When the media (Cruise Arabia & Africa included) talks about Dubai Cruise Terminal, what’s really being referred to is Port Rashid, the primary cruise port of the Middle East and the port from which the vast majority of cruises depart and conduct turnarounds.
Dubai Cruise Terminal is actually made up of three cruise terminals, only two of which are operational. The old Cruise Terminal 1 at Port Rashid has been mothballed and its quay is currently occupied by Cunard’s former flagship Queen Elizabeth II (QE2), which we hear is to be turned into a floating hotel when the port is redeveloped into a marina, shopping and lifestyle destination.
Celebrity Constellation alongside at Dubai Cruise Terminal 2
Cruise Terminals 2 and 3 are the backbone of Dubai Cruise Terminal with six cruise ship berths between them along one long quay more than a mile in length. Cruise Terminal 2 is the older of them, built between 2008 and 2010 the terminal spans 3,450 square metres and is designed to handle four ships simultaneously.
On the busiest days during the winter cruise season however she only ever handles two cruise ships at once, because in 2016 the new Terminal 3 was launched, designed to cater to the growing size of the cruise ships calling in Dubai. Due to the city’s location halfway between Asia and Europe, and the growing prominence of China as a cruise market, many new mega-cruise ships are being repositioned to Shanghai and Dubai is a popular port of call and turnaround port along the way.
Quantum of the Seas and other mega-cruise ships visiting Dubai use the new Terminal 3
Some of the biggest cruise ships that depart from Dubai, such as Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, Queen Mary 2 and Majestic Princess next year, use Terminal 3. Because of the greater capacity for passenger processing at Terminal 3, it is also used by the cruise line’s homeporting larger cruise ships in the Arabian Gulf for the winter cruise season.
Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, AIDA and TUI Cruises use Terminal 3 during the current 2016/17 season, while Costa Cruises and Thomson Cruises use Terminal 2. The terminal provides a support infrastructure, which includes facilities like currency exchange, ATMs, a post office, duty free shop, souvenir shops and a business centre with Wi-Fi and cable internet access as well as a VIP section.
There are now plans to construct a fourth cruise terminal due to the staggering growth in cruise tourism to the city. In 2009 about 263,000 cruise passengers visited Dubai on 80 ship calls at Port Rashid. In 2010, this number increased to 325,000 in 125 calls, and by 2015 the number of cruise passengers had reached 575,000 on 195 calls. During the current season, Dubai along expects to host more than 600,000 cruise tourists.
And the growth in numbers can be seen in the congestion that sometimes grips Dubai Cruise Terminal. At Terminal 2, when there is more than one ship docked, it quickly becomes very crowded and queues for security scanning, check-in and other procedures grow rapidly. Even Terminal 3, which is capable of processing 14,000 passengers per day, becomes congested with half that number in port.
Dubai Cruise Terminal 3 offers streamlined check-in and security procedures
This despite that fact that Hamdan bin Mohammed Cruise Terminal offers visitors customs and handling facilities with streamlined immigration and entry procedures coordinated by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs.
Terminal 3 is an impressive facility though. At 28,000 square metres, Hamdan bin Mohammed Cruise Terminal is one of the largest in the world and has been designed to offer the same conveniences and comforts as an airport’s domestic departures terminal. There are souvenir shops, a Costa Coffee shop, internet café, currency exchange and ample seating. It also has ATM machines and a VIP business centre, as well as offices for the police, customs, immigration, shipping agents and airlines.
Cruise tourists can sample local Arabic foods and be entertained by Arabic dancers at the new cruise terminal
Both cruise terminals at Port Rashid are utilitarian in nature though, built for transit rather than relaxation or entertainment, which is frustrating for some cruise passengers as most cruise ships departing from Dubai do so in the afternoon and late evening, while most flights arrive early in the morning.
As a result, most cruise passengers do not spend more time than is necessary at Dubai Cruise Terminal, but this will change in the near future as work begins on transforming Port Rashid into an entertainment and luxury lifestyle destination, with hotels, shops and the largest marina in the Middle East adjacent to Dubai Cruise Terminal.
Free shuttle buses depart to and from Dubai Mall and Mercato Mall every hour when cruise ships are in port at Dubai Cruise Terminal
Cruise passengers joining a ship in Dubai would be well-advised for now to head directly to Dubai Cruise Terminal from the airport, but only to leave your luggage with security and then get one of the free hourly shuttle buses to the Venetian-inspired Mercato Mall (10 minutes away) and the world’s largest mall Dubai Mall (20 minutes). These free shuttles run in both directions hourly, so just remember where the bus dropped you off at each mall.