Dubai has had some significant financial turmoil the past few months, but that has not deterred cruise vacationers to the embattled emirate as it is quickly becoming a must-see port of call. More cruise lines are placing ships in Dubai for the winter season, but no cruise line has dedicated more ships in the region than Costa Cruises.
Dubai loves ships
Cruise travel is the fastest growing segment of tourism in Dubai. The timing couldn’t have come at a better time for the emirate as tourism declined 6 percent last year, whereas, the burgeoning cruise industry grew 40 percent.
Costa Cruises, a Carnival Corporation brand, further solidified its commitment to Dubai when it named its newest ship the 2,286-passenger Costa Deliziosa there last month. Even more significant the event marked the first time that a cruise ship was named in a Middle Eastern country. Even the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum turned out to welcome Costa’s newest ship.
Costa Chairman and CEO Pier Luigi Foschi said that by christening and placing the line’s newest ships in Dubai it showed the line’s ongoing commitment. In 2006 the company was first cruise line to ever base a ship in the region because they clearly saw the value of Dubai as a cruise destination.
It’s easy to see why Costa was so enamored with the emirate. With its fabulous cityscapes, prehistoric sandscapes and endless beaches, Dubai is an amazing destination in every way. The city boasts stunning sights and attractions, including the world’s largest water park, and the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa — the magnificent centerpiece of downtown Dubai. Cruise travelers can indulge in excursions that range from “dune bashing,” camel rides, shopping the souks to even skiing on sand or on real snow at the indoor Ski Dubai Alpine slopes.
Costa currently has three vessels based in Dubai for the winter season. Including the line’s newest ships — the aforementioned Deliziosa, its sister ship Costa Luminosa, and the 1,494-passenger Costa Europa. Seeing the growth in the region other cruise lines like Aida Cruises and Royal Caribbean International have also chosen to base ships there.
Will Americans flock to this far and exotic part of the world? Maurice Zarmati, the president of Costa Cruises USA, is optimistic that there will be interest in the company’s Dubai sailings. Currently, most of Costa’s onboard guests for these sailings hail from Europe, but the number of American passengers are increasing each year he said. “We find that the Dubai itineraries appeal to Americans who are more travel savvy,” said Zarmati. Additionally, he touted the value of a 7-night Costa Dubai cruise, which visits Oman, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and also includes two overnights in Dubai that would appeal to those savvy American travelers. “When you look at the cost for a hotel in Dubai over two nights, factor that into the cruise price, and add on all of the destinations, the value is incredible.”
In 2009, Dubai drew 100 cruise ship visits and around 260,000 tourists, up 37 percent on the previous year. This year growth is expected to be around 40 percent with Costa’s three ships alone bringing in an expected 140,000 passengers. The rapid growth continues as the emirate expects the numbers to double in 2015 to 195 ships and over 575,000 passengers.
The christening of the Deliziosa wasn’t the only thing to celebrate; Dubai opened the new Port Rashid Dubai Cruise Terminal as well. The terminal, which is more than 37,000 square feet in size, can handle four ships simultaneously and is outfitted with services to make the lives of travelers easier, such as money exchange, ATMs, a post office, duty free shops, and a business center with free Wi-Fi.
Foschi praised the Dubai government for its vision in opening a terminal back in 2001 even when there wasn’t a sign that cruising was possible here. “That foresight has been rewarded by Costa,” said Foschi.