Cruise Lifestyle

5 reasons an Arabian Gulf round-trip Dubai cruise is the perfect itinerary

An Arabian Gulf round-trip Dubai cruise aboard one of the seven cruise lines home porting in the Middle East this coming cruise season is the ideal cruise itinerary for at least five reasons.

Each of the cruise lines (Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, P&O Cruises, Pullmantur, TUI Cruises, and AIDA) are all very different from one another. They offer luxury, affordability, resort-style cruising, or a classic cruise experience. But, all of them will have these five things in common, because they’re cruising from the UAE’s fast-growing Dubai cruise hub.

Balance between port days and sea days

A common refrain among those who love cruising is that there’s no such thing as a bad cruise, just passengers on the wrong cruise. Some passengers like a new port every day, others like to take it easy and read a book or explore the ship’s facilities and ‘at sea’ attractions during a leisurely sea day. Yet others like to do both. That’s what makes an Arabian Gulf cruise out of Dubai perfect for all three.


With the ports commonly visited on a roundtrip Dubai cruise all within easy reach, the cruise lines can hit several in quick succession. Usually three are visited over the course of three or four days (with an overnight in Dubai or Abu Dhabi). The ship then takes it easy and spends a full two nights a day at sea during the run from one end of the Gulf to the other, usually between Abu Dhabi or Sir Bani Yas Island and Muscat.

Calm seas for most of the cruise season

The Arabian Gulf is one of the largest of the world’s seas after the Med, but also one of the most sheltered. The Musandum Peninsula acts as a handy barrier between the Indian Ocean and placid waters of the Gulf. As such, these are mild waters in which to cruise. A strong gale, known locally as a shamal, does occasionally blow through, and sometimes the seas can reach a (towering!) 2m in height, but that’s about as bad as it gets. For the cruise passenger that likes sunshine, new ports daily and very little (or none) of the rocking about associated with open water, this is the cruise itinerary for you.

Ancient ports, modern metropoles and island beaches

The vast majority of roundtrip cruises in the Arabian Gulf depart from Dubai, the most modern and cosmopolitan of all the cities in the Middle East. Dubai is home to some of the world’s most famous tourist attractions, including the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall; the Burj Al Arab hotel, the most luxurious in the world; and the Madinat Jumeirah. This mall blends the old-world charm of the traditional Arabian souqs with high-end boutiques and super casual but uber-trendy food outlets.


Abu Dhabi is also an embarkation port for cruises, primarily for Celebrity Cruises. The line homeports Celebrity Constellation in the Arabian Gulf every year. Abu Dhabi has the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the Arab World, and the Louvre, Abu Dhabi. Other major cruise ports in the region include Muscat, Khassab, Bahrain and Doha. All are some of the oldest trading ports in the world. Muscat dates back to the 6th millennium.

The 16th-century Portuguese forts, Al Jalali and Mirani, looming over Muscat Harbour; its modern, marble-clad Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque; and the Sultan’s Palace and nearby Grand Souq, are some of the main attractions. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi there are also desert safaris available. These take cruise tourists dune bashing into the desert to traditional Bedouin camps where dinner buffets and belly dancing are laid on.

Then there is Sir Bani Yas Island. This is a personal favourite on the Arabian Gulf cruise destination circuit. Here cruise passengers can bask in the sun on sandy white beaches, or take game safaris through the interior of the island. There’s also paddle boarding or canoe through the mangroves. Passengers can also spend the day by the pool at one of several luxury resorts. Sir Bani Yas Island has just one drawback. Because of the time of year during which the cruise season runs, the water is always quite cold.

International mix of fellow passengers

Costa Cruises was first to offer a round-trip Dubai cruise in 2006. The Middle East cruise market grew rapidly, but the passenger mix was mostly mature British and European guests. Now, the situation couldn’t be more different.


The types of passengers cruising in the Gulf from Dubai and Abu Dhabi depend entirely on the cruise line. By-and-large Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises have more Italian, German, French and British passengers, with a sizeable number of Americans as well. Celebrity Cruises has the same mix but with more Americans. The two German cruise lines home-porting ships in the region, AIDA Cruises and TUI Cruises, are of course primarily for cruise tourists from the lines’ home countries.

The ages are also a total mix. Kids, teenagers, young families, couples and retirees all cruise together on the same ship. The cruise ships operating out of Dubai are so large now that they’re essentially floating cities.

Easy to fly-cruise from overseas

Dubai Cruise Terminal is the main embarkation port in the region, and Dubai International Airport is the busiest airport in the world in terms of international flights. There are a variety of options for flying into the city from anywhere in the world.

The trip is a do-able eight to six hours for Italians, Germans and Brits. For North Americans it’ll require a longer journey. There are nonstop from New York as well as Los Angeles. New York is 12.5 hours, while LA is a 16-hour journey. All Americans and Europeans need to enter the UAE is a valid passport. You’ll get the free, 30-day tourist visa at the airport. Most nationalities joining a Dubai cruise, including Indians and Chinese, also get a multiple entry visa on arrival.

Check out an interactive map of the destinations on offer in the Arabian Gulf on your average week-long roundtrip cruise out of Dubai:

Map thanks to Wanderlog, a trip planner app on iOS and Android

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