Stock- Dubai Harbour
Dubai Harbour is all geared to welcome those big cruise liners and their passengers. The 2022-23 winter season promises to be a big one for Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Dubai's cruise tourism is all set to make a decisive comeback starting October 29, with more than 900,000 passengers expected to drop in during this peak winter season.

This year’s cruise season officially starts with the arrival of TUI Cruise Line’s Mein Schiff 6 at Hamdan bin Mohammed Cruise Terminal in Mina Rashid. Last year, Dubai received 98 cruise ship calls, with 338,697 passengers and crew, as the industry made a comeback of sorts from the devastating hit brought about by COVID-19.

Thus, in the coming weeks, Dubai and the UAE is set to welcome one of the best years for cruises since the region became a default industry itinerary in 2006.

Stock - Dubai Harbour
One of Dubai's two big cruise terminals, the Harbour welcomed its first passengers last year. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai cruise terminal capacity

Major cruise liners are scheduled to visit Mina Rashid and Dubai Harbour Cruise Terminal (DHCT), which welcomed its first passengers last year. “At DHCT, we expect the first cruise liner to arrive on November 17, with 46 ship calls and more than 300,000 visitors expected until April 2023,” said Abdulla Binhabtoor, Chief Portfolio Management Officer of Shamal Holding.

Dubai Harbour is owned-operatedby Shamal Holding, which also manages Kite Beach, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Skydive Dubai, Deep-dive Dubai, X Dubai and Dubai Films, among other leisure and entertainment attractions.

Binhabtoor said: “The 2022-23 cruise season is widely considered a ramp-up season for the global cruise industry and very relevant to our region. Occupancy levels on the cruise ships are anticipated to increase significantly, and the cruise industry's feedback also supports this.”

Following the debut of the largest standalone dedicated twin cruise terminal in the Eastern hemisphere last year, Binhabtoor said DHCT is fully geared for the upcoming season.

The Mina Rashid cruise terminals are expecting 123 calls from some of the largest cruise operators, which is a 100 per cent increase over last season. Additionally, passenger and crew inflows are forecast to rise to around 600,000, more than double the previous season

- Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO of DP World

Major cruise liners on their way

Binhabtoor said DHCT would welcome two maiden ships - the C.S. Aida Cosma and C.S. Costa Toscana, homeporting at Dubai Harbour Cruise Terminals, both operating five- to seven-night itineraries around the Arabian Gulf. The cruises will be staying until April 15 next.

DHCT will also have cruise ships from six international cruise lines during the season, such as P&O and Princess Cruises, welcoming visitors from the Mediterranean, Europe and beyond. “We will also have a ship call for the first-time way into June 2023 with overnight port stay and passenger turnaround, extending the cruise season into the summer months,” he added.

In Abu Dhabi, Jasem Zaiton, CEO of Zaitoncorp and a cruise destination expert, said, “Cultural and recreational activities in Abu Dhabi are encouraging cruise lines to extend their port stay at the Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal at Zayed Port.”

The pandemic has changed how cruises operate. Offering smaller itineraries became critical for the survival of cruise liners.

‘Exciting trends’

“As international tourism fully rebounds and we get ready to see full fleets back in service, we believe cruising tourism will continue to witness extraordinary growth in this region,” said Binhabtoor. “This means more destinations, enhanced experiences and new types of cruise travellers such as millennials and Gen Z.”

Is cruising a 'sustainable' activity?

“Several cruise liners arriving in Dubai have also outlined their commitment to sustainability and decarbonization, meeting customer demands for ‘green cruising’ and ships with reduced impact,” Binhabtoor said. “This will be the first year we have two brand-new, LNG-powered cruise ships homeport in Dubai.” (LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) is one of the industry's cleanest-burning, non-electric marine fuels and can reduce emissions by up to 30 per cent.)

According to MSC Cruises, one of the big industry names, there have been significant booking numbers from Italy, the UK and Germany for UAE, Gulf and regional ports. 

For winter 2022-23 season, we have prepared a rich programme including a new Red Sea 7-night itinerary with MSC Splendida, with 33 shore excursions on offer, including Cairo.

- Gianni Onorato, CEO at MSC Cruises

Guests can choose three embarkation ports, from Sokhna and Safaga in Egypt, plus Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. “The much-anticipated MSC World Europa will be named in Qatar and then set sail on her maiden voyage, offering 7-night cruises and docking at Doha, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Dammam,” said Onorato. “This is in addition to MSC Opera, which will homeport in the UAE.”

Ahoy there, football fans

Up in Doha, football fans will also have cruise liner stay options, with three vessels offering short-stay cabins during the FIFA World Cup phase. The other big trend is hotel groups such as the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons Group making a foray with 'boutique-type' ships.

Evrima, the first of three custom-built yachts from The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. The specially designed yacht measures 190-meters and can accommodate up to 298 passengers. Image Credit: Supplied

Cruises are most definitely back. This past summer season, passengers from the GCC flocked on-board Royal Caribbean ships in Europe and the US in numbers that surpassed 2019

- Mohamed Saeed, Managing Director, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea Cruises – Middle East

“The UAE and Saudi are our largest regional customer base, as we’re ideal for families. Earlier this year, we launched Wonder of the Seas, the world’s biggest cruise ship, and she’s travelled both the Caribbean and Mediterranean this season.

"We’ve just announced the launch of Icon of the Seas, a new class of cruise ship, which begins sailing in January 2024 and will be one of the most transformational ships ever envisioned as well as the biggest in our fleet."

The ships and the passengers are ready - starting Saturday (October 29), Dubai will see the first of them come calling.