MSC Cruises is making a play for Celebrity Cruises’ market share in the Dubai cruise market, with plans to send its recently refitted MSC Lirica to Dubai for the 2018/19 Middle East cruise season out of Dubai, sailing a similar itinerary to that offered by Celebrity Cruises.
MSC Lirica will cruise from Dubai on ten roundtrip cruises of 11 and 14 days length, with the shorter cruises calling at Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island, Doha, Khassab and Bahrain. For the first time, MSC Cruises will also be offering a 2-night stay in port in Dubai.
The longer two weeks cruises from Dubai aboard MSC Lirica will call at Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Mumbai, Mormugoa (Goa) and Mangalore before returning to Dubai.
The deployment of MSC Lirica to the Dubai cruise market will be the first time that MSC Cruises has ever had two ships cruising from Dubai during the same season. MSC Splendida will return during the same 2018/19 cruise season to operate 7-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai to ports in the Arabian Gulf.
Her back-to-back butterfly itineraries feature Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island, Muscat and Khassab as ports of call, while the alternative itinerary sees her visiting Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas Island, Qatar and Bahrain.
An MSC Cruises official in Dubai told Cruise Arabia & Africa that the deployment of MSC Lirica would be a direct challenge to Celebrity Cruises.
“It offers a similar itinerary to Indian ports, which are in huge demand, but at a much lower price as we don’t operate in the same premium cruise bracket as Celebrity Cruises,” he said.
Both MSC Lirica and MSC Splendida will offer Dubai and Abu Dhabi as embarkation ports, although it appears that Costa and AIDA may start doing the same from 2020 onwards.
In an official statement, MSC Cruises CEO, Gianni Onorato described the Dubai cruise market as ripe with potential. “This will be our seventh season in the UAE and we have seen strong demand for our quality product offering from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. A strong Fly&Cruise programme means that guests from all around the world are able to enjoy this popular cruise region,” he said.
“Introducing India to MSC Cruises’ winter 18/19 itineraries demonstrates how our significant investment plan is enabling us to expand our global footprint and establish a presence in a high-potential market, one that we expect to grow considerably over the coming years,” he added.
MSC Cruises is in the midst of an 11-billion euro expansion that saw MSC Seaside launched last year, with MSC Seaview scheduled for delivery later this year and several new ‘world-class’ cruise ships on order, each in excess of 200,000-gross tons.
MSC Lirica will return to the Middle East market having undergone an extensive refit that saw her cut in half and lengthened by 22-metres, as such she features new public rooms, 190 new cabins and a kids splash park on the pool deck.
Some of the shore excursion highlights of MSC’s upcoming Dubai cruise season with MSC Lirica include: a tour of Burj Khalifa and lunch at the world’s tallest building in Dubai; the Louvre Museum & Abu Dhabi Exploration in Abu Dhabi; The Bahrain International Circuit racing track and 4×4 ride and desert safari and beach stop in Qatar.
In India, guests will discover Goa’s verdant landscape on a Cumbarjua River cruise with its birdlife and freshwater crocodiles and from Mumbia an opportunity to take a three day overland trip to the Taj Mahal featuring New Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra and Cochin. From Mangalore, a trip to the Jain temples.
Guests that book excursions in advance will benefit from a 20% discount.
MSC Lirica will wrap up her 2018 Eastern Mediterranean season out of Venice on November 2nd, 2018, departing on a 16-night cruise to Dubai. She’ll be based in Dubai alongside Splendida for four months, returning to the Mediterranean on March 15th, 2019.