A cruise with no port calls? In the new era of COVID, one line is about to try it
Would you take a 14-day cruise that didn't include a single port call?
That's the temporary solution that one Europe-based cruise company has dreamed up to solve the problem of how to offer trips in an era of coronavirus-related port restrictions.
Norwegian expedition cruise company Hurtigruten this week is beginning 14-day sailings from Hamburg, Germany, to the Norwegian coast that -- for now -- won't include a single port stop.
For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's new cruise newsletter
The voyages, on the company's new, 530-passenger Fridtjof Nansen, will offer passengers the opportunity to see Norway's famous coastal fjords, glaciers and mountains as the ship travels all the way up the coast to North Cape -- one of the northernmost points in Europe.
The sailings will be among the first cruises to resume anywhere in the world since cruise lines began shutting down operations in March due to the coronavirus outbreak. Many major lines around the world have canceled all or most sailings through September or beyond.
Designed as an expedition ship, Fridtjof Nansen carries small Zodiac boats for exploring as well as kayaks and paddle boards, and a Hurtigruten spokesperson told TPG they'll all be put to use during the sailings.
"We're allowed to do Zodiac cruising, kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming directly off the ship," Hurtigruten's Rune Thomas Ege said.
The first of the new trips kicked off Friday in Hamburg, and the vessel currently is crossing the North Sea on its way to Norway. Put together on short notice, it'll be the start of a series that will continue through September, Ege said.
Ege said about 160 people signed up for the initial trip, which only opened for bookings about a week ago.
Known for its expedition cruises in polar regions such as Antarctica and a regular coastal cruise-and-ferry service along the Norwegian coast, Hurtigruten often draws American cruisers as well as large numbers of Germans and Norwegians. But the new sailings from Hamburg are primarily aimed at the local German market that can reach Hamburg easily by train or car.
American vacationers aren't allowed to travel to Germany for now.
Related: 23 classic cruise ships that may never return to service
Like many countries around the world, Norway currently is not allowing cruise ships sailing from foreign countries such as Germany to stop at its ports. But, should that change in the coming weeks or months, Hurtigruten could quickly tweak the new itinerary to include stops on land.
"Itineraries are easy to adjust," Ege said. "We will be taking guests ashore immediately as travel restrictions are lifted. It could even happen mid-cruise."
Hurtigruten last week also restarted its coastal service in Norway, which often draws traditional cruisers as well as locals traveling between Norwegian towns. Those trips, for now, are primarily aimed at local Norwegians and travelers from some neighboring Scandinavian countries that have been allowed to visit Norway since June 15.
Hurtigruten is running just four of 11 ships on the coastal service for now.
With the resumption of its coastal service, Hurtigruten became the first passenger line in the world to resume ocean trips with tourists since the coronavirus quarantines began. Several other small-ship operators -- mostly river lines -- also have resumed limited sailings in Europe in recent days.
The sailings are restarting as some tourism resumes in Europe, mostly on a local level. Coronavirus case counts in many European countries have fallen far more sharply since April than they have in the United States.
Related: A river line in Europe just became the first to restart cruises
Hurtigruten plans to restart cruises with two more vessels in the coming weeks, Ege said. The 530-passenger Roald Amundsen will operate seven- and 15-day expedition cruises from Tromso, Norway, to the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic. The 335-passenger Spitsbergen will operate three- to five-day trips out of Longyearbyen, a small town in the Svalbard archipelago.
All of the Svalbard trips will include Zodiac landings for wildlife sightseeing as well as kayaking and other expedition-related activities.
The Fridtjof Nansen should reach its first destination in Norway, the Lysefjorden on Norway's southwest coast, on Sunday. It's a breathtaking, 26-mile-long fjord that's home to an iconic outcropping known as Pulpit Rock.
Reached by TPG on Saturday morning, the expedition leader of the Fridtjof Nansen said everybody on board the vessel -- not just passengers but the crew -- were excited to be back out in the ocean and on the way to Norway.
"They are really looking forward to seeing the spectacular Norwegian fjords," Friederike Bauer told TPG. "And this year we will have them almost to ourselves, with no other ships around. It's going to be a unique experience for us all."
Related: The coronavirus pandemic has claimed its first cruise line
Ege said that passengers on the initial coastal service sailing that started last week (it ends today) also were upbeat to be back on the water. So were the residents of the towns where the ship -- the 919-passenger Finnmarken -- stopped. Hurtigruten's coastal service vessels are allowed to stop in Norwegian towns because they are not carrying passengers from outside the Scandinavian region.
"Feedback from guests -- and local communities -- has been overwhelming," Ege said. "We've been met by armadas of small boats, waving flags, parades, marching bands and even cannon salutes."
The new Hamburg departures start at 4,790 euros (about $5,400) per person. The seven-night Svalbard trips start around $2,100 per person.
Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles
Additional resources for cruisers during the coronavirus outbreak:
- When will cruising resume? A line-by-line guide
- Why you shouldn't expect bargain-basement cruise deals anytime soon
- How to cancel or postpone a cruise due to coronavirus
- Expecting a refund for a canceled cruise? Here's how long it will take
- Some of the year's hottest new ships could be delayed
- Stream these 13 movies, television shows to get your cruise ship fix