Cruises to the Middle East

August 7, 2013 by

Middle East & Africa, Shore Excursions, Things to Do

Many travelers wish to see the historic sites and experience the culture of the Middle East. However, for many, planning a trip to the Middle East seems daunting. That’s where cruising comes in. A cruise to the Middle East is an excellent way to experience many different cities and facets of this region of the world while traveling between each one comfortably and safely.

Where do Middle East cruises go?

View of Dubai from Burj al Arab

View of Dubai from Burj al Arab

Cruise itineraries to the Middle East generally travel along the Persian Gulf, sometimes with jaunts at the beginning or end to the Southern Mediterranean. Middle East cruises typically offer stops in multiple countries, with a few core stops that tend to be the most popular.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is at the top of the must-see list for many cruisers to the Middle East and as a result, most cruise lines have a port of call in the city for their Middle East itineraries. Dubai is a busy city with architectural wonders. It’s also extremely hot year round. Luckily, Dubai accommodates the heat by offering many indoor activities and things to do while in the city – in nice, crisp air conditioning. One activity many visitors get a kick out of in Dubai is the indoor skiing and snowboarding. Ski Dubai offers lift tickets and rentals for those who want the experience of swishing down snow indoors.

The Burj Al Arab is another indoor marvel as it is one of the tallest hotels in the world and has a sail-shaped design; a private guided shore excursion of Dubai can take you around the hotel and other top sites, including two popular souk markets. In addition to souks, Dubai is a mecca for luxury shoppers with many designer clothing, jewelry and luxury goods shops.

Get out of the craziness of Dubai by leaving the city behind to partake in a desert safari excursion. Bump and jostle over the sandy terrain in Jeeps with drivers that expertly whip around the sand dunes. Desert safaris also usually include a stop at a base camp in the desert for food and drinks and you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere as there’s just sand stretching out for miles in every direction.



A port of call in Aqaba, Jordan, in order to access Petra, Jordan, is a must for most cruisers when deciding on an itinerary to the Middle East. The history of Petra goes back over 2,000 years and the remains of the lost city of Petra are still largely intact. A guided tour of Petra is the best way to see it as an expert guide can provide you more detailed descriptions of what you’re looking at and the historic importance of it.

The Aqaba port of call also gives you access to the Dead Sea, the saltiest sea in the world. The salt makes you so buoyant that you can basically sit in the sea as if in a chair. The mud of the Dead Sea is also said to have healing powers so people taking a mud bath while there is a common sight to see. Just be careful to not get water in your eyes as the high concentration of salt can leave them terribly stinging.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

The elegant and metropolitan city of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, is often called the “Manhattan of the Middle East” due to its lavish skyscrapers and top-notch shopping mixed in among Arabian architecture. For those who want to stay in the city and explore Abu Dhabi during time in port, a guided shore excursion that includes touring of Sheikh Zayed Mosque and Falcon Hospital is a great way to see some of the city’s top sights with enough time to make it back to your cruise ship.

Muscat Grand Mosque

Muscat’s Grand Mosque

Muscat, Oman, is the country’s capital city and it is an ideal place for architectural buffs who can marvel at the lines and curves of the Grand Mosque and the Sultan’s Palace. It’s steaming hot in Muscat so after seeing the top sights of the city, you may want to navigate your way over to one of the Muscat’s welcoming beaches. The Private City Highlights Tour of Muscat will make sure you don’t miss any of the best sites this city has to offer.

Check out shore excursions in Abu Dhabi, shore excursions in Dubai, shore excursions in Muscat, or shore excursions in Sharm el Sheikh

Customs and regulations

When visiting the Middle East, it’s important to respect the customs of the region and the way of life of the people who live there. It is frowned upon in most countries in the Middle East to take photos of people without asking permission, especially of women. It is also inappropriate in many places in the Middle East for women to show skin, though Dubai is a bit more lenient with it. Knees and shoulders need to be covered up at the very least.

Female visitors can respect the culture while still staying cool by investing in lightweight linen pants and shirts with high necklines before leaving for your trip. In mosques, women need to be completely covered up, though mosques often have scarves or abayas on hand that visitors who aren’t properly dressed to enter can borrow. At some holy sites for the Muslim faith, both men and women may be expected to don a head scarf or turban.

Before you even worry about the clothing, though, make sure you can get into the country. Long before leaving for your cruise, check which visas you may need so that you have ample time to apply for them. You don’t want to be the only person on the ship not exploring a city because you didn’t realize you needed a visa until it was too late.

Cruise lines that sail to the Middle East

The Middle East is still an emerging destination for cruising and as cruise lines have begun to feel more secure about the safety of the region, more have offered itineraries there.

Family-friendly cruise line Costa Cruises sails to the Middles East, with 7-night roundtrip itineraries that depart from Dubai and stop in Muscat and Abu Dubai. Those looking for a sophisticated onboard experience should check Princess Cruises, Holland America and Azamara Club Cruises, all of which occasionally offer Middle East cruise itineraries, generally after leaving the southern Mediterranean or South Pacific.

Luxury lovers are in luck as luxury cruise lines are at the forefront of planning exotic and varied Middle East itineraries. Silversea Cruises and Seabourn Cruises both offer cruises that either start or end in Dubai on the ship’s way to the Mediterranean or eastern Asia, often with stops in Muscat and Aqaba along the way.

A Middle East cruise on any of the cruise lines will immerse you in the culture of the region while in port, and provide relaxing, air-conditioned comfort with the amenities of home while back on the ship. It’s a great way to travel to be introduced to the Middle East or to revisit old favorites.

– Gina Douglas

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