Iceland is ready to welcome cruise ships back

Monday, May 24, 2021 - 16:48 by ce-press

There is a sense of mounting excitement in the industry as more cruise lines announce limited returns to sailing in various regions.

Not least of these is Iceland which has opened its borders to travellers and is now part of the UK’s ‘green’ list of places that can be visited with very few restrictions in place.

Last week I received a notification from Mundy Cruising announcing bookable small ship cruises in Iceland this summer including those from Silversea Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Viking Ocean Cruises and Ponant.

This UK cruise specialist described Iceland as “the great outdoors turned up to eleven, alive with geothermal activity and home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes on earth. It’s a friendly and forward-thinking place, at the cutting edge of Nordic cool and powered by renewable energy, yet with a history and a culture that are rooted in the island’s Viking past.”

Iceland agents’ most recent estimate is that the total number of calls booked to Iceland this year is 315 although the numbers fluctuate.

Iceland Travel itself has had up to 319 calls booked in total although, account manager cruise, sales & marketing Bergny Margret Valdimarsdottir says: “This is changing very frequently these days but we are expecting it to be maximum around 200-250 calls.”

Of these 87 to 120 will be offering ship bubble tours only although independent tours are being offered by some lines. In terms of visiting attractions and venues and adhering to Covid-safe protocols, Valdimarsdottir comments: “There is no problem to keep distance and follow the government guidelines. For many tours it is possible to reserve a special room at restaurants or keep the museum only to the group while visiting.” There is also sufficient transport to maintain social distancing.

As we all know the welcome waiting passengers is a vital ingredient in making the call a success. The pandemic has added a new dimension to this for local communities hosting foreign travellers. Valdimarsdottir says that reactions to the ships returning are mixed with some keen and others not so much. Likewise some local economies have suffered worse than others from the absence of the ships.

“Locals want the life to be normal as it was. It is estimated that in June/July Iceland will have herd immunity for Covid. It all depends on how the vaccine process goes,” says Erna Kristjansdottir, marketing and quality manager, Associated Iceland Ports/Faxafloahafnir.

Cruise Europe is delighted to announce that Reykjavik and Keflavik have recently signed up as new members, joining Akureyri, Eskifjordur, Isafjordur, Hafnafjordur, Seydisfjordur, Siglufjordur and Saudarkrokur and hence offering wealth of choice and destination experiences.

With the prospect of the cruiseships returning, CE caught up with these ports to discover their views on what lies ahead.

The first thing to make clear is that all will follow national procedures and regulations on Covid safety. Birgitta Runardsottir, project manager Port of Eskifjordur, was keen to point out that they will also be consulting other ports and tour operators in Iceland to create a countrywide approach.

The second is that all recognise the changeable scenario that is the pandemic and call numbers are by no means set in stone. During the month of collating this story, for example, some ports had gained calls while others had lost some.

At the end of April, 146 calls were still registered to Reykjavik (including one to Akranes), bringing 143,176 passengers from the end of May until November. “At the moment we do not know how the Covid epidemic will affect these bookings. It will be easier for expedition cruise vessels and maybe middle class to arrive at this time,” says Kristjansdottir.

Siglufjordur is expecting 26 calls from companies such as Iceland Pro Cruises, Silversea, Lindblad, Crystal, Ponant and Hapag-Lloyd. Anita Elefsen, marketing manager Port of Siglufjordur, says: “Here in Iceland we’re optimistic that life will soon be somewhat close to what it was before the pandemic. Vaccinations are going well and we’re seeing more and more tourists entering the country by the day.

“For small societies like Siglufjordur this is very promising news, as many of our local businesses suffered from the lack of visitors during the past year. I’m feeling rather optimistic for the summer, and really looking forward to welcoming all the cruise passengers we’re expecting this year. Visits are allowed, both with groups and as individuals, as passengers will have gone through tests and certain restrictions at the border when entering the country.

“As far as I know the local community feels good about the ships coming. Most people are eager for life to get somewhat back to normal. And these calls really do matter for local tourism. As all calls were cancelled in 2020, the local economy sure did suffer.”

Although Seydisfjordur is expecting about 40 calls, there is still some doubt if they will all be arriving, according to Runar Gunnarsson, harbour master Port of Seydisfjordur. “The local community is generally happy for the start of the cruise season and are looking forward to welcoming guests,” he says. “The local economy has of course suffered, specially the harbour itself, but we are looking forward to a positive summer this year and strong cruiseship presence for the future.”

In terms of shore excursions, these are permitted on the basis that all rules and regulations regarding Covid-19 issued by the Directorate of Health and the Depart of Civil Protection and Emergency Management are in place. The only visitors allowed are those that have been vaccinated.

Whilst there are still a lot of bookings in Akureyri’s calendar Petur Olafsson, port director Port of Akureyri, says: “It is impossible to say something definite about how many ships we will get. It seems that late summer, from beginning of July until late September, will be OK”.

In Eskifjordur however the picture is a little different as Runardsottir explains: “In a normal year, the calls are very few with relatively small ships so the local economy has not suffered due to the lack of calls.” This year MS Serenissima and Silver Whisper are expected.

Undaunted, the extension project of Isafjordur’s main cruiseship quay, Sundabakki, officially started in February this year. The 300m extension will bring the total length to 500m with the draught reaching 11m at its deepest point. Sheng Ing Wang, harbour pilot at the port, says it will be fully complete in 2023 but “we expect to service and welcome more ships in the summer of 2022”.

This summer there are some ships booked from Viking, Iceland Pro Cruises and Ponant. Passengers are free to explore the town without limitation and “local communities are happy to hear that tourism is coming back,” says Wang. The income from the cruiseships has been contributing to the town for many years.

Saudarkrokur still has two bookings for this summer, The World and World Explorer, despite most having been cancelled. Heba Gudmundsdottir, project manager economic and cultural affairs The municipality of Skagafjordur, says: “We are a new port for cruiseships and were excited to be welcoming our first ships last summer, but they were all cancelled. We are excited about the future and look forward to when the wheels start turning again.”

In order that there is no confusion, cruise specialist Liz Gammon was kind enough to set out the details vis a vis visiting Iceland:

All travellers must pre-register before arriving in Iceland and confirm their departure day. A negative PCR test certificate against COVID-19 MUST be presented.  Rapid antigen tests are not valid. The test must have been taken within 72 hours before departure on the first leg of the journey. Passengers with an approved vaccination certificate or a certificate of previous infection do not need a PCR test. Everybody must undergo testing on arrival in Iceland. This includes children, those who have been vaccinated, and those who have already had COVID-19.

Everyone should quarantine, but passengers who present a vaccination certificate or a certificate of previous infection only need to be quarantined until a negative result is obtained from the border testing. If you don't get a message within 24 hours the result is negative. Those who do not present a vaccination certificate or a certificate of previous infection at the border must quarantine for five days and go for another test at the end of quarantine.
Iceland is ready to welcome cruise ships back
Ponant is one of the cruise lines to be sailing in Iceland this summer (c) Associated Iceland Ports/Faxafloahafnir

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