March 8 will mark the one-year anniversary of the State Department's advisory that people not cruise. Five days after that, CLIA lines agreed to voluntarily stop sailing from U.S. ports, which turned into an almost yearlong global cruise shutdown.
Through these 11 months, there have been some exceptions to the shutdown, of course, predominately in Europe and Asia. Among them were lines and ships that endured Covid outbreaks under glaring media spotlights, such as on Hurtigruten and SeaDream. For the most part, however, the handful of ships that have been sailing since summer 2020 did so with remarkable success.
Hapag-Lloyd, the luxury German line jointly owned by Royal Caribbean Group, launched cruises to nowhere in July from Hamburg, which it operated through the fall, and is now sailing in the Canary Islands on itineraries that visit seven ports in the archipelago.
An outdoor BBQ on Hapag-Lloyd's Europa 2, which has been sailing in 2020 from both Germany and in the Canary Islands.
MSC Cruises became the first large ship line to launch sailings during the pandemic, when the MSC Grandiosa departed Genoa, Italy, in mid-August.
MSC was followed by Costa Cruises, which like MSC operated big-ship cruising from Italy until a nationwide lockdown forced them to pause in November and December. Both lines resumed service in January.
Two big-ship German brands, Tui Cruises and Aida Cruises, also launched service in Europe. Tui, also partly owned by Royal, launched short cruises from Germany and seven-day Greece and Canary Islands/Spain sailings, while Aida had been operating sailings from Italy and expanded to the Canary Islands in early December before having to shut them down due to tightening travel restrictions.
Bumper cars on the Quantum of the Seas, which launched cruises out of Singapore in December.
The most recent line to resume cruise operations was Royal Caribbean International, which began operating sailings out of Singapore in early December on the Quantum of the Seas.
All of these lines' ships have been operating with reduced capacity and strict health and safety protocols in place. Buffets are no longer self-serve, tables are more spaced out, activities have fewer participants and reduced contact. And, of course, hand sanitizing stations abound, and everyone is wearing masks.
But other than that, for the most part, the cruises in many ways operate in a remarkably normal way and, according to cruisers on review boards and travel advisors who have sailed on them, offer the familiar cruise experience.
Karsten Zierdt, a travel advisor from Germany who sailed on the Grandiosa, said that despite the health and safety measures in place, being on the ship gave him "a little bit of normality back."
The photos below from the Grandiosa, Hapag-Lloyd's Europa 2 and the Quantum provide a snapshot of what cruising during the Covid pandemic looks like.
The new normal in cruising