As countries in Europe tentatively ease the toughest of lockdowns and thoughts turn to salvaging at least the back end of the summer season, cruise fans are all asking the same question. When can we sail again?
Ports in Europe are beginning to open, giving hope of eventual recovery. According to the Seatrade website, a survey of 113 ports produced this week by trade associations Cruise Britain and Cruise Europe revealed that several European ports will be ready and waiting for cruise ships by May.
In Norway, Arendal and Flam are proposing to open on May 1. The French ports of Bordeaux, Le Havre, Nantes St-Nazaire and Rouen are due to open on May 11, the day the current phase of lockdown in France comes to an end. Riga in Latvia should open on May 13. In Finland, Turku proposes to open May 13 and Helsinki, May 14.
Rotterdam will open on May 26, although the port of Amsterdam remains closed to sea and river cruise ships indefinitely.
Some ports are already open, despite the fact that no cruise ships are operating. According to the website Cruise Critic, ports on typically popular summer itineraries ready for business include Bergen, Dover, Edinburgh, Gothenburg, Hamburg, Southampton, Tromso, Stockholm and St Petersburg.
There’s certainly a sense that cruising could start on a very small scale in Europe’s summer, but probably within closed borders.
For example, Rhine river cruises for the domestic German market, are enthusiastic about cruising as Australians. Rudi Schreiner, president and co-founder of AmaWaterways, told me: “I do anticipate seeing European river cruise companies easing into regional river cruising this summer although it may be with limited itineraries.”
Norwegian-based Hurtigruten is one of the most bullish lines; its ships, in any case, provide a vital transport link to 34 tiny ports between Bergen and Kirkenes, in the far north.
Two ships are still operating, although not for tourism purposes, while the remainder, including the line’s new expedition ships, are either laid up or heading back to Norway.
“Restarting operations will most likely happen in Norway,” said CEO Daniel Skjeldam at a press conference this week.
“We’re a Norwegian-based company and a lot of our cruises are in domestic waters, including our Arctic expedition cruises. That gives us an advantage to scale up by performing domestic operation first and building on these experiences, restart our global operation.”
The reality, though, is that most borders in Europe are still closed and one of the biggest issues for anybody planning travel is a lack of consistency across the continent, even within the EU.
Germany has announced that it will remain closed to tourism until at least June 14. Spain is opening in phases to domestic tourism, with its beaches due to open late June. Greece currently requires anybody arriving from abroad to self-quarantine for 14 days, although from May 18, non-EU citizens will be allowed to enter the country again.
Britain’s borders are open, so in theory, passengers could arrive for round-Britain voyages – but information on when lockdown could be eased is at least a week away. Most cruise lines scheduled to sail in Europe this summer have paused operations until mid-July. So for now, at least, Europeans are staying at home.