Abu Dhabi has fast established itself as the cultural as well as political capital of the UAE, it is home to the largest mosque in the world, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Yas Island F1 race track and some of the most luxurious hotels in the world.
Cruise terminal: The Abu Dhabi 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. Abu Dhabi is one of two cities on the Arabian Gulf cruise circuit that 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
Although Dubai is the best-known of all the emirates in the UAE, Abu Dhabi is actually the capital and largest of all seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
Abu Dhabi covers 80 percent of the land mass of the country, and is divided into three parts. There is the city of Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest of all the UAE’s cities and the political heart of the country, there’s the historic town of Al Ain, built on a large oasis along an old camel caravan route and lastly Al Gharbia, part of the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert. Here you’ll find towering dunes spreading across the Arabian Peninsula in a region known locally as the Empty Quarter.
The cruise terminal in Abu Dhabi
The Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal is located within the centre of Abu Dhabi city itself at Port Zayed. The port used to be the city’s main commercial port, but with the opening of Port Khalifa down the coast, all container traffic has been transferred and the port is now used almost exclusively by cruise ships.
The Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal lies directly adjacent to the Abu Dhabi Corniche, a waterfront promenade framed by glittering skyscrapers and five-star resorts. Abu Dhabi City lies on a peninsula, with natural islands around it that are home to golf courses, beaches, marinas, malls, a Formula One race track, amusement areas and cultural institutions. The biggest and most visited of these islands is Yas Island.
Abu Dhabi is more family and culturally-oriented than Dubai, 90 miles to the north. It’s home to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest in the world, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Emirates Palace Resort, and of course Yas Island, with its Formula 1 track and surrounding mangrove reserves. Abu Dhabi is also home to fewer Western expatriates than Dubai, giving rise to the myth that it is more conservative.
How to dress and behave in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi’s culture is rooted in Islam, like the rest of the UAE, and like in every other emirate in the country, all faiths are respected and protected by the constitution. The dress code is liberal, and Western wear is common, though native Emiratis often choose to wear their national dress. Cruise passengers disembarking ships in the city can largely dress as they like, but shoulders and legs should be covered when visiting local mosques.
When dining out or going to beach clubs or nightclubs, it’s recommended but not mandatory, to cover your shoulders to and from the venue out of respect to local values. Most female cruise passengers ensure they’re prepared by carrying a pashmina or similarly large shawl with them on shore excursions. Local customs aside, it’s a good idea to keep a shawl with you when exploring the city, as it can be warm outside, but cold within many air-conditioned venues. It’s also important to note that overt public displays of affection that go beyond a simple kiss or hand-holding are not common in Abu Dhabi. These rules are slightly stricter when it comes to same-sex couples. Homosexuality is officially illegal, but action is largely only ever taken against those that engage in acts of public affection.
Like all other countries on the Arabian Gulf, it is also illegal in Abu Dhabi to photograph someone without their permission, or in any way insult the monarchy and the government that it controls.
The currency and language in Abu Dhabi
The dirham is the currency used throughout the seven emirates, Abu Dhabi included. Within the cruise terminal itself and all around the city, there are banks and ATMs that can exchange foreign currency into dirhams, or can dispense the local currency. The official language in Abu Dhabi and the rest of the UAE is Arabic, but English is the unofficial main language as almost everyone speaks it, apart from shopkeepers in the local souqs far off the tourist grid. In addition, almost every single tour operator will provide English speakers with an English guide.
Is Abu Dhabi good for shopping and souvenirs?
Abu Dhabi is one of the few cities on the Arabian Gulf where truly authentic souvenirs like silk-spun scarves and decadent date desserts are available. It also, of course, features the more tacky camel figurines and hijabs made in China. Gold is particularly abundant in Abu Dhabi, from 14 carats all the way up to 24 carats, and because haggling is a way of life here, you can get great deals if you stand your ground and repeat the words “best price” or “last price” as many times as necessary.
Another popular souvenir in Abu Dhabi is Arabic perfume, which can be personalised to your taste by the vendor. It’s made from the resin of the agarwood tree, oud (which is the primary ingredient in many of the perfumes) and has different aromas based on the exact ingredients used and the way they’re mixed. Once you’ve selected an oil, you can custom blend a perfume mixing other oils and scents to create something just for you.
Arguably the most classic (and abundant) souvenir, is the date. In both practical and cultural terms it is one of the most important foods in the UAE, and is highly regarded for its taste and nutritional value. Dates range in flavour, but the most popular are the regular ones, which are often served alongside honey, dipped in chocolate or stuffed with almonds and orange peel. They’re also available coated in chocolate and be bought at a fairly cheap price at local souqs, or at significantly higher prices in fancy packaging at almost every touristy shop. Bateel is one of the best date shops in Abu Dhabi, and offers an incredible selection of all sorts of dates, date juices, jams, preserves and even balsamic vinegar made from them.
Who cruises to Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi is the third-most-visited city on the Arabian Gulf cruise circuit, behind Muscat and Dubai. There are 23 cruise ships scheduled to call in Abu Dhabi in 2019 on 225 cruise itineraries.
Many of them are the Dubai-based cruise ships operating roundtrip Arabian Gulf cruises through the winter, with MSC, Costa and Celebrity Cruises all interporting between Dubai and Abu Dhabi (offering both cities as the turnaround port).
Marella Discovery, Phoenix Reisen’s Amadea and Albatros, Azamara Quest, Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, AIDA Cruises AIDAvita, Seabourn’s Encore and Ovation, Silversea’s Silver Shadow and Silver Spirit, Regent Seven Seas’ Seven Seas Navigator, and Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess will also call in the city on a range of re-positioning cruises between the Mediterranean and Asia, and grand voyages.
AIDA Cruises will feature Abu Dhabi on its roundtrip Dubai cruises with AIDAprima, as will MSC Cruises aboard MSC Splendida during the 2018/19 cruise season and then MSC Bellissima for the 2019/2020 cruise season (with Abu Dhabi also offered as the embarkation port for these itineraries).
MSC Cruises will also use Abu Dhabi as a turnaround port for MSC Lirica when she begins her new roundtrip cruises from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to India in 2019.
Its other homeporting cruise ship MSC Splendida will do the same on her 7-night roundtrip cruises in the Arabian Gulf in the 2018/19 cruise season, to be replaced by MSC Bellissima for 2019/2020.
The German cruise line TUI Cruises also features Abu Dhabi as a regular port of call for its ship Mein Schiff 4, which is homeporting in Dubai this coming cruise season, to be replaced next year by Mein Schiff 5. British cruise line P&O Cruises will visit Abu Dhabi on its inaugural cruise season in the Arabian Gulf, with Oceana visiting the city on her set of 10-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai.
Royal Caribbean will also be featuring Abu Dhabi as a port of call 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.
Costa Cruises will be returning Costa Mediterranea to the Arabian Gulf for the 2018/19 and 2019/2020 cruise season, with Abu Dhabi featured as a port of call and turnaround port on her 7-night roundtrip cruises.
The Spanish cruise line Pullmantur will be homeporting their ship Horizon in Dubai for three months during early 2019, with Abu Dhabi included as a port of call on these 10-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai.
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, although this is expected to change in the near future.