Ras Al-Khaimah is the UAE’s northernmost emirate and the greenest in the country, thanks to its more frequent rainfall and soil that is fed by naturally occurring streams flowing beneath the mountains that divide the UAE from Oman.
Cruise terminal: A new cruise terminal has just been built, featuring all the facilities and amenities required of the modern cruise tourist.
Shore excursions: The best shore excursions are those that go beyond the city into the mountains and down the beautiful coastline
Language: Arabic officially, but English widely spoken
Dress code: Shoulders and legs should be covered if visiting a mosque
Currency: The UAE dirham, but US dollar, British pound and euros all accepted in tourist areas
Ras Al-Khaimah, one of the smallest emirates in the UAE, is a window into the ancient history and terrain of Arabia, where centuries-old ruins offer clues into a nomadic way of life that has been all but eliminated by the explosive economic growth of the country.
It’s largest city, on the UAE’s Arabian Gulf coast, is also called Ras Al-Khaimah, and is a major local tourist destination, with tens of thousands of Dubai expats visiting for weekend getaways.
Its golden beaches framed by rugged mountains, has until now been untapped by the region’s fast-growing cruise industry.
That is expected to change from 2019, however, as the emirate takes a more direct approach to attracting cruise lines.
Development of the city’s first cruise terminal, a 1,000sqm terminal building that will stand on 860m of quay wall, is underway. The new terminal will enable multiple cruise ships to dock simultaneously.
Initially, it will be able to handle ships up to 214m in length and the creek and entry channel to the port has been dredged to 7.5m to accommodate larger cruise ship’s greater draft.
In coming years, this will be increased so that the largest cruise ships homeporting in the region, such as AIDAprima and MSC Bellissima, can also be accommodated.
The plans are intended to see Ras Al Khaimah transformed into a popular port of call on the Dubai cruise run.
The city has until now only been visited by smaller, boutique cruise ships, despite a booming tourism sector, with major investment underway.
Several large beach resorts have opened, and there is an Iceland Waterpark and a traditional fisherman village in Al Jazirah Al Hamra, widely regarded to be the best-preserved example in the UAE.
Wadi Bih is one of the most stunning dry riverbeds in the whole of the UAE, and its tributary is home to the Jebel Al Jais Mountain Resort.
There are also the ancient remains of Sheeba’s Palace, a former resident of the Queen of Sheeba herself.
The cruise terminal in Ras Al-Khaimah
The new Ras Al Khaimah Cruise Terminal has been converted from the existing passenger ferry terminal, with new state-of-the-art security measures such as facial recognition CCTV, luggage and personal baggage X-Ray machines and metal detectors installed.
Eight new e-gates and eight immigration officer desks have also been added and will make embarkation and disembarking as fast and efficient as at Dubai Cruise Terminal. The cruise terminal in Ras Al-Khaimah is also expected to have a duty free, coffee shops and souvenir shops.
Is Ras Al-Khaimah good for shopping?
There are a range of shopping experiences available for cruise tourists in Ras Al-Khaimah, from the traditional to the newer western-style malls. The Old Souq in the city centre offers the most traditional shopping, with Arabic coffee sets, carpets, dates and other exotic items available.
For something more upmarket, head to the Al Nakheel area, a district with numerous boutique shops and a fancy new mall. This area is also sometimes referred to as Little India because it is home to most of the emirate’s Indian expat population. There are therefore many Indian shops and cafes as well.
There is also the bustling Fish Market where cruise tourists in Ras Al-Khaimah can have an interesting glimpse into the local way of life. For something more western, there are four main shopping malls in the city.
Manar Mall and Al Naeem Mall are the two largest. There is also RAK Mall, Al Hamra Mall and Al Naeem City Center. All are home to designer names and large global brands.
Currency and language in Ras Al-Khaimah
The currency in Ras Al-Khaimah is the UAE dirham, and although the city is a growing tourist destination, other major foreign currencies are not widely accepted. The new cruise terminal is expected to contain a currency exchange within the building. The official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken by most expats, which make up 60% of the population and occupy most customer-facing jobs.
How to behave in Ras Al-Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah is one of the more liberal of the seven emirates in the UAE, and is not as strict with the dress code for tourists and expats. Modest dress is still encouraged, such as the custom of covering the knees and shoulders when entering a religious site. Bikinis and speedos are acceptable at the beach.
As with the rest of the UAE, being drunk, loud or in anyway abusive toward others in public is not acceptable in Ras Al-Khaimah.
Who cruises to Ras Al-Khaimah?
Seabourn Cruise Lines’ ship Seabourn Ovation is currently the only cruise ship with a scheduled port call in Ras Al-Khaimah for 2019, but from next year onwards the city is expected to see an increasing number of cruise ship visits, especially from cruise lines homeporting in the Arabian Gulf, cruising out of Dubai.