Swapping one lockdown for another: Welcome to the new non-stop cruises

The Man Who Pays His Way: On Princess Cruises, British passengers can go ashore at UK ports only if they agree to be supervised

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 20 March 2021 07:07 GMT
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New horizons: Regal Princess will be visiting big UK cities
New horizons: Regal Princess will be visiting big UK cities (Princess Cruises)

Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for ‘The Independent’ since 1994. In his weekly column, he comments on the most important travel issues of the week – and what they mean for you.

Even by the weird standards of the coronavirus world, the travel stories this week have been strange. First, as Covid-19 surges across Sweden, the national railway is busy reconnecting the home of the world’s northernmost Ikea to the network.

Turkey raised the stakes in the southern European battle for the hearts and wallets of British holidaymakers by declaring that we will all be welcome this summer regardless – no need for the “jab or test” rule that most Mediterranean nations will demand.

Then P&O Cruises announced that its ships will take you from their base in Southampton to anywhere you want to go – as long as it’s Southampton.

Yes, the line that started life as the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company is temporarily turning its back on the Iberian peninsula and points east. Instead its ships will set a course for southwest England, and, on longer voyages, western Scotland or southwest France. 

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Yet anyone yearning to escape from months of incarceration at home could be swapping one form of lockdown for another: there are no planned ports of call.

After the dreadful scenes a year ago aboard Diamond Princess – the ship that became a coronavirus hotspot unrivalled outside China – the cruise industry has been doing all it can to minimise the chance of outbreaks on voyages.

Accordingly, before you can dream of seeing the Needles at the western end of the Isle of Wight, you may need to see at least two needles sunk into your arm. Both P&O Cruises and its sister line, Princess, insist: no jabs, no sail. Anyone medically unable to have the vaccination is not wanted on voyage, and those who live outside the UK need not apply.

Cruise lines have yet to specify the proof of inoculation that will be required: they hope that in the three or four months before voyages begin, the world may have agreed on a universally accepted format for demonstrating a traveller’s Covid status. If it takes longer, the president of P&O Cruises, Paul Ludlow, says that a letter from your GP will suffice.

The vaccination requirement is in response to the “strongly expressed preference on the part of guests” – though passengers are seemingly relaxed that the crew looking after them may not be vaccinated.

While P&O is strictly seaborne, on Friday Princess Cruises announced that sister ships of Diamond Princess Regal and Sky – will make three ports of call. Anyone seeking a break from their “resort-style seacation”, as Princess puts it, can step ashore in Liverpool, Belfast and Greenock – on the Clyde west of Glasgow.

Conditions apply: you will be allowed to set foot on dry land only if you have signed up for an organised excursion. “Guests wishing to go ashore independently will not be permitted to do so at this stage,” says the firm.

“You will only be able to go ashore on shore excursions that are researched and organised by Princess Cruises. This decision has been made in the interests of the health and safety of our guests and crew, and of the places we visit.”

Yes, British passengers can go ashore at UK ports only if they agree to be supervised.

The last Princess voyage I took meandered across the Mediterranean from Santorini to Sicily. While Liverpool, Belfast and Glasgow may be shorter on chic, they are friendly and welcoming UK cities. But the locals may not have the chance to prove it.

Strangely strange, but these days perhaps oddly normal.

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