MSC Cruises has confirmed it is now requiring adult passengers to be fully vaccinated for the UK sailings of MSC Virtuosa this summer, following a change in government policy allowing ships to sail at 50% capacity, whatever their passenger numbers, if guests are double jabbed.
Under-18s will still be allowed to sail if their accompanying parents have had both injections.
The new policy, being implemented from July 3, is subject to review depending on further government announcements on July 19, when limits on cruise numbers are due to be lifted in line with other Covid restrictions.
The announcement represents a significant shift in policy from MSC Cruises, which was the only major line to welcome both vaccinated and unvaccinated guests when it became the first to begin British cruises on May 20.
In a statement, the company said: ‘The UK government’s decision to increase the number of guests permitted onboard round-the-UK cruise ships to up to 50 per cent of passenger capacity is to be welcomed as it provides more options for British holidaymakers.
‘The condition of this change is that all adult guests must be fully vaccinated and our focus was on inconveniencing as few guests as possible in this rapidly changing environment. It will, however, understandably frustrate a number of our guests who had already booked their holiday with us for voyages but are not yet fully vaccinated.
‘While we regret that this change to the capacity limits will disrupt their travel plans and our ability to accommodate some guests as originally planned, the capacity increase allows us to protect many more guests’ holidays which would have been otherwise affected by the recently announced delay of the easing of Covid restrictions.
‘We are now contacting affected guests to offer them options for their holiday, including rescheduling, refunds and exemptions.’
At the time the statement was released, neither the MSC Cruises website nor the Department for Transport page on domestic cruises had been updated to reflect the new rules.
Switzerland-based MSC Cruises was one of the lines that had to refund cruisers or change their sailing dates after the British government extended Covid restrictions limiting cruise ships to 50 per cent capacity or 1,000 guests, whichever was lower.
The new change in UK rules would allow Virtuosa to sail with at least 2,444 passengers – half the normal 4,888 capacity, based on two passengers per cabin. Under MSC’s system of counting every single berth, 50 per cent capacity would work out at 3,167 guests.
P&O Cruises, which already requires passengers to be fully vaccinated, said: ‘We are aware of the updated government guidance regarding the number of guests permitted on the UK coastal cruises this summer and we are considering the options. Should there be any change to our current stance then we will advise guests accordingly.’
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines said: ‘As our ships carry fewer than 1,400 guests, this change in guidance does not change our position and we will still sail at 50 per cent capacity until the guidelines are relaxed, expected to be on July 19.’