Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises | Winter 2022-23

A Middle East Cruise is the perfect way to get a taste of a truly fascinating region that some travellers can find a little daunting.

Cruising is a way of travelling in comfort and safety. Guided tours are arranged for each port of call, with optional excursions to sites of cultural, historical or environmental importance and the chance to visit beaches and pass leisurely days on board.

You benefit from having the same high-quality cabin throughout your trip without the need to pack and unpack constantly. You also have the opportunity to make friends with fellow guests, making a Middle East Cruise perfect for families, sociable couples and solo travellers alike.

Most meals are included in your cruise fee; indeed, some companies offer ‘all-inclusive packages’, which are great if you or your children are partial to extra drinks and ice creams throughout the day. Most ships have a variety of restaurants, and there’s plentiful entertainment too! From cabaret shows to kids’ clubs, there’s something for everyone on a Middle East cruise.

All of this combines to give you an enjoyable and stress-free trip as well as a real taste of this beautiful and diverse region. So why not take the plunge and book a Middle East Cruise in 2023?

Where can I visit on a Middle East Cruise?

There are a variety of Middle East Cruises on offer ranging from 7 to 30 nights taking in a range of ports in the Middle East. MSC, Royal Caribbean, and Cunard are just some of the companies offering Middle East Cruises. Here is a sample of some of the best Middle East cruise itineraries on offer:

7-Night Itinerary: Cyprus, Israel, Palestine and Egypt on board The Rhapsody of the Seas (Royal Caribbean)

This is a good choice for families, particularly those who wish to explore key religious and historical sites with their children.

There are numerous bars and restaurants on board, including an Italian restaurant and sushi bar, as well as a variety of entertainment options. The Rhapsody of the Seas offers something for everyone, with outdoor movie screenings, original productions, and a casino.

If younger guests need a bit of time away from mum and dad, there’s a kids’ club for 3-11-year-olds that should keep them happy!

This cruise starts in Cyprus and stops first at Haifa in Israel. In Haifa, you can visit the Bah’ai Gardens and the Shrine of Bab before sailing to Ashdod, the port of Jerusalem.

FTME Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises - Shrine of Bab
Bahai Gardens and Shrine of Bab in Haifa, Israel.

A Jerusalem city tour is highly recommended. In Jerusalem, you will pass through historic alleyways and markets as you wend your way to the Western (Wailing) Wall; one of Judaism’s most sacred sites. You then travel along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church was built on the site of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as well as his empty tomb. Finally, you will visit the Temple Mount and the Islamic Dome of the Rock.

On the next day, there is the chance to visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, as well as the option to float on the salty Dead Sea!

After leaving Israel, you will then cruise to Egypt and the harbour of Ain Sokhna. From here, you can take a tour to Egypt’s capital, Cairo, and visit the amazing Pyramids of Giza and the imposing Sphinx.

You will also have the chance to discover the brand-new Grand Egyptian Museum (due to partially open on November 1st 2022). Here you will find the impressive collection of treasures found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, as well as antiquities from all over Egypt. This is truly a must-do for any budding Egyptologist!

The next port on your itinerary is Alexandria. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, the city was once home to the famed Library of Alexandria, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. Optional excursions include a scuba tour of Cleopatra’s Palace as well as visits to Alexandria’s many museums, which showcase the city’s Egyptian, Hellenistic and Roman past.

Fort of Quaitbay in Alexandria harbor, Egypt's Mediterranean coast

Upon leaving Alexandria, you return to the port of Limassol, where the cruise ends.

Why not add a short stay in Cyprus to your cruise? There are lots of family-friendly hotels and resorts. One of our favourites is the St. Elias resort in Protaras. Take time to visit the Tombs of the Kings and the mosaics at the House of Dionysus in Paphos or the ancient city of Kourion near Limassol. A tour of some of the local wineries or a visit to the Troodos mountains would really complement your trip!

7-Night Cruise: Visit Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia & Qatar on board the MSC World Europa

This MSC Middle East cruise offers full-board with excellent sports and leisure facilities and world-class entertainment for both adults and children. There are kids clubs catering for 0-17-year-olds as well as lots of other family fun to be had on board. For more information, click here.

FTME Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises - Bur Dubai
Bur Dubai skyline at sunset.

Day 1, starts in Dubai with a number of different excursion options. Perhaps you’ll choose to visit the oldest part of the city, Bur Dubai, where you can gain an insight into the city’s cultural roots. From here, you can visit the old Iranian quarter of Bastikiya (Al Fahidi) with its traditional houses, art galleries and quaint coffee shops, be immersed in the hustle and bustle of the textile souk, or chill out in the waterfront Shindagha district.

Alternatively, head to the heart of modern Dubai and ascend the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. There’s also time to do some shopping in one of the world’s biggest shopping centres, the Dubai Mall. Don’t forget to check out the spectacular fountain show as the sun sets!

After your first night on board, you will wake up in the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi. Whether you choose to visit the extraordinarily beautiful Sheik Zayed Mosque or seek a thrill riding the world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World, you’re guaranteed to have a good time!

Overnight you will travel to the picturesque desert island of Sir Bani Yas, a huge nature reserve accommodating endangered species from the Middle East and Africa. You can choose to take a safari on land, or by kayak through the lush green mangroves that stud the coastline. You might even spot a flock of flamingoes as you paddle along the coast.

If you’d prefer, you can relax on the stunning beach where you can enjoy a variety of sport and leisure activities as well as a delicious barbecue lunch. For the young or the young at heart, there is an inflatable waterpark for some splashy action and a kids’ play area for good old-fashioned fun.

The fourth day of your voyage is spent at sea, although plenty is on board to keep you entertained. Perhaps the children can make some new friends at the kids’ club while mum and dad have a massage at the spa. Find out more about spa options here.

On Day 5, you will discover the Saudi Arabian City of Dammam. Optional tours include a visit to the forgotten oasis of Al Ahsa with its beautiful palm groves and network of caves, a transfer to a plush beach club, and a trip to the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture.

Doha, the capital of Qatar, is the last port of call before returning to Dubai. Perhaps book a city tour, taking in this vibrant and futuristic city’s sights, sounds and souks.

For more information about what to do in Dubai, click here.

At the end of the cruise, there is more time to explore Dubai. We recommend taking a trip out into the desert for a desert safari and a spot of camel riding to top off a truly exceptional family trip.

10-Night Itinerary: The UAE & Oman on board the MSC Opera

Start your cruise in Dubai with a three-night hotel stay. Visit the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, or head out of the city for a desert safari. There’s no shortage of things to do, for all the family, in this glitzy, modern city.

FTME Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises -  Sir Bani Yas Island
A view of Sir Bani Yas Island sea beach.

You will transfer to the MSC Opera on day 4 of your trip. There’s plenty to do on board, with a theatre, disco and casino for the grown-ups, a Lego play area, and a splash park for the kids. There are also many dining options, including an Italian pizzeria and ice cream bar, sure to keep even the fussiest of eaters happy.

Sailing overnight, you arrive in to the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi. There are a variety of tour options, including a trip to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the presidential palace of Qasr Al Watan.

The next day is spent on Sir Bani Yas Island, a huge nature reserve where you can observe numerous species on the verge of extinction from the Middle East and Africa roaming freely.

Day 7 is a day at sea before arriving in Muscat, Oman, on day 8. Muscat has a charm and authenticity all of its own. Its seemingly ancient buildings stand in stark contrast to the modern skyscrapers of Dubai.

Muttrah area of Muscat, Oman

Here you can explore the old town and its many souks or head off into the mountains for a hike. On day 9, you will reach Khasab, a picture-book harbour dominated by an imposing Arabian fort. From here you can take a boat trip into the beautiful ’fjords of Arabia’ to spot dolphins or perhaps indulge in a bit of snorkelling or scuba diving.

On Day 10, you will return to Dubai and have time to explore the city or simply relax by the pool before your flight home.

21-Night Itinerary: Visit Dubai, Oman, Jordan, Egypt*, (Greece & Spain) on board the Queen Mary 2

This epic all-inclusive cruise on ’the world’s grandest ocean liner’ really is the trip of a lifetime. You’ll want for nothing onboard this luxurious cruise, which even includes an elegant afternoon tea service. There are five swimming pools, a state-of-the-art fitness centre and spa, a purpose-built theatre, and a planetarium.

For younger guests, there’s ’The play zone’, a supervised area offering arts and crafts, toys and computer games for children aged 2-7 years old. Eight to twelve-year-olds can enjoy ’The kids’ zone’ where they can take part in sporting activities, games and arts and crafts.

There might be times when teenagers want to escape the rest of the family, and for them, there is ‘The Teen Zone, which offers deck sports, discos, gaming consoles, and a whole host of other activities. There’s even a night nursery so that mum and dad can enjoy a few cocktails whilst the little ones are taken care of.

Aeriel view over Dubai the Palm and Atlantis

Start your cruise with a stay in Dubai. You may choose to fly into Dubai a few days early so that you can explore the city, take a desert safari and perhaps visit the neighbouring city of Abu Dhabi before embarking on your cruise.

Upon leaving Dubai, you sail first to the Sultanate of Oman and visit the exotic port of Salalah. Salalah is renowned for its stunning beaches and verdant landscape in a region characterized by desert and sand dunes. Take time to explore the port with its many souks and perhaps visit the Museum of the Frankincense Land, which documents the history of the port and the trade of Frankincense for goods from around the world.

After a day at sea, you will find yourself in the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Take a city tour and sample some local cuisine before visiting the ancient Islamic city of Ayla. Alternatively, you could sign up to discover what lives beneath the waves in Aqaba’s marine park. Children will love splashing away at the beach and snorkelling close to shore. A visit to Aqaba’s informative aquarium might also be in order to understand the region’s marine life better.

For those wishing to travel further afield and delve deeper into Jordan’s history, a trip to the ancient city of Petra, the rose-red city half as old as time, is an unmissable option. Whilst this trip is suitable for all the family, it is best to use a baby carrier if you have very small children.

Another option, which we would say should be high on your priority list, is a trip to Wadi Rum. This stunning area of unspoilt desert is famous for its rock formations, unlike elsewhere in the middle east.

FTME Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises - Wadi Rum
A trip to Wadi Rum.

There are quite a few days at the sea on this trip, but there is lots to keep you and the little ones occupied on board.

*Note that on day 11, the ship transits through the Suez Canal but does not dock in Egypt.

Upon exiting the canal, you will leave the Middle East behind you and discover the beautiful European cities of Athens, Barcelona, and Cadiz.

30-Night Itinerary from New York visiting (Portugal, Greece) Egypt, Oman, Abu Dhabi & Dubai on board the Queen Mary 2

In addition to the 24-day option above, guests can choose to embark on their cruise in New York. The first eight days are spent at sea before arriving in Southampton, UK, on Day 9 (there is a 22-day option for guests joining the cruise at Southampton).

The ship stops at Lisbon, Portugal, on day 12 and Heraklion, Crete, before transiting through the Suez Canal on Day 20.

On Day 21, you can explore the Egyptian city of Safaga, famous for its therapeutic springs and coral reefs. Alternatively, you can take the chance to visit the archaeological wonder of the city of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, home to the tombs of many Egyptian pharaohs, including Tutankhamun.

On the morning of day 26, you will arrive in the port of Salalah in Oman. Explore the city and take in the stunning natural landscape. Swim in crystal-clear waters or visit the lush plantations that dominate the area. Find out more about things to do in Salalah here.

On day 29, you will wake up in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, and have the option to visit a number of the city’s landmarks, such as the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Another option is a trip to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, where injured birds are cared for and rehabilitated.

FTME Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises - Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Alternatively, you could take a trip to the Oasis city of Al Ain, where you will find a large date palm oasis and numerous palaces belonging to the family of Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates. For more information on what to do in Abu Dhabi click here.

Finally, after a good night’s sleep, you will arrive at the port of Dubai where you will disembark your cruise. Rather than flying straight home, we recommend a short stay in this incredible city. Whilst you can spend a fortune on a Dubai stay, there are plenty of budget-friendly, family hotels in the city.

For more information about family-friendly activities in Dubai, click here.


14-Night Itinerary for German Speakers visiting Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, (India and Sri Lanka) on the MS Artarnia with Phoenix Reisen

This is a unique itinerary for 2023 as the Artarnia is the only cruise ship to call into the port of Kuwait from now until 2024. In addition to visiting Kuwait, the ship docks in Bahrain and many of the popular Middle Eastern destinations frequented on other cruises.

The cruise starts in Dubai and heads first to Abu Dhabi, where guests can visit a variety of monuments and attractions. Next on the itinerary is Doha, before returning to the emirate of Abu Dhabi and the island of Sir Bani Yas.

FTME Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises - Bahrain
Skyline of Bahrain seen from the sea at the sunset.

The following port of call is Bahrain, where tours of the city are available. A day in Kuwait City is followed by a day at sea before arriving in Khasab, Oman. There’s another day in Oman (Muscat) before the two-day crossing to India.

The ship arrives in the port of Mumbai early for a full day of sightseeing. The next stop is the city of Kochi before reaching the final port of Colombo in beautiful Sri Lanka. A full range of German-speaking tours is available at each port.

  • Prices start from €3,299 per person when booking through sea scanner. Special child rates are available.
  • For more details click here. Note that this is a German-speaking cruise.

What about Middle East Mini-Cruises?

There are numerous mini, 2 or 3-night cruises that take in parts of the Middle East.

Celestyal Cruiselines offers a number of short breaks to Egypt and Israel departing from the port of Limassol in Cyprus. These are relatively low-cost, all-inclusive cruises on board older cruise ships but offer a great way to dip your toe into the Middle East.

Royal Caribbean also offers mini-cruises from Limassol on a more luxurious scale.

For more information about Celestyal Cruises, click here

FTME Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises - Nile Cruise
River Nile and cruise ship in Aswan.

Another great cruising option in the Middle East is to sail between Aswan and Luxor on the Nile. These cruises generally only last 3 to 5 days but are an excellent way to see the highlights of Upper Egypt.

There is also a once-monthly cruise that travels all the way from Cairo to Aswan, The Mövenpick MS Darakum, for the ultimate in Nile cruising experiences.


When is the best time to go on a Middle East Cruise?

There are departures for Middle East Cruises throughout the year. The best time to visit the Persian Gulf, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, is between October and April when temperatures allow for more comfortable on-shore exploration.

Jordan, Egypt and Israel can be comfortably enjoyed from September through to June, though the peak of summer may be a little much for some travellers.

Note that prices do increase substantially over Christmas, New Year and other public holidays. If you can travel outside these times, significant savings can be made. The UK half-term breaks in February and October can be an excellent time for fewer crowds and excellent weather.


What extra costs are involved in a Middle East cruise?

It’s always important to be mindful of your budget on a cruise and plan out what is and isn’t included in your price.

FTME Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises - Turkey Souvenir Shop
Tourists shop for souvenirs in Istanbul, Turkey.

Food and Drink

Most cruises are on a full-board basis, with at least three meals being provided when you are on board the ship. All-inclusive upgrades are often available, allowing guests unlimited beverages and snacks in certain restaurants. Meals are often included in the price of day trips.

Some cruise line companies will provide packed lunches for guests that choose certain on-shore trip options, but you should budget for drinks and snacks on shore, just in case.

Not all restaurants may be included in your onboard meal plan. Some companies may also charge supplements for premium drinks and meals on board.

Day Trips

Whilst some trips and tours are provided free of charge on most cruises. You will need to book and pay for some more specialist day trips and activities. This can usually be done in advance.

Booking shore excursions prior to the departure of the ship is often cheaper than booking them once you are on board. MSC, for example, currently offers a 20% discount for online advance bookings.

Tipping

Tips are generally included in your cruise fee. Most cruise lines advise against tipping, but you may wish to carry cash in small denominations if you wish to demonstrate your appreciation for exceptional service. US dollars are usually received with thanks.

Shopping and Souvenirs

You will, of course, need lots of spending money for the souks! Many places take credit cards, although having some local currency with you is handy, particularly in Egypt. Having a small amount of cash in US Dollars is also advisable.


What should I pack on a Middle East Cruise?

Let’s take a look at both clothing you’ll want to consider to be culturally sensitive when visiting the Middle East and essential items you’ll want to pack.

What clothing do I need on a Middle East Cruise?

The Middle East is very hot for most of the year, so pack cool, lightweight clothes made of natural fibres. From November to March, you may need a lightweight jacket and perhaps even a waterproof jacket in case of rain.

You need to be mindful of the laws and customs of the countries you visit on a Middle East Cruise. Shorts, backless dresses and strappy tops are acceptable for women when on board the ship or at beach resorts, but in most Middle Eastern countries, women and girls over the age of about 12 should take care to cover their knees and shoulders when in public.

In Saudi Arabia, women should dress even more conservatively and cover their ankles and wrists when outside of hotels and resorts. Women and girls over the age of 12 will need to cover their heads when entering religious sites like the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Care should be taken to avoid tight or transparent clothing by both men and women.

Some cruises offer elegant black tie events on board, giving you the chance to really dress up! So don’t forget a suit or fancy dress if this is a part of your cruise’s itinerary.

For more details about what to wear in the Middle East, check out Family Travel in the Middle East’s “What to Wear” series here.

What other items should I pack on a Middle East Cruise?

You should check with your cruise line to see which adaptors will be necessary for phone chargers and other personal electrical appliances.

Don’t forget to pack sunscreen and a sunhat for yourself and the children. The Middle Eastern sun is strong throughout the year, and finding appropriate sunscreens can be tricky and expensive.


Health Considerations for a Middle East Cruise

Do I need to be vaccinated to go on a Middle East Cruise?

You should check that your basic vaccinations are up to date. Depending on where you are travelling, it may be advisable to take booster shots for tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis. Malaria tablets are not usually needed in the Middle East.

You should take care to avoid being bitten by mosquitos as they do carry other diseases. Insect repellant is strongly recommended.

Do I need a COVID-19 Vaccination record to travel on a Middle East cruise?

In short, yes. You should check your cruise line’s requirements with them directly. Most tourist attractions in the Middle East require you to have been vaccinated and/or have a recent negative PCR test.

Abu Dhabi has remained particularly strict in this respect, though they have recently relaxed rules for cruise ship passengers. For more details ,click here.


More Middle East Inspiration

Cruising the Middle East can be the ideal way of getting a taster of what’s on offer and seeing the cultural sites whilst not needing the hassle of packing and unpacking every few days. Should any of the cruise stops really take your fancy, you can always return for a longer trip in the future.

FTME Everything You Need to Know About Middle East Cruises - Egypt family vacation
Dahab, Egypt.

Some recommended stops for a longer family holiday in the Middle East include:

  • An Oman road trip – head deeper into Oman beyond the coast for the desert, mountains and historic forts
  • Tour the best of Turkey – this 10-day itinerary will capture all the most beautiful corners of the country and historic sites

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The information contained within this article was correct at the time of writing October 2022. Cruise prices and itineraries are subject to change at short notice. Excursions are secured on a first-come basis. Not all excursions may be offered during your visit. We are not travel agents and do not receive a commission from any of the cruise lines mentioned above.

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