New COVID-era cruise restriction: No leaving the ship without an escort

Aug 8, 2020

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Would you take a cruise if you couldn’t leave the ship during a port call without an escort?

That’s the way it’s going to work on two MSC Cruises vessels that are scheduled to restart sailings in Europe later this month.

MSC Cruises this week said passengers on the two ships — MSC Grandiosa and MSC Magnifica — only would be allowed to get off in ports if they were on an official, MSC Cruises-organized shore excursion with a guide.

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Passengers will not be allowed to tour port towns on their own, and the same rule will apply to crew on the ships, too.

In a conference call this week with The Points Guy and several other travel media outlets, MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato suggested the measure was critical to ensuring that passengers and crew don’t bring COVID-19 on board the ships after visiting a port.

“We will make sure (they) are going only to certain places, and they are respecting the social distancing (and) the wearing of masks all the time in order to reduce the risk of getting the virus while in the ports,” Onorato said.

The new restriction also will “ensure that the communities where the (ships) will visit will feel safe, because they will receive healthy people that also are being protecting during the stay in port.”

MSC Cruises is one of a handful of cruise lines starting to resume voyages on a limited basis in Europe, where coronavirus case counts have dropped significantly in recent months. For now, the trips only are open to local European travelers from select countries.

MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)
MSC Magnifica, shown here with another MSC Cruises vessel, MSC Bellissima, is one of two MSC Cruises ships that will restart cruising in August. (Photo courtesy of MSC Cruises)

Already, several small cruise operators in Europe have restarted cruising in a small way, with mixed results. In recent days, two cruise ships that resumed operations in Norway with trips aimed at local Norwegians and other Europeans have experienced COVID scares.

One of the vessels that started back up, Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen, has had a major outbreak of the illness. Dozens of passengers and crew on the ship have tested positive for COVID-19, and several have been hospitalized. Hurtigruten has canceled all further sailings of the ship and two others that it had tried to bring back into service in recent weeks.

A no-touring-on-your-own restriction of the sort MSC Cruises plans to implement is relatively rare in the cruise world, though not unprecedented. The small vessels that sail in the Galapagos, for instance, only allow passengers to disembark for wildlife watching when in a group accompanied by a licensed guide. The rule is mandated by the Ecuadorian government agency that oversees tourism in the Galapagos.

Related: A growing number of lines are canceling sailings into 2021

The touring restriction is one of several measures that MSC Cruises is implementing on the two ships that are about to resume sailings to ensure COVID-19 doesn’t spread during voyages.

The line also will require passengers to undergo a COVID-19 swab test at the port on the day of embarkation and daily temperature checks while on board. Passengers who test positive for COVID-19 at embarkation or show symptoms of the illness will be denied boarding.

MSC Cruises is the first cruise line to announce plans to test all passengers for COVID-19 on the day of departure.

The two MSC Cruises ships also will undergo enhanced cleaning on a regular basis, and capacity limits in shipboard venues will be reduced to allow for social distancing. Passengers will be asked to wear masks in elevators and other onboard places where social distancing isn’t possible.

Onorato acknowledged that some of the restrictions were “severe.” But he said they were necessary for the line to resume operations.

Given that MSC Cruises won’t be allowing passengers to get off the vessels for independent touring, Onorato said the line would be including a number of official MSC Cruises shore excursions in the fare for the new sailings. The number of excursions that are included will depend on the level of accommodation that a passenger has booked.

Passengers also will be able to buy additional excursions for a reduced rate, Onorato suggested.

Related: Are cruise lines trying to return to service too soon? 

The two vessels both will sail in the Mediterranean out of Italian ports. The MSC Grandiosa, which normally carries 4,842 passengers at double occupancy, will operate out of Genoa on seven-night voyages to Civitavecchia (the port for Rome), Naples and Palermo in Italy; and Valletta, Malta. The MSC Magnifica, which normally carries 2,550 passengers at double occupancy, will depart from the ports of Bari and Trieste on seven-night trips with stops at the Greek ports of Corfu, Katakolon and Piraeus.

On Saturday, the line announced that the first sailings of the two ships would be on Aug. 16 and Aug. 29, respectively.

Both ships only will be sailing at 70% of capacity to allow for social distancing.

MSC Cruises on Saturday canceled all other Mediterranean sailings and all North American voyages through Oct. 31. Until Saturday, the line only had canceled Europe sailings through Aug. 15 and North American sailings through Sept. 15.

MSC Cruises on Saturday also canceled all Asia sailings through Oct. 26.

The cancellations mean that MSC Cruises only will operate two of its 17 ships this summer.

Additional resources for cruisers during the coronavirus outbreak:

Featured image courtesy of MSC Cruises

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