• Write a Review
  • Boards
  • Log In
You may also like
Dismiss
Will Required Cruise Line Excursions Be Part of the COVID-19 Era Cruising?
Ventures by Seabourn (Photo: Seabourn)

Will Required Cruise Line Excursions Be Part of the COVID-19 Era Cruising?

Will Required Cruise Line Excursions Be Part of the COVID-19 Era Cruising?
Ventures by Seabourn (Photo: Seabourn)

September 03, 2020

Chris Gray Faust
Managing Editor
By Chris Gray Faust
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter

Do you think required cruise line excursions will be part of COVID-19 era cruising? Take our survey.


(5:15 p.m. EDT) -- As cruise lines return to the sea in Europe, one aspect that seems to impede COVID-19 infection is keeping the passengers safe in "a bubble" that can safely move from ship to shore.
So far, four cruise lines that have either restarted already or plan to start soon have implemented policies that require passengers leaving the vessel to take a shore excursion sponsored by the ship. The lines are MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, TUI and Ponant, although the latter has eased up on its requirements.
MSC Cruises takes the policy on excursions, which it calls "protected ashore visits," so seriously that it barred a family that left a group from reboarding on MSC Grandiosa's first sailing in the Mediterranean
"By departing from the organized shore excursion, this family broke from the 'social bubble,' and therefore could not be permitted to re-board the ship," the line said in a release.
Organized shore excursions allow MSC to control the environment, making sure "that transfers are properly sanitized and that there is adequate space for social distancing." Tour guides and drivers also undergo health screenings -- all passengers onboard take COVID-19 tests in the terminal before boarding -- and wear masks or appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
The strict removal of the scofflaws was greeted with enthusiasm from cruise fans and Cruise Critic members, as well as a copycat. After MSC Cruises announced its first successful completed sailing, Costa Cruises said it would also require passengers to take ship-sponsored excursions to get off.

Expedition Model

Ship Exterior on National Geographic Islander
Anyone who has sailed on an expedition ship is familiar with the model of ship-run excursions. In many remote places where expedition ships go, passengers must stick with ship-organized excursions for safety's sake.
In Svalbard, Norway, for example, passengers are guarded by rifle-toting guides when they get off the ship to prevent polar bear attacks. In the Galapagos, the strictness is there to protect the island and its wildlife, which could get damaged if passengers go off on their own.
On expedition ships, though, excursions are included in the fare. MSC offers at least one complimentary excursion for all cabin grades, but unless you book a higher category of cabin, you will likely have to pay to get off the ship. The shore excursions are also given as add-ons for MSC Yacht Club passengers, who now receive an excursion in each port. Another package allows passengers to purchase up to three extra shore excursions for a flat fee of 100 euros.
Other lines have followed MSC's model. TUI had already resumed sailing in northern Europe on several Mein Schiff vessels. For the line's start in Greece, however, the German line plans to make ship-sponsored excursions required.

Loss of Freedom, Businesses

Cozumel Port
Cruisers who are against the excursion port requirement cite the lack of freedom to walk around and explore independently, which is a significant draw of cruising in the first place, for many.
The policy also gives the cruise lines a monopoly on shore time and hurts local businesses, who rely on independent cruise ship passengers to buy souvenirs, go to restaurants and bars, book tours and other participate in activities.
The policy has created a lot of debate on Cruise Critic's message boards, on multiple forums.
"No way would Oceania cruisers tolerate these 'bubble' tours," susiesan wrote in Cruise Critic's Oceania forum. "Many of us choose Oceania for the reason they sail to a lot of small ports the bigger ships can't get into and we explore on our own. I never will and would not sail on Oceania or any other cruise again if I could not go off the ship and be on my own."
"While it may be a necessity at first, it sounds like a terrible idea to me in the Caribbean where many people simply like to get off, shop, have lunch and drinks," mek wrote on the Royal Caribbean board.  "If people are restricted from doing that, I don't think the local businesses will support that policy and they will put a lot of pressure on the cruise lines -- like maybe even denying them access to the port."
But for many who like to cruise just to relax and enjoy the ship, the excursion requirement to access ports is not an issue.
"Since the DH and I booked and planned for this to be a relaxing stay-on-the-ship cruise, it will not be a change in our plans," wrote on the MSC forum. "Keep in mind we are seniors with no children and/or grandchildren traveling with us."

OK for Restart, Not Forever

Cozumel Port
It's also important to note that while cruises might restart with tightly controlled shore excursions, those policies might change as the pandemic evolves.
When Ponant restarted in France in July, for example, the line required passengers to go ashore in controlled groups. But the line has already abandoned the policy, allowing passengers to go off on their own, according to journalist Mike Louagie, who has sailed with the line twice within a six-week period. Passenger and crew temperatures are taken when they return to the ship.
And for some, any kind of shore excursion might be better than nothing. In their restarts, the German lines TUI and Hapag-Lloyd have been sailing "blaue reise," (blue trip) -- essentially cruises to nowhere with no port stops included. People have been so eager to get on the water that the cruises have been doing well.
Cruisers seem to be taking this long view as well. "It may be necessary today like on MSC but with an effective vaccine, I do not see that (required ship excursions) being the case," Paulchili wrote on the Oceania board
"This requirement may change or be waived for certain ports as time goes by," AtlantaCruiser72 wrote on the Holland America Line message board. "While ship sponsored excursions are not preferable to most it appears they will be the only way, for the near future, to access the ports until COVID is under control.
"These are unusual times and we ALL need to modify our way of thinking about travel and be more flexible than ever when making travel decisions. Sacrifices have to be made so we can control/stop the spread of this pandemic."

Do you think required cruise line excursions will be part of COVID-19 era cruising? Take our survey.

How was this article?
Popular with cruisers like you
Healthy Return to Cruising is Possible, Panel of Medical Experts Concludes

We want to hear from you. Please take our short survey on your reaction to the recommendations from the Healthy Sail Panel, outlined below.

(9:30 a.m. EDT) -- A panel of leading scientists and medical experts convened by two of the world's biggest cruise companies -- Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings -- has concluded that the public health risk associated with the pandemic can be controlled on a ship.

The Healthy Sail Panel submitted its recommendations -- including 74 detailed best practices -- today to the U.S. Centers fo

'So Far from Mass Tourism': How the Galapagos Islands Could Help Restart Cruises

(1:55 p.m. EDT) -- As the cruise and travel industry works to regain its footing while the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues its global march, limited cruises quietly restarted in the Galapagos Islands in August. This remote, bucket-list destination could very well provide a framework for cruises to restart in other parts of the world.

Located roughly 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) off the Pacific coast of Ecuador, the Galapagos is no stranger to cruise tourism. Roughly 70 ships ply these waters on a regular basis, serving as the easiest and most direct way to experience some of the 19 islands that make up the collective known as the Galapagos.

These ships, though, are mostly small

Seabourn Cuts First Steel on Seabourn Venture Sister Cruise Ship

(5:25 p.m. EDT) -- Seabourn has cut the first steel on its second purpose-built luxury expedition vessel at the T. Mariotti shipyard in Italy.

The as-yet-unnamed vessel will be a direct sister to the upcoming Seabourn Venture, which is also under construction. The latter has been delayed due to the ongoing global health pandemic and is scheduled to launch in December 2021.

Seabourn's newest ship will set sail in 2022.

"With two brand-new ultra-luxury expedition ships now under construction, we are setting a new standard of luxury and adventure," said Josh Leibowitz, president of Seabourn. "This milestone further underscores our commitment to the expedition travel ca

Masks, Plexiglass and Temp Checks -- the New Normal for River Cruising

Confidence is on the rise -- in Europe at least -- as dozens of river cruise ships ply the rivers and canals of Europe.

In fact, river cruises have been operating safely here since June -- and I was fortunate enough to be on one of the first, A-ROSA on the Douro.

(There has been just one COVID-19 outbreak, on a Croisi river cruise ship in Portugal at the end of its cruise, infecting two passengers and five crew members.)

However, all these lines have one thing in common -- they are all European. The huge fleets from U.S.-based cruise lines in Europe such as Viking, Uniworld and AmaWaterways are idle, except for one.

In cooperation with the German tour operator e-ho

Want to cruise smarter?
Get expert advice, insider tips and more.
By proceeding, you agree to Cruise Critic’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.