22 Mar 2025
Until recently, almost all cruises through the Middle East formed part of world cruises, or long sailings such as UK to Australia, but just a few years ago one company started 7-night round-trip cruises from Dubai. Since then demand has rocketed, and there are now several cruise lines offering regular cruising seasons in the Arabian Gulf. For cruise passengers looking to experience something out of the ordinary, the lands of Arabia are full of Eastern promise.
It's not just the gorgeous beaches and endless warm sunshine that make the idea of Middle Eastern cruising so attractive, though these are a big draw. The region is the cradle of world history and the ancient birthplace of three of the great religions, meaning that cruise stops include some of the world's most iconic historical sites. Add the fascinating traditional cultures, awe-inspiring desert scenery, and the world's most fabulous shopping in bustling bazaars and colossal malls, and you have all the ingredients for a truly sensational cruise.
The Dubai cruising season runs from December to March, when sunshine is guaranteed. For longer sailings, through Suez and along the coast of Africa, cruise lines offer sailings during spring, autumn and winter. Most cruises avoid the scorching hot summer season.
The 7-night Dubai cruises usually focus on cultural explorations, desert adventures and, of course, shopping, and call at Abu Dhabi and Muscat, Oman, sometimes including Bahrain and Qatar as well. Longer itineraries, which usually form part of a world cruise, pass through the Suez Canal and sail along the Red Sea and round the Gulf of Aden, passing Saudi Arabia. Port stops are likely to include Aqaba in Jordan, Safaga in Egypt, gateway to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
For cruises leaving from Dubai, the first ports of call will be Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, and Muscat in Oman, with possible overnight stays. The cruise port of Abu Dhabi lies on an island jutting out into the Arabian Gulf, offering views of glittering skyscrapers piercing the sky, and of the Corniche, the spectacular waterfront promenade, especially breathtaking when illuminated at night. Muscat, with its ancient city walls and gates and its elegant Islamic architecture, also has gorgeous beaches and one of the best souks in the region.
At the port of Aqaba, further along the Red Sea, you can see three countries, Egypt, Israel and Jordan, from your ship. Aqaba is famous for its superb coral reef, but the main reason for stopping there is for access to Petra, the mysterious red-hued city carved into the rocks. This is a sight not to be missed, as are the dramatic landscapes of Wadi Rum.
Although the region has stunning beaches, the focus of Middle East cruises will always be on cultural experience rather than on sunbathing and beach frolics. From Egypt's ancient pyramids to Dubai's futuristic skyscrapers, the region is a mesmerising collection of unique lands that make up an unforgettable journey. It's an adventure everyone should have once in a lifetime.