Weekly winter cruises from Zeebrugge

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Zeebrugge is an important cruise port, much more important than most people believe. For sea-going vessels, it is the largest cruise port of Belgium and the Netherlands.

The moment to taste the cruise life for yourself

"We have a relatively easy nautical access, with a long quay of 725 meters", says Piet Vandenkerkhove, Key Account Manager Cruises at Port of Zeebrugge. "We are hardly limited in capacity and have sufficient draught. This makes it relatively easy for the shipping companies, or the captains of the ships, to come to Zeebrugge."

"Also, the turnaround time from the pilot station is very short, only one and a half hours. If you compare that with other ports which are in estuaries, the ships sometimes need six hours to reach a destination. That costs a lot of fuel, an expense we can reduce. That is a great advantage, just like the fact that many excursions can be offered here."
MSC Magnifica visits Zeebrugge on a weekly basis.

Excursions

And Gert Dewulf, CEO of De Buck Agency, also agrees. They have been organizing excursions for the cruise industry since 1992. Seven people in the company are working full-time on this segment. "With a fully occupied ship you have to count that about 40 percent of the passengers want an excursion", he says. "Then you soon have about 50 buses on the quay."

In terms of excursions, the company is always looking for novelties. They look across the broad region for this and try to offer each shipping company something new to further differentiate themselves. "A concrete example", says Gert Dewulf, "is our experience excursion in Oostduinkerke. There we go along with one of the shipping companies to the shrimp fishermen. That way, we bring a lot of people to the region, and we also offer a lot of work. And precisely because of the rich excursion offering in this region, we have increasingly become a region for cruises. The season now runs from February to December. This year it was even extended. I think few can say that."

A new cruise terminal

To further develop as a cruise port, Zeebrugge opened a new cruise terminal at the Swedish Quay in 2018. "With that, we have all the infrastructure in house", says Piet Vandenkerkhove. "From check-in counters over baggage scanners to waiting areas. Where we previously only had a basic infrastructure, we now have a beautiful reception building with our ABC tower. That was important because we didn't want to be merely a 'port of passage' where people only stop for a short while. Now we are growing as a 'port of embarkation', as a place where people can start their vacation."
Cruise ships have become a familiar view in Zeebrugge.

Cruising & Corona

"For a port, it is important to have a colorful 'port palette'. Sufficient diversity in your types of activities, especially during certain crisis periods. We do short sea, different kinds of traffic and cruises. That last branch was enormously ravaged by the pandemic",
concludes Piet.
Interview with Piet Vandenkerkhove, Key Accountmanager Cruises at Port of Zeebrugge.

Measures

The measures taken on board a ship are enormous. No hotel can match that. Anyone boarding for the first time must in any case have a PCR or antigen test taken. The port of Zeebrugge has provided separate rooms for this purpose, so that new passengers can only meet the other passengers after the screening.

Mandatory tests also follow on board during the voyage and extra investments have been made in medical personnel and quarantine and isolation rooms. For years there has also been an extensive cleaning policy on board the ship. This has now been reinforced once again.

"One million people have put their trust in us and gone for a cruise vacation."

Vinciane Jacquiez

In addition, the cruise lines have also imposed restrictions on themselves in terms of capacity. There is limited access to the restaurant? no more self-service. Excursions are often chosen in bubbles and so on. "I'm repeating myself, but I don't know of a safer way to travel today than this," says Piet.

One of the first shipping companies to establish a health protocol is Switzerland's MSC Cruises. Since August 2020 - after six months without any sailing - they have returned to work on that basis. In the past 16 months, they have since taken more than 1 million passengers on cruise trips. "That's one million people", says Vinciane Jacquiez of MSC Cruises Benelux, "who have put their trust in us and gone for a cruise vacation."
Passengers re-embark after a day in Bruges.

Weekly winter cruises

Because everyone could get a taste of cruising 'close to home', the Swiss shipping company MSC Cruises, like the German shipping company AIDA, has decided to offer 'Winter Cruises on the North Sea' until April at a particularly advantageous rate. Starting from 300 euros per person you can embark every week in the port of Zeebrugge for a 7-day cruise. You can leave your car in the free parking area of the port. After a test, you can immediately embark on the MSC Magnifica for the so-called 'Metropolitan Tour'.

From Zeebrugge, you sail to IJmuiden, from where you visit Rotterdam or Amsterdam. Then you will head for Hamburg, in Germany. After a day at sea, you arrive in Southampton in England, from where, among other things, 'London' is offered as an excursion. And before you return to Zeebrugge, the ship moors for another day in Le Havre, France. From here you can go to Paris, or a trip is offered to the famous chalk cliffs of Etretat.
Interview with Vinciane Jacquiez, MSC Cruises Benelux.
Excursions on this cruise are a possibility, but certainly not an obligation. It is a journey with all the great cities that you may have already visited by land, but which you now discover from the water. And all at an exceptional price.

The port of Zeebrugge is pleased that the cruise season has started again and that an 'entry cruise' such as this, departing from Zeebrugge, is part of the winter offer. Vinciane Jacquiez of MSC Cruises Benelux indicated that MSC is planning to offer cruises from Zeebrugge in the future as well. Some great prospects!
MSC Magnifica in Zeebrugge.
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