Middle East Cruises
There aren’t enough superlatives to do the Middle East justice. Bigger, bolder, more opulent and more progressive than so many of their counterparts, Middle Eastern cruise ports sparkle like diamonds in the desert. The Middle East has become a favourite with cruisers in recent years, drawn by a diverse landscape that sees you wake up beneath canvas in Omani sand dunes, dine and drink at extravagant boozy brunches beneath the sun, then give your credit card a workout in shopping malls the size of some cities.
A construct of both manmade attractions and natural beauty, the Middle East rewards those who make the flight with the realisation that there’s barely a thing you can’t do here. Catch sight of rare wildlife in the Hajar Mountains of Muscat or scale the mighty Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Haggle and barter in spice and incense-scented bazaars, or hideaway from the midday sun in malls that bring zoos, aquariums, ice rinks and opera theatres under a single roof. Nowhere does tradition sit side-by-side with the future like it does in the United Arab Emirates and it’s this intoxicating mix that sees cruisers flock to the destination. The guaranteed sunshine helps too…
For many, Dubai was the first to shine a line on the UAE. Newly oil-rich, the city grew from the sand in a blaze of skyscrapers taller than any the world had ever seen, ultra-luxe resorts bringing enviable glamour. Dubai is all of this, dotted with traditional treasures that see the city retain its air of authenticity despite its rapid growth from humble roots. It is a city of contrasts, where only a dhow ride divides a cloud-skimming urban metropolis from a maze of souks that feel as though they could have been here since time began.
There are certain thing you have to do in Dubai. You can’t visit without seeing the Burj Khalifa – literally, it’s wildly visible from all angles – and afternoon tea in the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab lends an opportunity to slip inside its unapologetically-ostentatious seven-star interior. If you’re here with kids, or even without, Atlantis at The Palm is a watery world of adventure that’ll knock blocks off of any other waterpark you’ve ever experienced. If you’re feeling extra boujie, price up spending a night here pre or post-cruise; it doesn’t come cheap but sleeping in rooms ‘beneath the sea’ is an experience never forgotten.
Beyond Dubai’s cityscape lie the sands dunes of the Arabian Desert, a mythical place that holds the key to epic adventures. Sand boarding, 4×4 safaris and quad biking get the blood pumping after a string of sedate sea days, while decamping to a bedouin tent beneath the stars for an authentic Arabian evening experience sees you come over all Lawrence of Arabia for the night, shisha and belly dancing displays setting the scene.
There is something quite serene about Muscat, perhaps an ambience lent to the city as a result of an orderly military heritage and religious importance. Discover examples of both at two of Muscat’s highlight attractions, the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum and The National Museum of Oman. A must for anyone with a keen interest in military history, the Sultan’s Armed Forces Museum reflects Muscat’s military heritage through a range of artefacts including guns and vehicles, while The National Museum of Oman present’s the country’s history from its humble first settlements to the grandeur of its present day. Both are great options if you’re desperately seeking shade at the height of the afternoon!
The architecture of Muscat is exquisite and you’ll find yourself somewhat entranced by the Muscat Gate Museum lit at night, and the unadulterated and priceless opulence of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.
Nestled within the Musandam Peninsula, an enclave of Oman, is the 17th century harbour town of Khasab, a place that offers an insight into Arabian life long before the United Arab Emirates made its fortune. Otherworldly landscapes provide a stark but enthralling contrast to the glittering skylines and architectural audacity of Dubai and Abu Dhabi,
with painted fishing boats in rustic harbours replacing impressive yachts in marinas. Visit Khasab Castle, built by the Portuguese as part of their plan to take control of the Strait of Hormuz, or sail a Dhow boat along the coastline, watching out for dolphins swimming alongside as you journey through the emerald waters of the Khor Sham fjord. Khasab and its neighbouring islands are home to vibrant coral and extensive marine life, making for some fantastic snorkelling opportunities at island stop-offs along the way.
With the discovery of oil came the debut of Abu Dhabi on the world stage, the United Arab Emirates capital. More refined than Dubai and more contemporary than Muscat, Abu Dhabi is the cultural Emirate. Its museums and art galleries are some of the most renowned on the planet; work is continuing on the much-anticipated Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, with the recently-opened Louvre waiting to spellbind the art-appreciators among us in the meantime. Art comes alive across Abu Dhabi, not just in its galleries and museums, but in its architecture too. The intricate mosaics, Murano glass and gem-adorned interior of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque qualify the landmark as a work of art in itself, and it’s an important icon of the Islamic religion.
Like its Arabian counterparts, Abu Dhabi is a garden of eden for shoppers; forget the airport and buy your duty free designer wares here instead. And then there is the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, an annual event that draws a chic crowd to the Yas Marina Circuit and which has seen dedicated themed cruise itineraries created in its honour. Sir Bani Yas Island is in a world of its own, super cars prowling the roads, immaculate yachts toted in a marina full of beautiful people
Located in the Dhafar region of Oman, Salalah’s landscape is an anomaly in
the Middle East, thanks to a unique microclimate that sees the region’s subtropical greenery burst into life following the khareef monsoons each year. A leafy national park is the last thing one might expect to find in the barren lands of Oman, but Salalah’s Wadi Darbat is as impressive as any you would find anywhere else in the world. A cliff marks the entrance to the park, transforming into a magnificent 100 metre waterfall which runs into the Khor Rori creek below during the khareef season. More of the Dhofar region’s natural beauty is on exhibition at Al Mughsail Beach, just over 20 miles from Salalah, where picturesque limestone cliffs and turquoise waters offer a serene backdrop for picnics collected from roadside stalls en route.