(5:20 p.m. GMT) -- MSC Cruises this week joined the rush of cruise lines looking to resume sailing from England after the English government lifts travel restrictions in May.
The line has one major advantage from many of the other lines returning, however: children and unvaccinated people will be able to sail. While Viking is not requiring vaccinations for its ship Viking Venus, the line is adults only.
For more on the policy, as well as the line's health and safety protocols that have proven successful in Italy and other parts of Europe already, Cruise Critic talked to MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato in a virtual interview.
Here are some edited excerpts from the chat.
Cruise Critic: There have been quite a few announcements around the UK in the last few days, with different lines resuming service. What makes MSC's return there different than the other lines?
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Gianni Onorato: The UK is a very important market for MSC. We are looking very, very closely in all the regions and in all the markets where we operate to see how we can make a possible return of our operations. We've already done it since last August in the Mediterranean. The right immediate and second opportunity to restart has now been presented to us in the UK, around May 20.
We will start with the domestic cruises, reserved only for UK guests. We'll do some mini-cruises. Then we want to start by early June with the seven-night cruises with the destinations included.
We are thinking of destinations like Liverpool, like Greenock near Glasgow in Scotland. We are now discussing and presenting our protocols to all the local communities, and to all the ports in order to have a safe resumption of cruises for our guests and those for the local community.
We will have a cap in the first period set by the UK government, which is 1,000 guests, which could be adjusted by June 21st. We will know more on April 12. Our intention is to publish the full programme in the upcoming days.
Why No Vaccine?
CC: Britain is one country where the vaccine rollout has been going very well. Some other lines (such as P&O Cruises and Princess) are requiring passengers to be vaccinated on their returning ships. What made MSC decide to take a different tack?
GO: Let's start with the assumption that there is no competition, in terms of protocols for different cruise lines, Every protocol works.
We saw that many families (in the UK) probably would have been prevented from cruising, because kids under 16 years old cannot be vaccinated at the moment. This is a very, very strong segment for MSC and for our British audience. We do believe that, based on our experience of our protocols in the Med -- and that we've carried almost 50,000 guests safely, that our protocols are proved to work properly. We've shown that the ship can be a safe bubble for our guests and crew.
We will have some differences. The vaccinated guests will not be required to have a COVID-19 test taken 72 hours prior to the cruise.
Shore Excursions Protocols
CC: Oh, that's interesting. Are there any other differences between vaccinated passengers and those who are not? When you go off on shore, for example, will vaccinated passengers be allowed to do more on their own, and then maybe if you're unvaccinated, you will have to stay with a ship excursion?
GO: The present plan, as of today is that they all follow exactly the same route. We want to avoid any spread of the virus caused even by vaccinated people. It will stay that way unless there's an evolution of the pandemic.
CC: It will follow the science, is what you're saying.
GO: Absolutely. Absolutely. The protocols are very dynamic and they follow exactly what the health authorities will dictate, in terms of maybe restrictions that can be lifted, according to the evolution of the pandemic in the country.
CC: Is that the same philosophy with onboard protocols such as masks and social distancing?
GO: Correct. Both masks and social distance will be utilized again. The first period will have restricted capacity for every event, for every activity, following the indications of the health authorities. Obviously, as these rules will be changing, we will adapt.
Europe and the U.S. to Follow
We are very optimistic for other programmes and destinations. For example, in the East Med, we are working with the Greek authorities. They've already announced that from May 14, they will be reopening the country to tourists (who are vaccinated). We will have ships operating in the Eastern Mediterranean already, starting from the month of May.
In June, we hope that we can have more ships in the West Mediterranean with the possible reopening of Spain and France. For us, this will mean a lot, because it will mean to get closer and closer back to normality.
Then obviously, we're looking also at the possible reopening soon of the U.S. and in the Caribbean. I'm optimistic that something will happen soon.
CC: Do you think MSC would do what several lines have done and put a ship in the Caribbean that's not based in the U.S.? I know that MSC has often sailed out of home ports in the Caribbean.
GO: It depends. At the moment, we are having a dialogue with the CDC, and we will follow the indications that they are giving us.