First cruises since lockdown to sail from Italy this weekend

Italy's cruise industry is preparing to sail again in Mediterranean waters, hoping to help jumpstart the economy while restoring the beleaguered sector's reputation.

First cruises since lockdown to sail from Italy this weekend
Cruise ships were unpopular in Venice even before the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

MSC Cruises, a privately owned company based in Geneva, will resume operations with two departures from Italy this month, it said at the weekend.

It becomes the first global operator to announce cruises for the lucrative Mediterranean market after the coronavirus pandemic froze cruises throughout the world.

READ ALSO: Face masks remain and cruise ships return: What's in Italy's new emergency decree?

The MSC Grandiosa and MSC Magnifica are to set sail on August 16th and 29th from Genoa and Bari, respectively, to sites in Italy, Malta and Greece in a high-stakes gamble for the industry that Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has called a “fundamental part of our economy”.

Italy's €14.5 billion cruise industry — Europe's largest — is a key economic driver that supports nearly 53,000 jobs, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

A Europe-wide suspension of cruises through August could result in a total economic loss of about €25.5 billion, CLIA has calculated.

An MSC cruise liner towers over the Venetian lagoon. Photo: Andrea Pattaro/AFP

Italy approved the restart of its cruise industry from August 15th as part of efforts to revive a moribund economy devastated by a more than two-month quarantine, with cruise operations suspended in March.

“After months of lockdown… people obviously want to return to travelling, visiting places,” MSC spokesman Michele Curatolo told AFP on Monday. MSC was receiving “lots of calls” for the trips, although the ships will sail at about 70 percent of normal passenger capacity, he said, adding that the reduction “seems sufficient” to meet demand.

The Costa Crociere Group, MSC's giant rival owned by Carnival, will resume Mediterranean cruises from September, the company said in a statement, starting with departures from Trieste to Greece and Genoa to Malta.

READ ALSO: Italy's biggest cruise companies won't be stopping in Venice this summer

The industry's reputation suffered a hit with dozens of deaths and thousands of infections aboard cruise ships.

Global health authorities criticised its slow response to the spread of the virus, from lax monitoring of crew, to continued operation of self-service buffets and gyms, to lack of personal protective equipment.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, various cruise ships were stranded at sea around the world from Japan to California as nations, including Italy, blocked them from their ports.

Thousands of people were stuck on the Costa Smeralda in January over fears of coronavirus infections aboard. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP 

As of June 11th, 3,047 people were infected and 73 people died aboard 48 CLIA cruise ships, according to Johns Hopkins University data provided by CLIA.

The risk persists, according to the US Centers for Disease Control, which on July 16th extended a no-sail order in US waters until September 30th.

“The current scientific evidence suggests that cruise ships pose a greater risk of COVID-19 transmission than other settings,” the CDC said. Close living and working spaces for crew and partially enclosed environments were obstacles to social distancing, it said in its July order.

Norway's Hurtigruten was the first international passenger cruise operator to restart operations in June, only to suspend its service and apologise after at least 40 passengers tested positive for COVID-19. Local authorities worry that disembarked passengers may have spread the virus to towns along the western Norwegian coast.


Meanwhile Costa's website advertises cruises from Savona and Venice on August 15th and 16th, as well as other August cruises from other ports in Italy.

MSC has suspended the rest of its Mediterranean, Caribbean, Asian and north European cruises until late October.

The company said its security protocol exceeds national and industry standards. At the terminal, passengers and crew will take a COVID-19 blood test before boarding and temperatures will be taken daily. For excursions, passengers will be escorted in controlled groups to avoid interactions with others.

Food from the buffet, a highlight of the cruise experience, will be served at passengers' tables, while social distancing will increase, among other measures.

CLIA Europe spokesman Martyn Griffiths said the industry was now in a “different operating environment” from earlier this year when it was hit with the unprecedented crisis. Gradual restarts, he said, allow crews to get used to new protocols, while passengers now better understand the risk of coronavirus in their daily lives and do not consider cruises more dangerous.

“It's peak summer holiday time now, people love cruising,” he said. 

Member comments

  1. If not, now, when? When will Italy and the rest of the world realize these MAMMOTH cruise sheep wreak havoc on the seas, the local estuaries, and anchorages and turn once beautiful tourist destinations into zoos while in port? If Italian bureaucrats were not so corrupt, they would ban all of these gigantic floating apartment buildings and restrict their anchorages to much smaller, earth-friendly, people-friendly ships. It is obscene looking at these floating cities tied up next to a cityscape!

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EXPLAINED: How will the tourist-control system work in Venice?

Venice is introducing a new system to discourage day-trippers in hopes of curbing problems with overtourism in the popular hotspot. Here is what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How will the tourist-control system work in Venice?

After years of discussing a possible “tourist tax”, the city of Venice has confirmed it will make day-trippers pay from €3 to €10 for access to the city centre starting on January 16th.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the goal of the new tourism fee is to discourage day tourism at certain times of the year and encourage overnight tourism. Day-trippers will have to pay a fee, but those who stay overnight continue only to have to pay the city tax of €2 to €5, according to a government press release.

The Commission and the City Council will now examine the regulatory text for the final green light scheduled for the summer.

“We are the first in the world to introduce this system, and we are aware that not everything will work well from the beginning, but we will be ready to improve in the course of work. We want to guarantee the tourist the best quality of the visit and make sure that the city is able to give visitors all the services they need”, said Tourism Secretary Simone Venturini.

READ ALSO: After flooding and coronavirus, is it time Venice stopped relying on tourism?

How much will I have to pay?

The contributo di acesso, or access contribution, will cost from €3 to €10, depending on factors such as tourism numbers for the day and season.

The city will determine a certain threshold of tourists, after which people will be required to pay higher sums. Travellers are encouraged to book in advance to avoid price increases.

Does the payment have to be made in advance?

The government said that nobody would be denied entry to Venice, meaning a pre-registration is not necessary. However, the mayor said that those who book their visit in advance would be “rewarded”. The reward will likely discount the fee.

How will the system work? Where do I pay?

According to the City of Venice, the payment is an alternative to the city tax. It will be required from every person that goes to the old city centre of Venice, as well as other major tourist destinations and islands in the region.

READ ALSO: 16 surprising facts about Venice to mark 16 centuries of the lagoon city

A single payment guarantees access to the old town and the smaller islands.

Tourists will be able to pay through an online and “multilingual” platform where they will receive a QR code to present in case of controls. Tickets should also be available to buy in connection with public transport – so if you are arriving by train, it will be possible to buy the train ticket and the entry pass together.

Who is excluded or exempt from the payment?

There are several exceptions to the payment, according to the website. Among them are residents from the Comune di Venezia, those who work or study there, and those who own homes in the city.

Additionally, exceptions include those born in the Comune di Venezia, children under six years of age, people with disabilities and their accompanying person, public workers, volunteers, people visiting family members, prisoners, or attending funerals, and many others.

Residents of the Veneto region “up to the thresholds that will be set by a specific Council resolution” are also exempt.

Those who stay overnight and, therefore, already pay the city tax through their hotel or short-term rental booking are also exempt from the fee.

The city of Murano, in the metropolitan region of Venice (Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash)

What about people arriving on cruises?

Venice is a very popular stop for cruise ships and people visiting the city on a cruise tour will also have to pay the fee as they disembark in the old town. However, the City of Venice said they might determine a lump-sum measure in agreement with the relevant carriers.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

Which smaller islands are included?

Only one ticket and payment is required for those travelling to multiple islands, including Venice. The islands that are part of the group are:

  • Lido di Venezia
  • Pellestrina
  • Murano
  • Burano
  • Torcello
  • Sant’Erasmo
  • Mazzorbo
  • Mazzorbetto
  • Vignole
  • S. Andrea
  • La certosa
  • S. Servolo
  • S. Clemente
  • Poveglia

What if I simply don’t pay?

If you fail to produce proof of payment or that you are exempt from the fee, the sanction is from €50 to €300. The fine is the same in the case of people making false statements trying to obtain exemptions or reductions.

Additionally, visitors who don’t pay in advance will have to pay the full €10 fee.

For more info click here.