Middle East Cruise News

Dubai proves resilience as cruise destination in wake of coronavirus pandemic

Dubai’s resilience as a cruise destination has shone through in the last few weeks as cruise lines begin to develop itineraries for the 2021 and 2022 winter seasons, with several major lines including the city on repositioning and grand voyages.

In addition to cruise line’s including the city on longer itineraries for 2021 and 2022, several major cruise lines have also announced plans to homeport newer and larger cruise ships in the city for their winter Arabian Gulf cruise seasons.

MSC Bellissima at Dubai Cruise Terminal 3, her larger fleet mate will replace her for 2021/22

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The three largest and most long-running homeporting cruise lines in Dubai, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises and AIDA Cruises, will all be bringing their newest and most advanced cruise ships to the Middle East for the 2021/22 cruise season.

Costa Cruises will homeport Costa Smeralda in Dubai. The 180,000-gross ton goliath is the cruise line’s first LNG-powered cruise ship, and will be the first ship powered solely by LNG to spend a full cruise season in the Arabian Gulf.

Costa Smeralda

Costa Smeralda will sail 7-night roundtrip cruises out of Dubai. She will sail the first of these 7-night roundtrip cruises from Dubai on November 27th, 2021, until March 12th, 2022. On each cruise, she will call in Abu DhabiDoha and Muscat, staying overnight in Dubai on the final night of the itinerary.

MSC Cruises has confirmed plans, first reported by Cruise Arabia & Africa last year, to homeport MSC Virtuosa in Dubai for the same 2021/22 cruise season.

MSC Virtuosa will homeport in Dubai (she is a sister ship to Grandiosa, pictured)

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The vessel is MSC’s new Meraviglia Plus-class cruise ship, based on the same design as MSC Bellissima, which homeported in Dubai during the most recent cruise season, but even larger.

“Our year-on-year growth in the Dubai and wider UAE cruise market has averaged more than 40% for the past three years,” Angelo Capurro, Executive Director for Emerging Markets, MSC Cruises, said at the time.

AIDAcosma at sea (rendering)

AIDA Cruises, meanwhile, will be matching Costa Cruises with its own LNG-powered mega ship AIDAcosma. Both Costa and AIDA are owned by Carnival Corporation, and AIDAcosma is based on the same design as Costa Smeralda, but slightly bigger.

The 183,900-gross ton, 5,200-passenger ship will be the largest cruise ship ever to homeport in Dubai, or the wider Middle East, offering 17 restaurants and 23 bars and cafes across 20 passenger decks.

Stern pool area and Fun Park aboard AIDAcosma (rendering)

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AIDAcosma will arrive in the Middle East in November, 2021 and will begin her Arabian Gulf cruise season with a 7-night roundtrip cruise from Dubai, visiting DohaBahrain, and Abu Dhabi.

These developments represent a welcome recovery for the Dubai cruise sector, which was hammered by the coronavirus pandemic, with its 2019/20 cruise season cancelled early, and many of its regular homeporting cruise lines not returning for the upcoming 2020/21 season.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming cruise season, cruise tourism officials in Dubai have struck an optimistic tone, insisting that Dubai’s popularity as a winter cruise destination will see it rebound from the current crisis.

“The cruise sector in Dubai has always shown great potential and sustainable year-on-year growth,” saidHelal Saeed Almarri, director general of Dubai Tourism during a recent virtual workshop held by P&O Marinas, a DP World company.

Dubai welcomed around 800,000 cruise passengers during the 2018 to 2019 season – about five ships per day, and was on track to receive a million during the coming season before the virus struck.

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