Ultra-luxury cruise line Silversea says there is unprecedented demand among Kiwis for cruises which the company will restart in June.
Silversea is among several companies that have scheduled departures in the next few months, after a Covid-enforced break of more than a year that brought the cruise industry to its knees. While cruising is resuming in other parts of the world, it is not on the horizon here – even between New Zealand and Australia, where quarantine-free air travel has resumed.
Silversea will debut its new 40,000 tonne Silver Moon – which was finished during the pandemic – on an eastern Mediterranean cruise, the first of nine voyages, each 10 days long. All passengers and crew will have to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Adam Radwanski, Silversea’s managing director for Asia Pacific, said the appetite for cruising among New Zealand and Australian passengers was very high.
“We have seen unprecedented demand so far, sold out voyages for popular departures next year, and we also sold our World Cruise 2023 with the highest participation of Aussie and Kiwi guests ever.”
Fares for the 140-day world voyage start at about $144,000.
The Monaco-based company was last year fully bought out by industry giant Royal Caribbean, which in the past week reported a $US1.1b ($1.5b) loss for the first quarter of the year.
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Silversea will have a 10-ship fleet by the end of the year but none of the vessels carry more than 609 passengers.
“It is no secret that size matters these days and small ship cruising is a clear winner in the world where social distancing and having your own space matter so much,” said Radwanski.
He said the space-to-guest ratio contributed to decision-making among potential passengers.
“There is also the allure of experiences that only small ship cruising can offer – exploring secluded harbours where others cannot go, sailing up narrow waterways into the heart of a city, or docking right at the pier while others must anchor offshore.”
Radwanski said passengers had been accepting of new health requirements.
“The health and safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit is our top priority and while we eagerly look forward to a return to cruising, Silversea is committed to doing so with strict adherence to the latest health advice and requirements. Our guests understand that any health requirements that are in place are there to safeguard their health, therefore ensuring them the best experience possible.”
To attract passengers, the company was offering 20 per cent discounts for early bookings, 15 per cent reduced deposits on select voyages and like the rest of the industry, flexibility over cancelling bookings closer to sailing.
The vaccination requirement is for all Silversea cruises, with the exception of sailings departing from Australia, where it is operating sold-out cruises in the Kimberley region.
Competitor Regent Seven Seas Cruises has announced its return to sailing, with the Seven Seas Splendor cruising from Britain beginning in September.
The small ship, which the company bills as the most luxurious in the world, only did two cruises after being christened in February last year, just as the pandemic hit.
Oceania Cruises has announced that it will resume cruise operations with the 1250-passenger Marina in August, beginning with sailings to Scandinavia and western Europe
Flight Centre’s New Zealand managing director David Coombes said cruise ships,
perceived as one of the riskiest places for Covid-19 last year, were probably among the safest for travellers, with vaccine requirements and extensive safety protocols.
He said his firm was fielding many inquiries about cruise holidays.
“Cruisers are really loyal and also understand, probably more than most travellers, that you book a cruise trip a lot further out,” he said.
”We had a visit from Norwegian Cruise Lines who are seeing a lot of their future cruises being booked out of the UK and the US and they’re saying customers on this side of the world need to start to book otherwise they’re going to start missing out on some of the best pricing.”
And for the foreseeable future, New Zealanders wanting to go on a cruise will have to travel overseas.
A spokesman for Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the Government was aware of the interest in, and support for, cruise travel by New Zealanders.
“However we’re also very aware of the extremely high risks presented by cruise travel during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. Any potential return for cruise ships will have to be guided by very stringent public health advice,” he said.
“At this time, cruise ships are explicitly excluded from participating in the quarantine-free travel arrangement between Australia and New Zealand. At this stage, there’s no timeframe for when this may alter. Domestic cruise ships travelling within New Zealand waters are currently allowed to operate.”
The chief executive of the NZ Cruise Association, Kevin O’Sullivan, said: “It’s a bit disheartening seeing what’s happening in cruise in other parts of the world, and not knowing when we can re-start. Not a lot is happening in New Zealand (and Australia) as our governments have effectively prevented ships from returning.”
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