Of the seven cruise ships homeporting in the Middle East for the 2018/2019 Dubai cruise season, two are among the largest in the world, one is brand new and powered by LNG, one is owned by the oldest cruise line in the world and all are proving that Dubai tourism officials weren’t crazy when they said 1-million cruise tourists would visit the city by 2020.
These are exciting times to be a cruise journalist in Dubai. The Middle East cruise industry is one of the fastest growing in the world. Middle East residents are waking up to the opportunities presented by a cruise holiday out of Dubai, and more than 700,000 cruise tourists from around the world are expected to fly and cruise from the city during the coming cruise season between November, 2018 and March, 2019.
And some of the largest cruise ships in the world, and most famous cruise lines, are going to be cruising roundtrip from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, two of them for the first time ever!
Here is our rundown of the best roundtrip Dubai cruises in the coming 2018/2019 cruise season:
COSTA CRUISES – Costa Mediterranea
13 roundtrip Dubai cruises
First cruise of season – December 21st, 2018
Last cruise of season – March 2nd, 2019
Costa Cruises has significantly upgraded its tonnage in the Middle East cruise market with Costa Mediterranea replacing Costa neoRiviera this year. The much smaller Costa neoRiviera, while a delightful mid-sized cruise ship, was almost half its size and didn’t offer nearly as much to do on-board.
Costa Mediterranea is 85,000-gross tons, carries up to 2,600 passengers, and has four restaurants, 12 bars and cafes, four lounges, and eight pools and Jacuzzis. She is gargantuan compared to neoRiviera, but best of all, she’s sailing the same 7-night Dubai, Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas, Dubai cruise itinerary that has become so popular with Costa Cruise passengers visiting the Arabian Gulf.
MSC CRUISES – MSC Splendida and MSC Lirica
16 roundtrip Dubai cruises
First cruise of season – December 8th, 2018
Last cruise of season – March 23rd, 2019
MSC Cruises went even bigger than Costa, replacing the 58,000-gross ton, 2,200-passenger MSC Opera with MSC Splendida last season. Splendida is the largest cruise ship ever to cruise roundtrip from Dubai. This 133,000-gross ton, 3,200-passenger beast of the seas is a floating hotel and resort, a destination all of its own, that also cruises to some of the Gulf’s most exotic ports.
MSC Cruises visits Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas, Muscat and Khassab before returning to Dubai. This 7-day Dubai cruise itinerary is alternated with a 7-day Dubai cruise that goes westward to Doha and Bahrain instead of Muscat and Khassab. MSC Splendida is a true ship for all passengers, she has something for everyone.
10 roundtrip Dubai cruises
First cruise of the season – November 19th, 2018
Last cruise of the season – March 1st, 2019
MSC Cruises will also be homeporting their smaller cruise ship MSC Lirica in the Middle East for the upcoming 2018/19 cruise season. Lirica will cruise roundtrip from Dubai to India, on ten cruises of 11- to 14-nights visiting Abu Dhabi and Muscat, as well as Mangalore, Mormugao (Goa) and Mumbai in India. She’ll also visit Khassab on the return leg to Dubai. This itinerary includes overnight stays in port in Mumbai and Dubai (on the last night of the cruise).
TUI CRUISES – Mein Schiff 4
17 roundtrip Dubai cruises
First cruise of the season – November 5th, 2018
Last cruise of the season – April 1st, 2019
TUI Cruises, the premium German cruise line, regarded as Germany’s version of Princess Cruises, returns to Dubai for the fifth year in a row, bringing one of their biggest cruise ships, Mein Schiff 4, back to Dubai to sail a 7-night roundtrip cruise visiting the same ports as MSC Cruises. Like MSC Cruises, they will also alternate between an eastbound and westbound Arabian Gulf itinerary.
At 99,800-gross tons, Mein Schiff 5 closely resembles a Royal Caribbean Ovation-class cruise ship (the cruise line is part-owned by Royal Caribbean), and has all the same bells and whistles one would expect from a ship of this size.
Apart from the extremely elegant décor and luxury service, novelties aboard include a huge cutaway model of the ship in the Waterkant bar, showing many of the areas normally out of bounds for passengers, and the Blauer Balkong (”blue balcony”) up on deck 14, which is similar to the Seawalk on Princess Cruises’ Royal Princess and Regal Princess – except that the Blauer Balkong is outdoors and its floor is made entirely of glass. The Dubai Frame hasn’t got anything on TUI!
AIDA CRUISES – AIDAprima
21 roundtrip Dubai cruises
First cruise of the season – November 23rd, 2018
Last cruise of the season – April 12th, 2019
AIDA Cruises are going all-out for the 2018/2019 cruise season, 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. With 3,300 passengers, 18 passenger decks and 15 restaurants, bars and cafes, AIDAprima would give MSC Splendida a solid run for her money if she weren’t marketed primarily to the German cruise market.
AIDAprima includes the AIDA Beach Club pool area, which is covered by a transparent UV-permeable membrane dome, allowing passengers to relax in a beach setting with natural light despite inclement weather. The Beach Club features the longest indoor water slide on a cruise ship, a rock climbing wall, and a lazy river. At night it becomes a giant nightclub, with laser lights projected onto the dome.
AIDA Cruises have taken the interesting decision not to include Sir Bani Yas Island as a port of call on their Arabian Gulf itineraries for the 2018/19 cruise season. Instead, AIDAprima will cruise roundtrip from Dubai to Muscat, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain before returning to Dubai. The 7-night cruise itinerary will include an overnight in Dubai on the first and last night of the cruise, and in Abu Dhabi.
P&O CRUISES – Oceana
6 roundtrip Dubai cruises
First cruise of the season – January 30th, 2019
Last cruise of the season – March 21st, 2019
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.
Fresh from a US $50-million refit in December, 2017, Oceana will be cruising from Dubai sporting new furnishings and carpets throughout the ship. Significant décor enhancements have been made in the atrium, the Explorers Lounge and Magnums, Winners’ and Yacht and Compass bars, The Plaza restaurant and in all her cabins. The outdoor areas have also been refurbished, with furnishings, artificial turf, tiling and the canopy covering the Terrace Bar and Pool being replaced.
Oceana will switch things up somewhat by operating a 10-day cruise itinerary sailing from Dubai and visiting Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Khorfakkan, and Khassab, before heading back to Dubai.
PULLMANTUR CRUISES – Horizon
13 roundtrip Dubai cruises
First cruise of the season – December 8th, 2018
Last cruise of the season – March 2nd, 2019
Pullmantur Cruises are coming to the Middle East for the first time as well in the 2018/19 cruise season. The Spanish cruise line, known for its super casual, high-quality cruise experience aboard classic cruise ships, will be offering 13 7-day roundtrip Dubai cruises, visiting Abu Dhabi, Khasab, Muscat and Fujairah, with a two-night stay in port at the beginning of the cruise.
It will be offering this cruise itinerary out of Dubai aboard its smallest cruise ship, Horizon. Launched in 1990 and most recently refitted in 2009, Horizon is a classic cruise ship, offering what could perhaps be called the most ‘traditional’ cruise experience out of Dubai for 2018/19 Middle East cruise season. Think production shows, a spa and gym, casino, shops, youth programs and two seating dinner, but with a Spanish twist. Early seating dinner is at 8 p.m. and late seating at 10:15 p.m. (one example of the Spanish preference for evening meals), but also a setup that is likely to suite the Middle East cruise passenger, who tend to be night owls themselves with late night meals.
CELEBRITY CRUISES – Celebrity Constellation
3 roundtrip Abu Dhabi cruises / 2 Abu Dhabi-Singapore cruises/ 2 Singapore-Abu Dhabi cruises
First cruise of the season – December 8th, 2018
Last cruise of the season – March 18th, 2019
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). Celebrity Cruises are bringing Celebrity Constellation back to the Arabian Gulf, fresh from her refit.
The 91,000-gross ton, 2,449-passenger cruise liner will cruise roundtrip from Abu Dhabi three times on 14-night cruises visiting India. For now, Celebrity Cruises are the only cruise line offering a roundtrip UAE itinerary that leaves the Arabian Gulf.
The two week cruises will visit Dubai and Muscat, before crossing the Gulf of Oman to visit Cochin, Mangalore, Goa and Mumbai in India. She’ll then cross back to Abu Dhabi to spend the night in port before ending the cruise. Celebrity Constellation’s port call in Dubai will also be an overnight stay, giving passengers more time to explore the cruise hub of the Middle East.
Celebrity Cruises are the only cruise line in the Middle East to have rolled out fleetwide halal food options.
In addition to these three roundtrip Abu Dhabi cruises (departing December 8th and 22nd, 2018, and March 4th, 2019), Constellation will also offer two Abu Dhabi to Singapore cruises and two return Singapore to Abu Dhabi cruises.
The first Abu Dhabi – Singapore cruise will depart January 5th, 2019. The homeward cruise from Singapore to Abu Dhabi will depart February 17th, and on March 18th she’ll cruise back to Singapore, with another return cruise to Abu Dhabi on April 2nd, making her the last cruise ship of the season to sail from the UAE. These Singapore cruises that crisscross the Indian Ocean from the UAE will be the norm for her 2020 cruise season in the Arabian Gulf.