Cruise ships are set to return to ports across Canada next month for the first time since 2020, with some rules still in place to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
At the start of the pandemic, cruise ships became epicenters at sea for the novel coronavirus, with passengers stuck in isolation in cabins – some for months – as ships dealt with outbreaks and even deaths. while being turned away from international ports.
Some cruise lines tried to re-enter the tourism industry between waves of COVID-19 cases last year, but outbreaks prevented some companies from launching summer trips on schedule.
But with the gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Canada and around the world, as well as high vaccination rates among Canadians, some travelers may be eager to return to cruise ships this year.
Before you pack your bags, here’s what you need to know about returning cruises.
WHICH CRUISES ARE RETURNING TO CANADA?
Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess will arrive in Victoria, British Columbia on April 6, marking the first cruise ship to arrive in the city since October 2019. It will also be the first cruise ship to arrive in a Canadian port since the federal government banned cruise berths in Canada in March 2020.
Hundreds of cruise ships are expected to arrive in Victoria this year, with the Greater Victoria Harbor Authority estimating that 780,000 passengers could visit the city on cruise calls.
Victory Cruise Lines resumes Great Lakes cruises in May, according to its website, and Viking Cruise Line plans to return to the Great Lakes in 2023.
The Port of Halifax is expected to welcome 152 cruise ships this season, although the number of passengers expected to land in the city for excursions and activities is still difficult to estimate.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
On Wednesday, CTV News learned that Canada plans to lift its pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirement for fully vaccinated travelers beginning April 1 at all ports of entry, including sea. An official announcement from the federal government is expected on Thursday.
The requirement to be fully vaccinated to board federally regulated air, rail and marine transportation remains in effect. Cruise lines must verify travellers’ proof of vaccinations before boarding.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told a press conference in Halifax on March 7 that no passengers will be allowed to get off a cruise ship in Canadian ports unless they meet the requirements regarding vaccines.
The ban on cruise ships in Canadian waters was officially lifted on November 1, 2021, provided operators fully comply with public health requirements.
But the federal government has also said travel rules are likely to change as Canada continues to avoid new waves of COVID-19 cases.
“The return of cruise ships to our ports is another step in reopening Canada and a reflection of the progress we have made against this current variant of Omicron,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement. communicated on March 7. “As we have been told from the beginning, Canada’s border measures will remain flexible and adaptable and we will continue to evaluate our measures to keep Canadians safe.”
WHAT ARE THE RISKS ?
The federal government warns that despite the lifting of some restrictive measures, there are still risks associated with traveling on a cruise ship.
According to the Government of Canada website, travelers could be subject to quarantine procedures on board the ship or in a foreign country, which could restrict access to consular services. The federal government also warns that the cost of medical treatment or quarantine measures could be very high, and in some countries travelers may need to pay medical bills in cash immediately.
Regardless of vaccination status, the federal government recommends following individual public health measures such as wearing a mask and physical distancing, “although it is not mandatory.”
WHAT ARE THE INDUSTRY EXPERTS SAYING?
With the return of cruises to Canada, tour groups and local business owners say they are eager to welcome travelers back to port cities across the country.
“The return of cruise season – cruise ships being sent to port, people wandering the city – it brings an air of excitement that things are changing and we are coming out of COVID,” Allan Gray, the president and chief of Halifax Port Authority, CTV’s Your Morning told Wednesday. “They understand that with $165 billion invested in the Halifax community, it’s a big industry for the region.”
Across the country, business owners are also getting excited about the return of the cruise season. Wally Wargolet, CEO of Vancouver’s Gastown Business Improvement Association, told CTV News Vancouver there’s a lot of “optimism” among business owners trying to emerge from the pandemic.
“It will be the start of this economic recovery,” Wargolet said. “A lot of businesses here in Gastown survive the winters by having very strong (summer) tourist seasons.”
But one of the challenges in preparing for an influx of tourists, experts say, is knowing exactly what influx to expect.
Vancouver Fraser Port Authority said it expects more than 300 ships to arrive in the 2022 season. But due to ongoing changes in travel restrictions, the group said it is was too early to estimate the number of passengers.
“I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a normal cruise season this year,” Gray said. “The challenge of course is that we don’t know what the passenger volume on the ships will be at this point. It seems to be changing all the time as the industry rebounds from the COVID period.”
Allan said cruise lines and port authorities will need to work “cooperatively” with Transport Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, as well as provincial and territorial health authorities to protect passengers and port communities from the Canada against COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, I guess they were the poster child of early COVID, but the industry has really, really stepped up,” Allan said. “They’re very concerned about making sure people have a good experience, and that as they come back and bounce back from COVID, they do it in a responsible way and they can demonstrate that it’s a sustainable industry.”