Unusually for an itinerary of this kind, there is only one port of call on the entire cruise, not including the embarkation port of Dubai, and the disembarking port, Palma De Mallorca.
AIDA somewhat makes up for it though by spending a full two days in Aqaba, giving passengers time to explore Aqaba itself and the surrounding areas, as well as the iconic Petra.
Because Holland America Line is part of the Carnival Corporation group of brands, AIDAbella 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.
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.
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.
AIDAbella departs Dubai the day after boarding, spending a night in port on the first evening of the cruise to give passengers more time to explore the city. It’s the last taste of dry land to be had for more than a week, as the ship then spends eight days cruising around the Arabian Peninsula and along the coast of Oman and Yemen into the Red Sea.
At the top of the Red Sea, AIDAbella docks in Aqaba, the only seaport in Jordan, and 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 all the way to the capital, Amman.
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.
AIDAbella stays overnight here, giving passengers two full days to explore ashore, which means there’s no difficult choices to be made between whether to visit Petra or discover what Aqaba has to offer instead.
From Aqaba, its then five days at sea as AIDAbella crosses the Mediterranean for Palma De Mallorca, Spain, home to a range of ancient landmarks.
The massive Santa María cathedral, a Gothic landmark begun in the 13th century, overlooks the Bay of Palma, while the adjacent Almudaina is a Moorish-style Arab fortress converted to a royal residence. West of the city, hilltop Bellver Castle is a medieval fortress with a distinctive circular shape.