(12:15 p.m. EDT) -- MSC Cruises has been given the green light by Italian authorities to resume limited cruises in the Mediterranean this month aboard MSC Grandiosa and MSC Magnifica.
MSC's flagship, MSC Grandiosa, will return to service on August 16, offering voyages to the Western Mediterranean from Genoa. The slightly-smaller MSC Magnifica enters service from Bari on August 29, where it will sail primarily to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Both vessels will initially offer cruises only for Schengen (European Union) residents and will travel throughout Italy, Greece and Malta. The Greek and Maltese governments have also reviewed and signed-off on MSC's restart plans, according to the company.
The news follows detailed health and safety protocols announced by MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato earlier this month that are among the most comprehensive in the industry.
These include improvements to sanitation procedures, ventilation onboard, comprehensive and reasonably-priced COVID insurance, and guided shore excursions that have been developed by MSC to control passenger flow on-shore. No independent exploration of ports of call will be allowed at this time, out of an abundance of caution.
Unlike other cruises that have restarted in the recent past, MSC plans for these voyages call for full-week cruises with multiple ports of call. Recent restarts from other European lines including TUI and AIDA have involved short journeys with sea days only.
"During the pause in our operations we focused on developing a comprehensive operating protocol that builds upon already stringent health and safety measures that have long been in place on board our ships," said MSC Cruises executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago.
"We have worked closely with the relevant EU-level, national health and other authorities from the countries that MSC Grandiosa and MSC Magnifica will call along their Mediterranean itineraries to develop a comprehensive set of procedures designed to protect the health and safety of all passengers on board our ships as well as ashore to ensure that local communities feel comfortable welcoming our guests.
“The new procedures include universal COVID-19 testing for all guests and crew prior to embarkation, protected ashore visits at each destination only with an MSC Cruises’ excursion as an added level of protection for our guests and the introduction of a COVID Protection Plan for further peace of mind for our guests. With all of these measures in place, we aim to offer our guests the safest possible vacation.”
MSC Grandiosa's seven-night voyages to the Western Mediterranean from Genoa will call on Rome (Civitavecchia), Naples, Palermo and Valletta, Malta.
Departing from Bari, MSC Magnifica will visit Trieste and the Greek ports of Corfu, Katakolon and Piraeus, the port for Athens.
In making the rare Saturday announcement, MSC further announced the cancellation of all other sailings in the Mediterranean from August 16 through October 31, 2020.
All U.S. departures are further suspended through October 31, 2020, following guidance from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) that was issued on August 5.
The company states it will only restart operations in the U.S. once the CDC and other relevant authorities have given the line the green light to do so.
Far East cruises are now cancelled from September 10 through October 26.
Guests booked on affected voyages will receive a 125 percent Future Cruise Credit to be used on a sailing on or before December 31, 2021. Refunds can be requested directly from MSC cruises online.