China reopens cruises with domestic line first to sail from Shanghai post-pandemic

Cruises have resumed in China for the first time since the pandemic, with the domestic cruise line China Merchants Viking Cruises the first to sail from Shanghai since 2020.

The former Viking Sun, which was acquired from Viking Ocean Cruises in 2021 and renamed Zhao Shang Yi Dun departed Shanghai on a 3-night roundtrip voyage calling in Zhoushan.

The departure of Zhao Shang Yi Dun marks the end of a 1,156-day hiatus in the Chinese cruise market, which prior to the pandemic showed immense growth potential.

Zhao Shang Yi Dun (former Viking Sun)

During the local shutdown of cruises, the Shanghai Cruise Terminal underwent a complete refurbishment and upgrade according to local media.

One of the major cruise homeports in the country, the terminal used to serve as starting point of itineraries for several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean International, Costa Cruises and Princess Cruises.

Zhao Shang Yi Dun remains the only ocean-going cruise ship currently in service in China.

Starting in May, the vessel will kick off a series of week-long itineraries that sail between Shanghai and Shenzhen, calling in Zhoushan and Xiamen.

Before kicking off its new operations in China, Zhao Shang Yi Dun was also adapted to offer an adjusted experience focused on local guests.

According to China Merchants Viking Cruises, the ship’s entertainment, and enrichment content, as well as its food and beverage experiences were customised to better cater to the Chinese market.

Viking Sun was transferred to the Chinese cruise line in 2021

China Merchants Viking Cruises is a joint venture between Viking Cruises and China Merchants, following a similar set-up to CSSC-Carnival, a joint venture between China State Shipbuilding Corporation and Carnival Corporation.

Chinese cruise authorities require foreign cruise line to form a joint venture with a local company before allowing homeport operations from its ports.

Prior to the pandemic, Royal Caribbean Group formed a joint venture called SkySea Cruises with local company Ctrip, but the company was dissolved in 2018 when it faced challenges penetrating the nascent local market.

Those challenges likely led Carnival and Viking, recognized names in the global industry, to retain their branding for the joint venture to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

In addition to forcing cruise lines to partner with local companies to operate from China, local authorities have also compelled global cruise lines to use domestic shipyards for refit and construction work.

CSSC-China has two newbuilds under construction in China. The vessels are largely identical to Carnival Corporation’s Vista-class vessels, which were originally designed and built in Europe, marking a future challenge for European cruise shipyards as China appropriates these shipbuilding techniques.

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