Middle East Cruise News

Saudi Arabia eyes massive cruise expansion with $330m ship acquisition

Cruise Saudi, the government agency charged with developing a local cruise sector in Saudi Arabia, has announced the acquisition of the World Dream cruise ship from Genting Hong Kong.

The move marks a major potential expansion in the cruise industry by the Kingdom, which allowed cruise ships to dock in the country for the first time in 2021, and has indicated it plans to become a major cruise destination and source market by 2035.

Lars Clasen, CEO of Cruise Saudi told local media the new acquisition is in-line with the company’s strategy and direction to build and develop the cruise industry in Saudi Arabia.

World Dream has been renamed Manara, an Arabic girl’s name meaning ‘light’. The acquisition was reportedly worth US $330-million, but Cruise Saudi has not confirmed these reports.

“The ship has been renamed to reflect its new ownership and will now undergo a refit,” he said, adding that plans for the new ship will be announced in due time.

It is likely that the ship will be transferred to a local Saudi-based start-up cruise operator, to sail roundtrip cruises from Saudi Arabia for the local and international market.

World Dream is a 150,000-gross ton cruise ship capable of carrying more than 5,000 passengers. She was launched in 2017 for Genting Hong Kong’s Dream cruise brand, but was taken out of service during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Genting subsequently filed for bankruptcy and sold off much of its cruise fleet. Last year it was announced that World Dream would be sold at auction in Singapore. Her former fleet mate Global Dream was sold to Disney Cruise Line last year while still under construction.

Silver Spirit off the Saudi coast

Saudi Arabia previously tested the waters for such a move in 2020 when it chartered Silver Spirit from Silversea Cruises for a short summer season during August and September.

The local demand proved that there was a viable source market for cruises, and prompted MSC Cruises to commit to a 5-year berthing deal for its annual winter cruise season in the Red Sea, during which it homeports annually in Jeddah.

The charter cruises aboard Silver Spirit were operated by Red Sea Cruises, which is owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund (PIF), but it’s not clear whether Red Sea Cruises will be the ultimate owner of World Dream.

During the two-month charter in 2020, Silver Spirit sailed from King Abdullah Port to key Saudi cities such as Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and Yanbu.

Since then, Jeddah has been positioned as the primary cruise port in the country, and is likely to be the designated homeport for World Dream when she enters service in the local Saudi market.

Cruise Saudi was officially launched in 2021 to develop the infrastructure and services required to scale a full-suite cruise market in Saudi Arabia. Like Red Sea Cruises, it is 100% owned by PIF.

The agency works with ministries and regulatory authorities to build the offshore and onshore cruise ecosystem with the aim of positioning Saudi as a premier global cruise destination. It has overseen the development of cruise terminals in the country and led the introduction of a multiple-entry maritime visa for cruise tourists.

Saudi Arabia has completed two successful seasons thus far; welcoming more than 50,000 passengers and five major international cruise lines, with plans to welcome 1.3 million cruise passengers annually by 2035.

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