A CRUISE line company is offering NHS and key workers free staycation cruises in "recognition of their efforts" this summer.

On Wednesday, Royal Caribbean International said that 999 rooms will be allocated to personnel from the emergency services, NHS, social care sector and armed forces.

But as rooms are expected to fill-up immediately, it will hold a ballot with key workers asked to register on the cruise line's website from April 13.

The lucky entrants will then sail on the enormous Anthem of the Seas from Southampton from July 7, touring the UK.

This year, the ship is operating ocean cruises as well as voyages around the UK coastline visiting destinations such as Liverpool, Belfast and the Orkney Islands.

The sailings will only be available to UK residents who have had both doses of a Covid vaccine, and children with negative test results - meanwhile all crew are fully vaccinated.

The Government has advised people to avoid all cruises since July 9 due to the pandemic.

However, maritime minister Robert Courts told MPs recently that domestic cruises could be permitted from May 17.

Michael Bayley, chief executive of Royal Caribbean, said: “The UK is a place we hold near and dear to our heart at Royal Caribbean.

“We miss our UK guests and are as eager as they are to get back to cruising from Southampton.

“We are delighted with the UK Government’s recent announcements regarding cruising and excited to set sail again with a phenomenal ship and favourite such as Anthem of the Seas.

“After a tough year, we all need a holiday, but no one more so than the emergency services, NHS, social care sector and armed forces who will have the long-awaited opportunity to get away and relax with total peace of mind.”

A number of other cruise lines are offering summer staycation sailings for UK residents, including P&O Cruises, Cunard, MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Saga Cruises.