For the first time in the history of cruising in the United Arab Emirates, a total of seven cruise lines will homeport in Dubai and Abu Dhabi during the upcoming 2018/19 cruise season from November to March.
Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, TUI Cruises, AIDA Cruises and newcomers P&O and Pullmantur will all be offering 7 to 10 and 14-day roundtrip cruises from Dubai, while Celebrity Cruises will be cruising roundtrip from Abu Dhabi.
In a major first for the regional cruise market, market leaders Costa, MSC and AIDA will also be interporting between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, offering both as a turnaround port at the beginning and end of the cruise.
Costa Cruises has significantly upgraded its tonnage in the Middle East cruise market with Costa Mediterranea replacing Costa neoRiviera this year, increasing capacity by more than 50%, and Mediterranea will return in November, 2019.
MSC Cruises are returning MSC Splendida to the region, the largest cruise ship ever to cruise roundtrip from Dubai, while TUI Cruises, the premium German cruise line, returns to Dubai for the fifth year in a row, bringing one of their biggest cruise ships, Mein Schiff 4, back to Dubai.
AIDA Cruises are deploying their brand new AIDAprima out of Dubai. Launched in 2016, and weighing in at 125,000-gross tons, she is the largest cruise ship in the AIDA fleet, and the second-largest ever to cruise roundtrip from Dubai.
P&O Cruises’ first ever Middle East cruise season will see the British cruise line, widely regarded as the oldest in the world, bring its 77,499-gross ton cruise ship Oceana to the Arabian Gulf to operate several roundtrip Dubai cruises.
Spanish cruise line Pullmantur will also be sailing its first ever Middle East cruise season out of Dubai for November, 2018 to March, 2019.
Not to be outdone, Spanish cruise line Pullmantur will also operate their first ever Dubai cruise season, deploying the classic cruise ship Horizon in the Arabian Gulf for a series of 7-night roundtrip Dubai cruises.
Celebrity Cruises are another cruise line returning to the Middle East for its second ever cruise season in the Arabian Gulf, but the premium American line is cruising roundtrip out of Abu Dhabi instead of Dubai (though this may be changing in the 2019/2020 season).
The biggest cruise season ever out of Dubai comes after the 2017/18 cruise season, which was to date also the busiest on record for Dubai, one of the fastest growing cruise destinations in the world. According to Dubai Cruise Tourism officials, the spate of inaugural Middle East cruise seasons from major European lines is a sign of Dubai’s growing attractiveness as a cruise hub.
“Dubai remains on track to achieve its goal of welcoming 1-million cruise tourists by 2020,” says Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DCTCM). “The numbers that we have achieved today, and even the target number we have set ourselves of one million, is still scratching the surface. No goal is far beyond reach”.
Dubai plans to redevelop Port Rashid into a marina, cruise port and luxury liftsyle destination called Mina Rashid Marina.
Dubai has followed a ‘built it and they will come’ approach to expanding its cruise market, with new terminals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and new shore excursions rolled out ahead of the 2018/2019 cruise season, which will run from November to March. And its an approach that has paid off.
“We’re expanding our facilities to accommodate more ships by adding new berths while developing our existing two-kilometre long berths in line with the demand from cruise operators. We’re also working on connecting our existing terminals with closed corridors,” says Mohammed Abdul Aziz Al Mannai, executive director of Port Rashid, where the Dubai Cruise Terminal is located.
“With a goal to attract 20 million tourists a year by 2020, of which at least one million are expected to be cruise tourists, we are committed to providing facilities that are the best in the world and create a truly luxurious cruise experience catering to the tastes and sophistication of visitors,” says Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, group chairman and CEO of DP World.
Among other upgrade plans, DP World, which operates Dubai Cruise Terminal, is also considering the development of a fourth terminal, for the exclusive use of luxury cruise lines.