P&O and Cunard have pushed back the resumption of sailings, from April 11 to May 16. The continued travel restrictions are also set to impact the launch of P&O’s new flagship Iona, the largest ship built to serve the UK market.
In a video he filmed himself from his home, P&O Cruises president Paul Ludlow said: “It is clear that our original date of April 11 to resume sailings, which would have been a 30 day pause in operations, is just not feasible in light of government announcements last week. Regrettably, therefore, we are now extending this pause for all sailings up to and including May 15.”
He also acknowledged it would be a phased return to operations for the line, given the multitude of ever-evolving guidelines and restrictions in ports of call around the world. He said exact itineraries and prices would be published on the cruise line’s website as soon as there was clarity around destinations.
Cunard’s president Simon Palethorpe made a similar announcement by video: “The impact of COVID-19 is affecting personal routines and businesses as well as placing significant travel restrictions around the world. Everyone in the Cunard team is aware of the need to support the management and containment of COVID-19 globally. This includes protecting the health and safety of our guests and crew. It is therefore right we extend the pause in operations.”
The maiden voyage of P&O’s new 5,200-passenger ship Iona was due to depart for the Norwegian fjords on May 14. However, the coronavirus restrictions have forced the temporary slow down of work by Meyer Werft in Germany, where the final outfitting on the ship is being completed.
Ludlow added: “We are working with the team at the shipyard to see exactly how this will impact upon Iona’s delivery and inaugural period.“We are all so sorry for the disappointment this will cause to everyone and particularly those guests who had booked Iona’s maiden voyage.”
“As soon as we have more clarity on the rescheduled delivery date, we will update you all.”
The line had planned to celebrate the naming of the new ship with the inaugural IonaFest at sea, starting on July 4, with a line-up including Gary Barlow, The Script, Pixie Lott, Diversity, Tim Vine, Chris Ramsey and Clean Bandit.
All P&O guests with a holiday booked up to and including May 15 this year will automatically receive a future cruise credit of 125 per cent, valid until the end of 2021. Cunard guests who were due to sail between April 11 and May 15 will also automatically receive a 125 per cent future cruise credit. This can be redeemed against any new booking, on any voyage sailing before the end of March 2022.
All P&O’s ships are currently berthed in the UK, apart from Arcadia, which is still making her way home from a world cruise and is due back to Southampton in mid-April. Queen Mary 2 is also due to end a disrupted world cruise in Southampton on April 11. Queen Elizabeth is currently anchored at the Port of Gladstone and Queen Victoria is at sea, without passengers.
Both lines have asked customers not to call their contact centres unless it’s critical. They said that future cruise credits will be applied automatically to customers’ accounts and those opting for a 100 per cent cash refund instead should fill out an online form. Refunds may take up to 60 days to be processed.
Both presidents had encouraging messages for customers looking forward to getting back on board. Palethorpe said: “It is too soon to know exactly how this situation will evolve. But I do know that we, the Cunard team, will commit all our resources, energy and talent to weather this storm and come out stronger than ever for our guests. We have been sailing for 180 years and we look forward to many more. We will get through these tough times together and look forward to welcoming our guests back on board again soon, when the time is right.”
Ludlow added: “I really believe once this period is over, and we can go out of our homes, be with our friends and family, laugh and be together again, we will all need a holiday more than ever.”
Meanwhile, Celebrity Cruises has taken virtual delivery of its new ship Celebrity Apex.
Bosses at the line accepted official command of the sister ship to Celebrity Edge via video conference from officials at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard. In keeping with tradition, French and American flags were exchanged, while their national anthems played in the background.
“While the circumstances are quite unique right now, it’s fitting that such an innovative ship as Celebrity Apex would have a digital-age delivery,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and chief executive at Celebrity Cruises.
“I look forward to calmer waters when we can welcome guests onboard the newest addition to our beautiful fleet,” she added. “I have great anticipation for her first sailing out of Barcelona on May 20.”