It’s a week of firsts in the UK. After 15 months of no operations, P&O UK cruises’ former flagship Britannia set sail with guests onboard on Sunday, June 27. Saga Cruises, a UK-focussed cruise line, set sail from the Tilbury docks with Spirit of Discovery on the same day.
Britannia departed Southampton for a 4-night summer staycation sailing that will see her sailing around the United Kingdom’s coast to where the sun shines brightest. Britannia is the first of two P&O vessels that will be ushering in the restart of cruising in the United Kingdom for the cruise line. The company’s newest flagship vessel, Iona, will set sail this August.
Saga Cruises, a UK-based cruise line that focuses mainly on the 50+ market, was one of the first cruise lines to announce they would require 100% vaccinations. The cruise line set sail on its first voyage that will see Spirit of Discovery sail a 6-night itinerary around the UK.
UK’s Biggest Cruise Line Starts Operations
The start of operations for Britannia marks the start for the biggest UK-based cruise line to start-up operations. The ship sailed from Southampton Sunday evening and will return in 4-nights after searching for some sunshine around the UK.
The vessel received a warm farewell from several cruise ships anchored locally, including P&O UK ships Ventura, Arcadia, Aurora, and cruise ships from sister brand Cunard; Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria. The vessels celebrated the occasion with a horn-sounding departure salute as Britannia left the Port of Southampton at 6 PM and sailed down the Solent.
P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said:
“We’ve been on countdown to this moment and are elated to be welcoming guests back on board. A huge thank you to our guests for their patience as we fully recognise that it’s been a period filled with anticipation and thwarted plans. Our restart is a celebration for crew, guests, our staff, Southampton and also the industry as we return to playing our key role supporting the array of local growers, suppliers, hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and taxis drivers for whom the cruise industry is so vital.”
Britannia will sail on a series of cruises around the UK until September 25, when she will move to the Mediterranean and subsequently to the Caribbean. Iona’s maiden voyage will be on August 7, 2021, she will then sail weekly seven-night scenic coastal cruises before beginning Atlantic coast holidays.
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Saga Sets Sail From Tilbury
Spirit of Discovery returned to service on Sunday as well. The vessel, owned by Saga Holidays, sailed from the Tilbury Docks at 6 PM on its first cruise around the UK since the lockdown.
The vessel’s first cruise will make four stops around the UK; first at Portsmouth on June 28, Portland on June 29, the Isles of Scilly on June 30, and Falmouth on July 1.
Nigel Blanks, CEO of Saga Cruises:
“Our guests are so excited to be back cruising again and our crew members are all looking forward to giving them an incredible experience onboard. We have a great itinerary, taking in some of the most stunning parts of the West Country. There really is no better place to see our beautiful coastline than from the sea.”
Saga Holidays was one of the first companies to announce that all guests must be vaccinated a few months ago. Guests must have had both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine before departure; all crew onboard have also been fully vaccinated.
The company’s second vessel, the newest ship, Spirit of Adventure, will sail on her inaugural voyage on July 26 in the UK, after which she will be cruising in the Baltic as well.
All in all, the UK’s return to cruising has gone over reasonably well, despite some hiccups. The Scottish government banned any cruise ships from cruising from and to Scotland in fear of the virus making a return, while England’s government roadmap for full ships has also been postponed.
It is expected that England will move to Step 4 of the roadmap on July 19, by which date the government will remove all limitations on social distancing. Until that time, ships will only be allowed to sail with 50% occupancy.