Middle East Cruise News

Holland America to cruise Dubai to Fort Lauderdale aboard Zuiderdam in 2024

Holland America Line has added Dubai to its line-up of cruise departures next year, with the Vista-class Zuiderdam sailing from Dubai to Fort Lauderdale on April 5th, 2024.

The 36-night grand voyage features 15 port calls, and forms part of Zuiderdam’s 128-night World Cruise roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, although its bookable as a separate leg.

This will be Holland America Line’s first cruise departure from Dubai since the pandemic, and because Holland America Line is part of the Carnival Corporation group of brands, Zuiderdam will be able to dock at the new Dubai Harbour Cruise Terminal.


Dubai Harbour Cruise Terminal is a new port development adjacent Dubai’s man-made Palm Jumeirah Island, which juts out off the coast near the ultra-modern Dubai Marina area of the city, home to Dubai Marina Mall, Ain Dubai, Skydive Dubai and more.

These are just some examples of how the city has mushroomed in recent years. Dubai just a few decades ago was a village with an economy based primarily on fishing and pearl diving, as well as regional trade conducted on traditional wooden dhows.

Dubai Harbour is the exclusive cruise port in the Middle East for all Carnival Corporation-owned lines

Down near the Dubai Creek, this heritage has been protected through the Al Fahidi Historical District and Dubai Museum. The wooden dhows that have plied these waters for centuries can still be viewed from the shopping plaza that stretches out along the creek, and the goods that they bring to and from the city can be found in the gold, spice and textile souqs of Deira, the heart of ‘old Dubai’.

A short drive outside the city, visitors can explore a landscape that is still the emirates’ spiritual home, where falconry is practiced and herds of gazelles and oryx roam. Before the cruise, guests can take a ‘dune bashing’ desert safari complete with a sunset dinner in a traditional Bedouin camp.

Burj Khalifa

In the heart of ‘new Dubai’, the Business Bay area, the Burj Khalifa soars above everything. At more than 2,600 feet it is the tallest building in the world, while the mall that sits in its shadow, Dubai Mall, is the largest in this hemisphere. A highlight of any visit to Dubai Mall are the Dubai Fountains, which dance to a variety of musical styles every half hour.

Zuiderdam departs Dubai late in the evening, at 11pm, so that passengers have more time to explore ashore, and sails overnight to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi is less flashy, but feels more grounded in its focus on culture and history.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

The city is home to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, showcasing ancient treasures and artefacts from around the world, as well as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest in the world and the burial site of the country’s founding president Sheikh Zayed. A Guggenheim Museum is also under construction, as well as the Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex on Saadiyat Island that highlights commonalities between Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

Ferrari World on Yas Island

Abu Dhabi is an archipelago of islands and features a range of beautiful beaches as a result, as well as Mangrove marshes along its eastern shore. On Yas Island, visitors will find theme parks such as Yas Water World, Ferrari World (home to the world’s fastest roller coaster), Warner Brothers World, and the F1 Grand Prix circuit.

Just 90 minutes outside the city lies the orange-hued vistas of the edge of the Rub’ al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), the largest contiguous sand desert in the world, which expands across the borders of Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Abu Dhabi is another late departure, with Zuiderdam casting off at 11pm in the evening and sailing for Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman. This leg of the cruise takes Zuiderdam across the Arabian Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz, an area of coastline that was formerly known as the Barbary Coast, due to the pirates that used to hide among the Norway-like fjords of the Musandum Peninsula.

Muscat, Oman

After a day and two nights at sea, Zuiderdam makes her early morning approach to Muscat, which is nestled on the coast with the Hajar Mountain range at its back. Waking up early to see the city emerging from the dawn is highly recommended.

Muscat is a very different city to Dubai or Abu Dhabi. It eschews nouveau riche trends by letting its architecture reflect the expansive natural landscapes and its rich seafaring history. This is the capital of a country that once controlled a maritime empire that stretched all the way down to Zanzibar.

For visitors, Muscat’s seaside corniche is walkable and friendly, with great spots for traditional souk shopping and drinking Indian karak chai, an aromatic blend of black tea, milk, sugar and cardamom. Popular landmarks include the grand mosque and newly built Royal Opera House, as well as the Sultan’s palace.

The downtown and its surrounding area offer numerous cultural museums, explorable forts, and modern restaurants.

After another two nights and a day at sea, Zuiderdam arrives in Salalah, Oman’s greenest city, tucked between the Dhofar Mountains and the Arabian Sea. This subtropical city features pristine white-sand beaches, dramatic natural beauty and ancient frankincense-trade routes.

Passengers can take a scenic drive through the misty-green peaks and wadis of the mountains, or spend an afternoon strolling under coconut palms and frankincense trees on one of Salalah’s beaches.

The Land of Frankincense UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Land of Frankincense UNESCO World Heritage Site allows guests to walk in the footsteps of famed travellers like Ibn Battutah, Marco Polo and the Queen of Sheba, with waterfront archaeological parks that reveal a rich history of trade in incense and spices dating back to the Neolithic period.

This is the last port call on the Arabian Peninsula, with Zuiderdam spending 4 days at sea cruising down the coast of Oman and Yemen, through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait (Gateway of Tears in Arabic), and up the Red Sea to Aqaba in the Kingdom of Jordan.

The long stretch of seadays gives passengers time to relax aboard Zuiderdam and get to know the ship, which has been designed to reflect Holland America Line’s ocean liner heritage. She features classic nautical finishes, modern amenities and a spectacular art collection, as well as 4 restaurants and 11 bars and cafes.

The ship offers passengers numerous enrichment and entertainment activities, such as BBC Earth In Concert, Explorations Central, and of course the iconic venues of Music Walk, such as Billboard Onboard.


Aqaba is the only seaport in Jordan, and as such has been a key part of the region’s history for more than 6,000 years. The area around the city is home to an enormous number of historic sites and natural wonders, most of which are easily accessible just off the King’s Highway, which stretches from the capital, Amman, down to Aqaba on the Red Sea.

Aqaba has long been linked to the legend of Lawrence of Arabia, or T.E. Lawrence, and to the famous 1962 film by Sir David Lean, especially the Wadi Rum nature reserve, a massive valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock of the desert.

Aqaba is of course the gateway port to Petra, the lost Rose-Red City of the Nabataeans lying a two-hour drive from Aqaba in an isolated valley that was long forbidden to visitors.

Petra was a major trade hub in the Roman period, but was ultimately abandoned when the old Silk Road trade route collapsed. The city, hidden among the craggy encircling mountains, was ‘lost’ for a thousand years, but is now the most visited site in Jordan.

Aqaba in Jordan is the gateway to Petra.

Touring Petra

A walking tour of Petra begins in a narrow gorge called the Siq, a natural canyon winding through the towering rock towards the city. Visitors will see the remains of water channels, carvings, and representations of Nabataean gods, a legacy of Petra’s history as the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom.

The narrow gorge emerges from the gloom into the bright light of what was once the largest trade hub in the region, and remains today a historic wonder, carved into the sandstone of the mountains in which its hidden.

The first landmark is the ruins of The Treasury, the most famous and outstanding of all Petra’s monuments. Local legend held that treasure was hidden in the urn at the top of the portal, and the bullet marks on its facade are evidence of treasure seekers’ attempts to find it.

Further along outer Siq, past the street of the façades, the fine Greek Theater comes into to view. It is believed that this theater was carved out by the Nabataeans in the 2nd century BC. It seats around 3,000 spectators.

Approaching the main colonnade, visitors will pass a series of royal tombs carved into the face of Jebel Khubtha. They consist of the Urn Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb and the three-story Palace Tomb. Leading west is the main street of Petra, which once boasted numerous stately columns along its route.

At the end of the street, to the left of the path, is the partly restored Qasr Al Bint, the only freestanding structure in Petra. It is thought to have been the main place of worship in the Nabataean capital.

On a shore excursion to Petra with Holland America Line, lunch is included and is served buffet-style at a five-star restaurant in the upper area of Wadi Musa.

Back in Aqaba itself there are deep-water dive spots, duty-free shopping, new high-end residential and resort districts, and Old Aqaba with a fort that dates from the era of Christian crusaders. There, after a long day in the desert heat, visitors can seek out a Turkish bath for a massage and scrub or take a break from exploring at any number of cafés that overlook the port.

Unusually for most cruise ships docking in Aqaba, Zuiderdam stays overnight in port, so passengers have the option of exploring both Petra and Aqaba itself. Departing the following day, the ship cruises up the Red Sea for the Suez Canal.

Zuiderdam enters the canal at Suez, a city from which the pharaohs protected their lands from marine invasions back in 2,500 BC. The ship passes this ancient metropolis and spends the day transiting the 120 mile canal, across the Isthmus of Suez and saline Bitter Lakes to Port Said on the Mediterranean.

Built under the guidance of French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps, the canal took 10 years to construct, opening in 1869. When the Suez Canal opened, it eliminated the need for ships to sail around Africa to reach South Asia, and it has been one of the busiest waterway in the world since.

After leaving the Suez Canal, Zuiderdam sails overnight to Ashdod, the gateway to Jerusalem, one of the most iconic cities in the world, with an extraordinary history that is tied into the Islamic, Jewish and Christian religions. In Jerusalem, visitors will be struck by the overwhelming sense of antiquity and the city’s 26 centuries of civilization.

Jerusalem, Israel

The Western Wall is the last remnant of the Temple of Jerusalem, a sacred site for the Jewish religion, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Garden of Gethsemane are holy sites for Christians, while the Al Aqsa Mosque is the third most important holy site in Islam, located on the Temple Mount, the holiest site of Judaism.

After Ashdod, Zuiderdam sails overnight once more for Haifa, the largest city in northern Israel, home to Mount Carmel, snowcapped mountains, undeveloped wilderness, and archaeological ruins where ancient Roman, early Christian, and Byzantine relics have been unearthed all within feet of each other.

Haifa is also the gateway to sites associated with the life of Jesus. Travelers can follow in his footsteps in Nazareth and along the Sea of Galilee. Others are drawn by the area’s natural wonders and scenic beauty, such as the forests and volcanic hills of the Golan Heights.

Sailing away from the coast of Israel, the ship spends a day and two nights at sea bound for Turkiye, where she makes two ports calls, in Kusadasi and Istanbul, cruising the Dardanelles in-between, which divide the continents of Europe and Asia, and are the sole waterway between the Aegean and Marmara seas.

Kusadasi harbor, Turkey.

Kusadasi is another gateway port, giving passengers access to Ephesus, where St. Paul preached in its Great Theater, making the city one of the most legendary in the ancient world. The facade of the Celsus Library survives as a testament to the city’s role as a center of learning and culture

Not far from Ephesus, the foundations and remains of the towering columns of the Temple of Artemis can be found. This was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, drawing pilgrims from around the Mediterranean. Also nearby is the Selcuk fortress, a remnant of the period of Byzantine and Ottoman control of the region.

The ship’s final port call in the greater Middle East is Istanbul, where the western Roman Empire made its final stand in the 15th century during the Fall of Constantinople. While Agatha Christie made the train journey to Istanbul famous, arriving by sea is the best way to do it.

The Bosphorus, dividing Europe and Asia, welcomes passengers with expansive views of the city. The Asian side of Istanbul stretches away to the east, while the “old Istanbul” peninsula in the south, home to Topkapı Palace and Hagia Sophia, stand testament to Istanbul’s former role as the capital of the Roman Empire, and later, the Byzantine Empire.

Shore excursion options give passengers the opportunity to explore the sights of bohemian Beyoğlu, a contemporary district brimming with galleries and street art, back street bars, cafés and fashion outlets that line the busy shopping avenue, Istiklal Caddesi.

Across the Golden Horn, Zeyrek’s ancient timber houses made it a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site where people live a traditional way of life. Sultanahmet is where visitors can explore palaces, temples and mosques that once defined the power of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

Istanbul, Turkey

Zuiderdam stays overnight in Istanbul so that passengers have more time to explore the city, and then departs for Mykonos and Piraeus in Greece. In Mykonos passengers are tendered ashore straight into Old Town, where they can wander the maze of impossibly narrow streets, passing some of Mykonos’ signature windmills and churches.

Piraeus is the gateway to Athens, where ancient stadiums and temples dwell alongside apartment blocks, modern performances are staged in the marble amphitheaters where Greek drama was born and millennia-old monuments are scattered in the archaeological park that circles the Acropolis.

Zuiderdam spends a day at sea cruising for Naples, home to world-class museums and attractions, superb restaurants, eclectic shopping, a thriving contemporary art scene and an edgy and vibrant street life. Just south of the city, visitors will also find the celebrated Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both victims of Vesuvius’ devastating 79 CE eruption.

Another day at sea brings Zuiderdam to Malaga, with its brand-new $100 million port promenade filled with restaurants and a bold new branch of Paris’s Centre Pompidou built in the form of a colorful glass cube. Ponta Delgada, on Sao Miguel in the Azores is the penultimate port call before the ship crosses the Atlantic for Fort Lauderdale.

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