Cruise Industry

Dubai enters cruise refit and refurb market in major boon for cruise sector

Dubai has entered the cruise ship refit and refurbishment market, marking a major new development for the local cruise sector.

Carnival Spirit had some minor refurbishment work done in Dubai while her new livery was applied.

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Dubai has now undertaken refit and refurbishment work on three cruise ships, as well as managing the total overhaul and conversion of the former Cunard Line flagship QE2 into a floating hotel.

With a steadily growing portfolio of cruise ship dry-dock services, Dubai Drydocks, the city’s primary shipyard, is making the UAE a more convenient homeport destination for global cruise lines.

With the recent refit work done on Carnival Spirit during her lay-up in Dubai, and an expected similar project upcoming for Carnival Splendor, Dubai Drydocks has now worked on three cruise ships, not including the conversion of QE2 from an ocean liner into a floating hotel.

Carnival Spirit went into dry-dock and had her new Carnival Cruise Line livery applied, along with some light refurbishment work that saw the Ol’ Fashioned BBQ dining venue removed.

Carnival Spirit and fleet mate Carnival Splendor are both in lay-up at the new Dubai Harbour Cruise Terminal awaiting their restart in Australia, which is now expected in February, 2022.

The first cruise ship Dubai Drydocks worked on was AIDAstella for the German cruise line AIDA Cruises. She had an ice-cream bar added during her refit, along with a redeveloped spa, 3,500sqm of new carpeting, and a new teen’s club.

AIDAstella in Dubai.

Even though it was the shipyard’s first refit and refurb of a cruise ship, AIDA Cruises was extremely happy with the result.

“The cruise line said that the work carried out by Drydocks was as good, perhaps even better, than what they had experienced at the big European shipyards,” Lakshmi Janarthanan, commercial director, Dubai Yard at Dubai Drydocks, said at the time.

In August this year, it was the turn of Empress, the former Empress of the Seas, which was purchased by Indian cruise line Cordelia.

Cordelia Cruises completely overhauled the cruise ship at Dubai Drydocks, using an out-sourced interior design team, similar to the refurbishment of AIDAstella.

Empress of Cordelia Cruises was overhauled in Dubai before entering service in India.

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Dubai Drydocks is expanding into the cruise ship refit and refurbishment business at an opportune time, with most European shipyards, where such work is usually undertaken, experiencing capacity challenges due to supply chain disruptions, which have caused delays.

In addition, the reopening of the cruise industry during the latter half of 2020 and throughout 2021 has created a spike in demand for technical work, such as classification inspections so that cruise ships can be cleared for sailing.

Having a shipyard with experience in cruise ship dry-dockings near homeport bases is also important for cruise lines when deciding on regions of the world to cruise in.

The Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport serves the North American cruise sector, and is located close to the major US cruise ports of Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades, while Navantia in Cadiz, Spain is nearby to the Port of Barcelona, the busiest in the Mediterranean.

Shipyards such as these specialize in technical work for maintenance and repair, and refurbishment projects, while European shipyards dominate the newbuild market. The majority of new cruise ships are built by the Fincantieri and Meyer Werft shipyard grounds.

Dubai has become a major cruise port with several homeporting cruise lines annually, making cruise infrastructure such as shipyards more important.

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While both also undertake refit and refurbishment of cruise ships, they’re located in Italy and Germany, making it impractical for cruise lines to sail their ships such distances.

Prior to the pandemic, Dubai’s Port Rashid was on track to accommodate 1-million cruise passengers and nine homeporting cruise lines, and with a second cruise port, Dubai Harbour, now operational, Dubai Drydocks and the cruise industry look set to complement each other.

“Our location right next to the cruise terminal at Port Rashid is a huge advantage,” said Janarthanan. “We expect to see more of this in the years to come as Dubai grows as a cruise tourist destination.”

It’s not only the number of cruise ships sailing from Dubai this will grow, but also their size, which makes Dubai Drydocks another advantage for cruise lines.

The shipyard has dry docks that can accommodate some of the largest oil tankers in the world, making them ideal infrastructure for MSC World Europe, a gargantuan 200,000-gross ton mega-ship, which will homeport in Dubai next year.

The 180,000-gross ton AIDAnova was meant to be based in Dubai for the current cruise season, but will now likely homeport in the region next year as well, while the largest cruise ship in the world, Wonder of the Seas, is expected to cruise from Dubai when she is deployed to the Chinese market in 2022 or 2023.

The entry of Dubai Drydocks into the cruise ship refit and refurbishment sector comes amid a range of additional developments for the local cruise industry, with the opening up of Saudi Arabia to cruise tourism for the first time, and the ongoing development of cruise infrastructure in the UAE.

Dubai Dry-docks World is located directly adjacent to Port Rashid.

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The Dubai Cruise Terminal includes Cruise Terminals 2 and 3 with six cruise ship berths between them along one long quay more than a mile in length. Cruise Terminal 2 is the older of them, built between 2008 and 2010.

In 2016 the new Terminal 3 was launched, designed to cater to the growing size of the cruise ships calling in Dubai. At 28,000 square metres, it’s almost ten times the size of Terminal 2 and can handle 14,000 passengers per day.

Complimenting the Dubai Cruise Terminal is the new Dubai Harbour, Carnival Corporation’s regional hub for the Middle East, where all Carnival-owned cruise ships will dock in the city.

In addition to Costa and AIDA, which homeport in Dubai annually, other Carnival-owned ships that cruise from Dubai throughout the year include Princess, Holland America, Seabourn, and Cunard.

All of these developments have come alongside strong growth in the number and size of cruise ships cruising from the city.

In 2009 about 263,000 cruise passengers visited Dubai on 80 ship calls. In 2010, this number increased to 325,000 on 125 calls, and by 2015 the number of cruise passengers had reached 575,000 on 195 calls.

During the 2017/18 cruise season, 600,000 cruise tourists visited the city and by 2019/2020 it was anticipated that almost a million would cruise from Dubai. Those expectations were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, and during the current 2021/22 cruise season just 500,000 cruise tourists are expected.

The recovery of the Dubai cruise sector will be a years-long effort, but the opening up of Saudi Arabia, the reinvestment in cruise infrastructure and the development of important services, such as refit and recovery expertise, are all promising signs.

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