Could A British Cruise Cure Your Lockdown Summer Holiday Craving?

There's been a spike in demand in recent years and, with lockdown, homegrown cruises may be having a moment, say experts.

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Pelting rain, choppy grey seas and questionable views of Bognor Regis from the English Channel. It may not sound appealing, but trust the experts: 2020 may just be the year of the British cruise.

It’s an idea that’s easy to mock. On the surface, a British cruise lacks the exotic lure of a more tropical destination. But get over the inclement weather and those early Coronavirus news stories about cruise ships, and experts insist there’s plenty about British cruises to get excited about.

One obvious benefit is proximity. They say the more you go away, the more you crave holidaying closer to home. While that’s a perspective of intense privilege, holidaying locally has obvious perks. Long flights and airport delays aren’t a stress, and anyway, lockdown means foreign travel may not happen at all in 2020, so like it or not, we may be forced to stay home(ish).

Given the right checks and balances are in place and the government lift on travel does happen, could a UK cruise cure our pangs for a summer break?

Saga's British cruise ship, the Spirit of Discovery, sailing into Dover
Christopher Ison
Saga's British cruise ship, the Spirit of Discovery, sailing into Dover

“I have been on a splendid cruise halfway around the British Isles, clockwise from Dover to Greenock, so I would like to complete the circuit,” travel expert Simon Calder tells HuffPost UK.

It needn’t matter where the boat is going, he adds. “Many of the people who constitute the conventional cruise market will be happy anywhere, and some spectacular coastal and island scenery will be an added bonus.”

The idea of sailing around the UK sounds novel, but cruise lovers will know the possibility of a British cruise has existed for decades – lockdown has simply prompted new interest in a niche but well established section of the industry.

In the short term I would expect a spike in interest for round-Britain cruises,” says a spokesperson for Saga Cruises, which – alongside operators including Viking Cruises – has teased the potential of the domestic cruise as a means of escaping lockdown. “We are exploring a number of options for when the government lifts the restrictions which includes looking at cruising around Britain with and without ports of call, taking in sights such as the Jurassic coast line, the puffins on Staffa and Giants causeway,” says Saga.

Greenock in Scotland.
Gregor Roach via Getty Images
Greenock in Scotland.

Sophie Griffiths, editor at trade publication TTG Media, confirms she’s seen a spike in interest around British cruises over the past couple of years, but that until now the industry was largely bankrolled by American visitors to the UK.

“New sailings dedicated to the British Isles could be a fab way of enabling Brits to still holiday this summer (and possibly introduce new-to-cruise people to try out cruising), especially if the government’s ludicrous quarantine measures remain in place,” she says.

Griffiths argues that the British cruise has practical benefits, too. “Parts of the UK that tend to prove popular for cruising are areas that are usually harder to reach, such as Cornwall for instance,” she says. “Sailing to Falmouth is much more preferable than spending hours queueing on the A30. Likewise calls at Dublin tend to be popular, as well as Scottish ports such as Rosyth for Edinburgh or Greenock for Glasgow.”

The UK coastline, with all its seals, decrepit tin mines, glorious castles and iconic white cliffs is often seen as day trip material – but piecing the patchwork of our coastline together from the perspective of the sea, and the comfort of a balcony, feels a bizarrely luxurious opportunity in access: offering new perspectives on something so familiar as our home turf.

geoffsp via Getty Images

Yes, there are choppy waters and the obvious challenges of climate. British cruises may ordinarily sound like a laughable pursuit, but this is not an ordinary time – we’re all rethinking how we holiday, with pursuits like camping back on our agendas, why not cruises too?

So far, so exciting, but rather boringly, the same lockdown small print applies to cruises as any other potential holiday under lockdown. “The business principle of 100% occupancy on cruise ships looks to me fundamentally incompatible with social distancing. So they will need to recalibrate their commercial expectations at the same time as reconfiguring the ships,” says Calder.

And Griffiths agrees. “The challenge for cruise lines in the current climate will be in reassuring passengers who may be worried about cruising, having seen the negative headlines around cruise at the start of the Covid-19 crisis.”

However, the cruise sector is known for a focus on health and safety, she adds.Once passengers are on board and can see the stringent measures that have been taken by the cruise lines, I’m confident they will feel reassured and the market will start to pick up.”