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

May 4, 2021

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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.

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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.

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Featured image courtesy of Costa Cruises.

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