Cruising comes home: What to expect from UK cruises this summer

Cruise holidays: Guests will once again be able to enjoy life aboard a cruise ship. Credit: Shutterstock

We’ve all spent a year longing to get back on board our favourite ships – but with restrictions remaining widespread across the world, many travel plans are still on hold.

So what to do?

Well, back in March, the UK maritime minister Robert Courts confirmed that sailings between British ports could resume May 17, giving the green light for cruising to resume in UK waters.

That was great news for all the lines that traditionally operate round these shores, but global cruise bosses took notice too – with the result that some of the world’s most exciting ships will be coming here this summer, offering exclusive cruises to British guests.

First out of the blocks was MSC Virtuosa, which sailed from Southampton on May 20. Next up is Viking Venus, which is making a round trip from Portsmouth on May 22.

P&O Cruises will be back at sea on June 27, when Britannia leaves Southampton, and Fred Olsen will be sailing from Liverpool in July.

Other options for a summer 2021 UK cruise include Princess Cruises, Cunard, Saga, Disney and Virgin Voyages.

Guests will once again be able to enjoy life aboard a cruise ship while exploring the beautiful coastlines and historic port cities of the UK (the only place that remains off-limits is Guernsey).

At first, cruise ships will be limited to carrying no more than 1,000 guests, but it’s hoped that this restriction will be lifted from June 21.

“We welcome the announcement that cruise will be included alongside the restart of other domestic tourism in the UK,” said Andy Harmer, director of trade body CLIA.

Cruising comes home: What to expect from UK cruises this summer
Cruise holidays: Cruise ships will be limited to carrying no more than 1,000 guests. Credit: Shutterstock

“There is pent up-demand and we should be very confident about cruising’s return,” added Tony Roberts, UK vice president of Princess Cruises. “Offering a staycation like no other, British cruises will appeal to people who haven’t cruised before”.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of new cruise line Virgin Voyages, commented that he is “so excited to be able to offer UK sailings on Scarlet Lady. The team has curated a fantastic experience for our passengers.”

Get them while you can

The demand for these cruises has been extraordinary. Viking’s initial three eight-day UK voyages quickly sold out, snapped up by returning guests before new-to-cruisers could get a look-in.

Other cruise lines report a similar pattern. Antonio Paradiso, UK managing director of MSC Cruises, says: ‘We have been overwhelmed by the response from customers eager to get back on board and experience a cruise with us this summer.’

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It’s the same story elsewhere in the travel industry, with online travel agent seeing a 300 per cent increase in traffic following news that P&O would be sailing their new ship Iona around the British Isles.

No one should be surprised by this stampede for tickets. After all, it’s not just that these voyages offer the first chance to cruise in more than a year. Many of these big ocean- going ships are rarely if ever seen in UK waters, so the pandemic has also brought a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to enjoy some truly world-class entertainment and cuisine, with all the convenience of embarking from a UK port.

What’s in store

While a number of sailings have already sold out, plenty of others are still available, and cruise bosses tell us that some very special experiences lie in store.

“We can’t wait to give our guests a much-deserved holiday, and we hope our staycations will be a highlight of the British summer,” said Paul Ludlow, president of P&O Cruises.

“The new Ultimate Escape series of holidays includes a memorable seven-night maiden voyage for Iona around the Scottish isles, during which the ship will anchor off the island she was named after.”

Cruising comes home: What to expect from UK cruises this summer
Cruise holidays: The demand for these cruises has been extraordinary. Credit: Shutterstock

Peter Deer, MD of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, is equally excited to be returning to UK waters: “So often overlooked, our British Isles are home to some of the most wonderful wildlife, and so much spectacular scenery that is best enjoyed from the water.”

Cunard president Simon Palethorpe added: “We believe our sailings from Southampton around the UK will make the very most of the summer sunshine.”

The vaccination situation

Some lines, including MSC and Fred Olsen, are allowing non-vaccinated guests on their UK summer cruises, but the majority – including Saga, P&O and Princess – require proof of both doses before boarding.

So the choice is yours, and it will be interesting to see how the cruising public responds. But whoever you choose to sail with, you can be confident that your cruise line has adopted extensive and enhanced health and safety protocols, and that your wellbeing is its first priority.

“The industry will be incredibly careful to do this the right way,” said Princess Cruises’ Tony Roberts. “We are encouraged by the vaccination news, but we are continuing the multi-layered approach.”

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