(11:05 a.m. EDT) -- The Asian cruise market is slowly coming back to life, with an ocean cruise ship entering service in Taiwan and domestic river cruising approved on China's Yangtze River.
Explorer Dream, one of the ships in the Dream Cruise Line fleet, embarked on its first short sailing in Taiwan, leaving from the northern port of Keelung. The cruise line, owned by Hong Kong-based Genting Cruise Lines, developed special two- and three-night island-hopping itineraries to Peng Hu, Matsu Island and Kinmen, as well as Hualien, for the Taiwanese market.
The ship carried 926 passengers on the first sailing Sunday according to the line; about half of the ship's 1,856-passenger capacity. All passengers were required to complete a health questionnaire and travel history declaration form before boarding; the line did not require a negative COVID-19 test.
Masks were not required, the line said, but free ones were made available onboard. "We encourage them to do, especially in common areas on the ship."
Genting was among the first cruise companies to outline health and safety protocols within the industry, releasing their plans back in April. including thorough sanitization and disinfection and enhanced hygiene practices for cabins and crew member quarters, public areas and recreational facilities; social distancing in dining, entertainment and public areas; safe food and beverage handling procedures; and fresh air ventilation in staterooms and public areas.
In addition, the crew underwent a 21-day quarantine and COVID-19 testing. Other crew measures included an outbreak simulation drill, under the guidance of the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control and in consultation with medical experts from the Taiwan Public Health Association.
It took a good deal of coordination with the Taiwanese government for cruising to begin, the line said in a release.
"It is a great honour for Genting Cruise Lines to continue its long and fruitful partnership with Taiwan which began over 20 years ago, as we begin on the road to recovery together due to the COVID-19 pandemic and which will bring hope to the global cruise industry as well," said Mr. Kent Zhu, President of Genting Cruise Lines.
"We could not have done this alone and I would like to acknowledge the great encouragement we have received from all the various Taiwanese authorities -- namely the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, which demonstrated their immense support of the travel industry; the Ministry of Health & Welfare, for their trust and confidence in us; the Ministry of the Interior for their continuous assistance; and the warm hospitality and advocacy from the City of Keelung -- and our travel partners and all of our media friends who have been instrumental in making this day happen."
Taiwanese passengers onboard found local brands and cuisine, as well as local Dream Ambassadors to help guests out in the local language.
Dream has also introduced Flexi-Feast, a dining concept that's meant to spread passengers out across more venues, and encourage social distancing at meals. Essentially, it's a voucher system, where passengers receive a set of complimentary tickets on embarkation, which they can redeem for set meals at designated restaurants. The vouchers are also honored at specialty restaurants and bars, as well as room service.
"The Flexi-Feast concept on Explorer Dream will open doors to a new world of customized dining at sea, curated by the preferences and habits of each individual traveler," said Michael Goh, president of Dream Cruises. "As we enter into a post-COVID-19 new norm of cruising, the Flexi-Feast strategy will also help us provide better social distancing at our dining venues by seating our guests across all our restaurants instead of concentrating on a few inclusive ones."
Last week, the Chinese government announced that domestic river cruises could begin again on parts of the Yangtze River. The main section to be reopened is the Yangtze gorges between Chongqing and Yichang.
In light of the announcement, Century Cruises will resume sailings on August 12, with a new trial route around Chongqing, staying within the area, a line spokesperson said. The classic three- and four-night itineraries sailing the gorge area between Chongqing nad Yichang will begin on August 15.
While the Century Cruises ships are only open to the domestic Chinese market at this point, the vessels are familiar to Americans who have gone on a Yangtze River cruise, as U.S.-based river cruise lines and tour companies often charter the vessels.
Capacity on the ships is limited to 50 percent, the line said.