Middle East Cruise News

Royal Caribbean hopes to offer cruises to Saudi Arabia in time

Saudi Arabia has the potential to be a key cruise destination on the Red Sea, according to Royal Caribbean International’s Middle East general manager Mohamed Saeed.

In an interview with Arabian Business, he said that the company hopes to see “more destinations created for cruise passengers” across the GCC, expanding on existing port destinations in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.


Royal Caribbean’s Spectrum of the Seas became the largest cruise ship ever to sail from Dubai in 2019

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The need for more cruise destinations, particularly in the Red Sea, is highlighted by the format of all cruise itineraries between the Mediterranean and Dubai.

Several dozen cruise ships make the voyage each year (on westbound or eastbound repositioning cruises) or in order to homeport in Dubai (ten cruise lines will do so next year), but all of them only stop in Aqaba, Jordan after transiting the Suez Canal.

They then spend a week to ten days at sea cruising between Aqaba and Muscat, sometimes calling in Salalah as well.


Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas will be homeporting in Dubai for the 2019/2020 season.

Royal Caribbean itself will be doing this later in 2019 when it repositions Jewel of the Seas to Dubai from the Mediterranean, to begin a full season of roundtrip Dubai cruises in the Arabian Gulf.

“Dubai and Abu Dhabi did their part,” Saeed says of Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s impressive cruise infrastructure growth. “Oman is starting this initiative and Bahrain is working on it, but we need to see that [from Saudi Arabia].”

“At the moment, cruise ships in the Red Sea make only one port of call, in the Jordanian coastal city of Aqaba. There’s just that one stop in Jordan after you pass the Suez Canal, then ships move on,” he says.


Aqaba in Jordan is currently the only cruise destination in the entire Red Sea

“Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are working on this, but it’s still a long-term thing. Hopefully the 2030 vision of Prince Mohammed bin Salman can create a destination in Saudi Arabia for ours ships,” Saeed adds.

The development of more cruise destinations in the Red Sea wouldn’t only benefit Saudi Arabia’s tourism industry.


Saudi Arabia is developing tourism destinations on its Red Sea coast, such as the Triple Bay Wellness Resort

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According to Steven Young, Vice President, Port & Shore Operations for Carnival UK’s P&O Cruises and Cunard, Dubai’s cruise tourism sector is held back by the lack of destinations in the Red Sea.

“Cruise itineraries between the Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf are port-lean, and the cruise destinations within the Gulf require greater diversity of shore excursion offerings to really make them stand out,” he says.


The Farasan Island Marine Sanctuary in the Red Sea off Saudi Arabia’s west coast is being developed as a Maldives-style tourist destination

There are reports that Saudi Arabia is establishing three cruise ports in Alkhobar on the Arabian Gulf near Dammam, the Farasan Island Marine Sanctuary in the Red Sea, and Alwajh in the north, near the port of Aqaba.

Saudi Arabia raised eyebrows across the global travel and tourism industry in late 2018 when it announced plans to introduce tourist visas for the first time, even for non-Muslim single women travelling alone.

A few weeks later, it kicked off the Red Sea Project, an initiative by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that will feature a mix of luxury and premium beach and mountain resorts, wellness centres, homes and marinas capable of hosting up to a million visitors a year.

The first phase of the project, scheduled for completion in 2022, includes an airport, 14 luxury hotels with 3,000 rooms across five islands in the Red Sea, as well as two inland resorts, yacht marinas and other leisure amenities and infrastructure.

If cruise lines sailing between the Mediterranean and Dubai were able to make port at the islands, it would mean only two days at sea after Aqaba, and another three seadays until arriving in Dubai or Muscat, rather than a full week, which is currently the case.

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