Cruise Industry: Dubai takes on Venice with Dubai Canal Project

Dubai, a desert metropolis that has grown into a global economic and cruise tourism hub in just the past few decades, has announced plans for a canal that will take the best of Venice and re-create it in the desert…

Venice, that wonderful ancient city on the water, shocked the cruise industry recently by announcing that it may start to limit large cruise ship’s access to the inner lagoon.

Now, Dubai, a desert metropolis that has grown into a global economic and tourism hub in just the past few decades, has announced plans for a canal that will take the best of Venice and re-create it in the desert, thereby allowing the city to compete with one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world.

The Dubai Water Canal Project will cost upwards of AED 1.7-billion, and will see a 2.5 kilometre artificial canal constructed at the top of Business Bay, the new business and retail heart of the city.

The canal will connect Business Bay, itself an artificial lagoon connected to the natural Dubai Creek, with the Arabian Gulf, creating a continuous channel from the mouth of the creek, right through the heart of the city in a massive U-shape.

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The project has been divided into three phases, which are expected to be completed by late 2016, although it is unclear when the entire new development (including the new shopping mall, hotels, marinas and parks) will be completed.

The construction of the canal itself and related works has already started. Phase 1 will cost AED 580-million and involves the building of a 16-lane bridge over the canal, essentially turning that section of Sheik Zayed Road into a highway bridge over the canal.

This phase also involves the tracking and diversion of utility lines for water, electricity, sewage and telecoms. Phase 2, which will cost AED 384-million, will see the construction of two six-lane bridges over the canal for Al Wasl Road and Jumeirah Road (known informally in Dubai as ‘Beach Road’).

The most expensive phase, phase 3, costing upwards of AED 802-million, will involve digging the canal linking the Creek with the Arabian Gulf, extending from Sheikh Zayed Road, passing across Al Safa Park and Jumeirah 2 and terminating at the Arabian Gulf near the southern end of Jumeirah Beach Park.

“Phase 3 of the project covers drilling the water canal, constructing the sides of the canal, constructing three footbridges linking the two banks of the canal, and constructing four marine transit stations to boost the role of marine transport as a convenient and effective transit means,” says Mattar Al Tayer, Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of RTA (Roads & Transport Authority).

“Marine transit modes are expected to attract more than six million riders per annum according to the strategic marine transport plan in Dubai. The Canal will also boost the profile of Dubai as a leading destination for sea cruises,” he said.

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The Dubai Canal will not be accessible to cruise ships, as the three roads bridges and four pedestrian bridges over the water will only be 8.5m high, allowing motor yachts and water taxis through, but not even the smallest cruise ships.

However, from the Dubai Cruise Terminal in Mina Rashid, the new canal will be easily accessible to cruise passengers via a Water Taxi, and the long expanse of water comprising Dubai Creek, Business Bay and Dubai Canal, essentially turning Bur Dubai into an island, will provide an opportunity for cruise passengers to see the city from a unique on-water perspective.

Artists’ renderings of the project envision a mini-Venice in the heart of the city, complete with a 50,000 sqm shopping centre, four hotels, 450 restaurants, luxury apartments and villas and walkways and cycle paths through immense swaths of greenery and parkland.

The Burj Khalifa is already the primary shore excursion option for most cruise passengers visiting the city, according to the leading cruise review website Cruise Critic, and the extension of Business Bay into Dubai Canal will provide an entirely new range of attractions for cruise tourists, right on the doorstep of the tallest building in the world.

The project is part of a concerted effort by Dubai to boost its profile as a leading cruise destination in the world, and not just on the Middle East cruise scene, where it is already the major cruise hub of the region.

At a recent press conference where Royal Caribbean International, the second-largest cruise line in the world, announced their intention to re-enter the regional cruise market, Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing Director Hamad Bin Mejren told Cruise Arabia & Africa that Dubai was already in the top 10 winter cruise destinations in the world.

The city is a signature destination on every cruise between Asian and Europe and the Canal project is likely to boost that ranking even further.

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