Muscat is the ancient capital of Oman, sitting amid a stunning mountain range it is a city of greenery and barren peaks, and is best approached from the sea as the sun rises over the Gulf of Oman.
Cruise terminal: There isn’t one, ships dock in commercial port but there are plans to redevelop it
Shore excursions: Muscat has an extensive array of shore excursions from historical sites to beach resorts and dhow trips to desert safaris
Language: Arabic officially, but English widely spoken
Dress code: Shoulders and legs should be covered if visiting a mosque
Currency: The Omani rial
Muscat is one of those cities that leaves an enduring first impression. Most cruise ships arrive in the true dead of night, slipping past the Port Sultan Qaboos breakwater as the city sleeps.
The lap of the dark water against the hull beneath your cabin balcony is the only sound until the murmur of the bow thrusters break the spell.
Then, the sun begins to rise, turning the terracotta mountains surrounding the city a deep pink and the ancient call to prayer echoes over the old quarter of the historic capital. Muscat is a city best approached by sea, and you should definitely be awake to see it.
Muscat is a city with a different set of values to the other capitals in the Arabian Gulf region, it prides itself on tradition, it’s history, and on being a model of restraint when it comes to economic development.
The old waterfront area of the city, Muttrah, has been carefully preserved, presenting a blend of traditional architecture and rugged natural beauty and is the first part of the city seen by disembarking cruise passengers.
Oman tourism officials have announced plans to completely redevelop this waterfront area, turning it into a residential and retail mixed-use area with hotels, huge parks, towering apartment blocks and malls.
Hopefully the historic character of the area will be kept intact, but the redevelopment is bound to be welcomed by the growing number of cruise tourists visiting the city, as it will provide ample attractions and things to do within walking distance of the ship.
The old part of the town, as it is now, spans a graceful waterfront Corniche flanked by 16th-century hilltop forts on either end, their shadow a reminder of the Portuguese influence here.
Oman was occupied by Portugal in the 17th century, to protecting their oriental trade routes, around the same time that Britain’s East India shipping giant began to establish Dubai as its regional hub.
Behind the mountains, away from the old town, you’ll find ‘Modern Muscat’, which is where the economics, politics and daily life of the capital are carried out.
For cruise tourists, the old town will be the main attraction, with its winding alleys of the souq, historic forts, and the Sultan’s palace.
Qasr Al Alam Royal Palace is guarded by the twin forts of Jalali and Mirani, it is the office and official residence of Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman. Unlike Buckingham Palace or other European royal residences, there are no open days for tours, but you can take pictures from the palace gates.
Beyond the city, there are tours into the mountains and wadis or 4×4 rides along the coast to visit fishing villages or inland to explore some of the medieval forts.
The cruise terminal in Muscat
There is a cruise terminal building in Muscat, but it is no longer used by the cruise lines as most are now too big for the quay it is located on.
Instead, cruise lines dock at the port’s former commercial berths and all customs processing is done behind the scenes while passengers have breakfast.
Then it’s a simple case of going ashore with your cruise card. There are shuttles to the port entrance as passengers cannot walk from the ship.
At the port entrance there are a multitude of taxi drivers, which can be a little overwhelming at first, but they’re all very friendly (and unlike Dubai and Abu Dhabi) the taxi drivers here are actually Omani.
Is Muscat good for shopping?
Terracotta incense burners with little fabric bags of frankincense from Salalah in the south of Oman make great gifts and are sold at the old Muttrah Souq. Traditional Omani Khangar daggers or saifs (long swords) are also sound here.
If you’re looking to go shopping at more Western-style malls, head to Muscat City Centre, the largest mall in the city and home to hundreds of household brand names.
Currency and language in Muscat
The local currency is the Omani rial and although traders along the waterfront will accept US dollars, you’ll lose out on the exchange rate, so use one of the many ATMs or exchange places along the corniche.
Arabic is the official language, but tour guides speak good English, as do most taxi drivers, but shopkeepers won’t be able to understand English.
Like other cities in the region, many people living and working in Oman are not native Omanis, so you’ll likely also deal with Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinas during your port call, all of whom speak English.
How to behave in Muscat
Omani people are renowned for their gentle, polite hospitality, but the country has several red lines that must not be crossed.
Public same-sex affection is one of them, as is the consumption of alcohol in public, and the use of drugs. Oman has some of the strictest drug laws in the world.
Oman is a conservative Muslim country, so men and women should dress modestly. If you want to visit the Grand Mosque, for example, you need to cover ankles, wrists, neck, head and most of your face; there is an inspection at the entrance.
For exploring the city and going on shore excursions, there’s no real dress code, but Omanis will take quiet offence if anything more than shoulders and knees are visible.
Who cruises to and from Muscat?
Muscat is a major cruise destination in the Middle East, in fact it beats out every other city, even Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with 311 cruise itineraries featuring the city as a port of call in 2019.
Cruises from Muscat are a lot more limited.
Cruises from Muscat
Silversea Cruises’ ship Silver Muse will sail a 17-night cruise from Muscat to Singapore on October 23rd, 2019. This cruise is also available for booking as a 6-night voyage, with the cruise ending in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Marella Cruises will cruise from Muscat with Marella Discovery in 2018 and 2019.
The 2018 cruise is a 14-night voyage from Muscat to Cochin, India, departing November 29th.
The 2019 cruise is aboard the same ship as she cruises home from her Asian season, departing April 18th, 2019, the 15-night cruise is from Muscat to Corfu in Greece via the Suez Canal.
Cruises visiting Muscat
The more than 310 cruise itineraries with Muscat as a port of call are as varied as they come.
Just about every major cruise line apart from Carnival Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line will be visiting the city.
Some 160 of the cruise itineraries visiting Muscat in 2019 are with cruise ships homeporting out of Dubai or Abu Dhabi during the 2018/19 cruise season and 2019/2020 season.
The cruise season in the Arabian Gulf runs from November to March each year.
A full list of cruises that feature Muscat as a port of call in 2019 can be found here.