Celebrity Cruises to cruise from Dubai for first time in 2020, dropping Abu Dhabi

Celebrity Cruises has become the first of the Middle East homeporting cruise lines to take advantage of the growing number of Indian and Chinese cruise tourists coming to Dubai, with a new 15-night Dubai to Singapore cruise itinerary from January to March, 2020.

The new cruise itinerary, a two-week voyage from Dubai in the Middle East to the Asian trade Goliath of Singapore, will alternate between the two destinations as embarkation ports. So Celebrity Constellation, fresh from a massive mid-life refit and refurbishment, will depart Dubai on December 3rd, 2019 for the first of four such cruises.

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She’ll visit Muscat in Oman, and Mumbai, Goa and Cochin in India, as well as Colombo in Sri Lanka, and Phuket in Thailand before arriving on December 18th in Singapore.

She’ll then depart that evening from Singapore to Dubai, on a cruise itinerary that is exactly the same, but in reverse.

She’ll do this back and forth itinerary 8 times, with four cruises from Dubai and four cruises from Singapore, before cruising from Dubai at the end of the 2019/2020 cruise season on April 1st, bound for Rome, where she will likely be deployed on a series of Mediterranean cruises during the summer.

It should be noted that Celebrity Constellation is scheduled to operate a similar cruise itinerary in the 2018/19 Middle East cruise season, but between Abu Dhabi and Singapore, rather than Dubai.

It isn’t clear why Celebrity Cruises has decided to homeport in Dubai instead of Abu Dhabi for the 2020 season, but it may be due to the ‘stature’ of Dubai as a cruise destination versus the UAE’s capital.

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According to Jean-Pierre Joubert, shorex director port development and shoreside activities MSC Cruises, the line’s Dubai roundtrip cruises sell out twice as fast as the Abu Dhabi cruises (MSC allows passengers to choose either Dubai or Abu Dhabi as the start and end point on their Arabian Gulf cruise).

“I’m not sure why that is, perhaps it’s because Dubai is better known globally, or it may be that tourists see Dubai as offering more to do in terms of attractions and famous landmarks,” he told delegates at the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum in late 2017.

It may also be a decision influenced by port charges. Also at the Seatrade Middle East Cruise Forum, DP World, the operator of Dubai Cruise Terminal in Port Rashid, announced that it was offering cruise lines 50% off for the coming several years for all cruises departing from Dubai in October and May.

The announcement is part of an effort by cruise tourism officials in the UAE to extend the Middle East cruise season into the shoulder months either end of the winter season, but a similar deal may have been offered to Celebrity Cruises to ‘push them over the edge’ and choose Dubai over Abu Dhabi.

It should also be noted that while Abu Dhabi will be losing Celebrity Cruises (its only cruise line homeporting exclusively in the city), it will gain homeport status with MSC Cruises, AIDA Cruises, and Costa Cruises, which have all switched to an ‘interporting’ cruise itinerary model for their Arabian Gulf cruises in 2018 and 2019.

Interporting (the practice of using both Dubai and Abu Dhabi as ‘turnaround’ ports) holds huge potential as a way to engage local Middle East residents, and prompt more first-time cruisers to try out a cruise.