Major cruise lines are paused, but small ships are revving up

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Hurtigruten’s Finnmarken sailing the Norwegian coastline.

Recent headlines about CLIA’s voluntary suspension of sailings through Sept. 15 might lead one to conclude that the cruise industry is dead until fall.

But in fact, quite a few small-ship lines plan to resume domestic cruising as early as July. And in Europe, some cruise lines have already launched regional sailings from their home bases.

Ships with fewer than 250 passengers are excluded from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s No Sail Order and can legally operate in U.S. waters. U.S.-based small-ship lines have voluntarily suspended their operations so far, but as many parts of the country begin to reopen, those lines are setting dates of resumption.

American Cruise Lines plans to relaunch river cruises on July 12 with a sailing from Memphis to New Orleans on the American Harmony, followed by the resumption of its coastal cruise product with the 175- passenger ships the American Constellation in Alaska and American Constitution in New England, both the week of July 22.

UnCruise Adventures plans to resume Alaska sailings on Aug. 1 with a Glacier Bay National Park Adventure tour on the 60-passenger Wilderness Adventurer from Juneau. Alaskan Dream, which operates ships of between 12 and 76 passengers, plans to launch Alaska cruises in August.

UnCruise CEO Dan Blanchard said the line’s plan to market these cruises focuses on messaging about being close to home on U.S.-flagged ships with an American crew.

“We believe there will be a lot of demand for closer-to-home travel,” he said. “One thing about Alaska: In a time of crisis, it’s always been viewed as a safe haven and a natural place to go. We’re seeing that kind of response in the early bookings we’re seeing.”

Europe cruises for locals

For Europeans, some cruise lines based on the Continent have already launched regional sailings for hometown passengers.

Norway-based small-ship operator SeaDream Yacht Club, which usually sails Mediterranean and Caribbean cruises, redeployed both of its 100-passenger ships to Oslo this summer. With Norway opening more quickly than many European countries, the line initially put one ship there, offering seven- and 12-day cruises along the Norwegian coast. It sold out so quickly, SeaDream decided to do the same with its other vessel.  

The first cruise departed June 20, and executive vice president Andreas Brynestad said that the first five voyages “are more or less sold out” and that the line is “selling very well on the later voyages, as well.”

“The demand is beyond what any of us could have ever hoped for,” he said. “People are incredibly hungry for travel, and our small yachts/ships are exactly what people are looking for now.”

Brynestad said SeaDream has on occasion offered Norway sailings, the last one being about four years ago. 

“Since we are headquartered out of Norway, we have crafted these itineraries with intimate knowledge of the ports,” he said.  “We usually say that the Caribbean is our backyard, so I guess you can say that the Norwegian coast is our front porch.”

Once cruising is allowed, Brynestad is confident in demand from other markets, with people from around the world, especially from the U.K. and the U.S., reaching out already. 

“The demand is there, for sure,” he said. “I think this is great news, not just for us, but for the entire cruise industry.”

Hurtigruten, also based in Norway, launched its 919-passenger Finnmarken, which earlier this year underwent what the line said was the biggest single upgrade in Hurtigruten’s history, on an 11-day cruise along the Norwegian coast from Bergen to Kirkenes and back on June 16. It was followed by the line’s Richard With, Trollfjord and Midnatsol ships, all on the same route, one of Hurtigruten’s traditional ferry routes. 

Both Hurtigruten and SeaDream can take advantage of Norway’s June 15 decision to drop travel and quarantine restrictions for its Nordic neighbors, including Denmark, Finland and Iceland. (Travelers from other countries have to undergo a 10-day quarantine before being allowed to travel in Norway.) SeaDream’s ships are each doing one sailing from Oslo to Skagen, Denmark. 

Ponant, the France-based luxury cruise line, is waiting for an update from the French government to be able to launch a series of cruises along the French coast. 

Potential sailings include the Isles du Ponant, the line’s namesake islands on France’s western coast; the pink granite coast off of Brittany; and the French island of Corsica. 

For Ponant, the sailings will be very different from its normal schedule of exotic global itineraries. 

With the European Union planning to reopen borders between its nations in July, more lines are likely to launch service and widen their itineraries. The EU’s ban on visitors from outside the EU for nonessential travel was being debated last week, but Americans were not expected to be on the early list of nationalities welcome to travel there, given the rate of new Covid-19 infections in the U.S. 

Beyond Europe and the U.S., Tahiti cruises are also slated to resume this summer; the islands are scheduled to reopen to international tourism July 15.

Paul Gauguin Cruises, Ponant’s sister company, plans to relaunch sailings July 11 in Tahiti and French Polynesia with seven-day sailings on the Paul Gauguin.

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