Middle East Cruise Ports

Cruise port focus: Aqaba, Jordan

Aqaba is Jordan’s 6,000-year-old port city on the Red Sea, the gateway to the world-famous stone-city of Petra and a key stopover for ocean liners and cruise ships transiting the Suez Canal since the early 20th century.

Aqaba

Aqaba has been inhabited since 4,000 BC and has been a major trade hub for millennia.

Key facts:

Cruise terminal: There is no dedicated cruise terminal in the Port of Aqaba, cruise ships use commercial docks, from which passengers are ferried to the port entrance, or into town.

Shore excursions: Moderate. Aqaba was a necessary stopover port for ocean liners in the previous century, in the modern age, it is still growing in prominence as a cruise port in its own right. Most shore excursions involve either a scenic tour of the town of Aqaba, a day-long excursion to Petra or a beach resort/diving snorkelling experience.

Language: Arabic officially, but English widely spoken.

Dress code: Shoulders and legs should be covered if visiting a mosque, bikinis and speedos are acceptable on the beaches of private resorts, but not public beaches.

Currency: The Jordanian dinar, but US dollar, British pound and euros all widely accepted in tourist areas

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More than 140 cruise itineraries will visit the city during 2019.

The seaport of Aqaba has been strategically important to traders for centuries, first for overland expeditions and later as a seaport. The Crusaders built a fortress, which was rebuilt by the Mamlukes in the 16th century, and it remains one of the most important landmarks.

The Aqaba Archaeological Museum houses Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid artefacts, along with unearthed treasures from the ancient city of Aila.

Jordan’s only seaport, Aqaba is quickly turning into an upscale travel destination, especially with cruise passengers who have traditionally used the city only as a launch-pad for excursions to Petra in the country’s interior.

While the city centre remains a little dusty and traditional, there is rampant development occurring on the coast and on the city’s outskirts. There is a new modern mall, an Intercontinental beach resort and several other resorts have recently opened or are being built.

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Quantum of the Seas alongside in the Port of Aqaba.

Why cruise to Aqaba?

Aqaba’s long and sandy North Beach strip is particularly popular with cruise tourists who have already seen Petra and want to instead experience Aqaba’s renowned snorkelling and diving opportunities.

There are 30 dive sites, including a sunken Lebanese freighter. Many of the sites are located in Aqaba Marine Park, created as a joint venture with Israel to preserve this important marine environment.

The diving and snorkelling aside, the hotel resorts themselves are becoming an attraction too, giving the city an international character that harkens back to its history as a key trading post on the fabled Silk Road half a millennium ago. To this day, the borders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel are all visible on a clear day from the city centre.

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The Treasury in the ancient ruins of Petra.

Petra, however, is still the main attraction for passengers disembarking in the port, along with the extraordinary desert and mountain region Wadi Rum, a film location for Lawrence of Arabia and the place from which T.E. Lawrence helped plan the Arab Revolt among the area’s red rocks.

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Petra is located within the famous Wadi Rum desert outside Aqaba.

 

The 2-hour drive to Petra takes cruise tourists through this desert into the sandstone hills where the ancient archaeological site remained hidden for around 2,000 years until it was rediscovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer.

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One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the city carved from the mountain rock faces is a treasure-trove of ancient buildings, artefacts and tombs.

How to behave in Aqaba

The city’s 90,000 inhabitants are by-and-large traditional, but friendly toward tourists and while it’s not unusual to see women in traditional veils and the occasional camel in the city centre, cruise passengers with bare shoulders or short skirts and trousers won’t be frowned upon.

Alcohol is served at bars within the beach resorts, but drinking alcohol in public (public meaning outside of a resort) or being intoxicated in public is illegal. A popular scam at bars and pubs is the undisclosed cover charge, ask up front about extra costs before ordering.

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Location of cruise terminal in Aqaba

There is no cruise terminal in Aqaba, so cruise ships dock within the commercial port alongside merchant vessels. However, buses are provided to the port entrance or into the city itself.

From the port gates, it’s a 4-kilometre walk into town, or a 20-minute walk to the Mamluk Castle (Aqaba Fortress), which was built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, destroyed a few decades later and then rebuilt by the medieval Mamluk Sultanate in the 16th century.

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Mamluk Castle, built in the 16th century from the ruins of the fortress established by the Crusaders in the 1300s.

The currency and language in Aqaba

The Jordanian dinar is the official currency, but the dollar, pound and euro are widely accepted. It’s probably best to use local currency, however, to avoid over-inflated exchange rates when dealing with traders. There are banks and exchange houses in town, along with ATMs that accept American Express, Visa and MasterCard.

While Arabic is the official language in Jordan, most of the locals involved in the hospitality sector speak good English.

Is Aqaba good for shopping?

There is a new shopping mall that has opened in town, where major international brands can be found, but most cruise tourists do their shopping in the souvenir hotspots, such as the marketplace in the city centre.

Here, special items can be purchased, such as Hebron glass, mother-of-pearl boxes, olive wood nativity sets and gold or silver necklaces with a coffeepot charm. The coffeepot (dalleh) is a national symbol. For a personalized souvenir, purchase a bottle of colourful sand art with a name of your choice incorporated into the intricate design. Bedouin jewellery is also popular.

Most shops open around 9am and close at 3pm for a three-hour siesta, opening again at 6pm until late. On Friday, everything is closed until mid-afternoon.

Who cruises to Aqaba?

Aqaba is a popular port call on the East-West cruise itineraries of major lines. Only Marella Cruises will be offering Aqaba cruise departures in 2019, aboard Marella Discovery on her homeward bound cruise from Dubai.

Some 141 cruise itineraries feature the city as a port of call in 2019, with more than 40 cruise ships due to visit the port. Of those 141 cruise itineraries, 57 of them feature Dubai as the embarkation port, or end-port of the cruise.

Major cruise calls in 2019 include Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas and Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2, both of which will be bound for Dubai, along with Costa Cruises’ Costa Diadema and AIDA Cruises new AIDAprima, both bound for their Middle East cruise seasons out of Dubai.

For a full list of the cruise itineraries that include Aqaba as a cruise call, check Cruise Timetables.

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