Princess Cruises’ UK chief has spoken of the line’s “emotional” return to cruising, more than 500 days after it suspended sailings after an outbreak onboard Diamond Princess caused it to become an early focal point of the pandemic.
Princess recently restarted sailings in Alaska and Regal Princess will start its season of UK ‘Seacations’ on Saturday before being joined by Sky Princess in September.
The line was the first to suspend sailings, in March 2020, after Diamond Princess was quarantined in Japan and cases were subsequently detected onboard Grand Princess in California.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Roberts said Princess, and the wider industry, had needed to rebuild confidence in the sector. But he said crew members and a limited number of guests who had taken part in test sailings ahead of Regal Princess starting domestic sailings were hugely positive about the return.
He said: “We thought we were going to be pausing for 60 days and yet here we are, just over 500 days later, and we are returning to sailing from the UK.
“For everyone who joined us [for the test sailing], I think the overwhelming feedback we got was that it felt like coming home. That was definitely my emotion getting back on board, to feel part of that Princess family and to be back on the ship and have the crew doing what they what they love to do.”
Roberts was called to Miami in March 2020, initially to help with operations on the US east coast and Caribbean, and subsequently to work on repatriations for passengers and later crew members.
He said: “It was a very challenging period, for everyone within the travel industry, of course. There was a point when Diamond Princess was in the news every single day, it was one of the more significant outbreaks of Covid outside of Wuhan at the time.
“At the time, we didn’t expect [the suspension] to be as long as it has been. But a huge period of time has passed and we’re now ramping up and getting those ships back into service and ready to welcome those guests back on board once more.”
Roberts said crew had been undergoing extensive training in the new protocols for the resumption of cruising, and said they were desperate to welcome the first paying passengers back on board from Saturday.
Speaking about the test cruise earlier this week, he said: “We just got this overwhelming sense of joy from them to have guests back on board. As I was walking around, they were waving and saying ‘we’re back, and we can’t believe it’ and ‘it’s amazing to have people on board’.
“For everyone who joined us on Tuesday, I think the feedback that we got was just the warmth and conscientious service of the crew was really outstanding.”