Dubai is the cruise hub of the Middle East, with more cruise departing from the city than any other in the region, it is also the second-most visited cruise port by passing cruise ships.
Cruise terminal: Dubai Cruise Terminal is a modern state-of-the-art building with all the essentials cruise passengers are likely to need while in port (including a convenience store, free Wi-Fi, currency exchange, tour operators, and souvenir shops).
Shore excursions: Expansive. Dubai is frequently featured as an overnight port call due to the range of shore excursions available.
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 widely accepted in tourist areas
Dubai is the primary cruise port in the Middle East for roundtrip cruises in the Arabian Gulf or around the Arabian Peninsula to the Red Sea and Suez Canal, with only Celebrity Cruises currently using Abu Dhabi.
It is also the second-most visited cruise port in the region after Muscat in Oman, so even if your cruise doesn’t begin or end in the city, you’re likely to have an overnight at Dubai Cruise Terminal.
This is largely because Dubai has become a major international tourist destination in the last ten years, and is on track to welcome 20-million visitors a year by 2020, 1-million of whom will be cruise passengers drawn by its resorts, landmarks, beautiful beaches and coast, and its status as a duty-free shopping hub.
The Middle East cruise season runs from October to the end of March, and sometimes the first week of April. Roundtrip Dubai cruises in the Arabian Gulf are particularly popular with the major European cruise lines.
Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, AIDA Cruises, and TUI regularly homeport in Dubai, but in recent years P&O, Pullmantur, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean have also begun offering seasonal Dubai to Dubai cruises.
Why cruise to or from Dubai?
Dubai is the Monaco of the Middle East. Its home to the region’s largest yacht marinas, the highest percentage of Top 100 megayachts in the world, and the world’s most luxurious hotel, the world’s tallest hotel, the world’s tallest building, the world’s largest mall, the world’s largest indoor aquarium, the world’s largest indoor theme park… everything here is about being big and the best.
It’s also an extremely tourist-friendly city, as tourism is a huge part of the economy.
It isn’t to everyone’s taste, and puts off a lot of potential cruise passengers, but there is also the other side to Dubai.
There is the historic charm of ‘Old Dubai’ in Bur Dubai near the creek, where souqs teeming with dozens of nationalities sell wares from around the world, brought in aboard traditional wooden cargo dhows.
These dhows can be seen lining the quays of the Dubai Creek if you take an abra (water taxi) across from Karama to Deira, which used to be the economic heart of the city before the development of Business Bay, the ‘New Dubai’.
Business Bay is home to Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world, with the largest dancing fountains in the world (the Dubai Fountains) and the largest indoor aquarium. It’s also adjacent to the Burk Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
It’s here that Dubai’s well-deserved reputation as an oasis for cosmopolitan luxury travellers with money to burn is most apparent. Dubai unashamedly loves excess.
A little further up the coast, in Jumeirah, is the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, home to Wild Wadi Waterpark, with the 7-star Burj Al Arab hotel next-door.
Just a few kilometres away, on the other side of Sheikh Zayed Road, the main thoroughfare, you’ll find Mall of the Emirates, home to the only indoor snow park and ski slope in the Middle East, where real snow falls every hour.
A little further up the coast, further away from Port Zayed where the Dubai Cruise Terminal is located, you’ll find Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree, home to the world’s rich and famous.
Adjacent to this, they’re building a new cruise port, called Dubai Harbour, which is being modelled on Monaco and will be home to malls, residential towers, hotels and the world’s tallest lighthouse. Across the water in Jumeirah Beach Residence is the world’s largest Ferris Wheel, Dubai Eye.
All of this has been built since the 1990s, when Dubai’s growth really began to take off. Until the 1950s, the city was a small sleepy fishing and pearl diving town. These modest roots are still visible if you look closely enough.
A few savvy entrepreneurs are beginning to develop cultural tourism that highlights the country’s Bedouin roots, as well as the melting pot that Dubai has become, although sadly not many cruise lines visiting the city, or cruising from it, offer shore excursions that explore the history of this fascinating city.
How to behave in Dubai
Dubai is the most cosmopolitan and liberal of all the cities in the Middle East, and its unashamed quest for the new and modern is most evident in the ultra-swanky Emirates Airline that most cruise passengers fly in on to board their cruise, as well as the skyscrapers, hotels and malls that dominate the skyline.
This sense of modernity should not fool you into think that ‘anything goes’ like in the rest of the world.
Dubai is a Muslim city and its holds proudly to certain cultural practises and beliefs about what is and isn’t appropriate.
Alcohol is readily available with a couple of bars in every hotel, and there’s a hotel on every corner, but drunken behaviour in public is not tolerated. All types of family are welcome, whether same-sex or heterosexual, but overt public displays of affection (especially between same-sex couples) is frowned upon.
Men and woman alike can dress as they like within reason, as most public buildings have a ‘modesty’ dress code that requires shoulders and knees to be covered, but it is mostly ignored by tourists and resident alike. Long-sleeved tops, capris or long pants, and long skirts and dresses are only really essential if you’re planning to visit a mosque.
Location of Dubai Cruise Terminal
Dubai Cruise Terminal is actually two separate terminal buildings within Port Rashid on the doorstep of Old Dubai. Terminal 1 is now home to the permanently-berthed floating hotel QE2 Dubai, so Terminal 2 and Terminal 3 (the largest single cruise terminal building in the world) are the primary berthing points.
Both terminals have a coffee shop, convenience stores, souvenir shops, currency exchange and free Wi-Fi. There’s also a currency exchange office, an ATM, a post office and a concierge who can set you up with day tours.
Several major shopping malls (Dubai Mall, Mercato, Burjaman and Mall of the Emirates) also offer free shuttles from the port.
The port is in the midst of a major redevelopment from a commercial port into a cruise and yachting hub.
A huge marina has been built next to the cruise terminal and there are coffee shops and restaurants with a view of QE2.
The QE2 itself is also now open as a floating hotel and is especially welcoming of cruise tourists visiting for the day. Cruise passengers can’t walk around the port though, but it’s just a 2-minute ride by Taxi, costing no more than US $3 or so.
The currency and language in Dubai
Dubai uses the UAE dirham like the rest of the country. There is a currency exchange in the cruise terminal building, as well as several within a short ride from the port. There are also ATMs in the terminal building, although major international currencies are generally accepted in touristy areas of the city. Some taxis in Dubai also accept payment by card.
Like the rest of the UAE, Arabic is the official language in Dubai, but everyone speaks English, more so than in any other city on the Arabian Gulf as 80% of the population are expatriates and the expat culture is dominated by the British, Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Russians and a plethora of other nationalities. Everyone in any customer-facing role in the city speaks excellent English.
Is Dubai good for shopping?
If pearl diving was the mainstay of the Dubai economy 70 years ago, today it is shopping. This is a city that loves consumerism. There’s even a month-long Dubai Shopping Festival start starts on Boxing Day (December 26th) and runs until January 28th, during which malls are either open 24-hours or have vastly extended operating hours and the prices on all goods are vastly reduced.
Designer goods of all kinds are available in shopping malls such as Dubai Mall (the world’s largest) and Mall of the Emirates (with the only indoor snow park and ski slope in the Middle East), as well as newer, less showy shopping malls like Le Mer, a new beachfront retail and restaurant strip just a few minutes’ drive from the cruise terminal.
If you’re looking for something more traditional, gold in almost any form is a terrific remembrance, particularly coupled with the experience of visiting Dubai’s Gold Souq on the Deira side of the creek, which means you also get to take a traditional abra across the creek. Traditional coffee pots — known as dallah and sold in sets with small cups — are also great gifts. Dubai is also great for seeking out elegant scarves, many in luxe fabrics with elaborate beading.
Who cruises to Dubai?
There are several major cruise lines that homeport in Dubai seasonally, running roundtrip Dubai cruises in the Arabian Gulf between November and March every year. This coming cruise season (2018/2019), MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, P&O Cruises, Pullmantur, AIDA Cruises and TUI will be cruising roundtrip from the city.
MSC roundtrip Dubai cruises
MSC Cruises’ MSC Splendida will be operating 7-night itineraries (to be replaced by MSC Bellissima in 2019/2020). MSC Cruises will also use Dubai as a turnaround port for MSC Lirica when she begins her new roundtrip cruises to India in 2019.
Costa roundtrip Dubai cruises
Costa Cruises will be sailing 7-night cruises from Dubai aboard Costa Mediterranea for the coming two cruise seasons until at least 2020.
P&O roundtrip Dubai cruises
P&O will cruise roundtrip on 10-night cruises to all the major ports in the Arabian Gulf aboard Oceana. The cruise line’s inaugural Middle East season will be in 2018/19, but Oceana has been reconfirmed for the following year as well.
Pullmantur roundtrip Dubai cruises
Pullmantur will also operate 10-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai for the first time. The cruise line has said these Arabian Gulf itineraries have been designed “down to the last detail”.
AIDA roundtrip Dubai cruises
AIDA Cruises will homeport AIDAprima in Dubai for the coming two cruise seasons. She is the largest and most modern ship the cruise line has ever sent to the Middle East cruise market.
TUI roundtrip Dubai cruises
TUI Cruises will homeport Mein Schiff 4 for the coming 2018/19 cruise season, and Mein Schiff 5 in 2019/2020. Both ships will sail identical 7-night cruise itineraries from Dubai within the Gulf.
Royal Caribbean roundtrip Dubai cruises
Royal Caribbean will also be featuring Dubai as a turnaround port when it returns to the Middle East with a new season of roundtrip Dubai cruises aboard Jewel of the Seas in the 2019/2020 cruise season.
Other cruises from Dubai
Twenty cruise ships from fourteen cruise lines will be visiting Dubai in 2019 and 2020, with most of them featuring the city as a turnaround port as part of their re-positioning cruises and grand voyages between east and west:
Phoenix Reisen – Amadea and Albatros
Phoenix Reisen’s cruise ships Amadea and Albatros will both cruise to and from Dubai in 2019. Amadea will depart Villefranche (Nice) on December 23rd, 2018 on an 18-night voyage to the Middle East, arriving in Dubai on January 10th, 2019. This cruise is the first leg of a 144-night world cruise that ends in Bremerhaven, Germany later in the year. The Dubai to Singapore leg, a 21-night cruise, can also be booked individually.
Albatros will also visit Dubai, on April 22, 2018, at the end of a 22-night cruise from Hong Kong. She’ll do a turnaround in the city and then depart on a new 22-night cruise to Genoa. These two itineraries are part of a grand voyage of 146-nights from Hamburg, Germany to Genoa, Italy, via Central America and Southeast Asia. Both can also be booked individually.
Azamara Club Cruises – Azamara Quest
Azamara Club Cruises’ ship Azamara Quest will cruise from Dubai twice in 2019. Her first Dubai cruise will be an 11-night roundtrip itinerary exploring the Arabian Gulf, departing Dubai on November 29th, 2019. The second Dubai cruise departure is also an 11-nighter, but bound for Mumbai, India, departing December 17th, 2019.
Hapag-Lloyd – Europa
Luxury German cruise line Hapag-Lloyd will send its boutique cruise ship Europa to Dubai in 2019. After a 15-night cruise to Dubai from Singapore, she’ll depart Dubai Cruise Terminal on April 25th, bound for Piraeus (Athens).
Cunard Line – Queen Mary 2
Cunard’s flagship Queen Mary 2, the largest ocean liner in the world, will cruise from Dubai twice in 2019. The first, departing January 29th, is a 21-night cruise to Hong Kong via India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
The second, departing March 25th, is a 20-night cruise from Dubai to Southampton, UK via the Suez Canal and Mediterranean. Both cruises form part of Queen Mary 2’s 94-night roundtrip grand voyage from Southampton departing January 10th, 2019, or the 108-night roundtrip voyage from New York, departing January 3rd.
Both Dubai legs of the longer cruise itineraries can be booked individually.
AIDA Cruises – AIDAvita
AIDA Cruises will be offering two Dubai cruise departures in 2019 in addition to its 2018/19 winter cruise season in the Arabian Gulf. On March 31st, 2019, AIDAvita will departure Dubai on a 16-night cruise to Iraklion in Greece. She’ll return in October for a 20-night cruise from Dubai to Singapore, departing October 28th, 2019.
Seabourn – Encore and Ovation
Luxury cruise line Seabourn will be offering four Dubai cruise departures in 2019, aboard two of its cruise ships, Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation.
Seabourn Ovation will cruise from Dubai on April 7th, 2019 on a 20-night voyage to Piraeus (Athens) in Greece. She’ll return to the Middle East again later in the year, cruising from Dubai on December 2nd, 2019 bound for Singapore, a 19-night voyage that will take her along the coast of India and through Southeast Asia.
Seabourn Encore is also cruising from Dubai in 2019. She will depart the city on May 8th bound for La Valletta, the capital of Malta. This 25-night cruise through the Suez Canal and eastern Mediterranean will focus on visiting the ancient empires of history.
Seabourn Encore will return to Dubai in November, departing November 8th from Dubai Cruise Terminal on an 18-night cruise to Singapore.
Silversea Cruises – Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit
Seabourn aren’t the only luxury cruise line sending two ships to Dubai in 2019. Silversea is also cruising from the city with Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit.
Silver Shadow will cruise from Dubai to Piraeus (Athens) in Greece on April 26th, visiting Khasab, Sur and Salalah in Oman along the way on this 15-night voyage. Ports of call on this cruise also include Safaga in Egypt, Aqaba in Jordan, a transit of the Suez Canal and a visit to Rhodes before arriving in Piraeus.
Silver Spirit will cruise from Dubai later in the year, departing on November 19th on a short (by Silversea standards) 9-night cruise from Dubai to Mumbai in India, visiting Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, and Muscat along the way. She’ll spend an overnight in Mumbai at the cruise terminal.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises – Seven Seas Navigator and Seven Seas Voyager
Regent Seven Seas Cruises will be cruising from Dubai with two cruise ships in 2019, Seven Seas Navigator and Seven Seas Voyager will both offer Dubai cruise departures, but to opposite parts of the world.
On April 9th, 2019, Seven Seas Navigator will cruise from Dubai on a 20-night cruise to Civitavecchia (Rome) in Italy via the Suez Canal and Fujairah, Salalah and Safaga in Egypt, before entering the Mediterranean with its rich litany of historic ports.
On November 16th, 2019, Seven Seas Voyager will call in Dubai and then begin a new cruise itinerary from Dubai to Singapore, a 20-night cruise that visits all the major cruise destinations in India, Sir Lanka and Southeast Asia.
Princess Cruises – Sapphire Princess and Sea Princess
Princess Cruises is offering three cruise departures from Dubai in 2019 aboard two cruise ships.
Sapphire Princess will cruise from Dubai on March 21st on a 26-night grand voyage from Dubai to Southampton via the Suez Canal and Strait of Gibraltar. She’ll return to Dubai later in the year, departing from Dubai on November 26th on an 11-night cruise to Singapore.
Princess Cruises’ much smaller Sea Princess (a sister ship to P&O Cruises’ Dubai-based Oceana) will cruise from Dubai in June, one of the less popular months for Dubai cruises. On June 5th, 2019, she’ll cruise from Dubai to Dover, a 34-night cruise that is actually a single leg of her longer 106-night World Cruise roundtrip from Auckland, New Zealand.
Fred Olsen Cruise Line – Black Watch and Boudicca
The quintessentially British cruise line Fred Olsen will visit Dubai on Boudicca’s 34-night ‘Ancient Arabia & the Med’ cruise from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Dover in the UK. Boudicca will be one of the few cruise ships in 2019 only visiting Dubai, rather than using it as a turnaround port as well. She’ll call in Dubai on January 19th on her way home to Britain.
Fred Olsen’s Black Watch, on the other hand, will do a turnaround in Dubai in 2019. On February 4th, Black Watch will cruise from Dubai to Southampton on a 24-night cruise that Fred Olsen says will explore the ancient civilisations and lost cities of Arabia and the Mediterranean. This cruise will form part of Black Watch’s 107-night World Cruise roundtrip from Southampton, but can be booked individually.
Costa Cruises – Costa Luminosa
Costa Luminosa is another of the rare cruise ships visiting Dubai as only a port call and not a departure port. She will call in Dubai on April 11th, 2019 during her 112-night World Cruise roundtrip from Venice in Italy. Dubai is one of ten of the 44 ports of call on Costa Luminosa’s 2019 World Cruise where she will stay overnight in port, giving cruise passengers more time to explore the city and undertake a range of shore excursions.
Oceania Cruises – Nautica and Insignia
Oceania Cruises joins Seabourn and Silversea Cruises with a two-ship line-up for Dubai cruises in 2019.
Oceania Nautica will cruise from Dubai twice in 2019, while Oceania Insignia will cruise just once from the city, on a 22-night cruise from Dubai to Civitavecchia (Rome) in Italy, departing May 13th.
Oceania Nautica will cruise from Dubai on April 27th, 2019 bound for Barcelona. The 21-night cruise will be the first of her Dubai cruises during the year. Nautica will return to the Middle East in December, cruising from Dubai to Cape Town on December 7th, 2019.
The 30-night cruise is undertaken annually and visits all the major cruise destinations in the Indian Ocean and on the South African coast.
TUI Cruises – Mein Schiff 6
TUI Cruises new cruise ship Mein Schiff 6 will visit Dubai on November 11th, 2019 when she completes a 16-night cruise from Iraklion in Greece to Dubai. She’ll then depart for Singapore, where she will spend the winter cruising roundtrip from Singapore and Hong Kong.
Marella Cruises – Marella Discovery
Newly re-branded Marella Cruises (formerly Thomson Cruises) is returning to the Middle East in 2019 with Marella Discovery, a year after the cruise line sailed its first ever Arabian Gulf cruise season out of Dubai with Thomson Celebration (now Marella Celebration).
Marella Discovery will offer a Dubai cruise departure on April 11th, a 14-night cruise from Dubai to Aqaba in Jordan. This cruise is part of her re-positioning voyage from her Asian cruise season during winter to her summer season out of Corfu in the Mediterranean.
Celebrity Cruises – Celebrity Constellation
Celebrity Cruises, homeporting Celebrity Constellation in the Middle East for the coming two cruise seasons, is the only cruise line using only Abu Dhabi as a turnaround port for its Arabian Gulf season, with Dubai included as a port of call only. This is expected to change in the near future.