Smaller cruise ships which go nowhere might revive the industry

People will want different things out of a cruise now. Notably, a smaller ship, one which is more environmentally friendly, pandemic-proof and which can reach places that larger ships cannot, without the over-tourism. Some could also choose to go nowhere at all, according to Forbes.

Covid-19 has seen many harbours around the world become giant parking areas for cruise ships, which have recently started to become tourist attractions in their own right. And whilst many companies are planning to set sail again at the end of August or in September, others like P&O are planning to wait until October. But everyone has lost revenue.

New health and safety requirements will require big changes to dining, air circulation and boarding procedures. Buffets will likely become a thing of the past, replaced only by à la carte dining, at least until a vaccine can be found.

People are understandably reticent about getting back onboard large floating cities which could be harbouring disease and from which they might not be allowed to disembark if the virus breaks out. As Statista reports, many now consider cruise ships to be “giant petri dishes”.

The launch of the largest cruise ship in the world, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, has been delayed. As has Carnival’s debut of the Mardi Gras, another large vessel.

While ocean-bound ships have stalled, river cruises, which are much smaller in size and in the number of passengers, have already started back up.

The Telegraph reported that Edwina Lonsdale, managing director of Mundy Cruising, said that in the past month, 90% of ocean-going bookings had been for ships carrying fewer than 1,000 passengers. For river cruises in Europe, people don’t want to be on boats carrying more than 160 people.

Viking Cruises is building a ship for 80 people, Emerald Waterways is about to build a boat with just 50 cabins, and Swan Hellenic – which stopped trading in 2017 – will begin again, with a ship for just 150 passengers, according to Forbes.

Windstar operates a fleet of six small yachts carrying 150 to 340 guests, and is known for visiting small ports and hidden harbours around the world. It will set sail in October with more barbecues on deck, al fresco dining and tenders at 50% capacity to ensure strict health protocols are met.

Betsy O’Rourke, chief marketing officer for Windstar, believes that many people are making the transition from other ‘big ship’ brands to smaller boats. During its one-week sale in early June, 36% of Windstar’s bookings were from new-to-brand guests, which would have been highly unlikely for first-time cruisers in a year such as this, suggesting they transferred from other bigger companies.

Smaller ships can also get to different places.

The trend isn’t just related to the pandemic. Whilst larger cruise ships are changing to become more environmentally friendly (fuelled by liquified natural gas, possibly) they still have a much larger carbon footprint than smaller boats.

And as harbours become consumed with tourists, to the point where cruise ship access had become highly contentious in Venice and Barcelona, smaller boats allow for docking in smaller ports, such as islands in Indonesia or Greece, which aren’t overrun.

Maybe the answer is to never dock? To avoid navigating changeable border controls, some cruise companies are considering the idea of never docking.

Hurtigruten, the Norwegian company, has started a 14-night journey from Hamburg along Norway’s coast before returning to Hamburg. The boat can sleep over 500 people but has only 150 German nationals onboard, who won’t dock, but they will take small paddle board adventures while visiting the fjords.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is planning to operate a cruise for two nights from Liverpool in January 6, 2021. It is being marketed as a ‘cruise to nowhere’ but technically it arrives in Southampton, which is somewhere new.

They might not help with pollution control, but cruises to nowhere could be a mid-term solution to revive the industry, according to Forbes.

They could be offered at a much cheaper price than normal cruises because of the lack of port charges and reduced fuel consumption. The only downside is that they won’t help revive local economies.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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