International cruising: Am I allowed to go on a cruise from the UK?

·5-min read
P&O's cruise ship Britannia (PA Archive)
P&O's cruise ship Britannia (PA Archive)

Most cruises ceased in March and April 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Since then the vast majority of the world’s 270 ocean-going cruise ships have been moored, unable to operate.

Some have become tourist attractions, with boat trips organised around the forlorn cruise ships moored off the south coast of England.

Over a year after the Foreign Office advised against all international cruising, the warning has been lifted.

Previously the FCDO said the medical advice from Public Health England was that cruising abroad was too dangerous “due to the ongoing pandemic”.

UK cruises restarted in May 2021, with many restrictions in place and strict caps on passenger numbers.

Now, after The Independent pointed out “it is difficult to identify any fundamental objection to the resumption of international cruising,” the Foreign Office has revised its advice and retracted its no-go warning. This has the effect of allowing cruise lines to despatch vessels on international itineraries – though these are of course subject to prevailing local regulations and UK laws on returning travellers.

Nick Stace, chief executive of Saga Travel, said: ” We are pleased that the government has confirmed that restrictions will lift on international cruising.

“Our customers have been eagerly awaiting certainty from government so they can plan their cruises beyond UK shores and today’s news will give them the clarity they need to do that.”

These are the key issues on cruising as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Where can I sail?

Options are limited, with many cruise lines having deployed their ships to UK itineraries for the summer.

P&O Cruises says: “Britannia will begin her planned western Mediterranean itineraries on 25 September 2021.”

The most appealing departure of the autumn is probably the 14-night cruise departing aboard Britannia on 22 October from Southampton to Barbados, priced at just £799 – including a flight back from the Caribbean. She makes calls at Madeira, Antigua, St Kitts and St Lucia.

But cruises on Ventura have been cancelled until 3 October 2021; on Azura until 10 December 2021; on Arcadia until 27 March 2022; and on Aurora until 13 April 2022.

Saga Travel has river cruises on the Rhine and Douro late in August.

Celebrity Silhouette is sailing internationally from Southampton on 29 October – but not exactly on a globe-girdling trip. The £509-per-person voyage sails from Hampshire to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. And back.

Viking has a transatlantic trip departing Fort Lauderdale on Christmas Eve 2021, destination Essex (Tilbury), though at present British travellers are not allowed into the US.

Golden Horizon, the world’s largest square-rigged sailing vessel, is sailing from Harwich, destination Lisbon, on 28 August. Luxury Cruise & More has cabins for £1,849 per person for the 11-night voyage.

MSC has a special discount for health-care professionals and their families of up to 50 per cent, for all new bookings made before 30 September 2021 on all cruises departing up to 30 April 2022.

How risky is it?

The Foreign Office says: “Although operators have taken steps to improve infection control, cruise ships continue to experience Covid-19 outbreaks, affecting passengers and seafarers. The confined setting on board and combination of multiple households enables Covid-19 to spread faster than it is able to elsewhere.”

Will I need to be vaccinated?

It depends on on the rules of the cruise line. From 25 September, when P&O Cruises resumes its international voyages, all passengers aged 18 or above must have completed a course of vaccination at least two weeks before sailing; under 18s who have not been jabbed must take a PCR test within 72 hours of travel.

Everyone must take a Covid test at the port of departure.

Will the crew be vaccinated?

Most of them, but given the complexity and numbers of crew, few cruise lines can or will commit to 100 per cent being fully vaccinated. Crew must quarantine before passengers are allowed to board, and undergo regular testing.

Will masks and social distancing be required?

Yes, masks are generally expected whenever moving around the ship, including on deck.

What happens if someone tests positive on board?

That is the nightmare scenario for cruise lines. They all stress that their testing protocols should minimise the risk. They have “hot” areas on board where any cases of coronavirus will be isolated, and arrangements with ports have been made to drop off infected passengers or crew.

The Foreign Office points out: “Cruises with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases have previously been denied permission to dock or to disembark passengers.

“This can have serious implications for passengers and seafarers on board. You should check the protocols of the cruise operator to ensure you are comfortable with safety measures.

“You may be required to quarantine on board or at designated facilities if your ship is affected by a Covid-19 outbreak. Check with your operator to ensure you are aware of outbreak contingency measures.”

Is it for me?

Not if you have existing health issues. The Foreign Office warns: “Access to healthcare may be limited on board. For example, intensive care beds and oxygen provision are limited and urgent medical evacuation to a hospital on land may not be possible.

“Research the facilities on the ship you intend to sail on before booking your holiday. If you take specialist medication, you should take more than your journey’s duration, in case you are abroad for longer than expected.”

What will shore excursions be like?

They may be strictly controlled, with access ashore allowed only for people joining organised trips. MSC Cruises said: “Shore excursions are carried out in a ‘protected’ manner following our strict protocols, meaning that guests do not come into contact with people who have not also been subject to health and safety checks.”

The Foreign Office warns: “You may be asked to disembark the cruise ship and return to the UK at your own cost if you fail to follow operator protocols, including during official excursions.”

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