Despite the pandemic and international travel bans, Australians are booking ahead to cruise the Mediterranean on MSC ships in 2022, managing director MSC Cruises AU/NZ, Alessandro Guerreri said.

“No doubt, Australians are cautious but they are also keen to cruise again. They are booking cruises to sail to their favourite destination, the Mediterranean, in 2022.

“We have seen fewer bookings from Australians to cruise the Med in November/December this year as most are booking seven-night cruise itineraries to sail in summer 2022,” he said in an interview with Cruise Passenger to tie in with the delivery of the line’s latest ship, MSC Virtuosa in France this week.

Despite a difficult year of cruise cancellations and lock-downs across the world in 2020 – thanks to COVID-19 – sister ship, MSC Grandiosa was the first ship of any major cruise line to return to the seas last August.

MSC Grandiosa aquapark

Grandiosa has since hosted nearly 40,000 passengers to cruise safely under the MSC’s stringent health and safety protocols.

He said that passengers are tested prior to boarding the ship and on the fourth day of the cruise. MSC crew are tested every week.

MSC’s ships also have a medical centre on board which is equipped to carry out PCR COVID-19 testing and treatment. There will also be separate cabins for isolation for suspected cases.

He said that all MSC medical and clinical staff are experienced, abiding by the guidelines of the American College of Emergency Physicians for Cruise Ship and Maritime Medicine.

“Our ships are cruising at 70 per cent capacity. In order to secure social distancing among guests, mandatory masks have to be worn at all public areas of the ship and while travelling on elevators,” he said.

Regarding the move to introduce mandatory vaccination for all passengers and crew before they are able to cruise, Mr Guerreri said MSC prefers to adopt a wait-and-see approach.

“While vaccinations are very important, there are also other options under discussion by cruise lines and the industry. It’s still too early to say.”

Right now, the priority for MSC and other major lines is to work for the safe return to international cruising.

The 6300-passenger MSC Virtuosa will be one of the most technologically advanced ship at sea when she launches in April this year. The ship will have a hybrid exhaust gas cleaning system, waste water treatment systems and under water radiated noise management system to minimise the acoustic sound impact and reduce the adverse effects on marine fauna and mammals.

The 19-deck ship will have 21 bars, four main restaurants and five specialty dining venues.

MSC Virtuosa will initially debut on the Med in April before moving to Kiel offering Northern Europe itineraries from early May.

The line will also take delivery of another new ship, MSC Seashore in August this year, taking its total fleet to 19.

Whether MSC will homeport one of its ships in Australia is “not a priority although MSC is always looking for the right opportunity,” Mr Guerreri said.