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Coronavirus: Updated Cruise Ship Policies and Cancellations Because of COVID-19 (2021)
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Iona (Photo: P&O Cruises)
Iona (Photo: P&O Cruises)

Big Week For English Cruising As Three Ships Come Sailing In

Iona (Photo: P&O Cruises)
Iona (Photo: P&O Cruises)

June 18, 2021

Adam Coulter
U.K. Executive Editor

(4:45 p.m. BST) -- This week marks the most significant for cruising in England since the start of the pandemic with three ships arriving into English ports.

P&O Cruises' new flagship Iona was named on Sunday in Southampton, after a delay of more than a year.

Viking's newest ship Viking Venus sailed into Portsmouth and was christened at sea on Monday evening. It will set sail with passengers on Saturday (May 22).

And MSC Cruises' newest ship MSC Virtuosa -- though not being christened here -- will set sail from Southampton on Thursday. It will be the first cruise with passengers onboard to set sail from a British port in more than a year (and we're onboard).

The three ships boast a capacity of more than 10,000 passengers, but all will be sailing half full or with 1,000 passengers, in line with government guidelines.

Their arrival here marks the return of cruising in the U.K., which will see 16 lines operating 21 ships around these shores over the course of the summer (Note: the green light for cruising is just for England; the devolved governments have yet to confirm a restart date.)

"With at least a dozen cruise lines set to sail domestically this year, it's enormously encouraging to see the UK is making such a significant contribution to the industry's overall restart," said Andy Harmer, managing director of CLIA UK & Ireland.

"We have always advocated a phased resumption, beginning with UK sailings, and it's rewarding to see this is now taking place. And what better way to get the nation onboard again than by offering such a diverse choice of cruise lines and ships, including a number welcoming guests for the first time, such as MSC Virtuosa, P&O Cruises' Iona, Saga's Spirit of Adventure and Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Lady.

M S C  Virtuosa
M S C Virtuosa

"We can proudly lay claim to the fact that cruise still offers something for everyone; and this year it's all on our doorstep."

Simone Clark, SVP Global Supply for Iglu, said: "This has been a very exciting week for the cruise industry as we saw three brand new ships arrive into Southampton at long last, in preparation for cruising to restart.

"These two ships are the first of many to arrive on our shores, as this summer the UK will be the centre of cruising, with a huge choice of cruises to choose from."

She added that Iglu had "booked hundreds" of passengers onto the first few sailings of MSC Virtuosa, and that "our guests are excited to join in the inaugural celebrations on board".

Here's a round-up of what's been taking place this week -- and a sneak peek of what's to come:

P&O Cruises Iona

Aerial shot of Iona at sea
Iona (Photo: P&O Cruises)

P&O Cruises' newest, biggest and greenest ship, Iona, was named by Dame Irene Hays in a glittering ceremony in Southampton on Sunday.

An estimated 25,000 people watched online as DJ Jo Whiley compered the event, while Gary Barlow, the ship's musical director, performed two songs.

"What an incredible day! We welcomed our newest P&O Cruises ship, Iona, to her home in Southampton. A 'virtual' naming ceremony, a first for us, which allowed us to connect with a live audience of tens of thousands, plus many millions of people via our social media channels," commented P&O Cruises President Paul Ludlow.

"Perhaps not the ceremony we'd planned 18 months ago, but other than a drop (or two) of British weather it couldn't have gone better. Credit to the fantastic team behind the scenes who make incredible events like this happen. Carnival UK (P&O Cruises & Cunard)."

Iona will set sail on her maiden voyage on August 7. In the meantime "P&O Cruises will continue to work through the complex task of operational readiness, ready to welcome guests on board for her maiden cruise," a statement from the line read.

Viking Venus

Viking  Venus in  Portsmouth
Viking Venus in Portsmouth

Viking Venus arrived last week into Portsmouth, the ship's home for six weeks, last Monday, and was christened at sea yesterday.

Godmother, British broadcaster Anne Diamond, wielded an axe onboard as part of the ceremonies as well as offering a blessing of good fortune and safe sailing for the ship. 

Viking chairman Torstein Hagen described the day as "one of the proudest days in Viking's nearly 24-year history".

"When we became the first cruise line to suspend operations in March 2020, we certainly did not know it would be 14 months before guests would be welcomed back on board," he said.

"On behalf of the entire Viking family, we are delighted to celebrate the naming of our newest ship in England."

MSC Virtuosa

M S C  Virtuosa arrives into  Southampton  M S C  Cruises,  Blue  Harbour (1)
M S C Virtuosa arrives into Southampton M S C Cruises, Blue Harbour (1)

The line's giant new ship, MSC Virtuosa, only left the Chantiers' D'Atlantique shipyard in Brittany a few days ago, before arriving into Southampton on May 11 -- before setting sail on May 20.

The 6,000+ passenger ship will operate a four-day sailing along the English Channel with one port stop in Portland.

Antonio Paradiso, UK Managing Director said "The arrival of our flagship MSC Virtuosa into Southampton today is an exciting moment, as we prepare to welcome UK guests back on board from May 20th for her inaugural season around the British Isles. We are proud to be the first cruise line to set sail from UK waters this summer and offer holidaymakers the chance to experience all of the new and incredible features on board our latest and most innovative ship."

We'll be reporting live from MSC Virtuosa from Thursday. Follow us on https://www.cruisecritic.co.uk and on social media @cruisecriticuk and facebook.com/cruisecritic for updates.

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