Norway just became the first place in the world to allow ocean cruises to resume. Will others follow?
Ocean cruising is back, baby!
Well, sort of.
Norwegian cruise and ferry company Hurtigruten on Tuesday restarted its famed ferry service along the coast of Norway, which often draws traditional cruisers as well as locals traveling between Norwegian towns.
The company's 919-passenger Finnmarken, which is a hybrid between a ferry and a cruise ship, departed from Bergen in the southern part of Norway on an 11-night voyage up the coast to Kirkenes and back -- the traditional Hurtigruten ferry route.
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Three more Hurtigruten vessels will start on the route in the coming days.
While one small German river ship has resumed operations in Germany, and several more river ships are scheduled to start sailing again in Europe in the coming days, Hurtigruten is the first passenger line to resume ocean trips with tourists since coronavirus lockdowns began.
While not cruises in the traditional sense, Hurtigruten's coastal sailings are popular with vacationers who ride the ships up and down the coast of Norway to see the country's majestic fjords, mountains and historic towns.
Finnmarken and other Hurtigruten vessels that traditionally operate on the route resemble cruise ships with cabins, multiple restaurants, observation lounges, pools and fitness rooms.
Hurtigruten usually operates 11 ships on the route -- one departing from Bergen every day. They stop at 34 towns as they head northward and 33 as they return southward. Port stops often are brief, but passengers can disembark for a tour at one port and rejoin the ship at its next port.
For now, Hurtigruten's coastal voyages essentially only are open to tourists from Norway and a few neighboring countries. They launched just a day after Norway opened its borders to tourists from Denmark, Finland, Iceland and the Swedish island of Gotland. Until further notice, travelers from other countries arriving in Norway must undergo a home quarantine lasting 10 days.
About 200 people, mostly tourists, boarded Finnmarken in Bergen on Tuesday for its first sailing, a spokesperson told TPG. The line has instituted several protective measures to halt the spread of coronavirus onboard including social distancing requirements. It also has eliminated self-service buffet dining. Ship capacity is being capped at 50% of what is normal to reduce crowding.
Related: How to book a cruise with points and miles
Hurtigruten's return to service comes as another Norway-based company, SeaDream Yacht Club, prepares to start cruises along the Norway coast on Saturday. The small cruise company operates two small, yacht-like vessels that can carry up to 112 passengers.
While SeaDream is an international line that normally draws Americans, its new coastal sailings in Norway initially are aimed at a local Norwegian crowd that can reach the ships relatively easily.
Several other small ocean lines are planning to restart cruising in various parts of the world in the coming weeks. Two small cruise sellers that offer trips in French Polynesia, for instance, are about to restart operations. Still, for the most part, major cruise lines that operate ocean sailings have canceled voyages well into the summer and even the fall.
Just Tuesday, Norwegian Cruise Line and its sister brands, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania Cruises, canceled nearly all sailings into early October. The move came just a week after Cunard Line canceled sailings into November. Silversea, Seabourn, Holland America, Princess Cruises and Windstar Cruises also already have announced they won't be resuming sailings with most ships until the fall at the earliest.
With travel restrictions still widespread across the world and many ports closed to cruise ships, the lines that do resume some sailings in the coming months are expected to stick to voyages aimed at local travelers who, in many cases, can reach ships by car or train without crossing borders.
In addition to resuming coastal voyages on its traditional ferry route, Hurtigruten plans to start scenic cruises to Norway out of Hamburg, Germany, on June 26 that are aimed specifically at the German market.
Scheduled to take place on the line's 530-passenger Fridtjof Nansen, an expedition-style ship, the new Hamburg-based trips will feature travel up the Norwegian coast without landings to North Cape -- known as the northernmost point in Europe that can be accessed by car. Passengers will be able to kayak and sightsee from small boats during the trip.
Another expedition-style Hurtigruten vessel, the 530-passenger Roald Amundsen, will sail seven- to 12-day voyages from Tromsø, Norway, to Norway-owned Svalbard in the Arctic starting in July.
Norway's outbreak of COVID-19 cases peaked in March and then came down sharply as the country implemented lockdown measures. The daily count of new cases of COVID-19 in the country has generally been below 100 since early April.
Additional resources for cruisers during the coronavirus outbreak:
- 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
- Good news for cruisers worried about strict new boarding rules
- Some of the year's hottest new ships could be delayed
- Stream these 13 movies, television shows to get your cruise ship fix