Bahrain has grown in popularity as an Arabian Gulf cruise destination, primarily for roundtrip cruises from Dubai. It provides a fascinating look into the ancient history of the region with archaeological sites dating back to 2300 BC.
Cruise terminal: There isn’t one, ships dock in commercial port outside city
Shore excursions: Limited but worthwhile for a one-day visit
Language: Arabic officially, but English widely spoken
Dress code: Shoulders and legs should be covered if visiting a mosque
Currency: Dinar, but UAE dirham, US dollar and euros all widely accepted
Bahrain has been featured on cruise itineraries in the Arabian Gulf since at least 2008, but in an extremely limited capacity until 2015 when the country joined the UAE-led ‘Cruise Arabia Alliance’, a pan-regional partnership between the major tourism authorities to promote the Arabian Gulf as a cruise destination.
Since then, scheduled cruise ship calls have grown considerably. In 2019, for instance, a total of 129 cruise itineraries will call in Bahrain, with the vast majority of those port calls by cruise ships homeporting out of Dubai and sailing roundtrip cruises in the Arabian Gulf and to the coast of India.
Very few, if any, of the cruise calls to Bahrain are overnighters, because the small island nation does not have the same vast breadth of shore excursions and attractions as Dubai and Abu Dhabi to warrant an overnight stay. It is a fascinating option in the Arabian Gulf cruise circuit though, dating back to 2300 BC, when the ancient city of Dilmun served as a major trading post between Mesopotamia and India.
Remnants of this ancient merchant culture have been found at an archaeological dig near Bahrain Fort (Qal’at al-Bahrain), one of the country’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is included in the shore excursion options of most cruise lines calling here.
For shopping there is the labyrinthine traditional souq in Manama, and for those wanting a bit more action, there is also the Bahrain International Circuit, a major Formula 1 track that’s the site of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Some cruise lines also operate shore excursions to Muharraq, the country’s other UNESCO World Heritage Site, where some traditional homes, a souq and a trail highlighting the country’s pearling industry will be of great interest to history enthusiasts.
The cruise terminal in Bahrain
Cruise ships visiting Bahrain dock at Khalifa Bin Salman Port, the country’s primary commercial shipping hub. It is located on Muharroq, an island about 20 minutes away from the capital Manama, making independent exploring difficult as you need to get a taxi from the port to the city. In addition, because the cruise terminal is located within a commercial port, passengers are not allowed to leave the terminal on foot, so you have to get a shuttle to the port entrance. There are limited facilities here for passengers who want to step ashore, but stay within walking distance of the ship.
How to dress and behave in Bahrain
Bahrain is a Muslim country and is more conservative than the UAE or Oman, but passengers do not face the same restrictions on dress as visitors to Saudi Arabia. This means that shorts are acceptable for both men and women, as well as strapless tops for female passengers. However, if you are planning to visit a mosque while ashore, it’s advisable to carry a shawl or sweater to cover your shoulders and wear capris to cover your knees.
Overt displays of public affection are frowned upon in Bahrain. This means that couples, whether married or not, can hold hands and share the odd kiss, but don’t take it any further than that. In Bahrain, homosexuality is also forbidden, so same-sex couples should avoid all forms of physical contact while ashore. Like the UAE, it is also illegal in Bahrain to photograph someone without their permission, or in any way insult the monarchy.
Currency in Bahrain
Bahrain’s currency is the dinar, but the UAE dirham, the US dollar and the euro are all widely accepted. If you’re on a ship excursion, you won’t need local currency as you’ll be able to buy souvenirs, food and drink etc with any of these currencies. If you’re planning an independent exploration of the country, or a lot of shopping at the local, more traditional souqs, however, its best to take local currency.
Is Bahrain good for shopping and souvenirs?
A standout feature of souvenir shopping in Bahrain is that the Dilmun people used seals with images of animals, gods and the natural world to mark their goods and jewelry with these seals is available in the gift shop of the Bahrain National Museum and makes a unique keepsake from this country. In the souqs, various trinkets found in other Middle Eastern markets are available, including Arabian coffee pots, dates and camel paraphernalia.
Who cruises to Bahrain?
There are 13 cruise ships scheduled to call in Bahrain in 2019 on 129 cruise itineraries. Most of them are the Dubai-based cruise ships operating roundtrip Arabian Gulf cruises through the winter. Marella Discovery, Phoenix Reisen’s Amadea and Albatros, Azamara Quest and Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa are the only cruise ships visiting Bahrain in 2019 that aren’t homeporting in Dubai.
AIDA Cruises will feature Bahrain on its alternating roundtrip Dubai cruises with AIDAprima, as well will MSC Cruises aboard MSC Splendida during the 2018/19 cruise season and then MSC Bellissima for the 2019/2020 cruise season. MSC Cruises will also visit Bahrain with MSC Lirica when she begins her new roundtrip cruises from Dubai to India in 2019.
The German cruise line TUI Cruises also features Bahrain as a regular port of call for its ship Mein Schiff 4, which is homeporting in Dubai this coming cruise season, to be replaced next year by Mein Schiff 5. For some reason, Bahrain is particularly popular with German cruise tourists in the Arabian Gulf.
Having said that, British cruise line P&O Cruises has made the interesting decision to include Bahrain on its inaugural cruise season in the Arabian Gulf, with Oceana visiting the country on her set of 10-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai.
Royal Caribbean will also be featuring Bahrain as a port of call when it returns to the Middle East with a new season of roundtrip Dubai cruises aboard Jewel of the Seas in the 2019/2020 cruise season.