkey, plus most of the countries of northern Europe, e.g. The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark. Between them, these countries make up the majority of summer cruise destinations. Clearly the government feels that it is cruising itself that present a heightened risk and not the destinations.

As I say, we just don’t know for how long this advice will be in force – possibly until the end of the year. One further complicating factor is that the EU has issued advice and guidance on how to cruise safely at the present time – restrictions and actions that the cruise lines must implement. It may be that the UK government is waiting until it has heard from the EU that agreement has been reached with the cruise lines on the measures that will be introduced. I’ll do a post on this in a day or so.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the webpage holding the travel advice from the FCO during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Oceana berthed at Abu Dhabi

P&O have today announced that Oceana is leaving the P&O fleet. In practice, with the current pause this is happening immediately – the announcement says “this month”.

I’m not surprised by this. I have a feeling that this is all to do with Venice…. I’ll explain.

For the last several years there have been de-facto restrictions on the size of ships sailing into Venice – about 89,000 tons – and Oceana is within this limit. There’s some uncertainty as whether or not this regulation was actually still legally in force, but that didn’t matter – the Cruise Lines Industry Association announced that its members (which includes P&O) would would continue to observe the restriction, regardless of its strict legal validity.

For the last several years, Oceana has done summer fly-cruises out of Malta, some of which (about 1 in 3?) have included a call at Venice. These Mediterranean fly-cruises have proved very popular, and I’m sure that P&O would have loved to deploy a larger ship with more passengers on these itineraries, but the larger ships – Azura, Ventura, etc – are all too big for Venice. What’s changed is that in the face of the continuing protests about cruise ships, the accident involving the MSC ship last year, and possibly other issues, it looks as if the cruise lines are leaving Venice altogether. For example, Royal Caribbean announced a month or so ago that their itineraries on the eastern side of Italy would call at Ravenna in future and not at Venice, and I anticipate that they will be followed by others. I’ve been anticipating that P&O will make a similar announcement. Since in that case they would no longer be calling at Venice they could use one of their larger ships, and in the face of that Oceana begins to look a bit surplus to requirements.

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The (rather crowded) open decks at Naples

This was our first cruise so everything was new to us. However I had done my research via various websites and had therefore picked up lots of basic information. For example, we had learned about the lifeboat/muster drill; about the on-board cashless system; and about the two-sitting dining experience; and when we encountered all of these for the first time there were no surprises.

What did surprise us was just how lavish and comfortable MSC Sinfonia was. We now know that in fact it was pretty typical for ships of that era, i.e. the early 00s, but we were impressed. In particular the standard of furnishings and fittings in all the public areas made a big impression on us, with rich colours. We made good use of the bars and lounges (and see below for more on that), we enjoyed the open decks, and we also liked walking along the promenades – Sinfonia had wide promenades down both sides, although there were no wrap-round sections at bow or stern. At the time we accepted the lack of space on board, but looking back at the photos I can see that it was quite crowded. But with no sea days in the itinerary, that wasn’t too much of a problem – we were off the ship and ashore every day.

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Naples – Stazione Marittima

As I mentioned in the previous post, our first cruise was very port-heavy. A 7-night cruise, and therefore 6 full days, it had a port every day.

Here’s the itinerary:

  • Genoa: embarkation and departure at 17:00
  • Naples: 12:00 – 20:00
  • Palermo: 08:00 – 17:00
  • Tunis: 08:00 – 13:00
  • Palma: 14:00 – 01:00
  • Barcelona: 09:00 – 19:00
  • Marseilles: 08:00 – 19:00
  • Genoa: disembarkation by about 09:00.

We had also havered for a while about the itinerary. MSC at that time did two 7-night Western Mediterranean cruises out of Genoa, with slightly different itineraries, and departing on different days. My recollection is that the alternative itinerary called at Rome instead of Naples, Tunis later in the day, and possibly Valencia or somewhere in southern Spain rather than Palma. IIRC the prices were pretty much identical.

Given that this was our first cruise, all of these ports were new to us as ports. We had been to Palma the year previously on a land-based holiday to Mallorca, and had enjoyed it.Also, being our first cruise, we had no idea about docking arrangements, shuttle buses, etc – it was all new to us. As it happened, we berthed very centrally at Naples (at the old Stazione Maritimo) and also at Barcelona, within a few minutes’ walking distance of the bottom of La Rambla. At Palma we were a bit further out, maybe a kilometre or so round the bay from the cathedral. I’m not sure about Palermo, but at both Tunis and Marseilles were some miles away from the main parts of town and shuttle buses were in operation.

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Part 1 – Introduction and overview

Fifteen years ago (today, as I write) we were on our first cruise. It was on MSC Sinfonia, lasted for 7 nights/6 full days, and was a fly cruise from/to Genoa. It was very port-heavy – six full days, six ports. This was long before I’d started this blog and therefore it was never properly reviewed here. Recently I came across a physical scrapbook that I made about it shortly after the cruise finished – surely a precursor to this blog? – with lots of text and photos. Better still, I kept the text and image files from which I created the scrapbook. So I’ve decided to do a review, not only of the cruise itself, but also of my original review – has my thinking changed? Would we be as happy with that cruise today as we obviously were fifteen years ago?

This is what I said at the beginning of that old review:

This was our first cruise, and we chose MSC for a combination of the itinerary, the price, and the newness of the ship.

On reflection I don’t think that’s quite the whole story.

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We had expected to do two cruises this year. We had booked an 18-night cruise on Aurora for April but we had already cancelled this last autumn – we had been expecting that Val would have retired in 2019 which would have given us the time to do this cruise. In the event Val didn’t retire so we decided that it wouldn’t be possible for her to find the 3 weeks’ holiday in spring just for that (as well as all the other holidays she would want to take) so we cancelled it. We lost our deposit, but because we had booked it while on a previous cruise, that was just £50 each.

Then when we saw Iona’s schedules we were attracted to a one-week cruise in December, a ‘Winter Markets’ cruises, calling at Hamburg, Rotterdam (for two days) and Zeebrugge, and we booked it. Then Covid-19 struck the world. That cruise might still happen, of course – December is still 6 months away – but we can’t be confident it will. So we’ve taken advantage of P&O’s ‘free transfer’ policy, have cancelled that one, and have rebooked for the equivalent cruise – same ship, same itinerary – in December 2021. So that’s something to look forward to.

According to Cruise Critic, Princess Cruises have announced new health guidelines that they will be applying to ships, passengers and crew when they are allowed to restart cruising. These measures break down into a number of different areas: pre-cruise; embarkation; and of course on board measures.

For pre-cruise activities, Princess will pro-actively monitor the Covid-19 situation globally, and will adjust  itineraries, which could include cancelling or modifying them, if required. Passengers will be screened before embarkation, and those passengers known to have had contact (presumably recent) with a known or suspected case of Covid-19, or those presenting with fever or flu-like symptoms, or those with chronic underlying health conditions, will be refused boarding.

At embarkation time there will be enhanced medical screening, including mandatory thermal screening of all passengers and crew. There will also be a new health questionnaire that all passengers will be required to complete. Passengers who fail the thermal screening, or who give answers on the health questionnaire that cause concern, will be referred for further screening, and may be refused boarding. However, any passenger refused boarding at this point, or during the pre-cruise period, will be given a full refund – or, more likely, a full credit for a future cruise. Any passenger found during the cruise to have falsified their answers to the questionnaire will be disembarked at the next port of call.

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…I am not able to confirm a date when we can expect to resume normal operations…

Fred. Olsen have announced that the ‘pause’ in their ocean cruising itineraries will be extended beyond the previously-announced date of 23 May, and no date has been given as to when the pause will end. Peter Deer, managing director at Fred. Olsen Cruises said “At this stage I am not able to confirm a date when we can expect to resume normal operations as I don’t want to set an expectation and not be able to deliver what we promise”.

Mr Deer’s announcement goes on to say that the company are keeping a close eye on the latest guidance from the relevant authorities, both UK and overseas. It also says they are “very clear on our position that we will not resume cruising until we know it is safe for us to do so”.

Fred. Olsen will be assessing all currently still-planned upcoming cruises from 23rd May in date order. Guests who are booked onto the sailings that will now be cancelled will be contacted by Fred. Olsen Cruises at least 30 days in advance – which means that passengers on the first cruises to be affected by this announcement can expect to be contacted pretty soon.

My feeling its that an extension beyond late May (the period to which most cruise lines operating in the UK market have already cancelled cruises) was inevitable – the world will not be ready for cruising to resume  for quite a while.  I also think that Peter Deer is being honest when he says that he cannot give a date on which they hope to resume – indeed, as I said in a post the other day, I’ll be surprised if cruising resumes this year.

At the moment the Fred. Olsen website has not been updated with this news – I’ll edit this post when it has.

 

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Just over a week ago the CDC announced an extension to its “No Sail Order” for cruise ships in US waters. The impact of the Order is that cruise ships may not sail (depart) from ports in US waters.

The Order shall remain in operation until ….. 100 days from publication

The order makes mention of efforts by the CDC and the US Coast Guard to lead efforts by the cruise lines to monitor health on ships, to train crew in Covid-19 prevention, and to make plans for managing and preventing outbreaks on board. However, the guts of the order are that ships may not presently sail – that is, depart on a cruise – from a US port. The Order will remain in force until the first of these three things has occurred:-

  1. Covid-19 is no longer officially regarded as a public health emergency; or
  2.  The CDC Director rescinds or modifies the Order; or
  3. A further 100 days have passed. (If this is the first of the three events to occur, then I would expect that the Order would be further extended.)

Strictly speaking, this Order only applies to cruise ships in US ports or waters, so theoretically it is possible that sailings in non-US waters – e.g. Europe – could recommence earlier. But somehow I can’t see it. In any case, a further issue in Europe or Asia is that separate countries are likely to refuse entry to cruise ships sailing from ports not under their own control, so in practice cruising will remain on hold. The ‘100 days’ starts on the 9th of April, I believe, which means that will expire on or around the 18th of July. But I would anticipate a further extension from that date.

Here’s a link to the CDC website page.

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Cruising in 2020

Well, it’s been a while…. during which time everything changed, of course. When I wrote my last post in mid-February I was just beginning to wonder if cruising would be affected by the strange Chinese virus I was reading about, but as I write this (18 April 2020), cruising has stopped worldwide and won’t be restarting for the foreseeable future.

First, let’s look at the present situation:

  • Fleets are laid up all around the world and there is no indication as to when they will be brought back into service. At the moment the main UK cruise lines are on a ‘voluntary pause’ and as a result of this, all cruises through the spring and into the summer have already been cancelled and passengers disappointed.
  • There is considerable doubt that any of the lines mentioned above will be able to restart operations on the currently-published dates on which they hope to end their ‘pause’.
  • There has been much disappointment and anger among cruise passengers who have had their cruises cancelled. In addition to the fundamental disappointment of not being able to go on the cruise they were anticipating so much, the anger has come from the lines’ policies with regard to how passengers have been treated. I’m not going to go into specifics here – I haven’t explored the issue in depth, mainly because I haven’t had to – but I understand that passengers are generally not receiving refunds of the money they had paid. Instead, they have been offered vouchers or future credits, perhaps with an enhancement (e.g. 125% of what they’d actually paid – I think…) to be used as part payment for a cruise at some time in the future.
  • A second cause of anger has been that a look at the 2021 brochure has revealed that prices in 2021 are higher than they were for 2020, even for essentially the same cruise.

Everyone is hoping that “things get back to normal” as quickly as possible. I’m wondering if that will actually happen. I have a feeling that “normal” is over; that the disruption and restrictions will last longer than many people imagine; and that eventually they will be replaced by a new “normal”. Here are my reasons: Continue Reading »

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