Windstar Cruises has confirmed the cancellation of its upcoming debut Middle East cruise season on the back of deteriorating regional security, while MSC Cruises insists its Dubai cruises will go ahead as planned.
Windstar Cruises was going to sail an inaugural season in the Arabian Gulf from next month until April next year, operating 10-day roundtrip cruises from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat and other regional ports.
Unrest in the region following the Hamas militant attacks last weekend, and ensuing Israeli retaliation in the Gaza Strip has forced a change of plans.
“Given the current environment and uncertainty of what is developing in the region, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the inaugural season until fall 2024,” said Christopher Prelog, President, Windstar Cruises.
“We understand the impact this change has on our guests’ vacation plans, especially over holidays, so we are making this decision now to allow time for people to change plans,” he added.
Windstar is contacting all booked guests with an offer to move their sailing to a 2024 date or switching to an itinerary in the Caribbean, Tahiti, Costa Rica, and Panama. Star Legend will be redeployed and the cruise line is actively working on its new schedule.
MSC Cruises, the market leader in the Middle East, with three ships in the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea, has insisted its Middle East cruise season will go ahead as planned.
In an email to Cruise Critic, the line said that its seasons in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and out of Dubai in the UAE are far removed geographically from the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The UAE is around 2,500 kilometres from Israel and is one of the most secure and stable countries in the region, although it has previously been targeted by Houthi militants in Yemen using aerial drones.
In 2022, a number of missiles and unmanned aerial systems (drones) were launched into the UAE from Yemen, with vast majority quickly intercepted. The UK and US governments, two of the largest markets for cruise tourism to the country, currently advise caution amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
The US State Department has a Level 2 advisory for the UAE on its four-scale indicator, advising “increased caution”, but notes that there is “a safe and secure environment in the UAE”.
The decision by Windstar to cancel its entire Middle East cruise season appears an overly cautious move amid the fast-evolving situation in the region. Iran, which lies just across the Strait of Hormuz from the UAE, is a major backer of Hamas, and has for years been locked in a proxy war with Israel.
There are concerns that Israel’s war on Hamas following the October 7th attacks by Hamas might bring Iran into open conflict, which could pose a threat to US-owned cruise ships and their passengers operating in the Arabian Gulf.
During the upcoming 2023/24 Middle East cruise season, which runs from November to March, MSC Cruises will homeport MSC Opera and MSC Virtuosa in Dubai, while MSC Orchestra will homeport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Other cruise lines homeporting in Dubai for the season include the German cruise lines TUI and AIDA Cruises, and Italian cruise line Costa Cruises. AIDA and Costa are both owned by US-based Carnival Corporation.
A further 100 or so port calls are scheduled by cruise lines sailing from Dubai to ports in Asia, Europe and Africa, including Princess Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea, Holland America Line and others, such as Virgin Voyages, which will sail from Dubai to Singapore for the first time.