Doha sits on the east coast of Qatar, a nation occupying its own peninsula jutting into the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf.
Cruise terminal: The Doha Cruise Terminal is located in Doha Port in the city centre, near many of the key attractions.
Shore excursions: Shore excursions feature a good mix of the old and new Qatar, from the glistening Pearl Qatar shopping and residential development modeled on Monaco to the quaint old Arabian bazaars where great deals can be had on local goods.
Language: Arabic officially, but English widely spoken
Dress code: Qatar is more conservative than the UAE, so shoulders and knees should be covered.
Currency: The Qatari rial, major foreign currencies are accepted by some sellers
Rising up from the desert within the last two decades or so, Doha is an example of ambition brought to life. It’s ever-changing skyline reflects the rapid development of the city as it seeks to become a more prominent tourist attraction within the region.
One of the ways its doing this is by targeting the cruise industry, which is fast-growing in the Arabian Gulf.
Despite the political disagreements between Qatar and its fellow members of the GCC (the six-nation group of countries in the region), it remains a popular port of call for cruise ships homeporting in Dubai, and those re-positioning between the Mediterranean and Asia.
During the 2017/18 cruise season, cruise tourists increased 36% to 65,000 and that growth is expected to continue in the coming years.
Qatar is home to the super-upscale Pearl-Qatar, an artificial island spanning nearly four million square metres, with residential apartments, malls and some of the largest yachts in the world.
Doha’s highlights include designer shopping along the 7km horse-shoe shaped waterfront Corniche and the beautifully restored Arabian bazaar, Al Souq Waqif, as well as dhow cruises to watch the sunset in West Bay, dune bashing into the desert to hear the ‘singing sand dunes’, and various cultural enrichment tours, from a visit to Sheikh Faisal’s private museum to the Msheireb Enrichment Centre showcasing the glorious past of Qatar and the path it wants to take into the future.
The cruise terminal in Doha
For many years the cruise terminal in Doha Port was a prefabricated building sitting amidst the busy commercial container port. That’s all changed now, though.
All commercial shipping has been moved to the new Hamad Port, further up the coast, while Doha Port is now a dedicated cruise port like Port Rashid in Dubai and Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi.
The new terminal building is far more efficiency, making the process of getting off the ship in Doha fairly quick and easy. The cruise terminal itself is quite basic, with a coffee shop, souvenir shop, currency exchange and shuttle services to the port entrance and nearby shopping malls.
Is Doha good for shopping?
There are limited opportunities to purchasing locally produced traditional goods in Qatar, although it does have some superb souqs, such as Souq Waqif in the renovated Arabic market quarter.
The souq is organised by sections in terms of goods sold, so there is a spice section, a textiles section, a souvenirs section and even a section where falcons are sold – great picture opportunity! There are also Sheesha cafes and coffee shops.
The two main Western-style malls in Doha are the City Centre Doha, the largest mall in the country, and the newer and more gaudy Villaggio, which has canals flowing through it and store fronts designed to look like Venice.
This mall is also the site of the infamous ‘Villaggio fire’ a tragedy that struck in May, 2012, killing 19 people including 13 toddlers who were trapped inside a play centre in the mall. The tragedy itself and the legal fallout has become known as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Qatari history.
Currency and language in Doha
The currency in Doha is the Qatari rial, although foreign currency (US dollar, British pound, euro) is also accepted in the souqs and by taxi drivers to some extent.
The country’s official language is Arabic, although English is spoken by almost every expat worker and the Qataris themselves.
How to behave in Doha
Like the rest of the Arabian Gulf region, apart from the more liberal Dubai, Doha is a fairly conservative city.
You cannot drink alcohol in public, apart from at bars and licensed restaurants that are part of a hotel, and women who are dressed with their shoulders and knees showing will likely get disapproving looks from locals.
Who cruises to Doha?
There are 89 cruise itineraries featuring Doha port calls during 2019. These include MSC Cruises with MSC Splendida (to be replaced by Bellissima later in the year) and MSC Lirica, TUI Cruises with Mein Schiff 4, AIDA Cruises with AIDAprima and Costa Cruises with Costa Mediterranea.
These cruise lines will be visiting the city on their roundtrip Dubai cruises in the Arabian Gulf.
Other cruise lines calling at Doha during 2019 include Queen Mary 2 in January during her World Cruise, Seabourn’s Encore and Ovation and Silverseas’ Silver Shadow in April and May, and Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa in December.
Also in December, Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Quest will visit the city twice, the first time on a roundtrip Dubai cruise in the Arabian Gulf and the second on her voyage to Mumbai.
When Royal Caribbean returns to the Middle East for a roundtrip Dubai cruise season with Jewel of the Seas for the 2019/2020 cruise season, they will also feature Doha as a port of call on an alternating itinerary that takes in the eastern and western Arabian Gulf.