We knew something was going on when Celebrity Cruises chose to homeport a ship there, joined shortly after by MSC Cruises. Why not base Celebrity Constellation and MSC Musica in the bustling metropolis of Dubai, we wondered? Now, as more details on the Saadiyat Cultural District emerge, we have no doubt as to why two of cruising’s biggest hitters are sending their ships 90 minutes southwest of the obvious option.
Abu Dhabi is the largest and most populated of the seven emirates, but for a long time it has sat in the shadow of Dubai’s extravagance. Never the starting point but always a starring port, visitors came here to pray at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – one of the largest in the world – and play at Yas Island, home of the infamous F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Ferrari World Theme Park, the largest indoor theme park in the world. Now, as cruises to the Persian Gulf explode in popularity, Abu Dhabi is presenting a favourable case for its own burgeoning status as a must-visit port worthy of a pre or post-cruise stay. Here’s what you need to know about Saadiyat Cultural District, a development that will see Abu Dhabi compete with the likes of New York and Paris to become one of cruising’s most cultural destinations.
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
The Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will reportedly be twelve times bigger than its New York namesake. The 450,000 sq.ft. museum will be almost entirely surrounded by water and its dramatic design will see piles of enormous cones strewn in what Gehry has described as ‘an intentional mess’. Galleries inside will display contemporary art from the 1960s to now and will be on a scale rarely seen in even the most impressive museums in the world.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Identifiable immediately by the glass pyramid that dominates its façade, the Louvre in Paris is the largest and most-visited art museum in the world. Around 10 million visitors pass through its doors each year and this is a figure officials of the Saadiyat Cultural District will no doubt look to replicate with the arrival of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Jean Nouvel, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will join the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in becoming one of the world’s biggest artistic treasure troves, exhibiting a collection of both European and Middle Eastern art. Reports suggest that artworks will be loaned to the new museum from the likes of Paris’s Musée de Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Palace de Versailles.
Zayed National Museum
Those keen to find out how a desert settlement went from sand to sophisticate will have their questions answered at the Zayed National Museum. Along with offering insights into the rich history of the UAE, the museum will also celebrate its founding president and the driving force behind its prolific development, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Manarat Al Saadiyat
Architecturally inspired by the sand dunes of the UAE, the Manarat Al Saadiyat will become a central art and culture centre for visitors to Abu Dhabi. Exhibits here will come from a combination of local artists and famous collections from international artists, and the venue will also host the annual Abu Dhabi Art Fair, as well as various gala dinners.
Are you planning a cruise to Abu Dhabi in the coming years or will you continue to get your cultural kicks in European destinations instead? Let us know!