Let’s go all aboard the billion pound cruises

Media gather in front of the The Diamond Princess berthed in Yokohama Harbour during it’s 14 day quarantineMedia gather in front of the The Diamond Princess berthed in Yokohama Harbour during it’s 14 day quarantine
Media gather in front of the The Diamond Princess berthed in Yokohama Harbour during it’s 14 day quarantine
Thursday: Billion Pound Cruises: All at Sea (ITV, 9pm)

Many sectors have been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, particularly when it comes to tourism and hospitality.

Even as the lockdown restrictions begin to ease, for some people the idea of going on holiday still seems like a distant dream.

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But arguably the cruise companies have struggled more than most. The documentary Billion Pound Cruise Industry: Sunk By Coronavirus looks at how over the course of just six weeks, the entire business was brought to its knees, with ships and passengers stranded at sea, routes cancelled and liners standing empty with nowhere to go.

Of course, documentaries about cruising are nothing new. There have been plenty of programmes going behind the scenes on the big ships – the BBC ‘docusoap’ The Cruise even made a star of singer Jane McDonald, who went to win a Bafta for her own Channel 5 show, the self-explanatory Cruising with Jane McDonald.

Perhaps those programmes helped to encourage more holiday makers to take to the high seas, because prior to 2020, it seemed that bookings were booming. Over the past few years, cruising has grown into a £100 billion business, with a staggering 30 million passengers boarding in 2019.

But these are unprecedented times, and some of the stories captured in this documentary would have been unimaginable just a few months ago. As well as hearing from international experts and passengers whose dream holidays turned into nightmares, the documentary will also ask whether the wellbeing of customers and crew was always put first, and explores the role of cruise ships in the spread of the virus.

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Among the people sharing their stories are David and Sally Abel, who were on a luxurious cruise around the South China on the Diamond Princess when disaster struck. Their personal footage is used to offer an insight into life aboard the ship, which hit the headlines earlier this year, and shows how events unfolded when both husband and wife contracted the virus, leading to David becoming seriously ill in hospital.

Ian and Morvin Rae were enjoying the holiday of a lifetime in South America when the virus was spreading across the world. They found themselves caught up in the pandemic when their ship was refused entry to foreign ports and they were confined to their cabins.

Elisa McCafferty reveals that she continued with her cruise around Australia and New Zealand, even as the world was going into lockdown after being told that she couldn’t cancel her holiday. But while she, her husband and her elderly parents may have been able to board the ship, getting off it proved slightly more challenging, as the vessel was refused entry to New Zealand.

So, they sailed back to Sydney in Australia, where the passengers disembarked, but as Elisa reveals, that is not where the story ends. There are also contributions from former cruise ship doctor Dr Kate Bunyan, the cruise editor of the Sunday Times Sue Bryan and infectious diseases expert Dr Bharat Pankhania as they reflect on how the industry has been affected by the pandemic.

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