Dubai’s cruise terminals are already set for one busy winter season as liners return in full

Dubai: If UAE residents aren’t flying this summer, they sure are taking to the seas in winter. Cruise operators are seeing heavy bookings for this year’s winter after a blockbuster season in 2021.

MSC Cruises, one of the world’s largest operators, even extended its sailing period in the UAE to June to cover the Ramadan holidays. “We enjoyed a great cruise season in the UAE – which we extended to meet customer demand – and been extremely pleased to see more citizens and residents of the country, as well as other GCC nations, board our ships in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for sailings in the Arabian Sea,” said Angelo Capurro, Executive Director, MSC Cruises.

Capurro said that demand for two of the company’s cruise ships – World Europe and Opera – was already ‘very strong’ for the winter. These two vessels will be based in Dubai.

“The last two years have been challenging as we were not able to operate as we normally do,” he added. “But in the last couple of months, we have seen demand picking up as people have a strong desire to go on cruises again. People want to go on holidays, and we are seeing good booking trends for the whole summer.”

As temperatures soar in the Gulf, cruise lines have now moved on to the Mediterranean region, but they will return in November.

What’s on offer?

Rhapsody of the Seasoperated by Royal Caribbean, will sail from August 1. The cruise starts with a 4-night schedule, which will cost $275 per head, and sail from Ravenna to Split (Croatia) and Haifa (Israel).

Azamara Onwardoperated by Azamara, will sail from September 16. The cruise will have a 15-night schedule, which will cost passengers around $3,500 per head, and sail from Civitavecchia (Italy) to Sorrento, Amalfi, Siracusa, and Alexandria (Egypt).

River Tosca, operated by Uniworld River Cruises, will sail down Egypt’s Nile River for 12 nights. The cruise, which will cost passengers $6,500 per person, will start from Cairo and have stops at Luxor and Aswan.

Back on board cruises

Dubai’s cruise industry – one of the main pillars of the emirate’s crucial tourism sector – was hit hard during the pandemic, which brought travel to a complete halt. After the relaxation of restrictions, major cruise lines resumed their operations in Dubai last year and have recorded overwhelming demand for on-board holidays.

Back to pre-Covid?

Dubai Harbour, the region’s first dedicated cruise port, was launched in December last after several delays due to the pandemic. Dubai already has the largest dedicated cruise port in the UAE, with two terminals at Mina Rashid.

Abdulla Binhabtoor, Chief Portfolio Management Officer at Shamal Holding, which owns Dubai Harbour, said the port welcomed many visitors in its inaugural cruise season. Binhabtoor expects the cruise industry to return to pre-Covid levels by 2023. “As global tourism and travel rebound, we see 2023 as a year of continuous recovery with occupancy and capacity rates approaching levels prior to the pandemic,” said Binhabtoor.

“We are fully compliant with local and global public health measures and standards to ensure the safety and well-being of passengers and crew members docking to and from Dubai,” said Binhabtoor. “We’re looking forward to a successful 2022-23 season.”

We see 2023 as a year of continuous recovery with occupancy and capacity rates approaching levels prior to the pandemic

– Abdulla Binhabtoor, Chief Portfolio Management Officer at Shamal Holding

2019 peak

Before Covid, Dubai’s cruise industry was reaching new highs every year and, in 2019, more than 14 cruise liners were in the emirate during the winter.

“This business was a bit of a casualty of the pandemic, but the network in Europe was back to normal during the winter and capacities are coming back,” said Adnan Kazim, Emirates’ Chief Commercial Officer during an industry event in April. “We’re quite optimistic that this business will go back to pre-Covid levels and beyond soon.”

We have been extremely pleased to see more citizens and residents of the UAE, as well as other GCC nations, board our ships in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for sailings in the Arabian Sea

– Angelo Capurro of MSC Cruises

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