Travelling to Dubai via sea: Why some tourists prefer to cruise to UAE for holidays

This season, the emirate is welcoming over 300,000 visitors, with 49 ships arriving at the largest cruise terminal in the region

by

Nandini Sircar

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KT Photos: Nandini Sircar
KT Photos: Nandini Sircar

Published: Tue 30 Jan 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 31 Jan 2024, 3:30 PM

84-year-old Francesca Maria Lidia, an adventurer at heart, is a solo traveller from Puglia, Italy, who keeps returning to Dubai.

Having been on over hundreds of cruises in her lifetime, she said variety and new experiences draw her towards life at sea.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, she explained how she spent a delightful four months in the emirate last season and why she keeps coming back.

Francesca Maria Lidia
Francesca Maria Lidia

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“This is my third visit here. I sailed on the same vessel, Costa Toscana, just last year. I adore Dubai. In 2022, I spent almost half a year here, exploring the Dubai Museum, residing in Dubai Creek for a month, and strolling through the spice and gold souks. I also think the city offers an efficient maritime community that’s why I prefer choosing a non-traditional mode of transport.”

Travelled on hundreds of cruises

She explained for the elderly, cruises are much more relaxing and stress-free compared to regular holidays. “The port is located at the intersection of the iconic Palm Jumeirah and Bluewaters Island and is within easy reach from world-famous attractions like Palm Jumeirah, Burj Al Arab, and Ain Dubai. So it’s easier for tourists like us to visit these places.”

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

Hailing from Puglia, renowned for its extensive Mediterranean coastline, Lidia said she finds solace in Dubai's winter months, especially as Italy experiences chilly weather during this season.

As a retired teacher, Lidia shared her passion for travel. “I relish the expansive beaches here, reminiscent of those in my homeland. Arriving on December 6 of last year, we ventured to Doha before returning on this ship on January 9. I have been on hundreds of long and short cruises throughout my life, spanning across Europe, North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand. I have lost count," she said.

A dedicated traveller for the past four decades, despite her global explorations, Lidia finds herself returning to Dubai quite often. Middle Eastern history is what really stands out to her, as she appreciate its distinctive architecture and top-tier offerings.

Dubai this season is once again reaffirming its status as a premier global cruise hotspot as it welcomes over 300,000 visitors, with 49 ships arriving at the largest cruise terminal in the region. This is a four-fold increase from 2021 which saw merely 70,000 tourists.

Cruisers ‘adore’ the Middle Eastern culture

Another cruiser, Valerie Ferretti, a French tourist living in Nice, who has used Dubai as a transit point on multiple occasions in the past, is now on her maiden visit to the city.

She said, “The UAE is a beautiful country, and Dubai is an amazing city. Like any major city, it is bustling with people. Dubai is very modern, much like New York.”

Valerie Ferretti with her husband
Valerie Ferretti with her husband

Travelling with her husband, Valerie added, “I’ve taken several cruises in the Mediterranean and South America. I've also explored Africa and embarked on numerous cruises to Egypt. Yet, this is my first visit to a Middle Eastern country. We've visited Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Muscat, with many of these places offering a distinctly Middle Eastern vibe.”

The resident of the French Riviera also said, “This vessel is quite sizable. Navigating within the ship poses a bit of a challenge, but I am really enjoying the experience. It is an interesting way to explore any country.”

It’s worth noting that the cruise sector bolsters the national economy by generating substantial passenger spending across various sectors, such as leisure attractions, food and beverage, and entertainment.

Italian tourist Francesca Albertini who is also on her inaugural visit to the UAE said she certainly plans to revisit the Emirates.

Albertini, who is being accompanied by her husband said, “I couldn’t visit the Dubai Museum as it was fully booked but I managed to catch a glimpse of the beaches for just five minutes. I definitely plan to return to Dubai. I have experienced seven to eight cruises before, and I love cruising. Costa Toscana, in particular, is impressively large.”

A journey of discovery

Meanwhile, Team KT explored the Costa Toscana, the Italian-flagged ship docked at the terminal. Wandering the decks of the liner was a journey of discovery.

Boasting a capacity exceeding 6,700 passengers, this LNG-powered vessel features 1,550 balcony cabins, 13 swimming pools and hot tubs, 11 restaurants, 19 bars and lounges, a spa, atriums, a gym, and a disco, skywalk, waterslides, sports court, beach club, and entertainment hubs for youngsters. Additionally, the ship offers numerous other amenities and is operated by a diverse crew of 1,600 individuals, true polyglots, representing 49 nationalities.

Dubai Harbour Cruise Terminal (DHCT), which is the first-ever dedicated cruise port in the region, spans over 120,000metre square and comprises two purpose-built terminal buildings for passengers and crew.

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

On a typical weekend, the cruise terminal has around 120 staff members supporting on ground for a ship’s arrival.

Two ships arrive every week

With two ships arriving every week, Dubai Harbour receives around 15-25 food containers weekly.

Jamal Al Falasi, Director - Cruise Business, Dubai Harbour, said, “We are proud to welcome 49 ship calls to the region's largest cruise terminal this season, bringing an expected 300,000 visitors between October 2023 and April 2024. This includes renowned international vessels such as the Resilient Lady by Virgin Voyages, Seabourne Encore, Queen Mary 2, Island Princess, Azamara Journey, Artania, Borealis, and Zuiderdam along with home port cruise calls of Aida Prima and Costa Toscana demonstrating Dubai's thriving position as a sought-after cruise destination.”

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

On an average, each weekend, the DHCT sees over 20,000 people, including passengers and crew embarking and disembarking at the Dubai Harbour, with over 25,000 pieces of luggage.

He added, “With the ability to process 3,250 passengers per hour through the Dubai Harbour Cruise Terminal facilitated by our first-class infrastructure and technology, we can accommodate vessels of all sizes. We look forward to playing our role in realising Dubai's wider tourism strategy and welcoming more ships year-on-year to our shores.”

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