2 of the world’s biggest cruise ships just restarted service — but not everyone is welcome

May 4, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Two more giant cruise ships restarted operations in the Mediterranean over the weekend. But, for now, the trips only are open to local residents.

Costa Cruises‘ 5,224-passenger Costa Smeralda — the world’s fifth-largest cruise ship — resumed sailings out of Savona, Italy, on Saturday with the first of a series of seven-night, all-Italy voyages.

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter.

The trips will bring calls at the Italian ports of Civitavecchia (the port for Rome), Naples, Messina, Cagliari and La Spezia.

Also on Saturday, MSC Cruises‘ 4,132-passenger MSC Seaside — the world’s 26th-largest cruise ship — returned to service with the first of a series of seven-night sailings out of Genoa, Italy, to Siracusa, Taranto and Civitavecchia in Italy; and Valetta, Malta.

The Costa Smeralda sailings only are open to Italians for now. The MSC Seaside voyages are open to residents from Europe’s 26 Schengen area countries plus Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania. But both lines hope to open the sailings to a broader range of travelers over the coming months.

The 5,224-passenger Costa Smeralda departing Savona, Italy, on May 1, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Costa Cruises)

The return of the two vessels to service triples the number of big cruise ships operating in the Mediterranean. As of last week, just one big cruise ship — MSC Cruises’ 4,842-passenger MSC Grandiosa — was cruising in the region.

MSC Grandiosa — the world’s ninth-largest cruise ship — restarted cruises out of Genoa in August of 2020 and has been the only big cruise ship sailing in the Mediterranean for much of the last nine months.

Soon there will many more vessels operating in the Mediterranean. Nearly half a dozen major cruise brands including Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises recently have announced plans to resume sailings out of Piraeus, Greece (the port for Athens) over the next three months.

The restarts include the first Silversea sailings in 15 months, starting on June 18, and the first Seabourn sailings in 16 months, starting on July 3.

Norwegian Cruise Line is resuming Mediterranean sailings on July 25 out of Piraeus in what also will likely be its first voyages in 16 months. Celebrity Cruises is scheduled to begin cruises out of Piraeus on June 19, two weeks after resuming its first cruises in the Caribbean.

Unlike the new sailings on Costa Smeralda and MSC Seaside, the recently announced sailings by the other lines will be open to cruisers from any country in most cases.

Meanwhile, MSC Cruises is gearing up to add another four more ships to service in the Mediterranean by Aug. 1 — three of which will operate cruises to Greece. The line says it expects the sailings to be open to Americans by July.

Costa has plans to add three more ships to service in the Mediterranean by July 4.

The restarts are happening as Greece moves forward aggressively with a plan to reopen widely to tourists in advance of the summer travel season, and other countries around the Mediterranean get closer to broader reopenings to tourists.

In addition, the European Union’s executive branch on Monday proposed that all of its 27 member countries reopen to travelers who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The proposal still needs to be approved by a majority of member states before taking effect.

Cruise lines that are restarting operations in Europe are doing so with a wide range of new anti-COVID-19 safety measures.

Costa Smeralda, for instance, began sailing this week with a reduced passenger load, COVID-19 testing for passengers in advance of embarkation and again mid-cruise; temperature checks for passengers when they come and go from the ship and upon entering shipboard restaurants; limits on passenger touring in ports; and social distancing and mask-wearing on board.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image courtesy of Costa Cruises.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.