Cruise control: passengers on UK voyages allowed ashore only on official excursions

Simon CalderFri, 26 March 2021, 8:31 am

Sailing by: Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth will operate 13 UK voyages in the summer (Steve Dunlop)
Sailing by: Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth will operate 13 UK voyages in the summer (Steve Dunlop)

With the Foreign Office still warning against international cruises, firms including Cunard, MSC and Princess are switching their ships to UK waters this summer.

But at ports of calls, passengers will not be allowed off the ship unless they join an organised excursion.

Normally cruise passengers can freely leave the vessel at each port, or choose between a ship-run excursion or a trip run by a local provider.

The new measure is even more extreme than that applied in Russia to circumvent visa issues.

Cunard is the latest cruise line to announce further cancellations of international sailings, replacing them with a programme of domestic voyages.

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Starting in July, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth will sail from her home port of Southampton. Only UK residents who have completed a course of vaccination against coronavirus will be allowed aboard as passengers.

Nine of the voyages will stay at sea, returning to the Hampshire port without stopping. But four will make various port calls, including Belfast, Greenock, Holyhead, Invergordon, Liverpool and Newcastle.

A spokesperson for the cruise line said: “Guests can get off the ship on one of our Cunard organised shore experiences, available to book prior to departure.”

The Cunard Building on the waterfront at Liverpool is a leading tourist attraction in the city, but ind

Princess Cruises, which is also part of the Carnival group, is operating a similar policy.

“Guests wishing to go ashore independently will not be permitted to do so at this stage,” says the firm.

“This decision has been made in the interests of the health and safety of our guests and crew, and of the places we visit.”

MSC Cruises, which will allow non-vaccinated passengers on board, has been running mainly domestic cruises in Italy since August 2020. The company has offloaded passengers who left an official excursion to the island of Capri.

The cruise line will launch UK voyages on 20 May. It says: “Our protected shore excursions will be operated very much as they have been in the Mediterranean. If guests wish to go ashore during their cruise, they can only do so by participating in one of our MSC shore excursions.”

The firm’s tour guides and drivers will be wearing PPE and it will ensure “there are reserved areas for MSC Cruises guests at attractions”.

Viking Cruises, which begins its programme of three UK cruises from Portsmouth on 22 May, has a similar policy. A Viking spokesperson said: “We have been clear and transparent with our guests that only Viking shore excursions will be allowed while in port and that independent exploration is not permitted.

“Failure to comply is likely to result in guests being required to disembark.”

Unlike rival cruise lines, Viking does not charge extra for excursions.

A similar excursions-only rule applies on visits to St Petersburg to circumvent difficult visa issues. But there is more flexibility: passengers are still entitled to go ashore at the Russian port if they choose a local excursion provider, rather than a ship trip, or obtain a visa.

Additional calls on UK cruises may be made if cases of coronavirus are reported on board.

The UK Chamber of Shipping instructs cruise lines to set up arrangements with ports along the planned route “to allow them to disembark passengers or seafarers with suspected or confirmed Covid-19”.

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