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Cruise trips are back. This is what they look like now

Boarding in the Italian port of Genoa for a seven-day Mediterranean cruise on August 16, travel agent Valeria Belardi prepared herself for a voyage like no other.
Belardi was one of some 3,000 pioneering cruisers on board MSC Grandiosa, the first cruise liner to return to the Mediterranean following the global shut down of the multi billion-dollar cruise industry in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The voyage was characterized by Covid testing, social distancing, hand sanitizing and temperature checks, but it was, Belardi told CNN, also relaxing and enjoyable. More importantly it was, reportedly, virus-free.
MSC Cruises wouldn’t confirm exact numbers, but the Grandiosa was operating at about 60% of its 6,300 passenger capacity.
There were day trips, including sightseeing in the Maltese capital Valletta and the Sicilian city of Palermo. While on board, Belardi enjoyed pre-packaged snacks on the deck, relaxing evenings by the pool and a trip to the spa.
“I think cruises could be the safest holiday, right now,” said Belardi, who owns travel company Vivere & Viaggiare Roma Pittaluga.
But MSC Grandiosa is almost alone in its return to the high seas.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended a no-sail order effectively banning cruising around American waters until at least September 2020.
Major operators, including Princess Cruises, have also canceled sailings in regions outside the United States, including Asia, the Caribbean, South America and Antarctica, until mid-December.
Smaller cruise lines across Europe have restarted operations, with varying results. Earlier this month, 41 crew and 21 guests tested positive for Covid-19 after sailing on small Norwegian cruise ship MS Roald Amundsen.
MSC Cruises is one of the first major companies to test the waters with a big ship, and cruise industry experts see it as a crucial test.
How Grandiosa and subsequent scheduled Med voyages fare could be an indicator of how cruising can safely return in a changed world.

State of play

MSC Grandiosa August (6)

For the cruise industry, the stakes are incredibly high.
In the past decade, cruising experienced a major boom, with 30 million passengers in 2019, creating a demand for bigger, better, grander ships and a $150 billion industry that sustains 1.2 million jobs.
That exponential growth was already causing image problems amid concerns about overtourism and environmental impact.
Then came the PR disaster of coronavirus, with cruise ships branded high risk for Covid-19 during the height of the pandemic after several significant outbreaks left ships scrambling for safe port and crews stranded at sea.
The challenge now facing cruise operators around the world is how to recover safely and effectively while convincing travelers to return.
“We know that for every 1% drop in cruising that occurs worldwide, up to 9,100 jobs can be lost,” Bari Golin-Blaugrund, a spokeswoman for industry body Cruise Lines International Association, told CNN.
Golin-Blaugrund says CLIA is confident that cruising will recover as demand is already being seen for 2021 vacations and beyond, but, she says, with most cruise operations still suspended, that means up to 2,500 jobs being lost per day.
“By the end of September, the worldwide impact will be $77 billion, 518,000 jobs and $23 billion in wages lost.”
Among those planning to return to cruising is American traveler Christine Beehler, who says testing positive for Covid-19 following a trip on the Coral Princess back in April hasn’t put her off.
“Even without a vaccine, I’m ready to try it,” Beehler told CNN last month. “There are so many places that I still want to go, and I enjoy cruising.”