A letter to guests had a familiar ring. “Please be advised that Grand Princess must complete a thorough hull cleaning in advance of our calls to New Zealand. As a result, we will now overnight in Los Angeles, California, arriving Wednesday, September 27, 2023, and departing Thursday, September 28.

“As this will be a service call for hull cleaning only, guests will regretfully be unable to go ashore. Additionally, we will no longer call to Hilo, Hawaii, on Sunday, October 1, or to Moorea, French Polynesia, on Sunday, October 8.”

What it heralds is another season of concern over cruising to New Zealand, one of the most popular destinations in the region if not the world.

Last cruise season presented a range of challenges for cruise lines, with eight cruise ships being turned away from their waters and more having to alter itineraries due to strict biofouling requirements.

The letter above indicates cruise lines are already concerned as to whether the upcoming cruise season will prove a repeat of last year’s events. 

Princess Cruises have looked to get out ahead of meeting the regulations, making several changes to its Transpacific Cruise that is scheduled to visit New Zealand later this year. The cruise line has cancelled ports in Hawaii and French Polynesia, as well as reducing port time in other destinations, to pre-plan to have more time allowed for hull cleaning before entering New Zealand. 

Guests are receiving $200 onboard credit as compensation and refunds for affected shore excursions.

With cruise schedules crafted well ahead of time, it remains to be seen if other cruise lines will soon have to follow and similarly readjust their itineraries to allow extra time for hull cleaning before entering New Zealand. 

Fiordland National Park is the crown jewel of NZ cruising.

“It was the uncertainty that was the worst,” said one cruise lines official who asked not to be named.  No one wants to be singled out by the New Zealand authorities. “We never knew if we had got the cleaning right.  There are always things on the bottom of ships – we just couldn’t tell if we were clean enough.”

The hope is that ships will be more prepared for the rules this time around, but the Princess itinerary changes suggest that cruise lines’ previously scheduled itineraries may not have allowed enough time for cleaning that is sufficient to meet New Zealand’s strict regulatory policies. 

The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries confirmed that there have been no updates or changes to the policy that led to these itinerary changes, meaning rather than meeting the regulations that began being enforced last season will continue to be a challenge for cruise lines.

The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries said: “Cruise lines are being proactive in managing biofouling based on ongoing conversations with Biosecurity New Zealand.

“There have been no changes to our policy or requirements.” 

Other major cruise lines say they are not currently expecting any changes to itineraries as a result of biofouling requirements.

A Royal Caribbean spokesperson said: “Royal Caribbean’s ships are continually maintained to ensure the safety of our guests and crew and the well-being of the vessel. This includes daily, monthly, and yearly maintenance alongside its regularly scheduled 5-year drydock. 

“Currently, we do not anticipate any changes to our published itineraries.”

NCL also maintains that Norwegian Spirit has not be impacted by the biofouling regulations.