Key workers are being offered free cruises in recognition of their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.
Royal Caribbean has announced that 999 rooms will be allocated to personnel from the emergency services, NHS, social care sector, and armed forces, with the firm’s Anthem of the Seas ship sailing from Southampton from 7 July 2021.
It will operate ocean cruises as well as voyages around the UK coastline visiting destinations such as Liverpool, Belfast and the Orkney Islands.
All crew will be fully vaccinated.
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Royal Caribbean chief executive Michael Bayley said: “The UK is a place we hold near and dear to our heart at Royal Caribbean. We miss our UK guests and are as eager as they are to get back to cruising from Southampton.
“We are delighted with the UK Government’s recent announcements regarding cruising and excited to set sail again with a phenomenal ship and favourite such as Anthem of the Seas,” he added.
“After a tough year, we all need a holiday, but no one more so than the emergency services, NHS, social care sector and armed forces who will have the long-awaited opportunity to get away and relax with total peace of mind.”
When will cruises be able to run again?
The Government has advised people to avoid all cruises since 9 July 2020 due to the pandemic.
However, maritime minister Robert Courts told MPs recently that domestic cruises could be permitted from 17 May, the earliest date they can resume under Boris Johnson’s road map for easing coronavirus restrictions in England.
With ships sat idle in docks for many months, cruise companies have been hard hit by the pandemic, with voyages repeatedly postponed and itineraries cancelled. Many companies have set their sights on 2022 and 2023 instead.
Despite cruises potentially being permitted from May, the situation around international travel is still uncertain, and so several companies have switched focus to local shores, championing their domestic departures.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The restart of domestic cruises in England will be aligned with the wider resumption of the domestic tourism and indoor hospitality sectors.
“As set out in the Prime Minister’s road map, the earliest possible date for this step is May 17."
Which other cruise lines are operating?
Thousands of people have booked with other cruise lines offering summer staycation sailings for UK residents, including P&O Cruises, Cunard, MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, and Saga Cruises.
P&O Cruises’ president Paul Ludlow said the company had always hoped that these domestic cruises would be popular, given the uncertainty around holidays abroad, but that it had “never before seen such significant and immediate demand”.
P&O has announced a ban on unvaccinated holidaymakers, allowing only UK residents who have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine at least seven days in advance onboard. Failure to provide proof of the jabs “will result in denial of boarding”, the firm warned last week.
Other measures introduced due to the pandemic include requiring passengers to wear masks in certain areas of the ship, and making travel insurance mandatory.
There will also be enhanced cleaning regimes and social distancing, while buffet food will be served by staff.
Saga Cruises has previously announced it will require all guests to be vaccinated when it resumes operations in June.
Additional reporting by Press Association