Sir Bani Yas Island is perhaps the most unique of all cruise destinations in the Arabian Gulf, it is the region’s only cruise beach, and is also home to a massive game reserve and several resorts.
Cruise terminal: There is no cruise terminal at present, at Sir Bani Yas passengers used to go ashore by tender boat, but a new cruise pier was recently built.
Shore excursions: Shore excursions are limited in quantity, but made up for in quality, there’s canoing through the mangroves, a safari through the game reserve, a pool day at a luxury resort, snorkeling, hiking and more
Language: Arabic officially, but English widely spoken
Dress code: Anything goes on Sir Bani Yas (apart from nude sunbathing)
Currency: All spending on the island is via passengers’ cruise cards
It just doesn’t get better than Sir Bani Yas Island when it comes to beach cruise destinations in the Arabian Gulf.
While the other cruise ports in the region are sometimes accused of being too similar to each other, with similar shore excursions of shopping malls, grand mosques, theme parks and dune bashing offered in each, Sir Bani Yas Island couldn’t be more different.
The island is often marketed as a taste of the Caribbean within the Arabian Gulf, but in truth the island is nothing like the Caribbean – for a start the water is much colder!
Instead, it is richly appealing within its own right. With abundant white beaches, excellent snorkelling, beach sports, game safaris, mangrove canoeing and beach resorts, it is a welcome breath of fresh air and the only private beach resort for cruise ships in the Middle East.
The island lies 150 miles off Abu Dhabi and was first inhabited by the Bani Yas tribe, who also first settled in what is now Abu Dhabi.
A ruined Nestorian Christian monastery dating from 600 A.D. is the oldest of 42 archaeological sites on the island, although archaeological digs suggest a human presence as far back as 3,000 years.
The founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, planted several thousand trees and plants on the islands interior, creating a massive nature reserve, where giraffe, cheetah, hyena, ostrich and oryx have been introduced.
So, if you weren’t able to visit the Dubai Safari, you can take a game drive across Sir Bani Yas that feels as close as dammit to a jaunt through the African Serengeti. The Arabian Wildlife Park occupies about half of the island and now contains thousands of naturally-breeding animals.
There are also three luxury resort hotels and a small airstrip.
The cruise beach sits on an artificial spit of sand connected to the main island by a short causeway across the lagoon where visitors can go kayaking and canoeing.
There are about 2,000 sun loungers, shower and changing facilities, a huge undercover area for the traditional shore-day beach barbeque and a beach bar.
The cruise terminal at Sir Bani Yas Island
There is no cruise terminal at Sir Bani Yas Island, although there are unconfirmed rumours that one is planned. For now, cruise passengers are tendered ashore from the ship at anchor.
Personally, I hope it stays this way as there is something exciting a little different about going ashore by tender at least once during a 7-night Arabian Gulf cruise.
It adds to the sense of adventure that comes with visiting Sir Bani Yas by ship.
Is Sir Bani Yas Island good for shopping?
No. There are no shops of any kind on Sir Bani Yas Island.
Currency and language at Sir Bani Yas Island
As part of the UAE, Sir Bani Yas Islands’ hotels deal with the UAE dirham, but also accept the US dollar, British pound and euro.
However, for most cruise passengers, who will remain on the cruise beach, or on ship-organised shore excursions, local currency won’t be necessary as all spending is linked to your cruise card.
Drinks and the use of beach equipment, such as paddleboards, floating mats and snorkels, are charged to passenger accounts.
How to behave on Sir Bani Yas Island
As a private cruise beach and tourist resort, you can do on Sir Bani Yas Island as you would on the ship. Wear want you want, drink what you like and party to your heart’s content.
Who cruises to Sir Bani Yas Island?
Around 130 cruise itineraries will visit Sir Bani Yas Island in 2019, with the same number expected during the coming 2018/19 cruise season, which runs in the Middle East from November to March each year.
Several of the cruise lines homeporting in the Arabian Gulf and cruising roundtrip from Dubai, such as Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and P&O Cruises visit the island every week on each cruise, but there is never more than one ship at anchor per day.